Part 5 out of 8
"One does what he can, comrade," replied Harris. "As to you, who
followed our caravan from the coast, you have done well to keep your
distance. They felt you were there. There is a certain Dingo that does
not seem to love you. What have you done to that animal?"
"Nothing," replied Negoro; "but before long it will receive a ball in
"As you would have received one from Dick Sand, if you had shown ever
so little of your person within two hundred feet of his gun. Ah! how
well he fires, my young friend; and, between you and me, I am obliged
to admit that he is, in his way, a fine boy."
"No matter how fine he is, Harris, he will pay dear for his
insolence," replied Negoro, whose countenance expressed implacable
"Good," murmured Harris, "my comrade remains just the same as I have
always known him! Voyages have not injured him!"
Then, after a moment's silence: "Ah, there, Negoro," continued he,
"when I met you so fortunately there below, at the scene of the
shipwreck, at the mouth of the Longa, you only had time to recommend
those honest people to me, while begging me to lead them as far as
possible across this pretended Bolivia. You have not told me what you
have been doing these two years! Two years, comrade, in our chance
existence, is a long time. One fine day, after having taken charge of
a caravan of slaves on old Alvez's account--whose very humble agents
we are--you left Cassange, and have not been heard of since! I have
thought that you had some disagreement with the English cruiser, and
that you were hung!"
"I came very near it, Harris."
"That will come, Negoro."
"What would you have?" replied Harris, with an indifference quite
philosophical; "it is one of the chances of the trade! We do not carry
on the slave-trade on the coast of Africa without running the risk of
dying elsewhere than in our beds! So, you have been taken?"
"By the English?"
"No! By the Portuguese."
"Before or after having delivered your cargo?" asked Harris.
"After--," replied Negoro, who had hesitated a little about replying.
"These Portuguese now make difficulties. They want no more slavery,
though they have used it so long to their profit. I was denounced
--watched. They took me--"
"Me to finish my days in the penitentiary of St. Paul de Loanda."
"A thousand devils!" exclaimed Harris. "That is an unhealthy place for
men accustomed, like us, to live in the open air. As to me, perhaps I
should prefer being hung."
"One does not escape from the gallows," replied Negoro; "but from
"You were able to make your escape?"
"Yes, Harris. Only fifteen days after being put in prison. I was
able to hide myself at the bottom of the hold of an English steamer,
sailing for Auckland, of New Zealand. A barrel of water and a case of
conserves, between which I had intruded, furnished me with food and
drink during the whole passage. Oh! I suffered terribly, from not
being willing to show myself when we were at sea. But, if I had been
imprudent enough to do it, I would have been confined again at the
bottom of the hold, and, voluntarily or not, the torture would be the
same. Besides, on my arrival at Auckland, they would have returned me
again to the English authorities, and finally brought me back to the
penitentiary of Loanda, or, perhaps, hung me, as you said. That was
why I preferred to travel incognito."
"And without paying your passage!" exclaimed Harris, laughing. "Ah!
that is not considerate, comrade, to be fed and carried gratis!"
"Yes," returned Negoro, "but thirty days' passage at the bottom of the
"At last that was over, Negoro. You set out for New Zealand, in the
land of the Maoris. But you have returned. Was the return made under
the same circumstances?"
"Not so, Harris. You may well believe that, over there, I had only one
idea--to return to Angola and take up my trade of slave-trader again."
"Yes," replied Harris, "one loves his trade--from habit."
"For eighteen months--"
Having pronounced those last words, Negoro stopped suddenly. He seized
his companion's arm, and listened.
"Harris," said he, lowering his voice, "was there not a trembling in
that papyrus bush?"
"Yes, indeed," replied Harris, seizing his gun, always ready to fire.
Negoro and he stood up, looked around them, and listened with the
"There is nothing there," said Harris. "It is this brook, swelled by
the storm, which runs more noisily. For two years, comrade, you have
been unaccustomed to the noises of the forest, but you will get used
to them again. Continue, then, the narration of your adventures. When
I understand the past, we shall talk of the future."
Negoro and Harris sat down again at the foot of the banyan. The
Portuguese continued, in these terms:
"For eighteen months I vegetated in Auckland. When the steamer arrived
there I was able to leave it without being seen; but not a piastre,
not a dollar in my pocket! In order to live I had to follow all
"Even the trade of an honest man, Negoro?"
"As you say, Harris."
"Now, I was always waiting for an opportunity, which was long coming,
when the 'Pilgrim,' a whaler, arrived at the port of Auckland."
"That vessel which went ashore on the coast of Angola?"
"Even the same, Harris, and on which Mrs. Weldon, her child, and her
cousin were going to take passage. Now, as an old sailor, having even
been second on board a slave ship, I was not out of my element in
taking service on a ship. I then presented myself to the 'Pilgrim's'
captain, but the crew was made up. Very fortunately for me, the
schooner's cook had deserted. Now, he is no sailor who does not know
how to cook. I offered myself as head cook. For want of a better, I
was accepted. A few days after, the 'Pilgrim' had lost sight of the
land of New Zealand."
"But," asked Harris, "according to what my young friend has told me,
the 'Pilgrim' did not set sail at all for the coast of Africa. How
then has she arrived here?"
"Dick Sand ought not to be able to understand it yet, and perhaps he
will never understand it," replied Negoro; "but I am going to explain
to you what has passed, Harris, and you will be able to tell it again
to your young friend, if it pleases you to do so."
"How, then?" replied Harris. "Speak, comrade, speak!"
"The 'Pilgrim,'" continued Negoro, "as on the way to Valparaiso. When
I went on board, I only intended to go to Chili. It was always a good
half of the way between New Zealand and Angola, and I was drawing
nearer Africa's coast by several thousand miles. But it so happened
that only three weeks after leaving Auckland, Captain Hull, who
commanded the 'Pilgrim,' disappeared with all his crew, while chasing
a whale. On that day, then, only two sailors remained on board--the
novice and the cook, Negoro."
"And you took command of the ship?" asked Harris.
"I had that idea at first, but I saw that they distrusted me. There
were live strong blacks on board, free men. I would not have been
the master, and, on reflection, I remained what I was at the
departure--the 'Pilgrim's' cook."
"Then it was chance that led this ship to the coast of Africa?"
"No, Harris," replied Negoro; "there has been no chance in all this
adventure except meeting you, in one of your journeys, just on that
part of the coast where the 'Pilgrim' was wrecked. But as to coming
in sight of Angola, it was by my will, my secret will, that that was
done. Your young friend, still much of a novice in navigation, could
only tell his position by means of the log and the compass. Well, one
day, the log went to the bottom. One night the compass was made false,
and the 'Pilgrim,' driven by a violent tempest, took the wrong route.
The length of the voyage, inexplicable to Dick Sand, would be the same
to the most experienced seaman. Without the novice knowing or even
suspecting it, Cape Horn was doubled, but I, Harris, I recognized
it in the midst of the fogs. Then, thanks to me, the needle in the
compass took its true direction again, and the ship, blown to the
northeast by that frightful hurricane, has just been cast on the coast
of Africa, just on this land of Angola which I wished to reach."
"And even at that moment, Negoro," replied Harris, "chance had led me
there to receive you, and guide those honest people to the interior.
They believed themselves--they could only believe themselves in
America. It was easy for me to make them take this province for lower
Bolivia, to which it has really some resemblance."
"Yes, they believed it, as your young friend believed they had made
the Isle of Paques, when they passed in sight of Tristan d'Acunha."
"Anybody would be deceived by it, Negoro."
"I know it, Harris, and I even counted on profiting by that error.
Finally, behold Mrs. Weldon and her companions one hundred miles in
the interior of this Africa, where I wanted to bring them!"
"But," replied Harris, "they know now where they are."
"Ah! what matter at present!" cried Negoro.
"And what will you do with them?" asked Harris.
"What will I do with them?" replied Negoro. "Before telling you,
Harris, give me news of our master, the slave-trader, Alvez, whom I
have not seen for two years."
"Oh, the old rascal is remarkably well," replied Harris, "and he will
be enchanted to see you again."
"Is he at the Bihe market?" asked Negoro.
"No, comrade, he has been at his establishment at Kazounde for a
"And business is lively?"
"Yes, a thousand devils!" exclaimed Harris, "although the slave
trade becomes more and more difficult, at least on this coast. The
Portuguese authorities on one side, and the English cruisers on
the other, limit exportations. There are few places, except in the
environs of Mossamedes, to the south of Angola, that the shipping of
blacks can now be made with any chance of success. So, at this time,
the pens are filled with slaves, waiting for the ships which ought to
carry them to Spanish colonies. As to passing them by Benguela, or
St. Paul de Loanda, that is not possible. The governors no longer
understand reason, no more do the chiefs (title given to the
Portuguese governors of secondary establishments). We must, then,
return to the factories of the interior. This is what old Alvez
intends to do. He will go from the Nyangwe and Tanganyika side to
change his stuffs for ivory and slaves. Business is always profitable
with upper Egypt and the Mozambique coast, which furnishes all
Madagascar. But I fear the time will come when the trade can be no
longer carried on. The English are making great progress in the
interior of Africa. The missionaries advance and work against us. That
Livingstone, curse him, after exploring the lake region, is going,
they say, to travel toward Angola. Then they speak of a Lieutenant
Cameron, who proposes to cross the continent from east to west. They
also fear that the American, Stanley, wishes to do as much. All these
visits will end by damaging our operations, Negoro, and if we care for
our own interests, not one of those visitors will return to relate in
Europe what he has had the indiscretion to come to see in Africa."
Would not one say, to hear them, the rascals, that they were speaking
like honest merchants whose affairs were momentarily cramped by a
commercial crisis? Who would believe that, instead of sacks of coffee
or casks of sugar, they were talking of human beings to export like
merchandise? These traders have no other idea of right or wrong. The
moral sense is entirely lacking in them, and if they had any, how
quickly they would lose it among the frightful atrocities of the
African slave trade.
But where Harris was right, was when he said that civilization was
gradually penetrating those savage countries in the wake of those
hardy travelers, whose names are indissoluble linked to the
discoveries of Equatorial Africa. At the head, David Livingstone,
after him, Grant, Speke, Burton, Cameron, Stanley, those heroes will
leave imperishable names as benefactors of humanity.
When their conversation reached that point, Harris knew what the last
two years of Negoro's life had been. The trader Alvez's old agent, the
escaped prisoner from the Loanda penitentiary, reappeared the same as
Harris had always known him, that is, ready to do anything. But what
plan Negoro intended to take in regard to the shipwrecked from the
"Pilgrim," Harris did not yet know. He asked his accomplice about it.
"And now," said he, "what are you going to do with those people?"
"I shall make two parties of them," replied Negoro, like a man whose
plan had been long formed, "those whom I shall sell as slaves, and
The Portuguese did not finish, but his ferocious physiognomy spoke
"Which will you sell?" asked Harris.
"Those blacks who accompany Mrs. Weldon," replied Negoro. "Old Tom is
not perhaps of much value, but the others are four strong fellows, who
will bring a high price in the Kazounde market."
"I well believe it, Negoro," replied Harris. "Four negroes, well made,
accustomed to work, have very little resemblance to those brutes which
come to us from the interior. Certainly, you will sell them at a high
price. Slaves, born in America, and exported to the markets of Angola;
that is rare merchandise! But," added the American, "you have not told
me if there was any money on board the 'Pilgrim.'"
"Oh! a few hundred dollars only, which I have succeeded in saving.
Fortunately, I count on certain returns."
"Which, then, comrade?" asked Harris, with curiosity.
"Nothing!" replied Negoro, who appeared to regret having spoken more
than he intended.
"It now remains to take possession of all that high-priced
merchandise," said Harris.
"Is it, then, so difficult?" asked Negoro.
"No, comrade. Ten miles from here, on the Coanza, a caravan of slaves
is encamped, conducted by the Arab, Ibn Hamis. He only awaits my
return to take the road for Kazounde. There are more native soldiers
there than are needed to capture Dick Sand and his companions. It will
be sufficient for my young friend to conceive the idea of going to the
"But will he get that idea?" asked Negoro.
"Surely," replied Harris, "because he is intelligent, and cannot
suspect the danger that awaits him. Dick Sand would not think of
returning to the coast by the way we have followed together. He would
be lost among these immense forests. He will seek, then, I am sure, to
reach one of the rivers that flow toward the coast, so as to descend
it on a raft. He has no other plan to take, and I know he will take
"Yes, perhaps so," replied Negoro, who was reflecting.
"It is not 'perhaps so,' it is 'assuredly so,' that must be said,"
continued Harris. "Do you see, Negoro? It is as if I had appointed a
rendezvous with my young friend on the banks of the Coanza."
"Well, then," replied Negoro, "let us go. I know Dick Sand. He will
not delay an hour, and we must get before him."
"Let us start, comrade."
Harris and Negoro both stood up, when the noise that had before
attracted the Portuguese's attention was renewed. It was a trembling
of the stems between the high papyrus.
Negoro stopped, and seized Harris's hand.
Suddenly a low barking was heard. A dog appeared at the foot of the
bank, with its mouth open, ready to spring.
"Dingo!" cried Harris.
"Ah! this time it shall not escape me!" replied Negoro.
Dingo was going to jump upon him, when Negoro, seizing Harris's gun,
quickly put it to his shoulder and fired.
A long howl of pain replied to the detonation, and Dingo disappeared
between the double row of bushes that bordered the brook.
Negoro descended at once to the bottom of the bank.
Drops of blood stained some of the papyrus stems, and a long red track
was left on the pebbles of the brook.
"At last that cursed animal is paid off!" exclaimed Negoro.
Harris had been present at this whole scene without saying a word.
"Ah now, Negoro," said he, "that dog had a particular grudge against
"It seemed so, Harris, but it will have a grudge against me no
"And why did it detest you so much, comrade?"
"Oh! an old affair to settle between it and me."
"An old affair?" replied Harris.
Negoro said no more about it, and Harris concluded that the Portuguese
had been silent on some past adventure, but he did not insist on
A few moments later, both, descending the course of the brook, went
toward the Coanza, across the forest.
* * * * *
ON THE MARCH.
Africa! That name so terrible under the present circumstances, that
name which he must now substitute for that of America, was not for an
instant out of Dick Sand's thoughts. When the young novice traced back
the last weeks, it was to ask himself how the "Pilgrim" had ended
by reaching this dangerous shore, how it had doubled Cape Horn, and
passed from one ocean to the other! He could now explain to himself
why, in spite of the rapid motion of his vessel, land was so long
coming in sight, because the length of the distance which he should
have made to reach the American coast had been doubled without his
"Africa! Africa!" Dick Sand repeated.
Then, suddenly, while he called up with tenacious mind all the
incidents of this inexplicable voyage, he felt that his compass must
have been injured. He remembered, too, that the first compass had been
broken, and that the log-line had snapped--a fact which had made it
impossible for him to establish the speed of the "Pilgrim."
"Yes," thought he, "there remained but one compass on board, one only,
the indications of which I could not control! And one night I was
awakened by a cry from old Tom. Negoro was there, aft. He had just
fallen on the binnacle. May he not have put it out of order?"
Dick Sand was growing enlightened. He had his finger on the truth. He
now understood all that was ambiguous in Negoro's conduct. He saw
his hand in this chain of incidents which had led to the loss of the
"Pilgrim," and had so fearfully endangered those on board of her.
But what, then, was this miserable man? Had he been a sailor and known
so well how to hide the fact? Was he capable of contriving this odious
plot which had thrown the ship on the coast of Africa?
At any rate, if obscure points still existed in the past, the present
could offer no more of them. The young novice knew only too well that
he was in Africa, and very probably in the fatal province of Angola,
more than a hundred miles from the coast. He also knew that Harris's
treason could no longer be doubted. From this fact, the most simple
logic led him to conclude that the American and the Portuguese had
long known each other, that a fatal chance had united them on this
coast, and that a plan had been concerted between them, the result of
which would be dreadful for the survivors of the "Pilgrim."
And now, why these odious actions? That Negoro wished, at all hazards,
to seize Tom and his companions, and sell them for slaves in this
slave-trading country, might be admitted. That the Portuguese, moved
by a sentiment of hatred, would seek to be revenged on him, Dick Sand,
who had treated him as he deserved, might also be conceived. But Mrs.
Weldon, this mother, and this young child--what would the wretch
do with them? If Dick Sand could have overheard a little of the
conversation between Harris and Negoro, he would have known what to
expect, and what dangers menaced Mrs. Weldon, the blacks, and himself.
The situation was frightful, but the young novice did not yield under
it. Captain on board, he remained captain on land. He must save Mrs.
Weldon, little Jack, all those whose fate Heaven had placed in his
hands. His task was only commencing. He would accomplish it to the
After two or three hours, during which the present and the future were
summed up in his mind, with their good and their evil chances--the
last, alas! the most numerous--Dick Sand rose, firm and resolved.
The first glimmer of light then touched the summits of the forest.
With the exception of the novice and Tom, all slept. Dick Sand
approached the old black.
"Tom," he said to him, in a low tone, "you have recognized the roaring
of the lion, you have remembered the instruments of the slave-traders.
You know that we are in Africa!"
"Yes, Mr. Dick, I know it."
"Well, Tom, not a word of all that, neither to Mrs. Weldon nor to your
companions. We must be the only ones to know, the only ones to have
"Alone--in fact. It is necessary," replied Tom.
"Tom," continued the novice, "we have to watch more carefully than
ever. We are in an enemy's country--and what enemies! what a country!
To keep our companions on their guard, it will be enough to tell them
that we have been betrayed by Harris. They will think that we fear an
attack from wandering Indians, and that will suffice."
"You can count absolutely on their courage and devotion, Mr. Dick."
"I know it, as I count on your good sense and your experience. You
will come to my help, old Tom?"
"Always, and everywhere, Mr. Dick."
Dick Sand's plan was accepted and approved by the old black. If Harris
were detected in open treason before the hour for action, at least
the young novice and his companions were not in fear of any immediate
danger. In fact, it was the discovery of the irons abandoned by some
slaves, and the roaring of the lion, that had caused the American's
He knew that he was discovered, and he had fled probably before the
little party which he guided had reached the place where an attack
had been arranged. As for Negoro, whose presence Dingo had certainly
recognized during these last days of the march, he must have rejoined
Harris, so as to consult with him. At any rate, several hours would
pass before Dick Sand and his friends would be assailed, and it was
necessary to profit by them.
