Gateway to the Classics: Wild Life Under the Equator by Paul du Chaillu
Wild Life Under the Equator by  Paul du Chaillu

Sick with Fever

Sick in a strange land.—Adventure with a snare.—How a squirrel was charmed.

I was in the forest, under a large tree, very ill. I had been sick with a fever for some weeks, and all the medicine I had taken seemed to do me no good. Little by little my strength gave way. The days and the nights seemed so long! I am sure that if you had seen me you would have pitied me. There I was in that great forest, which was full of wild men and still wilder beasts. How helpless, how sad, how lonely I felt!

The hand of death was close upon me. Looking at myself in the looking-glass, the sunken and pallid cheeks told how much I had suffered. My eyes grew dim, and I began to realize that soon my days were to be ended, and that I was to die in that desert place, far away from home and friends, and that the wild beasts of the woods would come and devour me.

My bed was made of leaves, my pillow was the branch of a tree. Instead of blankets I had two fires, but I was so burning hot the greater part of the time with fever that I cared not for these. Close to me lay my little Bible, on my small and now almost empty medicine chest, but I could only look at it, for I could not read any more; there were a few books also, and a few old newspapers from New York.

Over my bed was a covering of leaves to protect me from the rains.

At last I was too feeble to rise and quench my thirst in the little stream near where my camp was made, or to go there and bathe my burning head. So the kind women got water and bathed my head. I could not eat, for I had nothing. At times I thought that if I could only have a little piece of dry bread, how much I should relish it! I could bear the plantains and the wild berries and fruits no longer. There were days when I felt so lonely, so wretched, so poor, so helpless, that the tears rolled down my cheeks. The days of my boyhood came back before me, for they had been happy days. Then, instead of a piece of wood, I had a soft pillow to lay my head upon; then there were gentle hands that caressed me when I was sick. Where was that cosy little bed now? What a contrast! I thought of the friends of my youth—of little Lucy, of Julia, and Laura, and Jessie. What had become of beautiful little Lottie, with her fair hair, and of charming little Maggie, with her dark hair? What friends we had once been! Lottie had been like a sister to me. I wondered if they thought sometimes of me, or if some of them might have gone to heaven. What had become of them? I knew that, if they were by, they would take care of "little Paul," as they used to call me.

I remembered the ladies that were so kind to me when I had no mother to care for me; I knew that if I had any thing good and amiable in my nature they had taught it to me.

Where were all my playmates? How we would have laughed if any one had said that little Du Chaillu would one day go into unknown countries, where no white man had been before, and there spend the best days of his life, and be, as his fathers of old were, a chevalier errant.

I remembered my two tiny little black ponies which my father had given me, and how kind he had been to me, and I also remembered my good nurse Rosee. My heart was sore and heavy, and I could not help thinking of the happy days gone by; for I was but three-and-twenty, with the world still bright before me, when I was thus sick and lonely.

The stars peered through the dark foliage of the forest trees. How beautiful and bright they looked, reminding me of the heavens whither our spirits go! I thought of my mother, and where she might be, and wondered if she could see me as I lay alone in that dark forest under the big tree. I remember how I said, Oh, my mother, my heart is sore and weary, I want to come to thee!

Such were often my thoughts when lying so ill under the big tree. I knew not if I should see the morrow. So I prayed God to care for me.

One day, after feeling so sad, I went to sleep; when I awoke my Bakalai men had returned from the hunt and were watching over me, and I felt relieved. God had taken care of me. Days went by, and I regained slowly my strength; my men went out hunting and brought me game, the women of the country went out fishing and brought me fish, the people brought me food. None of them wanted their Ntangani to die. They were all kind to me in that far country where they might have killed and plundered me.

I shall always remember Quengueza. I do love old Quengueza; nor shall I ever forget old Anguilai, the Bakalai chief who, when I was so ill, gave the only goat he had for me to eat, to make me strong, he said. It was the goat that he had laid by for a wife.

Good Obindji was not behindhand in kindness, and I shall never forget friends Querlaouen and Malaouen, and I often hope that we may meet again. I wish they could know that I often think of them, and that I have a heart full of gratitude for all their kindness to me.

I began now to get stronger and stronger, and was soon able to go about with my gun. How glad I was to be again able to shoot gorillas, and make collections of curious animals and birds to bring with me to New York and show them to my friends and tell them how hard I had worked to collect them!

I shall never forget that, one day as I lay ill under that big tree, I spied an enormous snake folded among the branches of another tree not far off from me. My attention had been drawn to that tree by the cries of a squirrel. I wished some of my men had been with me to kill it, so that I might have something nice to eat, though I was not very hungry; but there was no man with me, only three women who were taking care of me. I was not strong enough to take my gun. I was so weak that I did not mind having the snake so close to me.

I will tell you what that squirrel and that snake were doing.

The snake was charming the poor little squirrel. How nice the squirrel was! how beautiful his little tail! how black and bright seemed his little eyes! His little feet were moving onward toward the snake; his little tail was up, and he chippered as he advanced toward certain death.


Charming the squirrel.

The snake was still as death, not one of his folds could have been seen moving. How black and shiny the ugly creature was, and what a contrast with the green leaves of the trees. Part of his body was coiled on a limb of the tree. How fixedly he looked at the squirrel! His head was triangular, and he belonged to that family of snakes that spend the greatest portion of their time on trees. This was of a very venomous kind. I wished I had been strong enough to take my gun and kill the serpent, and so save the life of the little squirrel.

Nearer and nearer the squirrel came; louder and louder were his chipperings; he tried to run away, but could not. At last he came within a foot of the snake. There was a pause; then suddenly, like a flash of lightning, the snake sprung: the poor little squirrel was in the folds of the ugly reptile, and soon I saw his body gradually disappearing into its inflated mouth, and the broken silence of the forest resumed its sway.

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