Part 8 out of 8
Sand's strength, and he had posted himself in the fore-part of the
boat. Across the long grasses, his glance observed the downward
course, and, either by voice or gesture, he indicated to Hercules,
whose vigorous hands held the oar, what was necessary so as to keep in
the right direction.
Mrs. Weldon reclined on a bed of dry leaves in the center of the boat,
and grew absorbed in her own thoughts. Cousin Benedict was taciturn,
frowning at the sight of Hercules, whom he had not forgiven for his
intervention in the affair of the manticore. He dreamed of his lost
collection, of his entomological notes, the value of which would
not be appreciated by the natives of Kazounde. So he sat, his limbs
stretched out, and his arms crossed on his breast, and at times he
instinctively made a gesture of raising to his forehead the glasses
which his nose did not support. As for little Jack, he understood
that he must not make a noise; but, as motion was not forbidden, he
imitated his friend Dingo, and ran on his hands and feet from one end
of the boat to the other.
During the first two days Mrs. Weldon and her companions used the food
that Hercules had been able to obtain before they started. Dick Sand
only stopped for a few hours in the night, so as to gain rest. But he
did not leave the boat, not wishing to do it except when obliged by
the necessity of renewing their provisions.
No incident marked the beginning of the voyage on this unknown river,
which measured, at least, more than a hundred and fifty feet in
width. Several islets drifted on the surface, and moved with the same
rapidity as the boat. So there was no danger of running upon them,
unless some obstacle stopped them.
The banks, besides, seemed to be deserted. Evidently these portions of
the territory of Kazounde were little frequented by the natives.
Numerous wild plants covered the banks, and relieved them with a
profusion of the most brilliant colors. Swallow-wort, iris, lilies,
clematis, balsams, umbrella-shaped flowers, aloes, tree-ferns, and
spicy shrubs formed a border of incomparable brilliancy. Several
forests came to bathe their borders in these rapid waters.
Copal-trees, acacias, "bauhinias" of iron-wood, the trunks covered
with a dross of lichens on the side exposed to the coldest winds,
fig-trees which rose above roots arranged in rows like mangroves, and
other trees of magnificent growth, overhung the river. Their high
tops, joining a hundred feet above, formed a bower which the solar
rays could not penetrate. Often, also, a bridge of lianes was thrown
from one bank to the other, and during the 27th little Jack, to his
intense admiration, saw a band of monkeys cross one of these vegetable
passes, holding each other's tail, lest the bridge should break under
These monkeys are a kind of small chimpanzee, which in Central Africa
has received the name of "sokos." They have low foreheads, clear
yellow faces, and high-set ears, and are very ugly examples of the
_simiesque_ race. They live in bands of a dozen, bark like dogs, and
are feared by the natives, whose children they often carry off to
scratch or bite.
In passing the liane bridge they never suspected that, beneath that
mass of herbs which the current bore onward, there was a little
boy who would have exactly served to amuse them. The preparations,
designed by Dick Sand, were very well conceived, because these
clear-sighted beasts were deceived by them.
Twenty miles farther on, that same day, the boat was suddenly stopped
in its progress.
"What is the matter?" asked Hercules, always posted at his oar.
"A barrier," replied Dick Sand; "but a natural barrier."
"It must be broken, Mr. Dick."
"Yes, Hercules, and with a hatchet. Several islets have drifted upon
it, and it is quite strong."
"To work, captain! to work!" replied Hercules, who came and stood in
the fore-part of the perogue.
This barricade was formed by the interlacing of a sticky plant with
glossy leaves, which twists as it is pressed together, and becomes
very resisting. They call it "tikatika," and it will allow people to
cross watercourses dry-shod, if they are not afraid to plunge twelve
inches into its green apron. Magnificent ramifications of the lotus
covered the surface of this barrier.
It was already dark. Hercules could, without imprudence, quit the
boat, and he managed his hatchet so skilfully that two hours afterward
the barrier had given way, the current turned up the broken pieces on
the banks, and the boat again took the channel.
Must it be confessed! That great child of a Cousin Benedict had hoped
for a moment that they would not be able to pass. Such a voyage seemed
to him unnecessary. He regretted Alvez's factory and the hut that
contained his precious entomologist's box. His chagrin was real, and
indeed it was pitiful to see the poor man. Not an insect; no, not one
What, then, was his joy when Hercules, "his pupil" after all, brought
him a horrible little beast which he had found on a sprig of the
tikatika. Singularly enough the brave black seemed a little confused
in presenting it to him.
But what exclamations Cousin Benedict uttered when he had brought this
insect, which he held between his index finger and his thumb, as near
as possible to his short-sighted eyes, which neither glasses nor
microscope could now assist.
"Hercules!" he cried, "Hercules! Ah! see what will gain your pardon!
Cousin Weldon! Dick! a hexapode, unique in its species, and of African
origin! This, at least, they will not dispute with me, and it shall
quit me only with my life!"
"It is, then, very precious?" asked Mrs. Weldon.
"Precious!" cried Cousin Benedict. "An insect which is neither a
coleopter, nor a neuropteran, nor a hymenopter; which does not belong
to any of the ten orders recognized by savants, and which they will be
rather tempted to rank in the second section of the arachnides. A
sort of spider, which would be a spider if it had eight legs, and is,
however, a hexapode, because it has but six. Ah! my friends, Heaven
owed me this joy; and at length I shall give my name to a scientific
discovery! That insect shall be the 'Hexapodes Benedictus.'"
The enthusiastic savant was so happy--he forgot so many miseries past
and to come in riding his favorite hobby--that neither Mrs. Weldon nor
Dick Sand grudged him his felicitations.
All this time the perogue moved on the dark waters of the river. The
silence of night was only disturbed by the clattering scales of the
crocodiles, or the snorting of the hippopotami that sported on the
Then, through the sprigs of the thatch, the moon appeared behind the
tops of the trees, throwing its soft light to the interior of the
Suddenly, on the right bank, was heard a distant hubbub, then a dull
noise as if giant pumps were working in the dark.
It was several hundred elephants, that, satiated by the woody roots
which they had devoured during the day, came to quench their thirst
before the hour of repose. One would really have supposed that all
these trunks, lowered and raised by the same automatic movement, would
have drained the river dry.
For eight days the boat drifted, carried by the current under the
conditions already described. No incident of any importance occurred.
For a space of many miles the river bathed the borders of superb
forests; then the country, shorn of these fine trees, spread in
jungles to the limits of the horizon.
If there were no natives in this country--a fact which Dick Sand did
not dream of regretting--the animals at least abounded there. Zebras
sported on the banks, elks, and "caamas," a species of antelope which
were extremely graceful, and they disappeared at night to give place
to the leopards, whose growls could be heard, and even to the lions
which bounded in the tall grasses. Thus far the fugitives had not
suffered from these ferocious creatures, whether in the forests or in
Meanwhile, each day, generally in the afternoon, Dick Sand neared one
bank or the other, moored the boat, disembarked, and explored the
shore for a short distance.
In fact, it was necessary to renew their daily food. Now, in this
country, barren of all cultivation, they could not depend upon the
tapioca, the sorgho, the maize, and the fruits, which formed the
vegetable food of the native tribes. These plants only grew in a
wild state, and were not eatable. Dick Sand was thus forced to hunt,
although the firing of his gun might bring about an unpleasant
They made a fire by rubbing a little stick against a piece of the wild
fig-tree, native fashion, or even simiesque style, for it is affirmed
that certain of the gorillas procure a fire by this means. Then, for
several days, they cooked a little elk or antelope flesh. During the
4th of July Dick Sand succeeded in killing, with a single ball, a
"pokou," which gave them a good supply of venison. This animal, was
five feet long; it had long horns provided with rings, a yellowish red
skin, dotted with brilliant spots, and white on the stomach; and the
flesh was found to be excellent.
It followed then, taking into account these almost daily landings and
the hours of repose that were necessary at night, that the distance on
the 8th of July could hot be estimated as more than one hundred miles.
This was considerable, however, and already Dick Sand asked himself
where this interminable river ended. Its course absorbed some
small tributaries and did not sensibly enlarge. As for the general
direction, after having been north for a long time, it took a bend
toward the northwest.
However, this river furnished its share of food. Long lianes, armed
with thorns, which served as fishhooks, caught several of those
delicately-flavored "sandjikas", which, once smoked, are easily
carried in this region; black "usakas" were also caught, and some
"mormdes," with large heads, the genciva of which have teeth like the
hairs of a brush, and some little "dagalas," the friends of running
waters, belonging to the clupe species, and resembling the whitebait
of the Thames.
During the 9th of July, Dick Sand had to give proof of extreme
coolness. He was alone on the shore, carrying off a "caama," the horns
of which showed above the thicket. He had just shot it, and now there
bounded, thirty feet off, a formidable hunter, that no doubt came to
claim its prey, and was not in a humor to give it up. It was a lion of
great height, one of those which the natives call "karamos," and not
one of the kind without a mane, named "lion of the Nyassi." This one
measured five feet in height--a formidable beast. With one bound the
lion had fallen on the "caama," which Dick Sand's ball had just thrown
to the ground, and, still full of life, it shook and cried under the
paw of the powerful animal.
Dick Sand was disarmed, not having had time to slide a second
cartridge into his gun.
Dick Sand, in front, lowering his voice, gave directions to avoid
striking against these rotten constructions. The night was clear. They
saw well to direct the boat, but they could also be seen.
Then came a terrible moment. Two natives, who talked in loud tones,
were squatting close to the water on the piles, between which the
current carried the boat, and the direction could not be changed for
a narrower pass. Now, would they not see it, and at their cries might
not the whole village be alarmed?
A space of a hundred feet at most remained to be passed, when Dick
Sand heard the two natives call more quickly to each other. One showed
the other the mass of drifting herbs, which threatened to break the
long liane ropes which they were occupied in stretching at that
Rising hastily, they called out for help. Five or six other blacks ran
at once along the piles and posted themselves on the cross-beams which
supported them, uttering loud exclamations which the listeners could
In the boat, on the contrary, was absolute silence, except for the few
orders given by Dick Sand in a low voice, and complete repose, except
the movement of Hercules's right arm moving the oar; at times a low
growl from Dingo, whose jaws Jack held together with his little hands;
outside, the murmur of the water which broke against the piles, then
above, the cries of the ferocious cannibals.
The natives, meanwhile, rapidly drew up their ropes. If they were
raised in time the boat would pass, otherwise it would be caught, and
all would be over with those who drifted in it! As for slackening or
stopping its progress, Dick Sand could do neither, for the current,
stronger under this narrow construction, carried it forward more
In half a minute the boat was caught between the piles. By an
unheard-of piece of fortune, the last effort made by the natives had
raised the ropes.
But in passing, as Dick Sand had feared, the boat was deprived of a
part of the grasses which now floated at its right.
One of the natives uttered a cry. Had he had time to recognize what
the roof covered, and was he going to alarm his comrades? It was more
Dick Sand and his friends were already out of reach, and in a few
moments, under the impetus of this current, now changed into a kind of
rapid, they had lost sight of the lacustrine village.
"To the left bank!" Dick Sand ordered, as being more prudent. "The
stream is again navigable."
"To the left bank!" replied Hercules, giving the oar a vigorous
Dick Sand stood beside him and looked at the surface of the water,
which the moon lit up. He saw nothing suspicious. Not a boat had
started in pursuit. Perhaps these savages had none; and at daybreak
not a native appeared, either on the bank or on the water. After that,
increasing their precautions, the boat kept close to the left bank.
During the four following days, from the 11th to the 14th of July,
Mrs. Weldon and her companions remarked that this portion of the
territory had decidedly changed. It was no longer a deserted country;
it was also a desert, and they might have compared it to that Kalahari
explored by Livingstone on his first voyage.
The arid soil recalled nothing of the fertile fields of the upper
And always this interminable stream, to which might be given the name
of river, as it seemed that it could only end at the Atlantic Ocean.
The question of food, in this desert country, became a problem.
Nothing remained of their former stock. Fishing gave little; hunting
was no longer of any use. Elks, antelopes, pokous, and other animals,
could find nothing to live on in this desert, and with them had also
disappeared the carnivorous animals.
The nights no longer echoed the accustomed roarings. Nothing broke
the silence but the concert of frogs, which Cameron compares with the
noise of calkers calking a ship; with riveters who rivet, and the
drillers who drill, in a shipbuilder's yard.
The country on the two banks was flat and destitute of trees as far
as the most distant hills that bounded it on the east and west. The
spurges grew alone and in profusion--not the euphosbium which produces
cassava or tapioca flour, but those from which they draw an oil which
does not serve as food.
Meantime it is necessary to provide some nourishment.
Dick Sand knew not what to do, and Hercules reminded him that the
natives often eat the young shoots of the ferns and the pith which the
papyrus leaf contains. He himself, while following the caravan of Ibn
Ilamis across the desert, had been more than once reduced to this
expedient to satisfy his hunger. Happily, the ferns and the papyrus
grew in profusion along the banks, and the marrow or pith, which has a
sweet flavor, was appreciated by all, particularly by little Jack.
This was not a very cheering prospect; the food was not strengthening,
but the next day, thanks to Cousin Benedict, they were better served.
Since the discovery of the "Hexapodus Benedictus," which was to
immortalize his name, Cousin Benedict had recovered his usual manners.
The insect was put in a safe place, that is to say, stuck in the crown
of his hat, and the savant had recommenced his search whenever they
were on shore. During that day, while hunting in the high grass, he
started a bird whose warbling attracted him.
Dick Sand was going to shoot it, when Cousin Benedict cried out:
"Don't fire, Dick! Don't fire! A bird among five persons would not be
"It will be enough for Jack," replied Dick Sand, taking aim at the
bird, which was in no hurry to fly away.
"No, no!" said Cousin Benedict, "do not fire! It is an indicator, and
it will bring us honey in abundance."
Dick Sand lowered his gun, realizing that a few pounds of honey were
worth more than one bird; and Cousin Benedict and he followed the
bird, which rose and flew away, inviting them to go with it.
They had not far to go, and a few minutes after, some old trunks,
hidden in between the spurges, appeared in the midst of an intense
buzzing of bees.
Cousin Benedict would have preferred not to have robbed these
industrious hymenopters of the "fruit of their labors," as he
expressed it. But Dick Sand did not understand it in that way. He
smoked out the bees with some dry herbs and obtained a considerable
quantity of honey. Then leaving to the indicator the cakes of wax,
which made its share of the profit, Cousin Benedict and he returned to
The honey was well received, but it was but little, and, in fact, all
would have suffered cruelly from hunger, if, during the day of the
12th, the boat had not stopped near a creek where some locusts
swarmed. They covered the ground and the shrubs in myriads, two or
three deep. Now, Cousin Benedict not failing to say that the natives
frequently eat these orthopters--which was perfectly true--they took
possession of this manna. There was enough to fill the boat ten times,
and broiled over a mild fire, these edible locusts would have seemed
excellent even to less famished people. Cousin Benedict, for his part,
eat a notable quantity of them, sighing, it is true--still, he eat
Nevertheless, it was time for this long series of moral and physical
trials to come to an end. Although drifting on this rapid river was
not so fatiguing as had been the walking through the first forests
near the coast, still, the excessive heat of the day, the damp mists
at night, and the incessant attacks of the mosquitoes, made this
descent of the watercourse very painful. It was time to arrive
somewhere, and yet Dick Sand could see no limit to the journey. Would
it last eight days or a month? Nothing indicated an answer. Had the
river flowed directly to the west, they would have already reached the
northern coast of Angola; but the general direction had been rather to
the north, and they could travel thus a long time before reaching the
Dick Sand was, therefore, extremely anxious, when a sudden change of
direction took place on the morning of the 14th of July.
Little Jack was in the front of the boat, and he was gazing through
the thatch, when a large expanse of water appeared on the horizon.
"The sea!" he shouted.
At this word Dick Sand trembled, and came close to little Jack.
"The sea?" he replied. "No, not yet; but at least a river which flows
toward the west, and of which this stream is only a tributary. Perhaps
it is the Zaire itself."
"May God grant that is!" replied Mrs. Weldon.
Yes; for if this were the Zaire or Congo, which Stanley was to
discover a few years later, they had only to descend its course so as
to reach the Portuguese settlements at its mouth. Dick Sand hoped that
it might be so, and he was inclined to believe it.
During the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th of July, in the midst of a more
fertile country, the boat drifted on the silvery waters of the river.
They still took the same precautions, and it was always a mass of
herbs that the current seemed to carry on its surface.
A few days more, and no doubt the survivors of the "Pilgrim" would see
the termination of their miseries. Self-sacrifice had been shared in
by all, and if the young novice would not claim the greater part of
it, Mrs. Weldon would demand its recognition for him.
But on the 18th of July, during the night, an incident took place
which compromised the safety of the party. Toward three o'clock in the
morning a distant noise, still very low, was heard in the west. Dick
Sand, very anxious, wished to know what caused it. While Mrs. Weldon,
Jack, and Cousin Benedict slept in the bottom of the boat, he called
Hercules to the front, and told him to listen with the greatest
attention. The night was calm. Not a breeze stirred the atmosphere.
"It is the noise of the sea," said Hercules, whose eyes shone with
"No," replied Dick Sand, holding down his head.
"What is it then?" asked Hercules.
"Wait until day; but we must watch with the greatest care."
At this answer, Hercules returned to his post.
Dick Sand stood in front, listening all the time. The noise increased.
It was soon like distant roaring.
Day broke almost without dawn. About half a mile down the river, just
above the water, a sort of cloud floated in the atmosphere. But it was
not a mass of vapor, and this became only too evident, when, under
the first solar rays, which broke in piercing it, a beautiful rainbow
spread from one bank to the other.
"To the shore!" cried Dick Sand, whose voice awoke Mrs. Weldon. "It is
a cataract! Those clouds are spray! To the shore, Hercules!"
Dick Sand was not mistaken. Before them, the bed of the river broke in
a descent of more than a hundred feet, and the waters rushed down with
superb but irresistible impetuosity. Another half mile, and the boat
would have been engulfed in the abyss.
With a vigorous plow of the oar, Hercules had pushed toward the left
bank. Besides, the current was not more rapid in that place, and the
bed of the river kept its normal declivity to the falls. As has been
said, it was the sudden sinking of the ground, and the attraction was
only felt three or four hundred feet above the cataract.
