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C. DUDLEY LAMPEN

MIRANGO THE MAN-EATER
A TALE OF CENTRAL AFRICA

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BEING THE NARRATIVE OF GEORGE PRYCE,
TRAVELLER AND EXILE, FIRST WRIT DOWN
ANNO DOMINI 1706, AND NOW RETOLD BY
C. DUDLEY LAMPEN

ILLUSTRATED BY ERNEST PRATER


First published by
The Society for Promoting Christan Knowledge
London, 1899

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-03-16
Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

Only the original raw text of this book is in the public domain.
All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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Illustration

"Mirango the Man-Eater,"
The Society for Promoting Christan Knowledge, London, 1899.



Illustration

"Mirango the Man-Eater," Title Page.


TABLE OF CONTENTS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



I. — IN WHICH I FIGHT FOR THE
POSSESSION OF THE BOOK OF DUARTE LOPEZ.

IN how curious a fashion the narrative of Duarte Lopez came into my possession, it needeth that I should write at some length. When the ancient manuscript, inscribed upon parchment, was offered to me for a considerable price, by Moses Ben Israel the elder, on the occasion of my visit to the famous seaport of Lisbon, I was disposed to purchase the old document, (ancient writings of the sort, and more especially books of travel, being greatly to my liking). But the value set upon it by the Jew was so exceeding high that my purse did not at the time contain enough to enable me to acquire the book. With regret, therefore, I declined his offer and returned to my lodging.

It was at a late hour on the evening of the same day, and, as I was preparing for my departure to England—which departure was to take place on the following morning—that a young man was ushered into my apartment whose countenance bore so unmistakeable a likeness to the afore-mentioned Moses Ben Israel, that I was by no means surprised when he announced that he was his son, and that his father had bidden him bring to me the Portuguese manuscript which I had that day inspected. But I refused to purchase it—the price was too high, I said.

"My father bids me tell you that, after your departure from his shop, there entered a stranger, to whom my father by chance showed the writing. Instantly the man's face became all aglow with excitement, and it was plain that he greatly coveted the book. 'Tell me your price, Jew,' quoth he, 'and I will purchase the parchment.' So exceedingly eager was the man—plainly of seafaring occupation—that my father concluded the value of the document to be higher than that which he had set upon it."

"Ah! he is artful," I exclaimed.

"These are hard times," replied the youth, deprecatingly, "and we are bound to make a living."

"And a right good one, I warrant," I chimed in. "But now, my fine youth, let us to business. The Jew, your father, asked a high price to-day for this musty script. Tell me, I pray, how much less he is willing to accept?"

"He desires me to inform you, senhor, that scarce having looked into the book, he was not aware that it was of such exceeding interest; but that he will offer it for sale to the seafaring gentleman who at present awaits his decision, unless you are willing to purchase it."

My interest was beginning to be aroused. "Have you brought the book?" I inquired, with perhaps a little too much eagerness in my tone.

"Yes, senhor; my father thought that you would like to inspect the valuable document more closely. Here it is."

And, producing a packet from beneath his coat, he laid it on the table.

I took it up and unwrapped the book. It was a strange-looking tome, curiously bound in the hairy skin of some animal unknown to me, and had plainly seen some rough usage, for there was a great hole in the cover as though it had been used as a target. The interior, though written in a crabbed hand, was readable enough.

It had no artistic merit, nor were there illuminated letters; but, as I opened it at chance, my eye lighted on one paragraph in the middle of the book, which so riveted my attention that I forgot the presence of the young Jew, and stood there bending over the table, deciphering the yellow characters, and turning over the dry and crackling leaves, not once, nor twice, but many times.

The title of the book (Englished) ran thus—


The Travels of Duarte Lopez, Priest,
of the Port of Lisbon,

Writ down by him in the Lake of Islands,
and in the year of our salvation.
One Thousand Six Hundred and Sixty-six.


This is an exact translation of the words on which my eye chanced to light, on page one hundred and forty-two—


"And so it came to pass that Diego and his company came to the Lake of Islands. Strange and alarmful are the ways of the people of this country (if indeed a country it can be called, where the streets and roads are of water). But stranger and more exceeding marvellous are the riches of this land, for indeed they surpass all the dreams of human avarice; and were it but possible for us to convey one tithe of the elephant tusks, and dust of gold, and skins of wild and strange beasts, to Europe, we should all be rich men."

* * * * *

"It may be that this my book and story of our adventures in coming to this land, will fall into the hands of some who may be willing to make the attempt to reach the country in which we are compelled to reside. That we shall be permitted to leave the land, I have now, after these many years' residence therein, ceased to hope, and almost has the wish died out of my innermost desires. Man can but live in one place at a time on earth, and assuredly this land of marvels and riches is not devoid of attractions. But I could wish that some of my companions, who pine and sigh for the air and sights of civilization, could be released from this captive-freedom."


Towards the end of the volume, namely, on the one hundredth and fifty-sixth page, which contained a lengthy account of the animals and plants of the country, as well as elaborate descriptions of the remarkable customs of the inhabitants, I further came across the following strange remarks—


"I trust this precious volume to my most faithful slave, the youth Mirango. He has undertaken to convey it to the coast. If it should ever reach any civilized country, I implore those who read herein to consider our estate, cut off as we are by mighty waters, great mountains, and fierce men from converse with our fellows. But if any of them be curious and courageous enough to attempt to reach us, let them remember that we can only be come at by that mighty river—by some called the Zaire, by others the Congo—which flows into the ocean on the west coast of the Continent of Africa, between the Equator and latitude 10° South. Up this river there is free passage as far as the rapids, which must be passed on land (an exceeding toilsome journey, and where food is scarce). After this cometh a lake or pool, from which, if native boats be procured, the passage up the river is easy. But let the traveller beware of numerous ferocious tribes, which infest the banks, and eat the flesh of men.

"At the end of two months will be reached a remarkable stream on the northern bank. Its mouth may be known by a gigantic rock the exact shape of a crouching lion. This rock guards the western point of the entrance to the river—to wit, the right-hand side.

"Let the bold traveller (should he arrive at this place in safety) now proceed up this tributary stream, and keeping by the eastern bank he will find a navigable channel, which leads at length through the shadow of death to the narrow Gorge of Matobee, wherein are many and grievous dangers, and thus to the great and most wonderful Lake of the Nine Hundred and Seventy-two Isles.

"Arrived at the entrance to the lake, let him beware of the archers posted upon the cliffs, and of the water- gate, which is kept closed at all times. Further, let none of his people venture to swim in the warm waters of the lake, or death in a terrible form will ensue. Finally, once arrived at the Isle of Manloov, let the traveller abandon all hope of escape, for no stranger may leave this realm, and it was with difficulty that I sent away the youth Mirango from the Isle of Oralima."


Arrived at this point in my reading, I became aware that the black eyes of the youth who had brought the volume to my abode were intently fixed on my face. Closing it therefore at this place, and with my heart beating somewhat rapidly in response to the thoughts which this brief perusal had conjured up in my mind, I asked him if he would leave the book in my keeping, saying that I would visit his father's shop early on the morrow and pay the purchase-money.

To my surprise the young Jew answered that he had been instructed to take the script to the lodging of the seafaring man, who, so he informed me, was exceedingly anxious to purchase it; and, unless I then and there paid down the price thereof, assuredly I should never again see the curious and to me the most valuable book.

I hesitated a moment, for the sum which had been asked was a large one; then curiosity, and I must add cupidity, decided me, and I said, "I will have it. See, here is the money;" and I counted out the fifty gold coins across the table.

But to my surprise he did not take them up.

"That may have been the value before midday," quoth he; "but my father bade me say that the price rose toward nightfall."

"What mean you?" I asked in amazement.

" Exactly what I say."

"What is your price now?"

"Put down another ten pieces and the book is yours."

I looked at him angrily for the space of about half a minute, and had almost decided to let the musty parchment go, when a low whistle in the street, seemingly beneath my window, broke the stillness of the night.

"I must go. It is my father," said the youth.

"Go! Go whither?"

"To the seafaring man; who has plenty of gold, and will buy readily enough,"

Now I knew that it was not a small matter that would tempt the elder Jew from his abode at so late an hour. So with more than one muttered curse, and with much grudging reluctance (for truly I could ill spare the gold), I counted out ten more pieces, and then, taking possession of the book, I dismissed the youth from the house.

As soon as he had gone, and when I had carefully barred the door, I returned to my chamber to inspect further my newly- acquired possession.

The book in its brown hairy cover, much the worse for age, wear, and dirt seemed scarcely worth the sixty gold pieces which I had paid for it, and for a few minutes I bitterly rued that I had impoverished my purse.

But on opening the volume once more, and especially after perusing afresh the passage which I have already quoted, my mind became more at ease. Yea, I rejoiced that the path of fortune seemed at length very plainly open before me.


Here was I, George Pryce, nearing the end of my thirty- fifth year: for seventeen of which I had been knocked about by a hard world, without being any the richer than when my father, John Pryce, a tradesman of the City of York, died and left me his very small fortune. True, I had not touched the legacy which had come to me at his decease, and which amounted to some four hundred and fifty pounds; but on the other hand I had not added thereto, and it was full time that I set about making my fortune—if indeed such an achievement were possible.

With the vision of a fortune before my eyes I had purchased this quaint book. But, in truth, I must add that there lurked behind that vision that which had always been dearer to me than the desire for money—to wit, the love of adventure. To that I put down my present strange position; to it also I ascribe many troubles and disasters, as well as the greatest happiness that can fall to mortal man.

Of which more anon.

Great was my disappointment when, after a very close inspection of the contents of the closely written parchment leaves, I found nothing likely to be of real service to me beyond the portions above translated into English. There were in many chapters lengthy descriptions of the country, its features, products and inhabitants, but nothing more of real value—unless it be one short sentence, to which I shall refer hereafter in the course of this narrative. Carefully packing the book away among my goods, I completed my preparations for departure on the morrow and went to bed.

It was about three of the clock, and the faintest new-born rays of the summer dawn were endeavouring to steal into my apartment, when I was suddenly aroused from a very pleasant dream—in which I had become as famous for my travels as for my great wealth —by the sound of the creaking of a door.

Now remembering that the door of the room in which I slept had a creak of peculiar harshness and loudness, I had no difficulty in recognizing the sound. But I lay still with my eyes still closed, enjoying the fleeting fragrance of my dream, and in no wise alarmed—being indeed under the impression that my landlady was anxious to arouse me betimes, being mindful of my injunctions overnight.

My surprise may be judged when, on half opening my eyelids, I saw standing within the door-way the burly figure of a man. It was too dark for me to be able to distinguish his features, but I could plainly hear his breathing. He stood still for some seconds, as though trying to accustom his eyes to the gloom, and then moved across the room to my sea-chest, which stood in the further corner.

The chest was not corded, for I had a few small articles yet to place therein, and the lid stood open. To my amazement the man, whom I had at first supposed to have been Pedro, my landlady's husband, now stooped over the box, and, thrusting his arms among my goods, began to throw them about as though searching for something.

By this time I had slipped from my couch and had grasped the sword which hung handy on the bedpost near my head; so that, as soon as the man had risen from his stooping position, grasping, as I could now plainly see, my newly-acquired treasure, the parchment-book of Duarte Lopez, I cried to him in a loud voice to deliver up that which he had stolen or to take the consequences.


Illustration

I cried to him in a loud voice.


To my great surprise the man quietly turned and replaced the volume within the chest, saying, as he did so, in a voice which was wondrous mild for so big a body—

"We will discuss the matter, my friend. I fancy you will acknowledge that I have a claim upon the book."

I was too much amazed to answer the fellow, who without hurry or agitation drew back the curtains, and, as the rays of the rising sun glinted into the room, I perceived that my visitor presented by no means the appearance of a common thief. He was plainly a seafearing man, for his face was bronzed, he wore gold earrings, and a lengthy cue of undoubted naval fashion hung down his neck.

"You are English?" I cried.

"I am."

"Then you can the more easily explain to me your strange conduct."

"Get into thy breeches, friend, and all shall be told."

Without more ado I complied with his request, though, for the life of me, I could not make head or tail of the matter.

As soon as I had got into my clothes the fellow surveyed me from head to foot with an amused look in his small and quizzical eyes, and then fell to laughing in so hearty a manner that I was fain to join in with him in spite of the chagrin I had so recently felt.

"Let us sit down and discuss the matter of the musty book," quoth he, for somehow he seemed to be master, and I, George Pryce, his servant.

"I wish to tell you," he began, "why I have entered this house, and why I was about to remove the book—my book—from your possession. It is now nearly two years since I was trading with the natives of the Congo coast, a wild and almost unknown region. During my operations I was informed that the chief of the tribe was possessed of a curious charm, which had originally been brought from the far interior country, and which he had stolen from a Portuguese priest. On my making request he showed me the said charm. It was none other than the book which yesterday you purchased from the Jew, Moses Ben Israel."

"And which you have just attempted to steal," said I.

He only smiled and continued—

"On examination of its pages it was plain enough to me that it had been written by a learned man, and by one acquainted with the Portuguese tongue; I can read a little of the language myself, and speedily saw that it contained information by means of which I might become rich.

"It took no little amount of persuasion to induce the chief to part with the book. But at length the bargain was completed, and I conveyed my new possession on board ship, greatly delighted with my luck, and with my mind full of schemes.

"It was imperative that I should take my vessel back to England, but I was fully resolved on securing an early opportunity of returning to the Congo. In order to be conversant with every detail I carefully studied the book until its contents were engraven upon my memory, and I can now repeat whole pages of the more important parts."

Here, to my astonishment, my strange visitor rattled off the very portions which I have already quoted.

"Had not Domingo Salvador, my Portuguese steward, been a youth of an inquiring turn of mind, the book of Duarte Lopez would never have left my possession. But, observing that the tome was written in his own tongue, he seems to have taken a fancy to it, and on our arrival at Lisbon he absconded with the volume.

"Determined that I would not lose my treasure, I searched for the runaway, and, meeting him unexpectedly in a dark alley, presented my pistol to his head and demanded my book.

"This brought friend Domingo to his senses, and he immediately confessed he had, sold it to the Jew. To whom straightway I repaired, but found that he had already obtained an extravagant idea of its value, but was willing to part with it to the highest bidder.

"I offered him a good round sum, but the grasping old Israelite hung fire, and, not having more money at my command, I left him with strict injunctions to come to me or ever he received another bid."

"And you knew nothing of my offer for the book?" I said.

"Not until the young Jew had visited you overnight. Meeting him in the street I discovered, to my horror, that you were deeply interested in its contents, and had become its purchaser.

"The book being mine by right, I determined—rightly or wrongly—to obtain possession of it again. An open window below provided me with an easy means of entrance, and here I am."

We looked at one another for a few seconds after he had finished his story, and I must confess that the man's looks were to my liking.

"You have not told me your name," said I.

" Simon Halcombe, captain of the Maid of Kent, and at your service."

"And what do you propose to do. Captain Halcombe.?"

"I propose, firstly, that you tell me your name, sir."

"George Pryce."

"Then, George Pryce, I propose, secondly, to fight you for the book."

"What! with swords?"

"No, in the English fashion—with fists."

Now, though neither tall nor burly, I am by nature wiry and strong; and when I had surveyed the somewhat over-stout Simon Halcombe, it struck me that I was a match for him.

"Done!" I cried. "I will call Pedro and his wife for witnesses."

In less than five minutes we were pummelling each other in true English style, to the no small amazement of Pedro, who had never before witnessed such an exhibition, and to the evident distress of my good landlady, his wife, who stood by the door wringing her hands and lamenting in a loud voice that such a terrible battle should be fought in her guest-chamber.


II. — IN WHICH WE OBTAIN UNEXPECTED NEWS.

IT was at the conclusion of the fourth round, and when we were both pretty well blown, that we paused longer than on the three previous occasions, and looked steadily at each other.

"I like you, George Pryce," he gasped, with an approving glance in his right eye (the left one being partly closed, as the result of one of my more lucky blows). "You've pluck and skill, which more than makes up for your want of weight."

"I like your fighting. Captain Simon Halcombe," I retorted, imitating him. "You may not have a skilful fence or good style, but your blows are weighty enough when they do come home."

And then we both fell to laughing, and after that we shook hands right heartily, to the no small astonishment of the worthy couple, who had been watching the encounter, and who certainly expected the fight to finish fatally for one of us. Indeed, had we been Portuguese, instead of a shaking of hands, there would have been a sheathing of knives in each other's bodies: so greatly do they differ from ourselves in the conduct of such affairs. As soon as we had donned our coats, we dismissed our pair of witnesses and sat down to talk matters over.

"It striketh me, friend Pryce, that we had better go into partnership," observed my visitor, presently, with an emphatic nod of his head, and eyeing me with a look of approval once more.

Now it is strange that, even in the very thick of our fight, the same idea had occurred to my own mind. It would be impossible for me to proceed alone to the unknown interior of Africa, and surely no more stalwart or worthy fellow-adventurer could be found than this Captain Simon Halcombe.

"You are the very man for me!" I cried eagerly,

"Then let us make a bargain."

"What shall it be?"

"That we will go shares in this venture—equal shares in risks, cost, and profits."

"If we can agree about the former, I consent to share the latter."

"And I!"

"Then let us break our fast and talk further, for I sail for England with the midday tide," I concluded.

What we said to each other over that meal, it needeth not that I should give a full report. Suffice it to record that I was much taken with my new friend; and that we agreed to meet in London on a certain day two months hence, at the hostel well known to seafaring men as the George and Dragon, which is near to London Bridge.

These events I have described with some minuteness, because they are necessary to the complete understanding of what follows.

I would add that it was on the tenth day of the month of April, in the year of Our Lord's Incarnation, one thousand seven hundred and four, that Captain Simon Halcombe and; I concluded a bargain which led to such momentous results. And on the fourteenth day of the month of June of the same year, we met at the celebrated hostel above mentioned, for the purpose of making such arrangements as might further the success of our quest.

The scene of that meeting is impressed with exceeding distinctness on my memory.

The wainscoted walls whereon were suspended wondrous pictures of ships in full sail, impossible scenes in impossible lands, and an unworthy portrait of our most gracious sovereign lady, Queen Anne; a round table, whereat were seated in company with myself, Captain Simon Halcombe and three others; the maps of the West African coast outspread on the said table; the buxom landlady bringing in refreshment for the company; the general atmosphere of tobacco smoke (the smoking of this vegetable having by this time become pretty general among seafaring men); all combined to make so effective an impression on my mind that the thought thereof not only recalls the scene itself, but even the very flavour of the aforementioned liquor, and the exceeding pungent odour of the burning weed.

"Yes; a ship of four hundred tons will be none too big—though a smaller would do for us well enough," remarked the worthy captain, continuing his observations.

"If Master Glynn will hire his vessel to us for the voyage, in truth we shall do exceeding well," I said.

Whereupon the first speaker turned to our three friends, two of whom had been at one time his shipmates, and demanded of them what they might think of the matter. Whereupon Jethro Jeffreson, being a first mate, spoke for himself and his comrades, that they were well pleased with our proposal, and would accompany us to the centre of Africa.

"Or to ony other part o' t' world, known or unknown," chimed in Button, who was a burly Yorkshireman, and a native of the port of Hull, from whence come many excellent mariners.

A right good fellow was Bob Button, as events afterwards fully proved. Though I must confess that his outward manners were rough, while his north-country speech was somewhat uncouth amongst us at the first.

The remaining member among our little company was my own nephew, Franklyn Pryce. He was the only child of my elder brother, who had departed this life some twelve months previously; and, being motherless from infancy, was now totally dependent on the good offices of his distant relations. Not that the lad was likely to become a burden to any of them, for never have I set eyes upon a more lively stripling for his years, which only numbered eighteen.

"As it seems likely that we shall be the only ones adventuring after this treasure, it will become us to spend as much time as possible in making a suitable outfit," observed Captain Halcombe, gravely.

"Unless your friend Domingo be now fitting out an expedition," I remarked by way of a joke.

But the captain still looked grave.

"I trust not," said he," for he is a most intelligent youth."

"Fear not t' lad," quoth Button, "maybe he has brains, and enough memory to carry bits o' learning out o' t' book; but he'll niver manage sich a job as this. It taks brass to float a ship."

By which I understood him to mean that the Portuguese steward, having no money at his command, was not to be feared as a rival.

Then we fell to discussing many details of the outfit needful for our expedition. And our talk occupied till nearly midnight—our meeting being in the evening; so that my nephew fell asleep more than once, for young blood needs plenty of sleep.

On the 25th day of July the good ship Lovely Susannah dropped down the Thames, but was delayed in the Downs for ten days by contrary winds, and sailed thence with a favourable wind on the 12th of August. From this time the weather was all that we could desire, and by the end of September we were anchored within the broad mouth of the River Congo.

My nephew was on the poop and leaning over the bulwarks admiring the lovely scenery, when I approached him after the anchor had been let go.

"Now for fortune, uncle!" said he, turning to me with a smile.

"There may be fighting and even failure," I returned. "But since any one Englishman is a match for three Frenchmen, Spaniards, or Portuguese, I think we may count on success.''

"I suppose that very little is known about the upper part of this great stream?" continued the youth.

"Only what you have read in the book of Duarte Lopez," I replied. "No European ascended this river, as far as I am aware before 1484, when Diego Cam made his way thither from Elmina. He returned to Portugal, and came here again in 1489. A year later another Portuguese expedition, under Ruy de Souza, started, with the result that the so-called king of the Congo, with many of his subjects, professed Christianity. The Portuguese established themselves at the mouth of this river and along the coast."

"What has become of these missions?"

"You shall hear. Throughout the past century the Portuguese ecclesiastics have made noble and strenuous efforts to convert the people. They sent to Europe wonderful accounts of the results of their labours, and they are said to have penetrated a considerable distance into the country. In the town of San Salvador, which is one hundred and fifty miles inland, they even built a cathedral of stone, as well as nine or ten other churches, and a bishop was appointed, with a full staff of clergy."

"Are they still there?"

"No. So far as I can learn, it is but a few years since the south side of the river was devasted by war, and there are only ruins to mark the spot where Christianity and civilization at one time flourished."

Here we were joined by Captain Halcombe.

"What do you propose we should do now?"

"Make the best of our way up the river to the farthest point possible."

"And then?"

"Well, then, we shall have to take to our legs."

"But the ship?"

"There are enough good men on board to take care of the Lovely Susannah,"

Then we fell to discussing afresh our plans and prospects, and it was resolved to start with the next tide on our voyage up the river.

Had we guessed the surprise which awaited us, I am sure that none of us would have slept very soundly, either that night or those which succeeded it, in this the first and easiest part of our journey.

The progress up stream was a slow and toilsome business, so that it was some weeks before we reached the furthest navigable point.

