AND THE PATAGONIAN GIANT
EARLY one morning during my third visit to Patagonia, as I was strolling upon the banks of the River Chico, keeping a sharp lookout for a choice specimen of the Rutabaga Tremendosa, I saw what, at the time, I supposed to be a large and isolated cliff. It looked blue, and consequently I supposed it to be at some distance. Resuming my search for the beautiful saffron blossom which I have already named, my attention was for some moments abstracted. After pulling the plant up by the roots, however, I happened to cast my eyes again toward the supposed cliff, and you can conceive my extreme mortification and regret when I saw that it was not a cliff at all, but a giant, and, so far as I could see, one of the most virulent species.
He was advancing at a run, and, although not exerting himself overmuch, seemed to be going at a rate of some five kilometers a minute. Much annoyed at the interruption to my researches, I paused only long enough to deposit the Rutabaga securely in my botany box and then broke into an accelerated trot. Do me the justice to acquit me of any intention of entering into a contest of speed with the pursuing monster. I am not so conceited as to imagine I can cover five or even three kilometers a minute. No; I relied, rather, on the well-established scientific probability that the giant was stupid. I expected, therefore, that my head would have an opportunity to save my heels.
It was not long before I saw the need of taking immediate steps to save my specimens from destruction and myself from being eaten. He was certainly gaining upon me. As he foolishly ran with his mouth open, I noticed that his canine teeth were very well developed—not a proof, but strong evidence that he was a cannibal. I redoubled my speed, keeping an eager eye upon the topography in the hope that I might find some cave or crevice into which I could creep and thus obtain time enough to elaborate a plan of escape. I had not run more than six or eight kilometers, I think (for distances are deceitful in that part of Patagonia—or were, when I was there), when I saw a most convenient cretaceous cave.
To ensconce myself within its mineral recesses was the work of but a moment, and it was fortunate for me that it took no longer. Indeed, as I rolled myself deftly beneath a shelving rock, the giant was so near that he pulled off one of my boots.
He sat down at the entrance and breathed with astonishing force and rapidity.
"Now, if he is as stupid as one of his race normally should be," I said to myself, "he will stay there for several hours, and I shall lose a great part of this beautiful day." The thought made me restless, and I looked about to see whether my surroundings would hint a solution of the situation.
I was rewarded by discovering an outlet far above me. I could see through a cleft in the rocks portions of a cirro-cumulus cloud. Fixing my hat more firmly upon my head, I began the ascent. It did not take long. Indeed, my progress was, if anything, rather accelerated by the efforts of the attentive giant, who had secured a long and flexible switch,—a young India-rubber tree, I think, though I did not notice its foliage closely,—and was poking it with considerable violence into the cave. In fact, he lifted me some decameters at every thrust.
It may easily be understood, therefore, that I was not long upon the way. When I emerged, I was much pleased with the situation. Speaking as a military expert, it was perfect. Standing upon a commodious ledge, which seemed to have been made for the purpose, my head and shoulders projected from an opening in the cliff, which was just conveniently out of the giant's reach. As my head rose over the edge of the opening, the giant spoke:
"Aha, you 're there, are you?"
"I won't deny it," I answered.
"You think you 're safe, don't you?" he went on tauntingly.
"I know I am safe," I answered, with an easy confidence which was calculated to please.
"Well," he replied, "to-night I hope to eat you for supper!"
"What, then," I asked, with some curiosity, "are you going to do for dinner?"
"Oh, if that troubles you," said he, "all you have to do is to come out at dinner-time and I will eat you then."
Evidently the giant was not a witling. His answers were apt. After a moment's reflection I concluded it was worth the effort to make an appeal to his better nature—his over-soul.
"Don't you know that it is wrong to eat your fellow-beings?" I asked, with a happy mingling of austere reproach and sympathetic pain.
"Do you mean to come out soon?" asked the giant, seating himself upon an adjacent cliff, after tearing off such of the taller and stiffer trees as were in his way.
"It depends somewhat upon whether you remain where you are," I answered.
"Oh, I shall stay," said the giant, pleasantly. "Game is rare, and I have n't eaten a white man for two weeks."
This remark brought me back to my appeal to his higher being. "Then I shall remain here, too, for the present," I answered, "though I should like to get away before sunset. It's likely to be humid here after the sun sets. But, to return to my question, have you never thought that it was immoral and selfish to eat your fellow-creatures?"
"Why, certainly," said the giant, with a hearty frankness that was truly refreshing. "That is why," he went on, "I asked you whether you were coming out soon. If not, I would be glad to while the time away by explaining to you exactly how I feel about these matters. Of course I could smoke you out" (here he showed me an enormous boulder of flint and a long steel rod, the latter evidently a bit of machinery from some wrecked ocean-steamer), "but I make it a rule seldom to eat a fellow-mortal until he is fully convinced that, all things considered, I am justified in so doing."
