Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune
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Food, arms, ammunition, wine, and water-everything was in its place, everything secure, yet handy.
Then the last night came.
It was clear and starry, with a bright scimitar of a new moon in the west.
Duncan slept but little. His mind was in a whirl of anxiety. There were so many things to think about, and they came cropping up in his mind all in a bunch, as it were, all demanding explanation at once.
One thing which would grieve him very much was parting with Vike. Animals have died of grief many times and oft ere now, and somehow he felt that he would never see his favourite dog again.
But lo! about the first news he got next morning after getting up was that Viking was missing. He had evidently wandered away, it was thought, and tumbled over a cliff.
When the boys went to bathe for the last time that morning they were almost dumb with grief.
But while returning to camp they met Johnnie Shingles and Old Pen.
Both were capering with joy.
"Vike he all right, sah, foh true. Golly, I'se shaking wid joy all ober."
"And where is he?"
"In the sky-car, sah. O ees, he dere shuah enuff."
It was true. Vike evidently knew all about it, and had taken his seat already. Booked in advance!
He could not be coaxed out. But he took his breakfast when handed to him, and a drop of water afterwards.
"Boys," said Talbot, "you must take him. It seems very strange, but it also seems fate."
"Fate be it, then," said Duncan.
And indeed the poor fellow's mind was greatly relieved.
That very forenoon the great balloon was cast off, and with blessings and farewells on both sides. Upward she soared into the clear blue sky, and was soon seen by those below only as a tiny dark speck, no larger than a lark.
CHAPTER III. – CHILDREN OF THE SKY
I have been down in a diving-bell, and have traversed or been led through the dark and seemingly interminable seams of a coal-mine, and felt no very exaggerated sense of exhilaration in either situation, but the glad free feeling one has when afloat in a balloon, and after the first nervous shudder of trepidation has passed off, is well worth risking life and limb to experience, and is, moreover, in my opinion, a proof that man was made and meant for better things than grovelling on earth like a stranded tadpole thrown out of its pond by the hands of some idle school-boy.
It is always the unknown that strikes the greatest amount of terror into man's soul. Therefore I claim for my young heroes the possession of an amount of courage and pluck, that you shall seldom find in any other hearts save those of British-born boys.
The balloon ascended with inconceivable rapidity at first, swaying just a little from side to side, and causing the inmates to grasp the sides of the car with some degree of nervous terror. When, however, they found that to fall out would be the most unlikely thing that could happen, they took heart of grace, and began to laugh and talk.
"Isn't it just too awfully lovely for anything," said Frank."I say, you know, Conal, I'm a sort of sorry I didn't bring my fiddle."
"It's a fine sensation," said Conal. "It must be just like going to heaven."
"Yes" – from Duncan-"but we should have somebody to meet us when we got on shore there. But we don't know where this a?rial tour may end."
"Well, we're going high enough anyhow," said Frank. "And," he added, "I'm not half so funky as I thought I'd be. I've often thought, mind you, that I'd like the going up in a balloon, 'cause there is plenty of sky-room, and nothing to knock your head against. It was the thoughts of alighting on earth again that always had terrors for me, hitting against poplar-trees and steeples and such, or spiked on the weather-cock of a town-hall and left to kick. But this is glorious, and I suppose we'll get down all straight."
Duncan held down his hand to Viking, and the honest dog licked it with his soft tongue.
"It is so good of you to take me, master," he seemed to say. "I don't know where in all the world you're off to, but you're here, and that's good enough for old Vike."
"I say, Duncan," said Conal, "aren't we taking an easterly direction?"
Duncan was rated "captain of the car", so all questions were referred to him.
"It really looks a little like it," was the reply, "unless the island down yonder, with our dear friends on it, has broken adrift, and is bound for the mainland."
They could talk lightly, almost joyously now, so bracing was the air, and so delicious the sensation of floating through space.
"I say, captain," said Frank, "hadn't we better put another man to the wheel, and tack and half tack for a time. Or suppose we lie to, eh?"
"Providence is at the wheel, Frank, but we're at the mercy of every breeze that may blow."
They were evidently being driven out to sea, but there was no help for it.
And so easterwards, ever easterwards, they drifted for many hours. The island itself was now but a little dark dot on the blue, and several other islets had come into view, and latterly, oh, joy! a steamer.
Evidently on her way to China or Japan!
Could they communicate?
In case of meeting a ship, several tin flagons had been prepared and ballasted, with letters in them.
The balloon was drifting but slowly now, and seemed to be on the turn.