The only plan was to regain the coast as quickly as possible. This
coast, as the young novice had every reason to believe, was that of
Angola. After having reached it, Dick Sand would try to gain, either
to the north or to the south, the Portuguese settlements, where his
companions could await in safety some opportunity to return to their
But, to effect this return to the coast, should they take the road
already passed over? Dick Sand did not think so, and in that he
was going to agree with Harris, who had clearly foreseen that
circumstances would oblige the young novice to shorten the road.
In fact, it would have been difficult, not to say imprudent, to
recommence this difficult journey through the forest, which, besides,
could only tend to bring them out at the place they had started from.
This would also allow Negoro's accomplices to follow an assured track.
The only thing they could do was to cross a river, without leaving any
traces, and, later on, to descend its course. At the same time, there
was less to fear from an attack by animals, which by a happy chance
had so far kept at a good distance. Even the animosity of the natives,
under these circumstances, seemed less important. Once embarked on a
solid raft, Dick Sand and his companions, being well armed, would be
in the best condition to defend themselves. The whole thing was to
find the river.
It must be added that, given the actual state of Mrs. Weldon and her
little Jack, this mode of traveling would be the most suitable. Arms
would not fail to carry the sick child. Lacking Harris's horse, they
could even make a litter of branches, on which Mrs. Weldon could be
borne. But this would require two men out of five, and Dick Sand
wished, with good reason, that all his companions might be free in
their movements in case of a sudden attack.
And then, in descending the current of a river, the young novice would
find himself in his element!
The question now was, whether a navigable stream of water existed in
the neighborhood. Dick Sand thought it probable, and for this reason:
The river which emptied into the Atlantic at the place where the
"Pilgrim" had stranded could not ascend much to the north, nor much to
the east, of the province, because a chain of mountains quite close to
them--those which they had mistaken for the Cordilleras--shut in the
horizon on these two sides. Then, either the river descended from
these heights, or it made a bend toward the south, and, in these two
cases, Dick Sand could not take long to find the course. Perhaps, even
before reaching the river--for it had a right to this qualification,
being a direct tributary of the ocean--one of its affluents would be
met with which would suffice for the transport of the little party.
At any rate, a stream of some sort could not be far away.
In fact, during the last miles of the journey the nature of the earth
had been modified. The declivities diminished and became damp. Here
and there ran narrow streams, which indicated that the sub-soil
enclosed everywhere a watery network. During the last day's march the
caravan had kept along one of these rivulets, whose waters, reddened
with oxyde of iron, eat away its steep, worn banks. To find it again
could not take long, or be very difficult. Evidently they could not
descend its impetuous course, but it would be easy to follow it to its
junction with a more considerable, possibly a navigable, affluent.
Such was the very simple plan which Dick Sand determined upon, after
having conferred with old Tom.
Day came, all their companions gradually awoke. Mrs. Weldon placed
little Jack in Nan's arms. The child was drowsy and faded-looking
during the intermittent periods, and was sad to see.
Mrs. Weldon approached Dick Sand. "Dick," she asked, after a steady
glance, "where is Harris? I do not perceive him."
The young novice thought that, while letting his companions believe
that they were treading on the soil of Bolivia, it would not do to
hide from them the American's treason. So he said, without hesitation:
"Harris is no longer here."
"Has he, then, gone ahead?" asked Mrs. Weldon. "He has fled, Mrs.
Weldon," replied Dick Sand. "This Harris is a traitor, and it is
according to Negoro's plan that he led us this far." "For what
motive?" quickly asked Mrs. Weldon. "I do not know," replied Dick
Sand; "but what I do know is, that we must return, without delay, to
"That man--a traitor!" repeated Mrs. Weldon. "I had a presentiment of
it! And you think, Dick, that he is in league with Negoro?"
"That may be, Mrs. Weldon. The wretch is on our track. Chance has
brought these two scoundrels together, and--"
"And I hope that they will not be separated when I find them again!"
said Hercules. "I will break the head of one against the other's
head!" added the giant, holding out his formidable fists.
"But my child!" cried Mrs. Weldon. "The care that I hoped to find for
him at the farm of San Felice--"
"Jack will get well," said old Tom, "when he approaches the more
healthy part of the coast."
"Dick," remarked Mrs. Weldon, "you are sure that this Harris has
"Yes, Mrs. Weldon," replied the young novice, who would have liked to
avoid any explanation on this subject.
He also hastened to add, while looking at the old black:
"This very night Tom and I discovered his treason, and if he had not
jumped on his horse and fled, I would have killed him."
"So this farm--"
"There is neither farm, nor village, nor settlement in the
neighborhood," replied Dick Sand. "Mrs. Weldon, I repeat to you, we
must return to the coast."
"By the same road, Dick?"
"No, Mrs. Weldon, but by descending a river which will take us to the
sea without fatigue and without danger. A few more miles on foot, and
I do not doubt--"
"Oh, I am strong, Dick!" replied Mrs. Weldon, who struggled against
her own weakness. "I will walk! I will carry my child!"
"We are here, Mrs. Weldon," said Bat, "and we will carry you!"
"Yes. yes," added Austin. "Two branches of a tree, foliage laid
"Thanks, my friends," replied Mrs. Weldon; "but I want to march. I
will march. Forward!"
"Forward!" exclaimed the young novice.
"Give me Jack," said Hercules, who took the child from Nan's arms.
"When I am not carrying something, I am tired."
The brave negro gently took in his strong arms the little sleeping
boy, who did not even wake.
Their arms were carefully examined. What remained of the provisions
was placed in one package, so as to be carried by one man. Austin
threw it on his back, and his companions thus became free in their
Cousin Benedict, whose long limbs were like steel and defied all
fatigue, was ready to set out. Had he remarked Harris's disappearance?
It would be imprudent to affirm it. Little disturbed him. Besides, he
was under the effects of one of the most terrible catastrophes that
could befall him.
In fact, a grave complication, Cousin Benedict had lost his
magnifying-glass and his spectacles. Very happily, also, but without
his suspecting it, Bat had found the two precious articles in the tall
grass where they had slept, but, by Dick Sand's advice, he kept them
safely. By this means they would be sure that the big child would keep
quiet during the march, because he could see no farther, as they say,
than the end of his nose.
Thus, placed between Acteon and Austin, with the formal injunction not
to leave them, the woful Benedict uttered no complaint, but followed
in his place, like a blind man led by a string.
The little party had not gone fifty steps when old Tom suddenly
stopped it with one word.
"Dingo?" said he.
"In fact, Dingo is not here!" replied Hercules.
The black called the dog several times with his powerful voice.
No barking replied to him.
Dick Sand remained silent. The absence of the dog, was to be
regretted, for he had preserved the little party from all surprise.
"Could Dingo have followed Harris?" asked Tom.
"Harris? No," replied Dick Sand; "but he may have put himself on
Negoro's scent. He felt him in our steps."
"This cook of misfortune would quickly end him with a ball!" cried
"Provided Dingo did not first strangle him," replied Bat.
"Perhaps so," replied the young novice. "But we cannot wait for
Dingo's return. Besides, if he is living, the intelligent animal will
know how to find us. Forward!"
The weather was very warm. Since daybreak large clouds obscured the
horizon. Already a storm was threatened in the air. Probably the day
would not end without some thunder-claps. Happily the forest, more or
less dense, retained a little freshness of the surface of the soil.
Here and there great forest trees inclosed prairies covered with
a tall, thick grass. In certain spots enormous trunks, already
petrified, lay on the ground, indicating the presence of coal mines,
which are frequently met with on the African continent. Then, in the
clearings, where the green carpet was mingled with some sprigs of
roses, the flowers were various in color, yellow and blue ginger
plants, pale lobelias, red orchids, incessantly visited by the insects
which fertilized them.
The trees no longer formed impenetrable masses, but their nature was
more varied. There were a kind of palm-tree, which gives an oil found
only in Africa; cotton-trees forming thickets from eight to ten feet
high, whose wood-stalks produce a cotton with long hairs, almost
analogous to that of Fernambouc. From the copals there oozes, by the
holes which certain insects make, an odorous gum, which runs along
the ground and collects for the wants of the natives. Here spread the
lemon-trees, the grenadiers of a savage condition of a country, and
twenty other odorous plants, which prove the prodigious fertility of
this plateau of Central Africa. In several places, also, the perfume
was agreeably mingled with the tine odor of vanilla, although they
could not discover what tree exhaled it.
This whole collection of trees and plants was perfectly green,
although it was in the middle of the dry season, and only rare storms
could water these luxuriant forests. It was then the time for fevers;
but, as Livingstone has observed, they can be cured by leaving the
place where they have been contracted. Dick Sand knew this remark of
the great traveler, and he hoped that little Jack would not contradict
it. He told it to Mrs. Weldon, after having observed that the
periodical access had not returned as they feared, and that the child
slept quietly in Hercules' arms.
Thus they went forward carefully and rapidly. Sometimes they
discovered traces where men or animals had recently passed. The
twisted and broken branches of the brushwood and the thickets afforded
an opportunity to walk with a more equal step. But the greater part of
the time numerous obstacles, which they had to overcome, retarded the
little party, to Dick Sand's great disappointment.
There were twisted lianes that might justly be compared with the
disordered rigging of a ship, certain vines similar to bent swords,
whose blades were ornamented with long thorns, vegetable serpents,
fifty or sixty feet long, which had the faculty of turning to prick
the passer-by with their sharp spikes. The blacks, hatchet in
hand, cut them down with vigorous blows, but the lianes reappeared
constantly, reaching from the earth to the top of the highest trees
which they encircled.
