"Well, well, Timbo," answered Stanley; "you see we have done our duty and performed our promise. Three man-eaters lie dead, and I hope we may bag the remainder before many days are over."
The blacks were very anxious to get us all to go to their village, that they might treat us with honour, and thank us for the services we had rendered, and for the ample supply of meat which our success had procured. Not being hard-pressed ourselves, we begged them to accept the whole of it, with the exception of a small quantity of the rhinoceros meat, which they undertook to bring up the following day. I urged Stanley, however, to come back, to relieve Kate of her anxiety; and telling our new friends that we would come and see them another day, we returned homewards. Having reloaded our guns, we took our way along the banks of the river. I was a little in advance, when I put my foot upon what I thought was the log of a tree, when what was my horror to see stretched out before me the long head and scaly body of a huge crocodile! I stopped; for though the creature could not instantly turn round, he might first knock me over with his powerful tail, and then have time, before I could recover myself, to wear ship, as Jack would have called it, and seize me in his fearful jaws. The thought that he might do this flashed across me, but I kept my presence of mind, and raising my rifle, levelled it at his ear. I fired, and without a struggle the creature turned on one side, and lay perfectly still. Timbo was instantly up with me.
"Me kill him well, Massa Andrew!" he exclaimed. "You no do dat, him gib ugly bite."
As we had no wish to have any crocodiles' meat (although the natives have no objection to eat it), we hurried homewards.
"There they come!—there they come!" we heard Leo and Natty shouting out; and they brought torches down the hill to give us welcome. My kind cousin had not gone to bed, but insisted upon sitting up to prepare a meal for us all, as she declared (which was indeed the case) that we should be very hungry. Not till then did Stanley give us an account of his adventures.
"The first thing we did," he said, "was to dig some shallow pits, with boughs over them, in which we could conceal ourselves from the beasts which might approach the stream. We saw by the spoors that numerous animals were accustomed to come there. For some reason, however, none appeared at first, except hyenas and jackals, which came round staring and laughing at us in the most impudent manner. We threw stones at them, but this only tended to increase their mockery. At length I hurled a lump of wood at the head of one of them, which, hitting him on the nose, made him cry out, and the whole scampered off as fast as their logs could carry them. They were, I hoped, the forerunners of more noble brutes. I was not disappointed, for in a short time the ground shook with the heavy tramp of elephants hurrying down to the water. Nearer and nearer they came. At length I could set their dark phantom-like forms moving amid the trees. Next their shapes were distinguishable, and then an enormous elephant stood out in bold relief against the sky. Another and another followed, till the bank of the river was lined with them. They could easily have crossed the stream, had they been so disposed, when few people would have given much for my life or that of my companions. I felt a little nervous, I confess, but soon recovered my presence of mind. I raised my gun to take aim at their leader, who stood conspicuously forth from among his fellows. Of course, Kate, you will say I was very wrong to think of shooting him, but I could not help it. I allowed them to go on drinking, which they did, dipping their trunks into the water, and pouring it down their throats. I hesitated even now, however, about firing, lest I might warn the lions, whom I most particularly wished to destroy. Suddenly they all began to move off, and I was afraid that I should miss the chance of hitting one. I therefore gave a low whistle, which immediately attracted their attention. Once more turning round, they slightly raised their huge ears, and moved their trunks in eccentric circles through the air, as if they wished to ascertain the cause of the strange noise they had heard. I could resist no longer, but pulling my trigger, the loud thud of the bullet as it struck the animal's head showed me I had hit him fairly. He turned round, and staggered back a few paces. I was afraid that I might not have mortally wounded him. I fired my other barrel behind his ear, and without a struggle he sank down dead, the other elephants going off into the forest at a great rate, uttering notes of terror. I was about to rush forward across the stream to examine him, when my companions urged me to remain quiet; and in a short time I saw a leopard stealing over the ground. Then another came. I shot one with one barrel, and one with the other; but still the object of our hunt, if so it could be called, was not accomplished. Some time passed away, when I saw a creature moving towards me; and soon, as it came out of the darkness of the forest, I distinguished a fine lion. I let it get quite close before I fired. I drew my trigger. The brute turned round and bounded off, and I thought that it had escaped me, though the loud and peculiar roar it uttered made me hope that it was mortally wounded. Still Igubo urged me to remain quiet, and after some time another lion came. It seemed as if he was about to spring across the stream towards me. It was the one I shot just as Andrew arrived. The rest he has told you."
"Oh, brother, I wish you would not undertake such dangerous expeditions!" exclaimed Kate, when Stanley had finished.
"But surely, my dear sister, in this case I was fighting in a good cause," said Stanley, laughing. "If we have rid the country of these man-eaters, we shall have rendered an essential service to our neighbours, and the blacks, I hope, will show their gratitude."
We soon retired to rest, and slept more soundly than we had done for many nights, though we kept a guard as usual, as our fortification was not entirely completed. The next morning we set to work to finish it, and by noon had entirely surrounded it with an impenetrable hedge. It took us some time longer to fasten the prickly branches to the top of our fence. While we were at work, a party of blacks arrived from the village, bringing with them a large quantity of elephant and rhinoceros flesh. They came to thank our chief, they said, for the service he had done them, though they feared that there were still other lions in the neighbourhood. Stanley promised to do his best to look out for them, should any again appear.
The young koodoo was by this time completely tamed, and even the little zebra had lost all fear, and would come up when called by Kate or Bella to be fed, and allow itself to be stroked and petted by them; but when any blacks came near it, it would scamper off and kick out with its heels, or, if they pursued it, would turn round and try to bite them.
"I am sure it would let me ride it," said Bella, "if we could make a saddle to fit its back."
"I think I could do that for you, Miss Bella," said Jack; "but it might be a hard job to put it on."
"If you will make the saddle and bridle, I will try to put them on," repeated Bella.
We had no lack of skins, which I should have said Timbo and Jack employed themselves in dressing. Out of these, the former, who was very ingenious, in a short time contrived to make a very respectable-looking side-saddle. We had some iron wire, with which he formed a bit, as also a stirrup. Bella was highly delighted when he produced it completed. She, meantime, had allowed no one but herself to feed the little creature, and every day when she did so she threw a piece of hide over its back. In a little time she placed a still larger hide on the animal, till it was thoroughly accustomed to the weight, and seemed in no way to mind it. To introduce the bit into its mouth was a more difficult task. However, it allowed her one day to slip it in, after it had been eating; and she kept it there for some time, leading it by the bridle about the yard.
"Now bring me the saddle, Jack," she cried out. "I am sure it will let me put it on its back."
Jack brought it, and the zebra stood perfectly still while he tightened the girths. Next to Kate and Bella, Jack was evidently the zebra's favourite, and it never seemed to object to his playing with it.
"Now lift me up, Jack," said Bella; "and I am sure it will let you lead it about."
In a short time the little creature seemed perfectly contented with its new employment, and Bella was able to ride it round and round the yard, without its showing any wish to throw her off. The koodoo ran by her side, every now and then looking round into the zebra's face, as much as to ask how he liked it. She, however, did not try it too far; and after riding about for half an hour or so, she jumped off its back, and relieved it of its saddle, patting its head and talking to it all the time. She then, leading it back to its pen, took off its bridle and gave it some more food. The following day she tried it in the same way; and though at first it seemed rather disinclined to allow the bit to be put into its mouth, after she had coaxed it, and talked to it for some time, it allowed her to put it in; and Jack again bringing out the saddle, it went through the duty of the previous day.
"I think now," said Bella, "if we have to make a journey, that I shall have a steed ready to carry me. I wish, Kate, we could find an animal for you."
"No fear about dat, Miss Bella," said Timbo. "If we no get horses we get oxen, and dey do better dan any other animal in dis country."
Timbo had been making inquiries, it appeared, about the natives further to the south, and had been told that at some distance there were herds of oxen, which the people were accustomed to ride. This gave us hopes that we might be able to procure some, and that we might proceed on our journey without waiting for Senhor Silva and Chickango. As yet no news had been received from them, though we were now in daily expectation of the arrival of a messenger whom they had promised if possible to send back to us, with an account of their progress. Our days were beginning to grow somewhat monotonous, from the fact that we had no great difficulty in supplying ourselves with food, and were unwilling to go out and kill creatures merely for the sake of amusement. Stanley made a second excursion to assist our friends in the northern village, and succeeded in killing two more lions, which the people declared were man-eaters.
ADVENTURES ON THE LAKE.
