The Squall

How different is the scene that I have now to tell from that which has just been told! Gone are the quiet college rooms, gone the wind-swayed English elms and cawing rooks, and the familiar volumes on the shelves, and in their place there rises a vision of the great calm ocean gleaming in shaded silver lights beneath the beams of the full African moon. A gentle breeze fills the huge sail of our dhow, and draws us through the water that ripples musically against our sides. Most of the men are sleeping forward, for it is near midnight, but a stout swarthy Arab, Mahomed by name, stands at the tiller, lazily steering by the stars. Three miles or more to our starboard is a low dim line. It is the Eastern shore of Central Africa. We are running to the southward, before the North East Monsoon, between the mainland and the reef that for hundreds of miles fringes that perilous coast. The night is quiet, so quiet that a whisper can be heard fore and aft the dhow; so quiet that a faint booming sound rolls across the water to us from the distant land.

The Arab at the tiller holds up his hand, and says one word: --`Simba (lion)!'

We all sit up and listen. Then it comes again, a slow, majestic sound, that thrills us to the marrow.

`To-morrow by ten o'clock,' I say, `we ought, if the Captain is not out in his reckoning, which I think very probable, to make this mysterious rock with a man's head, and begin our shooting.'

`And begin our search for the ruined city and the Fire of Life,' corrected Leo, taking his pipe from his mouth, and laughing a little.

`Nonsense!' I answered. `You were airing your Arabic with that man at the tiller this afternoon. What did he tell you? He has been trading (slave-trading probably) up and down these latitudes for half of his iniquitous life, and once landed on this very "man" rock. Did he ever hear anything of the ruined city or the caves?'

`No,' answered Leo. `He says that the country is all swamp behind, and full of snakes, especially pythons, and game, and that no man lives there. But then there is a belt of swamp all along the East African coast, so that does not go for much.'

`Yes,' I said, `it does--it goes for malaria. You see what sort of an opinion these gentry have of the country. Not one of them will go with us. They think that we are mad, and upon my word I believe that they are right. If ever we see old England again I shall be astonished. However, it does not greatly matter to me at my age, but I am anxious for you, Leo, and for Job. It's a Tom Fool's business, my boy.'

`All right, Uncle Horace. So far as I am concerned, I am willing to take my chance. Look! What is that cloud?' and he pointed to a dark blotch upon the starry sky, some miles astern of us.

`Go and ask the man at the tiller,' I said.

He rose, stretched his arms, and went. Presently he returned.

`He says it is a squall, but it will pass far on one side of us.'

Just then Job came up, looking very stout and English in his shooting-suit of brown flannel, and with a sort of perplexed appearance upon his honest round face that had been very common with him since he got into these strange waters.

`Please, sir,' he said, touching his sun hat, which was stuck on to the back of his head in a somewhat ludicrous fashion, `as we have got all those guns and things in the whale-boat astern, to say nothing of the provisions in the lockers, I think it would be best if I got down and slept in her. I don't like the looks' (here he dropped his voice to a portentous whisper) `of these black gentry; they have such a wonderful thievish way about them. Supposing now that some of them were to slip into the boat at night and cut the cable, and make off with her? That would be a pretty go, that would.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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