The reference to the smoking-out process had convinced me that this was no hulking ignoramus of a giant, and for a moment I began to fear that my Rutabaga Tremendosa was lost to the world forever. But the latter part of his speech reassured me. "If you can convince me that I ought to be eaten," I said, willing to be reasonable, "I shall certainly offer no objection. But I confess I have little fear that you will succeed."
"I first discovered that I was a giant," he said, absently chewing the stem of the India-rubber tree, "at a very early age. I could not get enough to eat. I then lived in New York City, for I am an American, like yourself."
We bowed with mutual pleasure.
"I tried various sorts of work, but found I could not earn enough at any of them to pay my board-bills. I even exhibited myself in a museum, but found there the same trouble.
"I consulted my grandfather, who vas a man of matured judgment and excellent sense. His advice vas to leave the city and try for work in the country. I did so, and after some little trouble found employment upon a farm. I stayed there three days. Then I was told that it cost more to keep me than I was worth; which was true. So I left. Then I went to work on a railroad. There I did as much as twenty men. The result was a strike, and I was discharged."
"Is there much more autobiography?" I asked as politely as I could, for I vas not at all interested in this unscientific memoir.
"Very little," he answered. "I can sum it up in a few words. Wherever I tried to get work, I was discharged, because my board was too expensive. If I tried to do more work to make up for it, the other men were dissatisfied, because it took the bread out of their mouths. Now, I put it to you, what was I to do?"
"Evidently, you were forced out of civilization," I answered, "and compelled to rely upon nature for your sustenance. That is," I went on, to forestall another question, "you had to become a hunter, trapper, or fisherman,—for of course, in your case, agriculture was out of the question, as you could n't easily get down to the ground, and would crush with your feet more crops than you could raise with your hands." His eyes sparkled with joy at being so thoroughly understood. "Exactly," he said. "But the same trouble followed me there. Wherever I settled, the inhabitants complained that what I ate would support hundreds of other people."
"Very true," I answered; "but, excuse me, could you hand me a small rock to sit upon?—it is tiresome to stand here."
"Come out," he said. "You have my word of honor, as a compatriot of George——"
"Say no more!" I broke in hastily.
I came out, and was soon, by his kind aid, perched upon the branch of a tree conveniently near.
"This argument," he said, sighing, "met me at every turn; and after much cogitation I could see no solution of the difficulty. No matter how far from the 'busy haunts of men' I proceeded, it was only to find that food grew scarcer as men were less numerous. At last I reached Patagonia, and after a few years I have eaten it almost bare. Now, to what conclusion am I driven?"
I thought it over. At last I said:
"I see the extremities to which you are reduced. But upon what principle do you proceed to the next step—cannibalism?"
"The Greatest good to the greatest number," said he. "Whenever I eat an animal, I diminish the stock of food which supports mankind, but whenever I eat a man, I diminish the number to be supported. As all the wise men agree that it is the subsistence which is short, my course of action tends ultimately to the greater happiness of the race."
This seemed very reasonable and for a moment I was staggered. Then a happy thought came to me, and I suggested that if he should allow himself to die of starvation the demand for subsistence would be still more reduced.
He shook his head sadly. "I used to hope so myself. But the experience of some years, tabulated and reduced to most accurate statistics, has convinced me beyond a doubt that I can catch and eat enough men, in a year, to more than make up for what would be saved if I should allow my own organism to cease its active exertions in the cause of humanity."
I thought very carefully over these arguments and was unable to pick a flaw in them.
"As a man of science," I said, after a pause, "I could wish that this interview might be reported to the world."
"Give yourself no uneasiness. It shall be done," said the giant.
"And I should also be glad to have the Rutabaga Tremendosa forwarded very soon to the Museum," I said thoughtfully.
"With pleasure," said the giant.
There was no excuse for further delay.
"And are you convinced?" asked the giant, speaking with much kindly consideration.
"Perfectly, I said, and kicked off the other boot.
[Note, by the giant.—In accordance with Professor Muddlehed's last wishes, I have reported our full conversation verbatim. In fact, much of the foregoing account was revised by the Professor himself, before supper. He would have been glad, I have no doubt, to have gone over the paper again, but the bell rang and he was too considerate to keep the table waiting. He had many excellent tastes, and there was a flavor of originality about the man—a flavor I like. I enjoyed meeting him very much, and regret that my principles were such as to preclude a longer and less intimate acquaintance. I forwarded the specimen to the museum as directed, and received in return an invitation to visit the building in New York. Though I cannot accept the kind invitation, I should find it gratifying to have the trustees at my own table.]