The War with the Newts, by Karel Čapek

Chapter 7

The Yacht in the Lagoon (continued)

On board the Gloria Pickford that evening there were no personal quarrels, but scientific theories were bandied noisily. Fred (loyally supported by Abe) judged that it must certainly have been some kind of lizard, whereas the captain decided on a mammal. There aren’t any lizards in the sea, the captain insisted angrily; but the young men from the university gave him no credence; and lizards are somehow more of a sensation. Sweetheart Li contented herself with the belief that they were tritons, that they were so sweet, and it was altogether such a success; and (in the blue striped pyjamas that Abe liked so much) her eyes shone as she dreamt of pearls and of gods of the sea. Judy, of course, was convinced it was all just humbug and nonsense and that Li and Abe had thought the whole thing up. She made furious signs to Fred that he should just leave it. Abe thought that Li should have told them about how he, Abe, went fearlessly among these lizards to fetch her bathing gown; which is why he told them three times about how Li faced them down while he, Abe, pushed the boat out into the water, and he was about to tell them for a fourth time except that Fred and the captain were not listening as they argued passionately about lizards and mammals. (As if it even mattered what they were, thought Abe.) In the end Judy yawned and said she was going to bed; she looked meaningfully at Fred, but Fred had just remembered that before the Flood there were all sorts of strange and ancient lizards with names like diplosaurus and bigosaurus or something like that and I can assure you they walked on their hind legs; Fred had seen them himself in a strange picture in an educational book as big as this. An amazing book, and it’s something you should see for yourself.

“Abe,” came the voice of his sweetheart, Li. “I’ve got a fantastic idea for a film.”

“What’s that, Li?”

“It’s something amazingly original. You see, our yacht has sunk and I’m the only survivor on this island. And I’d live there like a female Robinson Crusoe.”

“And what would you do there?” objected the captain with some skepticism.

“Well I’d go swimming and that sort of thing,” was sweetheart Li’s simple reply. “And then these tritons from the sea would fall in love with me and they’d bring me lots and lots of pearls. You know, just like it really happened.  It could even be a nature film or an educational film, don’t you think? Something like Trader Horn.”

“Li’s right,” declared Fred suddenly. “We ought to go down tomorrow evening and film these lizards.”

“These mammals, you mean,” the captain corrected him.

“Me, he means,” said Li, “as I’m standing among these tritons.”

“But wearing your bathing gown,” Abe interjected.

“I would have my white bathing suit on,” said Li. “And Greta would have to do my hair properly. Today I looked just awful.”

“Who would do the filming?”

“Abe. So that he has something to do. And Judy would have to hold the lights if it’s already getting dark.”

“What about Fred?”

“Fred would be carrying a bow and arrow and have a wreath on his head, and then if the tritons want to carry me away he can stop them.”

“Well thanks a lot,” Fred grinned. “I think I’d rather have a revolver, though. I think the captain should be there, too.” The captain’s military moustache bristled.

“Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll make sure I do everything that needs doing.”

“Three members of the crew, sir. And properly armed, sir.” Sweetheart Li lit up in charming astonishment.

“Do you really think it’s that dangerous, captain?”

“I don’t think anything, girl,” the captain grumbled, “but I have my orders from Mister Jesse Loeb - at least where Mister Abe is concerned.” All the gentlemen threw themselves into a passionate discussion of all the details of the undertaking; Abe winked to his sweetheart, it was already time for her to go to bed. Li obediently went.

“You know, Abe,” she said to him in her cabin “I think this is going to be a fantastic film!”

“It will be, my love,” Mister Abe agreed as he tried to kiss her.

“Not tonight, Abe,” said his love as she pushed him away. “You must understand that I really have to concentrate.”

