|Back To Part I. Mayha's Torments|
|Part III. In Aapland.|
One must remember that barely fifty years ago maps of Africa showed extensive blank regions labelled with the discouraging legend: "Unexplored."
Is it then surprising that if lands adjoining Europe had remained unexplored, those of the Asian islands, lost in seas thousands of leagues away, would have remained closed to the explorations of travellers barely bold enough to adventure themselves on the shores, which were, besides, energetically defended by barbaric peoples fighting to maintain their independence?
Of the island of Sumatra, the coasts were known: Aceh, Lohong, Edi, Deli, Siak, and to the south, Padany, Benkoelen, Rangsang situated across from Singapore, Palembang separated from the tip of the island of Krakatoa by a sort of desert and the straits of Sund.
But the great mountain range --- the island's spine --- extending along the western coast, but branching out into the interior by way of secondary ranges, demarcating vast cirques, piles of boulders, impenetrable thickets, yet remained. Today the region remains protected against the incursion of Europeans by an unexplained and terrible fear.
The foothills bore evidence of the violence of massive eruptions, where lands of Tertiary origin, from before the advent of man, had emerged as a result of the fiery subterranean activity, drawn from the very bowels of the planet. Above the original range which seldom exceeded 1200 m in altitude, further upheavals of untold magnitude had raised volcanic cones, whose sleeping craters remain suspended at nearly 4000 m in altitude, an eternal menace hanging over the ever imperiled island. Six of these fiery mouths still rumble and bubble, as if to remind one of their terrible origins. Such are Korindji and Kaba from which large lava flows continually run, as well as Radja Bas which, through it's subterranean outlets, branches out into the Straits and whose anger one day led to the appalling Krakatoa disaster.
Before these terrible guardians even the boldest hesitate: how many have risked their lives to tear from the Malaysian island its dark secrets, but have never returned? Or who have, perhaps maddened with fear, painted such horrifying pictures that none dare follow in their footsteps. Were they to be believed, central Sumatra was defended by legions of strange demons, legendary denizens of prehistoric times.
Were these then a people, anterior to the Ptolemy's ancient Jabadin, ignored by Marco Polo who visited the island at the end of the 13th century? How had they survived? How had they resisted the invasions of all the Oriental races which, according to the geographers, had met at this outward-most crossroad of Asia's land and sea route: Hindus and Tamils from India, Chinese, Boughis, Arabs, Javanese and Sundanese from Java, Indonesians et Malays, Mongols and Koubons, Kassims and Battas?
Actually, nobody had seen these quasi-mythological creatures, which some claimed were awful giants, and others stated were wispy as phantoms, seeds of nightmare escaped from the Buddhist hells. The monstrous grinning triple-bodied multi- limbed deities were well guarded: man-eating tigers; rhinoceros; huge elephants capable with their feet of crushing a man's head like a ripe fruit; panthers leaping, striking and slinking away with their prey; marauding snakes whose slithery movement barely drew a rustle from the leaves and branches; while in the tree canopy, suddenly on the defensive, the green-breasted red-beaked gongog served as lookout and announced man's approach to all his enemies.
However the lust for profit is the mother of daring and recklessness: since the Dutch conquest, under the pretext of civilisation and an unsatiable appetite for riches, adventurers tried their hand at storming this central fortress, defended by Nature from invaders. Some studies, rather superficial as yet, but relatively accurate had revealed the existence of exploitable deposits of tin, mercury, and especially, gold! The very word --- gold --- excites the most timid, and already a number of expeditions had been organized and crowned with a relative success.
The bait was two-fold: not only the existence of nuggets carried by the torrents, but early prospecting of gold- bearing veins indicated the existence of natural treasures. However, some curious facts had also been ascertained. Beneath some monoliths, whose shape and size recalled those in Brittany and Stokenbrige, depositories of gold had been discovered, like some cache where primitive men would have buried, hidden, hoarded, miser-like, large quantities of the precious metal. The explorers had recognized, without the shadow of a doubt, that these great stone masses had been lifted, moved and put back in place by human hands. One had seen no traces of tools, or at least their role had only been secondary. It was by sheer muscle- power --- and what workers must have undertaken this strenuous work! --- that these huge stones had been hoisted onto the narrowest of ridges, to the most difficult locations.
But what was inexplicable, --- one recalls that Frederik Leven, in his presentation, had alluded to these circumstances --- most of the time, after having recognized the presence of the gold, but before they had had the leisure to collect it, the prospectors, returning with men and machines, no longer found the announced treasures at the site, but rather shapeless and viscous mud. All that was said was:
"It is dead gold!"
And the popular imagination, taking up the expression, had completed the story by attributing this slaying of the gold, this assassination of the king of metals, to the mysterious creatures whose diabolical resistance defied all human efforts...the Gold Slayers!
The scientists exhausted themselves in unusual explanations: they believe neither in prehistoric monsters, nor in gold slayers. But, to save face, they attributed the unique phenomenon of the gold's demise to the influence of the torrid sun and superheated air --- which stated in a grave tone made much sense, but in truth had none.
What then was this mysterious world, this is of what we shall tell.
One will not have forgotten that after the brutal battle with the Maouass, To-Ho's troop had pushed on into the depths of the mountainous landscape, taking along the young George who had once again lost consciousness.
It was entirely impossible for him to have the least notion of the places he was travelling through: a powerful fever had declared itself and, in this frail organism the disease progressed so rapidly --- as he had since found out --- that they had thought him at risk of dying.
After how long had he regained consciousness? One morning he had opened his eyes and had immediately closed them, so much the first scene which presented itself seemed strange, like a nightmare vision. He was stretched out on a raised bed made of leaves and branches, prone on the hamac-like bed which lianas held, a foot off the ground, to two tree trunks.
Near him, standing up, was a creature greatly resembling a ape --- that is, to be exact, a she-ape, who upon the movement he had made, had suddenly bent over, watching him with her large wide-open eyes. Large as a woman, massive, heavy-set, she was perfectly hideous, yet in the curve of her thick lips, in her eyes was a such a compelling sign of gentleness and kindness that George, his first surprise past, was not scared and began to smile.
A rather sad smile nonetheless, since this poor boy had passed through such terrible ordeals that he was no longer but the shade of his former self: he was white as wax and his wide eyes were sunken in below his brow. Instinctively he said:
He wasn't yet able to reason, or else he would have been somewhat surprised that upon the syllable being spoken --- drinken --- one must not forget that the young Villiers spoke Dutch --- the she-ape, without a single moment's hesitation had dropped her head in a sign of assent, and, leaving the enclosure for an instant, had quickly returned, bearing a sort of funnel made from a smooth, emerald-green leaf.
Il contained a colourless liquid, water no doubt. She brought it close to his lips and he drank. A delicious taste tickled his palate, and childlike, he continued:
"It's good... (gut!)"
She truly laughed this time, and repeated --- not gut! --- but a syllable which comprised only the sound gue, with a silent ending, something like gue, gue, the e being little stressed.
He took no notice and spoke up again:
"Thank you, you are very nice...tell me, where am I?"
She bent over him, all the muscles of her face tightening in a great effort. Her ear was bent into a conch shape, as though to smell out in some way the sounds proffered her. But it was clear that she did not understand him. He became impatient, speaking faster and louder:
"Who are you? I want to get up, leave here...why do you look at me like that, instead of answering me? My! how ugly you are!"
He had cried out nastily, in a rage, perhaps to force his interlocutrix from her calm front, for she still watched him with the same good-willed, attentive, and especially curious look...but she spoke not a syllable more.
So, exasperated, he stiffened in his hamac, grabbed hold of the supporting lianas, trying to raise himself...she held him back, well knowing that he had not the strength to get down, that he would fall. She placed both hands on his shoulders, forcing him to lay back down
But he did not wish to. In a fit of anger such as children are prone to, he tried to push away the arm which held him back, but he might as well have attacked a steel bar. Exasperated, he bit her finger to the blood. She made a small cry, drew back her hand and looked at it. As a red drop hung on her brown hairs she gave out a reproachful ho! but not in anger. She slipped her head through a gap in the shelter and called out in one long syllable something like ko-o-o-ok.
The little one, perhaps tired out by his outburst of anger had slipped back on his back, with that vague fear of punishment that haunts children. Having well understood that the she-ape had called for help, he looked wide-eyed at the doorway through which he expected her avenger to appear. Someone then appeared: another ape, this one so ugly that George could not hold back a shiver of fear. Now shaking in fear he sank back into his bed of mosses, as if he wish to drown himself in it.
This monkey resembled neither To-Ho nor his female companion. First of all he was smaller, less square shouldered, more comparable to a man in his stature, but what distinguished him most of all was the colour of his skin, which was not brown, but of a pasty yellowish-white. He was not naked; he wore about his loins a sort of skirt and sandals made of lianas on his feet. He was uncovered above the waist; the chest thin, emaciated, ribs protruding, and at the end of a very long, muscular neck stood a large bald-topped head, with a crown of spikes of white hair.
The face, of an indefinite hue, brick and Spanish white ground together, was furrowed with tiny wrinkles, so fine, so numerous that not one spot, be it the nose, the cheeks, the brow was free of them. The eyelids themselves, which fell heavily and half hid the eyes, were flabby and creased. The discoloured lips no longer made up a distinct line and the chin disappeared beneath a heavy, shaggy yellowish-white beard. Upon seeing this mask, comical in its hideousness, George had trouble holding back nervous laughter, and his initial worry was shifting to an insurmountable urge to burst out laughing.
As he entered the hut, the she-ape had exchanged a few guttural monosyllabic and incomprehensible words with him, but which must have had some meaning, since the newcomer listened attentively, nodded his head in the manner of a man, and finally, after having looked at the she-ape's injured hand, had softly patted her on the shoulder, inviting her to retire.
George saw that he was to remain alone with this grotesque gnome, and again terror overcame him.
"No! no!" he cried out, "I don't want...Listen dame monkey, stay, I beg you! I won't be naughty anymore, stay!"
But she had already disappeared, and as he burrowed into the hamac, terrified, the strange ape approached his bed and said to him in the finest Dutch:
"Let's see," continued the other, "do you feel you have the strength to get up...don't be afraid! Come into my arms, hold on to my neck. I am quite old, but I have saved my strength for so long that there remains enough to carry you."
Not knowing why, the little one obeyed him: he had put his two arms around his neck, and the other, wrapping him in his arms had taken him from his hamac.
He carried him outside, stepped over the stone enclosure surrounding the hut, climbed a path through some bushes and reached a lush green plateau crowned in huge palm trees, and there on the thick carpet of grass he put the child down.
George staggered, he supported him. Then, with a circular hand motion he said to him:
"Look, is it not truly beautiful?"
The view was indeed marvellous: all around them a vast circle spread out, dominated in the rear by jagged rocks upon which the sunlight, very soft, as if filtered, added blue and violet reflections. Below, in a deep forested valley, were great expanses of trees --- mangoes, grapefruit, bamboos and loukoums --- which in foreground and background, arranged in a number of picturesquely irregular terraces, created a truly dreamlike landscape. From all this abundant Nature, full of life, of greenery, of light, emanated a placid aroma; the air, charged with balsamic odours, as if saturated with all earth's emanations, filled the nostrils, the lungs with a deep sense of life. The sky displayed rare and delicate hues, giving the impression of endless vistas, and great flocks of birds passed over in elegant silhouettes outlined on the pale background. Halfway up the valley, on an almost bald-pated peak, whose only crown was one of mosses, was the splotch of a small steel- coloured lake.
George stayed still, half recumbent in the grass, laying up on his elbow. It was as if he were hypnotised by this exquisite and engaging vista. He forgot everything, his fears, his anger, his surprise, to experience within himself --- after the trials which had so shaken him --- a most deeply felt sense of pleasure.
This comfort was such, so invasive and exquisite, that involuntarily he extended his hand to the old monkey who spoke Dutch so well, and said to him:
"I've been naughty, you must forgive me."
The other placed a hand on his brow --- a dry, wrinkled, ridged hand whose touch was nonetheless very delicate --- and smiling at the sun, the trees, at nature, burst out laughing. Then in a burst of curiosity:
"O! prithee, tell me where I am, who you are. You know, I'm not afraid of monkeys.
"I am a man," interrupted the old man, "I used to be called -- O! it was so long ago --- Ludwig Van Kock...and I lived in Rotterdam."
"Rotterdam! why that's where I myself was born."
"Really? and your name is?"
"I once knew a family of that name...Let's see, tell me your story, sonny, up until the day when To-Ho --- ; I know all about that --- ; tore your from a frightful death and brought you here...poor orphan that you are."
Tears rose in George's eyes:
"Orphan? O! yes...if you only knew, the Aceh killed my father, mother, my little sister!... It's frightful, we were in a whirlwind of steel and fire."
"Among men!" said Van Kock shaking his head. "Tell me everything, I will then tell you my story, but most of all do not tire yourself!"
George then, in a rather incoherent manner --- accuracy not being the purview of children --- told as best he could the terrible adventures he had survived. For him none of the details were fixed; from the time the Aceh had taken his mother, an uninterpretable nightmare had haunted his brain. All his thoughts were confused, the sudden arrival of his father seemed a dream! His memories, the scenes which had played out before him were tangled, mixed up together: cries, explosions, fire, blood!
He had seen men in their death throes drop around him, screaming women; his father, his mother, Margaret had disappeared in a furnace, he didn't even know who had grabbed and taken him away.
The scene where To-Ho had appeared, and hurled his abductor into the abyss had impressed him with naught but a sense of delirium, then nothing more until his first awakening in the forest, when he had felt the claws of the maouass, the ape against which the other had defended him --- another ape, was it not?
"It is of To-Ho which you speak, child. More than an ape, less than a man --- and better than a man."
"I don't understand!"
At the moment when Van Kock was to answer a sound of rapid footsteps sounded on the plateau and To-Ho appeared. In spite of himself, George cringed. It was that, in truth, To-Ho, by his broad-shouldered vigour, by all the strength which emanated from him, was frightening. Clearly strong anger stirred him, as a tremor ran through all his limbs and his drawn-back lips showed, in a bestial grin, his menacing fangs.
Van Kock had quickly interposed himself:
"Hey now! To-Ho!" he said to him. "What's with you now? you look furious! you know that I have forbidden you to get angry."
He spoke to him in Dutch, but in a certain manner, emphasizing the vowels, stressing what one might term the backbone of the word. Clearly there was in this an abbreviated language, primitive in a way, very difficult to render in writing.
To-Ho had listened, and certainly understood.
He made a violent gesture, pointing out a location in the valley from whence guttural laugh-like cries rose, and cried out:
"Again," said Van Kock angrily. "Ah! the wretches! the fools!"
Here is the explanation of the word Dreka. The Dutch word Drunkaard means drunk or drunkard. With great difficulty Van Kock had managed to teach To-Ho and a few of his fellows not complete words, which they could not pronounce, but the basic underlying sounds.
Dreka --- by way of the dr and the k --- was the skeleton of the word: To-Ho spoke the consonants and followed them by a short hammered out vowel. Thus had an intelligible language developed little by little between him and Van Kock. For example, figuring out all of sudden, in the forest, that the little George must be hungry, he had spoken the word Ete --- which is the root of the verb Eten, to eat.
Similarly, To-Ho's mate, named Waa, had clearly understood the words drinken, to drink, and gut, good, as pronounced by the child. But in trying to repeat them she said Dreka --- or Gue.
Thus Van Kock had made up from scratch a monosyllabic idiom which he had taught To-Ho and the other inhabitants of this mysterious country. This understood, we will translate into clear terms the speech and gesturing which accompanied each of the To-Ho pronouncements:
"Yes, yes, over there," he said, "I sneaked up on them, they are drunk on palm wine, and then there's gold! gold!"
Gold is called Goud in Dutch, and he said: Go and oddly enough this word was not mistaken for Gue, the translation of gut, good. It is thus that in primitive languages, very small differences in pronunciation result in profound changes in meaning.
"Gold!" cried out Van Kock. "Ah! that is the enemy; it will destroy your race! it will destroy you to the last! Come, come, To-Ho!"
