Astounding Stories of Super-Science June 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Manape the Mighty - Chapter II: Into the Jungle
They had to smile together at the results achieved with the bedraggled bits of cloth. Bentley suspected that they had been taken from bodies washed ashore as gruesome reminders of the catastrophe which had befallen the Bengal Queen, and because he did suspect this he did not ask questions that might cause Ellen to remember any longer than was necessary. Not that he doubted her courage, for she had proved that sufficiently; and she had proved that she was sensible, with none of the notions of the proprieties which would have made any other girl of Bentley's acquaintance a nuisance.
Their next concern was food, which they must find in the jungle, or from other wreckage cast ashore from the Bengal Queen. Now, hand in hand—which seemed natural in the circumstances—they began to walk along the shore, heading into the north by mutual consent.
As they walked Bentley kept pondering on that strange laughter he had heard and on the sound of savage drumming. The laughter puzzled him. If there were anyone in the jungle back of them, why had he or they failed to challenge them?
As for the drumming sound—Bentley remembered what the second officer had said about this section of the coast. It was a bit of jungle inhabited by the great apes in large numbers. So, that drumming had been a challenge, the man-ape's manner of mocking an enemy by beating himself on his barrel chest with his huge fists. But that the ape had not been challenging Bentley and the girl Bentley felt quite sure, as the brute would certainly have shown himself in that case.
They trudged on through the sand, while the sun beat down unmercifully on their uncovered heads. Ellen Estabrook strode along at Bentley's side without complaint.
After perhaps an hour of this unbearable effort, when both felt as though the sun had sucked them dry of perspiration, they encountered a rough footpath leading into the jungle. The path suggested human habitation somewhere near. The inhabitants might be hostile natives, even cannibals perhaps, but in this unknown land they would have to take a chance on that.
With a sigh of relief, and refusing to look ahead too far, or try to guess what lay in wait for them in the black mystery of the jungle, they turned into the footpath. The jungle was fetid and sweaty, but even this was a relief from the intolerable sun which could not reach them here because the jungle had closed its leafy arms over the trail instantly. One could not tell from the path whether it had been made by natives or by whites, for it was packed hard. It led straight away from the shoreline.
"We'll have to keep a sharp lookout for possible poisoned spring darts, Ellen," said Bentley.
"I'm not afraid, Lee," she answered stoutly. "Fate wouldn't allow us to come through what we have only to end things with poisoned darts. It just couldn't happen that way!"
Thus simply they addressed each other. It seemed as though years had been squeezed into a matter of hours. They knew each other as well as they would, in other circumstances, have known each other after a year of constant association. Here barriers of conventions were razed as simply and naturally as among children.
They had pressed well into the gloom of the jungle when the first sound came.
Not the laughter they had heard before, but the drumming. It was ahead and somewhat to the left, and as they stopped without speaking they could distinctly hear the threshing of a huge body through the underbrush. The sound seemed to be approaching and for a minute or so they listened. Then the sound was repeated off to the right, a trifle further away.
"Can you climb, Ellen?" asked Bentley simply. "This section is filled with anthropoid apes, according to the second officer of the Bengal Queen. We may have to take to the trees."
"I can climb," she said, "but from what I've studied of the habits of these brutes they do a great deal of bluffing before they actually charge, and may not molest us at all if we pay no attention."
Bentley felt almost nude because he had no weapons save his own fists. And he would not have admitted even to himself how deeply he was concerned over the girl. As far as he knew, this section might be entirely uninhabited. It might be given over entirely to the anthropoids. In this case he shuddered to think of what might happen to Ellen Estabrook if he were slain.
He quickened his pace until Ellen kept stride with him with difficulty. The object uppermost in Bentley's mind was to get as far away as possible from the ominous drumbeats.
They rounded a bend in the trail and stopped stock-still.
Within fifty yards of them, blocking the trail, was a brute whose great size sent a thrill of horror through Bentley. It towered to the height of a big man, and must have weighed in the neighborhood of four hundred pounds. It was larger by far than any bull ape Bentley had seen in captivity.
It had been waiting for them, silently, with almost human cunning; but now that it was discovered the shaggy creature rose to his hind legs and screamed a challenge, at the same time striking his chest with blows of his hairy fists which rolled in a dull booming of sound through the jungle. At the same time the creature moved forward.