Miss Li continued to concentrate all the next day, causing a great deal of work for her poor maid, Greta.  There were bath with essential salts and essences, washing her hair with Nurblond shampoo, massage, pedicure, manicure, hairdressing, ironing, trying on and alterations of clothes, and many other different kinds of preparation; even Judy was drawn into the bustle and did what she could do help Li. (At times of difficulty, women can be remarkably loyal to each other. Dressing is one such time.) While all this feverish rush was occupying Miss Li’s cabin the gentlemen were fending for themselves, and with ash trays and glasses of strong drink on the table in front of them they worked out a strategic plan about who would stand where and who would take care of what if anything happened; and in the process the captains dignity in the serious question of who would hold command was injured several times. In the afternoon the filming equipment was taken down to the shore of the lagoon, along with a small machine gun, a basket with food and cutlery, a shotgun, a gramophone and other military requisites; all of it perfectly concealed under palm leaves. The three armed members of the crew, with the captain in the function of commander in chief, were in position well before it began to get dark, and then an enormous basket containing a few small things Miss Lily Valley might need was taken to the shore. Then Fred came down with Miss Judy. And then the Sun began to set in all its tropical glory.

Meanwhile, Mister Abe was already tapping on the door of Miss Li’s cabin for the tenth time. “Sweetheart, it really is time to go now!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” his sweetheart’s voice replied, “but please don’t make me nervous! I have to get myself ready, don’t I?”

The captain had his eye on the situation. Out on of the bay he could see a long, glittering band where the waves of the sea met the smooth and level surface of the lagoon. It’s as if there were some kind of weir or breakwater under the water there, he thought; it could be sand, or a coral reef, but it looks almost as if it were artificial. Strange place. Here and there on the peaceful surface of the lagoon a black head would appear and make its way to the shore. The captain pursed his lips and reached uneasily for his revolver. It would have been better, he thought, if the women had stayed on board the yacht. Judy began to shiver and held tightly onto Fred. He’s so strong, she thought, God I love him so much!

Eventually the last boat set out from the yacht. It contained Miss Lily Valley in a white bathing suit and a diaphanous dressing gown, in which, clearly, she was to be thrown up from the sea like a castaway; it also contained Miss Greta and Mister Abe. “Can’t you row any faster, Abe,” his sweetheart reproached him. Mister Abe saw the black heads as they moved towards the shore and said nothing.

“Ts-ts.”

“Ts.”

Mister Abe pulled the boat up onto the sand and helped Li and Miss Greta out of it. “Hurry over to the camera, now,” whispered the artist, “and when I say Now, start filming.”

“But we won’t be able to see anything,” Abe objected.

“Then Judy will just have to put the lights on. Greta!”

While Mister Abe Loeb took up his place at the camera the artist positioned herself on the sand like a dying swan and Miss Greta adjusted the folds of her dressing gown. “Make sure they can see something of my legs,” the artist whispered. “Is that it now? Okay, so move back! Abe, Now!”

Abe began turning the handle. “Judy, lights!” But no lights came on. Swaying shadows were emerging from the sea and coming closer to Li. Greta pushed her hand into her mouth so that she would not scream. “Li,” called Mister Abe, “Li, run!”

“Knife!”

“Ts-ts-ts.”

“Li.”

“Li.”

“A-abe!”

Somebody removed the safety catch on his revolver. “Don’t shoot, damn it!” hissed the captain.

“Li,” called Abe and stopped filming. “Judy, lights!”

Li slowly and languidly stood up and raised her hands to the sky. The flimsy dressing gown slid down off her shoulders, and there was Lily in all her whiteness, stretching her lovely arms above her head as castaways do when they recover from having fainted. Mister Abe began angrily to turn the handle. “For Gods sake, Judy, put the lights on!”

“Ts-ts-ts!”

“Knife.”

“Knife.”

“A-be!”

The swaying black shadows formed a ring around Li in all her whiteness. But wait, this was no longer a game. Li no longer had her arms stretched up above her head, she was pushing something away from herself and screaming, “Abe, Abe, one of them touched me!” Just then a blinding glare of lights came on, Abe was quickly turning the handle, Fred and the captain ran towards Li with their revolvers, and Li was crouching on the sand shrieking with horror. At the same time, the fierce light showed tens or hundreds of long dark shadows slipping into the sea as if fleeing from it. At the same time two divers threw a net over one of the shadows as it fled. At the same time Greta fainted and fell to the ground like an empty sack. At the same time two or three shots rang out and caused large splashes in the sea, the two divers with the net were lying on something which twisted and coiled under them, and the light in the hands of Miss Judy went out.

The captain switched on his pocket torch. “Children, is everyone alright?”

“One of them touched my leg,” wailed sweetheart Li. “Oh Fred, it was awful!” then Mister Abe ran up with his torch.

