Across the Cameroons: A Story of War and Adventure
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The situation of Harry Urquhart and his companions was not of the pleasantest; indeed, they could no longer hope. Even Fernando, who had so often proved himself a man of iron, could see no chance of their deliverance.
As a great storm drives up upon the wind, so this tragedy drew to a close. Every round of ammunition-fired in self-defence-every mouthful of food that was eaten, brought it a step nearer the end. They were surrounded on every hand. Great numbers of the enemy had come from the south; both German and native troops were in the district in battalions, with transport and ammunition columns and machine-guns.
By then it was manifest that the Germans could capture the fort whenever they wished, provided they made the necessary sacrifice in lives-a thing which, as a rule, it is not their custom to hesitate to do. They had not yet, however, deployed their whole strength against the garrison-a fact that Harry was not able to explain.
The blow, which they had anticipated for days, fell upon a certain morning, soon after daybreak, when the Germans, their whole force in the valley, advanced in close formation upon the fort.
At the same time a battery of artillery opened fire from the neighbouring hills, and the immediate vicinity of the fort became a pandemonium of dust and smoke and flying stones and masonry, whereas the defenders were well-nigh deafened by the bursting of high-explosive shells.
In spite of this hurricane of lead and steel, time and again shots sounded from the fort; but the great wave came on, overwhelming and irresistible. One behind the other the ranks mounted the path. The defenders kept up a withering fire, until the barrels of their rifles were so hot they could not touch them. And still the enemy advanced.
As the Germans gathered themselves together for a final charge, Harry, Jim Braid, and the half-caste rushed together from the parapet to the only box of ammunition that remained. The box lay open near the door of the hut. Fernando was the first to reach it.
He pulled up sharply, standing motionless and erect. Then he knelt down and took out from the box the only cartridge that was there.
"This is all that is left," said he.
"No more?" cried Harry.
"We have come to the end," said the guide.
Jim Braid turned and addressed his companions.
"Has no one any ammunition?" he asked, and in his voice was a note of dire distress.
Both shook their heads. Peter Klein was cowering in the hut.
"This is all that remains," said Fernando. "It shall be put to excellent use."
So saying he slipped it into the chamber of his rifle and closed the breech with a snap.
Both Jim and Harry turned away their faces. In a few minutes they knew that they must be prisoners in the enemy's camp. Harry allowed his eyes to travel over the parapet of the fort. He saw the German officers reorganizing their scattered ranks in preparation for a final charge.
And then, from a hill-top towards the south, there came a sound that was like the bursting of a thunder-cloud.Something shrieked and hooted in the air, and a great shell from a heavy gun burst in a flash of flame in the midst of the German troops.
CHAPTER XXII-The Conquest of a Colony
Slowly the guide lowered his rifle. All eyes turned to the south, from which direction had come the shell. For a moment, in the valley, in the enclosure of the fort, there reigned a death-like silence-the silence of suspense. The bombardment of the fort ceased as at a stroke.
The calm voice of Fernando broke upon the stillness.
"The British!" said he. "The soldiers from the Coast!"
Hardly were the words from his lips than a great salvo of cannon thundered in the valley, and went echoing far above the tree-tops of the forests, over the ridges of the mountains, towards Maziriland.
And once again, though the little fort was left in peace, the air was alive with shells, which flew upon their way, shrieking and hooting as if in savage glee. Shrapnel burst high overhead, with white puffs of smoke, the bullets falling like hail into the ranks of the astonished Germans. Segment-shells struck the rocks, breaking into fragments that flew far and wide, inflicting the most terrible of wounds.
The German troops, in good order, shepherded by their officers, retired down the hill, to face this new and far more formidable danger. They assembled on a long spur that jutted into the valley, which they deemed the most suitable position whence to oppose the advance of the British.
"Is this true?" cried Harry. "Is it, indeed, the English?"
"Look!" cried Jim, pointing over the parapet.
A long line of glittering bayonets appeared upon the sky-line, advancing like a running wave upon a low-lying, sandy beach. They came forward without checking, each man keeping his distance from his neighbour, as though they did no more than execute some simple movements on parade. They were in far more extended order than the Germans.
Even as the khaki lines advanced, the Mauser rifles spoke from the hills, and the white dust caused by the bullets flew at their feet. They answered back in volleys, each one of which sounded like the "rip" of tearing paper. The sunshine glittered on the steel of their bayonets, their polished buttons, and the badges on their coats.
