Landing the Goods
Landing the Goods.—Among the breakers.—King Ranpano.—Loss of instruments.—King Quengueza.—A palaver.—Changing names.
The next morning, at daybreak, three canoes came alongside to take off the cargo. The men brought the news that King Ranpano had arrived, and was on the beach.
My most precious things were lowered into the canoes, and when every thing was ready, the captain concluded to go ashore with me.
The captain and I got into the canoe containing all my scientific instruments, medicines, some of my best guns, my watch chronometers, five Geneva musical boxes, etc., etc. Before we left the captain ordered the mate to keep a sharp lookout, and fasten to the anchors seventy fathoms of chain, for the sea was heavy. The crew came to say good-by to me, and as our canoes left the side of the Mentor they gave three cheers for me. Then, as fast as our paddles could propel us, we made for the beach.
As we approached the breakers, the faces of the canoe-men looked anxious, for the swells were heavy, and I could hear the roar of the surf. Nearer and nearer we came. The two other canoes were ahead of us.
The men were watching the swells, resting on their paddles. At last we hear their cheers; they plunge their paddles into the water, and onward they go toward the shore, rolling on the top of a heavy, long swell.
My men thought we were too late, as we were behind, and had better wait for the next lull. In the mean time we watched the two canoes; they seemed for a while to be buried in the foaming billows. "Surely," I said to Captain Vardon, "those canoes will never reach the shore safely."
"I don't believe they will," was his answer.
We had reached a point just outside the breakers, where we watch; the two canoes appear again; they have not capsized; the men are covered with spray; they are paddling as hard as they can; they are over the breakers; they land safely; the people on the shore seize the canoes, and bring them up the beach.
Now our time has come, and the men are watching anxiously. I have the finest canoe-men of the Commi tribe in my canoe. Oshimbo holds the steering-paddle. Kombé, Ratenou, Ondonga, Gonwe, Sholomba, and the others, are not only splendid paddlers, but they all swim like fish—a very important thing for me if we capsize. My sixteen men are resting on their paddles; they are all looking outside, and watching the heavy rollers as they come in. Generally six of these come, and then there is a kind of a lull. "Get ready! paddle hard!" shouted Oshimbo. The men gave a terrific Commi hurra, and down went their paddles, and with heavy strokes we got on what we thought a gentle swell. We had hardly got on it when the swell became higher and higher, carrying us almost with lightning speed; then it began to crest itself; we were caught, and finally were dashed upon a white foaming wave with fearful force. "Be careful!" shouted Oshimbo. "Have your eyes upon our white man!"
Though we did not upset, our canoe was partly filled with water, and the rush of the wave had prevented Oshimbo's paddle from acting as a rudder, and the Canoe was now lying broadside at the mercy of the next wave that should come.
"Hurry!" shouted Oshimbo to the men; "let us bring back the canoe's head on to the waves!" and the men put forth all their might to rescue us from our perilous position. Just as we had succeeded in bringing the canoe round, a second immense roller, coming from far out at sea, and mounting higher and higher as it approached, threatened our destruction. We were in fearful suspense. Perhaps we will be able to ride upon it; perhaps it will break ahead of us. It was a terrific one. My men cried again with one voice, "Let us look out for our white man!"
These words were hardly uttered when the huge wave broke over the stern of our canoe with appalling force, instantly upsetting it and hurling us into the sea, where we were deeply submerged in the spray.
I do not know how I ever got back on the surface of the water, but when I did I was some forty feet from the canoe, and all the men were scattered far and wide.
I was almost stunned. Breaker upon breaker succeeded each other with awful rapidity, sending us rolling about under them, and giving us hardly time to breathe. The sea all round became a mass of foaming billows. By this time all my faithful negroes were around me, shouting to each other, "To our ntangani—our ntangani (white man)!" It was indeed high time, for I felt myself sinking. A minute more, and I would have sunk helpless to the bottom of the sea, never to rise again. The Commi swam round me and held me up, till another wave would scatter us again, and then they came back to my succor.
