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CHAPTER XXIV. A METAMORPHOSIS.
Until this night Philip had fancied that the dwelling would serve him as an impregnable fort; but the result of the first day’s battle showed how idle was such belief. It was hardly probable the building would withstand another attack, and he who had flattered himself that he was safe as long as he remained indoors understood how shelterless he would be after four or five hours more of stone-throwing.

The knowledge of such imminent danger had a beneficial effect upon the solitary occupant of Captain Seaworth’s house. It cleared the fumes of liquor from his brain, as it were, and left him weaker in body, but mentally better able to comprehend his exact position.

Carrying his weapons, he descended to the kitchen once more, and there the excitement brought on a fever turn, with which came also despair. He was like one in an ague-fit, and after the heat of the melee had subsided—which was not until he had partially cleaned his weapons with wine instead of water—a cold chill took possession of him.

Now a covering of some sort became necessary. It seemed as if he was literally freezing to death,[188] and with a lighted candle in his hand he rushed frantically upstairs, hoping to find draperies with which to screen his almost naked body, or failing in that, intending to use the light covering of the bed.

Ammunition had become as essential to success as clothing, and again he searched feverishly around the room.

It was while overhauling one of Captain Seaworth’s chests that Philip placed his hands on a thick fur which felt soft as silk.

Delighted at the discovery he examined it closely, and found that it was the entire hide of an animal similar to those by whom he was besieged. From its enormous size he became convinced it was the coat of the gigantic mandrill killed by the captain—the same brute whose skeleton, hanging in the mimosas, had caused him so much surprise as well as fear.

With the exception of a slit in the stomach the hide had been taken off entire, and, shrunken somewhat during the process of drying, it fitted Philip as well as if it were made by an expert furrier.

Through the opening in the front he inserted his body, as does a boy who puts on one of those peculiar night-gowns made to cover each limb; and in order that none of the warmth so necessary just then should escape, he laced up the aperture with a piece of string. Pulling the top of the hide over his head, he had cap, coat and trousers of the same material, all fitting like a glove, and warm enough to withstand the rigors of an Arctic winter.

[189]

When his toilet was completed he looked at himself in the glass, but immediately drew back with a cry of alarm.

His brown skin, thin cheeks and parched lips, which allowed his teeth to be seen, his prominent cheek-bones, disheveled hair, together with eyes hollow and restless, because of the fever, caused him to look exactly like the ape whose garment he was wearing.

It would hardly be possible to imagine a more striking resemblance, and Philip himself was decidedly troubled. It seemed as if he had descended, both in body and mind, to the level of his enemies.

There was warmth in this garment, however, and with it came a return of the fever. At all events, it is better to say his subsequent movements were caused by the fire in his blood than to fancy for a single moment that the skin of the animal had such an effect as to make him leap over the chairs or tables in the same fashion as its original owner might have done.

He was transformed into an ape in appearance, and one could fancy this had unsettled his mind, for many moments elapsed before he resumed the bearing of a human being.

Then he descended to the kitchen, spread for himself a repast composed of delicacies which had become distasteful, and forced himself to eat until the generous food caused the fever to subside somewhat.

The sight of his fur-covered arms almost frightened him, and not for all the treasure in the subterranean[190] chambers would he have taken another glance at the glass, lest his own identity be forgotten in the belief that he had become one of that species in whose education he formerly felt so much interest.

His mind was a curious mixture of fancies and realities, all so strangely interwoven that it seemed more like some hideous nightmare than the events of life.

Not until nearly daybreak did he fall into an uneasy slumber, which brought with it representations of every specimen of the monkey-tribe, and on awakening shortly after sunrise he felt as weary as if sleep had long been a stranger to his eyelids.

It was necessary he should be at his post of duty when the battle was opened once more, as it undoubtedly soon would be, and with his weapons in but little better condition than on the previous day he went into the room above, stationing himself at the corner window opposite the one which had been demolished.

This time it was the besiegers, not the besieged, who began the attack. Philip had hardly opened the loop-hole when showers of stones fell, and before he had time even to discharge a weapon a large portion of the front wall and roof collapsed under the weight of missiles, thus contracting his place of refuge to less than half its original size.

Realizing that he must check, if possible, this furious attack, lest the building be utterly demolished and he crushed to death amid the ruins, Philip began to fire with the utmost rapidity. During[191] the next hour he sent shot after shot at intervals of not more than ten or fifteen seconds, but with no better result than before. It is true he could see an ape fall at every discharge, but his enemies were so numerous that the gaps were immediately closed with soldierly precision, and when fifty rounds had been fired it seemed as if the numbers of the besiegers increased rather than diminished.

Now and then a crash could be heard, telling that some portion of the building had fallen, and it seemed hardly probable he would be able to continue the struggle an hour longer.

Even though he might succeed in so far husbanding his strength as to keep up the firing indefinitely, his weapons would soon cease to be of service. Already was he reduced to one musket, the barrel of which was so hot as to burn his hands, and it was only a question of a few moments before he would be defenceless.

He could see Goliah leaping from point to point as he urged his followers to greater exertions, and never once remaining in one position long enough to serve as a fair target.

The rocks fell like rain in a summer shower, and at the expiration of a quarter of an hour the last remaining musket was so choked as to be useless. The entire front of the house gave way. The floor of the chamber swayed to and fro like the branches of a tree in a storm, and it was only by clutching at the window-casings that he saved himself from being precipitated into the road.

[192]

He could feel the building crumbling beneath his feet, and it now remained for him to accept one of the two alternatives. He must stay where he was, knowing he would soon be crushed under the fragments of the dwelling, or leap into the midst of the savage brutes who were maddened by thought of victory, and there die like a man.

On a shelf near by was a dagger, perhaps the very weapon the Malays had left sticking in the sand, and beside it lay his revolver, which he had discarded when the battle first began, believing it too small to be of any real service.

These two he seized, one in each hand, and mentally nerving himself for the death which he fancied must come immediately, he leaped through the rent in the walls, alighting on his feet in the road half a dozen paces from the vindictive Goliah.

In his mind there was not the slightest thought that it would be possible to escape a painful death. His only idea was to die while fighting, rather than submit to capture and such torture as the apes could probably devise.

Therefore it is not to be wondered at that an astonishment amounting almost to bewilderment seized upon him when the army, instead of making a deadly assault, dropped their weapons, drew back with every show of respect and even terror, and then bent before him as if trying to assume the most humble positions.

[193]

The front of the house gave way under the shower of stones thrown at Philip by the monkeys.—(See page 191.)

[194]

The leaders of the troop, who a few moments previous had been so eager to encompass his death, now literally cringed before Philip like whipped curs, and with Goliah at their head gathered around, fawning and caressing, while Philip stood as if stupefied; and in fact only that word would explain his mental condition.

The entire army crouched around him, some licking his hands, others his feet, and all showing in every possible way delight and abasement. Not a gesture of anger was made, and every head was bowed in evident respect.

It was fully a quarter of an hour before the bewildered Philip had so far gained the mastery over himself as to form the slightest conjecture of the reason for this sudden change in the behavior of his enemies, and then like a flash of light came into his mind the thought that in the mandrill’s skin he was mistaken for the gigantic ape whom Captain Seaworth had suspected was the leader of all the apes on the island.

From the bearing of those who had so lately bent every energy to kill him there could be no doubt but that he was safe, and his salvation was due only to the fact that in him the army recognized an ape, or rather the king of apes.


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