The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa - Jules Verne - ebook

The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa ebook

Jules Verne



This book travesties in Jules Verne's inimitable and fascinating style the numerous ponderous books of African travel and adventure. In thrilling interest it surpasses them all, while the illustrations with which the book is crowded are so graphic that the story itself may almost be read by them, and without going through the text.

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The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa

Jules Verne


Jules Verne – A Biographical Primer

The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa

Chapter I. On The Banks Of The Orange River.

Chapter II. Official Presentations.

Chapter III. The Land Journey.

Chapter IV. A Few Words About The Mètre.

Chapter V. A Hottentot Village.

Chapter VI. Better Acquaintance.

Chapter VII. The Base Of The Triangle.

Chapter VIII. The Twenty-Fourth Meridian.

Chapter IX. The Kraal.

Chapter X. The Rapid.

Chapter XI. A Missing Companion.

Chapter XII. A Station To Sir John's Liking.

Chapter XIII. Pacification By Fire.

Chapter XIV. A Declaration Of War.

Chapter XV. A Geometric Progression.

Chapter XVI. Danger In Disguise.

Chapter XVII. An Unexpected Blight.

Chapter XVIII. The Desert.

Chapter XIX. Science Undaunted.

Chapter XX. Standing A Siege.

Chapter XXI. Suspense.

Chapter XXII. Hide And Seek.

Chapter XXIII. Homeward Bound.

The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa, J. Verne

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9


ISBN: 9783849645700

[email protected]

Frontcover: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Angelique

Jules Verne – A Biographical Primer

Jules Verne (1828–1905), French author, was born at Nantes on the 8th of February 1828. After completing his studies at the Nantes lycée, he went to Paris to study for the bar. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carré, he wrote librettos for two operettas, and in 1850 his verse comedy, Les Pailles rompues, in which Alexandre Dumas fils had some share, was produced at the Gymnase. For some years his interests alternated between the theatre and the bourse, but some travellers’ stories which he wrote for the Musée des Familles seem to have revealed to him the true direction of his talent—the delineation, viz., of delightfully extravagant voyages and adventures to which cleverly prepared scientific and geographical details lent an air of versimilitude. Something of the kind had been done before, after kindred methods, by Cyrano de Bergerac, by Swift and Defoe, and later by Mayne Reid. But in his own particular application of plausible scientific apparatus Verne undoubtedly struck out a department for himself in the wide literary genre of voyages imaginaires. His first success was obtained with Cinq semaines en ballon, which he wrote for Hetzel’s Magazin d’Éducation in 1862, and thenceforward, for a quarter of a century, scarcely a year passed in which Hetzel did not publish one or more of his fantastic stories, illustrated generally by pictures of the most lurid and sensational description.The most successful of these romances include: Voyage au centre de la terre (1864); De la terre à la lune (1865); Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1869); Les Anglais au pôle nord (1870); and Voyage autour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, which first appeared in Le Temps in 1872.The adaptation of this last (produced with success at the Porte St Martin theatre on the 8th of November 1874) and of another excellent tale, Michael Strogoff (at the Châtelet, 1880), both dramas being written in conjunction with Adolphe d’Ennery, proved the most acceptable of Verne’s theatrical pieces. The novels were translated into the various European languages—and some even into Japanese and Arabic—and had an enormous success in England. But after 1877, when he published Hector Servadac, a romance of existence upon a comet, the writer’s invention began to show signs of fatigue (his kingdom had been invaded in different directions and at different times times by such writers as R. M. Ballantyne, Rider Haggard and H. G. Wells), and he even committed himself, somewhat unguardedly, to very gloomy predictions as to the future of the novel. Jules Verne’s own novels, however, will certainly long continue to delight readers by reason of their sparkling style, their picturesque verve—apparently inherited directly from Dumas—their amusing and good-natured national caricatures, and the ingenuity with which the love element is either subordinated or completely excluded. M. Verne, who was always extremely popular in society, divided his time for the most part between Paris, his home at Amiens and his yacht. He was a member of the Legion of Honour, and several of his romances were crowned by the French Academy, but he was never enrolled among its members. He died at Amiens on the 24th of March 1905. His brother, Paul Verne, contributed to the Transactions of the French Alpine Club, and wrote an Ascension du Mont Blanc for his brother’s collection of Voyages extraordinaires in 1874.

The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa

Chapter I. On The Banks Of The Orange River.

Onthe 27th of January, 1854, two men lay stretched at the foot of an immense weeping willow, chatting, and at the same time watching most attentively the waters of the Orange River. This river, the Groote of the Dutch, and the Gariep of the Hottentots, may well vie with the other three great arteries of Africa—the Nile, the Niger, and the Zambesi. Like those, it has its periodical risings, its rapids and cataracts. Travellers whose names are known over part of its course, Thompson, Alexander, and Burchell, have each in their turn praised the clearness of its waters, and the beauty of its shores.

At this point the river, as it approached the Duke of York Mountains, offered a magnificent spectacle to the view. Insurmountable rocks, imposing masses of stone, and trunks of trees that had become mineralized by the action of the weather, deep caverns, impenetrable forests, not yet disturbed by the settler's axe, all these, shut in by a background formed by the mountains of the Gariep, made up a scene matchless in its magnificence. There, too, the waters of the river, on account of the extreme narrowness of their bed, and the sudden falling away of the soil, rushed down from a height of 400 feet. Above the fall there were only surging sheets of water, broken here and there by points of rock wreathed with green boughs; below, there was only a dark whirlpool of tumultuous waters, crowned with a thick cloud of damp vapour, and striped with all the colours of the rainbow. From this gulf there arose a deafening roar, increased and varied by the echoes of the valley.

Of these two men, who had evidently been brought into this part of South Africa by the chances of an exploration, one lent only a vague attention to the beauties of nature that were opened to his view. This indifferent traveller was a hunting bushman, a fine type of that brave, bright-eyed, rapidly-gesticulating race of men, who lead a wandering life in the woods. Bushman, a word derived from the Dutch “Bochjesman,” is literally “a man of the bushes,” and is applied to the wandering tribes that scour the country in the N.W. of Cape Colony. Not a family of these bushmen is sedentary; they pass their lives in roaming over the region lying between the Orange River and the mountains of the East, in pillaging farms, and in destroying the crops of the overbearing colonists, by whom they have been driven back towards the interior of the country, where more rocks than plants abound.

This bushman, a man of about forty years of age, was very tall, and evidently possessed great muscular strength, for even when at rest his body presented the attitude of action. The clearness, ease, and freedom of his movements stamped him as an energetic character, a man cast in the same mould as the celebrated “Leather-stocking,” the hero of the Canadian prairies, though perhaps possessing less calmness than Cooper's favourite hunter, as could be seen by the transient deepening of colour in his face, whenever he was animated by any unusual emotion.

The bushman was no longer a savage like the rest of his race, the ancient Laquas; for, born of an English father and a Hottentot mother, the half-breed, through his association with strangers, had gained more than he had lost, and spoke the paternal tongue fluently. His costume, half-Hottentot, half-European, consisted of a red flannel shirt, a loose coat and breeches of antelope hide, and leggings made of the skin of a wild cat; from his neck hung a little bag containing a knife, a pipe, and some tobacco; he wore on his head a kind of skull-cap of sheep-skin; a belt, made from the thick thong of some wild animal, encircled his waist; and on his naked wrists were rings of ivory, wrought with remarkable skill. From his shoulders flowed a “kross,” a kind of hanging mantle, cut out of a tiger's skin, and falling as low as the knees. A dog of native breed was sleeping near him, while he himself was smoking a bone pipe in quick puffs, giving unequivocal signs of impatience.

“Come, let's be calm, Mokoum,” said his interlocutor. “You are truly the most impatient of mortals whenever you are not hunting; but do understand, my worthy companion, that we can't change what is. Those whom we are expecting will come sooner or later—to-morrow, if not to-day.”

The bushman's companion was a young man, from twenty-five to twenty-six years of age, and quite a contrast to him. His calm temperament was shown in every action; and it could be decided without a moment's hesitation that he was an Englishman. His much too homely costume proved him to be unaccustomed to travelling. He gave one the idea of a clerk who had wandered into a savage country, and one looked involuntarily to see if he carried a pen behind his ear, like a cashier, clerk, accountant, or some other variety of the great family of the bureaucracy.

In truth, this young man was not a traveller, but a distinguished savant, William Emery, an astronomer attached to the Observatory at the Cape—a useful establishment, which has for a long time rendered true services to science.

The scholar, rather out of his element, perhaps, in this uninhabited region of South Africa, several hundred miles from Cape Town, could hardly manage to curb the impatience of his companion.

“Mr. Emery,” replied the hunter in good English, “here we have been for eight days at the place appointed on the Orange, the cataract of Morgheda. It is indeed a long time since it has befallen a member of my family to remain eight days in one place: you forget that we are rovers, and that our feet burn at lingering here.”

“My friend Mokoum,” replied the astronomer, “those we are waiting for are coming from England, and surely we can allow them eight days of grace: we must take into account the length of the passage, and the hindrances which a steam-vessel must meet with in ascending the Orange; and, in short, the thousand difficulties belonging to such an undertaking. We have been told to make every preparation for a journey of exploration in South Africa, and that being done, to come here to the Falls of Morgheda and wait for my colleague. Colonel Everest, of the Cambridge Observatory. Well, here are the Falls of Morgheda, we are at the place appointed, and we are waiting: what more do you want, my worthy bushman?”

The hunter doubtless did want more, for his fingers played feverishly with the lock of his rifle, an excellent Manton, a weapon of precision with conical shot, and which could bring down a wild cat or an antelope at a distance of eight or nine hundred yards. Thus it may be seen that the bushman had put aside the quiver of aloes and the poisoned darts of his fellow-countrymen for the use of European weapons.

“But are you not mistaken, Mr. Emery?” replied Mokoum. “Is it really at the Falls of Morgheda, and towards the end of this month of January, that they have appointed to meet you?”

“Yes, my friend,” quietly answered William Emery, “and here is the letter from Mr. Airy, the director of the Greenwich Observatory, which will show you that I am not mistaken.”

The bushman took the letter that his companion gave him. He turned it over and over like a man not very familiar with the mysteries of penmanship; then giving it back to William Emery, he said,

“Tell me again what the blotted piece of paper says.”

The young astronomer, endowed with a patience proof against every thing, began again, for the twentieth time, the story he had so often told to his friend the hunter. At the end of the foregoing year, William Emery had received a letter telling him of the approaching arrival of Colonel Everest, and an international scientific commission in Southern Africa. What the plans of the commission were, and why it came to the extremity of the continent of Africa, Emery could not say, Mr. Airy's letter being silent on that point; but following the instructions that he had received, he hastened to Lattakoo, one of the most northern stations in the Hottentot country, to prepare waggons, provisions, and, in short, every thing that could be wanted for the victualling of a Bochjesman caravan. Then, as he knew the reputation of the native hunter, Mokoum, who had accompanied Anderson in his hunting expeditions in Western Africa, and the intrepid David Livingstone on his first journey of exploration to Lake Ngami and the falls of the Zambesi, he offered him the command of this same caravan.

This done, it was arranged that the bushman, who knew the country perfectly, should lead William Emery along the banks of the Orange to the Morgheda Falls, the place appointed for the scientific commission to join them. This commission was to take its passage in the British frigate “Augusta,” to reach the mouth of the Orange on the western coast of Africa, as high as Cape Voltas, and to ascend the river as far as the cataracts. William Emery and Mokoum had therefore brought a waggon, which they had left at the bottom of the valley, to carry the strangers and their baggage to Lattakoo, unless they preferred getting there by the Orange and its affluents, after they had avoided the Falls of Morgheda by a land journey of some miles.

This story ended, and at length really impressed on the bushman's mind, he advanced to the edge of the gulf to whose bottom the foaming river threw itself with a crash: the astronomer followed, for there a projecting point commanded a view of the river, below the cataract, for a distance of several miles.

For some minutes Mokoum and his companion gazed attentively at the part of the river where it resumed its tranquillity about a quarter of a mile below them, but not an object, either boat or pirogue, disturbed its course. It was then three o'clock. The month of January here corresponds to the July of northern countries, and the sun, almost vertical in lat. 29°, heated the atmosphere till the thermometer stood at 105° Fahrenheit in the shade. If it had not been for the westerly breeze, which moderated the heat a little, the temperature would have been unbearable for any but a bushman. Still, the young astronomer, with his cool temperament, all bone and all nerves, did not feel it too much: the thick foliage of the trees which overhung the abyss protected him from the direct attacks of the sun's rays. Not a bird enlivened the solitude during these hot hours of the day; not an animal left the cool shade of the bushes to trust itself along the glades; not a sound would have been heard in this deserted region, even if the cataract had not filled the whole air with its roar.

After gazing for ten minutes, Mokoum turned to William Emery, stamping impatiently with his large foot; his penetrating eyes had discovered nothing.

“Supposing your people don't come?” he asked the astronomer.

“They'll come, my brave hunter,” answered William Emery: “they are men of their word, and punctual, like all astronomers. Besides, what fault do you find with them? The letter says they are to arrive at the end of January; this is the 27th, and these gentlemen have still a right to four more days before they need to reach the Morgheda Falls.”

“And supposing they have not come at the end of those four days?” asked the bushman.

“Well! then, master hunter, there will be a chance for us to show our patience, for we will wait for them until I have certain proof that they are not coming at all.”

“By our god Ko!” cried the bushman in a sonorous voice, “you are a man who would wait until the Gariep had emptied all its roaring waters into that abyss!”

“No, hunter, no,” replied Emery in his ever quiet tone; “but we must let reason govern our actions; and what does reason tell us? This:—that if Colonel Everest and his companions, wearied with a tiresome journey, in want perhaps, and lost in this lonely country, were not to find us at the place of rendezvous, we should be to blame in every way. If any thing went wrong, the responsibility would rest on us; we ought, therefore, to stay at our post as long as it is our duty to do so. And besides, we want for nothing here: our waggon is waiting for us at the bottom of the valley, and gives us shelter at night; we have plenty of provisions; nature here is magnificent and worthy of our admiration; and it is quite a new pleasure to me to spend a few days in these splendid forests on the banks of this matchless river. As for you, Mokoum, what can you want more. Game, both hairy and feathered, abounds in the forests, and your rifle keeps us supplied with venison. Hunt, my brave hunter! kill time by killing deer and buffaloes! Go, my good bushman; I'll watch for the loiterers meanwhile, and your feet, at any rate, will run no risk of taking root.”

The hunter thought the astronomer's advice was good, and decided that he would go for a few hours and beat the neighbouring bushes and brushwood. Lions, hyenas, and leopards would not disturb such a Nimrod as he, so well accustomed to the African forests. He whistled to his dog Top, an animal of the hyena breed from the desert of Kalahari, and a descendant of that race of which the Balabas formerly made pointers. The intelligent creature, as impatient, seemingly, as his master, bounded up, and showed by his joyous barking how much he was gratified at the bushman's intention. Soon both man and dog disappeared among the thick masses of wood which crowned the background of the cataract.

William Emery, now alone, again stretched himself at the foot of the willow, and while he was waiting for the heat to send him to sleep, began to think over his actual position. Here he was, far away from any inhabited spot, on the banks of the Orange river, a river as yet but little explored. He was waiting for Europeans, fellow-countrymen who had left their homes to run the risks of a distant expedition. But what was the expedition for? What scientific problem could it want to solve in the deserts of South Africa? What observation could it be trying to take in lat. 30° S.? That was just what Mr. Airy, the director of the Greenwich Observatory, did not tell in his letter. As for Emery himself, they asked for his co-operation as for that of a scientific man who was familiar with the climate of those southern latitudes, and as he was openly engaged in scientific labours, he was quite at the disposal of his colleagues in the United Kingdom.

As the young astronomer lay musing over all these things, and asking himself a thousand questions which he could not answer, his eyelids became heavy, and at length he slept soundly. When he awoke, the sun was already hidden behind the western hills, whose picturesque outline stood out sharply against the bright horizon. Some gnawings of hunger told him that supper-time was near; it was, in fact, six o'clock, and just the hour for returning to the waggon at the bottom of the valley.

