My Father's Dragon
Chapter FiveMy Father Meets Some Tigers
The river was very wide and muddy, and the jungle was very gloomy and dense.
The trees grew close to each other, and what room there was between them was taken up by great high ferns with sticky leaves.
My father hated to leave the beach, but he decided to start along the river bank where at least the jungle wasn't quite so thick.
He ate three tangerines, making sure to keep all the peels this time, and put on his rubber boots.
My father tried to follow the river bank but it was very swampy, and as he went farther the swamp became deeper.
When it was almost as deep as his boot tops he got stuck in the oozy, mucky mud.
My father tugged and tugged, and nearly pulled his boots right off, but at last he managed to wade to a drier place.
Here the jungle was so thick that he could hardly see where the river was. He unpacked his compass and figured out the direction he should walk in order to stay near the river.
But he didn't know that the river made a very sharp curve away from him just a little way beyond, and so as he walked straight ahead he was getting farther and farther away from the river.
It was very hard to walk in the jungle. The sticky leaves of the ferns caught at my father's hair, and he kept tripping over roots and rotten logs.
Sometimes the trees were clumped so closely together that he couldn't squeeze between them and had to walk a long way around.
He began to hear whispery noises, but he couldn't see any animals anywhere.
The deeper into the jungle he went the surer he was that something was following him, and then he thought he heard whispery noises on both sides of him as well as behind.
He tried to run, but he tripped over more roots, and the noises only came nearer. Once or twice he thought he heard something laughing at him.
At last he came out into a clearing and ran right into the middle of it so that he could see anything that might try to attack him.
Was he surprised when he looked and saw fourteen green eyes coming out of the jungle all around the clearing, and when the green eyes turned into seven tigers!
The tigers walked around him in a big circle, looking hungrier all the time, and then they sat down and began to talk.
"I suppose you thought we didn't know you were trespassing in our jungle!"
Then the next tiger spoke. "I suppose you're going to say you didn't know it was our jungle!"
"Did you know that not one explorer has ever left this island alive?" said the third tiger.
My father thought of the cat and knew this wasn't true. But of course he had too much sense to say so. One doesn't contradict a hungry tiger.
The tigers went on talking in turn. "You're our first little boy, you know. I'm curious to know if you're especially tender."
"Maybe you think we have regular meal-times, but we don't. We just eat whenever we're feeling hungry," said the fifth tiger.
"And we're very hungry right now. In fact, I can hardly wait," said the sixth.
"I can't wait!" said the seventh tiger.
And then all the tigers said together in a loud roar, "Let's begin right now!" and they moved in closer.
My father looked at those seven hungry tigers, and then he had an idea. He quickly opened his knapsack and took out the chewing gum.
The cat had told him that tigers were especially fond of chewing gum, which was very scarce on the island.
So he threw them each a piece but they only growled, "As fond as we are of chewing gum, we're sure we'd like you even better!" and they moved so close that he could feel them breathing on his face.
"But this is very special chewing gum," said my father.
"If you keep on chewing it long enough it will turn green, and then if you plant it, it will grow more chewing gum, and the sooner you start chewing the sooner you'll have more."
The tigers said, "Why, you don't say! Isn't that fine!" And as each one wanted to be the first to plant the chewing gum, they all unwrapped their pieces and began chewing as hard as they could.
Every once in a while one tiger would look into another's mouth and say, "Nope, it's not done yet," until finally they were all so busy looking into each other's mouths to make sure that no one was getting ahead that they forgot all about my father.Chapter SixMy Father Meets a Rhinoceros
My father soon found a trail leading away from the clearing. All sorts of animals might be using it too, but he decided to follow the trail no matter what he met because it might lead to the dragon. He kept a sharp lookout in front and behind and went on.
Just as he was feeling quite safe, he came around
a curve right behind the two wild boars. One of them was saying to the other, "Did you know that the tortoises thought they saw Monkey carrying his sick grandmother to the doctor's last night? But Monkey's grandmother died a week ago, so they must have seen something else. I wonder what it was."