Their manoeuvres were like clockwork. When one party advanced, another fired; and thus the long lines of infantry were ever firing, ever advancing upon the enemy's position.
A battle fought under such conditions-which are rare enough in these days when the spade has become an even more important weapon than the rifle-is one of the most magnificent and impressive sights it is possible to see. One catches only glimpses, now and again, of fleeting, crouching figures, running from rock to rock, from cover to cover, appearing and disappearing like gnats in the light of the sun. And all the time a great roar of musketry rises to the heavens-a kind of interminable "crackling" sound, like that of green wood upon a fire, only a thousand times greater in volume and more continuous.
Above this the guns toll ceaselessly, shaking, as it seems, the very ground itself with a series of sullen "thuds", filling the atmosphere with great vibrations, drum-like echoes, and rolling clouds of smoke.
Jim Braid and Harry Urquhart stood side by side upon the parapet of the ancient, crumbling fort. As the gods of Olympus reviewed the struggles of the Greeks and the Trojans, so those two looked down upon the wide amphitheatre where the conflict was taking place, where men were marching shoulder to shoulder into the very jaws of death.
They could see both sides at once. They could see the Germans on the ridge, firing rapidly into the advancing British troops; they could see the British coming on and on, regardless of danger, heeding only the words of command shouted from line to line.
Far in rear, upon a hill-top, a heliograph blinked and flickered in the sun. There was the officer in command. Thence, by means of his signallers, he controlled the army at his feet, disposing his battalions as a player moves his chessmen on a board.
The two boys stood transfixed in bewilderment and admiration.
"Oh," cried Jim, "what wouldn't I give to be there!"
His heart was with his own countrymen, the thin, khaki lines that were driving straight forward with the tenacity of a pack of hounds that hold the fox in view.
From either side gun after gun spoke in quick succession, until it was as if the world was only thunder and flashes of fire and clouds of yellow smoke. As often as each gun was fired it was loaded and fired again. The noise of the batteries was as persistent as the barking of a chained, infuriated dog.
And then from everywhere, from out of the grass, from behind the rocks, from little undulations in the ground, arose thousands of small khaki figures.
Their ranks were undisturbed; they were even as the staves upon a sheet of music. Line after line extended from one side of the valley to the other, and, in the rear of all, the helio still blinked and glittered, there where the brains of the machine were working the destruction of prophets of "Frightfulness", champions of World Dominion.
A bugle sounded in the air, its thin, piercing notes carrying far. Each of the boys experienced a thrill of pride and exultation, a sensation of sublime excitement, as the British lines answered the bugle with a charge.
Line after line, amid the thunder of the guns, swept up the ridge towards the enemy, the bayonets flashing, the bugle speaking again and again.
And then came a cheer that rent the air-a British cheer-howbeit from the throats of gallant Haussas-that drowned the musketry, that rose superior even to the constant growling of the guns.
Before that mad, headlong onslaught the enemy gave way. The Germans were swamped, as a tide carries away a castle on the sands. As one man, they broke and fled, panic-stricken and defeated.
As soon as they had collected their belongings and stores, they set about to leave the fort, passing through the tunnel in single file, the guide leading the way and Harry Urquhart bringing up the rear.
By the time they entered the forest the afternoon was well advanced, the sun sinking in the heavens. They hoped to reach the British camp that night, but there was no question that darkness would overtake them long before they could do so.
There was little or nothing to fear. The soldiers had driven the Germans from the district. To all intents and purposes the German Cameroons was conquered, and the remnants of the enemy were returning in hot haste towards the Spanish territory to the east.
When Harry Urquhart and his three companions came forth from the entrance to the tunnel they found a heap of hot, charred wood upon the ground. There was no doubt that recently a fire had been burning, and that the picket that guarded the tunnel had retreated only at the eleventh hour.
During the earlier part of the night they traversed the valley, marching in a bee-line towards the bivouac fires of the British camp. They moved forward in the following order-Fernando went first, some distance behind him came Jim Braid and Peter Klein, and a greater distance in the rear was Harry Urquhart.
Harry had been walking for some time with his eyes fixed upon the ground. He was wondering what the end of all this strange business was to be.
He knew that von Hardenberg had stolen the Sunstone, that he carried it upon his person. It was Harry's ambition, the very lodestone of his life, to recover the Sunstone for his uncle. It was von Hardenberg's object to reach the Caves of Zoroaster, and possess himself of the treasure. This was the man's only aim, for which he had proved that he was prepared to sacrifice his country and his honour.
