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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter13)

2006-09-08 19:31

  CHAPTER XIII The Fight with the Demon of the Deep

  One morning, as they passed the trail that skirts the pond, Quonab pointed to the near water. There was someting afloat like a small, round leaf, with two beads well apart, on it. Then Rolf noticed, two feet away, a larger floating leaf, and now he knew that the first was the head and eyes, the last the back, of a huge snapping turtle. A moment more and it quickly sank from view. Turtles of three different kinds were common, and snappers were well known to Rolf; but never before had he seen such a huge and sinister-looking monster of the deep.

  "That is Bosikado. I know him; he knows me," said the red man. "There has long been war between us; some day we will settle it. I saw him here first three years ago. I had shot a duck; it floated on the water. Before I could get to it something pulled it under, and that was the last of it. Then a summer duck came with young ones. One by one he took them, and at last got her. He drives all ducks away, so I set many night lines for him. I got some little snappers, eight and ten pounds each. They were good to eat, and three times already I took Bosikado on the hooks, but each time when I pulled him up to the canoe, he broke my biggest line and went down. He was as broad as the canoe; his claws broke through the canoe skin; he made it bulge and tremble. He looked like the devil of the lake. I was afraid!

  "But my father taught me there is only one thing that can shame a man —— that is to be afraid, and I said I will never let fear be my guide. I will seek a fair fight with Bosikado. He is my enemy. He made me afraid once; I will make him much afraid. For three years we have been watching each other. For three years he has kept all summer ducks away, and robbed my fish-lines, my nets, and my muskrat traps. Not often do I see him —— mostly like today.

  "Before Skookum I had a little dog, Nindai. He was a good little dog. He could tree a coon, catch a rabbit, or bring out a duck, although he was very small. We were very good friends. One time I shot a duck; it fell into the lake; I called Nindai. He jumped into the water and swam to the duck. Then that duck that I thought dead got up and flew away, so I called Nindai. He came across the water to me. By and by, over that deep place, he howled and splashed. Then he yelled, like he wanted me. I ran for the canoe and paddled quick; I saw my little dog Nindai go down. Then I knew it was that Bosikado again. I worked a long time with a pole, but found nothing; only five days later one of Nindai's paws floated down the stream. Some day I will tear open that Bosikado!

  "Once I saw him on the bank. He rolled down like a big stone to the water. He looked at me before he dived, and as we looked in each other's eyes I knew he was a Manito; but he is evil, and my father said, 'When an evil Manito comes to trouble you, you must kill him.'

  "One day, when I swam after a dead duck, he took me by the toe, but I reached shallow water and escaped him; and once I drove my fish-spear in his back, but it was not strong enough to hold him. Once he caught Skookum's tail, but the hair came out; the dog has not since swum across the pond.

  "Twice I have seen him like today and might have killed him with the gun, but I want to meet him fighting. Many a time I have sat on the bank and sung to him the 'Coward's Song,' and dared him to come and fight in the shallow water where we are equals. He hears me. He does not come.

  "I know he made me sick last winter; even now he is making trouble with his evil magic. But my magic must prevail, and some day we shall meet. He made me afraid once. I uill make him much afraid, and will meet him in the water."

  Not many days were to pass before the meeting. Rolf had gone for water at the well, which was a hole dug ten feet from the shore of the lake. He had learned the hunter's cautious trick of going silently and peering about, before he left cover. On a mud bank in a shallow bay, some fifty yards off, he described a peculiar gray and greenish form that he slowly made out to be a huge turtle, sunning itself. The more he looked and gauged it with things about, the bigger it seemed. So he slunk back quickly and silently to Quonab. "He is out sunning himself —— Bosikado —— on the bank!"

  The Indian rose quickly, took his tomahawk and a strong line. Rolf reached for the gun, but Quonab shook his head. They went to the lake. Yes! There was the great, goggle-eyed monster, like a mud-coloured log. The bank behind him was without cover. It would be impossible to approach the watchful creature within striking distance before he could dive. Quonab would not use the gun; in this case he felt he must atone by making an equal fight. He quickly formed a plan; he fastened the tomahawk and the coiled rope to his belt, then boldly and silently slipped into the lake, to approach the snapper from the water side —— quite the easiest in this case, not only because the snapper would naturally watch on the land side, but because there was a thick clump of rushes behind which the swimmer could approach.

