Roxton finished hammering the post into place and Ned let go. Both men had agreed to help strengthen and repair the pipes leading from the windmill to the Treehouse using thick poles to steady the pipes and protect them better from inclement weather or large animals. Challenger smiled as he sent a signal to the Treehouse asking the ladies to try the kitchen now. A short time later he was rewarded with a positive response from Marguerite.
"With the posts to support the pipe this should give it more stability and less likely to break again so soon," Challenger said as he took a drink from his canteen. The slight breeze of the morning had long since stopped as the heat of the day rose. All three men were now sweating as they each drank from their canteens.
"I'm glad we're through for now," Roxton said. "Hot as it is I think I'm going for a swim. Either of you gentlemen care to join me?"
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Ned eagerly agreed. "Challenger?"
The older man considered for a moment before agreeing.
"Perhaps we can do a little fishing as well," he said. "I'll gather gear and join you there."
"Suit yourself," Roxton smiled as he lightly punched Malone's arm. "Race you."
Ned grinned as they ran toward the pond. Challenger shook his head but laughed at the pair of overgrown boys.
Roxton reached the edge of the pond a few steps behind Ned. The journalist laughed as the hunter caught up to him.
"Are you slowing down, John?" He laughed as he unbuttoned his shirt. He hesitated for a moment before peeling his shirt off. He then removed his belt, boots, and holster before plunging into the water.
"Slowing down?" The British lord balked as he joined his friend a moment later. He had noticed the brief hesitation and had been concerned the journalist might change his mind. The hunter tried not to notice the faint scars on Ned's back. "I've not slowed down in the least, I'll have you know."
Ned shrugged as he dove under the water. He resurfaced a short distance away, wiping droplets from his eyes.
Both men looked when they saw the blond toddler nearing the pond's edge. Challenger was a few steps behind. The scientist saw the already present smile on Ned's face brighten more.
"Tommy! Wait!" Ned hurried to the edge to scoop his son in his arms. He grinned as he sank back into the cool water holding the boy.
The toddler shrieked in delight as he splashed at the water. Ned was smiling and talking to his son. Roxton waded into the shallow edge to sit beside the older man.
"He insisted on coming with me," Challenger smiled as he put his feet in the water. "He's very persuasive for a two year old."
"Stubborn like his parents," Roxton agreed, watching the father and son. He laughed when Tommy splashed a handful of water in Ned's face.
"Kick," Ned encouraged the child. "Kick. Swim."
Tommy kicked enthusiastically. Ned had a firm grip on the small hands as he moved backwards, pulling Tommy gently through the water. The toddler gripped harder, unwilling to loosen his hold.
"It's alright," Ned coaxed, "I've got you."
Tommy was, however, having none of it. He clung tighter to his father. Ned didn't pressure the boy knowing he'd let go whenever he was ready, thus was content to move through the water with Tommy in his arms.
"To be honest, George, I didn't believe he was going to last here this long," Roxton confided. "Thought to myself 'nice enough man, maybe a little soft'. I thought what sort of experience would a journalist have to survive in a jungle."
"I believe we were all wrong but on a number of issues," Challenger added. "This place is not what we expected. We expected an amazing adventure, the find of the century. We've learned dinosaurs are not the dim-witted lumbering beasts they were believed to be, rather many are highly intelligent. I am amazed with the variety of human tribes as well. We've found an adventure to last a number of lifetimes."
Challenger laughed as Tommy refused to let go of Ned once more. Now the journalist was holding the boy tightly as he moved about the pond, staying in shallower water as a precaution.
"I think Ned has found the best adventure," Roxton said. He smiled warmly as he leaned closer to the scientist. "An adventure Marguerite and I are embarking in as well."
Challenger looked at the hunter in surprise. For a moment he contemplated the spoken words then grinned.
"Why you devil," he said finally. "How far along is she?"
"Perhaps three months."
"Here I thought Marguerite was just in a long lasting bad mood. The Treehouse is certainly getting crowded. How has she been accepting this?"
"She won't admit to it, but I think she's delighted as well as afraid. She's told me she refuses to make the mistakes her own parents made.
"I think she's finally made peace with her past as I have. She'll always be somewhat guarded but she's no longer afraid to let people in. Never the damsel in distress but no longer afraid to allow me to help her when she needs it."
"In my opinion, I believe truly Marguerite will make a wonderful mother."
"I think the father's not so bad either," Roxton laughed.
Ned glanced to his friends conversing quietly on the bank. He saw the smiles and wondered what the pair were talking about. Roxton seemed very happy...
