Chapter 17 – Drifting
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It was Hercules, not easily recognized in his magician’s attire, who
was speaking thus, and it was Dick Sand whom he was addressing – Dick
Sand, still feeble enough, to lean on Cousin Benedict, near whom Dingo
Mrs. Weldon, who had regained consciousness, could only pronounce
"You! Dick! You!"
The young novice rose, but already Mrs. Weldon was pressing him in her
arms, and Jack was lavishing caresses on him.
"My friend Dick! my friend Dick!" repeated the little boy. Then,
turning to Hercules: "And I," he added, "I did not know you!"
"Hey! what a disguise!" replied Hercules, rubbing his breast to efface
the variety of colors that striped it.
"You were too ugly!" said little Jack.
"Bless me! I was the devil, and the devil is not handsome."
"Hercules!" said Mrs. Weldon, holding out her hand to the brave black.
"He has delivered you," added Dick Sand, "as he has saved me, though
he will not allow it."
"Saved! saved! We are not saved yet!" replied Hercules. "And besides,
without Mr. Benedict, who came to tell us where you were, Mrs. Weldon,
we could not have done anything."
In fact, it was Hercules who, five days before, had jumped upon the
savant at the moment when, having been led two miles from the factory,
the latter was running in pursuit of his precious manticore. Without
this incident, neither Dick Sand nor the black would have known Mrs.
Weldon’s retreat, and Hercules would not have ventured to Kazounde in
a magician’s dress.
While the boat drifted with rapidity in this narrow part of the river,
Hercules related what had passed since his flight from the camp on
the Coanza; how, without being seen, he had followed the kitanda in
which Mrs. Weldon and her son were; how he had found Dingo wounded;
how the two had arrived in the neighborhood of Kazounde; how a note
from Hercules, carried by the dog, told Dick Sand what had become of
Mrs. Weldon; how, after the unexpected arrival of Cousin Benedict,
he had vainly tried to make his way into the factory, more carefully
guarded than ever; how, at last, he had found this opportunity of
snatching the prisoner from that horrible Jose-Antonio Alvez. Now,
this opportunity had offered itself that same day. A mgannga, or
magician, on his witchcraft circuit, that celebrated magician so
impatiently expected, was passing through the forest in which Hercules
roamed every night, watching, waiting, ready for anything.
To spring upon the magician, despoil him of his baggage, and of his
magician’s vestments, to fasten him to the foot of a tree with liane
knots that the Davenports themselves could not have untied, to paint
his body, taking the sorcerer’s for a model, and to act out his
character in charming and controlling the rains, had been the work
of several hours. Still, the incredible credulity of the natives was
necessary for his success.
During this recital, given rapidly by Hercules, nothing concerning
Dick Sand had been mentioned.
"And you, Dick!" asked Mrs. Weldon.
"I, Mrs. Weldon!" replied the young man. "I can tell you nothing. My
last thought was for you, for Jack! I tried in vain to break the cords
that fastened me to the stake. The water rose over my head. I lost
consciousness. When I came to myself, I was sheltered in a hole,
concealed by the papyrus of this bank, and Hercules was on his knees
beside me, lavishing his care upon me."
"Well! that is because I am a physician," replied Hercules; "a
diviner, a sorcerer, a magician, a fortuneteller!"
"Hercules," said Mrs. Weldon, "tell me, how did you save Dick Sand?"
"Did I do it, Mrs. Weldon?" replied Hercules; "Might not the current
have broken the stake to which our captain was tied, and in the middle
of the night, carried him half-dead on this beam, to the place where
I received him? Besides, in the darkness, there was no difficulty in
gliding among the victims that carpeted the ditch, waiting for the
bursting of the dam, diving under water, and, with a little strength,
pulling up our captain and the stake to which these scoundrels had
bound him! There was nothing very extraordinary in all that! The
first-comer could have done as much. Mr. Benedict himself, or even
Dingo! In fact, might it not have been Dingo?"
A yelping was heard; and Jack, taking hold of the dog’s large head,
gave him several little friendly taps.
"Dingo," he asked, "did you save our friend Dick?"
At the same time he turned the dog’s head from right to left.
"He says, no, Hercules!" said Jack. "You see that it was not he.
Dingo, did Hercules save our captain?"
The little boy forced Dingo’s good head to move up and down, five or
"He says, yes, Hercules! he says, yes!" cried little Jack. "You see
then that it was you!"
"Friend Dingo," replied Hercules, caressing the dog, "that is wrong.
You promised me not to betray me."
Yes, it was indeed Hercules, who had risked his life to save Dick
Sand. But he had done it, and his modesty would not allow him to
agree to the fact. Besides, he thought it a very simple thing, and he
repeated that any one of his companions would have done the same under
This led Mrs. Weldon to speak of old Tom, of his son, of Acteon and
Bat, his unfortunate companions.
They had started for the lake region. Hercules had seen them pass with
the caravan of slaves. He had followed them, but no opportunity to
communicate with them had presented itself. They were gone! they were
Hercules had been laughing heartily, but now he shed tears which he
did not try to restrain.