He had taken To-Ho by the arm.
"But the little one," said To-Ho, pointing out the child. We cannot leave him here alone."
He called out:
She who had seemed no more than an ugly she-ape to George, ran up. To-Ho spoke to her rapidly, no longer in pseudo- Dutch, but in a special language, semi-animal so to speak, made up of grunts and short cries.
He told her:
"Waa! take the child! watch over him well, as you would have our poor little one, our own, the one killed by men."
Waa drew closer to George who, by instinct, held on to Van Kock.
"Go, child," said he. "She is your friend, your protector, she loves you and will love you more each day."
He pushed him into Waa's arms, who simian features lit up with a remarkable glow of goodwill and love. Mixed with the goodness in her big eyes were tears, for she remembered. She too had had a child, a son, almost of George's age...named To-Ho-Ti, or Ho-Ti by those close to him. She loved him, as mothers, human or beast, know how to love. Then one day, reckless as he was, tearing through the forests and over the mountains, climbing with a marvellous agility the most dangerous peaks, the deepest gorges, defying the wild beasts and even fighting venomous snakes, he had gotten lost. He had run, bounded along for days on end, and, after this wild race had fallen among a group of prospectors, adventurers in a quest for gold.
One of these men had sighted him over the end of his gun, and the child had dropped like a stone. To-Ho, mad with sorrow and worry had searched long, and one day had found his remains, which he had recognized, and nearby the clear traces of men having spent some time there. Man! This creature was as mysterious to him as he was to them. To-Ho had wanted to better know his son's killers…had risked himself as far as their huts, their villages, their cities.
Truly, when the Aceh sovereign fustigated or lacerated his flesh, he could understand nothing of this need to do evil, nor could he see anything in the savage battle between people of the same race, who differed only in colour. These creatures, which struck him as more clever and more delicate than he, even superior to him, at the same time presented themselves before him as nightmarish demons.
Certain details had struck him; in the Aceh sultans' mausoleum everything was dripping with gold and jewels, and To-Ho remembered Van Kock's teachings... gold was the enemy. It was to conquer it that men --- these people were called men --- sought to penetrate into the mountain, to violate the Aaps' last refuge --- this was the name Van Kock had given him, Aap meaning ape in Dutch --- it was gold- hunters who had killed his son!
Then, for the first time, To-Ho had understood why Van Kock, this fugitive from humanity, who had lived for years and years among them, in that splendid and generous landscape, had identified gold as the enemy against which they must fight, which had to be destroyed at all cost.
For the sake of the Aaps' survival, as soon as a vein was discovered it had to be destroyed. Van Kock, the brilliant chemist, who at the age of twenty disdaining his countrymen's hateful ignorance, had disappeared, was deemed dead --- Leven had so stated in Rotterdam --- had come to settle and live among these primitive creatures, had made himself their teacher and defender.
The great scientific breakthrough of Aapland --- the slaying of gold --- Van Kock, in retracing in reverse the work of the ancient alchemists who had sought the philosopher's stone, the key to making gold, had found the way to destroy it, to slay gold. He had taught his methods to To-Ho, and we shall see them put to the test.
But from this incursion among men --- who had mistreated, chained and lashed him --- To-Ho had mastered the concept that Van Kock spoke the truth: that men only lived, breathed, argued among themselves, and killed one another for one reason --- gold. The sultan lacerating his limbs, striking with his gold-handled blade, bearing a golden diadem on his brow, golden necklaces about his neck, a golden belt about his hips, the walls of the mosque decorated in gold, fabrics, banisters, grillwork, panelling, dripping with gold. The chiefs who obeyed the sultan wore gold helmets, the sabres which served them to murder were encrusted with gold. Gold everywhere! Always gold! and with it, around it, through it, bloodshed, suffering, death!
To-Ho, while watching the frightful pageant of these officers, soldiers, and executioners from his iron cage, thought of his beloved solitudes back there, of his sun, his trees, his flowers, and a horror of gold's chosen race, the human race, ingrained itself in him. The final storm of the battle between Aceh and Dutch, he had viewed as a great manifestation of the evils of gold, and his hatred of men and disgust of the vile metal had grown.
It went as far as Igli-Otou who wished to kill little George, a child --- of roughly the same age as To-Ho's --- and who wore gold bracelets on his wrists and ankles! Why had To-Ho saved the child of this cursed race? By instinct. Because the creature was weak and in the clutches of one far stronger...because some sort of intuition told him that Waa, the desolate mother, might be happy to rediscover the illusion of maternity.
And he had foreseen well, since Waa now extended her arms to George. O! how she had nursed him! how she had obeyed old Kock, not sleeping, devoting herself day and night to the little creature, which she addressed in whispers by the name of her dear little lost one, Ho-Ti.
But George, himself, had not yet entirely given himself over to her, his human vanity resisted this simian affection. He remembered his mother, so charming in her soft blondness, so delicate and gracious. He looked at Waa's enormous paws, and in spite of himself, compared them to the tiny hands which used to caress him.
"Do give her a hug, child," Van Kock told him. "Don't you see she's dying for you to do so?"
Georges still hesitated; then, like a sovereign condescending to have a subject come up to him, extended his forehead to Waa, who sobbing, deliriously happy, wrapped him in her arms and took him away clutched to her chest, repeating to him "Ete! Ete!" Knowingly she promised him something to eat, knowing he must be famished.
Van Kock was quite a strange individual, one whom a bout of anger, of misanthropy had thrown into a life in the wilds. Being Dutch, he was passionate, full of enthusiasm and had given himself wholeheartedly to the study of chemistry and the natural sciences. His way of thinking led him to the boldest speculations: he had studied the ancient alchemists in detail, and contrary to so many so-called research scientists, who speak of the alchemists' works without knowing them, he had gone back to the original texts, had had the courage to brave the enormous folios of Paracelsus, of Raymond Lulle, of Bernard of Tr‚visan, of Arnauld de Villeneuve, Artephius' Natural Philosophy, Crosset de la Haumerie's Hidden Secrets of Cosmogeny, had spent days and nights pouring over the Emerald Tables attributed to Hermes, and little by little certain singular conclusions impressed themselves upon his mind.
To him Nature arose from unity: the primordial substance was unique, bearing within itself all power and motion, and by its evolving nature has created all that exists, those things said to be inorganic and those living, the latter emerging from the former under the action of an unceasing progression. Manifesting itself in such diverse ways, what was surprisingly varied in appearance, only represented successive steps in a progression.
From gas to mineral, then to plants, on to animals, and finally to man, the progression was uninterrupted: the substance's power exerted itself under the impetus of which it was itself the origin, and, according to the initial leap, had advanced to a greater or lesser degree. In the beginning, this activity had paused, had taken on a concrete form in some inferior intermediates, but which, once acquired served as stepping stones supporting the force's surge forward to higher levels.
Kock did not believe in the direct metamorphosis of stone into plant life, nor that of plant into animal life, but maintained that the work undertaken by the force had taken on a concrete form in the mineral state, and this force, having achieved this, stepped back, so to speak, to take a new leap forward, at the end of which it reached a higher state.
Thus, between monkey and man it was only the missing link that was of interest to him: Nature's forward thrust had, according to him, created the monkey; the workmanship was not perfect, so it had stepped back, had thrown itself forward again... Had it then, in this second leap, reached as far as man? Notwithstanding their analogous anatomies, he could not admit to it, so large were the differences between the two life-forms. He had then set forth the theory that the work of Nature must have produced, in its successive forward thrusts, creatures more and more distinct from the monkey, evolving more and more towards man, the which had existed --- or might still exist --- as an evolutionarily fixed species.
Could exist? Therein did the problem lie. When one observes nowadays the disappearance of entirely human races --- such as the Native Americans --- driven off, hunted down, and massacred by the Americans; when one sees the day to day demise of animal species such as the bison, to the point where costly attempts are being made to save the few remaining specimens, can one reasonably expect that creatures akin to man would have escaped the attacks of a conqueror who, by the right of his newly developed intelligence, had become master of the Earth and was doing away with his rivals?
Nonetheless, if some specimens of such pre-human races had survived, then the old legends probably bore some basis in reality, however twisted by ignorance or embellished by the imagination they might be. This theory had long ago been stated by the philosopher Ephemerus. Van Kock had made it his own: giants and monsters had indeed committed the heinous crimes attributed them in mythological history, and had been destroyed by men whom public gratitude had raised to the rank of demi-gods. But driven back, driven away from civilised lands, would there not have been some which would have taken refuge in the impenetrable hinterlands?
And so, at twenty years of age, Van Kock, in his scientific fervour had come to explore the island of Sumatra. While his countrymen dreamt only its economic potential, of the riches to be found, he, inspired by the few legends which had reached Europe, had, in an act of laudable daring, taken on the mission of exploring those regions where no one had yet penetrated.
Did he not deny creation as it was explained in the Hebrew books? But there was more: he was rich. His family denounced him as mad, had him declared incompetent, they his legal guardians: the lust for gold completed the work begun by ignorance and intolerance. He was dishonoured, singled out in public, ruined, threatened with internment in a lunatic asylum.
Then, disgusted with man, with their stupidity, their narrow-mindedness and greediness, knowing besides that his arrest was only hours away, he had escaped, so to speak, and using up his last monetary resources had gone aboard ship under an assumed name. Having arrived in Sumatra, and having miraculously escaped the dangers represented by the natives' hatred for Europeans, he had made his way into the forests, had hiked for weeks and months through the mountains, climbing the most inaccessible of peaks, defending himself against the wild beasts, and finally he had fallen in with a tribe of anthropoids.
There again, the danger was great, as amongst these creatures, then more akin to the ape than to man, an instinct of ferocious brutality predominated: but an unexpected circumstance had saved him. He had cured To-Ho's father, then a child, by way of a surgical procedure, and from then on the Aaps --- as he called them according to the Dutch word meaning ape --- had welcomed, respected and loved him.
For nigh on sixty years he had lived among these creatures in which he had recognized certain aptitudes --- still rudimentary --- to humanity. He had taken To-Ho under his wing, had looked after him, taught him. Having recognized in the Aaps the capacity for language in a primitive state, he had developed it. To-Ho, in turn, had taken on the task of educating the tribe.
But among the hundred or so mating pairs which made it up, at best a third truly gained from his teachings. Besides their numbers decreased from year to year as a result of a mysterious form of consumption which Van Kock tried, in vain, to fight, Only To-Ho and five of his fellows had truly managed to draw themselves up, little by little, to the dignity of man.
Among the others, there was a continuous alternation between progress and decadence. Their anthropoidal instincts were the strongest, but, oddly enough, these mixed with human vices blossomed into something evil and perverse. Thus it was that the few tools which Kock had managed to teach them how to make and use had already become weapons in brutal and deadly battles. The rudimentary clothing of which they had be taught the usefulness had become an excuse for petty jealousies, for ridiculous ornamentation.
The Aapas in particular --- the females -- had understood with a surprising rapidity what such or such finery --- seed necklaces, flowered head-dresses, screens of twigs --- could add to what they considered --- the poor she-apes --- to be their beauty. To the pure and simple instinct of the distinction between Aaps of different types, had come to be juxtaposed preferences born from vanity, coquetry and jealousy. And by a stunning prescience of human stupidity, these primitive creatures had come to elect gold as a sign of superiority, of power and of love!
Gold! which could be found in its native state in the torrents! which sometimes emerged from the outcrops and valleys! Gold which sparkled in crushed minerals!
Kock was the first to cry out: "Gold, it is the enemy!"
And To-Ho had understood, especially the day when the prospectors, venturing to the confines of this wilderness had killed some of the Aaps to take possession of their hidden stashes, had killed his poor little son, who had committed no other crime than being unable to answer those who wished to compel him to reveal the location of the deposits! How much this concept of the perversity of gold had grown when To-Ho had once ventured among men and had seen for himself that gold conferred upon its owners an all-powerful evil!
In this thick-lobed brain, with its ill-defined convolutions, ideas were vaguely manifest, ponderous, like those which arise in a drowsy state, in a half-light. Kock had shown him gold as an inciter of discord and murder, and this had led him to a concept whose simplicity had struck him: One must slay gold, everywhere and always!
How? This was Kock's secret, and he had waited many years to confer it to To-Ho, so much had he feared that the anthropoid, in one of those excesses of rage under which his bestial instincts returned to the surface --- but were becoming, it is true, more and more infrequent --- did not use the power of which he, Kock, was the wise protector --- to cause some horrific catastrophe.
What was this discovery of Kock's? We have mentioned that for a long time, beginning with the hypothesis of the unity of matter, he had studied the procedures through which the alchemists strove to transform metals --- lead and mercury --- into gold. Kock had reasoned that perhaps the regressive process was easier, that is the breaking down of gold --- no longer considered a simple substance --- into its materials of origin. Gold, he was convinced was a ripened metal; he knew that in the mines of Mexico native workers frequent discard gold- bearing minerals, stating that "This gold is not ripe," believing that the mineral, to reach a full state of goldness requires further incubation under the influence of both subterranean and solar heat.
Whence the conclusion that gold, ripened, could conversely rot like a fruit, to break down and no longer be like unto itself, no more so than the peach or cherry, or any organic matter, which through decomposition loses it texture and shape. To slay gold, such that its corpse decomposed, such was the challenge Van Kock had set for himself. For years he had conducted endless experiments. Under the preconceived notion that gold must decompose at temperatures exceeding those under which it had been formed, he had tried to apply a heat greater than that of the sun. He had burned down entire forests to create such a monstrously incandescent furnace, and all had failed. The gold melted, but returned as an imperishable ingot.
One day, in the laboratory which he himself had built, and which was a temple-like site of frightened veneration to the Aaps --- he was subjecting some minerals he had found in a fold of the mountain to a process of analysis. The decomposition had occurred, Kock had ascertained that the dissociated elements were known to him, and after a superficial examination, he had left, closing the door to his hut behind him.
He had returned, alone, at night, and had suddenly stopped short, dumbfounded. Through the window which he had carved out of a block of mica, he perceived a strangely glittering soft white glow. What was happening in there? He was quite sure that he had not lit the resin lamp which normally illuminated the premises, and besides, what a difference between the lamp's fuliginous yellow light and this one of star-like clarity!
He entered. The seat of this glow was in the crucible: with a feverish haste, he observed, studied, in the bottom of the matrass a mass --- metallic, mineral --- lay, and from this mass emanated a certain light and a certain warmth. A thundering revelation! Matter, its own source of power and movement! with what passion did he return to his study, what dangers did he confront! As he extracted more of the mysterious metal from the large deposit of minerals at the valley bottom, he observed some of its stunning and rather terrifying effects.
The new metal, having in itself the power to produce light and heat, that is to say emitting many million vibrations per second, was an awful agent of disintegration. The more Van Kock purified it, obtained it in its native from, the more the power which emanated from it frightened him: a hundredth of a milligram dashed against the hardest stone sufficed to pulverised it. At its contact the most refractory of metals --- gold --- was in some manner volatilised.
With a kilo of this material Van Kock could have blown up the planet.
He varied his experiments, verified them, expanded them, and realized with a certain terrified pride that he was the master of life on Earth, that he could, if he so wished, annihilate in one fell stroke...What was the point? Why not let men live their lives, evolve slowly towards progress? To avenge himself of them, of their stupidity, Van Kock was too high-minded to think of such a thing!
He thought of returning to the world, armed with this formidable power. He told himself that, thanks to it, industry would take a new leap forward, that the world would take on a new face, that mountains would subside and allow the peoples of the world to better mix and extend a hand to one another! For a moment this dream of humanity --- through the power of science --- haunted him and nearly drove him mad. He regained his self-control: if man had a right to the title of superior race, what joy would it have been to place in their hands such a tool for progress, to solve all mechanical problems, to revamp the transport industry, and in a word to tame the Earth, and struggle on equal footing against the blind forces of Nature.
But Van Kock remembered that men would first and foremost use this power to destroy, enslave and pillage one another; unleash yet more awful wars, and in an appalling conflict of ambitions, the entire world would collapse! He resigned himself to keeping his wonderful and dangerous secret, but, at least, he could use it to protect his friends, those he had elected to call brothers, To-Ho and his friends.
