Fight with a Panther
D AVY sat beside the mustang. The poor worn-out animal appeared to be almost dead. At times he seemed hardly able to breathe. "I can't go on," said Davy to himself. "My mustang may not live until tomorrow. It is almost dark and I must find a place to sleep while it is still light. I will spend the night here."
Davy stood up and looked about. Nearby was an old oak tree. "I can sleep in the branches," he said. "I wonder if Bee Hunter and Thimblerig are together tonight. I hope so because Thimble-rig would not know how to take care of himself if he were alone."
Davy walked down to the river's edge. He leaned over and washed his face with the water.
"I am glad that I have the rolls of bread that Kate gave Bee Hunter. That is all I will have for my supper," he said as he dried his face and hands on his hunting jacket. "Even if I could find some game to kill for my supper, I dare not build a fire. There may be wild animals about. There may be Indians, too. I don't know whether I am in Indian territory or not," he added.
He walked back to the mustang. The animal had not revived. Davy picked up Old Betsy. He put his hunting knife in his belt as he walked over to the tree.
Davy pushed the lower branches aside. He pulled one of the branches toward him. "I'll slide Old Betsy on ahead," he said. He placed the gun on the branch in front of him. A low growl startled him. A panther crouched and ready to spring stared at Davy. The panther's yellow eyes blazed. His snarling mouth showed his strong white teeth.
Davy grabbed Old Betsy and jumped from the tree. Quickly he took aim and fired. The bullet struck the panther on the head and glanced off. For an instant the animal was stunned. Davy stepped back and the panther sprang toward him. Davy jumped aside and the panther fell to the ground. Davy did not have time to reload Old Betsy. As the panther sprang at him again, Davy hit him with his rifle. Again the panther sprang. Davy struck him with the rifle again. This time he struck with all his might. For a moment the panther was stunned. He stood shaking his head.
Davy dropped Old Betsy and drew his hunting knife. The panther sprang at him and caught Davy's left arm. Davy raised his right arm and ripped the knife into the panther's side. The animal let go and dropped to the ground. Davy tried to aim a blow that would finish the animal. The panther sprang toward him again. Davy stepped backward. He tripped over a vine and fell to the ground. In an instant the panther was upon him.
The panther caught Davy's leg. The tail brushed past Davy's face. Grabbing the tail in one hand Davy plunged the knife in the panther's side. This time the panther did not let go. Davy tried to throw him off. Over and over the panther and Davy rolled.
They rolled to the river's edge. Each time that Davy was on top, he stabbed with the sharp steel hunting knife. The panther lost his balance for a second. Without waiting to catch his breath Davy summoned all his strength and aimed a death blow at the panther's neck. The panther relaxed, and fell back dead.
Davy was exhausted. He gasped for breath. After a few minutes he slowly pulled himself to his feet. He looked down at his leg. It was badly scratched and his leggings were torn. He brushed the dirt and leaves off his clothes. He pushed the body of the dead panther with his foot. "Bear hunting," he said aloud, "is child's play. You are my first panther, and I hope my last."
Then he went back to the tree to pick up Old Betsy. He looked among the branches of the tree. Very carefully he pulled the branches aside. "I don't want another fight, not even with a jack rabbit," he said as he started to make a bed in the branches.
He parted some of the branches. He cut others and spread them to make a bed in the opening. He gathered some moss that hung from the tree. He spread it on the branches and then placed his saddle blanket over the moss.
"Now that I have made my bed, I will take another look at my mustang."
The mustang lay as quietly as before. "You will not live until morning," Davy said as he leaned over to pat the weary mustang. "There will be no need to hobble you tonight."
Davy carried the saddle to the tree and hung it on a branch. He ate some bread and crawled through the branches to his bed. In a few minutes he was sound asleep.
It was daylight when Davy awoke. He lay quietly for a minute, then he groaned, "Oh, I am stiff and sore." He sat up and looked at his leg and arm. "They are badly scratched," he said, "but the scratches will not bother me. I wonder how my mustang is this bright and sunny morning."
He climbed out of his bed and reached the ground. The panther was lying on the river bank. On the ground were the marks of their struggle. "Except for good luck and skill with a knife, I might be lying there instead of you," he said aloud.
He turned to go to his mustang. He stopped and stared. The mustang was gone. "Gone!" he cried as he ran to where the mustang had been lying. He looked about for hoofprints to show in which direction the mustang had gone.
"I cannot see a sign," he said as he studied the ground carefully. He got on his hands and knees and crawled along for some distance. "Not a trace!" he said aloud. "Not a sign for me to follow."
He stood up and looked about. "I will start walking." Just then the honk of a wild goose came from the river. Downstream a flock of wild geese were settling in the water. Davy ran for Old Betsy and carefully made his way down the river.
"There is my breakfast," he said as he fired at a goose. The other geese flew away. Davy walked over and picked up the fat goose. He dressed it quickly and expertly. He found some wood and kindled a fire. He sharpened two sticks and made a prong on one end of each stick. He put them in the ground, one on each side of the small fire. He sharpened another long stick and ran it through the goose. Then he placed the goose over the fire. The ends of the long stick rested on the upright sticks in the ground. Davy watched the goose as it roasted. He turned it frequently so it would brown evenly. In time it was ready to eat.
"This is the best goose I ever tasted," he said as he ate it. "Either that, or I am hungrier than
I have ever been."
After his breakfast of wild goose and some of Kate's rolls, Davy was ready to leave. He carefully put out the fire. He scattered the ashes.
He folded his blanket into a small bundle. He threw the saddle over one shoulder and picked up Old Betsy. "I am ready to go," he said.
Davy started to walk away. Suddenly he stopped and listened. "Wild horses," he said to himself, "or maybe buffalo." Davy looked in the direction from which the sound of galloping hoofs came. He listened intently, his keen hunter ears now caught the sound distinctly.
"Horses!" he exclaimed. "Horses and Indians!" he added.
About fifty Comanche Indians came riding toward him. As they advanced the Indians divided into two parties. They formed a semi-circle and rode toward him. In a few moments Davy was surrounded by a band of Comanche Indians.
Questions to Look Up
1. What has happened to the buffalo that used to roam the prairie in such great numbers?
2. Would it be good or bad to have so many buffalo now? Why?
3. Where can you see buffalo today?
4. Name three changes that have been made in the plains country since the time of the buffalo.
5. Who brought the first horses to our country?
6. To what animal family does the panther belong?