On the day of our arrival we dined in a great room overlooking the river. For some reason the talk turned on spiders, and Bee-Mason shuddered with what, at the time, we took to be an exaggeration of feeling.
"I hate them," he said bitterly. "Even a house-spider in England makes me feel queer."
Urrio and I looked at him in surprise, but there was no amusement in his face. His eyes were serious, his expression troubled, and we realized suddenly that he felt the same primeval repulsion towards spiders as Lord Roberts felt towards cats. Impulsively he thrust a leathery arm across the table.
"I have kept bees for years," he said, "and hundreds sting me every season, but put an ordinary, harmless house-spider on my hand, and I'll faint."
"Probably there aren't as many tarantulas as travelers make out," soothed Urrio.
"I shan't answer for myself if we meet them," said Bee-Mason.
After dinner we went for a stroll through the streets. It was terribly hot, with the oppressive, expectant stillness that precedes a thunder-storm. Great banks of black clouds climbed gloomily up the sky and erased the stars in their ascent. Little puffs of warm air were blown across the river. Pieces of paper eddied in the dust and suddenly died. Men moved slowly, and sweated as they moved, while the dark forest behind the town seemed to pant for a release.
We walked past the listless tinkle of a piano played in an upstairs room, past the incessant rattle of dice in the wine shops, on past the garish lights of the local cinema to the road which led away from the smarting brilliance of the street lamps into the shadows of the jungle. We took this road, partly because the darkness seemed cooler, partly because we were too listless ourselves to care what we did. Anything was better than the tired cackle in the hotel bar, or the heavy warmth of our own bedrooms.
At intervals of a hundred paces a single arc lamp hung over the middle of the road. With each puff of wind it swayed, and the shadows of the trees danced a weary measure in the sandy ruts. Far away in the distance towards Bolivia, the white track stretched, lonely, silent, inviting. We followed it, and our feet sounded not at all on the soft carpet that had never known Macadam.
Suddenly, when we had walked about a mile, a dark shape scuttled into the glare of a lamp. It came from the trees where, pale and aloof, gleamed the white face of a small house.
"There's a kitten," said Urrio, breaking a long silence. "Let's talk to it."
"Puss, puss!" cried Bee-Mason, slapping his leg and whistling.
The little beast stopped and squatted down in the center of the road, as though it were lonely and would like company. It sat in a compact ball, black and motionless, and we were struck by the fact that it did not seem to be crouching quite in the manner of a kitten. It seemed to be just a thought too round, and there was something in its immobility that was vaguely disquieting. A kitten, even when silent, is a friendly creature, this dark patch was not, but crouched taut and strained in an attitude of hostility.
I do not say that we feIt all this as we advanced up the road, but we did notice the strangeness of demeanor, and it made us careful. It was just as well, because as we reached a spot some ten yards away Bee-Mason touched my arm.
"My ---," he said quietly. "That's no kitten. What is it?"
He stood where he was, while Urrio and I advanced cautiously. There was no doubt about the feeling now; a distinct and potent menace emanated from the small black ball. A definitely evil atmosphere hung over us. Suddenly, the creature sank back on its haunches and raised two long, hairy feelers, which waved slowly and mesmerically before its face, and we realized that we were in the presence of Bee-Mason's most deadly enemy, a tarantula. Now that we were closer we could see the full horror and enormity of the brute. Eight legs of various lengths covered with long, coarse hair, supported an obscene fat sack, round and bulging, while a pair of unpleasant eyes glared from a kind of watch tower above the body. It was sitting back on four of the legs, the other four were waving in the air.
I had read of the phenomenal speed and leaping power of these creatures in one of W. H. Hudson's books, and I took great care to keep myself and Urrio out of range. So, five paces apart, we stood and looked at one another for the space of a minute. Then the forelegs dropped, and the beast moved rapidly away into the shadows with a curious, furtive, gliding motion that was unbelievably sinister.
When it had gone Urrio and I turned round and perceived that Bee-Mason was already some way back towards the town. Simultaneously the promised thunder broke.
- Julian Duguid, "Green Hell" (1931)