At that very moment a report resounded from a grove of arborescent heaths, from twelve to fifteen feet high, which was growing along the slope of the hills on the right. Almost immediately the bushman and Top made their appearance at the edge of the wood, the former dragging behind him the animal that he had just shot.

“Come, come, master purveyor!” cried Emery, “what have you got for supper?”

“A springbok, Mr. William,” replied the hunter, throwing down an animal with horns curved like a lyre.

It was a kind of antelope, more generally known by the name of “leaping buck,” and which is to be met with in every part of South Africa. It is a charming animal, with its cinnamon-coloured back, and its croup covered with tufts of silky hair of a dazzling whiteness, whilst its under part is in shades of chestnut brown; its flesh, always excellent eating, was on this occasion to form the evening repast.

The hunter and the astronomer, lifting the beast by means of a pole placed across their shoulders, now left the head of the cataract, and in half an hour reached their encampment in a narrow gorge of the valley, where the waggon, guarded by two Bochjesman drivers, was waiting for them.

Chapter II. Official Presentations.

Forthe next three days, the 28th, 29th, and 30th of January, Mokoum and William Emery never left the place of rendezvous. While the bushman, carried away by his hunting instincts, pursued the game and deer in the wooded district lying near the cataract, the young astronomer watched the river. The sight of this grand, wild nature enchanted him, and filled his soul with new emotions. Accustomed as he was to bend over his figures and catalogues day and night, hardly ever leaving the eye-piece of his telescope, watching the passage of stars across the meridian and their occupations, he delighted in the open-air life in the almost impenetrable woods which covered the slope of the hills, and on the lonely peaks that were sprinkled by the spray from the Morgheda as with a damp dust. It was joy to him to take in the poetry of these vast solitudes, and to refresh his mind, so wearied with his mathematical speculations; and so he beguiled the tediousness of his waiting, and became a new man, both in mind and body. Thus did the novelty of his situation explain his unvarying patience, which the bushman could not share in the least; so there were continually on the part of Mokoum the same recriminations, and on the part of Emery the same quiet answers, which, however, did not quiet the nervous hunter in the smallest degree.

And now the 31st of January had come, the last day fixed in Airy's letter. If the expected party did not then arrive, Emery would be in a very embarrassing position; the delay might be indefinitely prolonged. How long, then, ought he to wait?

“Mr. William,” said the hunter, “why shouldn't we go to meet these strangers? We cannot miss them; there is only one road, that by the river, and if they are coming up, as your bit of paper says they are, we are sure to meet them.”

“That is a capital idea of yours, Mokoum,” replied the astronomer: “we will go on and look out below the falls. We can get back to the encampment by the side valleys in the south. But tell me, my good bushman, you know nearly the whole course of the river, do you not?”

“Yes, sir,” answered the hunter, “I have ascended it twice from Cape Voltas to its juncture with the Hart on the frontier of the Transvaal Republic.”

“And it is navigable all the way, except at the Falls of Morgheda?”

“Just so, sir,” replied the bushman. “But I should add that at the end of the dry season the Orange has not much water till within five or six miles of its mouth; there is then a bar, where the swell from the west breaks very violently.”

“That doesn't matter,” answered the astronomer, “because at the time that our friends want to land it will be all right. There is nothing then to keep them back, so they will come.”

The bushman said nothing, but shouldering his gun, and whistling to Top, he led the way down the narrow path which met the river again 400 feet lower.

It was then nine o'clock in the morning, and the two explorers (for such they might truly be called) followed the river by its left bank. Their way did not offer the smooth and easy surface of an embankment or towing-path, for the river-banks were covered with brushwood, and quite hidden in a bower of every variety of plants; and the festoons of the “cynauchum filiform,” mentioned by Burchell, hanging from tree to tree, formed quite a network of verdure in their path; the bushman's knife, however, did not long remain inactive, and he cut down the obstructive branches without mercy. William Emery drank in the fragrant air, here especially impregnated with the camphor-like odour of the countless blooms of the diosma. Happily there were sometimes more open places along the bank devoid of vegetation, where the river flowed quietly, and abounded in fish, and these enabled the hunter and his companion to make better progress westward, so that by eleven o'clock they had gone about four miles.

