, June 20, 1922
But a desert stretched and stricken, left and right, left and right,
Where the piled mirages thicken under white-hot light
A skull beneath a sand-hill, and a viper coiled inside,
And a red wind out of Libya, roaring, Run and hide!
Jabson's Amen (Kipling).
IF YOU had killed, and what was worse, barely otherwise made use of,
three colts, a heifer, twenty-one sheep and eleven pigs belonging to
other people, so that four hundred dollars would not even begin to
cover your debtsif, moreover, you had done to death two valuable dogs
sent to interview you upon the subject, and spoiled the sleep of not
less than two dozen stockmen for an uncounted number of nights, you
might have expected considerationbut you would certainly not get it.
All these things, and more, had the jaguar done, and he was beginning
to reap his harvest. Things became hectic for him, and by the time he
had escaped death by bullet and poison four times, and worse than death
by trap upon nine occasions, he came to the conclusion that a change of
air was for him imperative.
The jaguar was like a large leopard, only with his spots run into
rosettes. He was heftier than any leopard, though, and fiercer by some
The trouble was, where was there a refuge to go to for a hunted wild
hunter upon all those desolate plains and sun-baked stretches? Where,
The jaguar left homethe ruined tomb of the king of some
long-forgotten racein the almost intolerable glare of the full sun
upon his journey. He would much have preferred to flit during the
darkest night, but a pillar of dust as yet far away but approaching,
warned him of the starting of a big hunt on horsebackfor him.
As the horsemen might be accompanied by dogs, he knew he would be
found if he stayed. So he decampedat a long, loose, padded, swinging
trot, that hiked him over the rough ground much faster than it appeared
to; and, of course, being a cat, a supercat, he hugged what cover he
This time, however, the stockmen were in earnest, and did not stop to
think on the brink of a drink when the sun got hot enough to frizzle
all things save the little lizards upon the rock-slabs. They kept right
on going. So did the jaguar; but with the grim, slow realization that
he was a sprinter, but no stayer, and that his ever growing thirst was
worse than death.
Thus it came about that by noonday he could not very well ignore the
drumming of a bronco's hoofs not far to his right rear, and another to
He heard also a shout, and threw an ominous snarl over his spotted,
tawny shoulder in reply as he broke into a gallop.
He was heading toward the coast. The smell of water, any water, in
his nostrils made him do that. Water, said instinct, means forest in
that land; and he was a forester by right, or his ancestors had been.
Then came the lassothe first one.
The jaguar did not see it. He heard it fall short just behind, and
make slithery noises like a snake. He set back his ears. His fangs
Then came the second lasso.
The jaguar saw that. He had to jump over it as he flewfairly flew
now, in his last desperate dash to the shelter of some thick but
He gained the grass-patch even as the third lasso hit, and slipped
along, his back. Untamable, ferocious beyond compare, a dread that
stalked by night, a terror among the Indians, intolerant, implacable,
lonely, the jaguar dived to the middle of that slight cover quaking in
every limb, a beast beaten and cowed even to inertia. It was the lassos
that had done it.
For full ten minutes the jaguar lay there, spent, in the middle of
the grass-patch, only his head visible, a picture of fury and hate,
while the finest horsemen in the world circled around outside, trying
to lasso that furious headand failing.
The broncos would not enter the grass, and the dogs thought that the
reason the horses had was a good onefor a cornered jaguar in thick
grass is several kinds of a deadly proposition. And in the end the
stockmen set fire to the grass, and waited.
THE seared stems burned like tinder, the flames racing along before
the wind in a crackling, reeking furnace, but the jaguar did not move.
The red, dancing, leaping line fairly flew down upon him, chasing its
own choking clouds of smoke, till they both together seemed to envelop
him, and that terrible, great, spotted, broad head, still and
motionless and grinning, faded, faded gradually out before the amazed
onlookersfaded and was swallowed up.
Not when the smoke fumes nearly asphyxiated him; not when the smell
of his singeing fur mingled with the rest; not till the sting of the
flames, actually licking up his legs, broke the spell, did the jaguar
come to life, as it were back, and leap for that life ahead of the
fire. By then he was invisible.
If it had been a race before, it was a greater race now. The flames
fairly tore along in that dry place, and he could not see a yard on
either hand whither he was going. He only knew that the flames were
gnashing at his tail, and that instinct shrieked in his ear
Make for the sea!
