PART IV: Chapters XVII - XXIII
Continued from Part III
TABLE OF CONTENTS IV
Chapter XVII. The Father's Resolve. Chapter XVIII. Discovery. Chapter XIX. Return Home. Chapter XX. The Expedition Chapter XXI. Fresh Danger. Chapter XXII. Deliverance. Chapter XXIII. Conclusion. Five years had elapsed since the events we have just related.
During this interval great changes had taken place in New Drontheim, and the colony appeared to be in a wonderfully prosperous state. Numerous buildings, indigo-factories, sugar- factories, and mills had spread over the whole valley, as if they had sprung out of the ground; the great forest that formerly surrounded the houses had retreated several miles, and cultivation had extended widely in every direction.
The great bombax was no longer in existence; the very spot where Edward and his nurse had been attacked by the tiger was covered with fields of pepper, rice, and sweet potatoes. The population of New Drontheim had increased threefold in this short period. It is true that it was still composed of that strange mixture of Chinese, Malays, Negroes and Europeans that we are already acquainted with, but the number of Europeans had increased in a greater proportion, and there were always some European ships at anchor in the river.
The means of defending the colony had also become more important. Instead of the poor dilapidated fort on the top of the rock at the entrance of the harbour, there were two fine batteries one on each side of the river, well kept and well guarded, capable of resisting a considerable force for some time. Old Major Grudmann, who had retired on his pension, had been succeeded by another Governor, a man full of activity and zeal, who was as friendly to Palmer's family as his predecessor had been.
The population was still composed of that strange mixture of Chinese, Malays, Negroes and Europeans.
In the midst of the general prosperity, Palmer's establishment had not ceased to flourish; his buildings looked larger and better cared for than they used to do; there were a greater number of workpeople, and his storehouses were hardly emptied by ships coming to Sumatra for cargoes of spices and woods for dyeing and cabinet-work than they were filled again, as if by magic, with all sorts of commodities for the next purchaser. The house looked as neat and gay as ever, the garden had lost none of its Chinese curiosities, neither its pagoda with gilded turrets, nor its bamboo bridges across the stream with the waterfall, nor its china elephants with flower-pots for trunks. A wise and beneficent authority seemed still to rule the house and secure the comfort and prosperity of its inhabitants.
This influence, however, was not that of Richard Palmer. The head of the family had no longer the will and energy requisite for such a task. Though he did not utterly sink under the effects of despair, yet, when he came to himself again, life seemed of little value. Bereaved of his wife and son, he became gloomy and taciturn. He did not trouble himself at all about his affairs, and cared for nothing but roaming about in the woods, where he frequently spent five or six days together. When he returned home after these long absences, he looked gaunt, famished, and spent with fatigue.
In her brother's stead, Mrs. Surrey, who had superintended the household affairs in Elizabeth's lifetime, now assumed the management of everything in which the interests of the family were involved. Anna gave her as much assistance as she could.
When Richard, after a long and painful illness, had recovered his health, thanks to the skill and devotion of Dr. Van Stetten, he sank at first, as we have said, almost into despair. However, a thought, which by degrees became a fixed idea, took possession of his mind: according to the prevalent reports of the manners and habits of orangs there was reason to hope that his son was still alive; he must therefore find him, rescue, or at least avenge him. Through brooding continually over this one subject, Richard became persuaded that he must devote himself entirely to this rescue or revenge; and, when he had once arrived at this determination, his health began to improve rapidly. Henceforth he had an object in life; he thought that in listening to the suggestions of his paternal love, he was obeying the voice of that poor mother, who was calling to him from her grave to seek and save the lost child. So, leaving the affairs of the house to his sister and niece, he set himself to find means of putting his project into execution. He could not bear the idea of employing strangers to help him in this work of deliverance; besides, the Malays, the only native race that had the vigour and courage necessary to assist him effectually, were ferocious, treacherous, and unruly. He determined therefore to depend only on himself. For this purpose he must give up his European habits, must harden himself to fatigue and privation, and expose himself to the dangers of an adventurous life in these uninhabited places --- in a word, he must turn savage. This task, in his state of mind, did not appear to him beyond his strength, and he set himself to it resolutely as soon as his health was restored.
His first care was to improve himself in shooting, by acquiring the skill and the quick-sightedness that are indispensable to a hunter in these wild solitudes. After constant practice, he acquired an extraordinary skill in the use of a large and very good rifle, which he had procured at great expense. In his hands the weapon was capable of doing wonderful execution; the largest animals, such as the elephant and the horned rhinoceros, common enough in the uninhabited parts of Sumatra, had fallen more than once under his fire. He had learned, too, to use the kris dexterously; and in deadly struggle with the monsters of the primeval forest he never failed to plunge the terrible blade exactly in the place where the blow would be fatal.
This was much, but it was not all; according to the programme he had laid down for himself, he must harden his body to the inclemency of that unhealthy climate; must accustom himself to do without the comforts of civilized life, and to sleep on the bare ground; he must try to improve to the utmost his sight and hearing, and this result could only be arrived at by long and persevering practice. So, during the five years that had elapsed, he had wandered about incessantly in the woods, living on the produce of his hunting, sleeping wherever night overtook him, and encountering with eagerness difficulties, toils, and dangers.
Thanks to this new education, Richard gradually became all he desired. His health was re-established, his limbs had acquired vigour and agility; and, although he had become much thinner, he could bear hunger, thirst and fatigue for a long time together. He could hear, at a considerable distance, the noise of steps on dry leaves; in the midst of the thickest underwood he could spy out the retreat of a wild beast, and in following a track several miles he had the marvellous instinct of the Red Indians of North America.
One could easily understand that Richard, in his long expeditions through the Sumatran forests, was exposed to very terrible adventures. Once he had to fight an enormous bear without any other weapon than the hatchet with which he was cutting his way through the underwood. Another time he found himself suddenly enveloped in the folds of a monstrous boa, that was dragging him away to crush him against a tree, according to the custom of these immense reptiles; but the planter, using with wonderful coolness the tactics of the Malays, drew his kris, cut the cold, slimy ring that encircled him, and then put an end to the snake by a shot from his rifle. We say nothing of the furious buffaloes that he brought to the ground with a ball in the middle of their foreheads, when they were rushing wildly upon him; of the tigers that he struck down at the moment when, stealing through the long grass to spring upon him, he could only see their shining eyes. But the danger he would have encountered most readily was precisely that which he had not the least occasion to brave; we mean an encounter with orangs. This species of ape is rare, and during this long period Palmer had only seen a few, and they were always at a great distance; but, ever active and alert, he looked to Providence to give him the opportunity he so earnestly desired. As to his son, in spite of his constant search, he had never found any trace of him, and everything led him to suppose that, if Edward was still living, the orangs had carried him away with them to some remote part of the forest to which he had not yet penetrated.
It remains for us to mention Palmer's companion in his hazardous expeditions, a dog named Robin. This Robin, which Richard had trained himself with the greatest care, was not a powerful animal, capable of using his teeth in his master's defence, like Boa's dog; on the contrary, it was a little animal, very much like the pug-dogs that are the delight of some old maids. Robin would be of no use in a serious conflict with the inhabitants of the forest; but, on the other hand, his hearing and scent were singularly fine, and he was constantly on the watch. During the day, when they were walking, Robin would go along as a scout, twenty paces in front of Richard, examining the bushes, smelling the tracks, and noticing everything that seemed suspicious to him. If any danger threatened, the dog immediately beat a retreat, with his tail between his legs, and uttering a low, timid bark, every variation of which his master had learned to know.
At night Richard would sometimes build a shelter for himself of branches; but frequently he slept in a recess in the rock, or in a hollow tree. Robin always had his place at his feet. Although apparently sound asleep, he would raise his head at the slightest sound, and give the usual signal. Richard was on his feet in a moment, with his rifle in his hand. In this way neither master nor dog could be taken by surprise, an incalculable advantage in these solitudes, where danger always comes unexpectedly, and is the more fatal in proportion as it is unforeseen.
Palmer and Robin.
Such was the changed man who had undertaken to find the lost child; such were the means of defence he possessed against the thousand dangers of this terrible kind of life. Nevertheless, he did not hide from himself that, in spite of his precautions, he would probably, sooner or later, fall a victim to his temerity. But this probability scarcely disturbed him: long since he had made the sacrifice of his life; and when the thought of one day becoming a prey to wild beasts presented itself to his mind, he would say, with gloomy resignation:
"Be it so! then my troubles will be ended."
Since the loss of Edward, five years, as we have said, had passed away, when Palmer set out on an excursion that took several days, and the results of which filled him with hope. He had left the house equipped as usual, carrying his "weapons, his hatchet, and some provisions. This time he resolved to explore a new part of the forest. It may be remembered that, at the time of his first expedition in company with Boa and Elephant-Slayer, an immense marsh of unknown extent, but which formed an insuperable obstacle in that direction, had compelled them to turn back. Since that time Palmer had examined minutely the part of the wood that lay between the marsh and the colony; but the morass, with its gigantic reeds sharp as sabres, with its slimy bottom swarming with crocodiles, with its pools of stagnant water and poisonous exhalations, had always stopped his way.
However, Palmer, in one of his previous rounds, had climbed a tall tree, and had thought he could distinguish, about the centre of this marsh, a narrow chain of rocks which might serve as a bridge across it, and it was at this point that he intended to try and cross.
In order to reach this spot he walked for two days. He guided himself by a little pocket compass, which he never went without, and by certain points that had become familiar to him. He also frequently consulted a kind of map of the country which he had traced himself, and on which he had carefully noted his previous discoveries. By the help of these marks he found the place he wanted without any difficulty, and this piece of success was soon followed by another. He was not mistaken in his anticipations: the basaltic rocks that he had perceived in the distance were continued in an irregular manner, but without intermission, across the marsh. It was a natural bridge which made it possible to cross these morasses, so dangerous in themselves and so perilously infested. Richard availed himself of it without troubling himself about a few gavials (crocodiles) that seemed disposed to dispute his passage, and soon entered a part of the forest perfectly new to him, and two or three times more extensive than that with which he was already acquainted. For the first time since his troubles a feeling something like joy awoke in his heart. Perhaps his son was concealed in this mysterious district; perhaps he should at last get at these invisible orangs, and punish the thief that had stolen Edward. However, in spite of his impatience to begin the search, he felt the necessity of not penetrating into this unknown land without having first discovered exactly where he was, in order that he might avoid doubts and fatal mistakes for the future. He chose as landmarks two or three high mountains in the centre of the island, noted down on his map several important observations, and then, and not till then, he dared to venture into those solitary places, where perhaps no human creature had ever penetrated since the creation.
