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The Ape Gigans







From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

It is difficult for me to determine what was the real time, but I should
suppose, by after calculation, that it must have been ten at night.

I lay in a stupor, a half dream, during which I saw visions of
astounding character. Monsters of the deep were side by side with the
mighty elephantine shepherd. Gigantic fish and animals seemed to form
strange conjunctions.

The raft took a sudden turn, whirled round, entered another tunnel this
time illumined in a most singular manner. The roof was formed of porous
stalactite, through which a moonlit vapor appeared to pass, casting its
brilliant light upon our gaunt and haggard figures. The light increased
as we advanced, while the roof ascended; until at last, we were once
more in a kind of water cavern, the lofty dome of which disappeared in a
luminous cloud!

A rugged cavern of small extent appeared to offer a halting place to our
weary bodies.

My uncle and the guide moved as men in a dream. I was afraid to waken
them, knowing the danger of such a sudden start. I seated myself beside
them to watch.

As I did so, I became aware of something moving in the distance, which
at once fascinated my eyes. It was floating, apparently, upon the
surface of the water, advancing by means of what at first appeared
paddles. I looked with glaring eyes. One glance told me that it was
something monstrous.

But what?

It was the great "shark-crocodile" of the early writers on geology.
About the size of an ordinary whale, with hideous jaws and two gigantic
eyes, it advanced. Its eyes fixed on me with terrible sternness. Some
indefinite warning told me that it had marked me for its own.

I attempted to rise to escape, no matter where, but my knees shook
under me; my limbs trembled violently; I almost lost my senses. And
still the mighty monster advanced. My uncle and the guide made no effort
to save themselves.

With a strange noise, like none other I had ever heard, the beast came
on. His jaws were at least seven feet apart, and his distended mouth
looked large enough to have swallowed a boatful of men.

We were about ten feet distant when I discovered that much as his body
resembled that of a crocodile, his mouth was wholly that of a shark.

His twofold nature now became apparent. To snatch us up at a mouthful it
was necessary for him to turn on his back, which motion necessarily
caused his legs to kick up helplessly in the air.

I actually laughed even in the very jaws of death!

But next minute, with a wild cry, I darted away into the interior of the
cave, leaving my unhappy comrades to their fate! This cavern was deep
and dreary. After about a hundred yards, I paused and looked around.

The whole floor, composed of sand and malachite, was strewn with bones,
freshly gnawed bones of reptiles and fish, with a mixture of mammalia.
My very soul grew sick as my body shuddered with horror. I had truly,
according to the old proverb, fallen out of the frying pan into the
fire. Some beast larger and more ferocious even than the shark-crocodile
inhabited this den.

What could I do? The mouth of the cave was guarded by one ferocious
monster, the interior was inhabited by something too hideous to
contemplate. Flight was impossible!

Only one resource remained, and that was to find some small hiding place
to which the fearful denizens of the cavern could not penetrate. I gazed
wildly around, and at last discovered a fissure in the rock, to which I
rushed in the hope of recovering my scattered senses.

Crouching down, I waited shivering as in an ague fit. No man is brave in
presence of an earthquake, or a bursting boiler, or an exploding
torpedo. I could not be expected to feel much courage in presence of the
fearful fate that appeared to await me.

An hour passed. I heard all the time a strange rumbling outside the
cave.

What was the fate of my unhappy companions? It was impossible for me to
pause to inquire. My own wretched existence was all I could think of.

Suddenly a groaning, as of fifty bears in a fight, fell upon my
ears hisses, spitting, moaning, hideous to hear and then I saw
Never, were ages to pass over my head, shall I forget the horrible
apparition.

It was the Ape Gigans!

Fourteen feet high, covered with coarse hair, of a blackish brown, the
hair on the arms, from the shoulder to the elbow joints, pointing
downwards, while that from the wrist to the elbow pointed upwards, it
advanced. Its arms were as long as its body, while its legs were
prodigious. It had thick, long, and sharply pointed teeth like a
mammoth saw.

It struck its breast as it came on smelling and sniffing, reminding me
of the stories we read in our early childhood of giants who ate the
Flesh of men and little boys!

Suddenly it stopped. My heart beat wildly, for I was conscious that,
somehow or other, the fearful monster had smelled me out and was peering
about with his hideous eyes to try and discover my whereabouts.

My reading, which as a rule is a blessing, but which on this occasion,
seemed momentarily to prove a curse, told me the real truth. It was the
Ape Gigans, the antediluvian gorilla.

Yes! This awful monster, confined by good fortune to the interior of the
earth, was the progenitor of the hideous monster of Africa.

He glared wildly about, seeking something doubtless myself. I gave
myself up for lost. No hope of safety or escape seemed to remain.

At this moment, just as my eyes appeared to close in death, there came a
strange noise from the entrance of the cave; and turning, the gorilla
evidently recognized some enemy more worthy his prodigious size and
strength. It was the huge shark-crocodile, which perhaps having disposed
of my friends, was coming in search of further prey.

The gorilla placed himself on the defensive, and clutching a bone some
seven or eight feet in length, a perfect club, aimed a deadly blow at
the hideous beast, which reared upwards and fell with all its weight
upon its adversary.

