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Chapter 12 – A Royal Burial

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

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The next day, May 29th, the city of Kazounde presented a strange
aspect. The natives, terrified, kept themselves shut up in their huts.
They had never seen a king, who said he was of divine essence, nor a
simple minister, die of this horrible death. They had already burned
some of their fellow-beings, and the oldest could not forget certain
culinary preparations relating to cannibalism.

They knew then how the incineration of a human body takes place with
difficulty, and behold their king and his minister had burnt all
alone! That seemed to them, and indeed ought to seem to them,
inexplicable.

Jose-Antonio Alvez kept still in his house. He might fear that he
would be held responsible for the accident. Negoro had informed him of
what had passed, warning him to take care of himself. To charge him
with Moini Loungga’s death might be a bad affair, from which he might
not be able to extricate himself without damage.

But Negoro had a good idea. By his means Alvez spread the report that
the death of Kazounde’s sovereign was supernatural; that the great
Manitou only reserved it for his elect. The natives, so inclined to
superstition, accepted this lie. The fire that came out of the bodies
of the king and his minister became a sacred fire. They had nothing to
do but honor Moini Loungga by obsequies worthy of a man elevated to
the rank of the gods.

These obsequies, with all the ceremonial connected with them among the
African tribes, was an occasion offered to Negoro to make Dick Sand
play a part. What this death of Moini Loungga was going to cost in
blood, would be believed with difficulty, if the Central Africa
travelers, Lieutenant Cameron among others, had not related facts that
cannot be doubted.

The King of Kazounde’s natural heir was the Queen Moini. In proceeding
without delay with the funeral ceremonies she acted with sovereign
authority, and could thus distance the competitors, among others
that King of the Oukonson, who tended to encroach upon the rights of
Kazounde’s sovereigns. Besides, Moini, even by becoming queen, avoided
the cruel fate reserved for the other wives of the deceased; at the
same time she would get rid of the youngest ones, of whom she, first
in date, had necessarily to complain. This result would particularly
suit the ferocious temperament of that vixen. So she had it announced,
with deer’s horns and other instruments, that the obsequies of the
defunct king would take place the next evening with all the usual
ceremony.

No protestation was made, neither at court nor from the natives. Alvez
and the other traders had nothing to fear from the accession of this
Queen Moini. With a few presents, a few flattering remarks, they would
easily subject her to their influence. Thus the royal heritage was
transmitted without difficulty. There was terror only in the harem,
and not without reason.

The preparatory labors for the funeral were commenced the same day. At
the end of the principal street of Kazounde flowed a deep and rapid
stream, an affluent of the Coango. The question was to turn this
stream aside, so as to leave its bed dry. It was in that bed that the
royal grave must be dug. After the burial the stream would be restored
to its natural channel.

The natives were busily employed in constructing a dam, that forced
the stream to make a provisional bed across the plain of Kazounde.
At the last tableau of this funeral ceremony the barricade would be
broken, and the torrent would take its old bed again.

Negoro intended Dick Sand to complete the number of victims sacrificed
on the king’s tomb. He had been a witness of the young novice’s
irresistible movement of anger, when Harris had acquainted him with
the death of Mrs. Weldon and little Jack.

Negoro, cowardly rascal, had not exposed himself to the same fate as
his accomplice. But now, before a prisoner firmly fastened by the feet
and hands, he supposed he had nothing to fear, and resolved to pay
him a visit. Negoro was one of those miserable wretches who are not
satisfied with torturing their victims; they must also enjoy their
sufferings.

Toward the middle of the day, then, he repaired to the barrack where
Dick Sand was guarded, in sight of an overseer. There, closely bound,
was lying the young novice, almost entirely deprived of food for
twenty-four hours, weakened by past misery, tortured by those bands
that entered into his flesh; hardly able to turn himself, he was
waiting for death, no matter how cruel it might be, as a limit to so
many evils.

However, at the sight of Negoro he shuddered from head to foot. He
made an instinctive effort to break the bands that prevented him from
throwing himself on that miserable man and having revenge.

But Hercules himself would not succeed in breaking them. He understood
that it was another kind of contest that was going to take place
between the two, and arming himself with calmness, Dick Sand compelled
himself to look Negoro right in the face, and decided not to honor him
with a reply, no matter what he might say.

