A BATTLE WITH THE SERPENT.
I had no idea what the snake was, for I had never seen one of that kind before. I am not particularly afraid of snakes, though they are very disagreeable to me. When I was at work in the field as a farmer, I suppose I never lost an opportunity to kill one that came in my way. But all these were harmless reptiles, and of late years I have not been disposed to meddle with them.
The snake that introduced himself to me so unexpectedly was not more than three feet long. He was of a greenish-brown color, with some yellow on the sides. I had the strip of board I had taken from the window in my hand when the reptile darted out of the closet. I don't think he had any particular intentions, at first, except to get out of his prison, as I had to get out of mine. I could not blame him for anything he had done so far. Like myself, he was a prisoner, and we ought to have been in full sympathy with each other.
I had released his snakeship from one prison, and placed him so much nearer to entire freedom. To this extent I was entitled to his gratitude, though I did not expect much of him. As he darted out of the closet, I sprang from his path into the corner of the room, behind the hall-door. The next instant he was coiled into a round heap. Then he raised his head from the middle of the coil about a foot, as it seemed to me, though it could hardly have been so high.
So far from feeling anything like gratitude for the favor I had done him, the villain made war upon me. Suddenly he made a spring at me; but I had both eyes wide open, and was watching him with the most intense anxiety. As he leaped, I hit him with the stick in my hand; and he fetched up against the wall, on the inside of the closet. I have no doubt his striking against the partition caused some confusion in his ideas: at any rate, he dropped on the floor, and began to wriggle about in such a manner as no decent snake would, unless his ideas were confused.
My curiosity in regard to that identical snake was entirely satisfied, and I made haste to close the closet-door. I felt that I had no further business with that snake. It has taken me some time to tell about this reptile; but I think the villain was not out of the closet more than three seconds; at any rate, it was a very few seconds. He did business with great rapidity. He had lost no time in coming out of his prison, and none in making his attack on me. He had wasted no time in conducting operations; and if I had not had the bit of board in my hand, I am afraid the snake would have got the better of me.
At the time I had no acquaintance with this snake, though he never waits for a formal introduction when he means business. I know now that he was a moccasin. I saw many of them in the woods of Florida. They are as venomous as the rattlesnake, and are even more dreaded by many people, for they give no notice of their intention to strike. In the English books of natural history this snake is called the water viper. The copperhead is one of the same sort.
I felt as happy as the patron saint of Ireland must have felt after he had boxed up the old serpent, and sunk him at the bottom of the lake. I had the enemy where he could not harm me, for it was not possible for him to make his way through the door. I took the precaution to see that there were no holes or cracks through which the snake could again force himself into my unwilling company. I could find no opening of any kind. For the present I felt entirely safe.
Though I did not know anything about the kind of snake I was shut up with, I felt from the beginning that he was poisonous, and that his bite would make an end of me. I had closeted him; and now I had time to consider the situation. I came promptly to the conclusion that he was put into that closet for my benefit. The conspiracy seemed to be almost too crafty for Captain Boomsby; though I knew that he was capable of doing such a thing.
When I had considered this subject for a few minutes, I found my blood boiling with indignation. Before I saw the snake, I was more inclined to regard the whole trick in the light of a practical joke, rather than as a serious matter. It seemed to me just then that my ancient enemy, in his bargain with Carrington, intended to resort to some such device to get rid of me.
I did not intend to spend the night in that attic chamber; and when my blood began to boil, I aimed a blow at one of the panels of the door with the heavy stick in my hand. The thin board that formed this part of the door split under the blow. I followed it up as though I had been chopping wood. The panel shivered under the vigorous assault I made upon it. In a minute, I had a hole through. Inserting my stick in the opening, I pried out the rest of the panel. But the hole was not big enough to admit the passage of my body.
I had hardly succeeded in making a breach in the door, before I heard the most lusty screams in the lower part of the house. I had no difficulty in recognizing the voice of Mrs. Boomsby. She heard the noise of my bombardment, and was calling her husband in her usual affectionate manner. But I was not at all disturbed by the outcry. I was even willing they should bring the police to their assistance. But I did not expect any outside aid would be called in, for that would do the Boomsbys more harm than it would me. In a word, I did not care who came: I intended to break my way out of my prison, all the same.
