He now signified that he could go no further, and, pointing ahead, intimated that we should find enemies in our path if we went direct. He then, pointing to the left, advised us, as I understood him, to make a circuit so as to avoid the danger. Having satisfied himself that we clearly understood his advice, he and his son warmly shook our hands, their followers imitating their example. Such a shaking of hands I had never before gone through. I observed as I turned away that there was an expression of sorrow in their countenances, which arose partly, perhaps, from parting with us, and partly from the dangers which they apprehended we should have to encounter.
We now took our way to the south-west, skirting the edge of the forest, which appeared to extend towards the lake. We had not gone far, when, turning round, I saw the young chief stopping and gazing at us. When he found that he was observed, leaving his party, he darted after us, and once more took our hands, pressing them warmly, intimating that if his father would give him leave he would accompany us. His father's voice, however, called him back, and, with a look of regret, he again left us.
"At all events," observed Natty, "we must acknowledge that gratitude can exist in the breasts of these Africans."
"It does certainly in that of our friend," I said. "They generally have a very different character bestowed on them."
As long as the blacks remained in sight, we could see the young chief every now and then turning and casting lingering glances towards us.
We now pushed on, hoping to find some secure place where we might pass the night. We were fortunate in finding a tree with wide-spreading branches, radiating so closely from a common centre that they formed a wide and secure platform on which we could rest without fear of falling off. We climbed up as soon as we had supped, and passed the night in perfect quiet.
I need not mention the incidents of the two following days. We were cheered as we trudged on with the expectation of soon rejoining our friends.
It struck me, on the third day of our journey, as we walked on, that Natty was less inclined to speak than usual; and looking at his face, I saw that he was deadly pale. He did not complain, however. I asked him if anything was the matter. He said no; he only felt a little fatigued, and thought that he should be revived by a night's rest. I proposed that we should stop at once; but to this he would not consent, declaring that he was well able to get on as long as daylight lasted.
The country though which we passed was similar to what I have already described. We proceeded in as direct a line as we could steer, keeping the distant hills on our right, instead of going towards them.
I proposed the following day to begin circling round more directly for them, as I hoped that we had now gone far enough south to avoid the village against which the chief and his son had warned us. I should not have hesitated, however, to have gone amongst the people, had I not feared that we might be detained by them as we had been by their neighbours.
The forest as we advanced grew thinner, and we found the trees at length standing so widely apart that we could see the plain beyond them. As the wood might afford us more shelter than the open plain, and the sun was already sinking towards the blue hills in the distance, we agreed to halt. As I saw that Natty was not able to exert himself, I bade him sit down while I cut branches to form a hut, and collected wood for a fire. As I could not tell what wild animals might be roaming about around us, I determined to make our hut sufficiently strong to resist an attack.
I selected a tree of a considerable diameter, which served as a back to the hut. I stuck the uprights in the soft ground among the roots. There were plenty of vines, with which I bound the cross-pieces to the trunk and to the uprights. The intervening spaces I filled up with light perpendicular poles. While I was gathering a further supply, I found that Natty had interwoven them with branches and vines, thus forming tolerably substantial walls. Some of the boughs thrown over the top served for a roof, which, however, would not have kept out a tropical shower; but there was no fear, we thought, of rain. Darkness was now coming rapidly on, but I had not yet a sufficient supply of wood to keep up our fire all the night; and I told Natty to make it up and light it while I went to collect more broken branches, of which there were numbers lying about, torn off probably by a hurricane. While I was engaged, I saw the fire blaze up, and hoped that Natty would have some venison roasted by the time I had finished my work. Having brought a couple of loads and placed them down by the side of the hut, I went away for a third. I had got as many branches as I could carry, and returned with them towards our encampment, expecting to hear Natty hail me as I drew near; but as I approached the fire I could not distinguish him. I called, but no answer came. My heart sank within me. I was afraid that some accident had happened. Again and again I called. Throwing down the branches, I hurried on towards the hut, when what was my grief to see him extended on the ground at the entrance, and some little way from the fire! I knelt down by his side and put my hand to his heart. It beat, though feebly. I examined him, but could find no wound. He had swooned, apparently from exhaustion. Our waterbottles were full, as we had replenished them at the last stream we passed, knowing that we might afterwards have to go many miles without finding more. His whole dress was so loose that there was no necessity to undo any part of it; but I sprinkled his face with water, and then poured a few drops down his throat. Still he lay without moving.
"Natty, my dear Natty, what has happened to you? Speak to me! Speak!" I could not help exclaiming.
I had no stimulant, no medicine of any sort. I must trust, I knew, alone to Nature, or rather, I should say, to the kind Being who directs its laws. To Him I looked up and prayed that my young friend might recover. Forgetting everything but Natty, I continued kneeling, holding his head on my arm. At length, by the light of the fire, as night came on, I saw his eyes opening.
"Push on, Andrew," he whispered; "we may still keep ahead of them! I will run as fast as you do!"
I saw that his mind was wandering. Then he heaved a deep sigh.
"Are you better, Natty?" I asked.
"Oh yes. Where am I?" he asked, staring about him.
I told him I thought he had fainted, and begged that he would take some food and then lie down. He had already torn off some of the leaves from the boughs, and had made a sufficient bed for us; but, of course, we intended that only one should sleep at a time.
At length, to my great joy, he was able to sit up by himself on the ground. Finding this, I went to the fire to get the venison, which had been left roasting before it. As may be supposed, it was somewhat burned, but I was able to cut as many small slices from it as he could eat. After tasting a piece, he said, "Do you take it, Andrew. I do not think I want it." I pressed him, however; and in a little time he was able to make a tolerable meal. I then placed him inside the hut, telling him that I would sit up and keep watch till it was his turn, of course intending to let him sleep on the whole of the night, if he could do so.
I then made up the fire, finished the piece of burned venison, and sat myself down in front of the hut. I looked in several times, and was thankful at length to find that Natty was asleep, I felt a strong inclination to sleep also, and had the greatest difficulty in keeping myself awake. Whenever I felt myself nodding, I got up and walked about; but I was tired, and certainly required rest. At last I did what many a sentinel has done under similar circumstances. Though believing I was quite awake, I fell fast asleep. Even in my dreams I thought I was getting up, walking about, and then sitting down again, and then going to look in at Natty. Then I thought I made up the fire. I was somewhat surprised that it did not blaze as readily as before. By this time I was fast asleep. At length I thought I went in to look at Natty again, when what was my horror not to find him.
I awoke, to find myself leaning against the entrance at the end of our hut. The fire was very low, a few glowing embers alone remaining. The night was dark. As I looked round me, trying to open my eyes wide, what was my dismay to see numerous pairs of shining orbs gazing at me through the gloom! That they were the eyes of wild beasts I was convinced, though of what description I could not tell. The usual night sounds of an African forest alone reached my ears. The eyes seemed to be drawing nearer and nearer; and now suddenly a chorus of loud sharp barks and snarls burst forth, and by the faint light cast by the fire I could see a number of animals approaching the spot. I now guessed that they were wild dogs, a species of hyena, which hunt in packs like wolves; or perhaps true hyenas, and would prove, I dreaded, formidable assailants. Through the gloom I saw just then another body, which I guessed was a second pack arriving, thus causing the angry remonstrances of the first. A pile of firewood lay near me. I threw some of the sticks on my fire, hoping, if it blazed up, they would not attempt to pass it. My gun I had ready by my side; but as I could only kill one at a time, I was afraid, should I begin the assault, I should find it a hard matter to drive them off. I did not like to wake Natty; indeed, in his weak state he would have been of little assistance. The effect of throwing the sticks on the fire was, at first, to dull it, and I was afraid I had put it out altogether. This made the creatures draw still nearer. I rose to my feet and stood at the door of the hut, resolving, should they come, to defend my young companion to the last. If they seized me, I knew that my fate and his would be sealed. The brutes kept rushing backwards and forwards within a few yards of the fire, growling and yelping furiously. I was surprised that the noise did not awake Natty. His sleep, doubtless, was produced by utter exhaustion. I was afraid, however, that if I fired, Natty would be startled. I therefore called out to him, "Do not be alarmed when you hear the report of my rifle! Natty! Natty! awake!" I called out several times. I began to fear that he was senseless, or even that worse had happened. "Natty! my dear Natty! what is the matter?" I again shouted out.