The animal kingdom was not less curious than the vegetable kingdom
in this part of the province. Birds flew in vast numbers under these
powerful branches; but it will be understood that they had no gunshot
to fear from the men, who wished to pass as secretly as rapidly. There
were Guinea fowls in large flocks, heath-cocks of various kinds, very
difficult to approach, and some of those birds which the Americans
of the North have, by onomatopoeia, called "whip-poor-wills," three
syllables which exactly reproduce their cries. Dick Sand and Tom might
truly have believed themselves in some province of the new continent.
But, alas! they knew what to expect.
Until then the deer, so dangerous in Africa, had not approached the
little troop. They again saw, in this first halt, some giraffes, which
Harris had undoubtedly called ostriches. These swift animals
passed rapidly, frightened by the apparition of a caravan in these
little-frequented forests. In the distance, on the edge of the
prairie, there arose at times a thick cloud of dust. It was a herd of
buffaloes, which galloped with the noise of wagons heavily laden.
For two miles Dick Sand thus followed the course of the rivulet which
must end in a more important river. He was in haste to confide his
companions to the rapid current of one of the coast rivers. He felt
sure that the dangers and the fatigue would be much less than on the
Towards noon three miles had been cleared without any bad incident or
meeting. There was no trace of either Harris or Negoro. Dingo had not
reappeared. It was necessary to halt to take rest and nourishment.
The encampment was established in a bamboo thicket, which completely
sheltered the little party.
They talked very little during this repast. Mrs. Weldon had taken her
little boy in her arms; she could not take her eyes off of him; she
could not eat.
"You must take some nourishment, Mrs. Weldon," Dick Sand repeated
several times. "What will become of you if your strength gives out?
Eat, eat! We will soon start again, and a good current will carry us
without fatigue to the coast."
Mrs. Weldon looked in Dick Sand's face while he thus talked. The young
novice's burning eyes spoke of the courage by which he felt animated.
In seeing him thus, in observing these brave, devoted blacks, wife
and mother, she could not yet despair; and, besides, why was she
abandoned? Did she not think herself on hospitable ground? Harris's
treason could not, in her eyes, have any very serious consequences.
Dick Sand read her thought, and he kept his eyes on the ground.
* * * * *
THE BAD ROADS OF ANGOLA.
At this moment little Jack awoke, and put his arms around his mother's
neck. His eyes looked better. The fever had not returned.
"You are better, my darling," said Mrs. Weldon, pressing the sick
child to her heart.
"Yes, mama," replied Jack, "but I am a little thirsty."
They could only give the child some fresh water, of which he drank
"And my friend Dick?" he said.
"Here I am, Jack," replied Dick Sand, coming to take the young child's
"And my friend Hercules?"
"Hercules is here, Mr. Jack," replied the giant, bringing nearer his
"And the horse?" demanded little Jack.
"The horse? Gone, Mr. Jack," replied Hercules. "I will carry you. Will
you find that I trot too hard?"
"No," replied little Jack; "but then I shall no longer have any bridle
"Oh! you will put a bit in _my_ mouth, if you wish," said Hercules,
opening his large mouth, "and you may pull back so long as that will
give you pleasure."
"You know very well that I shall not pull back."
"Good! You would be wrong! I have a hard mouth."
"But Mr. Harris's farm?" the little boy asked again.
"We shall soon arrive there, my Jack," replied Mrs. Weldon. "Yes,
"Will we set out again?" then said Dick Sand, in order to cut short
"Yes, Dick, let us go," replied Mrs. Weldon.
The camp was broken up, and the march continued again in the same
order. It was necessary to pass through the underwood, so as not to
leave the course of the rivulet. There had been some paths there,
formerly, but those paths were dead, according to the native
expression--that is, brambles and brushwood had usurped them. In these
painful conditions they might spend three hours in making one mile.
The blacks worked without relaxation. Hercules, after putting little
Jack back in Nan's arms, took his part of the work; and what a part!
He gave stout "heaves," making his ax turn round, and a hole was made
before them, as if he had been a devouring fire.
Fortunately, this fatiguing work would not last. This first mile
cleared, they saw a large hole, opened through the underwood, which
ended obliquely at the rivulet and followed its bank. It was a passage
made by elephants, and those animals, doubtless by hundreds, were in
the habit of traversing this part of the forest. Great holes, made by
the feet of the enormous pachyderms, riddled a soil softened during
the rainy season. Its spongy nature also prepared it for those large
It soon appeared that this passage did not serve for those gigantic
animals alone. Human beings had more than once taken this route, but
as flocks, brutally led to the slaughter-house, would have followed
it. Here and there bones of dead bodies strewed the ground; remains
of skeletons, half gnawed by animals, some of which still bore the
There are, in Central Africa, long roads thus marked out by human
debris. Hundreds of miles are traversed by caravans, and how many
unhappy wretches fall by the way, under the agents' whips, killed by
fatigue or privations, decimated by sickness! How many more massacred
by the traders themselves, when food fails! Yes, when they can no
longer feed them, they kill them with the gun, with the sword, with
the knife! These massacres are not rare.
So, then, caravans of slaves had followed this road. For a mile Dick
Sand and his companions struck against these scattered bones at each
step, putting to flight enormous fern-owls. Those owls rose at their
approach, with a heavy flight, and turned round in the air.
Mrs. Weldon looked without seeing. Dick Sand trembled lest she should
question him, for he hoped to lead her back to the coast without
telling her that Harris's treachery had led them astray in an African
province. Fortunately, Mrs. Weldon did not explain to herself what
she had under her eyes. She had desired to take her child again, and
little Jack, asleep, absorbed all her care. Nan walked near her, and
neither of them asked the young novice the terrible questions he
Old Tom went along with his eyes down. He understood only too well why
this opening was strewn with human bones.
His companions looked to the right, to the left, with an air of
surprise, as if they were crossing an interminable cemetery, the
tombs of which had been overthrown by a cataclysm; but they passed in
Meanwhile, the bed of the rivulet became deeper and wider at the same
time. Its current was less impetuous. Dick Sand hoped that it would
soon become navigable, or that it would before long reach a more
important river, tributary to the Atlantic.
Cost what it might, the young novice was determined to follow this
stream of water. Neither did he hesitate to abandon this opening;
because, as ending by an oblique line, it led away from the rivulet.
The little party a second time ventured through the dense underwood.
They marched, ax in hand, through leaves and bushes inextricably
But if this vegetation obstructed the ground, they were no longer in
the thick forest that bordered the coast. Trees became rare. Large
sheaves of bamboo alone rose above the grass, and so high that even
Hercules was not a head over them. The passage of the little party was
only revealed by the movement of these stalks.
Toward three o'clock in the afternoon of that day, the nature of the
ground totally changed. Here were long plains, which must have been
entirely inundated in the rainy season. The earth, now more swampy,
was carpeted by thick mosses, beneath charming ferns. Should it be
diversified by any steep ascents, they would see brown hematites
appear, the last deposits of some rich vein of mineral.
Dick Sand then recalled--and very fortunately--what he had read in
"Livingstone's Travels." More than once the daring doctor had nearly
rested in these marshes, so treacherous under foot.
"Listen to me, my friends," said he, going ahead. "Try the ground
before stepping on it."
"In fact," replied Tom, "they say that these grounds have been
softened by the rain; but, however, it has not rained during these
"No," replied Bat; "but the storm is not far off."
"The greater reason," replied Dick Sand, "why we should hurry and get
clear of this swamp before it commences. Hercules, take little Jack
in your arms. Bat, Austin, keep near Mrs. Weldon, so as to be able to
help her if necessary. You, Mr. Benedict--Why, what are you doing,
"I am falling!" innocently replied Cousin Benedict, who had just
disappeared as if a trap had been suddenly opened beneath his feet.
In fact, the poor man had ventured on a sort of quagmire, and had
disappeared half-way in the sticky mud. They stretched out their
hands, and he rose, covered with slime, but quite satisfied at not
having injured his precious entomologist's box. Acteon went beside
him, and made it his duty to preserve the unlucky, near-sighted man
from any new disasters.
Besides, Cousin Benedict had made rather a bad choice of the quagmire
for his plunge. When they drew him out of the sticky earth a large
quantity of bubbles rose to the surface, and, in bursting, they
emitted some gases of a suffocating odor. Livingstone, who had been
sunk up to his chest in this slime, compared these grounds to a
collection of enormous sponges, made of black, porous earth, from
which numerous streams of water spouted when they were stepped upon.
These places were always very dangerous.
For the space of half a mile Dick Sand and his companions must march
over this spongy soil. It even became so bad that Mrs. Weldon was
obliged to stop, for she sank deep in the mire. Hercules, Bat, and
Austin, wishing to spare her the unpleasantness more than the fatigue
of a passage across this marshy plain, made a litter of bamboos, on
which she consented to sit. Her little Jack was placed in her arms,
and they endeavored to cross that pestilential marsh in the quickest
The difficulties were great. Acteon held Cousin Benedict firmly. Tom
aided Nan, who, without him, would have disappeared several times in
some crevice. The three other blacks carried the litter. At the head,
Dick Sand sounded the earth. The choice of the place to step on was
not made without trouble. They marched from preference on the edges,
which were covered by a thick and tough grass. Often the support
failed, and they sank to the knees in the slime.
At last, about five o'clock in the evening, the marsh being cleared,
the soil regained sufficient firmness, thanks to its clayey nature;
but they felt it damp underneath. Very evidently these lands lay below
the neighboring rivers, and the water ran through their pores.