He made for the sea accordingly, the sea he could not seenor
anything else for the first quarter of a mile, for the matter of
thatbut knew was there.
The fire was far behind when the great spotted cat got to the shore
by way of sandhills, and lay down, panting. It had stopped with the
gutting of the grass-patchbut the stockmen were not far behind.
They had spotted the jaguar at last, clear of the smoke, galloping
like a great dog far across the blistered plain, and were now drumming
down upon him, dogs, horses, and men, in a yelling cloud of dust,
thatit seemedmust end with his end.
Now for it!
The sea, in that burning sun, almost blinded him; but the jaguar
could see far enough across the waves a low line of dark trees,
walking, so it seemed, upon the face of the watersor was it a mirage
dancing tauntingly in the heat flurry? Could the jaguar see a mirage
The big, flat, spotted, brilliant head turned slowly and gazed
steadfastly at the excited crowd sweeping down upon him. For a moment
he permitted himself a bare-fanged, twisted-lipped, evil snarlthe
jaguar's blessingthen waded into the warm, glinting, blinding water
and resolutely struck out.
The brute was a fine swimmer. Though he personally had been born and
had lived upon the plains all his life, and never crossed anything
bigger than a stream, he came of forest ancestors used to dealing with
the world's largest rivers.
He forged ahead grandly, head well up, and with the confidence that
comes of conscious ability.
A rifle cracked along the old-gold sand, but the sundance on the
water dazzled, and the bullet spatplupyards short. Another
and another spoke, and the bark of the .30-30 Marlin repeaters came to
the swimmer's ears plainly as the bullets shot up miniature spouts all
around him; but the broad, yellow head kept on, and on, and on, steady,
straight, untouched, unflurried.
At last one long shot clipped his right ear. It looked like a biscuit
from which a piece has been bitten, but even that did not turn or stop
him. A last flurry of reports, a last covey of death spattering up
the surface, and he was out of rangetheir range anyway.
Never mind, said the stockmen to each other. Guess the sharks'll
get him, fellers. You betcha.
But the sharks did not get him. They had heard the firing, or felt
the concussion of the bullets in the water, or something, and turned
their knife-bladed back-fins the other way.
Slowly but strongly the jaguar came to the mangrove forest. It was a
remarkably wet, and a lugubrious, dark, noisome, muddy, and smelly
place. In fact, it was not like any ordinary forest at all. Dante might
have described it.
It was not tallthe sea winds saw to that. It had no true tree
trunksthe sea itself saw to that. It was like a forest of pier-piles;
a forest of many- headed hydras with hundreds of legs stuck in the mud.
And the sea sucked and gurgled in and out among the legs, otherwise
roots. Great freak crabs, blue and freakish crabs, red played grimly in
and out among the branches that wound and twisted like a thousand
THE jaguarhis claws rasped in the wet hollownesshad hauled
himself up the roots, high above high tide among the writhing stems and
branches, before he discovered that the mangrove forest was a world
unto itselfinhabited by its own living beasts and birds, insects and
sea folk, beside the crabs.
Wings flapped above, and great herons removed themselves from his
company. Some diving bird thing, all wet and shiny, hit the water with
a loud plop as it took the sea.
A head, yellow, flat, broad, black-spotted, big and slit-eared,
thrust from a tangle of branches and foliage and made evil remarks to
his address in a language thatpetrified him. It was his own language,
the talk of the jaguar people, their swear words.
And the jaguar changed as he stiffened from heavy jaw to padded heel.
He contorted into a calamity, ready set for troublea cast statue of
ferocity. It is a way cats have. Nine times out of ten it is just
thrice perfected bluff.
This was the tenth time.
For one thing, the plains jaguar had grown larger; that was fur on
end. For another, he had sprouted some height; that was arched back.
For another, he moaned, horribly, quietly, and to himself; but it is
not quite clear what that was for.
The head remained, like a head in a picture, framed in gnarled stems.
The jaguar did not. He turned half side-wiseto side-leap at need.
