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Title: A Parisian Sultana, Vol. II (of 3)
Author: Belot, Adolphe
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Parisian Sultana, Vol. II (of 3)" ***

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A PARISIAN SULTANA

A TRANSLATION OF
ADOLPHE BELOT'S
"La Sultane parisienne"
BY
H. MAINWARING DUNSTAN.

BOOK II.
IN THE HEART OF AFRICA.

CHAPTER I.

In a few moments the little European flotilla was rounding the
Ras-el-Khartoum, the junction of the White and Blue Niles, and very soon
it passed the three large mimosas, called usually the "tree," the
rendezvous for all boats leaving for the voyage up the White Nile or
its affluents. The banks of the river here and for some miles farther
on present a most monotonous appearance—low, flat banks as far as the
eye can see, often flooded and resembling a sea rather than a river,
with here and there a clump of acacias. In the distance can be
discerned the desert with its sandy undulations. From the bed of the
river snags and dead stumps of trees raise their withered heads,
whilst aquatic plants glide slowly down the stream and look like
floating islets of verdure. Clouds of mosquitoes swarm on this moving
vegetation and appear so thoroughly satisfied with their habitation
that they forget to attack the European traveller.

The captain of the steamer which towed the flotilla was a young
Egyptian officer, educated in Paris, a very gentlemanly and clever
man. At starting he had begged Madame de Guéran and her companions to
come on board his ship. "In a few days," he said, "you will leave me,
for you will go up the Gazelle River whilst I shall have to proceed
alone on my journey up the White Nile as far as Gondokoro. Give me,
then, as long as you can, the pleasure of your society."

The whole party acceded to this invitation, and joined the "Khedive,"
that being the name of the steamer. Most of their time was passed on
the poop, and the conversation frequently turned on the slave-trade,
which the young officer had for two years, under the command of Sir
Samuel Baker, endeavoured to put down.

"Alas!" he said, "our efforts have been well nigh futile. For one
cargo of slaves released by us ten have escaped, and General Baker
was worn out, during his four years' of command, in the struggle
against the natives of the country, whom the slave-merchants, Aboo-Saoud,
the most powerful of all amongst them, incited to oppose him."

One evening, as the Europeans and their host were chatting in some
such fashion as we have described, an acrid, fetid stench, more like
the smell of a charnel-house or a wild beasts' den than, anything
else, was wafted by the wind towards the "Khedive," and unexpectedly
saluted the nostrils of her passengers.

"This is awful," said Delange, "these banks are enough to breed a
pestilence."

"No," said the Captain, "this foul stench comes from that large boat
you see coming down the river towards us. If I am not mistaken I
shall find on board her some living arguments in support of what I
have just been telling you about the slave trade and our
powerlessness to put an end to it."

The officer, whilst saying this, got up and directed the engines to
be stopped. A boat was at the same time lowered and pulled towards
the stranger with an order for her to heave to.

No notice was taken of the command, and the boat, borne onwards by
the strength of the rapid current and the favourable wind, continued
on her course, the "Khedive" being unable to bar her passage. On the
contrary, the Captain prudently got out of the way with his flotilla,
but as soon as the sailing boat had passed he fired a gun as a second
notice to stop, and this was at once answered by the lowering of her
huge sail, those on board recognizing the fact that they were not
strong enough to make any show of continued resistance.

"The sky is beautifully clear, and the moon will soon rise from
behind that leafy screen of mimosas," said the Captain to his guests.
"Would you like to come on board that boat with me? I have every
reason to believe that we shall find something in her which will
repay us for our trouble."

The offer was accepted, and, a few moments afterwards, a couple of
boats were pulled alongside the starboard gangway of the steamer. Ten
well-armed sailors took their place in the first, and in the other
the Captain, Madame de Guéran, Miss Poles, and their three companions
seated themselves.

Five minutes sufficed to reach the stranger. Contrary to expectation
there was no attempt at a parley, nor was any opposition offered to
this nocturnal visit. So far, indeed, was this from being the case
that a line was thrown out to the boats to make them fast to the
vessel's side.

The Egyptian officer, followed by his sailors and the European
travellers, had scarcely climbed up the side, when the Captain, or
reis, a man of about forty, in Mussulman costume, advanced towards
them. He spoke in Turkish, and addressed himself to the Commander of
the "Khedive," whose uniform bespoke his rank.

"As soon as I understood your orders," said he, in a low voice and
with a smile on his thin parched lips, "I hastened to obey them. You
have, no doubt, some despatches to give me for Khartoum, which I
shall reach in two days if the wind continues favourably."

"You are not going to Khartoum, where you would get into trouble,"
replied the Commander of the "Khedive." "You reckon upon heaving to
at some point along the banks where you can discharge your cargo of
slaves, whom you will afterwards forward by land, westwards by
Kordofan, or eastwards by Sennaar, to some market or other, either in
the interior or on the coast."

"My cargo of slaves, sir? What are you talking about?" exclaimed the
Mussulman, raising his eyes to heaven as if to summon it to bear
witness to his veracity, "I am a straightforward trader, and I am on
my way back from the Grazelle River with a cargo of ivory from the
Southern provinces."

"Where is your cargo?" asked the officer.

"Here are a few samples?" replied the Turk, pointing to a number of
elephants' tusks which were strung up along the mast.

"You have made a dangerous trip solely for ivory, have you?" was the
Egyptian's reply. "I know you and your kindred spirits too well to be
taken in by any such tale as that. Where have you hidden your human
merchandize? Answer."

"Nowhere, I assure you, sir. You may search the ship if you like."

"That is exactly what I am going to do."

"When you please."

The Egyptian officer was beginning to feel non-plussed. In vain he
looked around him, he could only discover about eight or ten men,
rather a villainous-looking lot truly, doing odd jobs about the ship.

In the meantime, the stench, which had first become noticeable about
half an hour previously, appeared now to increase in intensity every
moment, and whiffs of hot, one might almost say putrified, air surged
up without intermission from somewhere or other. Whence could
possibly come these foul exhalations, this suffocating heat, which
seemed to emanate from some cribb'd, cabined, and confined human
herd? If the vessel had been a slaver in the Indian Ocean or the Red
Sea, there would not have been any need for hesitation. The removal
of the hatches would have at once exposed to view two or three
hundred blacks, chained along the side of the hold, or stowed away in
the centre like bales of cotton or hogsheads of sugar. But the large
boat, on board which they were, drew but little water, and she had
not depth enough for either a hold or a lower deck.

Fortunately, the sailors of the "Khedive," were whiling away the time
by making a tour of inspection on their own behalf, and some of them,
who had made their way forwards, took it into their heads to remove
some very suspicious looking sacks of grain, thereby uncovering a
trap-door which they set to work to raise.

As soon as the men on board, who had up to this time remained
remarkably indifferent and impassive, saw what their Egyptian
colleagues were about, they came forward and endeavoured to prevent
them from satisfying their curiosity. A hot argument ensued, and the
attention of the European party was attracted by the wordy tumult.
They at once hastened to join the sailors, and, summoning the reis,
ordered him to have the trap raised. But the fellow, though
previously obsequious and pliant enough, suddenly put on an arrogant
air and refused to give the required orders, his crew, at the same
time, taking up a menacing attitude.

"All right," said the Commander of the "Khedive," "I expected this,
and have provided for the emergency."

So saying, he put his silver whistle to his lips, and at the shrill,
prolonged call, the Egyptian steamer, which had been awaiting the
signal, was set in motion and came near. The warning was enough, and
the Captain, followed by his crew, withdrew aft.

The trap was then raised, and a glimpse was caught of a huge black,
seething, writhing, swarming hole. It was but a glimpse, for those
who looked in were glad to draw back, half stifled by the heat and
stench which escaped from the pit.

At once hands, arms, shoulders, heads appeared through the various
openings, and laboured gasps were heard from surcharged breasts,
eagerly drinking in the pure air. Sighs and stifled cries from the
belly of the ship added to the general discordance.

"Come along!" exclaimed M. de Morin, "let us rescue these poor
creatures."

He, his companions, and the Egyptians approached the trap and set to
work to haul up all the arms, shoulders, and heads within their
reach, seizing hold of them, and dragging them out with such good-will
that in a few minutes a score of slaves, more or less
suffocated, were lying on the deck, able at last to breathe. But the
newly-opened den contained other victims, who must be saved if,
indeed, help had not arrived too late. A sailor handed a torch to MM.
de Morin and Périères, and the two friends were courageous enough to
descend into the abyss.

There, in a space about fifteen metres long, the whole length of the
boat, and five wide, in a sort of gallery, where a man even sitting
down had to lower his head, in a kind of double-bottomed box, were a
hundred human creatures, boys, girls, and women, crammed together,
huddled, heaped up pell-mell, welded, as it were, into one another.

"Now, then!" called out M. de. Morin, who was anxious to get on deck
again. "Stir yourselves, and get out of this!"

But the poor wretches did not stir. They were not quite so numerous
as they had been a moment before, a breath of air had reached them—
they did not ask for more—and they called to mind the threat that was
held over them when they were shut up in that den—their persecutors
had sworn that they would never open the living tomb if their victims
uttered a single cry, or drew attention to the boat.

It is owing to the dread instilled into these poor people, ground
down by misery and want, and, above all, is it owing to this hideous
hiding-place on board their vessels, that the slave dealers continue
to carry on, in spite of Baker, their nefarious trade, and sail,
unsuspected, past the very stations organized for their discovery. As
a rule, their slaves remain on deck night and day, but as soon as a
station is neared, or a man-of-war is signalled in the distance, the
wretches are made to go below at once into the confined space we have
described. There they are hermetically enclosed, there they are
immured, not to be released until all danger has disappeared. An
opening here and there in the vessel's side, just above the water-mark
and too small to be seen, enables the inmates to struggle
against suffocation for, perhaps, an hour. That limit passed, the
deaths are about twenty a minute, the strongest, those who need a
larger quantum of air for their spacious lungs, being the first to
succumb. The weak and ailing alone exist for any length of time, and
so, at the end of a couple of hours, there is no longer any hurry to
open the trap, for out of it would only come worthless, valueless
slaves.

But if the openings, of which we have spoken, are not large enough to
prevent suffocation, they still allow the escape of the miasma
produced by this compressed, over-heated human mass. The wind had
borne this stench towards the Egyptian vessel, and thus, by a mere
accident, one of the countless devices of these dealers in human
flesh was found out.

It was necessary to employ force to get the slaves to emerge from
their den, for they were under the impression that if they went on
deck they would be massacred. In fact, they were running a great
risk, the Mussulman Captain and his ten men having taken advantage of
the attention of the Europeans being devoted to the rescue of the
slaves, to construct a barricade aft.

They had rolled together three barrels of powder, and they declared
positively that if they were to be ruined, if their slaves were taken
away, they would blow up the boat and everybody on board.

CHAPTER II.

The threat, however, did not appear to affect either the Europeans or
the Egyptian Commander; they went on leisurely with their work of
deliverance, dragging one slave after another out of the black hole,
and placing them on deck, where Dr. Delange attended to the worst
cases. M. de Morin alone, after having exchanged a few words in a
whisper with the Commander, went over the side, descended the rope
ladder attached to it, got into the boat which had brought him, and,
rowed by a couple of men, pulled towards the flotilla.

At length, the last slave was brought on deck; he was still
breathing, and M. Delange managed, in a minute or two, to set him on
his legs again, but of the hundred and twenty beings who had been set
free, eight were suffocated, and defied every effort to restore
animation to them. The remainder were as well as ever, despite their
incarceration.

M. Périères asked himself whether it would not be better to order the
slaves to rush all at once aft and massacre their former masters
before the latter had time to set fire to the powder barrels with the
matches they were seen to hold in their hands. But one glance at the
human crowd surrounding him sufficed to dispel the idea, for he saw
that it consisted of men barely adults, a large proportion of women,
and children of from eight to twelve years old. It would have been
imprudent, in spite of their numbers, to rely upon such allies.
Action, and that too of the most energetic sort possible, must be
taken without any assistance from them. The reis and his men, in
order to rouse themselves to courage and revenge, had just broached a
cask of brandy, and, notwithstanding the precepts of the Koran, which
they, in all probability, habitually set at nought, they were
drinking bumpers of the ardent spirit. There was everything to be
feared from their drunken excitement.

The Egyptian officer saw the danger, and, advancing alone along the
deck, until within about a couple of yards from the barricade, he
addressed the reis, who, though placid enough at the commencement
when he thought he could escape any inspection, was now furious at
seeing himself unmasked, ruined, and exposed to severe punishment.

"You will immediately order your men," said the Commander firmly, "to
put out their portfires, and lay down their arms. In that way alone
will you save your lives, for, if you have not complied in five
minutes' time, I will have the whole lot of you put to death."

"There will be no need for you to put us to death," shouted the reis.
"If your men make a single movement against us, or if they load their
guns, I will set light to the powder, and we will all be blown up
together, you, I, our men, my slaves, and your Egyptians. You have
given me five minutes to surrender," he continued, becoming more and
more excited as he spoke. "I give you three to leave my boat, but
without taking with you one of my slaves. As soon as you have
regained your ship, if you attempt to chase us, there will still be
time to blow myself up, and every man you seek to set free shall
perish with me."

The Egyptian officer shrugged his shoulders, and, turning towards the
Europeans, said—

"Did you understand what he said?"

"Tolerably well," replied M. Périères.

"What is to be done?" asked the officer. "You are my guests, and I am
responsible for your safety. I have no right to expose you to any
risk without your consent."

"Act," said Madame de Guéran, "as you would act if we were not with
you. They are not Frenchmen who would counsel you to allow yourselves
to be intimidated by such brigands as these, or to abandon all these
slaves to their anger and revenge."

"Then, madam, I have but one course to pursue—to make a rush with my
men against that barricade and break through it before those wretches
can get at the powder."

"Do so," simply replied Madame de Guéran.

"And we go with you,' said MM. Périères and Delange to the Captain,
as they took their places by his side.

"And I, too—have I not my revolver?" said a third voice.

It was brave Miss Poles, who, coquette as she was, resolved to enjoy
male society at all hazards.

The Egyptian officer conversed in a low tone with his sailors, giving
them orders, but appearing anxious and ill at ease on seeing their
disinclination to obey him. These sailors, not nearly so well
disciplined as the French, seemed desirous of arguing with their
officer, and trying to make him understand that they would be all of
them exposing themselves to certain death if they attacked the
barricade in accordance with his orders. Indeed, their fears were
reasonable, for the Mussulman reis and his men, more and more excited
every moment, had just unheaded the powder barrels so that a spark
alone was now needed to cause an explosion; and the staves and hoops
of these barrels would be shattered to pieces, and would deal death
on all around.

The position was as critical as could well be imagined—in spite of
the danger of an attack, and its too probably fatal result, the
Egyptian officer, his natural pride being roused, and his _amour-propre_
at stake in the presence of his stranger guests, wished to
lead on his men.

They refused to obey him.

Exasperated by this mutiny, and beside himself with anger, he was
going to fire on his own men, when suddenly, under a cloudless sky,
studded with stars innumerable, and with a moon of marvellous
brightness, an overwhelming shower, a veritable deluge, a sort of
water-spout burst upon the deck of the vessel.

The occurrence appeared almost phenomenal; in reality it was very
simple. M. de Morin, it will be remembered, had, about a quarter-of-an-hour
previously, left the boat for the "Khedive," bearing an order
for the steamer to close up. Whilst this manoeuvre was being carried
out, he was anxiously watching every movement of the Mussulman, and
he began to tremble for his friends. His fears suggested to him a
happy thought, almost an inspiration. He at once ordered the fire
pump, which is to be found on board all men-of-war, to be manned, and
told the sailors to play upon the after part of the slaver. This
order was executed, and in a moment barricade, men, and powder were
all inundated.

Thanks to M. de Morin, who, doubtless, remembered the way in which
Marshal Lobau, in 1832, quelled a rising in Paris, the situation was
changed, and there was no longer anything to fear from the reis or
his men.

The sailors of the "Khedive" rushed on them, and had them bound in a
very short time.

But what was to be done with the slaves? That was a somewhat
difficult question to answer. If they were left in possession of the
boat they would be incapable of managing her, and would inevitably
run her ashore, and, in all probability, perish. If, on the other
hand, they were to be landed on the banks of the White Nile, they
would run a great risk of again being made prisoners.

On questioning some of the poor creatures, it was discovered that the
majority belonged to the tribes bordering on the Bahr-el-Ghazal, or
Gazelle River. Taken captive by Moflo, the powerful chief of the
Niam-Niam territory, who was annually accustomed to make razzias on a
large scale amongst the neighbouring tribes, they had been sold some
months previously to slave dealers.

As soon as she was made acquainted with these details, Madame de
Guéran resolved to take charge of the liberated slaves, as they
belonged to the districts through which she intended to pass. She
ordered Nassar to take the new arrival in tow, and the little
flotilla, following in the wake of the steamer, was thus augmented by
another sail.

On their return to the "Khedive," the band of Europeans lost no time
in thanking M. de Morin for the service he had rendered them, whilst
the Commander ordered the slave dealers to be put in irons and lodged
in the hold, intending to bring them up before General Baker for
trial.

It was not until an hour past midnight that the flotilla resumed its
voyage up the White Nile, hugging the western bank, whence in the
clear moonlight could be distinctly seen Arrache-Kol, an abrupt and
rugged mountain, which seemed to spring up from the flat plains
surrounding it. The river being both wide and deep, rapid progress
was made, and the silence of the night was broken only by the noise
of the "Khedive's" engines, and the continuous snoring, a rumbling
sound, of the numerous hippopotami sleeping near the banks of the
river. From time to time were mingled with these noises, the distant
cries of some animal attacked by hyænas, and the occasional roaring
of a lion, who thus saluted the flotilla as it passed on.

M. de Morin and Périères, their nerves still under the influence of
the past excitement, and charmed by the beauty of the night, gave up
all thoughts of sleep, and walked up and down the deck, listening
intently to every sound that ushered in a world entirely new to them.

Suddenly, behind the "Khedive," and in the midst of the vessels she
was towing, countless tongues of flame leapt up into the air.

The two watchers, in alarm and dismay, called on the officer of the
watch, and he speedily discovered that the slave boat which had just
been added to the flotilla was on fire.

The steamer was at once stopped, the boats were lowered, and the
sailors on watch were speedily afloat.

CHAPTER III.

M. de Morin had a seat in the cutter which went to the relief of the
burning ship, a simple set of justice, seeing that a fire was on the
tapis and that he had just shown such skill in the management of the
pump.

The flames spread with astonishing rapidity, running from end to end
of the ship, and along the mast and ropes. They were not, however, of
the reddish hue usually seen in such conflagrations, but might easily
have been taken for Bengal-lights, or fireworks, their bluish rays
tingeing the waters of the Nile and the neighbouring shore.

M. de Morin and the Egyptian sailors in vain attempted to solve this
problem, but later on all was explained. It seems that the negroes,
left to themselves on the boat, liberated by magic as it were, free
from both duty and surveillance, had made up their minds to celebrate
their triumph, to manifest their independence, and to testify their
rejoicing. At first they were content with singing and shouting, and
other discordant sounds, but very speedily they began to dance, and
stamp about, and betake themselves to all those extraordinary
contortions common in their own countries on _fête_ days. These
gymnastic exercises gave them an appetite and also an idea that they
had a perfect right to dispose of the provisions left on board the
boat, and no longer reclaimable by their former masters. Then they
turned their attention to the casks of brandy they had hankered after
for so long a time, and, having discovered them, they at once, with
that carelessness and love of waste so innate in their race, broke
them open so that they might, as they thought, drink all the more
quickly. The brandy ran in streams along the deck, and in its way met
with a smouldering match. The result was, that in an instant the deck
of the vessel became a huge bowl of punch, and the blue flames, which
had so astonished M. de Morin, leaped up on all sides.

But, for all that, the negroes were none the less exposed to fearful
danger. Many of them, in order to escape from the flames which seemed
to pursue them, had already gone over the side and were clinging to
the gunwale, others had swarmed up the mast, or were hanging to the
yard, and these living clusters, suspended in mid air, and lighted up
by the flames, produced a most singular effect. The women and
children were rushing about in the liquid fire, uttering the most
heart-rending shrieks.

The appearance of the flames soon changed from blue to red. The fire
was not contented with running madly from one point to another, and
licking the objects in its course without giving them a bite. It
began to penetrate to the vital parts of the boat, and attacked the
canvas, rope, planks and the thousand and one things scattered about
the deck. Red tongues of flame darted skywards, lighting up all
around, and being reflected back by the stream.

All the "Khedive's" boats had been lowered, and now surrounded the
burning vessel, but without daring to approach too closely for fear
of being crushed by the fall of the mast, or scorched by the sparks
which were emitted in showers from the midst of the conflagration.

How were they to succour the poor creatures, deaf to all advice or
command, and terrified to such an extent that they did not even think
of throwing themselves into the Nile and taking refuge on board the
other boats? The danger was increasing every moment, not to the
slaves alone, but also to the whole flotilla, the flames being
carried by the wind along the entire line. The order was just about
to be given to cut the ropes which connected the burning boat with
the others, when the idea occurred to M. Périères to make use of
these ropes as a hanging bridge, to put the negroes in communication
with the remainder of the flotilla, assuming that if he could only
induce one or two to make use of this route, the remainder would
certainly follow their leaders like a flock of frightened sheep after
the bell-wether.

An example was, however, necessary, and M. Périères did not hesitate
for a moment. Having prevailed upon his boat's crew to row him as
near as possible to the burning vessel, he seized a rope, crept along
to the fore part of the ship, as yet untouched by the fire,
endeavoured to attract the attention of some of the negroes, and,
hanging by his hands on to one of the ropes, he made his way bit by
bit to the flotilla.

As he had expected, he was speedily followed by a few, at first, of
the slaves, then the numbers increased, and at last every one was
anxious to follow the example set. The sturdy ones reached the goal,
and the weak fell into the river, where they were picked up without
delay by the boats of the steamer.

There still remained a score of women and children, who either had
not strength enough to reach the rope, or were too much alarmed, or
too intoxicated to do anything but watch their companions depart one
after another, without a thought of following them, or an effort to
cling to them. The flames would soon reach these poor creatures, and,
more terrible danger still, the powder barrels, inundated some hours
previously, but now dry, might at any moment be attacked by the fire
and deal death and destruction on all.

This time it was M. de Morin who devoted himself to the work of
rescue. As his friend had done, he too got on board the burning
vessel, seized upon each woman and child in turn, and, in spite of
their shrieks and all their efforts to cling to him, he threw them
overboard one after another, either to the sailors in the boats, who
held out their arms to catch them, or into the river, whence they
were dragged out before the current had time to carry them away.

This wholesale deliverance accomplished, M. de Morin was making ready
to get away as fast as he could by diving into the river, when he
thought he heard a cry from the after part of the ship. He turned and
gazed anxiously towards the spot.

There, by the light of the conflagration, appeared a child of from
seven to eight years of age, who had taken refuge in the wheel-house,
and, from the midst of the flames surrounding him on every side, was
tearfully holding out his little arms to M. de Morin.

He hesitated for a second, for they cried out from the boats—

"Do not venture—it is certain death! The fire is spreading towards
the powder, and the ship will blow up, we must get away."

And, indeed, the boats were already being pulled away.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "you leave me my my fate! Be it so! I will not
abandon this poor little soul."

And then, creeping at one time along the vessel's side, at another
catching hold of a rope, or a shroud, sometimes making his way along
the deck itself, he went aft through the flames despite every
obstacle, braving every danger.

At length he reached the wheel-house, mounted it, seized the child in
his arms, and with him plunged into the river, without even calling
on the boats to come to his assistance.

One of them saw him and got up to him just as the current was
whirling him towards a snag, under which he would have been sucked by
the stream, a bruised and bleeding mass.

Some moments afterwards, as the cutter was close by with the
flotilla, a loud report was heard. The wretched slave-ship was
engulfed in the Nile.

Madame de Guéran, standing on the poop of the "Khedive," had been a
trembling, agitated, spectator of all these scenes, and when MM.
Périères and de Morin came on board, she rushed to them, grasped them
by the hands, and utterly overcome, burst into tears.

CHAPTER IV.

The "Khedive," towing the flotilla, resumed her onward course; and,
except the sailors on watch, everybody on board was sound asleep.
Madame de Guéran had retired to her cabin, and her three companions,
enveloped from head to foot in coverings to protect them from the
mosquitoes, lay stretched at full length on the poop.

Miss Poles alone, indefatigable as ever, walked up and down the deck.
She passed in review the occurrences of the night, called to mind the
exploits of MM. de Morin and Périères, and debated within herself as
to the one on whom she should bestow her still wavering heart.

Daybreak found her still in suspense, but her attention was then
attracted to the sights surrounding her. A few yards from the steamer
were numbers of hippopotami, who saluted the dawn by wallowing in the
Nile; long lines of crocodiles basked in the first rays of the rising
sun; herds of huge buffaloes, with outstretched necks and lowered
heads, were drinking at the stream. In the distance, already lit up,
forests of mimosas and flowering soonts were seen surrounding a
village of the Baggara tribe, those hardy horsemen and bold bandits
who give only a grudging allegiance to the Egyptian Government. Soon
the river itself became animated; quite a fleet of light canoes,
hollowed out of the trunks of the tamarind trees, crowded round the
steamer, manned by fishermen of the Shillook tribe, who possess an
immense extent of territory on the western bank of the Nile. In
subjection to Egypt, this numerous, compact tribe, whose villages
form an unbroken line along the river, musters more than twelve
hundred thousand souls.

If civilization should ever penetrate into these territories, if the
innumerable river-side tribes would unite together in one common
interest, would obey one sole will, what tremendous power their ruler
would possess, what weighty influence would be brought to bear upon
the world by the African nation, now held in such contempt that even
the most insignificant of European kingdoms would scorn to be named
in the same breath with it! But the variety of religions, multiplied
_ad infinitum_, or, to speak more correctly, the diverse beliefs and
so-called religious superstitions will ever hold these tribes apart.
The Mahomedans have a horror, either instinctive or instilled, of all
these people, whom they stigmatise as pagans, and the latter, in
their turn, loath the very name of Islamism, a name which to them
means their own subjection and enslavement. Thanks to our
missionaries, Christianity, and it alone, may one day perhaps succeed
in uniting these scattered souls, and may replace ignorance and
superstition by knowledge and faith.

The passengers on board the "Khedive" saw nothing during the whole
day but the vanguard of the Shillooks, for the Baggaras were denizens
of the soil through which they were then passing. But on the morrow,
villages succeeded the fishermen's canoes, and as the flotilla hove
to for the purpose of laying in a stock of wood and durra, those on
board were not sorry to have an opportunity of inspecting a village
and making the acquaintance of its inhabitants.

A European who, without any transition stages, preparatory lessons,
or preliminary studies, might suddenly find himself in Africa proper,
in a Shillook village, would have some difficulty in persuading
himself that he was awake, and might feel induced to ask whether he
had not been transported, during sleep or by sudden death, to another
planet. Imagine a collection of comical mud huts, looking like a
large field of button mushrooms; round the majority of the huts a
cordon of dried dung, set on fire at night by the natives, for the
purpose of keeping the mosquitoes at a distance and frightening the
hippopotami and the lions; in the centre of the village, a species of
square with one shady spot, furnished by a solitary tree on which are
hung the drums, beaten, in case of alarm, to summon the inhabitants
to arms. In this square, on mats and buffalo skins, spread out here
and there, lie or squat the Shillooks, in utter laziness, sleeping or
slowly inhaling the smoke from large pipes with bowls of clay. They
are completely naked, but their bodies are encrusted with a thick
coating, either of cowdung, or cinders, intended to protect them from
the attacks of insects. Some are greyish in colour; these are the
poor people, who cannot afford any other covering than the cinders of
their own particular hearths. Others, the wealthy owners of a few
cattle, make use of dung, and are a dirty red. Even their faces do
not escape, every feature being hidden under the layers of filth
which, as far as appearances go, seem natural to their skin.

But, nevertheless, they are not entirely without the desire to
please, and, if they neglect their bodies, if coats of dirt take the
place of coats of cloth, they take the greatest pains with their
hair, devoting whole days to the adornment of it, and are quite
capable, on this score, of giving any number of points to the most
conceited of civilized beings. The hair, rendered stiff by the
application of clay or grease, is dressed in the shape of a fan, or a
top-knot, or a helmet above the head. The bird kingdom evidently
furnishes them with models, and, in this case, cocks and guinea fowls
take the place of the wax heads in vogue amongst Parisian
hairdressers.

The women, occupied in household affairs, obliged to nurse the
babies, who may be seen grovelling in all the mud in the village, and
entrusted with the care of the cattle, for which they have a
prodigious respect, devote less time to their hair, contenting
themselves with a little frizzing or a curl here and there. By way of
making up for this, they pay a certain amount of respect to their
bodies, and they fasten round their waists, before and behind, pieces
of calf's skin, which hang down as far as their knees, forming thus a
garment something like a pair of bathing drawers, but permitting a
complete side view of their thighs and legs. This covering,
incomplete though it be, is only used by the married women. The young
girls remain quite naked until their marriage, and that, for certain
reasons which will be explained, is frequently deferred until late in
life. Amongst the Shillooks the man alone provides the dowry,
consisting of a number of cattle, varying according to his means,
which become the property of his father-in-law. If the wife is sent
back by her husband or leaves him, her father has to repay the dowry,
and it is consequently to his interest to prevent all squabbles, if
possible, and, if not, to bring about a speedy reconciliation. The
introduction of this custom into France might possibly have its
advantages. At all events our Parisian mothers-in-law, instead of
fanning the flame, would exert themselves to put it out. In the
meanwhile, until this suggested reform is carried out, we may
congratulate the Shillook ladies on their primitive mode of dress. We
shall very soon come to lands where man alone is clothed, and woman,
whether girl, wife, or widow, young or old, ugly or pretty, never by
any chance puts anything on.

None of the Shillooks, however rich in cattle, thought of offering
even a cup of milk to the Europeans. Their laziness, stronger than
their curiosity, chained them to the spot where they had first been
seen. They opened their large eyes, scanned the strangers from head
to foot, but remained unmoved. Enveloped in their dirt, of one sort
or another, their inert bodies might have been taken for abandoned
corpses, or mummies of ancient Egypt.

As the Europeans were leaving the village, a few natives thought fit
to follow them. They looked like dusky shadows, with their lazy mode
of walking, their wonderfully skinny limbs, their flat chests and
their small heads, made to appear smaller still by the immense
coiffure on top of them. Some were armed with long serrated lances,
others with club-headed, sharp-pointed sticks. Eminently practical,
the Shillooks make their weapons serve also as fishing-tackle; they
disdain the bow and arrow, and replace them by a kind of harpoon,
intended for the benefit of the crocodiles and hippopotami.

They appeared, moreover, disposed to give their visitors an
opportunity of witnessing their mode of fishing, and some of them
brought with them their light canoes, which they never leave on the
banks of the Nile, carrying them, after each expedition, on their
shoulders back to the village.

Night was falling as the handful of Europeans, followed by a few
natives, wended their way towards the river and their flotilla. The
hour was propitious for a hippopotamus hunt. This animal, after
disporting himself in the river during the day, betakes himself in
the evening to some plain or pasture land, where he grazes like other
ruminants, his amphibious qualities enabling him to vary his
pleasures. The hunters let him go inland, and as soon as they know
his retreat they approach him with lighted torches, shouting and
beating their drums. The hippopotamus, in alarm and anxious to regain
the river, goes back there by the way he came. Then another set of
hunters, posted on either side of his path, let fly at him with their
formidable harpoons, to each of which is attached, by means of a line
about twenty feet long, a float or buoy. The wounded animal carries
away with him the shaft which has pierced him, rushes to the Nile and
plunges down to a considerable depth under water, the better to hide
himself. But the buoys float on the surface, showing his course, and
when, weakened by loss of blood, he rises to the surface of the
stream, he is attacked anew, despatched and dragged to the shore to
be cut up.

The Europeans assisted at an attack made after this fashion upon a
magnificent male hippopotamus, and, from the boats which had brought
them from the "Khedive," they had a capital view of every incident of
the hunting or fishing, by whichever name it may be called. For more
than an hour the animal struggled against death, dyeing the water of
the Nile with his blood, and from time to time, coming up to the
surface, he raised his enormous head, noisily inhaled the fresh air,
and fixed his eyes on the tiny canoes surrounding, and gradually
closing in upon him.

M. de Morin, desirous of putting an end to the creature's sufferings,
fired and hit him in the head. The hippopotamus gave vent to a
fearful roar, leaped almost out of the water, and then plunged
beneath the stream, once more leaving behind him a rather dangerous
eddy. The natives protested, when they saw M. de Morin take up his
gun, fearing, no doubt, that if he killed the beast he would lay
claim to it. But when they saw that the shot had not taken effect,
they passed, without any intermediate stage, from extreme anger to
uncontrollable and very obstreperous mirth. Shrieks of laughter
resounded from all the canoes, and every finger was pointed in
ridicule at the clumsy white man, who, though carrying thunder and
lightning with him, in the shape of a gun, yet missed his aim.

M. de Morin was bent on having his revenge, and opportunely thought
of a certain piece of advice given by the hunters. Consequently, when
about ten minutes afterwards, the head of the animal re-appeared, he
aimed behind the ear, the vulnerable part, and the shot took effect.

A final roar, a dying groan was heard, a fresh stream of blood
mingled with the waters of the Nile, and the animal, not having
strength enough to get under water again, was towed ashore by the
line attached to the harpoon, and marked, as we have already said, by
a float.

To the great delight of the natives, M. de Morin, who was deemed to
be a personage of some importance in their eyes, apparently scorned
his share of the quarry, for he ordered the rowers to pull him to the
"Khedive." But the escort of the expedition, who were all together on
board the boat set apart for their use, had also followed with eager
eyes all the incidents of the chase, actuated, undoubtedly, by the
very natural feeling that hippopotamus flesh would be a variety in
their daily ration, that when well dried by the sun and properly
cooked it would afford them an excellent meal, and that, from every
point of view, it would be absurd to leave so savoury a prey to such
wretches, such contemptible heathens as the Shillooks. No sooner did
the thought strike them than a dozen soldiers jumped into the boat
belonging to their diahbeeah, landed, ran in amongst the natives,
and, seizing the rope by which they were hauling the hippopotamus
ashore, proceeded, in their turn, to tow the beast in the direction
of the flotilla.

The Shillooks at once gave vent to fearful yells; some rushed off to
the village for reinforcements, others beat the drum for assistance,
and, from all points of the compass, shoals of natives, club in hand
and canoe on back, appeared in sight, as if by enchantment.

The Nubians had, by this time, regained their boat. They had taken
the hippopotamus in tow, and were on the point of reaching their
diahbeeah, when more than a hundred canoes, placed in the water with
inconceivable rapidity, in a solid, compact mass, forming, as it
were, a single raft, and manned by a crowd of infuriated natives,
brandishing their arms and shrieking for vengeance, advanced against
the Franco-Egyptian flotilla.

The expenditure of a few rounds of ammunition would have done for the
Shillooks, notwithstanding their numbers. Nothing would have been
easier, either, than to run the "Khedive" full steam ahead right into
the middle of the canoes. But though such an act of barbarity might
find favour in some eyes, it was repulsive, not only to the
Europeans, but also to the Egyptian Commander, seeing that the
natives had not attacked until after provocation on the part of the
Nubian soldiers.

M. de Morin, who had been watching the turn of events from his boat,
now thought it high time to interfere. Telling his rowers to pull
alongside the boat occupied by the escort, he took hold of a hatchet
and, without further ado, cut the rope by which the hippopotamus was
being towed. The Shillooks stopped at once, and, forgetting all about
their intended revenge, only thought of regaining the spoil they had
so nearly lost.

Restitution having been thus made, M. de Morin bethought himself of
another necessary duty. He accordingly made for the vessel to which
the Nubians had just returned, grumbling and rather ashamed of their
failure. He called Nassar, reprimanded him sharply for having allowed
his men to attempt such an act of robbery, and ordered the immediate
administration, in his presence, of ten lashes with the cat-o'-nine-tails
to the back of each of the five men who had been the first to
quit their vessel. At this time, on the eve of the departure of the
Egyptian man-of-war, when the expedition was about to be left to its
own resources, it was of the greatest importance, for the safety of
all, to impose strict discipline on the escort, and to make it
perfectly clear that the power of punishment was vested in the
Europeans.

M. de Morin's firmness produced an excellent effect on all these men,
who are just as ready to bite the hand that pats them as they are to
lick the one that strikes them, provided always that the striker is
possessed of assured force and incontestable authority. The white man
rose a hundred degrees in the estimation of the negroes, and became
at once, in their eyes, the veritable chief of the caravan.

The flotilla now resumed its voyage up stream. Throughout the day the
town of Fashoda, the extreme limit of Egyptian rule, had been in
sight, and our travellers were now entering a new region, Negro-land
proper.

On the following day the expedition passed the mouth of the river
Sobat, latitude 9°21'14' north, and a few miles farther on reached
the Bahr Giraffe, a small river entering the Nile, between the Sobat
and the Bahr-el-Gazal. Some hours later they came to the last-named
river, and up it the Europeans, adhering strictly to their programme,
had to make their way, leaving the Egyptian steamer to continue on
her course up the White Nile as far as Gondokoro.

After having taken a cordial leave of the Commander of the "Khedive,"
of whom they could not speak too highly, Madame de Guéran and her
companions went on board the vessel set apart for their use. The tow-ropes
were cast off, the diahbeeahs hoisted their huge sails, and the
European expedition, unsupported and unprotected, obliged to rely
upon its own resources, veered off, under a parting salute from the
guns of the "Khedive."

CHAPTER V.

Serious difficulties and obstacles without number were destined to
present themselves on the very first day, as if to warn the
travellers that two courses alone were open to them—either to retrace
their steps whilst there was yet time, or to nerve themselves to the
accomplishment of their perilous undertaking.

The Gazelle River, or Bahr-el-Gazal, up which they were sailing,
bears no resemblance to the Nile. The latter, above Khartoum, is a
majestic stream, increasing in volume as its sources are approached.
Its banks are occasionally encumbered with floating plants, but a
powerful current runs through their midst, and leaves a superb
passage way, often quite free and clear, to the vessels which
navigate it. The Gazelle River, on the contrary, resembles a huge
marsh, whose waters appear to lie stagnant and overgrown by
vegetation. A passage has to be made, at the cost of extreme and
tedious exertion, through a narrow channel, amidst a mass of
nenuphars, dense papyrus rushes, and small plants, called "selt,"
which choke every opening, close up every crevice, and, so to speak,
bind one obstacle to another.

Mdlle. Tinne, in 1863, Schweinfurth, in 1869, and Baker, in 1870, had
already been stopped by this vegetable barrier, and the expedition of
1873 met with similar difficulties. At length the flotilla was
utterly unable to move ahead, in spite of a favourable wind and the
power of the huge sails.

Then the escort, the fifty bearers, and the adult negroes, who had
been rescued by the Egyptian steamer, had to leave the boats, plunge
waist-high in the marsh, lay hold of long ropes, and drag each vessel
along by sheer force, one after the other. MM. de Morin, Périères,
and Delange were anxious to lend a band, but, like Louis XIV., whose
grandeur kept him on shore, they were confined to their vessel by the
fear of losing caste in the eyes of the negroes, who, looking down
upon manual labour, hold in slight esteem any white man who is
imprudent enough to put himself on a par with them and share their
work.

The trio were, nevertheless, obliged to join them, not to help, but
to rescue them. These marshes, or floating islets, and all this
luxuriant vegetation, serve as haunts, or cover, for herds of
hippopotami and countless crocodiles. As a rule, the shouting and
singing of the blacks, and the encouraging voices of those on board
the boats, drive away all these creatures, which could be seen
hurrying off towards the dense thickets, where their instinct told
them they would be safe. But it occasionally happened that one of
them, sound asleep on his bed of roses, would suddenly emerge from
the middle of a brake, and show signs of attacking the strangers who
were venturesome enough to intrude on his domain. Then one of the
three Parisians, or, sometimes, all three together, roused by the
shouts of the terrified blacks, would leave their vessel, and advance
against the common enemy. The struggle was never very prolonged, for
the crocodiles, though their ferocity is very great, invariably take
to flight when attacked in earnest.

Though these incidents of the voyage, the sudden disembarkation and
hurried chase, made the time pass quickly enough for most of the
travellers, the trusty Joseph did not appear to appreciate them. His
master, in order to give him something to do and prevent his growing
so fat as to present later on a toothsome morsel for some cannibal,
had decided that he should take part in all the excursions, to carry
the spare rifles and ammunition.

Having thus taken the field, Joseph found himself compelled to wade
through the marshes, struggle against the too importunate rushes, and
advance against the crocodiles, and with a very bad grace he
submitted, much to the amusement of Miss Beatrice Poles. The
unfortunate man, nevertheless, really deserved commiseration. His
white skin and soft flesh excited the curiosity and the appetite, not
only of the crocodiles (which would not have been very dangerous,
seeing that M. de Morin was at hand to defend his servant), but of
the leeches, green flies, and tiger mosquitoes which abound in the
districts watered by the Bahr-el-Grazal. The leeches were the
principal offenders, audaciously making their war inside his leggings
and inflicting many a bleeding wound. The poor fellow began to find
out that he was paying rather a high price in advance for his lovely
slave girls and elephants' tusks.

Whilst Joseph groaned and removed from his calves some obstinate
leech which, never having tasted so succulent a dish, persisted in
its endeavours to continue its repast, Madame de Guéran, Miss Poles,
and their three companions, their work over for the day, reclined on
board their boat, dragged onward by three hundred arms, and gazed at
the surrounding scenery.

It is impossible to give any adequate idea of these strange regions,
and it is difficult to realize that you are sailing in a river or on
board ship. You are induced to think that you are on _terra firma_,
in a vast plain watered by rivulets, and interspersed with pools and
insignificant lakes. The sun finds a mirror in all these waters and
lends additional splendour to massive stems, to flowers of every hue,
to plants of every kind, revelling in a perpetual bath, to nenuphars
red, white and blue, and to magnificent thickets of the papyrus,
which raise their crowns twenty feet above the surrounding flood.

Round these stems, large as sugar canes, were fastened at nightfall
the ropes which secured the flotilla. The darkness prevented any
further attempt to carve out a passage along the narrow channel, and
it would have been simply inhuman to leave the crowd of haulers in
the midst of a dense vegetation when at each step they ran the risk
of being lost to view.

CHAPTER VI.

At sunrise MM. Périères and de Morin gave the order to move on, but
the escort, bearers, and slaves all remained motionless. They were
seated on deck, huddled together, inert, and deaf to all commands.

M. Périères summoned one of the Nubians, who had been appointed to
the post of overseer, and told him to take one of the drums which
hung on the mast and give such a roll on it that the meaning of the
signal could not be mistaken.

The man obeyed, but the noise did not produce any visible effect on
those on board the neighbouring boats. They, one and all, remained
perfectly silent and passive.

Then the two young men, in astonishment and something akin to alarm,
despatched the Nubian in search of Nassar, who turned up in a few
moments in a state of exasperation.

"What is the matter?" asked M. de Morin, curtly.

"The matter is," replied the guide, "that our men refuse to tow the
boats as they did yesterday."

"Why?"

"The escort say that they were engaged to protect you and to defend
you in case of attack, but not to do any hauling work."

"And their companions—what do they say?"

"Much the same; they were engaged as bearers, and nobody has a right
to make them do anything in connection with the boats."

"They have no other motives for their refusal to work than these?"

"They pretend also that they were hurt yesterday by the 'om-souf,'
and they do not care about exposing themselves to it any more."

This is the Arabic name given to a plant covered with spines which
lacerate the flesh and draw blood.

"Anything else?" asked M. de Morin.

"Yes; they state that to-day they will be in greater danger still if
they push on through the marshes, because the hippopotami and
crocodiles have neared us during the night, and surround us on all
sides."

"And what have you done to overcome the insubordination of your men?"

"I have threatened them and beaten them; but they refuse to obey."

"It is a planned thing, then?"

"Yes; I fear it is a regular plot."

"Very well," exclaimed M. de Morin. "We shall never reach our
journey's end if I do not bring these people to reason at once."

And, so saying, he went in the direction of a temporary bridge
connecting his own boat with that of the escort.

M. Périères stopped him.

"My dear fellow," said he, "I beg of you not to do anything until you
have heard what I have to say. Our guide appears to possess great
influence over these men, who, as a rule, both fear and obey him. If,
in spite of the reproofs which he has administered, the blows which
he has struck, they persist in their disobedience, it shows that the
plot is a serious business. We must put an end to it, of course; in
that I am entirely with you. But do not let us waste our strength, I
beg of you. What were you going to do? Give an order to crack the
ringleader's skull, in case of resistance? We shall, no doubt, be
reduced to that extremity some day, but, possibly, just now, we might
find some other method of intimidation."

"Do you know of any?" asked M. de Morin.

"I think I do. Will you let me try it?"

"With all the pleasure in life. I do not care about killing anybody;
I only insist, in the common interest, upon being obeyed."

"And so you shall—I answer for it."

M. Périères called Nassar, who had discreetly withdrawn, and asked
him at what hour the men usually breakfasted.

"At seven o'clock," answered the guide.

"Where are their rations for this morning?"

"On the overseer's boat. They are now getting ready the durra and the
meat you promised them yesterday as a reward for their exertions."

"Very well. Tell the cooks to suspend operations. Neither the escort
nor the bearers shall eat to-day until they have worked. It is of no
use telling them so beforehand; go back to them and let them rest at
their ease."

About an hour after this conversation a certain amount of animation
was visible amongst the Nubians, who began to yawn and stretch
themselves, some even exerting themselves to the extent of standing
upright. Their appetites returned, and very soon, as the wild beasts
in a menagerie become restless on the approach of feeding time, so
all the negroes took to walking about and turning their longing eyes
towards the overseer's boat, where their daily breakfast was usually
prepared.

But the hour passed, the mists of the morning were dissipated by the
burning rays of the sun, and still no breakfast made its appearance.

Then, both soldiers and bearers began to grumble, and growl, and
gesticulate, and the boldest, or the hungriest man amongst them went
up to Nassar, who was seated in a corner, tranquilly smoking his
pipe, and opened the proceedings.

"We are hungry," said he.

"Well, eat," replied the guide, puffing away at his pipe.

"We cannot, because no one has brought us our breakfast."

"That is because there is no one to bring it to you. See if you can
find somebody."

The black went and told his comrades what the guide had said.

"He is right," exclaimed a chorus of voices.

A dozen Nubians were selected by their comrades and despatched as
envoys extraordinary. They speedily gained the overseer's boat, and
went with timid, hesitating steps towards the cook-house and
provision store, but stopped in dismay on seeing that both these
places were hermetically closed.

After noting their disappointment, M. Périères joined them in a
casual sort of way, and asked them what they meant by coming on board
without being sent for.

"We came," murmured one of them, "in search of our breakfast."

"What breakfast?" asked the Frenchman, with an air of astonishment.
"You are no longer in my service, and, consequently, I am not bound
to feed you."

Light now began to dawn on their understandings.

"My friends and I," resumed M. Périères—the interpreter, Ali,
translating his words—"agreed to share our provisions with you,
because we hoped by to-morrow to reach the Nuehr territory, and soon
afterwards the Meshera of Rek. But you refuse to tow the boats, and
as we are in consequence threatened with a prolonged sojourn here, we
shall keep our provisions to ourselves. If you make up your minds to
work you shall have your dinner, but you will get no breakfast to-day.
Go and tell your comrades what I have said, and do not come near
me again unless I send for you."

The Nubians left the boat with a very downcast air, and went to give
an account of their interview. A good deal of murmuring and shouting
ensued, but at length all the blacks, soldiers and bearers, persuaded
by the common-sense portion of the community, and, above all, acted
on by their empty stomachs, plunged into the marsh, seized the tow
ropes, and began to haul away with a will.

Two hours afterwards, M. Périères ordered them on board again, and
there they found awaiting them a substantial repast, with the
additional luxury of a plentiful supply of coffee. Touched by this
delicate attention, and moved still more by the firmness displayed by
the Europeans, the haulers lost no time in resuming their arduous
toil and, towards evening, in spite of the slow rate of progress, the
flotilla reached the Nuehr district.

This numerous tribe, whose territory extends southward of the
Shillook district, resembles its neighbours in manners and customs.
But, if proximity induces resemblance, it also engenders
unconquerable enmity; for, in Africa, the fact of two tribes being
contiguous to each other suffices to breed hatred and warfare between
them. And so it happens that the Nuehrs are of necessity a most
warlike race, ever ready to defend their frontier on the north
against the Shillooks, and on the south against the Dinkas.

As soon as the inhabitants perceived the European fleet they rushed
to their light canoes and brought off goats and sheep in exchange for
ornaments. For a few coloured glass beads, worth about a couple of
francs, M. Delange, who was at the head of the commissariat
department, procured a splendid sheep. Joseph's delight on seeing the
conclusion of the bargain knew no bounds—he had not been deceived,
and soon, very soon, he would set eyes on that country where, for
next to nothing, he could lay in a stock of slaves and ivory.

Notwithstanding all the obstacles to its progress, the flotilla was
not long in reaching the point where the Bahr-el-Arab, a somewhat
important affluent of the Bahr-el-Gazal, joins that river, if,
indeed, such a name can be given to a vast marsh, without current,
and choked with vegetation. Thanks to that junction, the progress of
the boats was accelerated considerably; the rushes became less dense,
and the passage way was enlarged. There was no longer any necessity
to tow the boats; the oars and poles were sufficient to propel them,
and very soon the sails were brought into requisition.

On the following evening the flotilla arrived at the end of its
voyage, Port Rek, a post established in a district belonging to the
Dinka tribe, on an islet surrounded by insalubrious swamps. The
journey by water was over, and the Europeans had now to turn their
attention to the definite formation of a caravan for the purpose of
proceeding by land on their way southwards.

But a whole week elapsed before the Rek traders were able to procure
the large number of bearers required by the expedition, and, in
addition to this, considerable time was consumed in landing all the
baggage, provisions of all kinds, and the articles for barter and
exchange which were on board the boats. All these affairs led to
delay, and to while away their leisure hours and escape from the
pestilential marshes, where so many Europeans have succumbed, our
travellers resolved upon an elephant hunt or two in the
neighbourhood.

CHAPTER VII.

The English Captain, Burton, in one of his works, advances the theory
that the elephant possesses an instinct quite equal to the natural
intelligence, not only of the Africans, but also of numbers of
Europeans. We are, therefore, at liberty to devote a page or two to
an animal created by nature to humiliate us. And, to begin with, it
cannot fail to be a matter of astonishment that the elephant is not
in Africa, as in Asia, trained to the service of man. One reason
given for this contrast is, that the African elephant has so much
more savage a nature than his Asiatic brother, that it is impossible
to tame or train him. This view cannot be seriously entertained for a
moment, seeing that there are plenty of stone carvings and medals to
show that in ancient Egypt, in the time of the Pharaohs, and later
still, under the Roman rule, the elephant was reduced to the
condition of a beast of burden. The real secret of his being useless
is to be found in the sluggish, careless, inert character of the
Arab, Turk, and negro. They would never have patience to await the
complete development of an animal which comes to maturity slowly and
without hurrying itself in the least, by reason of the length of life
allotted to it, for it is admitted that in certain regions the
elephant attains to the patriarchal age of three hundred years. The
commercial spirit and rapacity of the African tribes have also
contributed to convert the elephant into an article of merchandize,
and his strength and often surprising activity are unheeded. The
animal disappears and his ivory alone remains. To procure and supply
the ever insatiable merchants with the number of tusks they require,
and to get in exchange the coveted bracelets and necklets in copper
or iron, the natives organize extensive battues, wholesale
slaughterings, which will soon make the elephant as scarce as was the
mastodon in antediluvian times.

When we reflect that ivory is a luxury, an ornament merely,
prescribed by fashion alone, and even then to a very limited extent,
we cannot help deploring the rapid extinction of one of the noblest
of the animal species bestowed on us by nature, and a feeling of
regret must arise when we think of the fatigue, hardships, and
sufferings undergone by thousands of human beings in order to satisfy
one of the many fanciful tastes of Europe. When we see, in the
boudoir of some fair dame, the ivory-bound prayer book, our
imagination transports us at once to the heart of Africa, and there
we behold long caravans of slaves bending under the weight of the
elephants' tusks with which their oppressors have overloaded them. We
see a hundred tribes ever fighting to enrich themselves at the
expense of their neighbours by means of ivory. We repeat, the greater
part of the internecine wars which are depopulating this part of the
world are caused by the slave and ivory merchants—these two death-dealing
trades are inseparable from and spring out of each other.

But, instead of bestowing any further pity on the African, let us
turn our attention to his cruel battues and the ferocity he shows in
his expeditions against the elephant.

Hunters like Baldwin, the brothers Poncet, Baker, or Cumming, boldly
attack the animal and try to shoot him behind the ear, or in the
shoulder, when, as a rule, he falls in a heap, without pain or
suffering. If they miss, their danger is extreme; the colossus makes
at them, and in open ground the best runners are unable to get away
from him. This fair fight between a man and an enemy of strength and
intelligence is above criticism.

A few natives also risk their lives, and sometimes lose them in the
pursuit; but in battues on a large scale, they enclose the quarry
gradually in a confined area, which they surround by night with a
fencing made by binding the creepers together. Then they summon the
inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, draw near to the
palisading, and endeavour to despatch the enemy with their arrows.
But if the barrier placed in his path is enough to retard his flight,
it is utterly futile against his anger and thirst for revenge.
Frequently he overturns all obstacles, hurls himself against his
assailants, and commits fearful havoc amongst the crowd.

In other districts the hunters on horseback try to tire the elephant
out by driving him before them. As soon as they see that he is
exhausted, one of them makes his appearance right in front of him, to
induce him to start off in pursuit and fix his attention on one
single point. Another dismounts, runs towards the animal, and stabs
him from behind with a lance, made from three to four yards long so
as to reach his vitals. If the elephant is not killed at once the
hunter is at the mercy of his infuriated foe.

But the negroes of Central Africa are, as a rule, too cowardly to run
any such risks, and too lazy to hunt a single animal. Their idea is a
wholesale massacre, a vast hecatomb, where courage does not count,
victory is certain, and the profit considerable.

At the first warning of the presence of a herd of elephants, the men
collect by thousands to the beat of the drum, just as if they were
called upon to defend their country from invasion. They drive their
enemies before them, and the animals eventually take refuge either
amongst the high grass in the plain, or in the forest. Then the
natives set fire to the vegetation, and the elephants soon find
themselves surrounded by a circle of fire and smoke, which gradually
contracts and bars all escape. Suffocated and half-roasted, they die
in horrible agony.

MM. de Morin, Périères, and Delange relied, as far as their elephant
hunt was concerned, on their skill, coolness, and courage alone,
albeit they had not thought themselves called upon to follow the
advice given by Livingstone, who says—"The war-cry of an enraged
elephant sounds in the ear of his foe just like the whistle of a
French locomotive would on that of a man who found himself on the
line without any means of escape. I advise all Nimrods who wish to
experience this hazardous hunting to nerve themselves to it by
standing on a line of rails and there remaining until an approaching
train is only a very short distance from them."

We have already said that Madame de Guéran and Miss Poles, if they
did not intend to hunt, were still bent on accompanying the hunters;
and the two interpreters, with a dozen Dinkas and a like number of
Nubians selected from the escort, made up the party. Nassar was
obliged to remain at Port Rek to attend to the preparations for
departure, and to keep watch over the forty soldiers and the bearers,
old and new, left under his care. It would have been imprudent to
have left these people to themselves during the absence of their
masters, for they would assuredly have picked a quarrel with the
natives, and so have compromised the Europeans.

M. de Morin, assured that his valet would not be of any use during
the excursion, had given him leave of absence, but in the breast of
Joseph a love of ivory triumphed over all idleness and timidity. He
begged that he might be allowed to go, and his master, taking for
devotion what in reality was greed, permitted him to join the
hunters. These latter, all on horseback, not excepting even Miss
Poles, who was, with considerable difficulty, made to understand that
she would delay matters if she went on foot, started about 5 a.m.
After having left the marshes and the banks of the stream, the party
made their way in the direction of a plain on the outskirts of a
forest, where, it was reported, a large number of elephants had taken
up their abode. The natives, informed on the previous evening of the
arrival of the Europeans, hurried to meet them, accompanied by their
sorcerer, each tribe possessing an elephant charmer, who has to be
consulted before any hunt is undertaken. If he says that it cannot
take place without risk, lances, and bows and arrows are laid aside,
and every man betakes himself to his own house. If, on the contrary,
the sorcerer says that the fates are propitious, arms are brandished
valiantly, and the march against the enemy begins. As soon as the
animal is sighted, the charmer addresses him as follows:—"Oh, chief!
we are come to kill you. Oh, chief! like so many others, you are
about to die. The gods have so declared to me this night, and before
the end of the day we shall eat you."

Notwithstanding this magniloquent discourse, the natives, as a rule,
take to flight at the first approach of the huge beast, if he rushes
out into the open and no safe cover is at hand. And this is exactly
what happened at the beginning of the hunt we are about to describe.
Whilst the Europeans were preparing to enter the forest, a loud noise
was heard in the neighbouring thickets, out of which a female
elephant, followed by her young one, emerged almost immediately. The
natives, including the sorcerer, took to their heels at once in all
directions, and left their guests to take care of themselves.

CHAPTER VIII.

The elephant did not appear to be aware of the presence of the
hunters. She was playing with her mammoth baby, about three years
old, flourishing her trunk in evident enjoyment, fanning herself with
her huge ears, and whisking her tail to and fro to show how
thoroughly comfortable she was. When she was tired of these
amusements she drew near a tree, called by the Arabs hegelig, and
appeared to relish highly its fruit, known under the name of _lalôb_.
Her appetite was, no doubt, rather tickled than satisfied, and very
soon she was seen to wend her way towards a swamp, where, after
having gambolled for a short time, she set to work on the seeds of
the papyrus, _souteb_ in Arabic, which the African elephants on the
banks of the Nile prefer even to the _lalôb_.

M. de Morin, as the most experienced sportsman of the community,
assumed the direction of the hunt, and, first of all, warned the
escort not to fire until he gave the word. But a Dinka, more hot-headed
than his comrades, disobeyed him and let fly with his carbine.

The mother at once suspended her repast, raised her head, and tried
to discover her enemy. In that she could not succeed, for an
elephant's sight is defective, though the keenness of their scent
more than makes up for that deficiency. The animal smelt the powder,
and without any hesitation or apparent fear of failure she rushed off
towards the spot whence the shot had been fired, followed by her
baby.

The noise made by an elephant in its angry rush is indescribable; the
earth shakes and trembles beneath the tread of its huge feet. One
might almost imagine that the ground was about to open and display to
view some subterranean volcano, or that thunder was rumbling in the
distance. Every obstacle in the way of this impetuous rush is broken,
crushed, torn up by the roots; the sturdiest plants are destroyed,
the thickets disappear, inequalities become smooth, enormous trees
are sometimes uprooted, and the grain fields of a whole district
ravaged.

The two elephants, large and small, passed close to the Europeans
without paying any attention to them, or even appearing to see them.
They doggedly followed the course they had marked out for themselves,
straight against the invisible foe, whose incautious shot had
announced his presence and betrayed his hiding-place.

All the negroes of the escort set off at full gallop, but the Dinka
hunter, who had most need to flee, had dismounted, and his horse,
alarmed by the shot, had broken loose and was careering over the
plain. The unfortunate black, thrown upon his own resources, made off
with surprising celerity, but, in spite of all his efforts, he was
speedily overtaken. The elephant seized him with her trunk, raised
him in the air, and hurled him to the ground with the evident
intention of trampling him to death. It very seldom happens, indeed,
that the animal we are discussing tramples down his enemy at the
first onset. He prefers to make use of his trunk, as we do of our
arms, and knocks down his antagonist before he proceeds to make an
end of him.

A Nubian, or any other negro would have fallen down, half fainting
and almost dead with fright, at the very feet of the huge assailant.
But the Dinkas, whose courage we have already mentioned, understand
the art of keeping cool under adverse circumstances. The man who,
after having been so roughly lifted up from earth, had fallen on the
ground once more, got up quickly and ran for refuge under the belly
of the baby elephant. The mother, rather taken aback by this novel
mode of procedure, hesitated for a moment, and then very leisurely
seized her prisoner once more, keeping her eyes fixed all the while
very affectionately on her offspring.

The Dinka executed his little manoeuvre a second time, and again he
was removed, but very quietly.

But now the elephant, whose anger appeared to have subsided, became
furious again, and, after lifting the Dinka up again with her trunk,
she swung him to and fro violently in order to stun him and render
him incapable of further flight.

Another moment, and the poor wretch would have been lost.

Suddenly, a shot was fired, and the baby elephant fell.

It was M. Périères who did the deed. Finding it impossible to fire at
the female, without running the risk of killing the man whom she held
straight in front of her, and thinking, justly, that if he merely
wounded her she would only become still more furious and would at
once despatch her victim, he, in sheer despair, fired at the baby to
draw off the attention of its mother.

The stratagem succeeded. In terror and despair the unhappy brute,
instead of crushing the negro beneath her feet, left him to run to
the assistance of her wounded offspring. She bent down to it, went on
her knees, and with her trunk searched along its back and neck for
the wound. Having found it she expelled water from her stomach and
bathed the place. Then, as if she wanted to stop the flow of blood
and close the aperture made by the bullet, she clung to her little
one, holding it close to her, trying to heal its flesh with her own.
At the same time she uttered low plaintive moans, almost human in
sound, and from her eyes, so expressive, though so small, one might
have supposed tears to be falling.

But the little elephant struggled in vain against death. Its body
writhed convulsively, it rolled on to its side, its limbs became
stiff, and life was extinct.

The mother, after a last moan, a more heart-rendering cry than all,
got up suddenly and looked about for vengeance.

The Dinka was still running, but he had already put a considerable
distance between himself and the elephant, and had nearly gained the
forest where he sought a refuge.

Pursuit was useless, and the animal understood that. Perhaps, too,
its marvellous intelligence led it to suppose that the fugitive was
not the only enemy, and that other hunters were lying hidden in the
clearing behind the thickets. These must be found and killed.

Lashing with its trunk in all directions, and trumpeting loudly, its
gaze wandered over the high grass, and at length it made its way
directly towards the spot where Madame de Guéran, Miss Poles, and
their companions still remained.

The danger was becoming imminent and terrible, for the animal was not
thirty paces, distant, when three shots resounded in the air and the
elephant, hit in the shoulder, rolled over.

The hunters then left the brake and advanced cautiously, as they had
been warned to do. Elephants, thought to be dead, have been known to
struggle to their feet, and, with a supreme effort, charge into the
midst of their adversaries, to expire, a moment afterwards, on top of
their mangled and bleeding corpses. But this one was so thoroughly
deprived of life that even Joseph was not afraid to approach it,
after having, first of all, shut his eyes and let fly with his rifle
into space. He did not neglect any precaution, and was determined to
show how brave he could be in face of an enemy incapable of defending
itself.

The natives, on whose ground the hunt took place, had withdrawn to a
convenient distance on the first appearance of the elephant, but they
were not altogether disinterested spectators. Hidden away in all
directions, they followed with their eyes every incident from afar,
and as soon as they saw the huge beast fall, they rushed upon her
from all points of the compass with a celerity quite equal to that
shown by them when running away. In speed they rivalled the kites and
vultures which had scented the prey from on high, and now flew down
from the sky, where a moment before they had been invisible, to share
in the feast.

"I have often," says Schweinfurth, "had occasion to notice a similar
occurrence in a clear sky. Almost as soon as the quarry has fallen,
you may see black specks in the sky increasing gradually in size, and
followed by other specks which become enlarged in an equal ratio.
They come nearer, and their shape can be made out; they are kites,
and vultures, and other birds of prey coming to claim their share of
the spoil. One might almost suppose, with the ancients, that the sky
is divided into several stages, where the birds of prey, ever on the
watch, swoop down from the various regions they occupy, as soon as
they see a tempting morsel below."

Crowding round the elephant and disputing its possession with the
birds of prey, the natives measured the beast they were about to cut
up. It had reached its full development, and was nearly nine feet
high, or almost as tall as the males of the Asiatic species.

Joseph's despair was most ludicrous when he learnt that his masters
were not only going to hand over the body, but also the precious
tusks to the natives. What! did they make so light of those precious
tusks which had appeared to him in all his dreams, and for which he
had given up his beloved Rue Taitbout, his friendships with the
waiters at Tortoni's, his intimacy with the hunter of the Helder, his
professor of Arabic, and his much-appreciated negress? This splendid
ivory, out of which a Parisian shopkeeper would have made such a
handsome profit, which might have been converted so easily into so
many choice articles for the toilet, had been handed over, under his
very eyes, to these wretched niggers, half naked and naturally
ignorant of the use of a clothes-brush and rice-powder. Fortunately,
however, the hunt was not quite over, and there was still hope.

The death of the young elephant, the distress of its mother, and the
sufferings of these intelligent beasts, had made a lively impression
on the hunters and had in some degree moderated their bellicose
ardour. But wonderful tales were told them of the forest lying before
them; they had never penetrated into these vast jungles, where Nature
appears to have launched out into magnificent extravagance; they were
attracted by these gloomy haunts, these mysterious depths, and were
anxious to pay them a visit.

CHAPTER IX.

It was about two o'clock in the afternoon when the explorers entered
the forest, followed by their escort of Nubians and Dinkas, who had
by that time turned up again. Several natives, foregoing all claim to
any share in the defunct elephants, volunteered to act as guides to
the white folk, hoping that the strangers would persevere both in
their successful hunting and their generosity in waiving their right
to the spoil. The forest extended for some ten leagues in a south-easterly
direction, and the marshy nature of the ground, though at
this particular time it was dry enough, had imparted considerable
luxuriance to the vegetation. The acacia, mimosa, tallan, tamarind
and sycamore trees attained a noticeable altitude, and the sterculia,
whose trunk tapers off gradually towards its top, reached a height of
a hundred feet. The intervals between these trees, for the most part
very large, were choked by papyrus tufts growing out of small pools
of water, remnants of the former marsh, by sturdy climbing plants, by
impenetrable patches of high grasses, and by the calamus with its
formidable spines.

The heat beneath this dense foliage was excessive, resembling that of
a hot-house, but the Europeans, lost in admiration of their
surroundings, forgot to complain. For a short time they followed the
course of a species of rivulet, clear as a spring, covered with a
delicate net-work of creepers, and bordered by clumps of the amomum,
with its scarlet fruit and yellow and white flower. The sun's rays
flickered on the foliage and flowers, and sparkled in the rivulet.
Suddenly the scene changed, and they came upon a clearing, rendered
as green as a field in Normandy by the water which disappeared
beneath it, and the leafy shade surrounding it on all sides. The
Europeans and their escort halted here to rest, whilst the negroes
disappeared in the thickets in search of elephant tracks.

After the lapse of half-an-hour, the scouts returned in a state of
great excitement. The majority of them, without paying any attention
to the strangers, fled in all directions towards the largest and
loftiest trees, up which they swarmed with remarkable agility.
Others, more mindful of their duty, ran to their guests, and told
them that a very numerous herd of elephants was making for the
clearing. Some said that there were a score of animals, male and
female; others put the number down at a hundred, and a few went as
far as to say that there were a thousand at least. This habit of
exaggeration amongst the Africans is very curious, and, without
having the faintest notion of arithmetic, they are wonderfully expert
in multiplication. Whilst making due allowance for their
exaggeration, it was nevertheless certain that a tolerably numerous
herd of elephants was approaching the spot selected for a halt.

"I propose," said Delange, "to leave the elephants to their own
devices, and to take to our heels with these people."

"What!" exclaimed Miss Poles, indignantly. "We have the chance of
looking upon a tableau possibly unique, and as soon as the curtain
rises, we are to leave our seats!"

"My dear Miss Poles," said Périères, "allow me to remark that we have
not visited Africa for the express purpose of hunting the elephant.
We have a rather more noble end than that in view, and we have no
right to waste our strength, or expose our lives, until that end has
been attained."

"Nobody mentioned a word about hunting," replied the obstinate
Englishwoman. "I labour under the impression that I am not quite a
fool, and I certainly never dreamt of opposing an army of elephants.
But we may, I imagine, remain here for a few moments without any
risk, and have a look at our visitors. If they seem disposed to
attack us, our horses will very soon carry us out of harm's way."

"It is all very well to say so," replied M. Périères, "but our horses
could never gallop through this underwood; to walk through it would
be as much as they could do just at present. The elephants, on the
contrary, do not care one jot for thickets, trees, or thorns, and
they would overtake us in a second, if they were to take it into
their heads to pursue us."

"Your remarks are so far true, my dear Périères," ^aid M. de Morin,
who up to this time had refrained from giving any opinion, "that I do
not intend to remount, having far more confidence in my own legs than
in those of my steed."

"You are determined to stay here, then?" asked M. Delange.

"Certainly, if Madame de Guéran does not order me to move away."

"I assure you," said the Baroness, "that I should very much like to
issue such an order, but it appears to me that it would be too late.
Our horses are no longer intent on cropping the grass of the
clearing. Their heads are all turned towards one point, their ears
are pricked, and they are trembling in every limb. Their instinct
tells them that a powerful enemy is advancing against them. See! they
are careering off in all directions."

And so it was. The horses left, according to the Arab custom, at
liberty in the clearing, were galloping off.

"There is still time to beat a retreat," said M. Delange. "You know I
am no coward, but in some cases courage is useless."

"Evidently so," added M. Périères.

Madame de Guéran raised her eyes to the last speaker, and in her look
there was something akin to reproach, as if she were annoyed with M.
Périères for siding with the Doctor and declining to face the danger.

She, doubtless, was in that frame of mind which renders women bold.
She was, perhaps, feeling the false position she occupied towards
these two men, both of whom adored her and were yearning to tell her
so, but whose protestations she was bound to repress. She was asking
herself whether the ordeal which she had imposed and they were
undergoing was not beyond both their strength and hers. Possibly she
went so far as to confess to herself that she was in imminent danger,
with a gloomy future before her. Would it not be better for them, for
her, and even for him whom she was anxious to rejoin, that the
situation should be brought to a head without further delay, at that
very moment, in the forest, on the spot where they now were? Why
brave fresh dangers to which they would succumb sooner or later? Was
it not better to die a sudden death in that lovely scene than to
waste away by inches from sickness and fatigue? At all events she
could die now with an easy conscience, without remorse of any sort;
could she answer for it that she would not in the immediate future
have some weakness wherewith to reproach herself, some fault to
deplore?

But all these thoughts we are, in our analytic character, ascribing
to her, and which had, no doubt, occurred to her at some time or
other, could scarcely have crossed her mind at this juncture, for she
had scarcely raised her eyes to M. Périères in silent reproach at his
desire to retreat, when that retreat became an impossibility, and the
current of her ideas was rudely diverted into another channel.

From the other side of the clearing, rather more than two hundred
yards from where the Europeans were standing, a loud, rushing noise
was heard. It resembled the hoarse murmur of a tempestuous sea, the
roaring of the waves, as impelled onwards by wind and tide they break
on the rocks and engulf themselves in some vast cave. A continuous
wail seemed to escape from the forest; the foliage, the very trees
appeared to groan; all nature trembled and quivered in the air;
flocks of birds, roused from their leafy nooks, flew screaming
upwards; a herd of buffaloes, hidden hitherto in the long grass,
sprang up with distended nostrils, and, snorting in alarm, took to
flight with an impetuous rush. At length the earth itself seemed to
tremble under the enormous weight it had to bear, and fifty
elephants, with heads up-reared above the brakes, laying low the
tallest plants, were seen to emerge into the open.

CHAPTER X.

The elephants, apparently, had no idea of the proximity of any
hunters. Lords of the land, monarchs of the country, and accustomed
to see every denizen of the forest flee before them, the lion even
included, for he never attacks them, they could not suspect that when
they were assembled in so numerous a conclave, a few puny human
beings would dare to question their territorial rights.

Having gained the clearing, whither they had wended their way, no
doubt, for the purpose of seeking repose and relaxation, they broke
their ranks, and, without the slightest symptom of fear or suspicion,
they wandered at will in the tall grass. Some sought a green spot
whereon to lie down, whilst others went in search of their wonted
food, the foliage of the mimosa or arrouel, nick-named elephant's
bread. Others, again, stopped wherever there was a pool, and, having
pumped up the water with their trunks, squirted it all over
themselves to wash off the dust and mud of the road, and the
juveniles, infants of about sixty years of age, frisked hither and
thither, flapping their huge ears in token of enjoyment, entwining
their trunks by way of showing their fraternal affection, or chasing
each other in the open.

They made a terrible uproar, but all was silent around them—the
forest was dumb, its denizens had fled, and Nature herself was, as it
were, hushed.

The Europeans, their interpreters, and three men of the escort who
had stood their ground, were huddled together in a small space in the
clearing. Hidden in the tall grass, they were invisible, and no one
spoke; prudence counselled silence, and wonder forbade all speech.
Indeed, the scene which was unfolding itself before their eyes had in
it somewhat of enchantment; those gigantic masses of black moved
about in a sea of verdure, and cast huge shadows on all around; the
rays of the sun lighted up their ebon skins, and imparted a metallic
lustre to them; and their gleaming yellow-white tusks contrasted
vividly with the prevailing, tints of black and green. A serene,
cloudless, deep blue sky spread itself out above the clearing, and,
losing itself in the horizon, formed a magnificent curtain to the
tableau. A species of quivering vapour, to be seen at mid-day in the
tropics, rose from the earth, and rendered hazy the salient points of
the surrounding scenery.

Nevertheless, in spite of their wondering admiration, the torpor
produced by the heated atmosphere, and the powerful perfumes exhaled
from the flowers of the marsh, Madame de Guéran and her companions
began to be seriously alarmed. The circular space, limited enough to
begin with, in which the elephants were revelling in ease and
enjoyment, grew wider and wider; one half of the plain,
notwithstanding its large extent, was already occupied, and the
pioneers of the herd, daring spirits, were straying in all directions
and drawing every moment nearer to the Europeans.

"We have seen all we want to see," whispered M. Delange. "There is
nothing to keep us here any longer. Suppose we go."

"My curiosity is satisfied, and I agree with you," said Miss Poles,
in her most subdued voice. "But the noise we shall make in breaking
through this tall grass on our way to the forest will attract the
attention of the elephants. They will make for us, if only out of
curiosity, and will trample us to death with the greatest ease."

"The same fate awaits us," replied M. Delange, "if we stay where we
are. These animals are taking possession of the whole clearing by
degrees, and in a very short time will reach us."

"Let us drive them away," said M. de Morin, getting close to his
friends.

