Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XVII. Prey of the Avalanche.
“I suppose we ought to run,” I said to Weyland as the roar of the avalanche came nearer.
“It would be futile,” said Weyland. “No one has ever outrun a Pyrenean avalanche. We have only one chance, and that a slim one. Peevish—you and Miss Tluxapeketl bring me some of those planks from the wreckage. We’ll need two for each of us, including Kitty. Excellent. You really are expeditious in an emergency. Now, while I make the necessary alterations, find me some long, straight branches, about five feet, green and springy. Well done. Strip the twigs and leaves, and there you go. Now give me your feet.”
Weyland had whittled the planks into well-shaped skis, which he strapped on our feet with supple green twigs. For Kitty he had made a slightly longer pair, which the tiger patiently allowed Weyland to strap to his feet, two feet on each ski.
“Hope you’re all up for some fancy skiing,” Weyland shouted over the roar of the approaching avalanche. “Follow me as exactly as you can.”
“Just watch me,” I shouted to Tluxapeketl, “and do what I do.”
We pushed off seconds before the avalanche was upon us, Weyland leading the way, and we hurtled down the slope just ahead of the roiling mass of snow and rock. Kitty kept up with us at every turn.
“Astonishing that a tiger can do that,” I called out to Weyland.
“Siberian tigers,” he replied, “coming from a land of ice and snow, are natural skiers. Get ready… Left!”
We all executed a sudden left turn, our momentum taking us up a gentle slope. I thought we would have eluded the avalanche, but when I glanced backward I discovered that the avalanche had turned to pursue us up the hill.
“What kind of avalanche is this?” I shouted.
“The Pyrenean avalanche,” Weyland replied, “is much more devious than the more familiar Alpine avalanche. It is a wily opponent, and it will take a great deal more than one sudden turn to fool it.”
We reached the top of the short slope and began to plunge down a steep incline on the other side, heading toward a stand of fir trees.
“How’s your slalom?” Weyland called back to us.
“Tolerable,” I answered; but I could not speak for Tluxapeketl and Kitty. There was no time to worry about that, however; the forest was upon us, and I had to put all my effort into avoiding the trees. Kitty navigated the woods with remarkable skill, and sailed ahead of me to join his master; Tluxapeketl, at home in the forest, drew up even with me.
We came out of the stand of trees at speed, and continued down the irregular slope. The trees had slowed the avalanche somewhat, as it had to divide itself into multiple channels to weave its way through the woods; but now in the open it coalesced again and gained momentum.
“It’s still behind us,” I reported.
“Let’s see if it can handle this,” Weyland replied.
We were headed for another upward slope, but this one terminated abruptly. I watched as Weyland and Kitty sailed off the end and both executed perfect reverse somersaults in the air. Tluxapeketl and I did the same, following close behind. We landed on a smooth downward slope and kept going. I glanced backward just in time to see the avalanche pour off the embankment and execute a perfect double loop in the air.
“Now it’s just showing off,” I grumbled.
“Don’t let it rattle you, Peevish!” Weyland responded. “That’s what it wants! But we’ve still got one more trick up our sleeve. Be ready to make a sudden turn to the right.”
We were coming down toward what looked to me like a sheer drop. The closer we came, the more it confirmed my impression of its sheerness and its droppiness. I could see an edge, and beyond it landscape that seemed very distant. We were approaching it more and more rapidly as the downward slope became steeper and steeper.
Then suddenly Weyland made his move. “Right turn!” he shouted, and just before the edge he and Kitty made a sudden dodge to the right. Tluxapeketl and I followed immediately, just missing the edge of what was indeed a fearful precipice. There was a roar behind us, and I glanced backward to see that the avalanche, evidently less maneuverable than we were, was pouring off the edge of the cliff.
We coasted along the edge for a while, pulling back far enough to be out of danger as soon as we were certain that the avalanche was completely gone.
“Well done, everyone,” said Weyland. “We can count ourselves very fortunate, or possibly very clever. Few are the travelers who have managed to outwit a Pyrenean avalanche.”
“Is the land of pink men full of such dangers?” asked Tluxapeketl.
“Not…” Then I thought of auto accidents and train wrecks and world wars and steamer sinkings and aeroplane crashes and tornadoes and pedestrian mishaps. “Well, I suppose you could say so.”
“How exciting! The Amazonian jungle seems so dull by comparison.”
“Look down there,” said Weyland. “It’s a camp of some sort.”
The land was sloping gently downwards, and the sheer cliff had given way to a more moderate hill. Straight ahead of us, where the slope seemed to meet a mountain road of some sort, was an encampment of motley caravans.
“Should we stop there or avoid them?” I asked.
“We’re going to need some more suitable clothes,” Weyland said, “especially Miss Tluxapeketl. I think we ought to see whether a few charitable souls might be found in that camp who would be willing to take a promissory note in exchange for a warmer wardrobe.”
We approached to within a short distance of the camp and then removed our skis, finding it more convenient to walk up to the door of one of the caravans. We had decided to approach the largest and most elaborate of the lot, which was on the opposite side of the rough circle that made up the encampment.
But just as we reached the middle of the circle, all the caravans burst open at once, and we were surrounded by men with knives, rude swords, polite swords, axes, pointed sticks, and sharp objects of every description.
“Capitulez immédiatement,” said the most elaborately dressed of the men, a black-bearded individual wearing multiple layers of colorful fabric and multiple layers of knives and swords. “Fuir, c’est mourir.”
“Pyrenean mountain bandits!” Weyland exclaimed.
“Ah!” said the bandit chieftain. “You speak English? Jolly good, old chaps, what ho, and all that sort of rot. Hand over your valuables, if you’ll be so kind, with particular attention to any objects that may happen to be made of Bakelite, and we might be persuaded to spare your lives.”
“I’m afraid we have no valuables,” said Weyland.
“No Bakelite shaving kits?”
“No elaborate Bakelite clocks?”
“Dollar watch from Connecticut. Keeps marvelous time, mind you.”
“The lady isn’t concealing a stash of Bakelite jewelry?”
Tluxapeketl removed my jacket.
The bandit chieftain coughed. “Evidently, uh, not. Well, in that case, we can’t rob you of anything, can we?”
“It would seem not,” said Weyland.
“So,” the bandit chieftain continued, “we’ll just have to hold you for ransom.” He turned to the man beside him, who was also festooned with sharp objects. “Take them to the cave.”
“I think,” said Weyland, “that you have reckoned without one important fact.”
“And what is that?” asked the chieftain.
“I have a tiger. —Kitty, explain to these gentlemen why it would be better for them to leave us alone.
Kitty snarled and approached the bandit chieftain.
The man beside the chieftain reached into his pocket and pulled something out. He tossed what looked like dried tea or some other kind of vegetable matter at the tiger.
Kitty stopped. He sniffed. Then he rolled over, purring, with all four paws in the air, rubbing his back in the snow until he began to rise from the ground as if levitating.
“The fiends!” Weyland exclaimed. “They’ve got catnip!”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: