"Well, sir," he answered, "the people seem a free-and-easy set, rather fond of gambling—but that's the way with these foreigners; and most of them wear long ugly knives stuck in their belts, which is not the fashion with English seamen; but these Portuguese are odd fellows, and that is how I accounts for it."
With Timbo I had no opportunity for some time of speaking. Next morning I saw that the Portuguese flag was flying from the schooner's peak, while a pennant waved from her mast-head. Certainly the officers did their best to amuse their fair guests and us. Next day, after dinner, some of the men were called aft to dance their national dances, but I can't say much for them. I saw that one or two of the men were always aloft on the look-out, and while the crew were engaged as I have before described, one of the look-outs gave a shout from aloft, and presently two of the officers went up the rigging with glasses at their backs. I saw them looking eagerly to the southward. Presently they returned on deck and reported their observations to the captain. The breeze, which had before been fresh, had by degrees been falling, and now failing us altogether, the schooner lay becalmed with her sails flapping against the masts. From this I concluded that a sail had been sighted—a slaver possibly. The officers continued talking together, while one of them, who had gone aloft, remained there, his eye constantly fixed in the direction in which I supposed he had seen the stranger. I was about to go aloft with my spy-glass, when Senhor Silva came on deck.
"The captain says that passengers going up the rigging will interfere with the duty of the ship," he observed; "you must remain on deck."
I thought this was very odd, but of course obeyed. The schooner lay without moving on the calm ocean. Some time passed. The officers continued pacing the deck, looking even more anxious, I fancied, than before. At length, as I swept the horizon with my telescope, I observed a white sail rising above it. I looked again, and made out the royals and part of the topgallant-sails of a square-rigged vessel. I shut up my glass quickly, however, as I saw the captain looking somewhat angrily towards me.
"You had better go below," said Senhor Silva, coming up to me. "Ask no questions, and do not say what you have seen. It will be better for you to do as I advise, and before long I will explain matters to you."
As I had no inclination to go below, I begged to be excused doing so; indeed, I was anxious to learn the character of the stranger, and to observe what was going forward.
"Well, do as you like," said Senhor Silva; "but I tell you your presence on deck may possibly annoy our friends."
The stranger approached rapidly, bringing up the breeze with her. Presently the captain issued some orders to his crew, and a number of them went aloft with buckets of water, with which they drenched the upper sails. In a short time some cat's-paws began to play over the ocean, our royals swelled out to the breeze, and the helm being put up, we stood away to the northward. Still the vessel in the south-west, having far more wind, quickly overhauled us. Our lower sails were now wetted, and every inch of canvas the schooner could carry was packed on her. I soon discovered that, instead of pursuing, we were pursued by the stranger. This, if the schooner we were aboard was a man-of-war, seemed unaccountable. Portugal was at peace, so I fancied, with all the world; besides which, the stranger did not appear very much larger than the schooner—a craft which, if she was of the character Senhor Silva had asserted, was not likely to run away. In a short time I made out the stranger to be a brig with taunt masts and square yards—remarkably like a man-of-war. As she drew nearer I saw, to my astonishment, the glorious old flag of England waving from her peak. I looked and looked again. I could not be mistaken. The schooner, now beginning to feel the wind, made rapid way through the water; which, stirred up into wavelets, hissed and bubbled under her bows as her stem clove a passage through it. Faster and faster we went, as the breeze, which had now overtaken us, increased, and, filling our sails, made the yards and masts crack and crack again. The countenances of the officers, as they saw the speed at which we were going, brightened considerably, and I saw them smiling as they gazed astern at our pursuer. Presently a puff of smoke issued from the bows of the brig, and the sound of a gun was heard across the ocean. Another and another followed. The Portuguese only laughed, and made mocking gestures towards the brig. I was glad that Kate and her brothers were below, for they naturally would have been anxious at seeing what was going forward. The Andorinha was undoubtedly a fast craft, and there seemed little probability, if the breeze continued, of the brig overhauling us. That she was a British man-of-war, I had no longer any doubt. What then could be the schooner? It was now late in the day, and I saw that there was every probability of her escaping. Still, unless she was a slaver, I could not account for the anxiety of her crew to avoid communication with the British man-of-war. The Portuguese crew made every effort to keep ahead, by throwing water on the sails as soon as they dried. Sails were also rigged close down to the water on either side, and several of the crew went below with shot, which they slung in hammocks in the hold, under the idea, I believe, that their weight, as the vessel pitched into the seas, would urge her forward. Two of the officers were at the helm steering her, every now and then exchanging remarks as to the best course to be pursued. The brig, I saw, was also doing her utmost to come up with us, and had also rigged out studdingsails on either side, with lighter sails above the royals, often called sky-scrapers, as well as sails hanging from the lower studding-sail booms. The Portuguese colours were flying at the peak of the schooner, but I observed that the pennants had been hauled down. Again the brig fired, but without any other effect than making the captain utter a low scornful laugh, and drawing from the crew gestures of contempt. When I first saw the brig I had hopes that we should be able to get aboard her; for, polite as Senhor Silva and the Portuguese captain were, I could not help wishing, for my fair cousins' sakes at all events, that we were in better company.
Night was drawing on. It threatened to be dark, for there was no moon, and I saw the mist rising which so often hangs over the water in those latitudes, near the coast. Still, astern I could distinguish the brig standing on in our wake with all the sail she had hitherto carried, in spite of the still increasing breeze. The Portuguese captain and his officers stood carefully watching their spars strained to the utmost by the almost cracking canvas, every now and then glancing astern at their pursuer. I kept my eye fixed on her. Now it seemed to me that she was again coming up with us. My hopes revived that she would bring the schooner to, and settle the doubts as to her character. As I was looking at her, I saw what looked like a vast cloud floating away from her mast-head. Some of the Portuguese saw it too, and cheered loudly. Her topgallant-sails, if not her topsails, had been blown away, probably with their respective masts; but the thickening gloom prevented us seeing the exact nature of the damage she had received. The Portuguese no longer feared being overtaken, but still they continued standing on as before. A few minutes afterwards we altogether lost sight of the brig. The mist, as I expected, came on, and at length the steward announcing supper, being very hungry, I went below to partake of it. The Portuguese captain and Senhor Silva were in very good spirits, and courteous as usual. I had said nothing about the brig, and was about to mention her appearance when Senhor Silva stopped me.
"There is no use talking about that matter, Mr Crawford," he observed. "The young ladies will not be interested by it, and—you understand me— I will explain matters by-and-by."
Of course after this I said nothing, and we all parted, when we retired to our berths, very good friends. The next day no sail was in sight. My cousins were on deck, and the officers treated them with the same attention as at first. With Timbo I had not exchanged words, but I got an opportunity at last of speaking to Jack Handspike without being observed. I asked him if he had seen the man-of-war brig, and what he thought of the matter.
"Yes, I did see her, and a rum thing I thought it for another man-of-war of a friendly nation to run away from her. To tell you the truth, Mr Crawford, I have a notion that this here craft—"
What he was going to say I could not tell, for at that moment one of the Portuguese officers passing, took my arm, and led me to where Senhor Silva was standing.
"Our friends do not like to see you talking to your people," he observed in an undertone. "Remember they do not know who we are, and they have some suspicion as to our character."
I thought the excuse a poor one, but yet was unwilling to give any offence, and therefore refrained from again addressing either Jack or the black.
For two days the schooner continued out of sight of land; but the third morning when I came on deck I found that she had been headed in towards it, and as soon as the sea-breeze commenced she ran in under all sail towards the mouth of a river which opened out ahead of us. On either side were dense woods of mangroves, appearing to grow directly out of the water, while on our starboard hand was a glittering sandbank, and stretching across the river appeared a line of white breakers, which I fancied must completely bar our ingress. David came on deck at that moment. I pointed them out to him. "Surely we cannot be going in there?" he said. Just then Senhor Silva came up to us and said the captain begged that we and all idlers would go below, as we were about to cross the bar, and that as occasionally the seas broke on board in so doing, it might be dangerous to remain on deck. We could but obey. What could take us into the river? I wondered. Presently I felt the vessel rise to a sea, then she pitched into it, then rose again, and in a few minutes she was gliding on in smooth water. I thought we must be inside the river, but again I felt her rise and once more pitch two or three times, then again she glided on as before. From this I knew that we must have passed over two bars, such as are frequently found at the mouths of the rivers on the west coast of Africa. "What can the vessel be about?" said David. I could not enlighten him; and at length, wishing to satisfy our curiosity, we made our way on deck. We were running up the river, with thick woods on either side. It had the appearance of a long lake, for we had already lost sight of the sea, though I knew by the current in which direction it was. In a short time we caught sight of a number of low cottages and sheds standing in a cleared space at a little distance from the banks. The crew sprang aloft and furled sails, and in a few minutes the schooner was brought to an anchor. Several canoes now came alongside, and in one of them was a fat black fellow with a cocked hat and red jacket, and a piece of stuff which looked very like an old flannel petticoat fastened round his waist. The captain bowed very politely to him, as did his officers, and he returned the salute in the same fashion. I asked Senhor Silva who he was?
"Oh, he is King Mungo," he said; "a very important person in these regions. The schooner has come here on a diplomatic mission, and though he is an ugly-looking savage, we must treat him with every respect."
After the first greetings were over the captain ushered King Mungo and three of his sable attendants, dressed in old nankeen jackets and tarry trousers, into the cabin. Kate's astonishment was naturally very great when she saw them. His majesty bowed to her with profound respect; and I saw him afterwards, whenever he had the opportunity, casting glances of admiration at her. Senhor Silva accounted to Captain Hyslop, as he had done to me, for our entering the river.
"If we are to wait any time, I should like to go ashore and see the nature of the country," said Stanley. "We shall probably be able to get a little sport."
Senhor Silva hesitated, and then addressed the Portuguese captain. "King Mungo declines to guarantee your safety, and without that it would be madness to go into the interior," he answered.
"But we can keep along the banks of the river, and we may find some sport there," said Stanley.
Again Senhor Silva brought forward many reasons for this being inadvisable. "To say the truth," he added, "as I before explained to our young friend here, my countrymen do not altogether trust us, and it would not be wise to offend them."
This answer did not satisfy Stanley, but he made no remark. Wine and spirits were now placed on the table. His majesty, I observed, after taking a glass or two of the former, applied himself with warm interest to the latter beverage, which soon produced a visible effect. His eyes rolled, and he began to talk away in a thick, husky voice. Senhor Silva again whispered a few words to Stanley, who thereon recommended Kate and Bella to retire to their cabin. It now appeared to me that the captain and King Mungo were warmly engaged in bargaining, judging by their gestures and way of speaking. The captain pressed more spirits on his guest. He would, it seemed, have continued drinking till he was unable to move, had not one of his attendants whispered in his ear, and at length snatched the glass out of his hand. The bargaining now once more went on, and seemed to be concluded to the satisfaction of both parties. At length his majesty rose, and supported by his attendants, made his way on deck, whence he was lowered in no very dignified state into his canoe. He was followed on shore by the captain and two of his officers, and a boat's crew well-armed. I observed that the schooner's guns were run over to the side nearest the village, which they thus completely commanded. As he was shoving off Stanley begged that he and I might be allowed to accompany him. David evidently wished to go, but told me that he would remain for the protection of his sisters.
"I do not quite like the look of things," he said; "and take care that you and my brother do not go far from the shore."
I said I would be cautious, and persuade Stanley to follow his advice. Scarcely had we landed when there appeared, coming through the woods, a long line of men, women, and children, walking one behind the other. As they drew nearer I saw that they were bound together with rough ropes fastened tightly to their necks by collars. At intervals at their sides walked several savage-looking blacks, with muskets on their shoulders and thick whips in their hands. There were a dozen or more huts built of bamboo, the walls and roofs covered with the leaves of the palm-tree. Some were of good size, from twenty to fifty feet in length, and of considerable breadth. At the further end of the village was another, three or four times the size of the largest. Stanley and I made our way towards it, but the disagreeable odour which proceeded from it as we approached almost drove us back. We persevered, however, and on looking through the door our indignation was excited to find that it was full of human beings—a dense mass, packed almost as closely as they could exist. They were sitting down in rows, and on a nearer examination we discovered, to our horror, that they were secured to long bars which ran across the building. Below were rough benches on which they might sit, but they could only move a foot or two to the right hand or the left. There were men, women, and children. Many of the poor little creatures were crying bitterly, while their mothers were moaning and weeping, as they tried to comfort them. Some of the men were trying to sing, as if to show indifference to their sufferings, but the greater number sat supporting their heads on their knees, with looks expressive of despair. Outside were several savage-looking negroes armed with muskets, who every now and then took glances through openings in the side into the interior, to observe, apparently, if any of the prisoners were trying to escape.
"Why, these poor beings must be slaves; and, Andrew, the schooner must be a slaver," exclaimed my cousin.
"There is no doubt about the matter," I answered. "I have for some time suspected it; nay, I was almost certain of the fact when she ran away from the English man-of-war. What do you advise, Stanley?"
"That we leave her immediately," he answered.
"But where are we to go?" I asked.
"Anywhere, rather than remain on board so abominable a craft," he replied.
"That may be very difficult, if not impossible," I remarked. "We cannot leave her in this place, and I am afraid that the captain would not venture near any English settlement to land us."
"We must try him, however," he said. "We must bribe him. I would pay any amount I can command to be quit of her."
We agreed to keep Kate in ignorance as long as possible. Just then two white men appeared on horseback, swarthy, ill-looking fellows, one tall and thin, and the other short and paunchy, both dressed alike in wide-brimmed straw hats and nankeen jackets and trousers. We found that they were the principal slave-dealers on the coast, having, as we afterwards discovered, several barracoons at numerous other stations, and parties constantly engaged in capturing and purchasing slaves. The party of slaves who had just arrived were made to halt, and sit down on the ground under the shade of the barracoons. After this several men opened the front of the building, and led out the slaves, linking them together as the others had been. In this state they were marched down to the water's edge, where two dozen or more large canoes had collected. As soon as these were filled they pulled away towards the schooner. I counted the blacks as they passed, and at least two hundred human beings, including several small children, were carried on board the vessel. The captain of the slaver touched me on the shoulder and pointed to the boat, signifying that we were to return on board. We of course obeyed—indeed, what else could we do!—though we intended to beg Senhor Silva to request him to land us at the nearest European settlement, either Portuguese or French, if he would not take us to an English one, which, of course, we could scarcely expect him to do.
As soon as we reached the vessel the anchor was hove up, and, towed by several boats and canoes, she proceeded down towards the bar. We found our friends in great agitation on board on discovering the character of the vessel. Kate was almost in tears.
"Poor creatures! Where are they going to carry them to in that dark hold? Why, there is scarcely room I should think for one hundred, instead of the number who have been placed below."
"They are but a small portion, I fear, of his intended cargo," I answered. "From what I have heard, many more than those who have already been brought on board will be stowed away. A large vessel like this will carry between five and six hundred human beings. I trust, however, that the captain is more humane, and will be content with those he has already obtained."
"I wish we could manage to let them go again," said Leo. "What right have people to carry off their fellow-creatures, even though they are blacks. I am sure they did not come willingly, for I saw many of them crying, and refusing, till they were beaten, to go down into the hold."
"If you could think of a plan, I would help you," said Natty. "I wish we could manage to restore them to their friends and to their native villages."
I was pleased to see this feeling in the boys, although it was hopeless; for, unless captured by a cruiser, the poor blacks were not likely ever again to visit their native land, or to set foot on shore until they had reached the coast of Brazil. I had seen something of the slave-trade on my former visits to Africa, and was well acquainted with the whole system.
When crossing the bar, we were all as before ordered below. The wind was blowing off the land, and with a strong breeze we dashed through the breakers. I felt by the way the vessel pitched that they were of some height, and I confess I was glad when at length I found that she was well outside, and once more gliding through the waters of the Atlantic. Stanley now addressed Senhor Silva, and begged him to urge the captain to land us at the nearest European settlement.
"I will do what I can," was the answer; "but I am sorry to tell you that, as we have all now been let into too many of his secrets, he purposes carrying us across to the Brazils."
This information made Stanley very indignant.
"My friend," said Senhor Silva, "there is no use exhibiting any anger; but if you will leave matters in my hands I will do the best I can for you."
I can scarcely describe the horror and annoyance we all felt on finding out the character of the vessel we were on board. During all hours of the day and night, but especially at night, the cries and groans of the unfortunate slaves reached our ears. Once my curiosity induced me to look into the hold, but the horrible odour which proceeded from it, and the sight of those upturned faces, expressive of suffering and despair, prevented me ever again desiring to witness the sight.
Once more we were close in with the land. Senhor Silva came to us in the cabin. "I am glad to say that I have made arrangements with the captain to land you," he said. "There is another barracoon near this, from whence more slaves are to be brought off, and if you wish at once to go on shore you can be conveyed there. A heavy surf is however setting on the beach, and I am afraid that there is some risk. It is a wild place, too, and you will probably have many hardships to endure before you can reach any European settlement."
"Oh, we would go through anything, so as to get out of this vessel!" exclaimed Kate. The same sentiment was echoed by the rest of us.
"I fully sympathise with you," said Senhor Silva, "and will inform the captain of your determination. I will lose no time, lest he should change his mind. He knows that I hate this traffic in which he is engaged as much as you do."
We at once prepared to quit the slaver, and on going on deck found the boat alongside. The captain and his officers were collected at the gangway to bid us farewell, but we could with difficulty restrain our feelings of abhorrence in spite of the politeness with which they treated us. Notwithstanding the unprepossessing appearance of the shore, we thankfully hurried into the boat. Timbo and Jack followed us. Ramaon stood on the deck. His master called to him. He replied in Portuguese.
"The scoundrel!" said Senhor Silva. "He has been tempted to turn slaver, and tells me he has entered aboard the vessel as a seaman. I am well rid of him then."
I was glad to hear these expressions from our friend, because I was afraid, from his intimacy with the slave captain, that he himself was engaged in the traffic. The slaver remained hove-to while we pulled towards the shore. As I saw the heavy surf breaking ahead of us, I felt great anxiety for what might occur. The boat, however, was a large one, and the coxswain was an old seaman, who seemed calm and collected as he stood up and surveyed the breakers through which we had to pass. The crew kept their eyes fixed on him as they pulled on. Now we rose to the summit of a sea; now they stopped rowing; now again they urged the boat forward, bending to their oars with might and main. On we dashed. The waters foamed on either side. A huge sea came rolling up astern. Once more we stopped and allowed it to break ahead of us. Again the helmsman urged the crew to pull away. We dashed on, and the next instant rushed up on the sandy shore. Some twenty or more blacks were there to receive us, and dashing into the water, they seized the boat and dragged her up, and before another sea broke we were high up on the beach. The crew assisted us to run forward, Stanley helping Kate, while David took little Bella in his arms, and sprang over the bows on to the sand. The rest of us followed, Jack catching hold of Natty and Timbo of Leo, and carrying them up out of reach of the water. I saw Senhor Silva putting some money into the hands of the coxswain. "Now," he said, "we are on shore, we must consult what is next to be done." Our clothing, and the small amount of articles we had saved from the wreck, together with numerous packages brought by Senhor Silva, were next handed out and piled together high up on the beach. A little way off we saw a few huts and a large barracoon, similar to those on the banks of the river from which the slaves had been embarked. On the shore were hauled up a number of canoes. Scarcely had we landed when a troop of slaves were seen issuing from the barracoon, and led by their captors down to the beach. Several were put on board the boat, which at once shoved off and pulled for the schooner. The canoes were now launched, and in each a dozen or more negroes were embarked. The boat passed through the surf in safety; then one canoe followed, then another. The third had scarcely left the shore when a huge sea came rolling in. We trembled for the unhappy beings on board. Those who were paddling her must have seen their danger; but their only hope of escape was to paddle on. It was vain, however. The sea struck her, and in an instant over she went, and all those on board were thrown into the raging surf. The crew, accustomed to the water, struck out for their lives, swimming to the nearest canoe ahead; but the unfortunate slaves, unable to swim, were quickly engulfed. Some cried out for help; but others sank without a struggle, perhaps glad thus to terminate their miseries. Out of all those on board the canoe, which must have contained some twenty human beings, only three or four escaped. One reached the shore; the others were taken on board by the canoes ahead. Notwithstanding this the remainder shoved off, and passing through the surf, put their cargoes on board. They then returned, and the schooner, letting draw her head sheets, stood out to sea.
OUR JOURNEY INLAND.
We sat on the shore under the shade of some tall trees on the outskirts of the forest, which came down in an apparently impenetrable mass nearly to the coast. Our eyes were turned towards the slave-schooner, which now, under all sail, was standing on, with her freight of living merchandise, at a distance from the shore. We were thankful to be out of her; yet our position was a trying one. We could not tell what dangers and difficulties were before us. In front was the dark rolling sea, which broke in masses of foam at our feet; behind us was the thick forest, through which on one hand a creek had forced its way into the ocean, though its mouth was impassable for boats on account of a sandbank which ran across it; while on the other side was a clear space, in which stood the barracoons and huts of the native slave-dealers. The blacks had taken little notice of us, leaving us to our own devices, probably, till we might be compelled to appeal to them for assistance. Close to us were piled up the articles we had saved from the wreck, as well as others which Senhor Silva had purchased from the captain for his own and our use.
We had been silent for some minutes. "What is to be done, Stanley?" said David at length. "Are we to proceed to the north, or south; and how are we to travel? We cannot carry all those things, that is certain."
"It must depend on whereabouts we are, the direction in which we proceed," answered Stanley. "The slave captain took good care to keep us in the dark as to that point; but perhaps Senhor Silva can inform us."
"Indeed, my friend, I am sorry to say I cannot," said the Portuguese. "It is only now that I breathe freely, and can assure you that although I appeared on friendly terms with the captain of yonder vessel, I hate the work in which he is engaged as much as you do; and though by a heavy bribe I induced him to land us, he would not tell me where he purposed putting us on shore, lest we might reach some settlement, and give notice of his being on the coast before he can leave it altogether for South America. Though he has already four hundred slaves on board, he will probably, if he can find them, take two or three hundred more before he considers he has his full cargo."
"Dreadful!" exclaimed Kate. "I would rather go through any dangers on shore than have remained longer on board that terrible vessel."
"So would I," said Bella. "I fancy I still hear the cries of those poor little black children." Timbo and Jack shook their fists at the vessel.
"Oh yes; Natty and I often talked of how we could set them free!" exclaimed Leo; "and only wished that the English man-of-war would come and catch them. If I become a sailor, I would rather be engaged in hunting slavers and liberating the poor blacks than in fighting Frenchmen, or any other enemies."
"One thing I would advise is, that we leave this coast and proceed to the highlands in the interior," observed Senhor Silva. "You saw that range of blue mountains as we approached the shore, though they are now hidden by the trees? They form the Serra do Crystal. They are but thinly inhabited, and though travelling along them will be rougher work than on the plains, yet we shall enjoy fresh breezes and a more healthy climate than down below."
"To the mountains, then, in the first place let us proceed," said Stanley, springing to his feet. "After that we can decide which way to take; but, for my own part, I should prefer moving towards the south. We shall be going homewards, and may be better able to send a message to our friends at the Cape. It is a long distance, but we shall, no doubt, hear from them if we have patience, and, in the meantime, maintain ourselves in the most healthy region we can find. There is, at all events, no lack of game, and we shall probably be able to obtain fruit and vegetables sufficient for our wants."
"An excellent plan!" exclaimed David. "We shall thus be able to add largely to our knowledge of natural history; and if Kate and Bella do not object to live a savage life for so many months, I think we can make our stay not only satisfactory, but in many respects delightful."
"I am glad to do whatever you wish, my brothers," said Kate; "and I think I shall enjoy the life you propose very much. I wish I had a few more books to teach Bella from; but we must make the most of those we have: and I will undertake to cook for you and tend the house, for I suppose you do not intend living out in the woods all the time?"
"Oh no, no," said David. "Wherever we settle to remain we must at once build a house, where you and Bella can live in comfort, and where we can stow our stores and collections of natural history."
Of course I agreed to my cousin's plan; and, indeed, I thought it, under all circumstances, the most advisable. Even should we reach one of the Portuguese settlements, we might not be able to find a vessel to carry us to the Cape; besides which, they are mostly unhealthy, and it would be far better travelling along the mountains than having to spend any length of time at one of them. I was afraid, however, that Senhor Silva would not so readily agree to this plan, as he might be anxious to reach Loando. I was relieved when I heard him say—
"Well, my friends, I approve of your proposal; but we must not wait here an hour longer than is necessary. At night we shall find unhealthy vapours rise from yonder river, and the sooner, therefore, we get away from its banks the better."
"But we have no horses or waggons to carry our goods," I observed, looking at the pile of property before me. "Even if each of us were to take a heavy package, we could not carry it."
"I will see to that," said Senhor Silva. "I think I can secure the services of some of those negroes, although they may not be willing to venture far into the country. Mr Crawford, will you come with me, and we will see what can be done?"
I started up with my gun in my hand, for I did not like the appearance of the black savages. I remembered the way the poor crew of the Osprey had been treated, and thought it possible, if we were taken unawares, that we might meet the same fate.
"The case is very different here," said Senhor Silva in reply to my remark as we walked along. "Those poor men fell victims to the treachery not so much of the blacks, as of some of the white slavers who had but a short time before curried off a number of their kindred and friends. I heard the story on board the schooner. They had enticed them down to the coast on pretence of trading, and then surrounding them, had captured some forty or fifty of their number, and carried them off on board their ship. Those who had escaped, very naturally vowed vengeance against the first white men they might meet, of course not distinguishing between English and Portuguese. Thus the unfortunate crew of the brig became their victims. They would, had we landed before they had had time to ask questions, very probably have put us all to death. We have had, indeed, a providential escape."
We found that the slave-dealers and most of their followers had already taken their departure—probably to avoid rendering us any assistance. They had only come down to the coast to embark their captives, and had gone back again, my companion supposed, to obtain a fresh supply. We found, however, about a dozen men, who came out when Senhor Silva called them in their own language. When he assured them that we were friends, and that we would treat them honestly, they agreed, without hesitation, to act as our bearers as far as the Crystal Mountains. Beyond them they declined going, saying that they had enemies on the other side who would certainly, if they found them, kill them, or carry them off as slaves, or, they added, "very likely eat us, for they are terrible cannibals." As soon as the arrangement was made, they all came leaping and hooting and rushing against each other, like a set of school-boys unexpectedly let loose for a half holiday, or a party of sailors on shore after a long cruise.
While the blacks were arranging our property into fit packages for carrying, the two boys and I accompanied David to the mouth of the river, which, as I said, was lined with mangrove bushes, a ledge of rocks which ran out some way enabling us to get a view up the stream. We had thus an opportunity of examining those curious trees. Innumerable roots rose out of the water, lifting the trunk far above it, and from its upper part shot off numerous branches with bright green foliage, which grew in radiated tufts at their ends. Many of them were bespangled with large gaily-coloured flowers, giving them a far more attractive appearance than could be supposed, considering the dark, slimy mud out of which they grew. From the branches and trunk, again, hung down numberless pendulous roots, which had struck into the ground, of all thicknesses—some mere thin ropes, others the size of a man's leg—thus appearing as if the tree was supported by artificial poles stuck into the ground. David told me that the seeds germinate on the branches, when, having gained a considerable length, they fall down into the soft mud, burying themselves by means of their sharp points, and soon taking root, spring upwards again towards the parent tree. Thus the mangrove forms an almost impenetrable barrier along the banks of the rivers. On the other side of the stream, indeed, we saw that they had advanced a considerable distance into the ocean, their mighty roots being able to stem even the waves of the Atlantic. Near where we stood the ground was rather more open, and we saw the black mud covered with numberless marine animals, sea-urchins, holothuria, or sea-slugs, crabs, and several other creatures, many of brilliant hues, which contrasted curiously with the dark mud over which they were crawling. The roots of the trees were also covered with mussels, oysters, and other Crustacea. But the most curious creature was a small fish which I had before seen, called by sailors Jumping Johnny. David called him a close-eyed gudgeon (periophthalmus). He was of the oddest shape, and went jumping about sometimes like a frog, and sometimes gliding in an awkward manner over the mud. We were watching one of them when Leo cried out, "Why, the fish is climbing the tree—see, see!" And so in reality he was, working his way up by means of his pectoral fins, David supposed in search of some of the minute Crustacea which clung to the roots. Jumping Johnny, having eaten as much as he could swallow, or slipping off by accident, fell back into the mud, when we saw issuing sideways from under the roots a huge crab. David said he was of the Grapsus family. Suddenly he gave a spring, and seized the unfortunate Johnny in his vice-like gripe, and instantly began to make his dinner off the incautious fish, who, as Leo said, would have been wiser if he had kept in the water, and not attempted to imitate the habits of a terrestrial animal.
As we looked up the stream we saw numerous birds feeding along the banks. Among them were tall flamingoes, rose-coloured spoonbills, snow-white egrets, and countless other water-fowl.
"I am glad we have been able to witness this scene here," said David, "where we can benefit by the sea-breeze; for such deadly miasmas rise from these mangrove swamps, that the further we keep off from them the better."
While we were watching we saw a canoe, paddled by half a dozen blacks, dart out from the mouth of a creek which had been concealed by the thick trees. We drew back, not knowing whether the people in the canoes might prove friends or foes. Another followed at a little distance, and proceeded up the stream. They were impelled by paddles with broad blades; and the sound of voices reached our ears as if they were singing.
"I do not think they can be enemies, or they would not be so merry," said Natty.
"I hope not," I observed.
"If we could stop them we might hire their canoes to convey us up the river."
"It might be dangerous to do so," said David, "on two accounts: they might prove treacherous, and the miasmas rising from the stream might also possibly give some of us fever. I think we had better let them go on their way, and proceed as Senhor Silva proposed."
Returning, we found the party ready to start. We told Senhor Silva about the canoes.
"I think you did wisely to let them go," he remarked. "Unless we were under the protection of their chief man, or king, as he is called, we could not tell how they might behave. We must use great caution in our intercourse with these people. When we have shown them that we are friends, and desire to do them all the good in our power, we, I hope, shall find them faithful; but they have become so debased by their intercourse with the white people, and especially, I am sorry to say, with my countrymen, who often deal treacherously with them, that they cannot be depended on. They in return, as might naturally be supposed, cheat and deceive the whites in every way."
Our path first led through the forest near the banks of the river, of which we occasionally got glimpses. It was here of considerable width, bordered by mangrove bushes. In one or two places there were wide flats covered with reeds. Suddenly, as we passed a point of the river, I saw drawn up what had much the appearance, at the first glance, of a regiment of soldiers, with red coats and white trousers.
"Why, where can those men have come from?" I cried out.
David, who was near me, burst into a laugh, in which his sisters and the boys joined. "Why, Andrew, those are birds," he answered. "A regiment, true enough, but of flamingoes; and see! they are in line, and will quickly march away as we approach."
A second glance showed me that he was right; and a very curious appearance they had.
"See! there is the sentinel."
As he spoke, one of the birds nearest to us issued a sound like that of a trumpet, which was taken up by the remainder; and the whole troop, expanding their flaming wings, rose with loud clamours into the air, flying up the stream. We went on, and cutting off a bend in the river, again met it; and here our bearers declared that they must stop and rest. We accordingly encamped, though Senhor Silva warned us that we must remain but a short time, as we wished to reach some higher ground before dark. A fire was lighted for cooking; and while our meal was preparing, David and I, with the two boys, went down nearer the banks to see what was to be seen. We observed on the marshy ground a little way off a high mound, and creeping along, that we might not disturb the numerous birds which covered the banks or sat on the trees around, we caught sight of another mound, with a flamingo seated on the top of it, her long legs, instead of being tucked up as those of most birds would have been, literally astraddle on it.
"That is one of their nests," whispered David. "The bird is a hen sitting on her eggs. Depend upon it, the troop is not far off. See, see! there are many others along the banks. What a funny appearance they have."
Presently a flash of red appeared in the blue sky, and looking up, we saw what might be described as a great fiery triangle in the air sweeping down towards us. On it came, greatly diminishing its rate, and we then saw that it was composed of flamingoes. They hovered for a moment, then flew round and round, following one another, and gradually approached the marsh, on which they alighted. Immediately they arranged themselves as we had before seen them, in long lines, when several marched off on either side to act as sentinels, while the rest commenced fishing. We could see them arching their necks and digging their long bills into the ground, while they stirred up the mud with their webbed feet, in order to procure, as David told us, the water-insects on which they subsist. They, however, were not the only visitors to the river. The tide was low, and on every mud-bank or exposed spot countless numbers of birds were collected—numerous kinds of gulls, herons, and long-legged cranes—besides which, on the trees were perched thousands of white birds, looking at a distance like shining white flowers. They were the egretta flavirostris. Vast flocks of huge pelicans were swimming along the stream, dipping their enormous bills into the water, and each time bringing up a fish. They have enormous pouches, capable of containing many pounds of their finny prey.
"Could we kill one or two we should get a good supply of fish for supper," said David; "for the pelican stows them away in his pouch, where they remain not only undigested, but perfectly fresh, and not till it is full does he commence his meal. However, as we have no canoe, even were we to kill one we could not get him."
While we were looking on, a huge bird, descending from the sky, it seemed, pounced down into the water, quickly rising again with a large fish in his mouth.
"Ah, that fellow is the fishing-eagle of Africa—the Halicetus vocifer" said David. "His piercing eye observed his prey when he was yet far up in the air. See how like a meteor he descended on it! Now he flies away to yonder rock; and there, see! he has begun to tear his fish to pieces. How quickly he has finished it—and listen to that curious shriek he is uttering, and how oddly he moves his head and neck. It is answered from those other rocks. The birds are calling to each other, and from this the fishing-eagle has gained his name of vocifer" Leo was for shouting and making them fly off. "No, no; let them feed," said David. "We have frightened the flamingo once; and how would you like to be disturbed in your dinner? We must get Kate to come and look at them."
While we were watching the birds, an enormous head emerged from the water at a short distance from us. Leo and Natty, who were a little in front, started back, Leo exclaiming, "What can it be? What a terrific monster!" A huge body rising after the head, the creature swam slowly up the stream.
"Why, that must be a hippopotamus," observed David, watching the creature in his usual calm way.
"It looks to me the size of an elephant," exclaimed Leo. "Run, run, run! If he were to attack us he would swallow us up in a mouthful."
"I do not think it has even noticed us," said David. "It will be time enough to run when the creature lands. See! there is another."
As he spoke, a second and then a third hippopotamus appeared, following the first. The creatures, indeed, had truly terrific countenances; their backs in the water looking, as Leo had declared, nearly as large as those of elephants.
"But see, there are some other creatures nearer!" cried Natty. "Oh, what are they? What fearful jaws!"
He pointed to the bank close below us, and there we saw, just scrambling out of the water, three huge crocodiles. There was no mistaking them. We knew at once by their long snouts and terrific jaws, their scaly backs and lizard-like tails, their short legs and savage eyes. They seemed in no way afraid of the hippopotami, which they kept watching as they swam by.
"I little expected to get a sight of these monsters," said David. "But see! they take no notice of us, and we need not be afraid of them."
I had my gun, and instinctively levelled at the head of the nearest hippopotamus.
"Do not fire," said David. "Even if you were to kill the beast we could not get him, and it would be cruel to slaughter him without any object in view. He intends us no harm; we ought to allow him to enjoy the existence the Creator has given him."
The hippopotami swam by and dived, and presently we saw them rise to the surface with a quantity of weeds in their mouths, which they chewed leisurely as they swam on. The crocodiles meantime crawled up on the bank and lay basking in the sun, enjoying its warmth, and looking at that time, at all events, as if they had no evil intentions. It was a curious scene, and gave us an idea of the vast amount of animal life to be met with in that region.
"I think it would frighten Kate, brave as she is, to see those huge monsters," said Leo.
"Oh, no," answered David. "Bella might be somewhat alarmed; but I am sure Kate would be as much interested as we are in witnessing this curious sight. We will get her to come, but warn her beforehand what she is to expect."
We accordingly hastened back to the camp, but found we had been so long absent that it was now time to proceed; and the bearers taking up their loads, we continued our march. Senhor Silva assured Kate and Bella they need not be disappointed at missing a sight of the flamingoes, as they would have many opportunities of seeing troops of those magnificent birds, which are found in vast numbers throughout that region.
The woods as we proceeded appeared full of life. Birds flitted among the boughs, and monkeys of all sorts sprang here and there, chattering and hooting as we passed. Soon after this we emerged from the wood and entered a beautiful prairie—a natural clearing covered with grass or low shrubs and flowers. As yet we had fallen in with no inhabitants. "Oh, but see!" exclaimed Leo. "There are some huts ahead. Shall we go and pay the people a visit?" The boys ran on. I thought Senhor Silva would have called them back, but he allowed them to proceed. At all events, he knew that if the huts were inhabited, the people were likely to prove friendly. The boys stopped before the seeming huts, and began to examine them. We saw them walking round and round, and they then finally climbed to the top of one of them. After apparently satisfying their curiosity, they came back towards us.
"They are not huts," exclaimed Natty, "but curious mounds, three or four times as high as we are."
"What do you say to those mounds or clay-built domes being the houses of ants, and built entirely by themselves?" said Senhor Silva.
As we approached we saw a dozen or more such mounds, scattered about at short distances from each other. Having got to a secure distance from the last, two of our bearers put down their loads, and advancing towards it with the poles they carried, began to attack it with heavy blows, knocking off one of the small turrets on the side. Instantly a white ant was seen to appear through the opening thus made, apparently surveying the damage done. Immediately afterwards, hundreds of other ants came to the spot, each carrying a small lump of clay, with which they began to repair the damage; and even for the short time we remained, they had made some progress. We could discover, however, no outlet or opening in the mound; nor, except at the hole made by our bearers, were any ants seen. We, however, could not remain to watch the progress of the work. Just as we were going, one of our bearers, much to my regret, commenced a still more furious attack on the citadel, exposing the whole centre to view, when it appeared crowded with thousands and tens of thousands—so it seemed—of ants, who issued forth with pincers stretched out, evidently intending to attack us. David caught up one of the ants to examine it; but we were all too glad hurriedly to make our escape. We found the creature, on examining it, to be a quarter of an inch in length, with a flat hard head, terminating in a pair of sharp horizontal pincers, something like the claws of a crab.
Several, who, in spite of our flight, caught hold of us, bit very hard, and did not fail to draw blood. Senhor Silva, as we marched on, gave us a very interesting account of these white ants, with the habits of which he was well acquainted, as he told us he had had one of the mounds cut completely in two, so as to examine the interior. The under part alone of the mound is inhabited by the ants; the upper portion serving as a roof to keep the lower warm and moist for hatching the eggs. His description put me somewhat in mind of the Pyramids of Egypt. The larger portion is solid. In the centre, just above the ground, is the chief cell, the residence of the queen and her husband. Round this royal chamber is found a whole labyrinth of small rooms, inhabited by the soldiers and workmen. The space between them and the outer wall of the building is used partly for store-rooms and partly for the purpose of nurseries. A subterranean passage leads from a distance to the very centre of the building. It is cylindrical, and lined with cement. On reaching under the bottom of the fortress, it branches out in numerous small passages, ascending the outer shell in a spiral manner, winding round the whole of the building to the summit, and intersecting numerous galleries one above the other, full of cells. The outer end of the great gallery, by which the mound is approached, also branches off into numerous small ones, so as to allow a passage into it from various directions. As the ants cannot climb a perpendicular wall without difficulty, all their ascents are gradual. It is through this great passage that they convey the clay, wood, water, and provisions to their colony.
To give you a correct idea of the way these curious mounds are built and stocked with inhabitants, I should tell you that the perfect termites are seen at certain seasons in vast quantities covering the earth, each having four narrow wings folded on each other. They are instantly set upon by their enemies—reptiles of all sorts, and numerous birds—who eat such quantities, that out of many thousands but few pairs escape destruction. There are besides them in their fortress vast numbers of labourers, who only issue forth with caution to obtain provisions and materials for their abodes. When these discover a couple of the perfect termites who have escaped destruction, they elect them as their sovereigns, and escorting them to a hollow in the earth which they at once form, they establish a new community. Here they commence building, forming a central chamber in which the royal pair are ensconced; while they go on with their work, building the galleries and passages which have been described, till the mound has reached the dimensions of those we have seen. The king in a short time dies, but his consort goes on increasing in bulk till she attains the enormous length of three inches, and a width in proportion. She now commences laying her eggs, at the rate, it is said, of nearly sixty in a minute. This often continues night and day for two years, in which time fifty million eggs have been laid. These are conveyed by the indefatigable labourers to the nurseries, which are thus all filled. When hatched, they are provided with food by the labourers. There is another class, the soldiers. These are distinguished by the size of their heads, and their long and sharp jaws, with which they bravely attack any intruders. When any unwary creature appears to attack their abode, first one comes out to see what is the matter. He summons others, and directly afterwards vast numbers issue forth, doing battle with the greatest courage. When any of them are knocked over, instantly recovering themselves, they return to the assault with a bravery and courage surpassed by no other creature in creation. The labourers meantime are exerting themselves to the utmost to repair the damages which have been effected in their fortress. Those who have watched their proceedings state that in a single night they will repair a gallery, which has been injured, of three or four yards in length. We were thankful that in our attack on the termites' fortress we had escaped with only a few bites; but probably had we remained longer in their neighbourhood we should have received far more severe injuries.
Travelling on for several days, we emerged into some open ground, where we prepared to encamp. We selected a spot somewhat above the plain, and our bearers at once set to work to cut down poles. These they planted in circles, and interwove them with branches of palm-trees, forming walls which afforded sufficient shelter from the night wind; then bringing the tops close together, they thatched them over with leaves of the same tree. We of course all assisted, and in a short time a number of small circular huts were formed sufficient to accommodate the whole of the party. A quantity of wood was collected, to keep up blazing fires to preserve us from the attacks of wild beasts. We were at a sufficient distance, however, from the skirts of the forest, not to be taken totally unawares. Still, it was considered necessary to place guards round the camp, two of our party and two of the blacks remaining on the watch all night. Before darkness closed in, we saw numbers of monkeys in the trees, watching us with curious looks, leaping from bough to bough, and chattering and grinning, wondering apparently who the strangers could be who had thus ventured into their domain. The two girls had a hut to themselves. We had formed a second wall of sticks round it, so that should any wild beast approach unseen, it could not force an entrance, which Senhor Silva told us had sometimes occurred. The moon rose in an unclouded sky, and cast a mild light over the scene. In the distance were the lofty mountains, on either side the dark woods, and far away to the west was the ocean we had left behind. It was a beautiful scene, such as I had not expected to witness in that region, and we were all more than ever thankful that we had escaped from the slaver. Still, I could not banish from my mind the spectacle I had witnessed on board, and my thoughts went back to the unhappy beings crowded on the slave-deck of that fearful craft. I was reminded that we were in Africa by the cries which proceeded ever and anon from the surrounding forest. Now there was a loud roar, with a suppressed muttering, which it would be hard to describe, and which I afterwards learned to distinguish as the voice of the monarch of the woods; not that he often ventures here, for his rule is disputed by the tremendous gorilla, the creature who had only a short time before been discovered in this region. We were, however, we concluded, on the most southern verge of his territory, and we therefore scarcely expected to encounter one. We kept our fires blazing through the night, and thus avoided any attacks from lions or panthers, or any other wild beasts.
The morning broke brightly, though we could see the mist hanging over the far distant coast. Birds flew about among the trees and across the prairie in all directions, uttering their varied notes; and the monkeys came forth, skipping from bough to bough, muttering and shrieking at us as on the previous evening, as if they had not as yet satisfied their curiosity. While Kate, assisted by Timbo and Jack, prepared breakfast, I accompanied Stanley and David, with the two boys, to shoot some birds for our next meal. I had heard so much of serpents and wild beasts, that I expected every instant to see a snake wriggling its way through the grass, and about to fasten its fangs in our legs, or to twine its fearful coils round our bodies. I could not help also looking anxiously at every bush, expecting to have a lion or a panther spring out on us, David acknowledged that he had a similar feeling. Stanley, however, laughed at our apprehensions, assuring us that snakes were not nearly so common as were supposed, or how could the almost naked blacks make their way through the country, though he acknowledged that lions and panthers were in some places justly dreaded; "But then," he observed, "we can the more easily defend ourselves against them. A well-aimed bullet will settle the fiercest lion we have to encounter."
We had good sport, and shot several varieties of birds. Among them was a partridge, of a grey colour; and David said that they were its loud calls we had heard in the forest the evening before, summoning its mate. He had observed them sleeping side by side on a branch of a tree where they have their home, and the bird which was first there did not cease calling till its mate arrived. We also shot several parrots, of a species known as the African damask parrot. They are pretty birds, and their habits are very interesting. Had we not positively required them for food, I should have been unwilling to kill them. We had seen numbers flying towards a stream which ran into the river we had passed on the previous evening. They there assembled, making a great deal of noise, and huddled and rolled over each other, frolicking together, and dipping their feet into the water, so as to sprinkle it over the whole of their bodies. Having enjoyed an ample bath and amused themselves for a time, they flew off to the forest whence they came. There we saw them sitting on the branches, cleaning their feathers. The operation over, they flew off in pairs, each pair seeking its own nest or roosting-place, separate from the others. David said that this species is noted for conjugal affection, for they never separate till one or the other dies, and the survivor then pines to death for its mate. The boys were very anxious to catch one alive for Bella, but we could not succeed in so doing. Coming near a dead tree, we saw several hollows, evidently formed by art. Leo climbed up to one of them, and putting in his hand, drew out a beautiful little bird, with a throat and breast of a glossy blue-black, having a scarlet head and a line of canary-yellow running from above the eyes along the neck. The back also, which was black, was covered with yellow spots. Here David brought his knowledge to bear; and said, from its habits, he should call it the carpenter bird. When the birds pair, they fix on a tree, the wood of which has been sufficiently softened by age to enable them to work upon it with their bills. They then take out a circular opening, about two inches in diameter and about two deep. Next they dig perpendicularly down for about four inches, the last hollow made serving as their nest. They line it softly, and the female, laying her eggs, is able to hatch them without much risk of an attack from birds of prey.
"I suppose monkeys do not eat birds," observed Leo; "or I suspect our little friend would very soon be pulled out of its nest."
"Just as you have done, Leo," observed Stanley; "and probably the poor little bird took you for a chimpanzee, or perhaps even for a gorilla."
"But neither chimpanzees nor gorillas eat animal food," observed David. "They live upon roots, fruits, and leaves; and do not amuse themselves by bird-nesting."
I need not mention the other birds we shot, but, pretty well loaded, we returned with our prizes to the camp. Breakfast over, we packed up and proceeded on our journey, leaving our huts for the occupation of the next comers.
THE DOMAINS OF THE GORILLA.
We travelled on for two days, and still the mountains were not reached; but they grew higher and clearer as we advanced, and we had hopes of getting to them at last. My young cousins bore the journey wonderfully well. When we came to difficult places, her brothers and I helped Kate along, making a seat for her with our joined hands. We could thus make but slow progress, and she entreated us to allow her to walk, declaring that she was not at all fatigued; while Timbo or Jack carried Bella on their back, and with long sticks in their hands trudged on merrily. We caught sight of several wild animals. On two or three occasions buffaloes crossed our path, but at too great a distance for a shot. We killed, however, a wild boar, which afforded a fine meal for our party. Natty and I were a little in advance, when we came to a large village of white ants, such as I have before described. We were examining them, when I saw a troop of gazelles come bounding across the prairie towards us. The wind blew from them to us, and as we were behind the hill, they did not observe us. Our larder at the time was ill-supplied, and so I was anxious to kill one. I rested my gun on one of the turrets of the hill. I was not much of a shot, but I was improving. The herd came by within thirty yards of us. Just then the leader caught sight of the rest of the party, who were coming up. I saw that I must now fire, or lose my chance. I took aim at the nearest—a doe, with her young one by her side. The mother escaped, but the little creature fell to the ground. In spite of my hunger I felt almost sorry for what I had done, when, running forward, the dying animal turned up its large languishing eyes towards me as it stretched out its limbs quite dead. I am afraid it was but a clumsy shot at best, as I ought to have killed the larger animal. Natty and I, placing it on my pole between our shoulders, bore it in triumph to our friends, who received us with shouts of satisfaction. Stanley also shot a beautiful little squirrel and a number of birds—indeed, a good sportsman in health, with a supply of ammunition, need never, in that part of Africa, be without abundance of animal food; but some of the natives, who have no firearms and are very improvident, often suffer from famine even in that land of abundance.
The buffalo of Tropical Africa—Bos brachicheros—is about the size of an English ox. His hair is thin and red, and he has sharp and long hoofs, his ears being fringed with soft silky hair. His chief ornaments are his horns, which gracefully bend backwards. In shape he is somewhat between a cow and an antelope. A herd feeding at a distance had very much the appearance of English cattle grazing in a meadow. They differ greatly from the Cape buffalo, to be met with further south.
Evening was approaching, when the head man of our bearers spoke to Senhor Silva, who instantly called a halt. The black's quick ears had detected sounds in the distance. "He thinks there are elephants out there," said Senhor Silva, pointing ahead. We were then in a thinly-wooded country, and a charge from those monsters would have been dangerous. We saw, however, a clump of trees on one side, behind which Senhor Silva advised that we should take post till we had ascertained the state of the case. The blacks were eager for us to attack them, hoping to enjoy a feast off the huge bodies of any we might kill. As it might expose the young ladies to danger should we do so, even Stanley resolved to let them pass by unmolested. I have not yet mentioned the leader or head man of the bearers. His name, he told Senhor Silva, was Chickango; but Jack and Timbo called him the Chicken. He was an enormous fellow, and ugly even for an African; but there was a good-humoured, contented expression in his countenance, which won our confidence. His costume was a striped shirt, and a pair of almost legless trousers; while on the top of his high head he wore a little battered straw hat, such as seamen manufacture for themselves on board ship—indeed, his whole costume had evidently been that of a seaman, exchanged, probably, for some articles which he had to dispose of. Chickango, signing to us to remain behind the clump of trees, advanced towards the spot where he expected to find the elephants. Suddenly he threw up his arms, and began shouting at the top of his voice. His cries were answered by similar shouts from a distance; and presently, beckoning to us to come on, he hurried towards the spot whence they proceeded. Passing through a belt of wood, we came in sight of an encampment of blacks seated round their fires. There were upwards of one hundred human beings—men, women, and children. A few of the men were dressed in cast-off European garments, with rings round their arms and legs, their woolly heads being mostly uncovered. Chickango advancing, explained, we concluded, who we were; and we received a hearty welcome from the party. The chief, an old man, sat in their centre, attended by his wives. He was distinguished from his companions by an old battered cocked hat, ornamented with beads. He wore, besides, a checked shirt and a regular Scotch kilt, which had somehow or other found its way into his territory. Senhor Silva then explained to us, through Chickango, that he and his party had come from a considerable distance up the country, where they had gone to collect caoutchouc, or india-rubber, the packages of which lay piled up near the centre of the camp. They had collected it some distance up the country, where the vines which produce it grow in considerable quantities. In South America it is obtained from a tree; but in Africa from a creeper of great length, with very few leaves growing on it, and those only at its extremity. They are broad, dark green, and lance shaped. The larger vines are often five inches in diameter at the base, with a rough brown bark. The mode of obtaining it is to make an incision in the bark, but not in the wood, and through it the milky sap exudes. A small peg Is then fixed in each hole to prevent its closing, and a cup or calabash secured underneath. When this is full, a number of them are carried to the camp, where the substance is spread in thin coatings upon moulds of clay, and dried layer after layer over a fire. When perfectly dry, the clay mould is broken and the clay extracted from the interior. The caoutchouc, though originally white, becomes black from the smoke to which it is exposed while drying. It is in this state brought down to the coast and sold to the traders.
