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Worse than the Stake., Issue 8010, 12 September 1889
Worse than the Stake.
We had camped down on the plains of Texas one noon to boil a cup of coffee and get a bito to eat, and while Private Malony was getting the coffee ready three or four of the men stretched out for a quarter of an hour's sleep. There were seven of us United States dragoons, searching for some horses which had broken away, and "Big Georgo," as we called him, who was a sergeant, was in command. I was very wide_ awake, having caught sight of a snake moving of t»s we came up, and as the sergeant lay on his back, his face sheltered from the sun, I looked him over and admired his proportions. He was a man who stood exactly 6ft tall in his stockings, weighed 2181b, and it was no trick at all for him to take two of the strongest men in the regiment and hold them at arm's length or dance them round like puppets. It might have been ten minutes after he lay down that I suddenly caught sight of a tarantula on his breast—the largest and most horrible-looking specimen I ever saw,; and I lived for seven years among them. The sergeant had on the regulation cavalry jacket, and it was buttoned all the way up. He lay on the broad of bis back, arm 3 down beside him, and I had no sooner caught sight of the big bpiderthan I saw that the man's eyes, which I could see under his red hand: kerchief, were opeD. He saw the tarantula perhaps before 1 did. I turned my head to the right, and Malony, who stood upright at the fire, was looking at tho sergeant;, with face as white as snow. I turped to the left, and the two other men, who had not sought sleep, were also gaizng in horror. N ot one of us dared move. Should we do so the spider might spring away in tho alarm, but the obauces are that he would bite before doing so. I was only a foot away from the sergeant's feet and on a line with his face, and I could look into, his eyes and read his thoughts. He was a game mm. He had been tested over and oyer, but
never in such a manner. How would lie stand the ordeal ? The spider had a curiosity regarding the brasß buttons on the jacket. He hovered over the fifth one from the top for three or four minutes. I read in the sergeant's eyes surprise, repugnance, aud calculation. 1 carefully watched the muscles of his face. He might ns well have been dead for all the movement 1 could detect.
Now the spider moves up a button—now back two. Those shining metals ure a new sight to him. As he moves down, I read relief in the sergeant's eyes. As he moves up again, I read anxiety. Not a finger moves. His chest heaves as regularly as the beats of a clock.
Now the spider moves up to the second button from the top and shakes himself nervously. He is right under the sergeant's clean-shaven chin, and not over a foot from his eyes. Now fear comes to the man's eyes and I see beads of perspiration start out on his big red hands. He has been hemmed in by Indians, chased by hungry wolves, lost on the trackless plains without losing his nerve. It is going now. The spider shakes itself, and the look of fear gives place to one of terror. We know, and the sergeant knows, that the insect is angered, and that its next move will be upwards. The coffee is boiling over into the fire, and two or three of the horses are looking at us in an interrogative way, as if puzzled at our attitudes. I fairly ache to shout—to spring up—to do something ; but I dare not move a finger. Flash ! The great spider jumps into the centre of the handkerchief spread over the sergeant's face, and glides here and there in wonderment. The sergeant's eyes express hope. The horrible thing may leap from his face to the earth. No ! It crawls slowly down to the lower edge of the handkerchief, and the sergeant's eyes speak horror and desperation, and his hands arc as wet as if plunged into a bucket of water. Now the spider crawls off the handkerchief on to the sergeant's chin, and for thirty seconds is entirely motionless. The man is doomed. His eyes tell me bo. His soul is sick with horror, but what nerve 1o hold himself down and take the chances ! Not ono man in a million could do it. Not a muscle moves ; not the slightest change in tho heave of his breast. He is in more torture than the man at the stake; but his nerve is not broken.
The spider suddenly shakes itself, inflicts its bito, and is gone like a flash, springing clear over one of the other men. Then with a scream of despair, the sergeant springs up, eyes full of terror and face distorted, and goes rushing away over the plains. We saddle up and pursue ; but he dodges, turns, and twists about, and it is an hour before we can catch him. Then he sinks helplessly down, and inside of two hours he is dead.
Worse than the Stake., Issue 8010, 12 September 1889
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