"Do not cry, my friend," Mrs. Weldon said to him. "God may be
merciful, and allow us to meet them again."
In a few words she informed Dick Sand of all that had happened during
her stay in Alvez’s factory.
"Perhaps," she added, "it would have been better to have remained at
"What a fool I was!" cried Hercules.
"No, Hercules, no!" said Dick Sand. "These wretches would have found
means to draw Mr. Weldon into some new trap. Let us flee together, and
without delay. We shall reach the coast before Negoro can return to
Mossamedes. There, the Portuguese authorities will give us aid and
protection; and when Alvez comes to take his one hundred thousand
dollars – "
"A hundred thousand blows on the old scoundrel’s skull!" cried
Hercules; "and I will undertake to keep the count."
However, here was a new complication, although it was very evident
that Mrs. Weldon would not dream of returning to Kazounde. The point
now was to anticipate Negoro. All Dick Sand’s projects must tend
toward that end.
Dick Sand was now putting in practise the plan which he had long
contemplated, of gaining the coast by utilizing the current of a
river or a stream. Now, the watercourse was there; its direction was
northward, and it was possible that it emptied into the Zaire. In that
case, instead of reaching St. Paul de Loanda, it would be at the mouth
of the great river that Mrs. Weldon and her companions would arrive.
This was not important, because help would not fail them in the
colonies of Lower Guinea.
Having decided to descend the current of this river, Dick Sand’s first
idea was to embark on one of the herbaceous rafts, a kind of floating
isle (of which Cameron has often spoken), which drifts in large
numbers on the surface of African rivers.
But Hercules, while roaming at night on the bank, had been fortunate
enough to find a drifting boat. Dick Sand could not hope for anything
better, and chance had served him kindly. In fact, it was not one of
those narrow boats which the natives generally use.
The perogue found by Hercules was one of those whose length exceeds
thirty feet, and the width four – and they are carried rapidly on the
waters of the great lakes by the aid of numerous paddles. Mrs. Weldon
and her companions could install themselves comfortably in it, and it
was sufficient to keep it in the stream by means of an oar to descend
the current of the river.
At first, Dick Sand, wishing to pass unseen, had formed a project
to travel only at night. But to drift twelve hours out of the
twenty-four, was to double the length of a journey which might be
quite long. Happily, Dick Sand had taken a fancy to cover the perogue
with a roof of long grasses, sustained on a rod, which projected fore
and aft. This, when on the water, concealed even the long oar. One
would have said that it was a pile of herbs which drifted down stream,
in the midst of floating islets. Such was the ingenious arrangement
of the thatch, that the birds were deceived, and, seeing there some
grains to pilfer, red-beaked gulls, "arrhinisgas" of black plumage,
and gray and white halcyons frequently came to rest upon it.
Besides, this green roof formed a shelter from the heat of the sun. A
voyage made under these conditions might then be accomplished almost
without fatigue, but not without danger.
In fact, the journey would be a long one, and it would be necessary
to procure food each day. Hence the risk of hunting on the banks if
fishing would not suffice, and Dick Sand had no firearms but the gun
carried off by Hercules after the attack on the ant-hill; but he
counted on every shot. Perhaps even by passing his gun through the
thatch of the boat he might fire with surety, like a butter through
the holes in his hut.
Meanwhile, the perogue drifted with the force of the current a
distance not less than two miles an hour, as near as Dick Sand could
He hoped to make, thus, fifty miles a day. But, on account of this
very rapidity of the current, continual care was necessary to avoid
obstacles – rocks, trunks of trees, and the high bottoms of the river.
Besides, it was to be feared that this current would change to rapids,
or to cataracts, a frequent occurrence on the rivers of Africa.
The joy of seeing Mrs. Weldon and her child had restored all Dick
Sand’s strength, and he had posted himself in the fore-part of the
boat. Across the long grasses, his glance observed the downward
course, and, either by voice or gesture, he indicated to Hercules,
whose vigorous hands held the oar, what was necessary so as to keep in
the right direction.
Mrs. Weldon reclined on a bed of dry leaves in the center of the boat,
and grew absorbed in her own thoughts. Cousin Benedict was taciturn,
frowning at the sight of Hercules, whom he had not forgiven for his
intervention in the affair of the manticore. He dreamed of his lost
collection, of his entomological notes, the value of which would
not be appreciated by the natives of Kazounde. So he sat, his limbs
stretched out, and his arms crossed on his breast, and at times he
instinctively made a gesture of raising to his forehead the glasses
which his nose did not support. As for little Jack, he understood
that he must not make a noise; but, as motion was not forbidden, he
imitated his friend Dingo, and ran on his hands and feet from one end
of the boat to the other.
During the first two days Mrs. Weldon and her companions used the food
that Hercules had been able to obtain before they started. Dick Sand
only stopped for a few hours in the night, so as to gain rest. But he
did not leave the boat, not wishing to do it except when obliged by
the necessity of renewing their provisions.