On the left bank were large and very thick trees. No light penetrated
their impenetrable curtain. It was not without terror that Dick Sand
looked at this territory, inhabited by the cannibals of the Lower
Congo, which he must now cross, because the boat could no longer
follow the stream. He could not dream of carrying it below the falls.
It was a terrible blow for these poor people, on the eve perhaps of
reaching the Portuguese villages at its mouth. They were well aided,
however. Would not Heaven come to their assistance?
The boat soon reached the left bank of the river. As it drew near,
Dingo gave strange marks of impatience and grief at the same time.
Dick Sand, who was watching the animal--for all was danger--asked
himself if some beast or some native was not concealed in the high
papyrus of the bank. But he soon saw that the animal was not agitated
by a sentiment of anger.
"One would say that Dingo was crying!" exclaimed little Jack, clasping
Dingo in his two arms.
Dingo escaped from him, and, springing into the water, when the boat
was only twenty feet from the bank, reached the shore and disappeared
among the bushes.
Neither Mrs. Weldon, nor Dick Sand, nor Hercules, knew what to think.
They landed a few moments after in the middle of a foam green with
hairweed and other aquatic plants. Some kingfishers, giving a sharp
whistle, and some little herons, white as snow, immediately flew away.
Hercules fastened the boat firmly to a mangrove stump, and all climbed
up the steep bank overhung by large trees.
There was no path in this forest. However, faint traces on the ground
indicated that this place had been recently visited by natives or
Dick Sand, with loaded gun, and Hercules, with his hatchet in his
hand, had not gone ten steps before they found Dingo again. The dog,
nose to the ground, was following a scent, barking all the time. A
first inexplicable presentiment had drawn the animal to this part
of the shore, a second led it into the depths of the wood. That was
clearly visible to all.
"Attention!" said Dick Sand. "Mrs. Weldon, Mr. Benedict, Jack, do not
leave us! Attention, Hercules!"
At this moment Dingo raised its head, and, by little bounds, invited
them to follow.
A moment after Mrs. Weldon and her companions rejoined it at the foot
of an old sycamore, lost in the thickest part of the wood.
There was a dilapidated hut, with disjoined boards, before which Dingo
was barking lamentably.
"Who can be there?" exclaimed Dick Sand.
He entered the hut.
Mrs. Weldon and the others followed him.
The ground was scattered with bones, already bleached under the
discoloring action of the atmosphere.
"A man died in that hut!" said Mrs. Weldon.
"And Dingo knew that man!" replied Dick Sand. "It was, it must have
been, his master! Ah, see!"
Dick Sand pointed to the naked trunk of the sycamore at the end of the
There appeared two large red letters, already almost effaced, but
which could be still distinguished.
Dingo had rested its right paw on the tree, and it seemed to indicate
"S. V.!" exclaimed Dick Sand. "Those letters which Dingo knew among
all others! Those initials that it carries on its collar!"
He did not finish, and stooping, he picked up a little copper box, all
oxydized, which lay in a corner of the hut.
That box was opened, and a morsel of paper fell from it, on which Dick
Sand read these few words:
"Assassinated--robbed by my guide, Negoro--3d December,
1871--here--120 miles from the coast--Dingo!--with me!
The note told everything. Samuel Vernon set out with his dog, Dingo,
to explore the center of Africa, guided by Negoro. The money which he
carried had excited the wretch's cupidity, and he resolved to take
possession of it. The French traveler, arrived at this point of the
Congo's banks, had established his camp in this hut. There he was
mortally wounded, robbed, abandoned. The murder accomplished, no doubt
Negoro took to flight, and it was then that he fell into the hands
of the Portuguese. Recognized as one of the trader Alvez's agents,
conducted to Saint Paul de Loanda, he was condemned to finish his days
in one of the penitentiaries of the colony. We know that he succeeded
in escaping, in reaching New Zealand, and how he embarked on the
"Pilgrim" to the misfortune of those who had taken passage on it.
But what happened after the crime? Nothing but what was easy to
understand! The unfortunate Vernon, before dying, had evidently had
time to write the note which, with the date and the motive of the
assassination, gave the name of the assassin. This note he had shut
up in that box where, doubtless, the stolen money was, and, in a last
effort, his bloody finger had traced like an epitaph the initials of
his name. Before those two red letters, Dingo must have remained for
many days! He had learned to know them! He could no longer forget
them! Then, returned to the coast, the dog had been picked up by the
captain of the "Waldeck," and finally, on board the "Pilgrim," found
itself again with Negoro. During this time, the bones of the traveler
were whitening in the depths of this lost forest of Central Africa,
and he no longer lived except in the remembrance of his dog.
