In the Wilds of Africa Part 36

In the Wilds of Africa -

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"We are getting into a thorny district," observed Donald, who had joined us, "very different to the thornless one we have passed through. What do you think of this?" he observed, stooping down and picking up a round disc with a sharp thorn in the centre. "Suppose this was to run into a poor animal's foot; it would take him months to get it out, even if he did not become lame for life."

Soon after we camped Donald started off on a hunt by himself. He had not been gone long when we saw him returning from the north, with a gemsbok, or oryx, as I have before called it, across his saddle.

Considering the weight he carried, he came pressing on at a rapid rate.

He was not a man much given to exhibiting his feelings, but I saw that something was the matter.

"Quick, lads!" he exclaimed. "We must get ready to defend our camp without loss of time. I thought as I rode along that I would just take a look at our inhospitable friends, and see what they were about. When I had got halfway between this and their village, I caught sight of a large number of them stealing along across the plain. I think they must have seen me, or perhaps they took me for a cameleopard or ostrich; for I only showed for a moment behind an ant-hill, then quickly again got under cover to reconnoitre them. There are some two or three hundred fellows at least, and by the way they were marching I am very certain that they intend to attack us. I had just shot this oryx, and I had no wish to leave it for them, or I might have been here sooner; but there is time to get ready, if we are sharp about it."

Stanley, on hearing this, was in his element. He immediately ordered out all hands to cut down the smaller trees from the group I spoke of, to form palisades. The waggons and carts were placed on one side, while palisades were fixed all round, and strong cross-beams secured to them.

This done, we set to work to throw up an embankment, which, with the light sand, was easily accomplished, the upright posts keeping it in its place. We thus, in a wonderfully short time, had a little fortress which might have stood a siege against men armed with muskets. As we hoped our expected assailants had no firearms among them, we felt no apprehension as to the result. The chief danger was that they might try to starve us out, which there was a possibility of their doing should they persevere in surrounding us. We were working away till long after dark by the light of our fires. Scouts were sent out, but came back after some time stating that they could see nothing of the enemy. At length Stanley expressed his belief that Donald had been mistaken; at which our friend bristled up. No, he was certain he had seen an army of blacks; probably, however, when they caught sight of him, they might have thought better of the matter.

"But perhaps they were merely on a hunting expedition," said David, "or collecting water-melons."

"They were keeping too close together for hunting; and as they were following in our track, they would have found neither water-melons nor water-roots," answered Donald. "Do not be too sure that they will not come yet. These people, as I fancy you have experienced, like to take their enemies by surprise; and they will not come on in broad daylight with tom-toms and shouts, depend on that. It would be well that those who have the morning watch should keep a bright look-out, or we may be attacked when we least expect it."

Donald's advice was not thrown away on me. I had just relieved Stanley, who had taken what would at sea be called the middle watch, Jack and Timbo being my companions. The night was perfectly still. I could hear the low muttering of lions in the far distance, with an occasional roar as some other creature approached to dispute their prey with them. Now and then the trumpeting of elephants reached me, probably on their way to some distant fountain, or in search of roots or water-melons. I thought it was almost impossible that any enemies could approach without being discovered. Still, I had been too well accustomed to discipline at sea not to keep as bright a look-out as I should have done had I known they were near. I was standing with Timbo on the north side of the fort, when he asked me to let him go out to a little distance.

"If dey come, dey come soon; and we no see dem till dey close to de wall," he whispered.

Trusting to his judgment, I willingly let him do as he proposed. He accordingly slipped over the palisade on one side, and I could barely distinguish him as he crept along over the ground towards the north. He was soon lost to sight. Jack and I kept anxiously looking out for his return. I felt little alarm about the natives, but I was afraid that some prowling beast might attack him. I must have waited half an hour or more, when I distinguished a long object crawling along on the ground. In the gloom I could not make out whether it was Timbo, or a panther perhaps, or a huge snake, so noiselessly and stealthily did it approach. It made, however, for the side of the fort, and in a short time Timbo came up to me, having been admitted by Jack through the sally-port in the rear.

"Dey come!" he whispered. "Dey no see me, dough. Dey t'ink dey find us all asleep. I go call de captain and de rest, and de black fellows; and we all get ready, and lie down and snore loud; and den, when de enemy come, we jump up wid loud shout, and dey run away."