Signals were accordingly made, while Conal, with the telescope, kept the ship's quarter-deck well under observation.
"Ha!" he cried, "they see us, and are signalling back."
Overboard now were thrown not one flask only, but three, and each would tell the same story of the ship-wrecked mariners, dying slowly for want of water on the lonely island far to the west. The latitude and longitude of this was given also.
It was evident that the flasks fell near the ship, for presently they could see a boat lowered, as if to pick them up. It soon returned to the ship and was hauled up.
But for a long time those in the balloon waited in vain for a signal. It came at last. A flag-bright red-was hoisted to the peak and rapidly lowered again.
Then the ship held on its course.
"Gracious heavens!" cried Duncan excitedly, "they are leaving our poor friends to their fate."
"I do not believe it possible," said Frank.
"No, it cannot be. See, see, they have stopped ship."
This was true. And it was evident also that a consultation was being held on board, as to whether they should really alter their course, and seek for the uninhabited island and perishing mariners or not.
"I know how it is," said Duncan. "It is, as usual, a question of money, like everything else in the world. That is no doubt a mail steamer, and the loss of time means a heavy fine, even though they might prove they had been on an errand of mercy."
But to their infinite joy our heroes saw at last the ship's prow turned westwards.
Night fell now, down on the sea that is. For at the great altitude which they had attained the sun was still visible.
The very last thing they noted was that the captain of that steamer had apparently changed his mind once more, and that the vessel was stopped. There she lay without or breath or motion
"Cruel! cruel!" cried Frank.
"We must not judge," said Duncan. "Down there it is now almost dark, and in mercy let us believe they are merely dodging to await the moonrise.
When day returned, the brave balloonists found themselves not over the sea any longer, but over a dense dark forest of Africa's mainland.
During the darkness a strange kind of stupor had weighed their eyelids down, and every one had slept.
But the balloon had changed its course, and was now driving inland on the wings of an easterly wind.
By aid of the telescope they could just perceive a long line of blue 'twixt the sky and the greenery of the woods.
But this itself soon disappeared as the balloon kept floating westwards and away.
The last thing they had done was to throw over the car at intervals, as they swept on, no less than six tell-tale flasks, and each had a little white flag over it.
But now came the question-what was to be done? Would it not be better at once to attempt a descent, and make their way eastwards through the forests and across the streams, which they could see here and there like silver strips among the woods and hills.
It was a question that needed some little consideration.
To alight in a forest did not seem feasible. Here, to say nothing of the danger of such a descent, they could find no natives to help them, and they should be exposed to the attacks of wild beasts and venomous reptiles.
They could see mountains far ahead, and among these there would doubtless be many an inhabited glen; so they agreed to keep on for a few hours longer.
"Besides," said Duncan, "there is a chance of a change of wind, which will blow us coastwards far more quickly than we could ever get on foot."
All hands were hungry, so breakfast would be a most enjoyable pastime.
Something more than a pastime, however. They settled down to it seriously, poor Viking standing up to receive his share.
Breakfast in a balloon-how strange it seems!
What did they have to eat? Enough and to spare, but, saving the biscuits-a considerable percentage of which was weevils fresh and alive-all else was tinned meat.
They made a hearty meal nevertheless, washing it down with a modicum of wine and water.
They were now ready for further adventures, but of course had no idea what was in store for them.
Well, the forest was soon left far behind, and, much to their astonishment, they perceived mountains ahead of them so high that snow lay white on their conical summits.
In an hour or two they were over a charming valley, and so low down that they could see the black natives running about in a great state of excitement, having evidently caught sight of the aeronauts.
"Fortune favours the brave," cried Duncan exultantly. "Here shall we descend, and make assurance doubly sure, and the safety of our friends certain."
With a little manipulation of the valves, a descent was made far more easily than any one could have imagined. Anchors were let go, and soon it was possible for all hands, including even Vike, to get out of the car.
An innovation awaiting them which they had little expected. Here were at least a thousand spear-armed warriors assembled, and as they came towards them, all threw themselves on their faces, or bent themselves in attitudes of worship.
"Here's a wind-up to a windy day," cried Frank laughing. "Why, these chaps evidently take us for gods!"
"It would seem so," said Duncan, "but I for one don't feel quite up to that form."
One of the savages was held aloft in a kind of sedan-chair, and was evidently the chief or king. He was the most hideous-looking savage it is possible to imagine; extremely corpulent, with a cruel, cut-throat expression of face; small deep-set eyes, and cheeks covered with parallel scars about an inch long. His hair in front hung straight down in tiny ringlets over a retreating forehead.
