The Retreat Resumed
Traveling westward.—A night in the forest.—Paul's speech to his men.—Their reply.—The retreat resumed.—Taking food and rest.—Meeting with friends.
This meeting with Mouitchi revived for a while my failing strength. I saw in his safety the decree of a kind Providence. My warriors were by me; though wounded, none of us had been killed.
We continued our journey westward. The forest had resumed its accustomed stillness, undisturbed by the savage war-cries of the infuriated Ashangos. I felt so weak that it was with great difficulty I could walk. I had been obliged to get rid of my splendid formidable double-barreled breach-loading rifle by breaking the butt-end and throwing the barrel into the woods. I had tried as hard as I could to carry two: guns, but at last I had to give up. Now I had only a smooth-bore to carry.
A little after we had resumed our march, as we walked silently in the forest, we met suddenly two Mobana women. Igala at once was going to shoot them; I forbid him doing it. Poor Igala said he did not like this way of making war; he said it was not the white man's country, and we ought not to fight in the white man's fashion. He was for shooting every Ashango he saw; and, pointing to our wounds, he said," Don't you think they would have killed all of us if they had been able? I answered, "Never mind, Igala; they will tell their people that, after all, we did not want to kill every body."
Poor women! they really thought they were going be murdered, but they had no idea what had take place.
We went on, though I was becoming weaker and weaker. A high fever had set in, and my thirst continued to be intense; at the sight of a stream I thought I could drink the whole of the water. My men were pretty nearly in the same condition as myself.
Thus we traveled on till near sunset, when at last I said, "Boys, I can not go any farther; I can not walk I am so weak, so weary, so ill. There is that big village of Niembouai-Olomba near us; we are all too tired to go through it and fight our way if the people want to fight us. It will soon be dark; let us leave the path, and go into the forest and rest. At midnight, when they are asleep, we will go through the village, and continue our way toward the sea."
"You are right," said the men. "You are our a chief; we will do as you say."
We left the path and plunged into the woods, and after a while we halted in one of the thickest parts of the forest, where no one could see us but that good and merciful God whose eye was upon us in that day of our great trials, and who had given us strength to contend with our enemies. We were hidden from the sight of man, and hundreds of miles away from the Commi country—I was thousands of miles away from my own. It was, indeed, a day of tribulation. The men were afraid to light a fire for fear that it might betray our hiding place. We did not even dare to speak aloud; we were almost startled at the rustling of the leaves, for we knew not but that it might be the enemy. Our pride had left us with our strength. We were helpless, wounded, weak, hungry; the future before us was dark and gloomy. What a picture of despondency we presented!
After a while we lay on the ground to sleep, muzzling our only dog, that he should not betray our hiding place. Darkness came on, and the silence of the night was only broken by the mournful cry of a solitary owl that came to perch near us. In a little time my exhausted men thought not of leopards, or poisonous snakes, or hostile savages, in the deep slumber that enwrapped them. Igala alone now and then moaned from pain. The night air was misty and cold. As I lay awake on the damp ground, an intense feeling of sadness came over me. There was I, far from home. I thought of our northern climes, of spring, of summer, of autumn, of winter, of flakes of snow, of a happy home, of girls and boys, of friends, of schoolmates. I knew that if any of them could have been made aware of my forlorn condition they would have felt the tenderest sympathy with me in my misfortune and I thought if I could see them once more before dying I should die happy.
Hours passed by, and at last I thought it must be time to start. I took a match from my match-box, and lighted a wax candle (I always kept one in my bag), and looked at my watch. It was just midnight. We lay in a cluster, and I awoke my men in a moment. "Boys;" said I, "it is time for us to start, for the hours of the night are passing away; the people of the village must have retired. Two of you must go as scouts, and see if the people of Niembouai-Olomba are asleep. Mouitchi and Igala at once started. "Be as cunning," said I, "as leopards, and noiseless as snakes."
After a while they came back, telling us that every body was asleep in the village of Niembouai-Olomba, and that we had better start immediately, "for," said they, "the first sleep is the deepest."
Then, calling my boys around me, I gave them what I thought might be my last words of admonition. With dead silence they waited for what I was going to say:
"Little did we know, boys, at sunrise this morning, what would happen to us to-day. Men can not look into the future. I was leading you carefully across that big country of the black man toward the land of the white man. I did not defeat the journey—one of you has done it. Poor Igalo is sorry for it, but no one is more sorry than I am, for I had set my heart on taking you by the okili mpolo. I was leading you on well to the white man's country. Now all hope of this is over. We are poor; every thing we had has been left behind, and we have nothing else to do but go back to the sea, following the road by which we came.
"In a little while we shall start. I have called you around me to give you advice, for I am ill and weary, and if there is much fighting to be done I am afraid I shall not have the strength to take part in it. If perchance you see me fall on the ground, do not try to raise me up; let me alone; don't be frightened. Stand close together; do not run, each man his own way. You have guns; you can reach the Commi country if you are wise as serpents, and then you will behold the beautiful blue sea and your Commi country once more.
"I have kept my word with your people. I have stood by you to the last. My boys, I have fought for you as resolutely as I could, but the time may be at hand when I shall be able to fight no more. I may be killed to-night, as I have said to you, or I may not be strong enough to raise my gun. Whatever happens, remain together; listen to Igala, your chief.
"We have lost nearly every thing, but these books (my journal), in which I have written down all we have done, are yet safe. If I fall, take them with you to the sea, and when a vessel comes, give them to the captain, and tell him 'Chally, Chally, our friend, the great friend of the Commi, is dead. He died far away, calmly, without fear, and he told us to give these to the white man.' Take also the watch I carry on my person, and that little box, which contains four other watches, aneroids, and compass, and give them to the captain. All the other things and the guns I give you to remember me by. You will give a gun to Quengueza, and a gun to Ranpano."
