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CHAPTER XV. A MONKEY-FEAST.

During five minutes Philip watched the struggle between Goliah and his subjects with no slight amusement. The baboon’s long tail made an excellent handle, and by the aid of it the apes swung him around and around, with the jar still covering his head, in what was at the same time a most laughable and dangerous manner.

It would have been possible for the baboon to release himself at any moment by loosening his hold of the jar; but the dainties to be found therein were too enticing to be relinquished so readily, and without protest he allowed himself to be flung from one side of the room to the other, he eating greedily all the while.

This struggle was not confined to the baboon and those who were swinging him around in such a lively fashion. It was only possible for half a dozen of his followers to grasp the tail, and the others were not content to remain simply as spectators when there was a possible opportunity to gorge themselves. The two old counselors had managed to seize the jar, but their united efforts were not sufficient to wrest it from Goliah; yet, having smeared their fingers with the juice which trickled[118] over the leader’s shoulders, both were wildly eager to gain possession of some portion of the dainty.

Nor were they the only ones possessed with the same desire. The entire company seemed to have but one idea, which was to partake of preserved ginger at the earliest possible moment, and before five minutes elapsed there was every indication of an extensive riot. Each ape had begun to struggle with his neighbor, urged on alike by his love of sweetmeats and his instincts of imitation.

Now, while Philip would have welcomed the sudden death of the huge baboon who held him captive, he was by no means disposed to have the party engage in deadly combat if it could be avoided. He knew full well that before the fight had progressed very far one or more of the company would seize upon him; and in this encounter, where heads were pounded against the wall without any regard to the thickness of skull, he would stand in very much the same position as did the fragile vase when the bull made his way into the china-shop.

Unfortunately there was but one jar of preserved ginger, and although he held out glass after glass of the jam and other preserves, not a single member of the party accepted the gift. Each was looking for a prize of the same size as that in Goliah’s possession, and nothing smaller would satisfy his ambition.

Then Philip attempted to leave the room, thinking they might follow, or that he would at least be free; but this was a movement impossible of execution[119] owing to the whirling apes between him and the door, and any retreat was out of the question because the closet was too narrow to serve as a place of refuge.

Each second the strife waxed warmer, until it seemed as if the apartment was filled with monkeys of all sizes, who were being swung in the air by their tails; and more than once was Philip knocked down by the heads or arms of these living missiles.

At the moment when he had given up all hope of being able to check the wild scramble his eyes lighted upon a bag of nuts. In a twinkling he emptied them on the floor, and in an equally short space of time the confusion ceased as every ape began to scramble for his share of the fruit.

Goliah was the only one who did not join in this last scene. When those who had attached themselves to his tail let go their hold he was flung into one corner of the room with the jar still pressed tightly to his shoulders, and there he remained, unheeded and unheeding, gorging himself with the sweetmeats until the skin of his stomach was stretched as tight as the head of a drum.

While the long-tailed company were enjoying this unwonted feast, and strewing the floor thickly with nutshells, Philip made all haste to satisfy his hunger. There were plenty of sardines in the way of solid food, and these, with ship’s-biscuit, made a reasonably hearty meal, which he ate standing half in the cupboard, lest his companions should suddenly become possessed of the idea to indulge in these oily delicacies also.

[120]

During this time, and before the other feasters had exhausted the supply of nuts, he held the closet-door only partially open, determined to shut and lock it when his hunger was appeased, for he knew full well it would be but the work of a few seconds for the apes to clear everything from the shelves if they were given the opportunity.

But it was while taking the greatest precautions that he was in reality the most careless.

Having eaten enough he desired to quench his thirst, and to that end had broken the top from a bottle of wine, there being many cases in the cupboard. In the absence of a glass he was forced to use the bottle as a drinking-vessel, and to do so it was necessary to raise it above his head. He was thus obliged to turn partially around, forgetting the fact that he was exhibiting himself to the company.