Yes, such must have been the way the events had happened. As Dick Sand
and Hercules prepared to give a Christian burial to the remains of
Samuel Yernon, Dingo, this time giving a howl of rage, dashed out of
Almost at once horrible cries were heard at a short distance.
Evidently a man was struggling with the powerful animal.
Hercules did what Dingo had done. In his turn he sprang out of the
hut, and Dick Sand, Mrs. Weldon, Jack, Benedict, following his steps,
saw him throw himself on a man, who fell to the ground, held at the
neck by the dog's formidable teeth.
It was Negoro.
In going to the mouth of the Zaire, so as to embark for America, this
rascal, leaving his escort behind, had come to the very place where he
had assassinated the traveler who had trusted himself to him.
But there was a reason for it, and all understood it when they
perceived some handfuls of French gold which glittered in a
recently-dug hole at the foot of a tree. So it was evident that after
the murder, and before falling into the hands of the Portuguese,
Negoro had hidden the product of his crime, with the intention of
returning some day to get it. He was going to take possession of this
gold when Dingo scented him and sprang at his throat. The wretch,
surprised, had drawn his cutlass and struck the dog at the moment when
Hercules threw himself on him, crying:
"Ah, villain! I am going to strangle you at last!"
There was nothing more to do. The Portuguese gave no sign of life,
struck, it maybe said, by divine justice, and on the very spot where
the crime had been committed. But the faithful dog had received
a mortal blow, and dragging itself to the hut, it came to die
there--where Samuel Vernon had died.
Hercules buried deep the traveler's remains, and Dingo, lamented by
all, was put in the same grave as its master.
Negoro was no more, but the natives who accompanied him from Kazounde
could not be far away. On not seeing him return, they would certainly
seek him along the river. This was a very serious danger.
Dick Sand and Mrs. Weldon took counsel as to what they should do, and
do without losing an instant.
One fact acquired was that this stream was the Congo, which the
natives call Kwango, or Ikoutouya Kongo, and which is the Zaire under
one longitude, the Loualaba under another. It was indeed that great
artery of Central Africa, to which the heroic Stanley has given the
glorious name of "Livingstone," but which the geographers should
perhaps replace by his own.
But, if there was no longer any doubt that this was the Congo, the
French traveler's note indicated that its mouth was still one hundred
and twenty miles from this point, and, unfortunately, at this place
it was no longer navigable. High falls--very likely the falls of
Ntamo--forbid the descent of any boat. Thus it was necessary to follow
one or the other bank, at least to a point below the cataracts, either
one or two miles, when they could make a raft, and trust themselves
again to the current.
"It remains, then," said Dick Sand, in conclusion, "to decide if we
shall descend the left bank, where we are, or the right bank of the
river. Both, Mrs. Weldon, appear dangerous to me, and the natives are
formidable. However, it seems as if we risk more on this bank, because
we have the fear of meeting Negoro's escort."
"Let us pass over to the other bank," replied Mrs. Weldon.
"Is it practicable?" observed Dick Sand. "The road to the Congo's
mouths is rather on the left bank, as Negoro was following it. Never
mind. We must not hesitate. But before crossing the river with you,
Mrs. Weldon, I must know if we can descend it below the falls."
That was prudent, and Dick Sand wished to put his project into
execution on the instant.
The river at this place was not more than three or four hundred feet
wide, and to cross it was easy for the young novice, accustomed to
handling the oar. Mrs. Weldon, Jack, and Cousin Benedict would remain
under Hercules's care till his return.
These arrangements made, Dick Sand was going to set out, when Mrs.
Weldon said to him:
"You do not fear being carried away by the falls, Dick?"
"No, Mrs. Weldon. I shall cross four hundred feet above."
"But on the other bank--"
"I shall not land if I see the least danger."
"Take your gun."
"Yes, but do not be uneasy about me."
"Perhaps it would be better for us not to separate, Dick," added Mrs.
Weldon, as if urged by some presentiment.
"No--let me go alone," replied Dick Sand. "I must act for the security
of all. Before one hour I shall be back. Watch well, Hercules."
On this reply the boat, unfastened, carried Dick Sand to the other
side of the Zaire.
Mrs. Weldon and Hercules, lying in the papyrus thickets, followed him
with their eyes.
Dick Sand soon reached the middle of the stream. The current, without
being very strong, was a little accentuated there by the attraction of
the falls. Four hundred feet below, the imposing roaring of the waters
filled the space, and some spray, carried by the western wind, reached
the young novice. He shuddered at the thought that the boat, if it had
been less carefully watched during the last night, would have been
lost over those cataracts, that would only have restored dead bodies.
But that was no longer to be feared, and, at that moment, the oar
skilfully handled sufficed to maintain it in a direction a little
oblique to the current.