They all in silence questioned him by a look, for none of them saw
his drift.

"We have nine guns in our possession," resumed M. de Morin, "without
counting the two revolvers in the ladies' hands. That is more than we
need to get rid of these unfortunate visitors."

"What do you mean? Do you want us to attack fifty elephants of their
calibre?" exclaimed M. Delange. "It would be madness."

"Who said anything about attacking them? I only want to frighten
them. We will fire in the air, and I will lay any wager you like that
they will all take to flight."

"And if they fly in our direction?"

"Impossible. The first impulse of all animals, whatever they be, is,
when they are alarmed, to rush off by the way that they came."

A consultation, _sotto voce_, was held for some moments, but the
enemy drew nearer and nearer, and as retreat was out of the question,
seeing that it would have led to a pursuit, it was resolved that the
advice of M. de Morin should be followed.

At a given signal the nine rifles and two revolvers were
simultaneously fired in the air.

The elephants raised their heads, ceased their gambols, and,
collecting themselves together in haste, formed in a mass at one spot
in the clearing, and appeared to deliberate.

A momentary pause, a terrible suspense for the hunters, ensued. They
were lost, condemned to death without the power of appeal, crushed in
an instant, if the enemy resolved to charge and the living avalanche
should burst forth in their direction.

Whilst they thus awaited the verdict of death or acquittal, the
bravest hearts quailed. The three young men, despite all their
courage, turned pale. Miss Poles clung to M. Delange, as if resolved
to die with him. Madame de Guéran was, perhaps, the only one who
trembled not.

The interpreter and soldiers were lying flat on the ground, making
themselves as small as possible, so as to pass unseen, whilst Joseph,
anthematizing the superfluous flesh which frustrated all attempts at
invisibility, fell on his knees, with arms outstretched and eyes
upraised to Heaven.

Suddenly, one of the elephants, the Nestor of the herd, the most
experienced and most respected, forced a passage through the midst of
his companions, and made off towards the forest. The others followed
him.

The danger was disappearing, and M. de Morin triumphed.

Two of the beasts, however, of apparently energetic and independent
character, declined to follow the example of their comrades.
Possibly, they had already become acquainted with fire-arms, or had
had some previous encounter with hunters, and wanted to pay off an
outstanding score, to satiate a resuscitated longing for vengeance—
who can tell? They not only declined to flee, but they looked round
about attentively, whisking their trunks to and fro after a very
menacing fashion, and giving utterance to shrill trumpetings.

They were two magnificent males, about ten feet high, and armed with
gigantic tusks. After having looked all round the clearing, and at
the moment when the Europeans, expecting to see them rush towards
their hiding place, had taken a careful aim, and were preparing to
fire, the huge beasts bent their steps towards a large mimosa, which
grew about a hundred yards from the spot where the hunters were.

When they got to the foot of the tree they stopped, reaching up with
their trunks, and endeavouring to crop the foliage. In this they
could not succeed, for the mimosa was more than thirty feet high, and
its branches only commenced to shoot out from its top.

Then were heard their screams of rage, echoed by cries of terror,
which were uttered by one of those blacks who, half-an-hour
previously, had announced the approach of the enemy and had fled in
all directions. The unfortunate man had taken refuge in the mimosa,
and the two elephants had just discovered him.

When they saw that their trunks would not reach the foliage, they
decided upon uprooting the tree, and, thanks to their marvellous
instinct, they set about one of those extraordinary operations, of
which Jules Poncet, the famous elephant hunter, was a frequent
witness. One of them went down on his knees at the foot of the
mimosa, buried his tusk in the ground amongst the roots, as if he
were placing a battering ram in position there, and slowly raised his
massive head, his comrade, meanwhile, encircling the stem with his
trunk, shaking it violently, and dragging it by degrees towards
himself.

A few seconds sufficed to bend down the gigantic tree, and with it
fell the man, who, if indeed he breathed after his terrible fall, was
destined to inevitable death beneath the feet of his enemies.

The Europeans could no longer remain passive; they took aim, and
fired simultaneously. Every shot told, but not one was mortal.

In fact, except from the streams of blood which flowed from their
wounds, it was impossible to discover that they were hit, for they
continued their work, without turning towards the hunters, but
uttering all the time shrill and prolonged screams.

Then MM. de Morin and Périères unhesitatingly advanced a few yards
into the open and fired a second time.

The elephant, whose trunk was round the tree, fell in a heap with a
bullet in his breast. The other, whose tusk was buried amongst the
mimosa roots, made a supreme effort, and, the tree, uprooted, after
having described a circle in the air, fell on the ground.

Then the enraged animal, now free to work his will, rushed with
uplifted trunk to the top of the fallen tree, and, ransacking the
foliage, seized the negro and crushed him beneath his feet.

But his rage was not appeased, and now it was directed towards the
Europeans.

MM. Périères and de Morin, as soon as they saw that the negro was
dead, rejoined Madame de Guéran, and ceased firing, wishing to keep
their cartridges to defend themselves and make a last attempt to
conquer their almost invulnerable enemy.

The animal had turned once more toward the hunters, whom the high
grass, now trampled down, no longer hid from his view. His body, once
black as ebony, had become red; the blood welled from out his wounds,
and, after coursing down his limbs, trickled on the grass of the
clearing, and formed a rivulet of blood. His ears, cut to ribands by
the bullets, lay flat along his body. His trunk alone had escaped,
but he was incessantly touching his wounds with it, as if to stanch
them and ease his pain, and each time he withdrew it it was covered
with blood. His shrill trumpetings awoke the echoes of the forest,
and must have struck terror into the inhabitants of it. At length,
with a terrible scream, more appalling than all the others, he rushed
towards the spot where the Europeans had taken refuge.

They fired their last remaining cartridge.

The elephant stopped, appeared to waver for an instant, and then
resumed his course.

CHAPTER XI.

When, a quarter of an hour previously, the first elephant had been
seen to fall, and the second, bent on vengeance, had continued his
work of uprooting the tree, MM. Périères and de Morin had
imperatively ordered their companions to take to flight, and scatter
themselves in the forest or the clearing. The Arab interpreter and
the Dinka soldiers obeyed him; as for Joseph, he had anticipated his
master's orders. M. Delange was desirous of remaining with his
friends, but he had been made to understand that, as he was rather a
bad shot, his rifle would be of more use in the hands of M. Périères
or M. de Morin. In addition to this, if he refused to take himself
off. Miss Beatrice Poles, who for the time being appeared inclined to
exhibit a marked preference for him, would be loth to leave him, and
it was necessary to get rid of her. This coquettish Englishwoman had,
in order to make a startling impression on the colour-loving blacks,
for some days past endued herself in a skirt of brilliant red, to
which, by way of contrast, she had added the bluest of blue veils,
and as the African elephant, like the bull of Spain, is driven wild
with rage by garments of too vivid a hue, M. Delange, at the earnest
request of his friends, and for the common safety, including that of
the intrepid Miss Poles herself, withdrew with her to a convenient
distance.

Madame de Guéran alone declined positively to seek safety in flight,
and expressed her determination to share the fate of MM. de Morin and
Périères. She maintained that she had no right to leave them in the
hour of danger, and she affected to believe, with some show of
reason, that they would defend themselves all the better if they had
at the same time to protect her.

Consequently Madame de Guéran and her two friends, alone, were
exposed to the elephant's attack. Notwithstanding his numerous
wounds, the animal came impetuously on, and his strength did not
appear to be failing him. As for his rage, it knew no bounds.

MM. de Morin and Périères, as we have already said, had fired away
their last cartridge, and all they had to do now, as the time for
flight was past and gone, was to await the onslaught of the elephant,
as calmly as they could, trusting to their hunting knives to rid them
of their assailant.

Laura de Guéran, whom they had placed between them, stood motionless
and calm, her mouth half open, and her eyes fixed firmly on the
advancing foe. She was marvellously lovely at that moment, and her
two champions, in spite of the fact that death was staring them in
the face, could not help looking at her with admiration. They seemed
as if they were enjoying the prospect of dying by the side of her
they loved, hand in hand, their eyes fixed on her's, joined to her in
death.

The elephant rushed straight on, without wavering or deviating from
his course, and already his three victims were flecked with the blood
which he tossed into the air with his trunk, and which fell like rain
drops in front of him. He no longer appeared to their affrighted eyes
to belong to this world. He was some nameless monster, some
supernatural mammoth, against whom mortals could not contend.

Suddenly the ground shook beneath them, as if struck by an enormous
mass of rock which, loosened from a neighbouring mountain, had rolled
impetuously down and buried itself at their feet.

The elephant, weakened by loss of blood, mortally wounded by the last
shots fired at him, and, for some moments past, sustained merely by
his angry rage, had fallen prone to the ground, at the very instant
when his vengeance was on the point of being satisfied. For a moment
Madame de Guéran, M. Périères, and M. de Morin remained almost in a
state of stupefaction. Death had been so near to them that they
doubted the fact of their own existence. It seemed impossible that
they could have been saved so miraculously, and yet they were alive.
And there, too, lay their enemy, so formidable, not a moment since,
but now powerless, motionless, dead. His screams no longer filled the
air, his tread no longer shook the ground, his life-blood was running
in streams on the ground, and already formed an ensanguined pool
around the Europeans.

And now, from all sides, there was a general rush to rejoin them and
wish them joy of their deliverance, Miss Poles and M. Delange being
the first to arrive. Notwithstanding the entreaties of MM. de Morin
and Périères, they had not gone far away, but had halted in a
neighbouring thicket, ready to die in their turn, if the elephant had
sacrificed his first victims.

The fears she had entertained for her own safety and that of her
companions, and her _tête-à-tête_ with M. Delange, at a time when
their hearts were stirred with no ordinary emotion, had, as it were,
softened Miss Poles. Her step was not so determined, her long neck
had lost its stiffness, and her head was inclined towards the Doctor,
ready to find a resting-place on his shoulder. Her very look, toned
down by her blue spectacles, had in it somewhat of languor and
indecision, as if she were regretting that she had once more returned
to earth, instead of having taken to herself wings to fly with M.
Delange to realms above.

The hunting party was once more complete, with the sole exception of
Joseph, who had not answered to the summons to reassemble. Where had
he hidden himself? That was a question which nobody could answer. He
could not have taken refuge in the depths of the forest; he was too
great a coward for that. Had he sought an asylum in some tree? That
hypothesis was scouted at once, for his corpulence, and his absolute
incapacity for anything approaching to agility, put any such
gymnastic exercises out of the question.

For ten minutes he was shouted for in all directions, and real fears
for his safety were making themselves felt, when he appeared,
looking, for all the world, as if he were a victim to St. Vitus's
dance, practising the most extraordinary contortions, raising his
arms, only to let them fall again, and beating his shoulders, his
chest, his legs, and even his too conspicuous stomach. Every now and
then he gave himself a violent shake, just as a dog does when he
comes out of the water. There was, nevertheless, no sign of damp
about him; his white blouse looked perfectly dry; only it was dotted
over with reddish blotches, which moved about and seemed alive. Not
content with this gymnastic frenzy, he uttered a series of agonizing
cries, not quite so terrible as those of the elephants, but far more
shrill and discordant.

A general rush was made towards him, and it was then seen that he was
being eaten alive by an army of red ants, the plague of Africa. They
were swarming all over him, in knots or clusters, finding their way
even into his beard and hair. They settled on his face, in his ears,
crept down his neck and under his clothes, and, not satisfied with
mere curiosity, were biting him viciously, tearing his flesh, and
burying themselves in his skin.

When, an hour previously, he had run away, he did not know what
direction to take. He was afraid of the forest because it was so
dark, he dreaded the thickets on account of the thorns, and he
shirked the long grass as not offering a refuge sufficiently sure. He
was running here and there, having completely lost his head, when he
caught sight of a hillock, about a yard high and three yards broad,
near a tree. Towards this he plunged, head downwards, thinking, like
the ostrich, that if he hid his head nobody would see him. Moreover,
he thought he would be completely concealed behind the hillock, but,
alas! as soon as he set foot on it it gave way, as if it were liquid,
and in an instant Joseph disappeared from view.

He had, unfortunately, stumbled on one of those extensive ant hills
which abound in the forests, in the midst of the high grass and
always at the foot of a tree. All those who have travelled in
equatorial Africa complain of these ants, of which there are some
twenty species. Livingstone says that they do not know what fear is,
and that they attack all animals, large and small, with equal fury.
The Marquis de Compiégne, who died recently at Cairo, calls them
_bashikouais_, and says that their nippers are like the hooks used in
gudgeon fishing, and that they bite so viciously that, as a rule,
their bodies alone can be pulled away; their heads remain in the
wound.

Happily for Joseph the majority of the blacks are very partial to
these termites. They fry or boil them, mixing them with grains of
durra or eleusine, and eat them out of the palms of their hands with
the greatest gusto. Consequently, the natives seized on Joseph with
the double object of ridding him of his enemies and appeasing their
own appetites. They carried their courtesy so far as to drag M. de
Morin's valet behind a tree and strip him, first of all shaking out
his clothes, and then reaping a second harvest from off his body. The
spoil was then collected in a basket and reserved for the evening
meal.

But night was coming on apace. It was absolutely necessary to gain
the edge of the forest with all speed and seek a resting place for
the night, and so the Europeans, preceded by their escort, set out on
their return.

CHAPTER XII.

Towards seven o'clock they reached a village where shelter was
offered them, and after a meal, of which the elephants killed during
the day formed the standing dish, they were glad to seek repose in a
tolerably roomy hut, placed at their disposal by the chief of the
district.

Joseph was the only one who did not pursue this course of inaction.
He could not console himself for not being able to take back with him
to France, at all events as a trophy or souvenir of the hunt in which
he had taken so active a part, the tusks of the elephant which had
been handed over to the blacks. So, as soon as his masters had
retired within their dwelling, made of wood and branches of trees, he
set out in search of the interpreter Omar, and asked him to act as
his agent in coming to some agreement with the natives. He offered
them, in exchange for the longed-for tusks, five copper bracelets and
some necklets of red pearls, with which he had taken care to provide
himself.

The natives, after consulting together, declined both pearls and
bracelets, but said that they would swop their tusks for guns. They
had, during the day, arrived at a just appreciation of the power of
fire-arms, and they hoped, with their aid, to become masters of the
forest, to destroy the elephants wholesale, and thus to attain to
speedy wealth. Joseph clinched the bargain, and it was agreed that if
they brought the coveted tusks to the Meshera at Rek, he would hand
over the guns they asked for. He had bought in Paris, for about ten
francs a piece, a dozen old muskets, and he did a capital stroke of
business, seeing that each tusk represented to him an average value
of five hundred francs. Elated with the success of his first
commercial speculation, he betook himself to rest, after having been
rubbed all over with palm oil as a cure for the bites which the ants
had inflicted on him.

On the following day the little band re-entered Port Bek, where
Nassar had taken advantage of their absence to complete the caravan
by engaging about a hundred and fifty bearers belonging to various
tribes. These men were, for the most part, fine, stalwart fellows,
between twenty and thirty years of age. Round the waist they wore a
strip of calico, and the rest of their bodies was covered with
ornaments of all sorts, brass, copper, ivory, and iron, the Nubians
also wearing on their breasts amulets in the shape of small leathern
bags, in which were placed some of the precepts of the Koran. In
addition to these appendages each man carried a knife, a small
scimitar, a bag containing his allowance of grain, and the wooden
stool used for a seat, for the natives of the greater portion of the
black continent never condescend to sit on the ground. As a rule
these caravans are encumbered with a crowd of women, slaves or free,
brought by the soldiers and bearers; but Nassar had, by a display of
great firmness, curtailed this following to the narrowest limits, a
few Soudan women alone having obtained permission to join their
companions from Khartoum.

The caravan left Port Rek on the 14th February, 1873, and formed an
imposing line of about three hundred and fifty persons, distributed
in the following manner:—At the head marched Nassar, the guide,
clothed, according to his own particular fancy, in a sort of scarlet
tunic, and wearing a pair of huge leather boots, which were a source
of great pride to him, although, from his not being accustomed to
their use, they were productive of considerable inconvenience. These
boots were the admiration of all the negroes, and contributed, in no
slight degree, to inspire them with profound respect for the guide.
With his head in the air, surmounted by a plume, and a set expression
on his face, he looked as if he were about to pose as a _cavalier
seul_ in a quadrille at a masked ball. In one hand he carried a
carbine, and in the other the banner of the caravan, ornamented with
a crescent and certain precepts of the Koran inscribed thereon in red
letters. It would be vain for any European to attempt, in certain
regions of Africa, to unfurl his national flag; the Nubians would
refuse to follow him. They have no objection to serve a Christian,
but on the express condition that they shall be protected by the
standard of Islam.

Musicians marched on either side of the guide, beating their drums,
clanging their cymbals, or clumsily blowing their cracked trumpets.
This music, barbarous enough to European ears, is full of sweetness
to the negroes. Baker says, in one of his works, that any traveller
who would play persistently on the cornet, could traverse in perfect
safety the whole of Central Africa. If he could go to the
extravagance of a barrel organ, furnished with the entire repertoire
of the Bouffes or the Renaissance, he would assuredly be followed by
an enthusiastic crowd, and, protected by this dancing, ever-changing
escort, he would be able to pass through the most hostile districts.

Behind the band came the soldiers, about forty in number, the
remaining ten forming the rear-guard. Although they were innocent of
boots, they marched as proudly as Nassar, gun on shoulder and lance
in hand. They did not keep any sort of order, but constantly left the
ranks, at the same time affecting to hold no communication whatever
with the black bearers, whom they look upon as inferior beings.

Between the soldiers and the bearers a space was reserved for the
Europeans, all of whom were on horseback, except Miss Beatrice Poles,
whose prodigious feet resumed their wonted office, and Joseph, who
was mounted on a donkey. A species of palanquin on two poles, and
carried by four men, was set apart for Madame de Guéran, but it was
very rarely that she made use of it. She was too energetic and active
to ensconce herself under the mosquito curtains of this travelling
bed. On horseback or on foot, she went from one point to another,
hastening the onward march, giving advice to one and encouragement to
another, asking after the health of some woman who appeared to walk
with difficulty, interposing when any quarrelling was going on, and
rendering herself of use to all. Thanks to this activity of mind and
body, she did not notice that the caravan, as is usual, advanced at a
rate not exceeding from two miles and a half to three miles an hour,
and that in a mild atmosphere and with easy loads.

The servants followed their masters. First of all came the two
interpreters, Omar and Ali, on horseback like their employers,
because their assistance might be needed at any moment. To these
succeeded the attendants of both sexes, Arabs, Nubians, and others
hailing from Khartoum and the Soudan, laden with clothes, guns,
ammunition, boxes of medicines, and eatables for their masters and
mistresses. The Soudan girls, young and pretty, and dressed in red
and white tunics, presented to them by Madame de Guéran, formed a
picturesque and charming battalion by themselves. They did not appear
to feel the weight of their burdens, for from time to time they
turned a side-long glance on MM. Périères and de Morin, handsome men
both, and to them the very incarnation of manly beauty. But these
cavaliers, when not riding on in front, were ever close to Madame de
Guéran, and they had no eyes for anybody else. So the fair damsels of
the Soudan contented themselves with ogling M. Delange, who, braving
the sighs and nudges of Miss Poles, returned their laughing glances
with interest.

The bearers, properly so called, hired partly at Khartoum, but
principally at Fort Rek, inarched next, two by two when the path was
narrow, but any way they pleased when there was more room. These
carried the bulk of the baggage, including all the various articles
destined for presents or as payment for provisions, all of which were
under the special charge of M. Delange.

Then came some Nubian women, and about a score of juvenile blacks, to
whom were entrusted the care of the cattle, purchased from the
Baggaras and used as beasts of burden until the necessity should
arrive for converting them into food. This necessity, it was hoped,
was far distant, for other animals there were none, except the horses
and Joseph's donkey, and these might succumb to the climate at any
moment. In that case the Europeans, if tired or sick, would be only
too glad to get on the back of some complaisant bullock or amiable
cow.

Last of all came ten soldiers of the escort, taken according to a
roster from the company in front. These formed the rear-guard, whose
duty it was to hurry on the laggards and prevent desertions. This
latter evil is especially to be feared in case of meeting with a
caravan returning from the interior towards the Nile. The African is
passionately attached to his native soil, and notwithstanding the
loss of the promised wages and the certainty of punishment, he is
frequently seized with the desire to abandon his masters on the
onward march, and turn back with the new-comers for the purpose of
regaining his home as soon as possible. During the night there are no
desertions, for fear of wild beasts and especially of Zomby, the
"bogey" of the blacks, but in the day-time a cleft in a rock or a
convenient thicket is adroitly seized upon as a means of escape.
Pursuit is useless, because home-sickness sharpens the wits of the
fugitives and makes them clever at concealment.

The owners take little notice of these desertions so long as they are
solitary and a free man is the delinquent, but they are in a terrible
state if a slave takes to flight. If they themselves have been
slaves, or if they are in an inferior position, their anger knows no
bounds. The man or woman purchased out of their savings, at the cost
of great privations, becomes their property, their chattel. The
feeling of proprietorship, very strongly developed amongst them,
renders them furious, and the Europeans were destined to find this
out before the end of their second day's march.

CHAPTER XIII.

M. Périères was riding on the flank of the column when his eyes fell
on a man of the rear-guard, whose arms and hands were covered with
blood. He thought he was wounded, and, going up to him, asked him how
it had happened.

"I am not wounded," sulkily replied the Nubian.

"How, then, come your hands to be covered with blood?"

"It is my slave's blood, not mine."

"Your slave! You have a slave? Who gave her to you, or where did you
get hold of her?"

"I bought her," replied the soldier, with an air of pride.

"Since we started? In that case you have been guilty of disobedience
to orders. We have expressly forbidden all traffic in slaves as far
as this caravan is concerned."

"I have not disobeyed your orders. The woman was mine long ago; she
had accompanied me in many of my expeditions, and Nassar allowed me
to bring her with me."

"Where is she?"

"Down there, in that thicket we have just passed."

"Why does she stay behind? You have been ill-using her, I suppose."

"No; I have cut her head off," replied the soldier, quite simply, as
if the beheading of a slave were the most natural thing in the world.

"Wretch!" exclaimed M. Périères, seizing him by the arm, and
compelling him to stop.

The Nubian did not in the least understand this indignation. He
possessed a slave who was bound to follow him, to carry his baggage,
grind his corn, and work for him during the journey.

This woman ran away, and, as it was a first offence, he contented
himself with thrashing her; on the following day she ran away again,
and then he killed her, feeling convinced that, if he spared her
life, she would abscond once more, and his property would pass from
him to somebody else.

M. Périères ordered a general halt whilst he sent the two
interpreters to the thicket pointed out by the Nubian, with orders to
find out whether the slave were really killed, and, if so, to bury
her.

Omar and Ali returned very quickly with the intelligence that they
had found the corpse at the place indicated.

The Europeans then held a consultation, and decided that the culprit
should receive a hundred lashes on the spot, in sight of the whole
caravan.

But the punishment alone was not enough; it was necessary to explain
why it was inflicted. The Arabs and Nubians could never have
understood that any one of them ought to be chastised for simply, as
in this case, making away with his own property.

The interpreters were, therefore, to explain generally that the
soldier had been punished for shedding the blood, not of his slave,
but of a member of the expedition, and that for the future the crime
of murder, under whatever circumstances it might be committed, would
carry with it the penalty of death.

Having thus established a precedent and promulgated a law, the
caravan moved on.

Beginning the day at about four o'clock in the morning, the bearers
had enough of it by noon, so that at that hour, and sometimes
earlier, the halting-place for the night was reached. As a rule the
Europeans, except when the stages of the journey happened to have
been more than ordinarily long, did not retire to rest before nine or
ten o'clock, the evening being occupied in chatting about their
plans, questioning Nassar as to what had gone on during the day, and
arranging the route for the morrow.

Madame de Guéran was the life and soul of these evenings, and when
she chanced to retire early, everybody followed her example except
MM. de Morin and Delange, who seized that opportunity of devoting
themselves to écarté, bezique, or piquet. They had played about a
hundred _parties_, and were quits, as far as play during the journey
was concerned. The back debt remained at the same figure; the Doctor
could not achieve any reduction in his floating liability, but at all
events, it did not increase, and his bad luck was not sticking to him
as it had done in Paris. Consequently he looked hopefully forward to
the future, and, so far from being in despair about wiping off the
old score, he thought he had the chance of turning the balance
considerably in his own favour. This prospect enabled him to put up
with the monotony of the journey, and kept him in good spirits.

Though he thought Madame de Guéran everything that was charming, he
had the good sense to understand that falling in love with her would
be mere waste of time. He was careful, therefore, not to follow in
the footsteps of his friends, and, in the hours of relaxation he
devoted himself to sentimental conversation with Miss Beatrice Poles,
taking care, with his habitual prudence, not to look at her lest her
physical aspect should detract from her moral and intellectual
qualities.

CHAPTER XIV.

M. Périères, not caring about the society of Miss Beatrice Poles, and
abandoned both by Madame de Guéran, who had retired for the night,
and by the two inveterate gamblers, took advantage of his isolation
to jot down his impressions of the journey. He kept the journal of
the expedition, and it is to him, and the information given to us by
him, that we owe the greater portion of our information.

At each halting-place, the sort of register kept by M. Périères was
placed by him on the camp bedstead in his hut, and in it everybody
was at liberty to enter his or her notes, ideas, or reflections. All
communications were anonymous; but this mingling of ideas, the
various modes of regarding events, the detached phrases and the
different circumstances recorded by the several reporters imparted a
tone of originality to the journal.

We do not intend to transcribe this register literally, but merely to
extract from it a few details of interest, and to follow generally
the route taken by the caravan, without stopping with it at every
straggling village through which it passed.

To these notes of the journey, written indiscriminately, under the
direction of the chief editor, M. Périères, we shall occasionally add
a page or two of more private information doe to the pen of one or
other of the travellers. Accident has placed in our possession these
leaves, torn out, as it were, from the private note-books of the
expedition, and we do not think we are guilty of any indiscretion in
giving publicity to them.

March, 1873.—For two days we have been passing through the western
portion of the territory inhabited by the Dinkas, a numerous people,
not only dwelling on the right bank of the White River, but divided
as well into various tribes scattered southward of the Grazelle
River. To our guide, Nassar, and most of the soldiers this district
was quite familiar, and we dreaded lest they should suddenly leave us
in the lurch for the peace and quietness of private life.

The habits of these tribes we find to be very similar to what we had
already seen. The Dinka, like the Shillook and the Nuehr, plasters
his face and body with cinders, but when he does condescend to divest
himself of this detestable coating, by taking a bath or smearing
himself with oil, his skin has the sheen and polish of dark bronze.

The Dinka betrays his nationality as soon as he opens his mouth, for
the incisor teeth of the lower jaw are invariably broken off, a
rigidly-observed custom or fashion, the object of which it is
impossible to determine.

The male Dinka, too, despises clothing and never puts any on except
he is obliged, as, for instance, when accompanying a caravan such as
ours. The females, on the other hand, are more scrupulously clothed
than all the other black women of the interior, two aprons of
untanned skin covering them, before and behind, from the hips to the
ankles.

Tattooing is confined to the men, and consists of ten lines,
radiating from the base of the nose to the forehead and temple. Heavy
rings of ivory, bracelets of hippopotamus hide, and the tails of cows
and goats also contribute to the adornment of this tribe.

Extreme cleanliness marks the interior of their dwellings, and fleas
and vermin are very rarely met with in this part of Africa. Possibly
these insects have a wholesome dread of the snakes, which live on
most intimate terms with the Dinkas, who pay them a sort of
reverence. Frequently they are treated like domestic animals and
called by name, and their slaughter is looked upon as a crime. This
veneration for snakes has been inculcated by the priests and
sorcerers, who are skilled in the science of divination, in
enchantments, and even in ventriloquism.

5th March.—We have just said good-bye to the inhabitants of Kudy, one
of the last villages belonging to the Dinkas, and we have every
reason to congratulate ourselves on the manner in which the caravan
has been treated. We quitted them on excellent terms, after having
procured a supply of milk and fruit, and several couple of oxen, in
exchange for iron-wire.

But, scarcely had we proceeded a mile on our way to the next halting-place
than we saw a whole swarm of natives rushing towards us,
apparently in a dreadful rage, menacing us with their ebony clubs and
barbed lances, the only weapons they know, and formidable ones they
are in their hands.

CHAPTER XV.

Instead of hastening the speed of the caravan and fleeing before the
armed and threatening host advancing against us, the order was at
once given to halt and make ready to give them a warm reception. The
interpreters at the same time went down the ranks of the soldiers,
and warned them not to fire unless we were attacked.

This arrangement made, Nassar and several Dinkas, who had been hired
by us, went to meet their fellow-countrymen for the purpose of
finding out the reason of the hostile display.

After the lapse of a quarter of an hour our guide rejoined us with
the information that the natives accused us of having abused their
hospitality by carrying off into slavery two young girls of their
village, relatives of the chief. The absence of these girls had been
discovered a few moments after our departure, and the whole of the
inhabitants at once set off in pursuit.

What is the meaning of the accusation? Which of the escort has dared
to infringe our rules and compromise us in this fashion? Where are
the women? They might be concealed, possibly, from us in the midst of
some more or less compact knot of our followers, and their cries
might be prevented by gags, but we are now forewarned, and discovery
cannot fail to be a very simple matter.

Nassar once more approached the crowd, and declared, in our name,
that if the two women were really with the caravan they should be
given up at once. At the same time de Morin ordered all the soldiers
and bearers, as well as the women who accompanied them, to form up in
single file. When this was done, we inspected the whole line, and as
each face was already familiar to us, we should soon have detected
any sign of uneasiness.

The inspection passed off without our having been able to find the
missing girls, and there was evidently a mistake somewhere. These two
Dinka ladies must have absconded of their own free will, and, as all
caravans are in bad repute, ours is accused of abduction. At my
request, several of the Dinkas have joined us, and can see for
themselves that their absent countrywomen are not with us.

Suddenly, a fine young fellow, about twenty years of age, who had
been pointed out to us as the affianced lover of one of the runaways,
made a bound over the heads of the bearers drawn up in front of us,
lighted in the midst of the baggage, and sprang towards a tent which
was wrapped round the pole belonging to it. Several of our Nubians
left the ranks and wanted to send him away, when Delange, who
happened to be close by, interfered and ordered our people to fall
back and allow the Dinka to do whatever he liked. The black thereupon
took hold of the knife hanging from his waist-belt, cut the cord of
the tent, and lo! there appeared his beloved _fiancée_. He drew her
to him, embraced her fondly, and then taking her on his shoulders, he
made his way through our ranks again, and rejoined his fellow
countrymen, who gave him a most enthusiastic welcome.

As soon as the man had taken his departure Delange cut the cord of
another tent, and set free the second prisoner, to whom the Dinka,
satisfied with the recovery of his lady-love, had not given a
thought. This woman, as soon as she was liberated, rubbed her eyes,
dazzled by the glare of the sun, looked round her with astonishment,
saw the people of her tribe, and went towards them without the
slightest hesitation. It was, consequently, very evident that these
two women had not left their country of their own free will, neither
had they found a voluntary concealment in the tents. They must have
been carried off by main force by some of our people, and imprisoned
in such a manner that they could neither be seen nor heard. This
abduction is all the more annoying to us because we are looked upon
as the accomplices of our servants. To save our honour as Europeans,
and free ourselves from all responsibility, we must discover the
culprits and punish them. To arrive at this result it is only
necessary to summon the bearers of the two tents to appear. Somebody
must have noticed that they lacked their wonted activity, that the
tents had in them some weighty, moving objects, and the silence of
these men, and their willingness to carry an excessive load pointed
them out clearly as either the authors or the abettors of the
abduction.

We were destined, when, questioning them, to make a further and more
disgraceful discovery. The bearers of these tents are only paid
accomplices, deluded wretches, and to reach the real culprit, we most
raise our eyes higher and search our own ranks.

Alas! he belongs to the European colony, he is as white as we are,
made almost after our own image. It is Joseph!

The bearers, when threatened with the whip, confessed that M. de
Morin's servant had given them three pearl necklets and some iron
rings, to seize upon the two girls, stifle their cries, swaddle them
in a tent, and carry them off. Joseph thought that the two captives,
converted for the nonce into bales of goods, would disappear without
being noticed, that he would unpack them on the following day, as
soon as the caravan reached another district, and that he would thus
have got possession of two slaves, destined either to be exchanged
for elephant's tusks, or to prepare his turtle soup, for which the
Dinka women, who aire excellent cooks, are renowned.

Joseph was summoned. He at first attempted to deny everything, and
accused the bearers of wishing to lower him in the eyes of his
masters. But he soon became confused, contradicted himself, and
finally, when found out in a lie, confessed all.

The next question was, what punishment to inflict? Our first thought
was to transfer to him the thrashing destined for his accomplices,
and he richly deserved it. But we were afraid of diminishing the
_prestige_ attaching to all white men, whatever their position, if we
inflicted corporal punishment on an European, and after consultation,
it was resolved that Joseph, to expiate his crime, should make the
remainder of the journey on foot—in other words, that he should at
once dismount from his donkey. In addition, he was sentenced to hand
over the animal to the two Dinka women by way of compensation for the
inconvenience he had caused them.

Joseph made some demur at this, but de Morin told him plainly that if
he did not at once do as he was bid, he should be given up to the
people he had outraged. This threat had an immediate effect. Joseph
trotted off on his donkey, and, dismounting, presented his steed to
his former prisoners.

This present filled the two women with joy. They rushed to the donkey
and covered it with caresses, and, then, from its neck they passed to
that of their abductor, and embraced him as only negresses know how.

As soon as he could disengage himself from their arms, Joseph dragged
himself, or rather rolled towards us, lamenting loudly his
demonstrative slaves and his patient ass. The latter, on the
contrary, comprehending that he had got rid of his bulky rider, set
to work to bray for joy. The Dinkas, who are clever at imitating the
cries of animals, joined in the chorus with the donkey, the drums of
the caravan beat, the cymbals clanged, the trumpets sounded, and,
with every good wish from the natives, once more our friends, we
again set out on our southward way.

Our route brought us into the midst of a small tribe, forming an
isolated community amongst the powerful surrounding tribes. These
people, to whom our interpreters gave the name of Al-waj, inhabit a
large forest, frequented by giraffes, monkeys and elephants, and in
this forest we were destined to witness one of their punishments, of
which, notwithstanding the horror inspired by the mere recollection,
we are bound, as faithful historians, to give some account.

CHAPTER XVI.

We had just quitted the front of the Al-waj. It was ten o'clock in
the morning, and we had to cross a vast plain in order to reach our
next halting-place. The heat was oppressive in the extreme, as if a
storm were brewing, although the sky was cloudless. The sun, as if
foreseeing that a veil would soon be interposed between him and the
earth, that the rainy season was coming on, and that he would no
longer be sole monarch of these districts, was darting his most
burning rays. We were weary, almost done up, and as we went slowly
forward, we kept close together in the vain hope of affording each
other some sort of shade.

In the midst of this barren, parched, and arid plain we unexpectedly
caught sight of a leafless tree, whose branches had been lopped off
so completely, that nothing but a post was left. Bound closely to
this tree, with his face to the sun, we perceived a human being. De
Morin and Delange galloped off at once, and stopped short at the tree
in astonishment at the sight which met their gaze.

A man, about twenty years of age and completely naked, was bound to
the tree. His features were regular and gave token of great energy of
character, his eyes had a very peculiar expression in them, and his
smile was somewhat sardonic. An artistic statue in bronze, modelled
by a master hand, alone could give any just idea of his splendid
proportions and the lustre of his dark brown, almost metallic skin.
In spite of his bonds, his attitude was noble, he stood firmly and
upright, with expanded chest, and uplifted head.

Followed by our two interpreters and some of the Al-waj, who had been
engaged as guides as far as the next halt, I rejoined de Morin and
Delange, and with one consent we made ready to cut the captive's
bonds. The natives at once came up to us and indulged us with a
vehement harangue, the sense of which we were fain to obtain from our
interpreters.

According to their account, the man whom we wished to rescue was a
poisoner, belonging to the Baggara tribe, whose acquaintance we had
made when coming from Khartoum up the Nile. Taken prisoner by some
dealers on their way to the south, he had in the preceding year been
sold to one of the chiefs of the Al-waj. Soon afterwards the chief,
together with all his family and more than ten members of the tribe,
had died from the effects of poison, and, suspicion having rested on
the slave, he was condemned to death from the sun.

This punishment, of which we now heard for the first time, is of the
most simple description, and it may well be asked how it is that it
is not more widely known in the tropics or at the equator, for, of
course, in Europe, especially in the north, it would not be very
efficacious.

It consists merely of fastening the criminal in the middle of a
plain, and there leaving him without the power of moving, to be burnt
at a slow fire, or, to speak more correctly, by a quick sun, in the
simplest possible manner, without appliances of any kind, and without
any expense in the shape of stake or faggots.

The Al-waj, like true artists, introduce a certain amount of
refinement into the punishment they have thus devised, for lest it
should not last long enough, or lest the prisoner should die too
speedily from sun-stroke, they cover his head with leaves. The skull
and forehead, the most vulnerable parts, are thus protected, but all
the rest of the body burns to a cinder, and gradually dries up. The
skin is not long before it peels off, and the sun darts his pitiless
rays upon the quivering flesh.

