A Parisian Sultana, Vol. II (of 3)
Project Gutenberg's A Parisian Sultana, Vol. II (of 3), by Adolphe Belot
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Title: A Parisian Sultana, Vol. II (of 3)
Author: Adolphe Belot
Release Date: January 12, 2019 [EBook #58678]
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A PARISIAN SULTANA, VOL. II (OF 3) ***
Produced by Douglas Ethington
A PARISIAN SULTANA
A TRANSLATION OF
"La Sultane parisienne"
H. MAINWARING DUNSTAN.
BOOK II.IN THE HEART OF AFRICA.
In a few moments the little European flotilla was rounding theRas-el-Khartoum, the junction of the White and Blue Niles, and very soonit passed the three large mimosas, called usually the "tree," therendezvous for all boats leaving for the voyage up the White Nile orits affluents. The banks of the river here and for some miles fartheron present a most monotonous appearance—low, flat banks as far as theeye can see, often flooded and resembling a sea rather than a river,with here and there a clump of acacias. In the distance can bediscerned the desert with its sandy undulations. From the bed of theriver snags and dead stumps of trees raise their withered heads,whilst aquatic plants glide slowly down the stream and look likefloating islets of verdure. Clouds of mosquitoes swarm on this movingvegetation and appear so thoroughly satisfied with their habitationthat they forget to attack the European traveller.
The captain of the steamer which towed the flotilla was a youngEgyptian officer, educated in Paris, a very gentlemanly and cleverman. At starting he had begged Madame de Guéran and her companions tocome on board his ship. "In a few days," he said, "you will leave me,for you will go up the Gazelle River whilst I shall have to proceedalone on my journey up the White Nile as far as Gondokoro. Give me,then, as long as you can, the pleasure of your society."
The whole party acceded to this invitation, and joined the "Khedive,"that being the name of the steamer. Most of their time was passed onthe poop, and the conversation frequently turned on the slave-trade,which the young officer had for two years, under the command of SirSamuel Baker, endeavoured to put down.
"Alas!" he said, "our efforts have been well nigh futile. For onecargo of slaves released by us ten have escaped, and General Bakerwas worn out, during his four years' of command, in the struggleagainst the natives of the country, whom the slave-merchants, Aboo-Saoud,the most powerful of all amongst them, incited to oppose him."
One evening, as the Europeans and their host were chatting in somesuch fashion as we have described, an acrid, fetid stench, more likethe smell of a charnel-house or a wild beasts' den than, anythingelse, was wafted by the wind towards the "Khedive," and unexpectedlysaluted the nostrils of her passengers.
"This is awful," said Delange, "these banks are enough to breed apestilence."
"No," said the Captain, "this foul stench comes from that large boatyou see coming down the river towards us. If I am not mistaken Ishall find on board her some living arguments in support of what Ihave just been telling you about the slave trade and ourpowerlessness to put an end to it."
The officer, whilst saying this, got up and directed the engines tobe stopped. A boat was at the same time lowered and pulled towardsthe stranger with an order for her to heave to.
No notice was taken of the command, and the boat, borne onwards bythe strength of the rapid current and the favourable wind, continuedon her course, the "Khedive" being unable to bar her passage. On thecontrary, the Captain prudently got out of the way with his flotilla,but as soon as the sailing boat had passed he fired a gun as a secondnotice to stop, and this was at once answered by the lowering of herhuge sail, those on board recognizing the fact that they were notstrong enough to make any show of continued resistance.
"The sky is beautifully clear, and the moon will soon rise frombehind that leafy screen of mimosas," said the Captain to his guests."Would you like to come on board that boat with me? I have everyreason to believe that we shall find something in her which willrepay us for our trouble."
The offer was accepted, and, a few moments afterwards, a couple ofboats were pulled alongside the starboard gangway of the steamer. Tenwell-armed sailors took their place in the first, and in the otherthe Captain, Madame de Guéran, Miss Poles, and their three companionsseated themselves.
Five minutes sufficed to reach the stranger. Contrary to expectationthere was no attempt at a parley, nor was any opposition offered tothis nocturnal visit. So far, indeed, was this from being the casethat a line was thrown out to the boats to make them fast to thevessel's side.
The Egyptian officer, followed by his sailors and the Europeantravellers, had scarcely climbed up the side, when the Captain, orreis, a man of about forty, in Mussulman costume, advanced towardsthem. He spoke in Turkish, and addressed himself to the Commander ofthe "Khedive," whose uniform bespoke his rank.
"As soon as I understood your orders," said he, in a low voice andwith a smile on his thin parched lips, "I hastened to obey them. Youhave, no doubt, some despatches to give me for Khartoum, which Ishall reach in two days if the wind continues favourably."
"You are not going to Khartoum, where you would get into trouble,"replied the Commander of the "Khedive." "You reckon upon heaving toat some point along the banks where you can discharge your cargo ofslaves, whom you will afterwards forward by land, westwards byKordofan, or eastwards by Sennaar, to some market or other, either inthe interior or on the coast."
