Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/86

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I ran downstairs and found him breathless and pale with excitement at the door. The snake, he said, was fully twenty feet long. It had pursued him a little way through the bushes and then disappeared in a hole in the bank. "Aha!" thought I, "this must be the great Natal python I have heard so much about but never seen." With some doubts, nevertheless, about his being twenty feet long—for people usually imagine snakes which scare them to be much bigger than they really are—I took my snake-hunting stick and set off at once to make the capture. On arriving at the pond, which was overhung by poplar trees and nearly dried up, the boy led me across a long stretch of hardened, sun-baked mud to a point in the great earthen dam about twenty feet over from the water's edge, where there was a hole, the mouth of which he had carefully stopped up with a good-sized stone before coming to tell me. This I removed, and as the snake was not there ready to bolt out as I expected, I ran in the stick to dislodge him. This, however, had no effect. So, taking a piece of stout paling wire, I made with it a hook to the end of my snake stick. Running in this arrangement, I managed to catch it in his folds, a proceeding which he resented by slipping it off and by many angry hissings which sounded all the louder from being uttered in the confinement of his subterranean retreat. After several failures he was at last hauled out. "A cobra, by Jove!" said I, as he raised himself up erect with expanded hood on the hard-mud expanse between me and the water. As his head when standing thus was fully eighteen inches high, it was no easy matter to press his neck to the ground so as to catch him safely with my hand. Without at all hurting him I made several attempts to get his neck down, and not without some nervousness, for he might at any moment send a charge of venom into my face. This playing him with the stick to get him into proper position so aroused and alarmed him that at last, overcome by his own excitement, he suddenly collapsed, falling over on his side and lying there motionless, half on his back, with his mouth fixedly open and stiff as if in death. His whole body was rigidly contorted and as unbending as a dried stick. "Ah, you've killed him!" shouted the boy from the top of the dam, whither he had retreated for safety. However, as I had seen this manifestation before, I knew that it was only a hysterical fit. Warning the lad not to approach, I picked up the apparently lifeless snake by the tail-tip and flung him off from me to a distance of five or six feet. As soon as he touched the ground all his life was active again. Up he stood instantly with expanded hood as before, the black eyes glistening angrily and the forked tongue running out quiveringly from the closed mouth as if daring me to approach. A slight touch with the stick on the neck caused him to fall down in a second fit simi-