Yet it was possible to be bright and gay and unobtrusive in this place, too—if you were cold-blooded enough not to boil dry and explode before getting a drink—for under some trees lay, in the old-gold, yellow, black-shade-streaked, tawny-red grass, a sleek and glistening, banded, blotched, and spotted, newly painted python. Yes, sirs, a python snake; and you couldn’t see it in its new levee uniform—the old one lay not fifty yards away—any more than you could see the other, and plainly attired, bad dreams—so long as it did not move. Its length was not apparent, because it was coiled up; but it would have uncoiled out into something most alarming if stretched, I fancy.
The jackal made no sound as he came, tripping daintily, graceful and light as a rubber ball, into the scene, blissfully oblivious, apparently, of the fact that any other next step might awake a volcano under his feet.
He was a black-backed jackal; red-tawny sides, fading to nearly white under-parts; black back, grizzled with white hairs, neatly ruled off from the rest of him, like a big saddle; large, wide-awake ears; long, thin legs; bushy tail; very knowing eyes, and all complete—part wolf, part fox, and yet neither and something of both. No one living could, perhaps, have been agile enough to measure him, but he looked over two and a half feet from nose-tip to tail-root; and you can add, possibly, a third of that for the tail. But he was all there, whatever his length, every short hair of him, and none of the swarms of buzzing flies around seemed anxious to settle upon him.
He picked his way across to the shade of the trees, slouching quite casually, apparently; though how he avoided treading upon any of the sudden deaths variously thrown about seems a mystery. And just short of the shade of the trees he stopped. He had spotted, or scented—the latter is most likely, for the smell beat a chemical-works, a slaughter-house, and a whaleship rolled into one—the big snake.
The big snake remained motionless, and made no sign. Goodness knows whether it was asleep, if snakes ever do sleep. It certainly had its horrible eyes open, fixed in an evil stare at anything, or nothing, after the fashion of snakes, who are cursed in that they cannot shut their eyes to things. (Imagine the position of some people in this world if they were afflicted like the snakes!)
For about a minute that jackal stood like a carved beast in wood, with the original bark left on his back. Then he began to sink, slowly, gradually, till he lay as flat as a punctured bladder. And the picture of that little black-backed fellow—that Canis mesomelas, if you like official terms—all alone there, and surrounded by a dozen deaths at least, and all nasty, doing the stalking act upon that python was great. He stalked. My! how he stalked! And with reason, for he was taking on, perhaps, the biggest thing in the hunting line that he had ever tackled, and it was a million to one that, if he did not win, he died, and horribly, too; and he knew it. Ordinarily he would have been the python’s prey.