Before his thirst was assuaged he had painful evidence of his indiscretion. In the twinkling of an eye every ape ceased cracking nuts and leaped toward the closet, while Philip, taken thus by surprise, had not time to shut the door. As a matter of course all the party could not come within reach of the cupboard at the same moment, but those in advance passed the wine-bottles to their companions in the rear until every monkey had enough of this unusual beverage to make him tipsy in short order.

As soon as possible Philip shut the cupboard-door; but it was a case of “locking the stable after the horse had been stolen,” and he looked around with dismay as he saw each of his long-tailed companions[121] holding a bottle to his mouth, evidently wondering how the stupid man could have found so much satisfaction in what was to them very dry fun.

The fact that they did not know enough to draw the corks caused him to hope none of the party would succeed in getting any liquor; but in this he was speedily disappointed.

It was one of Goliah’s advisers who, after watching Philip stealthily, had begun the rush for the bottles, and this old fellow knew exactly how their prisoner had set about extracting the contents.

The aged ape struck off the head of the bottle with a potato-masher which was on the table, and five minutes later the floor was strewn with broken glass, while every animal in the room except Goliah was busily engaged in making himself more brutish than nature intended.

Philip stood gazing at this apparently convivial company with dismay written on every feature of his countenance. If sober apes were disagreeable companions, what would be the result when he was surrounded by three or four hundred drunken animals? There could be no question but that they would be intoxicated when each had finished his bottle, and then the position of the captive, already disagreeable, must necessarily be increased a hundred-fold.

It was probably the silence of the feasters which aroused Goliah from his ginger-dream. He withdrew his head, plentifully besmeared with the saccharine liquid, to gaze stupidly about him, while pieces of the[122] preserves hung from his nose, ears and eyebrows in the most picturesque fashion. Gorged though he was, the sweet repast did not suffice when his followers had something different, and with one bound he leaped upon the smallest monkey-toper. To choke the astonished little reveler and wrest his bottle from him was but the work of a moment, and then the king of the island began his vinous portion of the feast.

Now, as if he had not already done himself sufficient injury, Philip speedily set the example of a yet more alarming phase in this monkey orgy.

Angry because of what he had unwittingly done he dashed his empty bottle against the cupboard-door.

This example was contagious. In another instant every ape was busily engaged in belaboring his companions with bottles, and fragments of glass flew in all directions.

Now, more than ever, was it difficult to leave the apartment. The hailstorm of glass was so thick as almost to obscure the vision, and Philip crouched behind the cooking-stove to protect himself from the flying particles.

Two seconds later a groan of horror burst from his lips, for every one of the half-drunken monkeys immediately conceived it necessary to do the same thing, and he was undermost in the living stack, each member of which continued to beat the other with such fragments of glass as had survived the first onslaught.

[123]

It seemed certain he would be crushed to death—crushed between two or three hundred quarts of wine encased in apes’ skins, and each of these animated bottles writhing, twisting and scratching to get undermost.

It was fully fifteen minutes before Philip could so far extricate himself as to be able once more to divert the attention of the party, and then he seized the first possible means of deliverance. Wresting a half-shattered bottle from the clutch of the nearest ape, he threw it toward the window, and, as a natural consequence, every monkey about him struggled to his feet that he might repeat the movement.

While this afforded him some slight relief, it was decidedly a dangerous experiment. The wine had begun its work, and the apes were now so thoroughly intoxicated as to have no idea of direction.

Instead of hurling the sharp fragments through the window, as Philip intended they should, the long-tailed drunkards threw them at the doors, the stove, or their companions, until one would have thought himself in a fierce storm, where hail-stones were replaced by glass.

To remain upright without great danger of being seriously wounded, if not killed, was impossible, and he who had begun this last and most dangerous amusement was forced to throw himself on the floor to avoid the flying particles.

Again did he witness another painful proof of an ape’s power of imitation. In a twinkling every animal[124] in the room threw himself on the floor, and once more did Philip find himself the “under dog in the fight.”

He was wounded in numberless places from the claws of his companions or the fragments of glass, and yet, whether he arose or remained passive, there was still the sad satisfaction of knowing that it was he, and he alone, who set the fashion in this kingdom of apes.


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