Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes online

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in which horses landed over their fences, or what not, he would say,
** I think we had better go down and see Tom Cannon.*' So to
Danebury we would go, confident of a kindly welcome, we had
some of the horses out, and published the results of our obser-

Wanting occupation, and loving the atmosphere of the race-
course, Mr. Coventry, when he gave up riding, applied for the post




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of Starter, and was, of course, cordially welcomed. He has done
admirable work in this capacity, as all racegoers are aware, both
with the flag and since the introduction of the gate; if he has a
fault it is really a virtue — infinite patience mixed with over-anxiety.
There is perhaps more ignorant criticism of starting than of any-
thing else in racing. Some horses are in their strides at once,
others begin slowly — perhaps swerve or are badly bumped ; and so,
though they may have been in most perfect line when the barrier
flew up, all the jockeys equally ready, in fact, when the start has
been simply perfect, there is sometimes a wide distance between
leader and last when they have gone a few hundred yards; the start
being set down as wretched, and the starter as a species of criminal.

In the days when Mr. Coventry was winning many races, and
full of enthusiasm on the subject, he confided to me that he would
rather catch a big salmon than win any race ever known, and his
keenness for the rod continues. A regular visitor at Gordon Castle,
his skill as an angler has been shown by the landing cf many big
Spey fish. He is also an excellent shot with gun and rifle alike,
though a victim to the acutest attacks of stag fever. " You feel cool
as a cucumber till you get that wretched rifle in your hand," I have
heard him say, "and then the fever catches you, and you don't
know what you are doing." The end of it, however, in his case, is
usually a good head.

It is difficult to write about the character of a friend whom one
has the pleasure of constantly meeting, and with regard to this it
will be sufficient to say that there are the best of reasons why
Arthur Coventry should be, as he is, one of the most popular men
in England.


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The great museum was closed for the day. In the dim galleries
many skeletons stood : whitened bones of man and ape and mam-
moth ; grinning masks and fleshless limbs ; weird relics of things
which had once wandered in long-forgotten forests, or browsed on
plains now hidden by the sea.

The subordinates had departed, and Mr. Sugg, the assistant
curator, accompanied by a friend, alone remained. Mr. Sugg was
young — young and untravelled enough to have eliminated all mys-
tery from the universe. For him poetry was merely an elevated
form of ignorance, and wonder a matter of imperfect education.
He smiled at the word " Soul,'' knowing that Life is a process
pretty much akin to combustion, and for the weaker brethren,
including religionists of all denominations, his contempt, even if
genial, was none the less thorough. In the spectral light, and
surrounded by the jetsam of the dead ages, he was engaged in
arranging certain bones on a rough table for the delectation of his

" Now, these are what beat us," he said, when he had con-
cluded the arrangement to his satisfaction. " We have never been
able to determine with certainty the species to which they belong."

His friend, no mean zoologist by the way, examined them with
keen interest.

" Gorilla ! " he said, at length, rather decisively.

Mr. Sugg appeared to be amused. " Before we travel quite so
fast we may at least take it that the remains are those of a true
anthropoid ape."

His friend assented. ** Certainly," he replied.

NO. cxxvu. VOL. xxii. — February 1906 K

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" Well, wait a moment. In the first place we may, of course,
pass by the gibbons. Apart from the question of size, the extreme
relative length of hand and arm so characteristic of the gibbons
(Hylobates) is too conspicuous by its absence here** — indicating the
skeleton — " to make further inquiry on that head necessary. Now
we come to the orang. The length of the entire foot of the orang,
as compared with that of the backbone, is strikingly great. In the
present case the length is not remarkable. Again, take the hand ;
there is no marked discrepancy in the relative lengths of thumb and
fingers. The orang has the shortest thumb as compared with the
forefingers of all the anthropoids."

The friend reflected. "That is true,'* he said. "As I told
you, there is nothing for it but the gorilla, or possibly the

Again Mr. Sugg smiled.

" But the ribs," he said ; ** there are only twelve pairs, as in
man. No gorilla or chimpanzee has ever been discovered with
fewer than thirteen. Then the wrist-bones; there are only eight.
In a chimpanzee or gorilla there would be nine."

