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Chapter 8 – Some Of Dick Sand’s Notes

Jules VerneNov 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Though the storm of the day before had ceased, the weather was still
very unsettled. It was, besides, the period of the "masika," the
second period of the rainy season, under this zone of the African
heaven. The nights in particular would be rainy during one, two, or
three weeks, which could only increase the misery of the caravan.

It set out that day in cloudy weather, and, after quitting the banks
of the Coanza, made its way almost directly to the east. Fifty
soldiers marched at the head, a hundred on each of the two sides of
the convoy, the rest as a rear-guard. It would be difficult for the
prisoners to flee, even if they had not been chained. Women, children,
and men were going pell-mell, and the overseers urged them on with the
whip. There were unfortunate mothers who, nursing one child, held a
second by the hand that was free. Others dragged these little beings
along, without clothing, without shoes, on the sharp grasses of the
soil.

The chief of the caravan, that ferocious Ibn Hamis, who had interfered
in the struggle between Dick Sand and his overseer, watched this whole
troop, going backwards and forwards from the head to the foot of the
long column. If his agents and he troubled themselves but little about
the sufferings of their captives, they must reckon more seriously
either with the soldiers who claimed some additional rations, or with
the "pagazis" who wanted to halt. Thence discussions; often even an
exchange of brutality. The slaves suffered more from the overseers’
constant irritation. Nothing was heard but threats from one side, and
cries of grief from the other. Those who marched in the last ranks
treaded a soil that the first had stained with their blood.

Dick Sand’s companions, always carefully kept in front of the convoy,
could have no communication with him. They advanced in file, the neck
held in the heavy fork, which did not permit a single head-movement.
The whips did not spare them any more than their sad companions in
misfortune.

Bat, coupled with his father, marched before him, taxing his ingenuity
not to shake the fork, choosing the best places to step on, because
old Tom must pass after him. From time to time, when the overseer was
a little behind, he uttered various words of encouragement, some of
which reached Tom. He even tried to retard his march, if he felt that
Tom was getting tired. It was suffering, for this good son to be
unable to turn his head towards his good father, whom he loved.
Doubtless, Tom had the satisfaction of seeing his son; however, he
paid dear for it. How many times great tears flowed from his eyes when
the overseer’s whip fell upon Bat! It was a worse punishment than if
it had fallen on his own flesh.

Austin and Acteon marched a few steps behind, tied to each other, and
brutally treated every moment. Ah, how they envied Hercules’s fate!
Whatever were the dangers that threatened the latter in that savage
country, he could at least use his strength and defend his life.

During the first moments of their captivity, old Tom had finally made
known the whole truth to his companions. They had learned from him, to
their profound astonishment, that they were in Africa; that Negoro’s
and Harris’s double treachery had first thrown them there, and then
led them away, and that no pity was to be expected from their masters.

Nan was not better treated. She made part of a group of women who
occupied the middle of the convoy. They had chained her with a young
mother of two children, one at the breast, the other aged three years,
who walked with difficulty. Nan, moved with pity, had burdened herself
with the little creature, and the poor slave had thanked her by a
tear. Nan then carried the infant, at the same time, sparing her the
fatigue, to which she would have yielded, and the blows the overseer
would have given her. But it was a heavy burden for old Nan. She felt
that her strength would soon fail her, and then she thought of little
Jack. She pictured him to herself in his mother’s arms. Sickness had
wasted him very much, but he must be still heavy for Mrs. Weldon’s
weakened arms. Where was she? What would become of her? Would her old
servant ever see her again?

Dick Sand had been placed almost in the rear of the convoy. He could
neither perceive Tom, nor his companions, nor Nan. The head of the
long caravan was only visible to him when it was crossing some plain.
He walked, a prey, to the saddest thoughts, from which the agents’
cries hardly drew his attention. He neither thought of himself, nor
the fatigues he must still support, nor of the tortures probably
reserved for him by Negoro. He only thought of Mrs. Weldon. In rain
he sought on the ground, on the brambles by the paths, on the lower
branches of the trees, to find some trace of her passage. She could
not have taken another road, if, as everything indicated, they
were leading her to Kazounde. What would he not give to find some
indication of her march to the destination where they themselves were
being led!

Such was the situation of the young novice and his companions in body
and mind. But whatever they might have to fear for themselves, great
as was their own sufferings, pity took possession of them on seeing
the frightful misery of that sad troop of captives, and the revolting
brutality of their masters. Alas! they could do nothing to succor the
afflicted, nothing to resist the others.

