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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Captured by Apes » CHAPTER XIII. TREASURE-GATHERING.
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Although Philip was in a situation where gold was of far less value than food, or even raiment, that thirst for wealth which has come upon so many even under similar circumstances became so great as to create a most intense desire to pile up the largest possible quantity of the precious but—to him—useless metal.

Until a late hour in the night he gathered nuggets from the bed of the stream, being able to work as well in the under-ground chamber during the time of darkness as any other, owing to the phosphorescent light from the fish, until he had hidden behind the natural statue a weight sufficient to burden half a dozen men in the carrying. Upon the rough calculation that twenty-five thousand dollars in gold weighs a hundred pounds, he had good reason to believe that the value of his treasure was considerably more than a hundred thousand dollars.

It was only his desire for sleep which caused him to desist; and returning once more to the grotto, after a meal of boiled fish he laid himself down to sleep, not awakening until daybreak, when, from the mouth of the hill-side cave, he saw what aroused[100] again in his mind the belief that other human beings beside himself were upon the island.

The reflection of flames could be seen through the forest, evidently caused by an enormous bonfire, and the only reasonable supposition was that shipwrecked mariners were sending out this beacon-light in the hope of attracting attention from those on some passing ship. Perhaps more than he had been saved from the Swallow, and with this thought he darted forward at full speed, heeding not possible discovery by the apes in his eagerness to be again with human companions.

If such a thing were possible, he was more anxious now than ever before to meet with men, for unless assistance could be obtained his wealth was useless; and regardless of the thorns which pierced his flesh, or of the pitfalls that might be in his path, he ran swiftly on toward the more than welcome light.

The nearer he approached to the flames the stronger his hopes grew, for he could see beyond a peradventure that it was a bonfire on the highest point of the island, where people signaling for assistance would naturally build a beacon.

That an enormous quantity of fuel was being consumed could be told from the fact that it required nearly an hour of rapid walking before he arrived at the base of the elevation; and in the highest state of excitement he ran up the rocky slope, the soil rattling and crumbling under his feet with such a peculiar sound that it was reasonable to suppose he was traveling over the lava of an extinct volcano.


Here he came upon a kind of vegetation through which it was absolutely impossible to pass. Occupying a space of a hundred feet square, as nearly as he could judge, was a veritable jungle of thorns across which fifty men with the best of tools would have been many hours in making a road.

The bushes, the creepers, and even the bamboos were covered with these long, needle-like points, which tore his flesh cruelly. Everything grew zig-zag and jagged, and in an inextricable tangle. To get through without lacerating his body to such an extent as to be in danger of death was out of the question, and in order to reach the desired spot a long detour was necessary.

When within two-thirds of the distance to the summit a most extraordinary spectacle greeted him. Instead of human beings it was apes who had kindled the fire, and were most industriously engaged in feeding it.

Two files, composed of over a hundred of these animals, stretched from the top of the hill down the side as far as he could see, a distance of about six feet separating one from the other. This party was passing fragments of wood, branches of trees, and such combustible materials, up the incline to those at the top, who threw the fuel into the flames.

Industrious laborers were they, indeed. Not a sound could be heard, and with the utmost gravity they continued the task as if it was something upon which their lives depended.

Philip now saw that he was upon the crest of a[102] small volcano which had evidently not been in a state of eruption for some time, and the fire was built within the blackened crater, with so much fuel that it more than filled the space, the glowing coals rising several feet above the summit.

Unquestionably it was the reflection of a fire similar to this which he had previously seen; but why these animals, who are supposed to fear anything of the kind, worked so hard to keep the blaze alive was something he could not even imagine. The wood literally flew through the air, so eager were the laborers to see the flames leap and dance in the gray light of the morning; and it was with a certain fascination, similar to that experienced while viewing the proceedings of the court a few days before, that Philip gazed upon the scene.

It could not have been more than five minutes that he remained motionless watching these strange proceedings, and just when he began to realize how necessary it was to leave the place before being discovered the apes caught sight of him.

In an instant, as if by magic, the silence was broken. A dozen of the animals clustered around him, shouting and screaming as if to others in the distance, until the din was almost deafening, and he could hear it echoed and re-echoed far away in the distance. His first thought was to make his escape, by force if necessary; but before he could even so much as raise his hands two gigantic baboons leaped toward him and seized, firmly but not roughly, both his arms.


Either one of the animals could have held him prisoner despite his most violent resistance, and Philip realized full well the uselessness of a struggle in which he would inevitably receive many severe blows, even if he should be so fortunate as to escape death.

