The Preposterous Adventures of Swimmer (10 page)

BOOK: The Preposterous Adventures of Swimmer
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“Anyway, when she gave the word, that dog allowed me to come up and talk to her. So I got the whole story.”

“It's shocking,” said Mr. Tippet. “Utterly shocking. I'm surprised that Welfare doesn't do something about her.”

“Welfare!” Mr. Hogarth snorted. “Grady Sykes has a sister that practically runs the Welfare office. Regular battle-ax. That's how he got the girl. Just wanted her for a slavey.”

“But can't something—”

“There's little that can be done except to adopt her, and no one around here will do that. I couldn't, even if I were willing—I'm a bachelor and live at the hotel. Anyway, the girl would rather stay here than leave her friends.”

“Eh? What friends, Mr. Hogarth?”

“Her wild friends, Mr. Tippet. That monster of a dog for one, he's as wild as a wolf. And, judging from the things she let slip, about every wild creature around here, including all the otters.”

“But—but—that's incredible!” Mr. Tippet exclaimed.

“She's an incredible person,” said Mr. Hogarth. “The most remarkable I've ever known, as I'm only now finding out. Of course, when I talked to her this morning, I didn't even dream that she'd already found Swimmer and had probably been taking care of him. Why, I'll bet she'd just finished cutting off that bell and harness when we came down here yesterday!”

“My word! She must have.”

“The thing would be a nuisance to an animal in the wild state,” Mr. Hogarth went on. Suddenly he chuckled. “And there she was, knowing all the time where Swimmer was hiding and not letting out a peep. Even sent Jules down to the beaver pond. What a girl!”

Mr. Tippet glanced at his watch and reached over and made an adjustment on the walkie-talkie standing with raised antenna on the rock between them. He was instantly rewarded by a rasp of static and a demanding voice.

“Tippet? Can you hear me, Tippet?”

“I hear you clearly, Doctor.”

“Tippet, I've been monitoring your conversation. Just who is this incredible paragon of childhood who took it upon herself to remove Swimmer's bell and harness?”

“Her—her name is Penny, sir. She's a little redheaded orphan that the local Welfare office boarded out to that fellow Sykes.”

“Then get her down there to help you. Impress it upon her that she had no business doing what she did. Swimmer is private property, and now it's her duty to help recover him if she knows where he is. Got that straight?”

Mr. Tippet looked uncomfortable. “I—I understand, Doctor. But—”

“No buts, Tippet. Get the girl down there. If she wants money, give it to her.”

Mr. Hogarth leaned over and said, “Let me speak to him, Mr. Tippet.”

“Doctor,” said Mr. Tippet, “Mr. Hogarth, who owns the local paper here, would like a word with you.”

“Go ahead, Hogarth,” the renowned voice directed.

“It's just this, Dr. Hoffman. Penny happens to be on Swimmer's side, and nothing in the world could ever make her change her mind and help you.”

“That's nonsense, Hogarth. You don't know people.”

“I know this one,” Mr. Hogarth retorted. “Furthermore I've heard some of your lectures, and I've long been interested in Swimmer.”

“Well?”

“Doctor,” Mr. Hogarth continued, “you know better than anyone that Swimmer has a mind that is the equal of a human's and has the same range of feeling as a human.”

“What's your point, Hogarth?”

“My point, Doctor, is that Swimmer had his reasons for running away. He'll hate you if you take him back by force and cage him again.”

“Nonsense! He needs to be taught a lesson.”

“Treat him that way and he'll refuse to work with you. Not only that, but it could be a very brutal business if Jules drives him out of his hiding place. We've reason to believe that more otters are with him, and they'll probably be killed.”

“I can't help that.”

“The devil you can't! This happens to be a wildlife sanctuary. If you allow any sort of outrage here, I'll give you some publicity you'll never get over.”

“Don't threaten me with that one-horse paper of yours, Hogarth. I'm a man of means, and I'll wreck you!”

“Oh, no, Doctor. I'll wreck
you
. My one-horse paper is merely a hobby. I'm Johnson Hogarth, and my comments are printed in hundreds of papers and read by millions of Americans.”

There was a shocked silence. At last Mr. Tippet gasped, “Good heavens, I'd been thinking you looked familiar, but I didn't realize you were
Johnson
Hogarth, the columnist!”

