The Reversion Of The Beast Folk
From: The Island Of Doctor Moreau
IN this way I became one among the Beast People in the Island
of Doctor Moreau. When I awoke, it was dark about me. My arm ached
in its bandages. I sat up, wondering at first where I might be.
I heard coarse voices talking outside. Then I saw that my
barricade had gone, and that the opening of the hut stood clear.
My revolver was still in my hand.
I heard something breathing, saw something crouched together
close beside me. I held my breath, trying to see what it was.
It began to move slowly, interminably. Then something soft and warm
and moist passed across my hand. All my muscles contracted. I snatched
my hand away. A cry of alarm began and was stifled in my throat.
Then I just realised what had happened sufficiently to stay my fingers on
"Who is that?" I said in a hoarse whisper, the revolver still pointed.
"Who are you?"
"They say there is no Master now. But I know, I know. I carried the
bodies into the sea, O Walker in the Sea! the bodies of those you slew.
I am your slave, Master."
"Are you the one I met on the beach?" I asked.
"The same, Master."
The Thing was evidently faithful enough, for it might have fallen
upon me as I slept. "It is well," I said, extending my hand for
another licking kiss. I began to realise what its presence meant,
and the tide of my courage flowed. "Where are the others?"
"They are mad; they are fools," said the Dog-man. "Even now they
talk together beyond there. They say, 'The Master is dead.
The Other with the Whip is dead. That Other who walked in the Sea is
as we are. We have no Master, no Whips, no House of Pain, any more.
There is an end. We love the Law, and will keep it; but there
is no Pain, no Master, no Whips for ever again.' So they say.
But I know, Master, I know."
I felt in the darkness, and patted the Dog-man's head. "It is well,"
I said again.
"Presently you will slay them all," said the Dog-man.
"Presently," I answered, "I will slay them all,--after certain
days and certain things have come to pass. Every one of them save
those you spare, every one of them shall be slain."
"What the Master wishes to kill, the Master kills," said the Dog-man
with a certain satisfaction in his voice.
"And that their sins may grow," I said, "let them live in their folly
until their time is ripe. Let them not know that I am the Master."
"The Master's will is sweet," said the Dog-man, with the ready tact
of his canine blood.
"But one has sinned," said I. "Him I will kill, whenever I may meet him.
When I say to you, 'That is he,' see that you fall upon him.
And now I will go to the men and women who are assembled together."
For a moment the opening of the hut was blackened by the exit of
the Dog-man. Then I followed and stood up, almost in the exact spot
where I had been when I had heard Moreau and his staghound pursuing me.
But now it was night, and all the miasmatic ravine about me was black;
and beyond, instead of a green, sunlit slope, I saw a red fire,
before which hunched, grotesque figures moved to and fro.
Farther were the thick trees, a bank of darkness, fringed above
with the black lace of the upper branches. The moon was just riding
up on the edge of the ravine, and like a bar across its face drove
the spire of vapour that was for ever streaming from the fumaroles of
"Walk by me," said I, nerving myself; and side by side we walked
down the narrow way, taking little heed of the dim Things that peered
at us out of the huts.
None about the fire attempted to salute me. Most of them
disregarded me, ostentatiously. I looked round for the Hyena-swine,
but he was not there. Altogether, perhaps twenty of the Beast
Folk squatted, staring into the fire or talking to one another.
"He is dead, he is dead! the Master is dead!" said the voice
of the Ape-man to the right of me. "The House of Pain--there
is no House of Pain!"
"He is not dead," said I, in a loud voice. "Even now he watches us!"
This startled them. Twenty pairs of eyes regarded me.
"The House of Pain is gone," said I. "It will come again.
The Master you cannot see; yet even now he listens among you."
"True, true!" said the Dog-man.
They were staggered at my assurance. An animal may be ferocious
and cunning enough, but it takes a real man to tell a lie.
"The Man with the Bandaged Arm speaks a strange thing,"
said one of the Beast Folk.
"I tell you it is so," I said. "The Master and the House of Pain
will come again. Woe be to him who breaks the Law!"
They looked curiously at one another. With an affectation of indifference
I began to chop idly at the ground in front of me with my hatchet.
They looked, I noticed, at the deep cuts I made in the turf.
Then the Satyr raised a doubt. I answered him. Then one of the dappled
things objected, and an animated discussion sprang up round the fire.
Every moment I began to feel more convinced of my present security.
I talked now without the catching in my breath, due to the intensity
of my excitement, that had troubled me at first. In the course of about
an hour I had really convinced several of the Beast Folk of the truth
of my assertions, and talked most of the others into a dubious state.
I kept a sharp eye for my enemy the Hyena-swine, but he never appeared.
Every now and then a suspicious movement would startle me, but my
confidence grew rapidly. Then as the moon crept down from the zenith,
one by one the listeners began to yawn (showing the oddest teeth in
the light of the sinking fire), and first one and then another retired
towards the dens in the ravine; and I, dreading the silence and darkness,
went with them, knowing I was safer with several of them than with
In this manner began the longer part of my sojourn upon this
Island of Doctor Moreau. But from that night until the end came,
there was but one thing happened to tell save a series of innumerable
small unpleasant details and the fretting of an incessant uneasiness.
So that I prefer to make no chronicle for that gap of time,
to tell only one cardinal incident of the ten months I spent as an
intimate of these half-humanised brutes. There is much that sticks
in my memory that I could write,--things that I would cheerfully
give my right hand to forget; but they do not help the telling of
In the retrospect it is strange to remember how soon I fell
in with these monsters' ways, and gained my confidence again.
I had my quarrels with them of course, and could show some of
their teeth-marks still; but they soon gained a wholesome respect
for my trick of throwing stones and for the bite of my hatchet.
And my Saint-Bernard-man's loyalty was of infinite service to me.
I found their simple scale of honour was based mainly on the capacity
for inflicting trenchant wounds. Indeed, I may say--without vanity,
I hope--that I held something like pre-eminence among them.
One or two, whom in a rare access of high spirits I had scarred
rather badly, bore me a grudge; but it vented itself chiefly
behind my back, and at a safe distance from my missiles,
The Hyena-swine avoided me, and I was always on the alert for him.
My inseparable Dog-man hated and dreaded him intensely.
I really believe that was at the root of the brute's attachment to me.
It was soon evident to me that the former monster had tasted blood,
and gone the way of the Leopard-man. He formed a lair somewhere in
the forest, and became solitary. Once I tried to induce the Beast Folk to
hunt him, but I lacked the authority to make them co-operate for one end.
Again and again I tried to approach his den and come upon him unaware;
but always he was too acute for me, and saw or winded me and got away.
He too made every forest pathway dangerous to me and my ally
with his lurking ambuscades. The Dog-man scarcely dared to leave
In the first month or so the Beast Folk, compared with their
latter condition, were human enough, and for one or two besides
my canine friend I even conceived a friendly tolerance.
The little pink sloth-creature displayed an odd affection for me,
and took to following me about. The Monkey-man bored me, however;
he assumed, on the strength of his five digits, that he was my equal,
and was for ever jabbering at me,--jabbering the most arrant nonsense.
One thing about him entertained me a little: he had a fantastic trick
of coining new words. He had an idea, I believe, that to gabble
about names that meant nothing was the proper use of speech.
He called it "Big Thinks" to distinguish it from "Little Thinks,"
the sane every-day interests of life. If ever I made a remark
he did not understand, he would praise it very much, ask me to say
it again, learn it by heart, and go off repeating it, with a word
wrong here or there, to all the milder of the Beast People.
He thought nothing of what was plain and comprehensible.
I invented some very curious "Big Thinks" for his especial use.
I think now that he was the silliest creature I ever met;
he had developed in the most wonderful way the distinctive silliness
of man without losing one jot of the natural folly of a monkey.
This, I say, was in the earlier weeks of my solitude among these brutes.
During that time they respected the usage established by the Law,
and behaved with general decorum. Once I found another rabbit torn
to pieces,--by the Hyena-swine, I am assured,--but that was all.
It was about May when I first distinctly perceived a growing difference
in their speech and carriage, a growing coarseness of articulation,
a growing disinclination to talk. My Monkey-man's jabber multiplied
in volume but grew less and less comprehensible, more and more simian.
Some of the others seemed altogether slipping their hold upon speech,
though they still understood what I said to them at that time.
(Can you imagine language, once clear-cut and exact, softening and
guttering, losing shape and import, becoming mere lumps of sound again?)
And they walked erect with an increasing difficulty. Though they
evidently felt ashamed of themselves, every now and then I would come
upon one or another running on toes and finger-tips, and quite unable
to recover the vertical attitude. They held things more clumsily;
drinking by suction, feeding by gnawing, grew commoner every day.
I realised more keenly than ever what Moreau had told me about
the "stubborn beast-flesh." They were reverting, and reverting very
Some of them--the pioneers in this, I noticed with some surprise,
were all females--began to disregard the injunction of decency,
deliberately for the most part. Others even attempted public outrages
upon the institution of monogamy. The tradition of the Law was clearly
losing its force. I cannot pursue this disagreeable subject.
My Dog-man imperceptibly slipped back to the dog again; day by day
he became dumb, quadrupedal, hairy. I scarcely noticed the transition
from the companion on my right hand to the lurching dog at my side.
As the carelessness and disorganisation increased from day to day,
the lane of dwelling places, at no time very sweet, became so
loathsome that I left it, and going across the island made myself
a hovel of boughs amid the black ruins of Moreau's enclosure.
Some memory of pain, I found, still made that place the safest from
the Beast Folk.
It would be impossible to detail every step of the lapsing of
these monsters,--to tell how, day by day, the human semblance left them;
how they gave up bandagings and wrappings, abandoned at last every
stitch of clothing; how the hair began to spread over the exposed limbs;
how their foreheads fell away and their faces projected;
how the quasi-human intimacy I had permitted myself with some
of them in the first month of my loneliness became a shuddering
horror to recall.
The change was slow and inevitable. For them and for me it came
without any definite shock. I still went among them in safety,
because no jolt in the downward glide had released the increasing
charge of explosive animalism that ousted the human day by day.
But I began to fear that soon now that shock must come.
My Saint-Bernard-brute followed me to the enclosure every night,
and his vigilance enabled me to sleep at times in something like peace.
The little pink sloth-thing became shy and left me, to crawl back
to its natural life once more among the tree-branches. We were in just
the state of equilibrium that would remain in one of those "Happy Family"
cages which animal-tamers exhibit, if the tamer were to leave it
Of course these creatures did not decline into such beasts as
the reader has seen in zoological gardens,--into ordinary bears,
wolves, tigers, oxen, swine, and apes. There was still something
strange about each; in each Moreau had blended this animal with that.
One perhaps was ursine chiefly, another feline chiefly, another
bovine chiefly; but each was tainted with other creatures,--a kind
of generalised animalism appearing through the specific dispositions.
And the dwindling shreds of the humanity still startled me every
now and then,--a momentary recrudescence of speech perhaps,
an unexpected dexterity of the fore-feet, a pitiful attempt to
I too must have undergone strange changes. My clothes hung about
me as yellow rags, through whose rents showed the tanned skin.
My hair grew long, and became matted together. I am told that
even now my eyes have a strange brightness, a swift alertness
At first I spent the daylight hours on the southward beach
watching for a ship, hoping and praying for a ship.
I counted on the "Ipecacuanha" returning as the year wore on;
but she never came. Five times I saw sails, and thrice smoke;
but nothing ever touched the island. I always had a bonfire ready,
but no doubt the volcanic reputation of the island was taken to account
It was only about September or October that I began to think of making
a raft. By that time my arm had healed, and both my hands were at
my service again. At first, I found my helplessness appalling.
I had never done any carpentry or such-like work in my life, and I spent
day after day in experimental chopping and binding among the trees.
I had no ropes, and could hit on nothing wherewith to make ropes;
none of the abundant creepers seemed limber or strong enough,
and with all my litter of scientific education I could not devise
any way of making them so. I spent more than a fortnight
grubbing among the black ruins of the enclosure and on
the beach where the boats had been burnt, looking for nails
and other stray pieces of metal that might prove of service.
Now and then some Beast-creature would watch me, and go leaping
off when I called to it. There came a season of thunder-storms
and heavy rain, which greatly retarded my work; but at last the raft
I was delighted with it. But with a certain lack of practical sense
which has always been my bane, I had made it a mile or more from the sea;
and before I had dragged it down to the beach the thing had fallen
to pieces. Perhaps it is as well that I was saved from launching it;
but at the time my misery at my failure was so acute that for some
days I simply moped on the beach, and stared at the water and thought
I did not, however, mean to die, and an incident occurred that warned
me unmistakably of the folly of letting the days pass so,--for each
fresh day was fraught with increasing danger from the Beast People.
I was lying in the shade of the enclosure wall, staring out to sea,
when I was startled by something cold touching the skin of my heel,
and starting round found the little pink sloth-creature blinking
into my face. He had long since lost speech and active movement,
and the lank hair of the little brute grew thicker every day and his
stumpy claws more askew. He made a moaning noise when he saw he had
attracted my attention, went a little way towards the bushes and looked
back at me.
At first I did not understand, but presently it occurred to me that
he wished me to follow him; and this I did at last,--slowly, for the day
was hot. When we reached the trees he clambered into them, for he could
travel better among their swinging creepers than on the ground.
And suddenly in a trampled space I came upon a ghastly group.
My Saint-Bernard-creature lay on the ground, dead; and near
his body crouched the Hyena-swine, gripping the quivering flesh
with its misshapen claws, gnawing at it, and snarling with delight.
As I approached, the monster lifted its glaring eyes to mine,
its lips went trembling back from its red-stained teeth,
and it growled menacingly. It was not afraid and not ashamed;
the last vestige of the human taint had vanished. I advanced a step
farther, stopped, and pulled out my revolver. At last I had him face
The brute made no sign of retreat; but its ears went back,
its hair bristled, and its body crouched together.
I aimed between the eyes and fired. As I did so, the Thing rose
straight at me in a leap, and I was knocked over like a ninepin.
It clutched at me with its crippled hand, and struck me in the face.
Its spring carried it over me. I fell under the hind part of its body;
but luckily I had hit as I meant, and it had died even as it leapt.
I crawled out from under its unclean weight and stood up trembling,
staring at its quivering body. That danger at least was over;
but this, I knew was only the first of the series of relapses that
I burnt both of the bodies on a pyre of brushwood; but after that I saw
that unless I left the island my death was only a question of time.
The Beast People by that time had, with one or two exceptions,
left the ravine and made themselves lairs according to their taste
among the thickets of the island. Few prowled by day, most of
them slept, and the island might have seemed deserted to a new-comer;
but at night the air was hideous with their calls and howling.
I had half a mind to make a massacre of them; to build traps,
or fight them with my knife. Had I possessed sufficient cartridges,
I should not have hesitated to begin the killing. There could
now be scarcely a score left of the dangerous carnivores;
the braver of these were already dead. After the death of this poor
dog of mine, my last friend, I too adopted to some extent the practice
of slumbering in the daytime in order to be on my guard at night.
I rebuilt my den in the walls of the enclosure, with such a narrow
opening that anything attempting to enter must necessarily make
a considerable noise. The creatures had lost the art of fire too,
and recovered their fear of it. I turned once more, almost passionately
now, to hammering together stakes and branches to form a raft for
I found a thousand difficulties. I am an extremely unhandy man
(my schooling was over before the days of Slojd); but most
of the requirements of a raft I met at last in some clumsy,
circuitous way or other, and this time I took care of the strength.
The only insurmountable obstacle was that I had no vessel to contain
the water I should need if I floated forth upon these untravelled seas.
I would have even tried pottery, but the island contained no clay.
I used to go moping about the island trying with all my might
to solve this one last difficulty. Sometimes I would give
way to wild outbursts of rage, and hack and splinter some
unlucky tree in my intolerable vexation. But I could think
And then came a day, a wonderful day, which I spent in ecstasy.
I saw a sail to the southwest, a small sail like that of a little schooner;
and forthwith I lit a great pile of brushwood, and stood by it in
the heat of it, and the heat of the midday sun, watching. All day I
watched that sail, eating or drinking nothing, so that my head reeled;
and the Beasts came and glared at me, and seemed to wonder,
and went away. It was still distant when night came and swallowed
it up; and all night I toiled to keep my blaze bright and high,
and the eyes of the Beasts shone out of the darkness, marvelling.
In the dawn the sail was nearer, and I saw it was the dirty
lug-sail of a small boat. But it sailed strangely. My eyes were
weary with watching, and I peered and could not believe them.
Two men were in the boat, sitting low down,--one by the bows,
the other at the rudder. The head was not kept to the wind; it yawed and
As the day grew brighter, I began waving the last rag of my jacket to them;
but they did not notice me, and sat still, facing each other. I went
to the lowest point of the low headland, and gesticulated and shouted.
There was no response, and the boat kept on her aimless course,
making slowly, very slowly, for the bay. Suddenly a great white bird
flew up out of the boat, and neither of the men stirred nor noticed it;
it circled round, and then came sweeping overhead with its strong
Then I stopped shouting, and sat down on the headland and rested my chin
on my hands and stared. Slowly, slowly, the boat drove past towards
the west. I would have swum out to it, but something--a cold, vague
fear--kept me back. In the afternoon the tide stranded the boat, and left
it a hundred yards or so to the westward of the ruins of the enclosure.
The men in it were dead, had been dead so long that they fell
to pieces when I tilted the boat on its side and dragged them out.
One had a shock of red hair, like the captain of the "Ipecacuanha," and
a dirty white cap lay in the bottom of the boat.
As I stood beside the boat, three of the Beasts came slinking
out of the bushes and sniffing towards me. One of my spasms
of disgust came upon me. I thrust the little boat down the beach
and clambered on board her. Two of the brutes were Wolf-beasts,
and came forward with quivering nostrils and glittering eyes;
the third was the horrible nondescript of bear and bull.
When I saw them approaching those wretched remains, heard them
snarling at one another and caught the gleam of their teeth,
a frantic horror succeeded my repulsion. I turned my back upon them,
struck the lug and began paddling out to sea. I could not bring myself
to look behind me.
I lay, however, between the reef and the island that night,
and the next morning went round to the stream and filled the empty
keg aboard with water. Then, with such patience as I could command,
I collected a quantity of fruit, and waylaid and killed two rabbits
with my last three cartridges. While I was doing this I left
the boat moored to an inward projection of the reef, for fear
of the Beast People.
Next: The Man Alone
Previous: Alone With The Beast Folk