Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER VIII. Tooth and Claw.
“I might waste some effort all the same,” I said, pulling at the vines. They were extraordinarily strong, however, and the struggle only served to confirm their hold and my immobility.
“Not to say I told you so, old man,” said Weyland, “but—”
“Yes, I know. What are we going to do?”
“Would you happen to have a pair of pruning shears with you?” he asked.
The vine was very near my neck now. “I’m afraid I left them in my other suit.”
“Then I shall have to try something else.”
For quite some time he was quiet. The vine was tickling under my chin.
“I don’t want to rush you,” I said, “but we may be operating under a certain time constraint.”
“Be very still and very quiet, Peevish,” said Weyland. “What I am about to attempt depends upon your being very still and quiet.”
I followed his instruction, though every instinct pressed me to struggle as the vine crawled past my throat to the side of my neck.
Weyland drew in his breath in a great gulp; then he began to emit a sound—a strange throaty animal howl, rising to a peak and then falling precipitously. I could detect no change in the pressure of the vines, but Weyland repeated the strange noise, and then again, and one more time.
I had despaired of its having any effect when I heard an answering sound from the forest, with the same rising pitch and sudden fall.
Weyland repeated his call; the same answer came from the forest.
The vine had reached the back of my neck by now.
There was a movement in the shadows between the trees.
“Don’t frighten it, Peevish,” said Weyland. “Whatever you do, don’t frighten it. Your life depends on this creature.”
I held still in spite of the tickling of the vine reaching around under my ear.
The movement came closer, and now I could see it: a large snuffling creature, about waist-high and brown like the forest floor. It was approaching slowly, its long and curiously mobile nose snorting along through the leaves.
Weyland made his throaty howl again, and the creature answered him. It accelerated its approach.
“Keep still, Peevish,” Weyland whispered.
The creature snuffled closer. The vine had completely encircled my neck, and I could feel its pressure increasing.
The animal snuffled to my feet. Its mobile nose snorted at the ground. Suddenly it began to dig furiously with its front claws. Leaves and earth flew between its hind legs as the thing rapidly excavated a hole about a foot deep. Then it clearly found what it was looking for. It pulled out a thick and fleshy root, which it bit through in one snap of its jaws.
Instantly the vines that held me slackened their grip and began to slip off my arms and legs. I nearly leaped away from them, but then I remembered Weyland’s admonition to keep still.
The creature continued to chew up the root it had exhumed until nothing was left of it; then it snuffled over to Weyland’s feet and began to dig there. In a short time it had found another root, and as soon as its teeth crunched through the tasty flesh, the vines that held Weyland withered as well.
Weyland sucked in a lungful of air; the vines had already tightened their grip on his neck rather severely. The creature, startled by the noise, skittered backward, then cautiously came forward again just long enough to grasp its unfinished root and run off into the forest with it.
“Well done, Peevish,” said Weyland, still gasping a little. “As I’ve said before, you take directions exceptionally well.”
“What was that thing?” I asked.
“A figroot-eating tapir. They subsist on roots of the genus Ficus, and they are somewhat social creatures, frequently alerting one another to the presence of food by means of a peculiar call, which I did my best to imitate.”
“Well, you certainly succeeded. How did you ever learn to imitate it?”
“My dear Peevish, I won second prize in an amateur figroot-eating-tapir-imitating contest three years ago.”
“Good heavens! You mean there was someone who did it better than you?”
“Oh, yes. Friend of mine. Poor old Murdoch. He was done in by a Japanese throttler honeysuckle, which unfortunately the figroot-eating tapir does not relish. Shall we continue our journey?”
“By all means,” I replied, and we began to walk again. Once again the forest was alive with birdcalls and monkey chatter. “By the way, have you any idea where we’re going?”
“Primarily away from the wreck of the airship, to avoid being captured again; secondarily, to the next stream or river, and then downstream till we meet the Amazon, which we shall follow to its mouth, where we ought to find civilization. By my estimate, we have about three thousand miles to go, but it should all be downhill.”
Since I had no better suggestion, I accepted Weyland’s plan as the best available.
We walked for a few more minutes without any incident, and I had just begun to imagine that the worst might be behind us when Weyland suddenly halted again.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a jaguar,” he replied—“a large and frequently ferocious member of the cat family found throughout the tropical regions of the Western Hemisphere.”
There was a low rumbling growl directly ahead of us, and now I could see the great spotted cat that had previously been hidden in the dappled shade.
“What should we do?” I asked.
“We might consider the possibility of being elsewhere,” Weyland suggested.
We turned and walked briskly in the opposite direction, hoping the jaguar might decide not to pursue us. But we had not gone more than thirty seconds before Weyland stopped again.
“Bit of a complication,” he said.
“What is it?”
“This one is a puma,” he said, “also known as a mountain lion, Nittany lion, cougar, panther, or catamount.”
Another low rumbling growl revealed the location of the cat in question, which was lurking in the shadows just ahead.
“Perhaps,” Weyland continued, “we ought to go in this direction.
He turned ninety degrees to the left and walked off briskly, with me following close behind.
In a short time, he halted again.
“Oddly, this one,” he said, indicating the large spotted cat ahead of us, “appears to be a leopard.”
“How do you tell the difference between a leopard and a jaguar?”
“The leopard is the one that does not belong in the South American jungle,” Weyland explained. “This way, Peevish.”
But we had not gone far before we stopped again.
“African lion,” said Weyland, and the lion roared in confirmation. “Perhaps we ought to go this way.”
That way, however, also led to a dead stop.
“Siberian tiger,” Weyland announced. “Over here.”
He pulled me away yet again, and yet again we came to a quick stop.
“This one,” Weyland said, “appears to be a Canada lynx of unusual size.”
We turned yet again, but the jaguar was right behind us. Another turn brought us face to face with the Siberian tiger. No matter which way we turned, in fact, a ferocious cat blocked our way. We wee surrounded by a ring of claws and teeth.
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