One should never show fear before savages. Duncan knew this, and walking boldly up to the huge travelling throne he saluted him in an off-hand way, and addressed him in English.
His majesty only shook his hideous head, but pointed with his spear towards his army.
Every one sprang up and stood erect, but silent as the grave.
"C'rambo!" said the king.
And C'rambo advanced smiling.
Very different was this tall, lithe, and supple-looking savage to any about him. His skin was yellow instead of black. His smile was a forbidding, sarcastic leer, and although our heroes knew nothing of African savages, any coasting sailor could have told them this man was a Somali.
In his right hand he carried three ugly spears, one of which was attached by a cord to his wrist, while on his left forearm was a small round shield-such as are worn by the tribes on the eastern coast north of the line.
This fellow first salaamed to the chief, addressing him in a harsh and guttural jangle of words. Then he turned haughtily towards our heroes.
"Who am you, and whe' you comes from?"
"First and foremost," replied Duncan, quite as haughtily, "who are you? Whose country are we in, and how far from the coast are we?"
"Humph! You feels dam bold, eh? Suppose I holds up my leetle white finger, King Slaleema's men den cut all your troats plenty much quick."
In spite of a feeling of doubt and fear that dwelt at his heart, Duncan burst out laughing.
"Your little white finger, my friend, is as yellow as a duck's foot.
"You see this little revolver?" he added. "Your life and five more of your beastly lot, including your pig of a king, lie in these chambers. Have you any particular longing to be stretched? If not, civility will pay you. Now, will you answer?"
Both Frank and Conal, following their captain's lead, had laid their hands on their pistol-butts.
"Pay?" said the fellow. "S'pose you gift me, I do most anything. Wot you wants foh to know?"
"We will give you gifts. What would you like?"
"English food, tools, a lifel (rifle). Money no good."
"You're modest, but we are liberal. How far are we from the coast?"
"Foh one Englishmans six week. Foh one gentleman Somali, plaps one."
"How many miles?"
"I not count, free undled, plaps. Plaps mo'. Plenty savage, plenty folest (forest), lion, tiger, and 'gators in de ribbers. Pletty soon de gobble up poo' little Englishmans."
"Where did you learn your English?"
"At de court ob de Sultan ob Zanzibar. But I cut de troats ob two tree men and den fly in one canoe. I now King Slaleema's plime minister."
"And a bonnie ticket you are," said Duncan. "Now, listen; if you will carry a letter to Lamoo and bring an answer you shall have a gun on your return with the reply. The letter shall be for the Sultan. Are you agreed?"
The fellow seized Duncan's hand and pressed it to his brow.
"De bargain am made," he cried. "I'se ready. All de way I run. Carrambo hab de good legs."
"Who called you Carrambo?"
"De dam Portugee. I cut tree, four troats all de same."
The recollection caused him to laugh. But he now spat viciously on the ground.
"De Portugee all fools. Pah!" he cried in disgust.
"Now," he added, "I ver goot man. I not cheatee you. I come back plenty twick (quick). Bling de answer all same too. But take care."
"Care of what?"
"Ob you' dam troats. Dese savage tink you come flom 'eaben (heaven). I tell 'em, dis quite tlue. S'pose dey not b'lieve, den dey kill and eat you."
"Hah! Cannibals, are they? How very comforting!"
"Eberyone cannibals heah. De dog, dey tink, am de debbil. Again I say to Slaleema, all tlue."
"Well, Carrambo, perhaps you are a much more honest fellow than you look. And you don't look a saint."
"All beesiness, sah. You gib me one gun and plenty 'munition, den I selve (serve) you. S'pose a Portugee say I gib you tree gun, cut all der troats; I cut all your troats plenty much quick, and King Slaleema he gobble you up foh tlue."
"You're an honest, faithful fellow, Carrambo," said Duncan sarcastically.
"Beesiness, sah, beesiness," replied the prime minister. "Wot dis wo'ld be widout beesiness, tell me dat?"
Carrambo held his head a little to one side and both open palms out in front of him.
As, however, the question was too philosophical in its nature, Duncan made no reply.
"'Scuse me one moment, sah."
He hurried away, and presently afterwards reappeared from behind a hut, dragging a poor little naked girl by one hand.
"You take lifel and s'oot de chile," he said. "She foh de king's dinner. Dis will make one good implession on dese pore ignolant savages."
This might have been true, but Duncan nevertheless did not see his way to become the king's executioner.