It may possibly be said that, notwithstanding these precautions, the
punishment cannot be of very long duration. Abandoned by all, riven
to his post, the slave would certainly die of hunger and thirst
before the sun would kill him. They who would argue thus do not know
the Al-waj. They do not so abandon the criminal, but, on the
contrary, pay him every attention. Each day, when the sun has lost
his power, and they themselves no longer dread his rays, they bring
their prisoner a few grains and a drop or two of water, thus
prolonging his existence, and condemning him to die by the sun alone,
according to their decree.

These explanations, so far from inducing us to give up our ideas of
mercy, made us more persistent. It is, perhaps, both imprudent and
indiscreet to turn a poisoner loose on society, even if that society
be African, and if it were merely a question of hanging or beheading,
we should probably allow justice to take its course. But the
sufferings the poor wretch endures and those which are in store for
him, the very horror of his punishment, all render his crime less
odious. In the victim we forget the criminal.

Armed with our knives we were again preparing to cut the prisoner's
bonds, without condescending to pay any attention to the protests or
remonstrances of the Al-Waj, when our interpreter Ali called our
attention to the sky.

"Well," said Delange, to him. "What part does the sky play in this
matter? Are you afraid that the sun will resent our depriving him of
his victim? He never asked for him—no offer even was made to him."

"That is not what I meant," replied our guide. "I pointed to the sky,
because at this moment it is covered with clouds. A storm will soon
burst over us, the rain will fall in torrents, and as the prisoner
will be saved by natural causes it is of no use our making enemies of
all this tribe."

"Granted," said Delange. "The sun will be interrupted in his work of
destruction. The rain will refresh this poor wretch, and will wash
his wounds. I admit all that, but the luminary will soon reappear
brighter and more burning than ever."

"The punishment will soon be at an end," our guide hastened to
explain, "in accordance with the customs of the tribes of these
regions. They have been suffering for some time past from a terrible
drought, and the rains, which usually commence at the end of
February, are this year a fortnight late. You have already had the
Dinkas, who stand in great need of water for their flocks and herds,
coming to you, and offering you ivory and slaves if you would prevail
upon the rain to fell. The Al-Waj suffer quite as much as their
neighbours. Superstitious, as, indeed, we all are in Africa, instead
of recognizing that the rainy season will eventually commence in due
course of nature, they will think that the sun does not desire the
victim offered up to him, and that in order to protect and save him
that luminary will withdraw his rays. Not only in that case will they
hasten to cut the prisoner's bonds, but they will raise him to the
dignity of a sorcerer, and, attributing to him the power of making
the sun stand still and of causing the rain to fall at his will and
pleasure, they will pay him the greatest respect."

The Arab was right. The rainy season was fairly setting in, and very
soon a tremendous storm burst forth. Then, as he had said, the
natives rushed towards their prisoner, cut his bonds, and prostrated
themselves before him.

Did the slave, thus miraculously saved, really believe that he was
protected by the sun? Did he seriously regard himself as a sorcerer?
We did not seek to enquire, but we saw him, as soon as he was
released, look proudly round him, and, followed by his former
persecutors, now become his admirers, wend his way towards the
village, where he would be looked upon as a demi-god, be worshipped
by all, and be held capable of causing rain or sunshine as he
pleased.

Perhaps, too, he counted upon being able to resume his particular
trade as a poisoner, but there would no longer be any one to say him
nay—in his capacity as sorcerer and demi-god, his poisoning would be
carried out under official sanction.

10th March.—We are progressing very rapidly, for, thanks to extra
rations and a few presents, we are getting double stages out of our
escort. We now rest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., continuing on the road
from the latter hour until nine or ten o'clock at night in the clear,
bright moonlight. We start, as usual, for our first stage at 5 a.m.,
and have now reached a kind of neutral ground, about three hundred
square miles in extent, in which are situated, some five or six
leagues from each other, the celebrated seribas, or depôts, of the
Khartoum merchants. Owing to the letters of introduction presented to
us at that town, we have been received most hospitably at all these
depôts, thatched and roomy huts being placed at our disposal, as well
as provisions for both ourselves and the caravan generally.

The denizens of these seribas are very far from being morally
irreproachable; in fact, they fully deserve the bad character given
to them by European travellers. But it must, in justice, be confessed
that they perfectly understand the duties of hospitality, and that,
in this regard, they do not in any way fall behind the Creoles of
South America or of our French colonies.

CHAPTER XVII.

Notwithstanding the efforts of our hospitable entertainers to induce
us to remain at the seriba, the last days of March found us still
continuing on our way southwards, impelled onwards, because, amongst
other reasons, the attractions of the seribas were causing frequent
desertions from our ranks. Five of the soldiers and twenty bearers
had already left us, and the absentees would have been more numerous
still, had it not been for the exertions and eloquence of our two
interpreters, Omar and Ali, whose influence over our followers is
very great.

But if there is a falling off in the number of our men, there is no
corresponding lack in the quantity of our provisions, for not only do
we possess a quantity of sheep and oxen, but our bearers are also
laden with all the eatables we could lay our hands on.

Two days' marching sufficed to take us across a portion of the
territory belonging to the Djour tribe, whose name signifies "man of
the woods," or "wild man." This tribe consists of about twenty
thousand souls, devoted entirely to agriculture, and greatly
resembling, in language, personal appearance, and habits, our old
friends the Shillooks.

We passed, the seriba of Geer and the village of Koolongo without
halting at either, and we soon afterwards entered the district
inhabited by the Bongos or Dours (Dohrs, according to the German
authorities), who must not be confounded with the Djours already
mentioned.

The Bongos occupy a territory lying between lat. 6° and 8° N., almost
deserted, but equal in extent to those of our Departments, and
joining, on the south, the outer portion of the extensive country of
the Niam-Niam. It is evident, therefore, that the caravan is adhering
closely to the route traversed by M. de Guéran.

The Khartoum merchants, assisted by the Nubians and Dinkas, invaded
this territory about five and twenty years ago, and reduced its
inhabitants to subjection, but the Bongos, notwithstanding their
condition of vassalage, have managed to preserve their primitive
manners and customs almost intact. As soon as ever we set foot in
this district we perceived very easily that we had entered upon a
region perfectly novel, and were amongst a series of tribes extending
southwards and possessing essentially original characteristics.
Amongst the Bongos we found individuals as black as ebony, but the
prevailing tint, the ground of their complexions, is red-brown,
approaching to copper-colour. De Morin yesterday attempted a portrait
of a Bongo, and he found it necessary to use the colour known under
the name of Pompeian red.

The men, who are of medium height and very muscular, have short and
curly hair, differing from the other tribes whose acquaintance we
have made in this respect, as well as in the matter of clothing.
Amongst the Bongos the men wear an apron of leather, or a strip of
stuff fastened to the girdle, but the women are, as a rule,
completely nude, a few only of them, after the fashion of our first
parents, depending on leaves for their toilet. Ugly enough naturally,
they add to their hideous appearance by extending the lower lip, by
the insertion of cylindrical plugs of wood, until it projects two or
three inches beyond the upper one. And, not content even with this,
they allow themselves to grow so fat that they become positively
deformed. With them all the curves and lines of the body disappear
beneath a shapeless mass of fat. They have neither waist nor hips,
and a perpendicular line can be drawn from their shoulders to their
feet. By the side of these phenomena Joseph, the unwieldly, appeared
thin, and, as for Miss Beatrice Poles, when she drew near a female
Bongo, it was like a lucifer match approaching an elephant.

The match, it must be confessed, had the best of it, for leanness,
ungraceful though it be, is less repulsive than excessive obesity.
Our beloved Englishwoman, consequently, was withering in her contempt
for the Bongo ladies, regarding them as the very lowest in the scale
of female humanity, and venting all her most biting sarcasm on their
rotundity.

"That is just how you would like to see me, is it not?" she says
occasionally, and with asperity, to Doctor Delange, whose admiration
for the Bayaderes and dancing girls of the Soudan she has never
forgiven.

"By no means. Miss Poles," Delange replies, with his habitual
coolness. "I should be very sorry to see you like these women, but
you must admit that at all events there is some connection between a
perfectly developed woman and monsters such as these."

"I see no connection at all," exclaimed Miss Poles. "All your
perfectly-developed women, as you call them, become masses of obesity
sooner or later, and, if I were a man, I should not admire them one
bit."

Without attaching as much importance to the _embonpoint_ of the Bongo
women, we could not help being somewhat curious to know whether it
arose from natural causes or whether it was a matter of caprice.
Nassar, who lived for a long time amongst them with Schweinfurth,
declares that his master could never gain any information on the
subject, but he says that if we really wish it, he will do his best
to obtain for us an opportunity of settling the question. Delange and
de Morin jumped at the offer, and we have commissioned Nassar to
escort us to a species of harem, the proprietor of which, a Bongo
chief, has expressed his willingness to receive us. Miss Poles wants
to come also, and we do not see our way to saying no, especially as
her presence in a harem is much more according to the proprieties
than ours. We only exact from her a solemn promise that she will put
a curb on her indignation as soon as she finds herself face to face
with the phenomena we are about to see.

CHAPTER XVIII.

The extensive Bongo village, in which we were halting and where
Nassar proposed to us a closer study of the manners and customs of
the female inhabitants of the country, is situated close to
Daggondoûd, an important seriba.

On our way we asked our guide about the individual to whose dwelling
we were going. According to Nassar, he was formerly a powerful chief,
but his village had been burnt, and his fields devastated by the
Dinkas and Nubians. Three-fourths of his subjects had fled, and he
was now living a quiet, retired life, so as not to attract the
attention of his neighbours, and, to a certain extent, his masters,
in the seriba. Nassar had informed him of our desire to see something
of the interior economy of his household, and he had acquiesced in
the hope of getting some presents from us.

These, and other details concerning the Bongo tribe generally,
occupied our attention until we arrived at the habitation of the
chief, who received us in the outer room of the house, a sort of
unfurnished vestibule or antechamber, the walls of which were
completely covered with trophies and warlike weapons. Here were hung
lance-heads of exquisite native workmanship, and there was seen the
dangabor, a series of accumulated rings, most artistically made, and
forming an armlet as flexible as can well be conceived. In another
place arrows were interspersed amongst elephants' tusks, on which
varied designs were traced, for the Bongo, besides being skilled in
the manipulation of iron, shows also a great aptitude for sculpture.
The ceiling was ornamented with bows, the skins of beasts, and drums
hollowed out of the trunks of the tamarind tree.

Our host compelled us to admire everything; he did not omit a single
detail, but unfolded all his treasures with an air of complacency, as
much as to say—"There! you have never seen anything like that, either
amongst my neighbours, or in your own country." In his eyes we were
evidently merely a set of savages, and he looked upon himself as the
sole representative, in his country, of art and industry.

At length he pulled aside the skins which served as curtains, and
introduced us to his drawing-room, carpeted with reed-grass. All
around this apartment were symmetrically arranged small wooden
stools, each made out of a single block of wood, called _hegbas_.
Although the room was empty of occupants, it evidently belonged to
the ladies of the establishment, for the males of the Bongo tribe
despise seats, and only allow them to be made use of by women and
children. Above these stools, and hanging from the walls by carved
pegs of wood, were round boxes containing flour, calabashes filled
with beer made from sorghum, and called _leghuy_, and large bamboo
baskets full of grain.

The sight of these viands quite startled Miss Poles.

"Good Heavens!" she exclaimed in a tone of voice in which amusement
and alarm were very comically blended, "is our host going to ask us
to dinner?"

Our companion's alarm was, to a certain extent, natural, seeing that
the Bongos, who live on the confines of a district where we were
destined soon to see cannibalism in full swing, are themselves by no
means delicate in their eating. No description of animal food,
whatever may be its state of decomposition, comes amiss to them,
vultures, even when the term carrion might more properly be applied
to them, worms, maggots, and scorpions being amongst their standing
dishes. Nothing sickens them, nothing is revolting to their sense
either of taste or smell.

Miss Poles was soon reassured, as there was no intention on the part
of the chief to invite us to partake of his hospitality. He was
merely in compliance with our expressed wish, about to present to us
his three lawful wives, but, in their position as the spouses of a
once powerful personage, it was essential that they should appear
surrounded with a certain amount of _prestige_. Our host clapped his
hands, and his private orchestra, for the Bongo is music mad, made
its triumphal entry.

This orchestra consisted of four young slave girls, furnished with
rude instruments. One had in her hand a species of guitar; the
second, an empty calabash covered with a very flexible skin, which
she beat with a bamboo stick, and the other two confined their
exertions to violently shaking large gourds filled with pebbles. With
these instruments an accompaniment was played to a melancholy chant,
and musical talent is developed to such an extent amongst these
people that their concert, though wild and strange, did not strike us
as being at all grotesque. After a limited enjoyment of this
triumphal march, the chief gave another signal, and his wives,
lifting up the curtains, ponderously entered the room in single file.

We might very well have supposed ourselves to have lighted on a
mountebank's show, or the booth of an exhibitor of monstrosities. We
almost thought we heard the customary oration—"Walk up, ladies and
gentlemen, and take your places, and pay as you go out if you are
satisfied with what you have seen. Here you behold a female savage
from the heart of Africa, who has just made a tour of Europe. She has
been exhibited before all the crowned heads on the Continent, and
they have presented her with numerous and flattering tokens of their
admiration. This woman, as heavy as she is savage, weighs, before
eating &c., &c."

I stop—the phenomena are before us, and we are permitted to admire
them at our leisure. The three women sit on the stools ranged along
the wall. When I say "sit," I am exaggerating—such of their person as
can be accommodated on the seats certainly rests thereon, but much
more overhangs the sides, and even if their too unwieldy forms had
not prevented their sitting according to the ordinary acceptation of
the term, a certain appendage, with which they had decked themselves
in our honour, would have prevented them. They had endued themselves
with a species of switch tail, made of bass, which they wear only on
grand occasions for the purpose of indicating their rank and position
in the world, and, above all, in order to produce a still greater
effect on those who are privileged to behold them.

As for the remainder of their costume, with the exception of a few
feathers in their hair, another highly fashionable adornment, they
were like any other Bongo female. From their flesh, pierced and
perforated in all directions, hung an infinity of ornaments, necklets
without number graced their podgy necks, and their noses and
monstrous lips were adorned with their choicest copper rings.

The lord and master of these atrocious creatures took our
astonishment for admiration. He positively swelled with importance,
and, too pleased and proud to remain silent, he informed us, through
the medium of Nassar, that we were the only people who had ever been
favoured with a sight of his wives.

But the principal object of our visit was to gain information as to
how these creatures were fattened up to their present prodigious
size, and on this point we requested some explanation from the chief.
Instead of replying verbally to the question put to him in our name
by Nassar, the Bongo magnate, anxious to instruct us by example
rather than precept, clapped his hands a third time.

CHAPTER XIX.

A few moments elapsed, and then five fresh slaves made their
appearance, three of whom carried an immense jar filled with milk,
and the other two iron bowls containing a paste made of sorghum and
eleusine flour, called by the Arabs _téléboun_, and _tocusso_ by the
Abyssinians.

"We are expected to eat, after all," exclaimed Miss Poles. "You see I
was quite right."

"My dear Miss Poles," remarked Delange, "nobody wants to force you to
eat, although, by the way, there is nothing at all repulsive about
this food."

"Perhaps not, but I will never sit down at the same table with these
creatures!"

"Did I understand you to say table? May I ask where you see one?"

"I was speaking metaphorically, M. Delange," replied Miss Poles,
rather sarcastically, "a mode of conversation which, I regret to see,
your education does not permit of your understanding."

This passage of arms over, we saw that the fears of our fair
companion were groundless, and that the repast was really intended
for the Bongo ladies, and, in addition, as a kind of illustrated
lecture for our benefit.

The chief took a small calabash, filled it with paste, and then
carried it to the lips of one of his wives. I say lips from the force
of habit, and the generally received impression that the lips
themselves open to receive food and drink. But in these regions that
notion is altogether wrong, because, seeing that the mouth assumes,
by the process already mentioned, the shape of a long beak, the
Bougos are obliged to make use of their fingers to lift the upper
lip, and let their nourishment slip down the throat. When, after
being thus opened, the mouth, which sticks out like a fortification
armed with plates of ivory and copper, is allowed to shut, it does so
with a sharp, metallic, and very extraordinary click.

After having made the three monstrosities swallow at least a pound of
paste each, the chief dipped his calabash in the jar and gorged them
with milk, they all this time looking exactly like huge babies being
fed with the bottle, or a trio of overgrown geese attached, as is the
case in some countries, to a plank to be fattened.

They did not seem to object in the least to the treatment, and it
would not have mattered much if they had, for their husband never
left off until the whole of the paste and milk had disappeared. Then,
turning towards us, and pointing to his treasures, he addressed us,
through the medium of Nassar, of course, in the following terms—

"This is the way I feed them; this is how they attain to that
perfection of form which renders them the handsomest women in the
country, and makes them worthy of belonging to a man of my rank."

"At what age do they begin their excellent _regimé_?" asked Delange.

"From their earliest infancy," replied the chief. "It is to the
interest of all fathers in this country to feed their daughters thus,
because the fatter they are the higher is the price paid for them. It
is our business afterwards to keep them in condition, and improve
them if possible. The daughters of every man of any consequence are
compelled, every morning, to imbibe a jar of milk under their
father's eye. If they hesitate or refuse, he beats them until they
make up their minds lo conform to this usage."

"And have all the men of your tribe," asked the Doctor, "wives as fat
as yours, and do they all feed them as highly?"

"Oh, dear no!" replied the chief, drawing himself up. "We are
agricultural people and have but little cattle, so that it is only
men in my position who can afford cows. My neighbours use beer
instead of milk, but they never arrive at such results as mine."

"Does he, I wonder," asked de Morin, "look upon us as judges of the
show, and expect a medal?"

"I dare say he does," said Delange, "and as a still higher compliment
to him I am going to ask permission to take a few measurements."

Much to the indignation of Miss Poles, Delange, in the interests of
science, as he said, proceeded to carry out his intention, and, when
he had finished, he stepped back with the exclamation—

"Superb!"

This was duly turned into Bongo idiom by Nassar, on which the chief,
whose gratification was both evident and complete, replied—

"Are they not? You have never seen anything like them, have you?"

"Never!" said Delange, as if he were lost in admiration. "And what,
may I ask, is the age of this charming woman?" pointing to the
fattest of the three.

"Seventeen."

"And a very promising girl she is."

In the meantime the women had been scanning Miss Poles very narrowly,
and that lady's attention being attracted to the notice which was
being taken of her, she asked Nassar to find out what their ideas
were.

"They are very much exercised by your style of dress," replied the
guide, "and they want to know why you wear it."

"Why I dress in this style? Because it is customary amongst civilized
people. Do they expect English ladies to imitate them, I should like
to know?"

"These ladies," continued Nassar, "know quite well that white people
are in the habit of covering their bodies with superfluous and
useless clothing, but they are astonished that you do not wear a
costume like your friends."

The bare idea of being mistaken for one of the other sex was too much
for Miss Poles, who grew almost livid with rage, and, turning on her
heel, exclaimed, indignantly—

"Not content with being mis-shapen, they are idiots to boot."

Her anger seemed to amuse the Bongo ladies immensely, but I am bound
to say that their hilarity did not improve their personal appearance.
Their three beaks moving convulsively, their under lips clicking
against the upper ones, and the noise caused thereby, produced a most
grotesque effect, and when we saw and heard them laughing, we fairly
roared.

Miss Poles, however, did nothing of the sort, for the more we laughed
the more angry she grew, and she would have ended by giving dire
offence to both the chief and his wives, if Delange had not stepped
in to the rescue by sending Nassar into the outer room for the
presents which we had brought with us.

We lost no time in unfolding our Parisian treasures, consisting of
cheap photographs, marionettes, dolls and their houses, and toy farm-yards.
These playthings, which were just the very things to take the
fancy of any African negress, gave immense pleasure to the women
whose rising anger we wished to allay. They forgot Miss Poles and her
indignation at once, and having, after desperate efforts, succeeded
in standing up, they waddled towards the toys with childish glee,
holding out their hands for the presents like overgrown babies.

Miss Poles, who had been meditating some terrible revenge, now
produced a pocket looking-glass and held it suddenly before one of
the women, fancying, undoubtedly, that the wretched creature, brought
face to face with her deformity, would recoil with horror. Nothing of
the kind. The woman's eyes danced with delight, her lips burlesqued a
smile, and, to crown all, the huge mass of flesh began to wriggle
about, for all the world like a penguin in a fit.

"Do you mean to say that she thinks herself pretty?" exclaimed Miss
Poles.

"Certainly," said Delange. "And I am quite willing to confess that I
think she is so in her way, just as you, Miss Poles, are in yours."

Miss Beatrice shrugged her shoulders and was about to put her glass
in her pocket again, when the Bongo woman seized hold of it with both
hands, and declined to give it up.

"I will not give it to you," cried Miss Poles. "You have done quite
enough in the way of insult by mistaking me for a man, without
stealing my looking-glass. Give it up directly, I say. Do you think
that I would inflict on a glass, accustomed to my features, the
torture of reflecting yours?"

But the woman, who, naturally, did not understand a single syllable
of this address, continued to pull her hardest, and things were once
more beginning to look serious, when Delange again came to the
rescue.

"You cannot think of making use of anything that has been touched by
that odious creature," said he to Miss Poles.

"That is true," was the disgusted reply. "She has profaned it, and I
give it up."

And, so saying, she marched out of the place, with her chin in the
air, and without deigning to say good-by to the chief or his wives.
Our curiosity, too, was more than satisfied, and consequently we lost
no time in rejoining our huffy companion.

CHAPTER XX.

April 6th.—We are going straight through the Bongo territory without
troubling ourselves about the neighbouring tribes. If we were
differently circumstanced, and had not an object in view which we
must reach as soon as possible, we should have halted for a few weeks
at Sabbi, instead of only having made, a couple of days ago, a short
stay there, as in that case we might have seen something of the
Mittoos, who, we are told, are quite as remarkable as the Bongos.

Every day, in spite of our unceasing watchfulness, we have to record
fresh desertions, caused by the increasing fear of the tribes in the
South. It is a fact, also, that the inhabitants of the various
seribas through which we pass, take care to enlarge upon the subject,
because none of them, neither the traders, their soldiers, nor their
servants, believe that we are undertaking so long a journey for the
sole purpose of getting on the track of one of our friends. "It is
all an excuse," they say. "The Franks are going southwards, as their
fellow-countrymen, the brothers Poncet, formerly did, to collect
ivory and come into competition with us."

These people dare not attack us openly, because our force is a
respectable one, and they know that we are, as it were, under the
protection of the principal inhabitants of Khartoum, with whom they
are inseparably connected commercially, but they do their best to
injure us indirectly by diminishing our escort and inducing our
bearers to leave us. As far as our bodily wants are concerned, we are
treated well, thanks to our letters of credit, and, above all, to our
rifles; morally, we are no longer welcomed at these last commercial
depôts, as we were in the earlier ones. But the country is safe,
provisions are abundant, and we have still bearers enough to carry
them. If the effective strength of the caravan proper has now been
decreased by about thirty individuals, we do not suffer from the
loss, because from one stage to another we find Bongos both ready and
willing to fill up the vacant places. Unfortunately, they are only
attached to us provisionally, and they cannot, by any amount of
persuasion, be induced to pass beyond their own frontier.

The rainy season has now fairly set in, but, nevertheless, we have
frequent intervals of fine weather and a tolerably equable
temperature. The thermometer, which stands during the day at from
thirty-five to forty degrees in the shade, goes down at night to
between sixteen and eighteen, but that is a variation to which we are
accustomed.

We suffer principally from the heavy showers which overtake us on the
march, when it is impossible to change our clothes. The negroes,
owing to their semi-nudity, take these shower-baths very stoically
and often enjoy them, but our costume precludes us from sharing in
these sentiments.

Madame de Guéran has lately been suffering from a succession of
attacks of fever, and at first bore them courageously without a
murmur or calling in our doctor, but Miss Poles, ever at her side,
attentive to her slightest need, and truly good in spite of her
little weaknesses, discovered how far from well our beloved Baroness
was, and made her take quinine. Consequently, Madame de Guéran is
already much better, and, after having been carried for two days in
her palanquin, she is to-day once more on horseback.

April 9th.—This morning, after spending the night on the banks of a
small river called the Tondy, a short distance from the village of
Ngoly, just as we were emerging from our tents to get on the road
again, Nassar appeared with the intelligence that both escort and
porters refused to start. Their obstinacy this time appeared to him
to be invincible, and he held it to be prudent to give the caravan a
day's rest.

"So be it," said de Morin, after consulting with Madame de Guéran.
"We had a hard day yesterday, the stages were long, the showers
heavy, and the heat overpowering. We also think it better to rest
here for a day, close to the river and in the shade, but we must not
appear to give in to these people. We must make them believe that we,
too, want a little peace and quietness. I'll manage it."

And, lighting a cigarette, he went quietly towards the encampment,
and, accosting the first Nubian he met, he said in Arabic, which we
were all beginning to speak with tolerable ease—

"Tell your comrades not to strike the tents, because we intend to
remain here to-day. There is to be a _fête_ to-night in a
neighbouring village, and we want to see it. So much the worse for
you all if you want to move on. There will be no marching to-day, and
you can tell them all that I say so."

The news, spread at once throughout the kraal that the Europeans
intended to be present at the _fête_, or orgie, which was in
preparation in the village of Ngoly. In reality this _fête_ was the
very reason why the negroes refused to move on, but they never
expected that their white chief would partake in their wish. If they
gave full value to his generosity and sense of justice, they also
dread his anger, and it was not without a certain amount of alarm
that they had entered into a conspiracy to remain where they were.
Their fears now disappeared, and they gave themselves up gleefully to
the sweets of idleness for the day, and the prospect of every sort of
excess in the evening.

CHAPTER XXI.

The moon was at the full, and the sky appeared as bright as at mid-day,
on the evening when we were called upon to share in the games
and mirth of the Africans. The two ladies remained in camp, there
being too much license in equatorial revelry to admit of their
presence.

The whole village at eight o'clock was summoned to the _fête_ by beat
of drum, and the largest huts were at once transformed into cafés,
where all the Bongos, with the chief at their head, set to work to
drink themselves into a fitting state for the coming festivities. The
intoxicating beverages were contained in large earthenware jars,
ranged along the walls, and from these the liquid was ladled out
wholesale, by means of small gourds and calabashes.

But presently the drinking gave place to a general outcry for the
dancing to begin. The huts were deserted and the streets of the
village crowded in proportion, and all the men, followed by the women
and children, hurried at full speed, yelling and leaping, towards a
neighbouring plain surrounded by dense thickets.

The _fête_, properly so called, now commenced by a circle being
formed round some toothless, wizened old sorcerers, who droned out a
lengthy recitative in measured, almost melancholy rhythm. The
bystanders, whose ears caught the strain at once, joined in the
chant, and the whole of the voices formed one vast, reverberating
chorus, in the midst of which, at intervals, could be heard the
howling of a dog, the cackling of hens, the crowing of cocks, the
roaring of a lion, or the shrill trumpeting of an elephant, serving
as so many incentives to the concourse to give free scope to their
talent for imitation.

As soon as the chant came to an end in a prolonged groan, there was a
renewed outcry for the dancing, and an orchestra of instrumentalists
proceeded to take up a position on the trunks of fallen trees, or any
slight vantage ground that was at hand. One performer blew with all
the force of his lungs into a gigantic wooden trumpet, decorated with
carvings representing in nearly every case a human head; another
hammered with his hands and feet at an enormous mass of wood,
hollowed out of the thickest part of a tree and covered with bullock
hide, whilst a third had in front of him the _oupaton_, or tom-tom, a
piece of brass on which he banged at intervals with a kind of rude
drum stick. The, to us, familiar Chinese bells, or handbells, were
represented by large gourds filled with pebbles, which were rattled,
without intermission, by the women and children.

Then the mob, men, women, and children, gave themselves up to a
frightful hurly-burly, a series of contortions, bounding, leaping,
throwing their arms and legs in all directions, after a fashion at
first sight positively bewildering, but in reality quite regular, and
carried out in concert. It was simply a delirium, an indescribable
frenzy.

Suddenly the orchestra ceased, every sound was hushed, and each one
remained where he was. To confusion succeeded utter silence and
complete repose.

Scarcely a moment elapsed before the drummers gave the signal again,
and the dance recommenced more wildly than ever. This goes on
sometimes for hours, even until morning and the feet of these maniacs
refuse their office. But we did not stop for the end, and towards 3.0
a.m. we made the best of our way towards our camp, feeling rather
anxious as to whether our caravan, which had taken part in the orgie,
would be in a fit state to start later on. The departure was, as it
turned out, a matter of some difficulty, for it was not until the
afternoon that we could move, and then only by dint of mingled
threats, promises, and a distribution of rewards and punishments
combined.

April 11th. To-day we met a caravan coming from the south. The drums
beat, standards were unfurled, and a regular _feu de joie_ was fired
in honour of the occasion. We contrived, nevertheless, to prevent our
escort from fraternising with the new comers, and compelled them to
content themselves with shaking hands and embracing. The leader of
the caravan, a rather disreputable looking Turk, saluted us as he
passed, a piece of politeness which we solemnly returned.

Notwithstanding our coolness towards the Turk and his people, the
meeting was a relief from the monotony of the route. It was like
being out at sea, on a long voyage, and coming across a vessel
appearing in the horizon, growing larger and larger by degrees,
passing, hoisting her flag, growing smaller again, and, finally,
disappearing from view.

April 13th. After passing, yesterday, through a district where game,
both large and small, was plentiful, we have, to-day, left the low
country and have gone up hill to about five hundred feet above our
former level. On our way Nassar came up to us, and, pointing to the
summit of a mountain lying to the south-west, said—

"That is the Mbala-Nguia, which separates the Bongo territory from
that of the Niam-Niam. To-morrow you will set foot on the soil of
that new tribe, and you will very soon be in a position to judge of
the correctness of the information I have given you about the man of
whom you are in search."

At last, then, we are on the point of entering the country visited by
so few Europeans. At length we are in the midst of the famous race,
supposititiously endowed with tails, about whom so many lies have
been told, and amongst the man-eaters, who have been described to us
as being so terrible.

CHAPTER XXII.

As the caravan had not yet surmounted all the hills which form a
barrier, natural but very little respected, between the territory of
the Bongos and that of the Niam-Niam, the camp had been pitched on
the final declivity of the mountain, on the edge of a large plain,
whence we obtained a magnificent view. Everybody retired early, and
the bearers and soldiers, tired out with a long march up the steep
side of the mountain, succumbed to the influence of the drowsy god
sooner than usual.

Before the final descent into the country of the Niam-Niam was made,
M. Périères put together the notes jotted down with reference to the
Bongos, and made up the register of the expedition. M. de Morin,
meanwhile, spread a bullock hide on the grass, close to his tent,
and, lying flat on his back, with a cigarette in his mouth, gave
himself up to a lazy contemplation of the star-lit sky. Miss Poles,
with folded arms and head in the air, paced to and fro with lengthy
strides, from the camp to the nearest trees and back again. The
movement of her lips showed that she was talking to herself, and she
was, no doubt, debating the question whether Dr. Delange was really
worthy of her, or whether she would not do better to transfer her
affections to M. de Morin or M. Périères.

Madame de Guéran, in whom the loveliness of the night possibly caused
a longing for solitude, was seated in front of her tent, but she,
nevertheless, appeared insensible to the surrounding splendour, and
looked straight before her: Were her thoughts flying backwards, over
the vast expanse of memory? or were they, perchance, leading her on
in an attempt to fathom the future?

Dr. Delange walked up and down in front of her for a few moments,
without her seeing him. He seemed anxious to accost her, but yet
unwilling to break in upon her reverie. At last he summoned up
courage and joined her. Seeing him, she raised her head impatiently,
as if to drive away the thoughts that had been oppressing her, and
said, in her sweet voice—

"You have something to say to me, I suppose, my dear Doctor? Pray say
on."

"Yes," he replied. "For some days past I have been anxious for a
little conversation with you, but I could never find you alone. To-night,
on the contrary, everybody appears inspired with a desire to
respect your solitude, and I venture to disturb it."

"And you have done well. But why choose this late hour, and so
isolated a position? Have you a secret to confide to me?"

"No," replied M. Delange, quietly, "but you have one, and I am come
to ask you to confide in me. Do not be indignant with me," he
continued, seeing that Madame de Guéran looked surprised. "Do not
tell me that our friendship is of too recent a date to warrant me in
any attempt to discover your secrets or seek your confidence. In so
saying you would be guilty of an injustice, and would, moreover,
cause me an amount of pain which I have not deserved. Our mode of
life during the last six months has brought us into closer connection
than many years of ordinary society would have done, and I know that
you are good enough to give me a place in your friendship and esteem
already. For you, Madame de Guéran, I have a sincere respect, I may
say, a sacred regard. The term is not at all high-flown, for you
recall to me, both in feature and disposition, a fondly-loved
relative, whom I had the misfortune to lose two years ago. It was, I
think, her death which caused my going astray to a certain extent,
and led me to adopt a club life, up to that time a sealed book to me.
There is no reason, therefore, why you should not honour me with your
confidence, and I think you will not accuse me of being over-bold in
asking you for it."

"That is true," she replied, holding out her hand. "But what have I
to tell you? What do you want to know?"

"Many things; and if you still hesitate to throw off your reserve
towards the friend, look upon me merely as your doctor. We medical
men are, as you know, confessors, to whom everything may be revealed,
but by whom nothing is repeated."

"But, my dear Doctor, I am not ill."

"There lies your great mistake. You are ill, and that is my reason
for interfering, first of all, as a doctor. Have you not been
suffering from fever for some days past?"

"Oh, yes; but that is unavoidable in this climate."

"Excuse me; the climate, so far as concerns the districts through
which we have lately passed, and the altitude in which we now are, is
excellent. If a constitution such as yours could be influenced by
climate, you would have been ill during the first portion of our
journey—at Khartoum, which is very unhealthy, on the Upper Nile, or
the Gazelle River. You were, on the contrary, in perfect health
there, better than any of us, and you only began to suffer when we
left off."

"From a spirit of contradiction, perhaps," said she, smiling. "But
what is the result of your diagnosis?"

"This. Africa has no effect whatever upon your organization, and I
must, therefore, look to other causes to account for the fever from
which you are suffering, the state of depression and prostration
noticeable in you, and for certain nervous symptoms which you cannot
conceal from me, notwithstanding all your efforts."

"And what are those causes, Mr. Inquisitor-General?"

"May I tell you?"

"I have made up my mind to hear all your have to say."

"Well, then, they are purely moral. Your mind is ill at ease, your
imagination is ever at work, and your heart is distressed. Hence the
physical disturbance and disorders which I have just mentioned to
you."

Madame de Guéran changed colour and bent down her head without
replying. She seemed to be uncomfortable and embarrassed by the close
scrutiny to which she had been subjected, but, though at first she
was pained by the dissection of her innermost feelings, she still
felt less isolated, less thrown back upon herself.

This state of feeling was intelligible enough—instead of being called
upon for a confession she would not have had the courage to make, it
was made for her. Her silence was in itself an avowal, and in saying
nothing she told all.

M. Delange hastened to follow up the advantages he had gained, and
continued, with warmth—

"Confide in me. You know very well that for some time past you have
been seeking a confidant, but you could not find one. It was
impossible for you to know me as I really am—serious enough when
occasion calls for it, and devoted heart and soul to those I care
for. You could not open out your heart to Miss Poles, because her
eccentricities prevent her claims being taken into serious
consideration, and as for our two friends, they are the very last
persons you would choose as confidants."

"Why so?" she asked, abruptly.

"You want to know?"

"Certainly; candour for candour."

"And if my candour displeases you?"

"So much the worse for me. I ask you for it."

"Very well. You can only confide in a friend, and both these
gentlemen love you."

"Have they told you so?" asked the Baroness, quickly.

"Never, I assure you," replied M. Delange. "But you will admit," he
added, with a smile, "that it was not a very difficult discovery to
make."

"Yes, they do love me," she said, resolutely, "but you forget.
Doctor, that we were dealing with my sufferings, and, I presume, you
do not wish me to infer that they are due to these two gentlemen."

"To a certain extent they are."

"How so? Is it absolutely necessary that I, too, should respond to
this two-fold love, and be _éprise_ in my turn?"

"No; it is very clear to me that you have no love for either of them.
But their suffering conduces to yours, and you cannot help a constant
feeling of uneasiness as you say to yourself—'What is to be the end
of all this? How am I to extricate myself from the difficulty? How am
I to get out of the false situation in which I have put myself?'"

"And, according to you, this simple feeling of uneasiness has
sufficed to render me susceptible of fever, to cause me to lose my
colour, to throw me into a state of prostration, and to bring on a
nervous attack? I thought I was stronger."

"And so you are, in reality. The sufferings of these gentlemen simply
annoy you. Your illness is within yourself. Your nerves are over-excited
by the continual struggle that is going on within you, and
the state of hesitation and uncertainty in which you are living."

"What uncertainty?"

"You are not in love with either of our two friends, but you are not
quite sure that it will not come to pass some day. They evidently
please you, and their conversation is agreeable. When they do some
good action, or render you some service, your heart beats somewhat
more quickly. And, what grieves you, unnerves you more than all, and
puts you in a fever, is the fact that you do not know which of the
two pleases you most. You are continually hesitating between one and
the other, you are carried away by your imagination, and you lose
yourself in useless questions and futile self-examination."

"It is because I do not love at all!" she exclaimed. "Do you think a
woman does not know when she loves? Do you think she can be deceived
in that?"

This time she spoke with determination.