At that time the heat had become overwhelming. It would even have
been unbearable, if thick storm clouds had not interposed between the
burning rays and the ground. Distant lightnings began to rend the sky
and low rollings of thunder grumbled in the depths of the heavens. A
formidable storm was going to burst forth.
Now, these cataclysms are terrible in Africa: rain in torrents,
squalls of wind which the strongest trees cannot resist, clap after
clap of thunder, such is the contest of the elements in that latitude.
Dick Sand knew it well, and he became very uneasy. They could not pass
the night without shelter. The plain was likely to be inundated, and
it did not present a single elevation on which it was possible to seek
But refuge, where would they seek it in this low desert, without a
tree, without a bush? The bowels of the earth even would not give it.
Two feet below the surface they would find water.
However, toward the north a series of low hills seemed to limit the
marshy plain. It was as the border of this depression of land. A few
trees were profiled there on a more distant, clearer belt, left by the
clouds on the line of the horizon.
There, if shelter were still lacking, the little band would at least
no longer risk being caught in a possible inundation. There perhaps
was salvation for all.
"Forward, my friends, forward!" repeated Dick Sand. "Three miles more
and we shall be safer than in these bottom-lands."
"Hurry! hurry!" cried Hercules.
The brave black would have wished to take that whole world in big arms
and carry it alone.
Those words inspired those courageous men, and in spite of the fatigue
of a day's march, they advanced more quickly than they had done at the
commencement from the halting-place.
When the storm burst forth the end to be attained was still more than
two miles off. Now--a fact which was the more to be feared--the rain
did not accompany the first lightnings exchanged between the ground
and the electrical clouds. Darkness then became almost complete,
though the sun had not disappeared below the horizon. But the dome of
vapors gradually lowered, as if it threatened to fall in--a falling in
which must result in a torrent of rain. Lightnings, red or blue, split
it in a thousand places, and enveloped the plain in an inextricable
network of fire.
Twenty times Dick and his companions ran the risk of being struck by
lightning. On this plateau, deprived of trees, they formed the only
projecting points which could attract the electrical discharges. Jack,
awakened by the noise of the thunder, hid himself in Hercules' arms.
He was very much afraid, poor little boy, but he did not wish to let
his mother see it, for fear of afflicting her more. Hercules, while
taking great steps, consoled him as well as he could.
"Do not be afraid, little Jack," he repeated. "If the thunder comes
near us, I will break it in two with a single hand. I am stronger than
And, truly, the giant's strength reassured Jack a little.
Meanwhile the rain must soon fall, and then it would in torrents,
poured out by those clouds in condensing. What would become of Mrs.
Weldon and her companions, if they did not find a shelter?
Dick Sand stopped a moment near old Tom.
"What must be done?" said he.
"Continue our march, Mr. Dick," replied Tom. "We cannot remain on this
plain, that the rain is going to transform into a marsh!"
"No, Tom, no! But a shelter! Where? What? If it were only a hut--"
Dick Sand had suddenly broken off his sentence. A more vivid flash of
lightning had just illuminated the whole plain.
"What have I seen there, a quarter of a mile off?" exclaimed Dick
"Yes, I also, I have seen--" replied old Tom, shaking his head.
"A camp, is it not?"
"Yes, Mr. Dick, it must be a camp, but a camp of natives!"
A new flash enabled them to observe this camp more closely. It
occupied a part of the immense plain.
There, in fact, rose a hundred conical tents, symmetrically arranged,
and measuring from twelve to fifteen feet in height. Not a soldier
showed himself, however. Were they then shut up under their tents, so
as to let the storm pass, or was the camp abandoned?
In the first case, whatever Heaven should threaten, Dick Sand must
flee in the quickest manner. In the second, there was, perhaps, the
shelter he asked.
"I shall find out," he said to himself; then, addressing old Tom:
"Stay here. Let no one follow me. I shall go to reconnoiter that
"Let one of us accompany you, Mr. Dick."
"No, Tom, I shall go alone. I can approach without being seen. Stay
The little troop, that followed Tom and Dick Sand, halted. The young
novice left at once and disappeared in the darkness, which was
profound when the lightning did not tear the sky.
Some large drops of rain already began to fall.
"What is the matter?" asked Mrs. Weldon, approaching the old black.
"We have perceived a camp, Mrs. Weldon," replied Tom; "a camp--or,
perhaps, a village, and our captain wished to reconnoiter it before
leading us to it."
Mrs. Weldon was satisfied with this reply. Three minutes after, Dick
Sand was returning.
"Come! come!" he cried, in a voice which expressed his entire
"The camp is abandoned?" asked Tom.
"It is not a camp," replied the young novice; "it is not a village.
They are ant-hills!"
"Ant-hills!" exclaimed Cousin Benedict, whom that word aroused.
"Yes, Mr. Benedict, but ant-hills twelve feet high, at least, and in
which we shall endeavor to hide ourselves."
"But then," replied Cousin Benedict, "those would be ant-hills of the
warlike termite or of the devouring termite. Only those ingenious
insects raise such monuments, which the greatest architects would not
"Whether they be termites or not, Mr. Benedict," replied Dick Sand,
"we must dislodge them and take their place."
"They will devour us. They will be defending their rights."
"But, wait now!" said Cousin Benedict again. "I thought those
ant-hills only existed in Africa."
"Forward!" exclaimed Dick Sand, for the last time, with a sort of
violence. He was so much afraid that Mrs. Weldon might hear the last
word pronounced by the entomologist.
They followed Dick Sand with all haste. A furious wind had sprung up.
Large drops crackled on the ground. In a few moments the squalls of
wind would become unbearable. Soon one of those cones which stood on
the plain was reached. No matter how threatening the termites might
be, the human beings must not hesitate. If they could not drive the
insects away, they must share their abode.
At the bottom of this cone, made with a kind of reddish clay, there
was a very narrow hole. Hercules enlarged it with his cutlass in a few
moments, so as to give a passage even to a man like himself.
To Cousin Benedict's extreme surprise, not one of the thousands of
termites that ought to occupy the ant-hill showed itself. Was, then,
the cone abandoned?
The hole enlarged, Dick and his companions glided into it. Hercules
disappeared the last, just as the rain fell with such rage that it
seemed to extinguish the lightnings.
But those wind squalls were no longer to be feared. A happy chance had
furnished this little troop with a solid shelter, better than a tent,
better than a native's hut.
It was one of those termite cones that, according to Lieutenant
Cameron's comparison, are more astonishing than the pyramids of Egypt,
raised by the hands of men, because they have been built by such small
"It is," said he, "as if a nation had built Mount Everest, the highest
mountain of the Himalaya chain."
ANTS AND THEIR DWELLING.
At this moment the storm burst with a violence unknown in temperate
It was providential that Dick Sand and his companions had found this
In fact, the rain did not fall in distinct drops, but in streams of
various thickness. Sometimes it was a compact mass forming a sheet of
water, like a cataract, a Niagara. Imagine an aerial basin, containing
a whole sea, being upset. Under such showers the ground was hollowed
out, the plains were changed to lakes, the streams to torrents, the
rivers, overflowing, inundated vast territories. In temperate zones
the violence of the storms decreases according to their duration; but
in Africa, however heavy they are, they continue for several entire
days. How can so much electricity be collected in the clouds? How
can such quantities of vapor be accumulated? It is very difficult to
comprehend this. However, such are the facts, and one might suppose
himself transported to the extraordinary epochs of the diluvian
Fortunately, the ant-cone, with its thick walls, was perfectly
impervious. A beaver's hut, of well-beaten earth, could not have been
more water-tight. A torrent could have passed over it without a single
drop of water filtering through its pores.
As soon as Dick Sand and his companions had taken possession of the
cone they occupied themselves in examining its interior arrangement.
The lantern was lighted, and the ant-hill was sufficiently
illuminated. This cone, which measured twelve feet in height inside,
was eleven feet wide, except in its upper part, which rounded in the
form of a sugar loaf. Everywhere the walls were about one foot in
thickness, and there was a distance between the stories of cells which
We may be astonished at the construction of such monuments, due to
these industrious swarms of insects, but it is true that they are
frequently found in the interior of Africa. Smeathman, a Dutch
traveler of the last century, with four of his companions, occupied
the top of one of these cones. In the Lounde, Livingstone observed
several of these ant-hills, built of reddish clay, and attaining a
height of fifteen and twenty feet. Lieutenant Cameron has many a time
mistaken for a camp these collections of cones which dotted the plain
in N'yangwe. He has even stopped at the foot of great edifices, not
more than twenty feet high, but composed of forty or fifty enormous
rounded cones, flanked with bell-towers like the dome of a cathedral,
such as Southern Africa possesses.
To what species of ant was due, then, the prodigious style of
architecture of these cones?
"To the warlike termite," Cousin Benedict had replied, without
hesitating, as soon as he had recognized the nature of the materials
employed in their construction.
And, in fact, the walls, as has been said, were made of reddish clay.
Had they been formed of a gray or black alluvian earth, they must have
been attributed to the "termes mordax" or the "termes atrox." As we
see, these insects have not very cheering names--a fact which cannot
but please a strong entomologist, such as Cousin Benedict.
The central part of the cone, in which the little troop had first
found shelter, and which formed the empty interior, would not have
contained them; but large cavities, in close contact, made a number
of divisions, in which a person of medium height could find refuge.