The startling surprise to which I have just referred came upon us just at this place. Our gallant ship had been anchored in midstream (for fear of the savage inhabitants, of whom we had espied not a few on the banks during our ascent) and Captain Halcombe had ordered out a couple of boats to row a distance ahead in order to sound with the lead, and discover whether perchance a navigable channel, suitable for the passage of our ship, existed. Bent upon seeing all that lay in our way, I and my nephew Franklyn dropped into the larger of the boats, and soon were rounding a rocky point on the northern or left-hand side of the river.

It did not take very long for our stalwart oarsmen to pull us round the promontory; when what should we see lying snugly in deep water, and well sheltered by the land, but a fair-sized brig.

"Is she English?" cried my nephew, who knew little enough of such matters.

"Not she!" responded the boatswain, "I would swear by the cut of her rigging, and the trim of her yards, that she's a furriner."

"What nation?"

"Spanish—or more likely Portuguese, sir."

"At any rate, we will pull alongside, and gain some information," I said, wondering at the same time what had brought them hither.

"You see," I remarked to Franklyn, "according to Simon Halcombe, it is very seldom that vessels come so far up these rivers for slaves. They are usually brought down to the coast."

"All the same, she may be a slaver," said he.

By this time we had drawn near the brig, and had caught sight of several men leaning over the bulwarks.

"What vessel is this ?" I cried, speaking in Portuguese.

"The Santa Maria."

"Of what port?"

"Lisbon."

"What is your business here?"

"We are awaiting the return of our employers."

"Where are they?"

"They have gone further up the country."

"Are they merchants?"

"Yes."

Then we inquired concerning the navigation of the river, and were assured that no ship could proceed beyond this point on account of the swiftness of the stream; that there was a region of impassable cataracts above us for hundreds of miles, and that of the land beyond they knew nothing.

"Then why have your employers gone so far?" I asked.

To this question I received no answer, but my nephew assured me later that he noticed a look of confusion on the faces of the men as I made the inquiry.

So we turned and pulled back to the Lovely Susannah. It was plain enough that at this place the ship must be left, and that the expedition to the interior must now be formed.

I can see, as though it were but yesterday, the party assembled that evening under the awning which had been spread over the poop deck, and the sight of the earnest faces who discussed this question is before me as I write.

Our consultation lasted a considerable while, and at length we decided that the expedition should be led by Captain Halcombe himself, there being none of us more resolute or indeed so capable of the office; that I, Jethro Jeffreson, and Button should act as his lieutenants, with my nephew Franklyn Pryce as supernumerary (so to say); and that the boatswain should be promoted to the temporary rank of mate, and with the crew be responsible for the safety of the Lovely Susannah until our return.

Thus our party consisted of but four men—if Franklyn be counted as a man. Though truly I had a mind to leave him with the ship, and should have so done had not he implored with such exceeding earnestness that we should take him along with us; so that at length we consented, on the condition that he would obey orders and do nothing rash either to endanger his own life or the safety of the party. For he was a dashing young gentleman, full of courage, and likely to be of service to us as long as he acted discreetly.

On the following morning we sent a message on board the Santa Maria inviting the crew to a repast at noon on board our own ship. For it was meet that we should show hospitality to our brother Europeans in this remote country. And at the hour we had named, the Portuguese came in their largest boat under the command of the master of the ship, who was accompanied by his mate.

Being the only person having an understanding of the Portuguese tongue, my services were required on all sides; but after the men had sat down to their meal, which they appeared to enjoy heartily, I retired to the company of our party in the state room—for so we named the large cabin.

The two Portuguese officers were pleasant fellows enough, and seemed to be delighted at such an opportunity for converse with Europeans. They told us that they had been in this spot for upwards of four weeks, and were already tired of the monotony of the life.

"And when do you expect the return of your employers?" I asked.

"The date is quite uncertain," they said. "We are to wait here for nine or ten months at the least, but they may return in five or six months."

"Then you know not their destination?"

As I put this question the Portuguese captain looked at his companion, and the look was not lost upon me, though none of us understood its meaning.

"Is the party a large one?" I inquired, being exceedingly curious.

"There are two leaders, and they are accompanied by a considerable number of negroes which we procured for the purpose at Emboma."

I looked at the captain steadily for a moment as a wild idea came into my mind. Surely it could not be that this Portuguese expedition was a rival one to our own, I thought.

But before I could turn my idea into words, Simon Halcombe, as though the same notion had seized himself, cried out excitedly—

"Ask him the names—the names of the leaders of the party!"

I put the question into Portuguese, and the reply came—

"The names of our employers are Domingo Salvador, and Moses Ben Israel the younger."

"Then we are undone!" cried Halcombe, rising from the table in his excitement, and to the no small astonishment of the Portuguese.


III. — MIRANGO FATTENS US FOR THE TABLE.

WE did not vouch to our guests any explanation of the surprise which we had manifested, but it was now clear enough to us all that this unexpected discovery had altogether altered the situation. It was plain that not only had we now to reckon with the savages whom we should meet on the banks of this great river, but there was the chance that we might find ourselves forestalled by the clever Domingo and his partner the young Jew.

That the former had perused the manuscript book of Duarte Lopez with care and attention was as plain as that the older Jew had provided the sinews of war. We concluded further that he would not have done this unless he had entertained a reasonable hope that there was considerable profit to be made out of the venture.

As soon as our friends had departed we held a council of war, whereat it was resolved that as soon as we had paid the return visit (for which the Portuguese captain had given us an invitation), we should proceed on our journey with all speed in the hope that we might be able to overtake our rivals, and in some way checkmate their plan.

Accordingly the very next day we went on board the Santa Maria with a goodly party of the members of our crew.

The Portuguese had prepared for us such entertainment as they were able to do, and made up for the want of European luxuries by some very excellent bananas and plantains, and other native fruits and vegetables which they had procured from a village a few miles inland.

It was towards the conclusion of our repast, that, prompted by a solemn and pre-arranged wink from Simon Halcombe, I proceeded in my best Portuguese, and in my most insinuating tones, to ask questions concerning the party who had preceded us up the country.

So long as my inquiries were of a general nature the Portuguese captain vouchsafed gracious replies, with the utmost politeness, But as soon as I inquired whether he knew how his employers had obtained information of the hidden treasure, he professed ignorance, and we left the ship with mutual good wishes, but on our part with nothing that would materially aid or guide our quest.

It is not my purpose to give a detailed account of our toilsome journey to the great pool or lake which is formed by the river beyond the region of the rapids and falls. As we each had to carry a load of provisions in addition to weapons, our progress was as slow as our toil was great, and for many weeks we traversed the rock banks of the river, passing on our way numberless terrible rapids and tremendous cascades.

A description of this, the first part of our journey, with its difficulties and dangers, would of itself fill a large volume. Suffice to say that we found the country which bordered the river to be in the main sterile, being especially barren of fruit- bearing trees, and supporting but few inhabitants. Some of the latter had come into contact with Portuguese and other European traders, and were consequently friendly towards us, so that we formed an opinion of the African native which, unhappily for ourselves, had later to be much modified.

Well do I remember the day on which we arrived at the Great Pool, as we named the broad expanse of river above the last of the cataracts. Its width in this place would be from fourteen hundred to two thousand five hundred yards. We noticed several sandy islands, and on our left rose a long line of white cliffs, beyond which was a grass-covered tableland. It was here that we met with our first adventure, which, though at the time we deemed it to be to our destruction, turned eventually to our safety and considerable advantage; for at this spot we met Mirango the Man- eater.

As I have said, the natives whom we had hitherto encountered had proved to be friendly on account of their previous intercourse with Europeans; and we hoped that we should have a cordial reception at the hands of those whom we might meet at the Pool.

Accordingly no sooner had we espied a number of natives engaged in hauling ashore their canoes, for they had been fishing, than we made our way towards them, making signs of good will.

"I think they will prove friendly," remarked Franklyn, in a hopeful tone, as he walked down the slope.

"I trust so, indeed," I replied, "but it beseems us to be cautious, for we are but few in number."

Now, I know not whether it might be our brave mien, or that the natives were struck by our audacity, or that they were too much surprised at our sudden and unexpected appearance, but the fact remains that the men, who might have numbered twenty, stood motionless by their boat as we approached.

"Fine-looking fellows," observed the captain.

"Ay, but they're vara black," added Bob Button, with a shake of his head.

On drawing near we saw that the negroes were of fine physique and possessing intelligent faces. But they had a ferocious look, by reason of the filing of their teeth, which they sharpened after a curious fashion, so that they presented the appearance of shark's teeth.

Stepping forward from among his comrades, one of the men, who possessed a little more clothing than the rest, addressed us. While his words were not intelligible, his gestures seemed to indicate that he was inquiring the reason of our coming, as well as our destination. By way of reply Simon Halcombe pointed to the canoes, and up the stream. But it would seem that his meaning was mistaken, for the men brandished very ugly-looking spears in a threatening manner.

"By the great sea-serpent, I believe the black demons think that we wish to steal their boats!" said Jeffreson.

"Let us make signs that we are in want of food," I said. For, indeed, we had fared badly enough for more than three weeks, and were greatly in need of nourishment.

No sooner did the men understand us—for hunger is easily expressed in gesture—than they gathered their fish into baskets, and signed to us to accompany them.

" 'For better for worse,' as the marriage service says," remarked the mate, as we climbed the bank and entered the thick forest.

But we had not far to go. A few hundred yards brought us to a large village or town, consisting of an immense number of conical-shaped huts. Many men, women, and children were to be seen, and presently a very large crowd had assembled about our party.

Most of the people were repulsively ugly, and a look of intense ferocity was imparted by the universal sharpening of the teeth. There was much shouting among the men and chattering on the part of the women, and many pointed to us and then towards the river, in a manner which puzzled me greatly, and I wondered whether they intended to drown us.

But we were not allowed long to stand in the street, for the fishermen moved us on till at length we arrived at a hut larger than the rest.

"Mirango! Mirango!" they cried in unison.

There hung a curtain of woven grass before the door of this building. This was presently lifted aside by a young woman, and there strode forth a negro of exceeding great size and strength.

His height would be fully six feet six inches, possibly even more than this. His great chest was like a cask in its capacity and roundness, and the muscles upon his arm stood out in hard ridges. He wore on his head a chaplet or crown of scarlet feathers. His body was naked, except for a loin-cloth of leopard's skin, and he carried in his hand a mighty spear, of which the shaft would measure some eight feet in length. Although the teeth of the man had been filed like those of the rest of his tribe, there was an expression of kindliness in his intelligent face which took my fancy, and my nephew whispered—

"He is good-humoured, I should say."

As soon as the Chief appeared, the whole population prostrated itself before him, and there went up a murmur of "Mirango! Mirango!"

"Who are ye? and whither are ye going?" he asked, speaking in the tongue of the Portuguese.

"We are travellers bound for the Lake of Islands," I replied.

As I said this he looked at me suspiciously, and his face assumed a frown.

"Do all the white men wish to proceed to the Lake of Islands?" he said.

Whereupon I told him that I knew of none other but ourselves.

"But did not a party of white men, aided by some wicked ones of our colour, steal two of our best canoes but three full moons ago? Did they not, with their fire-weapons, kill four of our most skilful fishermen?"

To this I could, of course, give no reply, save that we were in no way connected with the party to whom he had alluded, and that we were honest travellers, prepared to pay for canoes and for the services of boatmen.

"Tell 'im, sir, that we're downright famished, and shall be glad if 'e'll pipe all hands to dinner!" ejaculated Bob Button, tightening his belt as he spoke.

Whereupon I proceeded to explain to the chief, what we had already made plain to some of his subjects, that we were in great want of food.

"Plantains and flesh shall be given you," said he; and turning about, he gave some orders to two of the women within the dwelling.

" Follow me, white men, and you shall be fed."

He opened the door of a large building adjoining his own, which we found on entering to be strongly built of logs, and having a very substantial roof. There was a window, barred across by wooden rails, and a strong door of hard wood.

"Looks like a prison!" grunted Captain Halcombe, as he peered about him.

There were mats on the floor—apologies for beds, and no other furniture.

"If theer were nobut a stool or a few chairs," said Bob Button, in his dry, Yorkshire fashion.

"The white men shall be supplied with food as soon as it is prepared," said Mirango, again addressing me in the Portuguese tongue.

I was about to reply, but the chief strode to to the door and passed out, and then some one fastened it securely on the outside, so that when I attempted to follow I discovered that we were prisoners.

"We are entrapped!" I exclaimed.

"Never!" cried the rest.

"A good thrust will liberate us," said Simon Halcombe. And, suiting the action to the word, he placed his burly shoulder against the door and pushed with all his might.

But his efforts were of no avail, and though we tried severally as well as together, we were no more successful; but I thought that my ear caught the sound of mocking laughter without. There was nothing for it but that we should wait awhile with patience in the hope that Mirango would fulfil his promise.

It was about two hours after the chief had left us that the door was thrown open and four women entered bearing dishes. I think that in spite of our great hunger, we should have made for the door had not we caught sight of half a dozen men armed with spears of very murderous aspect, and who were plainly keeping guard over us.

"Let us fall to!" cried the captain, squatting upon the ground by way of example to the rest of the company.

"It smells good," remarked Jethro Jeffreson, as he followed suit.

"Come on, Franklyn!" I said, for the lad was standing by the door as though he contemplated a combat with our guards single- handed.

He turned away with a look of regret on his face, and in a few minutes we were busily engaged in discussing the viands which the dusky ladies had placed before us.

What the dishes consisted of we could not tell, none of us having previously visited this region. But it was appetizing; and we all felt much revived at the conclusion of our repast. I must not forget to add that a drink was given us which we subsequently ascertained to be concocted from the sap of a tree. I may also add that throughout our meal the negro women waited upon us.

"Just as if we woz dooks or princes," remarked Button, who seemed to derive huge satisfaction from his dinner.

As soon as we had finished our repast the negresses left us, and the door was again fastened. Whether it was that we were weary, or that the drink which we had imbibed was stronger than that to which we had been accustomed—and, indeed, we had for many weeks tasted nothing stronger than water—I cannot tell; suffice to say that we all speedily fell into a sound slumber which lasted for some hours, so that when I awoke it was pitch dark.

As I lay still the thought came into my mind that possibly we might now break out of our prison, and without delay I aroused my three companions, and communicated to them my ideas. All was still in the village, as we whispered together, and in a very few minutes we were endeavouring to cut away the bars from the window.

"If we can but remove three of them we shall be able to get out," said the mate, as he vigorously attacked the stout uprights with his knife.

"The stuff is as hard as iron," he added presently, on discovering that the task was not so easy as it seemed to be.

"Let me try," said Franklyn, as he produced his knife.

But though they cut and hacked until I feared that the natives, especially if any were on guard outside, would hear the noise, their efforts were of no avail, so hard was the wood.

"This is no joke," said Captain Halcombe, presently. "We are prisoners and no mistake!"

Soon after the first streaks of light had penetrated our dismal abode, the door was unbarred, and the dusky maidens appeared with a fresh supply of food. I addressed them in Portuguese, but they did not understand me. We attempted to leave the building, but were met at the door with the glittering points of levelled spears.

"No road that way," I remarked.

"So we had better sit down for breakfast," said my nephew, with an attempt at a laugh.

As this seemed to be the most sensible course, we were soon discussing the very excellent repast which had been provided for us through the thoughtfulness of Mirango. Nor did his kindness end here. Throughout the day, and for the ten succeeding days, food was supplied to us in abundance and in considerable variety; so that with the want of exercise, and the unusually nutritious diet, we began to put on flesh, and, before a week had elapsed, Bob Button declared that his clothing was becoming too small for him.

But what puzzled us very greatly was the fact that Mirango did not once visit us during these ten days; and this, in spite of the fact that we constantly intimated to the women, by signs, that we were desirous of speaking to him.

It was on the evening of the tenth day of our captivity, as we were enjoying a dish of unusual excellence, and were trying to make our smiling waitresses understand how greatly we appreciated their cookery, that Franklyn looked up in my face with the remark—

"Uncle, can it be possible that Mirango is fattening us for the table?"


IV. — WE ARE BROUGHT TO A CANNIBAL FEAST.

THEN Mirango and his people are cannibals!" exclaimed the others, as they paused in the midst of their eating.

We looked at one another for a few seconds without speaking.

Why was it that this had not previously occurred to us? Why had we so foolishly walked into the trap? Why had we not sooner made a dash for liberty? Would not a quick death in the midst of a fight be better than to be roasted alive? Such were the questions which we saw plainly written on each other's faces in the pause which followed my nephew's remark. It was a fearful prospect, and one which blanched the cheek of even so brave a man as Simon Halcombe.

For a long time we discussed our forlorn condition; and plans for escape from our prison were suggested, and one by one dismissed as impracticable.

Halcombe was for fighting our way out when next our food was brought; and on the whole this seemed the plan most likely to succeed; so that we resolved to make a dash for the river on the following evening, when under the cover of the darkness there might be some chance that we should be able to elude any natives in pursuit of us.

"We must get on board a light canoe and get out into the middle of the Great Pool as quickly as possible," said the captain. "After that we can turn up-stream and paddle away to our heart's content."

During the following day we looked to our muskets and pistols and furbished up our swords, for strangely enough neither our weapons nor our goods had been taken from us.

It was about noon on this the eleventh day of our captivity, and nearing the hour for the women to bring us our food, that I happened to be reclining on a mat under the window while I perused the book of Duarte Lopez in order that my memory might be refreshed concerning the strange directions contained on the one hundredth and forty-second page, from which I have already quoted.

It happened that my back was turned towards the door, so that when it opened I imagined that the women were entering with our meal; and it was not until I heard an exclamation in a man's voice that I turned my head and saw no less a personage than Mirango himself, gazing with an amazed look at the book which I was reading.

"Tell me, white man, where did you get the Great Fetish!"

Not understanding him I rose and asked him to explain his meaning. But the man stepped back from me when I picked up the volume, and continued to regard it with considerable awe.

"Mean you this?" I inquired, laying my finger on the book.

He nodded.

"This is truly a wonder-working fetish," I said, hoping to impress him with a sense of our greatness, "it talks to me in the tongue of the white men."

"I know it. I know it well," he responded, with increased respect in his tones.

But his reply surprised me even more than the sight of the book had astonished him.

"Ah!" I exclaimed, still speaking in the Portuguese tongue, "then you are aware of the wonderful powers of this book?"

Mirango nodded again and drew back a few paces further from me.

"How is it that you recognized it so quickly?" I asked, with a feeling of increased astonishment, although I endeavoured to suppress any outward manifestation thereof.

" Turn the magical book, senhor, turn it round!" he exclaimed with a gesture of his huge hand, which visibly shook with excitement.

I did as he requested, turning the skin-covered back towards him, the interior of the volume being opened and held against my breast.

"The same!" he cried," the very same! Wonderful, wonderful!" And forgetting the dignity of his office he clapped his hands as though he had been a very child, while my companions, who knew no Portuguese (save that Simon Halcombe could slowly decipher writing, but could not converse in that language, and who therefore understood nothing of our conversation,) looked on open-mouthed, so completely mystified were they all by the chief's conduct.

"Mirango," I said, addressing him slowly and in aloud voice, "Mirango, thou art a great chief, and justly feared by thine enemies,"—this was of course mere guesswork on my part, but it was as well to please him—"but I warn thee!" and here I spoke still louder, and raised my finger solemnly, "that if harm should come to us who are the bearers of this fetish-book, both thou and all thy people will die. Nothing can prevail against the magic of the white men, so beware! for we know wherefore you have brought us hither, even that you may fatten us and devour our flesh!"

For a few seconds Mirango's face was a study. Amazement and fear struggled with anger and pride. And I saw plainly enough that I had him in my power, so I advanced a step towards him, holding the book aloft as though to smite him in the face therewith, and the mighty Mirango sank to the ground at my feet, rubbing his nose in the very dust in an agony of abject submission.

It was a moment of triumph; and a smile went round our little circle.

"Rise, Mirango," I said, presently, when I thought he had grovelled long enough.

He scrambled on to his feet, casting apprehensive glances at the book.

"Close the door," I said, speaking to my nephew in English, "and we will talk with this man. Maybe things will turn out to the furtherance of our project."

"But explain to us—" began Simon Halcombe.

"Pardon me, captain," I said, "but it is most important to deal with this man without delay. He may change his mind, and then, truly, we are undone."

Accordingly, as soon as the door was closed, I invited Mirango to seat himself before me, both for the reason of inquiring as to his reverent demeanour towards the book of Duarte Lopez, as well as to interest him on our behalf. For indeed (so I had now begun to argue with myself), we might make use of him to enable us to reach the mysterious Lake of Islands.

"Tell us, great Mirango, what you know of our Fetish-Book. Tell us why you pay to it such due and proper reverence. And tell us further," I said, "how you learnt the tongue of the white men, and I will interpret your words to my friends."

Thus encouraged, Mirango gave us the following remarkable narrative—

"Listen, oh, white man," he began, speaking in very fluent Portuguese, "to the story of Mirango, the Chief of the Bateké.

"Many summers ago, when Mirango was but a youth, he was taken captive in a fight by the bloodthirsty river-pirates, the Bangala. These people live far, far away." Here he pointed in a north-easterly direction. "But they ravage the banks of the mighty river for a long distance, though never since the time that Mirango was stolen have they ventured to attack the home of the Bateké."

Here I asked him how he managed to escape.

"It was by night that Mirango, with two or three other prisoners, secured a small canoe, and paddled away from the shores of the Bangala, We were compelled to go up-stream, for otherwise our enemies would have retaken us. After three days Mirango's two companions were speared while trying to obtain some food, and he was obliged to face the mighty river alone."

Mirango then told us that, after hiding in the forest by day, and paddling slowly upstream by night, he came at length to a narrow inlet, and, thinking he might reach a village where the people would prove more friendly than those who inhabited the banks of the river, he entered it. After some distance he was surprised to find that it broadened out considerably, until at length it was in parts well-nigh as wide as the Great River itself (for so he called the main stream).

"Mirango succeeded in filling his canoe with plantains," continued the chief, still speaking of himself in the third person, "on which he lived for three times twenty days. At the end of that time he was captured by a party of the men called Mizraim, who conveyed him, by a secret path, over the great mountains to the Lake of Islands."

"Then you have been there!" I cried, in my surprise almost forgetting my new and assumed position.

"What the white man says is true. Mirango lived there for eight moons, and saw the wonders of the many islands."

"But how did you gain knowledge of the existence of the Fetish-Book?" I asked.

At mention of the book Mirango again looked very serious.

"Mirango was taken by the tall men, having red faces and long hair, into the Great House of Stone on the Island of Manloov, where he saw the priest named Yoseeph, who, if he be still alive, is now of a great age.

