There were several incongruous features in the scene that unfolded before my eyes, some of them horrifying, but my attention was at first drawn exclusively to a figure standing motionless thirty paces away and peering in my direction.
I almost shouted aloud in amazement. Yes, in spite of my terror, in spite of the tragedy -of my own position—I was caught between the beaters and the guns—stupefaction overrode all other emotion when I saw this creature on the lookout, lying in wait for the game. For it was an ape, a large-sized gorilla. It was in vain that I told myself I was losing my reason: I could entertain not the slightest doubt as to his species. But an encounter with a gorillaon the planet Soror was not the essential outlandishness of the situation. This for me lay in the fact that the ape was correctly dressed, like a man of our world, and above all that he wore his clothes in such an easy manner. This natural aspect was what struck me first of all. No sooner had I seen the animal than I realized that he was not in any way disguised. The state in which I saw him was normal, as normal to him as nakedness was to Nova and her companions.
He was dressed as you and I are, I mean as you and I would be if we were taking part in one of those drives organized for ambassadors or other distinguished persons at official shooting parties. His dark-brown jacket seemed to be made by the best Paris tailor and revealed underneath a checked shirt of the kind our sportsmen wear. His breeches, flaring out slightly above his calves, terminated in a pair of leggings. There the resemblance ended: instead of boots he wore big black gloves.
It was a gorilla, I tell you! From his shirt collar emerged a hideous head, its top shaped like a sugar loaf and covered with black hair, with a flattened nose and jutting jaws. There he stood, leaning slightly forward, in the posture of a hunter on the lookout, grasping a rifle in his long hands. He was facing me, on the other side of a large gap cut out of the jungle at right angles to the direction of the drive
All of a sudden he stiffened. He had noticed, as I had, a faint sound in the bushes a little to my right. He turned around and at the same time raised his weapon, ready to •put it to his shoulder. From my position I could see the furrow left in the undergrowth by one of the fugitives who was running blindly straight ahead. I almost shouted out to warn him, so obvious was the ape's intention. But I had neither the time nor the strength; the man was already racing like a mountain goat across the open ground. The shot rang out while he was still halfway across the field of fire. He gave a leap in the air, collapsed in a heap on the ground, and after a few convulsions lay motionless.
But it was only a little later that I noticed the victim's death agony, my attention being still focused on the gorilla. I had followed the changes in his expression from the moment he was alerted by the noise, and had noted a number of surprising facts: first, the cruelty of the hunter stalking his prey and the feverish pleasure he derived from this pastime; but above all, the human character of his expression in this animal's eyes there was a spark of understanding that I had sought in vain among the men of Soror.
The realization of my own position soon roused me from my stupor. The shot made me turn my gaze again toward the victim, and I was the horrified witness of his final twitches. I then noticed with terror that the cleared space in the forest was littered with human bodies. It was no longer possible to delude myself as to the meaning of this scene. I caught sight of another gorilla like the first one, a hundred paces off. I was witnessing a drive—alas, I was taking part in it!—a fantastic drive in which the guns, posted at regular intervals, were apes and the game consisted of men, men like me, men and women whose naked, punctured bodies, twisted in ridiculous postures, lay bleeding on the ground.
I turned aside from this unbearable horror. I preferred the sight of the merely grotesque, and I gazed back at the gorilla barring my path. He had taken a step to one side, revealing another ape standing behind him, like a servant beside his master. It was a chimpanzee, a rather small chimpanzee, a young chimpanzee, it seemed to me, but a chimpanzee, I swear, dressed with less elegance than the gorilla, in a pair of trousers and a shirt, and easily playing his part in the meticulous organization that I was beginning to discern. The hunter had just handed him his gun. The chimpanzee exchanged it for another he was holding in his hand. Then, with precise gestures, using the cartridges in the belt he was wearing around his waist and that sparkled in the rays of Betelgeuse, the little chimpanzee reloaded the weapon. Then each resumed his position
All these impressions had taken only a few seconds. I should have liked to think about these discoveries, to analyze them; I had no time to do so. Lying beside me, Arthur Levain, numb with terror, was incapable of giving me the slightest help. The danger was increasing at every second. The beaters were approaching from behind. The din they made was now deafening. We were at bay like wild beasts, like those wretched creatures whom I could still see flitting all around us. The size of the colony must have been bigger than I had suspected, for many men were still rushing along the track, to meet there a ghastly death
Not all, however. Forcing myself to recover a little composure, from the top of my hillock I studied the behavior of the fugitives. Some of them, completely panic-stricken, rushed along snapping the undergrowth in their flight, thus alerting the apes, who easily shot them down. But others gave evidence of more cunning, like old boars who have been hunted several times and have learned a number of tricks. These crept forward on all fours, paused for a moment on the edge of the clearing, studied the nearest hunter through the leaves, and waited for the moment when his attention was drawn in another direction. Then, in one bound and at full speed, they crossed the deadly alley. Several of them thus succeeded in reaching the opposite side unhurt, and disappeared into the forest
Therein perhaps lay a chance of safety. I motioned to Levain to follow me and slipped soundlessly forward as far as the last thicket in front of the path. There I was overwhelmed by a ridiculous scruple. Should I, a man, really resort to such tricks merely to get the better of an ape? Surely the only behavior worthy of my condition was to rise to my feet, advance on the animal, and give it a good beating? The ever-increasing hullabaloo behind me reduced this mad inclination to nought.
The hunt was ending in an infernal din. The beaters were at our heels. I saw one of them emerge from the foliage. It was an enormous gorilla, laying about him at random with a club and screeching fit to burst his lungs. He made an even more terrifying impression on me than the hunter with the gun. Levain started chattering with fear and trembling from head to foot, while I kept my eye on the newcomer in front of me and waited for an opportune moment.
My wretched companion unconsciously saved my life by his imprudence. He had gone completely out of his mind. He got up without taking any precaution, started running off at random, and came out into the alley in full view of the hunter's field of fire. He went no farther. The shot seemed to snap him hi two and he collapsed, adding his body to all those that already lay there. I wasted no time in mourning him—what could I do for him?—but waited feverishly for the moment when the gorilla would hand his gun to his servant. As soon as he did so, I sprang out and raced across the alley. I saw the hunter, as though in a dream, hasten to seize his weapon, but I was already under cover by the time he could lift it to his shoulder. I heard an exclamation that sounded like an oath, but had no time for thought about this latest oddity.
I had got the best of him. I felt a strange joy, which was balm to my humiliation. I went on running at full speed, leaving the carnage behind me, until I could no longer hear the noise of the beaters. I was saved.
Saved! I was underestimating the maliciousness of the apes on the planet Soror. Hardly had I gone a hundred yards when I stumbled headfirst into an obstacle concealed in the foliage. It was a wide-meshed net stretched above the ground and equipped with large pockets, in one of which I was now entangled. I was not the only captive. The net ran across a large section of the forest, and a crowd of fugitives who had escaped being shot had let themselves be caught as I had. To my right and left frenzied jerks accompanied by furious whines bore witness to their efforts to break free.
A wild rage overcame me when I felt myself thus imprisoned, a rage stronger than terror, leaving me utterly incapable of thought. I did exactly what my reason advised me not to do—I struggled in an utterly insane manner, with the result that the net became even more tightly wound around me. I was eventually so closely bound that I could not move at all and was at the mercy of the apes I heard approaching.