A quarter of an hour after, Dick Sand had reached the opposite shore,
and was preparing to spring on the bank.
At that moment cries were heard, and ten natives rushed on the mass of
plants that still hid the boat.
They were the cannibals from the lake village. For eight days they had
followed the right bank of the river. Under that thatch, which
was torn by the stakes of their village, they had discovered the
fugitives, that is to say, a sure prey for them, because the barrier
of the falls would sooner or later oblige those unfortunate ones to
land on one or the other side of the river.
Dick Sand saw that he was lost, but he asked himself if the sacrifice
of his life might not save his companions. Master of himself, standing
in the front of the boat, his gun pointed, he held the cannibals in
Meanwhile, they snatched away the thatch, under which they expected
to find other victims. When they saw that the young novice alone
had fallen into their hands, they betrayed their disappointment by
frightful cries. A boy of fifteen among ten!
But, then, one of those natives stood up, his arm stretched toward the
left bank, and pointed to Mrs. Weldon and her companions, who, having
seen all and not knowing what to do, had just climbed up the bank!
Dick Sand, not even dreaming of himself, waited for an inspiration
from Heaven that might save them.
The boat was going to be pushed out into the stream. The cannibals
were going to cross the river. They did not budge before the gun aimed
at them, knowing the effect of fire-arms. But one of them had seized
the oar; he managed it like a man who knew how to use it, and the boat
crossed the river obliquely. Soon it was not more than a hundred feet
from the left bank.
"Flee!" cried Dick Sand to Mrs. Weldon. "Flee!"
Neither Mrs. Weldon nor Hercules stirred. One would say that their
feet were fastened to the ground.
Flee! Besides, what good would it do? In less than an hour they would
fall into the hands of the cannibals!
Dick Sand understood it. But, then, that supreme inspiration which he
asked from Heaven was sent him. He saw the possibility of saving all
those whom he loved by making the sacrifice of his own life! He did
not hesitate to do it.
"May God protect them!" murmured he, "and in His infinite goodness may
He have pity on me!"
At the same instant Dick Sand pointed his gun at the native who was
steering the boat, and the oar, broken by a ball, flew into fragments.
The cannibals gave a cry of terror.
In fact, the boat, no longer directed by the oar, went with the
stream. The current bore it along with increasing swiftness, and, in a
few moments, it was only a hundred feet from the falls.
Mrs. Weldon and Hercules understood all. Dick Sand attempted to save
them by precipitating the cannibals, with himself, into the abyss.
Little Jack and his mother, kneeling on the bank, sent him a last
farewell. Hercules's powerless hand was stretched out to him.
At that moment the natives, wishing to gain the left bank by swimming,
threw themselves out of the boat, which they capsized.
Dick Sand had lost none of his coolness in the presence of the death
which menaced him. A last thought then came to him. It was that this
boat, even because it was floating keel upward, might serve to save
In fact, two dangers were to be feared when Dick Sand should be going
over the cataract: asphyxia by the water, and asphyxia by the air.
Now, this overturned hull was like a box, in which he might, perhaps,
keep his head out of the water, at the same time that he would be
sheltered from the exterior air, which would certainly have stifled
him in the rapidity of his fall. In these conditions, it seems that a
man would have some chance of escaping the double asphyxia, even in
descending the cataracts of a Niagara.
Dick Sand saw all that like lightning. By a last instinct he clung to
the seat which united the two sides of the boat, and, his head out of
the water, under the capsized hull, he felt the irresistible current
carrying him away, and the almost perpendicular fall taking place.
The boat sank into the abyss hollowed out by the waters at the foot of
the cataract, and, after plunging deep, returned to the surface of the
Dick Sand, a good swimmer, understood that his safety now depended on
the vigor of his arms.
A quarter of an hour after he reached the left bank, and there found
Mrs. Weldon, little Jack, and Cousin Benedict, whom Hercules had led
there in all haste.
But already the cannibals had disappeared in the tumult of the waters.
They, whom the capsized boat had not protected, had ceased to live
even before reaching the last depths of the abyss, and their bodies
were going to be torn to pieces on those sharp rocks on which the
under-current of the stream dashed itself.
Two days after, the 20th of July, Mrs. Weldon and her companions met a
caravan going toward Emboma, at the mouth of the Congo. These were not
slave merchants, but honest Portuguese traders, who dealt in ivory.
They made the fugitives welcome, and the latter part of the journey
was accomplished under more agreeable conditions.
The meeting with this caravan was really a blessing from Heaven. Dick
Sand would never have been able to descend the Zaire on a raft. From
the Falls of Ntamo, as far as Yellala, the stream was a succession of
rapids and cataracts. Stanley counted seventy-two, and no boat could
undertake to pass them. It was at the mouth of the Congo that the
intrepid traveler, four years later, fought the last of the thirty-two
combats which he waged with the natives. Lower down, in the cataracts
of Mbelo, he escaped death by a miracle.