"I believed it to be my duty," Negoro said to him it first, "to come
to salute my young captain for the last time, and to let him know how
I regret, for his sake, that he does not command here any longer, as
he commanded on board the ‘Pilgrim.’"

And, seeing that Dick Sand did not reply:

"What, captain, do you no longer recognize your old cook? He comes,
however, to take your orders, and to ask you what he ought to serve
for your breakfast."

At the same time Negoro brutally kicked the young novice, who was
lying on the ground.

"Besides," added he, "I should have another question to address to
you, my young captain. Could you yet explain to me, how, wishing to
land on the American coast, you have ended by arriving in Angola,
where you are?"

Certainly, Dick Sand had no more need of the Portuguese’s words to
understand what he had truly divined, when he knew at last that the
"Pilgrim’s" compass must have been made false by this traitor.
But Negoro’s question was an avowal. Still he only replied by a
contemptuous silence.

"You will acknowledge, captain," continued Kegoro, "that it was
fortunate for you that there was a seaman on board – a real one, at
that. Great God, where would we be without him? Instead of perishing
on some breaker, where the tempest would have thrown you, you have
arrived, thanks to him, in a friendly port, and if it is to any one
that you owe being at last in a safe place, it is to that seaman whom
you have wronged in despising, my young master!"

Speaking thus, Negoro, whose apparent calmness was only the result
of an immense effort, had brought his form near Dick Sand. His face,
suddenly become ferocious, touched him so closely that one would
believe that he was going to devour him. This rascal could no longer
contain his fury.

"Every dog has his day!" he exclaimed, in the paroxysm of fury excited
in him by his victim’s calmness. "To-day I am captain, I am master!
Your life is in my hands!"

"Take it," Sand replied, without emotion. "But, know there is in
heaven a God, avenger of all crimes, and your punishment is not
distant!"

"If God occupies himself with human beings, there is only time for Him
to take care of you!"

"I am ready to appear before the Supreme Judge," replied Dick Sand,
coldly, "and death will not make me afraid."

"We shall see about that!" howled Negoro. "You count on help of some
kind, perhaps – help at Kazounde, where Alvez and I are all-powerful!
You are a fool! You say to yourself, perhaps, that your companions are
still there, that old Tom and the others. Undeceive yourself. It is a
long time since they were sold and sent to Zanzibar – too fortunate if
they do not die of fatigue on the way!"

"God has a thousand ways of doing justice," replied Dick Sand. "The
smallest instrument is sufficient for him. Hercules is free."

"Hercules!" exclaimed Negoro, striking the ground with his foot; "he
perished long ago under the lions’ and panthers’ teeth. I regret
only one thing, that is, that those ferocious beasts should have
forestalled my vengeance!"

"If Hercules is dead," replied Dick Sand, "Dingo is alive. A dog like
that, Negoro, is more than enough to take revenge on a man of your
kind. I know you well, Negoro; you are not brave. Dingo will seek for
you; it will know how to find you again. Some day you will die under
his teeth!"

"Miserable boy!" exclaimed the Portuguese, exasperated. "Miserable
boy! Dingo died from a ball that I fired at it. It is dead, like Mrs.
Weldon and her son; dead, as all the survivors of the ‘Pilgrim’ shall
die!"

"And as you yourself shall die before long," replied Dick Sand, whose
tranquil look made the Portuguese grow pale.

Negoro, beside himself, was on the point of passing from words to
deeds, and strangling his unarmed prisoner with his hands. Already
he had sprung upon him, and was shaking him with fury, when a sudden
reflection stopped him. He remembered that he was going to kill his
victim, that all would be over, and that this would spare him the
twenty-four hours of torture he intended for him. He then stood up,
said a few words to the overseer, standing impassive, commanded him to
watch closely over the prisoner, and went out of the barrack.

Instead of casting him down, this scene had restored all Dick Sand’s
moral force. His physical energy underwent a happy reaction, and at
the same time regained the mastery. In bending over him in his rage,
had Negoro slightly loosened the bands that till then had rendered all
movement impossible? It was probable, for Dick Sand thought that his
members had more play than before the arrival of his executioner. The
young novice, feeling solaced, said to himself that perhaps it would
be possible to get his arms free without too much effort. Guarded
as he was, in a prison firmly shut, that would doubtless be only a
torture – only a suffering less; but it was such a moment in life when
the smallest good is invaluable.