No incident marked the beginning of the voyage on this unknown river,
which measured, at least, more than a hundred and fifty feet in
width. Several islets drifted on the surface, and moved with the same
rapidity as the boat. So there was no danger of running upon them,
unless some obstacle stopped them.
The banks, besides, seemed to be deserted. Evidently these portions of
the territory of Kazounde were little frequented by the natives.
Numerous wild plants covered the banks, and relieved them with a
profusion of the most brilliant colors. Swallow-wort, iris, lilies,
clematis, balsams, umbrella-shaped flowers, aloes, tree-ferns, and
spicy shrubs formed a border of incomparable brilliancy. Several
forests came to bathe their borders in these rapid waters.
Copal-trees, acacias, "bauhinias" of iron-wood, the trunks covered
with a dross of lichens on the side exposed to the coldest winds,
fig-trees which rose above roots arranged in rows like mangroves, and
other trees of magnificent growth, overhung the river. Their high
tops, joining a hundred feet above, formed a bower which the solar
rays could not penetrate. Often, also, a bridge of lianes was thrown
from one bank to the other, and during the 27th little Jack, to his
intense admiration, saw a band of monkeys cross one of these vegetable
passes, holding each other’s tail, lest the bridge should break under
These monkeys are a kind of small chimpanzee, which in Central Africa
has received the name of "sokos." They have low foreheads, clear
yellow faces, and high-set ears, and are very ugly examples of the
simiesque race. They live in bands of a dozen, bark like dogs, and
are feared by the natives, whose children they often carry off to
scratch or bite.
In passing the liane bridge they never suspected that, beneath that
mass of herbs which the current bore onward, there was a little
boy who would have exactly served to amuse them. The preparations,
designed by Dick Sand, were very well conceived, because these
clear-sighted beasts were deceived by them.
Twenty miles farther on, that same day, the boat was suddenly stopped
in its progress.
"What is the matter?" asked Hercules, always posted at his oar.
"A barrier," replied Dick Sand; "but a natural barrier."
"It must be broken, Mr. Dick."
"Yes, Hercules, and with a hatchet. Several islets have drifted upon
it, and it is quite strong."
"To work, captain! to work!" replied Hercules, who came and stood in
the fore-part of the perogue.
This barricade was formed by the interlacing of a sticky plant with
glossy leaves, which twists as it is pressed together, and becomes
very resisting. They call it "tikatika," and it will allow people to
cross watercourses dry-shod, if they are not afraid to plunge twelve
inches into its green apron. Magnificent ramifications of the lotus
covered the surface of this barrier.
It was already dark. Hercules could, without imprudence, quit the
boat, and he managed his hatchet so skilfully that two hours afterward
the barrier had given way, the current turned up the broken pieces on
the banks, and the boat again took the channel.
Must it be confessed! That great child of a Cousin Benedict had hoped
for a moment that they would not be able to pass. Such a voyage seemed
to him unnecessary. He regretted Alvez’s factory and the hut that
contained his precious entomologist’s box. His chagrin was real, and
indeed it was pitiful to see the poor man. Not an insect; no, not one
What, then, was his joy when Hercules, "his pupil" after all, brought
him a horrible little beast which he had found on a sprig of the
tikatika. Singularly enough the brave black seemed a little confused
in presenting it to him.
But what exclamations Cousin Benedict uttered when he had brought this
insect, which he held between his index finger and his thumb, as near
as possible to his short-sighted eyes, which neither glasses nor
microscope could now assist.
"Hercules!" he cried, "Hercules! Ah! see what will gain your pardon!
Cousin Weldon! Dick! a hexapode, unique in its species, and of African
origin! This, at least, they will not dispute with me, and it shall
quit me only with my life!"
"It is, then, very precious?" asked Mrs. Weldon.
"Precious!" cried Cousin Benedict. "An insect which is neither a
coleopter, nor a neuropteran, nor a hymenopter; which does not belong
to any of the ten orders recognized by savants, and which they will be
rather tempted to rank in the second section of the arachnides. A
sort of spider, which would be a spider if it had eight legs, and is,
however, a hexapode, because it has but six. Ah! my friends, Heaven
owed me this joy; and at length I shall give my name to a scientific
discovery! That insect shall be the ‘Hexapodes Benedictus.’"
The enthusiastic savant was so happy – he forgot so many miseries past
and to come in riding his favorite hobby – that neither Mrs. Weldon nor
Dick Sand grudged him his felicitations.
All this time the perogue moved on the dark waters of the river. The
silence of night was only disturbed by the clattering scales of the
crocodiles, or the snorting of the hippopotami that sported on the
Then, through the sprigs of the thatch, the moon appeared behind the
tops of the trees, throwing its soft light to the interior of the
Suddenly, on the right bank, was heard a distant hubbub, then a dull
noise as if giant pumps were working in the dark.
It was several hundred elephants, that, satiated by the woody roots
which they had devoured during the day, came to quench their thirst
before the hour of repose. One would really have supposed that all
these trunks, lowered and raised by the same automatic movement, would
have drained the river dry.