During fifteen minutes the screaming and yelling continued, his captors holding him immovable all the while; and then, as if a summons had been received from some one in authority, the two baboons led him down the hill, followed by all those who had been working so energetically to feed the flames.

Through the forest in the direction by which he had approached, past the banana plantation to the single street of the tiny settlement, Philip was led like a malefactor, with the long train of grinning, chattering followers; and he had good reason to believe his fate might be the same as that of the skeleton which he had seen hanging in the thicket of mimosas. He knew beyond a peradventure that he was being conducted to the presence of Goliah, and who could say what the vindictive baboon might devise in the way of punishment for the one who had not, in his case at least, been a gentle master.

Goliah would remember all that had occurred, as could be told from the imprisonment of Ben Bolt and the behavior of Alice; therefore the merchant who had come so far in search of living curiosities knew there was good cause for alarm regarding this meeting.

Upon reaching the village the baboons led their[104] prisoner to the most pretentious of the little cottages, which had probably been occupied by Captain Seaworth as the office or counting-house of the colony, and into this he was thrust. His two captors were the only members of the party who accompanied him. The others remained in the street, some sitting on their haunches, as if speculating whether they were to be treated to the spectacle of an execution, a few hanging on the broken fences like boys who loiter in front of a residence at which distinguished personages are visiting, and the majority of the crowd surrounding the building much as though taking steps to prevent an escape.

The interior of the dwelling differed but little from the outside, so far as the scene of wanton destruction was concerned. Books were thrown from their cases, leaves torn, and the bindings ruthlessly pulled off. Fragments of clothing were strewn on the floor, furniture scratched and splintered, and pictures turned face to the wall or thrown among the debris in one corner of the room. Everything gave token of the mischievousness of these animals; and yet in the midst of all a certain kind of order reigned, as if the long-tailed residents were bent on preserving some semblance of what the interior had once presented.

All these things Philip took in at a glance. He had no time to study details, for within a very few seconds a most singular and grotesque figure made its appearance from an adjoining room.

One would have said it was a gigantic bird, but[105] Philip immediately recognized the face as Goliah’s; and the sight of this ape, covered from head to foot with feathers, naturally filled the prisoner with the greatest surprise.

The cause of this strange transformation, however, was soon revealed. The feathers were simply quills, the majority of which had been made into pens, and were stuck over his ears, through the hair on the top of his head, under his arms, and in every place where one would remain, not even excepting the extreme end of his tail.

Goliah was followed by two smaller and less ferocious-looking baboons, who were decorated in the same fantastic manner, and from their attitude one might readily fancy they occupied the position of servants, or perhaps counselors to his apish majesty.

The sight of this animal, whom he had chastised so many times, caused Philip no slight alarm, for there was good reason to believe that some signal vengeance might be wreaked upon him, and he peered closely into the hairy, feather-bedecked face to learn whether his identity was discovered.

If Goliah recognized his old master he gave no sign of such fact, probably because he had more important business on hand just at that moment. He stopped only long enough to glance at the frightened youth, and then, consulting for an instant with the two behind him, uttered several sharp cries, which were evidently commands. Immediately Philip’s captors led him into an adjoining room, where was such a scene as would have convinced the[106] most skeptical that the monkey-tribe can be trained to become useful in many ways.

In this apartment were at least fifty apes seated at two long tables, and all in a state of the most intense excitement. They had before them large quantities of paper, huge bottles of ink, and a numerous collection of quill-pens, which they were using with the same industry and energy as shown by the feeders of the fire. They leaned over the table like weary clerks, dipping their pens into the inkstands frequently, often mistaking their paws for the quills in the general hurry and confusion, and scribbling upon sheets of paper spread before them, as if trying to imitate, with the greatest possible fidelity, a party of overworked journalists.

With their quills, or fingers, they scratched incessantly, spattering ink in every direction, and sheet after sheet was covered with what looked not unlike a stenographer’s notes.

When the paper was sufficiently bespattered with ink it was passed to a venerable old monkey, who occupied a single desk at the further end of the room, and he, after examining it intently, affixed one of those little, red-paper seals which are used on legal documents. Then it was handed to a monkey stationed just outside the door, and by him passed along a line, precisely as the wood at the volcano had been, save that, so far as Philip could understand, the messengers were sent toward the sea-coast.

After the lapse of ten or fifteen minutes the same[107] paper was returned to the house and handed to Goliah, who, with an air of greatest wisdom, scanned it carefully. Then he in turn passed it to another old ape in an adjoining room, who was probably a register of deeds, a recorder of wills, or whatever title is bestowed upon the keeper of monkey documents.


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