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A Night of Horror by Alfred H. Miles


The jaguar, otherwise known as the American leopard, belongs to the forests of South America, and has many points of difference from, as well as some of similarity with, the leopard of Asia. Though ferocious in his wild state, he is amenable to civilising influences and becomes mild and tame in captivity. He is an excellent swimmer and an expert climber, ascending to the tops of high branchless trees by fixing his claws in the trunks. It is said that he can hunt in the trees almost as well as he can upon the ground, and that hence he becomes a formidable enemy to the monkeys. He is also a clever fisherman, his method being that of dropping saliva on to the surface of the water, and upon the approach of a fish, by a dexterous stroke of his paw knocking it out of the water on to the bank.

But the jaguar by no means confines his attention to hunting monkeys and defenceless fish. He will hunt big game, and when hungry will not hesitate to attack man.

The strength of the jaguar is very great, and as he can climb, swim, and leap a great distance, he seems to be almost equally formidable in three elements. He is said to attack the alligator and to banquet with evident relish off his victim. D'Azara says that on one occasion he found a jaguar feasting upon a horse which it had killed. The jaguar fled at his approach, whereupon he had the body of the horse dragged to within a musket shot of a tree in which he purposed watching for the jaguar's return. While temporarily absent he left a man to keep watch, and while he was away the jaguar reappeared on the opposite side of a river which was both deep and broad. Having crossed the river the animal approached, and seized the horse with his teeth, dragged it some sixty paces to the water side, plunged in with it, swam across the river, pulled it out upon the other side, and carried it into a neighbouring wood.

Such an animal could not but be a formidable foe to any one who had the misfortune to be unarmed when attacked, as many an early settler in the Western States of America found to his cost. Among such experiences, the following story of a night of horror told by Mrs. Bowdich stands out as a tale of terror scarcely likely to be surpassed.

Two of the early settlers in the Western States of America, a man and his wife, once closed their wooden hut, and went to pay a visit at a distance, leaving a freshly-killed piece of venison hanging inside. The gable end of this house was not boarded up as high as the roof, but a large aperture was left for light and air. By taking an enormous leap, a hungry jaguar, attracted by the smell of the venison, had entered the hut and devoured part of it. He was disturbed by the return of the owners, and took his departure. The venison was removed. The husband went away the night after to a distance, and left his wife alone in the hut. She had not been long in bed before she heard the jaguar leap in at the open gable. There was no door between her room and that in which he had entered, and she knew not how to protect herself. She, however, screamed as loudly as she could, and made all the violent noises she could think of, which served to frighten him away at that time; but she knew he would come again, and she must be prepared for him. She tried to make a large fire, but the wood was expended. She thought of rolling herself up in the bed-clothes, but these would be torn off. The idea of getting under the low bedstead suggested itself, but she felt sure a paw would be stretched forth which would drag her out. Her husband had taken all their firearms. At last, as she heard the jaguar this time scrambling up the end of the house, she in despair got into a large store chest, the lid of which closed with a spring. Scarcely was she within it, and had dragged the lid down, inserting her fingers between it and the side of the chest, when the jaguar discovered where she was. He smelt round the chest, tried to get his head in through the crack, but fortunately he could not raise the lid. He found her fingers and began to lick them; she felt them bleed, but did not dare to move them for fear she should be suffocated. At length the jaguar leaped on to the lid, and his weight pressing down the lid, fractured these fingers. Still she could not move. He smelt round again, he pulled, he leaped on and off, till at last getting tired of his vain efforts, he went away. The poor woman lay there till daybreak, and then only feeling safe from her enemy, she went as fast as her strength would let her to her nearest neighbour's, a distance of two miles, where she procured help for her wounded fingers, which were long in getting well. On his return, her husband found a male and female jaguar in the forest close by, with their cubs, and all were destroyed.

Human hair has been known to turn white in a single night, and is often said to do so in the pages of fiction. Whether it did so or not in the present case is not recorded, but certainly if it did not, it lost an exceptional opportunity.


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