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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Eastern Seas - Chapter 24. Excursion Continued--Fearful Encounter With A Monster
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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 24. Excursion Continued--Fearful Encounter With A Monster Post by :maustad Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1019

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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 24. Excursion Continued--Fearful Encounter With A Monster

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR. EXCURSION CONTINUED--FEARFUL ENCOUNTER WITH A MONSTER

I was the first inhabitant of our hut awake. Daylight was just breaking; and going out silently, not wishing to disturb the rest of the party, I looked round me. Potto Jumbo, who had the morning watch, was sitting by the fire; a few branches of trees stuck in the ground forming a sufficient shelter from the night dews. He was leaning against them, and had evidently fallen asleep, for the fire was almost out. I stood for some minutes contemplating the strange scene. Surrounding us on every side were the curious trees I have before described, festooned with creepers. Here and there the bright flowers of some orchidaceous plant ornamented their summits, or hung down from their boughs. I thought to myself, if any natives are in the island, how easily we might have been surprised; or if tigers lurk in its thickets, how easily one of our party might be picked off.

Presently Potto Jumbo sprang to his feet with a loud shout. He must have been dreaming, and supposed that one of the animals I was thinking of was approaching. His shout was echoed, it seemed, by a thousand shrill voices; and looking up, I saw the whole of the trees surrounding us alive with creatures--some trumpeting, some screeching, and others making prolonged shrill whistlings; and from the high branches, like a flock of birds, down came some forty or fifty monkeys, striking the tops of the brushwood to which they clung, either with hands or tails, and then off they went with the speed of arrows through the jungle. There seemed to be several descriptions. Some were small creatures of a slate colour; others of a light yellow, with long arms and long tails. The noise they made quickly roused Emily and Grace, as well as the rest of the party, who sprang out of their bowers, watching the proceedings of our neighbours. Some made tremendous leaps from one branch of a tree to another, a little lower down. First went one bold leader, taking a jump towards a tree which it seemed scarcely possible he could reach. Then the others followed, with more or less trepidation. Some seemed afraid to take a leap till their companions began to move off, when, for fear of being left alone, they threw themselves frantically into the air, while two or three came crashing through the slender branches down to the ground.

"Oh, do catch one of those pretty creatures for us!" said Emily and Grace.

Oliver and I ran forward to catch them; but they were not too much hurt to defend themselves; and one of them bit me so severely in the hand, that I was glad to let him go; while the rest, picking themselves up, hopped off at a rate which would have made pursuit useless.

"I am very sorry," I said to Grace, "to lose the monkey; though I do not think he would have proved a very amiable pet. However, I hope to be more fortunate another time."

My uncle laughed heartily at me, while he put some salve on my finger and bound it up, the pain quickly subsiding under his treatment.

We soon had our coffee-pot boiling, and we took our breakfast before commencing our day's walk. The girls declared themselves fully able to proceed. While we were sitting on the ground, I perceived a movement in the boughs, and saw that the monkeys were coming back to have a further look at us; and presently the boughs above our heads were filled with curious prying black, grey, and yellow faces. I pointed them out to Grace and Emily.

"If we could but entice some of them to come down, perhaps we might capture one for you," I observed.

"Oh no, no; pray do not attempt it," said Grace, "or you will get another bite. I thought they were such good-natured little creatures that they would hurt no one."

"Nor would they, young lady, if left alone," said my uncle. "However, I have some tame ones at home, and you shall choose the most docile when we return as your especial property. We must give them another steeple-chase, however," he whispered; and suddenly starting up, he uttered a loud cry and clapped his hands.

Again the wood was full of living creatures, and away they went as before, swinging from bough to bough, with the aid of their long tails, in the most wonderful manner. We saw several further off on one side, who moved in a different manner from the rest.

"Those are apes," said our uncle, pointing them out. "I have one in my collection which I will show you. It is the _Siamang syndactyla_."

It was moving much slower than the monkeys, keeping lower down in the underwood, but still it moved rapidly by means of its long arms. It appeared to be about three feet high, while its arms were between five and six feet across, and by them it was swinging itself along among the trees at a rapid rate. Although at first I thought I could catch one, I soon found that it could escape me as well as the monkeys had done.