Certainly, Dick Sand hoped for nothing. No human succor could come to
him except from outside, and whence could it come to him? He was then
resigned. To tell the truth, he no longer cared to live. He thought of
all those who had met death before him, and he only aspired to join
them. Negoro had just repeated what Harris had told him: "Mrs. Weldon
and little Jack had succumbed." It was, indeed, only too probable that
Hercules, exposed to so many dangers, must have perished also, and
from a cruel death. Tom and his companions were at a distance, forever
lost to him – Dick Sand ought to believe it. To hope for anything but
the end of his troubles, by a death that could not be more terrible
than his life, would be signal folly. He then prepared to die, above
all throwing himself upon God, and asking courage from Him to go on
to the end without giving way. But thoughts of God are good and noble
thoughts! It is not in vain that one lifts his soul to Him who can do
all, and, when Dick Sand had offered his whole sacrifice, he found
that, if one could penetrate to the bottom of his heart, he might
perhaps discover there a last ray of hope – that glimmer which a breath
from on high can change, in spite of all probabilities, into dazzling
light.

The hours passed away. Night came. The rays of light, that penetrated
through the thatch of the barrack, gradually disappeared. The last
noises of the "tchitoka," which, during that day had been very silent,
after the frightful uproar of the night before – those last noises
died out. Darkness became very profound in the interior of the narrow
prison. Soon all reposed in the city of Kazounde.

Dick Sand fell into a restoring sleep, that lasted two hours. After
that he awoke, still stronger. He succeeded in freeing one of his
arms from their bands – it was already a little reduced – and it was a
delight for him to be able to extend it and draw it back at will.

The night must be half over. The overseer slept with heavy sleep, due
to a bottle of brandy, the neck of which was still held in his shut
hand. The savage had emptied it to the last drop. Dick Sand’s first
idea was to take possession of his jailer’s weapons, which might be of
great use to him in case of escape; but at that moment he thought
he heard a slight scratching at the lower part of the door of the
barrack. Helping himself with his arms, he succeeded in crawling as
far as the door-sill without wakening the overseer.

Dick Sand was not mistaken. The scratching continued, and in a more
distinct manner. It seemed that from the outside some one was digging
the earth under the door. Was it an animal? Was it a man?

"Hercules! If it were Hercules!" the young novice said to himself.

His eyes were fixed on his guard; he was motionless, and under the
influence of a leaden sleep. Dick Sand, bringing his lips to the
door-sill, thought he might risk murmuring Hercules’s name. A moan,
like a low and plaintive bark, replied to him.

"It is not Hercules," said Dick to himself, "but it is Dingo. He has
scented me as far as this barrack. Should he bring me another word
from Hercules? But if Dingo is not dead, Negoro has lied, and
perhaps – "

At that moment a paw passed under the door. Dick Sand seized it, and
recognized Dingo’s paw. But, if it had a letter, that letter could
only be attached to its neck. What to do? Was it possible to make that
hole large enough for Dingo to put in its head? At all events, he must
try it.

But hardly had Dick Sand begun to dig the soil with his nails, than
barks that were not Dingo’s sounded over the place. The faithful
animal had just been scented by the native dogs, and doubtless could
do nothing more than take to flight. Some detonations burst forth. The
overseer half awoke. Dick Sand, no longer able to think of escaping,
because the alarm was given, must then roll himself up again in his
corner, and, after a lovely hope, he saw appear that day which would
be without a to-morrow for him.

During all that day the grave-diggers’ labors were pushed on with
briskness. A large number of natives took part, under the direction
of Queen Moini’s first minister. All must be ready at the hour named,
under penalty of mutilation, for the new sovereign promised to follow
the defunct king’s ways, point by point.

The waters of the brook having been turned aside, it was in the dry
bed that the vast ditch was dug, to a depth of ten feet, over an
extent of fifty feet long by ten wide.