Leo and Natty had been frequently begging me to accompany them to visit our friends to the south.
We agreed that we should greatly shorten the land journey by proceeding along the lake, and landing at a spot on its borders nearest the village, which we thought we could then reach in a few hours' march. Stanley had no objection to our going, provided we did not remain away more than three or four days. Mango was to accompany us as interpreter. From the experience we had had of the natives, we hoped that the garrison, though thus decreased, was still sufficient for the protection of our fortress, especially as the lions and leopards had for some time kept at a distance, finding out, probably, that we possessed ample means for their destruction. It is extraordinary what instinct wild animals exhibit, and how soon they desert a neighbourhood where they are frequently attacked. It is said that even hippopotami and crocodiles become more wary after being hunted; and though in the wilder districts they come out fearlessly to feed or to bask on the sandbanks, when hunters come to the neighbourhood they learn to conceal themselves in their watery retreats, and will only show their nostrils and eyes above the surface, keeping always in the most secluded parts.
The boys were greatly pleased at being allowed to take the proposed expedition. They made wallets to carry their food at their backs, and the articles they proposed to present to the natives, or to exchange for meat and other provisions should we not be able to supply ourselves. The village we were to visit, we learned from Igubo, was called Kabomba, and he seemed to consider it a very important place. To be sure, as Leo observed, he had never been in London, or even at Cape Town, so it was not surprising that he should look upon it with respect.
Our preparations were soon completed. Igubo gave his son charge to behave well, and to bring no discredit upon his white friends. Kate urged us all to take care of ourselves, and not to run into unnecessary danger. The whole party accompanied us down to the canoe. We had chosen the Gazelle, as the best of the two. As the wind was fair, we hoisted our sail and steered merrily down the river towards the lake. We had no difficulty, as we passed along, in supplying ourselves with food. Wild ducks of all sorts abounded. Among them were numbers of the Egyptian goose. We saw several of them ahead, and made chase. Being heavy of wing, we found they could not rise out of the water, and we caught four or five with our hands as we passed by. A little further on we neared a bank on which a large flock of ducks were seated. Leo and I fired at the same time, and on landing we picked up a dozen ducks and three geese which we had knocked over. Among them was a large black goose, which we saw in great numbers walking slowly about and picking up their food. The specimen we killed had a small black spur on its shoulder—as has the armed plover—and as strong as that on the heel of a cock; but the birds, it is said, never use them except in defence of their young. They are said always to choose ant-hills for their nests. The ants cannot hurt the eggs, and the material of which the hills are composed assists probably in hatching the eggs, as the sand does those of the ostrich.
I had hitherto held very little conversation with Mango. He had, however, picked up enough English to make himself understood, and during this trip I was able to ascertain some of his peculiar notions.
We kept for some time along the north shore of the lake. We were nearing a point when we saw a beautiful water-antelope, known under the name of mochose. Before I could stop him, Leo had lifted his rifle and fired. The poor animal was hit, and, as is always the case, instead of flying along the shore, leaped into the water and began to swim across the lake. We immediately made chase, for though we had ducks enough for food, venison was not to be despised. I saw Mango waving his hands and muttering in a peculiar manner. The mochose swam well, but we soon gained upon it; and I was anxious to put it out of its sufferings, for a red mark which appeared in its wake showed that it must have been badly wounded. Just as we neared it, a long snout projected above the water. It was that of a crocodile. The next instant the poor mochose and the hideous monster sank together. Mango uttered an expression of disappointment; and when I questioned him, he said that he had been praying to his fetish, who was himself a crocodile, that we might obtain the venison, but that the fetish would not hear him.
"That is a curious sort of religion," observed Leo; "for to my certain knowledge he and his father and brother supped off the crocodile Igubo killed the other day, and still he worships the beast."
I have not before mentioned it, but we had tasted the flesh Leo spoke of. It had a strong musky odour, which did not tempt us to try it again; though I do not know what we should have done had we been pressed by hunger. In a short time we came to a wide bay, across which we stood. The wind was fresh, and we flew rapidly over the water. The pure air raised our spirits, and we anticipated an interesting visit to our Kabomba friends. Mango pointed to a spot some way ahead, where he thought we might land; but at the same time said that if we continued further, we might possibly have a still shorter land journey to the village.
"It would be a pity to leave the canoe, as long as we can sail along so pleasantly," said Leo. "Do, Andrew, let us follow his suggestion."
As I saw no objection to it, we stood on down the lake. The breeze was increasing. I took two reefs in our sail, but still it was as much as the canoe could bear. Suddenly a strong blast came sweeping over the lake. I shouted to Natty, who was at the halliards. Almost before the words were out of my mouth, he had let them go. It was fortunate that he did so, or the canoe must inevitably have been upset. As it was, she heeled over so much that we took in a quantity of water. We set to work to bail it out; but the wind from that moment blew stronger and stronger, and in a few minutes the whole lake, which had hitherto been so calm, was covered with foaming seas. They increased every instant, and I saw that it would be dangerous to expose our light canoe broadside to them. Even as it was, they continued breaking over the sides, and it required active bailing to free her from water. Our only course, therefore, to escape being swamped, was to keep her directly before the gale. This carried us further and further down the lake, and drove us also off from the north shore. I told Natty and Leo to get out the paddles, while we set Mango to bail. We thus ran before the seas, and kept the canoe tolerably free from water. Night was approaching, and still there was no cessation of the gale. We could only see the land dimly on our right side, while we flew on, surrounded by the hissing and foaming waters. Much depended, I knew, on my steering well. The slightest carelessness might have allowed the canoe to broach to, when she must inevitably have been upset. Even had we clung to her, we should have lost our provisions, and we might have been picked up by some crocodile exploring the deeper water in search of prey; for I could not tell whether the monsters did not swim occasionally thus far from land. The boys plied their paddles energetically, as if they fancied our safety depended upon their exertions. Seeing this, I told them not to exhaust their strength, as it was only necessary to keep the paddles going sufficiently to assist me in steering the canoe. I tried to pierce the gloom ahead, but nothing could be seen but the troubled waters. It was different to any scene we had yet witnessed, for hitherto the lake had been calm as glass, unless when occasionally a ripple played over its surface.
"I say, Andrew, I wonder whether we are ever coming to an end of this?" exclaimed Leo. "If we go on at this rate, we shall be hundreds of miles away from Kate and the rest, and they will not know what has become of us."
"Not quite so far as that, I fancy," said Natty. "We must pray to be preserved, and hope for the best. I do not think we can do anything but that just now."
"Right, Natty," I said. "Do our best, and hope for the best. That is a right principle, and people who act thus are seldom led far wrong. Storms, in these latitudes, though they are very violent, do not last for any length of time; and I hope we may soon fall in with some island, under which we may take shelter."
"Suppose, though, we run against it. What shall we do then?" asked Leo.
"We must jump out and haul the boat up," answered Natty. "The shore is not dangerous like that of the sea-coast, and we shall have no great difficulty in saving ourselves, even if we are driven on it."
"We need not talk of such a contingency," I remarked. "I hope we may keep clear of all dangers till the gale drops, or till daylight returns."
Though I said this, I could not help feeling very anxious, particularly at the thought of being driven so far from home, for I knew that Kate would become alarmed should we not return at the time we proposed. Still we kept on; but often as I bent my head forward, trying to make out any object ahead, nothing could I see but the curling waves as before. I had no idea that the lake was so long, and expected every minute to find that we were approaching the end of it. Still on and on we went. Hour after hour passed by, and I calculated that morning must be approaching. The gale still increased, and as the light canoe flew over the foaming seas I dreaded every instant that they would break on board. She behaved beautifully, however, and though occasionally the top of a wave tumbled over her, we took in no great amount of water. At length, as I cast my eye towards the east, a faint light appeared in the sky. I hailed it as the harbinger of morning. At the same time the wind began to fall, and in a few minutes had evidently greatly decreased. I began to hope that our dangers were coming to an end, and that we should only have the trouble of paddling back again without visiting our Kabomba friends.
"I see the shore!" cried Leo, "on my right hand."
"And I see it on the left!" exclaimed Natty.
