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Chapter 35 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

The Cobra-di-Capello

Up to this moment my intention had been engrossed with the contents of the note, and I had no thought of looking outward. I raised myself on tiptoe, stretching my neck as far as I could into the embrasure.

A golden sunlight was pouring down upon broad, green leaves, where the palms grew wildly. Red vines hung in festoons, like curtains of scarlet satin. There were bands of purple and violet—the maroon-coloured morus, and the snowy flowers of the magnolia—a glittering opal. Orange-trees, with white, wax-like flowers, were bending under their golden globes. The broad plumes of the corozo palm curved gracefully over, their points trailing downwards, and without motion.

A clump of these grew near, their naked stems laced by a parasite of the lliana species, which rose from the earth, and, traversing diagonally, was lost in the feathery frondage above. These formed a canopy, underneath which, from tree to tree, three hammocks were extended. One was empty; the other two were occupied. The elliptical outlines, traceable through the gauzy network of Indian grass, proved that the occupants were females.

Their faces were turned from me. They lay motionless: they were asleep.

As I stood gazing upon this picture, the occupant of the nearest hammock awoke, and turning, with a low murmur upon her lips, again fell asleep. Her face was now towards me. My heart leaped, and my whole frame quivered with emotion. I recognised the features of Guadalupe Rosales.

One limb, cased in silk, had fallen over the selvage of her pendent couch, and hung negligently down. The small satin slipper had dropped off, and was lying on the ground. Her head rested upon a silken pillow, and a band of her long black hair, that had escaped from the comb, straggling over the cords of the hammock, trailed along the grass. Her bosom rose with a gentle heaving above the network as she breathed and slept.

My heart was full of mixed emotions—surprise, pleasure, love, pain. Yes, pain; for she could thus sleep—sleep sweetly, tranquilly—while I, within a few paces of her couch, was bound and brutally treated!

“Yes, she can sleep!” I muttered to myself, as my chagrin predominated in the tumult of emotions. “Ha! heavens!”

My attention was attracted from the sleeper to a fearful object. I had noticed a spiral-like appearance upon the lliana. It had caught my eye once or twice while looking at the sleeper; but I had not dwelt upon it, taking it for one vine twined round another—a peculiarity often met with in the forests of Mexico.

A bright sparkle now attracted my eye; and, on looking at the object attentively, I discovered, to my horror, that the spiral protuberance upon the vine was nothing else than the folds of a snake! Squeezing himself silently down the parasite—for he had come from above—the reptile slowly uncoiled two or three of the lowermost rings, and stretched his glistening neck horizontally over the hammock. Now, for the first time, I perceived the horned protuberance on his head, and recognised the dreaded reptile—the macaurel (the cobra of America).

In this position he remained for some moments, perfectly motionless, his neck proudly curved like that of a swan, while his head was not twelve inches from the face of the sleeper. I fancied that I could see the soft down upon her lip playing under his breath!

He now commenced slowly vibrating from side to side, while a low, hissing sound proceeded from his open jaws. His horns projected out, adding to the hideousness of his appearance; and at intervals his forked tongue shot forth, glancing in the sun like a purple diamond.

He appeared to be gloating over his victim, in the act of charming her to death. I even fancied that her lips moved, and her head began to stir backward and forward, following the oscillations of the reptile.

All this I witnessed without the power to move. My soul as well as my body was chained; but, even had I been free, I could have offered no help. I knew that the only hope of her safety lay in silence. Unless disturbed and angered, the snake might not bite; but was he not at that moment distilling some secret venom upon her lips?

“Oh, Heaven!” I gasped out, in the intensity of my fears, “is this the fiend himself? She moves!—now he will strike! Not yet—she is still again. Now—now!—mercy! she trembles!—the hammock shakes—she is quivering under the fascin— Ha!”

A shot rang from the walls—the snake suddenly jerked back his head—his rings flew out, and he fell to the earth, writhing as if in pain!

The girls started with a scream, and sprang simultaneously from their hammocks.

Grasping each other by the hand, with terrified looks they rushed from the spot and disappeared.

Several men ran up, ending the snake with their sabres. One of them stooped, and examining the carcase of the dead reptile, exclaimed:

“Carai! there is a hole in his head—he has been shot!”

A moment after, half a dozen of the guerilleros burst open the door and rushed in, crying out as they entered:

“Quien tira?” (Who fired?)

“What do you mean?” angrily asked Raoul, who had been in ill-humour ever since the guerillero had refused him a draught of water.

“I ask you who fired the shot?” repeated the man.

“Fired the shot!” echoed Raoul, knowing nothing of what had occurred outside. “We look like firing a shot, don’t we? If I possessed that power, my gay friend, the first use I should make of it would be to send a bullet through that clumsy skull of yours.”

“Santissima!” ejaculated the Mexican, with a look of astonishment. “It could not be these—they are all tied!”

And the Mexicans passed out again, leaving us to our reflections.

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