Death Of Querlaouen
Departure from Goumbi.—Querlaouen's village.—Find it deserted.—Querlaouen dead.—He has been killed by an elephant.—Arrive at Obindji's town.—Meeting with Querlaouen's widow.—Neither Malaouen nor Gambo at home.
After a few days thus spent in Goumbi, we had to get ready to be off.
Adouma made the preparations for our journey; canoes were lying on the banks of the river, waiting to carry the people Quengueza had ordered to go with me. These were, for the most part, the king's slaves. Plantains and cassava had been gathered for our journey. We were to ascend the river as far as Obindji.
One fine morning we started, several very large canoes being filled with men who were to escort me.
Adouma was in my canoe, holding a large paddle as a rudder. We were in a canoe which was chiefly loaded with my outfit and presents.
We left Goumbi silently, for the death of Mpomo made singing out of order. The people were in mourning.
Some of the men who were to accompany me had most curious names, such as Gooloo-Gani, Biembia, Agambie-Mo, Jombai, Monda, Akondogo.
The day became exceedingly hot and sultry, and toward evening we were overtaken by a terrible storm of wind and rain—a real tornado burst upon us.
The next morning we were on our way for the upper river.
I was glad I was about to see my old friend Querlaouen once more. I was also to see my other friends, Malaouen and Gambo.
I had nice presents for Querlaouen, and pretty beads for his wife and children. Among the presents for Querlaouen was a handsome gun and a keg of powder for shooting elephants, leopards, gorilla, and all sorts of wild game.
As we ascended the river I recognized the point on the other side of which was Querlaouen's plantation. I ordered the men to sing, in order that Querlaouen might thus hear of our arrival. The nearer we came to the point the louder became the beatings of my heart. To see old Querlaouen, with whom I had had so many pleasant days; who had bravely shared all kinds of danger with me, including hunger and starvation; with whom I had slain gorilla—I was in a hurry to give to him and his wife their presents. To see such a friend was indeed to have a great treat.
Our canoes soon passed the point. I was looking eagerly, watching for somebody on the river bank. No one! Perhaps our songs had not pierced through the woods. The wind was coming from an opposite direction.
"Sing louder," I exclaimed, for I fancied they did not sing loud enough. They looked at me as if they would have said, "What's the matter with Chally, he looks so excited?" Little did they know my feelings, and how my heart beat for Querlaouen.
They sang louder, till I could hear the echo of their voices among the hills that surrounded us. I looked, but no one was on the shore. Querlaouen might have gone hunting, but surely his wife, or brother, or some of his children must be there. All was silent.
I shouted with all my power, "Querlaouen, your friend Chally has come! your friend Chally has come!" but the hills sent back the echo of my voice to me. I fired a gun, and the echo resounded from hill to hill, and no one came. I began to feel oppressed. A presentiment flashed over my mind. Was Querlaouen dead?
At last I landed on the very shore where Querlaouen lived. Again I shouted, "Querlaouen, where are you?" I called his wife. The silence of death was there.
I advanced, but lo! when I reached the village, it was deserted. Not a soul was seen. The jungle was the thickest where his little clearing had been. The houses had tumbled down. Desolation was before me. The grass had grown to a man's height in the little street.
What a pang of sorrow shot through my heart! I could not help it. I shouted, "Querlaouen! my friend Querlaouen, what has become of you? You are not dead, are you?" and I looked with profound sadness on the scene around. Days that had passed came to my memory.
I retraced my steps, disappointed, and with a foreboding heart. On the river bank, just as I was on the point of stepping into the canoe, a Bakalai came out from the jungle. He had recognized me, and came to meet me.
As soon as I saw him, I cried out, "Where is friend Querlaouen?" His answer seemed so long in coming—"Dead!"
"Dead!" I exclaimed; "Querlaouen dead!" and, I could not help it, two tears rolled down my cheeks.
"Querlaouen dead!" I repeated again. The recollection of that good and noble savage flashed upon me as fast as thought can flash, and once more and in a low voice I said, "Dead! Querlaouen dead!"
When I became composed again, I asked, "How did he die?"