The friend looked utterly blank. ** Still, the skeleton is not
that of a man," he said, reflectively. "Apart from the abnormal
length of limb, the bones of the feet alone make such a hypothesis
untenable. You see that the hallux is so constructed as to oppose
the other toes (much as our thumb can oppose the fingers), instead
of being parallel with the other toes and exclusively adapted for
supporting the body on the ground. The prehensile character of
the hallux, in fact, is fully developed, and renders the foot a distinct
and tremendously muscular hand. By the way, what does Stacpoole
say of it ? "

Mr. Sugg toyed with the bones a moment without speaking.

" That is the really strange part of the business," he said, at
length. " Stacpoole says never a word."

But although Professor Henry Stacpoole, whose name rings at
short intervals through the whole scientific world, has systematically
refused to enlighten the curiosity of Mr. Sugg and his like, it by no
means follows that he has nothing to say.

The unclassified bones which Mr. Sugg handles with profes-
sional carelessness are closely linked with an episode in his career
which he is never likely to forget. Incidentally they may be said
to have discovered for him a very charming wife, but their associa-
tions have none the less a distinctly painful side. The skeleton has
never been articulated in the ordinary way ; usually the bones are

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stored in one of the vast drawers which hne the workroom. For
whenever the Professor's glance falls upon them he sees a dim vista,
in a West African jungle. The ground is slippery with blood, and
a girl, newly snatched from death, is at his side. However, here is
the story : —

With his reputation still in the future, Henry Stacpoole, like
most young zoologists, was avid of discovery. He was also a keen
sportsman, and the spirit of adventure was strong within him.
When, therefore, a letter came from the Rev. Dr. Stirling, a mis-
sionary settled at Bak^li, hinting at mystery and sport, Stacpoole
read it with unusual interest. Bak^li is a small station on a
tributary of the Gaboon River, and Stirling wrote of a tradition
current amongst the natives, that certain large ape-like animals
differing from all recognised species exist in the dense jungles
thereabouts. These animals were named indifferently, Gina,
Qugeena, and M'wiri, the latter a term signifying ** Satyr Man."'
The higher caste Fans, Stirling went on, had a superstitious
reverence for these strange creatures, and refused in any way to
molest them, believing that the souls of their dead ancestors had
entered their bodies. This belief had given rise to a Fantee saying :
** He who kills M'wiri kills a Soul." A further safeguard from
offence lay in the fact that M*wiri was credited with altogether
supernatural knowledge and power : that his long arm could reach
his adversary irrespective of place or distance, at any time, no
matter how far he might flee, nor howsoever cunningly he might
hide himself. Stirling concluded by saying that notwithstanding
his long residence, he had never seen one in the flesh, but that
recently certain unidentified bones, which he forwarded, had been
brought to the mission house. He was interested to know what
Stacpoole would make of the matter.

Now Stacpoole recalled certain words of Winwood Reade's :
he remembered Wallace had predicted that new forms akin to the
gorilla might still be found in the dense, unexplored forests of
Western Africa. And here was a remote spot practically on the
Equator, the mystic line which all the giant anthropoids love; and
here was the legend — widely spread, whatever might be its base —
that the new form actually existed. Besides, there were the

After a very brief delay for the procuring of suitable arms and
accoutrements, the West Coast mail steamer bore Henry Stacpoole
down the Southampton W^ater on his way to the Gaboon.

The mission house at Bak^li was of bare wood, thatched with
fan palms, with a wide veranda in front. It had been originally
occupied by the native catechist and his wife, and fell far below any

K a

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European standard of comfort. Still, it contrasted favourably with
the irregular rows of huts which surrounded it, and Stacpoole was
well content.

The road of beaten red dust, strewn with unnamed debris, ended
in the rude market-place, where the butchers sold their reeking
goats' flesh. To the left the silent river ran, almost hidden in places
by the dense tangle of creepers and lianas which lined its banks,
and behind grew clumps of wild ginger and stately groups of date
palms. Here William Stirling lived his simple life amidst the
savages, the monotony of which was alone broken by the stray visit
of some official from the distant railway on a hunting-trip, or of a
drunken half-caste Portuguese rum-dealer. Here Stirling's devoted
wife lived and died, and the little stone which marked her grave
could be seen gleaming white at the foot of the palms.