Just then Mango, who had been sitting quiet at the bottom of the canoe, lifted up his head as if listening, and then pointed to the south evidently in a state of alarm. He uttered a few words, but what he meant to say I could not make out. There was still so much sea that I was afraid of hauling the boat up: to attempt to reach the north shore. I therefore stood on as before, and in a short time found that we were entering either a narrow part of the lake or the commencement of a river flowing out of it, and I hoped every instant to reach some point where we could safely land. We had stood on some little way further, when I began to suspect, by the rapid way we passed the land, that we must have a strong current with us as well as the wind. Scarcely had I made this discovery when the loud roar of waters reached my ears. It was the deep, solemn sound which proceeds from a cataract. Now for the first time the truth broke on me. We were in a rapid current, which was hastily hurrying us on towards a waterfall. Not a moment was to be lost. I told the boys to lower the sail and to endeavour to get the canoe's head round so as to pull in for the shore; for as to making any way against the current and the wind combined, that I knew was impossible. They did their utmost, I helping them with my steering paddle, and Mango working away with a spare one; but still so heavy were the waves that they threatened every instant to capsize us, and I saw that we were being carried down almost as rapidly as before. In vain we paddled. We appeared to make no way. "Hope for the best, hope for the best!" cried Natty, exerting himself to the utmost. The perilous position in which we were placed pressed heavily on my mind. The loud roar of the cataract sounded louder and louder, and as daylight increased I made out in the distance a cloud of spray rising in the air. Down it there appeared every probability we should be carried, and what hope was there then of our escaping with life? I looked anxiously round on every side, and at length the increasing light revealed a small island a little way further down the stream. I trusted that by our exertions we might reach it. We continued straining every nerve. Rapidly the canoe was borne down sideways towards it. "A few strokes more and we shall be there," I cried out. "Work away, boys, work away." In spite of our exertions down glided the canoe, and the end of the island was passed. Still, we might reach some part of the side of the island. Had I been alone I might almost have leaped on shore. The moment was a fearfully anxious one. I could distinguish the southern end of the island. If we failed to reach that we must be lost. Trees overhung the banks. I gave a few more desperate strokes, and drove the canoe forward till her bows just touched the shore. "Leap out!" I cried. The canoe swung round. Natty seized the branch of a tree which hung down close to him, and swung himself up. I thought Leo and Mango had done the same, for I saw Leo clinging to a branch of a tree, and the black springing with the painter in his hand towards the shore. I therefore, seizing my gun and ammunition, leaped to the bank. What was my horror the next instant to see Leo fall back into the boat, the branch he had caught hold of breaking, and the black boy still holding on to the painter floating after the canoe. Leo seemed scarcely conscious of his own danger, but rushing to Mango, assisted to drag him in. My impulse was to spring into the water and try to regain the canoe, but just then Natty's voice reached me, crying, "Oh, help me, Andrew! help me!" and I saw that, though clinging to a branch, he could not manage, laden as he was, to climb along it so as to gain the shore in safety. I hurried to assist him, my heart sinking at the thought of what would become of Leo and Mango. I clambered along the tree, and at length got hold of Natty, but it required some caution to prevent us both falling off into the water. I got him, however, safe on shore, and then we hurried together to the south point, anxiously looking for the canoe. Leo and his companion had got out their paddles, and were working away in what appeared an utterly vain attempt to reach the north bank before the canoe would be hurried down the cataract. Natty wrung his hands in despair.
"Oh, how could it have happened?" he exclaimed, "I would have done anything rather than let Leo go. What is to be done? what is to be done?"
I had no consolation to offer him. Still the increasing light showed me that there were other islands intervening between the falls and the one we were on. It was barely possible, however, that the canoe would drift against one of them. We stood watching them with the deepest anxiety as the canoe was carried further and further down the current. Already she appeared to be in the rapids, from her quicker movement; and gliding faster and faster away, she soon was almost out of sight. It must be understood that there was a considerable distance between us and the cloud of vapour which I supposed to mark the situation of the fall. At length the canoe was hid from us altogether by a tree-covered island; but whether Leo and his companion had managed to reach it or not we were left in fearful doubt. It was some time before I could rouse myself. Poor Natty sat down on the ground with his head resting on his hands, completely overcome.
"But perhaps, after all, they may not have been lost!" he exclaimed, starting up, "and they may manage to tow the canoe along the bank of the river and come back to us. What do you think?"
"I dare not offer an opinion," I answered. "It is possible, just possible, and we must hope for the best."
Still we waited, looking in the direction we had last seen the two boys, anxiously hoping that they might reappear; but in vain. At length I began to feel somewhat faint, and Natty at last exclaimed, "Oh, I am so hungry!" It recalled us to the necessity of trying to find something on which we could support life. The island was so small, that had any birds been on it they would have flown away when we landed. I had, fortunately, a tinder-box in my pocket, so that we might light a fire if we could find anything to cook. At length Natty discovered a small fruit like a plum, growing on a tree covered with dark green leaves. He called me to it, and on examining it it struck me that it must be the moyela, which David had found near the banks of the river only a day or two before. This would at all events assist to satisfy the pangs of hunger, though it might not do to support us. I helped Natty up the tree, and he threw down to me as many as we thought we should require. We then sat down on the ground and discussed them, but the recollection of Leo made us too sad to talk.
"I am very thirsty," said Natty, "and must get a draught of water."
He went to the shore, and was stooping down to fill his hand full, when at that instant I saw a ripple in the water rapidly approaching. I had just time to spring up and pull him violently back, when a huge snout projected above the surface. The monster, startled by the fearful shriek Natty set up, and the loud cries I uttered, did not venture to approach, and slunk back again beneath the surface. I confess I was completely unnerved, and stood trembling all over, while Natty would have sunk to the ground had I not supported him. It was some minutes before I recovered.
"I must not again run the risk of being caught like that. I ought to have remembered the crocodiles," he said at last. "But I say, Andrew, don't you think it very likely that the creature may have its nest somewhere about the island? I will have a hunt."
Forthwith we began poking about in all directions with pieces of bamboo—a small grove of which grew on the island.
"Here is a hole," cried Natty at length, "and full of eggs, too. We will pay the crocodile off now for the fright he gave us."
I confess at first I could scarcely bring myself to think of eating crocodile's eggs. Natty had no such scruple. We filled our hats, and brought them to the beach, where, clearing away the grass to prevent an accident, we soon had a fire burning. As we had no pot to boil our eggs, we put them into the fire to roast, stirring them round and round with a stick. In spite of my repugnance, so excessive was my hunger that as soon as we thought the eggs were done, and Natty had pulled them out, I cracked one. The yolk alone had set, but that looked tolerably tempting; and on putting it to my mouth I could scarcely distinguish it, except by a peculiar flavour, from the yolk of a bird's egg. A couple, however, satisfied me.
"They will last the longer for not being too nice," observed Natty; "and we do not know how long we may have to stay here."
"We must think of means of getting away," I said; "for it is not likely that any canoes will pass by, and it is very certain that we must not attempt to swim on shore, though, were it only for the distance, I think I could do it, and carry you on my back."
"No, no, indeed!" exclaimed Natty. "We have had experience already of what would be our fate if we ventured into the water. But do you not think that the captain will come to look for us in the Giraffe when we do not return? He will never give us up without a search."
"But you forget," I said, "our friends do not expect us back for two or three days, so that they will not think of setting out till after that time, when they find we do not return."
"And what shall we do in the meantime?"
Although an idea had occurred to me by which we could reach the shore, yet it was so perilous that I thought as long as we could find food on the island it might be prudent to stay there without attempting it. The day passed slowly away, and as evening approached I bethought me that we should wish to sleep.
"But what if a crocodile comes and picks us off?" said Natty. "That will not be pleasant."
"Too true," I said. "Then we must try and form a house in the trees."
There were not many on the island. We selected one with wide-spreading branches, into which we could without difficulty climb.
"But when we are there," said Natty, "how are we to sleep? As we cannot cling on like birds or monkeys, we should tumble off, for certain. I have it, though. Let us build a platform of bamboo; you have your hatchet, and we can soon form one large enough to hold us both."
The idea I thought excellent, and immediately set to work to cut down a good supply of bamboos. As I cut them I handed them up to Natty, who fastened the ends with flexible creepers, of which there was an abundance around us. Before it was dark we had formed a flooring about six feet long and as many broad. We now climbed up, and sat ourselves down to contemplate our performance.
"Suppose no canoe passes, how shall we ever be able to get from this," said Natty. "We are not going to live here for ever, I hope."
"I have thought of forming a reed raft, on which we can ferry ourselves across the narrowest part of the stream towards the north shore."
"But surely the current will carry us down?" he observed justly.
"I have thought of that; we must wait till a strong wind blows up the river, and then I have hopes that it will keep back the waters of the lake and probably greatly lessen the current. If so, and we can manufacture a mat sail, I think we shall be able to reach the nearest bank. It is dangerous, I grant, but I see no other way."