All the country situated east of the Coanza was only a forest for over
an extent of twenty miles. The trees, however, whether they perish
under the biting of the numerous insects of these countries, or
whether troops of elephants beat them down while they are still young,
are less crowded here than in the country next to the seacoast. The
march, then, under the trees, would not present obstacles. The shrubs
might be more troublesome than the trees. There was, in fact, an
abundance of those cotton-trees, seven to eight feet high, the cotton
of which serves to manufacture the black and white striped stuffs used
in the interior of the province.

In certain places, the soil transformed itself into thick jungles, in
which the convoy disappeared. Of all the animals of the country,
the elephants and giraffes alone were taller than those reeds which
resemble bamboos, those herbs, the stalks of which measure an inch in
diameter. The agents must know the country marvelously well, not to be
lost in these jungles.

Each day the caravan set out at daybreak, and only halted at midday
for an hour. Some packs containing tapioca were then opened, and this
food was parsimoniously distributed to the slaves. To this potatoes
were added, or goat’s meat and veal, when the soldiers had pillaged
some village in passing. But the fatigue had been such, the repose so
insufficient, so impossible even during these rainy nights, that when
the hour for the distribution of food arrived the prisoners could
hardly eat. So, eight days after the departure from the Coanza, twenty
had fallen by the way, at the mercy of the beasts that prowled behind
the convoy. Lions, panthers and leopards waited for the victims which
could not fail them, and each evening after sunset their roaring
sounded at such a short distance that one might fear a direct attack.

On hearing those roars, rendered more formidable by the darkness,
Dick Sand thought with terror of the obstacles such encounters would
present against Hercules’s enterprise, of the perils that menaced each
of his steps. And meanwhile if he himself should find an opportunity
to flee, he would not hesitate.

Here are some notes taken by Dick Sand during this journey from the
Coanza to Kazounde. Twenty-five "marches" were employed to make this
distance of two hundred and fifty miles, the "march" in the traders’
language being ten miles, halting by day and night.

From 25th to 27th April. – Saw a village surrounded by walls of
reeds, eight or nine feet high. Fields cultivated with maize, beans,
"sorghas" and various arachides. Two blacks seized and made prisoners.
Fifteen killed. Population fled.

The next day crossed an impetuous river, one hundred and fifty yards
wide. Floating bridge, formed of trunks of trees, fastened with
lianes. Piles half broken. Two women, tied to the same fork,
precipitated into the water. One was carrying her little child. The
waters are disturbed and become stained with blood. Crocodiles glide
between the parts of the bridge. There is danger of stepping into
their open mouths.

April 28th. – Crossed a forest of bauhiniers. Trees of straight
timber – those which furnish the iron wood for the Portuguese.

Heavy rain. Earth wet. March extremely painful.

Perceived, toward the center of the convoy, poor Nan, carrying
a little negro child in her arms. She drags herself along with
difficulty. The slave chained with her limps, and the blood flows from
her shoulder, torn by lashes from the whip.

In the evening camped under an enormous baobab with white flowers and
a light green foliage.

During the night roars of lions and leopards. Shots fired by one of
the natives at a panther. What has become of Hercules?

April 29th and 30th. – First colds of what they call the African
winter. Dew very abundant. End of the rainy season with the month of
April; it commences with the month of November. Plains still largely
inundated. East winds which check perspiration and renders one more
liable to take the marsh fevers.

No trace of Mrs. Weldon, nor of Mr. Benedict. Where would they take
them, if not to Kazounde? They must have followed the road of the
caravan and preceded us. I am eaten up with anxiety. Little Jack must
be seized again with the fever in this unhealthy region. But does he
still live?

From May 1st to May 6th. – Crossed, with several halting-places,
long plains, which evaporation has not been able to dry up. Water
everywhere up to the waist. Myriads of leeches adhering to the skin.
We must march for all that. On some elevations that emerge are lotus
and papyrus. At the bottom, under the water, other plants, with large
cabbage leaves, on which the feet slip, which occasions numerous
falls.

In these waters, considerable quantities of little fish of the silurus
species. The natives catch them by billions in wickers and sell them
to the caravans.

Impossible to find a place to camp for the night. We see no limit to
the inundated plain. We must march in the dark. To-morrow many slaves
will be missing from the convoy. What misery! When one falls, why get
up again? A few moments more under these waters, and all would be
finished. The overseer’s stick would not reach you in the darkness.

Yes, but Mrs. Weldon and her son! I have not the right to abandon
them. I shall resist to the end. It is my duty.

Dreadful cries are heard in the night. Twenty soldiers have torn some
branches from resinous trees whose branches were above water. Livid
lights in the darkness.

This is the cause of the cries I heard. An attack of crocodiles;
twelve or fifteen of those monsters have thrown themselves in the
darkness on the flank of the caravan.

Women and children have been seized and carried away by the crocodiles
to their "pasture lands" – so Livingstone calls those deep holes where
this amphibious animal deposits its prey, after having drowned it, for
it only eats it when it has reached a certain degree of decomposition.