We now packed up to proceed on our journey. I should like to describe more particularly some of the trees of the wonderful forest through which we passed. In the lowlands near the shore were groves of cocoa-nut palms, of which I have already spoken. Near them was the curious pandanus or screw-pine. My uncle said he always called it a trunk with branches growing at both ends. There were two species of it. The one we saw had fragrant flowers. Its leaves are manufactured into mats and baskets. Its fruit is of a spherical form, from four to six inches in diameter, the surface being exactly divided by projections of a pointed, pyramidal shape. I have already described the bamboos. As we proceeded higher up we found ourselves among lofty fig-trees. Here the number of orchidaceous plants greatly increased, hanging down from the boughs of nearly all the trees, clinging to them so closely that they often appeared to belong to the tree. The ferns, too, were in great variety; among them were many curious pitcher-plants. Thirsty from our walk, we were looking about for water, when my uncle went up to one of these remarkable productions of nature. Each pitcher contained about half a pint of water. Some were full of insects, but in others it was perfectly limpid, and thankfully we drank it off. Though it was not so cool as the juice of the cocoa-nut, still it served to quench our thirst. Thus we found how God has so bountifully provided this region with the greatest necessary of life, guarding with a thick shell the produce of the palm on the lower lands, and allowing the cool breeze of the mountains to temper the water collected in the cups of the pitcher-plant.

Instead of ascending the mountain--a task which the young ladies at all events could not accomplish--we proceeded round it, towards a curious-looking rock which rose up on one side. We made our way without much difficulty to the gap, when we found ourselves on the summit of a cliff, and looking down into a wonderful circular basin surrounded entirely by precipitous rocks, while another gap beyond seemed to open into a smaller lake at a lower elevation. It had apparently been the crater of a volcano--so my uncle thought. The sides of the higher lake were nearly three hundred feet high, we calculated, and covered in most places with trees and shrubs. A beach or broad ledge extended round one side as far as the further gap, on which we hoped we should have ample space for walking and viewing the wonders of the lake. Our ambition was now to reach the water, and we looked about on every side to discover some practicable path by which we might gain it. After hunting about, we found a way down the side of the mountain by which we hoped we could accomplish our object.

The jungle through which we had to force our way, however, was wonderfully thorny. The creepers were thorny, even the bamboos were thorny, while shrubs grew in a zig-zag and jagged fashion, forming an inextricable tangle, through which it was difficult to cut our way. Beautiful birds flitted in and out among the shrubs--grass-green doves, large black cockatoos, golden orioles, and king-crows--their varied and brilliant colours flashing brightly as they darted forth here and there in the sunlight from out of the dark shade. The most beautiful, perhaps, were the golden orioles, which my uncle afterwards told me are often classed with the birds of paradise, and are sometimes placed in the same genus as the regent bird of Australia. These, however, might not have been the true golden oriole, because that bird is very rare, and is an inhabitant of the mainland of New Guinea, though also found on the island of Salwatty. We observed their nests cleverly suspended between the horizontal forks of the outer branches of lofty trees, where they are not likely to be reached by the larger serpents which prey on birds. The paradise oriole has the throat, tail, and part of the wings and back of a jet-black hue, but the rest of the body is of a brilliant yellow colour, with the exception of the neck, which is covered by long feathers of a deep orange, reaching some way down the back, somewhat as do the hackles of a game-cock. The birds we now saw, though not exactly like those I have mentioned, were still very beautiful, and I believe rare. I cannot, however, attempt to describe but faintly the lovely birds and insects we met with in our expedition.