This part of the country wore a very different aspect from that of the district on the other side of the marsh, and the hunter noticed, not without lively satisfaction, that it was suited in every particular for the abode of orangs. He knew, in fact, that these quadrumans are extremely susceptible of cold, and that in Sumatra, where the temperature is subject to sudden changes, especially in the neighbourhood of the mountains, they generally establish their dwellings in low, covered regions, sheltered from the wind. Now this part seemed exactly suited to the requirements of orangs. It was a kind of valley, or rather an extensive depression of the land, which extended as far as one could see. The trees, of colossal proportions, were no longer so very close to each other, but disposed in clumps in a picturesque manner. The ground was soft, without being marshy. The high grass formed a wavy sea of verdure, from which the venerable trunks of the bombax and palm-trees emerged. The landscape had the majestic and grand appearance of an American savannah.
Richard plunged resolutely into the high grass. After the first few steps all this brilliant picture disappeared from his sight, and he could see nothing but the tops of the nearest trees. Robin followed him, his nose in the air and his eye on the watch.
The planter was not long in discovering that this grand vegetation, apparently so quiet, was peopled by numerous inhabitants. Every minute clouds of birds --- white spoon- bills, rose-coloured flamingoes, herons with flowing crests - flew around him, and wide tracks in the prairie betrayed the customary paths of large quadrupeds; but, except a buffalo, which he found ruminating at the foot of a tuft of rattans, and which just turned towards him his melancholy eye, without disturbing himself, he saw no cause for alarm.
Palmer frequently met with pools of water, formed during the last rainy season, and which obliged him sometimes to go a long way round. In spite of these obstacles, in spite of the caution with which he was obliged to proceed, he made rapid progress, and had penetrated some way into the valley, when he perceived that the sun was about to set. Now he could not, without exposing himself to certain danger, spend the night in the open air, as he had done several times before, and it was time to think of a shelter for the night. Unfortunately he could see neither rock nor hollow tree there that would serve him for a temporary retreat. He was in the middle of the savannah, and it would be the utmost imprudence to wait till morning in the place where he was.
Palmer therefore set to work to discover a more favourable spot to establish his camp. He wished particularly to discover some running water, for not having ventured to quench his thirst at the pools of impure water he had met with on his way, he was almost dying with thirst, and his little companion was in the same condition. His desire was soon gratified, and he found a fresh, limpid stream, where both master and dog could drink at their leisure.
In other respects the place was such as could be wished for a resting-place during the night. Besides drinkable water --- one of the first necessaries in these solitudes - there were cocoanut-trees, fig-trees, and bananas, loaded with fruit; and, what was more, Palmer spied out a hollow place among the gigantic roots of a banyan-tree, deep enough to serve as a shelter both for himself and Robin. After having made sure that this cavity was not already in the possession of certain inhabitants that would not willingly have consented to share it with him, he hastened to gather together moss and dry leaves to make a bed.
While Palmer was thus occupied, a faint howl, which was all the sound that Robin was ever known to produce, for Robin never barked, attracted his attention. Although the hunter did not recognise the tone which told of imminent danger, he quickly raised his rifle to his shoulder and looked about to see if he could discover the reason for this warning. In a few minutes a little stag, of a kind very common in Sumatra, made its way out of the grass about twenty paces from him. Whether it was that he did not see Richard, or whether he was still ignorant that he had anything to fear from human beings, he walked on with a quiet step, and, rearing his majestic horns, he approached the rivulet without fear. He would be an easy prey, and the planter thought a cutlet of deer roasted in the ashes would be a nice supper for him and his dog after the fatigues of the day. He was on the point then of pulling the trigger of his rifle, and of disturbing the deep silence of the forest by firing, when Robin gave a second howl, but this time in a plaintive tone, very different from the first. The master recognised the signal of alarm, and thought no more of the poor stag, which, after having quenched his thirst, went away without guessing the danger he had just escaped.
Palmer stood still with his weapon at his shoulder, and looked in vain in all directions; he could hear no noise, and could see nothing. At last, tired with waiting, he turned to Robin to scold him for his mistake, and then he noticed that the dog, instead of troubling himself about what might be happening on the ground, had his eyes fixed on a tree about thirty or forty feet off. The planter then directed his attention to the same point, and at last distinguished some great body moving in the thickest part of the foliage: it was an orang.
Palmer's first impulse was to fire at this member of the detested race, but he thought better of it. The orang had not seen him, and did not seem uneasy. No doubt he lived somewhere near, and instead of killing him on the spot, to satisfy his blind revenge, would it not be better to follow him and watch his actions, ready to send a ball into him, if circumstances required it?
Richard lowered his gun for the second time, and throwing himself down behind a group of bamboos, continued to watch the orang.
The latter, as we have said, seemed to have no idea of danger, and probably little suspected the presence of an enemy in that part of the forest over which he had reigned as king till that day. He passed rather heavily from one tree to another. The slowness of his movements was easily accounted for; his hands were laden with figs and bananas, which he had just gathered from the neighbouring trees. It would not do, however, to trust too much to this apparent indolence. Palmer knew that at the least alarm the orang would quickly throw down his burden and disappear with the rapidity of thought.
When the orang had gone some little distance, the hunter seized Robin, fearing he might prove a serious trouble to him, and placed him in the hollow where he intended to sleep, ordering him to remain quiet. This was enough; the little creature, accustomed for a long time to such proceeding, crouched down in the cavity, and would not have thought of stirring all night without his master's leave.
The Man of the Woods.
Palmer, easy on this point, began to creep through the high grass, and was not long in discovering the orang, who was quietly continuing his course from tree to tree. The planter took the greatest pains not to be seen; but, unfortunately, the flocks of birds that flew away as he proceeded might betray him. Once even, he threw himself flat on the ground, thinking he was discovered. The orang, in fact, had come to a full stop on a thick branch, and had uttered a dull, guttural kind of noise. Was it a cry of alarm, or was it a call?
Palmer, both surprised and uneasy, did not know what to think, when the same noise was repeated a little further off, as if by an echo. Richard's joy at becoming certain of this was unutterable. His dearest wish was on the point of being realised; he was about to find what he had sought for in vain for five years --- a colony of orangs!
In a few minutes he reached a glade, well sheltered from the wind by thick masses of trees, and traversed by the stream of which we have spoken. In this kind of enclosure the grass was worn, and looked as if it had been trodden under foot; on the bank of the stream a well-beaten, damp path led him to think that it was habitually used by some animals when they went to get water. But what struck the hunter at first was the sight of three huts almost exactly like those he had seen in the forest in his first expedition. Two of them were perched on the principal branches of an old ebony tree; the third was built against the trunk of a bombax-tree, a little apart. The latter, more spacious and infinitely better built than the others, was covered with palm- leaves that were still fresh, and it appeared greatly preferable to the miserable huts which afford shelter to some of the aboriginal inhabitants of the South Sea.
No orang was to be seen near these singular dwellings, and Richard doubted if they were still inhabited, but his uncertainty did not last long. The orang that had been his guide thither, when he had reached the glade, repeated his mysterious sound. Immediately something stirred in one of the huts in the ebony-tree, and two hideous heads --- one large, with the prominent face of a beast, the other much smaller, and more like the human countenance --- appeared at the entrance; then the two orangs came out of their dwelling, and advanced to meet the first. They were evidently mother and son, no doubt the wife and child of the one that was coming home with a store of provisions. Indeed, when they met, the greatest friendship seemed to exist between the three; the odd sounds began again; they sat down on a thick branch, and began to make their supper together on the fruits that the father had brought.
Palmer could now observe the strange creatures more closely than he had done till then. The father and mother were about six feet high; they were covered with brown hair, soft and silky, except the face, hands, and some other parts of the body that were bare and copper-coloured. They had hair on their heads and a moustache over the mouth, which was large, with thin tight lips. They had thick eyebrows, and their eyes had much vivacity and expression. There was something sedate and thoughtful in their way of moving, not commonly observed in any other kind of monkey. The little one looked lively, and almost intelligent, and seemed as if he showed signs of a certain capacity for education.
It is well known that young orangs that have been brought to Europe have shown a wonderful facility in imitating the different acts of men; and a modern savant has given an account of the wonderful feats attributed to a young female orang, which was presented to the Empress Josephine, and which Napoleon I. named Mademoiselle Desbois.
Richard was not in a humour to study the problem in natural history that the curious creatures offer, and which perhaps will remain unsolved for a long time. If, indeed, he had not feared compromising by too great precipitation the result of his discovery, he would have yielded to the temptation of disturbing this family meeting by discharging his rifle at them. But he put a restraint on himself, and his caution did not long remain unrewarded.
The youngest orang, while playing with a fine cocoa- nut that his father had brought, uttered two or three peculiar cries, and leaned down towards the hut at the foot of the tree. A voice from within answered him, and then a strange creature came out, whose form was altogether different from that of the orangs, and sent a thrill through the heart of the observer.
In truth, it was not an orang, let us say at once: it was a man, or rather a youth, who looked as tall and strong as a man.
His long tangled hair served him for clothing, and his body, although burnt by the sun, and hardened by contact with the air, showed indelible signs that he belonged to the white race. His nails were long and sharp, his movements sudden and agile; yet he had a look of gentleness, and even of wild melancholy, that inspired compassion.
We can give no idea of the ecstasy that Richard felt at this apparition. This miserable and degraded being was his son, his Edward.
No doubt there was a great difference between the fair rosy child that he had lost and this robust, sunburnt youth, who had sunk into a mere savage. However, Palmer could not be deceived; his paternal heart leapt within him. Forgetting everything else, he was on the point of raising himself above the high grass that concealed him; he was on the point of crying out "Edward! my dear Edward!" but the sounds died away on his lips, the arm on which he was resting bent under the weight of his body, and he fell with his face to the ground, unable to see, hear, or move. This momentary weakness had a happy result, for it gave time for him to think a little, and moderate these first transports.
It was his son, his Edward.
When he came to himself, he felt the necessity of acting with extreme prudence, if he wished to restore the unhappy child he had just found to civilized life. He could not be sure of killing with a single ball the orang he had first perceived, and which he suspected was the one that had run away with Edward; besides, if he killed the head of the family, would not the female endeavour to avenge his death, as well as the young one, which seemed to be a formidable animal already?
