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CHAPTER VII. A SINGULAR DISAPPEARANCE.
The length of time which Philip remained motionless caused the apes to show signs of the greatest discontent. In their monkey minds there was no sport in thus sitting like statues, and two of the largest decided to make matters more agreeable to themselves if not to their human companion.

He continued to sit under the shade of the palm-tree where the feast had been brought to such an abrupt conclusion by the rapid consumption of the eatables, and these two leaders approached in a manner which was evidently friendly, but at the same time most inquisitive.

They first smelled of him, touched his hands, face and hair, and proceeded on the work of examination down to his feet, where they suddenly discovered that the shoes were not a portion of his body.

With a scream of delight one of the examiners removed the foot-covering, and then evinced the most profound astonishment at being able to take off the stockings also.

The shipwrecked man’s toes next attracted his attention, and he amused himself by moving them[53] back and forth, evidently wondering why this stranger should be formed almost as perfectly as himself.

The other ape, chagrined at not having made as important a discovery as his companion, now gave the most profound attention to Philip’s trousers, catching hold of the lower portion and attempting to pull them off.

How to check these investigations, which might be more than inconvenient when the main body of apes should consider it their duty to take part in the operation, was what Philip could not decide, as, when he stood in the midst of the throng during the first meeting, he dared not make any threatening gestures; and it is very probable he would speedily have been disrobed had not several of the spectators strenuously objected to the two leaders monopolizing all the sport.

This objection was first shown when a dozen of the party began pulling at Philip’s coat and vest, some even going so far as to fancy his hair might be easily removed, and dragging out large handfuls by the roots. Before five minutes had elapsed another squad marched up to perform their part in the entertainment.

Owing to the inability of all to participate in the sport, these last seemed to consider it a solemn duty to prevent their companions from enjoying themselves, and then ensued a rough-and-tumble fight in which Philip certainly played the part of “under dog.”

[54]

They screamed, tugged, pulled, and yelled over his prostrate body without either side gaining the mastery, and although he received many bruises and scratches, it was preferable to being entirely disrobed, or to seeing his garments decorating the bodies of his antagonists or companions, whichever we may call them.

Had he remained immovable much longer his clothes would speedily have been torn into shreds by the yelling, scrambling crew around him; and to lose this artificial covering in a forest through which one could not walk without being seriously wounded by the brambles would be almost as fatal as a desperate encounter. Therefore, for the first time since meeting these strange inhabitants he decided to stand upon the defensive.

By dint of much pushing and pulling, and at the expense of many scratches, he succeeded in extricating himself from the combatants, but only to be confronted by a fresh force of assailants, who were lingering on the outside of the struggling crowd. These, following the example of their leaders, seemed to consider it the proper thing to engage him in battle, and in a very few seconds it became absolutely necessary to defend himself with force.

“It’s death if I don’t shoot, and it can be no worse if I kill four or five; besides, the report of the revolver may frighten them,” he said to himself as, backing against a gigantic palm-tree, he drew and leveled the weapon directly at the foremost ape.

His position at this moment was most critical.[55] That he would be torn in pieces as had been his cravat, after shooting the first ape, seemed inevitable; but he said grimly, between his set teeth:

“It is better to die while fighting than to yield without a struggle,” and he took deliberate aim.

Another second and the weapon would have been discharged, unless, indeed, as was quite possible, its long immersion in the sea had rendered it useless.

Just as he was on the point of pressing the trigger a terrific shriek, such as it would hardly seem could have come from any pair of lungs, however vigorous, was heard some distance in the rear, and was prolonged until the echoes sent it rolling down the lake like detonations of thunder.

Philip stared about him in alarm, trying in vain to discover the meaning of this strange noise, and to his great astonishment the crowd of apes started with the rapidity of the wind in the direction from which the shriek had come.

On every hand among the foliage could be seen for one brief second the disappearing tails of his troublesome companions, and then he was left alone, the tumult in the distance growing fainter and fainter, as this army of animals dispersed at the highest rate of speed, until finally all was hushed and still.

