Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER X: The Gravity of the Situation.
The tiger growled, indicating that it was perhaps not a nice kitty.
“I meant that with the utmost respect, of course,” I added.
The tiger growled again.
A short distance in front of me was a likely-looking branch. The difficulty was that the tiger was also in front of me, and by a distance that was only slightly less short.
Slowly, with as little apparent motion as possible, I reached my right hand out toward the branch.
The tiger snarled and batted at my hand with its paw, narrowly missing me as I hastily withdrew.
Weyland’s voice came from below: “I say, Peevish, purely for my information, is a branch or some such thing likely to be forthcoming in the near future?”
“Working on it,” I replied.
This time I tried a sudden grab for the branch, but the tiger was just as quick, and once again I narrowly missed having my hand julienned by its claws. My only advantage seemed to be that the tiger, not an unintelligent beast, was reluctant to pounce while I was so close to the edge of the cliff.
“Please don’t think I’m complaining,” said Weyland, “but, in addition to everything else, you’ve been dislodging a fair amount of earth, and the clods keep hitting me in the face.”
“Sorry,” I called back. But he had given me a thought. I picked up a clod of dirt and threw it at the tiger, hoping I might distract it enough for me to grasp the branch. The tiger, however, was only enraged by the assault, and my attempt once again nearly ended with a shredded hand.
Finally, in desperation, I feinted with my right hand and grasped the branch with my left. This time I was successful. The tiger was very annoyed, but it was still unwilling to attack while I was so close to the edge of the precipice.
“I have the branch,” I called to Weyland.
“Good job, old man,” he replied. “If at any time in the very near future you should have an opportunity to extend it toward me, I should be most grateful.”
Though I was reluctant to turn my back on the tiger, I had no reasonable choice. Trusting to the tiger’s fear of the precipice, I turned and lay flat on my stomach. Slowly I lowered the branch until my arms were fully extended, which was just enough for Weyland to take hold of the branch. The tiger was growling behind me, but I preferred not to think about that.
“Well, done, Peevish,” said Weyland, and I braced myself for his weight.
Weyland took hold of the branch with one hand, and then let go of the root he had been holding.
Instantly the ground beneath me gave way, and I slipped over the edge with a considerable amount of dirt.
“Oh, well,” said Weyland as we both plummeted toward the river far below, “not your fault. It was a good try. Now I suppose it’s into the river for us.”
“I believe I mentioned before that I’m not much of a swimmer,” I reminded him.
“Hardly matters,” he said. “At this velocity, hitting the surface of the river will be like hitting concrete.”
Fortunately, however, we landed in the little rowboat I had spotted from above instead of in the river, so we were spared the potentially disastrous effects of a high-speed impact with the surface of the water. The pile of dirt that had slipped out from under me came down nearby with a mighty splash, and we saw the branch we had been holding floating gently downstream.
“Stroke of luck, this,” said Weyland as we took stock of our situation.
“It certainly is,” I agreed.
“I can only imagine how wet we should have been had we landed in the water instead. And now we are also spared the effort of constructing a boat.”
In addition to a pair of oars, the boat, which had two plank seats, also contained a hammer, some nails, and a serviceable pocket knife.
“I do hope we’re not depriving another party of explorers of their only transportation,” I remarked.
“A good point, Peevish.” Weyland took a scrap of paper and a mechanical pencil out of his pocket and quickly wrote out a note:
To whom it may concern:
Necessity has compelled us to make use of your boat, but when you are next in Pittsburgh, if you will take this note to the Merchants’ & Usurers’ National Bank, you will be amply compensated for your loss.
“That should take care of it,” said Weyland. He left the note on the sapling to which the boat was tied; then he untied the rope and got back in the boat, and we pushed off.
“Now the route before us is clear,” said Weyland. “We have only to follow the river to its mouth. It should be about three thousand miles, so you might wish to row a little faster, Peevish.”
It was quite pleasant on the serene river, which at this point was flowing through a wide gorge, next to the wall on the left bank, but on the right bordered by a broad flat strip of marsh and grass below the wall of the gorge. The current was not swift, but as I was rowing with it I was able to make good progress downstream. There was enough of a breeze that the tropical heat was not oppressive. Colorful flowers grew in the marsh and meadow, and butterflies were abundant. Birds in every hue of the rainbow, sometimes all on the same bird, flew overhead, making raucous music as they went. The water was so clear that I could see every fish that passed under the boat, and the large toothy reptile as well.
“I just saw an alligator,” I remarked.
“A crocodile, I believe,” said Weyland.
“What’s the difference?”
“Alligators are relatively harmless beasts that hunt fish and small animals singly,” Weyland explained. “Crocodiles hunt in groups, and they have no qualms about attacking larger prey, such as boats.”
Suddenly a hideous reptilian maw festooned with innumerable teeth rose out of the water ahead of us. Instinctively I raised one of the oars and brought it down on the monster with a loud crack. The thing sank back down into the water again.
“Quick thinking, Peevish,” said Weyland.
“Do you think I discouraged it?”
“I think you probably made it very angry,” he said. “But then you noticed I didn’t say it was good thinking.”
There was a sharp jolt: the beast had thrown itself at our boat.
Weyland grasped the oar and held it aloft.
Suddenly the creature rose up on our right. Weyland struck it with his oar, and it sank back into the water again.
“I thought you said that only made it angry,” I said.
“If we had a better weapon, I’d use it.”
“We do have a pocket knife.”
“That might be effective against a pocket crocodile. On your left!”
The reptile rose again, and again I struck it with the oar. But just as it was sinking, another rose out of the water and chomped at the boat. Weyland struck it, and it fell back, but it took a small chunk of wood with it.
“Two of them!” I exclaimed. I pushed the other one away with the oar as it came toward the boat again.
“I believe you mean three,” Weyland said as two of the creatures rose at once behind us. He swatted one of them with his oar, but the second one bit a chunk out of the end before momentarily retiring to spit out the distasteful splinters.
“I don’t think we can handle three,” I said as I smacked at one of the creatures.
“And more on the way,” said Weyland, glancing at a number of reptilian forms headed toward us from the shore, their barely exposed snouts leaving shallow wakes in the placid water. “It appears that we have a serious crocodile infestation. And we’re miles from the nearest exterminator.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: