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CHAPTER VI. DISAGREEABLE NEIGHBORS.

Philip continued his flight, regardless either of fatigue or the insects, through the brambles which tore his flesh until, on passing half-around a slight elevation which was covered with a greenish white moss, he came upon a lake fully a mile in length, and bordered by tall trees.

As nearly as could be judged he had traveled at least three miles, and in this secluded and lovely spot, which was so surrounded by foliage as to render it impossible for him to peer into the thicket further than two or three feet, it surely seemed as if he was safe from his late tormentors.

The sensation of thirst was by this time so intense as to be almost painful, and the sight of the clear, sparkling water revived his spirits to a wonderful degree.

Running forward eagerly, he knelt on the soft turf at the edge of the lake, and remained in that position ten or fifteen minutes, drinking at intervals like one at a feast who is satisfied but delays leaving the festive-board because of the enjoyment of looking at the delicacies.

With his thirst assuaged Philip’s hopes revived. He believed it would be possible to avoid the apes[47] on an island of such extent as this appeared to be; and when he finally raised his head it was to look about him for the purpose of deciding in which direction he would find refuge and shelter for the night.

As he did so, however, a cry of dismay burst from his lips. On either hand for a distance of many yards were the very apes from whom he was trying to escape. All were kneeling as he knelt, and raising their heads exactly as he raised his, with the water running in streams from their muzzles.

No doubt they followed him through the thicket, or made their way overhead among the branches; but since the stick with which he had threatened them was not in sight, all idea of punishing the intruder was forgotten. Their faculties of imitation proved greater than the love for mischief, and thus, while he congratulated himself upon having escaped, they had gathered noiselessly around him.

However dangerous the animal-trader’s position, he could not restrain a loud burst of laughter at the grotesque scene before him; but his mirth was very quickly turned to surprise when he heard the sounds of his own voice echoed from five hundred pairs of lungs.

This mockery aroused still further his mirth, and he laughed yet louder, the apes redoubling their efforts until it seemed as if each hairy throat was swollen almost to bursting.

It was an orchestra of the tropics with a leader who had no pride in the achievements of his subordinates.

[48]

As Philip sat up on his heels so did the animals, and with their heads raised high in their effort to emulate what they possibly thought was a song, a bright blue object around the throats of fifteen or twenty of the larger apes attracted the shipwrecked boy’s attention.

It was hardly probable that the long-tailed denizens of the woods were educated to the fashion of wearing neckties, but yet there could be no question that these select few had on such an article of adornment. Not until after several moments did Philip understand how prominent a part his own neckerchief was playing in the scene. Each of the apes thus decorated had secured a fragment of the cravat, and, true to their imitative instincts, tied it around his neck.

Now that his strange companions were in apparently such a friendly mood, Philip thought it possible, by abstaining from any threatening movements, to get on with some degree of comfort, even though they still continued to surround him.

To sleep just then was out of the question, for the smaller members of the party were yet struggling to laugh, and he looked around for something with which to appease his hunger, which had increased very decidedly since his thirst was satisfied.

He gazed scrutinizingly along the borders of the lake, hoping to see at least some fresh-water mussels. The apes did the same, although probably not with a similar hope.

His eyes roamed among the foliage. So did those[49] of his companions. He saw on a number of trees near the water fruit of a bright yellow color, resembling a crab-apple in shape. If the apes observed the same they made no mention of the fact.

The trees were at least two hundred feet tall, with branches shooting from their very tops, and to climb up these smooth trunks, where there was not the slightest support for either hand or foot, was an utter impossibility.

To throw a stone so high with any degree of accuracy would be rather a difficult matter; but yet Philip resolved to try it. The shore of the lake in certain places was covered with small, sharp, flint-like stones, and thus there was plenty of ammunition at hand, even if he should be forced to try very many times before succeeding.

The first shot was not a success. The stone, after striking the trunk of the tree a few feet below the branches, bounded among the foliage with a loud noise.

The apes, who had been intently watching all his movements, hardly waited until the stone reached the ground before the entire party gathered armfuls of stones and began to fling them at the topmost branches, causing the leaves and fruit to fly in every direction.

The smaller animals, who could not send the missiles so high, formed a chain, and passing the ammunition from hand to hand, supplied those who were more skillful, until that particular portion of the forest was almost entirely denuded of its foliage.

[50]

Impelled by his hunger Philip seized a handful of the small fruits, which were evidently a species of guava, and began to eat eagerly.

At that instant the army of stone-throwers ceased their labor as each gathered a supply of fruit, and began eating exactly as did their human companion. When he raised one of the guavas to his mouth they imitated his exact movement. When he chewed they worked their jaws most industriously. When he ejected a seed from his mouth a perfect shower of seeds fell upon the sand. If he threw away a stem they repeated the action; and when, by chance, he made a smacking noise with his lips, the shore of the lake resounded with such a snapping and clattering of jaws as would have caused the “end-man” of a minstrel troupe to grow exceedingly green with envy.

The abundant harvest which, when it was first gathered, gave promise of supplying Philip with food for many days, was disposed of in a very few moments. Before his hunger was satisfied the last guava had disappeared, and the army of apes looked up expectantly, wondering what was to be the next move in this queer sport.

It may seem comical to have one’s every gesture repeated by four or five hundred long-tailed, human-like animals, but it soon becomes annoying, to use the mildest term.

During fully fifteen minutes Philip sat silent and motionless, not daring so much as to raise his finger lest ten or twelve hundred fingers should be pointed[51] toward him; and his companions observed the same immobility.

The approach of night, which comes on so rapidly in the tropics, gave him plenty of food for reflection as he sat there surrounded by his statue-like companions. To remain in the forest during the hours of darkness with such a following was something that filled him with dread, for it was impossible to say at what moment their capricious fancies might lead to another attack, and he racked his brain in vain for some answer to the vexed question.

He had every reason to believe that during the next day he should find human beings who, however unfriendly, would at least relieve him of this throng of attendants, for the island was apparently so large that it seemed hardly probable it was uninhabited. Thus, according to his belief, the only difficulties to be encountered were from this time until morning.

But how and where should the night be passed?


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