"Oh yes," said David. "This is the material with which Mr Mackintosh makes his waterproof coats. He found that it could be re-dissolved in petroleum; and by covering two pieces of woollen or cotton stuff with the liquid, and uniting them by a strong pressure, he formed a material through which no water can penetrate. Some time afterwards, Messrs. Handcock and Broding discovered that, by the addition of a small quantity of sulphur to the caoutchouc, it acquired the property of retaining the same consistency in every temperature without losing its elasticity. A further discovery was made by Mr Goodyear, who, by adding about twenty per cent of sulphur, converted it into so hard a substance that all sorts of articles can be manufactured from it for which tortoise-shell had hitherto been chiefly used—indeed, it is difficult to say what cannot be made out of it."
Besides india-rubber, the blacks had several huge lumps of ebony and a small number of elephants' tusks, which they had either purchased from other natives further in the interior, or were carrying down to the coast to sell for the original owners on commission. The ebony was brought from the hilly country, where alone the ebony-tree grows. It is one of the finest and most graceful of African trees. The trunk, five or six feet in diameter at the base, rises to the height of fifty or sixty feet, when fine heavy boughs branch forth, with large dark green and long and pointed leaves hanging in clusters. Next to the bark is a white sap wood, and within that the black wood. This does not appear till the tree has reached a growth of two or three feet in diameter, so that young trees are not cut down. The trunk and even the branches of the mature tree become hollow. It generally grows in clumps of three or four together, scattered about the forest.
Nearly all the negro tribes on this part of the coast have the spirit of trade strongly implanted in them; and I cannot help thinking that it is so for the purpose of ultimately bringing about their civilisation, which the nefarious slave-trade has so long retarded. That trade is one of the sins which lies at England's door, and she should endeavour to make amends for the crime, by using every means in her power for the spread of Christianity and civilisation among the long benighted Africans. We observed that the men, women, and children were very busy in the camp—the women cooking and making arrangements for the night, while the children were collecting firewood from the neighbouring thickets. Poor little creatures, I was afraid that some of them might be carried off by panthers or other beasts of prey who might be prowling about in the neighbourhood; but their parents seemed to have no such fear. We were anxious to obtain some more bearers to carry Kate and Bella, as also to assist us in conveying our goods up the mountain. Chickango undertook to make the arrangements, and after a good deal of talking with the chief and then with the people, he pointed out four young men who expressed themselves ready to accompany us. These arrangements being made, we encamped on a somewhat higher spot a short distance from our friends, and soon had huts built such as I have before described. Though we heard the cries of wild beasts in the forest, none ventured near us, as we kept up blazing fires all night.
Next morning, even before our party were stirring, the old chief and his followers were on foot, preparing to continue their march towards the sea-coast. The men, however, sat still, with their bows in their hands, talking to each other while the women were employed in packing up their goods in baskets, which they suspended at their backs, with their children in many instances on the top of them. All the elder children also had burdens, but the men walked along with a haughty air, carrying nothing but their arms in their hands. Saluting us with loud cries, they proceeded towards the west.
We meantime had been employed in packing up, but instead of making Kate and Bella carry burdens, we prepared a litter to carry them. Passing through a dense forest, we saw before us the mountain range we hoped soon to gain. Near the banks of the stream we passed a grove of curious trees with short stems, on either side of which projected huge long leaves with feather-like branches on the top. Amid them was an immense number of clusters of nuts, each larger than a pigeon's egg. Chickango ordered one of the men to climb up and bring down a cluster when he saw us looking at them. On pressing the nuts even with our fingers, a quantity of oil exuded; and Senhor Silva told us that the tree was the Cocos butyracea, the oil extracted from which is exported in large quantities from the neighbouring rivers, chiefly to Liverpool. We calculated that the tree had fully eight hundred nuts on it; and as each contains a considerable quantity of oil, it may be supposed how large an amount a single tree produces. I had seen something of the trade on my former visit to the coast, when I was at the Bonny river. We took chiefly English manufactures to exchange for the oil, and a few bales of glass beads from Germany. On entering the river we covered in the deck with a mat roofing, to protect us from the sun and the tropical showers; but before we could begin trading we had to pay a heavy duty to the old king of the territory, of muskets, powder, tobacco, calicoes, woollen caps, and, what he valued still more, several dozens of rum. The dealers then made their appearance, and received advances of goods to purchase oil in the interior, for the Bonny itself does not produce the oil. Our next business was to erect a cask-house on shore, in which to prepare the puncheons for the reception of the oil. This was brought down in small quantities by the traders; and it took us nearly four months to obtain about eight hundred puncheons, which our vessel carried. The palm-oil or pulla, when brought to us, was of a rich orange colour, and of the consistency of honey. To my surprise, the morning after the first quantity arrived I found a basin full of it on the breakfast-table, and learned that it was the custom to eat it instead of butter; and very delicious it was. By the time it reaches England, it has, however, obtained a disagreeable taste, totally different from what it possesses when fresh. The palm-oil is about the most valuable production of this part of Africa; and the natives are beginning to discover that its collection is far more profitable to them than the slave-trade.
To return to my narrative: we encamped at a short distance from the thick wood, by the side of the stream I spoke of, hoping early next morning to begin our ascent of the mountains. We might have proceeded further, but the spot was so tempting, that, although we had a couple of hours of daylight, we agreed to stop where we were. The blacks soon had the huts erected and fires lighted—an operation they would not have undertaken had their wives been present to do it for them. As we were all very hungry, we immediately commenced our evening meal, some birds we had shot not taking long to cook; while we had a good supply of biscuits, which we had brought, with tea as our beverage.
"This is just such a pic-nic as we had in our last holidays," said Bella, looking round with a smiling countenance. "You remember, Leo, it was by the side of a stream; and you went and caught some fish, and we had them cooked before the fire."
"Oh yes; and I will try and get some fish now," said Leo. "Natty, you will come and fish with me as soon as supper is over."
To this, of course, Natty agreed; and Jack produced a ball of twine, while I fortunately had some fish-hooks in my pocket, which I brought from the wreck. While we were laughing and talking, suddenly a loud roar reached our ears, which made Kate start and little Bella turn pale, while a loud hollow sound, as if a drum had been beaten, followed the roar. Leo declared it was more like distant thunder. Our blacks started to their feet, many of them with looks of terror, uttering the word—Ngula. Stanley seized his gun. "That must be a gorilla!" he exclaimed, examining the lock.
"I hope so," cried David. "It would be worth coming here to see the monster."
"No doubt about its being a gorilla," said Senhor Silva, "but you must be cautious how you approach him. Chickango says he will go with you. He is a good hunter; and, I judge by his looks, a brave fellow."
The ugly black nodded his head, and pointing to the forest, advanced towards it. David and I also took our guns.
"Now be steady," said Stanley. "I will fire first, and if I fail to kill him, David, do you fire; and, Senhor Silva, tell our black friend that he must make the third shot; and Andrew, you must act as a reserve in case of accidents,—but I hope not to miss him."
Stanley and David kept together, while the black and I advanced a little on one side. Turning my head for an instant, I saw Leo and Natty following us. I signed to them to go back, but they seemed resolved to take a share in the expected fight. Each was armed with a long pike, which I knew would have been of about as much use as a tooth-pick should they be attacked by the creature. We made our way between large boulders to the edge of the forest, which seemed almost too thick to be penetrated. I had never felt so excited. My sensations were something like those, I fancy, of a soldier going into his first battle; but from what I had heard of the gorilla, I knew him to be almost as formidable an antagonist as the best armed man. For some time as we advanced into the forest there was a perfect silence, yet we were certain that the monster could not be far off. The trees grew closer and closer together; and as the edge of the forest was turned towards the east, we soon found ourselves shrouded in a thick gloom. Still, so eager were we to meet the beast, that, instead of halting, as might have been wiser, we continued to push onwards. Suddenly a terrific roar was heard proceeding from a spot not many paces ahead. Had it not been uttered, we might have gone close up to the creature without perceiving him. Just then we saw the branches waving to and fro, and a huge monster moving on all fours appeared amidst them. Suddenly he rose up on his hind-legs, holding on to a bough with one hand, and then striking his breast, from which a loud hollow sound came forth. He uttered another terrific roar, and grinned fiercely at us. "Oh, what a terrible giant!" I heard Leo exclaim behind me. I dared not turn my head or speak to urge the boys to run back. My attention was rivetted on the huge gorilla, for I now saw before me that monster of the African woods. Again he uttered a fearful roar, and beating his breast and gnashing his teeth, he began to move towards us. He was not many paces from Stanley, who was a little in advance. "Steady, friends!" cried our leader. I held my breath with anxiety; for should my cousin's gun miss fire, it seemed impossible for him to escape being seized by the tremendous creature. Then I saw his rifle raised to his shoulder. There was a flash, which lighted up the monster's face and the surrounding branches, and then with a terrific roar I saw it spring forward. Just as I dreaded that Stanley was about to be seized by its sharp claws it stopped, and, with a groan almost human, fell forwards on its face, crashing amidst the bushes, and rolled over on the ground. Even then I expected to see it rise again and attack us, but the bullet had gone through its huge chest; and though it made several convulsive struggles, by the time we reached it it lay perfectly quiet. Chickango struck it with his spear, but it did not move, and then he plunged it into its breast.