“Should it make so much difference? Am I a man or a name?” Mr. Hogarth shook his head. “We humans haven't much to be proud of. All I want is to make sure that Swimmer gets a fair deal—and that goes for all the other creatures.”

Swimmer added Mr. Hogarth to his meager list of worthy humans and wondered what would really happen when the chips were down and Snake Eyes discovered the secret of the den's entrance. Not, of course, that he intended for Ripple and Willow and himself to remain there very long after that event. But Snake Eyes was tricky, and with the thought of Doc's money driving him on, he wouldn't let anything stand in his way—much less a little nastiness with a club.

Ever since the search had narrowed down to the tree, Swimmer's uneasiness had been growing. Now, all at once, he had the awful feeling that something was very wrong. It was so overwhelming that he left the peephole and crept down to the main part of the den.

In the dimness Willow and Ripple looked at him questioningly.
There is more trouble somewhere?

There is a wrongness. I feel it. The other entrance
—
when did you use it last?

Before the ice melted
, Willow told him. And Ripple added,
This entrance was frozen
.

Let us try the other entrance now
.

Willow led the way. The tunnel was black and winding and suddenly so narrow from fallen rock that Swimmer stopped instinctively, then carefully backed out. In a moment Willow confirmed his fears. The rock walls had cracked and caved in, and the way was blocked completely. Nor could it be used as a temporary refuge, for there was no loose gravel or dirt available to seal it off tightly from the den.

Swimmer was shaken. Even his leg, which had not troubled him since Clarence left, began to throb again. What a blatthead I was! he thought. Why didn't we go to the beaver pond last night?

But it wasn't too late. If they worked it right, maybe they could slip past Snake Eyes and Jake and start downstream without being noticed.

He climbed hurriedly to his peephole to study the possibilities, and again his hopes fell. In the short time he had been away from his post, Snake Eyes had taken the precaution of stretching a fishnet entirely around the tangle of roots. Now, both trappers were leaning over the net, using long willow switches to probe the curving holes.

Even as Swimmer watched, Jake suddenly yelled as his flexible willow switch slid out of sight. “Found it! Trickiest thing I ever seen! I'll git the bag net.”

It was now, for the first time in his life, that Swimmer prayed. It was not to the remote god of humans that he prayed, for he rather doubted that this divinity had much time for poor otters beset by humans. Instead, his appeal went to the Great Force he had been too young to understand when captured and too shut away from in the lab even to feel. But he had been aware of it from the very moment of escape. It was the Power that directs the flow of streams, that designs the spots for nests and dens, that gives the food and brings new days, that lives and speaks in every growing thing beneath the sun.

Please help us!
he implored the Power.

And instantly, because he was thinking of Ripple and Willow instead of himself, the answer came. It was so simple that he wondered why he hadn't thought of it on his own, for even a one-eyed newt should have seen the straight of it.

Of course, it rather upset his plan. But maybe, somehow, the Power would help him there.…

Swimmer filled his lungs, pressed his face close against the opening, and called out as loudly and distinctly as he could in his smallish gnome voice:

“Mr. Tippet! Mr. Tippet! This is Swimmer in the tree. Hold everything! I'm ready to make a deal.”

8

He Holds a Parley

O
n Mr. Tippet's strained and shattered face there was a curious mixture of shock and disbelief. On Mr. Hogarth's face there was only a great wonder. Snake Eyes, in the act of cutting himself a chew of tobacco while he waited in the water for Jake, dropped his plug and stared upward like a man rudely slapped. Jake, who had just climbed to the bank, became a temporary idiot, for he merely stood there blankly and shook his head.

It was Mr. Hogarth who first found his tongue. “Is that really you, Swimmer?”

“It's me, Mr. Hogarth. I'm almost over your head in this hollow place. And I'm mighty glad you're here and on my side. Please, tell Mr. Tippet to tell Snake Eyes—Jules, I mean—to take the net away from the tree. They've no right to bother my friends. I'm the one they're after.”

Mr. Tippet gasped, “What—what is this? Some kind of a joke?”

Mr. Hogarth said, “It's no joke, Mr. Tippet. I can just make out Swimmer's face up there in that hole between the leaves. He knows how to talk.”

“But—but that's impossible!”

