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CHAPTER VIII. A PERILOUS PREDICAMENT.
Not having had guavas sufficient for anything more than the lightest kind of a light lunch, the shipwrecked youth searched among the shells for oysters. It was a laborious way of earning a dinner, since the monkeys had cleaned out the meats pretty thoroughly, and an hour’s hard work did not reward him with more than a dozen of the tiny bivalves.

His hunger was so great that he would have continued this almost futile search longer, but for the fact that the sun was sending an intense heat down upon the exposed beach, and already had he begun to feel the greatest inconvenience, and even pain. Prostration, if nothing worse, would most surely follow, unless he beat a speedy retreat.

To regain the shelter of the woods was absolutely necessary despite the desire for food; but before doing so Philip believed it of the highest importance that he should contrive some signal which might possibly attract the attention of those on board passing vessels.

The means for doing such work were limited, yet he did succeed in raising what might, perhaps, be seen half a mile away, although knowing full well[61] that no trading-vessels would venture so near the inhospitable coast.

Cutting the straightest and tallest stick of bamboo which could be found within a distance of a hundred yards, he stripped it of the leaves, and to the top fastened one of the two white handkerchiefs he had about him at the time of the shipwreck. This feeble attempt at a signal was planted firmly in the sand, and by the expenditure of considerable labor he heaped around the base a huge quantity of shells.

As far up and down the shore as the eye could reach a line of reef extended fully a quarter of a mile into the sea, and it was with a feeling of despondency that he looked at the fruits of his labor, knowing there was but little chance the fluttering cloth could bring any one to his relief.

To continue the journey around the coast would be to expose himself to the direct rays of the sun, and inasmuch as the reef precluded the possibility of a settlement in the vicinity, Philip determined to make his way directly across the island.

To that end he went straight into the underbrush toward the south, keeping careful watch on every hand lest he should be surprised by any of his former monkey acquaintances, and at the expiration of an hour was clambering up the side of a rocky elevation.

Of course it would have been possible to travel around the base of this hill, but the hope that from the summit he might obtain a good view of the odd[62] land on which he had been thrown caused him to court rather than avoid labor.

While making his way through the trees, pausing now and then to brush away the insects which rendered every movement so painful, he saw descending from a palm what he mistook for a flying-squirrel. With but little hope that he could succeed in capturing this tiny game, which would make a tempting lunch for one in his half-famished condition, he darted forward.

There was no difficulty in catching the supposed squirrel, for it proved to be anything rather than active in its movements, and as Philip’s fingers clutched the body he found to his surprise that he had seized a huge frog whose deep green skin looked, in the dim light, so much like fur.

Naturalist though he was, Philip had never before seen such a specimen as this. The toes were very long and webbed at their extremities, so that upon being expanded they presented a surface much larger than the body. The fore-legs were also bordered by a membrane, and it was evident the frog was inflated during the leap, for he shrank to one-half his previous size immediately the hunter grasped him.

There could be no mistake but that this was the veritable flying-frog of the Malay Archipelago, and Philip examined it with great interest. The back and legs were of a deep green, while the under-surface was yellow, as were also the webs of the feet, each of which covered a surface of about four[63] square inches. The extremities of the toes were formed similar to those of a tree-frog, and it is probable the membrane was intended to be used as often for swimming as for flying.

It was not a particularly dainty morsel of food, however, and after satisfying his curiosity concerning it Philip set the little fellow at liberty, he continuing on up the difficult ascent.

He expended his strength uselessly in climbing the hill, however, for when the highest point of the elevation had been gained it was not possible to see anything above the surrounding trees. His fatigue and disappointment might have caused him to give way in despair if, just at the moment when his mental troubles were greatest, he had not observed a small animal, evidently some species of deer, about two hundred yards away.

The desire for food now outweighed all other considerations, and he crept forward among the scanty foliage with his revolver in hand, hoping a chance shot might supply him with a dinner.

When it was no longer possible to approach without danger of being seen, he took careful aim over the top of a bowlder and discharged two barrels of his weapon in rapid succession.

The deer sprang into the air and then staggered forward; but instead of falling, as the hunter so ardently desired, he started down the sharp descent on the south side of the hill.

Philip forgot his fatigue and pursued, taking a course at right-angles with the one made by the animal,[64] in order to intercept him at the point of bushes which was evidently his destination.