There might be other orangs in the neighbourhood that would run thither at the first signal of alarm--how would Richard, in spite of all his courage and weapons, be able to defend himself against a troop of these animals, with whose indomitable vigour he was well acquainted? Again, and above all, how could he tell that the poor child, who had fallen into such a state of degradation, would recognise his father, and not rather take to flight when he saw him, or even try to defend himself from him? It would be better then to remain concealed, and wait for a favourable opportunity to act.
While the hunter thus found himself condemned for a time to inaction, the inhabitant of the hut advanced in a listless way towards the ebony-tree, on which the family had assembled. On seeing him, the young orang displayed the greatest joy; he redoubled his cries in a peculiar tone, and seemed to invite the youth to mount, by showing him the beautiful fruit he had in his hand. As Edward --- for so we shall now call him --- did not seem in a hurry to accept this invitation, he came down himself, hanging by his hands to the lowest branch of the tree; then, running on his two feet in rather an awkward manner, he threw himself on Edward's neck, whom he seemed very fond of, and gave him many hearty kisses, putting his lips to his cheeks and chest.
Edward, after having yielded in an absent way to the caresses of the young orang, freed himself from his embraces and passed on. But this was not what his companion wanted, and when he saw him going away he began to utter piercing cries, and dashed away from him the fruit that he had in his hand.
But as these demonstrations did not produce the desired effect, he put himself into a temper, and set to work to stamp, and then throwing himself on the ground, he began to cry, wiping away his tears with his fists, as children do sometimes.
This grief and anger did not affect Edward much, and he only smiled faintly. He kept on his way to the stream, bent down and drank out of the hollow of his hand: and after this he seemed to be hunting among the trees for something that would do for his evening meal. Spying out a large fig-tree loaded with fruit, he took hold of it in a determined way, and, with an agility little inferior to that of the orangs themselves, climbed to the top; there he took his seat on a branch, and began to eat his supper.
However, the mother seemed excited by the lamentations of her child; she made a great noise to appease him. Not being able to succeed in doing so, she came down to the ground, took him in her arms, and overwhelmed him with caresses; but nothing would do. As the little orang continued to weep and cry, she had recourse to a few gentle taps with her large hand to impose silence on her offspring.
Meanwhile the father, having finished his supper, had stretched himself out listlessly on a branch, a favourite attitude with orangs. However, he did not lose sight of Edward, who had gone too far away to please him. At last, finding that the youth was certainly too far off, or was too long returning, he roused himself from his indolence and went after him, springing from tree to tree, till poor Edward saw him coming, and no doubt fearing some violence, he hastened to fill his mouth with fruit, and let himself down the tree. Then he returned sadly towards the huts through the grass on the ground, while the orang, apparently satisfied with his docility, returned along the branches of the trees.
Palmer was cut to the heart to see his son and the son of his dear Elizabeth, the child of so many hopes, reduced to this condition of misery, that he was the slave of these hideous apes. And there was no longer any room to doubt that Edward was retained by force, and that the orangs exercised a constant watch over him, to prevent him from recovering his liberty, though it was clear he would not know what to do if he did get free, and this circumstance required the most serious attention. Edward and the quadruman family seemed now to be on very good terms. As soon as the youth approached, the little orang sprang into his arms, and covered him a second time with kisses. A fine fig that Edward gave him quite reestablished their friendship, and they played together on the grass for a little time with mutual pleasure.
The father resumed his careless attitude on the tree. As to the mother, seated at the foot of the tree, she watched their games; perhaps she felt some jealousy at the affection her son showed for the prisoner, but she only manifested it by uttering a few guttural sounds that did not seem to have any threatening character about them.
The planter observed all this with as much astonishment as grief; it seemed to him that Edward, though he had almost acquired a man's stature and strength during the last five years, had yet less intelligence than when he was a child. But he was soon obliged to leave his observations, and the reflections they suggested; the sun had set, the night was coming on, as usual, without being preceded by any twilight, and the sky had grown suddenly dark. In a little time the male orang repeated his grunting sound, and went into one of the huts on the ebony-tree, while the mother and child went into the other. Edward, on his part, hastened to his leafy abode, and everything became silent and still in the glade.
Richard knew not what to do, but he had an intense desire to try at once to get at his son in some way. While he was considering the subject, a terrible doubt flashed across his mind. During the preceding scenes Edward had not pronounced a single word; could it be that he had completely forgotten how to speak human language, and that he would be unable to understand and answer when anyone spoke to him? Then what circumspection would be necessary if the powers of his mind had been thus lessened by the solitude, silence, and society of brute creatures? In spite of all this the poor father determined to risk an attempt at once.
After having given the orangs time to fall asleep, and being quite sure that it was too dark to be seen, he crept to Edward's hut, crouched down behind the wall of foliage opposite the entrance, and in English, as the language that used to be most familiar to the child, he said, in a gentle voice:
"Edward, dear Edward! do you still think of your father?"
There was a sudden movement in the hut, as if someone got up from his seat; at the same time Palmer heard a sound of gasping for breath that betrayed unusual emotion. Perhaps the dweller in the cabin thought himself the plaything of a dream, when Richard, after a short pause, continued in the same tone, stopping between each word:
"Edward! Edward! have you forgotten your father who loved you so dearly, and your mother, and your cousin Anna?"
Hardly had he finished these words than he was frightened himself at their effect. Whether the human voice which he had not heard for so long struck him with terror, or whether he understood the meaning of these words, Edward seemed seized with a strange kind of frenzy. He rushed out of his house uttering frightful cries, and began to run up and down in a frantic way. In his hand he brandished a club, and beat the air with it as if he were striking at a phantom.
As he ran he continued to utter wild piercing shrieks which had nothing human about them. At last, desperate, breathless, and streaming with perspiration, he threw down his stick, seized the trunk of a tree, climbed it in a minute, and disappeared among the branches.
Palmer was astounded at the result of his experiment; he waited for a long time without seeing Edward return; much discouraged, he returned to the place where he meant to spend the night, and found Robin still in the hollow where he had left him. The little animal was dying with hunger, and his master hastened to give him some supper. As for himself, he did not dream of eating, in spite of the fatigues of the day. He did not dare light a fire, as he generally did, to scare away the wild beasts, for the bright light would certainly alarm the orangs, and perhaps his son himself. Besides, he had no wish to go to sleep, and he could depend on himself to keep watch during the rest of the night. So he settled himself in his poor lodging, and with his rifle on his knees, began to think over the difficulties of his situation.
It was not enough indeed to have found Edward --- he must get him away at once from the power of these formidable creatures; and Richard knew well enough what they were capable of to appreciate the danger of such an enterprise. In order to gain his object it would be necessary to hold some communication with Edward, and to arrange a way of escape with him; but how could he arrange anything with him when the very sound of the human voice produced such an effect on the young savage?
Now that Richard had found his son, he did not want to run the risk of losing him again by taking any imprudent step, or one of which the success was uncertain. So, after having thought a long time, he decided on the following plan: not to attempt anything at present, but to return to the colony for help; to come back again quickly with a large number of men, who would surround Edward's hut and take possession of him in spite of any resistance the orangs might make. This plan would require some little time to put into execution, and would compel the father to leave the child for some days still in his miserable condition; but it was the safest one, and Palmer would not try any other.
Still one subject of anxiety tormented him; what had become of Edward? In his blind terror had he not hurt himself seriously by running against the trees and rocks? This thought worried the hunter during the rest of the night. Several times he was on the point of going back to the hut to see if his son had returned, but it was advisable, in order to ensure the success of his plan, that nothing should disturb the serenity of the orangs, and the other animals of that genus, which, during his absence, might quit their present dwelling and go and establish themselves in another part of the forest. However, not being able to overcome his uneasiness, he glided to a mass of underwood whence it was easy for him to watch the inhabitants of the glade; he settled himself there with Robin, and waited impatiently for day.
Day came at last, and the brightness of early morning lighted up the woods. Unfortunately the pestilential cabout rolled in heavy waves under the overhanging trees and made it impossible to see at any distance. It was useless to hope that the fog would pass off for some hours, and the hunter, who was in a hurry to be up and doing, had no time to lose in making observations. But he considered that if this vexatious mist prevented him from seeing, it; must also prevent him from being seen, and he went nearer the huts, taking advantage of every inequality of the ground to conceal himself.
He soon had the satisfaction of seeing Edward return with slow steps to his cabin. The poor boy looked even more downcast and sad than the evening before, as if the event of the previous day had awakened some bitter remembrances. With head bent down, he passed close by his father, and went and sat down before his hut in a gloomy, dreamy way.
Palmer guessed, or thought he guessed, what was disturbing his weak mind: and what would he not have given to run into his son's arms, to quiet him, and explain what appeared dark and terrible to him? But his first attempt had succeeded too ill for it to be prudent to risk another, and the father shed tears as he was obliged to content himself with murmuring:
"Ah, poor child, take courage! a few days more and your sufferings will be at an end!" Palmer then began to make his retreat with the greatest caution. Having warned the dog by a sign that he must be silent, he set to work to creep slowly through the brushwood, and in a short time they found themselves out of the glade.
It was not without a pang that the father turned away from his beloved child, whom he had found again after incurring so much difficulty and danger on his behalf. When he caught his last glimpse of Edward through the mist, he was still sitting before his hut plunged in a sad reverie. He was resting his head on his hand, and his long tangled hair formed a veil to his grief, but this veil was not thick enough to hide the great tears that chased each other down his sunburnt cheeks.
Palmer set off at a quick rate. He reckoned that in two days he could traverse the distance, which was considerable, that lay between him and New Drontheim, and return on the third with a numerous company to effect his son's deliverance.
But, in spite of the precautions he had taken, and the points that he was quite sure about, he lost his way more than one in the savannah. After having recrossed the winding ridge of rocks that extended across the marshes, he hoped that his progress would be more rapid, but an unfortunate accident again delayed the fulfilment of all his anticipations.
Little Robin, as he ran hither and thither round his master, to make sure of the road, was bitten by one of those venomous reptiles that infest the forests of Malaysia. Such an accident was nothing new; and twenty times over, by applying herbs that he was acquainted with, to this faithful servant's wound, Palmer had succeeded in curing him very speedily. Now he hastened to apply his usual remedy to the place, but the result did not answer his expectation. The dog continued to suffer, and swelled up to an immense size; he was soon unable to walk, and Palmer was obliged to stop and attend to him. But all his efforts were useless; the poor creature expired, gazing at his master with a look full of affection, and licking his hands.
His sudden death grieved the hunter very much, and made him feel very downcast.
"Dear little companion of my sufferings and miseries," he said, with tears in his eyes, laying down the lifeless body, "did you think, then, that I should not want you any more? Why did you leave our task unfinished?"
