THE POOLS OF SILENCE
BY H. de VERE STACPOOLE
AUTHOR OF "THE BLUE LAGOON," "THE CRIMSON AZALEAS," "GARRYOWEN," ETC.
NEW YORK DUFFIELD & COMPANY 1910
Copyright, 1910, by DUFFIELD & COMPANY
Published, July, 1910 THE TROW PRESS, NEW YORK
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER PAGE I. A Lecture Of Thenard's 3 II. Dr. Duthil 11 III. Captain Berselius 19 IV. Schaunard 30 V. Marseilles 42
VI. Matadi 51 VII. Yandjali 56 VIII. The Voice Of The Congo Forest 64 IX. Big Game 72 X. M'bassa 80 XI. Andreas Meeus 84 XII. Night at the Fort 94
XIII. The Pools of Silence 101 XIV. Behind the Mask 110 XV. The Punishment 115 XVI. Due South 123 XVII. Sun-washed Spaces 127 XVIII. Far Into Elephant Land 130 XIX. The Great Herd 140 XX. The Broken Camp 152 XXI. The Feast of the Vultures 159 XXII. The Lost Guide 164 XXIII. Beyond the Skyline 173 XXIV. The Sentence of the Desert 181 XXV. Toward the Sunset 187 XXVI. The Fading Mist 192 XXVII. I Am the Forest 200 XXVIII. God Sends a Guide 204 XXIX. The Vision of the Pools 212
XXX. The Avenger 219 XXXI. The Voice of the Forest by Night 230 XXXII. Moonlight on the Pools 236 XXXIII. The River of Gold 245 XXXIV. The Substitute 252 XXXV. Paris 258 XXXVI. Dreams 266 XXXVII. Berselius Beholds His Other Self 273 XXXVIII. The Revolt of a Slave 280 XXXIX. Maxine 283 XL. Pugin 296 XLI. The Return of Captain Berselius 304 XLII. Amidst the Lilies 315
A LECTURE OF THENARD'S
The sun was setting over Paris, a blood-red and violent-looking sun, like the face of a bully staring in at the window of a vast chill room.
The bank of cloud above the west, corrugated by the wind, seemed not unlike the lowermost slats of a Venetian blind; one might have fancied that a great finger had tilted them up whilst the red, callous, cruel face took a last peep at the frost-bitten city, the frost-bound country—Montmartre and its windows, winking and bloodshot; Bercy and its barges; Notre Dame, where icicles, large as carrots, hung from the lips of the gargoyles, and the Seine clipping the cite and flowing to the clean but distant sea.
It was the fourth of January and the last day of Felix Thenard's post-graduate course of lectures at the Beaujon Hospital.
Post-graduate lectures are intended not for students, using the word in its limited sense, but for fully fledged men who wish for extra training in some special subject, and Thenard, the famous neurologist of the Beaujon, had a class which practically represented the whole continent of Europe and half the world. Men from Vienna and Madrid, Germany and Japan, London and New York, crowded the benches of his lecture room. Even the Republic of Liberia was represented by a large gentleman, who seemed carved from solid night and polished with palm oil.
Dr. Paul Quincy Adams, one of the representatives of America at the lectures of Thenard, was just reaching the entrance of the Beaujon as the last rays of sunset were touching the heights of Montmartre and the first lamps of Paris were springing alight.
He had walked all the way from his rooms in the Rue Dijon, for omnibuses were slow and uncomfortable, cabs were dear, and money was, just at present, the most unpleasant thing that money can convert itself into—an object.
Adams was six feet two, a Vermonter, an American gentleman whose chest measurements were big, almost, as his instincts were fine. He had fought his way up, literally from the soil, putting in terms as seaside cafe waiter to help to pay his college fees; putting aside everything but honour in his grand struggle to freedom and individual existence, and finishing his college career with a travelling scholarship which brought him to Paris.
Individualism, the thing that lends something of greatness to each American, but which does not tend to the greatness of the nation, was the mainspring of this big man whom Nature had undoubtedly designed with her eye on the vast plains, virgin forests, and unfordable rivers, and across whose shoulder one half divined the invisible axe of the pioneer.
He was just twenty-three years of age, yet he looked thirty: plain enough as far as features go, his face was a face to remember in time of trouble. It was of the American type that approximates to the Red Indian, and you guessed the power that lay behind it by the set of the cheek-bones, the breadth of the chin and the restfulness of the eyes. Like the Red Indian, Paul Quincy Adams was slow of speech. A silent man with his tongue.
He entered the hospital and passed down a long corridor to the cloakroom, where he left his overcoat and from there, by another corridor, he found his way to the swing-door of the lecture theatre. It wanted five minutes to the hour. He peeped over the muffing of the glass; the place was nearly full, so he went in and took his seat, choosing one at the right hand end of the first row of the stalls—students' vernacular for the lowest row of the theatre benches.
The theatre was lit with gas. It had whitewashed walls bare as the walls of a barn; a permanent blackboard faced the audience, and the air was suffocatingly hot after the crisp, cold air of the streets. It would be like this till about the middle of the lecture, when Alphonse the porter would pull the rope of the skylight and ventilate the place with an arctic blast.
This room, which had once been an anatomical theatre, and always a lecture room, had known the erect form of Lisfranc; the stooping shoulders of Majendie had cast their shadow on its walls; Flourens had lectured here on that subject of which he had so profound a knowledge—the brain; the echoes of this room had heard the foundations of Medicine shift and change, the rank heresies of yesterday voiced as the facts of to-day—and vice versa.
Adams, having opened his notebook and sharpened his pencil, sat listening to the gas sizzling above his head; then he turned for a moment and glanced at the men behind him: the doctor from Vienna in a broadly braided frock-coat with satin facings, betraying himself to all men by the end of the clinical thermometer protruding from his waistcoat pocket; the two Japanese gentlemen—brown, incurious, and inscrutable—men from another world, come to look on; the republican from Liberia, and the rest. Then he turned his head, for the door on the floor of the theatre had opened, giving entrance to Thenard.
Thenard was a smallish man in a rather shabby frock-coat; his beard was scant, pointed, and gray-tinged; he had a depressed expression, the general air of a second-rate tradesman on the verge of bankruptcy; and as he entered and crossed to the estrade where the lecture table stood and the glass of water, he shouted some words vehemently and harshly to Alphonse, the theatre attendant, who, it seemed, had forgotten to place the box of coloured chalks on the table—the sacred chalks which the lecturer used for colouring his diagrams on the blackboard.
One instantly took a dislike to this shabby-looking bourgeois, with the harsh, irritable voice, but after awhile, as the lecture went on, one forgot him. It was not the profundity of the man's knowledge, great though it was, that impressed one; or the subtlety of his reasoning or the lucidity of his expression, but his earnestness, his obvious disregard for everything earthly but Truth.
This was borne in on one by every expression of his face, every gesture of his body, every word and every tone and inflection of his voice.
This was the twelfth and last lecture of the course. It was on the "Brain Conceived as a Machine Pure and Simple."
It was a cold and pitiless lecture, striking at the root of poetry and romance, speaking of religions, not religion, and utterly ignoring the idea which stands poised like a white-winged Victory over all other ideas—the Soul.
It was pitiless because it did these things, and it was terrible because it was spoken by Thenard, for he was just standing there, a little, oldish man, terribly convincing in his simplicity, absolutely without prejudice, as ready to acknowledge the soul and its attributes as to refuse them, standing there twiddling his horsehair watch-chain, and speaking from the profundity of his knowledge with, at his elbow, a huge army of facts, instances, and cases, not one of which did not support his logical deductions.
I wish I could print his lecture in full. I can only give some few sentences taken at haphazard from the peroration.
"The fundamental basis of all morality can be expressed by the words Left—or Right. 'Shall I take the path to the right, when my child is being threatened with death by a pterodactyl, or shall I take the path to the left when a mastodon is threatening to put a foot on my dinner?'
"The prehistoric man asking himself that question in the dawn of time laid the foundation of the world's morality. Do we know how he answered it? Yes—undoubtedly he saved his dinner.
"The prehistoric woman crouching in the ferns, wakened from sleep by the cries of her child on the left and the shouting of her man on the right, found herself face to face with the question, 'Shall I court self-destruction in attempting to save It, or shall I seek safety with Him?' Do we know how she answered that question? Undoubtedly she took the path to the left.
"The woman's Right was the man's Left, and she took it not from any motive of goodness but just because her child appealed to her as powerfully as his dinner appealed to the man. And which was the nobler instinct? In prehistoric times, gentlemen, they were both equally noble, for the instinct of the man was as essential to the fact that you and I are here gathered together in enlightened Paris, as the instinct of the woman.
"Right or Left? That is still the essence of morals—all the rest is embroidery. Whilst I am talking to you now, service is being held at the Madeleine, the Bourse is closed (looking at his watch), but other gaming houses are opening. The Cafe de Paris is filling, the Little Sisters of the Poor are visiting the sick.
"We feel keenly that some people are doing good and some people are doing evil. We wonder at the origin of it all, and the answer comes from the prehistoric forest.
"'I am Determination. I can choose the Right or I can choose the Left. Whilst dwelling in the man's heart my choice lies that way, in the woman's heart that way.
"'I am not religion, but between the man and the woman I have created an essential antagonism of motive which will be the basis of all future religions and systems of ethics. I have already dimly demarcated a line between ferocity and greed, and a thing which has yet no name, but which will in future ages be called Love.
"'I am a constant quantity, but the dim plan I have traced in the plastic brain will be used by the ever-building years; spires and domes shall fret the skies, priests unroll their scrolls of papyri, infinite developments of the simple basic Right and Left laid down by me shall combine to build a Pantheon of a million shrines to a million gods—who are yet only three: the tramp of the mastodon, the cry of the child in the pterodactyl's grip, and myself, who in future years shall be the only surviving god of the three—Determination.'
* * * * *
"The Pineal Gland had no known function, so Descartes declared it to be the seat of the soul. 'There is nothing in here. Let us put something in,' and he put in the idea of the soul. That was the old method.
"Morphology teaches us now that the Pineal Gland is the last vestige of an eye which once belonged to a reptile long extinct. That is the new method; the results are not so pretty, but they are more exact."
* * * * *
"You have finished your post-graduate work, and I suppose you are about to leave Paris like the others. Have you any plans?"
The lecture was over, the audience was pouring out of the theatre, and Adams was talking to Thenard, whom he knew personally.
"Well, no," said Adams. "None very fixed just at present. Of course I shall practise in my own country, but I can't quite see the opening yet."
Thenard, with his case-book and a bundle of papers under his arm, stood for a moment in thought. Then he suddenly raised his chin.
"How would you like to go on a big-game shooting expedition to the Congo?"
"Ask a child would it like pie," said the American, speaking in English. Then, in French, "Immensely, monsieur. Only it is impossible."
"Ah, that's just it," said Thenard. "A patient of mine, Captain Berselius, is starting on a big-game shooting expedition to the Congo. He requires a medical man to accompany him, and the salary is two thousand francs a month and all things found——"
Adams's eyes lit up.
"Two thousand a month!"
"Yes; he is a very rich man. His wife is a patient of mine. When I was visiting her yesterday the Captain put the thing before me—in fact, gave me carte blanche to choose for him. He requires the services of a medical man—an Englishman if possible——"
"But I'm an American," said Adams.
"It is the same thing," replied Thenard, with a little laugh. "You are all big and strong and fond of guns and danger."
He had taken Adams by the arm and was leading him down the passage toward the entrance hall of the hospital.
"The primitive man is strong in you all, and that is why you are so vital and important, you Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Celts, and Anglo-Teutons. Come in here."
He opened the door of one of the house-surgeon's rooms.
A youngish looking man, with a straw-coloured beard, was seated before the fire, with a cigarette between his lips.
He rose to greet Thenard, was introduced to Adams, and, drawing an old couch a bit from the wall, he bade his guests be seated.
The armchair he retained himself. One of the legs was loose, and he was the only man in the Beaujon who had the art of sitting on it without smashing it. This he explained whilst offering cigarettes.
Thenard, like many another French professor, unofficially was quite one with the students. He would snatch a moment from his work to smoke a cigarette with them; he would sometimes look in at their little parties. I have seen him at a birthday party where the cakes and ale, to say nothing of the cigarettes and the unpawned banjo, were the direct products of a pawned microscope. I have seen him, I say, at a party like this, drinking a health to the microscope as the giver of all the good things on the table—he, the great Thenard, with an income of fifteen to twenty thousand pounds a year, and a reputation solid as the four massive text-books that stood to his name.
"Duthil," said Thenard, "I have secured, I believe, a man for our friend Berselius." He indicated Adams with a half laugh, and Dr. Duthil, turning in his chair, regarded anew the colossus from the States. The great, large-hewn, cast-iron visaged Adams, beside whom Thenard looked like a shrivelled monkey and Duthil like a big baby with a beard.
"Good," said Duthil.
"A better man than Bauchardy," said Thenard.
"Much," replied Duthil.
"Who, then, was Bauchardy?" asked Adams, amused rather by the way in which the two others were discussing him.
"Bauchardy?" said Duthil. "Why, he was the last man Berselius killed."
"Silence," said Thenard, then turning to Adams, "Berselius is a perfectly straight man. On these hunting expeditions of his he invariably takes a doctor with him; he is not a man who fears death in the least, but he has had bitter experience of being without medical assistance, so he takes a doctor. He pays well and is entirely to be trusted to do the right thing, as far as money goes. On that side the contract is all right. But there is another side—the character of Berselius. A man, to be the companion of Captain Berselius, needs to be big and strong in body and mind, or he would be crushed by the hand of Captain Berselius. Yes, he is a terrible man in a way—un homme affreux—a man of the tiger type—and he is going to the country of the big baboons, where there is the freedom of action that the soul of such a man desires——"
"In fact," said Adams, "he is a villain, this Captain Berselius?"
"Oh, no," said Thenard, "not in the least. Be quiet, Duthil, you do not know the man as I do. I have studied him; he is a Primitive——"
"An Apache," said Duthil. "Come, dear master, confess that from the moment you heard that this Berselius was intent on another expedition, you determined to throw a foreigner into the breach. 'No more French doctors, if possible,' said you. Is not that so?"
Thenard laughed the laugh of cynical confession, buttoning his overcoat at the same time and preparing to go.
"Well, there may be something in what you say, Duthil. However, there the offer is—a sound one financially. Yes. I must say I dread that two thousand francs a month will prove a fatal attraction, and, if Mr. Adams does not go, some weaker man will. Well, I must be off."
"One moment," said Adams. "Will you give me this man's address? I don't say I will take the post, but I might at least go and see him."
"Certainly," replied Thenard, and taking one of his own cards from his pocket, he scribbled on the back of it—
CAPTAIN ARMAND BERSELIUS 14 AVENUE MALAKOFF
Then he went off to a consultation at the Hotel Bristol on a Balkan prince, whose malady, hitherto expressed by evil living, had suddenly taken an acute and terrible turn and Adams found himself alone with Dr. Duthil.
"That is Thenard all over," said Duthil. "He is the high priest of modernism. He and all the rest of the neurologists have divided up devilment into provinces, and labelled each province with names all ending in enia or itis. Berselius is a Primitive, it seems; this Balkan prince is—I don't know what they call him—sure to be something Latin, which does not interfere in the least with the fact that he ought to be boiled alive in an antiseptic solution. Have another cigarette."
"Do you know anything special against Captain Berselius?" asked Adams, taking the cigarette.
"I have never even seen the man," replied Duthil, "but from what I have heard, he is a regular buccaneer of the old type, who values human life not one hair. Bauchardy, that last doctor he took with him, was a friend of mine. Perhaps that is why I feel vicious about the man, for he killed Bauchardy as sure as I didn't."
"Yes; with hardship and overwork."
"Mon Dieu, yes. Dragged him through swamps after his infernal monkeys and tigers, and Bauchardy died in the hospital at Marseilles of spinal meningitis, brought on by the hardships of the expedition—died as mad as Berselius himself."
"As mad as Berselius?"
"Yes; this infernal Berselius seemed to have infected him with his own hunting fever, and Bauchardy—mon Dieu, you should have seen him during his illness, shooting imaginary elephants, and calling for Berselius."
"What I want to get at is this," said Adams. "Was Bauchardy driven into these swamps you speak of, and made to hunt against his will—treated cruelly, in fact—or did Berselius take his own share of the hardships?"
"His own share! Why, from what I can understand, he did all the hunting. A man of iron with the ferocity of a tiger—a very devil, who made others follow him as poor Bauchardy did, to his death——"
"Well," said Adams, "this man interests me somehow, and I intend to have a look at him."
"The pay is good," said Duthil, "but I have warned you fully, if Thenard hasn't. Good evening."
The Rue Dijon, where Adams lived, was a good way from the Beaujon. He made his way there on foot, studying the proposition as he went.
The sporting nature of the proposal coming from the sedate Thenard rather tickled him.
"He wants to pit me against this Berselius," said Adams to himself, "same as if we were dogs. That's the long and short of it. Yes, I can understand his meaning in part; he's afraid if Berselius engages some week-kneed individual, he'll give the weak-kneed individual more than he can take. He wants to stick a six-foot Yankee in the breach, instead of a five-foot froggie, all absinthe and cigarette ends. Well, he was frank, at all events. Hum, I don't like the proposition—and yet there's something—there's something—there's something about it I do like. Then there's the two thousand francs a month, and not a penny out of pocket, and there's the Congo, and the guggly-wuggly alligators, and the great big hairy apes, and the feel of a gun in one's hand again. Oh, my!"
"All the same, it's funny," he went on, as he drew near the Boulevard St. Michel. "When Thenard spoke of Berselius there was something more than absence of friendship in his tone. Can old man Thenard have a down on this Berselius and does he in his heart of hearts imagine that by allotting P. Quincy Adams to the post of physician extraordinary to the expedition, he will get even with the Captain? My friend, remember that hymn the English Salvationists were yelling last Sunday outside the American Presbyterian Church in the Rue de Berry—'Christian, walk carefully, danger is near.' Not a bad motto for Paris, and I will take it."
He walked into the Cafe d'Italie, which, as everyone knows, is next to Mouton's, the pork shop, on the left-hand side of the Boul' Miche, as you go from the Seine; called for a boc, and then plunged into a game of dominoes with an art student in a magenta necktie, whom he had never met before, and whom, after the game, he would, a million to one, never meet again.
That night, when he had blown out his candle, he reviewed Thenard's proposition in the dark. The more he looked at it the more attraction it had for him, and—"Whatever comes of it," said he to himself, "I will go and see this Captain Berselius to-morrow. The animal seems worth the trouble of inspection."
Next morning was chill and a white Seine mist wrapped Paris in its folds. It clung to the trees of the Avenue Champs Elysees, and it half veiled the Avenue Malakoff as Adams's fiacre turned into that thoroughfare and drew up at No. 14, a house with a carriage drive, a porter's lodge, and wrought-iron gates.
The American paid off his cab, rang at the porter's lodge, was instantly admitted, and found himself in an enormous courtyard domed in with glass. He noted the orange and aloe trees growing in tubs of porcelain, as the porter led him to the big double glass doors giving entrance to the house.
"He's got the money," thought Adams, as the glass swing-door was opened by a flunkey as magnificent as a Lord Mayor's footman, who took the visitor's card and the card of M. Thenard and presented them to a functionary with a large pale face, who was seated at a table close to the door.
This personage, who was as soberly dressed as an archbishop, and had altogether a pontifical air, raised himself to his feet and approached the visitor.
"Has monsieur an appointment——"
"No," said Adams. "I have come to see your master on business. You can take him my card—yes, that one—Dr. Adams, introduced by Dr. Thenard."
The functionary seemed perplexed; the early hour, the size of the visitor, his decided manner, all taken together, were out of routine. Only for a moment he hesitated, then leading the way across the warm and flower-scented hall, he opened a door and said, "Will monsieur take a seat?" Adams entered a big room, half library, half museum; the door closed behind him, and he found himself alone.
The four walls of the room showed a few books, but were mostly covered with arms and trophies of the chase. Japanese swords in solid ivory scabbards, swords of the old Samurai so keen that a touch of the edge would divide a suspended hair. Malay krisses, double-handed Chinese execution swords; old pepper-pot revolvers, such as may still be found on the African coast; knob-kerries, assegais, steel-spiked balls swinging from whips of raw hide; weapons wild and savage and primitive as those with which Attila drove before him the hordes of the Huns, and modern weapons of to-day and yesterday; the big elephant gun which has been supplanted by the express rifle; the deadly magazine rifle, the latest products of Schaunard of the Rue de la Paix and Westley Richards of London.
Adams forgot time as he stood examining these things; then he turned his attention to the trophies, mounted by Borchard of Berlin, that prince of taxidermists. Here stood a great ape, six feet and over—monstrum horrendum—head flung back, mouth open, shouting aloud to the imagination of the gazer in the language that was spoken ere the earliest man lifted his face to the chill mystery of the stars. In the right fist was clutched the branch of a M'bina tree, ready lifted to dash your brains out—the whole thing a miracle of the taxidermist's art. Here crawled an alligator on a slab of granitic rock; an alligator—that is to say, the despair of the taxidermist—for you can make nothing out of an alligator; alive and not in motion he looks stuffed, stuffed, he looks just the same. Hartbeest, reedbuck, the maned and huge-eared roan antelope, gazelle, and bush-buck, all were here, skull or mask, dominated by the vast head of the wildebeest, with ponderous sickle-curved horns.
Adams had half completed the tour of the walls when the door of the library opened and Captain Berselius came in. Tall, black-bearded and ferocious looking—that was the description of man Adams was prepared to meet. But Captain Berselius was a little man in a frock-coat, rather worn, and slippers. He had evidently been in neglige and, to meet the visitor, slipped into the frock-coat, or possibly he was careless, taken up with abstractions, dreams, business affairs, plans. He was rather stout, with an oval, egg-shaped face; his beard, sparse and pointed and tinged with gray, had originally been light of hue; he had pale blue eyes, and he had a perpetual smile.
It is to be understood by this that Captain Berselius's smile was, so to speak, hung on a hair-trigger; there was always a trace of it on his face round the lips, and in conversation it became accentuated.
At first sight, during your first moments of meeting with Captain Berselius, you would have said, "What a happy-faced and jolly little man!"
Adams, completely taken aback by the apparition before him, bowed.
"I have the pleasure of speaking to Dr. Adams, introduced by Dr. Thenard?" said Captain Berselius, motioning the visitor to a chair. "Pray take a seat, take a seat—yes——" He took a seat opposite the American, crossed his legs in a comfortable manner, caressed his chin, and whilst chatting on general subjects stared full at the newcomer, as though Adams had been a statue, examining him, without the least insolence, but in that thorough manner with which a purchaser examines the horse he is about to buy or the physician of an insurance company a proposer.
It was now that Adams felt he had to deal with no common man in Captain Berselius.
Never before had he conversed with a person so calmly authoritative, so perfectly at ease, and so commanding. This little commonplace-looking, negligently dressed man, talking easily in his armchair, made the spacious Adams feel small and of little account in the world. Captain Berselius filled all the space. He was the person in that room; Adams, though he had personality enough, was nowhere. And now he noticed that the perpetual smile of the Captain had no relation to mirth or kindliness, it was not worn as a mask, for Captain Berselius had no need for masks; it was a mysterious and unaccountable thing that was there.
"You know M. Thenard intimately?" said Captain Berselius, turning suddenly from some remarks he was making on the United States.
"Oh, no," said Adams. "I have attended his clinics; beyond that——"
"Just so," said the other. "Are you a good shot?"
"Fair, with the rifle."
"You have had to do with big game?"
"I have shot bear."
"These are some of my trophies," said the Captain, rising to his feet. He took his stand before the great ape and contemplated it for a moment. "I shot him near M'Bassa on the West Coast two years ago. The natives at the village where we were camping said there was a big monkey in a tree near by. They seemed very much frightened, but they led me to the tree. He knew what a gun was; he knew what a man was, too. He knew that his hour of death had arrived, and he came roaring out of the tree to meet me. But when he was on the ground, with the muzzle of my Mannlicher two yards from his head, all his rage vanished. He saw death, and to shut out the sight he put his big hands before his face——"
"I shot him through the heart. This room does not represent all my work. The billiard room and the hall contain many of my trophies; they are interesting to me, for each has a history. That tiger skin there in front of the fireplace once covered a thing very much alive. He was a full-sized brute, and I met him in a rice field near Benares. I had not even time to raise my gun when he charged. Then I was on my back and he was on top of me. He had overshot the mark a bit—I was not even scratched. I lay looking up at his whiskers; they seemed thick as quills, and I counted them. I was dead to all intents and purposes, so I felt no fear. That was the lesson this gentleman taught me; it is as natural to be dead as to be alive. I have never been afraid of death since. Well, something must have distracted his attention and frightened him, for he lifted himself, passed over me like a cloud, and was gone. Well, so much for the tiger. And now for business. Are you prepared to act as medical attendant to my new expedition?"
"Well," said Adams, "I would like a little time to consider——"
"Certainly," said Captain Berselius, taking out his watch. "I will give you five minutes, as a matter of form. Thenard, in a note to me this morning, informs me he has given you all details as to salary."
"Yes, he gave me the details. As you give me so short a time to make my decision about you, I suppose you have already made your decision about me?"
"Absolutely," said Berselius. "Two minutes have passed. Why waste the other three? For you have already made up your mind to come."
Adams sat down in a chair for a moment, and in that moment he did a great deal of thinking.
He had never met a man before at all like Berselius. He had never before come across a man with such a tremendous personality. Berselius fascinated yet repelled him. That there was evil in this man he felt, but he felt also that there was good. Much evil and much good. And beyond this he divined an animal ferocity latent—the ferocity of a tiger—a cold and pitiless and utterly divorced from reason ferociousness, the passion of a primitive man, who had never known law except the law of the axe wielded by the strongest. And yet there was something in the man that he liked. He knew by Berselius's manner that if he did not take the offer now, he would lose it. He reckoned with lightning swiftness that the expedition would bring him in solid cash enough to start in a small way in the States. He was as poor as Job, as hungry for adventure as a schoolboy, and he only had a moment to decide in.
"How many men are making up your party?" suddenly asked Adams.
"You and I alone," replied Berselius, putting his watch in his pocket to indicate that the time was almost expired.
"I will come," said Adams, and it seemed to him that he said the words against his will.
Captain Berselius went to a writing table, took a sheet of paper and wrote carefully and with consideration for the space of some five minutes. Then he handed the paper to Adams. "These are the things you want," said he. "I am an old campaigner in the wilds, so you will excuse me for specifying them. Go for your outfit where you will, but for your guns to Schaunard, for he is the best. Order all accounts to be sent in to my secretary, M. Pinchon. He will settle them. Your salary you can take how you will. If it is useful to you, I can give you a cheque now on the Credit Lyonnais, if you will state the amount."
"Thank you, thank you," said Adams. "I have quite sufficient money for my needs, and, if it is the same to you, I would rather pay for my outfit myself."
"As you please," said Captain Berselius, quite indifferently. "But Schaunard's account and the account for drugs and instruments you will please send to M. Pinchon; they are part of the expedition. And now," looking at his watch, "will you do me the pleasure of staying to dejeuner?"
"I will notify you to-night at your address the exact date we start," said Captain Berselius as he led the way from the room. "It will be within a fortnight. My yacht is lying at Marseilles, and will take us to Matadi, which will be our base. She will be faster than the mail-boats and very much more comfortable."
They crossed the hall, Captain Berselius opened a door, motioned his companion to enter, and Adams found himself in a room, half morning room, half boudoir. A bright log fire was burning, and on either side of the fireplace two women—a girl of about eighteen and a woman of thirty-five or so—were seated.
The elder woman, Madame Berselius, a Parisienne, pale, stout, yet well-proportioned, with almond-shaped eyes; full lips exquisitely cut in the form of the true cupid's bow; and with a face vigorous enough, but veiled by an expression at once mulish, blindish, and indolent—was a type.
The type of the poodle woman, the parasite. With the insolent expression of a Japanese lady of rank, an insult herself to the human race, you will see her everywhere in the highest social ranks of society. At the Zooelogical Gardens of Madrid on a Sunday, when the grandees of Spain take their pleasure amidst the animals at Longchamps, in Rotten Row, Washington Square, Unter den Linden, wherever money is, growing like an evil fungus, she flourishes.
Opposite Madame Berselius sat her daughter, Maxine.
Adams, after his first glance at the two women, saw only Maxine.
Maxine had golden-brown hair, worn after the fashion of Cleo de Merode's, gray eyes, and a wide mouth, with pomegranate-red lips. Goethe's dictum that the highest beauty is unobtainable without something of disproportion was exemplified in the case of Maxine Berselius. "Her mouth is too wide," said the women, who, knowing nothing of the philosophy of art, hit upon the defect that was Maxine's main charm.
Berselius introduced Adams to his wife and daughter, and scarcely had he done so than a servant, in the blue-and-gold livery of the house, flung open the door and announced that dejeuner was served.
Adams scarcely noticed the room into which they passed; a room whose scheme of colour was that watery green which we associate with the scenery of early spring, the call of the cuckoo, and the river echoes where the weir foams and the willow droops.
The tapestry hanging upon the walls did not distract from this scheme. Taken from some chateau of Provence, and old almost as the story of Nicolete, it showed ladies listening to shepherds who played on flutes, capering lambs, daffodils blowing to the winds of early spring under a sky gray and broken by rifts of blue.
Adams scarcely noticed the room, or the tapestry, or the food placed before him; he was entirely absorbed by two things, Maxine and Captain Berselius.
Berselius's presence at the table evidently cast silence and a cloak of restraint upon the women. You could see that the servants who served him dreaded him to the very tips of their fingers, and, though he was chatting easily and in an almost paternal manner, his wife and daughter had almost the air of children, nervous, and on their very best behaviour. This was noticeable, especially, in Madame Berselius. The beautiful, indolent, arrogant face became a very humble face indeed when she turned it on the man who was evidently, literally, her lord and master. Maxine, though oppressed by the presence, wore a different air; she seemed abstracted and utterly unconscious of what a beautiful picture she made against the old-world tapestry of spring.
Her eyes sometimes met the American's. They scarcely spoke to each other once during the meal, yet their eyes met almost as frequently as though they had been conversing. As a matter of fact, Adams was a new type of man to her, and on that account interesting; very different was this son of Anak, with the restful, forceful face, to the curled and scented dandies of the Chaussee d'Antin, the "captains with the little moustaches," the frequenters of the foyer de Ballet, the cigarette-dried mummies of the Grand Club. It was like the view of a mountain to a person who had only known hills.
Maxine, in her turn, was a new type of woman to Adams. This perfect flower from the Parisian hot-house was the rarest and most beautiful thing he had met in the way of womanhood. She seemed to him a rose only just unfolded, unconscious of its own freshness and beauty as of the dew upon its petals, and saying to the world, by the voice of its own loveliness, "Behold me!"
"Well," said Captain Berselius, as he took leave of his guest in the smoking room, "I will let you know to-night the day and hour of our departure. All my business in Paris will be settled this afternoon. You had better come and see me the day before we start, so that we can make our last arrangements. Au revoir."
The young man turned down the Avenue Malakoff, after he had left Berselius's house, in the direction of the Avenue des Champs Elysees.
In twenty-four hours a complete change had taken place in his life. His line of travel had taken a new and most unexpected course; it was as though a train on the North German had, suddenly, by some mysterious arrangement of points and tracks, found itself on the Paris-Lyons and Mediterranean Railway.
Yesterday afternoon the prospect before him, though vague enough, was American. A practice in some big central American town. It would be a hard fight, for money was scanty, and in medicine, especially in the States, advertisement counts for very much.
All that was changed now, and the hard, definite prospect that had elbowed itself out of vagueness stood before him: Africa, its palms and poisonous forests, the Congo—Berselius.
Something else besides these things also stood before him very definitely and almost casting them into shade. Maxine.
Up to this, a woman had never stood before him as a possible part of his future, if we except Mary Eliza Summers, the eleven-year-old daughter of old Abe Summers, who kept the store in Dodgeville, Vermont, years ago—that is to say, when Paul Quincy Adams was twelve, an orchard-robbing hooligan, whose chief worry in life was that, though he could thrash his eldest brother left-handed, he was condemned by the law of entail to wear his old pants.
When a man falls in love with a woman—really in love—though the attainment of his desire be all but impossible, he has reached the goal of life; no tide can take him higher toward the Absolute. He has reached life's zenith, and never will he rise higher, even though he live to wield a sceptre or rule armies.
Adams reached the Place de la Concorde on foot, walking and taking his way mechanically, and utterly unconscious of the passers-by.
He was studying in minute detail Maxine Berselius, the pose of her head outlined against the tapestry, the curves of her lips that could speak so well without speaking, the little shell-like ears, the brown-gold coils of her hair, her hands, her dress.
He was standing undetermined as to his route, and whether he would cross over to the Rue St. Honore or turn toward the Seine, when someone gripped his arm from behind, and, turning, he found himself face to face with Dr. Stenhouse, an English physician who had set up in Paris, practising in the Boulevard Haussmann and flourishing exceedingly.
"Well, this is luck," said Stenhouse. "I lost your address, or I would have written, asking you to come and see us. I remembered it was over on the other side of the water somewhere, but where exactly I could not remember. What are you doing with yourself?"
"Nothing, just at present."
"Well, see here. I'm going to the Rue du Mont Thabor to see a patient; walk along with me—it's quite close, just behind the Rue St. Honore."
They crossed the Place de la Concorde.
"You have finished your post-graduate work, I expect," said Stenhouse. "Are you going to practise in the States?"
"Ultimately, I may," replied Adams. "I have always intended doing so; but I have to feel my way very cautiously, for the money market is not in a particularly flourishing state with me."
"Good heavens!" said Stenhouse, "when is it with a medical man, especially when he is just starting? I've been through that. See here, why don't you start in Paris?"
"Yes, this is the place to make money. You say you are thinking of starting in some American city; well, let me tell you, there are very few American cities so full of rich Americans as Paris."
"Well," said Adams, "the idea is not a bad one, but just for the present I am fixed. I am going on a big-game shooting expedition to the Congo."
"Yes, and the salary is not bad—two thousand francs a month and everything found, to say nothing of the fun."
"And the malaria?"
"Oh, one has to run risks."
"Whom are you going with?"
"A man called Berselius."
"Not Captain Berselius?" asked Stenhouse, stopping dead.
"Yes, Captain Berselius, of No. 14 Avenue Malakoff. I have just returned from having dejeuner with him."
Stenhouse whistled. They were in the Rue du Mont Thabor by this, in front of a small cafe.
"Well," said Adams, "what's wrong?"
"Everything," replied the other. "This is the house where my patient lives. Wait for me, for a moment, like a good fellow. I shan't detain you long, and then we can finish our talk, for I have something to tell you."
He darted into the cafe and Adams waited, watching the passers-by and somewhat perturbed in mind. Stenhouse's manner impressed him uncomfortably, for, if Captain Berselius had been the devil, the Englishman could not have put more disfavour into his tone. And he (Adams) had made a compact with Captain Berselius.
The Rue du Mont Thabor is a somewhat gloomy little street, and it fitted Adams's mood as he waited, watching the passers-by and the small affairs of the little shops.
At the end of five minutes Stenhouse returned.
"Well?" said Adams.
"I have had no luncheon yet," replied Stenhouse. "I have been so rushed. Come with me to a little place I know in the Rue St. Honore, where I can get a cup of tea and a bun. We will talk then."
"Now," said Stenhouse, when he was seated at a little marble-topped table with the cup of tea and the bun before him. "You say you have engaged yourself to go to the Congo with Captain Berselius."
"Yes. What do you know about him?"
"That's just the difficulty. I can only say this, and it's between ourselves, the man's name is a byword for a brute and a devil."
"That's cheerful," said Adams.
"Mind you," said Stenhouse, "he is in the very best society. I have met him at a reception at the Elysee. He goes everywhere. He belongs to the best clubs; he's a persona grata at more courts than one, and an intimate friend of King Leopold of Belgium. His immense wealth, or part of it, comes from the rubber industry—motor tires and so forth. And he's mad after big game. That's his pleasure—killing. He's a killer. That is the best description of the man. The lust of blood is in him, and the astounding thing, to my mind, is that he is not a murderer. He has killed two men in duels, and they say that it is a sight to see him fighting. Mind you, when I say 'murderer,' I do not mean to imply that he is a man who would murder for money. Give the devil his due. I mean that he is quite beyond reason when aroused, and if you were to hit Captain Berselius in the face he would kill you as certain as I'll get indigestion from that bun I have just swallowed. The last doctor he took with him to Africa died at Marseilles from the hardships he went through—not at the hands of Berselius, for that would have aroused inquiry, but simply from the hardships of the expedition; but he gave frightful accounts to the hospital authorities of the way this Berselius had treated the natives. He drove that expedition right away from Libreville, in the French Congo, to God knows where. He had it under martial law the whole time, clubbing and thrashing the niggers at the least offence, and shooting with his own hand two of them who tried to desert."
"You must remember," said Adams, taking up the cudgels for Berselius and almost surprised himself at so doing, "that an expedition like that, if it is not held together by a firm hand, goes to pieces, and the result is disaster for everyone. And you know what niggers are."
"There you are," laughed Stenhouse. "The man has obsessed you already, and you'll come back, if you go, like Bauchardy, the man who died in the hospital at Marseilles, cursing Berselius, yet so magnetized by the power of the chap that you would be ready to follow him again if he said 'Come,' and you had the legs to stand on. That is how Bauchardy was."
"The man, undoubtedly, has a great individuality," said Adams. "Passing him in the street one might take him for a very ordinary person. Meeting him for the first time, he looks all good nature; that smile——"
"Always," said Stenhouse. "Beware of a man with a perpetual smile on his face."
"Yes, I know that, but this smile of Berselius's is not worn as a cloak. It seems quite natural to the man, yet somehow bad, as if it came from a profound and natural cynicism directed against all things—including all things good."
"You have put it," said Stenhouse, "in four words."
"But, in spite of everything," said Adams, "I believe the man to have great good qualities: some instinct tells me so."
"My dear sir," said Stenhouse, "did you ever meet a bad man worth twopence at his trade who had not good qualities? The bad man who is half good—so to speak—is a much more dangerous villain than the barrier bully without heart or soul. When hell makes a super-excellent devil, the devil puts goodness in just as a baker puts soda in his bread to make it rise. Look at Verlaine."
"Well," said Adams, "I have promised Berselius, and I will have to go. Besides, there are other considerations."
He was thinking of Maxine, and a smile lit up his face.
"You seem happy enough about it," said Stenhouse, rising to go. "Well, 'he who will to Cupar maun to Cupar.' When do you start?"
"I don't know yet, but I shall hear to-night."
They passed out into the Rue St. Honore, where they parted.
"Good luck," said Stenhouse, getting into a fiacre.
"Good-bye," replied Adams, waving his hand.
Being in that quarter of the town, and having nothing especial to do, he determined to go to Schaunard's in the Rue de la Paix, and see about his guns.
Schaunard personally superintends his own shop, which is the first gun-shop on the Continent of Europe. Emperors visit him in person and he receives them as an equal, though far superior to them in the science of sport. An old man now, with a long white beard, he remembers the fowling-pieces and rifles which he supplied to the Emperor Maximilian before that unfortunate gentleman started on his fatal expedition in search of a throne. He is a mathematician as well as a maker of guns; his telescopic sights and wind gauges are second to none in the world, and his shop front in the Rue de la Paix exposes no wares—it has just a wire blind, on which are blazoned the arms of Russia, England, and Spain.
But, inside, the place is a joy to a rightly constituted man. Behind glass cases the long processions of guns and rifles, smooth, sleek, nut-brown and deadly, are a sight for the eyes of a sportsman.
The duelling pistol is still a factor in Continental life, and the cases containing them at Schaunard's are worth lingering over, for the modern duelling pistol is a thing of beauty, very different from the murderous hair-trigger machines of Count Considine—though just as deadly.
To Schaunard, pottering amongst his wares, appeared Adams.
The swing-door closed, shutting out the sound of the Rue de la Paix, and the old gun-merchant came forward through the silence of his shop to meet his visitor.
Adams explained his business. He had come to buy some rifles for a big-game expedition. Captain Berselius had recommended him.
"Ah! Captain Berselius?" said Schaunard, and an interested look came into his face. "True, he is a customer of mine. As a matter of fact, his guns for his new expedition are already boxed and directed for Marseilles. Ah, yes—you require a complete outfit, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Adams. "I am going with him."
"Going with Captain Berselius as a friend?"
"No, as a doctor."
"True, he generally takes a doctor with him," said Schaunard, running his fingers through his beard. "Have you had much experience amidst big game, and can you make out your own list of requirements, or shall I help you with my advice?"
"I should be very glad of your advice. No, I have not had much experience in big-game shooting. I have shot bears, that's all——"
"Armand!" cried Schaunard, and a pale-faced young man came forward from the back part of the shop.
"Open me this case."
Armand opened a case, and the deft hand of the old man took down a double-barrelled cordite rifle, light-looking and of exquisite workmanship.
"These are the guns we shoot elephants with nowadays," said Schaunard, handling the weapon lovingly. "A child could carry it, and there is nothing living it will not kill." He laughed softly to himself, and then directed Armand to bring forward an elephant gun of the old pattern. In an instant the young man returned, staggering under the weight of the immense rifle, shod with a heel of india-rubber an inch thick.
Adams laughed, took the thing up with one hand, and raised it to his shoulder as though it had been a featherweight.
"Ah!" said he, "here's a gun worth shooting with."
Schaunard looked on with admiration at the giant handling the gigantic gun.
"Oh, for you," said he, "it's all very well. Ma foi, but you suit one another, you both are of another day."
"God bless you," said Adams, "you can pick me up by the bushel in the States. I'm small. Say, how much is this thing?"
"That!" cried Schaunard. "Why, what on earth could you want with such an obsolete weapon as that?"
"Tell me—does this thing hit harder, gun for gun—not weight for weight, mind you—but gun for gun—than that double-barrel you are holding in your hands?"
"Oh, yes," said Schaunard, "it hits harder, just as a cannon would hit harder, but——"
"I'll have her," said Adams. "I've taken a fancy to her. See here, Captain Berselius is paying for my guns; they are his, part of the expedition—I want this as my own, and I'll pay you for her out of my own pocket. How much is she?"
Schaunard, whose fifty years of trading had explained to him the fact that when an American takes a whim into his head it is best for all parties to let him have his own way, ran his fingers through his beard.
"The thing has no price," said he. "It is a curiosity. But if you must have it—well, I will let you have it for two hundred francs."
"Done," said Adams. "Have you any cartridges?"
"Oh, yes," replied Schaunard. "Heaps. That is to say, I have the old cartridges, and I can have a couple of hundred of them emptied and re-filled and percussioned. Ah, well, monsieur, you must have your own way. Armand, take the gun; have it attended to and packed. And now that monsieur has his play-toy," finished the old man, with one of his silent little laughs, "let us come to business."
They did, and nearly an hour was spent whilst the American chose a double hammerless-ejector cordite rifle and a .256 sporting Mannlicher, for Schaunard was a man who, when he took an interest in a customer, could be very interesting.
When business was concluded Schaunard gave his customer various tips as to the treatment of guns. "And now," said he, opening the door as Adams was taking his departure, "I will give you one more piece of advice about this expedition. It is a piece of private advice, and I will trust you not to tell the Captain that I gave it to you."
"Yes. What is the advice?"
Adams laughed as he turned on his heel, and Schaunard laughed as he closed the door.
A passer-by might have imagined that the two men had just exchanged a good joke.
Before Adams had taken three steps, the door of the shop re-opened, and Schaunard's voice called again.
"Yes?" said Adams, turning.
"You need not pay me for the gun till you come back."
"Right," said Adams, laughing. "I will call in and pay you for it when I come back. Au revoir."
On the day of departure Berselius was entertained at dejeuner by the Cerele Militaire. He brought Adams with him as a guest.
Nearly all the sporting members of the great club were present to speed the man who after Schillings was reckoned on the Continent the most adventurous big-game hunter in the world.
Despite what Stenhouse, Duthil, and Schaunard had said, Adams by this time inclined to a half-liking for Berselius; the man seemed so far from and unconscious of the little things of the world, so destitute of pettiness, that the half liking which always accompanies respect could not but find a place in Adams's mind.
Guest at a table surrounded by sixty of the wealthiest and most powerful officers of a military nation, Berselius did not forget his companion, but introduced him with painstaking care to the chief men present, included him in his speech of thanks, and made him feel that though he was taking Berselius's pay, he was his friend and on a perfect social equality with him.
Adams felt this keenly. On qualifying first he had obtained an appointment as travelling physician to an American, a prominent member of the New York smart set, a man of twenty-two, a motorist, a yachtsman, clean shaved as an actor and smug as a butler, one of those men who make the great American nation so small in the eyes of the world—the world that cannot see beyond the servants' hall antics of New York society to the great plains where the Adamses hew the wood and draw the water, build the cities and bridge the rivers, and lay the iron roads, making rail-heads of the roar of the Atlantic and the thunder of the Pacific.
This gentleman treated Adams as a paid attendant and in such a manner that Adams one morning lifted him from his bed by the slack of his silk pajamas and all but drowned him in his own bath.
He could not but remember the incident as he sat watching Berselius so calm, so courtly, so absolutely destitute of mannerism, so incontestably the superior, in some magnetic way, of all the other men who were present.
Maxine and M. Pinchon, the secretary, were to accompany them to Marseilles.
A cold, white Paris fog covered the city that night as they drove to the station, and the fog detonators and horns followed them as they glided out slowly from beneath the great glass roof. Slowly at first, then more swiftly over rumbling bridges and clicking point, more swiftly still, breaking from the fog-banked Seine valley, through snarling tunnel and chattering cutting, faster now and freer, by long lines of poplar trees, mist-strewn, and moonlit ponds and fields, spectral white roads, little winking towns; and now, as if drawn by the magnetic south, swaying to the rock-a-bye of speed, aiming for the lights of Dijon far away south, to the tune of the wheels, "seventy-miles-an-hour—seventy-miles-an-hour."
Civilization, whatever else she has done, has written one poem, the "Rapide." True to herself, she makes it pay a dividend, and prostitutes it to the service of stockbrokers, society folk, and gamblers bound for Monaco—but what a poem it is that we snore through between a day in Paris and a day in Marseilles. A poem, swiftly moving, musical with speed, a song built up of songs, telling of Paris, its chill and winter fog, of the winter fields, the poplar trees and mist; vineyards of the Cote d'Or; Provence with the dawn upon it, Tarascon blowing its morning bugle to the sun; the Rhone, and the vineyards, and the olives, and the white, white roads; ending at last in that triumphant blast of music, light and colour, Marseilles.
La Joconde, Berselius's yacht, was berthed at the Messagerie wharf, and after dejeuner at the Hotel Noailles, they took their way there on foot.
Adams had never seen the south before as Marseilles shows it. The vivid light and the black shadows, the variegated crowd of the Canabier Prolongue had for him an "Arabian Nights" fascination, but the wharves held a deeper fascination still.
Marseilles draws its most subtle charm from far away in the past. Beaked triremes have rubbed their girding cables against the wharves of the old Phocee; the sunshine of a thousand years has left some trace of its gold, a mirage in the air chilled by the mistral and perfumed by the ocean.
