Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XI: Tears of the Crocodile.
“As I see it,” said Weyland as he conked a rising beast, “we have two options. One is to be eaten, which I suppose has its advantages, but they seem to me to be outweighed by the disadvantages. The second—how well do you remember your Shakespeare, old man?”
“Tolerably well,” I said, pushing one of the smaller crocodiles away with my oar.
“King Lear, then,” he said, poking a rising reptile in the chest. “I’ll do Lear; you do Cordelia; we’ll split the other parts between us. Follow my lead and we just might have a chance.”
So we began to perform King Lear for the most reptilian audience ever to be invited to an amateur production of Shakespeare. At first the crocodiles continued to attack our boat; but they were soon raptly attentive to our performance. Fortunately Weyland and I remembered the play well from Mrs. Ricketts’ fifth-grade English class. We drifted along in the current, and the beasts drifted along beside us, hundreds of them by now, mesmerized by the flow of iambic pentameter, and twitching their tails expressively with every emotion as the story played out in front of them. When we reached the devastating final act, the crocodiles were so overcome that they began sobbing uncontrollably. I do not think I have ever seen a sadder sight than hundreds of crocodiles, blinded by their own tears, weeping on one another’s shoulders. They ceased to pursue us, however, and with some quick rowing I was able to put a considerable distance between us and our audience before they were able to recover.
“Well done, Peevish,” said Weyland. “Your Cordelia was extraordinarily moving. I don’t believe I have ever seen a finer performance of that role.”
“How did you know it would work?” I asked.
“I trusted you to remember the part from Mrs. Ricketts’ class.”
“I meant how did you know the crocodiles would respond to King Lear the way they did? I was not aware that crocodiles were so susceptible to the dramatic arts.”
“The lachrymosity of the Amazon headwaters crocodile is legendary,” Weyland explained. “It was merely a matter of finding a suitable means of inducing a lachrymose state in the beasts, which King Lear did admirably.”
“Well, except for the crocodiles, which we now know how to handle should the need arise, this is a very pleasant stretch of river.”
And indeed it was. We had left the gorge behind us, and now the river was lined with forest on both sides, alternating with patches of marshy meadow. As the river flowed quietly on its way, the ever-changing spectacle on the banks provided us with ceaseless entertainment.
Suddenly a colorful parrot landed in our boat between us.
“Consolidated Fixture up three and a quarter,” said the parrot.
“It talks!” I exclaimed with delight.
“National Cream Cracker down one-half,” said the parrot.
“Well!” said Weyland, “this is a rara avis indeed. The Amazonian stockbroker parrot has been seen only by a privileged few explorers.”
“Rapid City Electric Traction up one and three quarters,” said the parrot.
“Why does it quote stock figures like that?” I asked.
“Pork Derivatives Corp down one and a half,” said the parrot.
“This species is a perfect demonstration of Darwin’s principle of sexual selection,” Weyland explained. “The male with the best-performing stock portfolio is naturally preferred by the females.”
Suddenly the bird launched itself from the boat. Swooping low over the water, it plucked out a plump fish and flew off toward the bank.
“What a remarkable bird!” I said. “I’ve never seen a parrot that ate fish before.”
“Oh, the parrot doesn’t eat the fish. Do you see where it landed in that tree?”
I did see, and it was a curious sight. The bird had landed in the crook of a branch where a large nest seemed to be under construction. A long and fat snake was in the tree as well, and at first I thought the parrot might become a snake’s dinner. But then I saw that the parrot was actually feeding the fish to the snake.
“Well, that’s very odd,” I said. “I thought the snake would eat the bird, but the bird is feeding it fish! What kind of snake is that?”
“A boa constructor,” said Weyland. “It subsists on a diet of fish, but it is incapable of catching the fish for itself. It therefore is fed by certain species of parrot, in return for which it very skillfully builds their nests for them.”
“Nature is full of wonders,” I remarked.
I had been distracted by the parrot enough that I had not noticed a change in the aspect of the river. The flow was more rapid now, with irregular whirls and eddies here and there.
“We may be heading for a bumpy patch,” said Weyland.
I turned to look ahead of us. There were some rapids ahead: I could see the foaming water, and soon I could hear it as well. I turned to face the rapids and see how best to guide our little boat through them.
“Doesn’t look too bad,” I told Weyland. “I’ve done some whitewater rafting in my time. It’s just a matter of working with the currents.”
“Splendid,” said Weyland. “I’ll leave it to you, then.”
As we came to the first of the rapids, I used the oars to guide the boat neatly through the most suitable channels, avoiding rocks and dangerous spills. I was rather enjoying myself, in fact. The brisk movement, the bracing spray, and the roar of churning water brought back memories of the Youghiogheny back home.
The next set of rapids was a bit more of a challenge, but it was nothing beyond my skill. I had to concentrate on the task at hand, so I spent most of the time worrying about the rocks nearby.
“I say, Peevish,” Weyland shouted over the roaring water, “is it good for the river to be simply disappearing like that?”
I glanced ahead. Some distance downstream, the river vanished from sight.
“Not good at all,” I replied. I frantically paddled sideways, hoping to reach a rock or some other obstruction that would hold us back, but the water swiftly and inexorably carried us over the lip of the falls.
It was probably a fifteen-foot drop, but by good luck and coolheadedness we managed to come down over the roaring cascade and keep going without swamping our boat.
“Well done, Peevish,” Weyland shouted enthusiastically.
“Easy as pie,” I replied, quite proud of myself.
“I imagine this next one should be just as easy,” said Weyland.
Even as he spoke we were flung over the edge of another cascade; but this one, as we could now see, was a cataract hundreds of feet high.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: