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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Captured by Apes » CHAPTER XIV. THE BABOON TASK-MASTER.
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From what he saw in this private counting-room Philip was convinced that the apes were trying to imitate scenes which they had witnessed before the unaccountable dispersion of the colony.

During Captain Seaworth’s stay upon the island, and while laying out work on the plantations, he most likely had occasion to transmit many written messages to his assistants, who were probably scattered over a considerable extent of territory; therefore Goliah and his companions must have seen very often that which they were portraying so grotesquely.

The big baboon, either from a desire to see the greatest possible number of servants at work or because the dispatches were not brought back fast enough to occupy all his time, had apparently decided to make Philip his chief clerk, for he gave orders—or so the prisoner supposed, from the cries which were uttered—and one of the scribblers vacated his seat at the table. To this the animal-trainer was led. A package of paper and several quill-pens were placed before him, and from the expressive gestures indulged in by all the party there could be no question but that he was commanded to[109] cover the blank sheets with something which had a semblance to writing.

Philip was not in a position to rebel. In fact, this treatment was so different from what he had expected that he felt an intense relief at learning the punishment was to be so slight. Before being allowed to cease work, however, he had good proof that his life was to be quite the reverse of an easy one.

During the first hour he worked with reasonable industry, cheered by the hope that in so doing he might, through some unlooked-for chance, bring human beings to his aid. In bold, legible handwriting he covered each sheet with this brief appeal for assistance:

Philip Garland, a merchant from New York, shipwrecked on this island, is held captive by a large troop of apes, who have taken possession of cottages erected by Captain Seaworth. Should this, by chance, fall into the hands of his countrymen, they are asked in the name of mercy and humanity to aid him in escaping.

There was a bare possibility that some of these documents might be lost by the messengers and found by those who would try to aid him. Improbable though such a contingency was, it served to cheer him at his work, and Goliah appeared pleased because of the rapidity with which the sheets were returned.

When an hour had passed, however, he not only grew weary, but dispirited, and would have stopped[110] had not two apes, who were stationed directly behind his chair evidently by the big baboon’s orders, signified in the most emphatic manner that he was to continue the work. One boxed his ears soundly, while the other pointed toward the paper with harsh cries, which were echoed by Goliah in a more commanding tone.

There was to be no cessation in this dispatch-writing, and with a groan Philip resumed his labors, only to be subjected to the most violent usage whenever he faltered in the task.

The day passed with the animal-trainer still at the table, his head aching and his fingers cramped so that he could hardly hold the pen. He had long since ceased to write appeals for help, but covered the paper with any kind of marks made at random. Twice during the afternoon he ceased his labors because of sheer weariness, and on both occasions not only the two apes behind his chair, but all their companions in the room, pinched his arms, pulled his hair, struck heavy blows on his head, or scratched his face with their sharp claws.

Night came, and although it was not possible for him to see the marks left by the pen, his guards kept vigilant watch, forcing him by the most severe punishment to continue until the light of another dawn illumined the room wherein half a hundred vindictive animals watched for the least sign of faltering on the part of their unhappy prisoner.

It was when he believed it would be absolutely impossible to hold the quill between his nerveless[111] fingers another moment that the sound of a bell from some remote portion of the building caused every ape to leave the room, and Philip staggered to his feet like one on the verge of exhaustion.

During these twenty-four hours he had blackened many quires of paper, and each sheet had passed from one ape to another, probably making half the circuit of the island before it was returned to Goliah. But now his labors were ended for the time being, at least, and he ran down the stairs as if thinking this bell summoned him to the breakfast he so ardently desired.

The two sentinels behind his chair had not ceased their duties of overseers, but in Goliah’s absence it was evident they did not dare to restrain his movements; and thus, comparatively free in a dwelling filled with brute enemies, he was allowed to proceed unmolested until he arrived at the veranda in the rear of the building, where an old ape was tugging vigorously at a bell attached to a post.

This veranda led into what might be called a court-yard, around each side of which were long, low buildings, probably used as sleeping-apartments for Captain Seaworth’s crew and clerks. The yard was covered with an awning, and in the center had been built a small pond, bordered with the tropical plants which grew in such profusion on the island. Here and there a banana-tree upreared its glossy leaves, and at irregular intervals smooth trunks of the bamboo thrust their delicate foliage through apertures made in the awning.


It was a place where wearied workers might seek rest from their toil, and undoubtedly Captain Seaworth had caused it to be so arranged for his own especial enjoyment.

An air of homeliness at variance with what Philip had already witnessed was presented in the person of an old monkey seated near the shore of the miniature pond holding her baby, while she watched, with all the care and considerably more than the tenderness of our imported French nurses, over several little monkeys who were not yet old enough to run about alone.