Imagine a succession of open drawers, and at the bottom of those
drawers millions of cells which the termites had occupied, and the
interior disposition of the ant-hill is easily understood. To sum up,
these drawers are in tiers, like the berths in a ship's cabin. In the
upper ones Mrs. Weldon, little Jack, Nan, and Cousin Benedict took
refuge. In the lower row Austin, Bat, and Acteon hid themselves. As
for Dick Sand, Tom, and Hercules, they remained in the lower part of
"My friends," then said the young novice to the two blacks, "the
ground is becoming damp. We must fill it up by crumbling the red clay
from the base; but take care not to obstruct the hole by which the air
enters. We cannot risk being smothered in this ant-hill."
"We have only one night to spend here," replied old Tom.
"Well, let us try and make it recover us from our fatigue. This is the
first time in ten days that we have not to sleep in the open air."
"Ten days!" repeated Tom.
"Besides," added Dick Sand, "as this cone forms a solid shelter,
perhaps we had better stay here twenty-four hours. During that time, I
will go in search of the stream that we are in need of; it cannot be
very distant. I think that until we have constructed our raft, it will
be better not to quit this shelter. The storm cannot reach us here.
Let us make the floor stronger and dryer."
Dick Sand's orders were executed at once. Hercules, with his ax,
crumbled the first story of cells, which was composed of crisp red
clay. He thus raised, more than a foot, the interior part of the
swampy earth on which the ant-hill rested, and Dick Sand made sure
that the air could freely penetrate to the interior of the cone
through the orifice pierced at its base.
It was, certainly, a fortunate circumstance that the ant-hill had been
abandoned by the termites. With a few thousands of these ants, it
would have been uninhabitable. But, had it been evacuated for some
time, or had the voracious newroptera but just quitted it? It was not
superfluous to ponder this question.
Cousin Benedict was so much surprised at the abandonment, that he at
once considered the reason for it, and he was soon convinced that the
emigration had been recent.
In fact, he did not wait, but, descending to the lower part of the
cone, and taking the lantern, he commenced to examine the most secret
corners of the ant-hill. He thus discovered what is called the
"general store-house" of the termites, that is to say, the place where
these industrious insects lay up the provisions of the colony.
It was a cavity hollowed in the wall, not far from the royal cell,
which Hercules's labor had destroyed, along with the cells destined
for the young larvae.
In this store-room Cousin Benedict collected a certain quantity of
particles of gum and the juices of plants, scarcely solidified, which
proved that the termites had lately brought them from without.
"Well, no!" cried he. "No!" as if he were replying to some
contradiction, "No, this ant-hill has not been long abandoned."
"Who says to the contrary, Mr. Benedict?" said Dick Sand. "Recently
or not, the important thing for us is that the termites have left it,
because we have to take their place."
"The important thing," replied Cousin Benedict, "will be to know why
they have left it. Yesterday--this morning, perhaps--these sagacious
newroptera were still here, because, see these liquid juices; and this
"Well, what do you conclude, Mr. Benedict?" asked Dick Sand.
"That a secret presentiment has caused them to abandon the cone. Not
only have all the termites left their cells, but they have taken care
to carry away the young larvae, of which I cannot find one. Well, I
repeat that all this was not done without a motive, and that these
sagacious insects foresaw some near danger."
"They foresaw that we were going to invade their dwelling," replied
"Indeed!" replied Cousin Benedict, whom this answer sensibly shocked.
"You think yourself so strong that you would be dangerous to these
courageous insects? A few thousand of these newroptera would quickly
reduce you to a skeleton if they found you dead on the road."
"Dead, certainly," replied Hercules, who would not give up; "but,
living, I could crush masses of them."
"You might crush a hundred thousand, five hundred thousand, a
million," replied Cousin Benedict, with animation, "but not a thousand
millions; and a thousand millions would devour you, living or dead, to
the last morsel."
During this discussion, which was less trifling than might be
supposed, Dick Sand reflected on the observations made by Cousin
Benedict. There was no doubt that the savant knew too much about the
habits of the termites to be mistaken. If he declared that a secret
instinct warned them to leave the ant-hill recently, it was because
there was truly peril in remaining in it.
Meanwhile, as it was impossible to abandon this shelter at a moment
when the storm was raging with unparalleled intensity, Dick
Sand looked no farther for an explanation of what seemed to be
inexplicable, and he contented himself with saying:
"Well, Mr. Benedict, if the termites have left their provisions in
this ant-hill, we must not forget that we have brought ours, and
let us have supper. To-morrow, when the storm will be over, we will
consult together on our future plans."
They then occupied themselves in preparing the evening meal, for,
great as their fatigue was, it had not affected the appetite of these
vigorous walkers. On the contrary, the food, which had to last for two
more days, was very welcome. The damp had not reached the biscuits,
and for several minutes it could be heard cracking under the solid
teeth of Dick Sand and his companions. Between Hercules's jaws it
was like grain under the miller's grindstone. It did not crackle, it
Mrs. Weldon alone scarcely eat, and even Dick Sand's entreaties were
vain. It seemed to him that this brave woman was more preoccupied,
more sad than she had been hitherto. Meanwhile her little Jack
suffered less; the fever had not returned, and at this time he was
sleeping, under his mother's eyes, in a cell well lined with garments.
Dick Sand knew not what to think.
It is useless to say that Cousin Benedict did honor to the repast, not
that he paid any attention either to the quality or to the quantity of
the food that he devoured, but because he had found an opportunity to
deliver a lecture in entomology on the termites. Ah! if he had been
able to find a termite, a single one, in the deserted ant hill! But
"These admirable insects," said he, without taking the trouble to find
out if any one were listening--"these admirable insects belong to the
marvelous order of newroptera, whose horns are longer than the head,
the jaws very distinct, and whose lower wings are generally equal to
the upper ones. Five tribes constitute this order: the Panorpates
(scorpion flies), the Myrmileoniens, the Hemerobins, the Termitines
and the Perlides. It is useless to add that the insects which now
interest us, and whose dwelling we occupy, perhaps unduly, are the
At this moment Dick Sand listened very attentively to Cousin Benedict.
Had the meeting with these termites excited in him the thought that he
was perhaps on the African continent, without knowing by what chance
he had arrived there? The young novice was very anxious to find out.
The savant, mounted on his favorite hobby, continued to ride it
"Now these termitines," said he, "are characterized by four joints
on the instep, horned jaws, and remarkable strength. We have the
_mantispe_ species, the _raphidie_, and the termite species. The last
is often known under the term of white ants, in which we count the
deadly termite, the yellow corslet termite, the termite that shuns the
light, the biter, the destroyer--"
"And those that constructed this ant-hill?" asked Dick Sand.
"They are the martial ants," replied Cousin Benedict, who pronounced
this word as if it had been the Macedonians, or some other ancient
people brave in war. "Yes, the warlike ants, and of all sizes.
Between Hercules and a dwarf the difference would be less than
between the largest of these insects and the smallest. Among them are
'workers' of five millimeters in length 'soldiers' of ten, and males
and females of twenty. We find also a kind otherwise very curious: the
_sirafous_ half an inch in length, which have pincers for jaws, and a
head larger than the body, like the sharks. They are the sharks among
insects, and in a fight between some _sirafous_ and a shark, I would
bet on the _sirafous_."
"And where are these _sirafous_ commonly observed?" then asked Dick
"In Africa," replied Cousin Benedict; "in the central and southern
provinces. Africa is, in fact, the country of ants. You should read
what Livingstone says of them in the last notes reported by Stanley.
More fortunate than myself, the doctor has witnessed a Homeric battle,
joined between an army of black ants and an army of red ants. The
latter, which are called 'drivers,' and which the natives name
_sirafous_, were victorious.
"The others, the '_tchoungous_,' took flight, carrying their eggs and
their young, not without having bravely defended themselves. Never,
according to Livingstone, never was the spirit of battle carried
farther, either among men or beasts! With their tenacious jaws, which
tear out the piece, these _sirafous_ make the bravest man recoil. The
largest animals--even lions and elephants--flee before them.
"Nothing stops them; neither trees, which they climb to the summit,
nor streams, which they cross by making a suspension bridge of
their own bodies, hooked together. And numerous! Another African
traveler--Du Chaillu--has seen a column of these ants defile past him
for twelve hours without stopping on the road. But why be astonished
at the sight of such myriads? The fecundity of these insects is
surprising; and, to return to our fighting termites, it has been
proved that a female deposits as much as sixty thousand eggs in a
day! Besides, these newroptera furnish the natives with a juicy food.
Broiled ants, my friends; I know of nothing better in the world!"
"Have you then eaten them, Mr. Benedict?" asked Hercules.
"Never," replied the wise professor; "but I shall eat some."
"Here; we are not in Africa!" said Tom, very quickly.
"No, no!" replied Cousin Benedict; "and, thus far, these warlike
termites, and their villages of ant-hills, have only been observed on
the African Continent. Ah! such travelers. They do not know how to
see! Well! all the better, after all. I have discovered a _tsetse_ in
America. To the glory of this, I shall join that of having found the
warlike termites on the same continent! What matter for an article
that will make a sensation in educated Europe, and, perhaps, appear in
folio form, with prints and engravings, besides the text!"
It was evident that the truth had not entered Cousin Benedict's brain.
The poor man and all his companions, Dick Sand and Tom excepted,
believed themselves, and must believe themselves, where they were
not! It needed other incidents, facts still more grave than certain
scientific curiosities, to undeceive them!