Thanks to the substance he termed phobium, so baptised in honour of the sun, he could repel the invasion of the gold- seekers, showing them by the destruction of the lodes the inanity of their attempts. With the most thorough precautions he had initiated To-Ho to the handling of the terrible compound. He had entrusted him with a wand bearing at its tip a capsule containing a tiny bit of Phobium, with which gold need only be touched for it to break down and be transformed into a black muck in which the most thorough chemical analysis would have found no vestige of the precious metal. In this manner he had frequently destroyed piles of nuggets gathered and stored by the Aaps themselves in their vague longings for luxury and riches. So too had he transformed the beginning of mines into veritable cesspools before which even the boldest prospectors had retreated.
Lastly, in a spirit of precaution, Van Kock had neither revealed to To-Ho how the mysterious material was made, nor the more devastating effects one could obtain with it.
These explanations given --- somewhat lengthy, but indispensable to one's understanding of this story --- let us return to our two characters, the man and the pithecanthrope, who, as we have stated, were headed for a location in the vale where shouting and laughing could be heard.
Having made it through a narrow defile, formed by two steep basalt outcroppings, as if they had been split by a great sword, they found themselves suddenly in a sort of small cirque, closed off on all sides by irregular rock faces, almost completely hidden by green tufts.
An exclamation of surprise and anger escaped them. The scene which presented itself to their eyes was at the same time so strange and so burlesque that the cause of their stupefaction was self evident. On a mound in the middle of the cirque, a female Aap was prone, half stretched out on a pile of branches: she bore on her brow a kind of diadem of scarlet red flowers and about her neck, her shoulders, her arms, her legs, was twisted, snake-like, a braid of lianas within which gold nuggets were ensconced.
About her other females had arranged themselves, with a singular sense of staging and the theatrical, on the sloping surfaces of the mound. There, in studied poses --- more bizarre than gracious, and grotesque by the ugliness of the attendants --- were the worshippers or rather the priestesses of the chosen idol. It was like a rudimentary form of feminine coquetry, something brutal, savagely impassioned with colour and light. Where had they found the pieces of rock crystal, the bright many hued stones?
Clumsier still, more tasteless than she who, in the middle of them stood as a kind of queen or goddess, they had wrapped themselves up, ensheathed in gemstones, nuggets, lianas and flowers, and through this weave appeared, in its perfect ugliness, their black skin, its hair standing up in tufts.
They simpered, laughed, growled, rolled their eyes so that only the white sclera appeared, while with their arms and legs they went through a range of desolatingly inharmonious gestures. But this was nothing before the incredible and fantastic spectacle offered by the older Aaps. These truly looked like a troop of insane devils. Upright, gesticulating, howling, bounding about, somersaulting, they whirled in a Sabbath ring around the goddess' pedestal. Others, no less mad, no less unbalanced, struck with might and main on pieces of wood, the clapping of which, in its insufferable dissonances, managed to create a horrible cacophony.
Oddly enough, these primitive creatures understood the concept of differing sounds. For his musical rendition, each had chosen a piece of wood and a stone, which, struck together, gave a note unlike that of the others. Tones and notes were tangled into an inextricable muddle, made all the more tiresome by the fact that the resonances were loud, dull and with no holding of the note. But what gave this orchestra a more diabolical character, was that it complemented itself with vocal accompaniment --- and what voices! Nothing but shrieks, drawn from the throat, from the chest, at times similar to the gurgling of liquids in a narrow conduit, at times loud, raucous, emitted from the depths of the rib-cage.
It seemed that each of these creatures only had a few specific vociferations in its repertoire, which it repeated in an invariable sequence, with greater or lesser gusto, according to the rhythm. This was actually the profound difference which existed between these vocal manifestations and those of wild animals, birds excepted, of course. While the roar of the lion, the tiger, the hissing of the serpent, the trumpeting of the elephant, the neighing of the horse, or the braying of the donkey always sound the same for a given individual, proving that they are not masters of their voices and only utter their cry in a reflexive act, the Aaps on the contrary seemed to gauge the range, length and frequency of their cries.
As they were just then at the peak of their exaltation, these cries, following, on average, a six-part scale, but of which the irregularities were innumerable --- a discordant, croaking, bellowing musical Babel --- was insufferable to listen to. Laughs arose like sudden yelps, their bodies engaged in convulsive movements, and this fury was shared by the male, female and infant Aaps who danced about in an epileptic whirlwind.
Van Kock had immediately understood: with the exception of a group of six to eight Aaps who had taken refuge in a rocky corner and in a near panic watched wide-eyed this demonic scene, these creatures were all drunk. Drunk? How? Certainly To-Ho knew that some had found, by breaking up and crushing berries easily found in the rich vegetation, a way to make up a liquor which they then allowed to ferment. This produced a state of intoxication, or rather of poisoning, the effects of which Van Kock had often had to deal with. However, until now this had only engendered a passing agitation amongst them, free of any convulsive symptoms.
Never had the To-Ho seen his brothers in such a state of outrageous degradation. They seemed oblivious to all but their chants and dances. To-Ho ran to those who had remained calm and questioned them. He had trouble understanding their answers, especially since the rudimentary language they used among themselves contained too few vocables to express ideas which were perhaps new. Van Kock had drawn near, and having listened, his greater intellect had soon led him to a solution to the mystery.
"Come," he said to To-Ho in the Dutch they had convened upon, "and let our six friends follow us courageously."
He pushed forward resolutely through the groups of convulsives, bumping into them and pushing them aside. They staggered, lurched about, and fell. While the weakest among them could have seized the doctor in its huge hands and crushed him to a pulp, they did not interfere, besotted and stupefied as they were.
Van Kock was slashed full in the face, one held on to To-Ho, trying to scratch out his eyes, while the others, furious, ground their teeth, raking with their claws those they could reach, biting and grimacing in a forbidding manner. However, in a vigorous push forward, To-Ho and his followers managed to make their way through, and suddenly Van Kock cried out. Their support, the soft cushions upon which the she-apes --- since for the moment they did not deserve to be designated otherwise --- lay prostrate in their poetic poses, were four casks, three of which were breached and from which trickled what was left of a liquor which Van Kock, the good Dutchman, recognized at first smell as a choice gin.
The barrels had been breached at random, the brutes had thrown themselves flat on their bellies to drink, even licking the moistened soil. They were soon so drunk that they had not even noticed that the last barrel was still untouched. How could have the barrels gotten there? From where had the Aaps brought them?
"Are men then that close to us?" said Van Kock. "Ah! these wretches will be unknowing traitors and bring ruin to their poor tribe."
To-Ho, as well, had understood what had caused this great drunkenness: all had drunk themselves mad, females and males alike. The former had hastened to dig up gold nuggets which they had buried to subtract them from Van Kock's searches. To-Ho did not hesitate, he went straight to the remaining barrel, and raising it with his two arms extended, he leaned it on his shoulder; then, roaring out in an authoritative tone to make way for him, he began to walk. One understands his aim, to toss it into one of the mountain's crevasses. Those which had accompanied him had grouped themselves around him.
Meanwhile, in the blink of an eye, Van Kock, drawing from his clothing a Phobium-bearing wand, had touched the gold nuggets scattered about the ground. There was a sort of crackling sound and the metal burst apart, dissolving into muck. Remarkably, each small piece of spatter seemed to be imbued with the same properties as the phobium, and the gold seem to break down through some sort of proess of contagion.
The females were the first to take notice of the work to which Van Kock was applying himself, and, angered, ran to defend their treasures, throwing themselves to ground, picking up great handfuls of muck, wailing before this transformation, trying to save the as yet non-gangrenous nuggets. But the last pieces of gold which had so far remained intact burst apart between their fingers. They cried out, put their hands to their head, to their shoulders, as if to preserve the rudimentary jewelry which they had crafted, and these, barely touched, snapped in two, collapsed, crumbled into a viscous brown powder.
At the sight of their treasure reduced to nothing, the females entered a state of indescribable fury, giving themselves up to horrific contortions of terror. Their rage now unbound, they charged towards Van Kock to tear him apart. Backing away, fighting them back as best he could, he rediscovered a vigour which belied his age. However the exasperation of these shaggy furies increased their strength ten-fold.
"To-Ho! To-Ho!" cried out the Dutchman, "Help me! Help me!"
But To-Ho, for his part, was fighting the Aaps, who irritated to see the barrel of gin taken away, had thrown themselves in front of him to block his passage. He spoke to them, but in vain. Helped by his fellows, who, being sober had remained loyal to him, he tried in vain to fray a passage. Every minute the danger grew greater.
These primitive creatures --- usually so docile, indolent and indifferent --- were maddened by this noxious drink. How had they gotten their hands on it?
They were prospectors, bolder than the rest, who had come near the Aaps' retreat and had pitched, in this wild gorge, a camp from which they thought to explore the country. The Aaps had come upon them by surprise and would have been content to put them to flight, had not the Europeans, terrified by these fantastic apparitions, defended themselves with gun-fire. Two Aaps had fallen, stuck down by bullets. Then, the others, angered and that much more courageous given their ignorance of the danger, had charged their adversaries, surrounded them and proceeded to massacre them to the last.
Then, rediscovering the atavistic instincts of simian brutes, they had pillaged the tents, broken the weapons, the tools, torn the fabrics and clothes, until the moment when they came upon the barrels of liquor and chanced to discover what was in them. One can guess the rest; how, loading these small casks on their shoulders they had brought them back to their lair. Already hypocrites, and knowing through some singular intuition that To-Ho was not to be informed of their adventures, they had come to hide out in this remote part of the vale, and the orgy had begun. Males and females had gorged themselves on the burning gin, the flavour of which was unknown to them, and now, they were quickly regressing to the level of the lowest apes.
The only humanity which remained in them was their perverse instinct for instant gratification. Under the influence of drunkenness, their basest animal instincts were revealed, and in a few hours all the work towards progress attempted and half- achieved by Van Kock and To-Ho, was destroyed. The Aaps were now no more than simians regressed to an intimacy with a state of mindless and fierce bestiality.
To-Ho had heard his friend's call for help, the man whom he considered his father, he whom had passed on some of his humanity to him, and whom, in the dimness of his still dormant consciousness, had brought on the dawning of progress. He leapt to a boulder and from there saw that Van Kock about to succumb to his frantic attackers.
So, using the barrel he was carrying as a big club, he ploughed through the Aaps, whom from a sense of fraternity which had developed little by little in his consciousness, he had until then tried to spare. However, he now sensed a greater duty: saving his benefactor.
His leap was so powerful that he immediately reached him, and, with a few well placed clouts he dispersed the females, who ran way towards the Aaps, crying out discordantly. These, still overexcited by the much-deserved treatment their mates had just received, began to break off slabs of rock and stone the two friends. The apes were strong, and as the strength they exerted was increased two-fold by their fevered state, they were able to detach huge blocks of stone. They got together, ten of them, to hoist them uphill, and from there rolled them down onto their adversaries, whom on several occasions had almost been crushed.
To-Ho had placed himself in front of Van Kock and skilfully managed to deflect the blows, but it was clear that this could not go on for long. The place where this scene was unfolding was a sort of cirque, enclosed on all sides by steep rocky pitches which could not be climbed. The only way out: the cleft through which To-Ho et Van Kock had entered. This was now occupied by the Aaps, raging mad and determined to kill To-Ho, the one they considered to be their implacable enemy, the one who had torn the barrel from their clutches, and who had now broken it by hurling it to the ground.
The Aaps saw this, the stream of the beverage spreading over the soil that drank it up, absorbed it. They howled out furiously in rage and disappointment. The stones rained down thicker and faster on the two friends, until suddenly one of the Aaps had a devilish idea. The entire cirque was covered in tall and very dry grasses. The attack suddenly stopped. Was this a lull? Had exhaustion overcome their fury? Was peace imminent? Such delusions could not hold, for if To-Ho and Van Kock took a single step towards the gorge, the stoning immediately started afresh, more violent and more dangerous.
Already To-Ho had been struck in the head, drawing blood. Van Kock had been knocked over and had been unable to rise without a great effort.
"Whatever are they doing?" muttered the Dutchman in his comrade's ear. "See that small group which hides behind the attackers and around which the females busy themselves, with gestures of curiosity and admiration...my sight is weakened, I cannot make it out."
To-Ho had gone up on the mound, watching. Suddenly, he cried out in surprise, in terror.
"Vou! Vou!" he cried out with all his breath. This word, which was the basis of the Dutch word voor, meant fire!
Van Kock understood and cried out in turn:
"We are lost! and I am the one who taught them this!" This being the way to make fire by with a quickly rotated hand drill in a dry hearth board. Suddenly reality showed them that they had indeed guessed correctly: the Aaps had managed to light a clump of dry grass, and with savage cries had just fired the brush in the cirque.
There was a series of tiny crackles, followed by small detonations at an increasing frequency, and suddenly a flame shot up, brilliant, conquering, propagating itself at an amazingly rate, running, in a circle at first, along the rocks, encircling the two friends in a ring of fire. To-Ho and Van Kock were chilled by what they saw. Here was death, painful and horrific!
The fire was accomplishing its work, a quiet rumble came from the brush. At times it seemed the flames had died out, but the smoke which came out above the canopy of twigs were proof that it continued its sly advance, and all of sudden horizontal flames would rocket through the vegetation, tracing out the extent of the fire.
Little by little, the area which remained unscathed shrank. To-Ho et Van Kock ran from the scourge that pursued and hemmed them in. To-Ho had tried ten times to climb the rocks, but had fallen back. Van Kock, having concluded that any attempt was futile, remained calm, his head bent against his chest, pensive as if absorbed in an internal meditation. There was a new burst of fire, the entire rear of the cirque was burning, and the victims were pushed back towards the gorge where the Aaps waited for them, waited to push them back into the furnace.
The six apes which had refused, since these events had begun, to take up the cause of their fellows, broke away with their mates from the group of assailants and ran towards To-Ho. They came to die with him. They were barely in time to accomplish their sacrifice, as now, between the edge of the fire and the entrance to the gorge there remained barely ten metres, somewhat clearer and where the fire could not take hold.
This afforded them a few minutes of respite, the heat gradually becoming intolerable in this restricted area, where standing was no longer possible. Nonetheless, To-Ho wished to make a final attempt. The poor wretch who had so often sacrificed himself for the sake of his fellows, who had dreamed of raising them little by little to a level above mere animality, who, as the last survivor of a race whose origin was lost in the mists of time, had conceived of a life of greater self-perception, of a wider-ranging intelligence, intimations of which had made their way to the very core of his being, now saw his work lost.
He saw the torture of Van Kock whose goodness and patience had open new, as yet unknown, moral horizons to him; of his faithful, less evolved than he, who had nonetheless proven, by their admirable sacrifice, that they were worthy of rising higher on the ladder of life. He also thought of his mate, of the child of men which he had wanted to save and which these brutes stupidly held in a paroxysm of vengeance. He spoke, adjured his fellows, his friends, his brothers to give up their barbaric designs. He begged them to allow them to pass.
In so doing he used the apes' language, made up of inflexions and growls. In his despair, the language which Van Kock had managed to decipher, notwithstanding its incomplete and rudimentary expressions, revealed a painful and almost sublime nobility of spirit. He was met with boos, shouts, bitter and worsening discord. He was doomed, and with him Van Kock and his friends.
Turning towards the Dutchman he whispered: "My poor Waa!"
But Van Kock, shuddering as one waking from a deep sleep, looked around him. Death --- and what a death! --- was only a matter of minutes, perhaps seconds away.
"Upon my word! too damn bad!" he cried out in turn. "Never have I killed anyone, but since it must be done..."
He brandished the wand of phobium which he had not parted with. It was equipped within with a skilfully assembled spring which could throw the terrible substance over a fairly long distance. He hesitated another instant; at that very moment To-Ho was struck full in the chest by a stone, whose impact bent him over, one could expect no mercy.
