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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDick Sands, The Boy Captain - Part The Second - Chapter 19. An Attack
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Dick Sands, The Boy Captain - Part The Second - Chapter 19. An Attack Post by :jsypolt Category :Long Stories Author :Jules Verne Date :May 2012 Read :1398

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Dick Sands, The Boy Captain - Part The Second - Chapter 19. An Attack

PART THE SECOND
CHAPTER XIX. AN ATTACK


The canoe inclined to the west readily enough; the fall in the river-bed was so sudden that the current remained quite unaffected by the cataract at a distance of three hundred yards.

On the bank were woods so dense that sunlight could not penetrate the shade. Dick was conscious of a sad misgiving when he looked at the character of the territory through which they must necessarily pass. It did not seem practicable by any means to convey the canoe below the falls.

As they neared the shore, Dingo became intensely agitated. At first Dick suspected that a wild beast or a native might be lurking in the papyrus, but it soon became obvious that the dog was excited by grief rather than by rage.

“Dingo is crying,” said Jack; “poor Dingo!” and the child laid his arms over the creature’s neck.

The dog, however, was too impatient to be caressed; bounding away, he sprang into the water, swam across the twenty feet that intervened between the shore, and disappeared in the grass.

In a few moments the boat had glided on to a carpet of confervas and other aquatic plants, starting a few kingfishers and some snow-white herons. Hercules moored it to the stump of a tree, and the travellers went ashore.

There was no pathway through the forest, only the trampled moss showed that the place had been recently visited either by animals or men.

Dick took his gun and Hercules his hatchet, and they set out to search for Dingo. They had not far to go before they saw him with his nose close to the ground, manifestly following a scent; the animal raised his head for a moment, as if beckoning them to follow, and kept on till he reached an old sycamore-stump. Having called out to the rest of the party to join them, Dick made his way farther into the wood till he got up to Dingo, who was whining piteously at the entrance of a dilapidated hut.

The rest were not long in following, and they all entered the hut together. The floor was strewn with bones whitened by exposure.

“Some one has died here,” said Mrs. Weldon.

“Perhaps,” added Dick, as if struck by a sudden thought, “it was Dingo’s old master. Look at him! he is pointing with his paw.”

The portion of the sycamore-trunk which formed the farther side of the hut had been stripped of its bark, and upon the smooth wood were two great letters in dingy red almost effaced by time, but yet plain enough to be distinguished.

“S. V.,” cried Dick, as he looked where the dog’s paw rested; “the same initials that Dingo has upon his collar. There can be no mistake. S. V.”

A small copper box, green with verdigris, caught his eye, and he picked it up. It was open, but contained a scrap of discoloured paper. The writing upon this consisted of a few sentences, of which only detached words could be made out, but they revealed the sad truth only too plainly.

“Robbed by Negoro—murdered—Dingo—help—Negoro guide—l20 miles from coast—December 3rd, l871—write no more.

“S. VERNON.”

Here was the clue to a melancholy story. Samuel Vernon, under the guidance of Negoro, and taking with him his dog Dingo, had set out on an exploration of a district of Central Africa; he had taken a considerable quantity of money to procure the necessary supplies on the way, and this had excited the cupidity of his guide, who seized the opportunity, whilst they were encamping on the banks of the Congo, to assassinate his employer, and get possession of his property. Negoro, however, had not escaped; he had fallen into the hands of the Portuguese, by whom he was recognized as an agent of the slave-dealer Alvez, and condemned to spend the rest of his days in prison. He contrived after a while to make his escape, and, as has been already mentioned, found his way to New Zealand, whence he had returned by securing an engagement on board the “Pilgrim.” Between the time when he was attacked by Negoro and the moment of his death, Vernon had managed to write the few brief lines of which the fragments still survived, and to deposit the document in the box from which the money had been stolen, and by a last effort had traced out his initials in blood upon the naked wood which formed the wall of the hut. For many days Dingo watched beside his master, and throughout that time his eyes were resting so perpetually upon the two crimson letters in front of him, that mere instinct seemed to fasten them indelibly on his memory. Quitting his watch one day, perhaps to pacify his hunger, the dog wandered to the coast, where he was picked up by the captain of the “Waldeck,” afterwards to be transferred to the very ship on which his owner’s murderer had been engaged as cook.

All throughout this time poor Vernon’s bones had been bleaching in the African forest, and the first resolution of Dick and Mrs. Weldon was to give the residue of his remains some semblance of a decent burial. They were just proceeding to their task when Dingo gave a furious growl, and dashed out of the hut; another moment, and a terrible shriek made it evident that he was in conflict with some dread antagonist.

Hercules was quickly in pursuit, and the whole party followed in time to witness the giant hurl himself upon a man with whom already Dingo was in mortal combat.

The dog was griping the man by the throat, the man was lifting his cutlass high above the head of the dog.

That man was Negoro. The rascal, on getting his letter at Kazonndé, instead of embarking at once for America, had left his native escort for a while, and returned to the scene of his crime to secure the treasure which he had left buried at a little distance in a spot that he had marked. At this very moment he was in the act of digging up the gold he had concealed; some glistening coins scattered here and there betrayed his purpose; but in the midst of his labours he had been startled by the dashing forward of a dog; another instant, and the dog had fixed itself upon his throat, whilst he, in an agony of desperation, had drawn his cutlass and plunged it deep into the creature’s side.

Hercules came up at the very climax of the death-struggle.

“You villain! you accursed villain! I have you now!” he cried, about to seize hold of his victim.

But vengeance was already accomplished. Negoro gave no sign of life; death had overtaken him on the very scene of his guilt. Dingo, too, had received a mortal wound; he dragged himself back to the hut, lay down beside the remains of his master, and expired.

