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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Captured by Apes » CHAPTER XVIII. FROM THE FRYING-PAN TO THE FIRE.
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CHAPTER XVIII. FROM THE FRYING-PAN TO THE FIRE.
Never before did an unwilling performer have such an attentive and at the same time odd-looking audience. Under other circumstances Philip would have been convulsed with laughter at the scene presented in this drawing-room; but just now it was anything rather than comical, and sorrow instead of mirth was imprinted upon his face. He, the redoubtable trainer of animals, was about to attempt a handspring for a party of apes, baboons, mandrills and monkeys!

Hardly knowing how to begin, he stood for a moment hesitating; but the same means which had been employed to assist him in climbing the pole was brought into requisition, until his limbs and back felt as if they had been treated to a bath of fire.

Then the talented monkey turned one more somersault in front of Philip and stood in an expectant attitude. There was no question but that he intended the performance should be repeated, and the unfortunate youth did his best to obey. He turned a somersault, and at the same time twisted his spinal column until there was every reason to believe it was dislocated.

[143]

Then the instructor stood on his head, and Philip was obliged to attempt the same maneuver, but only to fail utterly. As a reward for his awkwardness the bamboo sticks once more descended in a shower.

To relate all the misery and sorrows of the hour which followed would be to tell one long tale of woe. Suffice it to say that as far as possible the animal-trainer copied the movements of the demon-like monkey in front of him. He jumped through hoops, blew kisses to the audience, went around hat in hand begging for money, and realized, as never before, how much labor his pupils had been forced to perform.

As he had shown anger when they failed, and treated them with liberal doses of the whip, so did they give the same token of displeasure because of his awkward movements.

This painful and humiliating performance might have continued until it became literally an impossibility for Philip to raise either a hand or foot, had it not been for an unexplained diversion.

He was thoroughly exhausted. It seemed that not even once more could he go through the semblance of repeating his instructor’s example, and he believed that the time had come when his career on this earth would be ended forever, under the castigation of the apes. At this supreme moment a sudden uproar in the adjoining apartment caused the spectators in this new school of ground and lofty tumbling to rush helter-skelter from the place of[144] amusement, and to his most intense relief the unhappy captive was left alone.

Bruised, bleeding and exhausted as he was, nothing save the knowledge of his imminent peril could have induced him to so much as raise a hand. Now, however, it was absolutely necessary, in order to save his life, that he leave the village, and, limping painfully, he made his way through the window to the street.

In which direction the grotto lay he had no idea, because of the bewilderment that had come upon him during the past hour, and it was only possible to rush blindly forward into the jungle, taking no heed of his steps save that each one carried him further away from the scene of his humiliation and punishment.

Stumbling, falling, rising only to fall again, he pushed on amid the tangled foliage, nerved to almost superhuman exertions by the knowledge of what his fate might be in case an escape was not effected.

In this manner, hardly knowing whether he continued in a straight course or moved in a circle, he managed to press forward until the underbrush became more sparse, and hope again sprung up in his heart. He supposed he had arrived at the banana grove, where it was possible to procure food, and from whence he would have but little difficulty in finding the grotto.

But for the fact that the events and ill-treatment of the evening had dazed him, he would have exercised more care while traveling over an unknown[145] country. As it was, however, he walked blindly on, until he found himself sinking amid the slime and water of a jungle marsh.

That which he had mistaken for the banana plantation was one of those open morasses so frequent in this portion of the globe; and as the cold water flowed around his aching body he realized the danger in which he had thus incautiously placed himself.

In attempting to raise his feet and scramble back to more solid earth he sunk the deeper, and then reason gave way to fear.

He knew that any effort on his part would make the situation more dangerous; but this was forgotten in the frenzy which came upon him.

At the first plunge the water had only been within a few inches of his knees; in five minutes it was at his waist, his lower limbs being so imprisoned that any further movement of his feet was impossible.

Now came a new cause for alarm. He had felt himself growing weak for several moments, but believing the faintness was caused by exertions made during his rapid flight he paid no attention to the fact until, when held prisoner by the mud, he discovered that his hands, face and neck were covered with what at first glance appeared to be small caterpillars, dark brown in color and striped with vivid yellow.

Under the most favorable circumstances they were disgusting-looking creatures; but now, when[146] by reason of his dangerous position every disagreeable object was magnified, they seemed positively repulsive. He attempted to brush away three or four which had fastened on the back of his hand, and to his mingled surprise and horror they clung the tighter.

Taking hold of one with his thumb and finger he was forced to use no slight amount of strength in removing it, and then a cry of terror burst from his lips as he discovered that the repulsive thing was sucking his blood.

He was covered with forest-leeches, which had attached themselves to him during his flight through the woods, and his sudden and excessive weakness arose from the enormous quantities of life-blood which they had drained from his veins. For the instant his dangerous predicament was forgotten in this new cause for alarm, and during five minutes he paid but little attention to the fact that he was sinking deeper and deeper into the mire while pulling the tiny vampires from his flesh.