Van Kock brandished his weapon and released the spring. The piece of phobium struck glancingly one face of the gorge and ricocheted across to the other side. Instantly the entire mass was cleared away, collapsed, pulverised, burying in a black muck the Aaps who had not even conceived of the danger. At the same time, on either side, thanks to the collapse, paths of escape were opened.
"Forward!" cried Van Kock.
The small group sprang forward and at the very instant they reached the miraculous exit, the entire cirque fell prey to the fire --- but they were saved.
To-Ho et Van Kock ran, breathless to the top of the hill. Waa was beside George; he had neither seen nor heard anything, the human child played with the she-ape, who was all smiles.
To-Ho himself had felt the backlash of this terrible jolt. Certain he did not blame Van Kock for his liberating act, to which he owed his life and that of his friends, but in spite of himself, the old Dutchman now inspired him with a feeling of dread which he could not shake. It was also that Van Kock had never revealed to him the awesome destructive potential of the phobium, whose power he believed to be limited to the destruction of gold. In this roughshod brain, wherein the cerebral lobes operated in a sort of torpor, ideas, slowly developed, only affirmed themselves after a long incubation, as if they must first, through patient work, be freed of their gangue.
Van Kock now appeared to him as a creature gifted with staggering powers, belonging to the strange frightening race, which he had only glimpsed through a fog of blood. The brave Dutchman, who, when all was said and done, had only been led to carry out his work of destruction in order to snatch him from death, thinking more of the ape and his friends that of himself, had tried, but in vain, to bring him back to a more sound understanding of things.
To-Ho still showed him the same affection, but Van Kock noticed that when the primitive creature conversed with him, an unexplained anxiousness made his tawny hair stand up on end. However, the child brought them together. George finally recovered from his great fatigue and fears, and quickly got used to the strange world in which he lived. Besides, the kind-hearted Waa was subject to his every whim, and he quickly abused of this tireless complacency with the unconscious despotism of spoiled children.
To-Ho and his mate, as well as the other Aaps, struck George as being inferior creatures, animals over which his humanity conferred him a limitless authority. He felt in no way drawn to the increasingly ugly and now almost centenarian, Van Kock. Certainly the latter's continuous association with the apes had impressed upon his physiognomy and his gait a truly simian character. Thus do spouses, though a long life together come to resemble each other physically.
His bristly hair and beard, his face criss-crossed with a thousand creases, Van Kock was truly uglier than a monkey, and the goodwill of his intelligent gaze did not compensate, in the eyes of the young man, the grotesque strangeness of his exterior.
Besides, in his estimation, Van Kock had another fault. George's education was rather rudimentary: it was not around Kota-Rajia that he would have acquired much learning. The old Dutchman had taken on the task of teaching him the elements of science, especial chemistry and the natural sciences. To-Ho, his paternal instincts regained, knew not how to refuse the young man --- perhaps 'the child' might be a better term --- whose preference was to go on long excursions in the mountains and through the forests.
Besides, To-Ho was a gymnastics professor of a caliber one would have had great difficulty in finding: foot races and jumping were games to him, and George had quickly become a fine student. A way of communicating had established itself between them, aided by an expressive pantomime. Naturally the number of concepts which To-Ho could make use of was limited, but in these solitudes no consideration necessitated anything more. George had fun, laughed, ran about, amused himself playing all sorts of tricks, teasing the good-hearted ape, whose naivety was a never-ending source of joy to him.
Very proud of his humanity, having barely understood what Van Kock had told him of the intermediate position of To-Ho in the ladder of life, he often tried to amaze him by telling him of human civilisation, of the luxuries of cities, of the extent of industry: especially, given his initial education and his youth, he glorified war and tried to make To-Ho understand the wonders of battle and of military history.
To-Ho listened: he indeed remembered having seen at Kota-Rajia men who threw themselves upon other men, while the air around him exploded in frightful detonations: the creatures dropped in pools of blood --- all this had he seen. He also remembered the man with the impassive face, who, covered in gold and gems had struck and tortured him for hours. As the ape seemed to have no interest in stories of war and carnage, he appeared to be rather silly to the child of men.
Besides, To-Ho's imagination was incapable of conjuring up the grandiose events which George attempted to describe, so, when George had been speaking and gesticulation for awhile, the ape would pick a nice ripe fruit, fragrant and colourful, hand it to him with a hearty laugh and say:
"This, good!" he stated simply.
Also, to the description of the riches and splendours of Europe, which George obligingly spread out before him, To-Ho, in whose understanding these concepts remained vague and obscure, answered by merely indicating in a sweeping gesture the deep, luminous sky, the huge trees, full of life, the blue-shaded mountains, as well as the sun's radiant disk bursting forth from the boundless firmament.
"Good ol' ape,", George said to him while pulling his ears, "you'll never be good for anything."
The ape laughed, thankful for this somewhat scornful intimacy, but which did constitute a caress. Besides, life was so easy, the food so tasty and abundant, that George would sometimes forget his past. Quite good with his hands, he spent his time plaiting lianas and had built himself his own furniture. The good Waa was thrilled.
In a recess amongst the rocks George had created a genuine bedroom, completely carpeted in matting, with rudimentary bamboo furniture. It was one of Waa's little pleasures to come in the morning and watch him wake in his bed, which had indeed turned out well, and was padded with ferns, which the good Aap chose amongst the softest and downiest.
To-Ho --- and this brought down constant ridicule upon him --- preferred sleeping in a tree, between the highest branches. Waa, more of a plus sybarite, curled up in the huge leaves of the Taolak, which she pulled over her like covers. Van Kock, himself, slept on the ground, in front of the door of his laboratory. No one crossed its threshold, and besides, George showed no interest in trying to discover its secrets, having in his human makeup a healthy dose of superstitious fear.
However, the young man's curiosity had been awakened on several occasions: how was it that from old Van Kock's cabin there came smoke, when neither To-Ho nor his friends had ever made fire since the events in the cirque, which had brought on the catastrophe we are acquainted with. He had questioned To-Ho, who did not care to give him a clear answer. Fire had hurt him too deeply, the price imposed by his remorse too great for him to renew the terrible experiment. Only Van Kock was allowed to light one, and then again only in his cabin, with the doors closed.
George, to whom no one had told what had happened, was surprised and irritated to not have fire at his disposal, especially since a rather unique idea had come to him. Having found clumps of dry grass which resembled tobacco and gave off a strong and aromatic smell, an irresistible urge had come over him. He wanted to smoke.
To-Ho would not give him the time of day and obstinately refused to show him how to light the wood. George, had instinctively tried rubbing sticks together, but this requires a vigour and perseverance which were not his. He discovered a type of mushroom, whose flesh reminded him of tinder, which he had seen his father use to light his pipe. Mysteriously, he went to work, searching for the hardest flint. When To-Ho had saved him he had had in his pocket a small children's knife, which he has since tossed away haphazardly. He found it again, and thus improvised a lighter with which he struck the stones, and finally, one day, he managed to strike sparks which lit the dried lamellae of the agaric.
To-Ho was not nearby, and as he was looking for his young friend, going from branch to branch so as to see him from a greater distance, he found him all of a sudden, very solemnly puffing spirals of smoke into the air. The ape was terribly afraid. The child must be sick. What could this unknown phenomenon be? A blaze in one's stomach? To-Ho leapt towards the child and in an instinctive movement, tore from his lips the rather primitive cigar, made of dry leaves.
Annoyed, George jumped on him, hitting him, trying --- furious as he was --- to hurt him, to avenge himself. To-Ho did not letting it bother him, grabbed him around the waist, put him under his arm --- he was then fifteen and was well developed --- and took him to Van Kock to whom he explained his alarm.
The old Dutchman displeased with the boy's care-free attitude and his indifference to science, had little by little lost interest in him, continuing alone the studies he had undertaken. When To-Ho had put George back on his feet and in his primitive language had described the phenomenon which he had witness, Van Kock was at first surprised. He questioned the young man, whose resistance had been broken by the ape and who no longer thought of putting up a fight. The boy told of his adventures and showed the knife which had served as a striker..
Van Kock knotted his brow: such a discovery could have fatal consequences for the already weakened Aaps tribe; plants chosen at random might contain poisonous principles, intoxication might follow and lead to another catastrophe. He confiscated the knife. Furious, George screamed, stormed about, threatened. Van Kock remained unmoved and went back to his cabin. The young man in fit of anger threw himself against the door which he wish to bust down. To-Ho was forced to tie him up, and he only calmed down after quite awhile.
But from then on, something had died between him and To-Ho. In vain was the latter's kindness greater than ever, seeking to vary the distractions, agreeing to satisfy all his whims. George felt himself more and more becoming a man; he bluntly spurned the advances of the one he called a brute under his breath. Another circumstance, feeding this antipathy coupled with ingratitude, brought on a crisis.
During his peregrinations, which at times led him far from the hearth, and worried To-Ho, George had found a few gold nuggets in a dry creek bed. As young as he had been torn from life among men, he already had in his mind, in his very blood --- one might say --- the respect, love, and passion of the precious metal. He had avidly collected the nuggets, and full of pride had returned to show them to the ape.
To-Ho lacked intellectual initiative, thought and acted mechanically, through a sort of reflexive action. When George, excited, dropped the glittering material before him, the ape instantly took up the wand which Van Kock had entrusted to him and touched the gold, which crumbled, disaggregated and turned into muck. It was too much! George was livid, and again Van Kock was called. This time the centenarian spoke.
"Child," he said, "you understand nothing of what goes on here; you human instincts are preventing you from enjoying the comforts amongst which you live. I have tried to explain to you that these primitive creatures have the great good fortune of not being subject to our worst passions. They ignore ambition, jealousy, and war. Amid Nature, in whose effluvia they bask, they are happy to live and ask for nothing more: this is why I admire them and have remained among them. You consider them to be mere brutes, but you are wrong, as having escaped from animality they have lost their ferocious brutality, but not yet having attained humanity, have not yet acquired the perversities you yourself know of, since it is to human cruelty to which you owe the death of those you loved and who loved you."
"Perhaps you are surprised that I have not revealed to them a number of civilisation's secrets, which, according to you, would have improved their lot: yes, in the past I had dreamed of raising them up little by little --- I called it 'raising' in those days --- to the level of more evolved humans. I taught them the basics of a language, they used it to threaten and insult each other; I taught them to make fire with two pieces of wood, and they tried to burn me like a heretic; I taught the females to clothe themselves in lianas and leaves, and their damned coquetry almost led to violence and murder."
"Finally, the gold they found on the surface of the ground seduced them, and already they had begun to amass treasures, from whence would have emerged, in the short term, civil war and the enslavement of the poor by the rich. This is why, son, I have taught the wisest among them how to slay gold, to slay it as the most dangerous enemy the could ever meet! Because there is much I haven't told you: men, in their lust for wealth, in their ever-present greed, are not without knowing that in this virgin country, under a blinding sun --- the planet's life-giver --- gold, the most perfect metal of all is born, grows and matures more quickly than anywhere else. The stillness even, the silence which reigns in these fortunate regions allows Nature free reign to better perfect her mysterious work."
"In these solitudes, gold is abundant; men sense this, know it, and already twenty expeditions have been prepared, targeted at these as yet inaccessible plateaux, but which tomorrow human industry will delivered to the miners' pick. And if this were to occur, if the human stampede invaded this peaceful and happy Eden, the first victims would be these good and loving creatures, which are the link between the overly ferocious animal kingdom and the overly intelligent human one."
"I have already tried to explain this to you, but you refused to listen. You are a man and unlike me you have been unable to come to the scientific serenity, which makes goodwill and justice supreme. Yes, I made To-Ho a gold-slayer, so that he would not one day think of becoming a killer of men. He defends himself, he defends his tribe by destroying that which draws, pushes and makes men mad. He fights the invasion which would be followed by the advent of alcohol and all the madness it brings --- of this I have had ample evidence --- strife in all its forms, despotism, the exploitation of the weak, and finally death."
"These creatures, which you despise, do not know about fighting for their lives, that which makes the lands of men a field of carnage; they are good because they have in profusion what they require to subsist, and they do not create themselves any artificial needs. They love one another, help each other, save one another from harm because they know of no other animals but the wild beasts of the forests or the blind forces of Nature. I have tried everything to maintain this happy state for them... Child of man, have you understood?"
At first George had silently protested against these injunctions which, altogether, ran counter to his immediate whims, but in reality he was neither unintelligent or ill- natured, and, as the old man spoke, his features relaxed. Little by little the grandeur and simplicity of these ideas reached him, were instilled in him; he understood the great distance which separated the mild and patient behaviour of these primitive creatures from the fury and ferocity he had seen in men, their calls for death, their rush to attack the weak.
To-Ho had also listened, with an almost painful concentration, if the contraction of his features and the knitting of his brow were any indication. It was clear that he barely understood Van Kock's speech; but every fibre of his brain, all the energy of his obscure intellect resembled the strings of an instrument which vibrate to the point of snapping. All he knew was that there were creatures, somewhat similar to him, violent and cruel, and drawn by gold: yes, he was knowingly a gold-slayer, an enemy to his enemies.
And, watching George, he wondered if these many words, which he barely understood, would manage to convince this child of man, which he loved with all his primitive instincts, and who was not and could never be an enemy.
"Did you understand me? repeated Van Kock. "I hope so. Now listen to this: in truth you are free. If you so wish, I will take you back, myself among men. No one has the right to hold you prisoner against your will...yes I will lead you to the farthest borders of Aapland, and will teach you how to reach your fellows...but will you at least promise me to not betray us?"
"Me! cried out the young man. "Do you really think me capable of such a thing?"
"You are a man, I tell you, and once among men, recaptured by the environment's perversity, perhaps you will remember that vast wealth resides in these country, you will talk, expeditions will be organized, and you will serve as their guide...I tell you, we will defend ourselves with desperation. Science, thanks to my sixty years of study, has delivered fearful secrets unto me; if we must we will sustain a siege, it will cost them more dearly than the most sinister episodes of human wars. This is what you can do with freedom, head for men and talk; otherwise, remain among us, work, ask the sphinx which is Nature the answer to the most troubling questions... live in the worthy pleasure of intellectual labour, in the wonderful well-being which a complacent Nature gives you. Choose!"
In a burst of juvenile enthusiasm, George extended his hands to Van Kock and exclaimed: "I'm staying!"
His childhood indifference had made room for a passion for learning: still, for some time Van Kock had showed himself to be suspicious, but, little by little, he came to value one who asked only to be his student. But there was one point upon which, unknowingly, the teacher and student were not wholly in agreement: for Van Kock, a fugitive from human society, any theories were limited in their application to the very small group within which he lived.
Wrapped up in his speculations, he dreamed of creating from this stock of anthropoids, a new race, one which having slowly evolved towards complete understanding, would take over the Earth. There they would establish themselves in an utopian dream of a society based upon equality and justice for everyone. There these new men, direct offspring of Nature, would ignore social dissensions and rivalries; none would dominate, none would seek to amass wealth, and a universal solidarity would reign, in its fullest and purest form.
George, in listening to him, had grasped all the grandeur, all the beauty of these theories, whose implementation, Van Kock said, would be facilitated by the use of the substances he had discovered, and whose power would defy all resistance.
"Meaning that." the young man objected, "to breathe life into your plan, one would first have to destroy the human race, destroy all the advancements of its civilisations."
"Why not?" replied the elderly utopian. "Will our Aaps not have soon repopulated the Earth, and if the do not build monuments, at least, in their clusters of huts and fields, none will again face starvation."
"And for this work of benevolence you would not hesitate, if such power were given to you, to wipe out millions of human beings?"
"For humanity to start afresh! Certainly!"
"Such measures strike me as somewhat radical," objected George, laughing. "But let us move on to another order of business. Have you not noticed, dear master, that this race you count upon to regenerate the world seems to be wasting away day by day? Might one not think that it has been struck down by some sort of epidemic, for every day death leaves a void among us."
It was true, the Aaps tribe was constantly decreasing. The children no longer thrived and their mothers howled over their corpses. The males grew leaner to the point of acute malnutrition, and one could see them sitting sadly on the cliff edges, staring into space, as if drawn by the abyss; some had even let themselves be taken by this vertigo.