"My cargo of slaves, sir? What are you talking about?" exclaimed theMussulman, raising his eyes to heaven as if to summon it to bearwitness to his veracity, "I am a straightforward trader, and I am onmy way back from the Grazelle River with a cargo of ivory from theSouthern provinces."
"Where is your cargo?" asked the officer.
"Here are a few samples?" replied the Turk, pointing to a number ofelephants' tusks which were strung up along the mast.
"You have made a dangerous trip solely for ivory, have you?" was theEgyptian's reply. "I know you and your kindred spirits too well to betaken in by any such tale as that. Where have you hidden your humanmerchandize? Answer."
"Nowhere, I assure you, sir. You may search the ship if you like."
"That is exactly what I am going to do."
"When you please."
The Egyptian officer was beginning to feel non-plussed. In vain helooked around him, he could only discover about eight or ten men,rather a villainous-looking lot truly, doing odd jobs about the ship.
In the meantime, the stench, which had first become noticeable abouthalf an hour previously, appeared now to increase in intensity everymoment, and whiffs of hot, one might almost say putrified, air surgedup without intermission from somewhere or other. Whence couldpossibly come these foul exhalations, this suffocating heat, whichseemed to emanate from some cribb'd, cabined, and confined humanherd? If the vessel had been a slaver in the Indian Ocean or the RedSea, there would not have been any need for hesitation. The removalof the hatches would have at once exposed to view two or threehundred blacks, chained along the side of the hold, or stowed away inthe centre like bales of cotton or hogsheads of sugar. But the largeboat, on board which they were, drew but little water, and she hadnot depth enough for either a hold or a lower deck.
Fortunately, the sailors of the "Khedive," were whiling away the timeby making a tour of inspection on their own behalf, and some of them,who had made their way forwards, took it into their heads to removesome very suspicious looking sacks of grain, thereby uncovering atrap-door which they set to work to raise.
As soon as the men on board, who had up to this time remainedremarkably indifferent and impassive, saw what their Egyptiancolleagues were about, they came forward and endeavoured to preventthem from satisfying their curiosity. A hot argument ensued, and theattention of the European party was attracted by the wordy tumult.They at once hastened to join the sailors, and, summoning the reis,ordered him to have the trap raised. But the fellow, thoughpreviously obsequious and pliant enough, suddenly put on an arrogantair and refused to give the required orders, his crew, at the sametime, taking up a menacing attitude.
"All right," said the Commander of the "Khedive," "I expected this,and have provided for the emergency."
So saying, he put his silver whistle to his lips, and at the shrill,prolonged call, the Egyptian steamer, which had been awaiting thesignal, was set in motion and came near. The warning was enough, andthe Captain, followed by his crew, withdrew aft.
The trap was then raised, and a glimpse was caught of a huge black,seething, writhing, swarming hole. It was but a glimpse, for thosewho looked in were glad to draw back, half stifled by the heat andstench which escaped from the pit.
At once hands, arms, shoulders, heads appeared through the variousopenings, and laboured gasps were heard from surcharged breasts,eagerly drinking in the pure air. Sighs and stifled cries from thebelly of the ship added to the general discordance.
"Come along!" exclaimed M. de Morin, "let us rescue these poorcreatures."
He, his companions, and the Egyptians approached the trap and set towork to haul up all the arms, shoulders, and heads within theirreach, seizing hold of them, and dragging them out with such good-willthat in a few minutes a score of slaves, more or lesssuffocated, were lying on the deck, able at last to breathe. But thenewly-opened den contained other victims, who must be saved if,indeed, help had not arrived too late. A sailor handed a torch to MM.de Morin and Périères, and the two friends were courageous enough todescend into the abyss.
There, in a space about fifteen metres long, the whole length of theboat, and five wide, in a sort of gallery, where a man even sittingdown had to lower his head, in a kind of double-bottomed box, were ahundred human creatures, boys, girls, and women, crammed together,huddled, heaped up pell-mell, welded, as it were, into one another.
"Now, then!" called out M. de. Morin, who was anxious to get on deckagain. "Stir yourselves, and get out of this!"
But the poor wretches did not stir. They were not quite so numerousas they had been a moment before, a breath of air had reached them—they did not ask for more—and they called to mind the threat that washeld over them when they were shut up in that den—their persecutorshad sworn that they would never open the living tomb if their victimsuttered a single cry, or drew attention to the boat.
It is owing to the dread instilled into these poor people, grounddown by misery and want, and, above all, is it owing to this hideoushiding-place on board their vessels, that the slave dealers continueto carry on, in spite of Baker, their nefarious trade, and sail,unsuspected, past the very stations organized for their discovery. Asa rule, their slaves remain on deck night and day, but as soon as astation is neared, or a man-of-war is signalled in the distance, thewretches are made to go below at once into the confined space we havedescribed. There they are hermetically enclosed, there they areimmured, not to be released until all danger has disappeared. Anopening here and there in the vessel's side, just above the water-markand too small