At Marseilles took place the meeting between Mary Magdalen and Laeta Acilia, so delightfully fabled by Anatole France. The Count of Monte Cristo landed here after he had discovered his treasure, and here Caderouse after the infamy at "La Reservee" watched old Dantes starving to death. Multitudes of ships, fabled and real, have passed from the harbour to countries curious and strange, but never one of them to a stranger country than that to which La Joconde was to bear Berselius and his companion.
Gay as Naples with colour, piercing the blue sky with a thousand spars, fluttering the flags of all nations to the wind, shot through with the sharp rattle of winch-chains, and perfumed with garlic, vanilla, fumes of coal tar, and the tang of the sea, the wharves of Marseilles lay before the travellers, a great counter eternally vibrating to the thunder of trade; bales of carpets from the Levant, tons of cheeses from Holland, wood from Norway, copra, rice, tobacco, corn, silks from China and Japan, cotton from Lancashire; all pouring in to the tune of the winch-pauls, the cry of the stevedores, and the bugles of Port Saint Jean, shrill beneath the blue sky and triumphant as the crowing of the Gallic cock.
Between the breaks in the shipping one could see the sea-gulls fishing and the harbour flashing, here spangled with coal tar, here whipped to deepest sapphire by the mistral; the junk shops, grog shops, parrot shops, rope-walks, ships' stores and factories lining the quays, each lending a perfume, a voice, or a scrap of colour to the air vibrating with light, vibrating with sound, shot through with voices; hammer blows from the copper sheathers in the dry docks, the rolling of drums from Port St. Nicholas, the roaring of grain elevators, rattling of winch-chains, trumpeting of ship sirens, mewing of gulls, the bells of Notre Dame and the bells of St. Victor, all fused, orchestrated, into one triumphant symphony beneath the clear blue sky and the trade flags of the world.
La Joconde was berthed beside a Messagerie boat which they had to cross to reach her.
She was a palatial cruising yacht of twelve hundred tons' burden, built somewhat on the lines of Drexel's La Margharita, but with less width of funnel.
It was two o'clock in the afternoon when they went on board; all the luggage had arrived, steam was up, the port arrangements had been made, and Berselius determined to start at once.
Maxine kissed him, then she turned to Adams.
"Good-bye," said Adams.
He held her hand for a fraction of a second after his grasp had relaxed.
Then she was standing on the deck of the Messagerie boat, waving good-bye across the lane of blue water widening between La Joconde and her berth mate.
At the harbour mouth, looking back across the blue wind-swept water, he fancied he could still see her, a microscopic speck in the great picture of terraced Marseilles, with its windows, houses, flags, and domes glittering and burning in the sun.
Then the swell of the Gulf of Lyons took La Joconde as a nurse takes an infant and rocks it on her knee, and France and civilization were slowly wrapped from sight under the veils of distance.
It was evening. La Joconde, Berselius's yacht, lay moored at the wharf of Matadi; warpling against the starboard plates, whimpering, wimpling, here smooth as glass, here eddied and frosted, a sea of golden light, a gliding mirror, went the Congo.
A faint, faint haze dulled the palms away on the other side; from the wharf, where ships were loading up with rubber, ivory, palm-oil, and bales of gum copal, the roar and rattle of steam-winches went across the water, far away across the glittering water, where the red flamingoes were flying, to that other shore where the palm trees showed their fringe of hot and hazy green.
The impression of heat which green, the coolest of all colours, can produce, damp heat, heart-weakening heat, that is the master impression produced by the Congo on the mind of man. All the other impressions are—to paraphrase Thenard—embroideries on this.
Yet how many other impressions there are! The Congo is Africa in a frank mood. Africa, laying her hand on her heart and speaking, or rather, whispering the truth.
This great river flooding from Stanley Pool and far away beyond, draws with it, like a moving dream, the pictures of the roaring rapids and the silent pools, the swamps filled with darkness of vegetation and murderous life; the unutterable loneliness of vast forests. The water brook of the hartbeest and antelope, it brings with it their quiet reflections, just as it brings the awful horn and the pig-like face of the rhinoceros. What things have not slaked their thirst in this quiet water flooding past Matadi—and wallowed in it? Its faint perfume hints at that.
On the deck of the yacht, under the double awning, Berselius was seated, and, close to him, Adams. They had arrived only yesterday, and to-morrow they were proceeding by rail to Leopoldville, which was to be the real base of the expedition, leaving La Joconde behind at Matadi.
The yacht would return to France.
"What a lot of stuff they are loading on those ships," said Adams, turning in his chair as the roar and rattle of the winch chains, that had ceased for a moment, flared up again like a flame of sound. "What are the exports here?"
"Gum copal—nuts—rubber—tusks—everything you can get out of there," answered Berselius, lazily waving a hand to indicate the Congo basin.
Adams, leaning back in his deck chair, followed with his eyes the sweep of Berselius's hand, "over there"; little did he dream of what those words held in their magic.
Then Berselius went below.
The moon rose; lights speckled the misty wharf and a broad road of silver lay stretched across the moving water to the other bank that, under the moonlight, lay like a line of cotton-wool. It was the mist tangled by and tangling the trees.
Adams paced the deck, smoking and occasionally pausing to flip off his cigar-ash on the bulwark rail. He was thinking of Maxine Berselius. She had come to Marseilles to see them off, and——
Not a word had been exchanged between them that a third person did not hear or might not have heard, yet they had told each other the whole of that delightful story in which the hero is I and the heroine You.
Adams on his side and Maxine on hers did not in the least contemplate possibilities. A social river, wide as the Congo, and flowing from as mysterious a source, lay between them. Maxine was rich—so rich that the contrast of her wealth with his own poverty shut the door for Adams on the idea of marriage. He could not hope to take his true place in the world for years, and he would not stoop to take a woman's money or assistance.
He was too big to go through a back door. No, he would enter the social temple by walking between the pillars of the portico, or smashing an entrance way through the wall with his fist.
He was a type of the true American man, the individual who trusts in himself; an unpleasant person very often, but the most essentially male creation in Nature.
Though he could not contemplate Maxine as a wife, he did as a woman. In a state of savagery he would have carried her off in his arms; surrounded as he was by the trammels of civilization, he contented himself with imagining her in that position.
It is quite possible that no other woman would ever inspire the same passion in him. He knew this, yet he did not grumble; for he was practical, and his practical nature had a part in his wildest dreams.
Go to New York and look at the twenty-storied, sky-scrapers built by the Adamses. They look like houses out of a story by Dean Swift. The wildest dreams of architecture. Yet they don't fall down; they serve their purpose, for the dreamers who built them were at bottom practical men.
As he paced the deck, smoking and contemplating the moonlit river, Maxine gave place in his mind to her father.
Berselius up to this had shown himself in no unfavourable light. Up to this he had been almost companionable.
Almost! They had dined together, paced the deck together, discussed all sorts of subjects, yet not by the fraction of an inch had he advanced in his knowledge of the man. A wall of ice divided Berselius from his fellow-men. Between him and them a great gulf was fixed, a gulf narrow enough to speak across, but of an impenetrable depth. Berselius was always so assured, so impassively calm, so authoritative, his conversation so penetrative, so lit by intuition and acquired knowledge, that Adams sometimes in his company felt that elation which comes to us when we find ourselves in the presence of a supreme mind. At other times this overpowering personality weighed upon him so much that he would leave the saloon and pace the deck so as to become himself again.
* * * * *
Next morning they left by rail for Leopoldville, where they found waiting for them the Leopold, a shallow-draught steamer of some two hundred tons.
The Leopold was officered entirely by Belgians, and it would have been almost impossible to find a pleasanter set of men. Tilkins, the captain, especially, won Adams's regard. He was a huge man, with a wife and family in Antwerp, and he was eternally damning the Congo and wishing himself back in Antwerp.
They transhipped to a smaller boat, the Couronne, and one morning shortly after breakfast three strokes on the steamer bell announced their approach to Yandjali.
Imagine a rough landing-stage, a handful of houses, mostly mud-built, the funereal heat-green of palm and banana, a flood of tropical sunshine lighting the little wharf, crammed with bales of merchandise.
Such was Yandjali, and beyond Yandjali lay the forest, and in front of Yandjali flowed the river, and years ago boom-boom down the river's shining surface, from away up there where the great palms gave place to reeds and water-grass, you might have heard the sound of the hippopotami bellowing to the sun, a deep organ note, unlike the sound emitted by any other creature on earth. You do not hear it now. The great brutes have long ago been driven away by man.
On the wharf to greet the steamer stood the District Commissioner, Commander Verhaeren; behind him six or seven half-naked, savage-looking blacks, each topped with a red fez and armed with an Albini rifle, stood gazing straight before them with wrinkled eyes at the approaching boat.
Verhaeren and Berselius were seemingly old friends; they shook hands and Berselius introduced Adams; then the three left the wharf and walked up to the District Commissioner's house, a frame building surrounded by palm trees and some distance from the mud huts of the soldiers and porters.
The Yandjali of this story, not to be confounded with Yandjali notorious in Congo history for its massacre, is not in a rubber district, though on the fringe of one; it is a game district and produces cassava. The Congo State has parcelled out its territory. There are the rubber districts, the gum copal districts, the food districts, and the districts where ivory is obtained. In each of these districts the natives are made to work and bring in rubber, gum copal, food, or ivory, as a tax. The District Commissioner, or Chef de Poste, in each district draws up a schedule of what is required. Such and such a village must produce and hand over so many kilos of rubber, or copal, so much cassava, so many tusks, etc.