With his eye fixed on the deer, noting not the nature of the ground over which he traveled, Philip rushed forward, gaining rapidly on his prey. At the objective point of foliage the animal halted for an instant, and the hunter bent every energy toward increasing his speed.

When his pursuer was hardly three yards away the deer disappeared, and thinking he had merely taken refuge behind the bushes, Philip darted around the other side, only to stop suddenly as he saw a chasm yawning before him.

He attempted to check himself so suddenly that a small stone was loosened under his foot, throwing him forward with still greater impetus, and it became impossible to regain a foot-hold.

At the very edge of the precipice he clutched wildly at what seemed to be a bush, as he was literally hurled among the branches. This slight support gave way beneath his weight, and he dropped his revolver to seize with both hands the trunk of the bush.

Down, down he went, seemingly a great distance, but still holding on for dear life; and then the foliage swung upward again in the rebound, carrying him with it, as a matter of course.

Hanging like an apple on a limb, he swayed to and fro, up and down, until the trunk upon which his very life depended had settled into nearly a stationary position.

[65]

Now it could be seen that he had dropped hardly more than twenty feet from the brow of the cliff; but this was not exactly cheering information, for he was hanging over a sheer descent of thirty or forty yards. That which he had mistaken for a bush was simply the upper portion of a reasonably large tree which grew on a shelf of the rock ten or twelve feet below the crest of the ledge.

He was grasping the trunk within three or four feet of the very top, and his weight made a tremendous strain upon the root. The wood was tough, however, and fortunately for him he bent so far from the cliff as to be suspended almost at right-angles with it.

These points were noted with the quickness of thought at the same time that a plan for saving himself came like a flash of light into his mind.

Before the strain on his arms should grow too great he determined to pull himself along the trunk like an acrobat on a horizontal bar. He could not do this, however, without causing the tree to sway violently again, and it became necessary to throw one leg over the yielding wood, where he hung in imminent danger not only of slipping off, but of being carried down the precipice together with that which he clutched so desperately, for it was only a question of time before the roots would be torn from their slight hold.

Therefore it became essential that the attempt at escape should be made in another direction.

Carefully letting himself down until he was once[66] more in the first position, he worked his way, with every muscle strained to its utmost tension, hand over hand toward the roots, impeded by twigs and branches until the task seemed well-nigh impossible.

Each inch gained in this direction caused the tree to resume more nearly its original position, until when he was a little more than half way toward the base the trunk stood upright, and by dropping down he succeeded in reaching the narrow ledge, from which to gain the top of the cliff was a reasonably easy task.

When Philip was once more in a place of safety it became necessary to rest his weary limbs before going in search of the game that had so nearly cost him his life. Lying prone upon the earth for fifteen minutes was sufficient to give him the required strength, and then he began to search for a practicable path to the foot of the precipice.

A detour of a quarter of a mile was sufficient to take him from the edge of the cliff to the rocky side of the hill, down which it was possible to make his way without any great difficulty.

Despite the pangs of hunger his first care was the revolver, and he followed up the narrow ravine or gully, which was thickly overgrown with shrubs, until he stood directly beneath the tree which had saved him from a terrible fall. Here he searched the ground in vain, and was about to give up the task to find the trail of the deer when glancing, by chance, along the side of the cliff, he saw the weapon lodged in the branches of a stout sapling, while not more[67] than thirty feet distant was an immense panther standing over the mangled carcass of the game.

Surely he was between the horns of a dilemma now. Both his revolver and the postponed dinner were so near the ferocious animal that it would be as dangerous to make any attempt at getting one as the other, and during several moments he stood undecided, knowing that the first step taken in retreat would bring the beast upon him.

A youth less versed in the habits of wild animals than Philip Garland might unwittingly have brought on an encounter to which there could be but one end. He, however, remained motionless, save as he worked his way, inch by inch, toward a thicket of shrubs without lifting his feet from the ground.

Even this stealthy retreat was noted by the animal, who began to twitch its tail as if preparing for a leap, and the shipwrecked youth knew he could no longer hold the enemy by his gaze nor gain the desired shelter. There was little opportunity for further preparation. The panther was already crouching for the spring.

Mentally bracing himself for that which seemed inevitable, he awaited the supreme moment with but one faint hope in his mind—that it might be possible to jump aside while the animal was in the air.


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