I have been rudely grazed by the scales of one of these crocodiles. An
adult slave has been seized near me and torn from the fork that held
him by the neck. The fork was broken. What a cry of despair! What a
howl of grief! I hear it still!

May 7th and 8th. – The next day they count the victims. Twenty slaves
have disappeared.

At daybreak I look for Tom and his companions. God be praised! they
are living. Alas! ought I to praise God? Is one not happier to be done
with all this misery!

Tom is at the head of the convoy. At a moment when his son Bat made a
turn, the fork was presented obliquely, and Tom was able to see me.

I search in vain for old Nan. Is she in the central group? or has she
perished during that frightful night?

The next day, passed the limit of the inundated plain, after
twenty-four hours in the water. We halt on a hill. The sun dries us
a little. We eat, but what miserable food! A little tapioca, a few
handfuls of maize. Nothing but the troubled water to drink. Prisoners
extended on the ground – how many will not get up!

No! it is not possible that Mrs. Weldon and her son have passed
through so much misery! God would be so gracious to them as to have
them led to Kazounde by another road. The unhappy mother could not
resist.

New case of small-pox in the caravan; the "ndoue," as they say. The
sick could not be able to go far. Will they abandon them?

May 9th. – They have begun the march again at sunrise. No laggards.
The overseer’s whip has quickly raised those overcome by fatigue or
sickness. Those slaves have a value; they are money. The agents will
not leave them behind while they have strength enough to march.

I am surrounded by living skeletons. They have no longer voice enough
to complain. I have seen old Nan at last. She is a sad sight. The
child she was carrying is no longer in her arms. She is alone, too.
That will be less painful for her; but the chain is still around her
waist, and she has been obliged to throw the end over her shoulder.

By hastening, I have been able to draw near her. One would say that
she did not recognize me. Am I, then, changed to that extent?

"Nan," I said.

The old servant looked at me a long time, and then she exclaimed:

"You, Mr. Dick! I – I – before long I shall be dead!"

"No, no! Courage!" I replied, while my eyes fell so as not to see what
was only the unfortunate woman’s bloodless specter.

"Dead!" she continued; "and I shall not see my dear mistress again,
nor my little Jack. My God! my God! have pity on me!"

I wished to support old Nan, whose whole body trembled under her torn
clothing. It would have been a mercy to see myself tied to her, and
to carry my part of that chain, whose whole weight she bore since her
companion’s death.

A strong arm pushes me back, and the unhappy Nan is thrown back into
the crowd of slaves, lashed by the whips. I wished to throw myself on
that brutal – – The Arab chief appears, seizes my arm, and holds me
till I find myself again in the caravan’s last rank.

Then, in his turn, he pronounces the name, "Negoro!"

Negoro! It is then by the Portuguese’s orders that he acts and treats
me differently from my companions in misfortune?

For what fate am I reserved?

May 10th. – To-day passed near two villages in flames. The stubble
burns on all sides. Dead bodies are hung from the trees the fire has
spared. Population fled.

Fields devastated. The razzie is exercised there. Two hundred
murders, perhaps, to obtain a dozen slaves.

Evening has arrived. Halt for the night. Camp made under great trees.
High shrubs forming a thicket on the border of the forest.

Some prisoners fled the night before, after breaking their forks.
They have been retaken, and treated with unprecedented cruelty. The
soldiers’ and overseers’ watchfulness is redoubled.

Night has come. Roaring of lions and hyenas, distant snorting of
hippopotami. Doubtless some lake or watercourse near.

In spite of my fatigue, I cannot sleep. I think of so many things.

Then, it seems to me that I hear prowling in the high grass. Some
animal, perhaps. Would it dare force an entrance into the camp?

I listen. Nothing! Yes! An animal is passing through the reeds. I am
unarmed! I shall defend myself, nevertheless. My life may be useful to
Mrs. Weldon, to my companions.

I look through the profound darkness. There is no moon. The night is
extremely dark.

Two eyes shine in the darkness, among the papyrus – two eyes of a hyena
or a leopard. They disappear – reappear.

At last there is a rustling of the bushes. An animal springs upon me!

I am going to cry out, to give the alarm. Fortunately, I was able to
restrain myself. I cannot believe my eyes! It is Dingo! Dingo, who is
near me! Brave Dingo! How is it restored to me? How has it been able
to find me again? Ah! instinct! Would instinct be sufficient to
explain such miracles of fidelity? It licks my hands. Ah! good dog,
now my only friend, they have not killed you, then!

It understands me.

I return its caresses.

It wants to bark.

I calm it. It must not be heard.