Toward the end of the day they began to carpet it, at the bottom and
along the walls, with living women, chosen among Moini Loungga’s
slaves. Generally those unfortunates are buried alive. But, on account
of this strange and perhaps miraculous death of Moini Loungga, it
had been decided that they should be drowned near the body of their
master.

One cannot imagine what those horrible hecatombs are, when a powerful
chief’s memory must be fitly honored among these tribes of Central
Africa. Cameron says that more than a hundred victims were thus
sacrificed at the funeral ceremonies of the King of Kassongo’s father.

It is also the custom for the defunct king to be dressed in his most
costly clothes before being laid in his tomb. But this time, as there
was nothing left of the royal person except a few burnt bones, it was
necessary to proceed in another manner. A willow manikin was made,
representing Moini Loungga sufficiently well, perhaps advantageously,
and in it they shut up the remains the combustion had spared. The
manikin was then clothed with the royal vestments – we know that those
clothes are not worth much – and they did not forget to ornament it
with Cousin Benedict’s famous spectacles. There was something terribly
comic in this masquerade.

The ceremony would take place with torches and with great pomp. The
whole population of Kazounde, native or not, must assist at it.

When the evening had come, a long cortège descended the principal
street, from the tchitoka as far as the burial place. Cries,
funeral dances, magicians’ incantations, noises from instruments and
detonations from old muskets from the arsenals – nothing was lacking in
it.

Jose-Antonio Alvez, Coimbra, Negoro, the Arab traders and their
overseers had increased the ranks of Kazounde’s people. No one had yet
left the great lakoni. Queen Moini would not permit it, and it would
not be prudent to disobey the orders of one who was trying the trade
of sovereign.

The body of the king, laid in a palanquin, was carried in the last
ranks of the cortège. It was surrounded by his wives of the second
order, some of whom were going to accompany him beyond this life.
Queen Moini, in great state, marched behind what might be called the
catafalque. It was positively night when all the people arrived on
the banks of the brook; but the resin torches, shaken by the porters,
threw great bursts of light over the crowd.

The ditch was seen distinctly. It was carpeted with black, living
bodies, for they moved under the chains that bound them to the ground.
Fifty slaves were waiting there till the torrent should close over
them. The majority were young natives, some resigned and mute, others
giving a few groans. The wives all dressed as for a fête, and who
must perish, had been chosen by the queen.

One of these victims, she who bore the title of second wife, was bent
on her hands and knees, to serve as a royal footstool, as she had done
in the king’s lifetime. The third wife came to hold up the manikin,
while the fourth lay at its feet, in the guise of a cushion.

Before the manikin, at the end of the ditch, a post, painted red, rose
from the earth. To this post was fastened a white man, who was going
to be counted also among the victims of these bloody obsequies.

That white man was Dick Sand. His body, half naked, bore the marks of
the tortures he had already suffered by Negoro’s orders. Tied to this
post, he waited for death like a man who has no hope except in another
life.

However, the moment had not yet arrived when the barricade would be
broken.

On a signal from the queen, the fourth wife, she who was placed at the
king’s feet, was beheaded by Kazounde’s executioner, and her blood
flowed into the ditch. It was the beginning of a frightful scene of
butchery. Fifty slaves fell under the executioner’s knife. The bed of
the river ran waves of blood.

During half an hour the victims’ cries mingled with the assistants’
vociferations, and one would seek in vain in that crowd for a
sentiment of repugnance or of pity.

At last Queen Moini made a gesture, and the barricade that held back
the upper waters gradually opened. By a refinement of cruelty, the
current was allowed to filter down the river, instead of being
precipitated by an instantaneous bursting open of the dam. Slow death
instead of quick death!

The water first drowned the carpet of slaves which covered the bottom
of the ditch. Horrible leaps were made by those living creatures,
who struggled against asphyxia. They saw Dick Sand, submerged to the
knees, make a last effort to break his bonds. But the water mounted.
The last heads disappeared under the torrent, that took its course
again, and nothing indicated that at the bottom of this river was
dug a tomb, where one hundred victims had just perished in honor of
Kazounde’s king.

The pen would refuse to paint such pictures, if regard for the truth
did not impose the duty of describing them in their abominable
reality. Man is still there, in those sad countries. To be ignorant of
it is not allowable.

 

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