“Hey, that was great, Li,” he declared enthusiastically, “but I wish Judy had put the lights on earlier”

“The wouldn’t go on,” exclaimed Judy. “They wouldn’t go on, would they Fred.”

“Judy was afraid,” Fred apologised for her. “But she didn’t do it on purpose, I swear, did you Judy.” Judy felt insulted, but in the meantime the two divers had arrived, dragging behind them something in the net that was thrashing about like an enormous fish.

“So here it is, Captain. And it’s alive.”

“The damned brute squirted some kind of poison at us. My hands are covered in blisters. And it hurts like Hell.”

“And it touched me as well,” whined Miss Li. “Abe, put the lights on! I want to see if I’ve got any blisters.”

“No, sweetheart, there’s nothing there,” Abe assured here; he was going to kiss the spot just above her knee, but his sweetheart was anxiously rubbing at it.

“It was so cold, brr,” sweetheart Li complained.

“You dropped one of your pearls, ma’am,” said one of the divers as he handed over the little ball he had picked up from the sand.

“Gee, look Abe,” Miss Li squealed, “they brought more pearls for me! All of you come and look for the pearls! There must be lots of pearls round here that the poor animals brought for me! Aren’t they sweet, Fred? Here’s another one!”

“Here’s one too!” The three pocket torches were pointed down to the ground.

“I’ve found one that’s enormous!”

“That belongs to me!” shouted sweetheart Li.

“Fred,” came the icy voice of Miss Judy.

“Be right with you,” said Fred as he crawled about the sand on his knees.

“Fred, I want to go back to the ship!”

“Somebody’ll take you there,” Fred told her as he continued searching. “Hey, this is fun!” Li and the three men continued crawling about in the sand.

“I’ve got three pearls here,” the captain declared.

“Show me, show me,” squealed Li excitedly and, still on her knees, ran over to him. Just then, there was a sudden glare of magnesium light and the sound of the handle on the camera being turned.

“Now I’ve got you,” declared Judy vengefully. “This is going to be a great shot for the papers. Americans look for pearls. Marine reptiles throw pearls to people.” Fred sat down.

“Christ, Judy’s right guys; we’ve got to tell the press about this!” Li sat down.

“Judy is so nice. Judy, take us again, only this time from the front!”

“That wouldn’t do you any favors, honey,” opined Judy.

“Listen,” said Mister Abe, “we really ought to keep on searching. The tides coming in.”

In the darkness, at the edge of the sea, a black and swaying shadow appeared. Li screamed: “There . . . there . . .” The three torches were turned in that direction. It was only Greta on her knees, looking for pearls in the dark.

On Li’s lap was the captain’s cap with twenty-one pearls in it. Abe poured the drinks and Judy played the gramophone. It was an idyllic, starry night with the eternal sound of the sea.

““So what are we going to call it?” Fred insisted. ”Milwaukee industrialists daughter films prehistoric reptiles. ”

Primordial lizards praise youth and beauty,” suggested Abe poetically.

SS Gloria Pickford discovers unknown species,” the captain advised. Or ”The mystery of Tahuara Island. ”

“Those are just sub-titles,” said Fred. “A title really to say more than that.”

“How about: Baseball Fred in struggle with monsters,” Judy suggested. “Fred was fantastic when they came at him. I hope that came out all right on film!”

The captain cleared histhroat. “Actually Miss Judy, I was the first on the scene, but we neednt talk about that. I think the title ought to have a scientific sound to it, sir. Something formal and . . . well, scientific. Anteliduvian fauna on Pacific island.”

“ Anteviludian,” Fred corrected him. “No, wait, Anteduvidian. Hell, hows it supposed to go? Anteduvidual. Antedinivian. No, thats not it. We;re going to have to think up some simpler title, something that anyone can say. Judys good at that sort of thing.”

“ Antediluvian,” said Judy.

Fred twisted round to look at her. “Thats too long, Judy. It’s longer than those monsters with the tails. A title needs to be shorter. But isn’t Judy great? Captain, dont you think shes great?”

“She is,” the captain agreed. “A remarkable girl.”

“Quite right, Captain,” acknowledged the young giant. “The captain is a great guy. Only, Anteviludian fauna is kinda dumb. Thats no kind of title for the papers. How about Lovers on the Island of Pearls, or something like that?”