Stacpoole found himself welcomed warmly, and it was only on
his arrival that he learnt that the old missionary had a daughter.
Later, she entered the little bungalow where the two men were

** A strange child, Stacpoole ! " said the old man, as he stretched
out his gnarled and knotted hand to clasp the little white one at his
side. ** She wanders where she will in this Heaven-forsaken country.
She has no fear."

Stacpoole glanced at the slight figure and fair, delicate face of
the girl as she stood stroking her father's hand.

** It strikes one as being rather a wild life for a young lady," he
said. '* Miss Stirling should at least avoid some of the errors of

When they were alone the old man again spoke of his daughter.
" Yes," he said, reflectively, " I sometimes wonder if I am
acting fairly to Enid in permitting her to remain here. But she is
so happy— and — and so strangely good. Even to me she app)ears
like a spirit. She passes through the foulest scenes, the most devil-
like orgies, but she touches them exactly as pure sunlight might.
Darkness, sin, disease — even in this death-dealing climate she has
never known ache or pain — seem to shrink from her as though she
were something of an essentially different nature. As I said, she
knows nothing of fear. When the plague decimated half the
country-side, she was out alone in the blackest night on her errands
of mercy. The lowest savages, even the wild animals, seem to
recognise something which they cannot understand, but which they
instantly give way to. She is a strange child ! "

Stacpoole assented. Even he had been touched by the sense
of radiant power which this girl, who was little more than a child,
seemed to possess. But for the keen sportsman and naturalist there

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was something more important afoot than missionary capacity,
however sublime. He unstrapped the cases where the rifles were
carefully packed, and he noted with satisfaction that his host ran
over their fine lines with a practised eye, and that his hands
lingered on the barrels with the pleasure which betokens the old

Already the conversation had turned many times on M'wiri, the
mysterious ape-like creature of which Stirling had written. The
old man was deeply interested in the matter, but he had little of
personal knowledge to impart.

** Since the day of my first coming here many years ago," he
said, ** I have heard rumours of this strange beast. They were
usually accompanied by wild tales plainly apocryphal, and I dis-
missed them from my mind. In this weird country anything seems
possible. A touch of fever in the blood, and dark forms may arise
in the brain which it is hard to distinguish from realities. It is best
to be on one's guard."

" Is it not possible to interview anyone here who has really seen
the apparition, god or brute, as it may be? " asked Stacpoole.

The old man looked troubled.

" Few state that they have actually seen it," he said ; " and it is
hard to get them to speak. As I told you in my letter, I had doubt
of its existence, but "

He paused, and the troubled look deepened on his face.
Stacpoole looked up quickly.

*' The fact is Enid now claims to have encountered it. I can
hardly believe it to be pure hallucination— but — the circumstances
are so strange. You know well the timidity of all the gorilla tribe ;
how it takes most careful tracking to get a sight of them at all.
Well, here is a monster, vaster in girth and length of limb than any
known man, moving in the midst of the street at broad midday,
passing her within three feet."

** It must have been seen by many others besides Miss Stirling? "
said Stacpoole, quickly.

** No; the street chanced to be empty — that is not unusual. It
is strange — very strange — but something of the Fantee feeling, which
I have hitherto held to be blank superstition, appears to have affected
the child's mind. There is no fear; not even shrinking. She has
nothing of these in common with the Fans. It is rather a sense —
how shall I express it ? — a sense almost of reverence ; a feeling that
it would be a terrible, even an impious, thing to offer it injury. We
must beware how we discuss any murderous scheme in Enid's pre-
sence, Stackpoole ! "

That night Stacpoole smiled a little in self-derision. His hope

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of adding a new anthropoid to the meagre list already known to
science was growing remote. It occurred to him again that the
bones might be merely some abnormal example of a known type
after all. The evidence of the existence of a new sf)ecies became
more and more shadowy — the half-dreamy babblings of a few super-
stitious savages, most of which were demonstrably absurd ; the
" vision *' of a neurotic girl, seen amid circumstances in the highest
degree improbable — upon these rested his hopes, lately so rosy.