Just then even our uncle could pay but little attention to them, for we all had to use our axes with untiring energy before we could make any progress. At length, however, perseverance overcame all difficulties, and we cut a narrow path through the thick belt which surrounded the mountain. We then found ourselves beneath a lofty cliff, which, we concluded, formed one side of the lake, and circling round it, we reached what we at once guessed was the lower lake, where the cliffs were of less height and far more broken. Emily and Grace sat down on the top, while the rest of us began to make a path by which we might descend to the level of the water. It was not a very easy task. Sometimes Dick Tarbox, who led the way, had to be lowered down by a rope to a ledge below us, cutting away the shrubs which impeded his progress, leaving only certain stumps in the rock which would assist those who followed. In some places he had to clear away the grass and earth to allow of a firm footing; in others, he drove in pieces of bamboo, to serve as supports to the hands or feet in our descent. At last he reached the beach, and we all eagerly followed him. The lower lake was very curious and beautiful, but we had an idea, from the glimpse we had had of the inner one, that that was still more so.

"The young ladies would be disappointed at not seeing this!" exclaimed Oliver; "and I am sure that they would be able to come down. May I go up and fetch them?"

"We must go and lend them a hand, though," said Dick Tarbox, beginning to ascend.

I also went, while the rest of the party proceeded some way along the beach towards the upper lake. We found the ascent far more easy than we expected--indeed, it seemed as if the girls would have no great difficulty in coming down. As we neared the top we heard them cry out, and saw them standing by in an attitude of terror, looking towards the jungle on the outer side of the lake.

"Oh, come, come!" exclaimed Emily. "We saw a savage just now peering among the trees! There he is! there he is! even now looking at us!"

We hurried to their side. "Savage he is, miss," said Dick Tarbox; "but he is not a human savage, I think. He is one of those big man-apes I have heard tell of, though I never yet set eyes on one. I don't think, however, he will venture up to where we are."

I looked in the direction the girls were pointing, and there I saw a large orang-outan some fifty feet below us. He kept dauntlessly gazing up at us, as if doubting whether he should venture to approach. He was a big hairy monster, with a black coat and a light-coloured face, with enormous feet and hands, almost the height of a man. His face, as we saw him, had a particularly savage expression, and he was evidently a formidable enemy to encounter. Our shouts brought back the rest of the party, who climbed up with their guns, for we had left ours at the foot of the cliff.

"A mias! a huge mias!" exclaimed my uncle, as he saw the orang-outan, levelling his fowling-piece, Potto following his example. The mias was standing holding on by a branch of a tree, as if about to ascend. At the report of the fire-arms he hauled himself up to a branch, much as a sailor would do, and deliberately walked along the bough, evidently uninjured by the shots, which, if they had not missed altogether, could have but slightly wounded him. Some of the trees, with large luscious fruit, had evidently tempted him to come up to this hilly region, as the mias seldom leaves the flat ground, where he spends the night. Ascending from the bough, he caught hold of a branch of a tree which crossed it by one of his long arms, and flung himself on to it with great deliberation. He did not appear to jump, or spring, or in any way to hurry himself, but we saw him then go to the end of another branch and catch hold of an opposing bough. He then grasped them together with both hands, and finding the other sufficiently strong to support him, deliberately swung himself on to it; thus on he went among the lofty summits of the trees, till he was lost to sight.

It was some time before Emily and Grace could get rid of their fright sufficiently to begin their descent. They had now plenty of people to assist them, and ropes fastened round their waists to prevent the risk of accidents. They soon reached the level of the water. We then proceeded towards the gap. Here we were again stopped for some time, finding a way by which we might ascend the cliffy sides. However, the shrubs and the broken under-cliffs enabled us at length to climb up, passing close to the waterfall formed between the two. The whole party uttered an exclamation of surprise and delight when we entered within the circle of the inner lake. The sides were covered with the most beautiful and luxuriant vegetation. Jungle trees of every description jutted out from the crevices of the rocks, their trunks and branches bearing an endless variety of beautiful creepers in brilliant blossom, hanging down in festoons to the very water's edge. Over our heads, disturbed at our appearance, flew a number of pigeons and other birds of beautiful plumage, backwards and forwards. The water was intensely blue, and beautifully clear.

"I should not be surprised but what this is one of the lakes I have heard speak of which has no bottom," observed Dick Tarbox. "They say that water-spirits and monsters of all sorts live in some of them. I do not know what they would think at our coming among them."