"The priest Yoseeph asked Mirango if he would carry the Fetish-Book to the place where the white men come. This Mirango consented to do, and he had to leave the country unknown to the Mizraim, and by secret paths. He carried the Book on safely, though the perils were great."

"Why did you do this for Yoseeph?"

I asked this question, for I could not conceive that a negro would undertake a long and arduous journey, from the interior to the coast, without some strong motive.

The answer came: "Mirango dying, Yoseeph saved his life."

I faithfully interpreted the chiefs story, sentence by sentence, for the benefit of Halcombe and the others.

"You have not yet told us how you learnt the tongue of the white men?" I said, for I was very curious to know how Mirango had perfected himself in the Portuguese language.

"When Mirango arrived at the great blue salt- waters"—here he waved his hand towards the west—" he was starving; but a priest of the white men took compassion on him, and fed and taught him for five summers, till Mirango grew sick at heart for a sight of his own people, and at last he ran away."

After this I inquired whether this Portuguese priest had read what was written in the book.

To which Mirango made answer that he had indeed done so, and had asked him many questions, both concerning the place from which it came, as well as concerning the man by whom it had been sent.

"Did you see any white men at the Lake of Islands?" I asked.

But Mirango shook his head. "None but him who is called Yoseeph, who came to me in the king's house."

Whereat we wondered greatly.

"I think," said Captain Halcombe, addressing me, "that it would be well if we could engage the services of this black fellow and his men to conduct us to the Lake of Islands."

As the others agreed to this proposal, I put the question to Mirango, but to my surprise he gloomily shook his head. His people, the Bateké, would not consent to it, he said. Then he arose, and left the building.

As soon as he had departed we fell to talking over the matter. Plain was it that the sight of the book of Duarte Lopez had much affected the chief, or why should he so readily have related to us his story. Then again, so we reasoned, we might be mistaken in our idea that the Bateké were fattening us that we might be devoured at a cannibal feast. Still, although we tried to find comfort in these reflections, we passed a night of anxiety; for the door had been again secured, and liberty seemed to be as far off as ever.

One thing perplexed us not a little. During a great part of the night there seemed to be no small amount of stir in the town. We could hear the crackling of a wood fire, and presently gleams of strong light flickered through our window, and we perceived that Mirango and a number of men were assembled. They were plainly holding a council, and instinct suggested that their deliberations concerned ourselves.

It was at an early hour on the following morning that Mirango again visited us. His intelligent face bore as pleasant an expression as the sharpened teeth would allow.

Stepping forward to receive him I shook hands in European fashion, a mode of welcome which seemed to please him much, for he laughed in a good-humoured fashion and shook hands with the rest of the party also.

"Mirango's heart is light this morning," he began, "for the white man's Fetish-Book is no longer in danger."

I inquired the meaning of his words. Whereupon he related the proceedings of the council; telling us that he had informed the chief men of the Bateké that the wonderful book, which he had often-times described to them, was indeed in the town, having been brought hither by ourselves. Further, he informed us that we should now be held in great reverence by his people—as indeed we deserved to be; and that he had come to invite us to attend a great feast which would be given in our honour on the evening of this very day.

I translated his words for the benefit of my companions, and he seemed to be greatly pleased when we accepted his invitation.

"We had begun to fear that the Bateké were going to invite their friends to dine off our flesh," I replied by way of a joke.

But Mirango only answered gravely that we need have no fear of such a contingency, and that we were now at liberty to wander about. This permission was very welcome to us, for we were greatly in need of exercise, and the atmosphere of our prison had become close and unpleasant.

We spent a great part of the day in an inspection of the town, and we were even permitted to visit the river, where we saw a great number of canoes drawn up, while some of the men were engaged in fishing on the shores of the sandy islands which studded parts of the pool.

I need hardly add that we did not leave our weapons in the prison, and it was thought wise that I should carry with me the book of Duarte Lopez. For it had so recently tended to our salvation that we could by no means afford to lose it.

It was about an hour after sunset that we were summoned to attend the festival arranged in our honour. In the midst of the central square of the town a great fire had been kindled, which was being continually fed by certain of the women. Some yards distant was arranged a throne whereon was seated our friend the chief.

Mirango's attire was gorgeous in the extreme, consisting of a chaplet, or crown of scarlet feathers, which projected above his head like the outspread tail of a peacock. Over his broad shoulders was thrown a mantle of leopard skin. His neck was encircled by strings of teeth—human, crocodile, and gorilla. Standing about were four or five women whom we took to be his wives. Five curiously-wrought chairs were placed near his right hand, which Mirango motioned us to occupy. On his left, and a little nearer to the fire, was a deep trench, into which some of the glowing embers had been dragged. These were now covered by slabs of stone which speedily became very hot, and I judged that on them was to be roasted the flesh for the repast. Though, as there were no cattle or goats to be seen, we were at a loss to guess the nature of the principal dish.

Presently drums began to be beaten, and other musical instruments were sounded by musicians grouped near the afore- mentioned trench. The sounds speedily increased in force and loudness until it was impossible to hear one's own voice.

Then, in the midst of the pandemonium of noise, two men and a woman, all stark naked, were led into the centre of the great throng—for the space surrounding the fire was crowded with people. The captives gazed round with terror-stricken eyes, and I saw at a glance what it meant. This was to be a cannibal banquet; and we were to partake of the flesh of these poor wretches!


V. — THE TABLES ARE TURNED.

PUTTING our heads together we held a hasty consultation, with the result that I arose from my seat and stood before the chief.

"Mirango, great ruler of the Bateké," I cried, "know thou that it is not the custom of the white men to eat human flesh: nor can we without abhorrence witness the slaying of men and women for so vile a purpose. Release therefore, we pray thee, these persons!"

A dark frown gathered on the monarch's face as he replied, "I am aware that the white men eat not the flesh of men; but now you are among the Bateké you must follow the custom of the land."

I interpreted to the others the words of Mirango.

"Never!" cried Simon Halcombe.

"Never!" echoed Jeffreson.

"Never!" chimed in my nephew and Bob Button. "Never will we eat the flesh of our fellow creatures!"

I turned to the chief and gave him their reply.

"Then you must die with them," he said grimly. "We have only two sorts of people at our feasts—the eaters' and the eaten! Choose ye which ye will be!" And he raised his huge spear as though he had a mind straightway to smite me therewith.

"Shall we fight them?" cried Franklyn, as I put the words of Mirango into English.

He looked so brave and resolute as he grasped his musket, that I was sorely tempted to assent. But the others glanced round upon the throng, and, perceiving that most of the men were armed (for indeed their spear-points glittered ominously enough in the brilliant firelight), they shook their heads.

"It would be a hopeless struggle," said Captain Halcombe. "We should bring a few of them down with our bullets, but the rest would spear us or ever we could force our way through the crowd."

"Then what is to be done?" I said.

"I will make one more appeal to Mirango."

Accordingly I turned me about and again addressed the black monarch. I dwelt upon all the lessons of humanity which had been instilled into him by the two white priests, I urged the kindness which he had received at the hands of the Portuguese for the long space of five years, and I concluded by imploring that, in our case, he would not insist on our joining in the devouring of our fellow-creatures.

"Tell your great men and your people that it will make us ill if we follow the custom of the Bateké in this matter."

But Mirango was obdurate.

"Then you can have no brotherhood with us!" he cried. "And those who make not brotherhood with Mirango and his people are their enemies, and must die."

Again he raised his spear, and this time with a peculiar cry: at the sound whereof every spear in that vast throng of savages was raised on high.

We looked round in despair. On all sides we saw the flash and glitter of spear-points, as well as the menacing looks of relentless savages; whose shark-like teeth glittered in the firelight as though warning us that they would not be unwilling to tear the flesh from off our bones.

And then we turned and looked at the trembling, shivering victims—prisoners doubtless, captured in a raid on some neighbouring tribe. Too well did they understand the meaning of this fire and great assembly. It was only when their eyes were turned upon ourselves that a gleam of hope lightened those tear- dimmed orbs, which mutely craved our sympathy and help. Eat them!—the very thought made our whole souls revolt. Yet what could we do.

While these thoughts passed swiftly through our minds, Mirango and his people waited. Then we whispered together, and I—need I be ashamed to own it—counselled that we should comply with the chief's demand.

Never shall I forget the flush of indignation which passed over Franklyn's face.

"You may do as you please, uncle, but I, for one, decline to purchase my life at such a price.

"I am o' t' same mind!" growled Bob Button.

"But surely there must be some way out of this terrible position," I cried, utterly perplexed, and glancing round at the spear-points.

"Why not tell Mirango that the Fetish-Book forbids human sacrifices!" said the captain, "and let us carry war into the enemies' camp by claiming their prisoners as our slaves."

It was a bold move, and I doubted whether it would not be the signal for our destruction; but the words of my comrades revived my own courage a little, so I swung the bundle containing the book from my shoulders, and, producing the volume with much ceremony, solemnly opened it in the sight of Mirango, his wives, his lords, his whole court, and the vast throng of his subjects.

The effect on Mirango was immediate.

Opening his great mouth in his surprise, he stared at me while I read in a loud voice from page one hundred and ninety-five, of which the following is an exact translation:—

" 'Know then that we have ever refused to eat of the flesh of men, nor will we allow any over whom we have influence or control to indulge in so brutish a custom, seeing that it cannot be exercised without murder. Nay further, I, Duarte Lopez, hereby declare such a one to be accursed and reserved for the merciless torture of eternal fires, even as he hath no mercy on the souls and bodies of his victims. I charge my countrymen the rather to deliver those who be, for so hideous a purpose, condemned to die, and if need be to retain them for bondservants.' "

Now while I was reading these words in the ears of Mirango, I perceived that he was so exceedingly frightened by their import, which it was plain he fully understood, that his knees smote one against another, while his great hands trembled also with the agitation of his mind.

"We must do something immediately, and while he is under the influence of the Book," I cried to my companions. "Lay hands straightway on the prisoners, and bring them here while I continue to address the chief."

They did as I bade them. Bob Button drew out his knife and severed their bonds, upon which Simon Halcombe, in as slow and stately manner as though he was in no wise perturbed, led them up to Mirango's footstool, by the side of which I was standing.

"Mirango, great chief of the Bateké, do you wish to bring on yourself the curse of the great Fetish-Book of the white man?"

"N—n—no," responded the great Mirango, his shark- like teeth chattering.

"Give us these men and this woman, or the terrible curse shall fall on you!" and I raised the book in both hands as though I were about to bring it down upon his head. But the chief waited for no more. With a subdued moan and a supplication for mercy, he sank upon his knees before me, and bent his face to the ground; while from the assembled multitude there came a long-drawn murmur of astonishment and alarm.

"It is about time we made a bargain," whispered the captain.

"A bargain?"

"Yes—that this black fellow and his people aid us with canoes and men."

"You are right," I said.

Then speaking to the prostrate chief I continued—"Rise, Mirango, great ruler of the Bateké! rise, and make brotherhood with the white men after their own fashion." So saying I grasped him by the hand, and shook it so heartily that the simple-minded child of nature fairly laughed, whereupon his people, who had been looking on with alternate frowns and exclamations of surprise, joined so heartily that there went up a simultaneous roar of laughter from the whole of the assembly.

"Tell them," I said, "that you have heard words of wisdom spoken by the great Fetish-Book of the white men, and that we now are brothers."

Whereupon Mirango addressed the people.

Surely a more energetic speech from the throne was never heard. For nearly half an hour did Mirango speak to his subjects. We did not at the time understand his remarks, but it was plain that they were acceptable to his audience, for they were interrupted by frequent applause.

He afterwards told us that he had assured the Bateké of the awful power of the white men, and had told them of the wonders of the Fetish-Book, "which talks like a man." Further, that it would be well for the tribe to become our friends and to aid us in reaching the Lake of Islands whither we were bound.

The conclusion of Mirango's address was followed by a scene of excitement. The chief men of the tribe now pressed forward, each anxious to shake hands, and to make brotherhood with us after our own fashion. They were followed by the rest of the people; so that for more than three hours we were employed in shaking hands with the negroes in a most vigorous way. In fact, so energetic was the performance that it was fully two days before my right hand ceased to ache as the result of the unwonted and long- continued exercise.

There was much feasting that night—though not upon human flesh—and a wild and excited dance with weird singings around the great fire, signifying, so Mirango told us, the great joy of the people at our coming, and because we had made brotherhood with them.

It was thus that we began to understand the character of the natives of this great country. That they are like children—easily diverted from their purpose, and as easily controlled by those who know how to combine firmness with geniality and frankness.

Being now no longer confined to our prison, we were permitted to wander about freely, and to mix with the inhabitants of the town. Everywhere we were greeted with friendly smiles, and with attentions which were sometimes embarrassing.

It took more than a fortnight to prepare for the voyage, which was to prove so eventful for us all. Five large canoes, beautifully shaped and richly carved, were placed at our disposal by Mirango, who also provided us with the needful crews and outfit. Three of the said canoes were solely for the purpose of conveying our food, consisting of cassava root—and cakes of the same,—maize, yams, plantains, sweet potatoes, dried fish, goats' and hogs' flesh—the latter having been cured after a peculiar fashion. To these Mirango added three large gourdfuls of palm wine. The remaining two canoes were for the accommodation of Mirango and ourselves.

We did not at first like the idea that the members of our party should be separated, but it was plain that there would not be room for the five in one canoe. Accordingly, we divided thus: Mirango, Franklyn, and I occupied one canoe, wherein were four additional paddlers; while Simon Halcombe, Jeffreson, and Bob Button took possession of the next in size, which was said to be a swifter boat.

To protect us from the glare and heat of the sun, which on the river was intense, Mirango caused to be erected awnings of grass matting, which afforded a very grateful shade.

Behold us, then, as we start on the most momentous stage of our eventful journey. There is gathered on the shore the whole of the Bateké tribe to give us a send-off. Mirango is giving final instructions to his son, who will act as vice-regent until his return. The members of the crew, numbering fifty stalwart men—an average of ten to each canoe—are bidding farewell to their relatives and friends. Women are chattering, men shouting, children—little and big, and all stark naked—are adding to the general chorus a treble of shrill laughter.

At a signal from Mirango brawny arms grasp the canoes, and lusty shoulders thrust us afloat, and away we skim over the rippling sunlit waters, followed by a mighty shout from the throats of many thousands of spectators.

It was truly an auspicious launch; and as Franklyn and I smiled and nodded to our friends in the other boat, I thought how different might have been the termination of our visit to the Bateké. Among those who accompanied us were our two servants, the rescued Bangala men, who rejoiced in the names of Manwa and Kuma respectively, and the young woman who turned out to be the wife of one of them, and whose name was Kookooa. Mirango was for leaving her behind, but her distress at the suggestion that her husband should desert her was so great, and withal so manifestly sincere, that we persuaded the chief to allow her to accompany the expedition.

For several days all went well. There was a strong westerly breeze which helped us greatly.

"In fact, we ought to ha' rigged up sails," cried Button, from the neighbouring canoe.

But six knots an hour was a very respectable pace, and if maintained would quickly carry us to our destination. The order of procession varied, but Mirango's canoe usually took the lead, and was named by us "Number One"; and his was followed by canoe number two, containing the rest of our party; the remaining canoes brought up the rear. Each night we made for an unfrequented part of the bank, or for one of the numerous islands which studded the mighty stream. It was not always easy to make a comfortable bed, but travellers in the wilds of Africa cannot hope for all the luxuries of civilization.

"This seems to be easy work," observed my nephew, as we sat about a fire on the evening of the fifth day.

" Should all go on thus we shall not be long on the road," said Jeffreson.

Simon Halcombe only shook his head; but whether the shake was indicative of doubt or of wisdom I could not determine. Bob Button was more definite.

"It's bin my experience, sir," he remarked, turning to me, "that theer's never a calm without a storm follerin'. So, I says, look out for squalls!"

Whereat we all laughed, though I doubt whether we should have done so had we realized the nearness of the first of the prophesied squalls. For I am quite convinced that none of us would have had the courage needful to reach the Lake of Islands had we known what would befall us on the way.


VI. — A SECOND TIME THE BOOK SAVES MY LIFE.

BOOM! boom! boom! Boom! boom! Boom!

The sounds which arose on the north bank of the mighty river struck upon my ears sharply, and aroused me to full alertness.

Rat-a-tat, boom! rat-a-tat, boom! The sound came to us borne upon the wings of the light breeze from far and near, until we were the centre of a thunder-like roll of boomings.

"What can it be?" asked Franklyn, clutching his musket and knitting his handsome brows.

But Mirango anticipated his question.

"The war-drums of the Bangala," he said speaking in Portuguese.

"Will they attack us?"

"Yes, they attack everybody. No one can pass the waters which flow through the Bangala country without much fighting. They fight for 'meat'—that is, man's flesh."

As though to verify his words we perceived at this moment no less than ten large canoes appearing from behind an island. They were handsome vessels, and were skilfully managed by a crowd of strong-limbed men, who employed pointed paddles of great length, elaborately carved, and stood erect at their work. In the stern of each canoe was placed a powerful coxswain, who steered dexterously by means of a very broad-bladed paddle.

They came towards us singing a strange war-song, which would not have sounded unpleasant to our ears had not its tones been so mockingly triumphant.

Up to this time we had not had occasion to use our firearms; and though Mirango understood the nature of our weapons, and further had told his people that we carried "fire-arrows" which were exceedingly deadly, none of the men up to the present had seen us use either our muskets or our pistols; and it was certain that the Bangala knew nothing of such instruments of warfare. Our men paddled away from them, striving to gain a channel leading between islands, in the hope that we might thus find a way of escape. But our crafts, being somewhat heavily-laden, were no match for these swift canoes, and as they were overhauling us rapidly, Captain Halcombe called out to me that we had better close up, as thus we should be the better able to resist an attack. In close order came the ten canoes of the Bangala. On their heads the crews wore helmets of some dazzling white material, and about their necks were chains of metal which flashed and glittered in the sunlight. Our hearts were beating fast, for it was plain enough that there would be a fight, and that we were greatly outnumbered.

"See that every piece is loaded," called out the captain.

"All ready here, sir," responded Jeffreson.

"And here!" I cried from the other boat.

"Then cover your men, aim low, and fire when I give the word. Master Pryce, take you the steersman of the first canoe, and all of you reserve your pistols for close quarters."

On came the enemy's fleet, the crews bending in grand style to the song of battle, the water dividing in foaming streams from the cutwaters. Ah! it was a brave sight and one I should have enjoyed had we been in any other position.

Suddenly, by a swift and adroit stroke of the steering paddle, each boat was brought broadside on, and at the same time the crew threw down their paddles and grasped murderous-looking spears.

"Fire!" cried the voice of Simon Halcombe, for I was unable to see him, as he was stationed at the far end of our line of battle.

I imagine that never before had these wilds echoed with the report of firearms. It is tolerably certain that such weapons as ours were altogether new to the Bangala, and as startling as they were novel. For so good was our aim that each of our five bullets found their billets, and five of our dark-skinned enemies tumbled into the water.

"Well done! Give the niggers another round!" shouted Bob Button in his excitement.

We reloaded with haste. But there was no need for either another volley or for reinforcement in the shape of the spears and arrows of the Bateké. With shouts of terror our assailants resumed their paddles, and dashed out of sight behind the corner of the island.

"Driven off!" exclaimed Franklyn.

"Yes, sir; gone for good," added Button, gleefully.

"My friends, let us not holloa until we are out of the wood—^which in this case means out of this portion of the river," remarked Captain Halcombe in a more serious tone. "We may have more trouble with them yet," he added.

And he was right.

As there was no prospect of our being able to land in these parts, Mirango gave the word of command, and away we dashed up- stream, hoping that such a lesson had been given to this warlike tribe that they would not forget it.

"If it were dark we might manage to outstrip any pursuers," I said; "but seeing it is but noon, there is nothing for it but to press on."

It soon became evident enough that the Bangala, although driven off, were by no means totally defeated. The unceasing boom of war-drums ascended the river, rousing up the war spirit of the people in a marvellous manner. On either bank we saw bands of armed warriors hurrying into huge canoes, and presently we were able to count no less than forty of these crafts in hot pursuit.

"More than we can tackle, I fancy," remarked Franklyn, with a grave shake of his curly locks.

"It is fight or die," I returned grimly. In truth I perceived that we were now indeed in desperate case, for if our guns had so early failed to frighten these people we could not hope that further firing would drive them away, now that our assailants had so greatly increased in numbers.

With a wild, weird song the great fleet of the Bangala swept onwards towards us. It was marvellous to see how well they kept together, how accurately the canoes were steered, and how swiftly they were propelled.

"There is no help for it! We must fight!" cried Halcombe. "Let every piece be loaded and see that your powder and ball is handy."

For about a quarter of an hour our men strained at their paddles, vainly hoping that at least we might maintain our distance from our pursuers.

Indeed, swift as were the canoes of those who chased us, I verily believe that we should have escaped them had not a second fleet of canoes, some twenty in number, darted from an inlet or tributary stream with the manifest purpose of intercepting us.

We were now in mid-stream and not far from one of the islands.

"Tell the chief to make for the shore," cried Captain Halcombe pointing to the island. We reached it not a moment too soon, for the new arrivals strove to intercept us; but seeing that we had the advantage they sheered off and presently joined the fleet of pursuers.

Not that the advent of the new comers caused any delay. The augmented fleet crowded with armed men swept up, and at the word of command formed in a semi-circle at a short distance from us. As for our little fleet, it was placed at any rate where we could not be attacked in the rear; unless indeed there should be an enemy on the island concealed in the thick undergrowth.

As for the Bangala, had not our position been one of terrible danger, I should have admired their cool courage, their fine physique and the marvellous skill with which they handled their canoes. As it was, we had neither time nor wish to admire, for no sooner were the canoes of the enemy in position than a great semi-circle of deadly-looking spears were raised, and wild and threatening cries plainly portended our destruction.

When I come to look back on that hour, I can see that only the hand of Divine Providence can have brought us in safety through the peril, for indeed never were mortal men in greater danger. How our escape was effected I have now to relate.

Simon Halcombe's canoe was next to ours, so that we could easily converse.

"We are not going to win this game," he remarked, with a grim look.

"Too long odds," I returned.

"Pity that we cannot make friends with these savages."

"Why not try to make terms with them?" suggested Franklyn.

"Yes. Here are the slave people, whom we rescued. Are they not of this tribe?" said Jethro Jeffreson.

I turned to Mirango, who, spear in hand, was intently gazing at the attacking force.

"Raise your gun, white man," said he, "and kill the leader of the Bangala. See, he stands in the forepart of the foremost canoe: the tall man who wears a helmet larger than those of his fellows."

