The Strand Magazine/Volume 3/Issue 13/The Herald of the Dawn

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4049355The Strand Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 13 — The Herald of the DawnJ. R. Werner

The Herald of the Dawn.

By J. R. Werner.

Mr. J. R. Werner
[From a Photograph taken in Africa in 1888.]

Mr. J. R. Werner
[From a Photograph by J. A. Flemour, Tunbridge.]

[Mr. John Reinhardt Werner, the writer of the following story, died at Elmina, on the Gold Coast of Africa, on August 16 last, at the early age of twenty-nine, just as he was rising into fame not only as an African explorer, but as an author of much skill and graphic power. He was known chiefly for his explorations in the region of the Congo, and for his book, which appeared two years ago entitled "A Visit to Stanley's Rear Guard," which describes his travels on the Congo and his visit to the camp on the Aruwimi, where Major Barttelot and his companions were waiting wearily for news and succour from their chief. Mr. Werner's father was a German, who was naturalised in England, and who died at Tunbridge, where the boy received his education. He was brought up as an engineer, and at twenty-four entered the service of the Congo Free State, and made numerous journeys up and down the river, during one of which he explored the Ngala, till then an unknown tributary. He made a second visit to the West Coast last summer, but had not long landed when he fell a victim to pneumonia. "The Herald of the Dawn" was among the last things which he wrote, and is, in all essential particulars, a most interesting record of his own experience.]

"I WISH you'd give me something from the Congo, something with a history to it."

"Well, I'm afraid I have nothing much left to give you—certainly nothing with a history."

"Where is that little red stone you had in the spring?"


"Why, the one you had polished—the bit of red quartz with the gold in it."

"The one I called the fetish stone?"


"Oh! that I had mounted, and gave away shortly after the Albert Hall reception. There was no gold in it, though it looked like it; it was only iron pyrites, I believe. Even if it had been gold it would have proved nothing, as it was worn to a pebble, and might have travelled thousands of miles—even from Katanga—before I picked it up. Before the reception, half London was wild to get tickets, outsiders offering from £3 to £10 for them, while no one who had them would part with them for any sum. After the reception all London seemed to go Stanley mad. Men whom I barely knew would come and ask me for some souvenir from the Congo; others would come to my rooms, and walk away with any little thing they could lay their hands on, if they thought it came from Africa; so, at last, I collected all the small things I had about, and gave them away to friends to prevent their being pirated by mere acquaintances."

"You went to the Albert Hall reception?"

"Yes; and I hardly expect to see such a sight again in my lifetime. The huge building was full to the very roof. You were somewhat disappointed with Stanley in Philadelphia; naturally he had rather tamed off. You could not expect him to keep up for six months the enthusiasm of his first addresses. Then think what it must have been to him to walk up that great hall, the cynosure of eight thousand pairs of eyes. He followed the Prince of Wales up to the platform, and then, for the first time, I got a chance to study the man about whom all London was raving. As he stood there responding to that princely welcome, my thoughts flew far back to three lonely graves in Africa's palm-clad soil; and, as he read on, I gazed round and round that vast hall, filled with the flower of London society, till a mist came before my eyes. The Prince and Stanley, the lights, the diamonds, and that sea of faces faded away, and in their place seemed the pitiless African sun shining down on the endless panorama of forested river banks, the palmy plains of Langa Langa, the grassy flats of Lomami, and the mighty reaches of the Congo. Again I seemed to hear the war-cry of the Houssas, the rush of water, and the rattle of musketry, with the sharp cracks of the Martinis, answered by the deeper bang of the Arabs' flint locks and muzzle-loaders. It was my first time under fire, and I am afraid that if I had had leisure to analyse my feelings as the slugs began to whistle round us, I should have to acknowledge that I was in a blue funk. But I was kept too busy, till the glamour of fighting was on me, and then I found myself picking out Arabs to aim at, and using my rifle with what now seems to me to have been fiendish deliberation. I thought no more of the slugs, but only of Deane and poor Dubois.[1] We never found out the actual loss of the Arabs, but I feel sure Dubois was well avenged that day. If anything had been wanting to steady my nerves, I had only to glance down at Deane, reduced to a bag of skin and bones, on a rude bed—his head supported on his left hand, while he held a revolver in his right—and in his eyes the light of courage and resolution, which thirty days' starvation and misery in the bush had not been able to quench. Of all that galaxy of beauty, wealth, and fashion, few could realise as I could what the relief of Emin Pasha had really cost, and what Stanley and his companions had gone through."