"Nor do I, indeed," he said; "but, by-the-by, I left our eggs near the river, and probably the mother crocodile will come to look for them and carry them off."
Without waiting for my reply he climbed down the tree, and was soon back again with our provisions. "I think I saw a snout just coming out of the water," he remarked; "and a minute later the creature would have got hold of them, I fancy. I did not stop to look a second time, however, for I was afraid that it would have caught me had I delayed."
"I am very glad you have brought the eggs, and still more that you escaped the monster. It is evident that we must be careful not to stand carelessly by the side of the bank, or go into the water," I answered. We were silent for some time.
"I think we should have prayers," I heard Natty observe. "Will you say them, Andrew?"
"Gladly," I replied; and to the best of my power I offered up a prayer for protection before we lay down to sleep. I was soon in the land of dreams, for I was thoroughly tired with the exertion I had gone through during the previous day. I was awaked by feeling Natty touch my arm.
"Look down there, Andrew," he whispered. "See! it is just as well we are safe up in the tree!"
As I cast my eyes down on the ground below us, I saw three huge crocodiles crawling slowly about; and though they generally take their food in the water, I had no doubt that they would not have objected to seize us for their suppers had they found us unprepared for resistance. It was rather difficult to go to sleep again with the knowledge that such creatures were in our vicinity. However, after watching them for a time, I felt my eyes closing, and shortly forgot all about them and everything else present. When I awoke the sun was shining through the branches of the trees. The crocodiles had disappeared, the wind was light, the sky blue, and the smooth water shone in the beams of the rising luminary of day. Voices reached my ears. A faint hope rose in my heart that they might proceed from Leo and Mango. I quickly descended the tree, and made my way to the edge of the island on the side whence they appeared to come. There I saw, at some distance, a canoe with four blacks in her, engaged in combat with a hippopotamus. One of them, standing up, was about to plunge his spear into the animal's neck. Several more animals were standing on the nearest reed-covered bank, while the heads of others protruded from among the reeds in the distance. Here was a means of escape, if we could make the blacks hear, and they were inclined to assist us. I called to Natty, who, descending the tree, was soon by my side. We shouted with might and main, but the blacks were so eagerly engaged in attacking the hippopotamus that they did not hear us. The monster, as he received the wound in his neck, turned round and attempted to seize the canoe; but the blacks, plying the paddles quickly, got out of his way, holding him, however, by a rope attached to the spear. Spear after spear was darted into his neck; and in a short time the blacks, taking him in tow, dragged him on shore, where, in spite of his struggles, they hauled him up, and several other people hurrying down to the bank, soon despatched him with their clubs. No sooner had they done so, than they set up loud shouts, and began dancing away in frantic joy at their success. I thought this was a favourable opportunity for again trying to attract their attention. We shouted and shouted, but still they did not hear us.
"I think, Andrew, you must fire your gun. They will hear that, at all events," said Natty.
I was about to do as he suggested; but then the question arose in my mind, whether we should be better off with the savages than we were by ourselves. Still, should we lose this opportunity of getting to the mainland, another might not occur. At length I fired. The effect was curious. The blacks ceased dancing, and looked about them with glances of astonishment. Presently five of them leaped into the canoe, and having pulled out from the shore, so as to allow the current to carry them directly towards it, began cautiously paddling down to the island. They, of course, knew its strength, and the necessity for care. As they approached, Natty and I each took a branch in our hands and waved it, hoping that they would understand it as a signal of friendship. As they drew near they stopped rowing, and gazed at us with looks of curiosity. I again waved to them, and showing them my gun, I placed it by my side, that they might understand I had no intention of using it. Except the usual small waist-cloth, the strangers had no clothing, though the man who sat in the stern guiding the canoe had a few ornaments about his head and on his neck, which showed that he was a chief. They began jabbering away to us, but of course we could not understand a word they said. I replied to them, therefore, by signs that we wished to be ferried over to the opposite shore. Natty fortunately recollected just then that he had a few beads, a clasp-knife, and one or two articles which he had put into his wallet just as we were coming away. He showed these to signify that we would pay them for the service they might render us. They seemed to understand our signs, and beckoned to us to step into the canoe, carefully turning her round, so that they might instantly paddle off again up the stream. We stepping in, they shoved off, exerting themselves to the utmost to stem the current. We made, however, but little way. As their backs were turned towards us, I could only judge of their disposition by watching the countenance of their chief. It was not particularly prepossessing, and the exertions he was making added not a little to its natural ugliness. He seemed to be regarding us with looks of intense curiosity, as if he had never before seen white people. After paddling along for a considerable time with the greatest exertion, they suddenly turned the canoe round and paddled across the current towards the shore. At length we got into a counter eddy, and now without difficulty they made way; the people who had been surrounding the hippopotamus running down along the bank to look at us. We soon reached a place where we could land, but for some minutes we were kept in the boat, while the tribe collected on the high banks above us, grinning down and gazing at us much as we should at a wild beast in its den in the Zoological Gardens. They were, I think, the ugliest savages we had yet met with.
"Well, I do declare I think poor Chico was a beauty to them," exclaimed Natty, as he looked up at them squatting in all sorts of attitudes on the bank. The women, (I must not call them the fair sex), were even less attractive than their lords and masters. Two or three of them had huge necklaces hanging down over their breasts and rings round their arms, which in no way added to their beauty. Some of them carried children slung to their backs by straps of buffalo hides, and the little creatures, as they looked down upon us, grinned from ear to ear, though, when their mothers approached nearer than they liked, they set up the most terrific cries, such as I should have thought no human beings could have uttered. At last the canoe-men allowed us to land, when the female portion of the spectators hurriedly retreated, as if we were some wild creatures likely to do them harm. My first object was to inquire whether they could give us any information about Leo and Mango; but they only shook their heads, and we could not tell what that intended to signify. I explained to them, as well as I could, that we had come in a canoe, which, with our companions in it, had been drifted down towards the cataract. Each time they only replied as before, with an ominous shake of the head. Their countenances brightened a little as I distributed among them the articles which Natty had brought, giving the chief a knife and a double allowance of beads. Some who had been in the background, and had not received any, now pressed forward, and looked very indignant when we showed them that we had no more to give. I now made signs to them that we wished to go down the banks to try and ascertain what had become of the canoe; but they put themselves before us, and intimated that they did not wish us to move to a distance. "But we must go, and we will go!" cried Natty. "We must find out what has become of Leo, and the whole tribe together shall not stop me!" It struck me, however, that probably they wished to cut up the hippopotamus and distribute it among the people; and that perhaps after this operation they might be willing to accompany us. Without hesitation, therefore, we walked along the bank towards the spot where the creature had been drawn ashore. I concluded that I was right, by seeing the chief and several men instantly begin to attack the monster. In a short time they had it skinned and cut up, each one taking a portion. The chief took none himself, but several men, whom I supposed to be slaves, were laden with larger portions than any of the rest, which, I have no doubt, were his share. This done, I again signified our wish to go down the banks to look for the canoe; and at length, greatly to my satisfaction, the chief and six of his companions began to move in that direction. Natty and I hurried on as fast as we could walk, though, indeed, had we not restrained our eagerness, we should soon have got ahead of our companions. The distance to the falls was far greater than I had supposed, for after we had gone some way we could still see the cloud of mist rising above them. When we got abreast of the islands to the south of the one we had landed on, we examined them narrowly; but no sign of the canoe could we discover. It was difficult, however, at all times to see across the river, on account of the thick wood which in many places fringed the banks and overhung the water. "Oh, they cannot be lost! they cannot be lost!" Natty exclaimed every now and then. I could only reply, I hoped not; and still, as I saw the rapid current rushing by, I dreaded to find my worst apprehensions fulfilled.
At length we got near the edge of the cataract. A dark ledge of rocks ran, it appeared, across the stream, some rising high above the water, which flowed with terrific force between them. There was, however, from the western shore on which we stood a point which ran out for some distance, and within this the water circled round, forming a back eddy. My only hope was, from not having seen the canoe on any of the islands, that she might have drifted into this eddy. We searched the shore on every side, but nowhere was she to be seen. That she could possibly have floated down the cataract without turning over, I feared was impossible. We, however, continued our way, not without difficulty, till we reached the lower level, and looking back, saw the stream rushing over its rocky bed, making a fall and leaping madly downwards to a depth of fifty or sixty feet, where it bubbled and foamed in a vast caldron, which sent up unceasing clouds of spray high into the air. Then after a time it began to flow more calmly, till it went gliding on as if fatigued by its hurried course. We now more narrowly examined the banks, not with any hope of finding our companions, but in the possibility that the canoe might have been drifted on shore, and that we might thus ascertain to a certainty their fate.