I noted the man. He was a splendid savage, and it seemed terrible to shoot him down in cold blood. For I never could bring my mind to approve either the wholesale slaughter of the negroes sometimes indulged in even by my own countrymen, nor could I agree with the custom of their shipment as slaves to our colonies and plantations in the Americas.

"Mirango, let us try first to talk to them," I said.

"We cannot easily talk with the Bangalas: their tongue is not ours," replied the chief.

"But we have some of their own people with us."

"True, the slave men and the woman are in the third canoe." And Mirango glanced at them contemptuously.

"But they may save our lives," I said. "They understand your speech better than ours. Bid them speak a few friendly words to the Bangala, and let them say that we are peaceable travellers bound for the Lake of Islands."

I have often wondered why the Bangala waited so long without opening attack. Perhaps it was by reason of their astonishment at the colour of our European skins, and the cut and colour of our clothing. But their patience did not last more than seven or eight minutes. Suddenly, at a signal from the man whom Mirango had invited me to slay, a flight of broad-bladed arrows were launched at us.

We saw the throwers poise themselves for the cast, and, as the shafts came hurtling through the air, most of our people crouched down beneath the bulwarks of the canoes.

What my companions did I know not at the time—though afterwards I saw blood trickling from a cut on Jeffreson's arm which had been inflicted by a glancing spear. For my own part I was fully occupied in dodging three spears which came at me with marvellous and deadly accuracy. Never could I have believed, if I had not seen it with my own eyes, that human arm was capable of hurling so weighty a weapon either so far or with such exact precision. Why I should have been thus singled out for special attack remains a mystery. Perhaps my proximity to Mirango in the foremost canoe, and the conspicuousness of my dress, for I wore a shirt of white flannel, made me to be especially marked. Or, maybe the Bangala mistook me for the leader of the expedition; an honour which they should certainly have attributed to my friend Simon Halcombe. Be that as it may, I had no sooner ducked my head out of deference to the third of the afore-mentioned spears, than a fourth came whizzing into the canoe which would certainly have pinned me between the shoulders had not the book of Duarte Lopez, which I wore on my back after the manner of a soldier's knapsack, received the full force of the blow, so that the weapon stood upright and quivering above me.

Upon this arose a great and joyful shout from the Bangala; for, as I afterwards learnt, they imagined that they had slain the mysterious white chief who had brought strangers into the country.

For a few seconds I held down my head wondering whether or no I had received a wound, for the impact of the spear had been very perceptible to my senses, though I felt no pain.

Presently, feeling none the worse, I sat up and looked about me. Then came a shout of amazement from our assailants, which was increased when I arose to my feet, the spear to all appearance sticking in my back. I have often thought that they must have regarded me as a being impervious to their spears; and I can well imagine the legend transmitted to father and son for many generations, which would arise from this incident. For myself, I was filled with thankfulness that the book of Duarte Lopez had a second time saved my life.

Franklyn plucked the shaft from the book, and as he did so a great silence fell upon the Bangala.

"Bid the slaves speak to their fellow-countrymen," I said, addressing Mirango. "Quick! before more of those spears are thrown!"

Whereupon the husband of Kookooa arose and addressed the Bangala.

What he said was unintelligible to us Europeans; but Mirango was plainly able to understand the gist of the man's remarks, for he nodded his head and smiled with approval as the man proceeded to point to ourselves, and especially to the bundle strapped on my shoulders.

The result was a sudden, complete, and very welcome change on the part of the Bangala. Throwing their murderous spears into the bottom of the canoes, they resumed the paddles and in a few seconds we were the centre of a crowd of inquisitive, chattering negroes, who fairly took possession of us, with every outward manifestation of friendliness, and quickly conveyed us to a large village situated on the north bank of the river.


VII. — IN WHICH WE RESCUE A LADY.

LEST the reader should imagine that that part of our journey which I have hitherto recorded had no bearing on the subsequent portions, I must now relate what happened to us in the village of Ourwozi; such being the name of the place to which we were brought by our Bangala friends.

"It is plain that these people are more advanced in civilization than the Bateké," remarked my nephew, as we entered the large village escorted by the crowd.

"What makes you say so?"

He pointed to a building ahead of us. It was different from any we had hitherto seen in this wild country, being built of stone.

"Surely that is a sign of civilization," said he.

"It looks more European than anything I have seen in this part of Africa," remarked Simon Halcombe.

Our attention was here diverted by Mirango, who informed us that he had gathered from the Bangala that they wished to make a feast in our honour.

"Not of human flesh, I hope."

"I have tried to make them understand that the white men eat not meat," he replied.

As we had determined to spend that night with the Bangala there seemed to be no reason why we should not accept the honour which they desired to offer. Accordingly, soon after sunset we found ourselves the centre of a crowd as large as that from which we had rescued the victims of the Bateké. There was a great beating of drums as well as the blowing of ivory horns and other instruments of music; there was also the huge fire, and the usual fantastic dance, with much singing and horseplay. But somehow, though much interested in the performance, I could see that my nephew was taking no notice of their antics; and presently, when our attention was diverted by the entrance into the circle of a number of men whose bodies were curiously painted to resemble skeletons, he slipped away from my side and disappeared. None of the others saw him go, and before long I began to feel some anxiety concerning him, which was increased by his continued absence. It was impossible for us to leave our hosts during the progress of the entertainment, and I could only conclude that either feeling tired or not well Franklyn had departed to the hut which had been apportioned to our use.

Our surprise was great, when, after the festivities were concluded and we had reached the said tent, we found that Franklyn was not within.

"Has he been kidnapped by the Bangala?" I exclaimed.

But Simon Halcombe shook his head solemnly.

"They would hardly have taken possession of but one of our number," he said.

Bob Button suggested that it was possible we might find the missing youth asleep in one of the canoes on the bank of the river, and volunteered to go in search of him.

But while in our perplexity we were thus debating, Franklyn himself entered.

There was a look on his face which betokened the possession of a secret, and he held up his finger to enjoin silence. Though indeed he might have talked as loud as he pleased seeing that the Bangala could not understand our speech.

"Where have you been?"

"What is the matter?"

"Any danger?"

Such were some of the questions which we almost simultaneously put to him.

"There is no danger," began Franklyn, "at least not to ourselves."

"Are the Bangala about to attack Mirango and his men?"

"No."

"Then tell us, man, what you have to tell," cried Halcombe, somewhat testily.

"I have been to the stone building."

"What! the one we noticed as we entered the village?"

"Yes."

"What made you go?"

" I will tell you. You remember that at the beginning of the fantastic dance the Bangala threw a lot of fat on the fire?"

We nodded.

"And that there was in consequence a sudden bright burst of flame?"

"Yes, I remarked upon it at the time to Jeffreson."

"It was the brightness of that light which revealed to me something which astonished and perplexed me—to wit, a human face looking out of the barred window of that building."

"Some poor fellow from a neighbouring tribe condemned to be eaten," remarked Simon Halcombe.

"So I imagined at first," continued Franklyn, "and truly it was for the purpose of confirming this idea that I slipped away from you and tried to gain the edge of the crowd. I did this without exciting much attention, for the people seemed to think that I was merely amusing myself. But I contrived to walk past the place which is a place strongly constructed and of considerable size. Judge my surprise when, on glancing up at a window which faced the open square of the village in which the festivities were being carried on, I saw truly that some one was peering through the closely-barred opening. But instead of possessing the countenance of an ugly negro, the prisoner's features were undoubtedly those of a beautiful woman! So struck with amazement was I, that for a moment I stood before the apparition in open-mouthed and speechless astonishment. That one of our own race should be a captive among such people was almost incredible, and yet here was the evidence of mine own eyes.

" 'What do you here?' I asked, speaking in a low tone, though indeed there was little fear that I should be overheard, for the Bangala were making a furious noise with their drums, trumpets, and other instruments. She made reply, though unhappily in a language I did not understand; it sounded not unlike the tongue of the Portuguese.

"I shook my head to indicate that I was not able to talk to her; and being afraid that the Bangala would see me if I made signs, I went round to the back of the building in hope that I might be able to enter. And here, to my surprise, I was confronted by two stalwart negroes, each armed with a spear fully six feet long, and having a blade six inches in width.

"They were standing before the doors, and as soon as I caught sight of them I crept into the shadow of some palms and waited a while to see if the music and dancing would so occupy their attention that they would leave the side of the building on which was the door, and so I might gain free access.

"But though I waited for a long space, the guards moved not; and at length, the festivities having concluded, I mingled with the crowd, and made my way hither."

We discussed my nephew's extraordinary story for upwards of an hour. It was plain that duty bade us rescue the captive, even if inclination did not call. There was something so strangely romantic about the presence of a Portuguese woman (if such she were) in this remote and outlandish spot, that our curiosity was as highly excited as was our pity.

"If there is to be any rescue effected, it must be to-night," I said, "for the Bangala have been informed that we depart hence to-morrow."

"I am willing to conduct any of you to the spot," said Franklyn, "But I warn you that it will not be possible for us to enter the building should the guards be still standing before the door."

It was past midnight when Simon Halcombe and I left the hut. We were armed with pistols and cutlasses, and we left word that Jeffreson and Button were to arouse Mirango and his men, and so come to our assistance should they hear the report of our firearms.

The night was dark and rain began to fall. We could hear the drops splutter as they plunged into the dying embers of the great bonfire. Except ourselves there was not a soul abroad.

"Let us first ascertain whether the guards have departed," I said, thinking that possibly the weather might have driven them to take shelter.

Creeping behind the huts, from whence came indubitable evidence of the deep slumbers of sundry Bangala in the shape of heavy snores, we gained the shelter of the trees, and so crept round towards the stone prison.

It took us some time to ascertain its exact position, so dark was the night; and we were bound to move with extreme caution, lest by lurching against a hut or by an unlucky fall we unwittingly should arouse the natives. For this would assuredly be the signal for our destruction.

Now, as soon as we had reached the neighbourhood of our quest (which in the darkness we discerned with difficulty), Captain Halcombe went forward alone to ascertain if possible whether or no the guards were still stationed before the door.

Our place of hiding was under the trees which shaded the path leading to the river. There we anxiously awaited his return, little anticipating in how abrupt a manner we should leave the Bangala country.

All at once the sharp report of a pistol-shot rang out on the still night air.

"That's the captain's piece!" I ejaculated.

"And he's in danger!" exclaimed my nephew, as together we started up the slope at the top of our speed in the direction of the prison.

Before we could reach the place a chorus of wild cries arose from every part of the village, as the frightened inhabitants ran hither and thither seeking the cause of the unwonted sound which had aroused them from their slumbers.

We found Simon Halcombe engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict with one of the guards. Not that we could see more than their shadowy forms, but the clash of Halcombe's cutlass against the blade of his opponent's long spear was an unwelcome sound.

"Ah, wilt thou run me through, black knave!" he exclaimed as we came up.

Drawing my pistol from my belt I made for the combatants, whereupon the captain, hearing my footsteps, cried out, "Come along. Master Pryce, and shoot the fellow through the head."

At first I was afraid to fire for fear of wounding my friend, but presently catching a glimpse of the form of a huge negro ready to plunge his broad-bladed spear into the vitals of Captain Halcombe, I fired, shooting him through the head, so that he fell like a log at my feet.

"Now for the door before the whole village is upon us!" I cried.

The fastening, being a mere external bolt, did not detain us; and presently I was calling in Portuguese to the occupant of the place, and was bidding her to come out. For it was pitch dark within, and we could not discover the prisoner's whereabouts.

In accents strange and antiquated, but in tones soft and musical, the voice of a woman replied to me, and a female form emerged from the prison. She was attired in a white robe, which revealed the graceful outlines of her figure plainly enough, while over her shoulders fell a profusion of black hair. This was all we saw in the darkness. We had no time to converse with the woman, for the sound of shouting in the village was followed by the report of two pistol-shots, which we knew must proceed from the weapons of Jeffreson and Button.

"To the canoes!" cried the captain.

"Yes; the others are sure to follow," I said.

But we had hardly started when Jeffreson overtook us. "Come back !" he said, " Mirango and his men are fighting for their lives!"

Hurriedly giving instructions to my nephew to escort the rescued lady to the canoes, Simon Halcombe and I, having first loaded our pistols, returned with Jeffreson up the steep path towards the village.

It was just as we again reached the stone prison that we met the surging crowd of the Bangala. They were howling and shouting in a manner which told us that they were exceedingly excited and furiously angry. In the midst was a body of men who were plainly striving to force their way towards the river; and I could distinguish the gigantic form of Mirango as he towered head and shoulders above the rest. He had seized a Bangala club of great weight, and with it was dealing out blows right and left and parrying spear-thrusts.

Every moment's delay made the progress of our friends more difficult; for their enemies increased in numbers very rapidly, as from all quarters men came running to the scene of action. So that, on reaching the narrow alley by the prison which led to the river, the way was completely blocked.

Mirango and his men made two or three ineffectual rushes, but without success. Then three of the Bateké fell pierced by the spears of the Bangala. I verily believe that the whole body of them would have been massacred had not we rushed to their assistance, at the same time firing our weapons among the crowd.

The effect was as instantaneous as it was unexpected. Instead of being terrified, the Bangala now seemed to have become accustomed to the sound of firearms; and many of them turned at once upon us with such fury that we were driven back into the doorway of the stone prison. Mirango and his party, who had caught sight of us, were successful in bursting through their assailants and joined us.

How we managed it I cannot say, for the place was as dark as Erebus. All I know is, that presently we found ourselves, with Mirango and his men, the tenants of the prison, while a howling mob was surging about the building, striving to come at us. A couple of spears come through the barred window, but these fortunately hurt nobody. Jeffreson and Button had succeeded in bringing with them all our property, and Mirango and his people had done the same with their goods; so that there was nothing but the presence of the Bangala to hinder us from making for the canoes.

"They may resolve to starve us out," I remarked, as we were discussing the situation.

"Ah! we must get away speedily," said Simon Halcombe.

"Or iver we be made into roast pig," added Jethro Jeffreson, with an attempt at humour.


VIII. — ALMASS THE BEAUTIFUL EXCITES OUR CURIOSITY.

AFTER a time the screaming and yelling of the Bangala ceased, and, on our attempting to open the door, we found that it had been secured on the outside by means of the strong bar.

"Caught!" exclaimed Jeffreson, who made the unwelcome discovery.

"Prisoners!" responded the Captain.

"Silly fools was we to make for this 'ere trap!" was Bob Button's sarcastic remark.

My own anxiety was heightened by the thought that Franklyn might be captured. In which case it was certain that we should have short shrift. As for the lady she was to us all still a creature of mystery. Her nationality, the cause of her coming to this region, how long she had been in the hands of these people, the reason for her late incarceration, were alike, problems which we were unlikely to be able to solve offhand. At the present time, however, we had no opportunity for talking on such matters, for it was imperative that we should get out of our prison before daybreak. Daylight would assuredly bring many thousands of the savage Bangala into the village from the surrounding country, and our chances then would be indeed small.

In our extremity we turned to Mirango. What did he advise?

The chief recognized the extreme danger of our position. Not one of us, he said, would escape with our lives if we remained in the prison till morning. But, when it came to the practical question, he could only reply that, except through the barred door, the only possible way of escape was through the thatched roof, which at one point we could just touch with our outstretched fingers; for it must not be forgotten that the darkness of the place was so intense that nothing was visible.

"By the Queen's head!" cried Bob Button, as soon as I had put Mirango's remarks into English, "but I believe t' nigger's right. If we be smart aboot it I ha' no doot but that's the road."

Then he told us that at one corner of the building he had noticed a large tree, with strong branches and very thick foliage, which overhung and, indeed, touched the thatch. Could we but make a way through the roof and gain the shelter of the tree, our escape might be effected.

The plan was so thoroughly sailor-like in its conception, that those of us who were not accustomed to climbing might reasonably be somewhat alarmed at the prospect of such an adventure. But anything was better than that we should grace a Bangala banquet; and so, as no other scheme for our escape presented itself, we presently determined to attempt to carry out Button's suggestion.

Through the strong, barred window came a flicker of light; and we saw that the villagers had rekindled the bonfire, and were assembling about it—for the purpose, said Mirango, of holding a council concerning ourselves. Mirango further told us that guards would certainly be posted about the prison. Indeed, we could hear the subdued voices of those who kept watch by the door, and, by the variety of tones, there seemed to be a good many of them.

"Gently, gently," said the captain, as Bob Button pulled away at the thatch. "If we are overheard the black villains will spear the first head which appears."

This was not a pleasant prospect, and so we proceeded with extreme caution. It took some time to make a hole wide enough to admit a man's body, for the thatch was thick; but at length one of the Bateké, mounted on Mirango's broad shoulders, managed to squeeze through the opening.

Presently the man descended with the information that the place was fully invested by the Bangala, and that it would be impossible for us to escape except by way of the great tree which overhung the side of the building. He thought that we might thus be able to gain the shadow of the great forest beyond.

"An' we shall be like a troop o' blessed monkeys!" growled Button.

Silence was now enjoined. It was understood that Mirango's men were to follow Bob Button and myself. After which would come Simon Halcombe and Jeffreson. With some difficulty was I hoisted up by the joint efforts of Mirango and the captain. On reaching the roof, which slanted considerably, I found that Button was clinging to a branch of the tree.

"Catch hold o' this, Master Pryce," quoth he, in a whisper, "or maybe ye'll roll doon amang them savages."

I was glad enough to obey his bidding; though, how I managed to escape the fate of which he warned me, has always seemed to me to be little short of a miracle.

I am not much of a climber, and to this day do not know how I accomplished the feat; but somehow I succeeded in following the sailor as he scrambled off very quietly over the wide-spreading boughs. Here, as luck would have it, we hit upon the branch of an adjoining tree. Thus we succeeded in passing clean over the heads of the Bangala guards, who, if they heard any sounds at all, must have taken us for a troop of the monkeys which infest these woods.

Wonderful to relate the rest of the party followed without mishap, and so it came to pass that we all succeeded in reaching terra firma—some distance away from the prison—without our escape having been discovered; and one by one we slipped away in the direction of the river. Arriving there we could see nothing either of Franklyn or of the lady; and it was while we were looking about for them, that we heard a sound of shouting in the village which told us that the Bangala had discovered our escape. By this time the last of our straggling party had arrived.

"Where are the canoes?" cried Captain Halcombe, as he came up.

"Gone!"

It was true. Our own canoes, with all their contents, had disappeared: only the canoes of the Bangalas remained.

"We cannot stay here," said Jeffreson, anxiously.

"No," responded Button; "t' black villains 'll vara soon coom after us."

"Then here goes!" cried the captain, springing into one of the canoes belonging to our enemies.

In a few minutes we were afloat.

"What are you doing?" I asked of Mirango, who was delaying the craft in which he and I were seated.

"Bangala will follow if Mirango does not bring away all the canoes," was his reply; and then I saw that the intelligent fellow had launched the whole of the Bangala fleet, and was towing several empty canoes out into the broad river.

"Ha! ha! Bangala men cannot follow now!" he cried, as with furious yells, along with the beating of war-drums and the blowing of horns, our enemies swept down the slope to the brink of the water.

Though we were unable to see them in the darkness, the din and noise they created could be heard for a long distance, and Mirango said they were exceedingly enraged at the loss of their canoes.

"The white men must push on quickly," he said, "for we are still in the Bangala country and the sound of the war-drums will arouse the whole nation."

Accordingly we pulled out into the middle of the stream, which, in this part, was over a mile in width and interspersed with numerous small islands. I was terribly anxious about my nephew, and was only comforted by the reflection that, though youthful, he was shrewd and cautious and unlikely to do anything rash. On the other hand there was the danger that his canoe might be lying concealed in some creek, or under the dense foliage which over-hung the shores of some of the islands; unless, indeed—and this was a terrible thought—he and the lady had hidden themselves on the shore near the Bangala village: in which case they would certainly be captured. The loss of our provisions, too, caused us no little anxiety. We could not tell whether our canoes had drifted away or whether the Bangala had stolen them.

Happily our fears were removed before we had gone very far. Our party was passing an islet when suddenly a voice hailed us therefrom, and, on listening attentively, we ascertained that he who hailed was indeed my nephew. We found that he was safe and unharmed, and that the lady (whose face and name were still equally unknown to us) was with him.

"We launched the canoe straight away," he explained, "and paddled some distance out into the river, where we awaited your arrival. As you did not come, it occurred to us that possibly you might be fighting the Bangala. It was a sore trial that I should be kept out of a fight; but it was my plain duty that I should guard the life and liberty of Almass—as this lady calls herself—though I'm blest if I can make out anything more from her speech."

"I will try to converse with her later," I said, as I bowed to the lady, whose form I could dimly distinguish in the bow of the canoe.

"But tell me what has become of the cargo-canoes, for we cannot live without food."

"An' it ud be like getting butter fra a dog's throttle to ax these Bangala chaps for 't," put in Button, whose canoe had pulled up alongside.

"We soon heard the sound of fighting ashore, and it struck me that you would be able to get away in the canoes of the Bangala," continued my nephew, "while, if these gentry should come down first to the riverside, the whole of the food of the expedition would be lost.

"I therefore signed to my companion, who, as I can assure you, is right skilful in the use of the paddle, that she should aid me in getting possession of the laden canoes; and, so successful were we, that at length we moored them safely in a narrow channel between two islets on the further side of the river."

"Are they still there?" inquired Captain Halcombe.

"I hope so."

"Then the quicker you and this young lady guide us to the spot the better—that is, if you can find it in the darkness," I said.

Franklyn was pretty certain that he could do this; and (to cut this part of my story short) in less than an hour we had gained possession of our own canoes.

Mirango then, commencing at the hindermost, and stepping from one canoe to the other, drove his spear through the bottom of the Bangala fleet, and, as we recommenced our voyage up-stream we had the satisfaction of seeing the last slowly settle beneath the surface.

I now come to the most eventful part of my story. Never to the day of my death will the recollection of our coming to the Lake of Islands fade from my memory. But the journey up the narrow river was by no means devoid of interesting and exciting events.

"The white man can see the place where the shining stream enters the dark river?"

These words were addressed to me by Almass, whom I must now describe (if written description of such a woman can be in any way adequate to present her to the mind of those who may peruse this narrative).

When the day dawned it revealed to us, in the person of her whom we had rescued, a woman of striking beauty and nobility of mien. She was apparently some twenty-five years of age—possibly a year or two younger—tall and exceedingly shapely in figure, yet withal strong enough to handle a paddle with effect, as we could see. Her face was exquisitely beautiful. But whether its charm lay in the liquid intensity which lurked in the depths of her wondrous dark eyes, or in the set of her chiselled features, or in the smile which revealed teeth of pearly whiteness, while it lighted up the whole of her face with a radiance truly angelic, I have never been able to determine.