The effect of my voice was what I had not expected, for my savage assailants on hearing it began to retreat to a more respectful distance. I thought that I might venture to enter the hut to see what was the matter with Natty. The brutes, however, directly I was silent, again came on. I was relieved too by hearing Natty ask, "What is it all about, Andrew? Have you found Leo and Mango? I have been dreaming about them so much." Greatly relieved, I replied that some wild animals were in the neighbourhood, and that I was going to fire at them; and once more I turned my face towards our enemies.
The brutes were again drawing nearer. Advancing a pace or two to the fire, I gave it a kick with my foot. This made the flames leap up. By their light I saw that a fresh actor had come upon the stage and attracted the attention of the savage brutes. A huge serpent had crawled out from among the bushes. It sprang upon one of the dogs, which immediately, writhing in agony, sank on the ground. Instead of taking to flight, however, they rushed at the creature, one of them seizing it by the back, but not before one or two others were bitten. The rest then set on it, and tearing it to pieces, quickly devoured the greater portion, leaving the head, on account I concluded of the venom it contained. Not satisfied with their victory over the snake, they once more advanced towards me with hideous growls and yelps. Seeing that it would be dangerous to allow them to approach nearer, I took aim at a large animal, which appeared to be the leader of the pack. I knocked him over, and he lay struggling on the ground yelping loudly. His companions came round him, and gave me time to reload. I did not wish to expend my ammunition uselessly, so, stooping down, I seized a burning stick, giving another poke to the fire as I did so, and then waved the brand round and round, shouting loudly in a gruff voice, and ordering the dogs to be off. Though they did not understand what I said, the tone of my voice had the effect I desired; and, greatly to my relief, barking and yelping, they scampered away, I shouting after them. The animal I had shot kicked his last as they disappeared in the gloom of the night, and I hoped that I was rid of them.
Having thrown some more sticks on the fire, I went back to Natty. I felt his hand; it appeared very feverish, and I was still more alarmed by hearing the incoherent expressions he uttered. Weary as I was, I could not venture again to go to sleep. I sat down, therefore, by the side of my poor young companion, moistening his fevered lips every now and then with water, and bathing his forehead. Still it was with the greatest difficulty I could keep my eyes open. Sometimes I got up and walked about in front of the hut, and threw a few more sticks on the fire. I myself, it must be remembered, had scarcely recovered from my illness. Having again made up the fire, increasing it to nearly double the size, I once more sat down by Natty's side. I talked aloud, and kept pinching myself, in the hope that by so doing I might keep awake. But exhausted nature at length had its way—my head dropped on my bosom, and I was asleep, so soundly indeed, that I doubt if the loudest noise would have aroused me.
In spite of my intentions, I must have had some hours' sleep. I was awaked by a bright light striking my eyes, and opening them, they were dazzled by the almost horizontal rays of the rising sun coming across the plain. My ears were assailed also by a loud barking and yelping, and I saw close to me the pack of savage dogs which had paid me a visit the night before, setting furiously on the body of their companion whom I had shot. The light of the sun had awaked me in time, or they might have made an attack on the hut before I was ready for their reception. I let them devour their companion, which they speedily did, leaving not a particle of skin or bone behind them; one running off with one piece, and one with another. The remainder, disappointed of their share of the prey, then turned their savage eyes towards me. Once more I shouted loudly, and taking off my jacket, waved it at them. Again, to my satisfaction, off the creatures scampered; and I hoped that I had seen the last of them. They had not touched the bodies of their companions bitten by the serpent, which had already become putrid. As I dragged the carcases to a distance, I felt thankful that the dogs had visited us, as, had they not come when they did, the snake might have found its way to the hut, and bitten Natty or me. I could not tell its species, but thought that it was probably the same which had made its appearance on the island when we were escaping from the Pangwes.
MY ADVENTURES WITH NATTY IN THE DESERT.
On re-entering the hut I found that Natty was still sleeping; but his slumbers were greatly troubled, and he had evidently much fever on him. Oh, how I wished that David had been with us; for, with all my anxiety, I did not know how to treat him. One thing was certain, he was utterly unable to travel. I was unwilling even to go out of sight of the hut, lest some wild beast might in the meantime come near it. I must do so, however, before long, I saw; for our slender stock of water was already almost exhausted, and cold water, I felt sure, was absolutely necessary for him. In what direction I was most likely to find it I could not tell. The last stream we crossed was some distance back, and I might have to go a long way across the plain before coming to another; indeed, in no direction did the appearance of the country indicate a stream or fountain. This thought caused me the greatest anxiety. I would have endured any amount of thirst, I thought, rather than not give Natty what he required. I remembered that the orphan boy was committed to my charge by his father, and as a father would treat his son, so was I bound to treat him.
After sitting by his side for some time and eating a slender breakfast, I took my gun and walked about the hut, now going in one direction, now in the other, in the hope of finding indications of water. Perhaps, I thought, I may kill a parrot or pigeon, or some other bird, which may be more palatable to him than stronger meat. I went further and further, but still could find no signs of water. While I was at the furthest point the dread seized me, that although the hut was in sight some creature might have stolen in, and I hurried back, dreading to find my fears realised. Not till I had entered the hut and knelt down by his side was I satisfied that he was safe. He was still sleeping, and I hoped he might thereby recover his strength. After sitting for some time by his side, I again got up and cut a number of boughs. These I stuck in round the entrance, so that no creature could possibly get in. I now ventured to go rather further from the hut, but could not bring myself to lose sight of the tree under which it was situated. I continued looking about for birds; for though I saw some at a distance, I could not get near enough to be certain of a shot; and as I said before, I could not venture to throw any of my ammunition away. I was beginning to feel very thirsty, and had recourse to chewing leaves, hoping that it would relieve me. It had, however, but little effect. At last, greatly out of spirits, I returned to the hut. Natty awoke as I pulled aside the boughs. He scarcely seemed to know me, however. I gave him a little water, and I thought, after taking it, he looked rather better, so I gave him more. I had been sitting by his side for some time, when I heard him whisper—"You had better go on, Andrew; I will follow by-and-by, but do not stop for me."
"That will never do," I answered, thankful to hear him speak. "You will get well shortly, and then we will go on together."
"I will try to go with you now," he said, trying to rise; but he sank back immediately, unable to lift himself from the ground. He uttered a sigh on discovering his weakness.
I passed the remainder of the day as I had the commencement. As I saw evening approaching I collected a large supply of broken branches to serve as firewood, and then made up a semicircular heap, which I intended to keep blazing all the night. I was sorry that I had not slept during the day, that I might the more easily keep awake while on my watch. I took some supper, though, in consequence of the thirst from which I was suffering, I felt little disposed to eat; but still I was unwilling to exhaust our water by drinking more than a few drops. I knew that the next day I must inevitably go in search of some. My young companion's life might depend upon my finding it. To avoid the risk of being surprised should I fall asleep, after I had lighted the fire and seen that it blazed up thoroughly, I took my seat inside the hut, and secured the boughs as before. In spite of my resolution to keep awake, I had not been seated on the ground more than an hour or so before I felt sleep stealing over me. At length I tried to arouse myself. I was completely overpowered, though I still retained a consciousness of where I was, and of the necessity of being on my guard. Suddenly I awoke, feeling an undefined dread. I could hear Natty breathing, but all was dark inside the hut. On looking out I discovered that I must have been asleep for some time, for the fire was entirely extinguished. I sprang up, leaving my gun on the ground. My first impulse was to re-light the fire. I hurriedly felt about for the sticks, which I had placed on one side, and carried them to the spot where the fire had been burning. I placed them as before in a semicircle. Finding that I could not strike the light in the open air, I retired into the hut to do so. Whilst thus employed I fancied I heard some creature moving over the ground. I got the match lighted, and then set fire to the bundle of twigs which I had collected. With these in my hand, I went to the pile of wood. I tried to light it. At last I set it on fire in one place. I was then moving round to another, when I saw at about twenty paces off a dark object creeping slowly towards me. On it came; and while blowing away at the wood to cause it to ignite, I began to distinguish the outlines of a huge lion. In a few seconds the savage monster might be upon me. Already he was near enough, I thought, to make his spring with fatal effect. I knew that my chief safety would depend on the fire blazing up quickly. Taking the torch, therefore, and mustering all the nerve I possessed, I tried to light the pile at another spot between the two which were already beginning to burn, though feebly. Now I bent down and blew, now looked up towards the lion. To my horror, I saw him crouching down, and slowly creeping towards me. I knew he was doing so preparatory to making his tremendous spring. Just then a breeze fanned my cheek. It came stronger and stronger, and up blazed the fire. The lion stopped. Giving a stir to the fire as I passed along it, I rushed back to my hut and seized my gun. As the fire blazed up the monster gave a tremendous roar of rage and disappointment, but still held his ground. The sound awoke Natty, who asked, in a trembling voice, what was the matter. "Remain quiet," I answered. "We have an unwelcome visitor, but I hope to drive him away." Again the lion roared and lashed his tail, but he could not bring himself to dash through the fire, though he must have seen me moving about on the other side of it. I stood up with my gun, which I had loaded with a bullet, hoping to hit him should he make a spring. Still he did not move; and remembering the effects of my shouts the night before, I suddenly rushed towards the fire, kicking it about, so as to make the flames rise up more briskly than before, and at the same time shouting out at the top of my voice. The lion roared in return. The louder he roared, the more wildly I shouted and shrieked; and then, seizing a number of burning sticks, I sprang over the fire towards him. The effect was satisfactory, for, turning round, away he bounded into the darkness, whilst I shouted out, "Victory! victory!" I had heard that if lions are thus met by a bold front, they often prove cowardly; and I hoped, therefore, that my visitor would not return. I now made up the fire, and went back to Natty. I found him trembling with alarm, but in other respects far more like himself than he had been all the day. This raised my hopes of his recovery. I gave him a little water and a few mouthfuls of cassava; and I was glad to find that in a short time he again dropped off to sleep. As may be supposed, I had no inclination, after my encounter with the lion, again to close my eyes. Should Natty be better in the morning, I resolved to start off at an early hour in search of water. I was therefore thankful when the cheering light of day again returned. I gave Natty some more food, and almost the last drops of water we possessed. I had a small drinking-cup; into this I poured the remainder, and told him to husband it carefully.