We went on till we readied another stream which ran into the main river. Here our companions placed themselves before us, and signified that we must go no further. I could only conjecture that they looked upon it as the border of their territory, and were afraid that should we pass it we should attempt to make our escape. I saw them looking out eagerly over the country beyond the stream, as if to ascertain whether any enemies were in the neighbourhood. They then signed to us that we must accompany them back again. As we returned we still continued examining the banks, in case we might have passed any spot where the canoe could be drawn up. We had not gone far when Natty, who had run through a narrow pathway leading down to the water, exclaimed, "Here, here! Andrew. I think I see the canoe a little way up the bank! Come and look!" I hastened to him. There, under some bushes at the end of a little point some few hundred yards from us, I saw an object which looked very like a canoe. Still, it might be that of some of the natives. We marked it well, and then hastened up again along the bank, examining the bushes that we might discover if there was any path through them. We searched about, however, for some time before we could find a pathway. At length one appeared, and Natty darting down it, made his way towards the water as last as he could run. It was like the former one, formed, I concluded, by elephants or rhinoceroses to reach their evening drinking-place. There was the canoe. The paddles, however, and everything in her, had been taken way. My heart beat with satisfaction and gratitude. Leo and Mango had escaped destruction in the cataract; but what, then, had become of them? We could discover no trace or sign, nothing whatever to give us any clue to their fate.
"What can have become of them?" exclaimed Natty for the twentieth time as we stood examining the canoe. "But here come the blacks. Perhaps they will find out."
The chief and several of his followers assembled round the canoe, and began to talk eagerly to each other. They arrived at length at some conclusion, but what it was we could not divine. Then they examined the ground round, and seemed to discover certain marks, as one called the other to look at them. Then away they ran up the path, and began beating about in the surrounding wood. They came back shaking their heads, and when we by signs asked them what had happened, they pointed to the south.
"Depend upon it, Andrew," exclaimed Natty, "Leo and Mango have gone in that direction. Let us set off after them."
"I will try and make the blacks understand that we intend to do so," I answered.
I succeeded in explaining my wishes; but the blacks only shook their woolly pates, and made signs that if we did, we should be knocked on the head, or that daggers would be stuck into us.
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" cried Natty, "can that have been the fate of Leo and Mango?"
"I hope not," I said. "If anybody has carried them off, they would not have done so for the sake of killing them. What I suspect is, that the neighbouring tribe is at war with our present friends, and that they happened to be making a raid into the country, and falling in with Leo and Mango, carried them off captives. It was evident from the signs these people made to us that they did not wish us to cross the stream, which they probably considered the boundary line between their territory and that of the tribe with which they are at war. I may be mistaken, but we must try and return as soon as possible, and let Timbo and Igubo know what has occurred. If we can ascertain from them to what place Leo and Mango have been carried, we must lose no time in endeavouring to release them."
"Oh yes," said Natty, "I am nearly sure they must have been carried away prisoners, or they would have come up the river and endeavoured to release us, as I said they would do."
When, however, I explained to the chief that we wished to return to the part of the country from whence we had come, I found that he had no intention of letting us go. Still I hoped, of course, that we might find the means of escaping. At present, indeed, as we had no food, we were not unwilling to accompany the chief to his village, to which by signs he invited us. As we walked along I saw him eyeing my gun. I showed it him, holding it, however, pretty tightly, lest he should think fit to appropriate it. I saw by the way he looked at the weapon, that he was unacquainted with its use. First he examined the lock, and then put the muzzle to his eye and looked down the barrel. I hoped that before long, by means of my gun, I might be able to gain the respect of the people. I determined, therefore, not to fire until a favourable opportunity should occur. I in the meantime took great care that no one should wrest the weapon out of my hands. The people as we went along gathered round us, some coming up and touching our clothes, others putting their hands on our faces, evidently unable to understand the light colour of our skins. When the people began to press too closely round, the chief ordered them angrily to keep at a distance; and some still persevering, he swung his spear round and round, hitting them, without much ceremony, either on their shins or heads, when they quickly retreated to a more respectful distance.
I was very glad when at length the village appeared in sight. It was situated on the borders of a small gulf, I will call it, or the mouth of a stream near the lake, surrounded by a belt of elegant fan-palms and a number of gigantic wild fruit trees. Beyond it the lake was seen extending far as the eye could reach, though in some places the water was concealed from sight by vast masses of reeds and rushes of every shade and hue, several beautiful little islands being dotted over it, adorned with the richest vegetation, its many beauties heightened by the brilliant rays of a tropical sun, somewhat softened by the silvery mist which rose from the lake. The village was very similar in character to that which Stanley had visited,—so I concluded from his description. A plentiful repast was placed before us by the chief's wife and her attendants soon after we arrived. The principal dish consisted of hippopotamus flesh, but there were plantains and cassava porridge, with an abundance of wild fruits, the best of which was the moshoma, both fresh and dried. We had seen the tree growing outside the village. It grows to a great height. The trunk was beautifully straight, and the branches did not begin to spread out till very nearly at the summit. The fruit can thus only be gathered when it falls to the ground. It is then collected and exposed to the sun for some time. After it has been dried it is pounded in a mortar, when it is fit for use. In that state it will keep for some time. It is generally mixed with water, and made into a sort of jelly, which tastes and looks not unlike honey. It is especially useful for giving a flavour to the otherwise tasteless cassava porridge.
The chief seemed very well disposed towards us, and now, as the day was drawing to a close, he pointed to some mats in a corner of his hut, and signified that we might sleep there. Having been in exercise all the day, in spite of our anxiety we slept very soundly. The village was astir at an early hour. Though the appearance of the people was not attractive, they were more civilised than I had expected, and in the neighbourhood of the village we saw a wide extent of fairly cultivated ground. A bowl of cassava porridge, sweetened with moshoma, was placed before us for our morning meal, and Natty and I did ample justice to it. We now thought that we might let the chief know we were in a hurry to go away, but he shook his head, saying that that could not be. What his object was in keeping us we were unable to comprehend. It was very evident that he had made up his mind we should stay with him, for some time at least. The more we urged him to allow us to take our departure, the more determined he seemed to keep us. At last I thought it wise to give up the point for the present. We were allowed, however, to walk about, but were always accompanied by either the chief himself, or four or five of his attendants armed with spears, or bows and arrows. Some of the latter were blunt-headed, and others were barbed, and, I suspected, poisoned. We found a party of them setting out for the forest at a short distance, and wishing to see what they were about, we accompanied them. We found them engaged in making what we afterwards discovered to be bee-hives. They first took off the bark of some small trees, fifteen or eighteen inches in diameter and about five feet in width. They managed this by making two incisions right round, the trunk five feet apart. A longitudinal slit from one to the other enabled them to detach the bark from the trunk. The bark immediately assumed the shape it had before, and where the slit was made it was sewn together again with the fibre of a tree called the motuia. It thus formed a wooden cylinder. A top and bottom were next fixed in it, formed of grass rope, the lower one having a hole in the centre for the ingress and egress of the bees. When the hives, as I shall call them, were completed, they carried them off, and placed them high up in lofty trees in different parts of the forest. The bees which were flying about seeking habitations soon discovered them, and even while we were there some were already taken possession of. A piece of cloth was tied round the trunk of each tree, which, when I came to inquire about the matter, I learned was looked upon as a charm, and was sufficient to prevent any thieves robbing the hives. In the woods a number of beautiful yellow birds were flying about, some of which I afterwards saw in cages in the house of the chief and several of his people. The cages were very neatly made, and had traps on the tops to entice their still free companions. The chief called the birds cabazo, and I found that they were a species of canary. They fed them on a plant called the lotsa, of which they cultivate a considerable quantity for food, and wild canaries come and help themselves, much as sparrows do to the seeds which the gardeners have sown at home. I saw also several tame pigeons. Early in the morning numerous other little songsters were chirruping merrily away, some singing quite as loudly as our English thrushes; and one, the king-hunter, Halcyon senegalensis, makes a clear whirring sound like that of a whistle with a pea in it. As we were returning, suddenly we saw streaming out of a hole innumerable flying creatures. They formed a dense column. Out they came; there seemed to be no end of them. No sooner did our companions catch sight of them than they made chase. As the insects began to scatter, they appeared like snow-flakes floating about in the air. They were, I suspected, white ants. After flying a considerable distance they alighted on the ground, when, as we watched them, they bent up their tails, unhooked their wings, and began immediately digging away with wonderful rapidity into the earth. They had good need of haste, for birds were seen assembling from all quarters, numerous hawks being among them, who began snapping them up with the greatest avidity. The natives, too, immediately set to work to collect them, giving them a pinch and putting them into baskets which they carried at their sides. They were quite as eager to obtain them as the birds were. On picking some of them up I found that they were fully half an inch long, as thick as a crow-quill, and very fat. One I caught had its wings on, and fancying from the ease with which its fellows got rid of these appendages themselves that I could help it, I made the attempt, but the wings appeared to me as if hooked into the body, and I tore away a piece of the flesh at the same time. As long as an ant was to be found, the natives continued picking them up; and I suspect, out of the whole brood but a small number could have reached places of safety beneath the earth.