He did not like the body to become the prey of wild beasts, and dug a little grave for it with his kris; then he set off again with a sore heart.
This event lost him some precious time. Besides, being deprived of the help of Robin's wonderful instinct, he could not proceed with so much rapidity and assurance as before. So, instead of reaching the colony the next day, as he had wished to do, he did not arrive till the third day.
When he reached the house, the new Governor, Mr. Deursen, was paying a visit and chatting with Mrs. Surrey and Anna. The Governor was surprised at Palmer's condition. Edward's father was looking old and worn, though at times he manifested extraordinary vigour. His face was bronzed and wrinkled; his long, matted beard showed how little he cared about his own appearance, and there was a kind of wildness at times in his sunken eye. His dress corresponded with his countenance. He who once dressed with so much care, when he wished to please a beloved wife, was clothed in skins, which were only half tanned, and fastened round his limbs with leathern thongs. These substantial garments had, however, suffered from the thorns and sharp grass, for in several places they left his hard, dry, hairy skin exposed, which neither the stings of insects nor the thorns of the bushes could penetrate.
Though Palmer was generally overcome with fatigue when he returned from his expeditions into the interior of the country, he had never seemed so reduced as he did now. His feet were bleeding, he could not stand upright, and his feverish look led them to guess that to all his other sufferings was added that of hunger.
However, on perceiving his sister and niece, he quickened his speed, and waved his arm as if he was impatient to announce some great news. At last, when he reached them, he cried out, in a hollow voice:
"Sister Anna, there's no doubt! --- he is living, I have SEEN HIM!"
He stopped, and leaned against the door-post, for his strength failed him, and he turned giddy.
He is living, I have seen him.
"Richard," asked Mrs. Surrey, "what do you mean? whom are you talking about?"
"Uncle," cried Anna, in her turn, "what has happened?"
He tried to answer, but the sounds died away on his lips, his head swam round, and his legs gave way under him. However, he murmured at last, with a great effort:
"Edward! -- Edward! -- Edward!"
And he fell down insensible.
When he came to himself, thanks to the care lavishly bestowed on him by Van Stetten, who arrived at that very minute, he pressed the doctor's hand, and cried:
"Yes, sister, --yes, dear Anna, --yes, my friends, Edward is living; I have seen him; I have been within a few paces of him; I could have talked with him if he had been able to recognise my voice, and understand and answer me."
And he related in detail the incidents of his last expedition into the deep forest. All present listened with an air of dumb amazement. Every now and then Mrs. Surrey and Anna uttered exclamations of terror, or, raising their clasped hands to heaven, shed abundant tears.
When Palmer had finished his tale, the Governor seemed very thoughtful.
"I have heard wonderful stories told of the great apes of Africa and Malaysia," he answered; "but really, Mr. Palmer, if anyone but you had told me such things I should not have believed him. However, your son is alive still, and that is the great thing. We may save him, and; though he is reduced to such a deplorable condition, restore him to civilized life. He is young; education will efface the traces of his present degradation; and why should he not again become the pride and joy of his family? Mr. Palmer, do you intend to be long before you attempt the rescue of the poor child?"
Palmer answered in a firm tone:
"I shall set out to-morrow morning."
Anna and Mrs. Surrey tried to reason with him; he would not even give them time to open their mouths.
"You are going to talk to me of the fatigue I have just had," he replied, in a peremptory tone; "say no more about it! I am quite rested; I feel quite strong and ready to start again. If I were not obliged to make some positively necessary preparations, and to collect a sufficient number of men to secure the success of my enterprise, I should set off at once."
The poor women, quite abashed, dared not say another word.
"I understand your impatience, Mr. Palmer," answered the Governor, "and I share it. You have need, you say, of a great number of men to carry out your plan effectively; I can get you some. In the roads there are some Lascars that we took in at Malacca to look after the rigging; they are iron men, accustomed to tiger-hunting in impenetrable jungles, and hardened to all the fatigue of life in the woods. We will have, too, any natives whom you can persuade to come, and I intend to accompany you myself. How long do you think this excursion into the forest will take?"
"Three or four days at most."
"Then it is settled, Mr. Palmer; I will go with you."
"We shall succeed!" cried Palmer. "We shall find Edward; and get him away from these horrible creatures that have got him in their power. In a few days I am sure he will become as gentle, kind, and affectionate, as he used to be when he was a baby."
The Governor sent for several Lascars, and told them what he expected of them, promising them a handsome reward, which they were by no means disposed to refuse.
They were charmed, moreover, at the idea of wandering about for some days in the woods. So they consented in the name of their absent comrades, and set to work to consider how they could let them know, that they might all be ready at the appointed hour for setting out.
On their part Elephant Slayer and the other Malays, knowing Palmer's generosity, and being sure of a handsome reward, declared they would willingly join the expedition.
Next morning, a little before daylight, as Richard had desired, all who were to take part in the expedition, including the faithful Darius, met in the court of the house. Though it was not very dark, the cabout rendered the use of lights necessary, and several torches fixed in the ground shed a reddish light around them. The Lascars and Malays were already at the place of rendezvous, some dressed in their long white garments, others wrapt in their large sarongs, as the morning air was fresh, but all of them wore, under these flowing robes, a very simple costume which could not get in their way in the midst of the inextricable underwood of the forest. They were provided with cutlasses and hatchets to cut a passage for themselves through the thickets, and besides they had heavy guns and some of the long match locks which are still used in these barbarous countries. The Malays would have liked to have furnished themselves with their ordinary weapons-poisoned arrows --- but Palmer set himself against the very idea of it, for fear, if any scuffle took place, his son might receive some mortal wound; and they were obliged to submit to his orders.
However, the two races formed distinct groups; whether it was that the difference of their language kept them apart, or that they had a feeling of distrust to each other, they remained at the opposite ends of the court without holding any communication with one another. The two groups consisted in all of about forty hunters, and this number seemed more than sufficient for the success of the enterprise.
Richard Palmer superintended everything. Though he had had hardly two hours rest during the preceding night, he seemed full of courage and vigour. Dressed in his leathern costume, which was much faded by the sun and torn by the thorns, he went about from one to another, busying himself about the smallest details. Many people, too, were moving about the court, and the lights, which could be seen incessantly passing and repassing the windows of the house, showed that the people indoors were as busy as those out-of-doors.
In a little time fresh torches were seen in the avenue, shining through the mist, giving warning of the approach of a second band of hunters; it was the Governor and some other persons.
Deursen was already equipped for an expedition into the woods; he wore long gaiters, deer-skin breeches, a hunting jacket trimmed with light gold lace, and a very low hat. A well-armed negro followed him, to carry his rifle and the little baggage he could not dispense with.
Richard gave truce for a moment to his engrossing cares, and went forward to meet his guest. He shook hands cordially with the Governor.
"Mr. Palmer," said the latter, "I bring you a new comrade, whose assistance may perhaps not be useless to you."
And he pointed out Dr. Van Stetten.
"Thanks, my dear doctor," answered the planter; "you are welcome among us. Have you made your preparations?"
"Oh dear, yes," replied Van Stetten good- temperedly. "My case and a few necessary medicines are in the pockets of my coat, and I have not forgotten my parasol."
And he exhibited the big old umbrella that he generally took with him on his walks.
The hunters filed off down the avenue by the light of torches.
As day began to dawn they arrived at the edge of the forest. When the clumps of tall trees became indistinctly visible in the mist, Palmer ordered a general halt. So far there had been no danger to fear, and each one could walk as he liked; but on quitting the inhabited districts some precautions must be taken, if they wished to avoid danger and confusion.
The planter now intended to establish strict discipline among the band of men, and made it a rule that no one should wander away during the course of the journey. He himself, as guide and chief of the expedition, proposed to walk first with a few men armed with hatchets and knives to clear a path if necessary. Within reach of this advanced guard, a certain number of hunters were to hold themselves ready to repulse any attacks of wild beasts by firing at them. Behind them came Deursen, Doctor Van Stetten, and lastly the horse laden with baggage.
The rearguard consisted of the rest of the hunters. All the men were advised not to leave the ranks under any pretext whatever. A shot, followed directly by a shout, was to be the signal of alarm; all those who heard the signal were to run to the help of the comrade in danger. The sound of a horn that Palmer was to carry slung over his shoulder was to rally the whole troop in any case of pressing necessity.
Palmer gave his instructions in different languages, that they might be understood by all present, and Deursen himself repeated them to the Lascars. When they were quite sure that nobody would be able to plead ignorance of the rules, they set off marching in the order agreed upon, and entered the forest.
It did not seem at first sight that so many precautions were necessary; the part of the wood they were traversing was frequented by the colonists, and here and there traces of paths were visible. But as they advanced the trees became thicker, the creepers more entangled, and the thorns and stems of the tree- ferns, aloes, and cactuses, more entwined.
But at the same time, Palmer, an experienced guide, chose with wonderful sagacity the places where the ground was most even, where the underwood was least dense, and if occasionally they had to plunge straight into thickets that seemed almost impenetrable, they more often walked under high trees where the ground, being covered with a thick, velvety carpet of moss, offered no obstacle to their progress, and allowed them to advance rapidly.
It was through a place of this kind that they passed about an hour after they had entered the forest. It was already broad daylight, though the mist and the thick foliage overhead prevented them from seeing the sun. It was deliciously cool in these shady places, and sparkling drops of dew hung from the leaves. The white costume of the Lascars, the drapery of the Malays, the shining weapons, the lively groups of men, formed a pleasing picture in the midst of these majestic woods. No other sound was heard than the strange songs of a few birds; no other inhabitants were to be seen than the great lizards that ran up and down the trunks of trees, which were covered with beautiful parasitic orchids, little bearded monkeys springing from branch to branch, or a few deer, which, starting up almost under the feet of the hunters, ran away down the long avenues which stretched away further than eye could see. However, the mist cleared off at last, and the sunbeams flashed through the forest trees here and there like fiery darts. A halt became necessary for the men, who had had frequently to use their hatchets in cutting a path through the thickets. So they stopped to rest during the extreme heat of the day.
Up to this point the journey had been made under the most favourable auspices. They had seen no wild beasts, the difficulties in their way did not appear to be insurmountable, and the heat, though very great, was not unbearable under the shade of the trees. So the travellers were as full of zeal and courage as they had been in the morning. It must be confessed that the Lascars and Malays still kept apart; but thus far they were equally obedient to the orders of their chiefs, and in spite of the dislikes and antipathies of the two races, the peace between them did not seem likely to be disturbed.
