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Swift and Sure

Posted by ploymeesin in Books & Reference | March 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

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At one such glade, withdrawn a little from the brink, stood a jaguar, which, from moment to moment, lifted its head and gave utterance to a roar. It faced the stream: its tail lashed its flanks, to the annoyance of countless flies which would fain have found a temporary lodgment in its sleek and glossy coat. It roared, and roared again, with curious persistence, for the mere pleasure of roaring, an observer might have thought. And yet such a person, had he been worthy of the name observer, would have detected a reason for this strange behaviour. Had he watched the surface of the water opposite to where the jaguar stood, he would have marked a gradual assembling of greenish-yellow objects, scaly and hard; and, set in each, two glassy leering eyes. They were in fact the snouts of alligators, or caymans as they are known in Venezuela.

Moment by moment the assemblage increased, the hideous creatures gaping at the jaguar like an enraptured audience at a popular baritone. The quadruped, indeed, was executing his solo for their amusement, though hardly for their benefit. One could have fancied, as the audience grew, that he derived encouragement from their presence, and exerted himself with ever greater abandon. The performance, however, came to an end surprisingly abrupt. Suddenly the roarer turned his head up-stream and set off with lolloping gait along a winding track that led among the trees. The observer, following him, would have seen him force his way through the undergrowth, now leaping a fallen trunk that lay across his path, now pressing his body through a tangle that might have seemed impenetrable.

Meanwhile the caymans also had turned upstream, and swam after the jaguar, like an idle crowd following at the heels of a street singer. But though their movements were rapid, they had to stem the current, and the object of their solicitation drew away from them. Nor did he stop to practise his vocal powers again. Steadily he pursued his way until he had left them a mile or more behind. Then, compelled to strike off to the left by a peculiarly dense mass of thorn, he quitted the brink of the stream for a few yards. Coming upon it again through a glade, he looked warily about him, advancing with slow and stealthy tread. It was at this spot that he purposed to cross the river. All at once he stopped short, and sinking to the ground, lay motionless, scarcely distinguishable from the jungle around him, so closely did his colouring harmonize with it. In a few moments, with the silent undulating movement of a cat stalking a bird, he crept forward. No caymans were near; having attracted them by his vocalization he had left them in the lurch, and was content. But on a branch of a tree overhanging the river he had spied the form of a dark-skinned man stretched at full length. The hunted was now the hunter. The reptiles had lost their victim; he in his turn was intent on seizing his prey.

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