The Enemy Repulsed
Retreat from Mouaou-Kombo.—The attack.—Paul is wounded.—A panic.—The fight renewed.—The enemy re-enforced.—Lying in ambush.—The enemy repulsed.—A poisoned arrow.—Mouitchi safe.—Death of the dogs.
We enter the great forest; we are going to leave the village of Mouaou-Kombo forever. We are on the path which we took on our way eastward. We are going back. The forest near the village is filled with savages waiting for us behind the trees.
We can only go single file. I give command. Igala is to take the lead; then follow Rebouka, Rapelina, Ngoma, Macondai, and Igalo, the cause of our trouble. I guard the rear; the post of danger, of honor, must belong to me, their chieftain, for I have sworn to them, and their people when I left the sea-shore, to protect them.
All at once I remember Mouitchi. I do not see him. He is not with us. "Mouitchi, where are you!" I cry. "He is dead," replied the Ashangos. "He will never come to you. We have killed him. You will never see him again."
Before plunging into the forest we turn back and shout, "Ashangos, we do not want war. We did not come to your country to kill people. Beware! We leave your village; do not follow us, for if you do there will be war?" They answer by a fierce, war-cry, and hundreds of spears from afar are thrown at us as in defiance.
"Now," said I, "boys, no more mercy! blood for blood! Fight valiantly, but kill no women, no old men, no children; for remember, you are with a white man, and we never make war on these. I would not dare to raise my head in my country if I had killed women and children."
Three dogs are left. Poor Rover and Fierce have just been killed. More than fifty spears had been thrown at them. They fell bravely in our defense. The forest was filled with armed Ashangos. When we got into the path a large spear was thrown at me from behind a big tree; Macondai saw the man. "Do not kill him," said I; "he is an old man, and he is disarmed." He had no other spear with him. At this moment a poisoned arrow struck into me—a long, slender, bearded arrow, which first pierced the leather belt that held my revolvers. I had no time to take the arrow out; the fighting was too terrific. Six savages all at once rushed upon Macondai from behind a tree. Macondai fired at them, and I came to the rescue. Bang, bang, bang from my revolvers, and the miscreants troubled us no more. Igalo now received a wound from a poisoned arrow, and we were almost surrounded.
My men quickened their speed. "Don't go so fast," I shouted from the rear; but they went on faster and faster. The shouts of the savages became more violent, and they were shooting at us from behind every tree. My Commi ran as fast, as they could. Igalo and I remained behind. "Olome (men)," shouted I, "what are you doing?" A panic seized them; they ran faster and faster along the path, and I shouted in vain for them to stop. Wild shouts and the tramp of scores of infuriated men thirsting for blood, were heard close behind us, the Ashangos got bolder and bolder as they saw that we quickened our steps. They began to realize that my men were demoralized.
Just as I was raising my gun, an arrow cut the flesh of my middle finger to the bone, severing the small artery and causing the blood to flow copiously on the path. A little after I heard the Ashangos shout, "Ah! ah! we see your blood on the track; you lose blood. Not one of you shall see the sun set to-day. We are coming; all the villages in front of you will fight you. You shall lie dead like the man you killed. We will cut you to pieces."
I rushed ahead, shouting to my Commi men to stop. Suddenly; as I advanced to overtake them, I see their loads strewn on the ground along the path. They had thrown down their baggage. It was now my turn to be infuriated. I rushed ahead, revolver in hand, and shouted, "I will shoot the first man of you that dares to a step." They stopped for sheer want of breath. My breath was also almost taken away. I said, "Boys, have you done? You have run away from the Ashangos. You have left me behind all alone to fight for you. You are to be called by those savages cowards; they will say that you do not know how to fight," and I looked Igala and the other men boldly in the face, and shook my head sorrowfully. "What have, you done?" I added. "Where are my photographs? where my, notebooks? where my, route maps? where are those momentos of friends at home? where are my scientific instruments? Gone, thrown away; the toils of years irrecoverably lost. My boys, what have you done?"