"I found myself picking out Arabs."

"But I want to know the history of that pebble. Was it at this fight you picked it up?"

"No, it was nearly two years later, at Stanley Falls. Jameson had just come back from Kassongo with Tippoo Tib; and he and Barttelot had left for Yangambi with the 400 carriers whom they were going to march overland from that place to Yambuya. I was to follow a few days later with my chief, and Tippoo Tib was to accompany us. I was down with fever the day Barttelot left, and did not shake it off till several days afterwards. Towards evening on the third day I received a message from the chief, asking me to come up to the hut where he was living as he had important instructions to give me. On going up to the Arab house which he used as his headquarters, I learnt that he had had some row with Tippoo Tib about the limits of the latter's territory. What had actually happened I never heard, and could only gather, from the reports of the men who had been present, that the Belgian had folded his arms across his chest and told the Arab chief he would not allow him to enter the territory of Bangala; and that Tippoo in reply had merely pointed to the canoes that had brought the white man over to the south and ejaculated, 'Inshallah! enda zako!'

"Inshallah! Enda zako!"

"Whatever the row had been, the chief was greatly alarmed, and ordered me to get everything ready in case the Arabs attacked us that night. Most of the stores were on shore, and it would have been hopeless to convey them to the boat without attracting the attention of the Arabs; but, as soon as it was dark, the greater part of the ammunition and provisions were carried down, and got safely on board the launch, before, the dark clouds drifting from the moon, a flood of silvery light poured over all the land. The boat was lying well away from all forest and bush, so there was very little danger of attack until the moon set, between twelve and one—and this gave me plenty of time to carry out the chief's orders. I felt sick and giddy, and the fever burned like hell fire; but seldom have I worked as I did that night. The majority of the Houssas were to remain on shore with the chief. I was to have six in the launch with me, besides my boy—two to work the engines in case of need, and four to do sentry-go. The usual allowance was two, but that night I was to set a double watch—one man on the sun-deck of the steamer, and one on shore, close to where the anchor lay, in order that he might lose no time in carrying it on board if necessary.

"My orders were to have everything in readiness to get up steam in case of need, load every gun and rifle on board, and keep a good watch, doing sentry myself, as soon as the moon was down, till daylight. As the chief considered it of the first importance that the Arabs should not capture the steamer, he gave me for sentries four Houssas who had been on night duty for some time, and had been given the whole day for sleep. In case of attack, I was, on the first alarm, to push out into deep water, and light the fire, keeping as near the shore as I could, with all my guns ready to cover the retreat of the chief and his men. As soon as they were safe aboard, we were to pole out into the current, and drift down until steam was up. Should the steamer be the first point of attack, I was to push out into the middle of the stream, and, possible, wait there until the chief and men joined me, either in canoes or by swimming; but I was on no account to risk the capture of the steamer by the Arabs—not even in an attempt to save the chief. If I could not beat off the enemy, or should the chief be killed, I was to steam off down river. In the event of my being surrounded and unable to escape, I was to proclaim a sauve qui peut, and sink the steamer in the deep swirl that spun over from the bluff on the south shore two miles below the Fall.

"Aided by the full light of the tropic moon, then some nine days old, I cleared the poor little launch for action. As silently as possible, we loosed the lids of cartridge cases, loaded guns, and pulled up ramparts of bales and boxes. Swinging the boat round till the moon shone full on the gauge glass, I ran the water into the boiler, and laid the fire. All being ready, the launch was warped down some ten yards to where a shelf of rock sloped sheer off into deep water; so that, as she lay, she had only two feet on the shore side, and about eight feet on the other. I had kept the men on the dark side of the steamer, where the sun-deck cast a deep shadow; so that, from a distance, only the sentry standing up above was visible.

"Everything was now finished, but the arrangements for sinking the boat in case of need, and of these the men must be kept in ignorance. The fireman and greaser lay down in the stoke-hole with a can of paraffine for a pillow, and cotton-waste, matches, &c., close at hand. Two other men and the boy tied themselves into a knot under an old blanket in the fore part of the launch. One sentry was posted on shore, by the anchor, and the other remained on the sun-deck above.