"I have heard of lakes without bottoms, but I have always found, on fathoming them, that they were not so deep as was supposed," observed my uncle. "I should like to try this one. It may be very deep, but I suspect that it is much shallower than from the top of these cliffs down to where we stand. What should you say, boatswain, if the rope you hold in your hand, with a stone fastened to it, would reach the bottom and give you some feet to spare?"

"Well, sir, you know better than I do; but I should be surprised if by fastening all the ropes we have together we found soundings."

At last it was agreed that we should build a raft and try. We had ample materials; for in one corner was a large grove of bamboos, and plenty of other light wood trees growing about. We soon cut down some of the larger bamboos, with ratan to secure the cross pieces, and had an amply buoyant raft to carry one person out into the centre. I begged that I might go on it, but Dick Tarbox said he would make the expedition. He soon had a paddle formed out of bamboo, and sitting down on his somewhat frail bark, away he went, with a coil of rope before him, to which a stone was attached, into the middle of the lake. We all watched him eagerly as he let down the stone, when lo, and behold, long before the rope had run out, the stone had reached the bottom.

"There must be a rock out here!" he exclaimed. "It cannot be so shallow as this." Again he pulled up his stone, and pulled away between the centre and the shore. "Soundings again!" he cried; "and rather less than in the middle. I cannot make it out."

He now paddled round and round the lake, dropping the stone every now and then, and at length came round to the spot where he had embarked.

"You are satisfied now," said Mr Sedgwick. "I have generally found it to be the case that lakes which are reputed fathomless are like this one."

We all in turns had a paddle on the lake, and as the raft was found large enough to support fully a couple of men, Emily and Grace got on it, and I acted as their boatman. We took the circuit of the lake, while they admired the beautiful scenery I have already described. Our uncle meantime was hunting about for birds and butterflies. The gap, when we were on the opposite side, had a curious appearance, being like a large gateway, fully one hundred feet in height, though broken and ruinous. The creepers also were seen to great advantage, some of them falling in the most beautiful luxuriance from the very summits of the surrounding heights down to the water's edge, many of them covered the whole length with brilliant flowers.

"What a delightful place for a pic-nic!" exclaimed Emily.

"True, young lady," answered Mr Sedgwick; "and as all our meals are pic-nics, I propose that we halt here and make our dinner. We have water in abundance, and our provisions at our backs."

A fire was at once kindled, the kettle which Potto carried at his back unslung, and our various provisions produced. Not many birds had hitherto been shot, and our larder was therefore but ill supplied.

"I forgot all about eating!" exclaimed Mr Sedgwick; "but stay; we will soon have some birds for the pot."

Saying this, he proceeded along to the lower lake. The sound of his fowling-piece, as he fired several times, reverberated strangely among the rocks, making the birds fly to and fro in alarm at the unusual sound. Never before perhaps had fire-arms been discharged in that romantic region, but instinct told them that it boded them no good. In a short time he returned with several pigeons and a couple of parroquets. It seemed almost a sin to deprive such beautiful birds of their plumage; but Potto Jumbo, influenced by no such notions, quickly had them plucked and prepared for roasting. They were then stuck on skewers, and in woodland fashion placed on forked sticks before the fire. They were pronounced excellent, and quite as tender as if they had been kept for a long time; indeed, in that hot climate the only way to have them tender is to pluck and cook them before they have time to grow cold. We had brought a supply of fruit, which we had plucked on our way, as well as sago-bread and other articles, which altogether gave us a luxurious repast. No spot could have been more lovely than that where we sat. The bank was covered with soft, almost velvety grass, being shaded constantly from the noonday sun, and the air felt cool, though soft. I had just opened a durian, which I was handing to Grace and Emily, who had got over their repugnance to the smell, and now pronounced it the most delicious of fruits. One declared it had the fragrance of pine-apple, another of the richest melon with cream and strawberries, and the consistency of liquid blanc-mange, or more correctly, perhaps, hasty pudding. Our uncle had lighted his pipe, and lay back on the soft grass enjoying the scene. The three men, seated at a little distance, followed his example.

"What a delightful spot this would be to fix our abode on, if compelled for ever to remain on this island," said Emily.