As he walked, Harry was thinking of these things, when, on a sudden, there came a flash of fire, not ten paces to the right. He pulled up with a jerk, and heard a bullet sing past his head like some evil spirit in the darkness. Then there came a stinging sensation in the lobe of an ear, and a moment later he felt the warm blood flowing down his neck.
He saw a figure flying in the night, and with a loud cry took up the pursuit. A few seconds later he had flung himself upon a man who struggled in his grasp. On the instant each seized the other by the throat, and in the moonlight Harry recognized that he had come to death-grips with his cousin, Captain von Hardenberg himself.
No sooner was he aware who his opponent was than he saw at once that here was a chance to capture the Sunstone, and for that end he struggled with the desperation that means more than strength.
Placing one leg behind his adversary, and pressing with all his force upon his chest, he endeavoured to throw von Hardenberg backward. And even as he wrestled he felt the Sunstone, sewn in the lining of the Prussian's coat.
Gradually von Hardenberg was forced backward, and then at last he fell, coming heavily to the ground. In his fall he struck his head against a rock, and after that he lay quite motionless and silent.
Harry could hear the footsteps of approaching men. On one hand Jim Braid and Fernando hastened to the boy's assistance; on the other, the Black Dog came forward with rapidity.
As quick as thought Harry pulled out his pocketknife. He had but to rip open von Hardenberg's coat and the Sunstone was his, their journey was at an end.
A sharp cut with the knife, a hand that trembled with excitement thrust through the opening, and Harry's fingers closed upon the precious relic he had come so many miles to gain.
And, at that moment, a violent blow descended upon his head and stretched him senseless on the ground. The Arab sheikh had come to the assistance of his employer in the nick of time. His quick eyes had taken in the situation at a glance. He had seen the Sunstone in the hands of Harry Urquhart, and, lifting his rifle by the barrel, he had brought down the butt upon the boy's head.
For him to snatch up the Sunstone was the work of an instant. And a moment afterwards the Black Dog was flying in the night, carrying in his arms the unconscious body of von Hardenberg.
CHAPTER XXIV-The Caves
Fernando, bringing his rifle to his shoulder, fired a shot at random in the darkness. It was the last round they had. A laugh came back from the distance.
Without a word the guide put down his rifle on the ground and examined the wounded boy.
"He is stunned," said he. "He will recover presently."
So saying he lifted Harry in his arms and carried him a distance of about a hundred yards to a place where there was a small stream in the valley.
There he bathed the boy's face and hands, washing the blood from the wound in his ear. Presently Harry recovered consciousness, sat up, and looked about him.
"Where am I?" he asked.
It took but a word to remind him of what had happened, and then he remembered that he had held the Sunstone in his grasp. He looked up at Jim and smiled.
"I was so near to capturing it," said he.
"We'll get it yet, sir," answered Jim. "Just now I had the shock of my life. I thought you had been killed."
"I'm all right," answered Harry. "I feel dizzy; that's all."
In a little time he was able to continue on his way. The bullet wound in his ear was nothing; it was scarcely painful.
That night they camped in the mountains, intending to march at daybreak towards the British camp. When the sun rose, however, they found to their surprise that the whole column was already on the line of march, moving towards the east in pursuit of the retreating enemy.
When they reached the scene of the bivouac the camp-fires were still burning, but no sign of life remained.
The British column had vanished into the bush; and only a few hospital-wagons were to be seen trundling slowly southward.
In the centre of the deserted bivouac stood a tall solitary tree, and it was under this that they rested throughout the heat of the day. Fernando, who had been dozing, rose to his feet, stretched and yawned. As he did so he caught sight of a star-shaped cut in the bark of the tree, and on the instant it was as if the man had become transfigured.
His eyes lit up, his lips smiled. Amazement, delight, and infinite pleasure were stamped on every feature of his face.
"What is it?" asked Harry, at a loss to explain the man's behaviour.
"Heaven be praised!" he cried. "My brother is still alive!"
"Yes. Cortes blazed that tree, and the blaze is not one day old. Last night he was here-in the midst of the British camp."
"Are you sure of it?" asked Braid.
"I know," Fernando answered with conviction. "In the days when we hunted together we sometimes lost one another in the bush, and on such occasions we blazed the trees along the tracks of bush elephants in just such a manner as this."