"As soon as I was alone in the stern of the boat, I lifted the centre floor-boards, and piled them on one side. From underneath I drew up a sledge-hammer and a small anvil. Selecting a plate on an outside strake,[2] I arranged the floor-boards so as to leave it clear, and laid the hammer and anvil close beside it. The anvil was about as much as I could lift, and I shuddered as I thought of the fierce struggle with the dark waters, should I find it necessary to heave it through the ⅛-inch plates of the poor little launch. The hammer was laid ready, in case the anvil did no more than spring the rivets.

"I lifted the centre floor-boards."

"The mosquitos were fearful; so, having done everything I could possibly think of, by way of preparing to give the Arabs 'pertikler perdition,' should they come to court it, I tied up a mosquito net and lay down on the bales and boxes beneath it, to follow the famous example of Mr. Micawber. I had hitherto been too busy to notice the sentries; but, knowing the nature of the beast, I now turned my gaze in the direction of the man on shore. To my horror, I observed that he was evidently asleep in a position that only a black man could possibly invent. His legs were wide apart, both his hands were laid over the muzzle of his loaded Snider, and across his hands was stretched his lanky throat. Had that gun gone off, the ball would have passed through both hands, into his throat, and out at the crown of his head.

"He was evidently asleep."

"'Bacolli!' I called in muffled tones, fearful of waking him too suddenly. No answer.

"'Momo!' No answer. 'That other brute is asleep, too,' I exclaimed; and sure enough, on looking up on the sun-deck, I found Momo doubled up with his rifle lying beside him. Jumping ashore, I approached Bacolli.

"When a nigger goes to sleep, he does sleep—danger or no danger; but, should he be suddenly aroused, in the former case he will let off his gun in any direction in which the weapon may be pointing, and take to his heels. I felt carefully for the hammer of the Snider, and breathed more freely as I found it only at half cock. I shook him, and shouted at him as loud as I dared, gazing fearfully round the while, and fancying an Arab in every shadow. All to no purpose. Bacolli evidently did not sleep by half measure. This would never do; so, putting my foot against the stock of his Snider, I grasped it near the muzzle. A jerk put me in possession of the gun, and sent Bacolli rolling among the rocks. Up like a shot, he was just on the point of bolting in a panic, when a sacré cochon from me reassured him, and he stood still saluting.

"What the ——— you go for sleep?' I asked. 'You want Manyema come chop you one time!'

"'Master, I no go for sleep.'

"Suppressing a strong desire to kick him for a liar, I merely said:

"Then go wake Momo one time, go catch him gun first, and no make row; if them gun go off ———' and I held up my revolver to let him know what he might expect if he brought the Arabs down on us. Climbing up on the sun-deck, he handed me down Momo's gun, and then, after five minutes' hard punching, succeeded in waking him, just managing to prevent his going overboard in a senseless panic.

"Giving them back their guns, I let them resume their watch; but, oh! it was weary work keeping those men awake. Did I leave them for five minutes down would go their heads, and no amount of threats of present danger or punishment to come produced any effect. The moon was sinking towards the west; in less than two hours it would be pitch dark, after which I would have to keep watch myself as well as the Houssas. There was evidently no means of keeping Bacolli and Momo awake till midnight; it was clear they had not been sleeping during the day as they should have done. I dared not go to sleep and trust to their promises of keeping awake; and if I did not get some sleep now, I should have hard work to keep myself awake during the long five hours of darkness between set of moon and rise of sun, when I should have to strain all my senses to the utmost. Perhaps Isaac and Salacco would be better; they had now had two hours' sleep, and could surely keep awake till moondown, when they could call me, and I would relieve them with Momo and Bacolli.

"'Momo, you go one time catch Isaac and Salacco—you no good, to-morrow you go catch plenty chicot.'

"For the first time that night Momo moved with something like energy, but it was some time before he succeeded in rousing the relief.

"When they at last came on shore I told them I had shortened the watches to two hours, and promised rewards if they kept awake, and dire punishments if they went to sleep. Sending Isaac, a big, hulking Fantee, 6 ft. 2 in., and broad in proportion, up to the sun-deck, I stationed Salacco by the anchor, and lay wearily down under the mosquito net to try and snatch a little sleep.

