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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Captured by Apes » CHAPTER XXIII. THE BEGINNING OF HOSTILITIES.
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CHAPTER XXIII. THE BEGINNING OF HOSTILITIES.
It is difficult to describe the condition of mind into which Philip fell when the hope which had so long sustained him took flight.

As one in a dream, and hardly more conscious of his movements than a sleeper, he remained during the next five days in the lower story of the building.

A most unnatural and unhealthy condition of mind it was; but another under the same circumstances might have displayed even less fortitude. He believed death to be inevitable in a very short time, and that it was an equal chance whether the blow would be dealt by pirates or apes; therefore, with his sensibilities dulled by the conviction that his days on earth were few, he passed them as does the brute, and without thought save for the one supreme moment.

Mechanically he ate, drank and slept, seeing nothing save those objects which were revealed by the rays of the candles, and it is more than probable his mind would have given way under the continued monotony had it not been for the rebellion his body made against this unnatural mode of life.

His clothes, which had been literally torn to rags during his painful experience in trying to amuse[181] the apes and his subsequent flight through the thicket, actually fell from his body, and since he possessed neither needle nor thread he was almost in a complete state of nudity.

The rainy season, which answers in the tropics to our winter, had just commenced. The nights were damp, even cold; and it was against this exposure that his body rebelled. During the first two or three days the deprivation of natural beverage affected him but slightly. He drank frequently of the different wines and liquors to be found in the closet, and therefore was always thirsty. The greater amount of spirits he consumed the more necessary did water become, and as his body protested against the cold, so did his stomach and brain cry out against such stimulants.

That which at the end of the second day had simply been an inconvenience became absolute suffering as time wore on. His eyes were swollen and bloodshot; his pulse beat with feverish rapidity, his mouth felt parched and dry, and the throbbing of his brain was like violent blows against the skull. It needed but little to deprive him of reason, and yet he realized not his own condition.

It was while suffering from that which was so nearly akin to delirium that, hardly knowing what he did he ascended the staircase, took once more the weapons from the closet and approached the window.

The fever in his blood rendered him irresponsible, and now a conflict was something to be desired. In[182] his mind came a vague idea that he would end it all and die fighting. Better such an end than to yield up his life amid the loneliness of that dwelling.

Piling all the ammunition under the window which was situated directly beneath the tower, and loading every musket and rifle, a savage glee took possession of him as he opened the loop-hole.

That which met his gaze temporarily sobered him. The fumes of the liquor were driven from his brain, and he saw clearly the danger which menaced.

On the day when he descended to the kitchen with the intention of remaining until death should come to his release there had been perhaps two hundred apes guarding the dwelling. As he looked forth now, five times as many were to be seen. To count them was impossible; they were as the sands of the sea, and equally silent.

Five days previous these besiegers had gathered only insignificant piles of stones. Now this rude ammunition had increased to such an enormous extent that it formed veritable hills, placed so close one to the other that it was as if an army had been throwing up breastworks, and behind them three men each raised on the shoulders of the other could hardly have looked over the top. The dwelling, instead of commanding a view of the surrounding country, was now so inclosed that he was forced to lift his eyes in order to see the grinning faces which were gazing down upon him. The house no longer stood on an elevation, but in a valley formed by these walls of projectiles.

[183]

Just within the edge of the woods, where was yet an open space, two large apes were engaged in a deadly struggle, and Philip watched them for a moment with a sort of savage pleasure, as if delighting in the brutal scene.

Then a delirium of fever seized him once more. He was no longer a reasoning animal, but a brute sunk to the level of those who held him captive.

Without questioning as to what might be gained by such a course, he discharged both barrels of his musket into the crowd of those who had gathered around the combatants, and three fell at the first discharge. Again and again he emptied his weapons, mowing down long lines of apes, but apparently increasing their numbers, for as one fell a dozen sprung to fill his place in the line of battle which was now formed.

In five minutes, where perhaps a hundred had stood, half a thousand were gathered.

Neither were these new-comers idle. It was as if the report of his weapon had been waited for as the signal of a general assault, and in an instant the air was filled with fragments of rocks and stones, until one might have fancied a furious hailstorm was raging. Pelting against the building on all sides came the missiles, doing little damage at first; but it was not possible such a frail structure could long withstand the assault.

Amid the shower of stones were handfuls of sand, as if the latter was thrown by weaker arms; and, accompanied by grunts and shrieks of the besiegers,[184] the effect can hardly be described. It was deafening, and at the same time horrible.

Maddened by continued drinking of liquor, and also by the terrific din without, Philip kept up a perfect fusillade, until the moment came when his weapons were so choked and heated that it was necessary to pause.

Not for an instant did the apes cease their attack, however. It was as if this silence on the part of the besieged gave them renewed courage, and the splintering of wood from time to time told that some timber had yielded to their repeated assaults.

One would have said that these animals were well skilled in the art of war. They advanced by platoons, discharging a volley and falling back to get more supplies, while fresh troops advanced.

Much as a skillful general might do when his enemy shows signs of weakening, Goliah appeared on the scene at the moment Philip’s fusillade ceased, and, urging his followers to greater exertions, flung a heavy, jagged fragment of rock at the window with such force that the shutter was splintered, the pieces which fell inside knocking Philip to the floor.

This was the first evidence of what might be accomplished by such a bombardment, and through this rent in the wall came showers of stones, until the room was partially filled.

Philip was dazed for the moment by the fragments of wood; but he sprung to his feet on regaining consciousness, and once more opened fire, this time from another window. Such a fearful storm[185] of projectiles rained into the room that he would have been killed before one cartridge was exploded had he attempted to fire through the breach.

He no longer heeded the condition of his weapons. One musket was used until the danger of explosion was so imminent as to make it apparent to his disordered mind, and dropping the useless gun he seized another, firing with accurate aim, but never diminishing in the slightest the enemy’s vigor.

The second shutter gave way before the fierce assault. He was wounded by the splinters of wood and fragments of stone. His face was lacerated and several teeth were broken. His hands were bleeding, and the upper portion of his body was bruised and swollen.

The ammunition was becoming exhausted, and he saw with dismay that not only was it impossible to vanquish the enemy unaided, but also that he could not continue the battle a great many hours longer.

Hundreds of cartridges had been used; the shells were strewn so thickly about him that he was forced now and then to stop and kick them away in order to gain a foot-hold.

Before nightfall two of the muskets had burst in his hands, fortunately without inflicting any serious injury, and he understood that it was necessary to cease hostilities on his side until the remainder of the weapons could be cleaned.

It was when he arrived at this decision that the shades of night began to fall, and never before, to[186] man, did the going down of the sun give more pleasure.

Darkness settled over the island. The apes ceased their bombardment, and victory was for the time undecided.

As a matter of fact, however, the apes were really the conquerors, since the enemy whose ranks can be continually reinforced must triumph in the end were he a hundred times less clever and brave than his adversary; therefore it is that in battle “might makes right.”



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