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CHAPTER X. A REMARKABLE GATHERING.
Refreshed by the profound slumber, and his mind fully occupied with thoughts called forth by the discovery of the skeleton, Philip continued straight on, knowing not where he was going until nightfall. So intent was he on this subject that he felt no fatigue, but traveled like one in a dream through the forest, which was partially illumined by the moon; and not until this pale, cold light underwent a most complete change did he fully realize what was passing around him.

The diminution of light, the gray, reddish mist which arose on the air, came from no natural cause, and Philip instinctively climbed a tree to gain, if possible, a more extended view.

To his great joy, from this point of vantage he could see flames on the further side of the island. Fire betokened the presence of human beings, and with a glad cry Philip descended from the tree to press forward at full speed.

The conflagration, however, was much further away than he at first supposed. An hour passed, and yet he had not approached near enough to discern it through the thicket. Several times, while[77] following the depressions of the land, his range of vision was so obscured that it became necessary to again climb a tree to make certain he was pursuing the proper direction, and after four hours had elapsed the guiding light died away entirely.

He was now without any means of shaping a course, and, knowing full well the folly of traveling at random in a forest during the night when objects are distorted by the gloom, he came to a halt.

While groping around to find a suitable place in which to sleep, he discovered, to his great surprise, that the trees no longer grew at irregular intervals, but were standing in straight rows, as if planted by the hand of man. The soil had every appearance of having been tilled; instead of walking on a springy turf, or over the decaying leaves of the jungle, his feet sunk in the loam. The foliage no longer presented such a variety of plants, but was all of the same species and covered thickly with fruit.

Plucking one from a branch that bent down within reach he discovered that it was a guava, produced by a regular system of culture. There was an absence of harshness which characterizes this fruit in its natural state, and the discovery was further proof to him that human beings dwelt upon the island.

After a light repast of the pleasant-flavored but ill-smelling apple he lay down to rest, and did not awaken until a terrific uproar, similar to that which so startled his disagreeable companions the first day[78] of his arrival at the island, rang out on the clear air.

The din, indistinct at first, assumed the various gradations belonging to the voices of wild animals—from the tiger’s snarl and the howling of the hyena to the most piercing shrieks and shrillest whistles.

It was but natural that Philip should feel thoroughly alarmed, and make every effort to seek refuge from this new danger which seemed close at hand. Running forward he followed, without absolutely intending to do so, the line of cultivated trees, and at the further end, in what appeared to be a vast thicket, he crouched, waiting until the sun should reveal the denizens of the jungle.

The day, which in the tropics does not steal on by degrees but bursts forth in a sudden glory, filled the forest with dazzling light, and through the numerous openings in the foliage Philip beheld that which might seem to be improbable but for the fact that it can be supported by the testimony of one of the most celebrated German naturalists.

In a vast cleared space which formed a natural arena was a group of individuals partially clad in uniforms such as are worn by many of our merchant-sailors, who believe that a distinctive dress on shipboard is conducive to discipline.

The members of this gathering were seated on a slight elevation apparently in grave deliberation, as if holding a sort of court-martial, while among them was one who towered above the others, with a cap on which were three bands of gold-lace, and a coat plentifully bedecked with the same material.

[79]

It was not the uniforms nor the positions of these individuals which surprised Philip. The cause of his profound astonishment, amounting almost to bewilderment, was the fact that the entire assembly was composed of apes, and the one in authority wore a uniform identical with that which Philip had seen on Captain Seaworth the day when he and his officers made the purchases at the animal-trainer’s establishment.

Composing this court—if such it can be called—and ranged about the leader in circles, were all species of the monkey-tribe, or, to speak more correctly, the ferocious members of that large family. Each one was clad in some portion of a uniform, but none save the leader boasted of an entire suit. Two or three had nothing more than caps; others wore trousers, and several displayed partial suits of underclothing. One ape was the proud possessor of a blue coat; another carried a saber with the belt around his neck, while a number had the weapons minus belts. Two or three were fortunate only in having gloves, which were as often on their feet as their hands. Some had coats on hind-side before without any attempt at buttoning them, and not a few were decorated with bright-colored ribbons. Philip also noticed half a dozen who had portions of female wearing apparel, such as dresses or capes.

The majority of the party were armed with some kind of a weapon, either saber, boarding-pike, or capstan-bar.

Philip hardly completed his inspection of this[80] singular-looking assembly when he who appeared to be the leader began what was evidently a speech lasting four or five minutes, and listened to with the utmost gravity by all.

When he had concluded, half a dozen of those nearest him marched solemnly into the thicket opposite Philip’s hiding-place, and returned with twenty of the most inoffensive of the monkey-tribe, known as vervets, all of whom were securely bound with ropes made from bark.

These were arraigned before the leader like so many criminals, and he addressed them with a succession of harsh, guttural cries until the poor creatures vainly tried to escape from the awful presence, but only to be dragged back by their captors, who belabored them with bamboo sticks.

During fully a quarter of an hour this scene was continued, and then, as if at a signal from the leader, a squad of huge apes, each of whom was armed with a long stick, began flogging the prisoners unmercifully.

It was possible for Philip to hear the blows even though so far away, and the unfortunate vervets gave vent to the most plaintive cries, which sounded very much like appeals for mercy.

The executioners—for such they appeared to be—continued the punishment until seemingly wearied with their cruel exertions, and then, unloosing their bonds, drove the culprits from among them into the depths of the forest.

No sooner was this done than the entire assembly[81] crowded around the leader, stroking his back, licking his hands, fawning at his feet, and in every possible way showing the utmost respect mingled with fear.

When the big ape had received sufficient adulation to satisfy him he waved his hand by way of signal for his followers to desist, and then, arising majestically, started toward what was evidently a continuation of the clearing, followed by his adherents.

If Philip’s surprise at this strange proceeding had been great, one can imagine how much it was intensified when he recognized in this pompous leader none other than the gigantic Goliah whom he had once owned and sold to Captain Seaworth!


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