Page:Yule Logs.djvu/385

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but you may guess something of what it was when I tell you that at last I actually longed for death to come to my relief, although I was well aware that the death for which I longed was to be one of fiery torment!

At length, when the sun had declined to within about two hours of his setting, a gang of some fifty negroes appeared, each bearing either a heavy log or a large bundle of brushwood upon his shoulder, which they forthwith began to arrange in a wide circle round the tree to which I was bound. These fellows were speedily followed by others similarly burdened, so that within half-an-hour I was hemmed in by a compact wall of logs and brushwood standing about breast-high. I needed no explanation of these sinister preparations; but, that I might be left in no possible doubt, Lenoir made his appearance outside the barrier, over which he shouted the intelligence that some time that night it would be fired, and, when well ablaze, would be gradually pushed forward, so that I might be slowly roasted to death!

The heat that afternoon was positively frightful, for the wind died away to a breathless calm, and while the savages were building my funeral pyre, I noticed the upper edge of a great bank of purple-grey cloud soaring gradually into the western heavens, and spreading as it soared, the sure precursor of one of those terrific thunder-storms to which the Congo district is subject at certain periods of the year; so that, as I reflected dismally, I was likely to go to my fiery doom in a sufficiently picturesque and dramatic manner. When the sun at length plunged behind this livid curtain, the latter had spread in a crescent shape until a full quarter of the firmament was obscured, and I observed that it was rising and spreading with great rapidity.

The darkness gathered early that night, and as it did so the savages provided themselves with torches, gathering in such vast numbers round the circle of combustibles