What was happening? To what could one attribute this degeneration? Was it, as Van Kock had whispered in George's ear, the presence of man, which by some mysterious phenomenon, sullied or in some way poisoned the life-giving air and rendered it unsuitable for the survival of these lower creatures?
To-Ho himself was aging: his great torso was somewhat bent, not that his strength had diminished, or that his agility had lessened any, but it seemed that some thought, which he could not formulate, burdened and weighed upon him. George had now become a young man. Waa, judging no doubt that he no longer needed her, now looked upon him with a fearful respect.
Solitude, so beautiful amongst the exuberance of Nature, became silent and burdensome. One day, returning from an excursion through some of the wildest gorges, To-Ho came to a stop before George, who was in quite a gay mood, his youth taking the place of any philosophical considerations.
"Go away!" the ape told him abruptly.
"Go away, but why?"
"Because you are a man!"
"I will never leave you."
The Aap thought, then continued:
"Explain to me what a man is!"
George barely knew, for many years he had lived a savage life, to the extent that, beneath his long head of hair, beneath his face framed in an already bushy beard, he had almost taken on the appearance of those amongst which he had settled. Only his smooth white skin remained an indelible mark. However, he tried to plead the case for his race to To-Ho.
But to all his memories of childhood were linked scenes of violence and carnage: as a small child he had, along with his mother and sister, been tracked down like a wild beast. Then, once again, the men had wanted to slit his throat, and those of all that were dear to him.
"Cruel men!" repeated To-Ho.
"No! no! not all. My father was brave and gentle, my mother appears in my memories as an angel of mercy and kindness!"
"You told me that the men killed them."
Little by little, the fear, the hatred of man was implanting itself in George's heart. Like Van Kock, like To-Ho, he had come to dread the invasion of Aapland by this dangerous race.
Van Kock never ceased to tell them:
"Slay the gold, wherever you find it, as it is the bait which attracts them, that calls to them, and in its conquest they will not shrink before any act of violence, before any crime."
Now To-Ho was obsessed with slaying gold. In that unpolished brain, incapable of overcoming one thought with another, the instinct of self-preservation was all powerful: continually he wandered around the domains which Nature had assigned to his fellows, and which each day became too extensive for those who would follow. He was on the lookout for gold, divined its presence, smelled it, and, armed with the wand of phobium, he destroyed the least fragment he came across.
George had finally come to interest himself in this hunt, as long as it sometimes led the both of them great distances from their huts where he might have the pleasure of devoting himself to sports of stamina and agility. So it was that one day, as George had ventured on the summit of a peak which overlooked a sharp-sloping plain, he rose up in surprise, and motioning wildly, called to To-Ho, who, hunched over some soil, sought to recognize the well-known signs of the presence of gold.
The young man's call was so pressing that the ape thought he was in imminent danger. In a single prodigious leap, he dropped next to the young man, ready to defend him, and looked in the direction the latter indicated. Silhouettes could be made out, following a barely discernable trail through the thick brush. Men! They were men! They walked in single file, having with them pack horses which carried tents, cooking utensils and tools.
"Ho! them! them!" growled To-Ho shaking his giant fist.
George had remained motionless, thoughtful, saddened. There was no mistaking it, these were indeed members of his race who were boldly venturing into these solitudes. To better see them, filled with an anxiety whose origins he could not fathom --- consituted of both fear and some strange involuntary attraction, George crept along the crest of the rocky outcrop, peering out wide-eyed.
The men, for he was not mistaken and these strangers indeed belonged to that dreaded race, seemed undecided, seemed to proceed haphazardly, impeded at every step by the inextricably tangled lianas which presented a nigh impassible barrier to their progress. In spite of himself, George bent over, bent over more and more, obeying the irresistible magnetism of men! it was to this family of creatures to which he belonged! and suddenly he was flooded with tender memories.
No, no! not all men were bad! for in his youth he had been loved, doted upon, cuddled. Did not his gentle father, who used to hold him in his arms, who walked around with him perched on his shoulders, belong to the race of man? Was not Louise Villiers, his mother, a woman whose kindness was irrefutable, a woman who had sacrificed herself for the happiness and security of her children? Was it not again a child, a little woman, his beloved sister Margaret, towards whom he had assumed the role of protector, and who laughed so heartily at his childish pranks?
He also remembered the cabin on the banks of the great river. There men and women who differed in some degree from Europeans, but who were, they too, pleasant, had long treated them as if they had been of their own race! No, no, not all men were cruel monsters. George, at the sight of the approaching strangers, felt his heart beat faster and tears welling up in his eyes.
Suddenly, while To-Ho, who could not have guessed at these feelings, was flashing his worried and hateful glare over the small troop, here was George, acting unconciously, knowing not what drove him, as if seized by an unseen hand which drew him forward, launched himself recklessly down the rocky slope, hanging on to an outcrop, taking hold of a root sticking out between two stones, without regard for the risks of a terrible fall.
To-Ho saw this, and first thought it the result of some accident: he was losing his footing, was going to strike his head on the ground. Good ape that he was, he was moved by the fatherly role he had taken on; in turn he rushed down, but with greater agility and recklessness, such that he covered the distance at a rate George could barely aspire to.
But the young man had a big lead, he reached the ground first, and there began to run with all his might in the direction of the strangers. To-Ho, had after a huge leap rolled to a stop on the ground, had remained dazed for an instant, but, quite quickly, getting up again, having recovered his wits, he rushed forward on George's trail.
But he did not hear him, did not want to hear him. The fascination which consumed him was so irresistible that no power on Earth could stop it; he went on, and on! To-Ho managed to outdistance him, and throwing himself in his path, wished to grab him by the arm. He reached him, touched him, but feared greatly injuring him! His hold was not sufficiently strong. George, whose emotional over-excitement doubled his strength, freed himself, and ran off even faster.
Thus did they arrive, one chasing the other, on a great stone slab overlooking the path the men were following. Another small effort and George would reach his goal, already he yelled out, called out. To-Ho had leapt beside him. In a instinct of self-defence To-Ho resolved, this time, to employ all his strength, even if, for the sake of their common safety, he had to brutalise his friend. At this point both of them appeared as clear silhouettes against the background of the sky.
Other cries could be heard: the men were uttering them, answering Georges's calls with their own calls for his death. The men had seen them. They stopped, their weapons were aimed, and a rumbling explosion was heard. George, hit, dropped. To-Ho had already heard, back the in the Malay kraton, these noises which sounded like thunder.
The men had seen one of the creatures at which they had aimed their weapons fall. They began to run to reach them, to surround them, to finish them off. To-Ho, his arms knotted, tore off a chunk of rock and threw it. There was some swearing and two men remained stretched on the ground...a new salvo rang out, the bullets whistled around To-Ho's ears. He shook himself, gritted his teeth, shook his giant fist at his enemies; again they fired on him. A bullet hit him in the shoulder, could not penetrate his tough hide, but made him stagger. Then was he frightened, truly frightened!
Yes, these were indeed men! He could recognise them well now --- their traits of ruthlessness and injustice. In the dim understanding that was his, he felt that they themselves had attacked no one and that it was wrong to wish to injure or kill them. And George would fall into the hands of these monsters!
He collected his strength, bent down, took in his arms the young man who lay on the ground, a pool of blood spreading around him, hoisted him on his shoulder in a powerful muscular exertion, and as he had once carried him as a small child...so did he run away, straight ahead before him. He was being pursued, he knew it, he smelled it. There were shouts behind him and the crack of shots rang out in the air. The detonations, multiplied by the cliff-faces, echoed in a sinister manner. His assailants tried to overtake him. One could hear them say:
"Kill! kill the ape-men!"
But To-Ho did not allow himself to be overtaken. Truly, he seemed to fly through the air. Notwithstanding the burden that weighed down his shoulders, he took prodigious leaps and the distance separating him from his persecutors increased every minute. But the men were armed, which gave them a decided advantage.
"Hey! Ned!" a voice shouted, "you never miss a shot...take down the ape."
A man climbed up on one of the stone outcropping, shouldered, aimed slowly, and fired. Notwithstanding the swiftness of his movement, something unexpected suddenly happened. The rock on which he stood suddenly crumbled out from under him, like a clump of mud washed away by the rain. Tumbling off the man disappeared, and a wall of debris stopped the rest in their tracks.
The ape let out a sob:
"Dead! dead!" he cried out in his language, "me dead too!"
"Come on, we'll have no such nonsense!" a voice answered. One only dies when one wishes to. The kid will get over it, and then I'll tell him that he only got what he deserved. Ah! he loves men! They repay him well do they not? Come To-Ho! to the huts, and move it! For all that I was on my guard, and it was a good thing I followed you, as luck would have it I arrived in time and my good phobium has once again come through marvellously."
And Van Kock, with a wand he held in his hand, tapped To-Ho lightly on the lower back, saying to him:
"Let's be off! Take the shortest way, I will be there at the same time as you"
Then he added under his breath:
"For all that, I do think this will be this centenarian's last exploit!"
"Well, Mr. Koolman, you know, if it pleases you to run around this damn country, do it on your own time, and beware these subsidences which appear to be volcanic tremors!"
Of these two men --- one already understands --- one was the Koolman who, in a hatred-driven mission had hired a band of real desperados, ready to risk anything because they had nothing to lose. And the other was Captain Ned, whom Providence --- erring greatly --- had just snatched back from the brink of death, as he had rolled beneath the avalanche, and except for a few contusions, was back on his feet. The dozen or so outlaws who had accompanied them had suddenly stepped back and stared stupidly at this improvised wall which had suddenly been raised before them.
It was almost two months since Koolman's group had landed on the Sumatran shores. There, Koolman, called upon by Capt. Ned to reveal his plans, had had to talk: thanks to the Porpoise's speed, they had a large lead over the Borean, which was to bring the Leven expedition, and whose departure had been delayed by the wedding of the young man with Margaret Villiers.
Their simple criminal tactics could be summarized in two key points: first, not, at any price, allow the Leven expedition to be successful, even if this meant murdering them, and second, appropriate any possible discoveries made by the expedition, be they gold mines or the existence --- which Koolman did not believe in --- of mysterious creatures halfway between apes and man.
As soon as the group had gotten over the voyage, Ned had taken command --- more in appearance than in reality, since Koolman reserved onto himself any important directives. He paid well, and expected his orders to be followed blindly, whatever they be. Besides, amongst those making up the gang, not a single man among them who would balk at committing violence, or even murder.
Endowed with a great deal of energy, further stimulated by his hatred, Koolman, under the pretext of a purely commercial venture, quickly organised an expedition into the interior. He had obtained all the necessary information from the Dutch authorities, maps of the interior, incomplete, but showing a portion of the central portion of the island and the authorization to request the help of some Malays to serve him as guides.
Well provisioned and well supplied with weapons, but having, of course, little moral baggage, the explorers got underway. Their route was difficult: soon they had left all settlements behind and the troop advanced through the deep gorges of the central mountains. Koolman was always after them to hasten their pace: he knew Leven's energetic nature, and suspected that between his knowledge of the topography and the old Valtenius' scientific background, they might manage to catch up.
One more reason to hurry, but if one could get a greater effort out of men by persuasion or threats, such was not the case with the animals which bore their supplies and tools. Where a man could get through, the Malay horses, regardless of their nimbleness, could only venture with great difficulty. Already, accidents had occurred: some of the animals had toppled off cliffs with their burdens, and all of Koolman and Ned's furor could do nothing to overcome their fate.
The situation had reached a critical stage: highly experienced in urban crime, where one lies in wait on a street corner, Ned felt out of his element in this savage land. These endless solitudes irritated him, and especially incensed his men who already missed the roads of Holland, punctuated with taverns where one could have the comfort of a glass of gin to repair tired limbs.
Already a month had passed in an unsuccessful search. Koolman, while he claimed a smattering of mineralogical knowledge, actually had no real knowledge in these matters, and believed that gold was to be found near the soil surface, and that all that was needed for the unexplored fastness to deliver its secrets was a bit of daring and perseverance. Find a treasure, set up an ambush into which his enemies would fall, get rid of any inconvenient accusers or witnesses, from afar, all this had seemed easily accomplishable. He was beginning to realize that he had perhaps ventured out somewhat recklessly.
Besides, Ned did not hide the truth from him: certainly, he was confident in his men, but a man's patience has its limits. The farther one penetrated into the forest, the more distant and the more perilous their return appeared. Koolman raised their pay, promised larger shares on guaranteed loot: it did not make them any less annoyed with him. Now another terrible adventure had come to compromise his prestige and diminish his authority, for the night before their meeting with the ape-men, To-Ho and George that is, the gang had had to face a pair of tigers, man-eaters as they were called in Sumatra. Even before they had had time to protect themselves, even before they had become aware of any danger, one of the Dutchmen had been taken down in mid-leap by one of these vicious animals. With one bite of its mighty fangs it had snapped his spine, and then, in a single bound had leapt into the dense undergrowth with its companion, where they both had vanished. Were the wild beasts going to now join the fray in defending the solitudes that were their domain?
There had been grumbling, cursing, even the beginnings of a revolt which Ned and Koolman had managed to appease, but things were tense and it would take little to set them off. Where were they going? What was their final destination? Could one follow leaders who could not anticipate the dangers?
Notwithstanding his cynicism, Koolman was losing his confidence, but would he admit defeat? A certain instinct told him that at this very moment Leven's group, better outfitted, better managed, had entered the mountains! What! would he abandon the game, pull out when success might only be days, perhaps hours away? Once again, the strong hatred which possessed him lent him persuasive powers to quell their remaining hesitancy, and he consented to the broaching of one of the small barrels of liquor which the pack-animals were carrying.
There was revelry, drunkenness, but also a renewal of energy among the adventurers. The lure of gold was all-powerful to the lot of them, and with their brains overstimulated with alcohol, they had heaped their acclaim on the man who promised them the riches of an El Dorado to come.
Let's move! farther still, always father! Even Ned himself no longer doubted they would be successful. Forward march!
It had been a few hours after this renewal of energy that they had suddenly seen, standing on the rocks which constituted the horizon, the silhouettes of George and To-Ho. Men? apes? no matter. For so long they had not met with anything but wild beasts in search of prey. But now, one of these creatures was drawing away from the other, leaping with a surprising agility; a certain dread took hold of the Dutchmen, especially when they saw the other, To-Ho, who, in a superhuman leap had, he too, thrown himself into the chase.
They thought themselves attacked by a powerful and numerous horde which would quickly crush them; their weapons were brought to bear, a volley of shots rang out. Koolman, who had not lost his cool, was screaming at them to stop shooting, to run after the injured one, to capture it. They ignored him, and Ned himself, in whom the sniper's instinct was waking, wanted to take down To-Ho, the big creature which left itself entirely open, like a great big target.
Then came the shaking of the ground, a dust cloud rising in the air, the sudden collapse of the knoll as if the earth had swallowed it. Ned had been knocked head over heels, and beside him two of his men had perished in the landslide. The others, terrified, threw themselves back, prepared for flight. Koolman, who, protected by a cleft in the rock, had felt little of the shock now upbraided Ned, and insulted the men, calling him dirty cowards.
But these were in no humour to let themselves be reprimanded so forcefully. They were scared, since nothing frightens men more than to lose faith in the solidity of the ground beneath them; all of them knew these islands to be the archetypal land of earthquakes, frightful phenomena against which the boldest are defenceless.
Besides which, two of their numbers had been buried under a great mass of viscous black dust; today those, tomorrow the others. There were frightful cries of terror and anger; the criminals had run towards Koolman and threatened him with dire reprisals. It was enough, it was too much! They all wanted to go back, leave this damned country. But there was more still, they wished to avenge themselves of their discomfiture, punished those they held responsible... Koolman and Ned, his accomplice.
Fear overcame any reason: it was in vain that Koolman argued, in vain that Ned called them by name, tried to waken their memories of struggles already undertaken together. None listened, none wished to listen. A giant of a man, Frans Rod, who had once served a long prison sentence, saw where things were going.
