Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER IX: In the Tiger’s Eye.
“Now what do we do?” I asked Weyland.
“A bit of a curious turn,” he said. “I’ve always been very fond of cats, but not in such quantity or volume.”
“I worry that these cats may be rather too fond of us. They seem to be coming closer.”
“So they do. I can’t help noticing that all six of them seem to be advancing at once. They are closing the circle.”
“I had noticed that myself.”
“Once again, Peevish, I rely on you to take direction. When I say ‘drop,’ I want you to drop on the ground and roll to the right. I shall do the same. Are you ready?”
“I’m ready,” I assured him. “Is there any more to the strategy than that?”
“We’ll worry about that later. Wait for my signal.”
The cats were all very near now. I could feel their breath. I looked into the mesmerizing eyes of the tiger and saw its ravenous hunger. Its hips were beginning to sway back and forth; it was crouching for a pounce.
“Drop!” Weyland shouted.
Instantly I fell on the ground and rolled to my right, ending up on my back, where I had a view of the extraordinary events that occurred in the next two seconds. The lynx had leapt first, but the jaguar leapt almost simultaneously and swallowed the lynx whole; the puma or mountain lion or Nittany lion or cougar or panther or catamount leapt and devoured the jaguar; the leopard, flying through the air at exactly that moment, swallowed the puma (etc.); the lion then immediately devoured the leopard; and the tiger, completing the pounce it had already begun, consumed the lion in one gulp. It landed with a heavy thud, licking its chops.
Weyland quickly made a broad semicircle around the tiger and joined me. “That takes care of five-sixths of our cat problem,” he said.
“Do you have a plan for the remaining sixth?” I asked as the tiger turned to face us again.
“My current plan is to run,” he replied, and we both took off at a very fast clip.
Fortunately the tiger, weighted down by its recent meal, was considerably slower than it might have been otherwise, which gave us a bit more of a chance. In fact we outpaced the beast as long as we kept going, but as soon as we stopped, we would find, after a few minutes, the tiger inexorably gaining on us.
“Dashed nuisance having a Siberian tiger on one’s tail,” Weyland said during one of our stops. “They are indefatigable trackers. They can follow a trail for days. Our only hope is to find the nearest river, construct a serviceable boat, and paddle our way downstream to safety.”
“But wait,” I said, seized by a sudden inspiration. “I think I have an idea. What if we dug a pit? We could make it quite deep, cover it with branches, and make a mat of leaves over the branches, so that the pit became entirely invisible; then we could wait behind it for the beast to approach. We ourselves would be the bait, you see. Then when the tiger came to attack us, it would step on the mat, and its considerable weight would break through the branches. It would fall into the pit, and we should be rid of it.”
“Ah,” said Weyland, “the classic Burmese tiger trap. Well done, Peevish: good thinking. There is only one fatal flaw in your plan, which is that we are being pursued by a Siberian tiger, not a Burmese one.”
“True,” I acknowledged. “I had forgotten. Pity.” I was a little ashamed of myself: it had seemed like such a good plan, but how could I have neglected a point so obvious, and so fatal to any chance of success?
“Meanwhile,” said Weyland, “I believe it is time for us to continue.”
Indeed, we could see the tiger moving toward us through the trees in the distance, so we took off, following Weyland’s general principle of running downhill as much as possible.
I must admit I was beginning to tire. The tropical forest was humid, which made it seem hotter than it was; I was too polite to perspire in Weyland’s company, of course, but the heat induced feelings of fatigue detrimental to the efficiency of my running. When we next paused, I mentioned to Weyland that he might want to go on without me.
“Nonsense, Peevish,” he replied. “You’re essential to me.”
“I’m afraid I’ll only hold you back,” I said. “The world depends on you to defeat Kun and prevent our becoming slaves of the Andorrans. I cannot allow you to fail merely because your misguided loyalty to me caused you to hold back and be consumed by the tiger.”
“But, Peevish, old boy, supposing I did go and defeat the Devil King without you: who would chronicle my adventures?”
“I should think you capable of writing your own memoirs.”
“No one would ever believe me if I wrote about myself, Peevish. These incidents would appear to everyone to be a series of wildly improbable fictions. Only someone as pedestrian and unimaginative as you will be believed.”
“I suppose that is true,” I conceded
“So buck up, Peevish. I have a feeling our situation is about to change. Let’s get going again, as I believe that is our tiger approaching from the north.”
Once again we began to run downhill, and once again we were outpacing the beast as long as we kept going. But a few minutes later we suddenly halted. Weyland’s hand was up again.
I looked ahead and saw the reason for the halt. A party of natives stood not fifty yards away, and they had spotted us.
We turned and ran in the other direction, but there was the tiger behind us.
Making a ninety-degree turn, we ran in a perpendicular direction, glancing behind us frequently. In fact we may have spent more time looking backward than looking forward, which may account for the fact that we did not notice the cliff until we had nearly run right off into space. Weyland stopped just in time, with his feet on the edge of a precipice overlooking a broad river far below.
“That was close, Peevish,” said Weyland.
Suddenly the earth and rock under his feet gave way, and Weyland slipped over the edge.
Just as he was falling, he managed to grasp a root that stuck out from the cliff face. And there he dangled, several feet below the edge of the cliff.
“Do you suppose you could give me a hand?” he asked.
I lay on the ground and leaned out over the edge. The river was far below me: a rowboat moored at the edge of it looked like a child’s toy from our height. I stretched my arm as far down as it would go, but I could not reach Weyland’s hand.
“Perhaps you could fetch a branch,” he suggested.
I pulled myself back from the edge and turned around—and there was the tiger right behind me. I froze in place.
“Don’t want to rush you, old man,” said Weyland, “but I think this root may be giving way.”
“The tiger is right here,” I explained.
“Ah, I see,” came Weyland’s voice from over the cliff. And then, more brightly: “I say, Peevish! When you do come to write that chronicle, this will be an excellent place to end a chapter. A real ‘cliff-hanger,’ eh?”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: