Life and Death
Morning found them but little, if at all refreshed, though
it was with a feeling of intense relief that they saw the
As soon as they had made their meager breakfast of salt
pork, coffee and biscuit, Clayton commenced work upon their
house, for he realized that they could hope for no safety and
no peace of mind at night until four strong walls effectually
barred the jungle life from them.
The task was an arduous one and required the better part of
a month, though he built but one small room. He constructed
his cabin of small logs about six inches in diameter,
stopping the chinks with clay which he found at the depth of
a few feet beneath the surface soil.
At one end he built a fireplace of small stones from the
beach. These also he set in clay and when the house had been
entirely completed he applied a coating of the clay to the
entire outside surface to the thickness of four inches.
In the window opening he set small branches about an inch in
diameter both vertically and horizontally, and so woven that they
formed a substantial grating that could withstand the strength
of a powerful animal. Thus they obtained air and proper
ventilation without fear of lessening the safety of their cabin.
The A-shaped roof was thatched with small branches laid
close together and over these long jungle grass and palm
fronds, with a final coating of clay.
The door he built of pieces of the packing-boxes which
had held their belongings, nailing one piece upon another, the
grain of contiguous layers running transversely, until he had
a solid body some three inches thick and of such great
strength that they were both moved to laughter as they gazed
Here the greatest difficulty confronted Clayton, for he had
no means whereby to hang his massive door now that he had
built it. After two days' work, however, he succeeded in
fashioning two massive hardwood hinges, and with these he
hung the door so that it opened and closed easily.
The stuccoing and other final touches were added after
they moved into the house, which they had done as soon as
the roof was on, piling their boxes before the door at night
and thus having a comparatively safe and comfortable habitation.
The building of a bed, chairs, table, and shelves was a
relatively easy matter, so that by the end of the second month
they were well settled, and, but for the constant dread of
attack by wild beasts and the ever growing loneliness, they
were not uncomfortable or unhappy.
At night great beasts snarled and roared about their tiny
cabin, but, so accustomed may one become to oft repeated
noises, that soon they paid little attention to them, sleeping
soundly the whole night through.
Thrice had they caught fleeting glimpses of great man-like
figures like that of the first night, but never at sufficiently
close range to know positively whether the half-seen forms
were those of man or brute.
The brilliant birds and the little monkeys had become accustomed
to their new acquaintances, and as they had evidently never
seen human beings before they presently, after their first
fright had worn off, approached closer and closer, impelled
by that strange curiosity which dominates the wild creatures
of the forest and the jungle and the plain, so that within
the first month several of the birds had gone so far as even
to accept morsels of food from the friendly hands of the Claytons.
One afternoon, while Clayton was working upon an addition
to their cabin, for he contemplated building several more
rooms, a number of their grotesque little friends came shrieking
and scolding through the trees from the direction of the
ridge. Ever as they fled they cast fearful glances back of
them, and finally they stopped near Clayton jabbering excitedly
to him as though to warn him of approaching danger.
At last he saw it, the thing the little monkeys so feared--
the man-brute of which the Claytons had caught occasional
It was approaching through the jungle in a semi-erect position,
now and then placing the backs of its closed fists upon the
ground--a great anthropoid ape, and, as it advanced, it emitted
deep guttural growls and an occasional low barking sound.
Clayton was at some distance from the cabin, having come
to fell a particularly perfect tree for his building operations.
Grown careless from months of continued safety, during
which time he had seen no dangerous animals during the daylight
hours, he had left his rifles and revolvers all within the
little cabin, and now that he saw the great ape crashing
through the underbrush directly toward him, and from a
direction which practically cut him off from escape, he
felt a vague little shiver play up and down his spine.
He knew that, armed only with an ax, his chances with this
ferocious monster were small indeed--and Alice; O God, he
thought, what will become of Alice?
There was yet a slight chance of reaching the cabin. He
turned and ran toward it, shouting an alarm to his wife to run
in and close the great door in case the ape cut off his retreat.
Lady Greystoke had been sitting a little way from the
cabin, and when she heard his cry she looked up to see the
ape springing with almost incredible swiftness, for so large
and awkward an animal, in an effort to head off Clayton.
With a low cry she sprang toward the cabin, and, as she
entered, gave a backward glance which filled her soul with
terror, for the brute had intercepted her husband, who now
stood at bay grasping his ax with both hands ready to swing
it upon the infuriated animal when he should make his final
"Close and bolt the door, Alice," cried Clayton. "I can
finish this fellow with my ax."
But he knew he was facing a horrible death, and so did she.
The ape was a great bull, weighing probably three hundred
pounds. His nasty, close-set eyes gleamed hatred from beneath
his shaggy brows, while his great canine fangs were bared
in a horrid snarl as he paused a moment before his prey.
Over the brute's shoulder Clayton could see the doorway
of his cabin, not twenty paces distant, and a great wave of
horror and fear swept over him as he saw his young wife
emerge, armed with one of his rifles.
She had always been afraid of firearms, and would never
touch them, but now she rushed toward the ape with the
fearlessness of a lioness protecting its young.
"Back, Alice," shouted Clayton, "for God's sake, go back."