After two hours" rest they set off again. Palmer had decided that they should encamp that same evening on the border of the extensive morass that divided the forest in half, not far from the ridge of rocks recently discovered. He had calculated that by spending the night in this place it would be easy next day to cross the ridge, to reach the region of the orangs, and after having rescued Edward, to return and encamp in the same place. Thus the journey, occurred, would not occupy more said at first.
However, the second half of the journey was not so easily accomplished as the first. They plunged afresh into thickets where their progress was intercepted by numerous and ever- recurring obstacles. The character of the soil varied at every step; sometimes it was dry and pebbly, sometimes spongy and damp, but more frequently overrun with the rank and vigorous vegetation of tropical regions. No difficulty daunted the indefatigable Palmer; he was always at the head of the troop, guiding his companions without hesitation through these gloomy solitudes. By means of certain marks that he had traced on the trunks of certain trees he could discover at once towards what point he was proceeding, however confined his view might be.
Still, it was late when they reached the spot where they were to encamp for the night.
The character of the landscape was far grander than that of any landscape in our temperate zones. The marsh extended as far as the eye could reach, bordered by the irregular line of the forest, which was indistinctly visible on the other side in the misty distance. Here and there were large pools of leaden, stagnant water, and beds of reeds, which waved, with a metallic sound at the least breath of wind. Little islands of mud lay on the bosom of the sleeping waters, shaded by groups of bamboos, and willows with pale foliage, or banyans, or the sacred fig-trees, so common on the banks of the Ganges. A fiery sky hung over the gloomy scene, and in the air reddish mists floated low and heavy, which looked as if they must contain the seeds of disease and death. Now the sun, like a globe of red-hot iron, cast only oblique rays over the plain, and increased yet more the solemn sadness of this lonely spot. At this time of the evening, herons as white as snow, ibis with plumage as red as fire, snake-birds with curving necks, were flying about in great numbers over the lagoons, and uttering startling cries. In the distance were seen wild boars and tapirs, which, alarmed at the sight of men, hurried away from the neighbourhood of the marshes to their ordinary retreats in the depths of the forest. Monkeys, great and small, chased each other to the tops of the palm-trees, flying lizards sprang from branch to branch, supported by the large membranes of their scaly feet. The very reeds, to judge by their long undulations, seemed to be traversed by numerous reptiles, perhaps by the enormous boa, the sovereign of these pestilential spots. They began to hear the hoarse cry of the gigantic toad, peculiar to tropical countries. And lastly certain ripples in the liquid mud and certain black spots that appeared every now and then among the large leaves of the water-lilies, made them suspect that the crocodiles were beginning to stir at the bottom of the water, waiting till it was dark enough for them to come and sport on the banks.
Such was the spectacle, at once grand and imposing, that presented itself to the eyes of the hunters as they halted at the edge of the morass.
The men set to work at once to encamp. Scattered about under gigantic trees, so high that they were almost frightful to look at, they seemed like dwarfs, so small did they appear compared with the colossal proportions of everything around them. They had thrown off all useless clothing, in order to fulfil their task more easily, and they had no other clothing than a pair of drawers, which left exposed to view their black or copper-coloured bodies streaming with perspiration. Some of them cut down young trees, either for fires during the night or to supply materials for a hut for the leaders of the expedition. Others busied themselves with preparations for supper, and before long the wreaths of smoke, rising slowly into the air, pointed out the kitchen of the bivouac.
The sound of hatchets, the crash of falling trees, the cries of the men at work, and a few shots fired occasionally, were repeated with grand effect by the echoes of the primeval forest, where those different sounds soon died away, as into empty space.
Scattered about under gigantic trees, they seemed like dwarfs.
In the middle of this general activity, a quarrel broke out between the Malays and Lascars. Several times they seemed on the point of fighting, and the Governor was obliged to put his hand on the pistols shining in his belt to induce them to abstain from more serious provocations than those of gesture and voice. This was how it happened.
All the morning, as we have seen, Malays and Hindoos had formed two distinct bands, who watched each other with distrust, if not with a feeling of hostility. The Malays, who were clever and experienced hunters, had succeeded during the day in killing two deer and a young boar, while the Lascars, either less skilful or less fortunate, had only knocked down a few birds. Now they had brought very few provisions with them; they had reckoned on the produce of the chase and the wild fruits of the forest for the support of this numerous company; it was, therefore, necessary to make an equal division of the food among all the travellers. Although the Hindoos in general abstain from meat, the warlike caste of the Lascars very willingly form an exception to this rule, and those belonging to this band of hunters, exhausted and famished, did not seem at all inclined just then to listen to the precepts of their religious faith. So they claimed their share of the tempting game, and it was this claim that offended the Malays. Whether the latter were actuated by a feeling of secret enmity, or simply yielded to their proud and quarrelsome dispositions, they refused to share the produce of the chase with the rest, and especially with the Hindoos. Insulting words were exchanged between the two parties, and they were becoming so excited that the leaders were obliged to interpose their authority to stop a conflict which might have had most serious consequences.
The night was by no means a quiet one. Myriads of mosquitoes filled the air as soon as the sun went down, and would not allow the tired travellers a moment's rest. Besides, in spite of the large fires which they kept up all night, they had several alarms from elephants and tigers. The tigers especially were very numerous and fierce; they roared incessantly round the camp, and their hoarse cries were echoed from every part of the forest. The inhabitants of the marshes were no quieter; not to speak of the giant toad, which croaked away among the reeds, a continual rattling was heard from the side of the lake, and a kind of roaring, like that of a pair of blacksmith's bellows. Sometimes, too, prodigious plunges occurred, as if heavy masses had fallen into the water: it was the crocodiles or gavials that were amusing themselves in their fashion. Several even were not content with this large lake for the theatre of their games. A Lascar on duty at the edge of the morass, having fallen asleep at his post, was awakened by the horrible putrid odour that these animals spread around them. He sprang to his feet, and perceived, by the light of the moon, a gavial, twelve or fifteen feet long, gliding up to him, and preparing to attack him; the Lascar fired a shot to frighten him away, and the gavial slowly retired. The sentinel, as may easily be imagined, did not have any more sleep for the rest of the night. The dawn came, however, with its usual accompaniment of thick mists; and as soon as it got light, the noises abroad changed their character. The elephants left off roaming about under the trees, the branches of which they broke with their trunks; the tigers were silent, and the gavials returned to their mud, and the songs of a thousand happy birds hailed the return of day. It was advisable that the band should take advantage of this cool time, the most agreeable in the day. So, at Palmer's call, they were all on foot in a few minutes. They rolled up the cloaks that had served for beds during the night, extinguished the fires, and breakfasted quickly on what remained of last night's provisions. Those of the travellers, Malays or Lascars, who were Mussulmans, went to the lake, and while some performed the ablutions prescribed by the Koran, the rest, turning towards Mecca, addressed their morning prayer to Allah.
Palmer was about to give the signal for departure, when Deursen said to him:
"Affairs do not go on very well between the Malays and Lascars, Mr. Palmer. There are comings and goings and whisperings among these people that make me suspicious. I am afraid that on the first opportunity it will be almost impossible to hinder a new collision."
"I have noticed the signs of quarrelling that you mention, Mr. Deursen," replied Palmer sadly. "I hope, however, our men will give us time to accomplish the task for which we came into these solitudes: to-morrow evening we shall be returning to New Drontheim, where the means of repression will not be wanting in case of open insubordination. From now till to- morrow the parties will probably have dangers and difficulties enough to put up with, to make them forget their mutual grievances. We must be on our guard, and by exercising at once firmness and address, we shall manage, no doubt, to keep the peace till the end of the journey."
The Governor, though he did not altogether share this hope, nodded as a sign of assent. Five minutes after the whole band set off and proceeded along the edge of the marsh to look for the ridge of rocks that formed a kind of natural bridge across it. The mist being thicker over the water than in the plain, it was impossible to distinguish any objects more than ten paces ahead, and the walking over this muddy ground was dangerous. Besides, in this fog, it was quite possible that they might miss the rather narrow path which led to the other part of the forest. Palmer himself, whose directions had always proved right, and whose observations had been found to be so correct, seemed now uncertain and hesitated. Happily the sun, as it increased in power, partly scattered this troublesome mist, and allowed the travellers to discover at last the path they were seeking.
It was, as we have said, an irregular line of rocks that in certain places hardly rose more than a few feet above the level of the lake; of these rocks some were bare and barren; others were covered with shrubs and brushwood: occasionally they were separated by pools of stagnant water. The whole chain, from its numerous windings, was four or five miles long, and the remains of the mist, by hiding the opposite side, added to its gloomy appearance.
Hardly had they set foot on the ridge than the travellers saw the necessity of helping one another. They were obliged to try the ground at each step, for the least carelessness might lead to a fatal fall. The horse frequently stuck in the mud, and it seemed impossible to make him proceed. Besides, all the monsters of this pestilential bog seemed to have undertaken to defend their domains against the invasion of man; and if they had not taken the precaution of firing every few minutes, terrible accidents would probably have occurred. Here, a boa-constrictor, surprised on his rock while he was lying digesting his food, withdrew majestically into the reeds.
Further on, an enormous crocodile, disturbed while he was sleeping in the sun, plunged into the water with a dismal snort, turning his mournful, prominent eye as he went on those who had the audacity to interfere with him. In every direction these loathsome creatures showed where they had been, by leaving clammy, fetid slime on the ground behind them. We need hardly mention the innumerable little snakes, lizards of every size, scorpions, millipedes, and centipedes, that swarmed round the travellers. As to birds, they frequently rose in swarms so thick and so clamorous that they inspired the hunters with more a1arm than even the gavials and the boas.
Passing through the swamps.
Dr. Van Stetten, under the shelter of his voluminous umbrella, no longer wandered about to the right and left to gather rare plants or catch insects, but walked on with difficulty, overwhelmed by the insupportable heat.
However, thanks to Palmer's cautions and the perfect order he maintained among his men, the passage was performed without any accident. Long before the sun had half completed its course, the whole band reached the end of the ridge safe and sound, and halted under the shadow of some pandanus trees on the border of the savannah late1y discovered by Palmer.
Here a new plan of proceeding became necessary. Useful as shouting, running, and firing had been in crossing the bog, now it was just as necessary to keep silence and glide along unperceived. They were close to the district frequented by the orangs, and they were well aware what a fine sense of hearing these animals possess. If the orangs were once put upon their guard, some of the adventurers might easily become their victims. Concealed among the foliage, they might, according to their wont, break the hunter's skull with their clubs before he had even guessed they were near. None of the men belonging to the band were ignorant of these facts, and the boldest felt the need of prudence as they entered the part of the forest inhabited by such creatures.