"I must go out, Natty, and try and find some more," I said. "I will imprison you as securely as I can, and you must try to wait patiently till I return. I will not be absent a moment longer than I can help."
Natty looked anxiously up at me. "Is it absolutely necessary?" he asked.
"Yes, indeed," I said; "but I hope that before long I shall find what we want, and in a day or two you will be able to accompany me home."
"I will try to get well; but it is not my fault, Andrew. I would walk if I could," he said, in a faint tone.
I was not content with merely closing the entrance, but getting some strong vines, I intertwined them round the walls and then got some large boughs, and placed them over the whole building. I trusted that thus no animal could possibly enter. I knew that sufficient air would be obtained through the roof. All that I could do was to pray, for his sake and my own, that I might return in safety to him.
"Good-bye, Natty," I said, when I had finished the work. "Keep up your spirits, my boy. I hope soon to be back; but if I do not come as quickly as you expect, do not be alarmed. I may have to go some way for water."
My wisest course perhaps was to have gone back to the last stream we had passed; but then I could not have returned the same night to our hut, and what would poor Natty have done all that time without me? I therefore determined to push on in an opposite direction, hoping that I might meet with a fountain or rivulet. On and on I went. The sun, as he rose in the sky, grew hotter and hotter. I had not a drop of water to cool my dry tongue. I had never before really known the feeling of want of water. I had been very thirsty; but now the whole inside of my mouth and throat seemed to consist of a dry horny substance, or as if I had swallowed some of the contents of a dust-bin. Still on and on I went. I hoped by continuing in a direct course that I should obtain water more speedily.
A considerable portion of the day had passed away. The sun had attained its greatest heat, when I thought I saw in the distance a line of trees, which I felt sure indicated the presence of water. I pushed on more eagerly, but as I advanced they changed their outline, and suddenly disappeared. All I could see before me was a low line of grass and bushes, which had evidently been magnified by a mirage into the proportion of lofty trees. I went on, but continued to be deceived time after time in the same way. In every direction the mirage danced on the plain. I found that in reality the range of my vision was restricted to a very moderate distance. Suddenly a herd of animals appeared, lifted completely up in the air. They were deer of some species. I hoped by killing one that I might somewhat quench my raging thirst with its blood, but before I had got up to where I had seen them they had scampered off. At length I saw what I felt sure was a pool of water. Eagerly I hurried towards it. It was a long way off, I thought; but I was willing to go any distance for the wished-for fluid, hoping that my sufferings would find relief, and that I might return before nightfall to my young companion. I was confirmed in my opinion by catching sight of several gnus going in the same direction. "They are going there to drink," I thought; and I felt ready even to encounter lions or any other savage beasts for the sake of the water. The gnus did not perceive me, as they were to windward. There was, however, so little wind that I had to wet my finger and hold it up to discover the point from which it came. I hoped that I should be able to get close up to the animals. Now they stopped and fed, now they moved on again slowly. Presently I saw them stop, when they began switching their tails, and sniffing the air, and scraping the earth impatiently with their hoofs. As I was concealed by the ground, which here was sufficiently uneven for the purpose, I did not think that they could have discovered me. Presently I was startled by the fierce growl of some animal at no great distance. I stopped; and looking round, I saw to my horror a huge lion and lioness at a short way off, just above me. It was evident that they had been following the gnus, who had only at that instant begun to suspect their presence. The lion must at the same time have discovered me, and uttered the roar which I had heard, while his companion was still creeping on after the gnus. I stopped and knelt down, holding my rifle ready to fire should the lion approach me. Still there was the lioness, and being sure that the report of my gun would attract her even should I kill the lion, I determined not to fire till it was absolutely necessary. The growl which the lion uttered at seeing me must have been heard by the gnus, which now set off at a rapid pace to escape from their pursuers. The lioness darted forward in pursuit, and the lion, uttering a few more savage roars at me, turned round and followed her. I was free from their company for the moment, but the knowledge that they were in the neighbourhood added greatly to my anxiety. I could not help fearing, too, that they or others might find their way to poor Natty's hut during my absence. I had for the moment forgotten my thirst, but now again the sufferings I had been enduring returned, and I turned my eyes once more towards the spot where I had seen the pond. Both the gnus and the lions had disappeared. I went on, thinking that I must soon reach the water. After hurrying on till I felt ready to drop, I found myself standing on an extent of hard-baked earth, while the glittering pool I had hoped to reach had disappeared. I looked round. Similar pools appeared in various places on the very ground I had come over. I knew therefore that they were but deceptions caused by the mirage. What had become of the lions I could not tell. I only hoped that the gnus had led them a long chase, and that they were far away from me.
Wearied out, I sat down under the shade of a rock, which just sheltered my head and shoulders. My spirits were sinking. I began to fear that I had death alone to expect as a termination to my sufferings. And poor Natty, he would die too; for weak from fever, and unable to help himself, he must inevitably be starved. "I will go back and die with him," I exclaimed. "While a particle of strength remains, I will push on. I cannot let him suffer alone!" While these thoughts were passing through my mind, I saw some birds flying through the air, uttering as they went a soft melodious cry, which sounded somewhat like "Pretty dear! pretty dear!" I watched them anxiously. They were too far off for me to hit them, but I judged from their flight that they were a species of partridge which I had before seen. They came from the south-east, directing their course towards the north-west. Presently I observed, as I watched them anxiously, that they neared the ground, and then seemed to me settling down at no great distance off.
I remembered having heard that springs have been discovered by travellers in the desert by watching the flight of birds, and I hoped that these were on their way to some fountain. I arose, and hurried on as fast as my weakness would allow in the direction they had taken. Still I could not help dreading that I might be again disappointed. I caught sight at length of some rocks, on the other side of which they had disappeared. The rocks rose high above the dry, hard ground. As yet there was no indication of water. My heart sunk within me, but I persevered. I had not strength to climb the rocks, which rose high up before me, but I circled round them. I got to the other side, when my eyes were gladdened by the sight of green herbage and luxuriant shrubs, which I knew delight in water. Hurrying on, I saw beneath the rocks a calm, clear crystal pool. Oh, how delighted I felt! But on getting to the edge I found that the water was too far below me to be easily reached. I scrambled along the rocks, till at length I discovered a spot which appeared not more than a foot or two above the water. I reached it at length, and throwing myself on the ground, bent over till I could clip my hands in the pure liquid. I eagerly lapped it up. I felt that I could never drink enough. By degrees my parched tongue and mouth began to feel cool, and I rose like another person. After resting a few minutes, I filled my water-bottle. Evening was approaching, but I could not bear the thought of leaving Natty all the night without attempting to return to him. Once more I drank my fill. While drinking, I saw several other flights of birds arrive at the water. A covey of them pitched thickly on a rock near me. They would afford valuable nourishment to my young friend. I withdrew the bullet from my rifle and loaded it with small shot. It was an ungrateful act I was about to perpetrate, I confess; I thought so even at the time. The birds, too, seemed fearless of me. I raised my gun and fired. Greatly to my delight, I saw three lying on the rock, and two others fluttering near. I hurried forward to secure them. Scarcely had I done so when, looking round, I saw a lion and lioness—probably the same which had pursued the gnus—approaching the pool. Strange to say, I felt but little fear of them. Still I thought it unwise to stand in their path should they be on their way to drink, as I had no doubt they were. I accordingly scrambled along the rock to a high point, whence I could look down upon them as they passed. On seeing me they stopped, and seemed to be consulting together whether they should attack me. "I will be ready for you, old fellows," I said aloud, as I reloaded my rifle and carefully rammed down the bullet. "If you do not interfere with me, I will let you enjoy your draught unmolested; but if you attack me, look out for the consequences—Ha! ha! ha!" My own voice struck my ear as strangely loud and wild. The effect was to make the lions decide on letting me alone; and while they went on towards the water, I scrambled down from the rock, and began to make the best of my way towards where I had left Natty.