Placing my stick edgeways in the opening I had made, I had a good leverage, the end of the bar being outside of the stile of the door, and the face of it against the middle piece. I pushed against the end of the lever with all the power I had. The middle stile snapped in the mortise, for the whole door was not more than an inch and a quarter thick. I had broken out the mortise, and the lever went "home." I could no longer apply the implement with effect, and I expected every minute to see the portly form of Captain Boomsby on the stairs, hurrying up to save his prisoner. But I had no fear of him: if he attempted to prevent my departure, I should use the stick as an argument with him, as I had done with the door.
Finding I could no longer use the lever to advantage, I grasped the middle piece of the door with both hands, and gave a desperate pull at it. There were no nails or pins to resist me, and the parts of the door snapped like pipe-stems. I wrenched out the middle piece, and then the other panel. Then I had an opening in the door eighteen inches wide, which was almost enough to permit the passage of my fat foe.
The middle piece and both panels of the upper part of the door lay in many pieces on the floor, in the room, and in the hall. I used all reasonable haste in making my way through the opening I had forced. When I was in the hall, I began to feel good-natured again; for I will not deny that I was mad when I realized my relations with that snake. I did not care a straw for Captain Boomsby. If it came to the worst, I believed I could "handle" him, to use his own choice phrase, with the aid of the stick in my hand. I was determined not to let the piece of hard pine go out of my hands while I remained in the house.
Mrs. Boomsby was still shouting for "Parker Boomsby," for she always called him by his full name when she was excited. I was willing she should shout. I felt quite cool, composed, and pleasant. I was ready to make an orderly retreat from the house. But I had not lost all interest in that snake, which I believed was intended for my executioner. I put my head into the opening I had made in the door. I found I could reach the door of the closet; and with a very hasty movement I threw it wide open.
I wondered whether or not I had killed his snakeship when I poked him back into his prison. The last I had seen of him he was wriggling on the floor, stirring himself up in the most lively manner. But the reptile immediately proved that I had not killed him by darting out into the room as lively as he had done the same thing before. I did not believe it was possible for him to get out through the opening by which I had escaped from my prison; but I was not quite willing to wait to test the question. The villain could crawl like most other snakes with which I was familiar, but he also had a talent for leaping. I considered it wise and prudent to begin my retreat without any delay.
I took a last look at the snake. He had retreated to the corner of the room opposite the closet-door and coiled himself up, with his head in the centre. He kept his eyes fixed on me, or I fancied he did. He looked as ugly as sin itself. He seemed to me to be as near like Captain Boomsby as one pin is like another. They both did business on the same principle. Mentally I bade him an affectionate adieu. So far as I was concerned, he seemed to have none of the serpent's power of fascination, for I had not the slightest inclination to continue gazing at him after I had gratified my curiosity. I descended the upper flight of stairs. The doors of the rooms on this floor were all open, and I saw that the two rear chambers were furnished as bedrooms.
I went into one of these rooms, and seated myself in a chair. Mrs. Boomsby was on the floor below, standing at the head of the stairs, calling for her husband. It has taken me a long time to record the incidents of my escape so far, and my reflections upon them; but when I looked at my watch I found that only eight minutes had elapsed since I consulted it before, at half past five. Probably it was not five minutes from the time I first saw the snake till I was seated in the chair in the room below. The lady of the house had not, therefore, stood a great while in her present position. Her husband had had time enough to come up-stairs since he was first called, but he probably had a customer in the saloon.
As I sat in the chair, I suddenly began to wonder whether snakes had a talent for coming down-stairs. The idea was just a little bit appalling, for I had no desire to meet his snakeship again. Neither the stairs nor the halls were carpeted. If he came down in the usual way, I should be likely to hear him tumbling down the steps. But I rejected this idea; for on further reflection I concluded that a snake would not come down like a man, when there was a better way for one of his habits to accomplish the purpose. Whatever the villain was, if he came down at all, he would take to the stair-rail. I felt sure of this, for it seemed to be the most natural thing for a snake to do.
I could not see how the snake was to get out of the room. I did not think he could crawl up to the opening I had made, for there was nothing for him to fasten to in his ascent. It did not seem to me that he could get out unless he made a flying leap through the opening. I was by no means sure he could not do this; and I did not care to wait for him to experiment on the matter. Just then it occurred to me that I was not the only person liable to be bitten by that snake. As I thought of it, I walked down the stairs. I knew that Mrs. Boomsby had a mortal terror of snakes when I lived with the family.
She confronted me in the hall of the second story.