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the jaguar, trailing the man or the fish, appeared in the moonlight, and then to shoot promptly.
What a long night that was and how strange even to me seasoned to tropical experiences! The bright moon showed the river surface, silvery brown, stretching away to where it met the jungle line, a solid black wall. There were few floating logs and no grass islands such as had been abundant during the height of the flood. Twice alligators approached the sand-spit but disappeared without landing, due to some subtle warning from Juancho.
At last a sinuous shape, flattened close to the ground, stealthily moving toward the fish, caught my eye. It was the jaguar, or tigre, as the man from Ceara called it, which I had not believed in and for which I was unprepared as my heavy rifle lay across the branches behind me. By the time my cramped muscles had allowed me quietly to get it, the great cat had seized the fish, turned with incredible swiftness and started for cover. I fired and fired again and the jaguar disappeared. I was sitting looking moodily at the river ashamed of my carelessness, when Juancho informed me that although the tigre had reached the edge of the jungle it had fallen dead.
This episode made me very popular, not only with the trader who owned the seringal but with the seringuieros or rubber tappers as well. They willingly allowed me to accompany them through the forest as they tapped the trees and affixed the cups into which the creamy rubber milk slowly trickled. Later I watched them dip paddles into the milk, and hold them over the palm-nut fire until it dried into a tough dark film. Over and over this was done until large balls were formed ready to be taken to the store to be exchanged for provisions, trinkets and cachaca, or cane spirit.
The Cearense was of a different type from most of those whom I had met, in that he was curious and asked questions, particularly about rubber. With a pointed stick he would draw a map on the dirt-floor of his barraca or hut, showing the parts of the world, as he knew it, from which rubber came. Then I would draw my map, but I doubt if he really understood all that I showed him.
Brazil with its great rivers and its coast line as far down as Pernambuco he comprehended and loved to dwell on, but when I showed him the Guianas, Venezuela, the Central American States, and Mexico on a rough map I think he was bewildered. Then one night I showed him the great rubber belt extending across Africa, taking in Southern India, the Malay Peninsula, Java, Sumatra and the Philippines. He refused to believe that there were such places, and told Juancho privately that his patron was a "brave man and a good shot, but a great liar."
In the meantime, however, Juancho became interested and talked volumes of his "muchacho, Miguel," who was in "Nuevo Yorka," where he was studying to be as learned as an Americano. He was to be an aviadore, a rubber-dealer, and live in Para. He would buy much rubber from the seringuieros at his own price, and sell it to the Americans for fifteen, nay for perhaps twenty milreis per pound. Juancho really had more imagination than any of the others, and, because of his eagerness to learn for his boy's sake, I really enjoyed those evening chats. One evening he said to me:
"How much borracha does the whole world give each year, Patron?"
"About 140,000,000 pounds," said I.
But he could not comprehend that. So pointing to the big ocean-going freighter that lay out in midstream, I said:
"The Putamayo carries perhaps 1000 tons. It would take seventy such vessels loaded full to carry the world's crop."
"Bueno! bwno!" he exclaimed in amazement.
Then I told him of the vast plantations of rubber trees, particularly in the Far East, of more than a million acres. Great orchards with armies of tappers, and factories for changing the milk into rubber. While this surprised him, his knowledge of forestry came into play at once.
"Those trees will die, Patron," he said, "by disease or insects. The good God planted the rubber trees here far apart. If one gets sick it dies, and does not infect the others. All the trees and vines that separate them are protectors. Your rubber orchards will die from pestilences."
"They would," said I, "but the American schools teach many young men to be tree doctors. They have medicines for leaf diseases, poisons for insects, and, like surgeons, they cut away diseased roots and branches. These men are called Mycologists."
"I am glad," said Juancho, "that my muchacho is in Nuevo Yorka and is an Americano. For see, Patron, what he can do. He can study perhaps to be a Senor Mi-mikrologist and cure the rubber trees of the world." Or perhaps he will be a Patron of a great estate of planted rubber with thousands of men under him. Or he may wish to be a doctor botanist like the Senor Burbank you told me of; growing trees that give more milk and perhaps a better product than even our fine Para. Truly the Americano boys have great opportunities!"
IN THE FACTORY
"All right, Dick, " said his father, "if you don't want to go to school and study you needn't. Try work and see how you like it."
And that was why Dick, sixteen years old, the captain of his baseball team, happened to be one of the helpers in the grinding room of a rubber factory. If the truth may be told, after the first week he did not like it very well. The great steam-heated rolls of the mixing mills between which the rubber was forced, were exceedingly hot; so was the room. The clatter of the mighty gears running in their pinions, drowned everything but the loudest shout, while the dust of whiting, litharge and sulphur, as it was forced into the softening rubber, kept the air dense and stifling.
He did not tell anyone that it was not all fun and that the superintendent, who had orders to "keep him busy," saw to it that he did not have an idle moment. But the machines fascinated him. They were so huge, so resistless as they crushed and sheeted the quivering blocks of tough gum. Dangerous, too, they were, and he shivered over the tales the grinding-room gang told of men who had been caught and crushed.
Then one day as he paused in front of a three-roll sheeter, Big Jim, who was "tending" it, slipped, the front of his heavy jumper caught, and he was being drawn swiftly into the machine. How the boy did it he never knew. But catching a shifting bar, he threw it between the swiftly moving cogs of the driving gear and its pinion. There followed a series of crashing reports like cannon shots as tooth after tooth broke and the machine stopped.
Half an hour later Dick, rather pale and shaken, was seated in the President's office, not knowing whether he was to be punished or rewarded — punished for breaking a machine that cost thousands of dollars or rewarded for saving Big Jim.
"Your father tells me that you don't like to go to school," said the President quietly, ignoring the accident.