There was certainly nothing of negro blood in her veins, and yet no European skin was ever of so rich a tint. It had neither the redness of the natives of the Americas nor the sallowness of the Asiatics, and I am inclined to believe that she had sprung from—

But of this anon.

"See!" she repeated in Portuguese, so antiquated, that at times I had a difficulty in following her, "Lo! there is the Lion Rock."

I was in the forepart of the canoe, and Almass was seated by my side. We were rapidly becoming friends; and, though she had not yet told me her story, I felt sure that when it was forthcoming it would be of surpassing interest.

Shading mine eyes with my hand I looked in the direction she had indicated. There, sure enough, on the northern bank of the river, was a curiously shaped rock, which presented the exact appearance of a lion crouching for the spring. Above was a long wooded slope; and very far away inland the peaks of high mountains were dimly visible.

Turning about I joyfully signed to the rest of the company that we were within sight of the Lion Rock: for oftentimes had I read to them out of the book of Duarte Lopez concerning this place. Mirango, too, knew the spot; though not for many years had he visited it.

"But where is the entrance to the stream?" I asked of Almass (whose name, she told me, signified the Shining Stone, i.e. the diamond).

"The entrance is concealed by trees," said she. "Make straight for the forepaws of the lion, and you will detect the opening."

Directing the other canoes to follow us, we steered according to her instructions; and, just as we seemed to be running the prow of our craft on to the bank beneath the mass of foliage, lo! a dark opening appeared, and we cautiously crept through in semi- darkness, to emerge upon a stream, narrow enough at first, but plainly of considerable depth.

"Look at the colour!" said Franklyn.

We leaned over the side. The water presented a curious phosphorescent appearance, and later, when night came on, it sparkled like burnished silver at each stroke of the paddles, so that at first the Bateké were much afraid of it.

For eight days we travelled without incident along this remarkable stream. After the first day's journey we found that it broadened considerably; but the water always retained its curious phosphorescence.

During this period we learnt much from Almass concerning her own history, and the history of the people from which she had been stolen. She told us that her people had long lived in the Great Lake of the Nine Hundred and Seventy-two Isles; that they had "formerly come from a far land in the northeast;" that they had not intermingled with the negroes—whom indeed they disliked and despised.

She also told us that among them there lived certain men almost as white as ourselves; that her own people were very strong and warlike (having become so by reason of the enmity of the negro tribes by whom they were surrounded); that they were exceeding rich in gold, ivory, and the skins of beasts—a statement that excited both our wonder and our cupidity.

Further she informed us that the white people spoke the language in which she conversed with myself, which she had learned from a man named Yoseeph, who was a priest of the religion of the country wherein he had been born. She seemed to have heard of Europe, and knew that there was a country named Portugal, "Where," said she, "all the people are of the religion of Yoseeph, who was a priest there even before he came to our land."

Of England Almass knew nothing.

When I questioned her concerning Domingo Salvador and Moses Ben Israel, I found that she had never heard of such personages; and it was plain that they had not come to the Lake of Islands previous to her abduction.

When I read to her portions of the book of Duarte Lopez she told me that it was all true, and that the writer was the afore- mentioned Yoseeph, who had come with Diego Cam, the chief of the white people (who now numbered about forty persons). But of the writing of the said book, or of the way in which it had been conveyed to the sea-coast, she knew nothing, and she had never before seen Mirango. In a word the beautiful Almass excited in us the keenest curiosity; and not least was our wonder concerning our reception when we should reach the Lake.


IX. — THROUGH PERILS AND DARKNESS.

I HAVE now to relate how we came to the Gorge of Matobee which leads into the Lake of Nine Hundred and Seventy-two Isles.

As I have said, we made good progress on the phosphorescent waters of the river for eight days. On the ninth we arrived at the mountains of which we had caught a faint glimpse from afar. Their peculiar character rather than their altitude impressed us, for they seemed to be composed mainly of bare rock, which in places rose in sheer precipices many hundreds of feet in height. Here the river again narrowed and deepened, and sundry gaunt- looking trees which we passed gave a gloomy appearance to the landscape.

Now it was that we had three adventures, any one of which might have resulted fatally to some members of our party. The first occurred as we struggled against the current (which at this place was particularly strong), in our endeavour to pass a certain corner.

Here a great dead tree, which had been blasted by lightning, overhung the river. To save labour our fleet hugged the shore, for the water ran very swiftly in the middle of the stream. The canoe, which contained Mirango, Franklyn, Almass and myself, was just passing under the said tree, when Almass gave a slight scream.

"Look! look!" she cried in accents of terror, at the same time pointing up to the withered limbs of the tree which bent down towards our heads.

There I saw, with its body coiled up ready to dart down upon us, the form of an immense serpent.

"Forward!" I cried to Mirango, and he at once passed the word to his paddlers.

But, though we ourselves shot forward out of harm's reach, not so fortunate was the succeeding canoe, containing Simon Halcombe, Jeffreson and Button. They did not see the danger which threatened, nor did they understand wherefore we had shot ahead so hastily; so that, when the gigantic reptile—it must have been nearly thirty feet long—darted downwards, while it missed the first canoe containing ourselves, fully three parts of its length came down into the second craft, while the tail portion was tightly twisted about a branch.

Before we could realize what was happening, the loathsome and terrible reptile had quickly coiled itself about the bodies of Button and Halcombe, and we saw them lifted from the canoe struggling in its embrace.

It was an awful moment, and I verily believe that the bones of them both would have been completely crushed had not Jeffreson diverted the attention of the boa by seizing it boldly by the neck just above the head. At first it tried to shake him off; and then, failing to rid itself of its involuntary burden, the serpent drew itself up towards the tree hissing madly, and at the same time darting out its long forked tongue into Jeffreson's face.


Illustration

Seizing it boldly by the neck just above the head.


Bravely he hung on as he was swung to and fro in mid-air by the now infuriated creature, tightly he gripped the scaly throat; and so effectual was the grasp of his strong hands, that the immense befanged jaws of the great ugly brute actually began to gape apart, and in its agony the coils of its body—which were wrapped about the shouting, struggling pair—began to uncoil, and presently they dropped down, one after the other, plump into the stream, to be instantly hauled up by those of us who foresaw that in this fashion they might luckily escape from their scaly assailant.

As for Jeffreson he still stuck to the snake, and for several minutes swung about till I wondered what would be the end of the affair. But Mirango came to his rescue. With a savage yell he turned the canoe-prow into the bank, and, seizing his enormous broad-bladed spear, was presently climbing the knotted trunk. Arrived at the branch round which the nether extremity of the reptile was coiled, he cut deep gashes in its body.

"Drop into the water!" I shouted as Mirango descended, for by this time all the canoes but our own had been turned out of the way of the snake, and had gone further up the stream.

Jeffreson loosed his hold, and dropped with a sounding splash not far from us. I expected that the serpent would dart after him; but it was writhing in its own blood on the tree, and we had only to drag our hero on board. Misfortunes, however, seldom come alone, and certainly never did one disaster follow another with greater promptness than on this occasion.

It was while we (that is, Franklyn and I, assisted by Almass) were in the very act of pulling Jeffreson into the canoe, that a loud shout came from the Bateké who manned the cargo-canoes; and, on looking up to ascertain the cause, we caught sight of a very large hippopotamus in the very act of opening its mouth to attack the foremost canoe. The beast had been hidden among the reeds, which at that place lined the bank, and had come upon us unawares, for every eye had been riveted on the tragedy which had just been enacted. Before anything could be done the powerful jaws had opened to their widest extent, and had closed with a resounding "scrunch" on the fore part of the craft.

The crew managed to save their lives by casting themselves into the stream—fortunately all of them could swim like fish, so that no lives were lost. But the canoe immediately sank, whereupon its destroyer disappeared also. The loss was a serious one, and, though with some crowding we managed to accommodate the men in the other canoes, it was not pleasant to contemplate the fact that we had lost several days' food.

. "Enough of adventure for one day," I remarked to my nephew as we resumed our voyage. But the spirit of youth is not easily satisfied with excitements, and Franklyn replied that he would wish for some such incidents daily! Whereupon I smiled, remembering that I myself loved the excitement of such perils.

Now Almass had told us that the way to the Lake lay through the tallest mountain ahead of us.

"Not between the mountains but underneath them," she explained.

"But you cannot mean that there is a tunnel, and that this river flows through it?"

She nodded.

"I know not what you mean by that word 'tunnel'; but if a tunnel means a long, long, dark hole, then that is what you must expect."

"Is there no other way?"

"None?"

Whereupon I inquired of Mirango whether he had any knowledge of such a passage. But his escape from the Lake had not been effected by this route, and he knew nothing of the existence of the tunnel.

"Then is this what is meant by the 'narrow Gorge of Matobee' in the book of Duarte Lopez?" I asked.

"No; we shall pass through the Gorge of Matobee when we emerge from the long, dark hole under the mountain. The gorge is the place where you will meet with my people," said Almass.

"Is it far from here?"

" I know not. The Bangala men who took me captive brought me overland."

"You have not told us why the Bangala men shut you up in the stone prison," I said.

She smiled one of her wonderful, illuminated smiles.

"Ah! they took me for a goddess," she cried, as she clapped her hands with a merry peal of laughter. "Yes, a goddess! because I am so different from the ugly, naked Bangala women. Hence it was that they erected the stone house."

"But you do not mean that that house was built solely for your convenience?"

"Assuredly. They feared that their deity might escape, and so they made a strong prison of stone."

"Had you been with them long?"

"It is many moons since I was stolen away in the great war."

She then told me of a great onslaught made by five powerful nations—including the Bangala —upon the people of the Lake of Islands. "But," she added," by the aid of the white men they were driven away with very great slaughter."

Then I understood why the Bangala were neither so greatly astonished at our appearance, nor so terrified at the sound of our firearms, as we had expected them to be. After this I asked her whether, in her opinion, the white people who lived in the midst of her nation would be pleased with the arrival of our party.

"They are sighing for the coming of men of their own race," she replied. And then, with another of her wonderful smiles, "But when once you come to the Lake you will not wish to go away. Yoseeph, the priest, and his people do not desire to leave us."

"That may be," I returned gravely; "but nevertheless, we shall have to return to our ship."

" That depends on the will of my people," said she, with a significant gesture of her pretty head and another smile.

It will hardly be credited, but, after this conversation, and in spite of the dangers ahead, I was more than ever wishful to reach the lake.

It was late on the afternoon of an unusually hot day that we came to the mouth of the wondrous natural channel through which came the phosphorescent waters of the river on which we were floating.

The opening lay at the end of a deep valley down which the waters flowed sluggishly. To all appearance the valley was absolutely blocked by a huge cliff" which towered upwards for hundreds of feet. At the foot of this rocky wall appeared what in the distance looked like a tiny black spot. As we drew nearer we could see that it was the mouth of the tunnel through which we had to pass if we were to reach the Lake of Islands.

"Will your men face the darkness within that black hole?" I inquired of Mirango.

The chief shook his head. And we could see that the Bateké were already whispering together in evident fear lest they would be required to enter the black opening.

"We shall need lights," said he.

"But where shall we get them?"

"If there was but palm-oil the white men could make torches or lamps." (Somehow Mirango had come to have an unfailing belief in the ingenuity of the white man.)

"But we have no oil," I said.

Mirango thought awhile, and the Bateké chattered in animated tones in their own strange tongue. Presently the chief said to me—

"White man, they will not enter the black hole."

I repeated his words to Simon Halcombe and the others. And we told Mirango that we should be obliged to shoot any who refused to obey our orders. But he protested that not one of his people dared to face the evil spirits which dwelt in the darkness beneath the mountain. "Let us but procure oil, and I and my men will go with you."

As it was plain that without the Bateké and their canoes we should be in hopeless plight, it was hereupon decided to land on a strip of rocky shore, and to dispatch some of the negroes in search of a village, in the hope that they might be able to purchase torches or palm-oil.

"I trust that this will not bring upon us some warlike tribe," remarked Halcombe.

I, too, had my doubts, but it seemed to be needful that we should run the risk.

It was three days before our messengers returned. They fortunately had found a friendly tribe, and had brought with them a plentiful supply of torches. But they had been warned on no account to enter the dark hole beneath the mountain.

We laughed at their fears; and, as some big game, in the shape of a deer, which had come down the mountains to drink of the water of the river, had fallen to our guns during their absence, a feast put every one in good humour. Such is the potency of plentiful food that the dark cavernous place was entered without so much as a thought of a single objection on the part of our companions; while, as soon as they had become accustomed to the place, and the weird shadows cast by our dancing line of torches, they were laughing, talking, and sending curious and wild echoes along the arched passages which branched out on every side.

But had no little difficulty in threading our way through the tunnel, for it twisted about in a most perplexing fashion. No less than three times we took a wrong turn, and found ourselves obliged to return. In fact, our only guide was the current, the flow of which was not always easy to discover.

For no less than five long hours we paddled away in the darkness; sometimes the roof came so low that we had to be careful lest our heads should come in contact with projecting pieces of rock. In other places the opening rose to so great a height that the light of our torches was powerless to pierce the depth of gloom above us; and in these places our voices echoed so distinctly that it was plain we were passing through enormous and lofty chambers.

At length appeared ahead a tiny speck of light. We hailed it with enthusiasm, and the Bateké with shouts of joy; and before long we shot through a broad opening into a narrow gorge, which twisted about so that we could not see the end thereof. On either side rose steep cliffs, so high and steep that it would be impossible for one to scale them. In some places they overhung the river in a threatening manner.

"Are we far from the lake?" I asked of Almass.

"One day's Journey."

"And then—?"

"Then you will have reached the end of your voyage, unless—"

"Unless what?"

"Unless you are killed by my people: for they dislike strangers."

"And the name of this narrow passage?"

"This is the Gorge of Matobee!" said Almass.


X. — WHAT HAPPENED IN THE GORGE OF MATOBEE.

SO this is the gorge mentioned by Duarte Lopez?" I exclaimed, as we floated out into the daylight and beheld the frowning crags which seemed to threaten us with destruction as they towered above our heads.

"And there are some of the inhabitants of the land," said Franklyn, pointing to the edge of the cliffs some little distance ahead.

Sure enough we could discern plainly the figures of men. And, as we drew nearer, it was plain that they noticed us, for we could see them gesticulating to each other, and pointing down into the abyss at our flotilla.

"Does this mean fighting?" said Simon Halcombe from the other canoe.

"Ah, sir. Ax the young lady if them chaps mean to feight," said Button, as he seized a musket.

In response to my inquiries Almass said that they were too far away for her voice to be heard or she would address them; and that we must be prepared for an assault.

"My people are very warlike," she said. A remark which, while it warned us, was by no means encouraging.

In a quarter of an hour our canoes were directly under the place where our foes were situated; and on looking up we saw that some twenty of them were fitting arrows to crossbows of a strange pattern.

"Back against the cliff!" I shouted, waving my hand to the others.

We paddled close to the huge, overhanging wall, and thus crept along in safety, for the arrows could not reach us there, though several of them whizzed past our heads ere we gained the shelter. Though we were soon past the archers, we were by no means out of danger. A second body of red-skinned men appeared on the opposite cliff; and, before we could cross to gain the shelter of the overhanging wall of rock, two of the Bateké were slightly wounded by their shafts.

"This looks like warm work," said Franklyn.

I turned to call out to Halcombe, but immediately perceived that he was taking aim with his musket at the party who had attacked. One fellow was in the very act of raising his cross-bow to his shoulder when the captain fired. With a yell which rang through the chasm the man sprang into the air, and then, turning over in mid-air, he came down with a sounding splash into the middle of the stream, and not far from us.

We could have rescued him, but he never rose again.

No more arrows were fired; and as we had evaded the others, so also we managed to slip past these assailants. But the perils of the Gorge of Matobee were by no means at an end, for, on sweeping round a bend, a shout from Mirango, who was in the foremost canoe, warned us of a new danger, and we instantly came within sight of an obstacle which threatened to bar all further progress. Across the river was a huge lattice-work gate, which had been let down from the cliffs above by great cables of twisted hide. The barrier plainly went down to the depth of some feet, for the water which flowed towards us was rippling against the further side with some force.

We paddled up into the smooth water under the lee of the great structure, and examined it carefully in the hope that we might be able to discover an opening or a weak place. But none such could be seen, and we gazed at one another in a hopeless fashion, and with a feeling as near akin to despair as ever I have experienced in my life.

"We must go back," said the Captain.

The others assented in mournful tones. It was plain enough that no further progress was possible; and, with no very cheerful mien, we directed the Bateké to put the canoes about and paddle down-steam.

No sooner had we again doubled the aforementioned point than we caught sight of hundreds of men on the cliffs above us, each of them armed with cross-bows. These were hurrying in the direction from whence we had come.

"Ah," exclaimed Mirango, "they think to slay us at the great gate."

"Either that, or a dash down the river—there is no third course," said Jeffreson in a doleful tone.

For a few seconds we hesitated. To return was not merely to run great risk from the clouds of arrows which would certainly be showered upon us, but we should thus be abandoning the object of our long and toilsome journey just when success was within sight.

Then up spoke the chief Mirango.

"White men," said he, " let not your hearts be fearful. Return to the gate, and we will break through it."

As he spoke he grasped and waved above his head his huge and weighty Bangala club— the same which had worked such execution on the memorable occasion on which we had rescued Almass.

I had not really felt, until he spoke, how faint-hearted we had become. But Mirango's brave words stirred the blood in our veins, and Almass, standing up in the canoe, her long black hair and white garments fluttering in the breeze which swept down the gorge, bade us act like men and force a passage though the barrier.

Her words added to Mirango's brought about a wonderful revulsion of feeling in us all.

With a cheer we once more turned our little fleet about and dashed away towards the gate. Selecting the spot in which the lattice-work seemed to be the weakest, Mirango rained upon it a storm of powerful blows—and presently splinters began to fly.

"Bravo!" cried Button, seizing a seat from the bottom of the canoe and imitating the chiefs example.

"Bravo! Keep up a blithe heart, an' we'll soon be through! I' theer were na difficulties, there'd be na successes."

With which piece of philosophy we agreed. So we pulled, and slashed, and hacked at the great lattice-work gate, and with such an effect, that presently a hole was made large enough for a man to creep through. Jeffreson immediately clambered to the other side, clinging there in a fashion only possible to a sailor, and helped to enlarge the opening to such a size that a canoe could be thrust through it.

The task was by no means an easy one. But the Captain, aided by Button, climbed on to the lattice-work, and lifted up the prow of the first canoe, while we helped from the other canoe—though not without risk of capsize; and the first craft was safely thrust through and launched into the waters on the further side. After this it did not take very long to do the same with the second canoe; but when we came to the larger craft—which carried our heavier goods and provisions (though, indeed, the latter were now nearly exhausted)—more time was occupied, and, before ever the last canoe had been dragged through the opening, our foes in great numbers appeared on the cliffs above.

"Make for that hole in the cliff!" shouted Simon Halcombe, pointing to what looked like the entrance to a cave in the rock, and which opened on the eastern side of the river.

Those who did not understand his words, grasped the meaning of his emphatic gesture; and so it was that while Halcombe, Jeffreson, and Button were struggling with the unwieldy boats, my nephew and I were conducting the rest of the party to the place of refuge.

Not a moment too soon was our retreat effected; for arrows were sent after us in considerable numbers; one of which pinned to the side of the canoe the short skirt of the robe worn by Almass.

"If I could but speak to them, and tell them that you wish to be friendly, all would be well," she exclaimed, in her perplexity.

In the cave-like hollow we awaited the coming of our three friends.

I was in an agony of anxiety concerning them; and by reason of the obstruction caused by a piece of rock I was unable, after we had landed within the cave, to see whether they had succeeded in their task.

At the end of a few minutes of terrible suspense, as they did not appear, Franklyn, Mirango, and I embarked, with two of the Bateké, to go to their assistance. Judge our surprise when, instead of a canoe, we saw bobbing about in the water the heads of three swimmers, who were making for the cave as fast as the current would permit. The arrows of our foes were whizzing about them, and just as we came up to them one of the shafts struck the fleshy part of Bob Button's left arm.

The appearance of the rescue party was greeted by a roar of defiance from above. Our comrades grasped the canoe, and we backed under the shelter of the rocks, dragging them in our wake, and only just in time to avoid a shower of arrows which would have made short work of some of us.

Here we bound up Button's arm, which was bleeding freely, and received the unwelcome intelligence that our canoe and its contents were at the bottom of the river.

"It wor a case o' 'more haste less speed," blurted out Button.

"We got her through," explained Halcombe, "but launched her in too great a hurry. The clumsy brute stuck her nose under the water, and went down like lead."

For three or four hours we awaited the departure of the red- skinned men, whom Almass and Mirango told us were known as the Mizraim (which I have since discovered signifies Egyptians). We could see them on the cliffs, opposite to our retreat as the sun went down; but it was plain that they could catch no sight of ourselves, and as we were well out of bowshot we felt tolerably safe; though the cave was comfortless, and not too roomy for so large a party.

Mirango exerted himself to provide for our wants, and Kookooa, who had been installed as Almass's maid, made her mistress as comfortable as circumstances would permit; for it was evident that we must not dare to leave the cave as long as the enemy could observe our movements.

"And what will happen when we arrive at the lake?" I asked of Almass; for indeed we were not a little anxious concerning the reception likely to be accorded to us.

"As soon as I can speak with my people they will receive you gladly," said she.

But nevertheless I could see that she was uneasy in her mind concerning the state of affairs.

The night which followed was dark and cloudy, and there were frequent heavy showers. I slept in the bottom of one of the canoes, and about midnight Simon Halcombe roused me, and suggested we should make a dash for the lake under cover of the darkness.

"It is foolish waiting till morning," he said, "for by that time our foes will have summoned their friends, and we shall be hemmed in."

I agreed that his plan was a good one; and so we aroused the rest of the party and commenced to get our stuff aboard the canoes.

"Do you hear that?" asked my nephew, suddenly, laying his hand on my arm.

"Do you hear that?" he repeated.

"It is only the ripple of the stream."

"But listen again," he persisted.

The sound was now more distinct. It resolved itself into a succession of regular splashes.

"What is it?"

"Paddles!"

It did not take many moments to pass the word to the others.

"Draw up the canoes, broadside on," said the Captain; "they will be some protection."

Bidding Mirango to pass the word to his men to have their weapons in readiness, and the rest of us grasping our firearms, we felt prepared.

On the left side of the entrance to the cave was a deep hollow, where a considerable number of people might be sheltered from attack by arrows—for it was of these we stood in most fear.