Timbo's plan of action was simple, and I hoped might prove effective; so I begged him to carry it out. In a few seconds all our party, crawling out from their huts, or from beneath the waggon or lean-tos, assembled noiselessly, and took up their station at the palisades, kneeling down so as not to be seen by those approaching. Thus we all remained ready for the attack. Some time passed away, and no enemy appeared; and I could not help suspecting that Timbo might by some means have been mistaken. He, however, was positive that he had seen the enemy, and was rather indignant at my supposing that he could have been deceived. We kept watching on every side, not knowing on which the blacks, if they really were coming, might make their attack. At length I saw an object moving along the ground, exactly as Timbo had approached the fort; then another and another appeared. I found that Timbo had seen them too, and immediately he managed to give the information to our companions, when, somewhat to my amusement, a loud chorus of snores ascended from all parts of the camp. "Dat good," he whispered to me; "dey t'ink we all sleepy. Now, see!"

As he spoke, we could distinguish several black figures crawling on the ground close up to the fort. They stopped and listened, then rising to their feet, ran back to their companions, who yet, we supposed, remained concealed in the neighbouring bushes and long grass. Fearing, probably, that the snoring garrison might awake, the whole array of blacks now advanced, crouching down close to the ground, and had we not been watching for them, they might easily have got close up without being discovered. They advanced in a semicircle, closing gradually in on the fort. We lay still as death. The dogs, I should have said, had been muzzled, and stowed away under the waggon, where they remained quiet.

Closer and closer the blacks advanced. "Dey t'ink dey climb over and we not know," whispered Timbo. "Now, see!"

We let the blacks get close to the palisades. They were touching them, expecting without difficulty to climb over, when at a word from Stanley up we all started, firing directly in their faces. The result was even more satisfactory than we could have anticipated, for in an instant the front ranks rushed away, knocking down those behind them in their terror, when the whole army instantly took to flight. The two boys gave vent to loud hurrahs, which were taken up by the rest of our party, when Kate and Bella, who had not been told of what was likely to take place, came rushing out of their tent to inquire what had occurred. We soon found, however, that we were not to gain so easy a victory as we had hoped. The blacks, recovering from their fright, and not acquainted with the effects our firearms were able to produce at a distance, once more assembled, and advanced bravely to the attack. We were consequently compelled to give them a volley, but except from the rifles of two or three of our best shots, very few of our bullets took effect.

Seeing that we were not to be taken by surprise, the enemy again retired. We were in hopes that they had gone off altogether. To ascertain whether this was the case, Timbo volunteered once more to go out. He soon returned, saying that they had only retired under shelter, and from the sounds he had heard, he suspected that they proposed making another attack. We waited anxiously till daybreak. On looking out, we saw numerous blacks moving among the bushes. Then a large body appeared, apparently assembling to hold a consultation. After a time they separated, dividing into several small bodies. These marched forward, and posted themselves at equal distances round the camp. It was now clear that, having failed in their expectation of taking us by surprise, they had resolved on starving us out. Fortunately they could not interfere with our water, or they would have done so; indeed, they might possibly not have been aware of the supply we were gradually obtaining from the well.

The day passed away, but our pertinacious enemies made no signs of moving. Of course they kept us on the alert all night, not knowing at what moment they might again attack us. On the second day things began to look serious; for though we had water, provisions were growing scarce. Donald began to talk of cutting our way through the enemy; but as they could assail us at their pleasure as we marched along, this would have been a dangerous proceeding.

"It must be done," he said at last; "if we remain here another day we shall starve, and it is better to run the risk of fighting than to do that."

We had at length obtained a sufficient supply of water for the cattle, and had we been unmolested, we might now with confidence proceed on to the next fountain, after which Donald hoped to find each day a sufficient supply of water. Stanley however proposed, instead of risking an attack while moving on, to sally out with horse and foot and drive the enemy away. He, with Senhor Silva and Donald, were to form the cavalry, and I was to lead a party of infantry, consisting of Jack, Chickango, Igubo and his two sons, and four of Donald's Hottentots.

"We must go too, then!" exclaimed Leo, when he heard the proposal.

"No," answered Stanley. "I have no doubt of your bravery, but you will show it better by remaining to assist David and Timbo in garrisoning the fort." After some hesitation Donald agreed to this plan.

At length, as evening drew on, the blacks appeared in greater numbers than before. Instead of allowing them to approach, however, we opened a warm fire upon them, when even at a considerable distance. This seemed to astonish them, as probably they were not aware that our bullets would reach so far, and once more they retreated under cover. Scarcely had they gone, when Donald gave us the unsatisfactory information that one meal alone remained for the party in the camp.

"Then, my friends," said Stanley, "let us lose no time in making our retreat. We may get to a long distance before the blacks discover that we have left the fort; and if they follow us, we must turn round and drive them off."