"Oh, do not talk of remaining!" exclaimed Grace. "Beautiful it is, and very thankful I am to be with you, but I cannot help thinking of my father and mother, and how anxious they will be when the _Dugong does not arrive as they expect at Singapore. Oh, it will break my mother's heart, if she thinks any accident has happened to us. They will not know what has occurred, and they will think perhaps that we have been cut off by pirates, or that the vessel has gone down, in a hurricane, or has been driven ashore among savages."

Oliver and I tried to cheer her up. "Some vessel will surely appear off here before long," I observed; "or if not, when Mr Thudicumb gets well we must set to work and build a cutter sufficiently large to carry us all away."

While I was speaking, I heard a strange noise above our heads, and looking up, I saw in the trees directly over us a dozen or more long-armed monkeys, yellow-skinned fellows, with flesh-coloured faces. Down they had come from branch to branch from the cliff above us. Presently one made a spring, and seized hold of a fruit which Grace had just taken. She screamed with alarm, as well she might. Oliver dashed forward to seize the monkey, but before we could catch it, it had sprung up again towards the nearest bough, and again hand over hand up the branches, till he was far out of our reach. There he and his companions sat, eating away at the fruit; but they soon quarrelled among themselves, and the greater portion of it fell from their paws to the ground. We could not help laughing at the audacity of the creatures. Potto Jumbo especially was heartily amused, and lay back on the grass shaking his sides with laughter. The girls' faces, too, indicative of astonishment and dismay, amused me excessively.

"Well, those are thieves," cried Dick Tarbox. "It is the first time, I have a notion, they have ever seen a human face, and I suppose they take us to be big apes or monkeys like themselves."

The creatures seemed in no way alarmed at our gestures, nor did they appear to fear the gun which Mr Sedgwick levelled at them. He lowered it again, however.

"No," he said; "they do not know better; and as we do not want to eat them, it would be downright cruelty to kill the creatures."

I was very glad of this, for I should have been sorry to have had any of them hurt. The case would have been very different had my uncle wanted one as a specimen. He then seemed to have no regard for the life of any animals he required. He apparently considered that the honour he did the creature by preserving it was ample amends for putting it to death.

It was now time for us to recommence our return journey.

"But shall we have to pass through the country of those dreadful apes?" exclaimed Grace. "Surely if a number of them were to come together, they might attack us."

"No fear of that, young lady," said Mr Sedgwick. "They will seldom injure any one unless they themselves are attacked, though the big fellow you saw would be a formidable antagonist to any one unsupported."

I thought so too, and was very thankful that we had come up in time. We were making our way towards the shores of the lower lake, Mr Sedgwick leading; but on this occasion we young people lingered behind. I was walking with Grace; Oliver and Emily were a short distance behind us. Emily had brought her sketch-book, which she had used in taking views from the inner lake. Presently Oliver came running after us to say that she wished to take a view of the gap, and bid us wait a few minutes for her while she hastily sketched it. I went on to the party ahead to beg them also to stop, or, at all events, when they had found the way, to wait till we had come up to them. I had almost got back to where I had left Grace, when I heard a loud scream, and I saw a huge black monster-- so he seemed to me--drop from the branch of a tree near to where my sister was standing. Oliver quickly ran forward and threw himself between her and the creature, which I now saw was a huge mias, very like the one we had before seen. Oliver had his gun in his hand, and presenting it at the animal's head, he drew the trigger, but it failed to go off, and the mias closed upon him. One grip of the fierce creature's powerful mouth would, it seemed, have been sufficient to deprive him of life. Oliver had lifted up his gun with the other hand. The creature seized the weapon. What was my horror the next moment to see it rising on its hind legs, and bending forward, fix its teeth into Oliver's arm, which he had raised to defend his head. Meantime Merlin, who had been with the rest of the party, came bounding back, and attacked with his powerful jaws the leg of the mias. The creature for an instant let go Oliver's arm.

"Fly, Miss Emily! fly!" he cried out. "Never mind me."

"But I do! I do!" exclaimed Emily; "I cannot have you hurt for my sake."

"Fly! fly!" again cried Oliver.

