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CHAPTER III. A TERRIBLE NIGHT.
With the setting of the sun the wind came in fitful gusts, betokening a storm, if not a hurricane.

During the first few hours of darkness the rhinoceros did not join in the concert begun by the other animals; but as the wind increased in violence, and the sea became more choppy, causing the bark to reel and stagger under the heavy blows, the deck-passengers became decidedly uneasy. When the lions were not roaring, or the panthers screaming, the thick-skinned captive would utter a loud “woof,” and make such an attack on his cage that the watch on deck were ready to leap into the rigging at the first sign that he was succeeding in his efforts.

Each animal had been captured singly, and all were full-grown and dangerous. The near presence of the men, the sight of each other, and the violent motions of the bark, alarmed every one. Even the serpents were wide awake and vengeful; but the rhinoceros was furious with rage. He raked his great horn back and forth across the bars of the pen whenever any one went near him, and in a dozen ways gave evidence of his strength.

Most probably the unusual motion made every member[20] of the collection seasick, and as the malady increased so did their rage. Philip knew that during the first forty-eight hours the danger would be greatest, and he kept a watchful eye upon the noisy passengers. After they had gotten their “sea-legs” on, as sailors express it, there would be no more possibility of trouble than under the same circumstances ashore, and to get them safely through this period of probation was now his only care.

About a quarter of an hour before midnight, when all the watch on deck save the man at the wheel were forward, the rhinoceros leaned heavily against the side of his cage just as the bark buried her bow in a green wave, which, curling over the forecastle, swept every movable thing aft. Immediately following this came a great crash, startling the already frightened crew.

The mighty plunge of the vessel, together with the weight of the animal on the bars of the cage, had crushed them like pipe-stems, and the huge monster emerged from the ruins fully prepared for mischief.

A more dangerous and vindictive creature than a black rhinoceros cannot be found. He is in the sulks nearly all the time, and while under such influence or humor will charge an elephant or a lion without fear of the result. The first thing which comes in sight is attacked, and he never cools down so long as there is anything on which to wreak his vengeance.

It was as if the tossing of the vessel served to excite[21] his anger still more, and he made desperate lunges here and there at the nearest inanimate objects, sometimes being thrown from his feet as the bark rose or fell; and, again, splintering into fragments such lighter articles as the hen-coops, the captain’s gig, which was stowed on deck, and the crates containing fresh vegetables taken on board at Cape Town.

At the first intimation of this danger, which was more imminent than the threatening elements, the sailors leaped into the rigging, and for ten minutes the monster had the deck nearly to himself.

After having fallen several times the old fellow looked about, as if studying how he could soonest recover his sea-legs, and when that brief time of apparent thoughtfulness had passed he was as steady as a sailor. The rise and fall of the bark, abrupt and sharp as it was, caused him to slide to and fro, but he never lost his equilibrium.

After thus regaining control of his unwieldy body, the first thing which attracted his attention was the cage containing the serpents. With one mighty rush he tossed it in the air, and as it came down the three hissing occupants glided in different directions, one climbing over the cage containing the panthers, the second going on to the bowsprit, and the third darting into the forecastle out of sight.

The lions and panthers immediately raised a terrible din, which, with the roaring of the gale, made the confusion most deafening. The big beast cleared[22] his horn of the fragments of the cage hanging to it, and then struck that containing the panther.

These animals were liberated in an instant. One ran aft into the long-boat, which hung on the davits, crouching under the thwarts; and the other, cowed for the moment, but ready for mischief, retreated to the lee-scuppers.

Without so much as glancing at the panthers, the rhinoceros dashed at the pen of the lions, smashing it into kindlings.

The largest of the three captives sprang upon his adversary’s back as he shook himself free from the fragments, and perhaps his sharp claws inflicted some injury, but not enough to check the fury of the beast, who chased the second one aft to the quarter-deck.

The third lion disappeared in the forecastle; and never was a watch below awakened more quickly or more thoroughly than were those who came tumbling up, half-dressed, terrified, and not knowing in which direction safety might be found.