Tritons shower the radiant Lily with pearls,” shouted Abe. ”Worship from the Empire of Poseidon! The new Aphrodite!

“Thats stupid,” protested Fred. “There never were any tritons. Thats been scientifically proven. And there was never any Aphrodite either, were there Judy. Humans meet with ancient lizards! The noble captain attacks antediluvian monsters! . . . It needs to have some pazazz, this title!”

“Special edition,” declared Abe. ”Film star attacked by sea monsters! Modern womans sex appeal triumphs over primitive lizards! Primordial reptiles prefer blondes!

“Abe,” sweetheart Li interrupted. “I have an idea.”

“What sort of idea?”

“An idea for a film. Itll be just fantastic, Abe. Just imagine, I’d be bathing in the sea . . .”

“That blouse really suits you, Li,” Abe interjected.

“What? And these tritons would fall in love with me and take me away to the bottom of the sea. And I would be their queen.”

“At the bottom of the sea?”

“That’s right, under the water. In their secret kingdom, see, where they have cities and everything.”

“But sweetheart, at the bottom of the sea you’d drown!”

“Don’t worry about that, I can swim,” said his sweetheart innocently. “So once every day I’d swim up to the shore and breath some air.” Li demonstrated her breathing exercises, which involved raising her chest and moving her arms as if swimming. “Like that, see? And on the shore someone, like a young fisherman maybe, would fall in love with me and I’d fall in love with him. Wouldn’t that be great?” said sweetheart Li with a sigh. “And he would be so handsome and strong, and these tritons would want to drown him, but I would save him and go with him back to where he lives and the tritons would discover us there and then . . . and then maybe you could all come along and save us.”

“Li,” said Fred seriously, “that is so dumb that I swear they even could make a film of it. I’ll be surprised if old Jesse doesn’t make a great film out of it.”

Fred was right; Jesse Loeb Pictures did, later on, produce a great film with Miss Lily Valley in the leading role; it also had six hundred nayads, one Neptune and twelve thousand extras dressed as various kinds of underwater lizard. But before the film was completed a lot of water had flowed away and many incidents took place, such as:

1. The animal they had captured and kept in Miss Lily’s bathtub attracted the lively attention of everyone for two days; by the third day it had stopped moving and Miss Li insisted it was just shy, poor thing; by the third day it had begun to stink and had to be thrown away in an advanced state of decay.

2. Only two pieces of film shot at the lagoon were any use. On one of them sweetheart Li was crouching in terror, waving her arms desperately at one of the animals standing nearby. Everyone agreed it was a great shot. The second showed three men and one girl kneeling down with their noses close to the ground; all of them were seen from the rear and it looked as if they were bowing down to something.  This piece of film was suppressed.

3. Almost all the titles suggested for the newspapers were used (even the ones about the antediluvian fauna) in hundreds and hundreds of journals, weeklies and magazines in America and all round the world. They were accompanied with full and detailed accounts of what had happened and many photographs, such as the one of sweetheart Li among the lizards, the one of a single lizard in the bathtub, the one of Li by herself in her bathing suit, photographs of Miss Judy, Mister Abe Loeb, Baseball Fred, the captain of the yacht, the yacht itself, the island of Taraiva and a large number of pearls displayed on black velvet. In this way the career of sweetheart Li was assured; she even refused to appear in music hall and declared to journalists that she would devote herself to her Art.

4. There were of course those claiming specialist knowledge who asserted, as far as could be judged from the photographs, that these were not primaeval lizards at all but some kind of newt. Those with even more specialist knowledge asserted that this species of newt was not known to science and therefore did not exist. There was a long debate in the press about this which came to an end when professor J. W. Hopkins (Yale University) announced that he had examined the photographs available and considered them to be a hoax or a montage; that the species shown seemed to resemble the great covered-gill newt (Cryptobranchus japo­nicus, Sieboldia maxima, Tritomegas Sieboldii or Megalo­batrachus Sieboldii), but done in a way that was inaccurate, inartistic and downright dilletante. In this way the matter remained scientifically settled for a long period.

5. After a suitable time had elapsed, Mister Abe Loeb eventually married Miss Judy. His closest friend, Baseball Fred, was best man in a wedding performed with great celebration and the participation of a wide range of outstanding personalities in politics, art and other fields.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/capek/karel/newts/chapter7.html

Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:34