He was alone on the border of the lake. Silence and solitude had in the twinkling of an eye replaced the frightful tumult, and the shadows of night were closing rapidly around him.

Utter despair gave way to hope. Now that he[56] was alone, the possible dangers to be encountered in the forest during the hours of darkness were as nothing compared to the relief he felt at having lost sight of the grinning, chattering apes.

It might be possible to find human beings before the mantle of night had been fully spread over the land, and he made his preparations for continuing the tramp as calmly as if his life had never been threatened. The most important task was to regain possession of his shoes and stockings, for without them it would be a matter of impossibility to walk a hundred yards, and he began the most careful search on the scene of the late encounter.

When, after not more than five minutes’ hunt, the missing and highly necessary articles were found, he accepted it as a good omen, and was almost convinced that he would soon have food and shelter among human beings. This belief was strengthened by the terrific shriek which brought the battle of the apes to such a sudden end. He felt positive that the noise had been made by some contrivance of man’s, although why the apes rushed directly toward it was what he could not explain.

From among the branches cut off when the animals were bombarding the trees he selected the stoutest one as a cane, as well as an additional weapon of defense, and then started around the lake, hoping to find the outlet, which must necessarily flow into the sea, before it became necessary to halt for the night.

At this place, if anywhere, would he come upon[57] the inhabitants of the island; and as his late tormentors might return at any moment after sunrise—it was hardly probable they would do so during the night—time must be economized at the risk of meeting with wild animals in the jungle.

Following along the shore of the lake for fully half an hour, he met with no obstacles save where the foliage came in a matted tangle close to the water, and then the sound as of a cascade fell upon his ears.

He had arrived at the destination set; but not content to remain here, although the darkness was almost impenetrable, he continued on down the bank of this waterfall until arriving at a second, ending in a basin from which, contrary to his expectations, flowed a stream of considerable size.

It was evident the coast was further away than he had fancied; and weary in limb as well as sore in body he halted for the night.

The sleep that came to his eyelids was neither profound nor refreshing. He made for himself such a bed as could be formed of leaves and moss; but on lying down, the strangeness of his surroundings and the fear of what might be lurking in the darkness prevented his eyes from closing many moments at a time.

It was a relief rather than otherwise when the surrounding objects began to stand out from a background of violet, and he knew the coming day was sending heralds abroad to announce its near approach.

[58]

A welcome breeze, the accompaniment of sunrise, swept across the jungle, cooling his fevered brow, and the fact that it was not heated caused him to believe the sea but a short distance away. As he arose to his feet, following the conformation of the stream, the thicket became less dense, and the foliage so scanty that one could see many yards ahead, until, when the sun showed itself above the horizon, not two hundred yards off the waves of the boundless ocean were revealed to view.

To his disappointment there were no signs of inhabitants; but it might be possible a village was located further up on the shore, and he made his way along the beach, halting at every sound in the thicket, fearing his old enemies might be in pursuit.

During the first hour he saw nothing to encourage, save it might be in the thousands of oysters which were spread out on the beach, a goodly portion of which had been opened, not naturally, but with the aid of a little stone placed between the shells.

Philip knew that this must be a favorite feeding-ground for such inhabitants of the island as he had already met. Oysters are a luxury to the entire monkey tribe, who succeed in procuring the bivalves by a variety of cunning means, the most common of which is to throw a stone between the shells when the oyster chances to be open. In this manner they are sure of their prey without having to run the risk of getting their paws or muzzles caught in the powerful grip of the shell-fish.
 

Some monkeys, as Philip knew from what he had read on the subject, particularly those of Burmah, open the oyster with a stone by striking the base of the upper valve until it dislocates or breaks, and then extract the meat with their fingers, occasionally putting the shell straight to their mouths.

The necessity of observing and understanding every object in his path, for the purpose of learning as much as possible concerning the island, caused the traveler to scan these shells carefully. The fact that monkeys are adept oyster-openers had no interest for him, save as it was the means of showing that human beings had not visited this portion of the shore; therefore he understood it would be necessary to look elsewhere for aid.



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