Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Chimpanzee
Departure of the Mentor.—Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Chimpanzee.—Thomas in London.—Left alone in Africa.—Departure from Plateau.—A Tornado.—Nengué Shika.—Traces of Gorillas.—Nengué Ncoma.—King Olenga-Yombi.—The ipi.
The day of departure of the Mentor had come. My heart was heavy; my good friend and companion, Captain Vardon, was going to leave me. I was to be left all alone in that wild country, when but a few months before I had been in the big city of London. How lonely I should feel! My old life was to come again.
It was the 18th of January, 1864. I remember well the day, for I left the shore with Captain Vardon to go on, board the Mentor, which was to sail that day for London.
Captain Vardon and I did not talk much—our hearts were too full; but the good captain kept repeating to me, "My dear good friend, I do not like to leave you in this wild part of the world all alone; who will take care of you when you are sick?"
"Captain," I said, "God will take care of me."
Soon after we reached the vessel the anchor was weighed, the sails were shaken out, the jibs were set, and the schooner began to make settle headway.
I was loth to part with the dear little schooner Mentor, for I knew I should never see it again, and perhaps I should never see good Captain Vardon again.
When the moment of parting arrived, my negroes stood ready to receive me in their canoe alongside. I took Captain Vardon by the hand for a little time; we looked each other in the face without saying a word; our eyes were big—a little more, and tears would have rolled from them. I went over the vessel's side, Captain Vardon still holding my hand, and began to descend the stairs into the canoe, when the captain was obliged to let my hand go. In a Minute I was in the canoe; the canoe and the vessel parted company, and the distance between them began rapidly to widen. My men gave three cheers for the Mentor; the sailors responded, all standing by the bulwarks looking at me.
Captain Vardon had on board with him as passengers two chimpanzees, Thomas, and his wife Mrs. Thomas. Thomas was, I judge, about three years old, and Mrs. Thomas might have been a year old. Mr. Thomas was tricky little rascal, and I had any amount of fun with him. He was very tame, like all the young chimpanzees. Thomas's capture was attended with adventures. He was with his mother in the woods; the mother was killed, and Thomas was seized and brought to the village two days after. Before he was tamed he escaped into the forest. The dogs were sent after him, and he was speedily retaken, but not without his having bitten the dogs and been severely bitten by them in return. Several of his finger were broken, and upon knitting together they left his hand in a distorted condition.
I was compelled to keep Master Tom tied, for after he was quite tame he became very troublesome, and would go into my hut and disturb every thing. He would upset the plates, break the glasses, and when he saw the mischief he had done he would run off, and that was the last seen of him for the day. So I tied him by a cord to a pole under the veranda of my hut, and at the foot of the pole I built a little house, into which he could retire when he pleased. Every day it was filled with fresh straw from the prairie, and he enjoyed it very much, and rived to sleep on it.
Every thing I ate Tom would eat; every thing I drank Tom would drink; tea, coffee, lemonade were drinks he liked very much. He would eat fish, crocodile, turtle, elephant, hippopotamus, chicken, bananas, plantains, biscuit etc., etc.
Among the pets I had with me was a cat. One day the cat came near Tom's pole, when suddenly Master Tom, who had never seen a cat, flew in alarm to his pole, and clambered up it, the hair on his body becoming erect, and his eyes glaring with excitement. He really looked like a porcupine-chimpanzee, such as I had never seen before.
In a moment, recovering himself, he came down, and, rushing to the cat before pussy had time to run away, with one of his feet-like hands he seized the nap of the animal, and with the other pressed on its back as if trying to break its neck or spine. He was jerking the poor cat as hard as he could when I came to the rescue—just in time, for I am sure, if the struggle had lasted two or three minutes more, the cat would have been killed. The poor cat could not turn its head and bite, nor use its paws for scratching, and was, indeed, utterly helpless.
The big chimpanzees and the gorillas are said to fight the formidable leopard in that manner. It must be a sight to see such an encounter.
One day, while hunting, my dogs captured another young chimpanzee, which I gave to Master Tom for a wife. He seemed exceedingly fond of her, and would spend the greater part of his time in embracing her. Their married life appeared one of unalloyed happiness. Unfortunately, Mrs. Thomas was never very strong, and she died of consumption on the passage, to the great sorrow of Mr. Thomas, who felt very sad for a good many days after her death.
I am happy to say that Mr. Thomas reached London very good health, in the beginning of the year 1864, was presented in my name to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, near London, by Captain Vardon.
There he received a complete education; a nice place was built for him in the conservatory, where the exotic plants grew well, and there, for the sum of sixpence, he would sell his photograph to any one who chose to buy it. His principle was, money first, carte de visite afterward; and if, perchance, any visitor took off his carte de visite without paying for it, he would rush forward, screaming, to the length of his tether, to prevent this irregular transaction, and would not cease his noisy expressions till the money was paid down. Then he would give a low grunt in sign of satisfaction.
Thomas thrived well there, and there was a prospect of his living many years; but he met with an untimely end when the Crystal Palace burnt. The poor fellow met his death in the flames, but not before giving the most fearful screams of despair, which were unavailing, since no one could reach him.