He looked from the low veranda. The African moon had
risen. It touched the snaky lianas and other monstrous growths
with unearthly radiance. A white gleam lay upon the river, and
dim forms rose, or seemed to rise, in the water, appearing to dissolve
rather than to sink, leaving the mind restless. Strange perfumes
were in the dead air, and sometimes a low, wailing cry came from
the woods. Above, towering far into the gloom, rose the funereal
plumes of the date palms.

Stacpoole turned aside impatiently. In this devils-land any-
thing seemed possible. Given but a touch of the omnipresent fever,
and the strongest brain might see trees as men walking.

He took out the rifles and began to oil the locks. Even if
M'wiri was a myth, there were deer in the woods, and hippo and
crocodiles in the river.

In the morning two scantily attired savages, Kanga and
Salombo, stood stolidly in the veranda; mighty hunters and pro-
fessional trackers who knew the jungles as snake or tiger might, and
who could subsist for many days on a cassava ball or mere handful
of plantain paste.

Yet, keen sportsman as he was, Stacpoole showed no undue
eagerness for the fray. The fact was he had become rather interested
in Miss Stirling. At first psychologically, and subsequently for
reasons which hardly came within the domain of true science.

Anything apparently less neurotic, or more winsome, than this
daughter of the forest he had never met. She was so utterly free
from the artifice usually inseparable from feminine civilisation that
Stacpoole had come to look upon her as a child. Yet her know-
ledge was extraordinary. In the matter of the intricate fauna and
flora of the region he found himself sitting at her feet, drinking from
deep and original wells of information. Plainly she owed nothing
to the text-books: she had an instinct for birds and beasts and
flowers, and she saw them in new and interesting lights, always at
first hand. A saving grace of humour destroyed all trace of the
bluestocking, and the little caressing ways which she had never been
taught to hide were delightful to behold.

Stacpoole refrained from referring to M'wiri, If the girl were

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the victim of hallucination, as he firmly believed, the matter were
better left. Still, she was a most interesting companion.

As the little hunting party passed through the village, Stac-
poole's attention was attracted by a hideous and extremely old
savage sitting in the red dust of the roadside. He was attired in
the uncouth garb of a native priest or witch-doctor. His mouth was
partly open, and his eyes had the fixed piercing quality not infre-
quently seen in the insane or the dying. He appeared to look
through the group to some distant vista beyond, but he gave no sign
of being aware of their presence.

Stirling touched Stacpoole's arm. " Come ! " he said. " Don't
speak to him. We may have trouble. — That is Mongulamba,"
he added later. " Mainly mad, I think, but with some method in
it. Why he is here, I don't know. He belongs to another tribe —
cannibalistic devil -worshippers, if rumour is true. They have learnt,
however, to keep their proceedings carefully secret. So much of
civilisation has at least reached them. But why that half-witted
monstrosity is hanging about here, so far from his own people, it is
difficult to imagine."

But Stacpoole soon forgot the loathsome figure squatting in the
dust. A new world seemed opening around him. The wonders of
tropical vegetation, the giant ferns, the trees which were each a
towering mass of flowers, the brilliantly dyed birds and butterflies —
all these brought a new delight to the soul of the naturalist. In its
lower reaches the river broadened into a lagoon, and here the keen J

eye of Salombo, peering through the tangled greenery, marked a 1

dull grey object lying like driftwood on the water. Here Stac-
poole got his first shot at a crocodile ; but, although the bullet was •
true, the grey driftwood merely sank from sight, and appeared no ^
more. f

That night the young naturalist felt at peace with the world. •

The bag might be nil, M'wiri might be the mere phantom of a fever- ^

striken imagination, but at least he had gained a near intimacy with |

a tropical forest, a thing worth many journeys, and one which ^

surely no man can ever forget. As Stacpoole lighted a cigar he
heard Kanga and the stalwart Salombo busy in the small bamboo
enclosure where they cleaned the rifles and prepared the gear ready
for the morrow.

Within the little bungalow Miss Stirling was still seated at the
table. Her father had risen and had moved towards the door.
Outside, the moon made little pools of light, their outlines sharply
defined by the black shadows of the trees. The girl had been
chatting merrily with Stacpoole. Suddenly she fell back, her eyes
fixed strangely on the little blindless window.

