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CHAPTER XXII. SOLVING THE MYSTERY.
With the happy belief in his mind that he could punish and drive away his assailants whenever he should feel so disposed, Philip seated himself once more in the captain’s arm-chair and opened the journal at the page whereon he had found the welcome information concerning the weapons.

It was no longer like a person who believes himself in danger that Philip continued the story. The fire-arms and stock of ammunition had given him a sense of almost perfect security, and to have seen him as he took up the book one would have supposed him to be some prosperous planter’s son rather than a shipwrecked youth surrounded on all sides by brute enemies.

Philip had ceased reading at the point where the mystery attending the disappearance of the colonists was apparently solved, and now the lines which followed caused him to be oblivious of everything around. The additional information was couched in the following words:

We have this morning discovered that which gives my officers and myself the greatest uneasiness.[174] There can no longer be any question but that the pirates have learned of our whereabouts, and are already meditating an attack, in which case we shall be almost entirely at their mercy, for the ship is not armed sufficiently heavy to resist such an onslaught as may be expected.

It has been the subject of consultation during the forenoon, and opinion seems to be equally divided as to whether we ought to abandon the plantation, or destroy the ship and hold out as long as possible in such frail refuge as the buildings of the village will afford. In the event of our deciding upon this last plan, it is an open question with me whether we will not be sacrificing more than if we left the island until a sufficient force of natives can be procured from one of the Dutch settlements to augment our army until we are able to cope with these scourges of the seas.

The cause of our uneasiness may seem a trifling one to the uninitiated, but those who are at all familiar with the customs of the Malays can readily understand how imminent is the danger which threatens.

Last evening Mr. Clark, who is in command of the ship while she lays at anchorage, believed he saw the reflection of a light from the southernmost point of the island, but owing to the lateness of the hour he did not report such fact to me. This morning at daybreak he, with half a dozen of the crew, proceeded to that portion of the beach where the fire was supposed to have been built, and the absence of any embers in the vicinity convinced him that he had been mistaken or else a vessel was burned many miles off the coast. On returning to the Reynard, however, he found sufficient proof that the pirates had been on shore within the past twenty-four hours, for sticking in the sand directly[175] opposite the ship was a Malay creese. It is such a menace as cannot be misunderstood. Before making an attack the pirates, in case members of their own tribe are at a station to be destroyed, leave such a weapon near by as token that they must be ready to use their own creeses when the battle begins. We have among the colonists four Malays, whom we took from Batavia as interpreters in the event of our finding any natives on this island.

I am positive these four did not see the sinister message, otherwise the knife would have been removed; and I have just given Mr. Clark orders to forbid the sailors to leave the ship lest the fact should become known to those who may have joined us simply for the purpose of aiding in the massacre which would probably take place if the pirates landed. Judging from what I have read and heard, it is not likely we shall be molested for several days; therefore sufficient time yet remains in which to decide upon our course of action.

At this moment the arrival of a ship would be most opportune. I am positive any captain could be persuaded or hired to remain at anchor here three or four weeks, while a portion of our company sailed in search of natives. In any event, word could be sent to Batavia; therefore, in the hope of signaling a vessel that shall lend such assistance, I have had a fire built in the crater of the old volcano, which is the highest point of land, and detailed a force of men to feed it night and day. Should any European craft pass within sight, her commander would unquestionably endeavor to learn the reason for the beacon, and thus my object may be attained.

“I am gradually learning the cause of the apes’ movements,” Philip said to himself, as he looked up[176] from the book thoughtfully. “Goliah’s force probably enjoyed the glare of the flames, and since then, when having nothing better to occupy their attention, have kept the fire alive as I saw it on the night they captured me. If I ever succeed in reaching home again I shall have a true story to tell which will seem in the highest degree improbable.”