But she would not heed, and just then the ape charged, so
that Clayton could say no more.
The man swung his ax with all his mighty strength, but the
powerful brute seized it in those terrible hands, and tearing it
from Clayton's grasp hurled it far to one side.
With an ugly snarl he closed upon his defenseless victim,
but ere his fangs had reached the throat they thirsted for,
there was a sharp report and a bullet entered the ape's back
between his shoulders.
Throwing Clayton to the ground the beast turned upon his
new enemy. There before him stood the terrified girl vainly
trying to fire another bullet into the animal's body; but she
did not understand the mechanism of the firearm, and the
hammer fell futilely upon an empty cartridge.
Almost simultaneously Clayton regained his feet, and without
thought of the utter hopelessness of it, he rushed forward
to drag the ape from his wife's prostrate form.
With little or no effort he succeeded, and the great bulk
rolled inertly upon the turf before him--the ape was dead.
The bullet had done its work.
A hasty examination of his wife revealed no marks upon
her, and Clayton decided that the huge brute had died the
instant he had sprung toward Alice.
Gently he lifted his wife's still unconscious form, and bore
her to the little cabin, but it was fully two hours before she
Her first words filled Clayton with vague apprehension.
For some time after regaining her senses, Alice gazed
wonderingly about the interior of the little cabin, and
then, with a satisfied sigh, said:
"O, John, it is so good to be really home! I have had an
awful dream, dear. I thought we were no longer in London,
but in some horrible place where great beasts attacked us."
"There, there, Alice," he said, stroking her forehead, "try
to sleep again, and do not worry your head about bad dreams."
That night a little son was born in the tiny cabin beside the
primeval forest, while a leopard screamed before the door, and
the deep notes of a lion's roar sounded from beyond the ridge.
Lady Greystoke never recovered from the shock of the
great ape's attack, and, though she lived for a year after her
baby was born, she was never again outside the cabin, nor
did she ever fully realize that she was not in England.
Sometimes she would question Clayton as to the strange
noises of the nights; the absence of servants and friends, and
the strange rudeness of the furnishings within her room, but,
though he made no effort to deceive her, never could she
grasp the meaning of it all.
In other ways she was quite rational, and the joy and happiness
she took in the possession of her little son and the constant
attentions of her husband made that year a very happy
one for her, the happiest of her young life.
That it would have been beset by worries and apprehension
had she been in full command of her mental faculties Clayton
well knew; so that while he suffered terribly to see her so,
there were times when he was almost glad, for her sake, that
she could not understand.
Long since had he given up any hope of rescue, except
through accident. With unremitting zeal he had worked to
beautify the interior of the cabin.
Skins of lion and panther covered the floor. Cupboards and
bookcases lined the walls. Odd vases made by his own hand
from the clay of the region held beautiful tropical flowers.
Curtains of grass and bamboo covered the windows, and,
most arduous task of all, with his meager assortment of tools
he had fashioned lumber to neatly seal the walls and ceiling
and lay a smooth floor within the cabin.
That he had been able to turn his hands at all to such
unaccustomed labor was a source of mild wonder to him.
But he loved the work because it was for her and the tiny life
that had come to cheer them, though adding a hundredfold
to his responsibilities and to the terribleness of their situation.
During the year that followed, Clayton was several times
attacked by the great apes which now seemed to continually
infest the vicinity of the cabin; but as he never again
ventured outside without both rifle and revolvers he had
little fear of the huge beasts.
He had strengthened the window protections and fitted a
unique wooden lock to the cabin door, so that when he
hunted for game and fruits, as it was constantly necessary for
him to do to insure sustenance, he had no fear that any animal
could break into the little home.
At first he shot much of the game from the cabin windows,
but toward the end the animals learned to fear the strange
lair from whence issued the terrifying thunder of his rifle.
In his leisure Clayton read, often aloud to his wife, from
the store of books he had brought for their new home.
Among these were many for little children--picture books,
primers, readers--for they had known that their little child
would be old enough for such before they might hope to return
At other times Clayton wrote in his diary, which he had
always been accustomed to keep in French, and in which he
recorded the details of their strange life. This book he kept
locked in a little metal box.
A year from the day her little son was born Lady Alice
passed quietly away in the night. So peaceful was her end
that it was hours before Clayton could awake to a realization
that his wife was dead.
The horror of the situation came to him very slowly, and it
is doubtful that he ever fully realized the enormity of his
sorrow and the fearful responsibility that had devolved upon
him with the care of that wee thing, his son, still a nursing babe.
The last entry in his diary was made the morning following
her death, and there he recites the sad details in a matter-of-
fact way that adds to the pathos of it; for it breathes a tired
apathy born of long sorrow and hopelessness, which even this
cruel blow could scarcely awake to further suffering:
My little son is crying for nourishment--O Alice, Alice,
what shall I do?
And as John Clayton wrote the last words his hand was
destined ever to pen, he dropped his head wearily upon his
outstretched arms where they rested upon the table he had
built for her who lay still and cold in the bed beside him.
For a long time no sound broke the deathlike stillness of
the jungle midday save the piteous wailing of the tiny man-child.
Top of Page
Room | TARZAN
of the Apes