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THE SPIDER

by Arthur O. Friel

Author of "The Snake," and "The Sloth."

I WOULD not attack that spider again, senhor, if I were you. You have seen for yourself that you can not hit him. No matter how quickly you strike, he is inches away when the blow falls.

Those huge, bird-killing spiders all are incredibly swift. I have heard that not even a bullet is fast enough to kill one— that at the flash of the gun he jumps so quickly that the whole seven inches of him is out of danger when the shot strikes. Whether that be true or not, I know you will never hit him with your fist; you will only tire yourself out. Besides, he may grow angry and attack you in return. His fangs are half an inch long, senhor, and he is full of poison. It is not wise to risk his springing at you.

This is an odd place to find such a monster—here in the middle of the broad Amazon, on a steamer outward bound toward the Atlantic. Yet strange creatures sometimes come aboard these river-boats while they are tied up at the bank. Some of them are harmless, and some are deadly. And not all of the deadly things are found on the outgoing steamers, nor are they all bred here in the jungle.

Sometimes they come up the river from the outside and are the more deadly because they are human. The memory of one of them came into my mind just now while I watched that great spider leaping aside from your blows. He, too, was called the "Spider," that man, though his name was Schwartz.

What is that? You say that schwarz means "black"? That is very droll, senhor, for the Spider was black. Black of hair, black of beard, black of eye he was—yes, and black of heart, too, though at first we did not know that. We called him Spider because he looked like one. His little eyes were set close together with a sort of spidery look in them. His body was small and bunchy, while his arms were long and thin and covered with black hair. His legs were short and crooked. Yet he could run amazingly fast on those little legs; that made him seen all the more like a spider. And later he made himself a spider's lair— and came to a spider's end.

An up-river boat brought him to us one day, and with him a small brown bag and a rifle. He had no letters to Coronel Nunes, owner of the great rubber estate where I worked, nor anything else to show who he was or whence he had come. The coronel, however, received him with the courtesy he shows to all who come to him; and when this man told him he had had another bag, containing letters of introduction and other things of value, but that it had been stolen from him on the boat, the coronel believed him—or at any rate seemed to, for theft is a thing that may happen to any man in almost any place.

Schwartz boldly made himself at home there at the headquarters and talked vaguely about looking over the country for the people he said he represented. He went out in the jungle with us men and saw all he could see. Always he carried two weapons—the rifle, and a pistol.

It may be a foolish fancy, senhores, but I have sometimes thought that a man may be judged by his weapons, and not only the man himself, but the country whence he comes—for a man usually carries the weapons made in his own land. Now you two Americans, I have noticed, carry with you that flat pistol made by the Senhor Colt, which you say was used by your army in the war in Europe. There is about it a square, solid look which fits well with the things I have observed about you and with what I have heard about your great country. Also, the shape of that pistol is such that it seems to say—

"I do not seek trouble with any man, but if any man wants it—I am ready."

Your Winchesters, too, have something of that same air of solid readiness.

The guns of the Spider had a much different appearance. The pistol looked venomous; it leaned forward from the ugly butt to the thin muzzle, as if always eager to kill. It reminded me of a striking snake. The name of it, he once told me, was a Loo—let me see—ah yes, that is it, senhor—a Luger. The rifle, too, looked wicked, but I can not remember its name; it does not matter. But that pistol and the look of the spidery man who carried it were such that, when he was following behind me in the bush, I got a cold feeling between my shoulder-blades, as if death were about to strike me in the back.

My mates, too, said that they had the same feeling when he was behind them; yet he gave us no real cause for it. He did not bluster nor threaten us by word or act. Indeed, he was very quiet. He had the spider's way of remaining still in one place for a long time, watching everything and making no move. It might be our work that he watched, or it might be something in the jungle that aroused his interest; but whatever it was, you felt that when he stopped looking at it he had seen everything about it and remembered it all.

One thing that amused us was his habit of watching other spiders—real spiders of the bush, which we often met. No matter what sort of spider it might be he would study it and learn its .ways and how it lived and got its prey. When he did this we would wink at one another and laugh behind our hands, and one of my mates named Pedro—a tall, handsome young fellow who was very droll—would pretend to pounce on something, and then say under his breath:

"Take care, little spider, the big Spider will eat you!"

It seemed very funny to us at the time. But later on things came about which made it not funny at all.

After he had been among us for some time, another boat came. It brought us welcome guests: the coronel's daughter, who had journeyed all the way from Rio to visit him, and her cousin, a gentleman of Rio, Senhor Affonso da Fonseca. Every year the Senhorita Flora made this long trip from the great city where she was receiving the finest education the coronel's wealth could give her, to see her lonely old father. And though he would never allow her to remain very long, lest she become ill from the climate or meet some mischance from snakes or other things, we all knew that he looked forward to these short visits of hers as the brightest days of all the year.

We knew, too, that he planned eventually to make his own home again in Rio, where he had lived until his wife died. And we knew also that Senhor Affonso, who was somewhat older than the senhorita, had a deeper feeling for her than that of a cousin, and that, though he accompanied her partly because he was interested in our rubber country and partly because he felt it his duty to protect her on the long journey, he came more for the pleasure of being with her. We were glad of this, for she was a "handsome, gracious girl—the true daughter of her father—while the senhor was every inch a man and would make her a fine husband. The coronet himself approved the match.

NOW it happened just at this time that I met with a rather bad accident in the bush—my right leg was cut by a machete—and so I had to go back to headquarters to let the injury heal. My old coronel had a very friendly feeling for me because in past days I had done some danger...

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