The sounds became rapidly more distinct, so that it was now beyond doubt that our enemies were approaching in force, possibly in the hope that they would find us unprepared for their advent.

Splash! splash! splash! The sound of the paddles became clearer every moment.

"Let us go to the front!" said Halcombe.

And so, grasping every man his piece, Jeffreson, Button, Franklyn, and I followed the Captain, and ranged ourselves across the entrance.

For some minutes we strained our eyes to pierce the intense blackness of the gloom without, for it was raining in a drizzling fashion. But suddenly the clouds parted, and, though the rift only admitted the light of a few stars it was sufficient to reveal to us several large, shadowy forms which floated on the water, and which could be none other than the canoes of our assailants.

"Aim low and fire among them!" whispered Halcombe.

We did as he bade us, and our five muskets delivered a shattering volley, which was answered by a chorus of shouts mingled with yells of pain.

"We've hitten some on 'em," remarked Button, in a tone of satisfaction, as he reloaded.

"And driven the beggars off!" cried Jeffreson.

Indeed, so it seemed for a few minutes, for the canoes backed out of sight, and we could hear much talking.

"Give them another round!" said our leader, and again our weapons belched forth into the darkness their death-dealing contents, and there came back the response of renewed cries which told us that some of our bullets, at least, had gone home. We reloaded as quickly as possible, but before the ramrods were driven home the Mizraim were close upon us.

"Down! down on the ground!" I cried, anticipating the flight of arrows.

Instantly, every man lay flat behind the shelter of the canoes, and not a moment too soon, for the expected arrows whizzed and rattled with great noise into the cave, striking the rock with a force which warned us of their penetrative powers.

At this moment a thought struck me. Why not get Almass to intercede on our behalf? Accordingly, I called out to her in the Portuguese tongue to address those who were attacking us.

Now it happened at this moment there was perfect silence within and without the cave. We were awaiting the attack, and the Mizraim were evidently wondering whether their arrows had done any execution.

For a few moments no response came to my appeal, and a sudden and horrible fear came upon me that Almass had been transfixed by one of the murderous shafts.

My suspense was relieved by a voice, the plaintive, musical voice of the lovely Almass. She was singing a song which, in its marvellous modulations, its passion, its alternation of sadness and joyousness, reminded me—though it was a thousand-fold more beautiful—of the nightingale of my own beloved English copses.

I understood not a word of her language—it was very different from the barbarian tongue of the African natives—but none the less its tones thrilled me with a wild emotion, such as I had never before experienced, and I felt that Almass was singing the way to my heart as no one had ever done before. Higher and higher soared the melody, till at length it sank to rest with a sweet low cadence, and all was silence.

Then it was that out of the darkness which brooded over the river, there came a voice—it was the voice of a man.

"Almass! Almass!" it cried.


XI. — WE COME TO THE LAKE OF ISLANDS.

THOUGH they understood not the language in which Almass had sung, the Bateké recognized the name of one whom they had already learned to love, for Almass had completely won their affection by her gentle, winsome ways. And together from the depths of the cave Mirango's men responded in deep tones with an answering cry of "Almass! Almass!"

Calling the girl to my side, I bade Mirango light a couple of torches (for we had some remaining from those wherewith we had illumined the way in the passage under the mountain), and presently Almass was standing in the mouth of the cave, with the light from the torches throwing a halo-like gleam upon the delicate features of her high-bred, sensitive face. There was a wonderful light in her eyes as she raised aloft her shapely arms and replied to the man who had called to her from the darkness.

"Tell them that we wish to be friendly," I said.

So Almass spoke to the leader in the great double canoe (for I perceived that it consisted of a couple of these craft lashed together, having an open space between the two). The light of the torches which were held aloft by Mirango and Bob Button, fell on these men as they stood upright, paddles in hand. They were lithe, active-looking fellows, utterly unlike any I have seen in my numerous travels; having long black hair and skin of reddish brown hue. They were elegantly clothed in kirtles which descended from the waist to the knee. About their arms were rings of gold, and each man wore over his shoulder a short cloth of a brilliant scarlet colour.

There was something so noble and exceeding striking in their appearance, that I am sure we all looked upon them with admiring eyes.

But if we wondered at their appearance, we were still more surprised at the words of Almass.

"See!" she cried in Portuguese, stretching out the slender finger of her right hand, and seizing my arm with her left, "See there! It is my father! There are two of my brothers! A third there should be—the eldest and the bravest—but him I see not."

Something suggested to my mind as she spoke, that maybe one of our bullets was accountable for the missing brother, and I felt horribly uneasy in consequence.

A few more words passed between Almass and her father, who, we soon discovered, was Oimenephthalah the King; and then she told me that we should be received as friends. Whereupon the double canoe was thrust up near to ours, over which stepped a fine, athletic-looking man, some fifty years of age; who first clasped Almass to his bosom, and afterwards grasped our hands in European fashion. Then he said something in measured, musical, mellow tones, while Almass interpreted his words, which ran thus:—

"The King of the Mizraim makes peace with his white brothers and with their black servants.

"Grateful is he that they have restored to him unharmed the loved daughter mourned as worse than dead.

"Upon them shall high honours be bestowed in the Lake of the Nine Hundred and Seventy-two Isles.

"By the Golden Hawk, and by the Sacred Bull—By Isis old, and Osiris grave— I welcome ye!"

Now to say that we were pleased with our reception was to put it mildly. We were simply delighted. But I wondered greatly at the King's words, for they sounded strange in the mouth of a denizen of the central tract of the African Continent. Nor was it till long afterwards that I discovered that which explained his reference to Isis and Osiris—names which, at the time he spoke, were meaningless to me.

We soon discovered that there were upwards of a dozen double canoes, and that we had killed no less than three men and wounded two others; amongst the killed being the king's eldest son. But so overjoyed was the monarch at the recovery of his daughter, whom he had regarded as hopelessly lost to him, that his joy seemed to more than balance his grief, though the tears of Almass when the torchlight fell on the face of her dead brother, as he lay at the bottom of the canoe, were pitiful to see. Yet her grief was strangely mingled with joy, for was she not now among her own people and close to her own beloved home?

It did not take us long to embark, and the Europeans found ample room in the largest of the double canoes, along with Almass and the King. Torches were lighted; a chant, soon swelling out into a grand unison, weird and triumphant in its tone, was started; and away we swept through the narrow Gorge of Matobee towards the goal of our dreams,—the Lake of the Nine Hundred and Seventy-two Isles.

The sun had risen when our fleet came to the end of the gorge. Ahead of us, the cliffs quickly diminished in height, while the stream broadened out, so that the current against us was diminished in force. The river was plainly the overflow of a very considerable body of water, and we eagerly strained our eyes to catch a glimpse of the land of wonders described in the book of Duarte Lopez.

It was plain that, although she had told us much, Almass had left still more undescribed and unexplained. She was now all animation, and pointed out familiar features of her curious homeland as we entered the lake. Before us was spread out a remarkable sheet of milky water—for so its colour could be best described; this peculiar, opal-like, phosphorescent tint being caused by the presence of certain animalcula. We could see that the lake covered an area of many miles, and was girt about with towering ranges of mountains; but it was not possible to gain from the level of the water an adequate idea of its size and appearance, by reason of the immense number of islands, of many sizes and shapes, which dotted the surface in all directions. Some were mere mounds of rocks, in places only a few yards apart. Others were large enough to support a thousand persons. Some again were devoid of verdure—bare sandbanks; others crowned with majestic trees of various kinds, and clothed with lovely foliage.

"Which is your island?" I asked, looking into the eyes of Almass.

"Ah! we have a long distance to go yet," said she; "it will be evening before we reach Manloov."

Bob Button, who was just behind us, caught at the last word.

"I hope, sir," said he, touching the brim of his hat with his forefinger, " 'at it'll prove to be man loov for us, for we're badly in want of a good dinner and a dacent bed."

Whereat we all laughed; and Almass, although she understood not his speech, joined in very heartily.

I must here state that Almass was already proving herself an apt scholar, and knew quite a number of English words, being able to follow me when I spoke slowly and simply; but Button's Yorkshire dialect was as yet altogether beyond her powers of interpretation.

Throughout the day we wound about among a labyrinth of islands in a very leisurely way, landing twice on tiny islets for rest and refreshment. Everywhere we saw indications of an advanced civilization. Comfortable houses, two or even three stories in height, confronted us on the banks of the channels of water; magnificent canoes, both single and double, propelled by stalwart paddlers, darted hither and thither; well-made pathways wound about under the trees, and well-kept gardens full of flowers of the most gorgeous hue ornamented the slopes, and brought many an exclamation of surprise and admiration from our lips. Everywhere the inhabitants of the land gave respectful salutation to the King by raising the left hand aloft while the right was placed on the region of the heart. We saw many women and children, the younger women being very good-looking; but none were so exceeding beautiful in my eyes as Almass. They were mostly attired in simple white robes, though the younger children were devoid of any clothing whatever.

It was in passing an island larger than many of the others that we learned a fact which proved to be of great significance, and also earned, through the courage of Bob Button, the gratitude of at least one family among the Mizraim.

I had just inquired of Almass whether there were much fish in the lake, and she had informed me with a shudder that the lake swarmed with crocodiles, and that these loathsome creatures, being held in great veneration by the people, were not allowed to be killed; when all at once a pretty little girl, who stood by her mother on a point of rock watching our fleet of canoes as we passed, in her eagerness overbalanced herself, and fell headlong into the deep lake. Before we could realize what would happen, the water in the neighbourhood fairly boiled with agitation, and the mother's agonized screams at once told us that there was grave danger, while a cry of "Crocodiles! Crocodiles!" from Jeffreson and my nephew indicated its nature. Then up rose Button in the canoe, a look of determination on his face.

"The bonnie bairn munnot be ate by them crocks!" he remarked grimly, as he drew his long sheath knife, and straightway plunged overboard. The child was not far from us, and our canoe was already turning towards it. But swifter was the progress of one huge crocodile. We saw its great head protrude above the surface when the brute was not many yards from the child, who was bravely swimming towards the shore. At this moment Button caught its attention. For ten seconds the creature hesitated, as though undecided which it should first attack. Then it turned upon the sailor with widely-opened jaws.

"No, ye don't!" he shouted.

With that he dived under the reptile.

A second later the water was dyed with blood, while the loud snapping of the great jaws were an evidence of the agonies caused by the wound which Button had inflicted.

Other crocodiles were coming up, but we were able to anticipate them, and both Button and the child were dragged in safety into the canoe.

"It mud ha bin wor!" remarked the hero, as he wrung out his dripping garments.

"How could it have been worse?" growled Simon Halcombe, who somehow was disposed to regard Button's feat as foolhardy.

"Well, cap'en, I've nobut lost t' knife. Appen I might ha' lost a leg."

"Or your head," added Jeffreson.

This incident made a great impression on us at the time, and, in the light of subsequent events, is worthy of the detailed account which I have accorded it.

As we advanced we noticed more crocodiles; in fact the central and northern parts of the lake seemed to be swarming with them, and Almass told me that it was not safe to swim in the open waters; adding; "My people have enclosed the bathing-places, where no crocodile can enter."

The sun was getting low over the mountains as we neared an island larger than any we had hitherto noticed. It stood fully a mile apart from the smaller ones, and as near as I could judge in the centre of the lake. Beautiful buildings embowered among lofty trees decorated its slopes, and there was an air of general prosperity which was very pleasant to the eye.

The canoes drew up at the low, wooden landing-stage, and with a feeling of thankfulness we stepped on shore amid a crowd of dependents of both sexes, as well as soldiers armed with cross- bows and swords; all of whom welcomed our arrival, and especially the return of Almass, with gestures and acclamation.

"Come and see your future home," said Almass, taking me by the arm.

I was amused by her words, but said nothing, knowing then nothing of their prophetical import.

The King nodded and smiled; whereupon his fair daughter conducted us through a lovely glade to a building of very considerable dimensions.

"Here you will all remain," said our fair guide. "And you will want for nothing," she added.

She then told us in a few sentences that her mother was dead; that her father and brothers were much engaged in war and in the management of the affairs of the nation; and that we should be left largely to our own devices.

"It is my father's command," she continued "that an apartment be allotted to each of you, and that our servants provide you with food and clothing."

I protested that our clothing was sufficient. But Almass shook her head decidedly.

"You will be wise to conform to the laws—they are strictly enforced, and the penalties are severe."

Almass now brought us into the great house. It was constructed of stone, and the masonry was beautifully decorated in colours. Heavy doorways, wide and massive lintels, and wonderful columns indicated that the erection was the work of no savage nation.

From what Almass has since told me, I should say that the architecture is consistent in style with the remains of buildings still to be seen in the ancient land of Egypt. The rooms allotted to our use were spacious and furnished with much taste and luxury. We found that we had a common living-room and separate bedrooms, as well as a special staff of servants.

"The King my father bids me tell you that your wishes will be gratified as far as his kingdom allows," said Almass with a smile; and then, as though moved by a sudden impulse, she whispered in my ear, "See that ye attempt not to leave the island."

"And will Mirango and his men be taken care of?"

"Most assuredly—are they not your friends—and mine also? Besides, the Bateké have never quarrelled with us, and they are at enmity with the Bangala even as we are. Kookooa and her husband I have taken into my personal service."

I held her hand for a few seconds as I looked into the depths of her wondrous eyes. Then, with a sudden impulse, I drew off from my finger a gold ring of curious workmanship which I had purchased at Lisbon in the shop of the old Jew, Moses Ben Israel.

"Take this," I whispered, "and send it to me if ever you need my aid."

She smiled and slipped the ring on to one of her fingers, and tripped away singing blithely.


XII. — WHERE IS ALMASS?

HAVING completed the account of our most adventurous journey to the Lake of Islands, I have now to tell the story of our prolonged captivity and unique experiences. Especially must I write of the treachery of Domingo the Portuguese, and his companion the Jew; and finally I must relate, though we knew it not at the time, how after they changed the goodwill of the King to evil suspicion, and finally to harsh cruelty, they came to a terrible death.

For some days we saw nothing of Almass. No doubt she had much to do; but I missed her greatly, nevertheless, for we had been constant companions ever since her rescue from the hands of the savage Bangala. As for ourselves, we soon recovered from the toils of the journey, and being anxious to learn the whereabouts of the white descendants of Duarte Lopez and his companions, daily expected that Almass would bring us to them. But when more than a week had elapsed and she did not come, nor had the king sent for us, we began to wonder why this should be. Hitherto, we had kept to our own apartments and had not ventured beyond the somewhat extensive gardens. But our patience was soon exhausted.

"I propose that we examine this big house; maybe, we shall find the young woman in some corner," remarked Jeffreson, in his blunt fashion. There seemed to be sense in his suggestion, so that very morning we left the rooms which had been assigned to our use, and wandered about in the numerous passages and peered into the gorgeously-decorated apartments of the great building. But, although we saw much to astonish us in the way of artistic furniture and fittings, no trace of Almass could we discover. The servants saluted us with respectful gesture by raising the left arm, but no one attempted to hinder us, and we roamed about at will.

"Here's a pretty go!" exclaimed Simon Halcombe, when we returned to our own quarters. "No King, no Almass, no white folk!"

"And no Domingo Salvador the Portuguese," I said.

"Let us make an excursion around the island. Maybe we shall discover some clue to this mystery," said Franklyn; "and, if need be, we will take a trip in the canoes and examine other parts of this strange country."

I protested that Almass had told me that under no pretext were we to leave the island. But the others only laughed at my words of caution.

"The wench doesna want ye to run awa' fra her, Master Pryce," said Button, with a grin.

I was annoyed at the fellow's remark, but as there might be some truth in his words I made no reply.

After this we left the grounds of the "Castle," for so we had named the place of our residence, and wandered down to the landing-stage.

"I was in hope that we might have met some of the white men before this," observed Halcombe as we descended the slope.

"Depend upon it they are shut up upon another of the islands and are not allowed to come hither," said I.

But the others ridiculed this.

"These white folks are by no means newcomers, you see," remarked my nephew, "and having been born here must regard this lake as their home. It is absurd to suppose that they will now be under any sort of restriction."

Jeffreson here suggested that we should find Almass as speedily as possible, and get her to put us into communication with the white men.

"We shall do nothing without her guidance," he said, "so the sooner we find her the better."

It was very easy to talk thus, but though we spent the whole of that day, as well as the succeeding one, in wandering about the island, and though we inquired of many of the inhabitants, repeating the word "Almass" in an emphatic manner, no information were we able to gain.

What was the more curious was that we met none of Mirango's people; and though we tried to make the Mizraim understand that we desired to find them, they only shook their heads when we tried by signs to make known our wants.

Then Simon Halcombe began to show temper. "This is becoming truly desperate, I see no reason why we Englishmen should be dragooned by these semi-Africans. Let us to the canoes without delay! Then we can explore the other islands."

"What! the whole of the nine hundred and seventy-two?" I cried.

" Oh, there are some that are not likely to shelter either friend or foe—others may take us a good many hours to examine, but go we will!"

It was useless to attempt to dissuade him, for ever since the memorable night when I had discovered him in my bedroom in Lisbon, I have noticed in Simon Halcombe a remarkable steadfastness and tenacity of purpose, when his mind is made up, so that one might as soon attempt to control the tides as to hinder his purposes. Besides, we were well armed—for we carried with us all our accoutrements, and our pieces were loaded.

Without more ado we marched straight away to the landing stage afore-mentioned, and in a few moments were afloat: for we found our canoes in the place where they had been left when we landed.

No sooner however, had we rounded the corner of the little promontory than a shout came from a sentry posted on a rocky point, and in an incredibly short space of time eight double canoes full of armed men were launched.

"Ay, but we shall hae a bonny feight," exclaimed Button, raising his musket to his shoulder.

"Put down your firearm, man!" I cried. "We are not strong enough to fight them."

"And we should never escape alive if we beat them," added Jeffreson.

There was nothing to do but to capitulate: so, putting a good face on the matter, we waited until the pursuing canoes came up, and motioned to the occupants that we desired to paddle about the lake. But as soon as they understood us the head men shook their heads vigorously, and closing about us, edged us away toward the shore.

"There is nothing we can do but grin and bear it," remarked Franklyn, as with unwilling strokes we paddled back again.

The others tried to make light of it, but I could see that Halcombe was much annoyed.

Four days later the King returned; whither he had been we knew not at the time, but his advent was announced by much shouting and blowing of trumpets.

At the sound of the said trumpets thinking that Almass had come back to us, we hurried down to the landing-stage and found many soldiers drawn up to receive the monarch. To our great surprise he came sweeping round the point in a magnificently decorated craft and at the head of at least a hundred double and single canoes, each crowded with armed men.

"Has there been a battle with the blacks?" queried my nephew.

"I think not," I said; "there are at any rate no wounded men, nor any sign of Almass." For I was anxiously looking for the flutter of her white garments among the crimson cloaks of the warriors.

They landed, and once more King Oimenephthalah came up to us and warmly shook our hands. His face wore a look of satisfaction, as though he were pleased at still finding us on the island.

Seizing the opportunity, we tried to make him understand that we wished to see Almass and Mirango. We repeated their names several times, but his only reply was a smile, and a gesture which may have signified that he did not understand—or was it that he declined to answer?

I will not describe in detail our life during the following six months—for we were for this period strictly confined to the island. We were treated with every kindness, and supplied with all that we could desire in the shape of necessaries and even of luxuries. But no prisoners incarcerated behind iron bars were ever more closely watched.

The state of affairs during these six months will be best understood from the following extracts from a diary which I kept on a score of blank leaves in the book of Duarte Lopez.


"January 13.—It is now a fortnight since the return of the King, and still no tidings of Almass, and no prospect of our release. We are trying to learn the strange- sounding tongue of these people, but thus far make but poor progress.

"January 18.—To-day we have been compelled to discard our own clothing and to adopt the more flowing robes of the country. The change was forced upon us by a file of armed men, and with many significant gestures on the part of the officer under whose command they came. We protested much; and Jeffreson suggested that we should use our weapons. But they all listened to my entreaties that we should not spoil our chances of ultimate escape by any rash acts: and so the Mizraim took away our own clothes, and left us habited in skirt-like garments, and with a red cloak apiece, should we require additional warmth.

"January 21.—Still no news of our missing friends. We are becoming despondent.

"January 28.—To-day I was reading the book of Duarte Lopez, and on page forty-seven came across these words, which strangely enough I had not before particularly remarked—

"'It came even to pass that we went to the bathing-place as the woman had said unto us, and having removed some of the hurdles accomplished our design, which otherwise would have been impossible.'"


I asked the others what they thought of these words, but they could not elucidate them, and though I have pondered long over them their purport is still hidden from me.


"February 6.—A strange thing happened to-day. I caught sight of the figure of a woman walking among the trees, half-concealed by the foliage. Curiosity prompted me to leave the path, for it seemed to me that she was not one of the Mizraim. Perceiving that I was following she beckoned to me with the hand, and I then saw that it was the Bangala woman Kookooa, who had become attendant to Almass. With a quickened pulse I plunged into the undergrowth, and presently came upon her in a sheltered bower. She uttered but one word—'Almass,' and placed the ring, my gift, in my hand. 'What means this! Is she in danger?' I exclaimed. But Kookooa understood no English. Then I tried Portuguese, of which Almass had taught her a little, but was not able to make her understand my meaning. Only she repeatedly pointed away toward the north, crying, 'Almass, Almass!' I tried to follow her when she left me, but she managed to elude me among the tangled shrubs, and I arrived at the water's edge without having overtaken her.

"February 10.—We have talked over the visit of Kookooa, and the bringing of the ring; but it would seem that unless we can escape from the island nothing can be done. That the cause of her absence is not voluntary is plain, else why should she have sent the ring?

"February 12.—Alas! another failure. Today we again attempted to leave the island. This time in a native double canoe, as less likely to excite suspicion; but we were detected and brought back by some scores of armed Mizraim. In their rage Jeffreson and Button fired among them, severely wounding a man. King Oimenephthalah is again absent, and we cannot be tried for our misdeeds until he returns.

"March 15.—Nothing has happened since our last entry. The King is still absent, but we are allowed to wander about the island. There is much traffic with the other isles, especially with those which lie in the northern part of the lake.

"March 25.—King Oimenephthalah has arrived, and to-morrow we are to be brought before him. This is welcome news to us all, for anything would be better than this mild yet close imprisonment."


XIII. — KING OIMENEPHTHALAH.

THE passage which I have extracted from this diary, kept during our sojourn on the Island of Manloov, will have prepared the way for the recital of our interview with the King.

The scene was a memorable one, and never could I have believed that our eyes could have looked upon such a sight in the heart of Africa.

A company of armed men escorted us from our apartments to the great hall, the walls of which were painted in a wonderful fashion, and covered between the pictures with a strange-looking, picture-like writing.

