By the Seashore
A great gorilla.—We see a ship.
A few days after killing the hippopotamus I took a solitary path in the woods, leading to one of the lagoons or creeks so common along this coast. Many of the trees growing in the woods belonged to a species of African teak. The soil being sandy, the forest was not dense. Here and there a cluster of palms, bearing the nut that furnishes the palm-oil, was seen. Liannes and creepers twined round some of the trees and hung gracefully down. The limbs and trunks of many trees were literally covered with orchidć, commonly called air plant. These when in bloom bear very beautiful flowers which shed a delicious fragrance.
In many places the pine-apple plants were very abundant and grew by thousands close together.
Now and then a little stream, meandering through the woods, found its way to the creek or to the sea.
Birds were scarce, very scarce, and the silence of the woods was only broken by the booming sound of the heavy surf, as each wave broke in foaming white billows before it reached the shore. The wind blew hard, as usual at that time of the year, and whispered strangely as it passed through the trees to the country behind.
Now and then I could see the foot-prints of gorillas that had wandered like myself through the woods, but these foot-prints were several days old. I came to a place where the pine-apple plants were abundant, and where the gorillas had evidently feasted on the leaves, for thousands of them had been plucked out and only the white part eaten. Here and there a young pine-apple had been partly eaten away by these hairy men of Hanno, one or two bites taken and the fruit then thrown aside.
I had to be very careful in walking for fear of making a noise, for the forest not being dense, gorillas could have seen me at a long distance. The tondo fruit was also abundant throughout the wood.
After I had followed the woods along the sea-shore for a while I suddenly came to a place where a large male gorilla had been: the foot-prints were of enormous size and he must have been a monstrous fellow.
This place was not further than three feet from the beach, and I could distinctly see by the foot-prints of the monster that it had been on all-fours and suddenly had raised itself to an erect posture; while the bending of a branch about eight or nine feet high, just above the marks, showed that the animal had supported himself by it. By the position of the heels I knew that the monster had been looking at the sea.
Yes, he had been looking, probably in great wonder, at the broad expanse of water before him: he had seen the waves as they came in white billows breaking themselves on the beach; as far as his deep-sunken gray eyes could reach they had seen nothing but the ocean: perhaps he had also been looking at the sun as it disappeared below the horizon.
I could but wonder what the thoughts of that great ape might have been!
"Yes," said I to myself; "this must be the country where Hanno the Carthaginian came." And for a while I thought of those men of old whose history we learn at school or college.
They have gone, but they have left their mark behind them, and will continue to be remembered for a long time. Then I put my feet inside of the foot-prints of the gorilla—how small they did look when compared with those of the huge creature!—and for a while I stood exactly on the same spot where he had stood. I do not know why, but I felt a kind of satisfaction in doing so; and like him I gazed at the sea, but, unlike him, I thought of the dear friends who lived on the other side, and I blessed them!
Then, looking carefully at my gun, I left the place and continued my ramble, when lo! in the far distance I spied a gorilla! The beast did not see me: it was a female, and must have been half a mile from the sea. I hid myself behind a tree in order to watch all her movements unseen. She was seated on the ground before a cluster of pine-apples, quietly eating one: she soon threw it away and plucked some of the leaves. How black the face was! She grinned now and then, probably from the joy the food gave her, when suddenly, to my utter astonishment, a little gorilla, about two feet and a half in height, came running to its mother, who gave a kind of chuckle that resembled very much the click of the Bushmen of Southern Africa.
I began to be terribly excited. I must kill the mother and try to capture the young one. How sorry I was to be alone. I wished my men had been with me.
Unfortunately there were many intervening trees, and she was about three hundred yards off. How could the bullet from my rifle reach her? I had just left my place of concealment when she perceived me. She uttered a piercing cry and disappeared, with her young one following her.
When I returned to the camp every body had gone except Kombé, who had been left in charge. On my way back I took the sea-shore, and saw on the beach for the first time the foot-prints made by the hippopotami, and I wondered what they came to do so near the sea. So I followed one and was surprised to see their heavy footsteps along the beach: they must certainly have come there to bathe, and this I had never seen before.
One fine morning, just at sunrise, I spied a sail coming from the south. How glad I was as I saw that sail coming nearer and nearer!
I knew that white men were on board!
The canoe which my men had fetched from Amimbri lay on the beach ready to be launched: the men were there with their paddles ready. Ratenou was in command and waiting for my orders.
What was to be done? I had left the flag at Washington! How sorry I felt!
A long pole which Kombé had cut was brought, and instead of the flag one of my white shirts was tied to its top by the sleeves, and then the pole was elevated, and soon the shirt floated in the shape of a flag.
The vessel came nearer and nearer the shore, and I could soon make out that it was a whaler: there was no mistake about it, for I could see the whale-boats.
With my spy-glass I looked and saw the white faces of the men.
The ship hoisted its flag, and the stars and stripes of the great Republic displayed themselves. A wild hurrah from me greeted their appearance, and my men gave three cheers.
The breakers were heavy, very heavy, but we must go on board; I must hear the news; I must see the face of a white man—I who had been so long away from civilization, from my kindred, and from the world.
"Boys, let us try!" I shouted with excitement; "let us go on board!"
All the voices of my men shouted, "Let us try!" and immediately the canoe came down the beach, five men on each side paddle in hand, Ratenou and I standing by the stern.
We were watching an opportunity when the angry billows should calm down and there should be a lull. The lull came, and almost as quick as lightning the canoe was in the sea and we were off. My men paddled as hard as they could in order to pass the surf before the heavy rollers should break again.
But lo! when we were about midway, the face of Ratenou changed color, for from far away came one of those heavy swells that, as be knew, would gradually change itself into a heavy roller as it neared the shore, and in breaking dash to pieces all that came in contact with it. If that roller broke before it reached us, however, all would be right.
It came on, rising and rising, when suddenly Ratenou said—"Commi, you are men! Let us take care of our white man!"
Then the paddles stood still; the roller crested and broke right upon our canoe, upsetting it with fearful force, and whirling us round and round. I was stunned by the force of the waves; breaker after breaker came dashing upon us, one after the other, but the faithful Commi men were there, shouting one to another—"Let us take care of our white man!" Ratenou, Kombé and Oshimbo were swimming under me; I was surrounded by them all; good, noble fellows they were. At last we reached the shore. I looked round. Every man was there; no one had been drowned; no one had had his head smashed by the upsetting of the canoe. With a grateful heart I thanked God for his goodness to us all. The tide was coming up, and our canoe and paddles were soon thrown on the beach by the force of the waves and the current.
I looked at that vessel, and how sorry when I was gradually its white sails became dimmer and dimmer in the distance. At last it disappeared, and with a heavy sigh I made for the camp.
If you had been in a strange land amid savages, I am sure you would have felt as I did then.