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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » The Castaways » Chapter Twenty Seven. A Spectacle rarely seen.
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Chapter Twenty Seven. A Spectacle rarely seen.
When the huge reptile first unfolded itself to their view, it was already close to the spot where the ourang-outang, knee-deep in the water, stood awaiting it. They naturally expected to see the land animal effect a retreat from an antagonist even more formidable-looking than itself.

And in reality it did give ground at first; but only for a few long scrambling strides, made as much on its arms as legs—just far enough to place itself high and dry upon the bank. There it came to a stop, and stood firmly facing the foe.

They now perceived the truth of what Saloo had been telling them: that there is no animal in all Borneo, either in its forests or its rivers, of which the mias feels fear. Certainly there is none more to be dreaded than the gavial crocodile; yet the great ape, judging by its present attitude, was in no sense afraid of it. Had it been so, it would have retreated into the woods, where, by climbing a tree, it might easily have shunned the encounter. Even if it had retired a little upon terra firma, the amphibious animal would not have thought of following it, and it could at once have avoided the conflict, if desirous of doing so. On the contrary, it seemed rather to court it; for not only did it take a firm stand on the approach of the saurian, but continued to emit its hoarse cough and bark, which, as we have said before, closely resembled the growlings of an angry mastiff with his jaws held half-shut by the straps of a muzzle. At the same time it struck the ground repeatedly with its fore-paws, tearing up grass and weeds, and flinging them spitefully toward the crocodile, and into its very teeth, as if provoking the latter to the attack.

Undismayed, the scaly reptile continued to advance. Neither the strange noises nor the violent gesticulations of its four-handed enemy seemed to have any effect upon it. To all appearance, nothing could terrify the gigantic saurian. Confident in its great size and strength—above all, in the thick impenetrable skin that covered its body like a coat of shale armour—conscious of being so defended, the crocodile also believed that there was no living thing in all the land of Borneo, or in its waters either, that could withstand its terrible onslaught. It therefore advanced to the attack with no idea of danger to itself, but only the thought of seizing upon the half-crouching, half-upright form that had intruded upon its domain, and which possibly appeared to it only a weak human being—a poor Dyak, like some of its former victims.

In this respect it was woefully deceiving itself; and the slight retreat made by the mias toward the dry land no doubt further misled its assailant. The reptile paused for a moment, lest the retreat should be continued, at the same time sinking its body beneath the water as low as the depth would allow.

Remaining motionless for a few seconds, and seeing that its victim was not only not going any further, but maintained its defiant attitude, the gavial crawled silently and cautiously on till the reeds no longer concealed it. Then suddenly rising on its strong fore-arms, it bounded forward—aiding the movement by a stroke of its immense tail—and launched the whole length of its body on the bank, its huge jaws flying agape as they came in contact with the shaggy skin of its intended prey. For an instant of time its snout was actually buried in the long red hair of the gorilla, and the spectators expected to see the latter grasped between its jaws and dragged into the lake.

They were even congratulating themselves on the chance of thus getting rid of it, when a movement on the part of the mias warned them they were not to be so conveniently disembarrassed of its dangerous proximity. That movement was a leap partly to one side, and partly upward into the air. It sprang so high as completely to clear the head of its assailant, and so far horizontally, that when it came to the ground again, it was along the extended body of the crocodile, midway between its head and its tail. Before the unwieldy reptile could turn to confront it, the ape made a second spring, this time alighting upon the gavial’s back, just behind his shoulders. There straddling, and taking a firm hold with its thick short legs, it threw its long arms forward over the crocodile’s shoulder-blades, as with the intent to throttle it. And now commenced a struggle between the two monstrous creatures—a conflict strange and terrible—such as could only be seen in the depths of a Bornean or Sumatran forest, in the midst of those wild solitudes where man rarely makes his way. And even in such scenes but rarely witnessed; and only by the lone Dyak hunter straying along the banks of some solitary stream, or threading the mazes of the jungle-grown swamp or lagoon.

On the part of the crocodile the strife consisted simply in a series of endeavours to dismount the hairy rider who clung like a saddle to its back. To effect this purpose, it made every effort in its power; turning about upon its belly as upon a pivot; snapping its jaws till they cracked like pistol shots; lashing the ground with its long vertebrated tail, till the grass and weeds were swept off as if cut with the blade of a scythe; twisting and wriggling in every possible direction.

All to no purpose. The ape held on as firmly as a Mexican to a restive mule, one of its fore-arms clutching the shoulder-blade of the reptile, while the other was constantly oscillating in the air, as if searching for something to seize upon.

For what purpose it did this, the spectators could not at first tell, it was not long, however, before they discovered its intention. All at once the disengaged arm made a long clutch forward and grasped the upper jaw of the gavial. During the struggle this had been frequently wide agape, almost pointing vertically upward, as is customary with reptiles of the lizard kind, the singular conformation of the cervical vertebrae enabling them to open their jaws thus widely. One might have supposed that, in thus taking hold, the gorilla had got its hand into a terrible trap, and that in another instant its fingers would be caught between the quickly-closing teeth of the saurian, and snapped off like pipe-stems, or the tender shoots of a head of celery. The inexperienced and youthful spectators expected some such result; but not so the cunning old man-monkey, who knew what he was about; for, once he had gained a good hold upon the upper jaw, at its A terrible conflict narrowest part, near the snout, he made up his mind that those bony counterparts, now asunder, should never come together again. To make quite sure of this, he bent himself to the last supreme effort. Supporting his knees firmly against the shoulders of the saurian, and bending his thick muscular arms to the extent of their great strength, he was seen to give one grand wrench. There was a crashing sound, as of a tree torn from its roots, followed by a spasmodic struggle; then the hideous reptile lay extended along the earth, still writhing its body and flirting its tail.

The red gorilla saw that it had accomplished its task; victory was achieved, the danger over, and the hated enemy lay helpless, almost nerveless, in its hairy embrace.

At length, detaching itself from the scaly creature, whose struggles each moment grew feebler and feebler, it sprang to one side, squatted itself on its haunches, and with a hoarse laughter, that resembled the horrid yell of a maniac, triumphantly contemplated the ruin of its prostrate foe!


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