Our companions hurried home with their prizes, when they immediately lighted fires, and roasted the ants, much as they might have done chestnuts. All hands gathered round and ate them eagerly, evidently considering them among the greatest of delicacies. When they saw us watching them, they offered us some. "No, no," said Natty; "I do not know what I may do, but I have not come to that yet." The chief, who had the larger share brought to him, sat on the ground, rolling his eyes round as he dropped insect after insect into his mouth, evidently enjoying the repast, and seemed to look with an eye of pity on us when we declined partaking of it.
Soon after this we observed a number of the men dressing themselves up in a curious manner. Some had covered their heads with caps made of the skins of water-antelopes, with the horns still attached, part of the skin hanging down over their shoulders so as to conceal the upper part of their bodies. Others had manufactured the heads and beaks and long necks of white cranes into coverings for their heads. Carrying their bows and arrows in their hands, and quivers and darts at their backs, they set forth to the bank of the lake. We watched them crawling along amid the reeds, their heads alone being visible, and looking very like the animals they intended to represent. I could see in the distance on a sedgy bank several dark objects, which I guessed were crocodiles. The hunters approached them cautiously, now stopping, just as an antelope or crane would do to feed, now advancing again, now stopping, till they had got within bow-shot of the creatures. Then, quickly raising their weapons, they let fly at the same moment. The result at that distance I could not ascertain, but it appeared to me that, although I saw some movement among the objects, yet two or more remained on the bank. The hunters rushed on, now careless of exhibiting themselves, and in a short time returned with some of the flesh of the creatures they had killed. They immediately set out again, and as I watched to ascertain the direction they took, I saw in the far distance several buffaloes going down to drink at the lake. They were not back till dark; but, from the quantity of buffalo flesh they brought with them, I had no doubt they had killed one or two of the animals. Their plump cheeks and bodies showed that they had an abundance of food; and they were liberal in bestowing on us as much as we could desire.
Our friends remained for a couple of days, enjoying, after the African fashion, the abundance of food they had collected. Whenever we signified our wish to depart, the chief, as before, strenuously opposed it. In vain I protested against being detained, and made signs that we were determined to go, whether he wished it or not. This made him very angry, and from his manner when he left us, we feared that, should we really make the attempt, he would use force to prevent us. We therefore, as other people have done, had to yield to circumstances, and to make the best of our position. At last we agreed that we would appear to be contented with our lot, so as, if possible, to throw our captors off their guard. They were the most active and persevering hunters of any people we had yet met with. The morning after the last piece of buffalo flesh had been eaten (it had been rather too high for our stomachs), we found that they were preparing to set off on a hunting expedition, and we were not sorry to find that they expected us to accompany them. I carried my gun: I should have said I never let it out of my hand by day, and always placed it under my mat by night, that no one might take it from me. The chief, I fancy, looked upon it as my fetish, and certainly regarded it with considerable awe. Whether or not he had discovered that it had made the noise he had heard, I could not as yet ascertain. Among the hunters was a young man, whom we found to be the chief's son. He was one of the best-looking of the tribe, though that is not saying much for him. He was, however, good-natured, and seemed inclined to make friends of us. We therefore kept by his side. About thirty hunters set out, headed by the young chief. They were armed with long spears and bundles of javelins, on which they appeared to depend for killing their prey, trusting to their activity and the knowledge of the animals they might attack to get out of their way. We passed through the wood we had before visited, and continued across an open prairie till we arrived at a forest of considerable size, extending on either hand as far as the eye could reach. The band at once entered it, spreading themselves out so as to beat a large part of the wood, but yet continuing within call, if not always within sight of each other. Natty and I followed the young chief. After proceeding some way one of the men came up, and presently we saw that they were all closing in towards a point a little way ahead. As we advanced I saw, just over the bushes, the back of a large white rhinoceros. The monster had come there probably to enjoy the shade of the wood. It seemed to be alone. The men all approached cautiously, concealing themselves under the brushwood till they were close upon the creature, then, starting up, they hurled their darts at it. The rhinoceros started forward, pursued by the hunters, the young chief taking the lead. Suddenly the creature seemed to stagger forward. Its front feet had sunk into a hole or artificial pit, I could not ascertain which. As it did so, instead of struggling, it remained perfectly quiet. At this juncture the young chief, with his spear in his hand, leaped on the animal's back, intending apparently to plunge the spear into its head behind the ear. At that moment it suddenly reared itself up, and before our friend could leap off again began tearing away at a rapid rate through the forest. He clung to his seat in a wonderful way. His spear, however, before he could strike it into the animal's neck, was hurled by a bough from his hand. The hunters pursued, shrieking loudly through fear of the life of their young chief. I too dreaded lest he should be thrown off, when the animal would too probably turn round upon him, and, before assistance could arrive, might transfix him with its terrible horn. I was also afraid to fire, lest I might wound the young man. His companions followed, shrieking and shouting as fast as they could. Natty and I followed after, but could not make way through the thick and tangled underwood so rapidly as the blacks. We were therefore left behind. Presently the rhinoceros turned, and came tearing towards us, forcing its way through the underwood. Still the black kept his seat, when the rhinoceros, swerving on one side, passed under the bough of a tree, and in the same manner that he had lost his spear he himself was hurled to the ground. He attempted to rise, but his ankle had apparently been sprained, and before he had gone many paces down he fell. The enraged creature seemed aware that it had got rid of its rider. It stopped, and eyeing him with a savage glance, rushed towards him with its horn pointed at his body. Now, I felt, was the time for me to fire, or the young man would certainly be killed. I had, providentially, a rest for my gun, and pulling the trigger, my bullet hit the rhinoceros directly behind the ear. The impetus it had gained sent it on several paces. A loud shriek rent the air; but just before it reached the young chief over it fell, and lay perfectly still. We ran forward to help up our young friend. He glanced up in my countenance with a look which showed that he was grateful for the service I had rendered him. He then took my hand and pressed it to his lips. In a few minutes the rest of the hunters came up, when he addressed them, and, I concluded, was telling them what I had done. I certainly never fired a shot with so much satisfaction. The men came round Natty and I, their whole demeanour completely changed, evidently looking upon us as heroes worthy of renown, while some begged to examine the wonderful weapon which had done the deed.
As soon as the hunters had cut up the rhinoceros, we returned in triumph to the village. The chief showed that he appreciated the service I had rendered him in saving the life of his son by warmly embracing us—a ceremony, by-the-by, with which we would gladly have dispensed. We were now, instead of being looked upon as prisoners at large, treated with every consideration; and when I signified that the only reward we required was to be allowed to return to our homes, I understood him to beg that we would remain one day longer, when he would accompany us as far as he could venture to go.
I suspected that his tribe were at war with their neighbours, as scouts were constantly coming and going, and that this was the reason why he could not accompany us in our search for Leo and Mango. We would gladly at once have set off to look for them; but when we showed a wish to go to the south, he made us understand that they were already carried a long way off, and that, coming from his village, we should be looked upon as enemies, and probably murdered. This we thought so likely, that we agreed it would be prudent to return home to obtain the assistance of our friends.
There was a grand feast at night on the flesh of the rhinoceros, and dancing and singing were kept up till a late hour—an amusement we would willingly have avoided.
Natty and I talked over the possibility of returning in the canoe, but there were no paddles; and we could scarcely have propelled her, even had we made some. We begged the chief to take care of her till our return, and this he promised, as far as we could understand, faithfully to do.
