CHAPTER XIX.-POISONED ARROWS
"Did you hear that, Tom?" asked Ned, in a hoarse whisper.
"Surely," was the cautious answer. "Keep still, and I'll try for a shot."
"Better be quick," advised Ned in a tense voice. "The chap who did that yelling seems to be in trouble!"
And as Ned's voice trailed off into a whisper, again came the cry, this time in frenzied pain.
"El tigre! El tigre!" Then there was a jumble of words.
"It's over this way!" and this time Ned shouted, seeing no need for low voices since the other was so loud.
Tom looked to where Ned had parted the bushes alongside a jungle path. Through the opening the young inventor saw, in a little glade, that which caused him to take a firmer grip on his electric rifle, and also a firmer grip on his nerves.
Directly in front of him and Ned, and not more than a hundred yards away, was a great tawny and spotted jaguar--the "tigre" or tiger of Central America. The beast, with lashing tail, stood over an Indian upon whom it seemed to have sprung from some lair, beating the unfortunate man to the ground. Nor had he fallen scatheless, for there was blood on the green leaves about him, and it was not the blood of the spotted beast.
"Oh, Tom, can you--can you----" and Ned faltered.
The young inventor understood the unspoken question.
"I think I can make a shot of it without hitting the man," he answered, never turning his head. "It's a question, though, if the beast won't claw him in the death struggle. It won't last long, however, if the electric bullet goes to the right place, and I've got to take the chance."
Cautiously Tom brought his weapon to bear. Quiet as Ned and he had been after the discovery, the jaguar seemed to feel that something was wrong. Intent on his prey, for a time he had stood over it, gloating. Now the brute glanced uneasily from side to side, its tail nervously twitching, and it seemed trying to gain, by a sniffing of the air, some information as to the direction in which danger lay, for Tom and Ned had stooped low, concealing themselves by a screen of leaves.
The Indian, after his first frenzied outburst of fear, now lay quiet, as though fearing to move, moaning in pain.
Suddenly the jaguar, attracted either by some slight movement on the part of Ned or Tom, or perhaps by having winded them, turned his head quickly and gazed with cruel eyes straight at the spot where the two young men stood behind the bushes.
"He's seen us," whispered Ned.
"Yes," assented Tom. "And it's a perfect shot. Hope I don't miss!"
It was not like Tom Swift to miss, nor did he on this occasion. There was a slight report from the electric rifle--a report not unlike the crackle of the wireless--and the powerful projectile sped true to its mark.
Straight through the throat and chest under the uplifted jaw of the jaguar it went--through heart and lungs. Then with a great coughing, sighing snarl the beast reared up, gave a convulsive leap forward toward its newly discovered enemies, and fell dead in a limp heap, just beyond the native over which it had been crouching before it delivered the death stroke, now never to fall.
"You did it, Tom! You did it!" cried Ned, springing up from where he had been kneeling to give his chum a better chance to shoot. "You did it, and saved the man's life!" And Ned would have rushed out toward the still twitching body.
"Just a minute!" interposed Tom. "Those beasts sometimes have as many lives as a cat. I'll give it one more for luck." Another electric projectile through the head of the jaguar produced no further effect than to move the body slightly, and this proved conclusively that there was no life left. It was safe to approach, which Tom and Ned did.
Their first thought, after a glance at the jaguar, was for the Indian. It needed but a brief examination to show that he was not badly hurt. The jaguar had leaped on him from a low tree as he passed under it, as the boys learned afterward, and had crushed the man to earth by the weight of the spotted body more than by a stroke of the paw.
The American jaguar is not so formidable a beast as the native name of tiger would cause one to suppose, though they are sufficiently dan- gerous, and this one had rather badly clawed the Indian. Fortunately the scratches were on the fleshy parts of the arms and shoulders, where, though painful, they were not necessarily serious.
"But if you hadn't shot just when you did, Tom, it would have been all up with him," commented Ned.
"Oh, well, I guess you'd have hit him if I hadn't," returned the young inventor. "But let's see what we can do for this chap."
The man sat up wonderingly--hardly able to believe that he had been saved from the dreaded "tigre." His wounds were bleeding rather freely, and as Tom and Ned carried with them a first-aid kit they now brought it into use. The wounds were bound up, the man was given water to drink and then, as he was able to walk, Tom and Ned offered to help him wherever he wanted to go.
"Blessed if I can tell whether he's one of our Indians or whether he belongs to the Beecher crowd," remarked Tom.
"Senor Beecher," said the Indian, adding, in Spanish, that he lived in the vicinity and had only lately been engaged by the young professor who hoped to discover the idol of gold before Tom's scientific friend could do so.
Tom and Ned knew a little Spanish, and with that, and simple but expressive signs on the part of the Indian, they learned his story. He had his palm-thatched hut not far from the Beecher camp, in a small Indian village, and he, with others, had been hired on the arrival of the Beecher party to help with the excavations. These, for some reason, were delayed.
"Delayed because they daren't use the map they stole from us," commented Ned.
"Maybe," agreed Tom.
The Indian, whose name, it developed, was Tal, as nearly as Tom and Ned could master it, had left camp to go to visit his wife and child in the jungle hut, intending to return to the Beecher camp at night. But as he passed through the forest the jaguar had dropped on him, bearing him to earth.
"But you saved my life, Senor," he said to Tom, dropping on one knee and trying to kiss Tom's hand, which our hero avoided. "And now my life is yours," added the Indian.
"Well, you'd better get home with it and take care of it," said Tom. "I'll have Professor Bumper come over and dress your scratches in a better and more careful way. The bandages we put on are only temporary."
"My wife she make a poultice of leaves--they cure me," said the Indian.
"I guess that will be the best way," observed Ned. "These natives can doctor themselves for some things, better than we can."
"Well, we'll take him home," suggested Tom. "He might keel over from loss of blood. Come on," he added to Tal, indicating his object.
It was not far to the native's hut from the place where the jaguar had been killed, and there Tom and Ned underwent another demonstration of affection as soon as those of Tal's immediate family and the other natives understood what had happened.
"I hate this business!" complained Tom, after having been knelt to by the Indian's wife and child, who called him the "preserver" and other endearing titles of the same kind. "Come on, let's hike back."
But Indian hospitality, especially after a life has been saved, is not so simple as all that.
"My life--my house--all that I own is yours," said Tal in deep gratitude. "Take everything," and he waved his hand to indicate all the possessions in his humble hut.
"Thanks," answered Tom, "but I guess you need all you have. That's a fine specimen of blow gun though," he added, seeing one hanging on the wall. "I wouldn't mind having one like that. If you get well enough to make me one, Tal, and some arrows to go with it, I'd like it for a curiosity to hang in my room at home."
"The Senor shall have a dozen," promised the Indian.
"Look, Ned," went on Tom, pointing to the native weapon. "I never saw one just like this. They use small arrows or darts, tipped with wild cotton, instead of feathers."
"These the arrows," explained Tal's wife, bringing a bundle from a corner of the one-room hut. As she held them out her husband gave a cry of fear.
"Poisoned arrows! Poisoned arrows!" he exclaimed. "One scratch and the senors are dead men. Put them away!"
In fear the Indian wife prepared to obey, but as she did so Tom Swift caught sight of the package and uttered a strange cry.
"Thundering hoptoads, Ned!" he exclaimed. "The poisoned arrows are wrapped in the piece of oiled silk that was around the professor's missing map!"Next