-- Chapter 8
Betty managed to miss the treetops, and brought the ship down in a clearing. The apes scattered in all directions, but they could be seen watching furtively from the trees. Everyone of the ship's party was scared. The girls screamed; the boys wept; Pyecraft almost collapsed; Spike went white and fingered his guns; Fritz hid his head in his hands. Only Neill was comparatively calm.
"Listen to me", he said, "there has been a lot of tripe talked about the savagery of the wild animal. Savage they can be, but that is when they are driven about and attacked by men. Tigers and lions are not savage; they are not even cruel; it just happens that by nature they must kill to eat. Now apes are not carnivorous; they are a vegetarian animal. I am certain that we shall be quite safe among them."
"Have you ever seen one before?" faltered David.
"Then you know nothing about them", said David.
"True", said Neill patiently, "I have never had to deal with apes, but I am reasoning by analogy. In Summerhill I had to deal with a tailless branch of the Simiidae, and -- "
"This is no time for trying to be funny", said Bunny roughly; "we're in a hole, and instead of talking rot tell us how to get out."
"Open the door and get out", said Neill. "I tell you they will be friendly if we don't frighten them with guns and things. Why, they might even accept one of you bright lads as a leader. Hullo, here comes the king!" and he pointed to a large hairy ape that came waddling forward. He was followed at some distance by other apes. He stopped and stared at the machine, then he began to feel it with his hands. He came to a window and suddenly saw Robert's face inside. He started back suddenly, but Robert gave a ghastly imitation of a smile, and he came forward again and looked at Robert.
"I could swear the brute is grinning", whispered Neill.
"I'm not", said Robert. "I feel more like being sick. What an ugly dial!"
Spike had the ape covered with his 45.
"Lemme plug the plug-ugly", he said, but Pyecraft gently took his arm, saying: "If you do, you make them enemies, and, seeing we are stuck here, our only chance is to make them friends."
The big ape had now wandered round to the propeller, and was turning it with interest. He gave it an extra turn, and a blade hit him on the head, and then he got savage. He tore at it with his long, hairy arms, spitting and roaring. Then Michael touched the lever that started the engine, whether by accident or not, he could not say. The propeller began to revolve furiously and this made the ape wilder than ever. He rushed at it and one of the blades cut his head off cleanly as it were a sharp knife.
"That", said Neill, "is a pity. That possibly signs our death warrant."
The other apes, startled by the incident, had made for the branches, and were staring at the decapitated body in great agitation.
"He was apparently their leader", said Michael uneasily. "They'll try to avenge his death, or...ah, look! That younger he ape has come down and is trying to say something to the others. He is going to be the new leader."
"In that case", said Bunny, "there is a chance that he is rather glad that his old rival has got the works. Stop the engine, for heaven's sake, Betty."
When the propeller had stopped revolving, there was a pause, and then the apes began to crowd round the machine. A few of the more adventurous climbed on top of the carriage, and one of them began to swing along the wireless aerial.
"Well", sighed Neill, "either we stay in here and die of starvation, or we go out and risk it."
"You try first", said Robert; "you were the one who talked about the dear friendly apes", and the others said: "hear, hear!"
"Don't be frightened", said Jean; "they may think you are one of themselves, seeing you haven't shaved for a month."
Neill tried to smile at this futile joke.
"I think", he said, "that I am not the best person to begin the fraternising business. It should be someone nearer to them in development, someone who can do a song and dance on the branches. I am too old and stiff. Perhaps if Pyecraft were to go and try a swing on a branch, the branch would break, and the apes would think it so funny to see old Pyecraft hit the earth that they would, as it were, get into a good mood." Pyecraft thought otherwise.
"Or one of the girls", suggested Neill. "Evelyn could do the branch act with grace."
"You can't get out of it that way", said Evelyn sternly. "Have the courage of your convictions."