He shot a fowl, however, and at the flash and report the savages, who had never seen white men before, and never heard the sound of a gun, screamed wildly, and rushed off with such precipitation, that they seemed to be all a mist of long black scraggy legs and arms.
But Carrambo's voice recalled them, and they returned awed and terror-struck.
The dead fowl, moreover, was evidence of the terrible power possessed by these great "children of the air".
What might they not do next?
These innocent wretches trembled to think. I call them innocent simply because they knew not sin.
"If then," says the apostle, "knowing these things, happy are ye if ye do them."
For knowledge brings with it responsibility, and this neglected is accounted to us as sin.
This night our young heroes spent in the car of the balloon, and honest Viking went on guard. But even if the savages-for savages they were of the most demoniacal type-possessed any longing to do them to death, fear, natural and supernatural, deterred them.
Next morning early, Carrambo, the king's prime minister, departed upon his long and dangerous mission, taking two young warriors with him, and promising faithfully to return in two weeks at the farthest.
"S'pose you not see me den," he added sententiously, "den I gone deaded foh tlue."
The place seemed more lonesome now that Carrambo had gone, for, scoundrel though he undoubtedly was, he was someone to speak to.
They now began seriously to consider their situation and prospects.
In their heart of hearts they believed that they had been the means of sending succour to their marooned shipmates, on that lonely isle of the ocean. Their minds were easy enough on that score, for if even the steamer they had hailed had resumed her course without making any attempt to find the isle and rescue the mariners, the Sultan of Lamoo, Duncan fully understood, had always been friendly with the British, and would immediately despatch assistance in some shape or other.
Duncan, before doing anything else, got out his instruments of observation, and as well as could be made out, the glen in which they were virtually imprisoned was between two and three hundred miles off the coast, and some degrees south of the line.
He was puzzled at first as to why the place had never been discovered by British explorers.
But there are hundreds of such tribe-lands that have never yet been trodden by the foot of Christian men.
There was one clue to the mystery, however, and this was probably the true one, but they did not find it out just then.
"Now," said Duncan, "for a visit of ceremony to that fat old pig of king. And we must take him some presents, too."
Duncan had not forgotten that there were on board the Flora many large and beautiful strings of beads, which had been intended for bartering with any natives they might meet, and he had stowed away many such in the balloon car.
"Come, Conal, or Frank," he said, "I don't care which. But one of you with Vike must stay by the car and stand by your guns, in case the cupidity of these cut-throat natives gets the better of their fear."
"I'll stay," cried the Cockney boy, as pluckily as ever Englishman spoke.
So down the hill towards the village, revolvers in their belts and rifles cocked, marched Duncan and Conal.
They found the king sitting cross-legged outside his kraal or great grass hut, and being assiduously fanned by his wives.
These were no beauties, but Duncan lifted his cap and salaamed to the king first and then to them.
They seemed both pleased and tickled, and giggled inordinately, until the king rounded on them, scowling and drawing his fore-finger across his throat in a most significant manner.
The young Britons, as they approached his majesty, tried not to look at the awful remains of his last night's feast, but the sickening sight obtruded itself upon them in spite of all they could do.
Besides the beads, they had brought with them a four-pound tin of preserved beef.
They had expected his majesty to take a little of this, but were not a little surprised when he seized the tin and began digging out and swallowing huge lumps of it, with a guttural ejaculation of delight between each mouthful.
"Goo-goo-goo!" he exclaimed, as with about a yard of hideous tongue he finished off by licking out the tin.
"Nothing more horrible have I ever seen!" said Duncan.
"That is true," said Conal.
The king threw down the empty tin-he couldn't swallow that-smiled, nodded, and pointed towards the clouds.
"Goo-goo-goo-" he cried interrogatively.
Duncan nodded and smiled in turn, although he had wished the brute had choked himself.
But the horror of the brothers is not to be described when, at a call from the king, accompanied by a string of words that consisted mostly of vowels, two slaves came forward and offered them the roasted forearms of a child-no doubt those of the girl which Carrambo had asked them to shoot the day before.
They turned away, and shook their heads, but fearing to give offence, immediately presented his majesty with a string of beautiful beads.
His delight was childish-like and unbounded, and he immediately called for his sedan-chair of bamboo cane, and was trotted through the village of huts that his subjects might admire him.
That same forenoon Duncan, accompanied only by Viking, went on a voyage of discovery as he called it. He wanted to find out the lay of the land.
Two natives, impelled by curiosity, followed him, and when he beckoned to them and gave each a bead, they readily accompanied him as escort.
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