However, Palmer had decided to go by himself first and discover whether Edward was still in the neighbourhood. He invited his comrades, therefore, to rest in the place where they were. After having strongly advised Deursen and the doctor to see that the men were not thinking of taking advantage of this interval of leisure for any other purpose than rest, he plunged into the savannah, and soon disappeared in the long grass.
More than an hour passed away and he did not return. The sun was then in its greatest power; the heat was so overpowering that no human creature could brave it with impunity. So the Malays, negroes, and Lascars, in spite of their secret animosity, slept side by side. Deursen himself, who was lying on the grass, seemed completely knocked up. As to the doctor, stretched on his back, shaded by his old umbrella, he was looking perfectly unable to stir, and the large ants of the forest might have eaten him up on the spot for all the power he had to free himself from their torture. Everybody, however, soon came to life again when Palmer, issuing from out of the savannah at last, and running towards the sleepers, cried, in a trembling voice:
"I have seen Edward; I have seen the orangs! Get ready, everybody. We can reach them in half an hour."
The doctor was looking perfectly unable to stir.
As we have said, the men were on their feet in an instant. In some, the magic word, the orangs, drove away all wish to sleep: in others, the name of Edward recalled the object of the expedition, and the frightful disaster which they had to repair.
Van Stetten, who, after incredible efforts, had managed to get on his feet, said, as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and uttered deep sighs:
"Oh! if I have only an opportunity of measuring the facial angle of an orang! The savants of Europe will never know what such a discovery has cost me."
Palmer gave his men most minute directions, in order to avoid committing any mistakes that might render the expedition abortive. It was agreed that the hunters should form a large circle round the place inhabited by the orangs, and that this circle should draw in gradually in perfect silence; that they should try above everything to secure Edward, and they were forbidden to fire at the orangs, except in a case of absolute necessity; for if one was killed or wounded, the others might inflict serious injuries on the party. Deursen was to go with his Lascars and occupy the post appointed for him by Palmer, while Palmer himself was to advance on the other side with the Malays; a few notes of the horn that the leader carried slung over his shoulder would give the signal for meeting.
"Now," continued Palmer, "let everybody be prudent and take care of himself; for, if the rescue of my son should cost the life of any of his deliverers, it would be a cause of deep regret to me, and hereafter to Edward himself."
In a few minutes the whole troop advanced and entered the savannah.
Palmer had his reasons for recommending his comrades to be extremely careful; in the little exploring excursion he had just made, he had discovered that the danger was greater than he had expected at first. This is what had happened to him. In the part of the wood he had been to, the trees, as we said before, were far apart; nevertheless, every time the planter passed under one of these trees, he examined the foliage carefully, to make sure that an orang on guard was not hidden in it. But at that time of day, when the heat was insupportable, all creation seemed quiet and dormant. Except a few snakes that fled away before Palmer, nothing stirred around him; the very insects were silent. The birds, which at his first appearance in this untrodden district flew away in every direction, now did not seem as if they could make up their minds to leave the long grass where they could still find a little moisture and coolness. As to Palmer, he appeared quite insensible to the influence of the extreme temperature and to the burning heat of the sun, which was so exactly over his head that his body cast no shadow. Not a drop of perspiration ran down his bony, sunburnt face. He breathed the burning air, which seemed as if it issued from a furnace, without difficulty. He thought of nothing but his son and the important scene that was about to be played in that very spot.
As he advanced with the greatest caution, he directed his steps towards the wooded part inhabited by the orangs. In a short time the trees around him became more numerous, closer to one another and thicker, and he had nearly reached the spot he was aiming at when a slight creaking was heard overhead. He stopped instantly, held his breath, and, after having silently cocked his rifle, examined the tree whence the sound proceeded. An orang was lying idly in a mass of orchids at a height of about twenty feet, and seemed to be enjoying his siesta; he had moved in his flowery bed and broken a branch, and thus attracted the planter's attention.
Palmer pointed his rifle at it for a few minutes. At the slightest hostile movement of the orang he would have touched the trigger. But the orang had not perceived the hunter, and, after a sonorous yawn, fell asleep again quietly. It did not enter into Palmer's plan to begin the attack immediately, for fear of disturbing the neighbouring colony. So, when he was quite sure that the sentry was sound asleep again, he went back quietly, to try and enter the glade on the other side.
Having made another turn, he began to creep through the grass, using the utmost care not to be discovered. This caution was not needless, for he again saw three or four orangs sitting together on the trees, in careless attitudes, while the huts themselves appeared to be occupied by their usual inhabitants.
Was this increase of the band accidental, or had Richard on his former visit only made acquaintance with part of the inhabitants of the glade? In any case, it added greatly to the difficulties of the enterprise. However, as may easily be imagined, the planter did not dream of retreating; he continued to creep through the underwood, and his bold perseverance was rewarded with success.
On the bank of the stream that crossed the glade were Edward and the young orang that seemed to be the usual companion of his games. They were both coming out of the water, where they had just been taking a bath, and Edward, to protect himself from the rays of the sun, had made a kind of garland of damp grass, and had rolled it round his naked body. The water dropped from his long hair and from this garment, which was graceful, though rather too primitive. Edward had no longer that gloomy, melancholy look which had struck his father at first; with a smile on his lips, he bore the teasing of his companion, who tormented him in a thousand different ways. However, the young orang, either intentionally or by accident, having pulled his hair, he turned round to avenge the insult; but the frolicsome quadruman had already gained a neighbouring tree, which he climbed with the greatest ease.
Edward wanted to do the same, but it was very plain that, in spite of his agility, he could not contend with his friend in this kind of exercise. He perceived it himself, for when he had climbed half-way up the tree, he came down again. Palmer noticed this little fact with pleasure; it proved at least that his poor boy would not be able to escape him by springing from tree to tree; and if they could succeed in surrounding him on the ground they might easily make sure of him. So he continued to watch him, hoping that by studying the habits of the savage he might find means to accomplish his projects of deliverance.
Edward, despairing of reaching his companion, or disdaining to avenge himself, had returned to the stream, while the young orang seemed to be setting him at defiance and laughing at him. Without troubling himself about him any more, he went to the foot of a willow, and taking up a bow and arrows that he had placed there, began to shoot at the trunk of a tree, for the sake of practice, it seemed. He never missed his aim; but the bow was not a very formidable one, and differed little from those given to children. The cord looked as if it was made of the fibre of the cocoanut-tree or of some other fibrous plant; the arrows, though made of very hard wood, were not tipped with any metal to make them sharp, and certainly could not hurt anything larger than a bird or small animal.
Edward seemed to take the greatest pleasure in shooting, and when he was satisfied with his own skill, he laughed merrily in self-applause. The young orang meanwhile had been watching his friend's sport from the top of his tree. After a little time, wishing to take part in it, he came down from his observatory and went up to Edward. He looked humble, almost supplicating; evidently he wished to obtain pardon for his past faults. But Edward pouted; he would not turn round, and went on shooting his arrows against the trunk of a tree, without seeming to bestow a thought on the penitent offender. The latter, vexed, tried to seize the bow; Edward pushed him away roughly. The young orang began to cry and bemoan himself, stamping with his foot and rolling on the ground, like a naughty child.
At that moment, the kind of noise that we have already mentioned, and which seemed to be the usual voice of the orangs, was heard from the interior of one of the huts. It was the father or mother of the young orang complaining of the harshness with which their son was treated. Whether the sound was a threat of which poor Edward knew the meaning, or whether he thought he had punished his companion's tricks enough, he turned towards him, smiling. Immediately the young orang uttered a cry of joy, threw himself into his arms, and kissed him on his hands and chest, with transports of affection that no words can describe.
Peace being made, Edward consented at last to give up the bow in question; but his friend used it clumsily, shooting almost at random, and none of his arrows reached the mark.
Furious at his own awkwardness, he threw away the bow, which Edward picked up again, laughing at him. By way of retaliation, the young orang picked up some pebbles from the bed of the stream, and threw them with vigour and dexterity against the trunk of the tree that served for a target. As often as Edward hit the mark with his arrows, so often the orang hit it with his stones, and this equal success excited their pride and pleasure to the highest pitch.
Palmer, crouching down behind a clump of small trees, noticed this scene with mingled curiosity and emotion. His son, then, had some pleasures even in this captivity in which the relations of the human race to that of the brute were so singularly reversed. He could not sufficiently admire the grace and suppleness of this wild youth. Edward's body, strengthened by exercise and open air, presented the finest proportions, and his hair floating about his shoulders gave him a noble appearance. When the youth, with one leg drawn back, in a posture full of natural dignity, held out his bow and prepared to let fly an arrow, he was as beautiful as a Greek Apollo, and this beauty was rendered still more striking by its contrast with his companion's ugliness.
The latter, though his face was expressive of gaiety, and a certain intelligence, though every movement displayed superior strength and agility, presented by the side of this remarkable specimen of the human race every sign of a brute nature.
His prominent jaws, his flat nose, his long hairy arms, his thin legs, reminded one that, in spite of the affection that seemed to exist between him and Edward, in spite of the apparent similarity of their tastes and actions, there was a distance between them as great as that which exists between heaven and earth.
However, the two friends got tired at last of these amusements, and a hoarse call from one of the huts seemed to warn them that it was time to go to rest. Edward, taking his bow and arrows, went towards his hut. The young orang seemed disposed at first to fol1ow him, but another call, more authoritative than the first, induced him at last to obey. He appeared to leave his dear Edward with the greatest reluctance; he overwhelmed him with caresses, and it was only after he had seen him enter his cabin that he climbed the tree to which his mother was calling him.
The time was a favourable one. Edward, being tired, would no doubt go to sleep; it would be easy to surprise him in his sleep. Besides, the orangs scattered about the trees and in the huts seemed themselves to be overpowered with the heat, and would probably relax their usual vigilance. So the planter, set free from the kind of fascination that the presence of his son had exercised over him till then, hastened to beat a retreat, and had the good fortune to succeed in doing so without attracting the enemy's attention.
A few minutes later and he was among his people again.