"We must judge them!" he shouted.
"And execute them!"
In this solitary spot, this small handful of men took on the proportions of a crowd and was stirred up with the same madness. They threw themselves on the two men. Ned shouldered his rifle, aimed: but the stock of rifle came down and broke his arm, and he fell. Koolman had been seized by the throat and thrown over on the ground. And, running to the horses, others had gone to get strong ropes, then returned towards the prisoners.
The Malays who led the pack-horses, seeing the fight, judged no doubt that this was none of their business, jumped on the horses, and within an instant had disappeared into the forest. Such an incident only further stirred up Frans Rod's anger.
"Hurry! hurry!" he screamed, "let's avenge ourselves first, and then we'll surely manage to catch up to those miserable Battaks."
Ned et Koolman were each solidly tied to a tree trunk. How were they to be killed? A couple of bullets to the head, that was still the quickest way, and so everyone would have their part in the revenge he split his little group into two. He had them line up at an equal distance, far enough to make the game interesting and requiring some skill on the part of the shooter. Frans saved the coup de grƒce for himself. He was a mean ruffian who only found pleasure in crime.
He checked if everyone was in place and raised his had to signal them to fire. Ned and Koolman twisted in their bonds, cursing frightfully. They had their backs against the pile of rock and dirt which had been formed by the landslide. At the very moment Frans opened his mouth to issue decisive command, an astounding thing happened.
There emerged from the mound, right between the men condemned to die, a arm, then a head, and a voice cried out:
"Help me! Help me! Save me, fellows!"
Frans recognized one of the two men who had been buried, and who, through some unexpected miracle, was suddenly emerging from his grave.
"Lay down your weapons!" shouted Frans.
To shoot at the two condemned men, would have meant blowing off this live dead-man's head. As all had recognized their lost friend, Rod's order had been obeyed. They ran towards him: with hands, nails, rifle butts they dug out around him and could soon take hold of him around the shoulders. He was suffocating, his eyes popping out of his head, but he was alive.
"Hey, Peter," they yelled, "take heart, you've come back from death's door, it's not time to give up now!"
He was pulled from the sheath that had held him, and where he had been the hole remained open. He was laid out on the green sward and Frans presented to him and forced him to swallow a big swig of liquor. He coughed, shook himself off, and looked about him:
"Damn it!" he said, "where am I?"
"Why, among your friends, you can boast of having had a narrow escape. C'mon, tell us quickly what happened?"
The man could not speak immediately, but little by little he was entirely himself. What had happened? Damn it, it was hard to remember the details.
"It felt," he said with a hiccough, "as though a mountain was dropping on my head, I didn't know what was happening, at one point I was pushed along by the waves like some flotsam, only these were thick heavy waves which were crushing me, then, all of a sudden, it felt as though something beneath me had given way, like some stones breaking apart or being disassembled, and I felt that my fall was coming to an end in a hole."
"I was certainly pummelled, pulverised and broken, but not crushed. I could move my head, my arms, my legs. Where was I? My first thought, I'll tell you, is that I was in a strange mouldy, fusty smelling cellar...it caught in my throat, made me light-headed, but at least I was alive, I felt it, I knew it, and I wanted it to stay that way."
"Where was I? Well, I remembered that I had a few matches in my pocket, maybe half-a-dozen --- as you know I don't smoke. I hesitated to light the first one, as if I were spending a portion of the life that was allocated to me; first I wanted to check things out with my hands, by feeling around."
"Stretching out my arms, I explored around me, and suddenly, I was desperately afraid, I thought I was going do die. Do you know what my fingers had met? A hand, cold and stiff. It took me five minutes to get over it. I stayed still, no longer daring to move or to let go of this hand which I felt closing about mine."
"But, I'm no coward, I resisted, I bucked up, and then, having calmed down, I lit a match. And what did I see --- statues ---big fellows all standing up, and which --- though I wouldn't swear to it --- seemed to be made out of gold, yes gold! there were bright edges, like lovely new metal, I lit another yet another, and I saw more of them, and a number of dark tunnels which seemed to sink into the ground."
"Getting myself out of there was all I thought of...was I going to stay there buried among these dead people whose empty eyes watched me? Thinking of the slow, horrible agony that threatened me, I sought to attack the wall, and in one spot it gave way under my blows: I struck, scratched, poked, twisted, and finally I felt my arm go through and I shouted as loud as I could, and here I am! Damn it, give me another drink!"
Slack-jawed, the men had listened to this tale, and truly, they thought the landslide had somewhat scrambled their friends' brain. These men were truly ignorant, suspicious ruffians.
"You're crazy!" they told him. "You had a bad dream!"
"No, no!" cried the other, "I saw it, saw it with my own eyes."
"And why would you think he's lying," a voice said. "You know nothing, you understand nothing, yet you join in discussing it!"
It was Koolman who had spoken: he had heard the resuscitated man's story from the execution block to which he had been tied. He sensed that this nightmarish tale might in part represent reality.
"Then, if you have understood," Rod said bluntly, "do explain to use what all this nonsense means."
"The untie us, me and our friend Ned too."
Koolman's generosity could be explained: he was better off assuring himself of the captain's good will. Rod hesitated to give the order to release them: perhaps he wished to avenge himself of his former frights; but then Ned spoke up:
"Hey, ol' Frans! Get me out of this jam, and I'll do the same for you sometime, no hard feelings, O.K.! It's just an occupational hazard."
Besides, Rod might not have had the power to stop the men, whose curiosity was overexcited and who had regained confidence in their leader. Koolman and Ned were untied.
"Come here my man," said Koolman to the resuscitated man, "and tell me all the details. Ned, come and join us."
Peter Gausen --- such was the exhumed man's name --- didn't have to be asked twice and took up his tale from the beginning. Koolman listened attentively et exchanged glances with Ned. They then conferred in whispers and came to a common accord.
"Friends,", Koolman said, "I hope that you're all ashamed and sorry for the manner in which you have treated me. I wish to show myself to be generous and forget, to a certain extent, and I am ready, if you swear, from now on, to submit to my authority, to unravel the mystery which this brave fellow has inadvertently discovered."
He paused, then in a loud voice:
"A secret which will make us all a fortune!"
Until then the men remained suspicious, they did not believe in generosity; only the word "fortune" had softened their scruples.
"You will need Ned and I to acquire this fortune, we equally will need you, it is a pact I propose you. If you refuse, fine, we abandon you in this desert where you will starve to death or be devoured by the tigers. Choose!"
He had been right, as always --- to speak loudly and firmly; and now they were all apologizing, begging his forgiveness, declaring themselves ready to submit to anything.
"It's Frans Rod who did everything."
"You're right, said Koolman, "and only he needs to be punished."
"Me!" roared the man, "now that's pretty rich, when I could have smashed your head in."
"You had your chance!" coldly replied Ned, who also knew that the power struggle was at a critical moment. And deliberately, pulling his gun from his belt, he shot Frans Rod in the head. The wretch dropped to the ground, dead.
"Now," shouted Koolman, "to work friends, and you'll all be rich."
Mastered, excited by an irrational greed, Ned's group of criminals found themselves once again cowering, ready for anything: Ned's impulsive act had chilled their animalistic furies.
"But the tools!" Ned cried out suddenly, "those wretches have taken them."
They stampeded off in the direction the Battaks had taken, and there were cries of joy. Some small distance away, in the tall grasses, they found the tools of which the Battaks had lightened their horses to speed up their escape. There were hand- picks, shovels, and pick-axes. On the moment they did not even consider that all their food provisions were gone.
They returned, and according to Peter Ganzen's indications, they began the dig. The work was not hard, for it was only a broken up soil which did not hold together, and which could be shovelled away quickly. Thus did they finally manage to clear a large paving stone, which oddly enough seemed to be made of the hardest granite, but which had nonetheless, under the weight or rather under contact with this soil, shattered into hundreds of shards, leaving a wide-open hole, the one into which Peter Ganzen had fallen and from which he had escaped.
Then, spurred on by Koolman, the men rushed forward, striking in rapid succession, breaking the paving stones which clearly constituted the roof of some cave, or rather --- as Koolman had guessed ---a temple of a long-ago era.
Finally, they were able to enter the mysterious site, torches were lit, and cries of admiration, crazy whoops of joy, of greed satisfied, tumbled out all at once. They found themselves in a great hall, around which stood an entire population of statues, with, in the back, a throne supporting a huge idol. Of these statues a great number glowed ruddily, like gold. Koolman had run towards one, banking on his experience as a goldsmith, and had drawn in his breath convulsively.
Gold, it was indeed gold: and in the eye-sockets, on the arms, on the shoulders, on the hems of the clothing stones glittered. It was a fairy tale vision, the expression of their wildest dreams. The men had thrown themselves on the gold statues, to claim them, to roughly estimate their weight. Their motions were so sudden, so disordered that one of the statues, whose pedestal had been weathered by the humidity, slipped, teetered and fell. There was a sinister death rattle; one of the men had been crushed under the weight.
But this did not stop anyone; a madness of fingering, of enjoying this materialistic contact, of feeling the gold in their hands was over them. One of them after a violent effort had torn from its pedestal a half metre tall statue, loaded it on their shoulder and was deliberately heading for the exit.
There were furious cries of: "Thief!" The man was grabbed, thrown to the ground, and trampled upon.
Koolman and Ned were themselves prey to a fever which left them with no self-control. The hall reverted to a state of pandemonium, wherein the basest human instincts were free to express themselves in all their horror. Finally, Koolman et Ned, took hold of themselves and rapidly concurred that the expedition's first goal had been reached: there were several millions dollars worth, tangible, cashable. All that was needed was to take hold of it, get it out of this wilderness, drag it to the coast, and load it on the Porpoise.
Koolman, using all his breath, managed to make himself heard. They quieted down.
"Friends," he shouted, "your fortune is made, why quarrel and fight? There is enough here to make each and every one of you rich.
"It has to be split up!" shouted someone.
"Be assured, it will be shared out," continued Koolman, "in the fairest of ways."
"Equal shares for all!
"Yes, yes, have no fear, since, as I have told you, these treasures are enough to make you all millionaires. There were roars of joy. Millionaires! this was far beyond their wildest dreams, and from then on, Koolman was obeyed with a great deal more willingness.
"One difficulty presents itself, that of transporting it. We don't have to worry about anyone coming to steal our booty, but we need horses, wagons, carrying slings. All our attentions need to be devoted to this essential point, especially since, once we get back into populated areas, we will have to deal with the curiosity of some, the covetousness and criminality of others. You can see that I'm being frank with you. We must devise a plan together. I am ready to listen to anyone who has some ideas, speak up and we'll do the best we can."
In a few words, he had point out the true difficulties of the situation.
"We have to track down the horses and the Battaks!" some shouted.
"That would clearly be the best thing, but they are undoubtedly already far away, however, if some of you wish to form a detail to chase them down."
Some of them! that meant that of their small troop, some would leave, while the others alone would remain to guard the treasure! A violent debate soon broke out; knives even left their sheathes again.
"Besides, is it not absurd to think that those who remain here would take away these huge blocks of metal? Truly, I would defy anyone to take even the smallest of them more than a mile from here. Our friend Koolman will remain with you; I will go alone, with my two most trustworthy men, who will not hesitate to follow me, and devil take us if within twenty-four hours we haven't caught up and taken by surprise the stupid Battaks, lost in some forest labyrinth from which they cannot escape."
In the unique situation in which these people found themselves --- wealthy, but with a treasure that could not be enjoy here in the middle of the mountains of Sumatra --- Ned's proposal was the only one which had any chance of being successful. They had still tried to move the statues, but had only managed to throw them to the ground. To get them out from underground they would have needed ropes, jacks, and they had none of these. It was proposed that they fill in the cave and return to the capital where they could resupply themselves with everything, but besides the fact that such a trip would take over a month, how would one keep the authorities in the dark about the work intended, and if the Dutch administration had any inkling of the treasure... At all cost, the statues must be carried to an uninhabited point on the coast, where the Porpoise would come and pick them up. In the end, the best remained to accept Ned's offer and to place one's trust in divine providence for a little while yet.
Koolman was little agreeable to remaining, almost like a hostage, among these criminals who might think to bump him off to increase their own share of the take. But he resigned himself to it; the two who were to accompany Ned were chosen at random. For food one would rely on hunting and the bounty of the forest, and one would wait patiently, as long as possible.
Ned left with his two companions: his personal interests were his bond.
When they had arrived at the hut, the good Waa had wailed in despair: it seemed as if it were her child again which had been struck down. To-Ho having told her what had happened, and denouncing men as Go's murderers, the brave she-ape was enraged. She wanted to track them down, overtake them, and twist them to a bloody pulp with her powerful arms. For she felt a great hatred towards these monsters, born from the ill they had already done her, magnified by that which they had just committed by striking down this teenage boy, whom she loved to the point of having forgotten that he belonged to the same accursed species.
The other Aaps had come to To-Ho's mound; they too had listened to his story and had understood. But amongst them the feelings evoked were more of terror than of anger. A fear haunted them: in the dimly remembered legends which father passed onto son, there were barely remembered instances of men hunting down the Aaps, forcing them back, in frantic disarray, into the wilderness where they thought themselves safe. While Van Kock and To-Ho busied themselves with their patient, the Aaps assembled a short distance from the hut and spoke among themselves, with forceful gestures.
One of them, an old silverback ape, was explaining something to them while pointing at the hut with his crooked fingers: grumblings punctuated the more animate portions of his speech, and were followed by strangely modulated cries. The Aaps were twisting their faces, particularly the females who seemed to gradually become irritated, rising toward a paroxysm of anger. But the old Aap determinedly preached patience, at least for awhile. Under the pounding of his fist his chest rang out like an empty drum, and at the same time his head was raised in a look of defiance. Just from his pantomime one could tell that he had taken up the cause of the Aaps and that he would answer for everything. One could easily see where things were headed once he got involved.
What things? The old ape, an elder of at least seventy years of age, was a giant with knotted limbs, standing bow-legged on two great pillar-like legs. He seldom consorted with To-Ho, as if an unspoken rivalry existed between them. The fact was that some time ago, Ro-Ka --- for this was the name of this Aap --- had wished to compete with To-Ho for the affections of the then very young Waa, who herself had selected To-Ho to be her mate. A fight ensued and Ro-Ka had been defeated.
Twenty years has passed since then, but amongst these creatures still closer to animality than to man, grudges were long-held. Perhaps he might finally find an opportunity to gratify his long-incubated desire for vengeance. The others were nothing more than weaklings, ignorant brutes, ready --- all of them --- to give themselves up to the latest fashion.
Meanwhile, Van Kock skilfully bandaged George's wound and reassured Waa. All in all it was a minor contusion; a few medicinal herb compresses, some rest, and he would be as good as new. Besides, he was already regaining conciousness, and, not knowing exactly what had happened, though himself to be emerging from a nightmare.
Van Kock, cautiously, reawakened his memories, and George burst into tears. It was nonetheless true that whereas he was happy and spoilt among the Aaps, and lived a peaceful life with To-Ho et Waa, his human brethren had treated him like a wild beast. They had wished to kill him, and that, at the very moment when his heart singing, he ran, hands open, towards them, hoping to hug them in his arms!
This was a profound disillusion for him, as if something had broken inside him, and, holding Van Kock's hand, he said sadly to him:
"It is indeed true that men are wicked and cruel."
"Leave him alone with me," said the Dutchman to To-Ho, "I'll calm him down."
Pensive, To-Ho left the hut. He was prey to a painful foreboding, and his great frame was bent over as if a great weight were on his shoulders. And as he moved off, his head down, not looking around him, the huge bulk of Ro-Ka's silhouette rose before him.
The latter only spoke the rough language of the Aaps, having refused to participate in the Dutchman's lessons. His voice was hoarse, hard, his monosyllables hacked brutally short.
"To-Ho, I must speak to you."
"To-Ho, we have been betrayed!"
"What do you mean?"
"That the enemies among us wish to deliver us over."
"Of which enemies do you speak?"
"The stranger Van Kock... the young Go!"