So Neill took a deep breath and opened the door and went out. It was with deep gratification that he noticed Spike standing there behind the glass with two guns at the ready. Neill took a step forward, and the semi-circle of apes drew back. Neill smiled at them, or rather made a grimace that was intended for a smile, but there was no facial response. Then he put himself in an ape position, with body crouched and hands hanging down to the ground, and began to waddle about, making what he thought were agreeable noises. The apes began to chatter among themselves.
"Don't give them too bad an impression of the human race", cried Gordon.
What the apes had chattered about is not known, but a dead silence followed, and the leader slowly waddled forward and stood looking at Neill half afraid. Neill went down on all fours, crept up to the ape, and rubbed his face against its hairy hand. And then a grin came over the ape's face. This emboldened Neill to take hold of the ape's hand and shake it, and the ape grinned more than ever. Fritz had the presence of mind to throw out a banana, and Neill presented it to the ape who stood and ate it, still with the grin on his face. The children by this time had lost their fear, and one by one they came out, and soon there was a general rubbing of faces on hairy hands. Pyecraft and Spike stayed in the ship, ready to shoot any ape that showed animosity. Robert, David, and Michael went a step farther, and making for the trees, they began to swing among the branches. The apes seemed delighted, and with a merry chatter they joined in the fun. They laughed when the boys missed a branch and fell to the ground. The apes were very curious about the clothes that the humans were wearing. They kept pawing them, and some of them began to gather leaves with which they attempted to make garments for themselves. Michael had a happy inspiration: he dived into the ship and brought out Pyecraft's top hat and presented it to the ape leader. He grinned as Michael put it on his head. Betty fetched a looking-glass and held it up to the ape, but when he saw the reflection of his face, surmounted by a tall hat, he scuttled away in terror. Betty dropped the glass in alarm, but the ape came back and picked it up, then stared at himself for a long time. Then he suddenly got angry and began to attack the face in the glass. The glass smashed, and he stared stupidly through the empty frame.
"Some hopes to make them apes civilised", said Spike to Pyecraft.
"Still", said Pyecraft, "he showed some intelligence. If I had a face like that, and saw it in a glass, I'd want to smash the blame thing too."
The humans went into the ship to have some lunch.
"You see I was right", crowed Neill. "I told you that they would not be savage if we treated them in a friendly way."
"Yes", said Robert, "but what comes next? We can't help them to found a new civilisation. They haven't got the brains."
"Not so sure", said Neill.
"They'll never be civilised", Robert shook his head: "how can they ever make bombs and poison gas, tell me that?"
"I didn't say that they could reach the higher branches of civilisation", answered Neill, "but I don't see why they shouldn't rise to a mild form of capitalism. Take that leader ape."
"You can never give him culture", said Betty. "Can you ever imagine him liking music or painting or reading books?"
"But why should he, Betty? Pyecraft here is one the world's best capitalists, but he knows nothing of books and music and painting. He thinks Botticelli is a cheese."
"Not so ignorant as that", laughed Pyecraft. "I've had bottles of the stuff in my cellar for years."
"I agree with Betty", said Bunny. "We may be able to teach them to make a boat or a wood house, even to cook food by fire, but we'll never be able to teach them to make radio or gramophones or motor-cars, or to read and write even. We might make an attempt to start a school, eh?"
"Get Spike to teach them English", laughed Gordon.
"Ses which!" grinned Spike. "Yuh gotta cut out them flash ideas about eddercatin' the monkeys. They ain't so good. Yuh can't eddercate 'em. That boss monkey, he cud never handle a Tommy Gun or take a G man for a ride."
"The trouble is", said Neill, "that we all differ about what civilisation should be. Gordon's standard is Oxford, Spike's is Chicago, Pyecraft's a deal with a modest 400 per cent profit, Bunny's a Morris Car factory. I say that we should forget them all; I suggest that we do not try to lead the apes, that we stand by, as it were, and see how far they can go."