Deursen, as we have said above, had been directed to lead the Lascars to the other side of the glade frequented by the orangs in such a way as to cut off their retreat into the forest; while Palmer, with the Malays, was to approach the colony in front, and they now set themselves to execute these different movements. They walked in the greatest silence; all conversation, even in a low voice, was forbidden. They were to remain, as much as possible, under the shelter of the trees, and where there were no trees, to crawl on their hands and knees through the long grass. These good arrangements had the happiest results; Palmer and those who accompanied him arrived without any hindrance in sight of the glade, and almost at the same time the cry of a heron, perfectly imitated by one of the Lascars, assured them that Deursen and his people had also reached their appointed post.
Palmer then put his horn to his lips and blew softly a few notes; this was the signal for the two bands to spread themselves out and form a circle round the glade. This movement was executed with extreme precision. Two curved lines were formed, then lengthened out, and then the ends united. There was not more than a space of ten paces between each of the men composing this chain, and nothing that was enclosed within this circle could possibly escape except by flying through the air.
Palmer and Darius held themselves ready to fir ; Van Stetten, whom they had also armed with an enormous gun, seemed very ill at ease. Nothing, however, seemed to justify this uneasiness. The orangs did not show themselves, and if Palmer had not seen a rather numerous band of them a few minutes before with his own eyes, he would have thought that they had deserted the spot.
However, he knew how deceitful this appearance was, and the sudden disappearance of the dangerous adversaries seemed to him the worst possible sign. He would have preferred an open attack on their part to this treacherous silence and stillness. His anxious forebodings were not long in being realized. A dull heavy blow was heard, and a Malay fell as if struck by a thunderbolt. At the same instant, one of those standing nearest to the victim raised his gun to his shoulder, and aimed at the terrible club-bearer in the tree that had struck the blow, but Palmer hastened to interfere.
"Don't shoot! don't shoot!" he said energetically, "or all is lost!" The order was obeyed, and the hunter, muttering angrily, lowered his gun. They raised the unfortunate Malay, but help was in vain; the skull was shattered, and death had been instantaneous.
Palmer had hardly recovered from the horror produced by this occurrence, when the same dull sound, followed immediately by a fall, was heard; this time it was among the Lascars; another man had fallen under the invisible clubs. But this time the planter could not prevent vengeance being taken. The Lascar had hardly measured his length on the ground than a shot was fired, no doubt by one of the friends of the deceased.
It did not appear that the ball could have reached the orangs; but the sound of firing, the first perhaps that had ever echoed through that part of the wood, produced an extraordinary effect. The silence and stillness that had reigned till then among the foliage was suddenly broken. Strange cries rose on all sides; a frightful tumult followed in the trees. The largest branches were snapped asunder as by a tempest, and fell down with a crash at the hunters' feet; little branches, leaves, and parasite plants fluttered about in every direction. At the same time gigantic creatures were seen climbing rapidly to the tops of the highest bombax and pine-trees; they might have been taken for gigantic birds flying with the utmost speed towards the glowing sky.
A few shots were fired again, in spite of Palmer's prohibition, and in spite of the evident impossibility of reaching their agile adversaries; then followed the most perfect silence. No doubt the orangs, safe in their aerial refuges, were again on the watch, and were waiting to see what the next proceedings of their assailants would be.
"Now, now!" cried Palmer, "don't lose a minute --- Edward is still in his hut, I know, --- I am sure of it. Let us make haste."
He ran towards the hut with Darius and the doctor. As they drew near Edward's miserable cabin, they were rejoined by Deursen, and the negro who acted as his servant. Deursen was about to give Palmer his account of the last occurrences, but the latter had only time to say hastily:
"He is there; stay here."
When they reached the hut they perceived that its inhabitant had closed the entrance with branches; at that very moment he was in the act of piling up the moss and dry leaves that served him for a bed behind the slight enclosure. He appeared dreadfully frightened and much agitated, and overwhelmed with terror, and they could distinctly hear the sound of his oppressed breathing.
What was to be done? Certainly a single blow of a hatchet would suffice to open a breach in the frail building; but that perhaps might drive the young savage to do something blind and desperate. Palmer gave a sign to those, around him to keep silence; then he leaned towards the wall of the hut, and said in a gentle voice, and in English:
"Edward, my boy, don't be frightened; it is I, --- it's your father, --- I have found you at last, after looking so long for you. I love you still, and I have come to deliver you from the bondage of the orangs."
He was silent and listened; the convulsive movements inside the hut had ceased. Perhaps Edward remembered that he had heard such sounds a few days before; perhaps even his memory went further back, and he tried to recognise the accents of that dear voice, which, without his knowing why, caused him such great agitation. However, his calmness did not last long, he soon became more violently agitated, and his breathing became more laboured.
Palmer continued, in an anxious tender tone:
"My son! --- my Edward! --- my child!"
Ah, with what a tone was this uttered! The effect of this appeal was prompt and decisive.
"Papa!" cried a trembling voice.
At the same instant the branches were dashed away impetuously, and Edward, pale, his hair dishevelled, and his look wild, darted out of the hut. He did not seem to know what he was about, and he had his bow and arrows in his hand. Trembling all over, and with a strange wild look, his very terror, astonishment, and joy, added to the nobleness of his appearance. When he came into the glade, he stopped, let fly an arrow at random, as if at some invisible object. The arrow fell without any force, a few paces off. Then the poor boy let the bow itself drop from his trembling hands, and looked around him.
A thousand different feelings were depicted on his sunburnt face, at the sight of the persons who stood motionless and silent at the side of the hut; however, the dominant impression seemed to be that of fear. As he tottered, Palmer was on the point of stepping forward to support him; but Edward made a sudden movement as if he were about to run away, and the poor father did not dare to stir from his place.
He did not seem to know what he was about.
"Good-morning, Edward," he said gently.
The young savage tried to pronounce a few words, but his speech was confused; he could only make indistinct sounds, and stopped as if ashamed of his weakness.
Nevertheless, these signs of the near a wakening of his enfeebled intellect inspired Edward's friends with the greatest joy. The planter then added:
"My child, won't you kiss your father, who loves you better than anybody? Have you forgotten your father?"
"Father," echoed Edward, with some difficulty.
But he added almost directly, of his own accord and with great clearness:
"Mamma!" This sacred name, the first that rises to the lips of the child, the last that makes the heart of the old man beat, --- this name uttered by the young savage, touched those present most deeply. Every eye filled with tears.
"Your mother, poor child," said Palmer, "you will never see again."
But overcoming his emotion, he added:
"You have your father and your cousin Anna, and relations and friends, who will make you forget all your past sufferings."
Edward listened attentively, and seemed to have some difficulty in understanding the meaning of the words addressed to him. He stammered out:
"Father --- mother --Anna."
"Ah! he remembers everybody that used to love him," cried Palmer with ecstasy; "and his love returns at the same time as his memory. Already he seems to want to speak, and in a few days- God be praised! my child is given back to me at last."
Till now they had formed a circle round Edward, but without daring to approach him, for it seemed that the least touch would make him rebel. Palmer, after having allowed his son time to get used to the sight of men, spoke a word aside to Darius, who at once gave him a little parcel; he drew out of it one of those blue cotton cloths worn by Hindoos and negroes. It was a very simple garment, but they could not expect at first to impose a more complicated dress on this child of the woods, so impatient of restraint.
Palmer even thought that he must be very careful how he persuaded the youth to let himself be dressed. He first showed him this blue cloth, and made him understand that it was meant for him; then he went gently up to him, and tried to clothe him with the loose drapery. Edward, in spite of his astonishment, trembled directly he was touched, and his muscles became rigid. Happily, a few kind words and signs of affection calmed him. His toilet completed, and it did not take long, he seemed to look at himself with complacency, and burst out laughing with all the naiveté of a child.
Till now the orangs had granted some respite to the band of hunters; but they might change their minds, and the hunters, under these thick trees, were still exposed to their blows. It was not prudent, then, to wait any longer in this place. Besides, Edward, thanks to the caution with which they had acted, seemed to have become sufficiently tame to follow his father and friends without resistance. So Palmer, taking him by the hand, said to him kindly:
He burst out laughing.
"Come, Edward; come, my boy. We must go."
As the young savage let himself be led away, sharp cries were heard from a neighbouring tree; they seemed to express at once sorrow and anger. Edward stopped, and his father, in spite of his efforts, felt him become firm as a rock, while he looked about to see the cause of the noise.
It was the young orang, who had just come out of his hut, and who, seeing the usual companion of his games going away with these unknown invaders, gave himself up to the most violent despair. Bending down from a branch, he gesticulated in a most lively fashion, and brandished a club in a threatening manner. Edward, no doubt, had a real affection for this creature, the only one that loved him in his miserable condition. So he seemed greatly affected by this appeal, and, do or say what they could, he refused to advance. He even stretched out his arms towards the young orang, and answered him with a guttural exclamation. Immediately all the orangs scattered about in the trees uttered their usual growl; then hastily breaking off thick branches from the trees, they threw them with much vigour and skill at the hunters, while the young one redoubled his furious gestures and brandished his club.
"We must not hesitate," said the planter to Darius, "since he will not walk we must carry him; if he resist, we must bind him. God forgive me the violence which I must exercise towards the son for whom I would sacrifice my life! But the orangs seem to intend to attack us in a body, and if they do really attack us, no one knows what will happen. Darius, do what we agreed on."
The negro, unfastening a cord that he wore as a sort of girdle, twisted it quickly round Edward's limbs. The latter, taken up with his companion, never dreamt of the possibility of this violent treatment; and trying to execute one of his impetuous movements, he fell, and would have hurt himself if his father, who was holding him by the arm, had not broken his fall. Nevertheless, neither Palmer nor Darius had counted on his extraordinary strength; hardly had he fallen to the ground than he began to struggle violently. The two men alone could not control his struggles; Deursen, the other negro, and Dr. Van Stetten himself, were obliged to help in reducing him to such a condition that he should have no power to resist. He was soon strongly bound and made completely powerless.
Then he began to utter cries so frightful, so different from the sounds that terror or anger sometimes wring from human beings, that those who heard them never forgot them. He rolled on the ground in a perfect frenzy, biting everything within his reach.
Palmer, greatly agitated, called all the hunters round him; for it was no longer necessary to guard their post now that the object of the expedition was attained. He ordered four of the Malays to lift up Edward, while some of the others carried away the two men killed by the orangs.