The wind being in the west, the roar of the cataract could not be heard at that distance, but on the other hand, all sounds below the falls were very distinct.

William Emery and the hunter, as they stood, could see straight down the river for three or four miles. Chalk cliffs, 200 feet high, overhung and shut in its bed on either side.

“Let us stop and rest here,” said the astronomer; “I haven't your hunter's legs, Mokoum, and am more used to the starry paths of the heavens than to those on terra firma; so let us have a rest; we can see three or four miles down the river from here, and if the steamer should turn that last bend we are sure to see it.”

The young astronomer seated himself against a giant euphorbia, forty feet high, and in that position looked down the river, while the hunter, little used to sitting, continued to walk along the bank, and Top roused up clouds of wild birds, to which, however, his master gave no heed.

They had been here about half an hour, when William Emery noticed that Mokoum, who was standing about 100 feet below him, gave signs of a closer attention. Was it likely that he had seen the long-expected boat?

The astronomer, leaving his mossy couch, started for the spot where the hunter stood, and came up to him in a very few moments.

“Do you see any thing, Mokoum?” he asked.

“I ”see” nothing, Mr. William,” answered the bushman, “but it seems to me that there is an unusual murmur down the river, different to the natural sounds that are so familiar to my ears.”

And then, telling his companion to be quiet, he lay down with his ear on the ground, and listened attentively.

In a few minutes he got up, and shaking his head, said,—

“I was mistaken; the noise I thought I heard was nothing but the breeze among the leaves or the murmur of the water over the stones at the edge; and yet—”

The hunter listened again, but again heard nothing.

“Mokoum,” then said Mr. William Emery, “if the noise you thought you heard is caused by the machinery of a steamboat, you would hear better by stooping to the level of the river; water always conducts sound more clearly and quickly than air.”

“You are right, Mr. William,” answered Mokoum, “for more than once I have found out the passage of a hippopotamus across the river in that way.”

The bushman went nimbly down the bank, clinging to the creepers and tufts of grass on his way. When he got to the level of the river, he went in to his knees, and stooping down, laid his ear close to the water.

“Yes!” he exclaimed, in a few minutes, “I was not mistaken; there is a sound, some miles down, as if the waters were being violently beaten; it is a continual monotonous splashing which is introduced into the current.”

“Is it like a screw?” asked the astronomer.

“Perhaps it is, Mr. Emery; they are not far off.”

William Emery did not hesitate to believe his companion's assertion, for he knew that the hunter was endowed with great delicacy of sense, whether he used his eyes, nose, or ears. Mokoum climbed up the bank again, and they determined to wait in that place, as they could easily see down the river from there.

Half an hour passed, which to Emery, in spite of his calmness, appeared interminable. Ever so many times he fancied he saw the dim outline of a boat gliding along the water, but he was always mistaken. At last an exclamation from the bushman made his heart leap.

“Smoke!” cried Mokoum.

Looking in the direction indicated by the bushman, Emery could just see a light streak rolling round the bend of the river: there was no longer any doubt.

The vessel advanced rapidly, and he could soon make out the funnel pouring forth a torrent of black smoke mingling with white steam. They had evidently made up their fires to increase their speed, so as to reach the appointed place on the exact day. The vessel was still about seven miles from the Falls of Morgheda.

It was then twelve o'clock, and as it was not a good place for landing, the astronomer determined to return to the foot of the cataract: he told his plan to the hunter, who only answered by turning back along the path he had just cleared along the left bank of the stream. Emery followed, and, turning round for the last time at a bend in the river, saw the British flag floating from the stern of the vessel.

The return to the falls was soon effected, and in an hour's time the bushman and the astronomer halted a quarter of a mile below the cataract; for there the shore, hollowed into a semicircle, formed a little creek, and as the water was deep right up to the bank, the steamboat could easily land its passengers.