A terrible combat, the details of which it is impossible to give, now
ensued. The struggle was awful and ferocious, I, however, did not wait
to witness the result. Regarding myself as the object of contention, I
determined to remove from the presence of the victor. I slid down from
my hiding place, reached the ground, and gliding against the wall,
strove to gain the open mouth of the cavern.

But I had not taken many steps when the fearful clamor ceased, to be
followed by a mumbling and groaning which appeared to be indicative of
victory.

I looked back and saw the huge ape, gory with blood, coming after me
with glaring eyes, with dilated nostrils that gave forth two columns of
heated vapor. I could feel his hot and fetid breath on my neck; and with
a horrid jump awoke from my nightmare sleep.

Yes it was all a dream. I was still on the raft with my uncle and the
guide.

The relief was not instantaneous, for under the influence of the hideous
nightmare my senses had become numbed. After a while, however, my
feelings were tranquilized. The first of my perceptions which returned
in full force was that of hearing. I listened with acute and attentive
ears. All was still as death. All I comprehended was silence. To the
roaring of the waters, which had filled the gallery with awful
reverberations, succeeded perfect peace.

After some little time my uncle spoke, in a low and scarcely audible
tone: "Harry, boy, where are you?"

"I am here," was my faint rejoinder.

"Well, don't you see what has happened? We are going upwards."

"My dear uncle, what can you mean?" was my half-delirious reply.

"Yes, I tell you we are ascending rapidly. Our downward journey is quite
checked."

I held out my hand, and, after some little difficulty, succeeded in
touching the wall. My hand was in an instant covered with blood. The
skin was torn from the flesh. We were ascending with extraordinary
rapidity.

"The torch the torch!" cried the Professor, wildly; "it must be
lighted."

Hans, the guide, after many vain efforts, at last succeeded in lighting
it, and the flame, having now nothing to prevent its burning, shed a
tolerably clear light. We were enabled to form an approximate idea of
the truth.

"It is just as I thought," said my uncle, after a moment or two of
silent attention. "We are in a narrow well about four fathoms square.
The waters of the great inland sea, having reached the bottom of the
gulf are now forcing themselves up the mighty shaft. As a natural
consequence, we are being cast upon the summit of the waters."

"That I can see," was my lugubrious reply; "but where will this shaft
end, and to what fall are we likely to be exposed?"

"Of that I am as ignorant as yourself. All I know is, that we should be
prepared for the worst. We are going up at a fearfully rapid rate. As
far as I can judge, we are ascending at the rate of two fathoms a
second, of a hundred and twenty fathoms a minute, or rather more than
three and a half leagues an hour. At this rate, our fate will soon be a
matter of certainty."

"No doubt of it," was my reply. "The great concern I have now, however,
is to know whether this shaft has any issue. It may end in a granite
roof in which case we shall be suffocated by compressed air, or dashed
to atoms against the top. I fancy, already, that the air is beginning to
be close and condensed. I have a difficulty in breathing."

This might be fancy, or it might be the effect of our rapid motion, but
I certainly felt a great oppression of the chest.

"Henry," said the Professor, "I do believe that the situation is to a
certain extent desperate. There remain, however, many chances of
ultimate safety, and I have, in my own mind, been revolving them over,
during your heavy but agitated sleep. I have come to this logical
conclusion whereas we may at any moment perish, so at any moment we may
be saved! We need, therefore, prepare ourselves for whatever may turn up
in the great chapter of accidents."

"But what would you have us do?" I cried. "Are we not utterly helpless?"

"No! While there is life there is hope. At all events, there is one
thing we can do eat, and thus obtain strength to face victory or
death."

As he spoke, I looked at my uncle with a haggard glance. I had put off
the fatal communication as long as possible. It was now forced upon me,
and I must tell him the truth.

Still I hesitated.

"Eat," I said, in a deprecating tone as if there were no hurry.

"Yes, and at once. I feel like a starving prisoner," he said, rubbing
his yellow and shivering hands together.

And, turning round to the guide, he spoke some hearty, cheering words,
as I judged from his tone, in Danish. Hans shook his head in a terribly
significant manner. I tried to look unconcerned.

"What!" cried the Professor, "you do not mean to say that all our
provisions are lost?"

"Yes," was my lowly spoken reply, as I held out something in my hand,
"this morsel of dried meat is all that remains for us three."

My uncle gazed at me as if he could not fully appreciate the meaning of
my words. The blow seemed to stun him by its severity. I allowed him to
reflect for some moments.

"Well," said I, after a short pause, "what do you think now? Is there
any chance of our escaping from our horrible subterranean dangers? Are
we not doomed to perish in the great hollows of the centre of the
earth?"

But my pertinent questions brought no answer. My uncle either heard me
not, or appeared not to do so.

And in this way a whole hour passed. Neither of us cared to speak. For
myself, I began to feel the most fearful and devouring hunger. My
companions, doubtless, felt the same horrible tortures, but neither of
them would touch the wretched morsel of meat that remained. It lay
there, a last remnant of all our great preparations for the mad and
senseless journey!

I looked back, with wonderment, to my own folly. Fully was I aware that,
despite his enthusiasm, and the ever-to-be-hated scroll of Saknussemm,
my uncle should never have started on his perilous voyage. What memories
of the happy past, what previsions of the horrible future, now filled my
brain!





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