Then he turned his attention to the journal once more, and read the following:

During the past week the officers have been making ready for a ball to be held in this building, and I do not consider it necessary to put an end to the festivities. This merry-making will serve to allay any suspicions regarding our safety which may have sprung up among the colonists, owing to our protracted consultation of the morning, and it is in the highest degree essential that no panic shall ensue, whatever plan we may decide upon. The officers are warned to keep our deliberations a secret, and the people will dance and sing as if we were in perfect security, instead of living, as is really the case, on the crater of a sleeping volcano, which has already begun to seethe and boil preparatory to an eruption.

This last paragraph completed the page, and Philip eagerly turned to the next leaf, but it was blank. The journal, which he had believed would extend very much further, was suddenly ended. Not a word respecting the ball, nor any mention of the weapon left in the sand!

A sinister blank followed the last line penned by the captain. What had happened to the colony and[177] to the writer himself since this final entry? No one was present to answer these questions; but an ominous reply was written everywhere around in the silence and desolation; the houses partially destroyed and their contents pillaged; savage and vindictive animals wearing, as if in raillery, the habiliments of gallant officers.

During the remainder of that day Philip sat in the library studying over what was apparently a solution of the mystery, but arriving at no satisfactory conclusion. It seemed almost certain the pirates had interrupted the merry-making, and that the captain was massacred before the dawning of another morning, otherwise he would have written more, for the journal bore evidence of an entry, however slight or insignificant, each day.

“But,” Philip asked himself, “if the Malays did make the descent, why was not the village destroyed, and why were the valuable contents of the houses left behind? If the pirates overcame the colonists they would have had plenty of opportunity to sack and pillage, for there was no possibility of an interruption, since they were masters of the surrounding sea.”

One other supposition flashed across Philips mind, although it seemed too absurd to be seriously entertained, and this was that the apes had forestalled the murderous intentions of the pirates. Despite the apparent foolishness of such a conjecture Philip could not banish the idea, even though he said many times that if all belonging to the colony had been[178] assassinated in some mysterious way, he would certainly have found their remains during his travels since the shipwreck.

Night came and he was still seated in the library sad and disheartened. During the hours of darkness he alternately slumbered and speculated upon the tragedy which must have taken place. Before morning he solved the mystery or believed he did; and, terrible as was his theory, it had strangely ’ enough the effect of calming him to a wonderful degree.

“It can only be accounted for by the fact that the creese had been left on the shore earlier than the officer of the ship believed,” he said aloud, as if addressing a companion. “The light which Mr. Clark thinks he fancied must have been a reality—a signal to other vessels in the vicinity. While the ball was at its height the pirates landed, so completely surprising the merry-makers that resistance was more than useless; therefore no blood was shed, but every member of the party was made prisoner. At that moment, according to my belief, a body of apes appeared, and the pirates, in the darkness, mistaking them for human beings, fled before there was an opportunity to gather up the plunder.”

This supposition was certainly the most plausible of any yet entertained by Philip. Had the entire colony been captured while at the ball, it would account for the disorder of the dining-room, where the tables had been prepared for the banquet.

[179]

With these gloomy ideas in his mind Philip no longer dreamed of vengeance. He now believed that escape from the island was impossible. Should he succeed in holding the apes at bay it would only serve to prolong life until the pirates returned, as they undoubtedly would under the belief that there were more inhabitants on the island.

“I shall live in this building as in a tomb as long as it pleases God to preserve me,” he said to himself. “And the treasure in the cave is of no more value than if I had piled up the sands on the sea-shore. To dream of leaving here is little less than madness, surrounded and guarded as I am by those who are a thousand times more crafty and cruel than the Malay pirates.”

All hope was dead, and as does one who bids farewell to this earth, expecting his stay on it is numbered by hours, he moved about mechanically, but yet instinctively trying to preserve longer his wretched existence. As if his weapons were now useless he replaced them in the closet, but examined once more the fastenings of the doors and windows, closing the shuttered loop-holes that he might not see the sinister and menacing cordon of besiegers.

Then he descended to the floor below, determined there to spend the last few hours of this most unnatural drama. The darkness was preferable to light when even the slight consolation of hope must be denied, and he waited only for death, in what form he did not speculate, to come.


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