Here we beheld the King,—clad in gorgeous raiment, and seated upon a throne of ivory and gold, wondrously carved and chased.

About him were his lords and great men, resplendent in their brilliant scarlet cloaks—an exceeding great company.

"Do you feel frightened?" I whispered to Franklyn, as together we marched up the centre of the hall towards the throne.

"Not at all," he answered with a smile; "the king has too benevolent a face to make me fear."

But somehow I did not see in the King's face the benevolence of which he spoke.

Arrived at the footstool of the monarch, Franklyn and I bowed, while the others saluted the King in sailor fashion, and the company present simultaneously raised the left hand and placed the right hand on the heart. After this the whole assembly broke out into a song, the melody of which I instantly recognized, for it was that which Almass had sung in the cave in the Gorge of Matobee.

"Doubtless their national anthem," whispered Simon Halcombe in my ear.

Louder and louder waxed the grand unison till it reached its climax, and at this moment a door opened near the royal throne, and there was led on to the dais an aged man. He was much bent with age, and his long, flowing, snow-white beard concealed the lower portion of his face. But, in spite of this, it was plain enough that he was not one of the Mizraim, for his skin and features were those of a European.

"It is one of the white men!" exclaimed my nephew in a tone of wonder.

The tones of the chant died away, and King Oimenephthalah spoke a few words to the aged man, who, contrary to the custom of the land, made no salute to his Majesty.

As soon as the King had spoken, the old man turned towards us and addressed us in the Portuguese tongue, though with the curious antiquated accent which I had noticed in Almass's way of speaking the same language.

"Do I have the honour of addressing fellow Europeans?" he began, and his voice trembled as though he spoke with a feeling of agitation.

"We are Englishmen," I replied, "but the country of Portugal is known to some of us, and I speak the language of that land."

"Thy speech hath somewhat of a strange sound in my ears, good sir," he responded, "nevertheless, I can understand the meaning of thy words, though 'tis long since I saw the shores of fair Portugal. Tell me, then, wherefore have ye come to the Lake of Islands?"

Then I replied as follows:—

"Sir, accept our respectful greetings, and if thou art one of those whom we seek, we are amply repaid by this interview."

Then I told him of our voyage to the Congo, of the place where we had left the ship; of our narrow escape from death among the cannibal Bateké; of Mirango and of the aid which he and his people had given us; of our adventures among the Bangala, and of the rescue of Almass; of our voyage up the phosphorescent river, through the tunnel and under the mountains. Finally I gave him a graphic account of our coming through the Gorge of Matobee, and I concluded by saying: "All these difficulties and dangers have we undergone in order that we might see the wonders of the Lake of the Nine Hundred and Seventy-two Isles, and behold the faces of the descendants of those who long ago came hither with Diego Cam, the great explorer."

But I did not mention the book of Duarte Lopez, nor did I say how we obtained our information concerning this land; neither did I reveal that we hoped to enrich ourselves with some of the gold and ivory of the land; and it was not until the aged man had conveyed the substance of our story to the King in the tongue of the Mizraim, that the thought seemed to strike him that our narrative still lacked something.

"But tell me," he cried, turning upon me abruptly, and with wonder in his tone, "tell me how you learnt of the existence of the Lake of Islands, and of the presence of white men in the centre of Africa?"

Now it had been in my mind to conceal from him the source of our information: for, indeed, I did not want to risk that we should lose the book of Duarte Lopez, but after a moment's reflection I concluded that it was better to be honest in such a matter, and seeing that I had already divulged much of the history of our expedition, I therefore swung round the package containing the book which was strapped upon my shoulders, and taking the volume from its wrappings (for I had treated the book with great care) I held it up before the aged white man, as well as before King Oimenephthalah and the chief men of the Mizraim, crying aloud, "Behold the book which has guided us!"

All gazed upon the aged tome, and for a moment there was an impressive silence throughout the throng. For though the nobles of the Mizraim understood not the tongue in which the aged man had conversed with me, they saw that the uplifting of the volume which I held in my hand was an act of great significance, and they looked on it with no little astonishment.

But if the Mizraim were astonished, the European and the King were a thousand-fold more amazed than they.

"By Saint Mary and the Holy Angels! how came that book into your hands?" exclaimed the old man, as he raised himself more erect and uplifted his hands in his amazement.

The King, too, gave a loud cry of surprise when he looked on the book, and turning to the old man said something which of course I could not understand, but which was plainly full of significance.

"Tell me how you obtained possession of that most precious treasure?" repeated the old man, his voice now trembling with emotion.

Whereupon I told him how I obtained sight of the book; how I purchased it from the Jew Moses Ben Israel in Lisbon; how Captain Simon Halcombe had attempted to regain possession of it, and how he had originally possessed it. All of which words he interpreted to the king.

But when I gave an account of my fight with Simon Halcombe, a broad smile lightened their handsome faces, and spread like a ray of sunshine round the great hall. Finally I related the substance of the story which had been told me by Mirango, how he had conveyed the book to the coast, whence it had been brought to Europe.

"The negro!" exclaimed the aged European, at the mention of Mirango's name. "Then the tall man is indeed the same! Wonderful, wonderful are the ways of Providence! By the Holy Saints, this revelation is more astonishing and withal more perplexing than all the marvellous adventures of my long and eventful life."

Simon Halcombe evidently now thought that I had conversed long enough with the old man, for the narrative with its interpretation must have occupied a space of upwards of an hour.

"Let us get to business," said the captain, nudging my elbow. "Ask the old fellow what has become of Almass and Mirango."

Thus stimulated, I boldly put the suggested question. But as soon as the King caught the sound of his daughter's name he turned round again quickly towards the old man, and spoke to him a few sharp-sounding words, which I took to be a command.

"Alas! I am unable to give you the information you desire," said our patriarchial friend; " the King forbids me to divulge the secrets of the state. I am sorry, for I long to converse with those who have come to this land from civilized Europe; but trust me that I will endeavour to contrive some way of communicating with you. Meanwhile, observe carefully the laws of this realm; make no attempt to escape or to visit the adjacent islands, for this will lead you into danger, and there may be loss of life. Rest assured that I am your friend and greatly desirous of aiding your projects."

I translated his words to the others, and we felt greatly comforted by his assurances.

"But ask him, Master Pryce," said Jeffreson," wherefore the King keeps us cooped up in this island."

I put this further question, and to my surprise received the reply that it was a matter of honour with the Mizraim that none who entered the country should ever be allowed to leave it. But that one of the nine hundred and seventy-two isles should be apportioned to them, and that they should be permitted to marry the women of the Mizraim—there being a superfluity of women in the nation.

King Oimenephthalah now addressed us, his words being interpreted sentence by sentence by the old man.

"White men, because of the intercession of our faithful subject, Yoseeph, we pardon you. See that ye observe our command and remain on this our royal island until another be assigned to you. A choice of wives among the women of the Mizraim shall be afforded you, and ye shall live among us in happiness and contentment."

With these few words the King waved his hand, and dismissed the assembly. The old priest Yoseeph departed in company with King Oimenephthalah, and we were conducted by the soldiers to our apartments.


XIV. — ALMASS CONSENTS.

AS soon as we found ourselves alone we discussed the state of affairs. It was plain that we were in a very tight fix. And yet the interview we had just passed through raised our hopes and expectations considerably, and we were sanguine that, in spite of the present dark aspect of our fortunes, a way of escape would be found.

"But we must first find Almass," I said for my thoughts turned to her continually.

"And we must get hold of some of the gold and ivory," added Jeffreson.

"I should like to have a chance of punishing that villain Domingo," remarked Simon Halcombe, with a meditative shake of his head; "though I've my doubts concerning his arrival in this curious country; for we've seen nothing either of him or of the young Jew his companion."

My nephew suggested that our rivals might have been slain by the warlike Bangala, and indeed this was by no means unlikely.

On the following day the king and the old priest Yoseeph left the island in a magnificent double canoe. We watched the embarcation from the shore, though owing to the presence of the guard of armed men we had no chance of conversing with our new friend, as we had hoped would be possible. The canoe was manned by a powerful crew and very speedily passed from sight among the maze of islands.

"There go our hopes!" exclaimed Franklyn and Jeffreson together, and in tones of despair. But somehow I felt confident that Yoseeph would not forsake us.

We heard nothing either of Yoseeph or of the King, nor did we receive any tidings either of Almass or of Mirango and his men, neither did we ascertain whether Domingo Salvador and Moses Ben Israel the younger had come to the Lake of the Nine Hundred and Seventy-two Isles, for the long space of two months. During that period of time we refrained from any further attempts at escape. Though we were allowed to wander freely about the beautiful glades and woods, a watchful guard was maintained over the canoes, so that escape seemed to be altogether impossible.

At the end of two months (that is to say after we had been confined on the island of Manloov for a space of upwards of eight months), there came such a complete change in our fortunes, and withal such an amount of unlooked-for danger, as well as of happiness for myself, that I am bound to relate the circumstances in detail. This is the more needful because at this time we experienced some of the most surprising events and startling adventures of our unique journey.

At the close of the day, which had been hotter than usual, we sauntered at sunset to a bathing-place which was situated on the northern shore, and which was protected by great stakes and hurdles from the undesirable presence of crocodiles.

Our talk on the way was concerning Almass and Mirango, and I was just recalling the fact that she had sent back to me the ring which I had given her.

Presently, as the sun went down there arose from the surface of the lake a thick mist, which was a very unusual occurrence. Halcombe was for returning—"on account of the danger of fever," he said. But the rest of us were set on a bathe, and so we went down to the water's edge, and were soon swimming about the enclosure. Round about us swarmed the scaly monsters. The crocodiles poked their ugly noses against the hurdles, they rose above the surface, and opened their mouths so wide that we could look down their red and hungry-looking throats, and inspect the rows of jagged white teeth awaiting an opportunity of tearing us limb from limb.

"No you don't, old chap!" cried Bob Button, as one of the reptiles, more impatient than the rest, made a determined onslaught on the fence in an attempt to seize the seaman by the leg. "It maks 'em 'ungry to see sa mich meat floatin' aboot," he added, at the same time splashing some water into the brute's face.

I laughed and swam to the further end of the enclosure, where the water was deep. Looking round, I perceived that in the dense mist I had lost sight of my companions. All at once a dark object came slowly by, within a few feet of the place in which I clung with hands and toes to the strong hurdles, for the water was deep.

Thinking it was a crocodile, and not wishing to run any risk, I was about to plunge back into the water when I suddenly perceived that it was no crocodile, but a single canoe occupied by one person.

Hanging on and peering through the openings between the sticks, I watched and wondered. The canoe was too far away for me to distinguish through the thick mist more than the outline of the occupant; but presently I felt assured that it was the figure of a woman, and then the thought flashed into my mind that it might be Almass.

"Almass! Almass!" I whispered.

Almost before the sound had died on my lips the canoe was alongside the hurdles of the bathing-place, and I—I, covered with confusion, kept myself as well covered by the water as was possible. But she was too eager to notice my predicament.

"Ah, it is you!" she said, speaking in a low tone. "Come with me and you shall be safe. Thanks to this vapour your escape to- day can be made without observation."

I protested that although I was overjoyed at the sight of her, it would be impossible for me to go without my companions, and that I must return to the shore for my clothing.

"We cannot take your friends with us now," she said firmly, "and your only chance to save them is to do as I bid you."

She spoke in a tone of authority, and I immediately swam back to the others, and told them the news.

"Go by all means," said Simon Halcombe in his most cheery generous manner. "Go! and you will do something for us all, I am sure."

The others agreed that this was an opportunity not to be neglected; and by the time I had donned my suit of light native garments Almass had paddled round to the side of the bathing- place, and in ten minutes we were well away from the shore of the island.

We paddled in silence through the fog, which fortunately seemed to increase in density, and once narrowly escaped being stranded on a rocky ledge, which Almass told me in a whisper was part of the island nearest to the one we had left. But it served as a guide to my fair companion, who knew (so she subsequently told me) every channel in the intricate waters of the lake.

"Now we are safe," she exclaimed, after we had paddled for about an hour, and finally had passed through a long, narrow, canal-like passage.

As she spoke we floated out of the mist, and I saw by the aid of the moonlight (for night had now set in) that the islands in this part of the lake were lofty and exceedingly rugged, and very unlike those which we had left in the south.

"Then, if there be no danger, Almass," said I, "tell me—what I am so longing to know— wherefore you have been so long absent and why you came to us in the mist; and—"

"I will tell you all," she answered quietly, putting a stop to my questions by a gesture. "But tell me, Master Pryce "(she pronounced my name with the most delightful and quaint accent), "do you trust Almass with all your heart?"

We had ceased from paddling and were sitting facing each other, and as she said these words she stooped and looked earnestly into my face. The moon's beams shone full into her glorious eyes as she did so, and the sight fired me so much that I altogether forgot our recent danger, and seizing her hands poured out an earnest avowal of my love.

"I love you devotedly, Almass," I whispered, my voice trembling with intense emotion. "Tell me—tell me, Almass, do you love me?"


Illustration

"Tell me—tell me, Almass, do you love me?"


Then I awaited her answer; all the deepest feelings of my heart stirred in an agony of apprehension lest her reply should be a negative.

"I have loved you," she said at length, as she still looked into my eyes, "ever since the time you saved me from the Bangala."

"And you will come with me to Europe?" I whispered, as I enfolded her in my arms, and pressed her to my bosom.

"That cannot be, my beloved! I may not depart from the Lake of Islands."

I drew back from her with a gasp.

"What!" I cried, "Almass, do you refuse to come with me?"

"I would go with you wherever you might wish," she said, "but the laws of the country forbid, and my father would never consent. Besides, when my father dies, I shall be Queen of the Mizraim."

Then I perceived how dearly she loved her people, and I honoured her the more.

"Where is your father?" I cried.

By way of reply she pointed up to the frowning heights, beneath which we had just passed. On the summit of the westernmost of the two was a fortress.

"He lives there."

She then explained to me what had puzzled us so long, namely, the cause of her prolonged absence. Fearing lest we should have obtained an influence over his daughter, the King had removed her to this stronghold, where he had endeavoured to prevent communication with us. She said that Mirango and his men had been conveyed to the same place, and there, having been disarmed, they were employed as porters and workmen. Further, she told me, to my great surprise, that within the fortress were two strangers, being the white men of whom aforetime I had frequently told her—Domingo Salvador the Portuguese, and Moses Ben Israel the young Jew; that these men had passed the well-guarded Gorge of Matobee, where, with the exception of themselves, every member of their expedition had been slain by the deadly arrows of the Mizraim.

And she concluded thus:—

"When I found I could not return to Manloov, I sent to you the Bangala woman, charging her to give you the ring."

"And you hoped—?"

"That perchance you might escape."

" But you charged us to remain at Manloov!"

"True, but I knew not then my father's designs."

"And Yoseeph, who is he?"

" He is the head man and priest of the white people, and a great benefactor of the Mizraim: for, whereas we formerly suffered from incursions of the negro tribes, by his advice all the passes to the lake are more strictly guarded."

"As we proved in the Gorge of Matobee," I said with a laugh.

"For this reason he and his people are held in great respect; but they must on no account attempt to leave the lake."

"And whither are we going, sweet Almass?" 1 asked.

"To the isle of the Oralima."

As soon as she had spoken this word I remembered that it was written in the book of Duarte Lopez; and I took fresh courage, for I seemed now to be nearing the end of my quest.

We paddled away from the fortress, and throughout the greater part of the night guided our little craft among the islands, arriving at length at one of exceeding size and very fertile. The dawn was approaching as we drew near the shore, and presently there was light enough for me to view the place and its situation.

Large enough to support a considerable number of inhabitants, and evidently endowed by nature with great fertility, the island stood across the broad entry to a deep gulf at the northern extremity of the Lake of Islands.

Far away beyond it the steep shore shelved up until it was caught by the descending spurs of a great range of precipitous mountains whose tops were concealed by a cloudy mist.

"None can climb those heights," said Almass, pointing upward towards the mountains.

Then I understood how a race of Europeans might live here for ages undiscovered by inhabitants of the outer world; and visions arose in my mind of the riches which these people had doubtless accumulated in this land of gold and ivory.

Almass aroused me from my reverie by remarking that it would be necessary for us to pass round to the further side of the island. It took us some time to accomplish this; but at length, as the newly risen sun was throwing the glory of his rays over the eastern range upon the phosphorescent waters, we landed on the sandy shore.

Half an hour later we stood before the door of a substantial wooden house, built in the European style.

"Here dwells Yoseeph," said Almass as she opened the door.

The astonishment of the aged man was great. He was writing on parchment in a comfortably furnished room, but rose and grasped both my hands in the warmth of his welcome.

"You are the man with the book—the book of Duarte Lopez! Welcome, welcome to the home of your white brothers!"

I thanked him for his welcome, and told him that I had been rescued from Manloov by Almass.

"And the book, where is it?" he inquired eagerly.

I replied that it was in the hands of my companions on the island of Manloov.

"It is safe enough," I added carelessly.

"Ah, man, you know not what toil the writing of that book cost me," he cried.

"Cost you!" I exclaimed in amazement. "Then you are—"

"Duarte Lopez, the author. I wrote it when I was a very young man."

"And you know Mirango, the chief of the Bateké?"

"I knew him when he was a youth, and sent my precious book to the sea by his hands."

"But for his faithfulness to your commands we should not have been here now," I said.

"Ah! that book saved my life," continued the old man. "It was long ago. We fought for liberty and were beaten by the Mizraim. A spear-thrust by the late King—the father of the present monarch—would have ended my life, but for the book."

Then I understood the meaning of the hole in the cover, and I related to him how that it had preserved my own life on two occasions.

"And your companions?" said Yoseeph, " where are they?"

I explained the situation, whereupon he looked very grave.

"I fear you will have much trouble. You are still in Oimenephthalah's dominions, and therefore in grave danger. He is by nature a man of generous mind, but his manners have become strangely altered of late."

"I want you to aid us," I said : " you and your people will surely now return with us to Europe."

But he shook his white head. "You know not the power of the Mizraim," he replied solemnly. "They came in ancient days from the land of Egypt, and are not like unto the barbarians by whom they are surrounded. The Mizraim have become stronger since I showed them how to defend the realm—but they have rewarded me by making us prisoners in this island."

"Then why not make a dash for liberty?"

" If we had but fifty more men, strong and well armed, it might be done, but we are too few in numbers to fight."

I then learnt that the white community consisted of about sixty adult males; that there were seventy women, and two hundred and fifty children.

"In fact," said Yoseeph, "the island will not support all our people for a space of more than twenty years longer. Already we are becoming over-crowded."

"Come with us!" I said. " eave this lake, and we will do our best to guide you all to the coast, where ships will convey you to Portugal."

He fixed his grey eyes upon me, and a faraway look came into them as though he saw me not.

"Ah," he said presently, "a dream, a lovely dream! But here we are happy, and have food and every necessary of life. Maybe in Europe we should starve."

"At least you can but make the attempt," I urged, and to my surprise Almass added the weight of her plea, and at length to my delight the old man yielded to my importunities and promised that he would talk the matter over with the chief men of the island.


XV. — A DESPERATE ATTEMPT.

DURING that day Almass and I rested in the house of Yoseeph—as I must continue to call my ancient friend. I did not need to hurry in the matter concerning which I had conversed with the old man, for I knew that my friends on the island of Manloov were safe and well. The delightful hours which I spent with Almass flew so swiftly, that when the patriarch returned to report the result of his interview with the chief men, I almost regretted that he had not delayed longer.

He told us that if I could secure the services of my comrades, and of Mirango and his men, the white people were prepared to rise against the tyranny of the Mizraim; for in that light they regarded their enforced captivity.

I have since learnt that much that is called liberty is dearly bought, and that a life, as happy as that accorded to any mortal man, may be lived under the conditions which these people despised.

On the following day Almass departed for the fortress; for she feared lest her absence should be our undoing, having come away unknown to her father. She undertook to co-operate with us by securing the freedom of Mirango and his men, who were at once to join us.

"You will spare my father, and shed the blood of none except the soldiers?" pleaded Almass, in a tearful voice.

This I promised faithfully.

"I do this for you because I love you," she added, stretching up her shapely arms to clasp me round the neck that she might, bid me a fond farewell.

Little did I imagine under what tragic circumstances I should next see my loved one.

During the following weeks I held constant intercourse with the inhabitants of the island. They were intelligent men, but being half-breeds (for Duarte Lopez's first companions had married women of the Mizraim), they lacked some of the stamina on which we English set such store. Their language was the antiquated Portuguese which I had first heard spoken by Almass, and which I found she had learnt from frequent converse with Yoseeph. For the old priest had long been a persona grata with the King and his household.

So long as the weather was clear there was great risk in any attempt at rescuing my own friends; and it was not until six weeks had elapsed that a welcome fog settled down on the waters at sunset, and I was able to set off in a large canoe in company with four men for the island of Manloov.

Fortunately the thick mist hid us effectually, and we passed the fortress and the other islands without difficulty, and succeeded in bringing our canoe to the bathing-place where I had met Almass.

Here I gave a low whistle, such as I knew would be understood by my friends should any of them be present, and I guessed that I should be expected on a night like unto that when I escaped. I was right; and I was overjoyed to receive a reply immediately.

We paddled round towards the shore, and presently through the mist I was able to distinguish the forms of four men.

"Is that you, Franklyn?" I said.

The voice of my nephew responded, and in a few seconds I was warmly grasping the hands of my faithful companions.

"We slipped away down to this place as soon as the fog came on," they explained.

"Have you brought the book and all our goods?"

"Everything."

"Then get aboard."

We accomplished this as quietly as possible, for we knew that the guards would be on the alert, and before long we were quietly paddling away from the island of Manloov. We had an uneventful voyage, for the fog enwrapped us, and had not the men known every channel I should have despaired of finding their home amidst the multitude of islands large and small.

But we reached it without mishap, and to our delight found that the thick mist which had favoured us had also forwarded the plans of our fair accomplice Almass, for Mirango and his men had arrived less than an hour previously.

What a handshaking and chattering there was, to be sure! Bob Button strode up to Mirango and clapped him vigorously on the back, whereupon that worthy laughed hugely and showed his sharp, pointed teeth to great advantage. All seemed delighted to be at liberty, and when our scheme was laid before them every one seemed to be sanguine of success.

"The Mizraim are a brave and warlike people—nearly as brave as the white men," remarked Mirango; "but I think we can overcome them."

Simon Halcombe was of the opinion that we should make a mistake in attacking the Mizraim. "They are splendid men, accustomed to war, and we shall find the fortress a hard nut to crack. Besides, they have not treated us badly. Better far that we should attempt to escape over these mountains."