"Have you really killed him?" cried Natty and Leo, running up to us. "We would have fought him, that we would!" exclaimed Leo, jumping on the gorilla's body.
Chickango at the same time seized one of its huge paws, and pulled and shook it violently, and then set up a triumphant shout as a compliment to Stanley on his victory.
"I wish we could carry him to the camp," said Leo. "It would show Kate and Bella that they need no longer be afraid of the monster."
"I expect a sight of it would not much tend to allay their fears," said David, "for it would rather show them what sort of fierce beasts we may expect to find in our neighbourhood."
"What! do you mean to say there are any more of them?" exclaimed Natty. "When Senhor Silva was talking about him the other day, he called him the king of the forest; and so I fancied, of course, that he had no rivals."
"Where he exists we shall probably find others," said David; "though their habitation does not reach further south than we now are: indeed, I did not expect to meet them in this latitude. They chiefly inhabit the country about the Gaboon and other rivers to the north of us."
We found, on measuring the gorilla, that it was within a few inches of six feet in height, while the muscular development of its arms and breast showed that it could have seized the whole of us in its claws, and torn us to pieces without difficulty; but the art of man and the death-dealing rifle were more than a match for it. Still, as it lay extended on the ground, I could not help feeling as if we had killed some human being—a wild man of the woods, who might, under proper treatment, have been tamed and civilised. David laughed when I made some remark to that effect.
"I suspect, if we were to catch a baby gorilla, and feed it on milk, and bring it up in a nursery, it would prove almost as savage and fierce as this creature," he answered. "He can feed himself and fight in defence of his liberty, but he could never make a coat to cover his bade, or light a fire to warm himself, though he might have seen it done a hundred times. There is no real relationship between a man and an ape, however much similarity there maybe between the outer form and the skeleton. In man there is the mind, which, even in the most debased and savage, is capable of improvement, and the soul, which nothing can destroy. In the ape there is instinct, and a certain power of imitation which looks like mind, but which, even in the tamest, goes no further. The most enlightened mode of instruction and the utmost patience will never teach an ape to read or talk; while we know that human beings who have been born deaf and blind and dumb have, by a wonderful process, been instructed in many of the glorious truths which can give joy and satisfaction to the soul of man."
As it was already late, and it would delay us greatly should we attempt to carry it to the camp, we agreed to leave the gorilla where it lay and return for it the next morning. We saw Chickango cautiously looking behind him as we turned our backs on the forest; and he gave us to understand by his gestures that he was afraid a lion or leopard, or some other wild beast, might be following us.
My cousins came out to meet us on our return. The roars of the gorilla had aroused unusual fears in their hearts, and our absence had been so prolonged that they had become anxious for our safety. We kept a strict watch all night; for although we did not again hear the gorilla—indeed, had there been one in the neighbourhood, he would by that time have gone to rest—the sounds of other wild animals frequently reached our ears.
We were up early next morning—the instant there was light—for Kate had made us promise to show her the gorilla. "I may never have an opportunity of seeing another," she said. "I should like to be able to say when we get to the Cape that I have actually beheld one in his native wilds."
As neither Jack nor Timbo exhibited such curiosity, we left them in charge of the camp with the black men, to pack up, while we proceeded towards the forest. We advanced cautiously, Stanley and I going ahead, with David and Senhor Silva on either side of the young ladies, and the boys bringing up the rear, Chickango acting as scout, a little in advance on one side of us. Every now and then we halted, whenever we observed the branches disturbed. Now a huge ape of the ordinary species might be seen grinning down upon us, and then scampering off among the boughs; or a troop of monkeys would come chattering above our heads, not so easily put to flight. Birds of gay plumage flitted before us from bough to bough; and a huge snake, which had been coiled round a branch, giving a hiss at us, went off among the underwood into the depths of the forest.
"And now, girls, be prepared for a sight of Leo's giant of the woods," said Stanley, turning round when we approached the spot where he had killed the gorilla. "But, hillo! the ground looks alive."
The trunk of a tree lay near. By climbing on it we got a view of the spot where the gorilla had fallen; but, as we looked towards it, scarcely a particle of the monster could be seen. The skin was there and the huge bones and monstrous skull, but nearly all the flesh had been eaten away by myriads of ants, which swarmed about it. So engaged were they in their work of destruction, that they did not attack us.
"Why, they must be drivers," said David, "the bashikouay, as the natives call them. They have gained their English name by driving every other species of the animal creation out of their way."
They were not much larger than the common English ant, of a dark brown colour. David, jumping down, caught one, and showed us that he had a sharp head, terminating in a pair of horizontal nippers—very like those of the warrior ants. In taking one up another had caught hold of his little finger, and gave it a nip which drew blood. Senhor Silva told us that they usually traverse the country by day and night, in trains nearly half a mile long, though only a few inches wide, and, as it passes under the grass, presents the appearance of a huge snake. They also, like the warrior ants, have soldiers who march by the side of the regular column, and the instant any danger appears hurry forward, when the column is either halted or turned backward. Should the difficulty be removed, it again advances. One of their most curious proceedings is the formation by the soldiers of a perfect arch, into which thousands of them weave their bodies, expanding across the whole width of a path where danger is apprehended. Under the arch the females and the labourers who bear the larva; then pass in comparative safety. It is formed in the following manner. One ant stands upright, and then another climbs up and interlocks its feet with the fore-feet of the first, and then another climbs up, somewhat in the fashion of acrobats. Another couple form the base of the arch on the opposite side, and then others, stretching themselves longways, form what may be called transverse beams, to keep the two sides connected. When thus formed, the creatures hold together so tenaciously, that the whole could be lifted off the ground without breaking. If attacked, they spread themselves on the ground over a space of thirty or more feet, across which neither man nor beast can pass with impunity. It is difficult to force a horse through them; and a dog will never venture, unless the space is sufficiently narrow to enable him to cross by a bound. He knows well that, should he fall, they would set upon him; and, before many hours were over, in spite of his strength, entirely consume him. They have been known to attack horses and cattle shut up in a confined space, and to reduce them to skeletons in less than a couple of days. They sometimes enter a dwelling-house through a small hole, and literally take possession, proceeding across the floor, over the walls and ceilings. "When I resided in the Brazils," said Senhor Silva, as we stood surveying the ants at work, "I was one morning seated at breakfast with my wife and little boy, when I heard outside the house a great commotion, and in rushed a black servant carrying the cage of our favourite parrot in one hand and grasping a number of pet fowls in the other; while our negro girl, hurrying in from another direction, and catching up the lapdog, cried out, 'See! they come—they come! Fly, senhor. Fly, my dear mistress—fly, or you will all be eaten up.' Looking down to the ground, towards which she was directing her alarmed gaze, I saw that it was covered by countless numbers of white ants, which came swarming in through a small hole in the wall. I can only liken the appearance of the insects to a stream of water suddenly bursting into the house, so rapidly did they make their way through the opening. It was too late to think of stopping it, for the room was in a few seconds full of them. My wife, taking the advice of the girl, seized our boy by the hand and fled into the garden. I followed quickly, for already I felt the ants biting at my feet. Not for some hours were we able to return, when we found that our invaders had devoured every particle of food in the house. They did us, however, an essential service, by destroying all the mice and cockroaches, as well as other insects which they encountered, so that on that account we were much obliged to them; but there are many instances on record of their destroying human beings unable to move on account of sickness, and with no one to assist them. Formerly, it is said that criminals secured by shackles were laid in their way; happily, however, this terrible custom no longer exists, even among the most savage tribes. They, in most cases, as in ours, effectually rid a house of mice, and take but few minutes to devour one, leaving only its bones and hair."