The breeze was stiff, and carried the Mentor swiftly away from the shore as we paddled toward the breakers. I turned my head back now and then to have a look at the dear little schooner.
We passed safely through the breakers, and after landing I seated myself to look for the last time at the vessel as she glided away; fainter and fainter became the sails, till finally I could see nothing but the horizon.
I tore myself from the shore. How sad I was that evening! "How long," thought I, "shall I have to wait for a vessel to come to me? Oh dear, I hope the Messrs. Baring will send me one, with scientific instruments; then I shall start on that long journey to the Nile, from which, perhaps, I shall never come back. Never mind," said I, "friend Paul, try your best. If you do not succeed, it is no disgrace."
I lay down to sleep sad and dejected indeed. That night I dreamed of my departed mother and father. I dreamed of dear friends—of girls and boys, the companions of my school-days, that were no more—of days when I was happy and without a care. That dream was so pleasurable that it awoke me. As my eyes opened, the walls of bamboo, the queer bed, told me that I was in a wild country. I got up feeling feverish and sick at heart in my loneliness, to which I was not yet accustomed.
That day I said to myself, "Paul, several weary months will pass away before a vessel can come for you, so take courage, go hunting, visit the country round, and do the best you can to while away the time. Keep up your spirits; faint heart has never yet succeeded and toward evening I felt more cheerful, and chatted with my Commi men, and afterward said to myself, "How grateful I ought to be that I can feel so safe in such a wild country; that I have so many friends among the natives; and that there is not a man of them all who would dare to rob me! "Surely," I reflected, "there is not a civilized country where I could be as safe; the robbers of civilization would break through these thin walls, and steal every thing I have." The next day I put into practice the resolution I had formed, and made preparations for a journey. I wanted to visit many Commi villages.
My premises were filled with goods under the care of the Commi. "Be without fear," said good old Ranpano; "every thing will be safe when you come back. Malonga, my brother, will take care of your premises as did Rikimongani." So I set out and advanced toward Cape St. Catharine, for I intended to make a visit first to my old friend King Olenga-Yombi, with whom you have become acquainted in one of my preceding volumes.
It was a fine evening when we left Plateau. We were now in the height of the rainy season, and it was so hot in the day that I thought we might sail more comfortably on the river at night. We were pretty sure to get a ducking, but I thought it was better to get wet than to have the rays a tropical sup pouring down on our heads. Malonga (Ranpano's brother) and my men had been busy making mondas to keep the rain off, and as we left the shore old Malonga said we should have clear weather. In this country, unlike South Africa, the doctors are unmakers, and not makers of rain.
The evening, indeed, was fine, and I began to that Malonga, after all, might be right; the moon shone in an almost cloudless sky; but after the setting of the moon at 10 o'clock, a thick black cloud rose in the northeast, and we began to feel not so sure about a dry night. I was watching all the time anxiously in that northeastern direction, for I was afraid a tornado was coming. We were in the season of the tornadoes, and a constant lookout had to be kept, for it would never have done to have been caught napping. The flashes of lightning became more and more vivid as we skirted the river bank, paddling as fast as we could, and looking for a quiet little nook; and we were getting near one, when suddenly a white patch shone under the black mass in the heavens. In an instant that black mass overspread the sky; the part which a little before was blue had become black and lurid; the clouds drove from the northeast with fearful rapidity, and all above seemed to be in a blaze with lightning; the thunder pealed incessantly, and the rain poured down, as, it were, by bucketsful. Our canoes were driven ashore by the force of the terrific wind, and we immediately hauled them out of water, although it was pitch dark, and we could only see each other by the glare of the lightning. Near by was a little village composed of a few huts, and we made for it, but found only a few women, and not wood enough for a fire, in consequence of which I had to remain all night wet to the skin.
The next morning the sky was clear and the sun rose beautifully, and soon after sunrise you could have heard the paddlers sing merry songs of the Commi. We ascended the river till we came to the island of Nengué Shika. Nengué, as you know, means an island; you may perhaps remember Nengué Ngozo. Shika means white, silverlike; After paddling along the shore of Nengué Shika, which was covered with palm-trees, we made for the main land, toward the banks of a little creek over which swallows were flying. It was a sweet spot, of prairie and luxuriant wood. There a shed had been built for me by our old friend King Olenga-Yombi, and many of his slaves were waiting for me with a goat, a few fowls, several bunches of bananas and plantains. The king had sent these provisions and his best wishes for good luck in my hunts, and a message that I must come and see him when I was tired of the woods.