He stood like a horse hard held with a bearing rein on, champing at
air. Thenhe faded out, still sidewise, crab-fashion, a step at a
But he had seen what human eyes could not have seenthe flick of a
thin ear tickled by a fly, two yards to the left of the head among the
foliage. And he had smelled what human nostrils most assuredly could
not have smelled on the salt breezethough the bigger cats bear an
acrid taintthe odor of not one jaguar, but two, and the other a
ladydux femina facti.
Upon the plains, where the jaguar had lived all his life, the
stockmen had seen to it that lady jaguars were rare creatures. Indeed,
this plains jaguar had never seen one till that precise psychological
moment. If he had, he might not have wandered afar worrying the herders
of cattle. As it was
The return of the jaguar ten minutes later, and flyingat least, he
was not touching anything as he camefrom the opposite side to that in
which he had faded and gone out, was intended as a surprise, and would
have been to humans, but not to the other jaguars. Cats do that sort of
thing. It is one of their little specialties.
Surprise is the essence of tactics. Meeting it the art.
The other male jaguar did not show whether he was surprised or not;
probably not. He was not there when the plains jaguar landed where his
back had been. He left the branch as the other arrived upon it. Also he
exploded like a firework benefit in the process. Perhaps he realized
what he had missed, or what had missed him.
But both jaguars were so obsessed with each other that they forgot
their surroundings. Cats are likely to do that when they squabble, all
the world over. There is no health in it, though.
The plains jaguar's lathy hind-limbs landed upon a crab and a branch;
you could hear the claws scrape upon the horny carapace. And he knew
nothing about crabs! Then he spun with a startling explosion.
The crab had locked home one pincer to his tail. The jaguar would
have acted the same if a baby had touched him from behind with a little
finger; his nerves were in that state. He pictured rival male jaguars
on every hand. He was all heated up and scorched! But even a jaguar
cannot for long chase his own tail on mangrove branches slippery with
the green scum of the sea.
A loud and spluttering double splash announced the end of his
The other jaguar, to save himself, had sprung at what seemed to be an
inviting wall of foliage he could pull himself up on. It grew, however,
like a screen that gave toward the sea.
Thus resulted the picture of one fine male jaguar, very flat-eared,
hanging futilely on to some branches of mangrove that swung out and
out, and bent down and down, until he realized that there was no sense
in hanging on to them any longer. He was already up to his neck in
Now, see how Fate lets down those good, scientific, learned ones who
dogmatize upon the survival of the fittest.
The water was shallowish at that precise spot. There was mud upon
which the mangroves throve in their own peculiar way. As the jaguar
turned and struck out for the nearest root-landing his hind legs
churned up this mud.
THERE was a flash as of red flame in the depths, a blurry, indistinct
outline of something big and long that writhed, andthe jaguar shot
upward, pawing wildly, with a blood-curdling roar.
Then he fell back inert, struggled feebly, galvanized to madness
again, collapsed and drifted away on the strong tide, swimming feebly,
banged his head on a root, spun round, drifted on, hit something else,
revolved, and so, in and out among the lugubrious roots, was carried,
drifting from sight.
He did not come back.
He had touched off an electric eel, a nasty, big, brown, compressed
thing, with a flaring scarlet throat, from what little could be seen;
and it, fearing attack, had given him a shock, perhaps two shocks. A
flood must have washed the eel to that unfortunate place.
Meanwhile, the plains jaguar, having shaken off the incubus of the
crab, slowly scratched, and scraped, and scrambled his way up the first
roots he found that offered a hold.
As he did so his tail came within an inch of the gigantic eel thing,
and had that tail touched it, contact would have been effected and the
tail would have been as good a conductor as any other part of the body
so far as the resulting shock was concerned. But that is Fate.
Above, among the twisted mangrove branches, the jaguar found the
eternal feminine, sitting humped and cynically comfortable, as she had
sat all along. She turned her yellow, spotted head and regarded him
with cruel, inscrutable eyes.
Then she rose, and, stretching deliberately and insolently, yawned in
The other jaguar had been the finer beast, but well, he was gone,
and meanwhile there was this one purring and blandishing in his place.
Enough. She patted at that other a furtive, saucy pat, the sort of pat
that would have ripped half his cheek off if he had not dodged
unconcernedly as only cats can.
Then the two slouched off to fish for turtles, which is perhaps a
more exciting way of spending a honeymoon than fishing for compliments.
EText from pulpgen.com - 2007 Blackmask Online.