Once these pests were removed, however, all the horrors of his situation came upon him with redoubled force.

He was alone in a swamp, which continued to engulf him despite all efforts, and it seemed certain that life, so painful but a short time previous, was about to be extinguished.

However much one may wish for the approach of death, he instinctively struggles against it when the summons comes. So it was with Philip. An hour[147] ago suffocation in the marsh would have seemed preferable to the dangers by which he was surrounded; and yet, when the supreme moment was so near at hand, the desire for life became strong once more.

Any efforts of his were useless, and to summon aid would be to call around him the enemies from whom he had been endeavoring to escape; but now that it was a question of life or death, he did not hesitate.

Again and again he cried for help, knowing that if his words were not understood, those who had probably been sent in search of him would be attracted to the spot by his voice. The exertion necessary to make this appeal caused him to sink deeper and deeper in the treacherous mud, but he continued to shout until the rustling of foliage warned him that help, even though attended by danger, was at hand.

He expected to see the grinning face of Goliah or some of his adherents, and even these would have been welcome; but to his inexpressible delight it was the faithful chimpanzee who had responded to his cry for help.

Alice recognized his danger at once, and wasted no time in investigations. With one paw clutching the trunk of a tree, which grew on solid ground, she extended the other to him, and he grasped it with the same desperate energy that a drowning man does the plank pushed out to save him from death.

[148]

His own strength would have been insufficient to release him from the predicament, for the mire had a hold stronger than human hands; but his rescuer was powerful of limb, and, as he clutched her wrist with both hands, she drew him safely to the shore.

It was several moments before he was able to make any movement toward leaving the place, and during all this while Alice intimated, by the expression of her face as well as by her gestures of anxiety, that he should follow her.

When he had partially recovered from the exhaustion superinduced by his flight and subsequent struggles, Philip motioned for the chimpanzee to proceed, and at a rapid pace she led him through the jungle in, as he thought, the direction of the grotto.

Only once during this fatiguing journey did the animal halt, and then it was before a bubbling spring which, singularly enough in a land of luxuriant vegetation, stood in a space of at least a hundred square yards whereon not so much as a blade of grass was growing.

To find on this island such an arid spot caused Philip surprise, even though he was so distressed both in body and mind; but he was not in a condition to search for the cause, and would have passed by without halting, motioning to Alice that he was not thirsty, if she by her gestures had not insisted on his taking note of the water.

Thinking the best way to satisfy her would be to raise a few drops to his lips, he dipped his hand in[149] the spring. Instead of feeling the grateful contact of cool liquid upon his flesh, it seemed as if he had touched diluted lye. It was slightly warm, not of a very pleasant odor, and as he attempted to rub the moisture from his fingers a lather like that made by soap was produced.

For an instant he was at a loss to understand the meaning of this apparent phenomenon, and then came the thought that he had heard his friend, Captain Seaworth, speak of these soap-springs to be found in the Malay Archipelago. It was a discovery which he welcomed quite as gladly as though it had been pure water and he half-famished with thirst.

Hastily throwing off his clothes he plunged to the neck in the soapy liquid, and never before was a bath more refreshing to a weary mortal.

Lathering his flesh again and again, he washed away all traces of his plunge in the swamp, and after rubbing himself thoroughly, felt that delicious sense of cleanliness which is so refreshing. The only difficulty was to rid himself of the soapy substance, for however often he might plunge beneath the surface the foam would appear every time he passed his hand over his flesh, and it was only when in a partial state of dryness that he put on his clothes once more, making gestures to the chimpanzee that he was ready to continue the journey.

Although monkeys are not supposed to wash themselves, it was quite evident she knew the properties of this water—perhaps from seeing some[150] of the colonists use it—and Philip could not fail to wonder at the intelligence she displayed.

After half an hour’s rapid traveling the astonishment of the fugitive can be imagined when, instead of arriving at the grotto, he found himself inside the village.

This was the one spot of all others on the island which he wished to avoid, and to the utmost of his ability he represented by gesture that it was in the highest degree dangerous for him to go near Goliah.

Had Alice been able to speak his language she could not have replied more expressively. By her movements he was made to understand that his former place of hiding was known to the huge baboon, and that it would be possible to secrete himself only in the very midst of his enemies.

“What matters it?” he said to himself. “The chimpanzee can lead me into no greater danger than that to which I have already been exposed, and I will follow her as confidently as I would a human being.”

Then he motioned Alice to proceed, and she led the way, much to his surprise, directly through the main street of the settlement, where not a single ape, monkey or baboon was to be seen.

Probably all had gone in search of him, and, knowing this, Alice had formed her plans accordingly. She went directly to the house which he had just left, and opened the door of the reception-room where he had experienced so much humiliation and pain.
 
Then, as if to say that her continued absence might excite suspicion, she motioned to the doors and wooden shutters of the windows as if advising that they be closed, and left him to his own reflections.



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