Bentley whirled to run, his hand clasping tighter the hand of Ellen Estabrook. But they had not retreated ten steps down the pathway when their way was blocked by another of the great shaggy brutes. And they could hear others on both sides.
Bentley's face was chalk-white as he turned to the girl. Her calm acceptance of their predicament, an attitude in which he could read no slightest vestige of fear, helped him to regain control of his own nerves, which had threatened to send him into a panic. She even smiled, and Lee felt a trifle ashamed of himself.
Now the crashing sounds were closing in. The two brutes before and behind on the trail were pressing in upon them. But no general headlong charge had yet begun. Bentley looked around him, seeking a tree with limbs low enough for them to reach and thus climb to safety.
"There's one!" cried Ellen. Tugging at his hand she began to run.
At the same moment the great apes bellowed and charged.
But the charge was never finished, for through the drumming of their mighty fists on mighty barrel-like chests, through the sound of their charge, through the crackling underbrush came again that sound of laughter. There was fierce joy in the laughter, and the laughter was followed by words of a strange gibberish which Bentley could not recall as being from any language he had ever heard.
The great apes paused. Out of the jungle to the right of the fugitives burst a white man. He was well past middle age, for his white hair hung almost to his shoulders, which were stooped with the weight of years. He was a wisp of a man whose smooth shaven face was apple-red. His eyes were black and expressionless as obsidian, and when Lee encountered the full gaze of them he was conscious of that feeling which he had experienced at various times in his life when he knew that some deadly reptile was close by.
"Stand still a moment!" cried the old man. His voice was strangely high-pitched and cracked.
From his right hand a whip with a long lash uncurled like a snake.
This he swung back and hurled to the front, and the snap of it was like a pistol shot. The great ape on the path ahead cowered back, bearing his fangs, roaring in anger. But that he feared the whip of the old man was plain to be seen. The crashing sound in the jungle died away rapidly, immediately the first report of the whip lash sounded in the trail.
Fearlessly the little man dashed upon the first of the great brutes the castaways had seen. His lash curled about the great beast's body, and the animal bellowed with pain. It clawed at the lash, but was not fast enough to capture it. In the end the brute broke and fled.
The animal which had blocked their path in the rear had already disappeared.
Now the little man came back to face the fugitives, and his lips were parted in a cordial smile. He coiled his whip and tucked it under his arm. He was dressed in well worn corduroy with high boots that were rather the worse for wear. Bentley saw that his lips were too red—like blood—and somehow he disliked the man instantly.
"Welcome to Barterville," said the old man. "It has been years since I have seen any of my own kind. People avoid this section of the jungle."
"I don't wonder," said Bentley, sighing deeply with relief. "Those brutes would make anybody keep away from here, if they knew about them. I thought they had us for a few minutes. They planned an ambush almost as well as human beings could have done it—but that's absurd of course, merely a coincidence."
"Coincidence?" snapped the old man, a hint of asperity in his words. "Coincidence? I see you do not know the great apes, sir. I have always maintained that apes could be trained to do anything men can do. I have maintained that they have a language of their own, and even ways of communicating without words, a sort of jungle writing which men of course have never yet learned. I've devoted my life to learning the secrets of the great apes, their life histories, and so forth. I am Professor Caleb Barter!"
"Professor Caleb Barter!" ejaculated Ellen Estabrook. "Why I've heard of him! He went on an expedition among the great apes ten years ago and was never heard of again."
"I am Caleb Barter," said the old man. "I decided to disappear from the world I knew, to let other fool scientists think me dead in order that I might continue my investigations without molestation. And now I have almost reached the place where I can go back to civilization with information that will startle the world. There yet remains one experiment. Now I hope to make that experiment. No! No! Don't ask me what it is. It is my secret and nobody will ever wrest it from me."
Bentley studied the old man. He seemed slightly demented, Bentley thought, but that might be merely the mental evolution of a man who had made a hermit of himself for so many years—if this chap actually were Professor Barter.
"Professor Barter," went on Ellen, "was the scientific leader of his day. Others followed where he led. He made greater strides in surgery and medicine, and in unravelling the mysteries of evolution, than anyone else up to his time. Of course I believe you are Professor Barter. My name is Ellen Estabrook, and this gentleman is Lee Bentley. We believe ourselves to be the only survivors of the Bengal Queen. Perhaps you can lead us to food and water?"