"Let us go," he said, "let us go; we must make haste to get out of this thicket. As soon as we reach the plain we shall have nothing more to fear, I hope. Till then ---" He had no time to finish his sentence. As the men appointed for the task were going to raise Edward in their arms, the young orang made a prodigious leap from his tree, and raising his club, rushed on the men who he thought were persecuting his friend. His attack was so sudden and so impetuous that the Malays, in self-defence, were obliged to drop their burden on the grass; but the formidable animal was already upon them. As one of them seized his gun, a blow from the club broke his arm a little below the elbow. The orang, howling and leaping, was preparing to strike again, when a shot, fired close to him by a Lascar, entered his breast. The wound was mortal, and streams of dark blood flowed from it. However the quadruman hardly seemed to notice it, and lost none of his indomitable vigour. He threw down his club; and employing no other weapons than his large hands and long muscular arms, he dashed aside the strong men who were guarding Edward without any apparent effort, and threw them roughly to a distance. Then leaning over his friend, he took him in his arms, covered him with kisses, and tried to carry him away to the huts. But then it became evident that his strength was not equal to his courage; twice he raised Edward, twice he let him fall again. They both continued to utter piercing cries, and shed abundant tears; and while the orang tried to set his old companion free, the latter rolled about convulsively on the grass, trying by sudden jerks to break his cords. However, the men who had been so rudely repulsed were on their feet again, and were running to avenge the insult, with the help of the rest of the band. The young orang, in the midst of so many enemies, drew himself up proudly, and tried again to defend Edward, who was unable to defend himself. He had picked up his club, and was brandishing it with spirit, threatening with certain death whoever dared to approach. His enemies never thought of shooting at him again; either they were afraid of hurting each other in the confusion, or perhaps they were filled with pity at sight of the poor creature's devotion to young Palmer. But Elephant-Slayer was not a man to allow himself to be stopped by such scruples. So, while the orang was facing his other assailants, he glided treacherously behind him and buried his kris up to the hilt between his shoulders. The young orang turned round quickly. Seizing the bloody blade, he broke it like glass, while with the other hand he aimed a blow with his club at Elephant-Slayer, who avoided it adroitly. The quadruman was on the point of returning to the charge, but he was attacked on all sides at once with krises, swords, and bayonets, and he could not defend himself with his club from so many formidable weapons. He was wounded again severely in several places, and yet he did not fall; still standing, with flaming eyes, he would not abandon his captive companion.
The poor creature soon changed his attitude; overpowered by numbers, covered with blood, he threw down his weapon, and ceased all resistance. By his cries, tears, and supplicating gestures, he seemed to be imploring his enemies to have pity on him. His dying look was strangely intelligent. He placed his hands on his gaping wounds; he uttered groans so sad, so expressive, that no human language could equal them. All the spectators of this miserable scene were deeply touched, and Palmer turned away his head with horror. One of the Lascars, perhaps with the intention of putting an end to the sufferings of Edward's defender, gave him a blow with a bayonet; but he had miscalculated the strength that the orang still possessed, for the latter, seizing the weapon, broke it as he had broken the kris, while his dying look seemed to reproach the assailant for this piece of unnecessary cruelty(2).
This frightful struggle was drawing to its close, when someone cried out:
"Look out! The other orangs are upon us."
Every eye was turned to the spot indicated. The man who had given the alarm had exaggerated a little; the greater number of the orangs, posted on the tops of the trees, were content with making a furious noise; two alone were running towards the hunters, with the evident intention of attacking them; they were the father and mother of the young orang.
They could be seen leaping from tree to tree, breaking off in their anger the tops of the palm-trees, and scattering around them a cloud of leaves, moss, and parasitic plants. If a single orang of less than full growth had sufficed to keep the whole band in check, what might not be feared from these two terrible animals, of frightful size and strength, and excited by the cries of their young one in distress?
Palmer perceived the greatness of the danger.
"Keep close round us," he cried, "and let us get out of this detestable thicket as fast as possible."
He took his son in his arms himself, and carried him off in spite of the cries and feeble resistance that Edward (being so securely bound) could still make.
The wounded orang was clinging to his friend's leg, and allowed himself to be dragged along for a minute without letting go his hold; but his wounds had exhausted his strength, and he was obliged to give in, uttering a last sad cry as he did so.
The hunters, to whom their chief's command had been transmitted in different languages, hastened to gather round the principal group, and the retreat was hastily commenced. Then the two orangs dropped to the ground and ran to their dying young one. Happily, being completely taken up with his sufferings, they never thought of troubling themselves about the hunters, who, if they had, would have found some difficulty in making their escape through the trees.
The mother took her young one in her arms; she examined his wounds, kissed them, tried to stanch the blood, and shed many tears over him, while the father brandished his club and growled.
In a little time the rest of the orangs, being called by the afflicted family, ran to them, and seemed to share their grief and anger.
The young orang had just expired as the band of hunters lost sight of them, and the others, according to the usual custom of their race, covered his body with leaves and branches. His mother rolled about on the grass, and filled the forest with her lamentations.
A little later the band of hunters halted under a clump of trees, which were so completely isolated that there was no fear of their being surprised by the orangs. This rest was much needed, for the heat, after so much excitement and fatigue, was overpowering. Besides, they had to bury the men who had been killed by the terrible apes, and a grave at the foot of a palm-tree was quickly dug.
Palmer, in spite of the lives that Edward's deliverance had cost, could not conceal his joy, and he gazed with much affection at the son whom his perseverance and courage had saved.
"Now, Mr. Palmer," said the Governor, "we are surely free at last from orangs. They seem to understand that it is dangerous to be within our reach."
"We must not be too confident," answered Palmer thoughtfully; "I know facts about these strange animals that make one almost doubt if there be not a sort of diabolical intelligence in their malice. I wish we were on the other side of the lake. Let us hurry on."
When they reached the edge of the marsh, the sun was beginning to go down, and the heat had decidedly abated; nevertheless, the volcanic blocks of stone, forming the ridge, were still so burning hot that the Lascars could not walk over them with their naked feet without considerable pain.
Edward, who had become tractable again, walked quietly between the two men who were appointed specially to watch over his movements. Palmer, perceiving that the young savage, dressed in nothing but a blue cotton cloth, had his bare skin exposed to the rays of the still scorching sun, went to the baggage and took out a piece of calico, and threw it over Edward's shoulders. On first feeling the light stuff, Edward tried to throw it off, but very soon the comfort it afforded made him change his mind. He left off twisting himself about, and looked round to see to whom he was indebted for this relief. Then his countenance lighted up, and he said in a voice that retained all his old childish tones:
Nothing could express Palmer's delight at this entirely spontaneous proof of filial affection.
"Ah, now he knows me!" he cried proudly. "Yes, he knows me quite well, in spite of my long beard and gray hair!"
"Papa! --- mamma! --- Anna!" repeated the youth.
Palmer felt strongly tempted to press him in his arms, but was afraid to do so too soon, for fear of frightening him away.
"Come!" he exclaimed, "it won't be so difficult or take so long to teach him as we might have feared. Edward," he added, addressing his son, "Anna will be your teacher, your companion, and your constant friend again, as she used to be: she promised me she would."
Edward seemed to understand the words spoken to him more and more easily. He laughed, clapped his hands, and repeated the names of his father, mother, and Anna. However, in the midst of his gaiety he appeared suddenly to remember something, and pointing towards the part of the wood they had just quitted, said in a frightened tone:
"You need not be afraid of those savage beasts any more," replied the planter; "there are a great number of us, and we are well armed; we shall be able to defend you. By-and-by you shall tell us all you have suffered among them --- what privations and pains you endured before you got used to that miserable way of living. But now you can be easy. You are under the protection of your father and friends."
In spite of these assurances, Edward still seemed to feel some vague uneasiness at times, and he looked behind him frequently with an expression of alarm and grief.
However, they had now reached the edge of the lake. There they found some tall, leafy trees, and some shade; which was a great relief to them after their long journey in the sun.
The hunters began to cross the ridge of rocks, and Palmer made all the men pass on in line before he did. Accompanied by a Lascar, he was preparing to follow them, when among the leaves of an enormous pandanus-tree at the edge of the water he thought he saw something move; a thought struck him:
"Can it be Edward's captor pursuing him?" he murmured.
He had his hatchet as well as his gun. He walked resolutely towards the tree, and the Lascar was courageous enough to go with him. Palmer did not stop till he came within two steps of the tree, and still watched the thick foliage carefully. There was certainly an orang that had taken up his station in the lower branches, and was now brandishing his club and gnashing his teeth. It was of the largest size and tremendously strong. The planter recognised Edward's captor at the first glance.
"Accursed brute!" he exclaimed, "it is to you I am indebted for all the greatest troubles of my life. Now for it!" The savage animal was coming down, growling and brandishing his club, but Palmer did not stir, and planted his foot firmly, hatchet in hand.
"Take care," cried the Lascar, "the orang is just upon you; he is going to ---"
"So much the better!" said Palmer. "Leave him to me."
The Lascar, in spite of this order, took advantage of the moment the orang showed himself to fire at him, but the quadruman did not seem to notice the wound. Hanging to a branch by one of his hind hands, he let his great body fall forwards, while with one of his fore hands he swung round a club as thick as a man's thigh. The momentum, increased by the whole weight of the orang, was so great that the very air hissed, and the club, striking the trunk of the pandanus, made the bark fly off in strips. But Palmer, as quick as thought, had sprung on one side, and taking advantage of the moment when his enemy was himself stunned with the violence of the shock, he struck him a blow with his hatchet that sounded as if the blade had met with a block of granite. The blow clove the skull of the formidable animal, yet he did not let go at once, and remained hanging, wildly swinging his club. Palmer, with inexorable coolness, dealt him another blow, no less violent than the first. This time the stroke was mortal; he fell, palpitating still and still holding his weapon, on the grass, which was already bathed in his blood.
"Dead at last!" cried Palmer triumphantly; "I have nothing more to fear for my son." And he rejoined the other hunters in all haste.
This time the stroke was mortal.
They followed the same path till the evening, and it was far into the night when they reached the house, where Mrs. Surrey had prepared refreshments for all the hunters.
We have no need to describe the delight of Anna and her mother. Palmer rewarded the Malays and Lascars liberally.
Edward's education had to be begun again, but it proved a great success, thanks especially to the intelligent and loving pains that the gentle Anna bestowed upon him.
Some years later the marriage of Edward and Anna crowned the hopes of these youthful companions and of their devoted father, who would have thought himself the happiest of men if only his dear Elizabeth had lived to share his joy.
(1) Betel is a climbing plant of the pepper tribe; mixed with arrack and quick-lime it makes siri, a pernicious drug in very general use in the islands of Malaysia, and which is chewed like tobacco. (See Part 1)
(2) These particulars about the dying orang are perfectly correct. See an account given in the Asiatic Researches, by two English officers, who killed an orang on the coast of Sumatra in 1826.
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