The necessity of moving was so obvious, that no time was lost in preparing to start. The waggons were laden, the oxen yoked. The usual fires were lighted, to deceive the enemy. Then in perfect silence we quitted the camp, Stanley and I bringing up the rear, and Timbo and Jack and four other men, well-armed, on foot. We moved on slowly; for neither we, our horses, nor cattle were capable of much exertion. Every now and then Stanley halted and faced round to ascertain whether we were pursued; but some hours passed by, and we began to hope that the enemy had retreated before we commenced our march, or had not ventured to follow us. We knew well, however, that if the blacks did pursue us, they would come on stealthily, so that we should have but a short time to prepare for their reception. Leo and Natty were persuaded to remain in the waggon with their guns loaded, ready to do battle for Kate and Bella; while Donald had put arms into the hands of the most trustworthy of his men, who promised to fight bravely should we be attacked.

However, he confessed that he had no confidence in their valour. After riding for some time at a distance from the waggon we once more joined them, hoping that we should be able to proceed without molestation.

I was very thankful when the sun rose; and though his beams were likely to be somewhat hot, they greatly cheered our spirits. I was on the point, at Stanley's request, of riding on to ask Donald Fraser when he proposed to camp, when, looking round, I saw away to the north, on the summit of an elevation we had passed over, a dark line moving towards us. I pointed it out to Stanley.

"It is the blacks! There can be no doubt about that," he answered. "We must be prepared for them. I did not suppose they would have ventured so far in pursuit."

"I say, Andrew, we must drive these fellows off, and have done with them," said Leo. "You will see how Natty and I will fight!"

I was sure from his determined look that he would be as good as his word, and that Natty would not be less courageous, though he made no remark. Stanley had given orders that not a shot was to be fired till he issued the word of command. We were standing in expectation of receiving it, when Timbo shouted out, "See! see! some horsemen come dis way!" We looked towards the west--the direction in which he pointed-- where, under a cloud of dust, a herd of buffaloes were seen scampering across the plain, with several horsemen in close pursuit. On they came directly towards our black enemies, who did not perceive them till they were within a distance of four or five hundred yards. The herd of buffaloes dashed madly forward into the very midst of the blacks, whom they scattered in every direction. Numbers were knocked over. The rest, taken by surprise, attempted to escape by flight. Instantly Stanley threw himself upon his horse and galloped forward, shouting to the hunters. The buffaloes meantime continued their charge wherever they saw the negroes assembled, and in a few minutes swept half round the circle, raising the siege in the most effectual manner. Stanley's shouts soon attracted the attention of the hunters. A few words from him explained the state of affairs, and together they charged towards the remainder of the black army, who had hitherto stood their ground.

The latter, without even stopping to draw their bows, took to flight towards the north, still followed, in the most extraordinary manner, by the buffaloes, who rushed in and out among them, urged on by the shouts and cries of the hunters in the rear. In a few minutes not a black was to be seen, except those who had been knocked over by the infuriated animals. All this time the only shots fired had been at the buffaloes, three of whom lay dead on the ground. At length the herd, after pursuing the blacks for a considerable distance, turned off to the east, leaving us possessors of the field.

As we were hurrying out to welcome the strangers, we saw Stanley warmly shaking hands with them, when what was my surprise as they rode up to recognise the Messrs. Rowley and Terence O'Brien!

"We will tell you all about it," said the latter, as we warmly shook hands. "But don't you know him?" and he pointed to the fourth horseman.

I could scarcely believe my eyes, when my friend, the worthy first mate of the _Osprey_--whom I thought had long been numbered with the dead-- jumped off his steed and took me by the hand.

"I have not a very long yarn to spin," he said, "though it is a somewhat wonderful one. When I was washed off the deck, I found near me a topmast, which had probably been carried away and cut adrift from some craft ahead of us. I clung on to it, and was picked up a day or two afterwards by a vessel which had to touch at Walfish Bay on her way to the Cape. Finding a party settled there on a whaling speculation, I agreed to remain. However, after some time, as few whales were to be caught, I determined to go on to the Cape. Just as I was about to sail, I received an invitation from a gentleman--Mr Ramsay--about to start into the interior on a hunting and trading expedition, to accompany him as an assistant. The life he proposed to lead was a new one to me; but I had had enough of salt water, and after a little consideration accepted it. Who should arrive directly afterwards but our friends here, who, after having been cast on shore and gone through all sorts of adventures as they travelled down the coast from the north, had at length reached Walfish Bay. But they will give you an account of themselves. Do not ask, though, about their poor sister," he whispered.