"Isaac being on the sun-deck overhead, was, of course, out of my sight. I could only judge that he was awake by the uneasy shuffling of his feet, and the low grinding of his gunstock on the deck. Some twenty minutes passed, and then I suddenly started out of a restless doze, and looked through the mosquito curtain at Salacco. As I gazed he slowly folded his arms round his gun and sank into a squatting position, the rifle standing upright between his arms and knees. Instantly I jumped ashore, and, as he had not had time to get into a sound sleep, I soon roused him up.

"'What for you go sleep? I demanded, angrily; 'you want Manyema come chop you one time?'

"'Master, me no sleep.'

"'You no sleep! You no see me come till I catch you.'

"'Master, ear no sleep. Manyema come, me hear him, me shoot one time.'

"'Shoot one time be hanged! I no want you shoot, you keep awake; if you see Manyema, you tell me.'

"I soon roused him up."

"The moon was now getting low, and casting long shadows across the stream. Isaac, at any rate, appeared to be awake, so I again crawled under the mosquito net. I dozed, half asleep, half awake, for some time, till at last I felt as if I could not keep my eyes open any longer; not even to save my life. With a terrible effort I raised myself to have a last look at the sentries, and black rage swept over me as I again saw Salacco squatted down round his gun, with his head between his knees. Picking up a hippo-hide chicot, I went ashore and walked up to him.

"'Salacco!' No answer. Holding the muzzle of his gun so that the shot would fly clear if it went off, I raised the chicot, and gave him a cut across the shoulders. A white man would instantly have jumped up with a yell; but when a nigger gets properly to sleep you can almost cut steaks out of him before waking him. It took several seconds for the smart of the blow to penetrate sufficiently into Salacco's thick hide to wake him; and then, thinking the Manyema had got hold of him, and were beginning to slice him up for the pot, he jumped up, let go his gun, and rushed off as if Old Nick was after him, never stopping till he was quite close to the bush some 300 yards off. Had the Arabs sprung out of the deep shade and killed him there and then, I do not think I should at that instant have felt sorry. It would have ended the misery of that awful night, and I shuddered at the thought of the long hours I should have to watch and listen in the dark, from moonset to dawn, feverish and deadly sick as I then felt. Could inward curses have blasted, what a fate would have been in store for those four Houssas, not one of whom could be trusted to keep awake for half an hour while the moonlight lasted! How I should have gone for those Arabs had they attacked us then! What a relief it would have been to have emptied my six-shooter into half a dozen Manyema. As it was, there was nothing for it but to suppress my pent-up wrath as best I could; though between sickness and rage my head felt as if it would burst. Salacco, finding no yelling cannibals at his heels, stopped in the deep shadow of the forest verge, and looked back. Seeing no danger, he slowly returned, rubbing his shoulders where the chicot had struck him, and sorely puzzled as to the cause of the pain, not having seen the lash in my hand.

"He rushed off as if Old Nick were after him."

"'O master, I die ———,' he began as he approached.

"'Die, be ———,' I exclaimed. 'That's what make you die,' shaking the chicot at him. 'To-morrow you plenty die if you sleep like Washensi.'[3]

"'Me no sleep; Manyema come, me wake one time."

"'One time to blazes! Manyema come chop you one time, you go for wake inside Manyema belly, you no look for catch Mahommed's houris there!'

"'Master, I make good watch now.'

"Turning towards the launch, I noticed Isaac standing up on the sundeck, his legs apart, and his head resting on his hands over the muzzle of his gun. 'How the deuce can I wake that brute without an accident', I wondered, as I clambered on board. A kind providence solved the problem for me. As I stepped on the gunwale of the launch and grasped the coaming of the sun-deck, she rocked slightly, Isaac's balance was destroyed, stiff as a log he fell over, and dropped head first into the deep water on the off side. I had just time to grab his rifle before he fell. The splash sounded awful. 'Great Scott! if the Arabs are watching us, they will get a pretty good idea of what is going on, and come for us right away!' I thought, and hung on where I was, listening intently, and straining my eyes all round; but nothing could I see, and nothing hear, save the roar of the falls, the humming of insects, and the sputterings and splashings of Isaac as Salacco helped him out of the water. Luckily he had swallowed too much mud to be able to yell when he came to the surface.