Let it follow the caravan in this way, without being seen, and
perhaps – – But what! It rubs its neck obstinately against my hands. It
seems to say to me: "Look for something." I look, and I feel something
there, fastened to its neck. A piece of reed is slipped under the
collar, on which are graven those two letters, S.V., the mystery of
which is still inexplicable to us.

Yes. I have unfastened the reed. I have broken it! There is a
letter inside. But this letter – I cannot read it. I must wait for
daylight! – daylight! I should like to keep Dingo; but the good
animal, even while licking my hands, seems in a hurry to leave me. It
understands that its mission is finished. With one bound aside, it
disappears among the bushes without noise. May God spare it from the
lions’ and hyenas’ teeth!

Dingo has certainly returned to him who sent it to me.

This letter, that I cannot yet read, burns my hands! Who has written
it? Would it come from Mrs. Weldon? Does it come from Hercules? How
has the faithful animal, that we believed dead, met either the one
or the other? What is this letter going to tell me? Is it a plan of
escape that it brings me? Or does it only give me news of those dear
to me? Whatever it may be, this incident has greatly moved me, and has
relaxed my misery.

Ah! the day comes so slowly. I watch for the least light on the
horizon. I cannot close my eyes. I still hear the roaring of the
animals. My poor Dingo, can you escape them? At last day is going to
appear, and almost without dawn, under these tropical latitudes.

I settle myself so as not to be seen. I try to read – I cannot yet. At
last I have read. The letter is from Hercules’s hand. It is written on
a bit of paper, in pencil. Here is what it says:

"Mrs. Weldon was taken away with little Jack in a kitanda.

Harris and Negoro accompany it. They precede the caravan by three

or four marches, with Cousin Benedict. I have not been able to

communicate with her. I have found Dingo, who must have been

wounded by a shot, but cured. Good hope, Mr. Dick. I only think of

you all, and I fled to be more useful to you. HERCULES."

Ah! Mrs. Weldon and her son are living. God be praised! They have not
to suffer the fatigues of these rude halting-places. A kitanda – it
is a kind of litter of dry grass, suspended to a long bamboo, that two
men carry on the shoulder. A stuff curtain covers it over. Mrs. Weldon
and her little Jack are in that kitanda. What does Harris and Negoro
want to do with them? Those wretches are evidently going to Kazounde.
Yes, yes, I shall find them again. Ah! in all this misery it is good
news, it is joy that Dingo has brought me!

From May 11th to 15th. – The caravan continues its march. The
prisoners drag themselves along more and more painfully. The majority
have marks of blood under their feet. I calculate that it will take
ten days more to reach Kazounde. How many will have ceased to suffer
before then? But I – I must arrive there, I shall arrive there.

It is atrocious! There are, in the convoy, unfortunate ones whose
bodies are only wounds. The cords that bind them enter into the flesh.

Since yesterday a mother carries in her arms her little infant, dead
from hunger. She will not separate from it.

Our route is strewn with dead bodies. The smallpox rages with new
violence.

We have just passed near a tree. To this tree slaves were attached by
the neck. They were left there to die of hunger.

From May 16th to 24th. – I am almost exhausted, but I have no right
to give up. The rains have entirely ceased. We have days of "hard
marching." That is what the traders call the "tirikesa," or afternoon
march. We must go faster, and the ground rises in rather steep
ascents.

We pass through high shrubs of a very tough kind. They are the
"nyassi," the branches of which tear the skin off my face, whose sharp
seeds penetrate to my skin, under my dilapidated clothes. My strong
boots have fortunately kept good.

The agents have commenced to abandon the slaves too sick to keep up.
Besides, food threatens to fail; soldiers and pagazis would revolt
if their rations were diminished. They dare not retrench from them,
and then so much worse for the captives.

"Let them eat one another!" said the chief.

Then it follows that young slaves, still strong, die without the
appearance of sickness. I remember what Dr. Livingstone has said on
that subject: "Those unfortunates complain of the heart; they put
their hands there, and they fall. It is positively the heart
that breaks! That is peculiar to free men, reduced to slavery
unexpectedly!"

To-day, twenty captives who could no longer drag themselves along,
have been massacred with axes, by the havildars! The Arab chief is
not opposed to massacre. The scene has been frightful!

Poor old Nan has fallen under the knife, in this horrible butchery!
I strike against her corpse in passing! I cannot even give her a
Christian burial! She is first of the "Pilgrim’s" survivors whom God
has called back to him. Poor good creature! Poor Nan!

I watch for Dingo every night. It returns no more! Has misfortune
overtaken it or Hercules? No! no! I do not want to believe it! This
silence, which appears so long to me, only proves one thing – it is
that Hercules has nothing new to tell me yet. Besides, he must be
prudent, and on his guard.

 

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