The panic had lasted about ten minutes. Their flight had been so hurried that we had left all the savages somewhat in the rear. "Boys," said I, "think a little while, and don't run away any more. Don't you see that the Ashangos have the disadvantage? They are obliged to stop every time they want to adjust an arrow and take aim, and as for their spears they can not manage them in the thick jungle, for they have not space enough. Besides, we are often out of sight before they can deliver their shot, and the only people we have to fear are those who are waiting in ambush for us. Their bravest men will think twice before they come to us at close quarters, and if they do, have we not guns and revolvers? have we not guns whose bullets will go through four or five men, one after another? So be not afraid."
By the time I had finished this little speech, and had just taken breath, the infuriated savages were again upon us. Their hatred seemed to be now against Igala, whom they called malanga, cursing him. They dodged about, taking short cuts through the jungle, and surrounding us. "You have tasted blood," they cried; "you are all dead men. It is no use for you to try to fight."
My men by this time had recovered from their panic, and sent back the Commi war-cry, and shouted, "Yogo gou-nou (come here)! We are ready; come here; we will make you taste death. Many of you will never go back by the path you came;" and we stood still. "Well done, boys!" I shouted. "Show the people what you can do," and many Ashangos fell on the ground never to rise again.
In a little while we came to a village from which the people had fled. There I discovered the plan of the Ashangos. They wanted to flank us, while some of them were going forward to rouse the other villages ahead to fight us. If they could succeed in flanking us, they would soon finish us; if not, they could make all population ahead hostile to us on our way back. There lay our great danger. If they succeeded in rousing the population against us, it would be impossible for us escape. We could not keep fighting forever. I was already beginning to feel very weak. We had had no food since the day before, for the trouble came before our breakfast. The poisonous arrows began to show effect of the poison in the blood, and I felt a raging thirst. My men were very much frightened at this. The Commi knew nothing of the poisoned missiles, but had heard of the dreadful effects of poisonous wounds from slaves coming from the interior.
Poor Igala complained of great pain and great thirst. "I shall die, Chally," said he; "I shall never see daughter again!"
"If God wills it, you shall not die, Igala," I said.
Let us get ready. The Ashangos are coming silently this time; we hear their footsteps; they are in sight. We hid at the extremity of the village, and I shouldered my long-range rifle. The Ashango leader advanced, and as he was adjusting his bow I fired. His right arm dropped down broken and powerless by his side, an the next man behind fell with a crash in the bush is midst of fallen leaves and branches. Rebouka fired, down came another man, and one by one my men kept up the fire. The Ashangos had now received a momentary check. The bravest among them had fallen in the dust, and my men shouted to the Ashangos that fell, "You will never return by the path you came." The panic was over; my Commi men were ashamed to have acted as they had done.
We jogged on now leisurely till we came to a rivulet. I could not stand; I lay flat, and drank, and drank as much as I could. How fervently I wished Mouitchi was with us! Poor Mouitchi! where was he killed? His body must have been hacked to pieces. Another dog was missing; two only were left. They had been killed for being our friends, and finding out our enemies behind the trees.
The Ashangos began to learn how to fight us. We had not gone far when suddenly they came again in great numbers without uttering a war-cry. The path was most difficult when we became aware of their appearance; steep hill lay beyond steep hill; stream after stream had to be crossed, and we increased our speed, for we were to be under a disadvantage; but it was fortunate that we knew the ground by having been over it before. Suddenly a paralyzing thud, accompanied by a sharp pain, told me that I had been struck from behind my back or in flank by an unknown enemy. This time it was in my side that I was wounded. We were just going up a steep hill, and I turned to see my assailant. Igalo, the poor good fellow, the unfortunate cause of our woe, was by my side, and turned round also to see who had launched the missile. Lo, what do we descry lying flat on the ground among the dry leaves, still as death? An Ashango, crouched as still as a snake in its coil, his bright eyes flashing vindictively at me. Igalo, in the twinkling of an eye, discharged his gun at him, and the too-skillful bowman lay low, never to rise again. I could not help it—I felt sorry; I deplored that fight with my whole heart from the beginning. This time I was wounded badly. The arrow was bearded, small, and slender, and had gone deeply into my stomach, and if the leather belt which held my revolvers, and through which it passed, had not weakened its force, I should have been mortally wounded; but a kind Providence watched over me, and, though another wound disabled that poor, worn-out body of mine, I did not grumble. I had reached that state in which I did not care. The trouble was that I had to go with that arrow in my body, for there was no time to disengage it.
