My Tropic Isle, by E. J. Banfield

Chapter XI

Fight to a Finish

“Dire and parlous was the fight that was fought.”

With logic as absolute as that of the grape that can “the two-and-twenty jarring sects confute,” Nature sets at naught the most ancient of axioms. How obvious is it that the lesser cannot contain the greater! Yet that Nature under certain circumstances blandly puts her thumb unto her nose and spreads her fingers out even at that irrefragable postulate, let this plain statement of fact stand proof.

Where the grass was comparatively sparse a little lizard, upon whose bronze head the sunlight glistened, sighted on a chip a lumbering “March” fly dreaming of blood, and with a dash that almost eluded observation seized and shook it. With many sore gulps and excessive straining — for the lizard was young and tender — the tough old fly was swallowed. While the lizard licked its jaws and twirled its tail with an air of foppish self-concern and haughty pride, a withered leaf not three inches away stirred without apparent cause, and in a flash a tiny death adder grappled the lizard by the waist. The grey leaf had screened its approach.

Both rolled over and over, struggling violently. For a minute or two there was such an intertwining and confusion of sinuous bodies that it was impossible to distinguish one from the other. The grip of the death adder was not to be lightly shaken off. When “time” was called, the truce lasted several minutes. Then the wrestling was continued in a miniature cyclone of sand and grass-chips. All the energy was on the part of the lizard. The death-adder kept on doing nothing in a dreadfully determined way. In fighting weight the combatants seemed to be fairly equally matched, but in length the lizard had the advantage by at least two inches. The adder was slightly the bulkier. At times the lizard, full of pluck, would scamper away a few inches, dragging the adder, or would claw the sand into tiny, ineffectual furrows in vain efforts. The adder was never able to shake the lizard; it merely maintained its grip. All the wit and sprightliness of the fight was on the part of the lizard, who lashed its foe with its pliant tail, and endeavoured so to swerve as to bite. Both were light weights. One was all dash and sportive agileness; the other played a dull waiting game with admirable finesse.

In spite of the greater activity and muscular power of the lizard, the combat seemed unfair, for in the cunning persistency of the frail but determined little snake there was something uncanny and nerve-shaking. For fully ten minutes the fight continued. The violent antics of the lizard became less and less frequent. Obviously the tactics of the snake were wearing it down. Though the lizard seemed to have lost none of its spirit, the flesh was becoming weak. While it panted, its eyes twinkled with inane ferocity, and the snake, with that peculiar fearsome, gliding movement — neither wriggle nor squirm — typical of the species, slowly edged its victim under the shadow of a tussock. There both reposed, the snake calm in craft and design, the lizard waiting for the one chance of its life. Swallowing the lizard under any circumstances seemed an impossible feat. To begin the act in the middle of the body was absolutely beyond accomplishment. There would come a time when the death-adder must release its hold to re-seize its prey by the head or tail, and if the soul of the lizard could possess itself in patience until that moment, and take advantage of it, all might be well.

Now, it seemed to me, the only witness to this fateful fray, that both parties to it knew that the crisis had yet to come. The lizard reserved all its energy for a supreme effort — for one leap to liberty and life — while its impassive foe stolidly concentrated its powers in the direction of an instantaneous release and a fresh grip at a convenient part. Thus they lay. A thrill of excitement possessed me as I watched. The flashing alertness of a fly-catching lizard, is it not proverbial? Which was to be the master — the more muscular creature with four legs, the whole previous existence of which had depended upon its agility, or the subtle, slow, snake, which moves under ordinary circumstances not very much faster than a clammy worm? As I watched with all possible keenness a grey blur followed by bewildering wrigglings and contortions indicated a new manoeuvre. Then instead of two reptiles at right angles, there appeared to be but one, and with a tail at each end. The head of the lizard was in the jaws of the death-adder. The fatal quickness of the snake had decided the combat.

But the lizard was not yet resigned to its fate. It rolled and reared and wriggled, tossing and tumbling the adder; but all in vain.

Alas! light-hearted lizard, servant and trustful companion of man, thou art joined in woeful issue! There can be no deliverance for thy jewelled head from that slow, all-absorbing chancery! No striving, no pushing with frenzied fingers, no lashing with that whip-like tail may now avail. Never more may you bask and blink in the glare, or doze in the knife-edged shadows, or pounce upon gauze-winged flies. Thou hast learned too late that snakes, like democracy, never restore anything.

I waited for the finish, which came with painful slowness. The sides of the victim heaved and quivered even as they slowly disappeared and the end of that once foppish tail twitched sadly as it hung limply from the jaws of the gorged snake.

Although it had practically demonstrated that the lesser can contain the greater, the snake was but triflingly increased in girth. It was just in that phenomenal condition which entitled it to the honour of preservation in a solution of formalin.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/banfield/ej/b21tr/chapter11.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32