THE SEVENTH CHAPTER
THE BRIDGE OF APES
QUEEN ERMINTRUDE had never in her life seen her husband so terrible as he got that night. He gnashed his teeth with rage. He called everybody a fool. He threw his tooth-brush at the palace cat. He rushed round in his night-shirt and woke up all his army and sent them into the jungle to catch the Doctor. Then he made all his servants go too—his cooks and his gardeners and his barber and Prince Bumpo's tutor—even the Queen, who was tired from dancing in a pair of tight shoes, was packed off to help the soldiers in their search.
All this time the Doctor and his animals were running through the forest towards the Land of the Monkeys as fast as they could go.
Gub-Gub, with his short legs, soon got tired; and the Doctor had to carry him—which made it pretty hard when they had the trunk and the hand-bag with them as well.
The King of the Jolliginki thought it would be easy for his army to find them, because the Doctor was in a strange land and would not know his way. But he was wrong; because the monkey, Chee-Chee, knew all the paths through the jungle—better even than the King's men did. And he led the Doctor and his pets to the very thickest part of the forest—a place where no man had ever been before—and hid them all in a big hollow tree between high rocks.
"We had better wait here," said Chee-Chee, "till the soldiers have gone back to bed. Then we can go on into the Land of the Monkeys."
So there they stayed the whole night through.
They often heard the King's men searching and talking in the jungle round about. But they were quite safe, for no one knew of that hiding-place but Chee-Chee—not even the other monkeys.
At last, when daylight began to come through the thick leaves overhead, they heard Queen Ermintrude saying in a very tired voice that it was no use looking any more—that they might as well go back and get some sleep.
As soon as the soldiers had all gone home, Chee-Chee brought the Doctor and his animals out of the hiding-place and they set off for the Land of the Monkeys.
It was a long, long way; and they often got very tired—especially Gub-Gub. But when he cried they gave him milk out of the cocoanuts which he was very fond of.
They always had plenty to eat and drink; because Chee-Chee and Polynesia knew all the different kinds of fruits and vegetables that grow in the jungle, and where to find them—like dates and figs and ground-nuts and ginger and yams. They used to make their lemonade out of the juice of wild oranges, sweetened with honey which they got from the bees' nests in hollow trees. No matter what it was they asked for, Chee-Chee and Polynesia always seemed to be able to get it for them—or something like it. They even got the Doctor some tobacco one day, when he had finished what he had brought with him and wanted to smoke.
At night they slept in tents made of palm-leaves, on thick, soft beds of dried grass. And after a while they got used to walking such a lot and did not get so tired and enjoyed the life of travel very much.
But they were always glad when the night came and they stopped for their resting-time. Then the Doctor used to make a little fire of sticks; and after they had had their supper, they would sit round it in a ring, listening to Polynesia singing songs about the sea, or to Chee-Chee telling stories of the jungle.
And many of the tales that Chee-Chee told were very interesting. Because although the monkeys had no history-books of their own before Doctor Dolittle came to write them for them, they remember everything that happens by telling stories to their children. And Chee-Chee spoke of many things his grandmother had told him—tales of long, long, long ago, before Noah and the Flood—of the days when men dressed in bear-skins and lived in holes in the rock and ate their mutton raw, because they did not know what cooking was—having never seen a fire. And he told them of the Great Mammoths and Lizards, as long as a train, that wandered over the mountains in those times, nibbling from the tree-tops. And often they got so interested listening, that when he had finished they found their fire had gone right out; and they had to scurry round to get more sticks and build a new one.
Now when the King's army had gone back and told the King that they couldn't find the Doctor, the King sent them out again and told them they must stay in the jungle till they caught him. So all this time, while the Doctor and his animals were going along towards the Land of the Monkeys, thinking themselves quite safe, they were still being followed by the King's men. If Chee-Chee had known this, he would most likely have hidden them again. But he didn't know it.
One day Chee-Chee climbed up a high rock and looked out over the tree-tops. And when he came down he said they were now quite close to the Land of the Monkeys and would soon be there.
And that same evening, sure enough, they saw Chee-Chee's cousin and a lot of other monkeys, who had not yet got sick, sitting in the trees by the edge of a swamp, looking and waiting for them. And when they saw the famous doctor really come, these monkeys made a tremendous noise, cheering and waving leaves and swinging out of the branches to greet him.
They wanted to carry his bag and his trunk and everything he had—and one of the bigger ones even carried Gub-Gub who had got tired again. Then two of them rushed on in front to tell the sick monkeys that the great doctor had come at last.
But the King's men, who were still following, had heard the noise of the monkeys cheering; and they at last knew where the Doctor was, and hastened on to catch him.
The big monkey carrying Gub-Gub was coming along behind slowly, and he saw the Captain of the army sneaking through the trees. So he hurried after the Doctor and told him to run.
Then they all ran harder than they had ever run in their lives; and the King's men, coming after them, began to run too; and the Captain ran hardest of all.
Then the Doctor tripped over his medicine-bag and fell down in the mud, and the Captain thought he would surely catch him this time.
But the Captain had very long ears—though his hair was very short. And as he sprang forward to take hold of the Doctor, one of his ears caught fast in a tree; and the rest of the army had to stop and help him.
By this time the Doctor had picked himself up, and on they went again, running and running. And Chee-Chee shouted,
"It's all right! We haven't far to go now!"
But before they could get into the Land of the Monkeys, they came to a steep cliff with a river flowing below. This was the end of the Kingdom of Jolliginki; and the Land of the Monkeys was on the other side—across the river.
And Jip, the dog, looked down over the edge of the steep, steep cliff and said,
"Golly! How are we ever going to get across?"
"Oh, dear!" said Gub-Gub. "The King's men are quite close now—Look at them! I am afraid we are going to be taken back to prison again." And he began to weep.
But the big monkey who was carrying the pig dropped him on the ground and cried out to the other monkeys.
"Boys—a bridge! Quick!—Make a bridge! We've only a minute to do it. They've got the Captain loose, and he's coming on like a deer. Get lively! A bridge! A bridge!"
The Doctor began to wonder what they were going to make a bridge out of, and he gazed around to see if they had any boards hidden any place.
But when he looked back at the cliff, there, hanging across the river, was a bridge all ready for him—made of living monkeys! For while his back was turned, the monkeys—quick as a flash—had made themselves into a bridge, just by holding hands and feet.
And the big one shouted to the Doctor, "Walk over! Walk over—all of you—hurry!"
Gub-Gub was a bit scared, walking on such a narrow bridge at that dizzy height above the river. But he got over all right; and so did all of them.
John Dolittle was the last to cross. And just as he was getting to the other side, the King's men came rushing up to the edge of the cliff.
Then they shook their fists and yelled with rage. For they saw they were too late. The Doctor and all his animals were safe in the Land of the Monkeys and the bridge was pulled across to the other side.
Then Chee-Chee turned to the Doctor and said,
"Many great explorers and gray-bearded naturalists have lain long weeks hidden in the jungle waiting to see the monkeys do that trick. But we never let a white man get a glimpse of it before. You are the first to see the famous 'Bridge of Apes.'"
And the Doctor felt very pleased.