The Jungle Fugitives/A Battle in the Air
A BATTLE IN THE AIR.
One of the most interesting towns I ever visited is New Braunfels, Texas. It was founded by a colony of Germans, and experienced the most distressing trials during its early days; but it is now a picture of thrift and industry. The cowboy who attempts to ride through New Braunfels, with his revolvers displayed, is promptly pulled off his mustang and compelled to pay a round fine for violating a city ordinance. If he undertakes to "kick," it won't help him a bit, and probably will increase the penalty imposed. Our German cousins propose to run that town to suit themselves, and they succeed quite well.
The rivers of Texas are subjected to violent rises, often as great as twenty feet in an hour or less. Such sudden floods play havoc with the bridges along the bank, but I noticed in riding into New Braunfels an ingenious arrangement of the wooden structure by which, no matter how high the stream may rise, the bridge accommodates itself, and floats on the surface, while securely held from being carried away by the current.
But I set out to tell you a true incident of what happened a few years since, to a bright, lively youngster, sixteen years old, who lives in New Braunfels, and is brimful of pluck. His name is Lee Hemingway; he is an orphan, and if his life is spared, he is certain to be heard from when he reaches man's estate.
Prof. McInery, the well-known naturalist, spent several weeks last spring in the neighborhood of New Braunfels, hunting ornithological specimens for his collection, and he offered fifty dollars to any one who would bring him an eagle's nest, with living eaglets or with eggs in it.
When Lee Hemingway learned of the offer, he determined to earn it. It was rather early in the season for our emblematical birds to hatch their young, but, by carefully watching a pair, he succeeded in finding where their nest was made. It was on the summit of an almost insurmountable bowlder, rising nearly a hundred and twenty-five feet in the valley of the Guadaloupe.
The bravest man might well shrink from attempting to scale the perpendicular sides of this mass of rock, but as young Hemingway gazed longingly up the side to the nest, he noticed that the stone had become coated, in the course of time, with earth, which was covered with tangled vines and stunted vegetation.
"I believe I can climb that," thought the sturdy lad, after scrutinizing the herculean task, and watching one of the eagles soaring far above the summit. "I think there is enough foothold, and I can use the vines to help pull me up; but, if the eagles should catch me at it, they would make music."
It was the birds that caused him more dread than the forty odd yards of rock. We knew their fierce nature, and, if they discovered his designs against their home, as they were almost certain to do, they would assail him with a fury that must be resistless in his cramped position.
The professor advised him not to make the attempt, but the daring youth had to earn his own living, and the prize of fifty dollars was too tempting to be resisted.
"I'll do it!" he exclaimed, after considering the question, "if you will keep watch with your gun for the eagles."
"Of course I'll do that," replied the professor, delighted with the prospect of securing that which he had sought so long in vain.
The preparations for the work were simple. With a basket, furnished with a lid, slung to his back, in which to secure the eggs or eaglets, young Hemingway began his laborious and dangerous ascent, while the professor, gun in hand, watched him from the ground below.
The boy quickly proved the possession of unusual skill as a climber. With the help of the vines he went steadily upward, hunting secure places for his feet and testing every support before trusting his weight to it. Once or twice, the professor thought the lad had made a mistake and was on the point of paying the penalty, but he never faltered nor slipped. Higher and higher he ascended until at last the feat was accomplished, and the very summit reached.
His heart throbbed with pleasure when he discovered two young eagles in the nest. They were no more than a couple of days old, and he had no trouble in placing them and a portion of the nest in the basket, which was again strapped to his back, and, after a brief rest, he started to descend.
Nothing was seen of the parent eagles, and he was congratulating himself on his good fortune, when bang went the professor's gun. At the same moment a shadow flitted over his head, and looking up he saw that instead of one, both of the eagles had arrived.
The lad had not descended half-way and the professor's shot did not harm either of them. They landed on the summit of the rocks, and, if a bird can feel astonishment, they must have felt it when they looked around and discovered nothing of their home.
But the great American bird is not the one to submit tamely to such an outrage. They began an immediate investigation, and, when they caught sight of a boy scrambling down the side of the rocks with a basket strapped to his back, from which came a number of familiar squeak-like chirpings, they had no trouble in understanding matters.
The style in which they went for that same boy was a sight to behold. There was no hesitation or maneuvering; but, with outstretched wings and hoarse screeches, they dashed toward him like a couple of cyclones. The youth saw that he was caught in a desperate fix, for he had no weapons, and had to cling to the vines with one hand to save himself from being dashed to the ground below.
He ducked his head to ward off their beaks and talons from his eyes, and tried hard to beat them back with his free hand.
This was impossible. Their beaks struck him repeatedly in the head, bringing blood, which flowed over his face and almost blinded him, while they savagely buffeted him with their great wings, until he was in danger of being knocked from his position.
Meanwhile, the alarmed professor could do nothing for his young friend. The eagles kept so close to him, that, if he tried, he was as likely to hit one as the other. He walked back and forth, on the alert for such a chance, and fortunately had not long to wait. One of the furious birds, circled off a few feet, as if to gather impetus for a decisive charge, when, taking a quick aim, the gentleman fired.
The shot was unerring and killed the female. She fluttered into a large sapling that sprouted from a large crevice in the rocks, about eight feet above the boy's head, and lay motionless. Although nearly blinded by blood, young Hemingway now attempted a feat which he was convinced offered the only means of saving his life.
He drew himself up to the foot of the tree, and once there, braced himself firmly with his feet, and tied his handkerchief around his forehead, to keep the blood out of his eyes. Seizing the dead bird by the feet, he swung it around with might and main and struck the male, which had continued beating him incessantly.
It was a strange weapon—a dead eagle against a live one, and the boy's constrained position prevented his using it with much effect. So lacking, indeed, were the blows in force, that the male flew directly at his face. The sorely beset lad dropped the dead bird and fastened both hands around the throat of his assailant. The latter fought desperately, but the young hero never released his grip, until it ceased its struggles. Then he flung it from him, and it tumbled downward to the professor's feet.
This gentleman had done his best to help his young friend, but was unable to do so. The lad, after resting awhile, picked his way down to the ground, where his feet had hardly touched when he fainted in the professor's arms. He soon rallied, however, though his wounds were so severe that he was obliged to keep his bed for several weeks.
The two eaglets were found uninjured, and were safely carried to the professor's home, as were the bodies of the dead birds. They were mounted by Professor McInery, who, in consideration of the danger undergone by the boy, and the two extra birds, presented Lee with $100, and no one will deny that the money was well earned.