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" There ! There ! It is there ! '* she said, in a low, breathless

Instantly Stirling turned and seized her in his arms. '* Enid —
Enid — my darling," he whispered, soothingly, "you forget yourself.
You are dreaming — dreaming ! "

But Stacpoole had leapt to his feet, his face pallid with

** By Heaven, she was right ; I — I saw it myself. There was a
weird, unearthly face pressed to the glass."

In a second more he was outside. *' Kanga — Salombo," he
whispered, ** the guns — quick, and not a sound ! "

The hunters knew many words of English, and handed the
rifles silently, wondering what game was afoot. Then, armed
themselves, they passed out quietly with Stacpoole into the
blackness of the trees.

The ground here was fairly free from undergrowth, and Stac-
poole lined out his men with orders to shoot if anything moved.
In the stillness of the night the crackle of a dry twig could be heard.
Every second Stacpoole expected to hear a mighty rush, but
nothing stirred. They were now nearing the edge of the belt of
timber. The pale light began to filter through the trees and to
illuminate the wide open space beyond. Sometimes a faint breath
of wind moved the boughs, and again all was silent. Stacpoole
leaned against a tree and waited listening.

Suddenly a sound came — a half-cry choked in its utterance.
A noise of crushing, followed by the fall as of some heavy body
from a height. Then again all was silent, save for the faint
rustling of the boughs.

On the instant Stacpoole had rushed to the spot whence the
sounds had come, barely twenty yards away; but Kanga had reached
it first. For one moment he crouched over the shattered corpse of
Salombo, whining like a dog. Then with a terrified cry of " M'wiri !
M*wiri ! " he bolted through the wood like a gun-shy setter.

« « 4» « ♦

For many days the death of Salombo spread consternation
through the village. The natives feared to leave their huts. Stac-
poole, alone, rifle in hand, worked the nearer woods day by day,
but without result. A sense of gloom descended upon the little
bungalow, and Miss Stirling's face grew white and strained. Even
Stirling himself appeared to be uneasy.

One day he took Stacpoole aside. ** I wish you would cease to
hunt for this accursed thing," he said, somewhat abruptly. " It is
affecting Enid's mind. Do you know she claims to have seen this
weird beast again ? "

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Stacpoole started. " She must not venture out," he exclaimed.
** The thing is too dangerous.''

Stirling passed his hand with a distressed movement across his
brow. ** It is not that," he said. " I begin to fear for her reason.
She contends now she has not only seen it, she has touched it, held
some uncanny communion with it, and .she asserts vehemently that
we are in the presence of some Power, some Intelligence which we
do not understand."

In his turn Stacpoole looked distressed. ** Poor child," he
thought ; ** pray heaven it is only a touch of fever. In this land of
shadows dreams thicken into realities. I have felt it myself. I will
speak to her. Surely her mind cannot have gone hopelessly astray."

He was standing in a clearing in the wood where Stirling had
left him. It was still early to return to the bungalow. He knew
some of the better-marked tracks in the forest fairly well now, and
he turned down one of these which led to the river.

He rested for some time hoping to see the grey motionless
streak which marked the head of a waiting crocodile, but the black
waters were empty of living things. It was growing dark when he
came to the village again, with the plumes of the date palms hovering
far above him in the gloom like ominous wings.

Near to the spot where he had seen Mongulamba hunched up in
the dust he met the Kruboy, Kanga, breathless and scared. Stac-
poole spoke to him sharply.

** It iss Missy Enid ! " he panted — " Gone away — lost ! "

Stacpoole turned in sudden fear. " What new devil's business
was this ? " he asked himself.

Kanga's vocabulary was of the sparsest, but he made himself
clear. Enid had disappeared, leaving no trace behind, and Stirling
was already away with a hastily mustered search party.

It was long after midnight when the two white men met at the
bungalow, each having taken his own line of search after the missing
girl. They recognised the foil)' of wearing their strength out in the
blackness of the jungle, so they had come back for food and water.
Now they lay down with their rifles at their side to await the tardy

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 11 of 52)