  Then, as instructed, Rolf went back into the woods, and came silently to a place whence he could watch the snapper from a distance of twenty yards.

  The boy's heart beat fast as he watched the bold swimmer and the savage reptile. There could be little doubt that the creature weighed a hundred pounds. It is the strongest for its size and the fiercest of all reptiles. Its jaws, though toothless, have cutting edges, a sharp beak, and power to the crushing of bones. Its armour makes it invulnerable to birds and beasts of prey. Like a log it lay on the beach, with its long alligator tail stretched up the bank and its serpentine head and tiny wicked eyes vigilantly watching the shore. Its shell, broad and ancient, was fringed with green moss, and its scaly armpits exposed, were decked with leeches, at which a couple of peetweets pecked with eager interest, apparently to the monster's satisfaction. Its huge limbs and claws were in marked contrast to the small, red eyes. But the latter it was that gave the thrill of unnervement.

  Sunk down nearly out of sight, the Indian slowly reached the reeds. Here he found bottom, and pausing, he took the rope in one hand, the tomahawk in the other, and dived, and when he reappeared he was within ten yards of the enemy, and in water but four feet deep.

  With a sudden rush the reptile splashed into the pond and out of sight, avoiding the rope noose. But Quonab clutched deep in the water as it passed, and seized the monster's rugged tail. Then it showed its strength. In a twinkling that mighty tail was swung sidewise, crushing the hand with terrible force against the sharp-edged points of the back armour. It took all the Indian's grit to hold on to that knife-edged war club. He dropped his tomahawk, then with his other hand swung the rope to catch the turtle's head, but it lurched so quickly that the rope missed again, slipped over the shell, and, as they struggled, encircled one huge paw. The Indian jerked it tight, and they were bound together. But now his only weapon was down at the bottom and the water all muddied. He could not see, but plunged to grope for the tomahawk. The snapper gave a great lurch to escape, releasing the injured hand, but jerking the man off his legs. Then, finding itself held by a forepaw, it turned with gaping, hissing jaws, and sprang on the foe that struggled in bottom of the water.

  The snapper has the bulldog habit to seize and hold till the piece tears out. In the muddy water it had to seize in the dark, and fending first the left arm of its foe, fastened on with fierce beak and desperate strength. At this moment Quonab recovered his tomahawk; rising into the air he dragged up the hanging snapper, and swung the weapon with all the force of his free arm. The blow sank through the monster's shell, deep into its back, without any visible effect, except to rob the Indian of his weapon as he could not draw it out.

  Then Rolf rushed into the water to help. But Quonab gasped, "No, no, go back —— I'm alone."

  The creature's jaws were locked on his arm, but its front claws, tearing downward and outward, were demolishing the coat that had protected it, and long lines of mingled blood were floating on the waves.

  After a desperate plunge toward shallow water, Quonab gave another wrench to the tomahawk - it moved, loosed; another, and it was free. Then "chop, chop, chop," and that long, serpentine neck was severed; the body, waving its great scaly legs and lashing its alligator tail, went swimming downward, but the huge head, blinking its bleary, red eyes and streaming with blood, was clinched on his arm. The Indian made for the bank hauling the rope that held the living body, and fastened it to a tree, then drew his knife to cut the jaw muscles of the head that ground its beak into his flesh. But the muscles were protected by armour plates and bone; he could not deal a stab to end their power. In vain he fumbled and slashed, until in a spasmodic quiver the jaws gaped wide and the bloody head fell to the ground. Again it snapped, but a tree branch bore the brunt; on this the strong jaws clinched, and so remained.

  For over an hour the headless body crawled, or tried to crawl, always toward the lake. And now they could look at the enemy. Not his size so much as his weight surprised them. Although barely four feet long, he was so heavy that Rolf could not lift him. Quonab's scratches were many but slight; only the deep bill wound made his arm and the bruises of the jaws were at all serious and of these he made light. Headed by Skookum in full 'yap,' they carried the victim's body to camp; the head, still dutching the stick, was decorated with three feathers, then set on a pole near the wigwam. And the burden of the red man's song when next he sang was:

  "Bosikado, mine enemy was mighty, But I went into his country And made him afraid!"

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