"They are not enemies, but friends!"
"You lie or they deceive you. They are the ones who have drawn men here to track us down and kill us."
"You're mad! It's Van Kock who has defended us and saved us."
"All the better to deceive you, to allay your suspicions."
"But George was shot."
"The men did not recognize him as one of their own, they took him to be an Aap like you."
Vainly did To-Ho argue: Ro-Ka did not understand, did not wish to understand, and the others who had approached, supported him. It was now the weakest minds which came to the forefront, which asserted themselves. Why had a deadly plague declared itself among the Aaps, if it were not that Van Kock and George, by their evil spells --- for these brutes believed in a sort of black magic --- had poisoned the springs, the grasses, the fruit in the trees. The she-apes blamed them for the deaths of their newborns, the males attributed their weight loss and injuries to them. A call rose up, decisive, menacing: Van Kock must be killed, Go must be killed.
Then they would leave their homeland. There was another, close by, which they knew well --- since they had once lived there --- where the solitudes were even greater in extent, the mountains steeper, where man had never set foot. They spoke of Java, which to them was the true Aapland. They would set out swimming, crossing the sea (the straights of Sund), and, following the coastline, they would land on a deserted stretch of land, from whence they would dash through the forests.
Truth be told, it was terror which led them to flight, flight anywhere. The proximity of man, whom they knew to be close, virtually present amongst them --- had the females trembling, lost in lamentations, which only increased the Aaps' fear and anger. Incapable of reasoning, stuck in their simple way of thinking, they wanted to leave, but first they intended to wreak their vengeance. Around To-Ho, whose more open mind understood their injustice, they jostled each other while grimacing and making menacing gestures.
An animal barely risen above the beasts, To-Ho was prone to mad rages: anger was rising in his huge head, and it was with great difficulty that he held himself back, feeling that the Aaps might touch him at any moment. If one of the brandished hands were to strike him, it was over, his animal nature would regain the upper hand, and he would strike back in turn. So he continued to back away, step by step, his fists clenched. A new cry rang out: this time its originator accused him of having gone over to the human's side and of having betrayed his friends.
Seeing him retreating, these cowards thought themselves the stronger, and as ungrateful as human crowds, they wish to avenge themselves of his superiority. An insult --- a certain growl which among the Aaps was the worst expression of disgust --- was shouted at him. It was too much: he suddenly stopped, whipped out his arms with the power of a spring, grabbed the one who had insulted him by the throat, and lifting him from the ground, began spinning him in the air, striking the congregation of angry Aaps with its flapping limbs.
"To-Ho! To-Ho!" a voice called out behind him.
It was Van Kock who had cheerfully come out of the hut, now convinced of George's recovery and had witnessed the terrible scene, understood, and run forward. The Aaps, seeing him, their principal enemy, to whom they stupidly attributed all the ills and dangers which threatened them, ran forward to meet him. To-Ho let go of the one he was holding, who came to rest in a pile of lianas, and in a single leap he ran to save Van Kock. But the latter, having foreseen the danger, brandished his infamous wand, and before the Aaps, without however touching them, he created a shower of crackling, criss-crossing, whirling sparks, erecting an impassable barrier. Suddenly the Aaps' were so alarmed as to be bewildered and disoriented into turning tail and running off while screaming in terror.
The fireworks went out.
"What's going on?" Van Kock asked To-Ho. The latter quickly explained.
"Bah!" said the Dutchman laughing, "they are just a bunch of overgrown children who will settle down as quickly as they have gotten excited, I will make peace with them."
But To-Ho shook his head. He knew his fellows, knew how difficult it had been to make them accept the presence of a man and a child among them. R“-Ka used their memories of the tragic events in the gorge to turn them against the Dutchman and himself. Assuming they were to calm down, it would all be a lie.
"So, were are between a rock and a hard place," said Van Kock. "Here the Aaps who wish us dead, there men who are well on their way to reaching here. As far as I am concerned, I have no doubt which is worse --- I know --- it is man."
As he got older, the old Dutchman's hatred of his fellows became deeper and more firmly anchored. He preferred the Aaps, with their savagery and their spontaneous bursts of animosity, which he feared far less than what he termed man's hypocrisy.
"Listen," he said to To-Ho, "the Aaps have been frightened and they will keep quiet for awhile. If on this front the danger is not imminent, such is not the case on the other."
"The company which took you and George by surprise was not destroyed. I know my own race, they will not be held back by a few deaths, after such a disaster they will be even more eager to move forward."
"Thus, I am convinced that these men, after some hesitation, have continued their march in order to reach our mountains. How many are they? We know nothing of this. What we must to do is stop their advance and strip away forever any wish they may have to venture into these lands, which they must come to fear and curse."
"I'm going to leave, going to set myself to work. I'm still steady on my feed and sound of mind and body. I will manage to discover the secret of this enterprise.
"I'm going with you," To-Ho stated simply.
"You really think so? What about George, and Waa! Are you going to leave them in the hands of rebels?"
"We'll bring them along," said To-Ho.
"George cannot yet walk, or stand anything that might tire him out."
"I shall carry him."
Long did they discuss the matter, but To-Ho was obstinate. They agreed that they would wait for two days and then start on their way with Waa and George. It was truly a question of life and death for the Aaps. The others, the rebels as Van Kock termed them, had disappeared over the last forty eight hours, and nothing more was heard from them.
At the agreed upon time, the group left. George was already almost recovered, and the good Waa was assigned to be his body guard.
The plan they had come up with had worked out admirably. They had tracked down the les Battaks, the wagons, the horses and the tools. Their venture was paying off. With an activity redoubled by the certainty of the payoff, the two Dutchmen ran the equipment which was helping clear out the mysterious cave. There was no doubt, it was indeed an ancient temple, a vestige of an era long ago forgotten, perhaps anterior to all known civilisations. The gold statues were of gods which belonged to no known mythology, the individuals it portrayed being more akin to animals than men. One might have postulated that in those forgotten times, creatures which were half-man, half-animal and upon which it was impossible to discern where the one finished and the other began, had inhabited the Earth.
However, these were considerations which mattered little to Koolman and his accomplices, as they were not inclined to arch‘ological study. However, what was interesting was that these statues were made of gold, pure gold, and that their mass represented an incalculable fortune. If only they could have broken them up, melted them into ingots on site, but they did not have the necessary equipment; they had to work in a more rudimentary manner, tear them from their pedestals, knock them down, move them by way of rollers, raise them onto litters which would then go, at a horse's slow pace, all the way to the coast.
A Battak, kept in the dark about the work, had been sent to Kotja, to deliver orders to the Porpoise to come and moor itself at a certain location, where Koolman and his company would rejoin them without drawing attention.
The task was difficult, the pedestal upon which these statues sat was of a cement so hard and so solidly joined to the metal, that sometimes they had resort to gunpowder to free them. Koolman et Ned took on many roles, from mechanic to engineer.
Before the blocks of gold could be removed from the cave, they had had to clear the vegetation around the entrance, open up a path through the forest, cutting their way through with axes and fire. The days went by in an ever more feverish restlessness.
Koolman and Ned were defenceless before an instinctive and mounting sense of dread: they feared that some accident, impossible to predict, would compromise their work at a decisive moment. However, how probable was the occurrence of such an unlikely catastrophe?
That night, Koolman and Ned had ascertained that their preparations were complete: at the cost of great exertions, the blocks of gold had been loaded on strong carriages, some of which would be pulled by horses, and some by relays of men. The road was open, basically easy, with the exception of the crossing of a few steep portions, where one would employ some sort of wood- sledges, as is done in some mountainous countries; besides, everything was ready to speed up the rafts by towing them.
So, under a splendid sky, whose deep blue was lit up with stars, the articles for transport were lined up across the wide clearing cut out around the cave, within which some blocks lay ignored, some of which one might come back and get later.
The men slept: Koolman and Ned themselves, like military heroes on the eve of a great battle, after having long chatted while sipping some excellent gin, of which they had been able to hide a small cask, had finally dozed off.
Nature's silence laid heavily over the place. Suddenly, atop an outcropping which stood out above the others, a shadow appeared, distinct, black against the dark sky. It bent over, peering down, and, holding on to the irregularities in the rock with its long arms, it began to climb down. It was To-Ho!
Some distance away, behind him, in a cavern, Van Kock was with Waa. For days and nights they had been on the go, moving farther away from their retreat, searching for the men, and until now they had not found them. That night they had prudently gone to ground, ready to take up their search at dawn.
The young man had rapidly regained his strength, and was entirely recovered. These regions, with their balsamic aromas, are wonderfully hygienic for wounds, so Van Kock had only had to assist Nature. George knew the goal of To-Ho and Van Kock's expedition: the driving out of men. He made no protest: in truth, the horror which the Aaps felt towards their enemies had finished by permeating him too. Van Kock stirred up this antipathy: the old Dutchman was more intransigent than ever, and for him his hatred of man was one with his hatred of gold.
To-Ho, feverish, impatient, ferreted about, armed with the phobium-bearing wand, and with a marvellous flair, he would sense the presence of gold, of ores, of even the most obscure veins. Of course, Van Kock, wary of his instinctive bursts of anger, only put in his grasp infinitesimally small quantities of phobium, just enough to disintegrate the gold, but not enough to unleash any greater catastrophe. Likewise, the supply of the dreaded metallic substance which he had accumulated in Aapland, was safe from any search.
That night, To-Ho, who could not sleep, had left the cavern. The air was warm, the sky clear; the ape drew in a large breath of the freshening air. Suddenly he shuddered. Something intangible, indescribable had struck him. He open his nostrils fully, widened his pectoral muscles. There was no mistake, it was the smell of gold! He went forward, as if drawn by an infallible magnet. He followed the scent-trail, imperturbably, never deviating from it. Finally he reached the end of a stone ledge he well recognized, for it was there he had already met the men and where George had been shot. He bent over in the soft twilight, and saw. It was the gold-seekers camp. He could barely make out the bodies of the men, wrapped up in their coats, their black forms arrayed at random. Little did he care which ones they were; the warm effluvia of gold rose up to him.
Then, holding firmly in his fist the wand which held a small chunk of phobium, he climbed down. As heavy as he was, no rustle of grass or tumble of stone did he make. He reached the bottom and then saw the wagons upon which the golden idols lay wrapped in grasses and lianas. But he was not deceived, he did not even ask himself from whence this gold came. It was there, that was all he needed to know.
He crept forward, with the deliberate pace of a savage, slipping among the clusters of sleepers in such a manner that none woke. He reached the entrance to the cavern, and there, he quickly understood: it was not the first time that he had discovered such ancient caches in these deep gorges. He did not understand their purpose, as for him they simply represented stockpiles of taboo items.
He hesitated: should the work of destruction begin here? Decidedly not. What was closest to the men should be annihilated first. He made his way back, still creeping and quieter than a reptile, to the wagons. The gold statues were barely covered, they would wait until they reached the coast to hide them completely. He saw the first of them, slowly thrust out the phobium wand, and touched it. There was a very soft crackling, the gold disintegrated, and on the grass all that remained was a mound of blackish muck. No one had heard anything; he went on to the second, the third.
He found boundless pleasure in watching the shiny solid matter, whose resistance he well knew, crumble into a moist, impalpable dust. He went on, and on, proceeding more and more carelessly as his triumph went to his head, hurrying, wishing to finish.
"Hey! Who goes there? To arms!"
The repeated cracklings, as quiet as they were, had, by their very monotony, troubled the men's slumbers. A few lifted their heads, saw the monster bent over, proceeding from place to place, squatting down, then getting up again with a happy grunt. At first they were frightened: these ruffians readily believed in the demons of the night, and satanic legends haunted more than one of their brains. But the cry of alarm ran out, and suddenly all the men were afoot, Koolman et Ned among the first. Shots were fired at random, without even grazing To-Ho, who meant to complete his unfinished job. As they ran at him, they collided with the wagons, and a horrible din arose. Daylight was coming, and its raw light illuminated the unbelievable scene.
What was this muck, this vile, sticky mucilage which replaced the statues, those admirable gold statues? At that moment, To-Ho was tackling the last one, and in the rage which possessed him, he had, in a muscular wrench, thrown it from the wagon. It had fallen to the ground, where its lovely yellow glow spoke to its purity, its value, to the divinity of the opulence it represented.
They ran forward to tear it from him. He simply touched it. Clack! muck, still more muck. There were howls of insane rage. They did not even think to be stunned, to be frightened by this demonic work, theirs was a rage born of despair. And in their paroxysm of fury, punctuated by raucous cries, by epileptic- like gestures, guns went off, poorly aimed, striking friend rather than foe. To-Ho had barely been scratched. They were around him, pressing him closely.
Koolman, suddenly thrown into a nightmare, into a vision of hell, made his way through with no consideration of whom his adversary might be. He levelled his revolver at To-Ho, at the level of his skull. Instinctively, as the shot went off and grazed his skull, To-Ho lifted his arm, grabbed the weapon, and in one of those extraordinary coincidences which cannot be explained, with his finger on the trigger he turned it on his assailants, firing off the five shots which remained in the chambers. Ned, struck full in the forehead, swore and dropped. Koolman had lowered himself: one of his men, behind him, was struck in the throat by the projectile and crumpled to the ground, giving up his blood through his mouth.
The Aap stood up, and head down he charged through group huddled together in the throes of terror, knocking over Koolman who, in passing, fired on him with a rifle. To-Ho tossed the phobium wand into the entrance to the cavern, to finish the work which had been interrupted. Then, reaching the rocks, he climbed up, and up. Ten bullets whistled by. He had disappeared.
To explain it we must go back an hour, to the precise moment when the day was dawning, and the tall mountain peaks were bathed in the first light. Waa slept deeply, curled up at George's feet, perfectly safe, for the cavern within which To-Ho had sheltered them offered a tranquil retreat. Besides, Van Kock was there, equipped with his infallible phobium, which would overcome any weapons of man.
Towards morning the old Dutchman had wakened: like most elderly people he was a light sleeper and perhaps the scraping of a branch had been sufficient to wake him. Carefree, not even deigning to arm himself with his terrible wand, he had gone to stretch his legs at the entrance to the cavern, happy to feel the rising sun's caress on his old carcass. He felt happy, forgot his worries and yesterday's anxieties. Ah! let not men get into their heads the notion of coming and troubling this peaceful setting, for then he would be ruthless. He wanted to end his days in this splendid natural setting, so generous to those who understood its blessings.
He strode forward, head held high, feeling the breeze blowing through his bristly and bushy tufts of white hair. Tanned, sunburned, wrinkled, creased, the centenarian was of a remarkable ugliness: his torso, from which the ribs protruded, was hairy like that of his long-time companions, and unknowingly he had taken on the apes' rocking, arm-swinging gait. He pondered, pleasantly.
So it was that from behind the trunk of a gigantic touahany, a head had popped out, crowned like his own with a huge mop of bristly white hair, and then had quickly hidden itself, only to reemerge a moment later. Beneath the shade of the tall branches, the features were indistinct, the eyes barely visible beneath bushy eyebrows. Van Kock sensed something behind him, and suddenly spun about. Once again the head reappeared and disappeared.
"A maouass!" muttered the Dutchman disdainfully. 'That's odd, they rarely venture so close to us."
He began to make his way around the tree. The maouass did not appear to wish to be on friendly terms: he backed up, jumping back through the long grasses which hid him to his shoulders. Van Kock understood nothing of this behaviour, for normally, the maouass, when one walked towards them would jump up on some tree branch and tear off under one's very eyes.
"What an odd monkey!" he muttered, increasing his pace.
The other, still going backwards, suddenly struck a stump and fell, disappearing into the undergrowth, and crying out:
"Drat! this monkey is such a bother!"
Van Kock jumped up: a talking maouass!
"What monkey, you worthless creature?" he exclaimed, answering him for no particular reason.
The other rose with an effort and exclaimed in turn:
"A monkey which understands and speaks Dutch! Now there's something remarkable!"
And so did these two creatures, each with the features of an old gibbon, their hair bristly, their faces lined, stand nose to nose, looking into each other's wide open eyes.