Verhaeren was a stout, pale-faced man, with a jet-black beard, a good-tempered looking man, with that strange, lazy, semi-Oriental look which the Belgian face takes when the owner of it is fixed to a post, with nothing to do but oversee trade, and when the post is on the confines of civilization.
Away up country, lost in the dim, green, heat-laden wilderness, you will find a different type of man; more alert and nervy, a man who never smiles, a preoccupied looking man who, ten years or five years ago, lost his berth in an office for misconduct, or his commission in the army. A declasse. He is the man who really drives the Congo machine, the last wheel in the engine, but the most important; the man whose deeds are not to be written.
Verhaeren's living room in the frame house was furnished with steamer deck chairs, a table and some shelves. Pinned to the wall and curling up at the corners was a page torn from La Gaudriole, the picture of a girl in tights; on one of the shelves lay a stack of old newspapers, on another a stack of official papers, reports from subordinates, invoices, and those eternal "official letters," with which the Congo Government deluges its employees, and whose everlasting purport is "Get more ivory, get more rubber, get more copal."
Verhaeren brought out some excellent cigars and a bottle of Vanderhum, and the three men smoked and talked. He had acted as Berselius's agent for the expedition, and had collected all the gun-bearers and porters necessary, and a guide. It was Berselius's intention to strike a hundred miles west up river almost parallel to the Congo, and then south into the heart of the elephant country. They talked of the expedition, but Verhaeren showed little knowledge of the work and no enthusiasm. The Belgians of the Congo have no feeling for sport. They never hunt the game at their doors, except for food.
When they had discussed matters, Verhaeren led the way out for Berselius to inspect his arrangements.
The porters were called up. There were forty of them, and Adams thought that he had never before seen such a collection of depressed looking individuals; they were muscular enough, but there was something in their faces, their movements and their attitude, that told a tale of spirits broken to servitude by terror.
The four gun-bearers and the headman were very different. The headman was a Zappo Zap, a ferocious looking nigger, fez-tipped, who could speak twenty words of French, and who was nicknamed Felix. The gun-bearers were recruited from the "soldiers" of the state by special leave from headquarters.
Adams looked with astonishment at the immense amount of luggage they were bringing. "Chop boxes," such as are used on the east coast, contained stores; two big tents, a couple of "Roorkee" chairs, folding-beds and tables, cork mattresses, cooking utensils, made up the pile, to say nothing of the guns which had just been taken from their cases.
"What did you bring this thing for?" asked Berselius, pointing to Adams's elephant gun, which the Zappo Zap headman was just stripping from its covering.
"To shoot with," said Adams, laughing.
Berselius looked at the big man handling the big gun, and gave a short laugh.
"Well, bring it," said he; "but I don't envy your gun-bearers."
But Felix, the headman, did not seem of the same opinion. The enormous rifle evidently appealed to his ferocious heart. It was a god-gun this, and no mistake, and its lustre evidently spread to Adams, the owner of it.
Felix was a very big man, almost as big as Adams: a member of the great cannibal fighting tribe of Zappo Zaps, he had followed Verhaeren, who had once held a post in the Bena Pianga country, to Yandjali; he had a sort of attachment for Verhaeren, which showed that he possessed some sort of heart. All the Zappo Zaps have been enrolled by the Congo Government as "soldiers"; they have a bad name and cause a lot of heart-searching to the Brussels administration, for when they are used in punitive expeditions to burn villages of recalcitrant rubber-getters, they, to use a local expression, "will eat when they have killed." When they are used en masse, the old cannibal instinct breaks out; when the killing is over they go for the killed, furious as dogs over bones. God help the man who would come between them and their food!
Of these men Felix was a fine specimen. A nature man, ever ready to slay, and cruel as Death. A man from the beginning of the world.
If Felix had possessed a wife, he and she might have stood for the man and woman mentioned by Thenard in his lecture.
The basic man and woman in whose dim brains Determination had begun to work, sketching the vague line on either side of which lies the Right and Left of moral action.
A true savage, never to be really civilized. For it is the fate of the savage that he will never become one of us. Do what you will and pray how you will, you will never make up for the million years that have passed him by, the million years during which the dim sketch which is the basis of all ethics has lain in his brain undeveloped, or developed only into a few fantastic and abortive God shapes and devil shapes.
He will never become one of us. Extraordinary paradox—he never can become a Leopold or a Felix Fuchs!
Berselius disbanded the porters with a wave of the hand, and he and his companions began a round of the station. Verhaeren, with a cigar in his mouth, led the way.
He opened the door of a go-down, and Adams in the dim light, saw bale upon bale of stuff; gum copal it proved to be, for Yandjali tapped a huge district where this stuff is found, and which lies forty miles to the south. There was also cassava in large quantities, and the place had a heady smell, as if fermentation were going on amidst the bales.
Verhaeren shut the door and led on till, rounding a corner, a puff of hot air brought a stench which caused Adams to choke and spit.
It was the Hostage House that sent its poisonous breath to meet them.
A native corporal and two soldiers stood at the palisade which circled the Hostage House. The women and children had just been driven back from the fields where they had been digging and weeding, and they had been served with their wretched dinners. They were eating these scraps of food like animals, some in the sun amidst the tufts of grass and mounds of ordure in the little yard, some in the shadow of the house.
There were old, old women like shrivelled monkeys; girls of twelve and fifteen, some almost comely; middle-aged women, women about to become mothers, and a woman who had become a mother during the past night lying there in the shelter of the Hostage House. There were little pot-bellied nigger children, tiny black dots, who had to do their bit of work in the fields with the others; and when the strangers appeared and looked over the rail, these folk set up a crying and chattering, and ran about distractedly, not knowing what new thing was in store for them. They were the female folk and children of a village, ten miles away south; they were here as "hostages," because the village had not produced its full tale of cassava. They had been here over a month.
The soldiers laughed, and struck with the butts of their rifles on the palisading, as if to increase the confusion. Adams noticed that the young girls and women were of all the terrified crowd seemingly the most terrified. He did not know the reason; he could not even guess it. A good man himself, and believing in a God in heaven, he could not guess the truth. He knew nothing of the reason of these women's terror, and he looked with disgust at the scene before him, not entirely comprehending. Those creatures, so filthy, so animal-like, created in his mind such abhorrence that he forgot to make allowances for the fact that they were penned like swine, and that perchance in their own native state, free in their own villages, they might be cleaner and less revolting. He could not hear the dismal cry of the "Congo niggers," who of all people on the earth are the most miserable, the most abused, the most sorrow-stricken, the most dumb. He did not know that he was looking at one of the filthy acts in the great drama that a hundred years hence will be read with horror by a more enlightened world.
They turned from the degrading sight and went back to Verhaeren's house for dinner.
THE VOICE OF THE CONGO FOREST
Just after daybreak next morning the expedition started.
Berselius, Adams, the gun-bearers and Felix headed the line; a long way after came the porters and their loads, shepherded by half a dozen soldiers of the state specially hired for the business.
Before they had gone a mile on their route the sun was blazing strongly, sharp bird-calls came from the trees, and from the porters tramping under their loads a hum like the hum of an awakened beehive. These people will talk and chatter when the sun rises; club them, or threaten them, or load them with burdens as much as you please, the old instinct of the birds and beasts remains.
At first the way led through cassava and manioc fields and past clumps of palms; then, all at once, and like plunging under a green veil or into the heart of a green wave, they entered the forest.
The night chill was just leaving the forest, the great green gloom, festooned with fantastic rope-like tendrils, was drinking the sunlight with a million tongues; you could hear the rustle and snap of branches straightening themselves and sighing toward heaven after the long, damp, chilly night. The tropical forest at daybreak flings its arms up to the sun as if to embrace him, and all the teeming life it holds gives tongue. Flights of coloured and extraordinary birds rise like smoke wreaths from the steaming leaves, and the drone of a million, million insects from the sonorous depths comes like the sound of life in ferment.
The river lay a few miles to their left, and faintly from it, muffled by the trees, they could hear the shrill whistling of the river steamboat. It was like the "good-bye" of civilization.
The road they were pursuing through the forest was just a dim track beaten down by the feet of the copal and cassava gatherers bearing their loads to Yandjali. Here and there the forest thinned out and a riot of umbrella thorns, vicious, sword-like grass and tall, dull purple flowers, like hollyhocks made a scrub that choked the way and tangled the foot; then the trees would thicken up, and with the green gloom of a mighty wave the forest would fall upon the travellers and swallow them up.
Adams, tramping beside Berselius, tried vainly to analyze the extraordinary and new sensations to which this place gave birth in him.
The forest had taken him. It seemed to him, on entering it, that he had died to all the things he had ever known. At Yandjali he had felt himself in a foreign country, but still in touch with Europe and the past; a mile deep in the forest and Yandjali itself, savage as it was, seemed part of the civilization and the life he had left behind him.
The forests of the old world may be vast, but their trees are familiar. One may lose one's direction, but one can never lose oneself amidst the friendly pines, the beeches, the oaks, whose forms have been known to us from childhood.
But here, where the beard-moss hangs from unknown trees, as we tramp through the sweltering sap-scented gloom, we feel ourselves not in a forest but under a cover.
There is nothing of the perfume of the pine, nothing of the breeze in the branches, nothing of the beauty of the forest twilight here. We are in a great green room, festooned with vines and tendrils and hung about with leaves. Nothing is beautiful here, but everything is curious. It is a curiosity shop, where one pays with the sweat of one's brow, with the languor of one's body, and the remembrance of one's past, for the sight of an orchid shaped like a bird, or a flower shaped like a jug, or a bird whose flight is a flash of sapphire dust.
A great green room, where echo sounds of things unknown.
You can see nothing but the foliage, and the tree boles just around, yet the place is full of life and war and danger.
