The Rover Boys on Land and Sea/Chapter 27

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As Dick stepped out of the house, gun in hand, the form disappeared behind a small clump of bushes growing not fifty feet away.

"It's gone," he said to himself, but waited patiently, with his gun ready for use.

The clouds were increasing, making it darker than ever. Almost holding his breath, the youth took several steps forward. Then he waited again.

At last the form reappeared, crouched lower than ever, so that it was almost hidden by the rocks and low brushwood leading to the jungle. At first Dick imagined the beast, or whatever it was, was going to retreat to the timber, but soon it appeared to turn back, as if to make another semicircle, this time around to the rear of the house.

It must be admitted that Dick's heart thumped madly in his breast. The gun was raised and he kept his finger on the trigger. But he did not dare to shoot until he was certain of the object of his aim.

"I don't want to kill anybody," he reasoned. And he thought of a story he had once read of a hunter shooting his companion who had got the nightmare and was crawling around in his sleep. For all he knew, it might be Sam or Tom, or one of the others.

But now came a sound which was not to be mistaken. It was a low, savage growl, followed by the rustling of a bushy tail among the brush wood. It was a wild animal, and it was getting ready to make a leap for the boy!

Taking aim as best he could, Dick pulled the trigger. Bang! went the firearm, and a snarl of pain and rage rang out. Then the beast made its leap, striking Dick in the breast and knocking him over.

"Hullo! what's the row?" The cry came from old Jerry, who had been sleeping next to Dick. "Who fired that shot?"

"Help!" answered Dick. "A wild beast has attacked me."

"A wild beast!" came from several throats at once.

"Let me get a shot," came from Tom, as he bounced out of the house, pistol in hand, followed by Sam and Captain Blossom.

By this time Dick had gotten to his knees and was trying to fight off the animal which had fastened its teeth in the youth's trouser leg, for the boys slept with part of their garments on them.

"Shoot him! Hit him over the head with a club!" screamed the eldest Rover. He expected every moment to have the beast fly at his throat, and he knew that that would be his death.

Old Jerry turned back to get a pistol or a club. As he did this Tom rushed past him and up to Dick's side. Taking a hasty aim, Tom discharged the pistol twice.

Another growl rang out and the beast dropped back, shot through the foreshoulder and the neck. Then Tom let drive once more and the beast fell forward, shot through the left front leg.

"Good for you, Tom!" cried Dick, as he arose.

"What is it?" came from Captain Blossom, as he appeared with a shotgun. A shot from this finished the beast and it rolled over and over in its death agonies, and Sam finished it with a blow on the head with a big club.

By this time the girls were crowding outside, having clothed themselves with whatever was handiest. Torches were lit, and a ship's lantern, and all went to examine the creature.

"It looks like a tiger," declared Tom. "Only it is not quite so large."

"I should say it was a California puma," came from old Jerry. "He's a bad one, too."

"I think they call them jaguars out here," said Dick. "They all belong to the same family, you know. Some old American hunters would call it a painter."

"Never mind what it is," said Dora, with a shudder. "I am thankful that it is dead."

"You can be thankful that it didn't chew Dick up," added Tom. "He was in a tight corner, I can tell you that."

"I didn't want to shoot until I was certain of what I was shooting at," answered Dick. "Then, just as I fired, the beast leaped for me. If I hadn't wounded it, it would have had me by the throat sure. But my shot kind of made it fall back, and it caught me by the trouser leg."

"Are you sure you are not hurt, lad?" asked the captain.

"Not hurt in the least," answered Dick, and all were thankful that this was so.

The animal was dragged close to the cabin. It measured about five feet in length, regardless of the tail, and was of a dull yellowish color. Its teeth were long and sharp, and its face had a fierce, blood-thirsty look about it that made all the girls shiver.

"I must confess that I am surprised to find such a beast on these islands," said Captain Blossom. "Usually they are to be found only on the mainland or on large islands."

"What I am wondering is, are there any more around?" came from Sam.

"If there are, we'll have to be careful how we move around," put in old Jerry. "I don't want any of 'em to leap out at me from behind a rock."

"We'll have to be on the watch," said Tom. "I'm sure I don't want to furnish any tropical tiger cat with a square meal."

"Oh, Tom, how awful to even mention it!" cried Nellie.

"I think I know a way to keep 'em away from the house at night," said old Jerry.

"How?" questioned several.

"Keep a camp-fire burning close to the door. All wild animals hate a fire."

"Jerry is right," said Captain Blossom. "We'll do it after this."

"What shall we do with the beast?" asked Dick. "I don't think it is good to eat."

"Save the skin," said Dora, "That will surely make an elegant rug."

"Leave the carcass until morning," said Captain Blossom. "We must get some more sleep if we want to go to work to-morrow."

"To-day, you mean," said Tom, looking at his watch. "It is already three o'clock."

A camp-fire was lit and then all but Jerry retired, it being agreed that the old sailor was to turn in once more when the others arose for breakfast. All but Dick slept soundly, but even the eldest Rover was benefited by the additional rest.

The first work in the morning was to skin the wild beast. This was rather a difficult task, since no one had had any experience, outside of the Rover boys, on small game. Old Jerry said he would try a steak cut from the best part of the the animal, but when he did he said it was too tough to eat. Then the carcass was dragged away and flung into a hole between the rocks.

After breakfast, the men and boys began in earnest to place the stores brought to the beach in the cave. It was hard work getting the boxes and barrels up the incline to the mouth of the cave, and the work took until the middle of the afternoon. Once at the entrance, the stores were speedily shifted to the chamber previously mentioned, and covered again with the tarpau lin. With the stores were placed a cask of fresh water, some dry pine torches and a box of matches. Captain Blossom left a gun and some ammunition in the cave, and the Rover boys added two pistols and a couple of swords taken from the ship.

"Now we will re-arrange the entrance to the cave as it was before," said Dick. "Then the sailors will never suspect what we have done."

By sunset the work was over and all hands were back at the house, taking it easy. Supper was ready, but they waited half an hour, thinking that Baxter, Lesher, and their party would put in an appearance at any moment.

"I reckon they aren't coming just yet," said Captain Blossom, at length. "Let us wait no longer."

"I'm willing," said Tom. The extra work had sharpened his appetite wonderfully.

The evening passed quietly and soon one after another retired. As agreed, the camp-fire was left burning, and each took his turn at remaining on guard.

In the morning it was Dora who made an an nouncement that startled all of them. The girl had taken Captain Blossom's spyglass and was looking across the bay in the direction of the wreck.

"There are men on board of the Golden Wave" she announced. "I can see them quite plainly."

"Men on board of the wreck!" cried Dick. "Are you sure, Dora?"

"Look for yourself, Dick."

The youth did so and saw that Dora was right. Half a dozen figures could be seen walking to and fro.

"Who are they?" asked Tom. "Lesher and his crowd?"

"That I can't make out," answered Dick, and handed over the glass to his brother.

All could see the men on the wreck, but at such a distance it was impossible to make out any faces.

"Maybe they are savages," came from Grace.

"No, they are dressed like white people," said Captain Blossom.

"Perhaps another ship has come in!" ejaculated Tom. "If it has, we are saved!"

"I don't see any other ship," said old Jerry.

"It may be on the other side of yonder island," came from Sam.

"The best thing we can do is to row over and investigate," said Captain Blossom. "If another ship has come in, the captain may claim that wreck and everything on board."

A hasty breakfast was prepared and eaten, and it was agreed that the captain, Dick, and old Jerry should row over to the wreck in the best of the boats. The three were soon on the way, wondering whom they were to meet and what sort of a reception would be tendered to them.