CHAPTER 1. - Apeland Reposes.
"Happy are they whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe their native air
In their own ground."
THE rosy summer evening, fragrant with the scent of a thousand forests, breathes over hill and valley. A deep hush, big with thought, settles over the place and broods there, as if waiting to bring forth matters of moment.
Far in the distance stretches on three sides the limitless forest, while on the east, just below, the ocean, murmuring legends of distant lands, coaxes the shore to sleep. The space thus enclosed between forest and sea seems a very paradise. Gentle slopes separate the green hills from the fertile valleys; blue streams ripple joyfully to the sea; the whole place is sparsely covered with noble trees, individualized into a more gigantic beauty than that of their kinsmen in the forest. In the fairest of the valleys, next the sea, protected on the north and west by gently sloping yet lofty hills, lies the village, a goodly sight to a weary traveller. Truly it is beautiful in the Land of the Apes.
But even the continual presence of beauty cannot make its power felt in the sordid soul. The attraction that influences yonder natives is not aesthetic truth, but vulgar gossip.
Yonder natives are two youths of the village. One of them is in no way noticeable; he is simply a common ape, of average stature, appearance, and intellect. He listens to his companion with that momentary acquiescence in every detail which all give to the dicta of their superiors. The other is indeed remarkable. His stature is so large as almost to be gigantic; his form is massive, yet not unwieldy; his face serious, yet not stern; his eyes full of craft, if not of thought; his body black and glossy, except across the breast, where runs the band of white hair, the birth-mark of nobility. His age cannot be more than a score of years.
His voice is heard almost continually. Indeed, one knows that in the mind of such as he conversation and monologue are practically synonymous.
"So you have only just come back," said he. There is nothing new to tell you; nothing new ever happens here. Stay; there is a little change: an old ape and his daughter have just come from the South. No one knows more of them than that he is a celebrated philosopher. The girl is pretty enough, but insignificant. There is no force in her, and beauty of the highest type cannot exist without force. But, speaking of them, I remember that they have not yet seen me; I must step in a moment, to countenance their arrival. Good-evening to you."
So saying, Ching Wagg, the chief youth of the village, turned his steps toward the hut of the new arrivals. As he passed the spring in the market-place his face brightened, and with a smile he bowed low toward the damsels, who with Loe Hie at their head, sat in friendly chat around the spring. Then, with a heart overflowing with good-humor toward all the world, which, after all, means only satisfaction with one's self, he went on his way.
"How noble he is!" cried Sue Choe. "And how strong - and how brave - and how beautiful," echoed the damsels, enraptured. "O Loe! is he not quite too awfully sweet?" continued Sue. "Ah," with a sigh, "happy is the woman who has his favor."
Loe alone sat unmoved while the heads and tongues of the damsels wagged to and fro in praise of Ching. She alone was worthy to be honored by his notice; and, if report spoke truly, she had received her desert. But her mind was not engaged with her noble suitor; and her eyes were turned toward a youth who was approaching diffidently. The eyes of this youth were cast down, and his steps were slow; only when he was opposite the spring he raised his eyes, and saw the damsels. Full in his face flashed a glance from Loe Hie; he blushed painfully, cast down his eyes as before, and hurried home - to dream of Loe.
The gossip of the girls, interrupted only for a long, stony stare at the youth, went on with redoubled fervor; but now their theme was the bashfulness and awkwardness of Yung Thing. This subject displeased Loe; she withdrew from the crowd, followed by Sue. These two, sitting apart, conversed in sweet whispers.
"My dearest girl," began Sue, "why are you so awfully sad? What has been weighing down your heart for days? No longer the form of Loe is most conspicuous in the dance; no longer her voice is sweetest in the song. Yet you should be happiest of the happy, for you are favored beyond us all."
"I care nothing for Ching's favor," said Loe.
"The idea!" cried Sue; "that shows that you are sure of it. Ah, is n't he too extremely glorious! I can think of nothing but him from morning till night."
Loe was silent; and Sue, discouraged by having her pet subject received in so cool a manner, changed the conversation. "Have you seen the arrivals?" she asked.
Sue was in her element when she could give information. "The great philosopher, Muag Big, to be sure," said she, "and his daughter. He is, they say, the greatest thinker alive. He has an idea that his daughter will be the mother of a great race, and he is looking for a young ape who shall be a fit husband for her. Is n't that a suffocatingly queer idea? I am going to see his daughter, Tue Swe, to-morrow; won't you go with me?"
Loe gave a non-commital answer.
"The best of it is," continued Sue, "the philosopher has made the acquaintance of our friend Yung Thing, and takes quite an interest in him. The youth is to be at their hut to-morrow morning, and I am just dying to see how he will behave. Oh Loe! do you suppose the philosopher will choose Yung for his daughter?" Sue laughed at the absurdity of her thought
"What!" exclaimed Loe, at last interested, "will Yung be there?"
"Yes. Do come, and see what the poor boy will do. But oh!" in excitement, "O Loe! here comes Ching."
"I must get out of the way before he comes," cried Loe, starting up. "Sue," in a parting whisper, "will you call for me on your way to-morrow morning?"
Sue waited the approach of Ching. He came up, breathless.
"Where is Loe? I thought she was here."
Sue was all in a flutter. "She is - she has just gone away - gone home," she said, her voice becoming soft and her blood tingling as she spoke to the great youth. "Did you wish to see her?"
She lifted her face to his appealingly; she was fascinated. But, not deigning to notice the girl, Ching strode off in the direction Loe had taken.
Sue grew rigid an instant; then, over-strained by the excitement, fell desolate on the earth. She wept
Ah, what is so pitiable as a loving heart, spurned, despised, by the object of its love! What so cruel as the youth, favored by fate, who will crush beneath his feet this precious gift of love! Will not the despised one's tears rouse against him an avenging spirit?
At length Sue's sobs ceased; slowly and despondently she dragged herself home.
The sun had long since set; the hush of evening fell upon the valley. The village was silent; all slept.
(To be continued.)