I hurried on, though I scarcely expected to reach the hut before dark. Still I hoped that even at night I might find my way. I will not say that I was very sanguine about it, as the mirage had deceived me, and often made objects appeal very different to what they really were. The sun in a short time sunk behind me. Still, as long as I could move over the ground, I determined to persevere. I was keeping, I believed, in a direct line. At length the stars came out, and the moon rose and shed her pale light over the scene. I knew that lions and other wild beasts will seldom attack a person while the moon is shining. This encouraged me to proceed. The stars, whose brilliancy even the moon could scarcely dim, assisted me in steering my course. I own, however, that now and then I cast an anxious look over my shoulder, lest the lion and the lioness might be following me. Where the ground was open I hoped that I might be able to discover them, should they approach; but in some places it was rocky, scattered over with thick bushes, within which beasts of prey might lurk. I was somewhat heavily laden, with my water-bottle and birds. While suffering from thirst I had no inclination to eat, but now I began to feel the pangs of hunger, and my knees trembled from the exertion I had been for so long making. I therefore sat down with my back against a tree to rest, and to eat the few mouthfuls I had in my pocket. I scarcely knew till then how tired I was. Anxious as I was to get on, I yet could not help indulging in a short rest. "I shall be able to move the faster after it," I thought to myself. Whilst thus sitting and meditating, what was my dismay to see the two lions stalk slowly up to me, while behind them appeared a vast troop of the savage dogs I had encountered on the previous night! I felt spell-bound— unable to fly, or even to move. The lions whisked their tails and ground their teeth as they uttered low savage growls, while the dogs kept barking and yelping behind them. Nearer and nearer they drew. In vain I tried to lift my rifle and have one shot for my life. No; I could not even do that. There I sat. In another moment their sharp fangs would be planted in my throat. Suddenly I gave a start. The whole panorama of savage eyes and the two central monsters disappeared, and to my infinite relief I found that I had been asleep, and that the whole was a phantom of my brain. I really think I must have slept some time, for after I had recovered from the alarm into which my dream had thrown me, I felt sufficiently strong to resume my journey. As long as the moon shone, it was far pleasanter travelling at night than in the day. Again I went on, but still I could not help acknowledging to myself that I might very likely after all not be on the right road. Still I should not gain it by hesitation, and I tried to make up my mind to be prepared for a disappointment, should I be mistaken. I was doing my best; I could do no more. At length I saw in the distance a line of dark trees, which I hoped was the wood on the borders of which our hut was situated. As I marked the outline, I stepped on with more elastic tread, thinking of the delight my reappearance would give my poor young companion. As I was thus walking on, I felt my foot sink into the earth, and before I could recover myself I fell flat on my face. I quickly sprang up, for the thought seized me that I might have stepped into the hole of some snake, and that in another instant he might be issuing out to attack me. I ran on for some paces, when I stopped and looked back, but nothing appeared. Not till then did I discover that I had sprained my ankle. It might be a slight matter under ordinary circumstances, but, in my case, if it stopped my walking it might be serious. It pained me considerably, still I found that I could walk. I went on, but soon began to limp. There was no elasticity in my step now. My great consolation was that I was near Natty, for I was sure the wood I saw was that I had left in the morning. The pain had damped my spirits, and I now began to fear that perhaps after all Natty had grown worse, or that some wild beasts had found out our hut, and managed to penetrate into the interior. I was wrong to allow these thoughts to enter my mind, I know, but under my circumstances it was but natural. At length I caught sight, under a tree, of what in the moonlight looked like a mound. It was our hut; but just then I observed several objects moving about round it, and as I drew near a loud barking and yelping saluted my ears. I rushed forward. "Those brutes of dogs have found out Natty!" I exclaimed. Even then I thought that I might be too late to save him. Shouting out in a stern, strong voice, which I had found successful before, I ordered them to depart, waving my gun with furious gestures before me. The dogs saw me, and began to retreat; but some of them, I thought, seemed to come out of the very hut itself. "Natty! Natty!" I cried out, "are you safe? Tell me! oh, tell me!"
I got no answer, but the barking and yelping might have drowned Natty's voice. I dashed frantically forward. I could not fire without the risk of sending the ball through the hut I doubted, indeed, whether the sound of my rifle would have much effect on them. The yelping, barking pack retired as I advanced. "Natty, Natty, speak to me!" I again cried out.
My heart bounded with joy when a faint voice proceeded from within. "O Andrew! have you really come? I was afraid you must have been killed."
"I am all safe," I answered; "but I must drive these brutes to a distance before I come to you."
There was a good supply of sticks. I hastily drew them together, and lighting a match, quickly had a brisk fire burning. The light and my shouts finally drove off the pack, and I now ventured to open the entrance to our hut. Natty was sitting up. He pointed to his mouth. I hastily poured out some of the water, and gave him an ample draught; and then I sank down on the ground, overcome with fatigue and the pain which my sprained ankle gave me. I recovered sufficiently, however, to exchange a few sentences with him, when he told me of the anxiety he had been suffering, and of the dread he had had that the dogs would force their way into the hut. I then briefly narrated my adventures. He seemed, I thought, somewhat better. Having secured the entrance, I lay down by his side, and, in spite of the pain I was suffering from, was soon asleep.
MY ADVENTURES WITH NATTY, CONTINUED.
A whole day had passed away. Although I husbanded our water with the greatest care, I could not expect it to last beyond a second day. Still my ankle gave me great pain, and I felt utterly unable to walk. Natty, too, was far too weak to proceed on our journey. The fever, however, had subsided, and he required less water than at first. Still, it was almost as necessary for him as food, and I did not like to stint him. Though suffering from thirst myself, aggravated by pain, I refrained from taking more than a few drops at a time. I did everything I could think of to restore strength to my limb.
"I am afraid there is only one thing, Andrew, will do it; and that is perfect rest," observed Natty at last.
I did not like to alarm him by telling him of my anxiety about water; but as I sat on the ground with my poor sick friend by my side, darker forebodings than had ever yet assailed me oppressed my mind. It might be many days before Natty would be able to move, and if I could not go to the fountain to procure water, we must both die of thirst.
Two more days passed away, and when I lay down to sleep, scarcely a pint of water remained. I had remained perfectly quiet all day, hoping that the long rest would cure the sprain. I had made the hut so secure, I did not think it necessary to light a fire outside. On again rising, I put my foot to the ground. Oh, how thankful I felt when I found that it gave me but little pain, and that I could walk without difficulty! I told Natty that I would go back at once for water, leaving him our scanty stock, and the remainder of our birds after I had satisfied my hunger. The flesh, however, though roasted and dried, was scarcely eatable.
"Will you not let me go with you, Andrew?" he said. "I think I could walk as far, if I rested now and then."
