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   Chapter 17 A FRIGHTFUL PERIL.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 5289

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Meanwhile the fugitives, unconscious that a sleuth-hound was on their track, hurried forward and came to a point where the river spread out broadly over sandy flats.

"This is the ford," cried Me Dain.

"Why was it given up?" asked Jack.

"Because it was too dangerous, sahib," replied the Burman. "Many men, many women have been seized by alligators at this ford. So the villagers made a bridge at the narrow place higher up."

"Well, we shall have to face it," said Jack. "How deep is it in the middle?"

"To the waist when the water is low," replied Me Dain.

"H'm, that's awkward," remarked Jim Dent, "for the water certainly isn't low to-day. There's been rain among the hills. You can tell by the colour. It may mean swimming in the middle."

"I'll try it first," cried Jack, "and I'll sing out to you how I find it. Here goes!" He was about to spring into the river, when Jim Dent called to him to stop.

"No, no," said Jim. "That won't do, Jack. We might lose you that way, and we should prefer a good deal to lose a pony."

"Sure thing," said Buck, as Jim looked at him.

"Now," went on Dent, "here's our best plan. We'll go in in a bunch with a pony each side of the party. Then, if some of these ugly brutes come up to see who's crossing their river, they're more likely to grab a pony, and if we lose them, why we must."

"It will be a frightful loss," said Jack.

"It lies between that and being scuppered ourselves," said Dent.

"Yes, yes, Jim, of course," cried Jack. "Your plan is the best."

It was carried out at once. The four men went into the ford in a bunch, with a pony up stream and a pony down stream. Jack was leading the up-stream pony, Buck the down-stream animal, while Jim and the Burman were between them. The crossing was a broad one, near upon a hundred yards, for the river had spread out on a sandy flat, and they were thirty or forty yards into the stream before they were more than thigh-deep. Then the water suddenly deepened a full twelve inches, and they were up to their waists. The stream, even on the flat here, was fairly swift, and they could only wade forward slowly.

"Slow job this," remarked Buck. "Water's tougher stuff than you think to get through. I feel as if I was wading through treacle."

"Yes, doesn't it clog your movements," agreed Jack, "but I should think we're a good half-way over."

"Deep part got to come yet, sahib," said Me Dain. "We have come through easy part of ford."

THE DANGER AT THE FORD.

Just at this moment Jim's voice broke in; his tones were low and fiercely earnest.

"Push ahead, boys," he said. "Do your best. Strike it

faster, everybody."

"What is it, Jim?" The question broke from Jack's lips, but a glance up stream answered it before Jim could speak in reply. A hundred yards above the ford a small sand-bank rose above the water. On this bank lay, to all appearance, three logs washed thither by the current. But now, oh horror, Jack saw these logs move and raise themselves. They were huge alligators sunning themselves and waiting for prey. It was clear that the vast saurians had noted the movement on the surface of the river. One by one they slid down the sand and vanished into the stream.

"They are coming, sahibs, they are coming!" cried Me Dain, and his brown face was hideously ashen with terror.

"Strike it faster, everybody," growled Jim, and the party pushed forward at their utmost speed through the stream.

"Gosh!" panted Buck. "It's getting deeper and deeper. That's dead against us."

"Let us go back, sahibs," cried Me Dain, beside himself in terror of the awful reptiles now coming down stream upon them with frightful rapidity. "Let us go back. Better to face dacoits than alligators."

"Easy does it, Me Dain," said Jack. "Peg along and do your best. It's facing death either way. Let's have a go at the other bank."

"That's the way to talk, Jack," said Jim, through the teeth set in his white, grim face. "We've got to go through with it now. And hark, listen to that!"

There was the crack of a musket on the shore behind them, and a ball whistled over their heads and splashed into the water before them. Jack glanced back and saw a blue-clothed figure on the river bank.

"They're coming," he said. "One of them's trying to pot us now. Impossible to turn back."

"Gosh! it's deepening again," growled Buck.

So it was. The stream ran nearly shoulder deep, and the other bank was still a good forty yards away. Jack pushed on as fast as he could, urging the pony forward. His breath came fast, and his heart thumped like a trip-hammer. The situation was inconceivably desperate. Somewhere through the hidden depths of the rushing stream, three monstrous and frightful reptiles, fearfully dangerous and terrible creatures in their own element, were darting swiftly towards them, and behind them the dacoits now lined the shore and prevented return into shallower waters which might promise safety from the huge saurians.

Suddenly the pony which Jack led gave a great leap, and pawed the water madly with its fore-feet, and uttered a loud snort of agonised terror. Jack held him tight and looked over his withers. Nor could the brave lad keep back a cry of alarm at the frightful thing he saw there.

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