"One day," said the Bakalai man, "a few moons ago—it was in the dry season—Querlaouen took his gun and a slave along with him, and went out into the woods to hunt after an elephant which had the day before destroyed a whole plantation of plantain-trees, and had trampled down almost a whole patch of sugar-cane. His slave, who accompanied him, but had left him for a few minutes to look at one of the plantations close by, heard the report of Querlaouen's gun. He waited for his return, but Querlaouen did not come back. He waited so long that he began to feel anxious, and at last set out to seek him. He found him in the forest dead, and trampled into a shapeless mass by the beast, which he had wounded mortally, but which had strength enough to rush at and kill its enemy. Not far from Querlaouen lay the elephant, dead."
How poor Querlaouen, who was so prudent a hunter, could have been caught by the elephant, I could not learn.
The man said it was an aniemba (witchcraft) that had killed Querlaouen; that Querlaouen's brother had bewitched him, and caused, by witchcraft, the elephant to trample upon him.
The brother was killed by the mboundou which the people made him drink; for they said his brother made him go hunt that day, when he knew the elephant would kill him.
That family, who really loved each other, and lived in peace and unity, was then divided asunder. The brother being killed, the women and children had gone to live with those to whom they belonged by the law of inheritance, and were thus scattered in several villages.
With a heavy heart I entered my canoe, but not before giving a bunch of beads to the Bakalai who had told me the story of the untimely death of poor Querlaouen.
We ascended the river silently, I thinking of the frailty of human life, and that perhaps a day might come when some elephant would trample upon me, or some ferocious leopard carry me away in his jaws, or some gorilla would, with one blow of his powerful hand, cut my body in two. Perhaps fever might kill me. I might encounter an unfriendly tribe and be murdered.
I raised a silent prayer to the Great Ruler of the universe to protect me, and said, "God, thou knowest that I am guided only by the love of discovering the wonders of thy creation, so that I may tell to my fellow-creatures all that I have seen. I am but a worm; there is no strength in me. What am I in this great forest?" Oh how helpless I felt. The news of Querlaouen's death had very much depressed my spirits, casting a heavy gloom over me.
To this day I love to think of friend Querlaouen, of his family, and of his children, and of the great hunts we have had together.
We finally approached Obindji's town, and soon were landed on the shore, where his little village was built with the bark of trees.
I need not say what a welcome we received. But lo! what do I see? Querlaouen's wife! She had come here on a visit. As is customary in that country for friends who have not seen each other for a long time, we embraced.
The good woman was so glad to see me. She still wore the marks of her widowhood. Her hair was shorn, she wore no ornament whatever, and did not even wash.
She spent the evening with me, telling me all her troubles, and that, as soon as her season of widowhood was finished, she was to become the wife of Querlaouen's youngest brother. "But," added she, "I will never love any one as I loved Querlaouen." She was to live in the mountains of the Ashankolo.
This was probably the last time I was to see the wife of my good friend Querlaouen, the Bakalai hunter, and all the friendship I ever had for her husband was now hers; so I went quietly to one of my chests, and, taking a necklace of large beads, fixed it round her neck; then put my hand on the top of her head, and gave her a bonqo (a law), which was, that she must never part with these beads, and that, as years would roll by, she must say, "These beads came from Chally, Querlaouen's friend."
The old woman was so much touched that she trembled, and tears stood in her eyes.
After keeping the necklace for two or three minutes round her neck, she took it off, for a woman in mourning can not wear any ornaments. She said she would keep the beads till she died, and then they should be buried with her. I gave her some other presents; which she hid, "for," said she, "if the people knew I had such nice things, they might bewitch me in order to obtain them. Chally, the country is full of aniemba." These last words she uttered in a very low voice.
Obindji told me that he had heard Malaouen had gone on some trading expedition. I had, therefore, only to regret not being able to see him or Gambo, who had returned to his own country.
I missed them dreadfully, and I left word with Obindji to tell them to come to the Ashira country after me.
I could not possibly remain, and all the entreaties of friend Obindji could not make me stay. I must go to the Ashira country.
In the mean time, a new comer is to be one of the chiefs of the party. Okendjo, an Ashira man, with Adouma, is going to lead us. Adouma received very positive orders from the king to follow me to the Ashira country. Wherever I go, he must not return without me.
With Bakalai and Goumbi people, amounting to thirty-two men all told, I left the morning after my arrival for the Ashira land.
Okendjo was in his glory; he had conceived the brilliant idea of taking the first moguizi into his country.