The shades of night had now fallen completely, and the moon, which
had taken possession of the sky and was reigning there in undisputed
sway, lighted up the countenance of Madame de Guéran with a silvery
radiance, and enhanced the natural delicacy of her features.

CHAPTER XXIII.

The Doctor replied very quietly, without seeming to notice the
outburst—

"I agree with you, Baroness, and I have already explained myself on
this score. You are not in love. If our friends were to leave you
to-morrow, you would forget them. It is their presence alone that makes
you uneasy, I had almost said, irritable."

"In that case," replied Madame de Guéran, "my illness is known, and
you have found out its cause. M. de Morin and M. Périères inspire me
with a vague, indefinable, almost inexplicable interest, and this
divided interest," she continued, smilingly, "upsets me, worries me,
and is killing me by inches."

"No, no, my dear patient, we have not quite reached that point yet.
You are not the woman to allow yourself to be done to death for so
little. You are no ignorant girl, to languish and grow thin in such a
case as this. The interest—the word is your own—you take in our
friends has no such tremendous effect upon you. It does not give rise
even to a feeling of remorse when you think of M. de Guéran and your
hopes of recovering him. You had every reason to believe yourself to
be a widow, and you were one from a legal or official point of view;
you could, if you had so wished, have given your whole heart to
either of your travelling companions, and one ought really to admire
you for not having bestowed even a particle of that interest—shall I
call it by that name?—on either of them, even though you were at
perfect liberty to withdraw it if you thought fit. Therefore, I
repeat, you have nothing wherewith to reproach yourself from this
point of view."

"Is there another point, then?" said she, trying to smile, but unable
entirely to hide the emotion caused by the last words addressed to
her.

"Yes," said M. Delange, earnestly, "you are in love, seriously in
love with him who could not accompany you, whose place I took. In
other words, you are in love with Dr. Desrioux."

She trembled at the name, but she did not reply, neither did she
attempt to impose silence on her indiscreet confidant.

He resumed, in a more sprightly tone—

"Do you think that one doctor can keep anything from another? I do
not speak much, and I am, perhaps, looked upon as seeing less. People
are apt to say—'Oh, M. Delange has only eyes for cards; you need not
mind him.' They are wrong. T can see beyond my game, and I make my
little mental notes. I subject my neighbours to a moral auscultation,
though I appear only to be marking the king. The day on which I had
the honour of being introduced to you, and of becoming acquainted, in
your drawing-room, with M. Desrioux, I saw at once that my _confrère_
was sincerely attached to you. On the following day I discovered that
he was not absolutely indifferent to you; but, to be perfectly open
and leave nothing unexplained, I must also admit that on the day when
you left France you had no idea of the strength of your affection for
him. If it had come home to you, you would not have accepted MM. de
Morin and Périères as your travelling companions. You knew that they
were _éprise_ with you, and it would have been repugnant to your
delicacy of feeling to have allowed them to become more, and at the
same time hopelessly so. It was only by degrees, later on, by reason
of separation, absence, the exchange of letters, and the receipt of
news, that you found out the strength of your attachment, as well as
that, in all probability, it was ever on the increase."

Pensive, and with her nature stirred to its innermost depths by what
she had heard, she continued to preserve absolute silence. She had,
it is true, with reluctance, and almost, fearfully, confessed all
these things to herself, but it was the first time she had been told
of them by anyone else.

She listened to everything the Doctor had to say without
interruption, without any appearance of a desire that he would be
less explicit and more considerate, and the sad smile which hovered
about her lips seemed to say—

"Be perfectly open. Your words hurt me, but I must listen to them. I
must open my eyes resolutely to my position; and you appear to have
realized it more completely than I have. Say on then, and if, after
you have said all, you can apply your healing art to me, you will be
doing me a real service, I assure you."

M. Delange, for his part, derived  encouragement from the silence,
and continued in the same calm, brotherly tone, but slightly moved,
withal, against his will.

"This love," he resumed, "which you have unknowingly brought with
you, is weakening you and wearing you out. You would fain tear it out
of your heart, but you lack the power so to do. At times you are
tempted to reproach MM. de Morin and Périères for not making you
forget him who is away, and yet if you yield for a moment to the
pleasure of their society—and it is pleasant—you are at once assailed
by the fear that you are wanting in truth towards that other one. You
return, as it were, to him in all humility and submission, and then
comes a sudden apparition of your husband looming in the distance, in
the unknown land whither our steps are bent. You want to find him,
duty beckons you on, and his memory is dear to you; but you shudder
at the thought that your heart is no longer your own, and that it is
impossible for you to give it to him. There, my dear Baroness, I have
told you all that you could tell me; I am a queer confidant, for it
is I alone who have been speaking all this time. I asked you to let
me know your secrets; you have kept them to yourself, and I have
narrated to you my own discoveries. Not that I regret in the least
either my indiscretion or my garrulity, since they have taught you to
know me and to see in me a devoted friend, a brother anxious for your
welfare. You will no longer keep me at a distance; but, when you find
your troubles too heavy for you to bear, you will summon me to your
aid and open out your heart to me. And in that way alone can you
alleviate your distress."

He was silent, and she, equally mute, got up and, in token of
friendship, took the Doctor's arm. In this way they returned to the
encampment and soon gained the nearest tents. When she reached her
own, Madame de Guéran turned towards M. Delange, and held out her
hand, as if to say—

"I forgive you for the boldness of your speech. You have shown
yourself my friend, and I am glad to know that it is so."

She disappeared within her tent, and he betook himself to his.

M. Périères and M. de Morin were not so completely absorbed, the one
in his notes of the expedition, and the other in his cigarette and
the contemplation of nature, as to be entirely unconscious of the
proceedings of Madam de Guéran and the Doctor. By-and-by they met,
and made their comments on the lengthy _tête-à-tête_.

"What can he be saying to her?" asked M. Périères.

"I have not the remotest idea, but their conversation appears to be
interesting."

"Yes, in this bright moonlight we can clearly distinguish Madame de
Guéran's countenance, and she seems moved. Do you think that the
Doctor is discussing our position with regard to her?"

"I am pretty sure of it," replied M, de Morin. "He is far too
intelligent and observant not to have perceived the depth of our
attachment. Why do you ask?"

"Because Delange is just the man to fall in love on his own account,
if he did not see that we were in that plight."

"And, seeing it, you think that he would hold his hand?"

"Certainly, I do. He is too devoted to us, and he is too
straightforward in his ideas to cross our path. Are you jealous, my
dear fellow?"

"Of the Doctor? Oh, no. I have too much respect for Madame de Guéran;
and, besides, I think she is too uncomfortable about her position
with regard to us to wish to render it still more complicated."

"De Morin?"

"Périères?"

"Shall we be perfectly open with each other?"

"We have always been so."

"Except at Khartoum, where we were within an ace of falling out."

"True, but we profited by that escape to swear eternal friendship,
and I have never gone back from my word."

"Nor I either. You are sure of that?"

"Perfectly. Moreover, we have adopted certain precautions against any
temptation to tear each other to pieces which might assail us. Our
agreement was both wise and just. If Madame de Guéran, whether by
word or look, gives either of us to understand that he is the chosen
one, the happy man is at once to inform his ill-fated companion of
the fact, and the victim is at once to withdraw from the contest,
abandon all hope, and quit the field."

"Yes, that was it. And I can only regret, my dear fellow, that I am
not in a position to ask you to take yourself off."

"My dear Périères, I positively ache to tell you to make yourself
scarce, and yet I have not the slightest authority for so doing."

"So much the better, because, as far as I am concerned, I should be
in a regular fix if I had to make a solitary journey back through the
land of those awful Bongos, those amiable Dinkas, not to mention the
Shillooks and so many others. I am rather inclined to think that, for
my sake, at all events, Madame de Guéran would do well not to decide
in your favour."

"To tell you the truth, my dear fellow, I am afraid she will decide
neither for one nor the other."

"Precisely my fear; she shrinks from inflicting too severe a wound on
the rejected one. We are not behaving generously towards her; we take
away from her all freedom of choice, and, very possibly, we prevent
her from saying what she would like to say."

"Nevertheless, my very dear friend, I cannot propose that, instead of
descending this hill to-morrow with all our companions, for the
purpose of visiting the Niam-Niam, you should retrace your steps,
cheered by the society of my faithful Joseph and the donkey, of
which, in that case, you would be anxious to deprive the caravan."

"I am perfectly sure of it, my dear de Morin, and yet, if we had
lived in another age than our own, we should hare found some means of
coming to an understanding."

"Yes, the King's Musketeers, for instance, in our position, would not
have hesitated to draw their swords. I have often thought about it
myself. That age was a good one, and the sword settles matters so
completely."

"We might revive the custom very easily. In the heart of Africa one
cannot be said to belong to any age. I am sure that when we paid our
visit to those Bongo women we had no very clear idea of what century
we were in. At all events on that occasion nobody could have objected
to our going a step backwards, to the seventeenth or eighteenth
century in imagination."

"My notion, I perceive, makes you smile, and, after all, we had
better let it drop. If I happened to kill you, or to be killed by
you, Madame de Guéran, I am sure, would detest me, or hate you, as
the case might be. She is not very fond of the eighteenth century;
she belongs to the present day, and she is journeying on through
Africa, pursuing one sole idea without paying much attention to Bongo
customs."

"Very possibly so. Thus, my poor friend, we can only wait."

"As you say, we can only wait, and, in truth, it is the only course
open to us just at present."

"There I differ from you—we can go to bed. It is two o'clock in the
morning already, and we have to start at five."

"You are right. Yon do not mind my having thought of the King's
Musketeers?"

"Mind it? The idea was capital, only, like many other excellent
ideas, it was not practicable."

"I'll try to hit upon something else."

"And so will I. Good night."

"Good-bye—for three hours."

On the following day, before noon, the caravan, preceded by its band,
set foot on the territory of the Niam-Niam.

CHAPTER XXIV.

Whilst, in the centre of equatorial Africa, about five hundred
leagues from all the waters which lave the shores of the African
continent and communicate with Europe, the French expedition was
making ready to penetrate still farther into the interior of the
country, and to pass limits hitherto considered to be impassable, the
Parisians continued their usual manner of life, and, without caring
one jot for the intrepid travellers, applied themselves to their
business on a small, and their pleasures on a large scale.

The various Geographical Societies had, however, in their journals
published a few notes despatched from Khartoum, in January, 1873,
but, as these journals do not come under the head of ordinary current
literature, they receive little or no notice at the hands of society.
In the drawing-room of the Marquise de Genevray, the aunt of M. de
Morin, after discussing the last new play, the latest _cause
célébre_, and the coming fashions, a word or two might be said about
Egypt and the Red Sea, but there everybody stopped, for fear of
falling into some gross geographical blunder. One day, when Madame de
Genevray, to give a fillip to conversation, mentioned having received
news of her nephew from Souakim, everybody stared in astonishment,
but nobody dared say a word except a lady of a certain age, who,
nodding her head as if she knew all about it, hazarded the
observation that it was some distance from Paris, on which there was
a general chorus of—"Oh, yes, a considerable distance!"

Some time afterwards her guests, on hearing the Marquise come out
with such names as Oondokoro and Bahr-el-Ghazal, looked positively
alarmed, and wondered what these outlandish, harsh-sounding names
meant, and where those countries were situated, of whose existence
nobody had ever dreamt. Consequently, Madame de Genevray made up her
mind to be more reticent in future, at all events where geography was
concerned.

In the club to which M. de Morin, Périères, and Delange belonged,
several books on African travel, published by Hachette, lay on the
library table for about three weeks, but these volumes, purchased
simply as mementos of boon companions, were as a rule uncut, and were
soon lost to view beneath the latest novels, the fortnightly reviews,
and the evening papers. If, in October and November, a few members of
the club in the afternoon or before betaking themselves to bouillotte
or baccarat, mentioned the Parisian expedition, asking for news of it
and appearing interested in its fate, in December and January it was
forgotten. The last plays of Angier and Sardou, the exploits of
Mdlle. X., the duel fought by Z., and the coming to grief of young D,
with a slight sprinkling of politics, at that time were the sole
topics of conversation.

Dr. Desrioux and the Count de Pommerelle alone had continued to
follow, in thought and on the map, their African friends. But no news
having been received from them since their departure from Khartoum,
MM. de Pommerelle and Desrioux were perforce limited to the written
programme of the expedition and the route therein laid down. It was
merely on vague lines, by probabilities rather than assured facts,
that they could accompany the travellers on the map, and with them
travel towards the regions barely marked. To the friendly letters, in
which the individuality of each of their former companions so clearly
asserted itself, succeeded records of travel which any one might
read. They studied Africa in books, instead of living in it, as they
had up to this time done, in the society of those they held so dear.

The time, indeed, had come when the caravan having said adieu to the
Monbuttoo country, they could not find any publication nor gain any
information which could give them an idea even of the districts
traversed. A large blank space, extending over hundreds of miles, was
before them, and their imagination alone had to take the place of the
reliable reports hitherto within their reach. So, calling to mind the
regrets expressed by M. Périères, in his last letter from Khartoum,
with regard to the route chosen, and remembering the possibly more
direct route he had traced in a south-westerly direction, the two
carpet travellers proposed to make a fresh start from Zanzibar, and
go westwards, towards the great lakes to meet their friends. They had
already got their pins ready, and were using their glasses to
discover the points at which the expedition, according to their
suppositions, was bound to halt.

These ideas and cares had not, however, entirely occupied MM.
Desrioux and de Pommerelle. The former divided his time between his
patients and his mother, whose health was daily becoming more
precarious, and caused him serious anxiety. The latter lived on in
his usual style, idle, _ennuyé_, and tired of Paris, where he
remained only from the force of habit. Even this became too weak to
hold him, and at last he made up his mind to go away, but, before
doing so, he had to say good-bye to Dr. Desrioux, whom for a week or
so he had rather neglected. He found him at home, in deep mourning,
and looking pale, worn, and sad.

"What is the matter with you?" exclaimed M. de Pommerelle, "what has
happened to you, my dear fellow?"

"I have just lost my mother," said M. Desrioux, in a broken voice.

"And you never sent for me? Why did you not let me know of her
illness?"

"I had no time, and, indeed, I thought of nothing but striving to
save her. I studied her complaint, consulted my _confrères_, tried
everything, and, I fear, only tortured the poor woman in the hopes of
restoring her. It would have been better to have left her alone, to
have let her pass away in peace and quiet. Everybody told me so, but
I could not believe them, and I went on, hoping against hope. I had
wrought so many unexpected cures amongst strangers, but when it came
to my mother's turn I could do nothing. And, now, she is dead—she
whom I so fondly loved, whom I never left, and for whom I sacrificed
everything. And I—I am alone."

"No," remonstrated the Count, "you have still faithful friends, and I
am one of them. Come, rouse yourself and get away from this house.
Come with me."

"I cannot, I must watch still beside her. To-morrow she will be
buried, and I shall never see her more. Now I can see her and be with
her. To-morrow, after—you know what I mean—to-morrow take me away,
far away, I can never come back here. I could not bear it."

"I am yours," said the Count, "and I will go wherever you wish."

CHAPTER XXV.

The journal of the expedition, under the command of Madame de Guéran,
is very concise as regards the Niam-Niam, whose territory the
Europeans were about to enter when we left them.

An irresistible impulse hurried the caravan forward. They scarcely
rested, but marched, marched, marched. All trace of whatever apathy
may have, existed had disappeared; they were drawing near the
Equator, and yet, owing to the fact that the country is, on an
average, over two thousand yards above the sea level, and owing still
more to the numerous water courses to be met with at every step, the
heat was less and the air lighter, and the travellers felt stronger
and more active.

The escort, also, was in a better state of discipline. In the midst
of the famous tribes whom they knew by hearsay only, they were afraid
of accidents and misadventures, and they dared not leave the beaten
track. Every one kept his place in the ranks, and the idlers and
incorrigibles now hesitated either to lag behind or to make any
expeditions on their own account into the brakes and thickets.
Moreover, the caravan was not as numerous as it was when it started.
We have already seen that it had diminished gradually, losing many of
its members in the various seribas and amongst the Bongos. But, at
the last stage before entering the Niam-Niam territory, there was a
panic, a regular stampede, and more than sixty men bolted in all
directions. Those who remained were at all events better worth
having, because, having resisted every temptation, they might be
looked upon as likely to be reliable in the future. They appeared to
have unlimited confidence in their leaders, and they fully understood
that, to make head against all dangers, they needed the support and
assistance of the Europeans, and the influence which white men ever
possess over their black brethren. Every step forward made desertion
and flight more difficult. How, indeed, could they find their way
back without a guide or counsellor in the midst of this tangled mass
of woods, forests, and trees? They were very like our own sailors.
Noisy and occasionally unmanageable when in harbour or ashore, they
blindly obey their officers when at sea. They are conscious of their
want of experience, and they know that, in spite of their numbers,
they would be powerless to navigate the ship or fight against the
elements. Brute force gives way before moral influence.

We may assume that the Europeans, according to all probability,
though they are not explicit on this point, profited by the lower
temperature and the improved discipline of the caravan to make longer
stages and cross the territory of the Niam-Niam as quickly as
possible. In the evening, tired out, they had not the heart to jot
down in their journal their notes by the way. They confined
themselves to a remark here and there, and a few curt paragraphs to
which we may add the information we ourselves have gathered from the
most reliable works on the subject. Thus, we are enabled to devote a
few lines, very few, to a most curious and almost unknown race, whose
savage nature in some respects passes all limits, but who also can
boast of a species of civilization which one cannot help admiring.

Their cannibalism is admitted by every traveller except the Italian,
Praggia, but even he confesses to have been a witness to one instance
of it, though he puts it down to hatred and a spirit of revenge. We
may, consequently, look upon it as a fact, and consider the Niam-Niam
from other points of view, which certainly redound more to their
credit.

Their vast territory is drained, to a certain extent, by countless
streams, living sources of marvellous richness. In their land the
glory of the tropics shines forth in all its splendour. "Trees with
immense stems," says Schweinfurth, "and of a height surpassing all
that we had elsewhere seen (not even excepting the palms of Egypt),
here stood in masses which seemed unbounded except where at intervals
some less towering forms rose gradually higher and higher beneath
their shade. In the innermost recesses of these woods one would come
upon an avenue like the colonnade of an Egyptian temple, veiled in
the leafy shade of a triple roof above. Seen from without, they had
all the appearance of impenetrable forests, but traversed within,
they opened into aisles and corridors which were musical with many a
murmuring fount. Hardly anywhere was the height of these woods less
than seventy feet, and on an average it was much nearer a hundred.
Far as the eye could reach it rested solely upon green, which did not
admit a gap. The narrow paths that wound themselves partly through
and partly around the growing thickets were formed by steps
consisting of bare and protruding roots, which retained the light
loose soil together. Mouldering stems, thickly clad with moss,
obstructed the passage at well-nigh every turn. The air was no longer
that of the sunny steppe, nor that of the shady grove; it was
stifling as the atmosphere of a palm-house. Its temperature might
vary from 70° to 80° Fahr., but it was so overloaded with an
oppressive moisture exhaled by the rank foliage that the traveller
could not feel otherwise than relieved to escape."

Praggia calls this part of the Niam-Niam territory "galleries," and
he says that they reminded him of shady, perfume-laden paths in the
enchanted gardens of the poets. But, instead of lovely nymphs, they
are peopled with the ponderous rhinoceros, the savage buffalo, the
massive elephant, and numerous varieties of monkeys.

The population of the known districts, for we have not yet reached
the extreme western frontier, amounts to about three millions, spread
over two degrees of longitude and six of latitude.

The appearance of this tribe, called amongst themselves Zandey or
Sandey, for the word Niam-Niam is a nick-name, signifying "eaters,"
is startling to a degree, and puts in the shade everything seen from
the Upper Nile to Khartoum, or in all the region situated to the
south of the Gazelle River, making it appear tame and spiritless.

CHAPTER XXVI.

M. Périères relates, in his journal, that the caravan had scarcely
set foot on the territory of the Niam-Niam than it was surrounded by
an inquisitive crowd, which increased every moment. It was a question
of who should be the first to see the white man, and, above all, the
white woman, the Sultana, at the sight of whom there were universal
cries of admiration. The news of the arrival of the _cortége_ spread
from hamlet to hamlet, and there was a regular human hedge along the
road. The Europeans were not, however, the objects of any hostile
demonstration. Some of the chiefs, it is true, demanded a tribute,
but as soon as they had received it, they fraternized with the
escort, offered their services as guides to the next district, and
were often of great use. M. Périères took advantage of this
curiosity, which brought him in close contact with the natives, to
trace their portraits in a few lines, whilst M. de Morin, on
horseback, made a sketch here and there of a picturesque costume, or
an original type of countenance.

The portrait of the Zandeys, or Niam-Niam, taken from pen and pencil,
and, more important still, after nature, is briefly this—average
height, that of Europeans, upper part of the body long, legs short, a
disposition towards fat; colour of the skin earthy red, hair thick
and frizzy, but of extraordinary length and falling down the back in
plaits and tufts, head round and broad. The almond-shaped eyes have
clearly defined eyebrows; the lips are not deformed by any so-called
ornaments, and the Zandeys, who take very good care not to imitate
the Dinkas, do not deprive themselves of any teeth, but they file
their incisors to a point, after the fashion of their brother
cannibals and their western relatives, the Pahaouins.

Their costume is composed of skins, fastened round the waist and
reaching to the knees, or in some cases of a girdle of hippopotamus
hide, to which hangs a small gourd filled with the fat used to anoint
the body. On their shoulders they also carry a sort of pouch filled
with provisions, for, acting up to his reputation as a large eater,
the Niam-Niam never stirs away from his home without a stock of
eatables. That portion of the body which is uncovered is ornamented
by a variety of tattooed patterns, and sometimes, in addition, by
necklets of wood or iron, or formed from the teeth of animals. The
head is bare, except in the case of the chiefs, who, in spite of the
heat, wear a species of fur hood.

As for the dress of the women, M. Périères describes that in four
words—they have not any. The Zandey females, adds the historian of
the expedition, would show far better taste if they did dress
themselves a little more, for, with the exception of a few of the
young ones, who are tolerably well-made and good looking, none of the
women are attractive, although they are never deformed, nor have they
any of the repulsive characteristics common to their Bongo
neighbours. Their ugliness does not, however, prevent their being
loved, since in no other part of Africa can such good husbands be
found as the Niam-Niam, who, notwithstanding that polygamy is in
vogue amongst them, as amongst all the contiguous tribes, have a real
affection for their wives. It must also be recorded that the women
are remarkable for their modesty, and on this point we may be allowed
to call Schweinfurth to witness. "The social position of the Niam-Niam
women," says the German traveller, "differs materially from what
is found amongst other heathen negroes in Africa. The Bongo and
Mittoo women are on the same familiar terms with the foreigner as the
men, and the Monbuttoo ladies are as forward, inquisitive, and prying
as can be imagined; but the women of the Niam-Niam treat every
stranger with great reserve. Whenever I met any women coming along a
narrow pathway in the woods or on the steppes, I noticed that they
always made a wide circuit to avoid me, and returned into the path
farther on; and many a time I saw them waiting at a distance, with
averted faces, until I had passed by. This reserve may have
originated from one of two opposite reasons. It may, on the one hand,
have sprung from the more servile position of the Niam-Niam women
themselves; or, on the other, it may have been necessitated by the
jealous temperament of their husbands. It is one of the fine traits
in the Niam-Niam that they display an affection for their wives which
is unparalleled among natives of so low a grade, and of whom it might
be expected that they would have been brutalised by their hunting and
warlike pursuits. A husband will spare no sacrifice to redeem an
imprisoned wife, and the Nubians, being acquainted with this, turn it
to profitable account in the ivory trade. They are quite aware that
whoever possesses a female hostage can obtain almost any compensation
from a Niam-Niam."

The Niam-Niam are governed by chiefs, whose power is absolute. They
dispose of the lives of their subjects, inflict corporal punishments,
such as the loss of fingers or ears, and decide upon peace or war.
Nevertheless, they are careful not to attack a neighbouring power
without first consulting their auguries. They take an oily fluid,
extracted from a red wood, and administer it to a hen; if the bird
dies, the enterprise is doubtful; if it, on the contrary, survives,
victory is assured and they take the field. In this latter case the
men arm themselves with lances, arrows, shields, and trumbashes,
sharp, pointed iron weapons, shaped something like a sickle. Their
combats are furious, and they are rather addicted to eating their
enemies after having killed them.

The journal of the expedition, however, states that the caravan made
its way through the Niam-Niam country without having any of its
members eaten, and without even receiving any proposition to that
effect. "Joseph, from his corpulence and habitually flabby
appearance," says M. Périères, "might well have made a few mouths
water. Indeed, I occasionally saw a native cast a longing glance at
him, but Joseph at once took refuge very close to us, and the poor
Niam-Niam, disappointed of a delicacy, was compelled to fall back
upon such ordinary dishes as dogs, monkeys, or reptiles, with manioc
flour and sugar-cane juice 'to follow' in the shape of dessert."

In a word, the caravan did not encounter any serious danger, thanks,
perhaps, to the number of rifles in its possession. At first, the
Zandeys mistook these guns for lances, calling them iron sticks, and
laughing at them. But M. de Morin, as much to exercise his men as to
make a display of his force, organized a course of target practice.
The Niam-Niam were frightened to begin with, and then astonished;
from that moment they looked upon the Europeans as superior beings,
against whom it was useless to contend.

Miss Beatrice Poles was now, amongst these people, raised to the
dignity of a demi-goddess. A box of lucifer matches did this for her.
The natives, accustomed to produce fire only after great exertion, by
rubbing one stick against another, were overwhelmed with amazement
when they saw Miss Poles take a box from her pocket, produce a small
match and light it at once. "She can make fire as she pleases," was
the general exclamation, and they opened their eyes and mouths to
such an extent as to make Joseph shiver in his shoes, for,
notwithstanding the impunity which he enjoyed, and the delicacy
displayed by the Niam-Niam towards him, he did not like to see their
pointed teeth.

We have now given, to a certain extent, a _resumé_ of the journal of
the expedition in all that concerns the leading characteristics of
the Niam-Niam.

Towards the middle of May, the caravan reached the river which
separates the Zandey territory from that of the Monbuttoos, where the
serious business of the expedition was to commence, for at last they
found themselves in the country where the guide, Nassar, alleged that
he had met M. de Guéran eighteen months previously.

CHAPTER XXVII.

"We had scarcely set foot in the land of the Monbuttoos before,
thanks to their perfect candour, we knew all about their tastes, for,
when we proposed to do a little bartering, they brought us a quantity
of bones, hands, jaws, and pieces of heads which must certainly have
been the remains of their repasts. From that moment we quite agreed
with Schweinfurth in his assertion that 'the cannibalism of the
Monbuttoo is unsurpassed by any nation in the world. But,' continues
that authority, 'with it all, the Monbuttoos are a noble race of men;
men who display a certain national pride, and are endowed with an
intellect and judgment such as few natives of the African wilderness
can boast; men to whom one may put a reasonable question, and who
will return a reasonable answer. The Nubians can never say enough in
praise of their faithfulness in friendly intercourse, or of the order
and stability of their national life.'"

I have given the opinion of the famous German traveller _verbatim_;
now let us see for ourselves what conclusion should be come to as
regards this tribe. It covers an area of four thousand square miles,
situated between 8° and 4° north latitude, 26° and 27° longitude east
from Paris. This country, which boasts about a million inhabitants,
is still, as it was two years ago, when Schweinfurth visited it,
under the absolute sway of one single ruler. King Munza, a most
despotic sovereign, who reigns in the western division, and who has
delegated a portion of his power to his brother Degberra, Viceroy of
the Eastern Provinces. But Munza alone is known, and science, we
repeat, comes to a dead halt at the country of the Monbuttoos.

The journey we are about to undertake, if, indeed, what we hear about
M. de Guéran leads us southwards, will land us in a blank space,
about which, as far as we have gone, no one has been able to give us
the slightest information. What news shall we gather about the stay
of our fellow-countryman in the midst of this people, or about the
route he took on quitting them? Is he, perchance, still here, kept
prisoner by Munza? We are under one continual apprehension—a
perpetual anxiety. If we put a question to a native, we at once think
that he is sure to say something in reply about the white man whom he
saw before we arrived on the scene, and who could not fail to have
been an object of curiosity. But we can only hope to get reliable
information from Munza himself, in the midst of his court and in the
full splendour of his surroundings, and, in order to reach the royal
residence as quickly as possible, we never cease to stimulate the
zeal of our escort and bearers.

Madame de Guéran has now taken up her position at the head of the
caravan, by the side of the guide, Nassar, to impart, as she says,
courage to those behind her. And, indeed, the sight of this brave,
young, and perfectly lovely woman, always wearing the strikingly
original costume, we have already described, produces a very great
impression on our soldiers. To them she is no longer a being of this
earth; she gives these infidels an idea of a very different world
from the one they inhabit. They have always respected her, but now
they revere and love her. She has succeeded in winning the
sympathies, as well as in captivating the imaginations of all these
Orientals.

All sorts of tales, and even legends, which we have more than once
had the opportunity of hearing, are in circulation about her. "She
is," say some, "the daughter of a mighty Northern Prince, and her
father has sent her to us to travel and instruct herself." According
to the Nubians, she is a powerful Sultana, whose husband had been
made prisoner by the people of Khartoum; she is now in pursuit of
them, and we shall all have to fight for her very soon. Then, with
the exaggeration habitual amongst negroes, they relate how she, in
the desert, set free two thousand slaves, whom she sent away to her
father's kingdom, where they are well-fed and wear beautiful clothes
like hers.

We take very good care not to interfere with all this romancing, nor
to keep the narrators within the region of fact; on the contrary, we
ourselves invent numerous anecdotes calculated to enhance the
reputation of our escort, and augment the _prestige_ of our beloved
leader. But will she be able to conquer, at first sight, this
redoubtable King Munza, on whom our fate depends, in the same way
that she has charmed these men, who have known her for six months?

Meanwhile, we do everything in our power to ingratiate ourselves with
the monarch, whom we are overwhelming in advance by a series of
presents conveyed to him by means of the couriers sent to meet us.
These presents consist of ten pieces of calico, ten rolls of cloth,
several carpets and coverings of various kinds, a lantern, a pair of
scissors, a sabre, a sword, a guitar, five boxes of lucifer matches,
and three pairs of socks filled with beads of all sorts. If Munza is
not satisfied with this miscellaneous collection, he must be very
hard to please. We have adhered strictly to the usages common in such
cases, and no travellers have ever displayed more generosity than we
have. We, nevertheless, hold in reserve some other presents destined
to complete the conquest of the monarch, to unloose his tongue on the
subject of M. de Guéran, and to secure his permission for our
continuing on our way southwards, should we deem it necessary.

Whilst waiting for the opportunity of making the acquaintance of
Munza, let us say a few words about the subjects. And, first of all,
one important remark; as regards their features, the Monbuttoos
differ essentially from other black tribes, and bear on their
countenances the impress of their Semitic origin. The tint of their
complexion is much lighter than we have yet seen in Africa, being
almost the colour of ground coffee. The features have a certain
amount of delicacy about them; and occasionally an aquiline nose
maybe seen. But what distinguishes them chiefly from other tribes,
their special characteristic is, that at least one out of every
twenty of the population has greyish light hair, approaching the
colour of hemp.

Their costume, which never varies, is quite original. It is composed
of the bark of a tree called the _rokko_ (a species of fig-tree),
prepared with great care and stained red-brown, which, fastened round
the waist by a girdle, covers the body from the chest to the knees.
Their hair, dressed like that of the Niam-Niam, is surmounted by a
sort of straw hat or cap.

If the men are almost entirely clothed, the women are not. They
simply tattoo their bodies in elaborate patterns, representing
flowers, stars, bees, the spots of a leopard, or the stripes of a
zebra. When they go out they carry with them a strip of cloth which
they lay across their laps as they sit down.

We are traversing the populous district of the Maogoos, governed by
one of Munza's brothers, and we come to the banks of the Welle.
Thanks to a number of canoes, thirty feet long by four broad, and
hollowed out of enormous trunks of trees, which were placed at our
disposal by the natives, we crossed the deep, dark waters of this
river, to which travellers in search of the sources of the Nile have
attached great importance.

On the western bank of the river, some emissaries of the King assumed
the direction of the caravan and guided us towards the royal
residence, situated in the midst of a region where an earthly
paradise might well find a place. At each step we came across
sparkling streamlets, ferns without number, plantations of bananas,
manioc, and sugar cane, and immense fig-trees, whose leafy density
the sun even could not penetrate. It is a superb garden, with
marvellous vegetation, full of flowers and fruit, and enlivened by
the songs of a thousand birds.

My brother Parisians, when I think that, at the most moderate
computation, nine-tenths of you picture Africa to yourselves as a
vast desert, destitute of water and shade—wretched creatures that you
are—there is not a country, perhaps, in the wide world that is
watered by so many, and such great torrents and rivers, that is
shaded by such gigantic trees, that is beautified by nature to such a
luxuriant extent, as certain parts of central Africa. But I have no
time to devote to refuting the errors of my fellow-countrymen, errors
into which I formerly fell like the rest of them. Here we are, at
last, within the private domain of Munza, and the only thing we have
now to do is to obtain from that powerful despot the key to the
enigma which is of such vital interest to us.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

The King had allotted to us, for the purposes of our camp, a large
vacant space a little over two hundred yards from his own residence.
And we had scarcely settled down, when, on the morning of the
thirtieth of May, an officer presented himself to our interpreters
with the information that his royal master would receive us that same
day.

As we wished to appear before the African monarch in full splendour,
we all devoted ourselves at once to the mysteries of the toilet.
Since we left Khartoum we had not had any special reason for getting
ourselves up regardless of expense, and it was, therefore, with a
certain amount of satisfaction and a slight admixture of self-complacency,
that we opened our portmanteaus, for the purpose of
extracting therefrom the garments reserved for special occasions.

De Morin and I selected hunting tunics with carved buttons, white
waistcoats, velvet caps, and splendid riding boots. Round our waists
we wore leathern belts, which held our hunting knives, loaded
revolvers, and a box of cartridges, and these, with our carbines
slung across our shoulders, completed our costume.

The Doctor adopted a semi-official "get-up" calculated to take the
fancy of the blacks; a blue coat with large brass buttons, grey
trousers, patent leather boots, a sword by his side, and a minature
pistol in each waistcoat pocket.

Madame de Guéran also thought it advisable to change her walking
costume for a fancy dress, half-European, half-Oriental, very much
after the fashion of the one which had gained for her the title of
the Parisian Sultana. When she burst upon us thus transformed, with
an air of surprise at seeing herself look so enchanting, and with an
eager, smiling look, we hastened to compliment her upon her
appearance.

"Take care," she said, laughingly. "Your compliments verge upon
insult. They seem to imply that I need the adjunct of dress, and
that, only this morning, when in my travel-stained, sun-scorched
clothes, I was scarcely to be tolerated."

Just as we were about to protest against this view of the matter,
Miss Poles interposed, by saying—

"My dear Baroness, these gentlemen have not said anything really
disparaging. Nature, you see, requires to be aided; the more generous
she displays herself towards us, the more are we bound to do
something for her. A little bit of dress completes us, as it were,
and imparts to us additional lustre."

Miss Poles herself, instead of putting on a new dress, had fixed in
her hair an enormous bunch of red flowers, thrown a yellow shawl over
her shoulders, and put on a pair of ten-buttoned, blue kid gloves.
According to her own mode of expression, she had completed nature by
appearing as a rainbow. It was, perhaps, an act of imprudence to let
her go near Munza, but, of course, the moment it was decided that
Madame de Guéran should visit the King, her companion was bound to
follow suit.

Seriously speaking, I must record that we had frequently discussed
the propriety of allowing the Baroness to be present at the audience
vouchsafed by the African monarch. We could not know by intuition
what sight was in store for us amongst these savages, or, under the
pretext of doing us honour, what class of entertainment they would
offer us. But, in the common interest, and in order to attain the
object we had in view, we should not have been justified in
displaying an excess of reserve or prudery, even when our companion
was in question. Proud, as all negroes are, and susceptible, like all
despots, to affront, Munza, who had for some time past been aware,
from the reports of his emissaries, that we had a white woman with
us, would have been naturally annoyed at her absence if she had
stayed away on the day when he condescended to give audience to
foreigners. The wound thus inflicted upon his _amour-propre_ might,
from the very first moment, compromise us and cause us the greatest
anxiety, and we therefore came to the conclusion not even to mention
our scruples to Madame de Guéran.

Besides, we were quite capable of hiding from her anything that might
offend her eye, and, in spite of our desire to ingratiate ourselves
with the African potentate, if he took it into his head to honour us
with any _fêtes_ after the fashion of those indulged in by the
Bongos, we should know perfectly well how to withdraw our fair leader
to a considerable distance from his residence.

As soon as we had finished our toilet operations, we reviewed the
escort. We had decided that the bearers should be left in camp, and
that the Nubian and Dinka soldiers, our attendants and personal
servants alone should accompany us.

The guide, Nassar, on this occasion, had found means to make the
famous boots we had given him shine like a mirror, and our two Arab
interpreters, who had put on clean bûrnus, were glitteringly white.
Our female Soudan brigade, with their flowing tunics, hair well
greased, shiny skins and bright eyes, looked magnificent, and the
Nubians, with their bodies covered with their most highly-prized
amulets, in fighting array, and carbine in hand, were calculated to
give a very flattering idea of the civilization of the northern
tribes.