Next morning we again expressed our anxiety to set off, but the chief showed no inclination to let us go; and each time that we pressed him, he signified that we must remain a little longer. We were the less unwilling to do this, in the hope that we might, in the meantime, gain some news of Leo and Mango, and we once more urged the chief to try and discover where they were. He let us understand that he wanted first to have another hunt, and that I must bring my gun to assist him. I, of course, expressed my readiness to comply with his wishes, but resolved not to expend much of our powder, as we should require it on our return home. We were allowed to wander about the village wherever we liked, but we observed that all the time we were carefully watched. The women and children always started up with looks of astonishment when we came near them, the young ones running away, frightened at our white skins, just as European children would be alarmed at the sudden appearance of a black man among them. On the outskirts of the village, near the river, we came upon a group of people employed in burning large quantities of a coarse-looking rush and stalks of a plant which I had seen growing in a marsh near at hand. I had, the day before, by chance tasted the water in the march, and found it slightly brackish. On examining the proceedings of the people, I found that they were employed in manufacturing salt. Before them were a number of funnel-shaped baskets formed of grass rope. These were filled with the ashes, and water being poured into them, percolated through the basket-work into calabashes placed below to receive it. They were then put out in the sun, and the water evaporating, left a small amount of salt in each. Although there was not a sufficient quantity for salting fish or meat, the supply was ample for ordinary use, and we were glad to purchase some with a few beads which we had remaining in our pockets. Amply supplied as we are in England with that necessary article, we can scarcely appreciate its value in a country where it is not to be obtained without great difficulty. Natty and I agreed to husband our little stock carefully, as for the last few days we had felt the want of it when eating rhinoceros flesh. We had observed several animals coming down to this salt marsh to chew the coarse grass or to lick up the salt collected on the reeds.
As we were walking along we heard the chief calling to us, and found that he was prepared to set out on his proposed expedition. We saw as we proceeded many large animals in the distance, but they had evidently learned caution from the attacks made on them by the natives, and would not approach the village. As we appeared they took to flight, keeping always a long way out of range of our companions' arrows. Once I got near a rhinoceros, but was unwilling to fire without feeling tolerably sure of hitting the animal, as I had determined not to throw away a shot if I could help it. At length we got into a region where we could obtain cover among low bushes, and occasionally clumps of trees. The natives took advantage of this, and hiding themselves under bushes, clumps of tall reeds or grass, proceeded for some distance. Natty and I followed their example. At last I saw, a little way from a grove of trees, a herd of cameleopards quietly feeding. The blacks lay like logs of wood on the ground, every now and then creeping slowly on when the heads of the animals were turned away from them. Still they were too far off for me to make sure of a shot. I saw, a little way on, a solitary bush. I thought if I could reach it I might be able to bring down one of the nearest giraffes. The natives watched me eagerly as, trailing my gun after me, I cautiously approached the bush. I was very anxious to kill an animal, in order still further to establish our credit, hoping thereby also more speedily to obtain permission to depart. I could not help constantly thinking of the alarm our prolonged absence would cause our friends.
As I crept on I saw the giraffes turning their heads, raised high in air, now in one direction, now in the other, as if they suspected danger. I should have said that they were near a small grove of trees, from the branches of which some of the herd were plucking the leaves. This grove had partly concealed our party, or we should not have approached so easily. I had never prided myself on being a sportsman; but I had steady nerves, and of late had given good practice to my eye, and thoroughly knew the range of my rifle. The bush was gained. A large bull cameleopard stood the nearest, every now and then turning his head to pluck a bunch of leaves from a branch which no other animal could have reached, but still apparently on the watch for danger. I raised myself on my knee, and lifting my rifle, took a steady aim at his breast. At the report the whole herd moved off, swinging their legs over the plain at a rapid rate. I thought that I must have missed, and yet my bullet seemed to strike the creature at whom I had aimed. Away he went with the rest. Before, however, he had proceeded fifty yards down he suddenly fell, and lay prostrate on the earth. The blacks, with loud shrieks and shouts, rose from their hiding-places and darted forward, and in a few minutes the wounded giraffe was surrounded by a band of dancing, shrieking, shouting blacks, delighted at the thought of the meal he was about to afford them. Natty and I stood at a little distance, when suddenly we saw the giraffe raise his neck high above the heads of the shrieking band. Presently out went his legs, and the chief and his followers were seen scattered here and there on every side, some prostrate on the ground, others scampering off to avoid the fury of the kicks of the dying animal. I thought some of them must have been killed. It was his last effort, however, and again sinking down, he lay perfectly quiet. The blacks picked themselves up, showing that at all events no mortal injury had been done, and again assembled round the body of the animal, though keeping at a more cautious distance till they had ascertained that he was really dead. On finding this to be the case, they sprang on the body, and began hacking away at it with their knives, till, in a short time, it presented nothing but a mass of mutilated flesh. The chief seemed highly delighted at our success, and I took the opportunity of again urging him to allow us to go, trying to make him understand that I would return, if he wished it, with companions who were still better able to kill game for him than I was.
As a large portion of the day had been expended, without attempting to seek for more game the chief led us back to the village.
"What do you think he will do?" asked Natty as we walked along. "If he will not let us go willingly, I propose that we take French leave, as Leo would say, and I do not think he will attempt to stop us by force."
At a little distance from the village there stood, under a grove of trees, a hideous idol, at the top of a stout post. It was elaborately carved, representing rather the face of an ape than that of a man, and covered with red, yellow, and black paint. The hunters placed some of the meat of the giraffe before it, on a block of stone; but only a small quantity, and that of the least valuable parts. I guessed by this that they had no great respect for their idol. "Poor people," said Natty, "perhaps they guess that they can cheat even it, and that it will not be able to distinguish between the best and worst parts." Natty and I were also tempted to stop. He made signs to the chief, touching his own ears, and then shaking his head and pointing to the ears of the idol, to signify that it could not hear. Then he pointed to its mouth, and in the same way tried to explain that it could not eat the meat placed before it. Then he touched its head, to show that it could not understand. We fancied that the chief comprehended his meaning, for he laughed, and cast a contemptuous look at the ugly block. Although he did this, however, in our presence, it is possible that he still had some superstitious fear of the idol, or of the evil spirit it might have been intended to represent.
"The poor Africans have no knowledge of the powerful, kind, and merciful God," observed Natty. "The beings to whom they pay respect they believe to be malign spirits, who will do them harm if they do not attempt to propitiate them by gifts and observances."
I may observe here that we never paid the slightest respect to the negro idols, and never were treated worse in consequence; indeed, I believe that they would have despised us if we had done so, for though they may fancy that their idols have something to do with them, they believe that they have no power over the white men.
There was great rejoicing in the village on the arrival of the flesh of the giraffe, the greater portion of which was consumed long before the night was over. While seated with the chief, I again asked him to let us go, and he seemed to intimate that he would do so the following morning. While we were at supper, Natty proposed that we should hide as much food as would last us for the following day. "A good idea," I observed. The pockets of our shooting-jackets were capacious. Whenever the chief was looking another way, we contrived to slip in large pieces of meat and cassava cake, besides pieces of plantain. They made somewhat of a mess in our pockets, but we could not be particular. As the chief consumed double as much as we hid away he was not surprised at the rapid disappearance of the food, and had not observed our manoeuvre.
Natty and I lay down to rest, hoping that before another sunset we might be far on our way homewards.
OUR ESCAPE AND JOURNEY THROUGH THE WILDERNESS.
I awoke just as day broke, and roused up Natty.
"Where are we?" he exclaimed. "Oh, I was dreaming, and so happy!"
"We have realities before us," I remarked. "Are you prepared for starting?"
"Yes, yes," he whispered; "by all means. Probably the people, after their debauch, will sleep soundly, and we may get some way before we are overtaken."