In spite of all their efforts, I became weaker and weaker. They had succeeded in ridding me of the greater part of my clothing, but, notwithstanding this relief, my strength was fast failing me, and I had drunk large quantities of salt water. I cried, "Where is the captain'? Go for him!" My cry was just in time, for he was in his last struggle for life. Once we had got hold of the canoe, but the waves had made us loose our grip. Loud shouts came from the shore; the people were almost frantic. Canoe after canoe was launched, but only to be swamped, in the breakers the next instant.
At length the tumult of the waves subsided; there came a lull, and the rising tide had driven us toward the beach. We were not far from it, indeed, and now we rested a little, holding fast to our capsized canoe.
At last a canoe succeeded in leaving the shore, and came to our rescue. As it reached us the crew jumped into the sea to give us their places, and, in order not to load it too heavily, they swam alongside, holding fast to it to keep it steady.
As we neared the shore, the natives did not wait for me to land, but ran into the water, and, seizing me, carried me off in their arms, in the midst of deafening cries and cheers, the women wringing their hands and shouting, "The sea wanted to eat our white man; the sea wanted to eat our white man."
The people led me into a thicket of trees, where a bright fire was lighted, and whom should I see but King Ranpano seated on the ground, his little idol before him, his eyes shining with excitement, and his body trembling all over. I drew myself up, trying to look haughty and displeased.
"Ranpano," I said, "if any one had told me that you did not care for me, I would not have believed them. "What!" said I, "every one was on the shore to see what they could do to save us from drowning; even your wife, the queen, was there, and went into the sea to catch me as we landed, and I might have died and been drowned for all that you cared. You were cold, and you sat by the fire."
"Oh," said Ranpano, "my white man die in the water? Never, while I am alive! How could it be? how could it be? Oh no, Chally, you could not be drowned—you could not, my white man; my Chally will never die in our country. I have a fetich, and as long as I wear it you can not be drowned. I was talking to my idol; I was invoking before her the spirit of my father to protect you in the sea. When the waves were around you, I begged the idol to send the sharks away from you. Oh, Chally, I would not leave the idol for fear you might perish. Oh!" exclaimed Ranpano, with a stentorian voice, "there are people already jealous of me and of my village. Some village has sent an aniemba to upset the canoe."
The wildest excitement prevailed around me. I was partly stunned, and I had drunk a great deal of salt water. Poor Captain Vardon had a narrow escape, and, as he said, he was sinking when my boys—my good boys—clinched him. And once more I thanked silently the great God that had watched so mercifully over me.
After a while I realized the severe blow I had received when the great loss I had sustained presented itself to my mind. Scientific instruments, watch chronometers, medicines, guns, musical instruments, etc., etc., had gone to the bottom of the sea.
"Oh dear," said I to myself, "I must remain here on this barren and lonely coast, and wait for a vessel to come back and bring me new scientific instruments, for without them I can not go across the continent toward the Nile. I wish to make a good map of the country, to take accurate astronomical observations, to determine the height of the mountains and to be able to ascertain at any time the day and the month if I should forget their regular succession in the calendar and, without my instruments, all this will be impossible."
I can not tell you how sorry I felt. That evening I felt utterly heart-broken, and I could have cried. "But," said I to myself, "to bear my misfortune with fortitude is true manhood;" and, though it was hard to believe it, I knew that all that had happened was for the best.
Captain Vardon felt a sincere sympathy with me. The poor man was himself an object of commiseration, for he was so exhausted and had drunk so much water that he was quite ill.
My mind was made up, however, that very day as to what I should do. I must manage to have a letter reach the island of Fernando Po, and then that letter would be forwarded to London. That letter will be for Messrs. Baring Brothers, and I will ask them to send me a vessel with all I need.
The next night, as I lay on my hard bed pondering my wondrous escape from the deep sea, I could not help thinking bitterly of the heavy loss I had sustained. It was not so much for the large sum of money that had been sacrificed, but for the great waste of time this catastrophe had entailed upon me.