"I'm gonna keep my peepers fixed on that old geezer wiv the one eye", said Spike. "Aw was catchin' him. He gotta screwy slant of his one optic that ain't good to look at."
"I notice that too", said Fritz. "He was the only one that did not us be friends to."
"Better take him for a branch swing, Spike", said Neill with a laugh.
They were wakened early in the morning by the chatter of the apes. The leader, Bobe (a name suggested by David -- owing to a hint of resemblance to a friend of his) stood outside and smiled through the window, and the children went out. Pyecraft had suggested that they build a house, because the ship's cabin was rather cramped, and they began to saw down trees. The apes soon joined in, and soon they were sawing easily, better than the children, for the strength of their arms made the crosscut saws bite through at a rapid rate. They noticed that Bobe soon took on the duties of gaffer, and he shouted at the workers, and when they slacked off he clouted them with his heavy hand. Bobe did not handle the tools himself. One-Eye sat down and looked on, and it was noticed that Bobe made no attempt to make him work.
"He's scared of that One-Eye", said Spike. It was apparent that One-Eye resented the leadership of Bobe.
"Mark my words", said Robert, "that One-Eye will have a show-down with Bobe in the near future."
The work was going smoothly. The boys got the apes to put the logs in position, and they nailed them down. Bobe had fallen asleep, and the apes seemed to get tired of the work, and wandered away. "
Hopeless", growled David.
"Not at all", said Neill; "just like the municipal workers of any city. We should have given them spades to lean on."
The house was about six feet high by evening time, but when they awoke next morning they were surprised to find One-Eye directing the gang. They had taken the whole thing to pieces and were sawing the logs up into short lengths. Two apes were trying to saw through an iron crowbar that the children had left lying about. It was obvious that the apes had no understanding of work.
"Don't tell me", said Spike. "That loodah knows what he is doing. I wanna know what's happened to Bobe."
They found Bobe in the wood. His had been a horrible death: he was literally torn limb from limb. The children shivered at the sight, and terror gripped them. They made for the ship as fast as they could, but, as they ran, One-Eye swung from a branch and seized Jean, and went swinging through the woods with her in one great hand. Her shriek of terror froze their blood. The situation was critical. No one could hope to keep pace on the ground with an ape swinging from branch to branch at a great rate. Spike tried a long shot with his revolver but missed. It seemed hopeless to save Jean from an unspeakable death. But Spike, with his trained eye, had seen that One-Eye was not going away straight; he was going in a circle. Spike dived into the wood with a view to heading him off, and the others followed. Spike left them far behind. They plodded on, and the sound of a shot gave them added impetus. They came to an open space and there they stopped dead and held their breath, for the scene before them was shattering. Spike's shot had got One-Eye in the right arm, and he had dropped to the ground, still clutching Jean in his left hand. Jean appeared to be unconscious. One-Eye dropped her and sprang at Spike, and Spike's gun roared, and the ape staggered back with blood flowing from his neck. Spike fired again, but the gun jammed, and, before he had time to draw his other gun, the ape was on top of him, clawing his face with its left hand. Spike managed to smash his gun into its face, and its fury then was beyond all bounds. The boys rushed forward, but before they could reach the antagonists, One-Eye, with a mighty tearing blow, got Spike in the face and he went down. Robert got the ape through the heart with a bullet, and it sank to the ground. They rushed for Spike, but it was clear that he was done for.
"Oh, Spike", cried Betty, sinking to his side and holding his poor torn face in her hands.
He looked up and a feeble smile came to his face.
"Is the jane safe?" he whispered, and when they assured him that Jean was unharmed, relief came into his eyes. "Queer", he said, "queer. Remember me tellin' yuh about the One-Eye gink and the cards? Queer that another One-Eye shud be quicker on the draw
this time. I guess aw got what was comin' to me. Yuh've been a gang o' swell guys, and aw wish aw cud have stayed wiv yuh."
"You saved my life", sobbed Jean, and she kissed him.