We put on our jackets, which we had placed at our sides, having slept covered up with mats provided for us. We then cautiously pushed open the reed-formed door, and stood looking out up and down the street of the village. The stars were still twinkling overhead, though gradually growing dimmer as the grey light of morning advanced. I carefully marked the course we were to take, and observing all the doors closed, we now sallied forth, and crept cautiously along towards the end of the street which opened out in the direction of our home. Every moment we expected to be pursued. If we were, we agreed to put a bold face on the matter, and to claim the right of departing. Fortunately the inhabitants, from having sat up the greater part of the night eating, were sound asleep, and we hoped that our night would not be discovered till we were a considerable distance on the road. We stole on, treading as lightly as possible in the centre of the street. We could hear loud snores proceeding from some of the huts. The sound gave us confidence. It also showed us how easily a native village might be surprised by enemies. The careless, thoughtless people seemed to have forgotten that they were at war with their neighbours. We reached the end of the street. There was a gateway, but the gate was closed. On examining it we found that it might be easily opened; but I feared that while we were doing so the proper guards might pounce out on us. They too had left their posts, and we were reassured by hearing loud snores coming forth from a hut close at hand. I did not like to leave the gate open. Natty whispered to me that he thought he could climb over it. There was no great difficulty in doing that; the only fear was that on dropping on the other side we might be heard. However, there was no time to be lost. I helped Natty up, and he scrambled down without making any noise on the opposite side. I followed, and reached the top. I might without danger have dropped down, but, for the reason I have mentioned, I thought it better to lower myself gradually. My foot, however, slipped when halfway, and the wood-work creaked loudly, while the noise I made in falling would, I feared, arouse the sleeping guard. We stopped for a minute. Still the snoring sounds came loud as before. There was no necessity for further delay. We therefore, walking as noiselessly as we could, hurried on towards the north-west. We followed a well-beaten path, which I had before noted as leading in the direction we wished to go. As soon as we had got far enough from the village to make it unlikely that our footsteps would be heard, we began running, I leading, and Natty following close at my heels. I had been a good runner, but was out of practice. Natty, however, was very active, and easily kept up with me. We ran on for an hour or more without stopping, till we were bathed in perspiration, and I felt that I could not go much further without rest.
"Do stop," said Natty. "Even if the blacks discovered our escape directly after we left the village, it must be some time before they can overtake us."
"You are right," I answered; "a little rest will enable us to go faster afterwards."
We sat down under a wide-spreading tree. The shade was pleasant; for the sun, which had already shot up high into the heavens, sent down his rays with great force. The air was full of life. Insects were buzzing about, and gaily-decked parrots flew from bough to bough, while the monkeys came out of their leafy covers and looked down upon us with astonishment. We took the opportunity of eating some of the food we had brought in our pockets. It was not very nice, but it satisfied our hunger. I was soon ready to proceed. Natty, however, urged me to rest a little longer, thinking that I should be over-fatigued by such unusual exercise.
"Come along," I said; "the further we are off, the less likely our friends at the village will be to insist on our returning with them."
We went on as before. Sometimes a snake glided across our path, but quickly got out of our way, more frightened at us than we were at seeing it. Now we heard a rustling in the underwood, and a panther or hyena dashed away amid the foliage without thinking of attacking us. We had gone on at a slower pace than at first, when, by the appearance of the sun in the sky, I saw that it must be noon. I now once more called a halt, for I felt tired myself, and was afraid that Natty must be equally so. We had for some time been crossing the open prairie, steering, by the sun and the distant line of mountain, as I hoped in the right direction. Before us lay a thick wood. Natty proposed that we should take shelter within it, as, even should the natives closely pursue us, we might there have the prospect of remaining concealed while they passed by.
"I am afraid that you have scarcely yet recovered your strength sufficiently to march on all day without rest," said Natty; "and as I could not find my way without you, I hope, for my sake as well as yours, that you will stop for an hour or so here."
This argument prevailed with me; for I was so anxious to reach home, and felt so strong, that I should have gone on till night would prevent us from proceeding further. We accordingly entered the wood, and after making our way a short distance into it, came to a small open spot, free of trees or thick underwood.
"I propose that we build a hut of boughs here," said Natty. "We can take our turns to go to sleep in it, and it will help to guard us against the attacks of lions or other beasts."
With our axes we cut down a sufficient number of boughs to form a shelter, and having planted them close together, a hut was formed which would, I hoped, afford us ample protection. As the sun struck down into the woodland glade with great force, we took our seats within the hut for the sake of the shade, and discussed a further portion of our provisions. I saw that Natty was very sleepy, though he was trying his utmost to keep awake. I therefore told him to lie down, and that I would watch. Finding a branch of a tree torn off, perhaps by lightning, I chopped a piece of sufficient length to serve as a pillow, and having examined it carefully to see that no scorpion or other stinging insect lurked within, I placed it under his head, and sat down at the entrance of our leafy bower to keep watch, with my gun by my side, ready for action at a moment's notice. I felt somewhat drowsy, but made every effort to arouse myself, feeling the importance of keeping awake. Presently I heard a slight rustling, as if some animal was moving among the bushes near me; but without shifting my position I could see nothing. Then I heard a sound as if creatures were nibbling grass or leaves. This made me sure that no savage beast caused the sounds, and I sat quiet, expecting soon to discover what creatures they were. Presently two beautiful fawns came in sight. They did not perceive me, but went on quietly grazing, unconscious of the presence of one of their many enemies. At length they came full before me. "Shall I fire?" I asked myself. "One of them would afford us ample food till we could reach home." I was afraid, however, that should I move to raise my rifle, and get into a better position for taking aim, they would instantly be off, and bound into the thicket before I could even fire. While I was considering (though sportsmen may laugh at me, I own I was unwilling to kill one of the beautiful creatures), another, of a very different character, appeared on the scene. Suddenly I caught sight of a pair of glaring eyes amid the thick gloom of the thicket on my left. I saw a large tiger-looking animal of a fawn colour, the back variegated with round black spots. I guessed at once that the creature was a cheetah, or hunting leopard, and thought it was lying in wait for the deer till they should approach within distance of its spring. I had no idea, however, that it could make so prodigious a bound as it at that moment did; for scarcely had I seen it, when it sprang out of its ambush, and alighted on the unfortunate buck, which it struck down with one tremendous blow. Seizing my rifle, and throwing myself on my knee, I took a steady aim, and the ball entered the cheetah's head. It sprang up, dragging its prey with it, but instantly sank down, and rolled over dead. Natty sprang to his feet at the report. The cheetah had settled the question whether the buck should die, for the poor creature was so mangled, though not killed outright, that we saw it would be a mercy to put it out of its sufferings. This we immediately did. Its more fortunate companion had escaped into the open ground.
We lost no time in cutting up our prize, for the meat we had brought with us was already scarcely fit to eat, and we both confessed to feeling very hungry again.
"We may as well light a fire and cook it," I said. "We must take care, however, not to set the wood in a blaze."
There was ample fuel about, and choosing a spot where the grass was green, and did not readily burn, we piled up the sticks we collected. I had a tinder-box and matches in my wallet, and thus we soon had a good fire burning. In a short time we had some pieces of venison roasting in woodland fashion on forked sticks before the fire.
Having selected the best parts of the venison, and wrapped them up in leaves to carry with us, we recommenced our meal on the portion we had cooked. The salt we had purchased a few days before was now particularly acceptable, and we both had meat, we hoped, sufficient to sustain us for many hours. Now greatly refreshed, we prepared to proceed on our journey. We first put out the fire, however, that there might be no risk of setting the forest in a blaze.
"We must leave the cheetah and the rest of the deer to the birds and beasts of prey which are sure to visit it before long," I observed. "And now, Natty, let us be off."
Scarcely had I uttered the words when he touched my arm. "Stay," he said; "I am sure I heard voices in the distance."
We listened. There could be no doubt of it. The sounds drew nearer. The tones were very similar to those we had heard during our stay at the village.
"They must be our late friends come to look after us," I observed. "If we are discovered, we will put a good face on the matter."
"Would it not be better to go and meet them at once, and present them with the game we have killed?" said Natty.
I agreed with him; and peering out from our shelter, I recognised the chief and his son, with a band of followers. Loading ourselves, therefore, with as much venison as we could carry, we sallied boldly forth, and were soon face to face with our late hosts. Their look of astonishment when they saw us and the meat we carried was very great. By the expression of their countenances, however, we saw that they were not offended. As far as we could understand, the chief only reproached us for going away without bidding him farewell. I felt myself somewhat embarrassed, for I could not help seeing that he had intended to let us go as he promised. We showed that we had enough meat for ourselves, and presented him with the larger portion. Having done this, we led him and his companions to the spot where the cheetah and the remainder of the deer lay. His companions quickly cut up the cheetah as we had done the deer, and divided the flesh among them. We then pointed in the direction we wished to go, and the chief taking my hand, and his son Natty's, we proceeded onwards in the most friendly way. At length my conductor came to a full stop, and, looking me in the face, seemed again to be reproaching me for having left his village by stealth. I tried, as before, to explain that we were in a hurry to reach our friends; and as he had detained us longer than we wished, we were afraid he might still keep us prisoners. Whether I was right in my conjectures as to his meaning, I am not quite certain. He, at all events, showed that he was friendly disposed towards us.