The Jungle Fugitives/A Stirring Incident


India is the home of the deadliest serpents and fiercest wild beasts on the globe. When it is stated that more than twenty thousand persons are killed annually by the snakes and animals of that country, some idea may be formed of its attractions in the way of a residence. To this should be added the fact that, during certain seasons, the climate is like that of Sahara itself. For days and nights the thermometer stands above one hundred degrees in the shade and in the city of Madras, unacclimated persons have died at midnight in their beds from apoplexy caused by the appalling temperature.

Among the venomous serpents of India, the cobra di capello holds foremost rank, though it is claimed that a still more deadly reptile has been found in the interior, and I believe the British Museum has one of these terrible creatures, whose bite brings death with the suddenness of the lightning stroke. However, the cobra has been known to strike two persons in instant succession, proving fatal to both within ten minutes of each other. It is hard to conceive of any serpent more venomously destructive than this.

On one of the flaming Sunday mornings, when there was not a cloud in the brazen skies, a well known missionary came home from early service and seated himself at the breakfast-table with his family. The door of the dining-room was open and the Teluga school-teacher was outside, when he became interested in a novel sight. A frog was hopping along the front veranda, with an immense cobra chasing it. The serpent struck at it repeatedly, but the fugitive, in its desperation, eluded each blow, giving utterance to pitiful cries, as a frog will do when pursued by a snake.

The end of the veranda reached, the frog leaped off, and the cobra dropped to the ground in hot pursuit, but a box, standing near, offered shelter. The creature scrambled beneath, just in time to avoid another swift blow of the reptile, which was unable to follow it. The cobra glided around the box, seeking some avenue by which to reach his victim, but, finding none, moved off in the grass and disappeared.

The teacher hurried into the dining-room, with the announcement of what he had seen. The missionary listened gravely and then inquired:

"Where is the cobra now?"

"I cannot tell, sir; he moved off among the flower-pots, but I do not know whither he went."

"It is not my practice to go shooting on Sunday," remarked the minister, "but it won't do to have that serpent where it is liable to bite one of us. He must have a hole somewhere near the flower-pots; please keep watch while I get my pistol."

The missionary always kept a loaded revolver for use when traveling through the jungle at night, and he speedily stepped out on the veranda, with the weapon in hand, and started to find the cobra.

Two large native flower-pots stood within a couple of yards of the veranda. Each contained a fragrant rose, of which the good man's wife was very fond. Every day she spent some time sprinkling them with water or removing the dead leaves, never suspecting what proved to be the fact that while thus employed, she continually moved about a spot where an immense cobra lay coiled.

An opening was discovered directly between the flower pots, partly concealed by the grass. It was about as thick as a man's wrist, and descended perpendicularly, expanding into a small chamber.

The minister called for a hand-mirror, and with little trouble threw the bright reflection of the sun into the hole, a little more than a foot deep, fully lighting up the interior.

The cobra was there! It lay motionless in a glistening coil, as if resting from its fruitless pursuit of the frog and brooding over its disappointment. It was an alarming sight, but the good man kept cool, and meant business from the start.

Taking a piece of broken wagon tire, he thrust it slantingly into the hole, to hold the serpent a prisoner, and shoving the muzzle of his revolver forward, he let fly.

Not the slightest motion followed. He had missed. He now gently turned the tire edgewise and fired again. A furious writhing followed, proving that the snake had been hit hard. The tire was instantly turned over flat to prevent its coming out. It struck fiercely at the iron, which in a minute was shifted on its edge again, and the missionary emptied the remaining chambers of his revolver down the hole. Then he turned up the tire once more, and allowed the hideous head to dart forth.

The minister had brought with him a pair of large hedge shears, with which he seized the protruding neck, drew out the snake and gave it a flirt toward the compound. He was so absorbed with his task that he had not noticed the crowd of men, women and children that had gathered to watch the results of his hunt. When they saw a huge cobra flying through the air toward them, there was a scampering and screaming, which might have been less had they known that the grip of the shears had dislocated the serpent's neck.

The good man did not forget that whenever you find one deadly serpent, another is quite certain to be close at hand. He had passed the wagon tire to the teacher, when he began pulling out the wounded cobra, and asked him to insert it again without an instant's delay. This was done, and returning with the hand-glass, the missionary once more conveyed the rays into the underground chamber.

Sure enough a second cobra was there, wriggling and squirming in a way to show that he had received some of the bullets intended for his companion. The revolver was reloaded and a fusillade opened, standing off a few paces, the marksman waited for the head to come forth that he might seize and draw it out as he had done with the other.

The wounded reptile continued its furious squirming and striking, but its head did not appear, until shot after shot had been fired. At last it showed itself, and was immediately gripped with the shears. Dropping the pistol, the missionary employed both hands in the effort, and running backward a few steps, the whole frightful length of the serpent was drawn out upon the ground.

Remembering their former experience, the crowd moved away, but the missionary spared them a second fright.

Both cobras being helpless, an examination was made of them. The second one showed the marks of fourteen pistol balls through his body, any three of which would have proved fatal, but he was still full of fight, and died while trying to strike the persons near him.

The serpents were now stretched out on the veranda and measured one of them five feet eleven inches long, and the other six feet two inches. The last is an extraordinary size, rarely seen even in the favorite haunts of the reptile. An investigation of their home left no doubt that they had been living for months right among the flower pots that were attended to daily, and within six feet of the veranda and twelve feet of the door of the missionary's study.

As for the frog that crawled under the box just in time to save himself, he was well and flourishing at the last accounts.