"Yes, oh yes! Indeed. One forgets how to be hospitable, I fear. I am sorry to hear there was a wreck and that lives were lost—but it may mean a great gain to the world of science. I am happier to see you than you can possibly know!"
Bentley felt the cold chills racing along his spine as he listened to the old man's flow of words. He behaved well, but Bentley could feel in spite of that, that there was a hidden current of menace in the old man's behavior. He wished that Ellen would keep him talking, would somehow make sure of his identity. Perhaps the same thought was in her mind, for it had scarcely come to him when the girl spoke again.
"Before he disappeared Professor Barter wrote a learned treatise on—"
"I am Professor Barter, I tell you, young woman. But if you wish proof the title of the treatise was 'The Language of the Great Apes.'"
Ellen turned quickly to Bentley and nodded. She was satisfied that the man was the person he claimed to be. He didn't ask how Ellen happened to know about him, and Bentley himself considered the proof entirely lacking in conclusiveness. Anyone might know about the last treatise of Barter.
However, they could but await developments.
They followed Barter along the trail. Now and again apes challenged from the jungle, and Barter answered them with that strange laughter of his, or with a flow of gibberish that was like nothing human.
Bentley shivered. Barter, by his laughter, was identifying himself to the great anthropoids. But with his gibberish was he actually conversing with them?
"This experiment of yours," said Bentley when the period of silence became unbearable, "—won't you tell us about it?"
The old man cackled.
"You'll know all about it—soon! You'll know everything, but the secret will still rest with Caleb Barter. Do not be too curious, my friends."
"We are anxious to reach civilization, Professor," said Bentley, deciding to be placative with the old man. "Perhaps you can arrange for guides for us?"
"I could not permit you to leave me for some time," he said. "I want you to witness my experiment. The world would never believe me without the evidence of reliable witnesses."
Barter laughed again.
They entered a clean clearing which was a riot of flowers. At the further edge was a log cabin of huge proportions. The whole thing had a decidedly homely appearance, but it was a welcome sight to the castaways. There were cages in which strange birds chattered shrilly in their own language at sight of the three. A pair of tame monkeys chased each other on the roof of the house, whose corners were almost hidden by climbing vines whose growth one could almost see.
Barter led the way at a swift walk across the clearing and into the house.
Bentley gasped. Ellen Estabrook exclaimed with pleasure.
The reception room was as neat as though it received the hourly attentions of a fussy housewife. It was cozily furnished, yet it was evident that the furniture had been made on the spot of rough wood and skins of various animals. Deep skin rugs covered the floor and walls. There were three doors giving off of the reception room, all three of which were closed.
"You are not married?" he asked the two.
"No!" snapped Bentley.
"That center door leads to your room, Bentley. The one next to it is for the young lady. The other door? Ah, the other door my friends! That door you must never open. But to make sure that curiosity does not overcome caution, let me show you!"
They followed him to the door. He swung it open.
Both visitors started back and a gasp of terror burst from the lips of Ellen Estabrook. Beads of perspiration burst forth on Bentley.
They saw a huge room. In one corner was a bed. The other held a great cage—and in the cage was an anthropoid ape larger even than the great brute they had met on the trail!
Barter laughed. He stepped into the room, uncoiled his whip and hurled the lash at the cage. A great bellowing roar fairly shook the house, while the brute tore at the bars which held him prisoner until the whole massive cage seemed to dance. Barter laughed and continued to goad him.
"Barter," yelled Bentley, "stop that! If that beast should ever happen accidentally to get free he'd tear you to pieces!"
"I know," said Barter grimly, "and that's part of the experiment! Now we shall eat, and you, young lady, shall tell me what other fool scientists had to say about me after I disappeared—to escape their parrot-like repeating of my discoveries!"
Bentley started to offer protest as Barter began preparation for the meal, which obviously was to be taken in the room which held the cage of the giant anthropoid, but Ellen put her fingers to her lips and shook her head. Her eyes were dancing with excitement.
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Various. 2010. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, June 1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/31893/31893-h/31893-h.htm#Manape_the_Mighty
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