My men came around me, for they saw that the pain had turned me deadly pale, and, though not a cry of anguish was uttered by me (for I, their chief must teach them how to suffer), they saw that my strength was gradually giving away.
How painful that little bit of bearded arrow was as part of it lay inside, and the other part in the leather!
We were now near Mobana, and the Mouaou warriors, and those that had been added to them, were still pursuing us. Happily, we knew every hill and every stream. We crossed the Bembo, a stream with which you we made acquainted on our way east, and the ascent of the steep hill on the other side was terrible. The Mouaou warriors were shouting all the time, "Men of Mobana, do not let the Oguizi pass! They have killed our people!"
Approaching Mobana, we could hear the war-drums beating in the village, but fortunately the path led us by the end of the street, and as we passed we saw the Mobanians in battle array, and heard them sending fierce war-cries at us.
The Mobanians made common cause with the Mouaou people, and they were like a body of fresh troops coming to the rescue—they were not tired. The situation was becoming grave, especially if the people ahead of us were also in sympathy with the Mouaou people.
We recognized the leading Mobana warrior, armed with his bow and several quivers of arrows. Happily they were at some distance from us, and I ordered my men not to fire at them, thinking that perhaps when they saw that we did not desire to make war they might remain quiet in their village, and not pursue us.
We had no time to lose, for I knew that Mobana was situated on the top of a very steep and high hill, and of course I did not want to be taken in the rear by those savages, and subjected to a plunging fire of spears and arrows from their high elevation, from which they could look down on us.
"Boys," said I, "let us go down this hill quickly, so that we may reach the bottom and ascend the other before they come; then we shall have a great advantage over our enemies. We descended the hill, the multitude of savages following us, shouting, a Ah! ah! you run away! You do not know this forest; you shall never leave it; we will kill you all; we will cut your bodies to pieces!"
My blood was getting up. At last we reached the bottom of the hill, and began to ascend the other by the path. "Boys," said I, "don't you remember that there is a big fallen tree near the path up this hill where the jungle is very thick? We are getting weak let us lay in ambush there, and be as silent as if we were all dead, and wait for the Ashangos."
After a while we came to the place I had spoken of, and in the thick bushes just by the side of the path, not far from the big fallen tree, I ordered Igala, Rapelina, and Ngoma to lie down together. On the other side, in a position which I thought would be a good one, I put Igalo, Macondai, and Rebouka. I myself kept the center, facing the path, and could see tolerably well what was going on around.
We lay almost flat on the ground, nearly hidden by the underbrush, with our bags of bullets hanging in front, our flasks of powder handy, and our cartridges ready. We kept as silent as the grave, moving not a muscle, and hardly daring to breathe, and waited for the slight rustling of the leaves as a warning that the Ashangos were coming.
Hark! Hark! we hear a very slight distant noise, which seems as if an antelope or gazelle was passing through the forest. We look at each other as if to say, "They are coming." As by instinct we look at our guns and our ammunition, and see that every thing is ready for the fray. We were indeed desperate, for now we knew it was a death-struggle—that we must either vanquish the Ashangos or be killed by them.
The rustling in the midst of the leaves becomes more distinct, and we glance rapidly in front of us, on the right of us, on the left of us, and behind us.
We see the sharp-shooters forming the Ashango vanguard advancing carefully, with their bows and arrows in readiness. They came in almost a sitting posture. Now and then the leaders would stop to wait for the men behind, their fierce, savage faces looking all around at the same time, and their ears erect to catch the slightest sound. Suddenly they stop, perhaps to listen and know where we are. They look at each other as if to say, "We don't hear any thing," or perhaps they mistrust the bush ahead. Then I get a glimpse of the great Mobana warrior, and also of one of the leading Mouaou warriors. All at once they gave a cluck, the meaning of which I could not tell. Perhaps it meant danger.