It was then nine o'clock in the morning. Cousin Benedict had talked
for a long time. Did he perceive that his auditors, propped up in
their cells, had gradually fallen asleep during his entomological
lecture? No; certainly not. He lectured for himself. Dick Sand no
longer questioned him, and remained motionless, although he did not
sleep. As for Hercules, he had resisted longer than the others; but
fatigue soon finished by shutting his eyes, and, with his eyes, his
For some time longer Cousin Benedict continued to lecture. However,
sleep finally got the best of him, and he mounted to the upper cavity
of the cone, in which he had chosen his domicile.
Deep silence fell on the interior of the cone, while the storm filled
space with noise and fire. Nothing seemed to indicate that the tempest
was nearly over.
The lantern had been extinguished. The interior of the ant-hill was
plunged in complete darkness.
No doubt all slept. However, Dick Sand, alone, did not seek in sleep
the repose which was so necessary to him. Thought absorbed him. He
dreamed of his companions, whom he would save at all hazards. The
wrecking of the "Pilgrim" had not been the end of their cruel trials,
and others, still more terrible, threatened them should they fall into
the hands of these natives.
And how to avoid this danger, the worst of all, during their return to
the coast. Harris and Negoro had not led them a hundred miles into the
interior of Angola without a secret design to gain possession of them.
But what did this miserable Portuguese intend? Who had merited his
hatred? The young novice repeated to himself, that he alone had
incurred it. Then he passed in review all the incidents that had taken
place during the "Pilgrim's" voyage; the meeting with the wreck and
the blacks; the pursuit of the whale; the disappearance of Captain
Hull and his crew.
Dick Sand had found himself, at the age of fifteen, intrusted with the
command of a vessel, the compass and log of which were soon injured by
Negoro's criminal actions. He again saw himself using his authority in
the presence of this insolent cook, threatening to put him in irons,
or to blow out his brains with a pistol shot. Ah, why had he hesitated
to do it? Negoro's corpse would have been thrown overboard, and none
of these catastrophes would have happened.
Such were the young man's various thoughts. Then they dwelt a moment
on the shipwreck which had ended the "Pilgrim's" voyage. The traitor
Harris appeared then, and this province of South America gradually
became transformed. Bolivia changed to the terrible Angola, with its
feverish climate, its savage deer, its natives still more cruel. Could
the little party escape during its return to the coast? This river
which he was seeking, which he hoped to find, would it conduct them to
the shore with more safety, and with less fatigue? He would not doubt
it, for he knew well that a march of a hundred miles through this
inhospitable country, in the midst of incessant dangers, was no longer
"Happily," he said to himself, "Mrs. Weldon and all are ignorant of
the danger of the situation. Old Tom and I, we alone are to know that
Negoro has thrown us on the coast of Africa; and that Harris has led
me into the wilds of Angola."
Dick Sand was thus sunk in overpowering thoughts, when he felt a
breath on his forehead. A hand rested on his shoulder, and a trembling
voice murmured these words in his ear:
"I know all, my poor Dick, but God can yet save us! His will be done!"
To this unexpected revelation Dick Sand could not reply. Besides, Mrs.
Weldon had gone back at once to her place beside little Jack. She
evidently did not wish to say any more about it, and the young novice
had not the courage to detain her.
Thus Mrs. Weldon knew what to believe. The various incidents, of the
way had enlightened her also, and perhaps, too, that word, "Africa!"
so unluckily pronounced the night before by Cousin Benedict.
"Mrs. Weldon knows everything," repeated Dick Sand to himself. "Well,
perhaps it is better so. The brave woman does not despair. I shall not
Dick Sand now longed for day to return, that he might explore the
surroundings of this termite village. He must find a tributary of the
Atlantic with a rapid course to transport all his little troop. He had
a presentiment that this watercourse could not be far distant. Above
all, they must avoid an encounter with the natives, perhaps already
sent in pursuit of them under Harris's and Negoro's direction.
But it was not day yet. No light made its way into the cone through
the lower orifice. Rumblings, rendered low by the thickness of the
walls, indicated that the storm still raged. Listening, Dick Sand also
heard the rain falling with violence at the base of the ant-hill. As
the large drops no longer struck a hard soil, he must conclude that
the whole plain was inundated.
It must have been about eleven o'clock. Dick Sand then felt that a
kind of torpor, if not a true sleep, was going to overcome him. It
would, however, be rest. But, just as he was yielding to it, the
thought came to him that, by the settling of the clay, washed in, the
lower orifice was likely to be obstructed. All passage for the outer
air would be closed. Within, the respiration of ten persons would soon
vitiate the air by loading it with carbonic acid.
Dick Sand then slipped to the ground, which had been raised by the
clay from the first floor of cells.
That cushion was still perfectly dry, and the orifice entirely free.
The air penetrated freely to the interior of the cone, and with it
some flashes of lightning, and the loud noises of that storm, that a
diluvian rain could not extinguish.
Dick Sand saw that all was well. No immediate danger seemed to menace
these human termites, substituted for the colony of newroptera. The
young novice then thought of refreshing himself by a few hours' sleep,
as he already felt its influence. Only with supreme precaution Dick
Sand lay on that bed of clay, at the bottom of the cone, near the
By this means, if any accident happened outside, he would be the first
to remark it. The rising day would also awaken him, and he would be
ready to begin the exploration of the plain.
Dick Sand lay down then, his head against the wall, his gun under his
hand, and almost immediately he was asleep.
How long this drowsiness lasted he could not tell, when he was
awakened by a lively sensation of coolness.
He rose and recognized, not without great anxiety, that the water was
invading the ant hill, and even so rapidly, that in a few seconds it
would reach the story of cells occupied by Tom and Hercules.
The latter, awakened by Dick Sand, were told about this new
The lighted lantern soon showed the interior of the cone.
The water had stopped at a height of about five feet, and remained
"What is the matter, Dick?" asked Mrs. Weldon.
"It is nothing," replied the young novice. "The lower part of the
cone has been inundated. It is probably that during this storm a
neighboring river has overflowed on this plain."
"Good!" said Hercules; "that proves the river is there!"
"Yes," replied Dick Sand, "and it will carry us to the coast. Be
reassured, then, Mrs. Weldon; the water cannot reach you, nor little
Jack, nor Nan, nor Mr. Benedict."
Mrs. Weldon did not reply. As to the cousin, he slept like a veritable
Meanwhile the blacks, leaning over this sheet of water, which
reflected the lantern's light, waited for Dick Sand to indicate
to them what should be done. He was measuring the height of the
After having the provisions and arms put out of the reach of the
inundation, Dick Sand was silent.
"The water has penetrated by the orifice," said Tom.
"Yes," replied Dick Sand, "and now it prevents the interior air from
"Could we not make a hole in the wall above the level of the water?"
asked the old black.
"Doubtless, Tom; but if we have five feet of water within, there are
perhaps six or seven, even more, without."
"You think, Mr. Dick--?"
"I think, Tom, that the water, rising inside the ant-hill, has
compressed the air in the upper part, and that this air now makes an
obstacle to prevent the water from rising higher. But if we pierce a
hole in the wall by which the air would escape, either the water would
still rise till it reached the outside level, or if it passed the
hole, it would rise to that point where the compressed air would again
keep it back. We must be here like workmen in a diving-bell."
"What must be done?" asked Tom.
"Reflect well before acting," replied Dick Sand. "An imprudence might
cost us our lives!"
The young novice's observation was very true.
In comparing the cone to a submerged bell, he was right. Only in that
apparatus the air is constantly renewed by means of pumps. The divers
breathe comfortably, and they suffer no other inconveniences than
those resulting from a prolonged sojourn in a compressed atmosphere,
no longer at a normal pressure.
But here, beside those inconveniences, space was already reduced a
third by the invasion of the water. As to the air, it would only be
renewed if they put it in communication with the outer atmosphere by
means of a hole.
Could they, without running the danger spoken of by Dick Sand, pierce
that hole? Would not the situation be aggravated by it?
What was certain was, that the water now rested at a level which only
two causes could make it exceed, namely: if they pierced a hole, and
the level of the rising waters was higher outside, or if the height
of this rising water should still increase. In either of these cases,
only a narrow space would remain inside the cone, where the air, not
renewed, would be still more compressed.
But might not the ant-hill be torn from the ground and overthrown by
the inundation, to the extreme danger of those within it? No, no more
than a beaver's hut, so firmly did it adhere by its base.
Then, the event most to be feared was the persistence of the storm,
and, consequently, the increase of the inundation. Thirty feet of
water on the plain would cover the cone with eighteen feet of water,
and bear on the air within with the pressure of an atmosphere.
Now, after reflecting well upon it, Dick Sand was led to fear that
this inundation might increase considerably.
In fact, it could not be due solely to that deluge poured out by
the clouds. It seemed more probable that a neighboring watercourse,
swelled by the storm, had burst its banks, and was spreading over this
plain lying below it. What proof had they that the ant-hill was not
then entirely submerged, and that it was full time to leave it by the
top part, which would not be difficult to demolish?
Dick Sand, now extremely anxious, asked himself what he ought to
do. Must he wait or suddenly announce the probable result of the
situation, after ascertaining the condition of things?
It was then three o'clock in the morning. All, motionless, silent,
listened. The noise from outside came very feebly through the
obstructed orifice. All the time a dull sound, strong and continued,
well indicated that the contest of the elements had not ceased.