The sad task of burying Vernon’s bones, and laying his faithful dog beside them having been accomplished, the whole party was obliged to turn their thoughts to their own safety. Although Negoro was dead, it as very likely that the natives that he had taken with him were at no great distance, and would come to search for him.

A hurried conference was held as to what steps had best be taken. The few words traceable on the paper made them aware that they were on the banks of the Congo, and that they were still 120 miles from the coast. The fall just ahead was probably the cataract of Memo, but whatever it was, no doubt it effectually barred their farther progress by water. There seemed no alternative but that they should make their way by one bank or the other a mile or two below the waterfall, and there construct a raft on which once again they could drift down the stream. The question that pressed for immediate settlement was which bank it should be. Here, on the left bank, would be the greater risk of encountering the negro escort of Negoro, while as to the farther shore they could not tell what obstacles it might present.

Altogether Mrs. Weldon advocated trying the other side, but Dick insisted upon crossing first by himself to ascertain whether an advance by that route were really practicable.

“The river is only about 100 yards wide,” he urged; “I can soon get across. I shall leave Hercules to look after you all.”

Mrs. Weldon demurred for a while, but Dick seemed resolute, and as he promised to take his gun and not to attempt to land if he saw the least symptom of danger, she at last consented, but with so much reluctance that even after he had entered the canoe she said,—

“I think, Dick, it would be really better for us all to go together.”

“No, Mrs. Weldon, indeed, no; I am sure it is best for me to go alone; I shall be back in an hour.”

“If it must be so, it must,” said the lady.

“Keep a sharp look-out, Hercules!” cried the youth cheerily, as he pushed off from the land.

The strength of the current was by no means violent, but quite enough to make the direction of Dick’s course somewhat oblique. The roar of the cataract reverberated in his ears, and the spray, wafted by the westerly wind, brushed lightly past his face, and he shuddered as he felt how near they must have been to destruction if he had relaxed his watch throughout the night.

It took him hardly a quarter of an hour to reach the opposite bank, and he was just preparing to land when there arose a tremendous shout from about a dozen natives, who, rushing forward, began to tear away the canopy of grass with which the canoe was covered.

Dick’s horror was great. It would have been greater still if he had known that they were cannibals. They were the natives settled at the lacustrine village higher up the river. When the piece of thatch had been knocked off in passing the piles a glimpse had been caught of the passengers below, and aware that the cataract ahead must ultimately bring them to a standstill, the eager barbarians had followed them persistently day by day for the last eight days.

Now they thought they had secured their prize, but loud was their yell of disappointment when on stripping off the thatch they found only one person, and that a mere boy, standing beneath it.

Dick stood as calmly as he could at the bow, and pointed his gun towards the savages, who were sufficiently acquainted with the nature of fire-arms to make them afraid to attack him.

Mrs. Weldon with the others, in their eagerness to watch Dick’s movements, had remained standing upon the shore of the river, and at this instant were caught sight of by one of the natives, who pointed them out to his companions. A sudden impulse seized the whole of them, and they sprang into the canoe; there seemed to be a practised hand amongst them, which caught hold of the rudder-oar, and the little craft was quickly on its way back.

Although he gave up all as now well-nigh lost, Dick neither moved nor spoke. He had one lingering hope yet left. Was it not possible even now that by sacrificing his own life he could save the lives of those that were entrusted to him?

When the canoe had come near enough to the shore for his voice to be heard, he shouted with all his might,—

“Fly, Mrs. Weldon; fly, all of you; fly for your lives!”

But neither Mrs. Weldon nor Hercules stirred; they seemed rooted to the ground.

“Fly, fly, fly!” he continued shouting.

But though he knew they must hear him, yet he saw them make no effort to escape. He understood their meaning; of what avail was flight when the savages would be upon their track in a few minutes after?

A sudden thought crossed his mind. He raised his gun and fired at the man who was steering; the bullet shattered the rudder-scull into fragments.

The cannibals uttered a yell of terror. Deprived of guidance, the canoe was at the mercy of the current, and, borne along with increasing speed, was soon within a hundred feet of the cataract.

The anxious watchers on the bank instantly discerned Dick’s purpose, and understood that in order to save them he had formed the resolution of precipitating himself with the savages into the seething waters

Nothing could avail to arrest the swift descent. Mrs Weldon in an agony of despair waved her hands in a last sad farewell, Jack and Benedict seemed paralyzed, whilst Hercules involuntarily extended his great strong arm that was powerless to aid.

Suddenly the natives, impelled by a last frantic effort to reach the shore, plunged into the water, but then movement capsized the boat.

Face to face with death, Dick lost nothing of his indomitable presence of mind. Might not that light canoe, floating bottom upwards, be made the means for yet another grasp at life? The danger that threatened him was twofold, there was the risk of suffocation as well as the peril of being drowned; could not the inverted canoe be used for a kind of float at once to keep his head above water and to serve as a screen from the rushing air? He had some faint recollection of how it had been proved possible under some such conditions to descend in safety the falls of Niagara.

Quick as lightning he seized hold of the cross-bench of the canoe, and with his head out of water beneath the upturned keel, he was dashed down the furious and well-nigh perpendicular fall.

The craft sank deep into the abyss, but rose quickly again to the surface. Here was Dick’s chance, he was a good swimmer, and his life depended now upon his strength of arm.

It was a hard struggle, but he succeeded. In a quarter of an hour he had landed on the left hand bank, where he was greeted with the joyful congratulations of his friends, who had hurried to the foot of the fall to assure themselves of his fate.

The cannibals had all disappeared in the surging waters. Unprotected in their fall, they had doubtless ceased to breathe before reaching the lowest depths of the cataract where their lifeless bodies would soon be dashed to pieces against the sharp rocks that were scattered along the lower course of the stream.

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