"I told you that there was an invasion afoot," said the other boar, "and I intend to find out what it is. I simply can't stand invasions."
"Nee meither," said a tiny little voice. "I mean, me neither," and my father knew that the mouse was there, too.
"Well," said the first boar, "you search the trail up this way to the dragon. I'll go back down the other way through the big clearing, and we'll send Mouse to watch the Ocean Rocks in case the invasion should decide to go away before we find it."
My father hid behind a mahogany tree just in time, and the first boar walked right past him. My father waited for the other boar to get a head start on him, but he didn't wait very long because he knew that when the first boar saw the tigers chewing gum in the clearing, he'd be even more suspicious.
Soon the trail crossed a little brook and my father, who by this time was very thirsty, stopped to get a drink of water. He still had on his rubber boots, so he waded into a little pool of water and was stooping down when something quite sharp picked him up by the seat of the pants and shook him very hard.
"Don't you know that's my private weeping pool?" said a deep angry voice.
My father couldn't see who was talking because he was hanging in the air right over the pool, but he said, "Oh, no, I'm so sorry.
I didn't know that everybody had a private weeping pool."
"Everybody doesn't!" said the angry voice, "but I do because I have such a big thing to weep about, and I drown everybody I find using my weeping pool." With that the animal tossed my father up and down over the water.
"What—is it—that—you—weep about—so much?" asked my father, trying to get his breath, and he thought over all the things he had in his pack.
"Oh, I have many things to weep about, but the biggest thing is the color of my tusk." My father squirmed every which way trying to see the tusk, but it was through the seat of his pants where he couldn't possibly see it.
"When I was a young rhinoceros, my tusk was pearly white," said the animal (and then my father knew that he was hanging by the seat of his pants from a rhinoceros' tusk!), "but it has turned a nasty yellow-gray in my old age, and I find it very ugly.
You see, everything else about me is ugly, but when I had a beautiful tusk I didn't worry so much about the rest.
Now that my tusk is ugly too, I can't sleep nights just thinking about how completely ugly I am, and I weep all the time.
But why should I be telling you these things? I caught you using my pool and now I'm going to drown you."
"Oh, wait a minute, Rhinoceros," said my father. "I have some things that will make your tusk all white and beautiful again. Just let me down and I'll give them to you."
The rhinoceros said, "You do? I can hardly believe it! Why, I'm so excited!" He put my father down and danced around in a circle while my father got out the tube of tooth paste and the toothbrush.
"Now," said my father, "just move your tusk a little nearer, please, and I'll show you how to begin." My father wet the brush in the pool, squeezed on a dab of tooth paste, and scrubbed very hard in one tiny spot.
Then he told the rhinoceros to wash it off, and when the pool was calm again, he told the rhinoceros to look in the water and see how white the little spot was.
It was hard to see in the dim light of the jungle, but sure enough, the spot shone pearly white, just like new.
The rhinoceros was so pleased that he grabbed the toothbrush and began scrubbing violently, forgetting all about my father.
Just then my father heard hoofsteps and he jumped behind the rhinoceros.
It was the boar coming back from the big clearing where the tigers were chewing gum.
The boar looked at the rhinoceros, and at the toothbrush, and at the tube of tooth paste, and then he scratched his ear on a tree.
"Tell me, Rhinoceros," he said, "where did you get that fine tube of tooth paste and that toothbrush?"
"Too busy!" said the rhinoceros, and he went on brushing as hard as he could.
The boar sniffed angrily and trotted down the trail toward the dragon, muttering to himself, "Very suspicious—tigers too busy chewing gum, Rhinoceros too busy brushing his tusk—must get hold of that invasion.
Don't like it one bit, not one bit! It's upsetting everybody terribly—wonder what it's doing here, anyway."