"After this I gave it up. Mounting the sun-deck I told one of the men to hand me up a camp stool, and sat down to do sentry myself. The moon was nearing the tops of the forest trees, and the dark shadows were gradually stretching farther and farther across the water. The Arab settlement across the river would soon be wrapped in the black robes of utter darkness, and then our only safety lay in listening, sheer listening. The launch was moored just below a long reef of rocks which stretched a third of the distance across the river, and protected her from the fierce swirl of the rapids. The water being low, these rocks were quite dry, and I took particular notice of the outer extremity of the reef as long as there was any light. When the moon sank behind the dark forest wall, I left the boat and felt my way carefully along to the far end of the reef, to see if it was possible for canoes to approach its upper side. Satisfied on this point, I returned to my post.

"Minutes crawled into long hours, clouds came up overhead and hid the stars, several times I started up in false alarm as I thought I heard the grating of a canoe against the rocky shore, the splashing of a paddle, or a rustle among the grass on the bank. The struggle against sleep was fearful. How I did envy those niggers doubled up over their guns, for I let them sleep on, thinking it safer than the noise I should make continually waking them. It was terribly dark—not a star was visible. How long those hours did seem! At last the clouds began to break, the buzz of tropic insect life became hushed, and only the never-ending diapason of the cataract sounded through the silence that precedes the dawn.

"I stood at the far end."

"Weary and stiff, I clambered ashore, felt my way silently along the reef of rock, till I stood at the far end, straining eyes and ears to their utmost. Round the end of the reef the rapid tore and whirled with an eddying rush that beat up the water into white foam. It made too much noise for me just then, so I moved slowly back along the upper edge of the reef till I came to a small hollow in the rock, into which the wavelets beat over a low ledge of smooth stone. The rapid surged against the reef with considerable force, throwing up débris of all sorts. As I paused by this rocky hollow,[4] the swirl of waters dashed up a small pebble, which spun into it. I stooped to see what it was, and picked up this herald of the dawn; for, as I again raised myself and looked towards the east, over the forest- clothed island of Wana Rukuru broke the first signs of the welcome day.


"No, we were not attacked. As soon as I was sure that the dawn was breaking I kicked up the men and let down the canvas curtains of the launch, to hide her warlike appearance. If a nigger sleeps soundly at night, he rises with the dawn, and, as soon as I had seen them all (except the sentries) squatted round fires cooking their breakfast, I lay down and slept till the chief sent for me. Tippoo sent a message over early in the morning, and matters were arranged somehow. I have no doubt that, had a row occurred, the Arabs would have attacked Yambuya camp next. I was devoutly thankful things passed off as they did. Could I have done anything to save the white men at the Aruwimi camp? Well, not much. It is certain as fate the chief would have been cut to pieces before he could have fought his way to the steamer, he had about three-quarters of a mile to go, and his white face would have been a mark for every Arab gun. Some of the Houssas might have escaped, being black and dressed like the Arabs. The lower Aruwimi was then still free from Tippoo's raiders, and, had I succeeded in reaching its mouth with men enough to work the launch, I should certainly have tried to reach the camp by night. But there were about 800 loads in that camp. I could only carry some 200 in the launch, and Barttelot was the sort of man who would have let himself be cut up bit by bit like a tarantula, before he would have deserted his post.

"That is the history of that pebble. I have often wondered since what Stanley's feelings would have been, had he known in the midst of the dark forest that a disaster to his rear column, worse even than the fate that overtook it, hung for sixteen hours in the balance, between an Arab's ambition and a Belgian subaltern's pride."

  1. Lt. Dubois, who was drowned while trying to escape with Deane when Stanley Falls station was lost.
  2. The lines of plates in a ship's hull are called strakes. An outside strake is one whose edges overlap the strakes on either side of it.
  3. Bush native or Bushman.
  4. These hollows are very curious, some of them being perfect circles in shape. They are formed by a large piece of stone getting one of its corners caught in a small hole. Being too heavy to be lifted out by the current, it forms a sort of whirlpool, which works it round and round like a large drill till it wears a deep hollow. Some of these hollows are over two feet in diameter. How many ages they must have taken to form!