Tears came into his eyes. "Kinder makes me feel soft", he said. "A flash gunman wouldn't bump off even a gorilla for less than two grand", and he smiled, and smiling he died. They buried him there, and they piled flowers on his grave.
"Guess Pirrolo couldn't have given him a better funeral", said David, and he voiced the feelings of all.
Spike's death was a sad blow. The children now realised how much they had loved the simple gangster. Further they felt that they had lost one of their strongest defenders, for Spike was fearless. They looked forward to the morrow with something like despair in their hearts, for their position was precarious. Stranded in the midst of uncertain apes, apes without a leader now, they dreaded what might happen.
"They may get another leader like One-Eye", said Gordon.
The leadership question was not long in coming to a head. Next morning they woke to an excited chattering, and they looked out to find the apes all set round in a huge circle. In the middle were two he apes, circling round each other, trying for a fatal hold. The fight was long and grim, but in the end the older ape won, and his opponent was left dead in the middle.
"The new leader is rather like Roger", said Betty, and they called him Roger.
Roger's first act after he had killed his rival was to break a saw across his knees, and this symbolic act told the children that any approach to him was out of the question.
"The only thing is to fight now", said Neill, "but how? One thing is certain, that we must try to make the coast in the east."
"I can't walk that far", said Pyecraft mournfully.
Michael indicated the crowd of apes outside the ship, and said: "None of us will get that far."
The apes were much excited. Some of them threw stones at the airship.
"They are going to attack us", said Robert, as a big stone crashed through the cabin window.
There was nothing for it but to kill the apes. The children hated to do it, but they knew that their lives depended on wiping out that ape mob. They did it reluctantly, but they did it. They simply mowed them down with machine-guns.
"We can't stay in this bloody mess", said Bunny. "Let's pack up and get out."
So they began to get ready for their dangerous journey.
"We must take only necessities", said Robert, and they all knew that he meant revolvers and machine-guns and daggers and cartridges. They had five machine-guns, and the boys took one each. The girls carried the revolvers and daggers, and Fritz and Pyecraft the cartridges, while Neill carried the map and compass. They reckoned that they were about three hundred miles from the coast, but what they were to do when they reached the coast they dared not even consider. They saw apes but they generally ran away at their approach, but on one or two occasions they had to gun their way through. They came to the tree trunk they had seen the apes working on from the airship. They had made it into a sort of boat, but then they had sawn it up.
Said Neill: "A dim intelligence darkly trying to express itself. In ten thousand years the apes may reach the evolution of the stone age."
Pyecraft's condition was giving them some anxiety. The unaccustomed exercise had no slimming effect whatever; indeed, he seemed to grow fatter. His heart was troubling him, and their pace had to be a slow one on his account.
"Don't wait for me", he kept saying. "I am of no importance. The world belongs to the young. Leave me and get on to the coast."
Michael offered to carry him, knowing well that Pyecraft would not accept the offer. Then one day they espied a coffee farmhouse, and they entered. To their astonishment they found it was the farm of Pat and Joey Townshend, two old Summerhill pupils who had married.
"Why, Pat!" exclaimed Neill, then he apologised to the Townshend statue. "All the same", said Neill, "it's good to be among friends even when they are stony. I wonder where Joey is." They found her in the bath.
"Just like one of the Elgin marbles", said Pyecraft.
"I see no resemblance to a marble whatever", said David. "Now if you had been in the bath, Pyecraft, that might have been different."
They spent a few days happily in Pat's home. They got Joey out of the bath and clad her, and they set the newly-married couple one on each side of the fireplace to make the home more homely like, as Evelyn said.
"Very sad", said Neill gloomily, then more cheerfully: "but it's an ill wind that blows nobody good", as he espied a multi-bladed knife he had once lent Pat.
"Wouldn't it be queer", said Betty, "if all the stone people could still hear and think. For all we know Pat and Joey may know what we are saying."
"I hope not", said Jean startled. She had been whispering to Evelyn about Joey.