He male the attempt, but sank back again on the ground. I persuaded him to have patience, and to remain quiet; and closing the hut even more carefully than before, with the thickest sticks I could find, I set off on my expedition. Though at first I walked with pain, I got on better than I expected. The air was cool, for the sun was not yet above the horizon, and I hoped to get to the fountain in time to kill some birds collected there for their morning draught. The way, I trusted, would appear shorter than at night, and I believed that I well knew the direction I should take. My feet were, however, very weary, and the rocks were not yet in sight. I was weak from want of food, and soon became as thirsty as on the previous occasion. I was anxious, too, for I could not be quite certain that I was on the right way. How I longed for a beaten track which would lead me without fail to the fountain! It would have made all the difference to me. I could have endured double the fatigue had I been sure that I should arrive at the spot at last. At length I caught sight of a flight of birds winging their way over my head in the direction I was going. This gave me more confidence, and I now pushed on with greater energy. At length I saw the rocks before me, and flights of birds rising in the air, and flying off in different directions. I was afraid that I should be too late to shoot any; though I might obtain water, food would be wanting. Just as I reached the rocks, I saw a covey apparently about to take wing. I fired, and four lay on the rocks fluttering about. I rushed forward to seize them, when, to my horror, I saw my old enemies the lion and lioness just taking their departure from the water! I had already got some way up the rock. It was better to lose the birds than my life; so I stopped, faced my foes, and began loading my rifle. The brutes looked at me with astonishment, as much as to ask how I dared come into their territory again. I replied by ramming down the bullet. "If you will go your way, I will let you alone," I shouted out; "but if not, beware of this leaden pill!" The lion seemed to understand me, and looked at the lioness; and then, perhaps considering discretion the better part of valour, began leisurely to walk away from the fountain. I shouted after them, to show them that I was not alarmed; and, greatly to my satisfaction, they at length disappeared in the distance. I secured the birds, which were unable to fly, and then eagerly hurried down to the water. I drank my fill, and sitting down, bathed my burning feet. The water seemed to give strength to my ankle. Having filled my bottle and rested a while, I felt so much better that I determined to take a swim, hoping thus entirely to recruit my strength. Never have I so much enjoyed a bath. On getting out, however, I felt so hungry that I was compelled to light a fire and cook one of the birds. I could not have proceeded on my journey without it, though anxious to get back as soon as possible to Natty. Thus thoroughly recruited, I again set off, looking about, as I went along, in the hope of finding some other animal to shoot for food. Though I saw many at a distance, I could not get sufficiently near one to have a fair shot.
It was late in the day before I got back, and when I shouted to Natty, as I drew near the hut, he answered me in a stronger voice than before. I soon had the bottle of water to his lips, a fire alight, and a partridge cooking. Enough of the day remained to allow me to search about for wild fruits and roots which might assist our meal. I could now leave him without fear; invariably, however, closing the hut when I went out. I was successful in finding some fruits such as I have before described, and returned well satisfied to the hut. Natty declared that he felt able to sit outside by the fire to take his supper. He crawled without my assistance to the entrance. After he had taken his seat, as I happened to look inside, I saw the leaves on which he had been lying moving slowly. Presently the hideous, black, swollen-looking head of a snake emerged from under the leaves, its bright eyes glaring at us. In another instant I believed that it would spring at Natty or me. Without speaking, greatly to his alarm, I threw him on one side, and then, seizing a heavy stick which lay at hand, I rushed at the creature and struck it a blow with all my force on the head. It had the effect of knocking it over; and before it could recover itself, I dealt it another blow on the tail. Poor Natty, not seeing what I was doing, thought I had gone mad, I believe. I repeated my blows, till I felt sure that the creature was dead. I now dragged it out by the tail, prepared, should it give signs of life, to renew my attack. As I brought it into the light, I saw that it was a black variety of the puff adder, which is among the most poisonous serpents of Africa. It is said that if a person is bitten by it, death ensues within an hour. To make sure, I threw the body into the fire. Not till then did Natty sufficiently recover the effects of his fall and alarm to see what had occurred, and to be aware of the fearful danger in which we had both been placed; for had the creature come out while we were sitting together in the hut, unable to defend ourselves in so narrow a space, nothing could have prevented one of us being bitten.
We sat for some time before we could begin our meal, and we did not fail to return thanks for our merciful deliverance from danger. We naturally talked about what we should have done had either of us been bitten. It was a subject which I had discussed with David on several occasions, for we had had a great fear of the bites of serpents when we first arrived in the country. However, we had hitherto met so few, that we had lost all alarm about them.
"If you had been bitten, I should have tried to cut away the flesh immediately round the wound, and sucked the blood," Natty said to me; and from the look of affection he gave me, I was sure that he would without hesitation have made the attempt.
"I should have first tied a ligature above the wounded part, so as to prevent the venom spreading," I observed. "Had we been with David, we might have found remedies in his medicine-chest. It is said that eau de luce is often effectual. Five drops are administered to the patient in a glass of water every ten minutes till the poison is counteracted. It is also applied externally. I have heard that Dutch farmers attempt to counteract the effects of serpents' bites by making an incision in the breast of a living fowl, and applying it to the bitten part. If the poison is very deadly, the bird becomes drowsy, droops its head, and dies. It is then replaced by a second, and so on till the bird no longer shows signs of suffering, when the patient is considered out of danger. A frog is sometimes applied in the same way; and turtle blood, prepared by drying, when applied to the wound produced by a venomous serpent or a poisoned arrow, is supposed to be efficacious. The wounded person takes a couple of pinches of the dried blood internally, and also applies some of it to the wound. It is said also that the Brahmins in India manufacture a stone which has the virtue of counteracting the poison of serpents. They alone possess the secret, which they will not divulge. The stone is applied to the wound, to which it sticks closely without any bandage, and drinks in the poison till it can receive no more. It is then placed in milk, that it may purge itself of the poison, and is again applied to the wound, till it has drawn out the whole of the poison."
"Yes," observed Natty, "I remember hearing of those stories; but David said they were merely pieces of the bone of some animal, made into an oval shape, and burned round the edges. If they have any power in drawing out poison, it is in consequence of being porous; and he said he believed any substance made up of capillary tubes, such as common sponge, would be equally efficacious. After all, I believe that my remedy is the only one on which dependence can be placed, except, perhaps, the immediate application of eau de luce, and of course, when a person is bitten by a snake, in rare instances only is he able to obtain any."
As may be supposed, we hunted about the hut thoroughly before lying down, in case any other snakes might have crawled in; and I stopped up every crevice by which I thought it possible the one I had killed could have entered.
Natty was so much better by the time our last supply of water was nearly finished, that I no longer refused to let him accompany me to the fountain, intending to proceed from thence towards our ultimate destination. Clouds had gathered in the sky, and the air was cooler than it had been for some time, as we set out. I insisted on his frequently stopping, and wished him to allow me to carry him at intervals; but to this he would not consent. We each of us had a long stick in our hands to support our steps, and I assisted him on with my arm. Our progress was, however, but slow; for in spite of his efforts, I saw that he was still very weak. Thus it was not until the sun was already sinking before us in the west that we got within sight of the fountain. We had exhausted our water, and I was anxious to get a further supply before the night closed in. Again I begged Natty to let me take him on my back, for I thought it would rest him, and enable us to get on faster. At last he consented, and though he was but a light weight for his age, reduced as he was by sickness, yet I found, after proceeding a couple of hundred yards or so, that I was myself beginning to get fatigued. Perhaps he discovered this, by finding the slower pace at which I was going, and he insisted on again getting down, declaring that he was much rested by the ride. Giving him my arm, therefore, we again pushed on. The dark rocks which surrounded the fountain now rose up clearly before us. I looked round carefully, but could see no trace of the lions. We reached the spot, and soon I had the satisfaction of seeing Natty swallowing an ample draught of water. I then took some myself, and filled our bottle. I felt a longing to take another swim, but afraid that the lions might come upon us while I was in the water, I refrained. I was fortunate in killing five more birds, out of a covey which rose just as we sat down by the water's brink.
Having rested for some time by the side of the pond, we continued our journey. We saw herds of animals in the distance—gemsboks, steinboks, gnus, and cameleopards—but they were too far off to enable me to get a shot at any of them. We stopped frequently, for Natty was unable to proceed without doing so. Thus the day had come nearly to a close before we had made much progress. I was looking out anxiously for some spot where we might camp for the night, when I saw on our right what appeared to be the fallen trunk of some giant of a former forest, for no other trees were near it.
"I dare say we may there find shelter," I observed, pointing it out to Natty.
"But see!" he said, "there are some animals moving about round it."
As we got nearer, I saw several heads rising among the roots and fallen branches. They appeared to me to be hyenas, or hyena-dogs, similar to the pack which had visited us. They, however, with their ears pricked forward, were so eager in watching some object on the opposite side of them that they did not perceive us. We were thus able to move on without being discovered. Presently we perceived what had occupied their attention; for the leaders of a herd of buffaloes appeared in sight, going along a shallow valley on the other side of the fallen tree. Even at that distance we could hear the hollow sound of their feet as they dashed over the ground. On they went with their heads lowered, and tails in the air, faster and faster, a regular stampedo. What had caused their flight we could not ascertain. Whether it was alarm at some danger behind them, or whether they were driven by an impulse which sometimes makes the bovine race dash headlong over the ground without any apparent cause, we could not tell.