"She is gone! Died soon after they landed; and that wretched fellow Kydd, he was washed off the raft in passing through the surf. These three young men alone remained, with scarce a rag on their backs, and not a sixpence in the world. They were therefore very glad to accept the offer made to them by my friend, to assist him in shooting elephants, and rhinoceroses, and other game. From what I have seen of them, they are better suited to that sort of work than the steady business of a colonist. We have now been out six months, and are on the point of turning westward; indeed, had the buffaloes not led us in this direction, we should not have come further to the east. The prospect of the desert is not over-inviting, and for my part, I have had enough of hunting. I have run a narrow chance of being killed a score of times by lions and elephants, not to speak of rhinoceroses and buffaloes, hyenas and snakes, and I do not know what other creatures. When my engagement is over, I have made up my mind not to accept another of the same sort, but to stick to the sea as long as I am fit for work, or till I can save enough to enable me to settle down in a snug cottage in old England."

After the hint I had received from my friend Gritton, I forebore to make too minute inquiries of the Rowleys as to their adventures. Terence O'Brien, however, gave me most of the particulars. They had undergone a fearful amount of suffering even before they were cast ashore, and a still greater amount afterwards. It is surprising, indeed, that poor Miss Rowley should have survived so long on the raft; and we all, indeed, had cause to be thankful that we had been preserved from similar sufferings.

As soon as part of the buffalo flesh had been divided among our half-famished party, and had been cooked and eaten, we inspanned and pushed on to join Mr Ramsay's caravan. Though there was little chance of our being pursued by the hostile natives, I was very thankful when at length the fires of his camp appeared in sight. Terence O'Brien had galloped on to announce our coming, and he now came up with loud whoops and cries, followed by most of his party, from whom we received the warmest welcome. We had still, however, a long journey before us; but the road was known, the fountains were within moderate distances of each other, and the natives were friendly. Mr Ramsay had been successful both in hunting and trading, and the large piles of huge elephant and hippopotamus tusks, lion and panther skins, and other articles, rather excited Donald Fraser's envy. "However," he observed to me, as he looked at his fellow-trader's well-filled waggons, "I have had the satisfaction of rescuing you and your friends, Mr Crawford, out of as dangerous a position as travellers in Africa can well be placed in, and I have no reason to complain of the liberality of your generous friend, Senhor Silva."

We at length reached Walfish Bay, where we found a vessel, the _Flying Fish_, just on the point of sailing for the Cape. The Rowleys and Terence O'Brien were, however, so enamoured of their hunting life, that they determined to start off into the wilds again on their own account.

Our kind, noble-minded, and generous friend, Senhor Silva, here bade us good-bye, intending to wait for a vessel which was expected to call in on her way to Saint Paul de Loando. He shook my hand warmly.

"I am a widower, as you know, and I had a hope, I confess, which I must not speak of, for I see that it is vain," he said. "You will think of me, and so will your sweet cousin, I trust, sometimes; and I shall be truly glad to hear of your happiness."

We all embarked on board the _Flying Fish_, hoping at length, after all our adventures, to reach our destination in safety. I had made up my mind to settle on shore, and assist my cousins in cultivating their farm. Perhaps my cousin Kate had something to do with my resolution.

At all events, when I proposed it she appeared very well pleased.

Leo, when he heard of it, exclaimed, "Oh, how delightful! because then, Andrew, you will not carry Natty away, as I was afraid you might have done; and he and I can manage to get on so capitally together. We have formed all sorts of plans already, and I only hope that you may marry Kate, and he, by-and-by, can marry Sheila; and then we shall all be brothers, 'and live happily together to the end of our days,' as the story books say."

Though our voyage was a pleasant one, I was very thankful when at length the lofty height of Table Mountain appeared ahead, covered with its table-cloth, and we dropped our anchor off Cape Town. We had still a long journey before us; but at length the anxiety which my uncle and aunt had been so long suffering on account of the non-appearance of their children was relieved by our safe arrival at their farm.

After a few days' rest, we all set to work on the special duties apportioned us. Kate did not neglect Bella's education, even though in the course of the following year she became the mistress of a house of her own, of which I was the master. David settled down as the medical man of the district. Stanley, though he occasionally went out hunting, became a first-rate farmer, ably assisted by Timbo, Chickango, and Igubo and his two sons, who expressed no desire to return to their part of Africa. Jack Handspike accompanied Mr Gritton to sea, but lately came back again, saying that he had had enough of it, and was determined henceforth to plough the land instead of the ocean. I may say of myself and of all my friends indeed, that "whatsoever our hands find to do, we do it with all our might," humbly endeavouring to serve God in our daily walk in life, and thereby enjoy that true happiness which even in this world can be obtained by those who know the right way to seek it.


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