But he was overruled by the others, Jeffreson being especially urgent that we should not depart from the lake empty-handed.

"We have come a long distance for gold and ivory," he said, "and we shall appear foolish unless we take back with us something valuable."

"We'll no go wi'out t' gold," said Button, backing him up.

Thus it came to pass that we decided to undertake an expedition against our hosts the Mizraim. And I have often wondered whether that which befel us was not a just punishment for what sometimes appears to me to have been an act of treachery.

As it was important that no time should be lost we started at once, every canoe on the island being employed for the transport of our "troops," which consisted of every available male, with ourselves and Mirango and his followers, making a grand total of ninety-five fighting men.

"We shall carry all before us!" cried Franklyn in his zeal.

"Ay, but I should ha' been better pleased if these chaps had been bred an' born in auld Yorkshire!" was Bob Button's remark as he surveyed the little army. Jeffreson agreed that it would have been better if our helpers had been Englishmen, but expressed himself well pleased that we had been able to raise such a band.

"Never fear, Master Pryce! Pluck will win!" said he.

But Simon Halcombe made no remark.

Behold us then, as we climb the steep sides of the rocky isle on which stands the fortress of King Oimenephthalah, King of the Mizraim. First goes our leader, Captain Simon Halcombe. He is followed by Jeffreson, Button, and Franklyn. Then come our new friends, the rear being brought up by Mirango and myself in company with the Bateké.

My position in the rear was purely accidental, owing to the fact that having left the book of Duarte Lopez in the canoe, I returned for it fearing lest it might be lost; for Yoseeph had strictly charged me to take care of it. He further informed me that our rivals had told the King that the book was theirs, and that we had stolen it from them.

Thus it happened that by the delay the book was once more the means of saving my life.

But of this I shall speak in its place.

Now it happened that as we neared the summit of the lofty rock, we emerged from the region of the fog, which lay chiefly on the surface of the water, so that there was nothing but the darkness to conceal us from the vigilant eyes of the Mizraim. Taking every precaution to ensure silence, we mounted the steeps. But alas for our hopes! Just as the van of our little army was nearing the walls, some birds which had been roosting on a rocky ledge flew away with shrill cries, and immediately the guards looked over the wall, for strict discipline was maintained among the King's troops.

Then came the challenge of the sentry, followed by the word of command from our leader to advance.

"Give 'em a cheer, my lads!" cried Bob Button, and he led them with a mighty shout, which was taken up somewhat feebly by the bulk of the attacking party. There was enough light from the stars for me to perceive, as I toiled upwards by the side of Mirango, that our leaders had mounted the wall and were engaged in a hand to hand conflict with the defenders of the fortress. We followed with alacrity, making sure of victory, and had just gained the level ground on which the buildings stood, when a large body of the enemy appeared from out a gateway on our left flank; while others, armed with the deadly cross-bows, swarmed above us on the wall.

Desperately did Mirango and I try to join the main body which had passed over before us, and which was engaged in conflict within. But our strength was of no avail against overwhelming numbers. Mirango slew no less than twelve men with his huge spear, and I killed eight. But in ten minutes we found ourselves prisoners in the hands of the Mizraim.


XVI. — CONDEMNED TO DEATH.

ALAS for the vanity of human hopes! Our attempt had failed, I could have wept with sorrow and despair as the Mizraim bound our arms. Not that they accomplished this without difficulty, Mirango's efforts to regain his liberty were as Herculean as mine were determined. But it was in vain, and in a few moments we were led within the precincts. There, under a strong guard of armed men, we found our friends. They were drawn up in line in front of the survivors of the ill-fated expedition, and we could see by the glow of the lamps and torches which had been lighted by the Mizraim that they were in a sorry plight. My nephew was bleeding profusely from a gash across the cheek, while Bob Button was endeavouring to bind up his head with strips torn from his own shirt. Jeffreson had suffered severely in the engagement, for owing to an arrow wound in the leg he was hardly able to stand. He had also sustained several cuts and the loss of two of his front teeth. As for Halcombe, wonderful to relate, he had escaped without wound, but his weapons had been taken away, and his arms were lashed to his side.

"Here's a bad business!" was Button's exclamation as we joined the party.

"What is to be the end of this?" inquired Jeffreson in a doleful tone.

Franklyn said nothing: he was badly hurt, poor lad, almost as badly indeed as Jeffreson; but the captain broke out into invective against the half-hearted manner in which our new friends had supported his lead.

"Had they but swarmed promptly over the ramparts, this place would have been in our hands in a few minutes," he growled.

Poor fellows! upwards of twenty of them had been slain, as well as eight of the more courageous Bateké, as Mirango, to his deep regret, soon discovered.

Before morning dawned we were brought before King Oimenephthalah to be tried for our crime. The hall of justice was a huge chamber carved out of the solid rock upon which the fortress stood. We descended to it by a broad flight of steps, and found ourselves in a place which looked grim and stern enough. The King was seated upon a stone seat, and we instinctively felt a great dread of him, for he was to be both judge and jury. I looked round anxiously for Almass; it was our only hope that she might, perchance, soften her father's heart towards us. Still we could hope for nothing but the severest punishment; for had we not in a most flagrant manner broken the laws of the country; had we not incited its people to rebellion; had we not used his friend Yoseeph, yea, and his men, and his daughter Almass, to further our designs? What wonder, then, that the sight of the King on the seat of judgment chilled our heart's blood far more than the exceeding coolness of the atmosphere of the rocky chamber cooled our heated bodies.

The place was crowded with soldiers and others, many of whom had torches which cast a weird, lurid glare on the faces of the throng.

King Oimenephthalah opened the proceedings of the court by addressing a few words to Yoseeph's relatives. They replied in the tongue of the Mizraim, so we understood them not.

To our surprise one of the prisoners was now led forward and knelt in submission before King Oimenephthalah.

"That chap 'll gie evidence again' us,'' observed Bob Button.

He was right. The man made a lengthy speech, pointing to us and to Mirango's people from time to time. It was plain that he was charging us with having incited his people to rebel against the King.

"The base traitor!" growled Jeffreson, for the man's object soon became plain enough to us all.

As soon as the man had given his evidence the King employed him as an interpreter, and inquired whether we had anything to say by way of defence.

"Tell him that we have only tried to regain our liberty," said Simon Halcombe, as soon as I had translated the question into English.

Then the King looked at us very gravely and in silence for about the space of a minute.

"White men from a far land," he said at length (each sentence being interpreted by the traitor), "it is the law of the Mizraim that none who enter this realm shall leave it alive. But I will give you a chance for your lives. Choose ye, will ye die by the sword, or"—and here he smiled grimly—"will ye swim to the mainland?"

It was a momentous question; and it was plain that the King esteemed the swim to be certain death, or he would not have offered us the alternative. We conferred together for a few minutes, and were of the unanimous opinion that we had better fight the crocodiles than fall by the hands of the soldiers.

"But make an appeal to the King that we may be allowed a knife each," said Halcombe.

The cold sweat of dread, not for myself alone, but for the others, and especially for my wounded nephew, stood on my forehead as I made this request.

To our surprise it was granted.

"A knife? Ay, ten knives apiece if ye will!" he replied with a laugh.

Then it was that we realized how desperate was our case.

But the King had not finished with the whole party. Turning to his rebellious half-breed subjects, he told them that their conduct merited death, but that seeing that they had been misled by the wicked white men, he would remit the death penalty, and sentence them instead to slavery.

It was as we were about to be led away by the soldiers, that a strange thing happened.

There was a private staircase leading from the fortress above to the dais on which the King was seated. Down this, like an angel of light fluttering into the infernal regions, came the form of Almass.

"Father! Beloved father!" she cried (as she afterwards told me), "spare these men! They seek but liberty! How dear is that to us all!"

But the king shook his head. "The sentence is pronounced," he said, "and cannot be revoked."

"Hear me!" she cried clasping her hands aloft, and falling on her knees before her parent. "Hear me, and spare their lives, I beseech thee, my father?"

"Arise, child! and get thee hence," he said sternly. "What knowest thou of such matters?"

But she refused to be put off and continued her passionate pleading for us. Presently she arose to her feet and cried, "Hear me! I will wed him whom thou desirest if thou wilt pardon these my friends and saviours!"

The king looked at her with steady gaze. "What, marry the white man who came hither the moon before these?"

"I will!"

"Then I will have him here, and, by Isis, the betrothal shall take place straightway!"

So saying the King despatched a messenger up the narrow stairway. He was absent some time, and we waited in silence, Almass gazing with anxious eyes, now toward the stairs and now towards myself. Ah! how beautiful she appeared, a radiant star in the gloom of this terrible place! But, like a star, she was far, very far from me now; and I experienced a choking at the throat, as the thought came home to my mind that she was lost to me for ever.

Presently the messenger returned, and there followed him down the staircase the figures of two men. They were clad in European garb, and as soon as he caught sight of them Simon Halcombe exclaimed, "By my soul, if it isn't Domingo Salvador and the young Jew!"

The latter I recognized plainly enough, but I was too much agitated to pay much attention to him, for now I understood it all. Our rivals, unknown to us, had been concealed in the fortress, and somehow had obtained a hold on the King, who desired that his daughter should marry one of them. To this, in her anxiety lest we should be slain, the noble girl had consented; and I was about to witness the sacrifice—for such her betrothal would seem to be—of my beloved Almass on the altar of her affection, gratitude and love forme.

"I wad feight all t' crocerdiles i' t' lake afoor I'd see t' lass gie hersel' to yon mon!" exclaimed Button, with an angry gesture.

Likewise said the rest.

As for myself, my heart was torn by conflicting emotions. If Almass were lost to me I should be for ever the most miserable of mortals; but would she not certainly be lost to me if we had to swim to the mainland through the crocodile-infested waters of the lake? Once on shore on the mainland, there would be the terrible journey to the Great River, and thence to the sea. But which of us could even hope to reach the shore?

While these thoughts passed rapidly through my mind, King Oimenephthalah was addressing his daughter. It was plainly the ceremony of betrothal, for presently I saw the King lay hold of the wrist of Almass as though he would place her hand within that of Domingo Salvador. At the same time Almass gave a pitiful moan of despair.

That moan settled the question as far as we were concerned.

"Almass!" I cried, raising my hand aloft. "Almass, my beloved, yield not! We will brave the dangers of the waters!"

She snatched her hand away from the King's grasp, and leaping from the dais rushed toward me. I held out my arms, and a moment later clasped her to my breast.

With a face full of fury arose King Oimenephthalah from his throne. A few commands given in a tone sharp and short, and we were hurried from the judgment hall, Almass accompanying me and holding my hand still.


XVII. — A TERRIBLE SWIM, AND A LONG FAREWELL.

THE grey dawn was breaking and we could hear the washing of the light surf at the foot of the craggy island, as we marched on to the platform. A guard of about two hundred Mizraim soldiers escorted us down a winding pathway to the water's edge. First came the Bateké, then Halcombe and Jeffreson; they were followed by Button and my nephew, and Almass and I brought up the rear. None of us spoke, for the way was rough, and the descent steep, and moreover our minds were full of serious thoughts.

Arrived at the shore, the Mizraim having first supplied us, with sarcastic smiles, with a formidable knife apiece, formed about us as in a semi-circle as we prepared to take the water. On the hill above us, could be seen the figures of the King, and our two European rivals, Domingo Salvador and Moses Ben Israel the younger, as they watched the proceedings.

"No sign o' crocerdiles," remarked Button as he surveyed the blue surface of the lake.

I now embraced Almass, saying that should we escape I would never forget her, and assuring the weeping girl that she had done what we all approved in rejecting the hand of Domingo Salvador.

All at once she dried her tears and broke from me as though some new idea had entered her pretty head. Passing through the ranks of the soldiers, who respectfully saluted and allowed her a passage, she was presently lost to our view; and with a sigh, deeming that I should never again behold the face of my beloved, I turned to the reality which lay before us.

An officer now approached us—I can still see his scarlet cloak and his elaborate headdress—and indicated with his finger the nearest point on the shore of the mainland. It was not far away, but, although a boatman would have laughed at it, the distance for a swimmer was considerable—and then there were the crocodiles.

We stripped to the waist, and thrusting the knives into our belts, grasped each other's hands and prepared to start.

"Keep near me, old fellow," I said, addressing Franklyn, "and I will help you if you feel inclined to give in."

"God help us all," was Simon Halcombe's sole remark, but Button turned about and shook his fist at the King and our rivals, whom we could see plainly enough.

Giving the signal to the Bateké to follow us, we waded till the water reached our shoulders, and then struck out for the opposite shore, the Mizraim watching us the while intently.

Our progress was necessarily slow, for Franklyn was by no means a strong swimmer, and the wound in Jeffreson's leg impeded his progress considerably. Still, we made better way than I had anticipated, and had done a quarter of the distance before we saw one of the dreaded crocodiles.

The brute made for Halcombe with open jaws; but Button, who, as I have previously related, had an experience of such monsters, resorted to his former tactics, and by diving under its belly succeeded in inflicting so mortal a wound that it sank to rise no more.

But its disappearance was the signal for the uprising from the deep waters of fully a score of the awful creatures, some of them of great size. Though we could all swim, there were necessarily a few stragglers. Still we swam on, straining every nerve in our efforts to avoid the swarming saurians.

Suddenly there smote on our ears a piercing, agonizing shriek.

"The first victim!" gasped Franklyn, who was close to me.

I turned my head and beheld a ghastly sight. One of the Bateké on the outskirts of the swimming crowd had been seized across the loins by a gigantic crocodile. For a few seconds we saw him struggling in the great jaws. Then he was borne down into the depths. A yell of delight floated to our ears across the waters which told us that the Mizraim had taken note of the incident. The sight sickened more than one of our party, but it maddened the crocodiles, who hitherto had seemed to be afraid of attacking us. Making a dash another of them seized an arm of one of the Bateké, and would have dragged him under, had not Jeffreson stuck his knife into the brute's eye, thereby causing it such pain that it instantly loosed its hold and disappeared from our view.

"That's the way!" I cried, "stick them in the eye! It's easier than diving underneath."

My comrades took my advice, and three crocodiles which made a furious onslaught on us were disposed of in this way.

But as fast as they sank others arose and took their place, and I felt that our strength would speedily give way. The distant sides of the fortress were now crowded with Mizraim, and I marvelled that men could be so inhuman.

All at once, and as we were in the very act of dispatching a huge beast who had forced his way to the very centre of our party, snapping his great jaws right and left in his efforts to secure one or other of us, a shout smote upon our ears. The sound came from the fortress, and swelled in volume as though something unusual had happened. Then there came a cry —the sound of a woman's voice—the voice of Almass, as she rapidly paddled a canoe in our direction.

" I come to your aid!" she said.

In a few minutes she was among us, but not before a hungry crocodile had claimed as his prey another of our African companions.

Then, rising up in her canoe, a long spear in her hand, Almass showed us that she was truly a woman of spirit, and resourceful to boot. With marvellous celerity, and in the most dexterous manner possible, she thrust out the eyes of one after another of the crocodiles, till no less than fifteen of them had been driven into the depths of the lake by this treatment.

"This is the way my people defend themselves. They may not kill the sacred beasts, but to blind them is to make them more holy!"

It was a strange notion, but served us well on that eventful day.

"Follow me!" she cried, "and I will show you a safe place. Quick! for this part of the lake will soon be alive with crocodiles!"

Even as she spoke we could see them hastening through the waters on every side to the scene of the battle.

Now a little to the left was a tiny rocky islet. It would not be more than fifty yards in diameter, though it rose up to considerable height above the surface of the lake. The canoe was too small to hold us, but Franklyn and Jeffreson and one of the Bateké being weak from their wounds, held on to the stern and thus were drawn rapidly along. Now began a race with the crocodiles, and had it not been for Mirango, Halcombe and Button, who swam to the rear and boldly engaged two monsters who came very near to the stragglers, we might have lost more of our men. As it was, though much exhausted with the swim and the struggle, we at length succeeded in reaching the friendly isle in safety, to the no small disappointment of our enemies—human and crocodile: for while the latter lashed the waves into foam, the former sent yells of rage across the blue waters.

"But they will attack us in their canoes," I said.

"Not for some hours—I have sunk the whole fleet," said Almass, calmly.

"But we cannot remain here."

"You must do so until I remove you hence."

As soon as we had sufficiently recovered from our exhaustion, Almass led us to the top of the rock. Here we discovered a cave- like hollow, where shelter could be found from the sun. For except for our breeches we were devoid of clothing, and our skin was in danger of being blistered by the sun.

"As soon as night falls I will fetch two canoes so that you can reach the mainland, unless"—and she cast a glance at the fortress —"the Mizraim raise their canoes and attack us here."

During the earlier part of the day we rested and slept, for we had had no sleep on the previous night. Food there was none, but this want we were bound to endure.

It was about two hours after noon when Almass aroused us, saying that the Mizraim were coming.

"I see a fleet of forty or fifty canoes," she said.

We held a hurried consultation. It was plain that we could not be attacked in our cave by more than two or three at a time.

"Let us fight for our lives!" said Halcombe, sternly.

I knew that he would not advise this unless he considered our case to be desperate. We had the knives wherewith we had fought the crocodiles, and felt that we could give a very good account of ourselves.

Very soon the Mizraim were swarming about the rock. As for ourselves, we kept within the cave, before which rose a table- like stone over which they must climb in order to attack us.

After a time their shouts subsided, and by the sounds we heard we knew that they were searching for us.

Presently a head appeared above the stone. Mirango stood by, keen blade in hand, and in another instant would have decapitated the owner thereof, had not the said head been withdrawn without delay.

A few minutes later came a flight of arrows. But we were prepared for them, and except Button and Mirango, who kept safely under the lee of the stone, we stood well back in the deep part of the cave.

After this the enemy made a determined rush. Maybe they hoped that the arrows had done us damage. We received them on the point of our knives, and Mirango, towering head and shoulders above us all, slew no less than sixteen with the broad-bladed spear brought by Almass.

The Mizraim now retreated in confusion, and left us alone for a space of about two hours.

"I propose that we treat with them for peace," suggested Halcombe.

" Then as Almass alone knows the language I will ask her to speak for us," I said.

It was with some anxiety lest she should be fired upon by the archers that I assisted her to climb the great stone at the entrance to our retreat. She stood there, in the light of the westering sun the very incarnation of grace and loveliness.

There was a shout from the Mizraim, who were gathered together at the foot of the rocky slope, when they caught sight of her. A lengthy conversation ensued, at the conclusion of which Almass turned and asked if we would consent to go with the Mizraim on condition that they spared our lives.

We were somewhat astonished at this offer, but after a brief discussion we decided to capitulate.

Emerging from the cave, we went down boldly among the Mizraim, and soon after sunset reached the fortress.

Two long months have passed since I completed the preceding narrative, and six months since we were compelled to adventure ourselves among the crocodiles.

I have now to raise the curtain for the final scene—in other words, to explain how this my story came to be set down.

The day after our return, and when we were again to be tried by the King, an event took place which, while it formed a remarkable climax to our series of adventures, decided once for all my own future.

The monarch was hourly expected from the Island of Manloov, whither he had gone with Domingo Salvador and the Jew, to whom he had given vast stores of gold and ivory. We had seen nothing of our rivals, and were anxious to understand what had brought about the friendship which seemed to exist between them and the King, for to us this was a great mystery.

"Let us away to the southern point, perchance we shall catch sight of the canoes," I said, addressing Almass. The guards allowed me to pass—for indeed there was small chance of our escape from the place—and we stood together watching the light of the setting sun as it bathed in glory the lovely isles and gleaming waters of the wonderful lake.

How happy should we have been, had no the great dread of the immediate future overshadowed us.

"They come!" exclaimed my companion.

The tiny speck grew slowly larger. It was the royal canoe.

"And it contains?"

"My father, my brothers, the two wicked white men, and eight paddlers."

"It will please the King if I give him a welcome," she said, waving her shapely arm as the canoe passed under our lofty perch.

"Ah! what are they about?" I exclaimed, as the sound of musket shots came up from the surface of the lake.

" They fight—they are killing my father!" screamed Almass, wringing her hands.

The smoke which overhung the canoe cleared away, and then we could see that a fight was taking place on the little craft at our feet. Two of the Mizraim were lying over the side dead or severely wounded, and Oimenephthalah and his two sons were engaged in a hand to hand struggle with the two Europeans. All at once the canoe upset, and a horrible tragedy was straightway enacted. No less than seven of them, including the King, his sons, and Domingo Salvador and Moses Ben Israel, were devoured by the crocodiles before our eyes. The rest clambered on to the bottom of the upturned canoe, and were eventually rescued from the shore.

This tragedy altered the whole current of events, for Almass was now Queen of the Mizraim, and supreme in authority.

"You will stay with me and help me to rule the people," she said, laying her hand upon my arm, and uplifting her liquid eyes pleadingly to mine.

I must confess that I had an inward struggle before I answered in the affirmative, for I had grown much attached to my companions. But my love for Almass conquered; and I decided to become the consort of the Queen of the Mizraim.

"But, Master Pryce, we'll hae to account for the loss of ye when we get home," observed Button, dolefully.

" You shall remain until I have writ down on parchment the story of our travels," I replied.

Accordingly, I have spent more than three months in the labour of setting down the account to be found in this volume, now entrusted to my dear friend Captain Simon Halcombe, in the hope that it may be of some interest to my friends in England. I add a few lines to my manuscript before we part.

This has been a joyous day for Almass and myself. For we were this morning united in wedlock in the great hall of the palace of Manloov. The aged priest Yoseeph, who had striven to keep alive the little plant of Christianity which he and his fellow- travellers had first brought into this far country, and who, though the Mizraim worshipped Isis and Osiris, had ever been true to the One God, joined our hands before the little temporary altar. To the Mizraim who crowded the hall it was perhaps too simple a ceremony, yet the happiness depicted on Almass's beautiful face and on mine, seemed to find a counterpart in all the vast crowd of the Mizraim. Thundering cheers, waving of spears, the fervent salutes to Almass as Queen, showed that the strife of the past was forgotten, and that another era had dawned of peace, happiness, and contentment.

And I, ere I clasped my wife in my arms, thanked God that through many dangers and difficulties He had brought me into haven; and that, though I sailed not back to England laden with gold and treasure, yet that here, in the heart of Africa, I had gained a jewel, the like of which was not to be found in the world.

I have given a parchment to my good nephew, making over to him the four hundred and fifty pounds left to me by my father; and he has promised to make an expedition to this land in five years' time, Mirango undertaking to assist him to the utmost of his power.

Farewell, my faithful comrades! farewell, Mirango, most noble of savages! Almass and I together will stand on the loftiest point of the island and watch your canoes until again they enter the Gorge of Matobee.


THE END