"One thing I am very thankful for," observed Natty,—"that we are not in their way, or we should have but a poor chance of escaping them. Perhaps the dogs expect one of them to fall, and are looking out for a feast."
"At all events, we must take care not to allow ourselves to be attacked instead of them," I observed. "I am far from certain indeed that they are dogs. They appear to me larger, and rather more like hyenas. I suspect that they are spotted hyenas, which are among the fiercest of the race; and though I believe they seldom attack a man on his guard, I do not know what they might do if they found us asleep. They are said to have an especial liking for human flesh, and I know that in some parts where they are numerous, they frequently carry off the children from villages. I have heard it said that they will even steal noiselessly into a hut at night, and drag a sleeping child from under its mother's kaross or rug, so that the first intimation she has of what has occurred is from the cry of her infant as it is borne away in the jaws of the monster. They will sometimes break into villages, leaping over high palings; and so great is their strength, that they will carry off any animal they find loose. In one respect, however, they are of use, as they act as scavengers, and clear the neighbourhood of villages of the carrion which they find scattered about. This makes it necessary to protect graves, by raising over them piles of thorns, or of the prickly-pear, as they will otherwise scrape away the earth to reach the newly-interred corpse."
"Horrid creatures!" said Natty, shuddering. "I do not think I could go to sleep if I thought that any were likely to pay us a visit."
"I do not know that they would be more formidable than the dogs we have already encountered," I remarked. "Indeed, I believe these dogs are their cousins, if not their brethren; for though complete dogs, as to the character of their skulls and teeth, they have, like the hyenas, only four toes on the front feet. However, I hope we may be able to take precautions which will guard us from any annoyance those brutes out there are likely to offer, should they be hyenas or simply hyena-dogs, such as the visitors to our late camp. There is a wood, I see, on the left; we must try and push through it, and build our house on the other side."
On went the herd of buffaloes, and were soon lost to sight across the plain. As we went on, I looked back every now and then to see if the hyenas were following us; but though I fancied that their heads were turned in our direction, they perhaps could not make out what we were, and at all events remained in their fortress. I should have preferred, however, being further off from them at night. While preparing our camp, the sky gave indications, I feared, of a coming storm. I therefore made the roof of our hut thicker than usual, in the hope of keeping out the water should the rain come down. In spite of my fears, neither did the storm break, nor did we receive a visit during the night from our canine neighbours. Natty was greatly fatigued by his long journey; and from the way he talked in his sleep, I was afraid that the fever had again returned on him. This made me resolve, should he not be better in the morning, to remain there another day. My worst apprehensions were fulfilled. But still it was satisfactory to be near the water, so that I might obtain as much as we required.
We remained two whole days. Though we several times heard the roars of the lions, I did not see them. Each day I made a trip to the pool, and took a refreshing bath, which greatly restored my strength. Natty declared that he was now ready to proceed. Having obtained in the evening some more birds from my preserve, as I called it, we went on in the morning in the same direction as before. Natty, however, was still very weak, and I saw that the next day we should make but little progress. We were now again in a completely open plain, the only trees being far away in the horizon, though the mountains rose up in the north-west, towards which we were proceeding. The signs of a storm again appeared, and I was afraid that it would break upon us where no shelter could be obtained. Push on therefore we must, as long as Natty could continue moving. I gave him a lift every now and then, very much against his will; indeed, it was only by persuading him that we could thus get on faster, that he would allow me to carry him. Soon the wind began to blow in fitful gusts, and heavy drops of rain fell. I constantly looked behind me, dreading every instant that the deluge would burst upon us. "It will kill poor Natty, I fear," I could not help saying to myself. Presently the rain began to descend more heavily, and clouds collected, and flashes of lightning darting from them went zigzagging over the ground. Just then I caught sight in the distance of what looked like a low clump of trees. I directed our course towards it, taking Natty up and running along as fast as I could move. Although I well knew that it is dangerous to take shelter in a thunderstorm under a tree, I hoped to be able to obtain wood and leaves to build a hut by which Natty, at all events, might be partly sheltered. I saw, as I got nearer, that the grove consisted chiefly of one enormous tree, from the branches of which descended numerous slight stalks, apparently supporting them as they spread out on every side over the ground. I now recognised a magnificent specimen of the baobab-tree, of immense girth, and with numerous branches and almost countless offshoots. On one side was a Guinea-palm, its graceful fan-like branches rising from a centre stalk—a mere liliputian plant it looked in comparison to its lofty neighbour. On the other side was an acacia, the size of an ordinary oak, though a little way off I took it for a diminutive shrub. A very few other trees only were scattered about. Getting still nearer, I observed a hollow in the trunk of the baobab-tree—a wooden cavern, capable of containing a dozen or more persons. Remembering to have heard that the baobab does not attract lightning, I made my way towards it, resolving to take shelter within. I hurried to the mouth, and looking in, was thankful to find that it contained no inhabitants. Here, at all events, we might rest secure from the storm.
Putting Natty down, I examined the interior to see that no snakes lurked in the crevices of the wood. I could discover none: so I cleared out a spot where Natty could rest more at ease; and as the wood and leaves under the tree were still dry, I collected a sufficient supply of both— one to form our couch, and the other for our fire. The rain had begun to pour down in torrents outside, but within the trunk we were completely sheltered. As there was ample room to light a fire inside, I soon had one, and some of our birds roasting before it. Natty agreed that we were better lodged than we had been since we left home. There we sat watching the storm, which howled and raged outside. The rain came down literally in a deluge.
The tree in which we had taken shelter was evidently of great age. I have since heard that some people suppose that the patriarchs of these trees may have been alive before the Flood. The natives cut off and pound the bark, from which they thus obtain the fibres for making a strong and fine cord. Although the bark of many of the trees near their villages is completely torn off in a way that would destroy any other tree, the baobab does not suffer, but throws out a new bark as often as the old one is cut off. Trees are either exogenous—that is to say, grow by means of successive layers on the outside; or they endogenous— which means that they are increased by layers in the inside. Thus, in the latter, when the hollow is full the growth is stopped, and the tree dies. The first class suffers most severely by any injury affecting the bark; the second, by an injury in the inside. Now the baobab, from possessing all these qualities, may have the bark torn off, and may be completely hollow, and yet continue to flourish. The cause of this is, that each of the lamina possesses a vitality of its own, the sap rising through every part of it. I had seen some trees, from which the natives had so often stripped the bark that the lower part was two or three inches in diameter less than the higher portion which they could not reach. The wood was of a particularly spongy and soft nature; and I was able to cut off enough with my knife to assist in keeping our fire burning.
The storm still continued raging without, the wind howling among the branches above our heads, although we sat secure as in a mansion of granite. I was not free, however, from anxiety; for it occurred to me that I might be mistaken as to the tree we were in not attracting the lightning, and that the account I had heard about it might be incorrect. I did not, however, express my misgivings to Natty. He, poor lad, looked very pale and ill, and I regretted having allowed him to walk so far; indeed, I felt it would have been better to have remained at our former abode a couple of days more, or even longer, although it might have made one or more journeys to the fountain necessary. I determined, therefore, to secure the entrance, and make the inside of the tree as comfortable as I could for him, and to remain there till he was better able to proceed.
The rain continued to come down in torrents; the thunder roared, and the lightning flashed vividly. I was afraid that the fine weather was breaking up, and that the rainy season was about to begin. This would make travelling more difficult than before, and give Natty less chance of recovery. I made up my mind, however, to be resigned to whatever might occur, and to do my best. Courageous as Natty generally was, he at length became alarmed at the loud roaring of the thunder, and the fearful crashing sound which ever and anon reached our ears as the electric fluid, darting from the clouds, came zigzagging through the air, and snake-like darted over the ground, sometimes, it seemed, within a few yards of the tree. I did my best to reassure him, and was thankful that it was daylight, for the storm would have appeared even more terrific at night.