About two o'clock in the afternoon, another of Munza's officers came
to fetch us, and we left our encampment in the following order. Half
our escort, under the command of Nassar, marched in front. We
followed, Madame de Guéran carried in her palanquin, Delange, de
Morin, and I on horseback, followed by Joseph, dressed in black with
a white tie, clean-shaved, smooth, and smiling. The other half of our
escort, led by the interpreters, brought up the rear.

An immense crowd collected from all sides to see us, dancing,
shouting, and expressing their admiration after the Monbuttoo
fashion, by opening their mouths very wide and putting the palms of
their hands before them. Our _cortége_ would not have been able to
make its way through this crowd if some officials, doing duty as
policemen and armed with long poles, had not at intervals charged the
crowd and laid about them indiscriminately.

Sorcerers, covered with rings, necklets, bracelets, and a thousand
and one trinkets, rushed towards as to make speeches, but grave,
dignified, calm, and majestic, we parsed on without a single halt.

A courier arrives, panting, with a welcome from the King, and is off
again like an arrow, to convey our thanks and announce our speedy
arrival.

At length we reach the palace gardens and are free from the mob, for
none dare follow us within these sacred precincts. But they take
their revenge by shouting in a most frenzied manner, and making a
regular din with their drums and horns.

The palace consists of a group of large huts and sheds, for various
purposes. One circular hut, with a conical roof, served as an
armoury, and in it were displayed all the arms made in the country,
which is very rich in iron and copper, and, in some places, lead;
others were used as magazines, where were stored, in perfect order,
the provisions necessary for the crowd of servants of all grades and
both sexes in the employ of Munza. Farther on, a cluster of
buildings, surrounded by splendid trees, formed the private residence
of the King. The officers sent to meet us had received orders to show
us over the palace, whilst their master, detained at market,
according to their account, got ready to receive us. They introduced
us into a gallery, more than eighty yards long, the roof of which was
up-held by five rows of pillars. The apartments of the King opened on
to this gallery, and in one large room was an erection covered with
skins and mats, and flanked by posts; this was the royal bed. From
the sleeping apartment we passed to several rooms devoted to the
King's wardrobe, where were a number of elaborate costumes, which
Munza alone wears, for the mode of dress amongst his subjects is
unalterable. Suspended from the framework were hats, plumes of
feathers, furs of every kind, tails of the giraffe, necklets made of
the teeth of more than a hundred lions, and other ornaments, each
more curious than its predecessor.

When we left these buildings, we were shown, but not allowed to
enter, another group of about a hundred huts, surrounded by strong
palisades. Here live the wives of Munza, eighty in number, and each
possessing a separate residence. But the King's seraglio is not
confined to these eighty individuals, dubbed with the title of royal
wives. His father's wives also belong to him, since, according to
African custom, on the death of a king his wives become the property
of his successor.

As Miss Poles never could resist the temptation of making remarks
about everything, she at this juncture declared in a very loud tone
of voice "that it was perfectly shocking for any man to have so many
wives." To sooth her I observed that as far as our information went,
the women in question also performed the duties of cooks.

"You must remember," I said, "that the King eats in secret, apart
from indiscreet curiosity, and none except his wives are allowed to
touch his food."

"Well!" exclaimed Miss Poles, "and what of that? your explanation, so
far from being satisfactory, gives me a still worse opinion of Mr.
Munza. Fancy degrading a wife to the position of a cook! It is
monstrous, and only worthy of a barbarian."

"You forget, Miss Poles," said Delange, "that in two-thirds of the
households both in Paris and London, the wife not only does the
cooking but also scrubs the floors."

"Quite so, but that is when people cannot afford to keep a servant,
which is not the case with this Mr. Munza."

Miss Poles pronounced the words "Mr. Munza" with a degree of contempt
which must have annihilated that monarch if he had heard them.

This conversation was, fortunately, interrupted by the deafening
noise of the horns and drums, announcing that the King had returned
from the market and regained his palace. We saw him in the distance,
accompanied by his guards and followed by his subjects, who saluted
his ears with the cry, "Ee, Ee, tchupy, tchupy, Ee, Munza, Ee," which
answers to the English, "Hip, hip, hurrah!"

We were now shown into the audience chamber.

CHAPTER XXIX.

The building in which we found ourselves was destitute of walls, but
was completely surrounded by a breast high palisading. A roof
supported on gigantic tree-stems covered its entire length, about
sixty metres, and a firm floor was obtained by means of layers of red
clay.

Officers in full war costume, dignitaries of the kingdom, in their
bark garments and with plumes of feathers in their bats, were seated
on the low stools which, according to the African custom, they had
brought with them. These individuals took up about two-thirds of the
hall. The remaining portion was occupied by the throne, a bench
furnished with a back and arms. On a leopard skin our presents were
displayed to view, but, as if the monarch wished us to understand
that he was accustomed to the generosity of white men, other objects
of European manufacture appeared interspersed amongst our offerings,
such as a silver platter, a porcelain vase, a telescope, a book with
gilt edges, and a double mirror, which magnified on one side and
diminished on the other.

The sight of these things produced a lively impression upon Madame de
Guéran. Had they belonged to her husband, and been given by him to
the African monarch? But de Morin, who was seated by her side,
reminded her that Munza must have received these presents from
Schweinfurth, and, indeed, that explorer expressly mentions the
astonishment called forth by the mirror, and the King's error in
taking the silver for white iron, and the porcelain for ivory.

On either side the throne, a large space was reserved for the royal
wives, and behind, acting as a background, were large trophies of
arms, made of gleaming copper and producing a most picturesque
effect.

At last, the trumpets and ivory horns recommenced their deafening
din, ringers marched about on all hands clanging their enormous
bells, frenzied cries rent the air, and the royal _cortége_ appeared
on the scene.

Munza marched at its head. He is a man in the prime of life,
handsome, tall, and with muscular limbs. From his almost regular
features and beard, untouched by the razor, he might be taken for a
denizen of the north, but his thick lips bespoke the negro. He was,
if we may say so, clothed in copper, and might have passed for an
animated cooking apparatus. A crescent of copper stood out from his
forehead like the vizor of a helmet, and pointed plates of the same
metal encircled his neck; rings of copper were round his wrists and
ankles; in hi hand he carried a scimitar of pure copper, and even the
girdle round his loins, which held his red-stained garment of rokko
bark, was hung with large copper balls. That part of his body which
was not hidden from view by these ornaments, was seen to be anointed
with an unguent of the colour of Pompeian red. Finally, he wore on
his head a cylindrical hat made of reeds, according to the fashion of
the tribe, and surmounted by a scarlet aigrette made of parrot's
feathers.

As soon as he entered the hall, the shouts of "Ee, ee, tchupy,
tchupy, ee, Munza, ee," redoubled.

Without turning his head he, from time to time, opened his mouth and
ejaculated, "Brr," in a sonorous voice, in recognition of the
enthusiasm of his subjects.

With upright carriage, head erect, and arms close to his sides, he
walked with measured, but somewhat theatrical, tread. He looked
neither at his court nor at us, and if it had not been for his
gleaming eyes, the cruel smile which played round his lips, and his
energetic "Brr," one would have thought that his motionless head was
made of bronze.

He took his seat on the throne, and his wives, who followed him, at
once took theirs on the small stools carried for them by slaves. The
ladies of the court resembled the other women of the tribe, whom we
have described, in every respect, including both their lack of beauty
and covering; only, their splendid hair was decorated, as a
distinctive mark of their rank, with a larger number of metal plates,
ivory pins, and porcupine quills. Some of them, the best made and
least ugly, wore also necklaces of beads of Venetian glass, which
Schweinfurth had obtained from his friend Miani, and had, two years
previously, presented to the Monbuttoo king.

These artistic beads did not resemble in any way those which we had
purchased in Paris; they were easily recognised, from the description
given of them by the German explorer, and we came to the immediate
conclusion that Munza, too proud to wear any ornament of foreign
manufacture, had handed them over to his favourite wives.

As soon as the court was seated, we thought we might venture to
follow suit. We were placed about fire yards from the King, the
intervening space between him and us being unoccupied.

Our host contrived to affect not to see us, and, with his body half
turned away from us, his legs crossed, and his right arm resting on
the back of his throne, he held in his left hand a pipe quite six
feet long, from which he took an occasional whiff. Then, returning
the pipe to one of his wives, he with a certain amount of grace,
allowed the smoke to curl from his mouth.

From time to time, by way of refreshment, he regaled himself with a
green banana, a cola nut, or a piece of sugar cane, all which
dainties were ready to his hand.

"Well," said Miss Poles, turning towards us, "This is a queer way of
receiving us. Is this what they call an audience in these parts?"

"A dumb show," replied de Morin, who had lighted a cigarette, and was
doing his best to smoke as majestically as the King of the
Monbuttoos.

"But we did not come here merely to look at this man," resumed Miss
Poles.

"You could not do better at all events," said Delange. "The powerful
monarch whom you, with that want of ceremony which is one of your
greatest charms, call 'this man,' is a splendid specimen of his
class. Of that you may rest assured, as well as that, if he were to
pay Paris a visit, the whole place would go mad about him."

"I do not doubt it in the least," replied Miss Poles, drily. "You
Parisians are capable of any amount of aberration."

"But," I asked, "my dear Miss Poles, if you have not come here to
admire King Munza, as is the case with all his court, what are your
intentions?"

"I am astonished, M. Périères," replied Miss Poles, "that you should
ask me such a question. Are not my intentions yours? Ought we not, by
means of our interpreters, to ask the King for information about M.
de Guéran?"

De Morin stopped her quickly.

"Do not breathe that name," said he.

"Why? You do not wish—"

"Certainly not. At least, not now."

"I don't understand."

"You will very soon. If the King has any motive for holding his
tongue, or misleading us with regard to our fellow-countryman, his
courtiers must not hear his answers, lest, later on, we should fail
to get more reliable replies from them."

"That is very true," I added, and, turning to Miss Poles, I said—"Do
not forget for a moment that you are in the presence of a despot,
before whom all these people bow down and worship in fear and
trembling. You will not find any one of them of much use to you, if,
by pleasing you, he would run the risk of displeasing the King."

"Then," exclaimed our Englishwoman, "we ought to have asked for a
private audience."

"Do not be uneasy. We intend to ask for a private audience, but for
to-day we must put up with what is given to us. Besides, we rather
mistrust the presence of all these hangers-on."

"If we cannot speak to-day, let us go."

"Go? Where is your politeness, Miss Poles?"

"Does the King show us any?"

"You mean that he does not speak to us?"

"Precisely so."

"And suppose he has nothing to say?"

"What nonsense! Nothing to say, indeed! Cannot he ask us for news
about our country, or yours—about England or France?"

"If I were to tell him that ours was in the full swing of a
republic," said de Morin, "I am afraid he would not understand me.
King Munza appears to me to turn a deaf ear to our advanced ideas."

"However that may be, as an Englishwoman, I am annoyed at the want of
respect shown towards me, and, moreover, I do not feel at all
comfortable amongst all these men."

"Now, really. Miss Poles," replied Delange, with his usual coolness,
"that is unreasonable. If anyone ought to feel uncomfortable, it
should be Périères, de Morin, and I, in the presence of all these
women. But we look at you—and forget them."

"Your fine speeches are thrown away upon me," said Miss Poles, who
appeared to have changed her mind with regard to Delange, and spoke
with a considerable amount of acerbity, "I am determined to break in
upon this silence and compel the King to look at us."

"He is looking at you already."

"I declare it is true," exclaimed Miss Poles, blushing.

The fact was that Munza, tired of having "posed" for the gallery, and
of affecting an indifference which he was far from feeling, had for a
moment past been looking sidelong at us. Only, Miss Poles was not the
one who had attracted his attention. In spite of his savage nature,
he was undoubtedly struck with the beauty of Madame de Guéran, and it
was on her that his stealthy looks were cast from time to time,
between the whiffs of his pipe.

"Suppose I approach him and speak to him," said Miss Poles, suddenly.
"I have evidently succeeded in attracting his attention, and, very
possibly, in pleasing him, too."

"Do not do anything of the sort," exclaimed Nassar, who, as our
interpreter, was seated close to us. "Nobody has a right to approach
the throne, unless invited to do so. It is a crime which Munza
invariably punishes by death."

"And do not forget," continued de Morin, surrounding himself with a
cloud of smoke, "that this man, as you call him, has only to lift up
his finger to put all of us on the spit. Look at our Nubians; they
are so sensible of the danger that, quite contrary to their habits,
they remain silent and motionless. As for Joseph, he is perfectly
paralyzed by fear; if his neighbours do but open their mouths he
trembles in every limb, and if the king should happen to say 'Brr'
again I believe my unfortunate valet will collapse altogether."

This further remonstrance did not convince Miss Poles, but she kept
quiet, for the King at last gave some signs of life.

CHAPTER XXX.

He rose, and received from the hands of one of his wives an article
something like those well-known playthings for babies, usually called
rattles. It was made of a wicker stick, with a little basket at the
end filled with pebbles. It was the monarch's _bâton_, and he wielded
it pompously, like a regular leader of the orchestra. At once the
trumpets, ivory horns, kettle drums, bells large and small, and all
kinds of music, both iron and copper, including all the kitchen
utensils of the Monbuttoos, honoured us with a hubbub even more
discordant than the former one.

Occasionally the orchestra ceased, to allow of a solo being
performed. A musician stepped to the front, and produced from a huge
trumpet sounds intended to represent the sough of the wind, the songs
of birds, the rumbling of a storm, or the roaring of lions. Amongst
this primitive race, what is called imitative music is always highly
esteemed.

The concert was brought to a close by renewed shouts of "Ee, Ee,
tchupy, tchupy, Ee, Munza, Ee."

The monarch took his seat once more on the throne, and it dawned upon
us that, after having allowed us to admire him from a plastic point
of view, and as a _chef d'orchestre_, he was at length disposed to
enter into conversation.

Nassar having by my order stepped forward into the empty space
between us and the King, that royal personage intimated his wish to
speak with the chief of the caravan.

As soon as this request was translated to us, we begged de Morin to
represent us. He got up accordingly, took his stool, placed it in the
small reserved space, and quietly seated himself by the side of
Nassar and in front of the King, as unembarrassed as if he had been
at his club.

But Munza did not appear to be satisfied with this arrangement, de
Morin, apparently, not being the one he wanted. At the same time he
pointed to Joseph, both by look and gesture.

"That is not the chief," said Nassar, "That is a servant, a slave.
You cannot converse with a slave, O King."

"No, no, it is the chief," persisted Munza, pointing now to Joseph's
coat and necktie.

We understood at once. When Schweinfurth was received by the King,
two years previously, he wore, as a _savant_, a black coat and white
necktie. Seeing our servant in this official guise, exactly like that
worn by the German traveller, Munza thought that Joseph was the most
important personage amongst us.

Nassar took upon himself to explain away the error, but it was with
considerable difficulty that he succeeded in doing so, the King
saying over and over again, "The white man was dressed in that way.
Why does your slave wear the same clothes as the great chief?"

He would have looked upon us as impostors if we had told him that
with us the leading men in the country, ministers, and sovereigns
wear precisely the same dress as the most disreputable waiter in an
eating-house. We were thus compelled to seek another explanation,
and, in order not to depreciate Schweinfurth in the monarch's
estimation, we declared that, during the last two years, the fashion
in our country had undergone a complete revolution, and that de
Morin, Delange, and I alone wore the costume befitting our exalted
rank. This was not very intelligible to the ruler of a people amongst
whom fashion never changes, but Munza, nevertheless, condescended to
accept the explanation, or, as was far more likely the case, with
that quickness of perception of which, later on, we had too many
proofs, he recognised, after having examined de Morin and Joseph
attentively, that it is not the cowl which makes the monk.

With the assistance of Nassar, conversation between my friend and the
African King was speedily in full swing. The latter had resumed his
nonchalant attitude, and continued to emit from his pipe, at regular
intervals, whiffs of smoke, which he sent curling through the air. De
Morin, with a cigar in his mouth, astride on his diminutive bench,
his right leg slightly raised, and his hands clasping his knee, had
posed himself after a somewhat peculiar fashion, which, it is to be
hoped, Munza considered respectful.

Profound silence reigned throughout our escort and amongst the wives
and courtiers of the King. His Majesty was about to speak, and no one
dared say a word.

The very first words uttered by Munza showed the Europeans that they
had to deal with a man of intelligence, and that they must be on
their guard accordingly.

"Who are you? Whence come you? And what motive has brought you to my
dominions?" asked his Majesty of Monbuttoo.

"We are," replied de Morin, "personages of importance in our country,
and we are travelling for our own pleasure and to see you."

"How have you heard about me?"

"From Schweinfurth, who has praised your virtue, your power, and your
generosity. Far away, in the North, the kings, the nobles, and the
people talk about you."

Munza appeared flattered; his eyes brightened, and he drew himself
up.

"And has the white man only spoken well of me?"

"Certainly; you were always good to him."

"It is true; but I did not grant his request to be permitted to go
towards the south, as he wished. Did you know that?"

"Yes, I not only knew that, but also the motives of your refusal."

The King seemed astonished.

"Tell me them. I desire you to tell me," he said.

"I ask nothing better," replied de Morin, "and the more so because I
agree with you. You feared that the merchant, Aboo Sammit, who
accompanied Schweinfurth, would establish commercial relations with
the other kingdoms, south, east, and west, which border on yours. If
Schweinfurth, instead of being accompanied by Aboo Sammit, had been
alone, you would have allowed him to cross your territory, as you
will certainly permit us to do, seeing that we are not engaged in
either the ivory or the slave trade."

"Ah!" said the African monarch, "you want to go southwards."

"We intend," replied de Morin, boldly, "to ask your permission to do
so."

Munza, for the first time, looked our friend full in the face, and
said to him—

"You have not, then, as you stated, left your country simply for the
sake of seeing me, because you also wish to know my neighbour?"

The observation was shrewd enough, but, fortunately, de Morin did not
move a muscle.

"We are come," said he, "to pay you a visit, but we must go back to
our own country, and we do not wish to do so by the same way that we
came."

"But, since you have come from the north, you must take the road back
to the north. Why, then, do you talk of going south?"

"Because in the south I shall find the sea, and vessels which will
take me back to my country, to the north, without my having the
trouble of walking there."

"The sea!" repeated the King, slowly. "Yes, the white man spoke to me
about that, but I did not understand him. Explain to me, if you can,
what the sea is."

"Have you any lakes in your country—what they call in the east the
Nyanzas?"

"No. I have not any."

"But you have plenty of rivers?"

"Rivers? Yes, yes—the Gadda, the Keebally—"

"Good! The sea is composed of a vast number of rivers, without banks,
ranged one alongside the other."

Munza shut his eyes to conjure up the figure thus presented to him.
Did he succeed? We never knew, for he did not again utter a word on
the subject. All the Europeans who have ever attempted to give the
central tribes an idea of the ocean have failed. It has been often
remarked that their imagination cannot grasp the notion. De Morin
would, possibly, have done better, had he taken the sky as his point
of comparison, and endeavoured to explain that the sea was a sky
turned upside down, whose limits the eye is powerless to reach, and
which lies ahead instead of being above.

"So," resumed the King, "it is to rejoin the sea that you wish to
cross my territory and reach the south?"

"Principally for that reason, but I have also another motive."

"Tell it to me."

"Not now; there are too many people present, and white men are not in
the habit of telling everybody their secrets. When you are kind
enough to grant me, and my friends here, a private audience, we will
tell you the real aim of our journey."

"Very well," said the King, secretly flattered by the confidence thus
reposed in him, as well as by the distinction drawn between his
subjects and himself, "I will receive you to-morrow, at sunset."

He was silent for a moment, but we could easily perceive that he had
something else to say. With his right elbow resting on the arm of his
throne, and his head supported on his hand, he looked every now and
then in our direction, and Madame de Guéran appeared invariably to
attract his attention. His black almond-shaped eyes were constantly
turned towards her, and he evidently wished to put certain questions
to us, but at the same time was afraid of appearing to take too great
an interest in us, lest by so doing he should lose some of his
dignity.

At length his curiosity got the better of his pride, and, addressing
Nassar, he said—

"Ask the chief who the two white men are who are sitting near him?"

He was taking a roundabout way to get at Madame de Guéran, who
interested him far more than we did.

As soon as Nassar had translated the question, de Morin replied
unhesitatingly that we were his two brothers. Pointing to me, he said
that I was a very learned man, able to write as Schweinfurth had done
in Munza's presence. Delange he described as a great doctor, capable
of curing all diseases.

"And that old woman there?" asked the King, suddenly, nodding towards
Miss Poles.

Nassar, who had a grudge against our beloved Englishwoman,
occasionally somewhat hasty with him, instead of toning down the
expression made use of by Munza, repeated it in a loud and very
distinct tone of voice. This was all the more cruel towards Miss
Beatrice, because when the King looked at her, and before he had
called her an old woman, she had half risen from her seat, had taken
off her spectacles to produce a more magical effect, and had smiled
in her most gracious manner.

When she heard the words—"and that old woman there"—she at first fell
back on her seat as if she had been shot, but then she jumped up,
with flashing eye and burning cheek, and thus apostrophised the King.

"An old woman! An old woman! That savage, that Goth, that cannibal—to
call me an old woman! Do you not know, you wretched thing, that in
your seraglio there is not a woman fit to be named in the same breath
with me? Old! I, to be called old at my age!"

In spite of all our efforts, we could not succeed in calming our
irate companion. Madame de Guéran alone managed it by telling her
that in the countries where we were a woman is considered old at
twenty, and that she herself, notwithstanding her evident youth,
would be put in the same category with Miss Poles.

The King, without taking any notice of the exclamations and
gesticulations of Miss Poles, or paying the slightest attention to a
scene, which, by the way, must have been quite unintelligible to him,
went on eating his bananas and cola nuts. He had, however, the
politeness to offer a banana to de Morin, who, still astride on his
stool, with his back to us, munched it quietly and, through the
medium of Nassar, gave the king some _sotto voce_ particulars about
Miss Poles which seemed to amuse his Majesty.

At last, Munza, giving up all circuitous questioning and beating
about the bush, said to Nassar abruptly—

"The white woman," looking towards Madame de Guéran, "is, doubtless,
the chief's wife?"

Our interpreter, who had been cautioned not to give any reply unless
dictated by us, duly translated the question.

"Tell him," said de Morin, "that I have no wife."

The King, as soon as this reply was conveyed to him, opened his mouth
to its utmost limits in token of amazement, and all his court
imitated his example, a proceeding which frightened Joseph and the
Nubians of the escort awfully. They thought the dinner hour was come,
and that they would be the _pièce de resistance_.

As for the women, they simply roared with laughter, although they
were accustomed not to indulge in any such demonstrations in the
presence of their royal spouse. He, too, led away by the example of
his surroundings, ended by bursting into a fit of laughter. This
Sultan, possessing from three to four hundred wives, counting his
mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, could with difficulty understand a
man being destitute of a single one. But his merriment was only
transitory. His countenance recovered its serious, apathetic
expression, and he requested that de Morin would point out which of
his companions was the husband of the white woman.

"She is not the wife of any of us," replied de Morin. "She is our
sister."

"Ah! Their sister! Very good!" said Munza, repeating his remark two
or three times.

Nevertheless, he did not appear convinced. Amongst the Africans,
family affection is very slight and does not imply any obligation. A
wife may accompany her husband to war or on any other expedition, but
his mothers, daughters, or sisters do not carry their devotion to
this extreme. Consequently, Munza, after a moment's reflection, gave
utterance to his doubts. It seemed extraordinary to him that the
white woman should have undertaken so long a journey, and should have
come as far as his dominions merely in order that she might not be
separated from her brothers.

Our friend saw that he had failed to give an intelligible explanation
of Madame de Guéran's presence amongst us, and therefore hastened to
say—

"I never said that our sister had not a private reason for
accompanying us. It is precisely to explain this reason to the King
that we have asked for a private audience."

On hearing this, Munza thought it high time to close the proceedings.

Nothing could have been easier. He made a sign, and immediately the
court, accustomed to obey his slightest look, commenced the hymn,
"Ee, Ee, tchupy, tchupy, Ee, Munza, Ee." He responded with a
stentorian, "Brr," addressed, apparently to us, and left the hall
with the same majestic step with which he had entered it, followed by
all his wives, and the sound of kettle-drums, bells, trumpets, ivory
horns, and "all kinds of music."

CHAPTER XXXI.

It appeared that Munza had shown us the greatest marks of favour. As
a rule he received strangers very coldly and rarely addressed them,
and to converse with any one at such length as he had done with us
was a mark of distinguished regard.

We could estimate our advance in royal favour by comparing the
attitude of his courtiers after his departure with their manner
towards us before his arrival. Two hours previously they had been
silent and reserved, but now they showed themselves eager to make our
acquaintance, polite, and rather troublesome. They surrounded us and
asked all sorts of questions, jostling each other to inspect us
closely and touch our clothes. Some presumptuous hands reached our
faces, and we were obliged to rap the knuckles of the most
importunate with the handles of our hunting knives. Assisted by
Nassar and our interpreter, we made a regular ring round Madame de
Guéran, and were, fortunately, able to prevent any one from coming
near her.

Miss Poles was, also, the object of the most lively curiosity; her
spectacles were a source of wonder, and her general appearance was
evidently bewildering. But we were not at all uneasy about the fair
Beatrice; she was a woman eminently calculated to take care of
herself, and she did not fall short of our expectations, her hands
being very busy about the ears of those who came too near her.

After having left the audience hall and traversed the courts and
gardens of the palace, we found ourselves once more in the midst of
the crowd, who, to do honour to their King's guests, treated us to
some more music, and escorted us as far as our camp. Then, and only
then, did we get rid of their too pressing attentions, thanks
entirely to our bearers, who had occupied their leisure moments,
during our absence, in enclosing our kraal with a strong palisading.
By a delicate attention, evidently due to Munza himself, who was
alive to the spirit of curiosity inherent in his subjects, we were
also furnished with a guard of fifty men, armed with long poles, who
patrolled round the encampment and kept all intruders away.

Nor was this all. Another right royal surprise awaited us, for in the
hut, constructed for the reception of our baggage and food, we found
the most valuable present we could possibly have had under the
circumstances. It consisted of provisions of all kinds—grain,
vegetables, fruit, fowls, goats, and beer. Our host had foreseen all
our wants and our wishes, and if he had shown himself but little
disposed to be communicative towards us, he was lavish enough in
other ways.

We lost no time in despatching to him, as a present, a novel object,
calculated to take the fancy of all Africans, although they have not
the remotest idea how to use it and are very likely to break it. It
was a tolerably large musical box. To it we added a capital watch,
the case of which was copper, silver and gold being unknown in this
country and invariably mistaken for tin and copper.

Whilst waiting for the repast being prepared for us by our head-cook,
a Nubian _cordon-bleu_, assisted by two Soudan women, also well-versed
in the culinary art, we reviewed the incidents of the day. It
is clear that Munza, in appearance at all events, is well disposed
towards us; but will he be able to give us the desired information,
which he will be asked to impart during our interview to-morrow? We
begin to have our doubts about it. During his conversation with de
Morin, not a single allusion, however indirect, was made to M. de
Guéran. The King talked about Schweinfurth, and recollected him
perfectly, albeit the African memory is treacherous to a degree, but
he did not say a single word bearing on our countryman.

Why this reserve? To what end this silence? Does not Munza know
anything? Has he never seen M. de Guéran? Is he ignorant that this
European has passed through his dominions, a fact testified to by
Nassar, and recorded by our countryman himself in his letters? It is
difficult to give credence to this apparent want of knowledge. How is
it possible that a despot, surrounded by innumerable emissaries,
should have failed to be warned of the arrival of a white man in his
kingdom?

We summoned Nassar, and asked him if the silence of the King had not
surprised him, if he did not expect Munza to mention M. de Guéran,
whose visit to him was of later date than that of Schweinfurth? Our
guide replied that he had quite expected the King to mention M. de
Guéran, but he added that the negroes easily forget what is reported
to them on the subject of any conversation, and remember facts alone.
Munza had seen Schweinfurth, received him at court, and shaken hands
with him; these were facts, and he could remember them. M. de Guéran,
on the other hand, was only known to him by hearsay, and, therefore,
may have escaped his memory.

"You admit, then," I asked, "that our countryman may have passed
through this country without seeing the King?"

"Certainly," replied Nassar. "Fearing to be stopped by Munza, as my
master, Schweinfurth was, he very probably continued his route
southwards, without halting here."

"Nevertheless, he did halt, for, according to your own account, you
entertained him for twenty-four hours."

"Not in this district," answered Nassar, quickly. "It was in a
territory lying to the south-east of us, forming part of Munza's
kingdom, but under the administration of Degberra, one of his
brothers. I was there, as I have already told you, managing a branch
trading establishment, belonging to Aboo-Sammit, and Munza does not
allow any depôt to be set up in the provinces governed by himself in
person."

This explanation was probable enough. Indeed, M. de Guéran alluded in
his letter to the kingdom of the Monbuttoos, but he did not mention
the name of Munza. This latter personage, therefore, may, as Nassar
suggests, very well have forgotten the accidental presence, in his
dominions, of a stranger whom he never saw. By making an appeal to
his memory, we shall, doubtless, obtain some useful hints.

Thanks to the liberality of the African potentate, our dinner, the
best we have had for the last three months, was a very cheerful meal.
Joseph alone, who waited on us as usual, was melancholy in the
extreme. He handed us the dishes with an air of sadness, trembling at
the slightest sound; if any of us asked for a knife and fork in a
louder tone than usual, he turned pale, and once I caught him in the
act of wiping his eyes on the table-napkin which hung over his arm.

And yet, he ought to be in good spirits and proud of the part he
played during the day. The monarch of a mighty nation, one of those
sovereigns who is feared and respected without any reservation or
opposition, such as is so often the case in Europe, had condescended
to address him personally, and had for a moment taken him to be the
leader of the caravan. Was it that he could not realize his good
fortune? Did he now despise those gratifying tributes to his
_amour-propre_, formerly so eagerly sought after by him? What was
passing in his troubled spirit?

At dessert we demanded an explanation. He hesitated at first and
begged to be excused, but at last, under the pressure of renewed
importunities, he struck a theatrical attitude, and exclaimed
suddenly, and in stilted tones—

"_Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes_."

We looked at him with amazement, and then burst out laughing.

"You know Latin, it appears," said de Morin, when he had recovered
his composure.

"Certainly," replied Joseph, bridling. "Before I went to service, I
was in the fourth class at a provincial school."

"What are you talking about? You were in the fourth class—you! In
what capacity—professor, perhaps?"

"No sir."

"Pupil, then?"

"No, sir, nor pupil either."

"What then? Out with it."

"As a servant, sir. I brushed the clothes, swept the room, lighted
the fires, and whilst attending to these duties, I listened to the
lectures of the Professors, read the exercise books of the pupils,
and gained instruction."

"Then," continued de Morin, making frantic efforts to prevent himself
from laughing in the face of his servant, "you know the meaning of
the sentence you have quoted?"

"Certainly, sir," replied Joseph. "_Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes_
means, I fear the Greeks, especially, when they come with gifts in
their hands."

"A perfect translation, but why did you let fly the quotation full in
our faces in this unexpected fashion?"

"Sir," said Joseph, with a most serious air, "I consider that it has
a local signification, for the Greeks, according to my idea, are
represented by the Monbuttoos, and the word 'gifts' means food,
provisions, meals. The quotation, therefore, stands as if I had said—
'I fear the Monbuttoos, and the meals with which they are providing
us.'"

"And why this fear, Joseph?" asked de Morin. "Do you think that the
food is poisoned? It is rather late in the day to tell us so."

"No, sir, but I cannot divest myself of the idea that this nation of
cannibals is overwhelming us with provisions and fattening us up, so
that later on they may dine off us with greater enjoyment."

De Morin could not contain himself any longer. He roared with
laughter, and we all joined him.

Joseph appeared perfectly scandalized at the unseemly mirth, and kept
on saying—

"It is not my own opinion that I have given utterance to. It is the
opinion of all the bearers, and their only motive for working so hard
at the construction of a palisade round the camp was their fear of
being attacked to-night. Alas! will it protect us?"

CHAPTER XXXII.

In spite of the fears indulged in by Joseph and our escort, we passed
a very good night in our huts, which were far more comfortable than
any we had inhabited for many a long day. On the following morning
everybody awoke uneaten, and as our audience was not to take place
until the afternoon, we set to work to fill up our leisure time.

Towards 8 a.m. de Morin, Delange and I bent our steps towards a small
stream pointed out to us on the previous evening, and there, in the
dear water, shaded from the sun's rays by a canopy of foliage,
flowers and creepers, we enjoyed a most delicious and refreshing
bath. This over, we went to the market, and nothing more picturesque
can be imagined than these large gatherings, which in Africa have
become, if I may be allowed to use the term, regular institutions.
The market is a perfect pleasure-ground for buyers and sellers, rich
and poor, large and small, men who go to see, and women who go to be
seen. The animation and noise are on a par, extraordinary alike;
shouting and laughing are heard on all sides—bargaining here,
quarrelling there, and fighting everywhere. Fruits and vegetables are
jumbled together in one vast confusion—manioc, sweet potatoes, known
amongst the Monbuttoos as _mendo_, yams, bananas and bundles of the
sugar-cane. Earthen jars of artistic design, covered with figures in
relief, hold the beer and other liquors.

On our return to camp, at about two o'clock in the afternoon, we were
honoured by a visit from the favourite wives of the King. These
ladies, in number about twenty, were far more reserved in their
manner than we could have expected. It is true that they had had a
lesson from Munza, and he was not to be disobeyed with impunity.

Some of them, nevertheless, betrayed such an unmistakable desire to
pass their fingers through the beard and hair of a white man, that we
felt bound to gratify them. But as neither of us was anxious to
sacrifice himself, de Morin summoned Joseph, made him sit down on a
stool, and authorised our amiable visitors to make use of his head as
if it were a barber's block. Joseph, at first flattered by
experiencing the contact of so many royal hands, displayed a tendency
in the direction of protest and self-defence when his beard was
plucked and his hair pulled to see if they were really attached by
nature to his skin. We pointed out to him that the King's wives would
bear in mind his amiability, would be a means, some day, perhaps, of
saving him from being eaten, and that, from every point of view, it
would be better for him to lose a lock of hair than his head. He saw
the force of this argument, and resigned himself to his fate, crying
out, when the tugs were too forcible, in such a ludicrous way that
the women were in fits of laughter.

After having toyed with Joseph's hair and beard, the Monbuttoos
expressed a further wish. Until we appeared on the scene they had
been accustomed to see men and women bare-footed; our large boots
puzzled them, and they longed to know whether the pieces of leather
which encased our feet and legs were a part of ourselves and natural,
or whether they were merely a covering, like the rest of our clothes.
We thought that these charming searchers after knowledge had learnt
quite enough for one visit, and we consequently postponed until
another opportunity the fresh study which they wanted to take in
hand. Having at length dismissed them with a few presents, we were at
liberty to take a spell of well-earned repose until the hour fixed
for our private audience. But punctually at six o'clock we started
for the palace, accompanied by Nassar and a dozen soldiers.

Miss Poles was with us, the King having, since the morning, been
restored to her good graces, thanks to Delange, who, fearing a scene,
had given Nassar a hint or two. The latter, in consequence, lost no
time in requesting that our beloved Englishwoman would grant him an
interview, in order that he might confess to her his fears and
regrets. He feared, according to the tale he now told, that he had
misunderstood Munza's idea on the subject of Miss Poles; the word
"old woman" had certainly not been uttered by the monarch; the
interpreter had made a mistake, and had given a wrong translation of
the Monbuttoo expression, which, as he had subsequently ascertained,
meant in reality "pretty woman," or "uncommon woman."

Miss Poles eagerly accepted this explanation, just as everybody
invariably does put implicit faith in whatever is pleasing, and in
rare good humour, radiant, and got up regardless of expense, she
accompanied us to the palace.

We were received at the outside palisading, and were at once
conducted to the building in which the King's residence is situated.
But, as we were about to enter the gallery already described, an
officer made his appearance with the information that the King would
only give audience to the white woman.

We stopped in astonishment. What did this whim mean? What peculiar
notion had crossed the brain of the African monarch? Why were we to
be separated from Madame de Guéran, and shut out from the interview?

"What do you think?" said I, turning to my friends.

"I think," replied de Morin, "that this savage is mad, and needs to
be brought to his senses."

"And yon?" said I, turning to Delange, who did not appear to be quite
so angry as de Morin.

"We must not give in to him," replied the Doctor.

"Give in to him!" exclaimed de Morin. "I should think not indeed! Who
could possibly dream of allowing Madame de Guéran to venture alone
into that den? If that is even taken into consideration for a moment,
I will force my way into the palace, revolver in hand, and shoot this
insolent savage as I would a dog."

"Calm yourself, my dear fellow," said I to our friend. "Nobody has
any idea of truckling to the King's caprices."

Then, turning to Madame de Guéran, I added—

"I must apologise for having consulted our friends first, but when
your safety is in question we have a right, as you well know, seeing
that you have given us that right, to take counsel amongst ourselves
alone. But you agree with us, do you not?"

"Absolutely," replied the Baroness, in her calm, sweet voice. "I have
no idea if the _tête-à-tête_ asked for would be dangerous, or if I
should run any risk in this palace. But, on the one hand, this demand
is calculated to lower your status, and, on the other, if we yield to
this first whim, we shall soon have to face others far more serious.
These savages are very like children; comply with their first
demands, and you convert them into despots."