That crash followed by the shrieking of birds—you cannot tell whether it is half a mile away or quite close, or to the right, or to the left, or whether it is caused by a branch torn from a tree by some huge hand, or a tree a hundred years old felled at last by Time.
Time is the woodman of the Congo forests. Nobody else could do the work, and he works in his own lazy fashion, leaving things to right themselves and find their own salvation.
Just as there is eternal war to the death between the beasts of this jungle, so there is war to the death between the trees, the vines, and the weeds. A frightful battle between the vegetable things is going on; we scarcely recognize it, because the processes are so slow, but if five years of the jungle could be photographed week by week, and the whole series be run rapidly off on some huge cinematograph machine, you would see a heaving and rending struggle for existence, vegetation fed by the roaring tropical rains rising like a giant and flinging itself on the vegetation of yesterday; vines lengthening like snakes, tree felling tree, and weed choking weed.
Even in the quietude of a moment, standing and looking before one at the moss-bearded trees and the python-like loops of the lianas, one can see the struggle crystallized, just as in the still marble of the Laocoon one sees the struggle of life with death.
In this place which covers an unthinkable area of the earth, a vast population has dwelt since the beginning of time. Think of it. Shut off from the world which has progressed toward civilization, alone with the beasts and the trees, they have lived here without a guide and without a God. The instinct which teaches the birds to build nests taught them to build huts; the herd-instinct drove them into tribes.
Then, ages ago, before Christ was crucified, before Moses was born, began the terrible and pathetic attempt of a predamned people to raise their heads and walk erect. The first lifting of purblind eyes destined never to see even the face of Art.
Yet there was a germ of civilization amongst them. They had villages and vague laws and art of a sort; the ferocious tribes drew to one side, hunting beasts and warring with each other, and the others, the milder and kindlier tribes, led their own comparatively quiet life; and Mohammed was born somewhere in the unknown North, and they knew nothing of the fact till the Arab slavers raided them, and robbed them of men and women and children, just as boys rob an orchard.
But the birth of Christ and the foundation of Christendom was the event which in far distant years was destined to be this unhappy people's last undoing.
They had known the beasts of the forests, the storms, the rains, the Arab raiders, but Fate had reserved a new thing for them to know. The Christians. Alas! that one should have to say it, but here the fact is, that white men, Christian men, have taken these people, have drawn under the banner of Christianity and under Christian pay all the warlike tribes, armed them, and set them as task-masters over the humble and meek. And never in the history of the world has such a state of servitude been known as at present exists in the country of this forlorn people.
They had been marching some three hours when, from ahead came a sound as of some huge animal approaching. Berselius half turned to his gun-bearer for his rifle, but Felix reassured him.
"Cassava bearers," said Felix.
It was, in fact, a crowd of natives; some thirty or forty, bearing loads of Kwanga (cassava cakes) to Yandjali. They were coming along the forest path in single file, their burdens on their heads, and when the leaders saw the white men they stopped dead. A great chattering broke out. One could hear it going back all along the unseen line, a rattlesnake of sound. Then Felix called out to them; the gun-bearers and the white men stood aside, and the cassava bearers, taking heart, advanced.
They were heavily laden, for most of them had from ten to twenty Kwanga on their heads, and besides this burden—they were mostly women—several of them had babies slung on their backs.
These people belonged to a village which lay within Verhaeren's district. The tax laid on this village was three hundred cakes of cassava to be delivered at Yandjali every eight days.
The people of this village were a lazy lot, and if you have ever collected taxes in England, you can fancy the trouble of making such people—savages living in a tropical forest, who have no count of time and scarcely an idea of numbers—pay up.
Especially when one takes into consideration the fact that to produce three hundred cakes of cassava every eight days, the whole village must work literally like a beehive, the men gathering and the women grinding the stuff from dawn till dark.
Only by the heaviest penalties could such a desirable state of things be brought about, and the heavier and sharper the punishments inflicted at any one time, the easier was it for Verhaeren to work these people.
Adams watched the cassava bearers as they passed at a trot. They went by like automatic figures, without raising their eyes from the ground. There were some old women amongst them who looked more like shrivelled monkeys than human beings; extraordinary anatomical specimens, whose muscles, working as they ran, were as visible as though no skin covered them. There were young women, young children, and women far advanced in pregnancy; and they all went by like automatic figures, clockwork marionettes.
It was a pitiable spectacle enough, these laden creatures, mute looking as dumb beasts; but there was nothing especially to shock the eye of the European, for it is the long-prepared treason against this people, devised and carried out by nature, that their black mask covers a multitude of other people's sins and their own untold sufferings.
Had they been white, the despairing look, the sunken eyes, the hundred signs that tell of suffering and slavery would have been visible, would have appealed to the heart; but the black mass could not express these things fully. They were niggers, uglier looking and more depressed looking than other niggers—that was all.
And so Adams passed on, without knowing what he had seen and the only impression the sight made on his mind was one of disgust.
One fact his professional eye noticed as the crowd passed by. Four of the women had lost their left hands.
The hands had been amputated just above the wrist in three cases, and one woman had suffered amputation at the middle of the forearm.
He spoke of this to Berselius, who did not seem to hear his remark.
At noon they halted for a three hours' rest, and then pushed on, camping for the night, after a twenty-five miles' journey, in a break of the forest.
Just as going along the coast by Pondoland one sees English park scenery running down to the very sea edge, so the Congo has its surprises in strips of country that might, as far as appearance goes, have been cut out of Europe and planted here.
This glade which Felix had chosen for a camping place was strewn with rough grass and studded here and there with what at first sight seemed apple trees: they were in reality thorns.
The camp was pitched and the fires lit on the edge of the forest, and then Berselius proceeded to take tale of his people and found one missing. One of the cook boys had dropped behind and vanished. He had been lame shortly after the start. The soldiers had not seen him drop behind, but the porters had.
"How many miles away was it?" asked Berselius of the collected porters.
"Nkoto, nkoto (Very many, very many)," the answer came in a chorus, for a group of savages, if they have the same idea in common, will all shout together in response to an answer, like one man.
"Why had they not told?"
"We did not know," came the irrelevant answer in chorus.
Berselius knew quite well that they had not told simply from heedlessness and want of initiative. He would have flogged the whole lot soundly, but he wanted them fresh for the morrow's work. Cutting down their rations would but weaken them, and as for threatening to dock their pay, such a threat has no effect on a savage.
"Look!" said Berselius.
He had just dismissed the porters with a reprimand when his keen eye caught sight of something far up the glade. It wanted an hour of sunset.
Adams, following the direction in which Berselius was gazing, saw, a great distance off, to judge by the diminishing size of the thorn trees, a form that made his heart to leap in him.
Massive and motionless, a great creature stood humped in the level light; the twin horns back-curving and silhouetted against the sky told him at once what it was.
"Bull rhinoceros," said Berselius. "Been lying up in the thick stuff all day; come out to feed." He made a sign to Felix who, knowing exactly what was wanted, dived into the tent and came back with a .400 cordite rifle and Adams's elephant gun.
"Come," said Berselius, "the brute is evidently thinking. They stay like that for an hour sometimes. If we have any luck, we may get a shot sideways before he moves. There's not a breath of wind."
They started, Felix following with the guns.
"I would not bother about him," said Berselius, "only the meat will be useful, and it will be an experience for you. You will take first shot, and, if he charges, aim just behind the shoulder—that's the spot for a rhino if you can reach it; for other animals aim at the neck, no matter what animal it is, or whether it is a lion or a buck; the neck shot is the knock-out blow. I have seen a lion shot through the heart travel fifty yards and kill a man; had he been struck in the neck he would have fallen in his tracks."
"Cow," said Felix from behind.
Out of the thick stuff on the edge of the forest another form had broken. She was scarcely smaller than the bull, but the horns were shorter; she was paler in colour, too, and showed up not nearly so well. Then she vanished into the thick stuff, but the bull remained standing, immovable as though he were made of cast iron, and the two awful horns, now more distinct, cut the background like scimitars.
The rhinoceros, like the aboriginal native of the Congo, has come straight down from pre-Adamite days almost without change. He is half blind now; he can scarcely see twenty yards, he is still moving in the night of the ancient world, and the smell of a man excites the wildest apprehension in his vestige of a mind. He scents you, flings his heavy head from side to side, and then to all appearances he charges you.
Nothing could appear more wicked, ferocious, and full of deadly intent than this charge; yet, in reality, the unfortunate brute is not seeking you at all, but running away from you; for the rhino when running away always runs in the direction from which the wind is blowing. You are in that direction, else your scent could not reach him; as your scent grows stronger and stronger, the more alarmed does he become and the quicker he runs. Now he sights you, or you fire. If you miss, God help you, for he charges the flash with all his fright suddenly changed to fury.
They had got within four hundred yards from the brute when a faint puff of wind stirred the grass, and instantly the rhino shifted his position.
"He's got our scent," said Berselius, taking the cordite rifle from Felix, who handed his gun also to Adams. "He's got it strong. We will wait for him here."
The rhino, after a few uneasy movements, began to "run about." One could see that the brute was ill at ease; he went in a half-circle, and then, the wind increasing, and bringing the scent strong, he headed straight for Berselius and his companions, and charged.
The sound of him coming was like the sound of a great drum beaten by a lunatic.
"Don't fire till I give the word," cried Berselius, "and aim just behind the shoulder."
Adams, who was to the left of the charging beast, raised the rifle and looked down the sights. He knew that if he missed, the brute would charge the flash and be on him perhaps before he could give it the second barrel.
It was exactly like standing before an advancing express engine. An engine, moreover, that had the power of leaving the metals to chase you should you not derail it.