I had been looking intently for a minute at these savages, when I cast a glance in the direction where Igala, Rapelina, and Ngoma were. Igala was aiming with an unerring and steady hand at the great Mobana warrior, and Rapelina was aiming at the Mouaou warrior; whether Ngoma was aiming at any one I could not see. It took only one glance for me to see what was going on in that direction. Then, turning in the other direction, I saw that Macondai, Rebouka, and Igalo were getting ready, they had also caught sight of some sly and silent enemy. I shouldered my rifle also. Not twenty seconds had passed after I had looked at Igala when I heard in his direction, bang! bang! The great Mobana warrior was shot through the abdomen, and uttered a cry of anguish, while Rapelina had sent a bullet through the lower jaw of the Mouaou warrior, smashing it completely. Ngoma fired, but I could not see the man he fired at. All at once, bang! bang! bang! I hear from Igalo, Macondai, and Rebouka's side. Bang! bang! bang! three guns from the other side. Bang! from my own gun.
"Well done, boys!" I cried. "Forward, and charge, and let us show the Ashangos we are men." We rush through the jungle in the direction from which the warriors had come. They are surprised; their leading chiefs are killed, Bang! bang! bang! from revolvers and guns; we are fighting like lions at bay. We are victorious; out enemies fly in abject terror.
We shouted to the fleeing Ashangos cries of defiance "Come here! Come again; not one of you shall go back to your villages. We are coming; we will kill you all before night. You made war; we did not make it. Come and look at your dead in the forest. Come and fetch them if you dare! To-night we are coming to your villages, and will destroy them!"
The voices of the Ashangos became fainter and fainter and there were no more answers to our cries of defiance.
Some of us had been wounded again. As we came to a little stream, my exhaustion was such that every thing became dim before me; the trees of the forest seemed to be moving, and finally I fell almost unconscious to the ground. After a while I drank copiously of the refreshing water of the stream, for the poisoned arrows had given me unquenchable thirst. The men drank also; none of us seemed ever to be satisfied. A few minutes after, and we drank again. Now we breathed more freely, and rested a little while, keeping a sharp lookout, however, at the same time. I examined the wounds of Igala and the others, and said, "Igala, don't be afraid; you are not going to die from the effects of the poisoned arrow. I am going to put in your wound something that will burn you, but do you good." It was ammonia. I applied it, and he gave a piercing shriek.
The slender, small, sharp-pointed, bearded arrow had remained in my body the whole of the day; two or three times I tried in vain to pull it out, but it seemed to stick fast in the flesh; so I took off the belt of my revolver, and said to Igala, "Pull that arrow out for me." He tried gently, but it would not come. I said, "Pull it with all your strength."
Oh how it pained! It was like a little fish-hook—a little bit of a thing, but it so tore the flesh that I felt like giving a cry of anguish. I became deadly pale, but did not utter a word; I wanted to set an example of fortitude to my men. Then I put ammonia in all my wounds and those of my men, for I always carried a little bottle of it to use in case of snake-bites. The blood had flowed freely, from my finger, and I was sorry to see that my clothes were quite saturated, but the effusion of blood had carried off the poison.
I found that the effect of the poison was to bring on mortification of the flesh, and was not so dangerous as I had been led to believe, though I was very sick a few days after the fight.
After resting a while, and after equalizing our munitions of war, we shouldered our empty otaitais. Just as we were ready to start we heard again a rustling of leaves. Are the Ashangos coming back? We are silent, and look in the direction of the noise. We see a man—our guns are directed toward him. I make a sign not to fire, I do not know why—God directs me. Now and then he hides himself—stops—watches—he is advancing, not in the path, but a little way from it. The man comes nearer; we see a gun in his band—it is Mouitchi! I am the first to recognize him. "Mouitchi!" I shouted. "I am Mouitchi," the answer was. He rushes toward us; he is safe; he is not even wounded, and with tremulous voice I said, "Boys, God is with us; I thank thee Father." I could say no more, but this came from the inmost depths of my heart.
Mouitchi's story was this: He had mistaken the path in the panic, and finally had gone through the jungle and followed us by the halloing of the fierce Ashangos, but kept at a good distance from them. He heard them crying out that the great warriors of Mobana and of Moulton were killed. They had fled in the utmost terror.
Poor Ncommi-Nagoumba was the only dog left; all the others had been killed. If I could have collected the bodies I would have dug a grave for them at the foot a big tree, and written on it the words,
Andčko, Rover, Fierce, Turk, and Ndjčgo.
They were faithful unto death.