No ship’s crew ever were in a stranger situation. It was high time sail should be shortened, the mate in charge having delayed this work until both watches should be on deck; and with these enraged animals virtually in possession, the bravest sailor would hardly have dared to leave the rigging.

The helmsman remained at his post of duty despite the fact that the panther was in the long-boat behind him, and it was his shrieks that called Philip, the captain and second officer from the cabin.

[23]

Hardly did they emerge from the companion-way when the lion which had attacked the rhinoceros came bounding aft, and the three men fled below again, the helmsman following them and closing the hatch behind him.

To leave this place of refuge immediately meant death, while by remaining in it destruction seemed equally certain. Yet, strange to say, the gallant vessel sped before the wind as if a steady hand guided her movements; and five minutes later, Philip, accustomed from infancy to such animals, had burst his way out through the deck-window of the cabin.

As a matter of course there were plenty of heavy guns and ammunition on board; and with a Manton rifle and explosive shells, he sheltered himself behind the foremast, where he immediately opened fire on the nearest brute.

While he was making every effort to draw the rhinoceros toward him, in order to get a fairer mark, the lion on the quarter-deck leaped into the long-boat upon the panther. In the merest fraction of time the two were bounding over the thwarts and tumbling about in the wildest fashion, the boat rocking to and fro as if it would upset, the screams and roars of the struggling beasts drowning all the other horrible noises.

This fight attracted the attention of the rhinoceros, causing him, despite Philip’s endeavors, to make his way aft, where he came across the lion who was skulking in the scuppers. To drive the[24] king of beasts back toward the wheel was not difficult for the huge monster, who was now so blinded by rage that he made a direct dash at the cabin-door.

No wood ever grew that could withstand such an assault, and as the rhinoceros forced his way into the saloon the captain and second mate took refuge in the steward’s pantry, where they were even closer prisoners than before.

Straight on the charge was continued!

The dining-table was overturned, the chairs swept from their fastenings like so many things of straw, and as the after-end of the cabin was reached the bark rose to a huge wave. As a matter of course this gave an additional impetus to the enormous animal, and with a crash he plunged directly through the bulk-head, which formed what might be termed a deck-lazaret, where he was held fast by the heavy timbers despite his furious struggles. This gave the imprisoned ones in the pantry an opportunity to escape, and they reached the deck just as Philip, running to the wheel, opened fire on the animals in the boat.

One discharge of the weapon point-blank at the beasts, who had grappled and were rearing up from the thwarts, together with the rocking of the frail craft, caused the combatants to topple over the rail, and two of the disagreeable passengers were stricken from the list.

At this moment one of the crew shouted that a panther, a lion and two of the serpents were in the[25] forecastle; and for the captain and second officer to imprison them by closing the hatch was but the work of a moment.

That the rhinoceros could do little or no damage while in his present position Philip understood from what he had been told, and he turned his attention to the remaining lion, crouching near the water-butt, while the carpenter attacked the snake, who was making his way up the mainmast.

This last passenger was disposed of in short order, but not until he had been chopped into many pieces; and during such carving Philip succeeded in implanting a lucky shot directly in the heart of the lion, which effectually ended this portion of the struggle.

The crew paid no further attention to the other animals, but bent all their energies to saving the gallant craft which had, unattended, borne them on so bravely in the face of the gale. With nearly every member of both watches in the rigging the work of shortening sail was quickly performed; and, as the bark rode more easily over the mountainous seas, Philip and the captain went below to still the struggle of their unwieldy cabin passenger.

It required a dozen shots from the heavy rifle before the huge and helpless brute gave up his life. The work of removing the body could not be attended to during the hours of darkness, neither was it deemed advisable to make any effort at cleaning the forecastle. It would be “all hands on deck” till morning; but that was a minor consideration in[26] view of the fact that they had escaped so many dangers.

After barricading the forecastle hatch with chain-cables and other heavy articles which would resist any pressure from within, the crew spent the remainder of the night listening to the sounds of conflict. They could hear the hiss of the serpents, the screams of the panther, and the growling of the lion until nearly morning, when all became silent. The animals were either dead or had concluded to suspend hostilities for awhile.


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