"Unca George," Tommy called out. "Unca George!"
Challenger looked when the toddler called for him. The scientist beamed as he did whenever the child wanted his attention.
"Thomas," he waved back eliciting a giggle. The tall scientist waded into the shallow water as the boy reached for him.
"Uncle George," Ned laughed as he relinquished his son.
The journalist swam to a deeper portion of the pond slipping under for a moment before resurfacing.
"I think you're part fish, Ned," Roxton laughed deciding to join his friend.
Challenger glanced as the two men swam then Tommy was babbling and tugging at his whiskers. The scientist feigned a hurt cry then looked where the boy was pointing.
"A turtle," Challenger smiled as he identified various objects the boy pointed to, naming each one as well as pronouncing their scientific name. The child picked up a stone wanting to investigate further. He began gathering various stones to place in a small pile. Challenger watched as the child placed the stones in a pile, some he kept several he tossed aside, obviously displeased with one here and there.
The scientist reflected with regret he and Jessie never had any children of their own. Perhaps if they had she might not have been as lonely. He regretted how in the past he had often ignored her or took her for granted. She rarely voiced complaints...but he knew she had been lonely. He vowed if they ever left this Plateau he would never take her for granted again and hoped their colleagues and neighbors had not left her on her own in his absence. He was happy for his young companions in their contentment, he enjoyed being a surrogate uncle to the child playing close by, but still it stirred a longing to hold his own wife.
"Unca George," Tommy's squeal caused the scientist to refocus. "Pretty!"
The boy was pointing to a large copper-colored spider. He was holding a large rock and the startled creature was hissing, waving its long legs. The creature must have been burrowed under the rocks, disturbed by the activity. Tommy was just reaching to touch the animal.
Ned and Roxton heard the anxious shout and turned to see Challenger quickly scoop the child in his arms. The spider hissed loudly as it moved forward to deliver a powerful bite to Challenger's hand. The scientist cried out at the pain as the spider's fangs sank into his flesh. The spider bit hard and fast then backed away, waving its long arms in an aggressive manner. He tried to act as a barrier between the animal and the child as Ned and Roxton were suddenly beside them. Ned grabbed his son as Roxton took a knife to stab at the creature. The large spider hissed furiously as the knife impaled its hairy body. It writhed and thrashed trying to attack the human until the only movements were reflexive twitching.
"Challenger," Ned looked at the red swollen bite.
"Unca George," Tommy cried, not quite understanding what the fuss was about.
Challenger was examining the twin fang marks on his hand. The skin around the bite was already swollen and red, and very painful.
"I don't believe it injected any venom," he commented as he examined the wound. "But i still need to treat this. The sooner the better.
" Did it bite Tommy?"
Ned was already examining his son's hands and feet, the boy giggling as if being tickled. He sighed with relief as he shook his head.
"No," Ned replied, eyeing the older man. "Are you going to be alright?"
"I believe so," Challenger was pressing his hand to his chest. "Most spiders won't inject their venom on such a large target, but if they do it shouldn't be enough to do any significant damage."
"What kind of spider is this?" Roxton asked holding the knife in the air. One of the spider's legs was still moving.
"I'm not certain," was the reply. "But magnificent isn't it? Those legs are at least fifteen centimeters, the body alone is five centimeters. If you don't mind, John, I'd like to examine it in the lab, perhaps I can determine the species, if it is indeed poisonous, or how toxic it may be."
Roxton frowned at the idea of carrying the dead animal to the Treehouse but knew there was no arguing with the scientist.
"Yet another fine specimen for your collection, George," the hunter laughed.
"I'd say we've had enough swimming for one day," Ned added still cradling his son, although Tommy was squirming to be put down. The father reluctantly let him.
Tommy ran to Challenger, pointing to the injured hand.
"Ouch?" He said, frowning at the laughter from the men. He grabbed the hand, kissed it and beamed. "All better."
Challenger knelt and the boy hugged him tightly.
"Yes, Tommy, all better," he smiled.
A/N: the spider is a Brazilian wandering spider, which was listed in 2010 in the Guiness Book of World Records as the most venomous spider however, there is an antivenom available. Although there have been reported deaths from these spiders few bites are deadly as the spider normally would not kill a human with a single bite, realistically it would conserve its venom for hunting or defense. Using enough venom would leave the spider vulnerable to predators or unable to kill its prey. The bite can be painful as with any animal bite. The species is found native to Brazil, Costa Rica, and Argentina. A number of these spiders have been found in shipments of bananas to the UK also earning them the nickname banana spiders.