My men crept close around me as I spoke. I had hardly spoken the last words when they stretched their arms toward me, and these lion-hearted negroes wept aloud, and, with voices full of love and kindness, said, "Chally, Chally, you are not to die. We will take you alive to our people. No, no; we will all go back to the sea-shore together. You shall see the deep blue ocean, and a vessel will come and carry you back home. Do you think that, even if you were killed, we would leave your body here? No; we would carry it with us, and tarry somewhere and bury you where nobody could find you, for we do not want the people to cut off your head for the alumba. Chally, Chally, you are not to die."
"Boys," I answered, in a laughing tone, in order to cheer them up, "I did not say I expected to die to-night, only that I might die. You know that Chally is not afraid of death, and many and many times he has told you that men could kill the body, but could not kill the spirit. Don't you know that Chally knows how to fight? We are men. If I have talked to you as I have, it is because I want to prepare you for the worst. Be of good cheer, and now let us get ready."
We got up and girded our loins for the fight, and swore, if necessary, to die like brave men. We examined our guns by the light of the candle, and refilled our flasks with powder, and replaced our cartridges and bullets. Ncommi-Nagoumba, our last dog, was looking at us. He seemed to understand the danger, and to say, "Don't kill me; I will not bark." I looked at him and said, "Ncommi-Nagoumba, don't bark. You have been our friend. You discovered many of our enemies behind the trees ready to spear us, and you have warned us of our danger. Our friends, the other dogs, have been killed; you alone now stand by us, but we are not ungrateful, and we shall not kill you, Ncommi-Nagoumba. Don't bark, don't bark," I said to the dog, looking earnestly at him.
Then, shouldering our bundles and guns, we struggled through the entangled thicket, tearing ourselves with thorns, into the path, and at last came to the village street. We here paused, and called to each other in a low tone of voice, to make sure that no one was left behind, for it was so intensely dark that we could not see a yard before us. It was necessary to guard against any possible ambush. We then stepped forward like desperate men, resolved to fight for our lives to the last, and, entering the village, took the middle of the street, our feet hardly touching the ground. Igala carried Ncommi-Nagoumba in his arms, for we were afraid that, if suffered to run loose, he might possibly bark. I shall never forget that night. We threaded the long street cautiously—with our guns cocked, and ready at the slightest warning to defend ourselves. Onward we went, our hearts beating loudly in our terrible suspense, for we feared a surprise at any moment. Now and then we could hear the people talking in their huts, and at such times we would carefully cross to the other side of the street. At one house we heard the people playing the wombi (native harp) indoors, and again we crossed lightly to the other side, and passed on without having alarmed the inmates. Then we came to an ouandja where three men were lying by the side of a fire stretched out on their mats, smoking their pipes, and talking aloud. I was afraid Ncommi-Nagoumba would bark at them, but we passed without being detected. It was no wonder that we were afraid of every body, for we were so weak and helpless. Thus we continued our march through that long street, and it seemed as if we should never reach the end of it.
At last we came to the farthest confine of the village, rejoicing that we had so successfully avoided creating an alarm, when all at once a bonfire blazed up before us! As we stood motionless, waiting for the next move, a kind voice spoke out from the darkness, "It is the Oguizi people. Go on; you will find the path smooth. There is no more war for you." It was the voice of the old king of Niembouai-Olomba. But, being not sure that some treachery was not intended, we passed on without saying a word in reply to the kind speech of the chief. As it proved, however, instead of a death-struggle we had found friends.
On we went in the darkness of the night, losing the path at times, and finding it again; in swamps and water-courses, over stony hills, and through thorny brakes. Finally, at three o'clock, we came to a field of cassava. Here we halted, made a fire, gathered some of the roots, and having roasted them, ate of them plentifully. This food, renewed our strength. We had been more than thirty-three hours without a particle of nourishment.
Then, after I had taken my meal, I thought it would be better to burn some of my clothes which were saturated with blood, so that the natives might not suspect that I had been wounded, for they all thought I was a spirit, and consequently invulnerable to the implements of war. So we lighted a large fire, and the blood-stained clothes were burned. After this I laid down to rest a little, but not before I had offered a silent thanksgiving to that gracious Providence who had so marvelously preserved my little band of followers and myself.
We rested for the remainder of the night on the hard ground, and at daylight continued our march, but mistook-the path and finally came to a plantation belonging to an old man, the next authority to the king of Niembouai-Olomba. By that time it was midday. He had heard of our fight a short time before. We were received kindly by the old man, and, after we had partaken of the food his people had cooked for us, my men gave him an account of our deadly encounter with the Ashangos.
Then the old man said, "What an Oguizi you have had with you! It is no wonder that none of you were killed, for I have heard by the messenger that brought the news that sometimes he would hide and change himself into an elephant, and charge the Ashangos, and throw fire from his trunk, and would then become a man again. At other times we hear that the Oguizi turned himself into to a leopard, and as the sharp-shooters came after you to he pounced upon them from the branches of the trees, and that when tired of being a leopard he would transform himself into a gorilla, and roar till the trees of the forest shook and toppled down upon your enemies. The Mouaou-Kombo and Mobana people sent us word that we must fight you, but their quarrels are not ours. We are your, friends."
But there was no time to be lost on the way, and after a little talk we bade good-by to our kind host, and once more directed our steps toward the setting sun.