At that moment old Tom observed that the water level was gradually
"Yes," replied Dick Sand, "and if it rises, as the air cannot escape
from within, it is because the rising of the waters increases and
presses it more and more."
"It is but slight so far," said Tom.
"Without doubt," replied Dick Sand; "but where will this level stop?"
"Mr. Dick," asked Bat, "would you like me to go out of the ant-hill?
By diving, I should try to slip out by the hole."
"It will be better for me to try it," replied Dick Sand.
"No, Mr. Dick, no," replied old Tom, quickly; "let my son do it, and
trust to his skill. In case he could not return, your presence is
"Do not forget Mrs. Weldon and little Jack."
"Be it so," replied Dick Sand. "Go, then, Bat. If the ant-hill is
submerged, do not seek to enter it again. We shall try to come out as
you will have done. But if the cone still emerges, strike on its top
with the ax that you will take with you. We will hear you, and it
will be the signal for us to demolish the top from our side. You
"Yes, Mr. Dick," replied Bat.
"Go, then, boy," added old Tom, pressing his son's hand.
Bat, after laying in a good provision of air by a long aspiration,
plunged under the liquid mass, whose depth then exceeded five feet. It
was a rather difficult task, because he would have to seek the lower
orifice, slip through it, and then rise to the outside surface of the
That must be done quickly.
Nearly half a minute passed away. Dick Sand then thought that Bat had
succeeded in passing outside when the black emerged.
"Well!" exclaimed Dick Sand.
"The hole is stopped up by rubbish!" replied Bat, as soon as he could
"Stopped up!" repeated Tom.
"Yes," replied Bat. "The water has probably diluted the clay. I have
felt around the walls with my hand. There is no longer any hole."
Dick Sand shook his head. His companions and he were hermetically
sequestered in this cone, perhaps submerged by the water.
"If there is no longer any hole," then said Hercules, "we must make
"Wait," replied the young novice, stopping Hercules, who, hatchet in
hand, was preparing to dive.
Dick Sand reflected for a few moments, and then he said:
"We are going to proceed in another manner. The whole question is to
know whether the water covers the ant-hill or not. If we make a small
opening at the summit of the cone, we shall find out which it is. But
in case the ant-hill should be submerged now, the water would fill it
entirely, and we would be lost. Let us feel our way."
"But quickly," replied Tom.
In fact, the level continued to rise gradually. There were then six
feet of water inside the cone. With the exception of Mrs. Weldon,
her son, Cousin Benedict, and Nan, who had taken refuge in the upper
cavities, all were immersed to the waist.
Then there was a necessity for quick action, as Dick Sand proposed.
It was one foot above the interior level, consequently seven feet from
the ground, that Dick Sand resolved to pierce a hole in the clay wall.
If, by this hole, they were in communication with the outer air, the
cone emerges. If, on the contrary, this hole was pierced below the
water level outside, the air would be driven inward, and in that case
they must stop it up at once, or the water would rise to its orifice.
Then they would commence again a foot higher, and so on. If, at last,
at the top, they did not yet find the outer air, it was because there
was a depth of more than fifteen feet of water in the plain, and that
the whole termite village had disappeared under the inundation. Then
what chance had the prisoners in the ant-hill to escape the most
terrible of deaths, death by slow asphyxia?
Dick Sand knew all that, but he did not lose his presence of mind for
a moment. He had closely calculated the consequences of the experiment
he wished to try. Besides, to wait longer was not possible. Asphyxia
was threatening in this narrow space, reduced every moment, in a
medium already saturated with carbonic acid.
The best tool Dick Sand could employ to pierce a hole through the wall
was a ramrod furnished with a screw, intended to draw the wadding from
a gun. By making it turn rapidly, this screw scooped out the clay like
an auger, and the hole was made little by little. Then it would not
have a larger diameter than that of the ramrod, but that would be
sufficient. The air could come through very well.
Hercules holding up the lantern lighted Dick Sand. They had some wax
candles to take its place, and they had not to fear lack of light from
A minute after the beginning of the operation, the ramrod went freely
through the wall. At once a rather dull noise was produced, resembling
that made by globules of air escaping through a column of water. The
air escaped, and, at the same moment, the level of the water rose in
the cone, and stopped at the height of the hole. This proved that they
had pierced too low--that is to say, below the liquid mass.
"Begin again," the young novice said, coolly, after rapidly stopping
the hole with a handful of clay.
The water was again stationary in the cone, but the reserved space had
diminished more than eight inches. Respiration became difficult, for
the oxygen was beginning to fail. They saw it also by the lantern's
light, which reddened and lost a part of its brightness.
One foot above the first hole, Dick Sand began at once to pierce a
second by the same process. If the experiment failed, the water would
rise still higher inside the cone--but that risk must be run.
While Dick Sand was working his auger, they heard Cousin Benedict cry
"Mercy! look--look--look why!"
Hercules raised his lantern and threw its light on Cousin Benedict,
whose face expressed the most perfect satisfaction.
"Yes," repeated he, "look why those intelligent termites have
abandoned the ant-hill! They had felt the inundation beforehand. Ah!
instinct, my friends, instinct. The termites are wiser than we are,
And that was all the moral Cousin Benedict drew from the situation.
At that moment Dick Sand drew out the ramrod, which had penetrated the
wall. A hissing was produced. The water rose another foot inside the
cone--the hole had not reached the open air outside.
The situation was dreadful. Mrs. Weldon, then almost reached by the
water, had raised little Jack in her arms. All were stifling in this
narrow space. Their ears buzzed.
The lantern only threw a faint light.
"Is the cone, then, entirely under water?" murmured Dick Sand.
He must know; and, in order to know, he must pierce a third hole, at
the very top.
But it was asphyxia, it was immediate death, if the result of this
last attempt should prove fruitless. The air remaining inside would
escape through the upper sheet of water, and the water would fill the
"Mrs. Weldon," then said Dick Sand, "you know the situation. If we
delay, respirable air will fail us. If the third attempt fails, water
will fill all this space. Our only chance is that the summit of the
cone is above the level of the inundation. We must try this last
experiment. Are you willing?"
"Do it, Dick!" replied Mrs. Weldon.
At that moment the lantern went out in that medium already unfit for
combustion. Mrs. Weldon and her companions were plunged in the most
Dick Sand was perched on Hercules's shoulders. The latter was hanging
on to one of the lateral cavities. Only his head was above the bed of
Mrs. Weldon, Jack, and Cousin Benedict were in the last story of
Dick Sand scratched the wall, and his ramrod pierced the clay rapidly.
In this place the wall, being thicker and harder also, was more
difficult to penetrate. Dick Sand hastened, not without terrible
anxiety, for by this narrow opening either life was going to penetrate
with the air, or with the water it was death.
Suddenly a sharp hissing was heard. The compressed air escaped--but a
ray of daylight filtered through the wall. The water only rose eight
inches, and stopped, without Dick Sand being obliged to close the
hole. The equilibrium was established between the level within and
that outside. The summit of the cone emerged. Mrs. Weldon and her
companions were saved.
At once, after a frantic hurra, in which Hercules's thundering voice
prevailed, the cutlasses were put to work. The summit, quickly
attacked, gradually crumbled. The hole was enlarged, the pure air
entered in waves, and with it the first rays of the rising sun. The
top once taken off the cone, it would be easy to hoist themselves on
to its wall, and they would devise means of reaching some neighboring
height, above all inundations.
Dick Sand first mounted to the summit of the cone.
A cry escaped him.
That particular noise, too well known by African travelers, the
whizzing of arrows, passed through the air.
Dick Sand had had time to perceive a camp a hundred feet from the
ant-hill, and ten feet from the cone, on the inundated plain, long
boats, filled with natives.
It was from one of those boats that the flight of arrows had come the
moment the young novice's head appeared out of the hole.
Dick Sand, in a word, had told all to his companions. Seizing his gun,
followed by Hercules, Acteon, and Bat, he reappeared at the summit of
the cone, and all fired on one of the boats.
Several natives fell, and yells, accompanied by shots, replied to the
detonation of the fire-arms.
But what could Dick Sand and his companions do against a hundred
Africans, who surrounded them on all sides?
The ant-hill was assailed. Mrs. Weldon, her child, and Cousin
Benedict, all were brutally snatched from it, and without having had
time to speak to each other or to shake hands for the last time, they
saw themselves separated from each other, doubtless in virtue of
orders previously given.
A last boat took away Mrs. Weldon, little Jack and Cousin Benedict.
Dick Sand saw them disappear in the middle of the camp.
As to him, accompanied by Nan, Old Tom, Hercules, Bat, Acteon and
Austin, he was thrown into a second boat, which went toward another
point of the hill.
Twenty natives entered this boat.
It was followed by five others.
Resistance was not possible, and nevertheless, Dick Sand and his
companions attempted it. Some soldiers of the caravan were wounded
by them, and certainly they would have paid for this resistance with
their lives, if there had not been a formal order to spare them.
In a few minutes, the passage was made. But just as the boat landed,
Hercules, with an irresistible bound, sprang on the ground. Two
natives having sprung on him, the giant turned his gun like a club,
and the natives fell, with their skulls broken.
A moment after, Hercules disappeared under the cover of the trees,
in the midst of a shower of balls, as Dick Sand and his companions,
having been put on land, were chained like slaves.
IN CAMP ON THE BANKS OF THE COANZA.