“Princess Arjumand?” I said and reached through the reeds to pick her up. “There you are, you naughty thing.”
The white suddenly rose up, revealing a long, curving neck.
“Squaw-w-w!” it said, and exploded into a huge white flapping. I dropped the dish with a splash.
“It’s a swan,” I said unnecessarily. A swan. One of the ancient beauties of the Thames, floating serenely along the banks with their snowy feathers and their long graceful necks. “I’ve always wanted to see one,” I said to Cyril.
He wasn't there.
“Squaw-w-w-k!” the swan said and unfolded its wings to an impressive width, obviously irritated at being awakened.
“Sorry,” I said, backing away. “I thought you were a cat.”
“Hiss-s-s-s!” it said, and started for me at a run.
Noting in all those “O swan” poems had ever mentioned that they hissed. Or resented be mistaken for felines. Or bit.
I finally managed to escape by crashing through a thicket of some thorny variety, climbing halfway up a tree, and kicking at its beak with my foot until it waddled back to the river, muttering threats and imprecations.
I waited fifteen minutes, in case it was a trick, and then climbed down and began examining my wounds, most of them were to the rear and difficult to see. I twisted round trying to see if there was blood, and saw Cyril, coming out from behind a tree, looking shamefaced.
“A rout,” I said. “Just like the Persians. Harris had trouble with swans. In Three Men in a Boat,” I said, wishing I’d remembered that chapter before now. “They tried to drag him and Montmorency out of the boat.”
I picked up the lantern, which, amazingly, had fallen in an upright position when I dropped it. “If King Harold had had swans on his side, England would still be Saxon.”
We set off again, staying away from the river and keeping a wary eye out for patches of white.
Polly Vaughn’s boyfriend had killed her because he mistook her for a swan in the old poem. She’d been wearing a white apron, and he thought she was a swan and shot her with an arrow. I could sympathize completely. In future, I’d shoot first and ask questions later, too.
The night got darker and amber, and the bushes thornier. There were no patches of white or shining eyes and scarcely any sounds. When I dropped the last of the Bread and called, “Here, cat!” my voice echoed in the black, empty stillness.
To Say Nothing of the Dog
To Say Nothing of the Dog was basically just me constantly laughing at one thing and then another. Willis speaks directly to ALL OF THE THINGS that make me hysterical. I might have picked a better example of the humor in this one but, the running swan jokes had me wiping tears.