Although there were no large inhabitants in our woody cavern, I discovered several insects. The ground inside it was covered with earth, and almost level. I observed a large reddish spider running in and out with wonderful rapidity among the uneven parts of the wood. Now it darted out on a small insect, and quickly devoured it; immediately setting forth again in search of another, which it pounced upon in the same energetic way. I had seldom seen so large and hideous-looking a spider, and felt a horror lest it should come near us. It moved so quickly that I in vain attempted to reach it. Presently I saw it run along the ground, when it entered a small hole which I had not before observed. Though I had exactly marked the spot, I in vain searched for it. After a time I saw the earth lifting, and out came the spider again. I sprang down to the spot, and there I found a small circular substance, of a pure, silky white, like paper, about the size of a shilling. On touching it, I discovered that it was a regular trap-door with a hinge, and, on turning it down, that the outside was coated with earth, so exactly like that in which the hole was made, that when shut it was impossible to discover it. I observed inside a substance which I took to be eggs; and I had little doubt, therefore, that this was the nest of the spider I had seen. I pointed it out to Natty, who was, however, too weak to feel inclined to rise and examine it; and when I again looked, I could nowhere discover the hole, and the spider had disappeared. I could not help having an uncomfortable feeling that the creature might come out again and attack us. But I may as well say here that it did not do so; and on making inquiries since, I found that though people are often frightened at its appearance, it has never been known to do any harm. There is another spider which builds a regular nest with a lid, and attaches it to a wall or the branch of a tree. Whether it is of the same species as the one I have described or not, I am uncertain. There are spiders in Africa which are said to inflict poisonous wounds. One is a very large, black, hairy creature, fully an inch and a quarter long, and three-quarters of an inch broad. It has a process at the end of its front claws like that of a scorpion's tail, out of which poison, when it is pressed, is seen to ooze. I have also observed another spider, which can leap a distance of several inches on its prey. When alarmed by my approach, I have seen one spring nearly a foot away.
The thunder, which had for some time been roaring louder and louder, at length gradually began to grow less frequent and more faint, and by degrees rolled further and further away, though its mutterings were still heard in the distance. The rain ceased, and the bright rays of the western sun penetrated beneath the wide-spreading branches of our baobab-tree. The change raised my spirits, and the air already felt cooler and more refreshing.
OUR RESIDENCE IN A BAOBAB-TREE.
The bright rays of the sun, which streamed into the hollow tree, had a good effect upon Natty; and feeling that I could leave him, I proposed cutting some stakes with which to secure ourselves during the night from the attacks which wandering beasts of prey might be inclined to make on us. Taking my hatchet, I accordingly went out and set to work. I easily cut a sufficient number of stakes for the purpose from the branches of the neighbouring trees. I should have been better off with a good supply of nails; but as they were wanting, I had to do without them. Pointing the stakes, I drove them into the ground just inside the mouth of the hollow, placing other pieces crossways, and jamming them as I best could into the sides of the entrance. I left only a small hole, through which I could just creep in and out. I made the grating so high that I hoped no panther or lion could leap over it. I had gone to the outer edge of the grove to get some firewood, and was returning by a path through which I had not yet passed, it being already dusk, when suddenly I found my face covered with what I can only describe as a long veil; while just at my nose I saw a horrid monster, of a bright yellow colour, with long legs and claws, struggling violently, and in its fright I thought it would scratch out my eyes. I rushed forward, throwing down my load, and dashing into our cavern, entreated Natty to relieve me from my fearful tormentor. Even he, ill as he was, could scarcely help laughing at my alarmed countenance. The spider—for such the creature was—was as much frightened as I was, and crawled away in a great hurry before we could kill him, the instant Natty had assisted me in tearing off part of its web. It took some time to clear my face of the remainder, and several minutes passed before I could entirely recover my equanimity. I had seen such webs before, but had never run tilt against them. This was suspended between two of the stalks of the baobab-tree, in a perpendicular position, by lines the thickness of coarse thread. The fibres of which it was composed radiated from a central point, where the creature was lying in wait for its prey, when it found the tip of my nose instead of an unwary moth or butterfly. The web was about a yard in diameter, so that it completely enveloped my face and head. Though very disagreeable to me, the occurrence, I really believe, did Natty good. It was pleasant to hear even a faint shout of laughter from him.
The spider I have mentioned is a solitary individual: but I have seen others which live in society; and industrious creatures they are, too, for their webs frequently cover the entire trunk of a tree, so as literally to conceal it from view. I have seen a bush in the same way completely covered up, as if a table-cloth had been thrown over it.
I was thankful we had so secure a house, for I saw that Natty could not possibly proceed for some time. I therefore made up my mind to remain where we were till he was better, even though it might involve the delay of a whole week. My chief anxiety arose from the small amount of ammunition I now possessed. Should that fail me, I could not tell how I might obtain food. Water I had in abundance; that was one comfort. The immediate neighbourhood of the baobab-tree afforded neither roots nor fruits; so even as it was I must visit the fountain, or go to a yet further distance, to obtain food. Notwithstanding the interruption I have described, I had time to collect some leaves for Natty's bed, and a supply of firewood, in case I might find it necessary to light a fire.
Several times during the night the distant roars of lions and other wild beasts reached my ears; but as none were near, I went to sleep without any unusual feeling of anxiety. In the morning, however, I found the marks of a lion's feet in the soil, made soft by the rain, just outside the tree. Probably he had come up to our sleeping-place; but, finding the entrance barred against him, had not attempted to make his way in. I was thankful that I had guarded it securely.
I am obliged to make a long story short. Three days passed by, during which there was a storm and a fall of rain. I went to the fountain for water, and shot more birds, and made expeditions in the neighbourhood of the grove; but Natty continued so weak that I did not like to leave him for any length of time by himself. I was one day attracted by a mound a little way off, which I suspected to be an ant-hill. On approaching it, I found that such was the case; but it was ornamented in such a way as I had never seen one of those curious nests adorned before. It was covered with enormous mushrooms. They were perfectly white, their tops nearly eighteen inches in diameter. They looked very tempting; and on examining them, I found that they were genuine mushrooms. I ate a piece, which was very palatable, and I accordingly slung several over my back to carry home: they would, I hoped, prove useful to eat with our roasted partridges. Not far off was another ant-hill, and on this were growing a number of other mushrooms. Some were of a brilliant red, and others of a dull light blue. I examined them; but from their consistency and general appearance, I was afraid of eating them lest they might prove poisonous, for such I knew is the character ordinarily of coloured fungi. I carried a couple home, however, to show to Natty; but he agreed with me that it would be unwise to eat them.
Another day, when further from home than usual, I saw before me a lagoon, in which water-plants were already rising up. I was convinced, however, that it had only been filled by the late rains. From its appearance, it was probably not more than a few inches deep in any part. As I passed by I observed some odd-looking black lumps on the top of some tall stalks of grass, which rose above the level of the surrounding edges. I was tempted by curiosity to examine one of them. It was about the size of my thumb; and as I held it it broke, when what was my surprise to see emerge from it a whole army of ants, which began to attack me furiously! I brushed them quickly off, though their bite was not particularly severe. On examining others of the black lumps, I found them inhabited in the same way; and I now came to the conclusion that the ants which had their usual abodes in the dry season underground on the spot, taught by experience that at a certain season it would be covered by water, built these aerial abodes in order to secure for themselves a refuge as soon as the waters should flood the ground around them. Many of these houses were as large as I have described, but others were considerably smaller, though all built of the same material and in the same firm manner. Taking up one by the stalk, I carried it home to show to Natty. He declared that he thought some of our black friends would swallow them, if baked, as a delicious mouthful. I carried it out again, and stuck the stalk in the ground, when I saw the inhabitants crawling down, evidently under the belief that the waters had subsided, and that they might now descend into their subterranean habitation.
I need scarcely say that I looked out anxiously all the day in the hope that Stanley or some of our other friends might pass in that direction on a hunting expedition. Natty asked how it was they had not come to look for us. I accounted for it from their naturally supposing that if we had not lost our lives, we were detained somewhere on the lake, and that they would therefore search for us there.
Natty grew no worse, but still he did not appear to gain strength. Often he urged me to set off without him; but to this I would not consent. The journey might occupy me two or even three days, and it would take as long a time to return to him. "No," I replied; "until you are well enough to move, I will stay by you." I thought that if I could but procure some variety of food, he might improve faster; but I had now only five or six charges of powder left, and I was anxious to preserve these for any emergency. One of my fears was, that from so frequently shooting the birds in the neighbourhood of the pool, they might grow wary of me. However, they did not appear to be more alarmed when I came near them than at first. Sometimes I went in the evening, sometimes in the morning, and never failed to bring down three or four birds. I think that I must have frightened away the lions, for I never saw them again, though I heard their roars in the distance. I suspect that they waited to visit the pool till they saw me take my departure.