On the 11th of August, Mrs. Weldon, Dick Sand, Jack, Hercules, and
Cousin Benedict arrived at Emboma. Messrs. Motta Viega and Harrison
received them with generous hospitality. A steamer was about sailing
for the Isthmus of Panama. Mrs. Weldon and her companions took passage
in it, and happily reached the American coast.
A despatch sent to San Francisco informed Mr. Weldon of the
unlooked-for return of his wife and his child. He had vainly searched
for tidings of them at every place where he thought the "Pilgrim"
might have been wrecked.
Finally, on the 25th of August, the survivors of the shipwreck reached
the capital of California. Ah! if old Tom and his companions had only
been with them!
What shall we say of Dick Sand and of Hercules? One became the son,
the other the friend, of the family. James Weldon knew how much he
owed to the young novice, how much to the brave black. He was happy;
and it was fortunate for him that Negoro had not reached him, for
he would have paid the ransom of his wife and child with his whole
fortune. He would have started for the African coast, and, once there,
who can tell to what dangers, to what treachery, he would have been
A single word about Cousin Benedict. The very day of his arrival the
worthy savant, after having shaken hands with Mr. Weldon, shut
himself up in his study and set to work, as if finishing a sentence
interrupted the day before. He meditated an enormous work on the
"Hexapodes Benedictus," one of the _desiderata_ of entomological
There, in his study, lined with insects, Cousin Benedict's first
action was to find a microscope and a pair of glasses. Great heaven!
What a cry of despair he uttered the first time he used them to study
the single specimen furnished by the African entomology!
The "Hexapodes Benedictus" was not a hexapode! It was a common spider!
And if it had but six legs, instead of eight, it was simply because
the two front legs were missing! And if they were missing, these two
legs, it was because, in taking it, Hercules had, unfortunately,
broken them off! Now, this mutilation reduced the pretended "Hexapodes
Benedictus" to the condition of an invalid, and placed it in the
most ordinary class of spiders--a fact which Cousin Benedict's
near-sightedness had prevented him from discovering sooner. It gave
him a fit of sickness, from which, however, he happily recovered.
Three years after, little Jack was eight years old, and Dick Sand made
him repeat his lessons, while working faithfully at his own studies.
In fact, hardly was he at home when, realizing how ignorant he was,
he had commenced to study with a kind of remorse--like a man who, for
want of knowledge, finds himself unequal to his task.
"Yes," he often repeated; "if, on board of the 'Pilgrim,' I had
known all that a sailor should know, what misfortunes we would have
Thus spoke Dick Sand. At the age of eighteen he finished with
distinction his hydrographical studies, and, honored with a brevet by
special favor, he took command of one of Mr. Weldon's vessels.
See what the little orphan, rescued on the beach at Sandy Hook, had
obtained by his work and conduct. He was, in spite of his youth,
surrounded by the esteem, one might say the respect, of all who knew
him; but his simplicity and modesty were so natural to him, that he
was not aware of it. He did not even suspect--although no one could
attribute to him what are called brilliant exploits--that the
firmness, courage, and fidelity displayed in so many trials had made
of him a sort of hero.
Meanwhile, one thought oppressed him. In his rare leisure hours he
always dreamed of old Tom, of Bat, of Austin, and of Acteon, and of
the misfortune for which he held himself responsible. It was also a
subject of real grief to Mrs. Weldon, the actual situation of her
former companions in misery. Mr. Weldon, Dick Sand, and Hercules
moved heaven and earth to find traces of them. Finally they
succeeded--thanks to the correspondents which the rich shipowner had
in different parts of the world. It was at Madagascar--where, however,
slavery was soon to be abolished--that Tom and his companions had been
sold. Dick Sand wished to consecrate his little savings to ransom
them, but Mr. Weldon would not hear of it. One of his correspondents
arranged the affair, and one day, the 15th of November, 1877, four
blacks rang the bell of his house.
They were old Tom, Bat, Acteon, and Austin. The brave men, after
escaping so many dangers, came near being stifled, on that day, by
their delighted friends.
Only poor Nan was missing from those whom the "Pilgrim" had thrown on
the fatal coast of Africa. But the old servant could not be recalled
to life, and neither could Dingo be restored to them. Certainly it was
miraculous that these two alone had succumbed amid such adventures.
It is unnecessary to say that on that occasion they had a festival
at the house of the California merchant. The best toast, which all
applauded, was that given by Mrs. Weldon to Dick Sand, "To the Captain
End of the Voyage Extraordinaire