I could not sleep; these thoughts kept me awake. I turned from side to side in the hope that an easier position would put me to sleep, but it was of no avail, when suddenly I heard the sound of the natives' bugles on the river. The people were blowing their bugles made of antelopes' horns, and then I heard the songs of a multitude of paddlers: The sound became more and more distinct as the canoes neared my cabin: Then I could hear distinctly, "Quengueza, our king, comes to see his great friend Chally—Chally, who has returned from the white man's country."
Soon after the singing stopped, and I knew that they had landed.
All my gloomy fancies were soon forgotten, and I got up and dressed myself as quickly as possible. As I opened my door, whom should I see, as quiet as statue in front of my hut, but King Quengueza, the venerable chief. He opened his arms to receive me, and we hugged each other without saying a word. The great and powerful African chief, the dread of the surrounding tribes and clans, the great warrior, held me in his arms, and after a while he said, "Chally, I would have stayed before your door all night if I had not seen you. I could not go to sleep without embracing you, for you do not know how much I love you. You do not know how many times I have thought of you, and many, many times I have said to my people, 'We shall not see Chally again.' And first, when Sholomba told me you had come; and had sent for me, I said, 'Sholomba, this is a lie; Chally has not come. Four rainy seasons and four dry seasons have passed away, and if he had intended coming he would have been here long ago. No, Sholomba, why do you come and make fun of me? It is a lie; Chally has not come—Chally has not come, and he will not come any more to the country of the black man.'"
"Here I am," I said, "friend Quengueza; your friend Chally is before you. He has thought of you many and many a time in the white man's country; he has not forgotten you;" and I whispered in his ears, "He has brought you a great many fine things which no black man has seen before, and which no black man will have, but yourself."
Then the old chief ordered his attendants to retire, and when he had entered my little hut I lighted a torch, and he looked at me and I looked at him without our saying a word. Then I seated myself on the edge of my bed, and the king seated himself on the little stool close to me, and filled his pipe with native Ashira tobacco, and we had a long talk.
I said, "Quengueza, I have come. Since I saw you a great many things have happened. I have been in different countries of the white man. Many know you, many love you, for I have told the white man what great friends we were—how much we loved each other. I have told them how kind you were to your friend Chally; that every thing he wanted you gave to him that not one of your people ever took any thing from Chally—if he would have had his head cut off or been sold into slavery. Many white men and white women, boys and girls know you, and I have presents from them for you, which you shall see in a few days. I have told them what we did together, how we went into the woods together, and how we cut that big ebony-tree"—here I stopped a while, and presently said, "how I hope to go farther inland than I have ever been, and will come back again by the sea."
Then I remained silent, and the old chief rose up, the shadow of his stately form falling behind him. For a few moments he did not utter a word, and then he said, Chally, my town is yours; my forests, my slaves are yours; all the girls and women of my village are yours; I have no will of my own when you are with me. You shall be the chief, and whatever you say shall be obeyed. You shall never know hunger as long as there is a plantain-tree on our plantation, or a wild animal in the forests. And, Chally, when you shall say 'I must go far away, where nobody has been,' I will let you go; I will help you to go, though my heart will be sad when you depart."
I found Quengueza still in mourning for his brother, whom he had succeeded, and that he had taken his brother's name, "Oganda," which is the name taken by every chief of the Abouya clan. What a queer custom they have! The law of inheritance there is from brother to brother, and Quengueza's name had been Ratenou Kombé Quengueza, and now came the last, which he was to his grave, Oganda.
I said, "Friend Quengueza, it will be hard for me to call you Oganda, for the name by which I have learned to love you is Quengueza."
"Never mind, Chally, call me Quengueza," said he; and, as he left my hut, he implored me once more in a whisper not to tell any one that I had brought him presents, "for," said he, "if the people knew that you had brought me many fine things, they would bewitch me, and I should die."
I saw that poor Quengueza was as superstitious as ever.
The old chief then went to the hut that had been prepared for him during his visit to me. By this time it was four o'clock in the morning, and the cock in the village had already begun to crow when I lay down to sleep.