"Ah now! who are you, you damn monkey, you poor excuse for an orang?" shouted Van Kock while extending his long emaciated arms towards him, as if to grab him by the throat.
"Why, I am no monkey, I am Valtenius... the Dr. Valtenius, professor at the University of Groningen, member of the Artis et Scientiæ Society of Rotterdam. But you! are you then not a gorilla?
"Ah! you are then a man," exclaimed an angry Van Kock, brandishing the club he held in his hand, "your number's up! I'm going to brain you!"
"Simply because you are a man!"
"Are you not one yourself?"
"I was one once, and like you I was a respected university professor, Dr. Van Kock."
"Van Kock, who left for Sumatra some sixty...eighty years ago!"
"What is left of him, and I have sworn that while I'm alive, no man shall ever venture into these solitudes. Ah! if only I had my phobium! But, no matter! my grip is still strong and my legs still sprightly, just wait until I clobber you, vile professor who fallaciously only bears the semblance of a monkey."
Van Kock spun his huge club about Valtenius' ears. The latter leapt about, protesting in voice and in gestures, seeking to flee, understanding nothing of this scholar's animosity, perfectly willing to declare himself his friend. Twice already the stick had almost broken his skull, when he was suddenly saved by a diversion.
Waa in turn had risen, and listening, she had recognized Van Kock's voice: what was happening to him? Was he in danger? To-Ho was not there, it was she who inherited the role of protector. She left the cavern, ran towards the place where the quarrel could be heard.
"Cut off this damned professor's retreat!" shouted Van Kock. But he had spoke in pure Dutch: she could not understand, and Valtenius availing himself of the opportunity, had taken off running with all his might... of seventy-eight years!
"He's going to get away! Waa, catch him!"
He ran off in turn to catch the old professor who scampered away as best he could, but who would clearly fall into the clutches of his formidable adversary.
Valtenius screamed out with all his breath:
"Help! Save me!"
"Scream as much as you want," replied Van Kock, "you'll be no less pummelled."
And he was indeed going to reach him, when suddenly a number of human voices erupted from the depths of the forest:
"Here we are! Have courage! hold still! we're coming!"
"Damn it all!" said Van Kock with an accent of despair, "the catastrophe is upon us, here are the men!" In a single bound he threw himself against Waa, his neck extended, panting.
From the forest emerged a company of men armed with guns. One of them saw Van Kock and Waa, these were clearly ferocious orang-outangs who wished to kill Valtenius. The weapon was raised, and no doubt Van Kock's intransigence would have cost him his life, but for the generous Valtenius who had thrown himself in front of his friends, his arms extended.
"Don't shoot! It is not a monkey but a colleague!"
It was at this moment that a terrified Waa, spotted the creatures she had been taught were her worst enemies, cried out at full volume her summoning call:
He was the only rescuer in whom she had confidence, her mate, the strongest of the strong!
"But if it is a man, Dr. Valtenius, he should well know he has nothing to fear from us."
"My dear Dr. Leven, he won't listen, he sought to knock me senseless."
"As I will strike you all down, lowly bunch of men that you are!" shrieked Van Kock in a paroxysm of anger. "Come, Waa," he said, taking the ape by the arm, "to the cavern, where, thanks to the phobium, we are invincible."
He ran off with her into the undergrowth --- they both disappeared. One will have already understood that this was the Leven expedition which had just arrived in the middle of these solitudes.
The young man interrogated Valtenius regarding the meeting which had so shaken him. Had he indeed just found, in the depths of this inextricably tangled forest, a man whose name had remained legendary in Holland, the Dr. Van Kock who, before the injustice of his contemporaries, whose stubborn ignorance denied his discoveries, had exiled himself in such a manner that he was never heard from again.
"Yes, yes, it's him!, answered Valtenius, "and it is one of the most painful moments of my existence that he would not recognize me as a friend, I who always defended him! He first took me to be a monkey. When he realised I was a man, he wished to kill me! It's unimaginable!"
"Mr. Valtenius," said a softer voice, "perhaps you yourself frightened him, I'm certain that if I could approach him he would listen to me."
"Ah! miss Margaret, don't take the risk, this man who is not a monkey is more ferocious than the most monkey-like of monkeys!"
"I wish to try... Dear Frederik," she said, turning to her husband, "come with me, surely together we will be able to find this great scientist's lair, and together we will convince him that none among us wish him any harm, and then, who knows, might he not give us some clue as to my dear brother's fate?"
"Dear wife," answered Leven, "I'm always ready to obey you, but let's not rush anything for now. It is important that were gather our men, who are somewhat dispersed throughout these solitudes, perhaps they search for us and worry about us."
"Do so my love. I have every confidence in you and will be patient, but do place your hand on my heart and see how quickly it beats."
"So it does, in truth! From whence proceeds this excitement?"
"Don't laugh at me Frederik. You know that women have an inexplicable sense of intuition. An inner voice tells me that my brother is close by, and that if I called him."
She was abruptly interrupted. One of the men in the convoy was running up as quickly as his legs would take him. He stopped in front of Leven.
"Boss," he said, "we found a badly wounded man, dying, at the bottom of the hill. We improvised a stretcher and have brought him here."
"You have certainly done well, perhaps Dr. Valtenius will be able to treat him in an effective manner. Where is the poor man?"
"Here, a few steps away, we couldn't get the stretcher through this thicket."
"Let's hurry!" Margaret cried out, feeling all the pity which is in a woman's heart, "let us hurry to help him."
While they spoke and looked in the direction in which the man had pointed, To-Ho's head had popped out above the rocky ridge which supported the plateau upon which the current scene was taking place. Arriving in response to Waa's call, the ape had climbed a nearly vertical slope, and was preparing to leap to the plateau, when suddenly he saw the group of humans: Leven; Margaret, wearing a sports coat which accentuated her young and slender form; Valtenius, whom he first took to be Van Kock and mentally accused of betrayal; and more still who bore arms. It was the dreaded disaster, it was the invasion.
Where was Waa? Where was the old Dutchman? Where was George? Had they been killed? Men were only capable of committing criminal acts. He thought of throwing himself upon them, of crushing them in a death-grip. No. First he had to find out where those he loved were. He slipped along the ridge, invisible, skirting the plateau, and so gained a location from which, while remaining unseen, he could return to the cave.
He went in. All three of them were there: Van Kock, Waa and George. The latter had just woken up, and upon hearing the Dutchman and the ape vehemently arguing, watched but could not understand.
"What's going on?" shouted the young man as he ran towards To-Ho whose contracted features frightened him. The ape gestured violently:
"There is," he shouted, "that men are here!"
"Yes, our enemies, our persecutors have penetrated into our solitudes, to bring war and death, O!" he added, clenching his fists and grinding his teeth, "not one will leave here alive. Van Kock, we will defend ourselves, shall we not?"
"Certainly!" replied the centenarian, "and should I die there myself, it will be the pride of my last days to have exterminated that accursed race!"
"Men!" repeated George, thoughtful, "where are they?"
"There, a few steps from the cavern."
"Who are they? Are you sure that they come as enemies?"
"Why, are they not our enemies by the very fact that they are men?" proclaimed Van Kock. "Let's go! no more talk, let us act. To-Ho, give me your wand so I can fill it with sufficient phobium that all you touch will disintegrate and crumble, and I, I!"
He ran to a corner of the cavern and from beneath a small pile of leaves picked up a small box he had hidden there. He brandished it at the end of his extended arm.
"There is in here," he shouted, lifting his head in a defiant pose, "enough to blow up the entire Earth. Let them come and I will pulverise them like the desert sands."
George watched each of them in turn. These savage threats frightened him and he felt in his deepest recesses a certain turmoil he could not master. Certainly, he too was very close to hating men, whom had only done him harm. Nonetheless, a voice rose in him which pleaded softly in their favour. To kill! to kill! could no other solution be found?
"Why not flee from them," he said, "are there not in our mountains inaccessible gorges where they could never reach us?"
"And why concede them this territory, which is our domain, they are the invaders, we have every right to hunt them down, and we will do so! To-Ho, can you have a look around and tell us what is going on? Before we leave here we have to know exactly how our enemies are arrayed, so that we can make sure of our strike."
To-Ho left through a cleft in the rock, and from above the cavern looked around. At that moment the injured man they had rescued up had been brought up by Leven's men. The poor man --- it was Koolman --- bore horrible scars and his face was hidden under a mask of blood. Nonetheless, he was still alive.
After To-Ho's flight, there had been among the men, enraged by despair and frustrated by their sinister discomfiture, a furious explosion of uncontrolled anger. They had thrown themselves in the gold-muck in the hope of still finding a few fragments of the precious metal, and in this mad rush they fought, the struck each other, the tore at each other. It was a bloodbath.
Koolman had been the first to think about the cavern: perhaps the blocks which had remained there might have escaped the incredible phenomenon? But the least grievously injured had spied out his movements and guessed at his intentions. They threw themselves upon him, the ones, the others dragging themselves, stomping on one another, seeking to tear each other's flesh apart and to blind one another.
Now, amidst all this jostling did the wand thrown into the cavern my To-Ho come in contact with the wall, and the disintegration began. First it was a softening, a fine mist fell, then the pulverisation was accelerated, the ground gave way beneath their feet, the men were caught by their feet, then their calves, in a rapid descent into the quicksand. Then only their chest and arms remained, yet they still fought. The roof collapsed, they were buried.
Only Koolman had managed to reach the entrance in time, but he had been slashed up with knives...had staggered, blinded, shrieking, and dropped on the ground with a curse. It was here, among the dead, that Leven's men had picked him up. And now, dying, he looked upon these men who surrounded him and spoke to him.
He recognized them, and all his loathing rose to his lips in a final spasm.
"Leven!" he croaked with a hiccough, "Leven and the beautiful Margaret Villiers, and the stupid Valtenius...Ha! ha! you thought yourselves triumphant...they will kill you, the demons are waiting for you."
"Who then are you," said Leven leaning over him, "you who seem to know us so well?"
In fact, beneath the patches of blood which littered his face his features were hidden.
"Who am I? The man who loathes you, as he loathes your father, as he loathes that crook Vanderheim who sent you here. Koolman! you know, Koolman who was humiliated, insulted, and who will be avenged!"
Margaret quickly approached him:
"Mr. Koolman, why are you so hateful? I swear to you that my father never did you any harm."
The dying man partly raised himself:
"Ah! it's you, child. Indeed, you're right, I am going to die, I want to be good! Ha! ha! yes, very good. You are searching for your brother, well! he is here, yes, yes. The natives told me of a young white man living among the ape-men, and you will kill him without ever knowing, or he will kill you, and I shall be avenged. Ha! ha! it's so good to die in doing evil."
And the wretch fell back with a death-rattle.
Margaret had heard him: what had he said? Was it true that he had gathered some evidence regarding George? Alive! He was alive! Would he then be found in the middle of these dreadful solitudes, among the strange creatures which inhabited them? Urged on by something which overpowered her will, she called, she shouted out with everything she had: "George! my dear George! Where are you? It's me, your sister Margaret, calling you! George! George!"
Inside the cavern Van Kock and To-Ho were preparing themselves for the ultimate battle. The supply of phobium had been split up into portions sufficient to produce its terrible effects. George sat motionless, now fully appreciating the power of the mysterious material. He thought how soon some men --- his brothers after all --- would meet a horrible death. And he shuddered.
To-Ho, having descended from his observation post had said that the men were many, that they were young. "There's even," the ape had added, "a female among them, with nearly white hair and pink skin all over." A young girl! George had seen some long ago!
"Lets go!" said Van Kock, no nonsense. Those criminals will launch an assault on us, they have weapons which kill at a distance, we must act."
They climbed atop the cavern, and from there they rained down upon the humans chunks of phobium. Van Kock had built a sort of blow-gun which could project the material some thirty metres or more, within minutes their company would be annihilated, guaranteed.
To-Ho obeyed without question. Waa trembled and kept quiet. They began to climb. At that moment Margaret's voice rose through the air: "George! George!" The young man raised his head, leapt to his feet. That voice, why! he recognized it, or at least thought he recognized it, for it reminded him of his mother's. And the voice, soft, plaintive, repeated his name! Van Kock had also heard it, and watching the young man's features, understood what was going on inside him.
"You!" he cried out, "are you thinking of betraying us, better be careful!"
"But, it is my mother's voice! she is there, she calls to me!"
"Eh! what do I care of your mother and all your family!" Van Kock shrieked. "You shall not leave here...To-Ho, tie him up!"
To-Ho no longer knew, no longer understood. In this confused soul a battle was being fought.
"Go," he said, "stay with us, do not listen to that voice!"
"It's me, Margaret...your sister, George!"
"Ah! I cannot resist any longer," the young man cried out, running towards the entrance.
By instinct, To-Ho leapt in front of him, his fists raised. But Waa, who until then had said nothing, interposed herself between the ape and George.
"Let him leave!" she said in a dying voice.
"No! no! replied Van Kock, "I don't want him to."
Waa threw her hands around his neck so quickly that he was unable to prevent her actions.
"Let him go!" she repeated.
Then To-Ho moved aside. George didn't even wait to hug poor Waa or to shake To-Ho's large hand. He fled outside. Waa had released Van Kock and had fallen to the ground, collapsed, bleeding. And George was in the arms of Margaret, of Leven, it was a scene of happiness, of return to human life. However, even among men themselves, ingratitude does not abolish memories, so after the preliminary effusiveness, George suddenly remembered the friends he had just abandoned.
In a few words he explained himself, skipping over the details. Valtenius, who no bore a grudge against Van Kock, was dying to reconcile with him; Leven, thrilled at the thought of having finally found the missing link, was ready to do anything to achieve his goal.
"What must we do?" he asked George. "Let it be understood that we do not wish to use any violence."
George thought for a moment.
"Let me do it," he said, "I'm hoping that when they hear my voice they will agree to parley."
He took a few steps forward, but he was still some twenty metres from the cavern, when suddenly a detonation rang out, dry and brutal.
The ground rose up and stones were scattered through the air. All the men ran forward, but where the cavern had been there was only a deep, dark, gaping hole, while from one side of the gulf, split by the explosion, a huge torrent-like sheet of water, spurted forth and drowned the stones and soil.
What had happened? When his anger had peaked, Van Kock had run to the entrance of the cavern, his arm raised, to blast the fugitive. But Waa had thrown herself upon him, wrapping him in her long arms, rendering him powerless.
To-Ho, disoriented, mad with grief, George's departure drawing out many poignant regrets, leapt to the roof to see what was happening in the distance. Meanwhile, Van Kock, in his frenzied anger fought against Waa, who would not let him go. Both rolled about on the floor of the cavern.
Van Kock had dropped the box of phobium, his body crushed it, contact was made, a crackling burst out. The phobium had scattered, the disintegration occurred, the collapse! To-Ho had felt the ground sink beneath him, and instinctively, he had thrown himself forward in a remarkable leap, clearing a crevasse, and thus was safe and sound, but alone!
Saddened, hunched over, having aged close to twenty years, the unhappy To-Ho went off through the land which had sheltered his days of happiness and sadness. Men travelled it now, searching, but finding nothing. To-Ho smelled them, tracked them down. Of his fellow Aaps, none remained. All had followed Ro- Ka's counsel: they had emigrated, across the Straits of Sund, towards Java.
He was alone, and he remained alone. And so one night did he come to sleep at the foot of a tree, he would have wished to nestle himself in the branches, but he could no longer climb, his strength no longer allowing him to. The setting sun sent its golden glow through the canopy.
"Go! my poor little Go!" muttered To-Ho one last time.
And he died. Never did anyone find a trace of To-Ho, the goldslayer.
Valtenius never got over having come so close to solving the mystery of the missing link and having let it slip from his grasp. He mourned old Van Kock whom he had forgiven for taking him for a monkey.
Leven had discovered gold mines and the house of Vanderheim had prospered: George Villiers now held an good position there. Sometimes he thinks of To-Ho and the good Waa's sincere affection for him. But it is good to live among those who represent one's true family, and Louisa Villiers loves him so passionately.
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