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Chapter Twelve. Krissing a Constrictor.
It took them nearly an hour to get the pinnace round into the stream, and opposite the place they had fixed upon for their temporary encampment. The current acting against their feeble efforts at rowing, was the cause of delay. They succeeded, however, and the boat was made safe from being observed by the eye of any one going along the beach. But, to make it still more secure, they poled it in under the branches of an over-hanging tree not far off—a large Indian fig, or banyan, whose umbrageous top overshadowed the water nearly half-way across the stream.

To one of its numerous root-stems the craft was made fast by means of the tiller-ropes; and they were stepping out of it to return to their camping-place, when a shout from Saloo warned them of some danger ahead.

It was not ahead, but overhead; for, as his companions looked up—following the example of the Malay—they saw what at first appeared to be one of the stems of the banyan in motion, as if endowed with life!

They were soon convinced of their mistake; for instead of the moving thing being part of the fig-tree, its supple, cylindrical body and glittering scales showed it to be a serpent.

It was a python, and one of enormous dimensions, as they could tell by what they saw of it, knowing that this was only a portion of the whole; at least ten feet of it were depending from the tree, while, judging by the taper of its body, and applying the ordinary rule as to serpent shape, there could not be less than ten or twelve other feet concealed among the branches above.

As Saloo first caught sight of it, it was descending from the tree, no doubt having been disturbed by the noise made in mooring the boat, and tempted to forsake its perch for some purpose unknown. It was coming down head foremost—not along any of the stems, but in an open space between them—its tail coiled round a branch above, affording it a support for this descent, monkey or ’possum-fashion.

Its snout had already touched the ground, and perhaps its whole body would soon have been elongated upon the earth but for the shout of Saloo. At this it suddenly jerked up its head, but without taking in any of its coils above; and with jaws agape and tongue protruding, it commenced oscillating around as if trying its range, and ready to pounce upon any creature that came within the radius of that wide circle of which its forked tongue was describing the circumference.

The warning of the Malay was given soon enough to save Captain Redwood, but not the ship-carpenter. Murtagh was either too long in hearing, or too slow in giving heed to it. He was a step or two in advance of the others, carrying in his arms some implements from the boat. In looking around and above he saw the snake sweeping about in its grand circular vibrations, and at the same time perceived that he was within their range.

It was but the simple obedience of instinct to leap to one side, which he did; but as ill luck would have it, hampered by the impedimenta carried in his arms, he came in violent collision with one of the stems of the banyan, which not only sent him back with a rebound, but threw him down upon the earth, flat on his face. He would have done better by lying still, for in that position the snake could not have coiled around and constricted him. And the python rarely takes to its teeth till it has tried its powers of squeezing.

But the ship-carpenter, ignorant of this Murtagh in the python's folds herpetological fact, and as an Irishman not highly gifted either with patience or prudence, after scrambling a while upon his hands and knees, stood once more upon his feet.

He had scarcely got into an erect attitude when his body was embraced by a series of spiral annulations that extended from head to foot—huge thick rings, slimy and clammy to the touch, which he knew to be the foldings of the python.

Had there been any Lanoons, or Dyak pirates, within a mile’s distance, they might have heard the cry that escaped him. The forest birds heard it afar off, and ceased their chatterings and warblings, so that there was no sound for some time save the continuous shrieks and ejaculations that came from Murtagh’s lips.

Captain Redwood, altogether unarmed, leaped back into the pinnace to seize the boat-hook, thinking it the best weapon for the occasion. It might have been of service if obtainable in time. But long before he could have returned with it the ship-carpenter’s ribs would have been compressed into a mass of broken bones, and the breath crushed out of his body.

This would certainly have been the lamentable result but for a weapon with which a Malay is always armed, carrying it on his body nearer than his shirt, and almost as near as his skin. It was the kris. As a matter of course, Saloo had one, and luckily for his old shipmate, “Multa,” he knew how to handle it with skill, so that, in driving its twisted blade through the python’s throat, he did not also impale upon its point the jugular vein of the Irishman. He did the one dexterously without doing the other, and the consequence was that the huge snake, suffering keenly from having its throat pierced through, quickly uncoiled itself from the body of its intended victim, glad to let the latter escape, and only thinking of getting free itself by scuttling off into the thickest of the underwood, where it disappeared evidently writhing in pain.

Too anxious about the condition of their comrade, neither Captain Redwood nor Saloo thought of pursuing it, but stooped down over the released body of the Irishman, who had fallen prostrate to the earth.

On due examination it proved that there was not much harm done beyond a terrible fright; and after some congratulations, he was induced to get once more upon his feet and accompany them to the camp. But for Saloo and his kris, beyond doubt he would never have returned to it alive.

For the python in the Old World is quite as formidable as the boa in the New. Perhaps it is even more to be dreaded; for, notwithstanding its great length—twenty-five to thirty feet—it is exceedingly nimble and its muscular strength is immense. There are numerous authentic stories on record of its having crushed the buffalo and the tiger in its huge constricting folds. The python reticulatus is probably the largest species.


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