Such was the view from the veranda looking into the court-yard. Gazing in the opposite direction, however, a less interesting spectacle was presented. Philip was standing just outside of what had evidently served as Captain Seaworth’s dining-room. Here the tables had been spread by the monkey attendants, or left by the domestics originally employed in the house, and the scene of disorder may be imagined. Plates were scattered about in every direction—on the floor, the chairs and the window-sills. Broken glassware and crockery rendered walking dangerous unless one’s feet were well protected. Knives, forks, spoons, tumblers, bottles and fragments of food were strewn over the room in the greatest profusion.

Amid all this disorder, even as Philip stood gazing about with surprise and dismay written on his face, Goliah strutted into the room and seated himself in the very middle of the table, while his immediate[113] following clustered around him, some on the floor, others on chairs, and the two old advisers occupied either end of the festive-board.

Philip’s hunger was too great to admit of his being fastidious. None of the monkey-guests appeared to pay any particular attention to him, and he entered in the hope of finding food which was yet in a condition to be at least palatable.

All evidence of the cook’s skill, however, had long since been devoured or destroyed. The apes were eating raw vegetables, corn and leaves. The leaders of the party were feasting on a peculiar bark which had been freshly stripped from the trees, and was evidently considered as a choice morsel. They were by no means averse to their human servant partaking of the delicacy, and were even painfully hospitable, acting on their usual rule of all engaging in the same occupation at the same time.

Several gathered around Philip, and with manners more forcible than polite thrust into his mouth pieces of the bark, vegetables which resembled yams, and even going so far, in their eagerness, as to push two or three pieces of crockery between his teeth. In order to make certain that he was getting his full share, one venerable monkey held his mouth open that the others might more quickly satisfy his hunger, and it required very violent exertions on his part to prevent being choked to death.

Fortunately for him, before the entire party could indulge in this alleged hospitable work a number of apes entered the room bearing large quantities of[114] the favorite bark, and a frantic rush was made by all the feasters, which resulted in his being neglected for the moment.

To satisfy his hunger with the articles of food here in the dining-room was impossible, while to remain might be to subject himself to a diet of crockery and glassware; therefore, at a moment when he fancied himself unnoticed, he stole softly out of the window into the court-yard, and continued on to the further end, where was a sign over one of the doors bearing the word “Kitchen.”

Not alone did he go, however, for the counselors on the table seeing his departure ran quickly after him, and in a twinkling every occupant of the dining-room was at his heels—not for the purpose of restraining his movements, but to learn what would be done.

To avoid this unpleasant retinue, if possible, he darted into an apartment midway between the kitchen and the veranda, which was evidently Captain Seaworth’s sitting-room. Here the work of destruction had not been so complete. Several chairs were yet in serviceable condition, while a violin, two guitars and a banjo hung on the walls with no marks of having been touched by the long-tailed invaders.

Philip did not delay in this room, however, since food was the one object of his desires, and he passed through several apartments until the kitchen was finally reached.

To this place the instincts of the apes were[115] sufficient to give them free access. The doors of the cupboards were yet closed, for the invaders had not been able to unfasten the catches. The marks of their vain attempts in this direction, however, were written plainly in long scratches across the doors, as if they had been seeking for some secret spring, overlooking entirely the buttons and bolts.

Every member of the party from the dining-room was close at his heels when he opened the first of the cupboards and found it filled with all kinds of canned meats, poultry, vegetables, sardines, jam, milk, and other delicacies which were probably intended for the officers of the expedition.

The most conspicuous article in the closet was a huge jar of preserved ginger which had most likely been taken on board during the latter portion of the voyage, and this immediately attracted Goliah’s attention. The lid was partially off, and with one blow of his paw he dislodged it entirely, thrusting his head into the jar up to the shoulders.

His followers, envious of his good fortune, and not being able to procure for themselves anything from this newly-discovered hoard because of the narrowness of the door, seized their leader by the tail, pulling him from one side of the room to the other regardless of his efforts to remain quiet long enough to enjoy the unexpected feast.

As a matter of course the baboon was dragged over no inconsiderable space; but he managed to keep his head within the neck of the jar, and his zealous subjects only succeeded in rolling both him[116] and the sweetmeats about, his hairy shoulders completely filling the mouth of the vessel so that none of the contents were spilled.

Philip was entirely neglected during this strife in which every member of the brute company took part, and it was evident the struggle would be ended only when Goliah’s tail was pulled out, the jar broken, or his head removed from its sweet resting-place.


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