“Oh, come now! I once knew a dog that could talk, and I understand some dolphins are very proficient at it. Mr. Tippet, Swimmer made a request. What are you going to do about it?”

“Oh, devil take it! Swimmer, what's this all about?”

“I told you I was ready to make a deal, Mr. Tippet. Tell that Jules to take his net away first and go back to where he has his dog tied up. I—I've got friends here with me and I don't want him anywhere around.”

Mr. Tippet shook his head, a little dazed. “But Swimmer, he—he's not going to hurt your friends. He's been expressly warned not to.”

“Phooey!” Swimmer cried. “I know what's in his scumpy mind better than you! He's all set to gas the tree and kill my friends when they come out—and then say he couldn't help it. He wants their pelts!”

“Swimmer, you—you don't know what you're talking about.”

“I do too! He's a dirty snake-eyed skrink, and I say get rid of him! He's the one that trapped me years ago and killed my mother!”

Before the astounded Mr. Tippet could pull his wits together, Snake Eyes came sloshing out of the creek, cursing. His threats were drowned in the sudden blast that came from the walkie-talkie.

“Tippet! Confound it, Tippet, what the devil's going on there? Explain yourself!”

Mr. Hogarth, being much nearer, calmly picked up the walkie-talkie and said, “Doctor, this is Johnson Hogarth again. Mr. Tippet is having some trouble adjusting to an interesting new development. It may surprise you to know that Swimmer can talk. He is now trying to make a deal—”

“Talk? Talk? Swimmer has a high I.Q., but speech is beyond him. What nonsense is this?”

“It is not nonsense. Swimmer
can
talk, and he has a fine command of language, as four witnesses here can testify. Pardon me, but I see another development on the way. Here come Clarence and that Cherokee lawyer, Hiram Owl, and I believe that's a Wildlife Commission officer with them. H'mm. I'm afraid you're missing something by not being here, Doctor.”

Swimmer was so glad to see Clarence's face again that he almost cried out, but caution held his tongue. Clarence was clearly up to something, and it had to do with the law. But what?

Below him Clarence spoke politely to Mr. Tippet and Mr. Hogarth and introduced Mr. Owl. The lawyer was a quiet, square-bodied little man with a brown-gold squarish face that did indeed look like a dried apple, as Clarence had said, for it was crossed with a thousand small wrinkles. It surprised Swimmer when the lawyer and Mr. Hogarth shook hands, smiling, and called each other by their first names.

“By the look in your eye, Hiram,” said Mr. Hogarth, “you're ready to spring something. Another legal bomb?”

“Johnny,” said Mr. Owl, “it's just a small token of my respect for the otter clan, of which I happen to be a member.” He nodded toward the very blond young man in the khaki uniform and continued, “Gentlemen, this is Patrolman Swensen of the Wildlife Commission. Mr. Tippet, Patrolman Swensen is bringing you a restraining order from Judge Moffet's office.”

“A restraining order?” Mr. Tippet said sharply. “To restrain me from doing what?”

“From doing what you're doing, sir,” Patrolman Swensen said politely. He stepped forward and presented Mr. Tippet with a folded paper. “It's a new one to me, sir, but it's absolutely legal, for the judge explained it to me himself. It, er, forbids anyone to trap, catch, or in any manner to restrict the liberty of any wild, or formerly wild, creature indigenous to this area, while within the boundaries of a wildlife refuge.”

“In other words,” said Mr. Owl, “the law forbids you to touch Swimmer as long as he's here in the refuge.”

Mr. Tippet stared at him, then glared accusingly at Clarence. Suddenly he snatched the walkie-talkie from Mr. Hogarth, and said hoarsely, “Doctor, this is Tippet. Were you able to hear enough to know what's happened here?”

“Yes, confound it, I heard it,” Dr. Hoffman's voice roared back from the speaker. “Who is responsible for this—this infernal idiocy?”

Mr. Tippet leveled an accusing finger at Clarence, but before he could say anything the black man reached for the walkie-talkie and said politely, “Dr. Hoffman, this is Clarence. You can blame me for the restraining order, sir. I got it for Swimmer's own good. You see—”

“No, I don't see. I don't see at all! When I hired you I expected loyalty—”

BOOK: The Preposterous Adventures of Swimmer
9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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