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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » The Castaways » Chapter Twenty Six. In Fear and Trembling.
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Chapter Twenty Six. In Fear and Trembling.
The kiss which Henry gave his little sister was not one of congratulation. He was not yet sure of her safety, or of his own. The hairy monster was still in sight—not more than a hundred yards off—and though apparently busy with his banquet on the tender shoots of the water-plants, might at any moment discontinue it, and spring upon them.

What was the best thing to be done in order to escape him? Run off into the forest, and try to find their father and Saloo? They might go the wrong way, and by so doing make things worse. The great ape itself would soon be returning among the trees, and might meet them in the teeth; there would then be no chance of avoiding an encounter.

To go after Murtagh would be an equally doubtful proceeding; they were ignorant of the direction the ship-carpenter had taken.

Young as they were, a moment’s reflection admonished them not to stir from the spot.

But what, then? Cry out, so that the absent ones might hear them? No; for this might also attract the attention of the ourang-outang, and bring it upon them. Besides, Helen had shrieked loudly on the first alarm. If any of the hunters had been within hearing, they would have needed no further signal to tell them that some danger threatened her. If not within hearing, it would be worse than idle for either of them to cry out again. They determined, therefore, to remain silent, and keep to their position, in the hope that either their father, the Malay, or Murtagh, might come to their speedy relief.

But they were prudent enough not to expose themselves to any wandering glance of the red gorilla’s. The moment Henry had joined his sister he had hurried her behind the trunk of the tree, and they were now on the side facing toward the forest. There, by looking through the leaves of some orchideous creepers that wreathed the great stem, they could see the dreaded creature without being seen by it. Hand in hand, still trembling, they stood silently and cautiously regarding the gorilla and its movements.

Under other and safer circumstances it would have been a curious and interesting spectacle: this gigantic, human-like ape, stretching forth its hairy arms, each full four feet in length—gathering in the heads of the tall water-plants, and munching them in great mouthfuls, then letting the stalks go and sweeping round to collect a fresh sheaf, at intervals wading a pace or two to reach some that were more tempting to its taste. For several minutes they remained looking at this rare sight, which would have absorbed the attention of the spectators could it have been witnessed in a menagerie.

But they regarded it with fear and awe. Their eyes and ears were at the same time more occupied in looking and listening for some sign that might veil them of the return of their protectors.

Time passed; none was seen, none heard.

A long time passed, and no sound from the forest; no murmur of men’s voices, or cry of scared bird, to proclaim that any one was approaching the spot.

The brute was still browsing, but with less apparent voracity. He drew the shoots toward him with a gentler sweep of his arms, selecting only the most succulent. His appetite was on the wane; it was evident he would soon leave off eating and return to his roosting or resting-place. In the forest, of course, though they knew not where. It might be on the tree over their heads, or on one close at hand; or it might be afar off. In any case, they felt that a crisis was approaching.

Both trembled, as they thought how soon they might be face to face with the hideous creature—confronting it, or perhaps enfolded in its long hairy arms. And in such an embrace, how would it fare with them? What chance of escape from it? None! They would be crushed, helpless as flies in the grasp of a gigantic spider. If the creature should come that way, and resolve upon assailing them, one or other, or both of them, would surely be destroyed.

If only one, Henry had fully made up his mind who it should be. The brave boy had determined to sacrifice his own life, if need be, to save his sister. Firmly grasping the great musket, he said:—

“Sister Nell, if it come this way and offer to attack us, you keep out of the scrape. Leave everything to me. Go a good way off when you see me preparing to fire. I shan’t draw trigger till it is close up to the muzzle of the gun. Then there’ll be no fear of missing it. To miss would only make it all the madder. Saloo said so. If the shot shouldn’t kill it right off, don’t mind me. The report may be heard, and bring father or some of the others to our assistance. Dear sis, no matter what happens, keep out of the way, and wait till they come up. Promise me you will do so!”

“Henry! I will not leave you. Dear, dear brother, if you should be killed I would not care to live longer. Henry! I will die with you!”

“Don’t talk that way, sis. I’m not going to be killed; for I fancy that we can run faster than it can. It don’t appear to make much speed—at least along the ground; and I think we might both escape it if we only knew which way it was going to take. At any rate, you do as I say, and leave the rest to me.”

While they were thus discussing the course to be pursued—Henry urging his sister to retreat in the event of his being attacked, and Helen tearfully protesting against leaving him—a movement on the part of the mias claimed all their attention. It was not a movement indicating any design to leave the spot where it had been browsing; but rather a start, as if something caused it a surprise. The start was quickly followed by a gesture, not of alarm, but one that plainly betokened anger. Indeed, it spoke audibly of this, being accompanied by a fierce growl, and succeeded by a series of hoarse barkings, just like those of a bull-dog or angry mastiff, whose mouth, confined in a muzzle, hinders him from giving full vent to his anger. At the same time, instead of rising erect, as a human being under similar circumstances would have done, the frightful ape, that had been already in the most upright position possible to it, dropped down upon all fours, which still, however, from the great length of its arms, enabled it to preserve a semi-erect attitude.

With its huge cheek callosities puffed out beyond their natural dimensions—(they far exceed a foot in breadth)—its crested hair thrown forward in a stiff coronal ruff; underneath a pair of eyes, gleaming like two coals of fire, and, further down, its mouth wide agape, displaying two rows of great glistening teeth, it stood—or rather crouched—as if awaiting for the onset of some well-known enemy; a dangerous enemy, but yet not so dangerous that it need be avoided. On the contrary, the attitude now assumed by the red gorilla, as also its voice and gestures, told them that it was affected by no fear, but breathed only fury and defiance.

Why should it fear? Was there any living thing in the forests of Borneo—biped, quadruped, or reptile possessed of sufficient powers to cope with the hairy colossus now before their eyes, which seemed to partake of the characters of all three, and twice the strength of any of them individually? Saloo had said there was none.

But it was not from the forests of Borneo its enemy was to come. Out of its waters was approaching the antagonist that had caused it to assume its attitude of angry defiance; and the spectators now saw this antagonist in the shape of an enormous lizard—a crocodile larger than they had ever seen before.


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