"What must we do, then?" I asked, still addressing Madame de Guéran.

"Withdraw, and give up all idea of the audience, in which, moreover,
I feel assured that we should not have learnt a single thing we want
to know."

"That is precisely my idea," said I.

"And mine, too," chimed in Delange.

De Morin, alone, did not speak, evidently regretting that he was not
allowed to shoot the King like a dog.

We were going, therefore, to turn to the right-about, when Miss
Beatrice, who dearly loved to have the last word, stopped us and
begged us to hear what she had to say.

CHAPTER XXXIII.

What could she have to say to us? What important communication was
she thinking of making, at a time when prudence counselled the
earliest possible departure, now that we had determined upon not
giving way to the will of the King?

"We will hear you," said Delange to her, "but be quick, I beg; all
these consultations are dangerous just now."

"Make your minds quite easy," replied Miss Beatrice. "I will be
brief. Before letting you come to so important a resolution, one
which may have a serious influence over our future, I merely wish to
ask you one question."

"Ask it. Miss Poles, ask it."

"Are you sure," she commenced, pushing her glasses up from her eyes,
"that the King meant Madame de Guéran, that it is with her that he
desires an interview?"

Delange looked at de Morin, who looked at me, whilst I looked at
Nassar, whose eyes were fixed on the Baroness. Nobody as yet
perceived the drift of Miss Beatrice's remarks.

"I wish you to observe," she continued, "that the name of Madame de
Guéran has never been mentioned, for the very simple reason that
nobody knows it. The officer simply stated that the King would only
receive the white woman. What white woman does he mean? The Baroness
or me? I labour under the impression that I am as white as she is."

Our eyes were opened at last, and it was with great difficulty that
we kept our countenances. Miss Poles resumed—

"There are occasions in one's life when ordinary considerations fail
to have any effect. I have reason to believe that Munza meant me.
Yesterday, during the audience, he never ceased to look at me; he
smiled at me, and graciously offered me a banana and a cola nut.
Lastly, you now know from our interpreter that instead of calling me
an old woman, he said I was a pretty one. All these things put
together, notwithstanding my entire freedom from conceit—I might
almost say, my deep humility—impel me to ask you if you are not on a
wrong scent, if I am not the one with whom the King desires a private
interview."

I had turned away to hide my laughter, and de Morin had followed my
example; Delange alone confronted Miss Poles.

"It is quite possible," said he to her, "that the King did mean you;
I indeed am inclined to be of that opinion. But that does not alter
the situation in any way whatever; in the first place, Munza insults
us by not permitting us to accompany you; in the second, we cannot
allow you to present yourself before him alone."

"But," she urged, "if this is a matter affecting our common
interests, I am quite ready to run any risk. I am not afraid of
anybody, and, besides, I have no reason to think that the King would
behave otherwise than as a gentleman to any woman, to say nothing of
my being an Englishwoman."

"We do not share your ideas on this subject," said Delange, firmly,
"and, for my part, I absolutely refuse to let you enter that den
alone. Have the kindness to come away with us, for we are off."

De Morin had by this time put himself at the head of the escort, and
I, approaching the officer who had conveyed to us his master's
orders, told him to inform the King that we were accustomed never to
be separated from our sister, and that we were going away because he
refused to receive us with her.

"What you have just done, gentlemen," said Miss Poles, as she
followed us, "may turn out to be a serious business."

"It would have been far more serious," whispered de Morin, in my ear,
"if we had sent her to the King, instead of Madame de Guéran. Munza
would have scarcely thought the joke a good one, and he would have
been right. But keep your eyes open all round, my dear fellow, whilst
I look after the escort. At this very moment our reply is being
communicated to the King, and he knows by this time that we are going
away. He will be furious, and we have every reason to be afraid."

"That is so," said I. "A man accustomed to bend every will to his
own, the demi-god of more than a million souls, will hardly believe
that a handful of foreigners dare to refuse all obedience to him, and
brave him even within the walls of his palace."

Happily, our fears were groundless, and we proceeded without the
slightest _contretemps_ across the open space which separated us from
the palisading. The building occupied by Munza, wherein we had
declined to set foot, remained in perfect silence. Nobody came out of
it, either to order us to return or to give any instructions to the
soldiers whom we could see on every side of us. We soon reached the
gate, and a very few moments more saw us within our own encampment.

De Morin prudently forbade all straggling on the part of the men of
the escort; he inspected their guns and, without actually serving out
the ammunition, he opened our boxes of cartridges and had them in
readiness for any emergency. The rest of our people, who, as Joseph
had stated, placed very little confidence in the Monbuttoos, approved
of these precautions. At the same time we removed the injunction
laid, as I have already recorded, upon Nassar with reference to any
conversation on the subject of the Baron de Guéran, and we now
instructed him to mix with the natives, large and small, who
surrounded our encampment throughout the day, and to endeavour to
obtain incidentally from them whatever information he could as to a
white man having passed through, or stayed in their country.

These measures of precaution having been put in force, we set
ourselves to wait. It was clear to us that Munza would communicate
with us in some way or other during the evening; a black man cannot
wait, and he never puts anything off until to-morrow, except, indeed,
his work.

As we anticipated, about an hour after our return to our encampment,
we saw, coming towards us as fast as his legs could carry him, one of
the King's couriers or runners—the same, in fact, who, on the
previous evening, as we were on our way to the public reception, had
brought us Munza's greeting. To the functions of courier he evidently
added those of ambassador or master of the ceremonies, and we
received him with all the honours due to his exalted rank; that is to
say, we permitted him to enter our enclosure and come to the hut
where we were all assembled together, with our interpreter beside us.

Munza sent word to say that he could not understand why we had not
allowed our sister to enter the palace unaccompanied. Had not he
himself, that very morning, permitted his wives to visit us
unattended?

We replied that every country had its own peculiar customs; we
respected those of the Monbuttoos, but we could not depart from our
own. In the mighty country where we were born, a woman never entered
alone into the house of any man, unless he happened to be her father,
her brother, or her husband.

This reply had no sooner been translated, than the courier departed
as speedily as he had come.

Half an hour afterwards we saw him returning. Munza had decided upon
his course of action, and sent it to us by word of mouth, just as we
should convey our ideas by means of a letter or a despatch.

This time the ambassador was enjoined to tell us that his master
wished to receive our sister in private, because the chief of the
white men had, on the previous evening, stated that she did not wish
to explain publicly the motive of her journey.

We replied in the following terms:—

"Our sister could not, indeed, speak before the whole court, but
there is nothing to prevent her explaining herself in the presence of
her brothers, who are aware of her secret, as the King cannot fail to
suppose."

The end had not come yet. For the third time, the master of the
ceremonies appeared, and informed us that the King consented to
receive us all and that he was awaiting our visit.

We had foreseen some such message, feeling sure that Munza, whatever
might be his motive, would not show his teeth, if such a vulgar
expression may be used in connection with so powerful a monarch. But,
in our own interest, and to retain our reputation as white men and
important personages, we were determined to stand on our dignity.

The courier was therefore commissioned to convey to Munza, as
literally as possible, the following message:—

"The King having refused the white people the _entrée_ into his
palace, the latter cannot, after such an affront, present themselves
immediately before him. But they are prepared to receive him as
worthily as it is in their power to do, if he will condescend to pay
them a visit."

The desultory conversation was at an end, and the evening and night
passed off without any other incident. We thought it prudent,
however, to place a strong guard round the camp, and, as we had been
in the habit of doing for some time past, Delange, de Morin, and I
divided the night between us, keeping watch and watch, as they do on
board ship.

On the following day we were reassured on the score of the King's
intentions towards us. Provisions, in large quantities, were sent to
us, as on the previous evening. Munza either bore us no grudge, or,
if he did, it was to his own interest to conceal it.

Towards eight o'clock there was a great stir around our camp, the
palisading being thronged with a circle of natives, and we were
apprised that the ruler of the Monbuttoos was preparing to pay us a
visit.

Very soon the drums, trumpets, and horns began their customary din,
shouts rent the air, and the King appeared in the midst of a numerous
escort, who displayed great brutality in keeping at a distance such
of his subjects as pressed upon him too closely.

De Morin, without delay, made our soldiers and the greater portion of
the bearers fall in, and, after having issued his orders, rejoined us
in our hut, the largest of all, where we firmly awaited the arrival
of his Majesty of Monbuttoo.

We imagined that he intended entering our enclosure accompanied by
his officers. Nothing of the sort—he ordered them to remain without,
and alone, unarmed, calm, and with head erect, just as he had
appeared to us at our first interview, he advanced up the centre of
the path which we had made from the palisade to our hut. Our
soldiers, who had been taught by de Morin a sort of drill in epitome,
presented arms, whilst three Nubians, who acted as our drummers, beat
the roll they had learnt under my instruction.

Above our hut floated the French Standard. We thought that, under the
circumstances, we might fairly hoist it, and our beloved national
ensign, which we had not seen for so long a time, made our hearts
beat high. I am not quite sure that some of our eyes did not fill
with tears at the sight of that bit of buntings waving in the air,
and saluting us in the name of our country. Out of respect to the
birth-place and earliest recollections of Madame de Guéran, as well
as by way of consulting the prejudices of Miss Poles, the British
flag was hoisted by the side of our own, but Delange, who was in
charge of the decoration department, arranged matters so that our
flag completely enveloped that of Great Britain. When so far away
from home, and free from all danger of wounding any susceptibilities,
one may be held excused for giving the highest place to the flag of
one's own country.

The African monarch, on reaching the hut, was received by Delange,
who held out his hand and begged him to enter our dwelling.

CHAPTER XXXIV.

In truth, if Munza is the greatest potentate in these regions, he is
also the most civilized of savages. He seated himself on a bench,
and, without displaying any excessive curiosity, glanced at the
various objects displayed for the purpose of attracting his attention
and affording him pleasure. As soon as his eyes fell on a watch, a
compass, a telescope, or, in fact, any one of the things laid out for
his inspection, Delange took it up, and, approaching the King,
endeavoured, through the medium of Nassar, to explain to him its
mechanism, and make him understand its use. Nevertheless, we were
bound to confess that he listened to our interpreter with a very
absent air; his glances, instead of being devoted to things, were
directed more than perhaps they ought to have been, towards persons,
and it was very evident that Madame de Guéran was the object in view.
Sufficiently master of himself to avoid looking at her too fixedly,
he never ceased to cast, as on the previous evening, rapid and side-long
glances at her.

There is no shutting one's eyes to the fact that the beauty of our
fair companion has made a deep impression on Munza. In spite of his
savage nature, he is certainly by instinct, if not by innate
sentiment, alive to the charm of beauty.

He understands that her face, her hair, her hands, and her figure are
superior to all his surroundings, and to all that he has ever seen.
He is lost in wonder, he is under a charm, and if he dared, and were
not restrained by his pride, this pagan would prostrate himself
before this new idol.

All this, I need scarcely say, makes us very uneasy, for what would
become of us if Munza were to entertain a serious passion for our
beloved Sultana?

The situation is by no means new; on the contrary, it is historical,
as the following adventure which befell Baker, and which I will
endeavour to recall, will show.

That traveller was at a few days' journey from Lake Albert, in the
midst of a black tribe ruled over by the chief Kamrasi. Lady Baker,
prostrated by fever, was most anxious to go on for the purpose of
reaching a more healthy district.

Baker, for his part, thought that he was on the eve of attaining the
end towards which he had been struggling for so long—a few steps
more, a few additional efforts, and the source of the Nile, as far as
his ideas went, would be discovered.

But Kamrasi took no heed of the fever which was consuming the wife,
nor of the scientific enthusiasm of the husband. In spite of his
promises and his engagements, he persisted in keeping Lady Baker and
her husband in his kingdom, and refused them the bearers necessary
for the prosecution of their journey. At length, one day, when Baker
was urging him to assist them, Kamrasi said—

"I will let you leave me on the sole condition that you leave your
wife with me."

The English explorer, in a rage, presented a pistol at the breast of
the negro king, who merely replied—

"Why are you angry? What wrong have I done you in asking for your
wife? I would give you one of mine with pleasure if you wished it,
and I never thought you would hesitate about giving yours up. As a
rule, I offer pretty wives to all who come to see me, and it appeared
to me to be a very simple matter to make an exchange with you. Do not
bear me any ill-will; if my proposition displeases you, I will not
renew it."

He kept his word; but Kamrasi was a very amiable native, of a much
more facile temperament than the terrible King of the Monbuttoos.

We may, therefore, find ourselves in a very embarrassing, if not
perilous, position, should, as we begin to think, this African
despot, with his ardent passions, accustomed to satisfy his every
whim and fancy, be attracted by the first white woman he has ever
seen, and the loveliest creature he has ever dreamt of.

The question before us, however, was how best to entertain our guest,
to excite his curiosity, and rouse him when he showed any sign of
forgetting himself in the contemplation of Madame de Guéran.

De Morin had at first recourse to lucifer matches; when he thought
that the King was becoming too deeply absorbed he took out of his
pocket his silver fusee-box and lighted a match. But the operation,
which had served us in good stead amongst other tribes, very soon
palled upon Munza.

From matches we passed to refreshments; a bottle of champagne, the
solitary remnant of Parisian luxuries, was produced and opened in
honour of the King.

The noise, the popping of the cork, the outflow of the froth, and the
sparkling of the wine produced a certain amount of impression on him;
but it did not last long, and, with an astonishing genius for
imitation, he, without the least awkwardness, clinked against our
cups the silver goblet we had presented to him, and he drank as he
saw us doing.

Then de Morin, bent upon using every possible means to engage his
attention, took down his fowling-piece, and aiming at a splendid
parrot which was sitting in a neighbouring palm-tree, brought it to
the ground.

The King, on hearing the report, very naturally sprang up, but he
speedily recovered his composure, and, as his frightened subjects
were shouting in alarm and rushing towards our palisade, he hastened
out to reassure them and tell them to be quiet.

When he rejoined us, our flags, waving in the wind, attracted his
attention, and, after looking at them for a moment, he called Nassar,
and said—

"What is the use of those things?"

Nassar, prompted by us, explained that they were flags, and that each
nation had a different one.

"Then," said Munza, "you do not belong to the same nation as the
other white man did? His flag was not like these."

We endeavoured to make him understand that the territory peopled by
white men was of immense extent, and divided into several kingdoms,
Schweinfurth having come from the east and we from the west.

Delange, taking advantage of the opportunity, told Munza that he
ought to have known our flag, seeing that he had already received at
his court a man belonging to the same nation as ourselves.

"No, I have never seen but one man, the leaf-eater," was the reply,
"and he had not a flag like these."

The Monbuttoos had nick-named Schweinfurth the leaf-eater, because,
as a botanist, he had spent his leisure moments in making a
collection of rare plants, which, they assumed, were eaten by him.

Notwithstanding his evident wish to remain with us longer, Munza's
pride induced him to bring his visit to a close. He left us, after
taking a long, stealthy look at Madame de Guéran.

Our escort again presented arms, and our drummers, adding their
uproar to that made by the trumpets of the Monbuttoos, allowed him to
make, in theatrical parlance, an effective exit.

The information collected by Nassar soon convinced us that the King
had spoken in all good faith when he said that he had not received
any white man at his court subsequently to the visit paid him by
Schweinfurth.

As our interpreter had imagined, the Baron de Guéran must have passed
through Munza's dominions without stopping, so as to reach without
delay the province governed by Degberra.

In this latter district alone, therefore, can we get any reliable
information. But how are we to get there without the consent of the
King? How, even, ask at once for that permission, without displeasing
our host, who heaps favours upon us and condescends to visit us?

Alas, these visits, which are day by day becoming more frequent,
convince us, to our great sorrow, that the African monarch has really
fallen in love with our dear companion, and will certainly not allow
us to depart.

We had never calculated, I confess, upon complications of this sort;
we had reckoned on the natural difficulties of our route, on possible
attacks by the natives, the desertion of our escort, fatigue,
sickness, discouragement, hunger—we had admitted to ourselves that
any or all these obstacles might, perhaps, stand in the way of our
success; but it had never entered into our heads to suppose that the
love of an African sovereign for our beloved Sultana would bar our
onward progress.

We had, as we thought, foreseen everything, and had made all due
allowance for accidents of all kinds, whether provoked by the
hostility of the elements or of man, and for all obstacles proceeding
from Nature herself, ever ready to say to the over-bold—"Thus far,
and no further;" but we had never taken into consideration those
human passions which, nevertheless, spring into being and burst forth
under the burning skies of Africa just as radiantly as they do in our
own more temperate clime.

A thousand and one rumours confirmed our suspicions, and heightened
our fears. Munza, according to common report, was no longer the
somewhat indolent sovereign, passing his life in the contemplation of
his treasures, in compelling the admiration of his subjects, dressing
himself up in fantastic costumes, and dancing before his court.

He now made preparations for war on a large scale, collecting and
stowing away in his armoury weapons of all kinds, his temper was
becoming uncertain, he was restless, and occasionally gave way to
violent paroxysms of rage.

How will all this end? None of us dare hazard even a guess.

June 20.—I fear that Miss Poles has been up to her little pranks
again. Just as I sat down to write Nassar hurried to me, begging me
to go to her assistance as quickly as possible.

CHAPTER XXXV.

FROM MISS BEATRICE POLES TO MISS EMILY——

"These lines, my dear Emily, will, in all probability, never reach
you. It is even very likely that after I have written them I shall
destroy them. But I must talk to you; I cannot help myself. My heart
is overflowing, and I must turn the stream of its confidence towards
you. In whom can I confide, if not in you? Who amongst my travelling
companions deserves to be my confidant? MM. Périères, de Morin, and
Delange are out of the question. I have no right to inflict such
pain, so bitter an awakening on them, nor to deprive them in an
instant of their cherished illusions. I cannot say brusquely to them—
'I have made a mistake, gentlemen; I do not love you.'

"As for Madame de Guéran—you know very well, my dear Emily, that to
repose confidence in a rival may be dangerous.

"So, in my isolation, I turn to you, and begin. We are at this moment
in the country of the Monbuttoos, at the court of King Munza, a man
about thirty-five years of age, in the full bloom and vigour of
manhood. He is tall, his figure is good, and his splendid features
recall the fine old statues of the monarchs of ancient Ethiopia. He
is not a negro—do not labour under that delusion—he is a dusky white
man—a very handsome man, too, artistically dressed and with a
majestic mien. Moreover, he is a man of intelligence, and a very
powerful sovereign into the bargain.

"Nevertheless, Munza, who seems to think of nothing but our comfort,
and with whom we are on the best possible terms, absolutely refuses
to allow us to leave his dominions. What is his reason for that? you
will ask. A very simple one. The King, who, up to this time, has
never seen any women but his hideous Monbuttoo specimens, destitute
of grace and costume alike, no sooner set eyes on two white women,
young, agreeable, well made, and good looking, than he fell in love
with one of them. Although a savage, he has a heart which is quite as
warm as one born in Europe; nay, warmer, perhaps, on account of the
climate.

"But again, you will ask, which of the two white women is the chosen
one? To whom, to Madame de Guéran or to me, has this handsome Paris
awarded the apple? The question is a very natural one, and the answer
to it involves a point on which we here are very much divided.

"MM. Delange, de Morin, and Périères, who have been in love with me
for some time past, as you know, are naturally anxious that Munza
should not enter the lists against them. Consequently, they persist,
in all honesty, in treating me as out of the question altogether, and
maintaining that the eyes of the King turn towards the Baroness, that
all his sighs are for her.

"I know, my dear Emily, exactly what you are going to say—that,
though a mistake might be made about the object of a sigh, there can
be none about the direction of a look. And then you proceed to
enquire towards whom Munza's glances turn?

"Madame de Guéran, my dear friend. I cannot pretend that it is not
so, and I owe you the truth at all events. I owe it to myself as
well, for these lines will, in all probability, never reach you, but
are destined to comfort my own heart alone.

"But do you remember that charming comedy, _le Chandelier_, written
by a French author, Alfred de Musset? If you do, you will have
guessed the drift of what I have already written. The King, with his
remarkable shrewdness, and a delicacy very rare amongst the negroes,
is diverting all suspicion, and, in order not to compromise me,
allows it to be thought that he is in love with Madame de Guéran.
Nothing could be more natural.

"Such is the position of affairs—the most powerful King in all Africa
is in love with your dearest friend. It was bound to happen sooner or
later, and I was quite prepared for it. But I did not anticipate that
things would come to such a pitch that he wishes, not only to keep me
near him, but my companions also, as well as our escort and bearers.

"Now, have I any right to impede the progress of the caravan, to
postpone M. de Guéran's rescue, if he is a prisoner, or to leave any
longer in obscurity certain geographical points which our journey
towards the south will certainly clear up?

"I do not think so, and, seeing that I am now only annoying,
embarrassing, and compromising everybody, I ought to put myself on
one side altogether, and sacrifice myself for the public good. I will
seek out the King, and will say to him, 'Sire, you ought not to mix
my affairs up with those of my friends; if I have done wrong in
pleasing you, you should not hold others responsible for my fault. Do
not keep them any longer in your dominions; matters of importance
compel them to proceed southwards. But, since you do not wish to
separate yourself from me, let my destiny be accomplished! I will be
your prisoner, your slave, and one day I will be your wife, if some
Protestant minister, who may perchance be passing through this
country, will only bless our union.'

"Yes, my dear Emily, thus will I speak to him, and he cannot help
being touched by my words, or avoid setting my friends at liberty.
But I think I hear you exclaim, 'and you, my poor Beatrice, what will
become of you in the midst of the eighty legitimate wives of this
monarch, to say nothing of his three or four hundred less lawful
spouses?"

"On that head do not at all be uneasy. I will soon bring them to
reason, and, moreover, the King, since he has loved me, has banished
them from his presence, if, indeed, he has not taken leave of them
altogether. I shall soon reign with undisputed sway in Munza's heart.
I have a noble mission to fulfil by the side of this man, a savage
now, but in the future to be civilized by my love. He will blush for
his past life, and for the ignorance and sloth he has permitted
amongst his subjects. I trust that before another year has passed
away he will have earned the title of Munza the Beloved, the father
of his people, and that he will have founded in his kingdom many
useful institutions. Possibly I may even prevail upon him to renounce
his absolute power, and establish Constitutional Government and a
parliament!

"In all this I have said nothing about my own feelings, and you will
naturally be anxious to know if I, with my delicate and refined
tastes, can ever attach myself altogether to this being, exceptional
undoubtedly, but, nevertheless, uncultivated and with habits totally
opposed to my own?

"I quite recognize the justice of your anxiety, but I will allay it
by a word—I love him already!

"Yes, I have no hesitation in confessing it to myself—his appearance,
his position—why should I keep that in the background?—the respect
paid to him by all, the almost worship of which he is the object,
have all made a singular impression on me. Is our love ever entirely
free from vanity? Lastly, his great love moved me—how could it have
been otherwise?

"Do not be hard upon your friend, nor reproach her with inconstancy.
Spare me your reproaches, and do not ever mention the names of MM. de
Morin, Périères, and Delange. I really did imagine myself in love
with them one after the other, but, good heavens! what a mistake I
made! I never felt for them as I feel now! And how far, how very far,
are these more or less fair haired, blue-eyed, ordinary men, removed
from—my Munza!

"And, besides, there were three of them; I had only to choose—the
very reason, perhaps, why I did nothing of the kind. Yes, my thoughts
were always floating from one to the other; I was irresolute, going
first to this and then to that one, without coming to any decision.
If I could have said to myself—this is the one you love; he is
superior to both the others—the matter would have been at an end; I
should have been his for life, and should have passed Munza without
seeing him. But these gentlemen are too good, they are too much
alike, and their very perfections, which I have ever been ready to
acknowledge, throw me into a terrible state of embarrassment. To-day
I am at all events freed from that. And, yet, that is not quite true.
I have just written out on paper a short speech intended for Munza,
but how can I repeat by word of mouth what I have written for you? He
knows a few words of Arabic, which he once heard from Aboo-Sammit,
and, thanks to my prodigious facility for languages, I have picked up
the Monbuttoo dialect to a certain extent. But the nervous state I
shall be in when I am with him, and his agitation, will both combine
to prevent our expressing ourselves clearly. I am afraid I cannot
take an interpreter with me, for there are occasions in one's life
when an interpreter would be anything but an assistance.

"In the general interest, and for the sake of my own peace of mind, I
must speak to the King as soon as possible; but, alas! I do not know
even how to get to him. Courage! I will see him to-night. I must see
him to-night. As soon as everybody around me has retired to rest, I
will make my way towards the Palace, and, then—then I will trust to
fortune.

"I leave you, my dear Emily, for I must go and dress—not from any
feeling of vanity; Munza and I are far beyond that, but out of
deference to his Royal Majesty."

CHAPTER XXXVI.

"As I recorded yesterday, Miss Poles was in a regular mess when
Nassar came to fetch me. It was only this morning that I learned what
had happened, and I am using these loose sheets for my narrative,
because the doings and sayings of our English companion are really so
eccentric that I am obliged to put our journal on one side.

Last night Miss Poles, snatched by Nassar and myself from imminent
danger, was too excited even to reply to the questions of her
saviours. Without saying a word, she rushed precipitately into her
tent, and this morning she has not made her appearance. I have been,
in consequence, reduced to appeal to our interpreters for
information, and they very soon put me _au courant_ with the
situation. The blacks know all that takes place amongst their
neighbours, and they know it the more easily, because of all doors
and windows, where there are any, being left open on account of the
heat. The King's residence, being less open to inquisitive eyes than
any other buildings, excites all the more curiosity, and every eye is
persistently fixed on it. The numerous officers who live in it, the
servants of all classes, and the crowds of idle women gabble and
chatter, and carry all the court news into the village.

Last night, then, about nine o'clock. Miss Poles, dressed up to the
nines, and bedizened like a shrine, but closely veiled—Miss Poles, I
say, escaping from our encampment, must needs betake herself to the
Palace, where, after managing to effect an entrance, she demanded a
private audience of the King.

Munza, in all probability, was considerably disappointed when he saw
her enter his room, where, reclining on his mats, he was smoking his
long pipe in solitude and in a reverie. He had been told that a white
woman desired to see him, and, for a moment, he might have indulged
in a hope that it was not Miss Poles.

When she appeared in all her angular leanness before this African,
himself a very near neighbour of a tribe which is so in love with
_embonpoint_ as to fatten its women as we do our beasts, he must have
experienced a certain shock especially when she raised her long arms
and removed her veil, as much as to say, "Look and admire." The
unhappy man, who, a moment before, had been no doubt dwelling on
another image, gave way to silent rage.

She then, without hesitation or ceremony, was daring enough to sit
down beside him and address him at great length. What did she say?
Nobody knows positively, because at first the _tête-à-tête_ was
conducted quietly, but we can draw our own conclusions from what
transpired subsequently.

Munza, driven, no doubt, to desperation, suddenly sprang to his feet
in a paroxysm of rage and clapped his hands to summon his officers,
ever ready to assist him in case of emergency. These appeared at
once, the King said a few words to them in a low tone, and, ten
minutes afterwards, in walked all the royal wives. Miss Poles,
meanwhile, expecting every moment that the King would fall on his
knees at her feet.

As soon as ever the women were assembled, the King, pointing to Miss
Beatrice, said to them—

"This white woman has the impertinence to propose living here in this
Palace, and taking your place by my side. Do what you like to her, I
hand her over to you."

He disappeared, leaving our Englishwoman to fight it out with his
eighty wives.

The scene which followed may easily be imagined. The women looked at
each other, hesitating, still undecided, and altogether non-plussed.
If their master had not been their informant they would not have
believed their ears! This extraordinary looking creature, the jest
and by-word of the harem ever since the day of the presentation, this
woman, by herself, to pretend to oust them all, to supplant them, to
monopolize their beloved Monza, their idol, and their God!

By degrees their anger rose, their eyes flashed, from eighty mouths
flowed simultaneous torrents of abuse in the Monbuttoo tongue, and a
perfect shower of invective fell like hail upon the unfortunate
Englishwoman. She was powerless to reply, her presence of mind had
deserted her; upright and motionless, she might have been taken for a
lifeless image of resignation and grief.

To insults succeeded open menace, each urged on her neighbour, the
timid ones took example by their bolder sisters, the most self-possessed
became furious, and at last the whole band of furies
advanced against Miss Poles, bent upon tearing her to pieces. The
sense of her danger brought back her wonted coolness and bravery, and
extricated her from her very ludicrous fix. She pulled her famous
revolver out of her pocket, and thus keeping at bay her nearest
enemies, she gained an outlet and took to flight.

The women pursued her with frenzied cries of rage, but none of these
termagants, fed, well fed, in the seraglio, and weighed down by fat,
could struggle at all successfully against the long legs and feet of
Miss Poles. They would never have caught her up, if she had been able
to get inside our doors without knocking.

Alas! our only door was shut, and Miss Beatrice soon found herself,
like a stag at bay, obliged to put her back against the palisading,
and face the pack of women who had, by means of this _contretemps_,
come up with her. In spite of the firm stand she made, she would
assuredly have been hurled to the ground, trodden under foot, eaten
perhaps, if Nassar had not roused me to open the door, rescue our
companion, and put to flight the furies let loose upon her.

As soon as Miss Beatrice's escapade was recounted to us in all its
details, Madame de Guéran, Delange, and I could not help laughing. De
Morin alone, instead of joining in our mirth, declared that, by
virtue of the powers we had given him, he intended to administer a
sharp reprimand to the culprit, and to forbid her for the future to
take any step not previously authorized by us.

"Leave her alone," said Delange, "her discomfiture is punishment
enough, without your humiliating her still more with your
sermonizing."

"Her discomfiture!" exclaimed de Morin, "you are very much mistaken
if you think that she will suffer from it. She is sure to attribute
Munza's conduct to quite another cause than contempt for herself. She
is, you may be sure, fully persuaded that he did not understand her,
and that he would have knelt at her feet if she could have expressed
herself more clearly. You do not know her as well as I do. I have the
greatest respect for her many good qualities, but on the score of
feminine fatuity, she is the most complete specimen that a man could
wish to see. Intelligent, wise in counsel, and with plenty of common
sense where others are concerned and her own ridiculous conceit is
not called into play, she loses her head entirely occasionally."

"You are right," said I, "and you do well, I admit, to put us on our
guard against her. But her last escapade is not of very great
importance, and if I were in your place—"

De Morin interrupted me by exclaiming excitedly.

"I do not understand, my dear Périères, how you can possibly take
this view of the matter. The events of to-night, you may rely upon
it, will exercise a great influence over our future. Miss Poles,
notwithstanding her follies and absurdities, is none the less a white
woman, and a member of our caravan. She is always to be seen with us;
she is known as our companion and our friend, if not our equal. The
conduct of Munza and his wives does not affect Miss Poles alone, it
affects us and lowers the _prestige_ which we enjoy. From this moment
the Monbuttoos know that we may be insulted and threatened, and that,
at all events, they are at liberty, to attempt to maltreat us.
Yesterday we were, in the eyes of this tribe, privileged people,
surrounded by a sort of halo; to-day we are on a par with the rest of
the world."

"It is true," said I, "and I am surprised, in truth, that it should
have escaped me."

"If that were all," resumed de Morin, "I should not despair, for we
know very well how to take care of ourselves. But this escapade, I
fear, will involve us in a serious dilemma."

"I do not understand you," said Madame de Guéran, "pray explain what
you mean."

"The explanation is very simple," continued de Morin. "You, Madame de
Guéran, were, especially as a white woman, a being apart, as far as
Munza was concerned—a being whom he allowed himself to love—
unfortunately we cannot have any doubt about that, but one whom he
loved at a distance, without daring to speak. The extraordinary and
grotesque declaration, apparently made to him by your female
companion, has certainly lessened the distance which, in his mind,
separated him from us. He gave way to a wish, but he could not
entertain any hope; you were in his eyes veiled in a species of
cloud; you were surrounded by a halo of light, and placed on an
eminence believed by him to be inaccessible. Miss Poles,
unfortunately, has taught him that white women can descend from such
eminences, can bring themselves down to the level of negro kings, and
that he can, if he so wish, treat them no longer as goddesses, but as
ordinary mortals. I shall consequently, be very much astonished if
his reserve, which was our safeguard, does not vanish."

June 25. — De Morin was right. The King, who for two days past has
not shown us any signs of his existence nor paid us a visit, has,
after, probably, reflecting upon and maturing his designs, just sent
his courier, ambassador, or master of the ceremonies, whatever his
title may be, to us. This functionary, in order that his mission may
appear more important, is accompanied by a numerous escort of
officers and soldiers, and, above all, musicians.

Roused by the noise, curious to know the meaning of it, and not
without a feeling of uneasiness, we left our huts, made our men fall
in, and received this formal deputation with all the solemnity
possible.

The envoy steps to the front and speaks, Nassar interprets, and we
learn that the sovereign of the Monbuttoos demands the hand of our
sister in marriage.

CHAPTER XXXVII.

We are really alarmed. The demand has its ludicrous aspect, but,
preferred by Munza, whose character we know, it is formidable as
well. How are we to decline the honour he thinks he is doing us,
without wounding beyond redress his pride both as a man and a king?

Suppose that, to gain time, we reply that his proposition cannot be
accepted without some consideration; suppose we allow him to hope,
and our position becomes thereby more dangerous? De Morin is averse
from this, and is of opinion that we should appear scandalized,
without, at the same time, wounding the King's vanity. We agree with
that view of the case, and send word to Munza that he is insulting
our sister by asking her to share the lot of his numerous wives.

What impression will these words produce on the King? He is not the
man to take matters quietly and acknowledge himself beaten. He is on
the point of sending us another message and we are in terrible
anxiety.

No, this time he leaves off talking, and acts.

Ten soldiers, carrying the huge drums, already described, which
throughout Africa are used to summon the people to hear the orders of
their chiefs or kings, left the palace and proceeded in various
directions through the village, one of them performing his allotted
task at a short distance from our encampment. The Monbuttoos quickly
responded to the summons, formed themselves into a large circle, and
immediately afterwards cries of joy resounded from all sides.

Nassar, who mingled with the crowd, came running to us with the news
that the King had invited his subjects to the palace, where he was
going to distribute amongst them a large number of his wives.

This was Munza's way of replying to us. At one fell swoop he was
getting rid of his whole harem, and offering it to his subjects in
order that he might afterwards be able to say to us, "I have no
longer a wife, nothing now stands in the way of your giving me your
sister." He could not have hit upon a more ingenious device, nor have
placed us in a greater difficulty, but our dismay was mingled with a
feeling of pity for all these creatures, who, from the palace, were
descending to cabins, and were being converted from royal wives into
simple villagers.

Horror! a fresh piece of intelligence, far more serious, has reached
us. In the distribution about to be made, the mothers-in-law and
sisters-in-law of Munza, the wives whom, according to the customs of
the country, he has inherited, are alone included. As for the eighty
wives, whose acquaintance we have made, and who, after having
belonged to Munza, cannot become the property of his subjects, they
are to be beheaded. This is the way in which the potentates of Africa
settle their burning questions, heads and difficulties being got rid
of together.

Shall we allow Munza to give Madame de Guéran so startling a proof of
his love? Shall we stand by as passive spectators of the bloody
sacrifice, the gigantic hecatomb he purposes to accomplish? We do not
dream of any such thing; every consideration impels us to save these
unfortunate creatures, whom one word from us, one unlucky message has
condemned to death.

But what are we to say to the King? If we ask for mercy for his wives
he will not fail to reply in his usual logical style—

"Their number does not frighten your sister, and she consents to live
in my harem?"

Yes, that is sure to be his answer. And, on the other hand, if he
kills his wives, will he not be in a position to say—

"The motive you alleged as the ground for refusing my request has now
disappeared, and, therefore, you cannot help complying with it."

It is impossible to find a way out of this difficulty, and whilst we
are discussing it, the massacre is, in all probability, commencing.

On, then, to the palace, without further delay!

Twenty of our escort, selected by Nassar, were told off to accompany
us.

Delange and I seized our most trustworthy pistols and surest rifles.
De Morin alone was almost unarmed.

When we were expressing our astonishment at this, he interrupted us
by saying, with considerable excitement—

"All that I foresaw has come to pass. Our position is as serious as
it can well be—but I can save you. Do not question me, do not ask me
for any information, for I have no time to answer you. Give me full
power, and I will turn this idiotic love of Munza's to our own
advantage. Before three days have passed away you shall leave this
country. You shall march towards the south, and, for the last part of
the journey, you shall have at your disposal resources of which you
never dreamt."

What did he mean? How are we to leave this country? What idea has
come to him thus suddenly?

Whilst Delange and I looked at him with amazement, Madame de Guéran,
ever prompt and resolute in the hour of danger, held out her hand to
de Morin, and said to him—

"Do what you will. As far as I am concerned, I approve of it
beforehand, and, if you fail, no reproach of any kind shall ever pass
my lips."

"Thanks," said de Morin, "a thousand thanks."

Then, turning towards us, he asked us whether we ratified the
approval already expressed by Madame de Guéran.

"Can you doubt it?" said I.

"You have an idea," said Delange in his turn, "and we have none.
Consequently, we cannot prefer our opinion to yours, and I give you
_carte blanche_, my dear fellow."

"To the palace!" exclaimed de Morin.

We mounted our horses, and set off at full gallop, our escort
following in our wake.

Madame de Guéran remained in camp, under the protection of the Arab
interpreters and a few soldiers.

Miss Poles, whose self-respect, whatever de Morin may say, has
received a serious blow, and who is still disheartened, has taken
refuge in her tent. The idea has not occurred to her to rush to the
succour of the eighty wives who, three days ago, were anxious to tear
her in pieces.