It was a bit eery at the dinner table with the host and hostess standing there.
"I always feel we should be inviting them to sit down", said Bunny.
They had to move on, however, and they got ready to go. Robert insisted on shaking hands with Pat even although the others warned him that the arm would probably come off in his hand. It did, and Robert decided to carry it home to England to give to Pat's father, but then he remembered that the father was also a statue, and he threw the arm into a ditch.
It is no use to tell of their adventures as they made for the coast. Suffice it to say that they reached it, tired and footsore. Pyecraft had done better than his condition had promised. Luckily there was a harbour quite near, with some largish ships in it. They at once took possession of a British torpedo boat, and threw the crew overboard.
"The route", said Robert, "is Aden, Red Sea, Suez, Gib."
"Wait a minute", said Michael, "aren't there locks in the Suez Canal? We'll have to go via the Cape."
No one knew anything about locks, and David's assertion that he had often made a key from a blank was very properly ignored as being irrelevant. They all agreed that it would be safer to take the Cape rout, and as Neill had been to South Africa by the Union Castle Line he said he knew every inch of the way. The torpedo boat was an oil one, so that the question of stoking did not arise, much to the delight of everyone. Neill was elected captain, and he donned naval uniform and looked really fine. The others all donned officer's uniforms.
Neill objected. "How can I give orders to swab the decks to a bunch of lieutenants, commodores, even admirals", and he indicated Bunny and Robert.
But the crew refused to give up their rank. Neill sat in his cabin for half an hour studying navigation, and when he had mastered it, ordered Chief Engineer Commander Gordon to give Full Speed Astern.... Luckily there was another British torpedo boat in the harbour, and they swam to this one, and Neill spent another half-hour studying navigation. He got the ship out with the help of four motor-launches which the boys used as tugs, and once at sea he felt that he couldn't do much harm whatever order he gave to the engine-room. Soon the ship was sailing south in a calm sea. The boys had tied the motor-launches on astern in case of accidents. They made Durban in good time, and in a few days anchored off Cape Town. They were two days out from Cape Town when the mutiny began. Neill had ordered David to box the binnacle, and David started to argue about it.
The Captain began to look angry. "An order is an order", he thundered, "and must be carried out."
"O.K.", said David, "if you'll tell me what and where the binnacle is I'll box it."
It was then that Captain Neill swore for half an hour without repeating himself.
"I ship a bunch of land-lubbers", he cried, "and you don't know one thing about a ship."
Robert had fetched a dictionary from the boatswain's cabin.
"Binnacle", he read: "the box on a ship that holds the compass. How the heck can David box a blinking box?"
"That is the language of mutiny", cried the Captain. "Get furrad, you scum. Not you, David, me lad. Will you box that binnacle?"
"I'll try", said David with a grin, and he hit the binnacle with a straight left followed by an upper cut. The compass went out of action and remained out of action.
"You fool!" roared the Captain.
"Your orders have been carried out, sir", he said.
The crew had a meeting forrard.
"He can't steer the ship without a compass", said David, "and I votes we chuck him off and get another captain." Carried unanimously. Robert and Bunny were sent aft to interview the captain.
"We've elected Gordon in your place", they said.
Neill smiled an ugly smile.
"Indeed", he said, and opening a drawer he took out a revolver. "This is mutiny, and on the high seas mutiny is punishable by death. I am captain and I remain captain of this ship."
"The why don't you steer it straight?" asked Robert. "We've been going in circles for the last three hours."
"Insolent ruffians!" cried the captain. "Get out!"
They reported to the ship's Soviet.
"We'll have a stay-in strike", suggested Jean, and they did.
Neill acted as steersman, but he had to sleep, and all his shouts brought no one on deck. After a fourteen's hour watch, he tied the helm so that the ship would go round in circles, and, turning in, he fell fast asleep.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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Chapter 8 of 'The Last Man Alive' by A. S. Neill. This page is copyrighted.