I was one day about half a mile from the baobab-tree, when I saw, perched on a bush near me, a little bird about the size of a chaffinch, of a light grey colour. It seemed in no way afraid of me, but continued chattering and twittering in a state of great excitement. Then it got up and flew backwards and forwards before me, apparently endeavouring to attract my attention. As I approached it flew on a little in front. I followed it. On seeing this, it went on and on in a wavy course, a few yards before me, alighting every now and then on a bush, and looking back to see if I was still following, all the time keeping up an incessant twitter. Though I had no idea at the time of its object, I continued following it. At length I saw a short distance ahead the huge trunk of a fallen tree. The bird appeared still more excited; and when I happened to turn aside, apparently to take an opposite direction, it came flying back, and twittering louder than before, trying, I was sure, to make me turn in the direction of the tree. I accordingly did so, when, satisfied, the bird went on as before. It now hovered for a moment over a part of the trunk at which it pointed with its bill, and it then turned and pitched on the top of a decayed branch which rose in the air out of the trunk, and fluttered its wings and twittered still more violently than ever. There it sat while I examined the trunk. I was not long in discovering a hollow surrounded by wax, and the idea at once occurred to me that this was a bees' nest, and that the bird was the honey-bird of which I had heard. On a further examination I was convinced that I was right. I therefore collected a number of dried leaves and twigs, in order to light a fire, and with the smoke to drive the bees from their habitation. I also manufactured some torches, which might assist me in the operation, and would, I hoped, enable me to defend myself should the bees take to flight and attack me. As soon as I had got everything ready, I lighted a fire under the nest, and taking a torch, waved it about in front of it. No bees came out, and I began to fancy that the nest must be empty. After a time, however, on looking in, I found that the effect of the smoke had been to stupify the bees. I therefore, without fear, began to cut out the nest. It consisted of cells of wax full of honey. The difficulty was to carry it. However, as the wax was tolerably hard, I tied it up in a large handkerchief I fortunately had in my pocket, in which I hoped at all events to be able to carry home a good quantity of honey for poor Natty, trusting that it would be beneficial to his health. While employed in putting it up, I observed the honey-bird fluttering about in a state of great agitation close to me. "Oh, I almost forgot you," I said, turning to the bird. "You deserve some honey;" and accordingly, taking some from the nest, I placed it on the trunk of the fallen tree. Instantly the bird dashed down, and began eating it with evident delight. As soon as he had finished the portion I had bestowed on him, he rose and began fluttering about as before in front of me. I whistled to him, to try and induce him to come with me, but I have since heard that whistling encourages the bird, and makes him more eager to go off in search of another nest. "As you will not come with me, I must go and see what you want now," I said to the bird, following the way he led. In vain I whistled. On he went in a wavy course, as before, directly in front of me. I rather doubted, however, should he lead me to another honeycomb, whether I could carry it. Still, I did not like to miss the opportunity of obtaining what might prove so valuable. I therefore went on in the direction the honey-bird led. I could not help thinking of tales I had read in my boyhood of kind fairies or good spirits leading travellers who had lost their way to some enchanted castle, where a comfortable couch and an ample banquet was prepared for them. Perhaps the honey-bird may have been the origin of such tales. Sometimes, indeed, an evil fairy has appeared, and beguiled thoughtless travellers to their destruction. After the conduct of my honey-bird I had no doubt about his good intentions. I had gone on for twenty minutes or more, when the bird pitched on the bough of another decayed tree still standing upright. Seeing me approach, it began fluttering about, and pointing its beak towards a hole some way above my head. "I should have thought you might have known I could not reach that," I said, looking up at him. "However, I will do my best to accomplish the feat." The quickest way, I thought, would be to build a platform on which to stand whilst cutting out the honey. I accordingly chopped down some stout poles and drove them into the earth, securing cross-pieces with vines to the trunk. I thus formed an erection similar to a builder's scaffolding, and now climbing to the top, I made another small platform directly under the entrance to the nest. I then proceeded as before, by burning leaves and twigs, and having thoroughly smoked the unfortunate bees, took possession of their habitation and store of food. With this further supply I descended, and having given the honey-bird a share, put the remainder into the handkerchief. I had to make it more capacious, by fastening a number of vines round it, so as to form a sort of basket. "Well, Master Honey-bird, if you will lead me to another nest, I think I could manage to carry it in this fashion," I said to my little conductor, who seemed to understand me, and off he flew as merrily as before. This time he did not appear quite so steady in his course. Suddenly he made his way towards a small wood which I saw in the distance. I followed him, and every now and then he stopped and looked back to see if I was coming. It was a tiring walk, for the sun struck down with unusual heat after the rain, and I began to think that I should have acted more wisely had I returned at once with my sweet stores. Still, I did not wish to disappoint the honey-bird, as I was in hopes he would on another day be on the look-out for me, and help me to get a further quantity when we might need it.
At last the wood was reached, when, making his way into it, I saw him pitch on a bough as before; but the trees were small, and I could see none round likely to contain a cavity in which bees would have formed a nest. Still, I thought I would examine the spot, supposing that perhaps some decayed trunk of a fallen tree might lie beneath. I was advancing rapidly, when, to my horror, I saw before me a pair of glaring eyes, and there stood within the thicket an enormous lion with a huge mane. The king of beasts had just aroused himself apparently from his noonday rest, and was stretching himself, wondering who the bold intruder could be who had ventured into his domains. I gazed at the lion, and the lion gazed at me. I know I did not like the appearance of the monstrous brute. My rifle was loaded with ball, but still I dreaded lest, should I fire and not kill him outright, he might yet attack me. I therefore, keeping my face towards him, slowly retired, hoping earnestly that he would go to sleep again, and allow me to retreat unmolested. Still, from his attitude, I had some doubts whether or not he was going to spring at me. I dared not take my eye off him, for I knew that my best prospect of escaping was to continue facing him boldly. I suspect that he had gone into the wood to indulge in a nap, after having taken a full meal off some unfortunate gnu or antelope. I was very thankful when I at length managed to get to the edge of the wood without stumbling. I continued to retreat backwards, however, after this, fearing lest the lion might pounce out upon me. Every moment I expected to see his enormous head and shaggy mane appear amid the bushes. It would have been a very grand sight, but a very disagreeable one. As I retreated through the wood the treacherous honey-bird flew out also, twittering as before, just as if he had not played me a scurvy trick. "What, do you not like the last honeycomb I showed you?" he seemed to say. I began to think that he was an evil spirit instead of a kind fairy; but yet, perhaps, after all, he was as much astonished at finding a lion instead of a honeycomb as I was. At all events, he appeared regardless of the danger into which he had led me, and not aware that I might have shot him dead in a moment. I could not at the time account for the trick he had played me; but I have since heard that such is not at all an uncommon occurrence, and that honey-birds frequently take the natives who are in pursuit of honey in the same way up to some savage monster.
Having got to a considerable distance from the wood, I ventured to turn round and walk forwards, at the same time very frequently casting anxious glances over my shoulder to ascertain whether the lion was coming in pursuit of me. In vain the honey-bird tried to draw me off on one side. I declined after this accompanying my little friend any further.
I had taken the bearings of the baobab-tree grove, so that I could easily find it. When at length I reached it Natty was in a state of great agitation at my long absence, but was delighted with the delicious honey I had brought him.
"Perhaps the honey-birds want to have the wild beasts killed, and are not aware that when people are only in search of honey they are not prepared to encounter a lion or a rhinoceros," he remarked, when I described my adventure.
He might have been incredulous about my account, but I showed him the honey-bird, which had perched on a branch near us; and, as soon as I took out the honey, down it came and ate some of it with the greatest confidence. I then felt convinced, from his unsuspicious behaviour, that he had had no intention of leading me into danger.
We immediately ate some of the honey spread on the mushrooms. I wished that I could find some means of stewing those curious productions of nature, for they would he, I was sure, a valuable addition to our fare. Poor Natty still continued very weak. I did my best to forage for him, but, in spite of my exertions, the only food I could procure was not satisfactory for a sick person. As to leaving him, the more I thought of it the more dangerous for him did it appear. Even were there nothing to apprehend from the attacks of wild beasts, he was too weak to obtain even water for himself, and we had no means of preserving the food I obtained for any length of time. I should not have cared so much for myself, but I felt all the time how alarmed our friends would be on our account, besides which I felt very anxious to go in search of Leo and his companion. We had reason to be thankful that we were in so sheltered a spot, as for several days in succession violent storms burst over us, heavy downfalls of rain flooding the lower ground in our neighbourhood.
My honey-bird led me in the interval to more bees' nests, and I got an ample supply of mushrooms; but they, as may be supposed, were not sufficient to support life. The birds, getting an abundance of water elsewhere, no longer visited the pool, and I became greatly afraid of starving.