Not far from our camp there were several "ivolos"—wooded bogs; there the vegetation was very rank, and these bogs were known to be the haunts of the gorilla. That day we rested in camp, and the next morning we started with two native dogs for the ivolos. It was very hard work; we had to struggle through the thorny and swampy thickets for a long time, and now and then we would sink knee-deep in the mud. My followers were slaves of King Olenga-Yombi. Hark! hark! I hear a noise as if some one was breaking the branches of trees. I gave a cluck; I looked at the men behind. This noise was made by gorillas. Silence. My gun is ready; I advance, but it is all I can do to keep the dogs in check. The creatures of the woods were tearing down branches to pick off the berries. Unfortunately, one of the dogs broke from us. I heard a shriek—a sharp cry; the gorillas fled; they were females, but the men assured me the males could not be far off. This was, beyond all doubt, the spot for gorillas. I could see many of their footmarks on the soft mud; their heels were well marked, but their toes were hardly seen. Where they had been on all-fours I could see the marks of their knuckles.
But that day I could not come in sight of gorillas. The following day I hunted near the sea-shore, from which I then concluded to go to Amembié to see Olenga-Yombi.
On our way we passed by an island of trees growing in the midst of the prairie. That island is called "Nengué Ncoma." The people are afraid of Nengué Ncoma, and at night nobody would dare to pass by it; and, though we were far away, my men looked at it with superstitious dread, and quickened their steps. "Oh," said one of my guides, "whoever enters this island is likely to die suddenly in it; if he does not die he becomes crazy, and roams about till he dies. There is a woman that we see now and then, crazy and wandering all over it. In this island of Nengué Ncoma lives a crocodile, whose scales are of brass, that never leaves the island; he lives in the centre of it; no gun can kill that crocodile."
"It is a lie!" I shouted "how foolish you are, my boys, to believe such things! To show you that it is a lie, I will enter that island of Nengué Ncoma," and I rushed, gun in hand, toward the island. A wild shriek came from the men. They shouted, "Oh, Chally, do not go." They did not dare to follow me. A little while after I touched the branches of the trees of Nengué Ncoma, but before, I entered I turned back and looked toward the men, and as I looked at them I saw them mute with astonishment; and as I turned my back and entered the wood, terrific cries rent the air. They thought it was the last they should see of me. Surely the crocodile with brass scales would kill me, who dared to go into that island of which he was the king and sole inhabitant.
I walked on and explored every part of this small island of trees. I need not say that I did not meet with the crocodile. When I came out a wild shout greeted me; it was from my men, who were still at the same place where I had left them. I came toward them smiling and saying, "Do you think I am crazy? I tell you I have not seen that crocodile with scales of brass. I looked every where, and I saw nothing but trees." They shouted, "You are a mbuiti"—a spirit.
We continued our way till we came to Amembié. Poor King Olenga-Yombi was drunk as usual; he was so tipsy, indeed, that he could not stand on his legs. Nevertheless, he welcomed his friend Chally, and said his country belonged to me, and in joy he ordered another calabash full of palm wine to be brought to him, and drank off about half a gallon of it at once. This finished him up for the day; he fell back in the arms his wives, shouting many times over, "I am a big king! I am a big king! I am Olenga-Yombi!" and was asleep. Poor Olenga-Yombi, he is an inveterate drunkard; not a day passes by that he is not tipsy.
The next morning I started for a large plantation of the king's before he was awake. The name of that plantation was "Nkongon-Boumba." There I found a large number of the king's slaves, and among them were a great many good hunters. These slaves knew me; they knew that I was their master's great friend; they knew I was theirs also, and that I had a good stock of beads for them and their wives. The head slave of the king, an Ishogo man called Ayombo, welcomed me, and brought me food.
I said to them, "Friends, I have come to live with you." They shouted "Yo! yo! yo!" "I want to hunt, and kill an ipi." "Yo! yo! yo! You shall kill an ipi," they shouted. "I want to kill gorillas and chimpanzees." "Yo! yo! yo! You shall kill gorillas and chimpanzees." "But, above all, I want to kill an ipi. My heart will go away sad if I do not kill an ipi." "Yo! yo! yo! You shall kill an ipi. We know where some are. "Yo! yo! yo! You shall see an ipi."
You ask yourself what an ipi is. The ipi was an unknown animal. How did I come to know that such an animal existed? One day I saw a monda to which was suspended a large and thick yellow scale, such as I had never seen before. The pangolin had scales, but they were much smaller. There was no doubt that this scale belonged to the pangolin family, only I learned that the animal from which it was taken was of a larger variety.
The ipi, I was told, was very rare. Years had passed away, and no ipi had been seen by me; but some time ago King Olenga-Yombi had sent me word that an ipi had been near his plantation of Nkongon-Boumba, and I had come specially to hunt the ipi.
Many of the king's slaves had come from far-away tribes, and queer and ugly fellows they were, with lean legs, prominent abdomens, retreating foreheads, and projecting mouths.
The day of my arrival we rested. The good slaves and their kind wives brought fowls, plantains, pea-nuts, sugar-cane, some pine-apples, little lemons, wild honey, dried fish—in fact, they brought to me the best things they had. I gave them nice beads, and to some of the leading slaves I gave red caps.
That night there was dancing. The idol or mbuiti consulted as to the results of the chase, for these interior people are very superstitions. They sang songs welcoming me.
The next morning a few of the leading slaves and myself started for an ipi hunt.