Five minutes sufficed to bring us to the palace. Not a single soldier
attempted to stop us; we were recognized as friends of the King, and,
moreover, we brooked no delay.

We alighted in front of Munza's residence, and requested to see the
King. He at once gave orders for us to be admitted to his own room,
and he eagerly came forward to meet us.

"The white men consent at last," said he, with a smile, "to visit
me."

"Yes," replied de Morin, "we have a communication to make to you with
regard to our sister. Will you hear us?"

"I will."

"We have just been informed that you intend to give her a proof of
your love by sacrificing your harem. Is that so?"

"Yes," said the King. "Three hundred women have already left the
palace, and will not return any more. As for the rest," he added,
very calmly, "I have condemned them to death."

Delange and I shuddered. But de Morin, without a tremor, still
pursuing his own idea alone, asked the King when they were to die.

"In an hour," said Munza. "The executioners are getting ready now."

We breathed again; we were in time.

The King took our friend by the hand and led him towards an adjoining
apartment, and we followed him.

In a corner of this room, on a species of dais, were displayed
massive copper salvers, the pride of the Monbuttoos. Munza pointed to
them and, with the utmost coolness said—

"This evening each of those salvers will hold a head, and I shall
send them all to the Sultana, your sister, so that she may see for
herself that I have not one wife left."

Nothing could exceed the gallantry of this resolution, nor could any
sacrifice, either of himself or other people, have been proposed with
a better grace.

Fortunately for the royal wives, we were blind to all this
forethought, and bent upon saving them.

"Our sister," resumed de Morin, "has commissioned us to ask you to
spare the lives of these women."

"She is not jealous of them, then?" asked the King, turning pale.

De Morin, who appeared to read Munza's heart as if it were a book,
hastened to reply—

"She is jealous of your harem, but not of these creatures. So long as
they do not belong to you, nothing further is needed."

The King smiled once more; but he remarked to our interpreter that he
could not get rid of these women in any other way than by putting
them to death, the law enacting that the wives of a reigning
sovereign could not under any circumstances become the property of
his subjects.

"Your subjects!" replied de Morin, quickly. "Be it so. But we are not
your subjects."

"Do you want me to give you my wives?" asked Munza, in astonishment.

"We want you to give them to our sister as slaves."

"Oh!" exclaimed the King, apparently delighted. "She wants to torture
them by way of revenging herself on them?"

"Possibly so," replied de Morin, quietly.

I confess that at this moment neither Delange nor I understood his
drift one bit. We imagined that he was compromising Madame de Guéran
to too great an extent, and that he had entered into too serious an
engagement with Munza; but we had given him full power, and we were
bound to let him act as he thought best.

The African King, after having reflected for a moment, said to de
Morin—

"I agree. My wives shall not be put to death, and they shall be given
to your sister. She may do what she likes with them, and I will burn
all their houses—I will not have any harem. That is her wish, is it
not?"

"Quite so," said our friend, who now, in his turn, waited for Munza
to state his intentions and unfold his plans.

The King hesitated. The tyrant, the despot without pity or remorse,
was as a child in all that concerned the woman he loved.

"When," he asked at length, "will your sister deign to take up her
abode in my palace, and the place of all those whom I have just given
to her?"

"As soon as she can obtain the consent of her father," replied de
Morin, unhesitatingly.

Delange and I exchanged despairing glances. Our friend had evidently
lost his head. Munza was quite as much astonished as we were; but in
his case amazement and anger were blended.

"Your father is not with you," said he; "and, therefore, his consent
cannot be obtained."

"In that case our sister cannot marry you," replied de Morin. "She is
bound to respect the custom of her own country, and, as far as that
goes, this custom prevails amongst all the tribes we came across
before reaching the Monbuttoos. To gain the daughter, is it not
always necessary to apply to the father?"

"And how am I to apply to yours?" exclaimed Munza, becoming furious.
"He is far, far away in your country, and I cannot get at him."

"If he were far away," replied de Morin, in the same quiet tone that
he had used throughout the interview, "I should not have mentioned
him. But our father has not been in our country for a long time; he
is now a prisoner in a kingdom close to yours, towards the south."

Munza scanned de Morin closely, seeking to read his very eyes and
discover the truth there.

Delange and I breathed more freely, and we began to have a vague
notion of our friend's project. As he had said, he wanted, in the
common interest, to take advantage of the King's love; he was bent
upon making Munza help us to find M. de Guéran, and, instead of
describing him as the husband of our companion—which would have been
dangerous both for her and for us—he passed him off as her father.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

After having scanned de Morin attentively for some time, the King
suddenly said to him—

"How is it that your father has not been mentioned before to-day? Why
did you not let me know sooner what was the real object of your
journey?"

"I wanted to tell you long ago," replied our friend. "Did I not ask
you for a private interview? You acceded to my request, and my sister
came with us on the following morning to your palace. If you had
received us then, you would have known everything."

"But," remarked Munza, "you have seen me frequently, and might have
spoken to me."

"You insulted us, and were no longer our friend. Secrets of such
importance as ours are only confided to a friend. If I speak out to-day,
it is only because I have forgiven you since you asked for my
sister's hand."

Munza was at a loss for an answer. He, however, did not seem
satisfied.

"How," said he, after a pause, "can your father be living southward
of my kingdom? Where has he come from?"

"From the same country as ourselves, and we came along the same road
that we did."

"In that case, in order to reach the south, he must have passed
through my territory?"

"So he did."

"Impossible. He would have come to the palace, where I receive all
strangers."

"He remembered that you had prevented Schweinfurth continuing his
journey, and consequently, instead of stopping here, he went on in
the direction of the province governed by your brother, Degberra."

"And did Degberra know him?"

"Undoubtedly," replied de Morin, boldly. "Either Degberra or his
subjects. You can send couriers to your brother, and you will soon
know that what I say is true. Question, if you like, the man who is
our interpreter, and whom you have already recognized as having been
with Schweinfurth. He will tell you that, when he was left by your
friend, Aboo-Sammit, in a seriba, situated to the south-east of this
place, he entertained our father."

Munza entered into conversation with Nassar for a few moments, and,
then, turning towards us, he asked—

"You wish to go to Degberra?"

"Yes," replied de Morin. "We wish to go to him, first of all, but
afterwards farther still, if, as we suppose, our father has reached a
more distant kingdom."

"And the Sultana will accompany you?"

"Undoubtedly. Our sister cannot leave us as long as she is not
married."

"And do you imagine that I shall let her escape in this way?"
exclaimed the King.

"Why not?"

"Because she will never return."

"It is in your power to compel her to return."

"How so, if she is no longer in my dominions?"

"She will always be in your dominions if you accompany her with your
powerful army."

"What! you wish—" exclaimed Munza, with flashing eyes.

"I do not wish anything," said de Morin. "I merely point out to you a
means of not leaving us, of joining our father with us, and of
demanding from him the hand of his daughter. If you do not feel
yourself either brave enough, or powerful enough to advance
southwards, let us continue our journey; white men do not know what
fear is—they are both brave and strong. You have now heard all I have
to say in the name of our sister and ourselves. Decide—we are going
back to our encampment, there to await a visit or a message from you.
Only, remember that your wives belong to our sister. You have no
longer any right to dispose of them; you have given them to her, and
a great King like you cannot go back from his word."

We left Munza to his reflections, rejoined our escort, and, a few
moments afterwards, entered our enclosure. After the first feeling of
surprise had passed away, we, all of us, set to work calmly to
consider de Morin's plan, and we could not help coming to the
conclusion that, even granting that it would be difficult of
realization, and might involve us in terrible straits, it still held
out some appreciable advantages. In common justice to our friend we
were also bound to confess that he had no choice of means to his end,
and that we were this very morning in a position of great difficulty.
For some days past we have, all of us, been thoroughly convinced,
though we dare not say so out loud, that the King of the Monbuttoos
would never allow us either to continue our journey towards the
south, or to return by the way we came. His passion for Madame de
Guéran was a warrant of imprisonment for us; neither prayers nor
persuasion would have any effect upon him, and if we desired our
liberty we could only obtain it by force.

We next mustered our little army. Thirty soldiers remained to us,
and, amongst the bearers, there were not more than twenty whom we
could trust with arms, and that only should the worst come to the
worst. Taking ourselves, Nassar, and the interpreters into our
calculations, we could rely upon fifty-five men, well-armed, and
capable of holding out for a considerable time against several
hundreds of negroes. But, granting that we slaughtered them
wholesale, and by means of our long-range rifles, laid all these
enemies low, would not more still, and ever increasing hordes, rise
up in answer to the summons of their King? Worn out, destitute of
ammunition, hopeless, and distressed at so much bloodshed, should we
not end by giving up the futile struggle, or succumbing to superior
numbers? A handful of Europeans have been known to make head against
an entire African tribe, but it would be quite another thing to
oppose a regular nation of warriors, commanded by a King, fiery,
resolute, and personally interested in obtaining a victory.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, we overcome all these obstacles,
and a lucky shot rids us of Munza—suppose all his soldiers take to
flight, and our path is open? What then? Would not our little force,
diminished enough already, be still further reduced in the course of
so terrible a struggle? Should we find in a hostile country, where
every man would have some relative to avenge, the means necessary for
our onward progress? And, even if we were to reach the district
governed by Degberra, would not he oppose us just as his brother had
done?

Again, suppose we succeed in forcing our way, as many solitary
travellers have done, not through this district, it is true, but
through others equally dangerous, suppose we reach our destination,
and find M. de Guéran a prisoner amongst the Momvoos, the Akkas, or
that other tribe of which the Monbuttoos have occasionally spoken—a
tribe governed by a woman, a species of Amazon. Even then, how should
we, when weakened and scarcely able to defend ourselves, manage to
rescue our fellow countryman? We should share his captivity, and that
would be the only result we should achieve.

How entirely, on the other hand, would the situation be changed if
Munza should make common cause with us, and accompany us as an ally!
We should no longer be merely fifty; we should be two thousand, five
thousand, any number, in fact. Our handful of men would become an
army led and commanded by Europeans, supported by our escort, and
strengthened by the possession of fire-arms. No African tribe could
stand against us, and nothing would prevent our reaching the eastern
extremity of the continent and the Indian ocean.

It may be objected that the King of the Monbuttoos would not dare to
advance more than thirty leagues, a formidable distance in these
parts, beyond his frontier. But we do not want him to do more; thirty
leagues to the south-east will bring us to the nearest spurs of the
Blue Mountains! Munza's army might leave us then; it would, indeed,
be of no further use to us. It would rest with us to cross these
mountains, on the other side of which we should come upon the Lake
Albert Nyanza, and should we succeed in reaching its farther shore,
we should find paths, if not well-worn, at all events marked on the
map by Speke, Grant, and Burton.

But, it may be asked, what about Munza? How have you disposed of him?
Is he likely to let you quietly pursue your journey, whilst he leads
his army back again to his kingdom? Do not forget that you are his
prisoners, bound to follow him, and to return with him. In three
months your position would be much the same as it is now.

Clearly so, if we could not regain our liberty and get rid of the
Monbuttoos; but though that would be a difficult matter now, when the
army is backed by the whole nation, it would be very different,
however, if that army, instead of being at home and amongst its own
countrymen, were occupying a hostile territory. It would be
disheartened by fatigue, decimated, possibly, by the battles it had
been obliged to fight, and weakened in a hundred other ways.
Desperate as we should be, and under a positive necessity to conquer,
we should be in a position to fight it under advantageous
circumstances. God helping us, we should gain the day. Another
objection might, I admit, be urged against this course of proceeding.
We might be asked whether our consciences would not reproach us for
waging open warfare against our allies, by whose aid alone we have
been enabled to surmount so many obstacles?

Our consciences! Why drag them into the discussion? Are we likely to
give way to sentiment in our present position, face to face with an
army of cannibals and a negro king who, only a few hours ago,
proposed to send us the heads of his eighty wives on copper dishes?
Why does he keep us prisoners in his kingdom, and interfere with our
plans? Is it not he who is driving us to cunning and artifice? He is
the stronger, so we must be the cleverer of the two. Our right to
fight against him, and conquer him if we can, is indisputable.

On the question of conscience, we are open to attack in one
particular alone. In order to open up a passage towards the south and
thereby serve our personal interest, is it right for us to draw after
us a whole army, to let it work its will on the way, as is the custom
of all African armies, and spread ruin and desolation on all around?
But even on this score we are above reproach. The King of the
Monbuttoos, as I have already recorded, has for the last fortnight
been making preparations for war on a large scale, and every year, at
this time, when the rainy season is drawing to a close, he attacks
his neighbours, either north or south. We, therefore, are not
altering the course of events in any way, but we may be able to
effect some improvement by using our influence over Munza in
mitigation of the horrors and carnage of savage warfare.

All these arguments and calculations result in the adoption of the
plan proposed by de Morin; but Munza has not yet given his decision,
and we consequently do not know whether he will accept or not.

* * * * * *

He has accepted. One glance at the sky sufficed to enlighten us as
regards his reply.

Towards nine o'clock the whole night was suddenly lit up, quivering
tongues of fire leaped up sky-wards, and made even the stars look
pale. The harem was on fire; more than three hundred huts had fallen
a prey to the devouring element. In a few moments all the dwellings
of Munza's wives had disappeared, and not a trace of them was left
behind.

And whilst the people surge to and fro, in admiration of the
stupendous conflagration, whilst they clap their hands, and dance,
and shout, the drums, ivory horns, and trumpets mingle their harsh
sounds with the surrounding din, and officers hurry through the
crowd, bearing the news that the King has declared war against the
tribes of the south.

The shouts are renewed with redoubled energy, and the crowd chants
the national hymn, "Ee Ee, tchupy, tchupy, Ee, Munza, Ee." The
horizon is ablaze with light, the fire rages in all its fury and
splendour, and the eighty wives of Munza, houseless now, bound two by
two, and escorted by soldiers, are led towards our encampment.

CHAPTER XXXIX.

The burning of an entire village, the dispersion of three hundred
mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, and the beheading of eighty wives,
are in Munza's eyes insufficient to prove his love. He shows a
disposition towards delicate attentions also, and, under the
impression that Madame de Guéran might be at a loss how to house her
stock of slaves, he has sent to our encampment a host of servants
with orders to erect a huge shed.

The idea is a charming one, and bespeaks an excellent heart. Indeed,
these poor wretches, robbed since morning of their royal spouse,
hurled down suddenly from a lofty position, and threatened with the
loss of their heads, could scarcely be left at night without some
sheltering roof.

From motives of delicacy, we were not present at their arrival, but
we are told that they exhibit neither anger nor humiliation. Fear
alone possesses them—fear as to the punishment or torture in reserve
for them at the hands of the white woman, to whom they have been
presented. Perhaps they dread being eaten, one after another, by
their new mistress, but on this score they may make their minds easy.
Madame de Guéran will not push her jealousy to such an extreme as
that.

In spite, however, of the downcast air of Muriza's wives, we dare not
rely too much on their spirit of resignation. It is at all times
somewhat dangerous to have as near neighbours a hundred humiliated
women, looking upon themselves as victims and eager for revenge. In
the east, and especially in Africa, it is prudent to guard against
poison, which evicted sultanas would have no hesitation in mixing
with the food of their enemies. Consequently, we have resolved to
keep the ex-royal wives at a respectful distance, and to establish a
certain amount of discipline amongst them. Delange, to whom we have
for a long time entrusted the superintendence of our servants of
every description, sets about his task in connection with the new
arrivals, with all his accustomed zeal.

But Delange, however busy he may be, would still find time hanging
heavily on his hands, if he could not, now and then, have a game at
piquet, écarté, or baccarat. And so it happened that, no sooner had
he made the necessary arrangements for the comfort of our eighty
slaves, than a brilliant idea struck him. He had not played cards
once during the day, and, as he was the loser on the previous
evening, he had, by virtue of the contract, a right to dispose of his
adversary as he pleased.

De Morin, meanwhile, was reclining in front of my hut and chatting
with me, casting every now and then an occasional glance at the last
dying embers of the conflagration.

"Sorry to disturb you, my dear fellow," said Delange, coming up to
us, "but you owe me my revenge for last night."

"My dear doctor," replied de Morin, who had seen the approach of his
adversary and expected some such proposal, "I hope I may be allowed
to say that you are always taking your revenge, and have been doing
so for a long time. You have won back from me more than sixty
thousand francs at every game known in Europe and Africa. I do not
know whether medicine, botany, geography, and science generally will
derive much benefit from our expedition, but I can safely assert that
on your return to Paris you will be able to write a very instructive
work on the various games of chance in vogue amongst the Africans.
You have a wonderful nose for scenting them out, and an equally
surprising facility in learning them. The negroes themselves are
afraid of you, and decline to play with you any more. 'The white
man,' they say, 'is too clever by half, and would win the very shirts
from off our backs.' Excuse the word, as unknown in these parts as
the garment it designates, but it accurately expresses the idea of
your adversaries. In short, if there were a Jockey Club amongst these
African tribes, and you were put up for election, you would be
blackballed to a dead certainty."

"Have you quite finished your little speech, my dear de Morin?" asked
Delange.

"Quite, thank you. Have you one to let off, by way of a change? I
shall be delighted to hear it, and, under the supposition that it is
the case, pray sit down on this empty box here, the whilom receptacle
of our deeply regretted claret. I must apologise for not offering you
a cigar; the last of them, like our other luxuries, has vanished. But
if this beastly negro tobacco appeals to your taste, do not hesitate
to help yourself. It is a delicate piece of attention from the hands
of the King of the Monbuttoos."

"My dear fellow," replied Delange, as soon as he could get a word in
edgeways, "I will not sit down on this box; it has nails in it, and
they have already abstracted a portion of my nether garments. Tailors
are scarce in this country, so you must forgive me for being careful
of my remaining rags. They are deserting me bit by bit in the most
cowardly manner, notwithstanding my affection for them, and I already
seem to foresee the hour when I shall have to betake myself to the
forest for a covering. As for smoking, I have no time to indulge in
any such luxury; it is eleven o'clock, and we have only sixty minutes
in which to play our daily and compulsory game."

"'Still harping on my daughter!' My arguments do not appear to have
any effect."

"On the contrary; they have convinced me that we must play on without
intermission, seeing that, as you yourself confess, I am in the
vein."

"Take care! You lost yesterday."

"Which is precisely the reason why, according to our contract, I now
bid you rise and follow me at once."

"Follow you? Where to, in the name of fortune?"

"To the residence of the royal dames."

"Their houses are burning, it is a pretty sight still."

"I am not speaking of that defunct village, now turned into one vast
furnace. We are hot enough already without going near the fire. I was
alluding to this new shed, beneath which all these ladies await our
coming."

"Are they not asleep by this time?"

"They dare not sleep," replied Delange, gravely. "I led them to
expect a visit from us."

De Morin had finished his pipe by this time, and, always resigned and
true to his word, he followed Delange. I followed suit, for I foresaw
some amusement in assisting at a game of cards, which, considering
where it was to take place, promised to be peculiar.

The Monbuttoo ladies, as the doctor had told us, were not asleep,
and, as we drew near the shed, we heard a confused, continuous hum of
many voices, as if they were complaining of the conduct of their
royal spouse, whom they reproached with having treated them without
due consideration.

"And we are actually slave-owners!" exclaimed de Morin, as we drew
near.

"Delange is, my dear fellow," I replied. "The doctor has become a
most inveterate trader, a regular nigger-driver. We shall have to
give him up to the Egyptian authorities when we get back."

"You do not mean to drag all these women southwards with us?" asked
de Morin.

"I really do not know," replied the doctor, "and you had better give
me the benefit of your advice on that point. It would be rather a
bore to be followed by such a flock of women, but, at the same time
Munza might accuse us of despising his gift."

"The King," I observed, "is persuaded that after a short trip towards
the south, he will bring us back to his own territory. He will
therefore deem it very natural that we should leave these ladies here
in our encampment. They will be supposed to be managing our household
affairs during our absence."We had by this time reached the shed,
whence puffs of hot air, and lightning glances from innumerable eyes
greeted us. Nevertheless, in spite of their number, these small
beacons were powerless to illumine a moonless night.

"How are we going to get inside this human ant-hill?" asked de Morin.
"We shall run the risk of being engulfed in it, and, as for playing,
that is out of the question. We shall never be able to see our
cards."

"Make your mind easy on that score," replied the doctor. "I never
forget anything. You shall have plenty of light."

And as he said this he appeared to be feeling for something in his
coat pocket.

"Do you mean to say that you have any matches left?" I exclaimed, "I
thought we gave our last box to Madame de Guéran yesterday?"

"I have something better than matches," said Delange.

He found what he was looking for, left us for a moment, and, stooping
down at a little distance from us, he set light to some small
fireworks, which we had packed up amongst our cartridges, in
accordance with the suggestions of our predecessors in travel, and as
an additional means of amusing the negroes. The fireworks chosen by
the doctor were Bengal lights, which, instead of blinding us at first
and then going out themselves, were manufactured to burn for some
time and spread around them a many-coloured radiance.

Notwithstanding the softness of this illumination, the women, with a
vivid recollection of the conflagration of which they had been the
victims, imagined that their new residence was about to be burnt, and
they began to tremble in every limb. To fear, however, wonder soon
succeeded; the blue and green flames, which, placed in front of them,
lit them up in so novel and picturesque a fashion, made them wild
with delight. Instead of shrinking away, as they had done at first,
they came nearer and nearer, and were soon deeply interested in
watching the effect of the various colours on their dark skins.

The organizer of this _fête_ placed three stools in the middle of the
shed; the first for de Morin, the second for himself, and the third
to serve as a card-table. These preparations completed, he motioned
his adversary to a seat, and throwing three packs of cards down on
the table, he intimated that, exercising his right of choice, he
intended to play ordinary bezique, fifteen hundred up.

CHAPTER XL.

The game commenced. The women were, at first, completely absorbed in
contemplating the Bengal lights, but by degrees their whole attention
became concentrated on the cards and the players, it being difficult
to say which excited the greater admiration. De Morin, though
naturally interested in the game, could not keep his eyes from
wandering over the strange figures around him, rendered still more
strange by the novel manner in which they were lit up.

"You have arranged this scene admirably," said de Morin to Delange,
as he shuffled the cards.

"Have I not? For that very reason you are bound to lose."

"I think I am. But why do you say, 'for that very reason?' Does your
tableau count in the game?"

"Not in the game, but in your mode of playing it. The spectacle I
have set before you distracts your attention, and you are sure to
make a few mistakes, of which I shall take all due advantage."

"Indeed!" replied de Morin, laughing, "and you, I presume, are
superior to all these distractions?"

"Quite so, for the simple reason that I had a rehearsal before you
appeared, and, therefore, know exactly what to expect."

"All right. I must be on my guard, and you, I think, will find that
you have exposed your hand too soon."

De Morin soon recovered his wonted coolness, and devoted himself to
the game, but he had not reckoned on the intense natural curiosity of
these ladies. Every moment saw them drawing nearer and nearer to the
gamblers, pushing. Jostling, elbowing each other, and some of them
went so far as to climb the tree-stems which supported the roof of
the shed, and from those coigns of vantage surveyed the eccentric
game.

At length a few of the women, emboldened by the impunity with which
their first advances had been made, stretched out their hands and
laid hold of the cards, and they were proceeding to pay a similar
compliment, _more Africano_, to de Morin's beard and hair.

"Hands off, ladies, if you please," he exclaimed, but remonstrance
would have been of but little avail, had not Delange just at that
moment scored the requisite fifteen hundred points, thereby putting
an end to the game.

"The next thing," said I, "is to get out, but how is it to be done?
Look at these creatures, they could smother us if they wished. We are
only three against their eighty, to say nothing of their being armed
with stools."

"That is true," replied Delange, "but it so happens that the
fireworks are not over, I have a bouquet in reserve."

So saying, this Doctor, by a vigorous push, cleared a small space in
front of him, and, taking out of his pocket a Roman candle, he stuck
it in the ground and lighted it.

At the noise and glare of this fresh wonder there was a hurried
retreat, which resulted in one tumbling over the other in
inextricable confusion, whilst those on the tree stems dropped to the
ground like over-ripe fruit.

The way out was now clear, and we were rude enough to take advantage
of that circumstance without waiting even to shake hands with the
ladies. Nevertheless, they had nothing much to grumble at; a bad
beginning of the day had, in their case, made an unexpectedly good
ending, and instead of having been beheaded at sunset, as they had
been led to expect, they had enjoyed the three-fold pleasure of
witnessing the fireworks, seeing us, and learning bezique.

CHAPTER XLI.

There is no longer any room for doubt, for, although the King has
neither said anything to us, nor sent for us, nor paid us a visit,
his subjects are in a state of great excitement—the Monbuttoos are
preparing for a long campaign. The market, through which we have just
strolled, is even more than usually bustling. Munza's lieutenants lay
violent hands on all eatables, which are placed without delay on the
shoulders of a whole army of slaves, who incontinently carry them off
to the palace. Indeed, we gave way to a momentary fear that we should
be left unprovided for, but, as soon as ever the officers saw us,
they made way for us with the utmost respect. It is quite clear that
we have risen considerably in their opinion. Strangers on whom the
King bestows his eighty favourite wives are evidently personages
worthy of all consideration, and to use a homely expression, not to
be sneezed at. We manage, therefore, to become purchasers on a large
scale, a very necessary proceeding, in case we should quarrel with
Munza on the way, or his army, as will probably be the case, should
squander its supplies. It is not prudent to rely too much on the
forethought of people who, if provisions in the ordinary style fail
them, have always a delicacy in the shape of human flesh to fall back
upon.

When we reached our encampment again, we commenced to make our
preparations as if we were destined to set out on the following day.
In Africa a war intended is a war begun; there are no such things as
consulting one's neighbours, forming alliances, issuing manifestoes,
or summoning all the diplomatists of the continent to a formal
conference; there is no flourish of trumpets to start with, or,
rather, there are any number of flourishes of any number of trumpets;
they fight, pillage, burn, kill, and eat—_voila tout_. In a few weeks
the war is over; it is true that it breaks out afresh, but that
happens in Europe also, as has been seen often enough and may be seen
again any day.

The next thing we did was to take stock of our provisions,
merchandise, and ammunition. Alas! The number of articles for
exchange was sadly diminished; the rolls of iron wire, which our
bearers had so laboriously struggled under in days gone by, were
trifles now, a source of rejoicing to them, at any rate. Our cotton
goods, once sufficient to clothe a whole tribe, would now scarcely
serve to cover Munza's ex-wives, even if they were to take it into
their heads to observe a little decency, an extravagance for which we
are not likely to give them credit. We had gold and silver, indeed,
but in a country where gold is held in small esteem, a sovereign
would not buy a fowl. As for our drafts and bank notes, I think I can
picture to myself the dismay of a negro, asked to part with a banana
for a fifty pound note. But in spite of the state of poverty to which
we are reduced, we shall manage, if we are not robbed of our last
resources, to get to the end of our journey without begging by the
road side.

Our ammunition is, thank goodness, plentiful. The Nubians have not
wasted over-much powder in saluting the various villages we have
passed through, and the shooting matches, necessary for the training
of the men, and our expeditions after elephants, antelopes, and other
game, do not appear to have made any excessive inroad on the number
of our cartridges.

After having thus taken stock of things, we turned our attention to
persons. Our escort is, as I have already said, far from being
complete, but we can thoroughly rely on the men who are left. Our
relative positions have changed, for, thanks to the King, we could,
in case of need, do without their services altogether, whilst they,
on the other hand, would never be able, without our help, to make
their way back to their own country. In dread, therefore, of being
left to themselves in the heart of the Monbuttoo country, they are
obedient to a degree.

The servants and bearers share the feelings of the soldiers, and
punishments are now unknown amongst us. If any one shows a sign of
disobedience, he is threatened with expulsion from the camp, and on
this hint he becomes amiable at once, and, in the matter of
politeness, could give points to the most polished of Europeans. All
the Monbuttoos, moreover, are fully cognizant of the fact that we are
the friends of a very powerful monarch, and that a word from us would
bring their heads off. When we left Khartoum we were simple
travellers, to be abandoned, perhaps, as others have been; now we are
looked upon as great chiefs, sultans, monarchs on leave in central
Africa.

All things considered, we have no cause for complaint, and we may,
without being accused of excessive rashness, take our flight to
regions as yet unexplored.

Whilst masters and servants were striking the balance of the caravan,
Joseph, who has his moments of inspiration, managed to discover a
last remaining bottle of Jules Mumm, hidden away under the straw in a
case thought to be empty.

We lost no time in drinking success to our future enterprise in the
sparkling beverage of our beloved France.

About two o'clock in the afternoon, the King sent to request the
attendance of de Morin, Delange, and myself, a wish we responded to
without delay.

CHAPTER XLII.

When we reached the environs of the palace, and before going to see
Munza, we turned to look at the scene of the great fire of the
previous evening.

Where once had stood the dwellings of the royal wives, the harem of
Munza, now ashes alone were to be seen. All the huts had vanished
without leaving a trace behind, and the splendid trees which lately
overshadowed them were reduced to powder. A few gigantic trunks only,
spared, though scorched, by the flames, stretched out their sturdy,
leafless branches to the sky.

The red clay was overspread by a thick carpet of white cinders, like
a clearing covered with snow.

The clouds of smoke, which the wind had not been strong enough to
disperse, wreathed themselves in every direction and spread like a
mist over the landscape, looking more desolate still by contrast with
the surrounding country, resplendent with verdure and light.

Was the mad passion of the African king for Madame de Guéran destined
to lead to further destruction? Had Munza, through fear of being
ridiculous, sworn to be an object of terror?

We found the King in his armoury, distributing arms to a number of
soldiers drawn up in the gardens, and giving orders to his officers.
He came towards us as soon as he saw us, and charged Nassar to unfold
to us his plans. He intended to march, at the full of the moon, in
the direction of the district governed by his brother, Degberra, in
order to gain information about the white man, who, subsequently to
Schweinfurth, had passed through the country, and on this information
would depend his future movements.

He also asked us whether the plan was in accordance with our wishes,
to which we replied that it was an excellent one, and that we could
wish for no better. At the same time, we could not help admiring the
determined character of the man, the energy he displayed when any
necessity for it arose, and the promptness with which he laid his
plans—all rare qualities in a negro.

In fact, the more we study the Monbuttoo people, the more they seem
to differ from the negro race. They are a tribe apart, thrown away in
Central Africa, and we can well understand the regret expressed by
Schweinfurth at not having been able to push his explorations farther
into this region.

In the territory comprised between two degrees of latitude we are
sure to meet with strange customs and curious phenomena on the part
of the Monbuttoos. Their country is, in some sort, the border-land of
eccentricity.

In reply to Munza's enquiry as to what assistance we could render him
in case he should have to fight against powerful tribes, de Morin
thought it prudent to say, for all of us, that we should take up arms
only if we were attacked personally.

"It is a question," he continued, "of a journey and a peaceful
expedition rather than of a war, and you will be pleasing our sister
if you fall in with our ideas."

"I would willingly do so," replied Munza, "if I could. But I have
frequently waged war against my neighbours, and as soon as they see
me advancing with my army, the weak will take to flight after burning
their crops, so as to starve me, and the strong will attack me—I must
defend myself, and you must help me."

"If you are attacked," said de Morin, "without provocation, we shall
consider ourselves as attacked also, and we shall have no hesitation
in joining our forces to yours."

"You have in your possession," said the King, "plenty of arms like
those you have shown me, those pieces of wood and iron which make
thunder, have you not?"

"Yes," answered de Morin, "all my soldiers are so armed."

"You have some to spare, also. Will you lend them to my troops and
teach them how to use them? We should be invincible then."

"No," said our friend, boldly; "I will not do that."

"Why?" asked the King, quickly.

"I believe in your good faith; I am sure of you, but I have not the
same confidence in your warriors. If you were to die I should find
myself at their mercy, and, as they are far more numerous than we
are, I wish to retain over them the advantage which my arms give me.
Would you like the Sultana—when you were no longer at hand to protect
her—to be at the mercy of your troops."

This last argument touched Munza, who appeared to be lost in thought,
and said not a word. But de Morin, who, by his firm, frank manner,
his judicious concessions and adroit flattery, was beginning to have
as much influence over the King as he had over our escort, thought it
wise to add—

"To show you that I do not put you in the same category with your
officers, nor with your soldiers, and that I have thorough confidence
in you, I concede to you what I have thought it right to refuse to
others. I will give you the best rifle I have, and, meanwhile, allow
me to present you with a weapon equally formidable. I have no need to
be armed whilst in your palace, and under your protection."

So saying, he drew his revolver from his belt and handed it to the
King.

Munza could not conceal his delight. He seized the pistol, turned it
over and over again; his hands trembled, his eyes glistened, and the
powerful African monarch was a child again; the negro reappeared and
asserted his rights.

De Morin took advantage of this unguarded moment to broach, in a very
summary manner, a delicate subject. He told the King that the
Monbuttoos were reported in the north to eat the enemies they killed
in battle, and he added that he wished to spare his sister a sight so
odious and repugnant to all white people.

Munza, feeling, perhaps, that he himself was personally guilty of
this charge, replied, with some confusion, that it was difficult to
expect a sudden transformation in the customs of his subjects, but
that he would take good care that the Sultana should be spared any
shock to her feelings.

Driven into a corner by de Morin, he confessed that a Monbuttoo
soldier did not think himself invulnerable until he had eaten the
flesh of one of his foes.

This confession did not surprise us in the least, for Baker states
that the soldiers of his personal escort, the Forty Thieves, as he
calls them, tried soldiers, brave and semi-civilized, practised the
same custom as the Monbuttoos. We could, therefore, neither be
astonished nor complain, if in these regions, more barbarous than
those bordering on the Nile, we should be called upon to witness
scenes of a similar description.

On the contrary, we ought to congratulate ourselves on the
precautions taken by Munza to avoid our prejudices being shocked. His
soldiers will continue to eat their enemies—that gratification cannot
be withheld from them—but they will eat them with closed doors, like
discreet and delicate-minded people, who respect the opinions of
their neighbours.

Travellers, as a rule, have not been so fortunate. General Baker,
whom I have just mentioned, says that he attempted one day to make a
negro chief understand the immorality of the slave trade, and that,
just as he fondly hoped that he had convinced him, the chief said,
abruptly—

"Have you any children?"

"Alas! no," replied Baker. "I have lost them all."

"Well," said the chief, "I have a son, my only child; he is very
small and very thin, but with you he will grow fat if you only look
at him. You will be able to feed him up to any extent. He is always
hungry, eating day and night without ever being satisfied. You can do
anything you like with him, provided you fill his stomach. You cannot
think what a dear good child he is. Well! I will sell him to you for
a molote" (a kind of African shovel).

As regards cannibalism, we have been far more successful. Munza is
not convinced, but he does not appear as insensible to our arguments
as was the negro chief to those of Baker.

After some further conversation, the King proposed to hold a review
of a part of his army. We gladly fell in with the idea, as much from
a motive of curiosity, as to ascertain how far we could rely on his
troops; and, more important still, to find out whether we could fight
them with any chance of success, when the time should come for Munza
to express a wish to bring us back to his dominions.

About two thousand men were drawn up on a large parade ground
adjoining the palace. The rokko tunics, which I have already
described, were their only uniform, their legs, arms, and breasts,
daubed with red, black and blue war-paint, being uncovered. The
officers were distinguished from the soldiers merely by the plumes of
various colours which ornamented their cylindrical head-dresses. They
were armed to the teeth; in their girdles were swords with bent
blades, axes, knives, and daggers with small grooves to allow the
blood to run off; in their right hands a lance or a bow and arrows,
and in their left a primitive shield made of wood, about four feet
long, and carried by means of a copper handle. This body went though
a series of manoeuvres, and surprised us by their strict discipline
and the precision of their movements.

"We should have to keep these men at a distance with our rifles,"
said de Morin to me, in an undertone. "Their swords, axes and daggers
are formidable weapons, and would be very dangerous at close
quarters. But their arrows, though, as you see, they carry for about
three hundred paces, are so light and describe so extensive a curve,
that they would only hit the mark by accident."

The review was brought to a close by a charge of the whole line; all
the soldiers, after having withdrawn for about a hundred yards, came
on towards us, some brandishing their axes, others with lance in
rest, whilst the remainder drew their bows to their full stretch and
aimed their arrows at us. The whole force yelled horribly, put on
their fiercest expression, ground their teeth, and appeared both
ready and willing to eat us. Without any feeling of cowardice, or
being over-timid, we might very easily have believed that these men
were bent on our destruction. However, none of us quailed, for, even
if we had not known that the whole affair was merely a review, our
European pride would have prevented our showing, in the sight of
these savages, the slightest symptom of fear.

The King had stationed himself at some distance from us, with the
undoubted object of increasing our fears and letting us think that he
had let his army loose upon us. He scanned us closely, and must have
been quite satisfied with our bearing. If his idea was to put us to
the test, he could now rest assured that his new allies were not
easily to be frightened.

Just as the warriors were close upon us, he threw himself in front of
us, and at once every bow, arrow and lance was lowered; the troops
halted as if they were so many automatons, saluted the King, and,
wheeling about, retired to their original position.

July 6, 1873.—The army is at this moment moving off. The people have
collected from all quarters to see it pass, and applaud. The women
are crying, the drums and trumpets are dinning away in their most
ear-splitting fashion, and the soldiers of our escort are firing a
_feu de joie_. We get on our horses, and give the word to our caravan
to follow the army.

We are at last fairly bound for the unknown!

END OF VOL. II.





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