While this was going on Grace was shrieking loudly, and I shouting out to our friends to come to Oliver's assistance, while I ran forward to give him what aid I could. I did not of course stop to consider the danger I also was in, as the beast would have probably seized us both, had I got within his grasp. I also cried out to Emily to fly. I saw that not only her safety depended on her doing so, but that of Oliver, for he would not move till she was at a distance from the orang-outan. Meantime the rest of our party were hurrying up to our support. Oliver sprang back to avoid the creature's hand-like claws, which he stretched out towards him. Never had I seen anything so ferocious as those powerful paws and the grinning row of teeth exhibited as he ran forward to attack us, regardless for the moment of Merlin, who was now in greater danger than we were. The mias still held the gun in his claws. While he again advanced towards Oliver, I levelled my fowling-piece and fired. The ball with which it was loaded, however, although it certainly passed through the creature's neck, only increased his fury, without apparently greatly injuring him. Oliver's danger was fearful. Already the creature was within a couple of yards of him, in spite of the impediment which Merlin offered. I had no time to load again, though I attempted to do so as I retreated, shouting at the top of my voice, and urging Oliver to do the same, in the hope that we might frighten the huge ape. He, however, was in no way alarmed by our shouts and cries. He still advanced, holding the musket. Already, if he was to stretch out one of his long arms, he might again grasp Oliver and draw him towards him. Oh, what would I not have given for a loaded gun at that moment! In vain I attempted to load mine while I stepped backward. Oliver was attempting to escape; but just then his heel caught in the root of a tree, which grew at the base of the cliff, and down he fell, rolling in the sand. His fate appeared to be sealed. I cried out in terror and alarm. The mias, uttering a shout of mocking laughter, seemed prepared to throw himself on his victim. At that instant, as he changed the gun from one hand to the other, apparently intending to get rid of Merlin before he attacked Oliver, it suddenly exploded, bursting into twenty fragments, and wounding him severely in the hands, face, and chest. He uttered a loud scream of anger, but still advanced. Suddenly, when I thought that my friend's life would be in an instant more taken from him, the creature fell back to the ground, where he lay struggling violently, biting the earth and tearing it up with his claws, while Merlin, evading his clutches, attacked him wherever he could get a gripe, without risk of being seized, and prevented him probably from again rising.

"Oh, he is killed! he is killed!" cried Emily, who had hitherto stood terror-stricken, running to Oliver and kneeling down by him. She heard the report, and probably thought that he had been wounded by the gun.

"No, no, Miss Emily; do not be alarmed, I am not much hurt," said Oliver, trying to lift himself up. "The creature only tore my flesh, and I have sprained my foot in falling. I have been mercifully preserved."

For some time, however, Emily could scarcely be convinced of the fact. There lay the monstrous mias, still struggling violently, while Merlin pertinaciously hung on to him. I had now reached Oliver, and assisted Emily in supporting him, while we put a safer distance between the creature and ourselves. Grace, who was far more timid than Emily, had stood transfixed, as it were, to the ground, unable to advance or fly. The rest of the party now came up, and a blow from Dick's hatchet deprived the mias of life.

"I suppose he good for dinner," observed Potto Jumbo, surveying him. "I cut steak out of him before we go away."

"Out on you for a cannibal!" exclaimed Tarbox, with a look of horror. "I would as soon think of eating a nigger boy."

"No, no, Massa Tarbox," answered Potto, in an indignant tone. "Nigger boy got soul. Dis," and he gave the brute a kick with his foot, "just like hog or cow."

"You may spare yourself the trouble of cutting a steak out of him," said Roger Trew. "I do not think any of us would make up our minds to eat him, whatever he may be."

"If it was not so far off, I should have liked the skin, though," said Mr Sedgwick. "However, we will hang him up in a tree, and some day I may have his skeleton, when the ants have picked it clean."

Under his direction the men now got some ratan, with which they surrounded the body of the monster, and then, in a sort of framework, they hoisted him up to the stoutest branch of a tree which they could manage to reach. We left him there, for all the world, as Roger Trew observed, like a pirate hanging in chains, and then began our homeward march with greater speed than before, to make amends for the time we had lost.

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