Harry Urquhart looked about him.
"There is no sign of Cortes here," he said. "He cannot have left with the British?"
"No," said Fernando. "He is hiding somewhere. Let me think, where would he go. Both he and I know this district well."
The man paused a moment, standing perfectly still. Then, on a sudden, with an exclamation, he set off running towards the hills.
He did not return until long after nightfall; and then it was with the joyful news that he had found his brother, sound asleep-beside three boxes of German ammunition.
Without delay, guided by Fernando, the whole party set off in haste. They found Cortes, sleeping heavily, in a little dried-up watercourse well screened by trees. It was characteristic of Fernando that he had not awakened his brother.
Harry bent down and touched the sleeper on the shoulder. The man sat up, rubbed his eyes, and then looked about him. The light of the moon fell full upon his face.
Harry grasped his hand and shook it warmly.
"You escaped?" he cried.
"Yes," said Cortes. "When we charged through the Germans, my foot struck against a boulder and I fell upon my face. I think the fall did some injury to my wound-the wound I had received from the Black Dog; for, when I tried to run, I found myself unable to do so.
"You were then some distance ahead of me," he continued. "I feared I would be overtaken. For a moment I knew not what to do. Then I came to a place where there was a great hole in the ground covered with bushes, and there I hid, allowing the Germans to pass.
"When they had gone, I got to my feet and tried to think matters out. I knew where my brother would take you; I knew he would go to the old fort. I might have rejoined you by way of the tunnel. I thought of doing so, but in the end I decided to go in search of ammunition, of which I thought you might possibly run short. British Government ammunition would be no good, as-with the exception of one Express-we have all got Mauser rifles. So three times I crept by night into the German camp, and each time returned with a box of ammunition. I secured also a haversack of revolver ammunition. Their sentries are sleepy dogs."
"You did splendidly!" cried Harry. "We are absolutely without a round."
"I knew you were in the fort," Cortes went on, "and I guessed you would go to the British camp. It was there that I blazed the tree whilst the troops were marching away. I returned to the hills, because I was tired and wished to sleep. If my brother found the blaze I knew he would follow me here."
The man smiled. He had every reason to be proud.
After a while the younger guide spoke again.
"The Black Dog still lives?" he asked.
Fernando bowed his head.
The following morning they began the final stage of their march towards the frontier of Maziriland. The route led them along the crest-line of the hills, and thence across a valley thick with undergrowth and jungle, where the heat was tropical and humid. They were glad to reach high ground once again, and set forward across the plateau beyond which the Maziri mountains stood up like a line of thrones.
These same mountains had been plainly visible from the old fort they had held so gallantly against the Germans, and had even appeared quite near at hand. But in these high altitudes the atmosphere was exceedingly clear, and, besides, the mountains were of great height, dominating the surrounding country far into the interior of the Cameroons.
It took them in all six more days to reach the frontier, when once again they found themselves in the midst of hidden dangers.
They had no idea of what manner of reception they would receive from the Maziris themselves; indeed, concerning this strange race very little is known, either to anthropologists or explorers.
It is generally supposed that the Maziris are a race that emigrated from north-eastern Africa very early in the known history of the world. Their features are aquiline, their lips thin, and the colour of their skin no more than brown. Not only are they certainly not a Negroid race, but they do not appear to have intermarried with the neighbouring Negro tribes in the Cameroons. It is possible they are direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians, though it must remain a mystery how they brought to the wilds of Western Africa the religion and traditional customs of the followers of Zoroaster.
As soon as they had crossed the frontier, Cortes and Fernando guided the party towards the west, in which direction were the caves. This also was the most deserted part of the country, nearly all the Maziri villages being towards the east, where the country was more fertile and suitable for pasture.
There is to be found in a certain part of Africa-far from the sites of the famous cities of the Pharaohs-indisputable evidence of an extremely ancient civilization. Even so far south as Mashonaland, are ruins of towns which could only have been originally constructed by highly civilized peoples. Ancient Egyptian history, the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, as well as the Old Testament itself, place it beyond all doubt that the Egyptians, the Persians and Phoenicians spread their learning and their influence far into the interior of what, until only a few years ago, was the Dark Continent-unexplored, unmapped and quite unknown. It can only be supposed that Maziriland was a relic of the early civilization of the East, in much the same way as the inhabitants of northern Spain are distantly related to the Irish.
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