Read CHAPTER XXXVIII - Captain Becker loses a wager of The River of Darkness Under Africa , free online book, by William Murray Graydon, on

“No, no, gentlemen. I respectfully beg leave to differ with you. Africa never gives up her white slaves.”

Captain Lucius Becker emphasized his words by bringing his fist down heavily on the frail table before him, and replacing his meerschaum between his lips, he glared defiantly at his two companions.

It was a hot and sultry afternoon in March ­such a March as only tropical Africa knows ­and the place was the German military station of New Potsdam, on the left bank of the river Juba, a few miles from its mouth, in eastern Africa.

On the broad bosom of the river the sun was beating fiercely, and the mangrove jungles and lofty palm trees drooped motionless in the dead calm. Upon the flat roof of the little station, however, the refining touches of civilization had done much to mitigate the severity and discomfort of the heat. An awning of snowy canvas, shaded by the projecting clusters of a group of palms, made a cool and grateful shelter, and under this the three officers had been dining.

Captain Lucius Becker continued to blow out great clouds of white smoke as though he had completely squelched all further argument on the subject under discussion.

The silence was broken at last by Dr. Moebius Goldbeck.

“My dear captain,” he said, in slow, measured tones, as he adjusted his eyeglass, “I cannot agree with you. Africa has passed through many changes of late years. These men will surely be heard from again, and may even be freed eventually.”

“Yes, yes, you are right, doctor; your views are eminently sound,” said Lieutenant Carl von Leyden.

Captain Becker removed his meerschaum from his lips, and shook himself in his chair until his sword clanked on the floor.

“Now listen,” he cried. “These men of whom we speak, the governor of Zaila, the English colonel, the captain of the Aden steamer, and the other two unfortunate Englishmen, not one of these men will ever come out of Africa alive, I will wager a hundred thalers.”

“Done!” cried Lieutenant von Leyden.

“Done!” echoed Dr. Goldbeck.

Hardly had the echoes of their voices died away when the sentry wheeled about hastily and said: “Captain, something comes down the river. It has just rounded the bend. It looks too large for a boat.”

Captain Becker rushed down below, hurried back with a pair of glasses, and took a long survey.

“It is a raft,” he cried, turning to his companions. “Men are lying on it; whether dead or alive I cannot tell. Man a boat at once. The current runs swift, and we will have barely time to reach it.”

The boat was ready almost as soon as they reached the ground, and under the steady movement of four pairs of oars they shot swiftly out on the yellow tide of the Juba.

In silence they approached the drifting object, the boat’s prow cutting sharply the opposing waves.

Now it was twenty yards away ­ten yards ­five-yards ­then the boat bumped gently on the logs and Dr. Goldbeck boarded the raft, followed quickly by his two companions.

“Meln himmel!” he cried. “What can this mean? Six dead bodies! Horrible! horrible!”

He turned pale for a moment. Then, as his professional instinct asserted itself, he knelt beside the motionless forms, and one by one tore the breast covering away and applied his hand to the heart.

“Ach!” he cried joyfully, rising to his feet, “they still live; there still remains a spark of life! To the shore, quick! lose no time, or all will die!”

A rope was speedily hitched to the raft, and the men began to pull lustily for the bank.

“Captain Becker,” exclaimed Lieutenant von Leyden, suddenly smacking his knee, “you are two hundred thalers out of pocket. There lie the lost men now. That is Sir Arthur Ashby with the sandy beard, and the others are no doubt his companions.”

“Tausend donner! that is true!” cried the doctor. “You are right, Carl. It is miraculous!”

Captain Becker smiled grimly, but said nothing.

A severe pull of ten minutes brought the raft to the little wharf, and in the strong arms of the German soldiers the rescued men were borne tenderly into the garrison-house and placed on cots that had been made up in readiness for them.

Never did Dr. Goldbeck have a more arduous task, but with medicine chest at his side, and two able assistants to carry out his instructions, he toiled unceasingly for hours.

Then success crowned his efforts, and the patients came slowly back to consciousness. For nearly a week they hovered between life and death, but finally all were pronounced out of danger except Bildad, who was struggling in a high fever.

At first they knew nothing, could remember nothing, but gradually memory returned, and they realized the full measure of their wonderful escape.

Guy was the first to rally, and Sir Arthur was the last, but ten days after their rescue all were able to sit up, and after that they gained strength rapidly.

The marvelous tale of their adventures was discussed over and over with their new friends ­for most of the Englishmen could speak German ­and from Captain Becker they learned the latest news from Zaila, which was to the effect that the place had been retaken by the English after a brief but desperate struggle. This information had been brought to the station by a German gunboat six weeks before.

Guy was very curious to know how far they had drifted down the Juba before they were rescued, but of course it was impossible to tell.

“It’s my opinion,” said Captain Becker, “that the exit from that underground river is somewhere in the vicinity of the big falls, fifty miles above here. I have heard that there are caverns along the bank from which the water pours furiously.”

“That is probably the place, then,” returned Guy, “for the bushes hung so low that they dragged the canoe from the raft and tore the skin from my face. I have a dim recollection of all that, but I remember nothing more.”

Guy’s companions, however, could not remember even this. The struggle with Bildad was the last tangible recollection. After that all was a blank. Although they had regained a fair share of strength, the awful experiences of the cruise down the underground river had left indelible traces of suffering. Colonel Carrington’s hair had turned white, and even Chutney and Forbes had gray locks sprinkled through their dark ones. Their faces were hollow, their bodies lean and emaciated, and, in fact, they were changed beyond all power of recognition. Contrary to expectation, Bildad was now also convalescent.

As soon as their recovery was assured, Captain Becker had very courteously sent to the chief station on the Durnford River, some miles south of the Juba, to obtain, if possible, a steamer; and one morning, four weeks after their arrival at New Potsdam, a noble vessel steamed up the river and anchored before the station.

It was the German steamer Rhine Castle, and was at the disposal of Sir Arthur, who had assumed the expense of chartering it on behalf of his government.

The commander of the vessel, Captain Wassman, brought a piece of news that made Sir Arthur desperately anxious to get back to Zaila, and very considerably stirred up the rest of the party.

A certain Portuguese, he said, was in high favor at Zaila on account of services rendered in retaking the town from the Arabs and Somalis, and it was rumored that the government intended to bestow upon him an influential post.

“That must be Manuel Torres,” remarked Sir Arthur to Chutney. “Bless me, we’ll make it hot for the scoundrel!”

With many regrets they parted from Captain Becker and his friends, and a few hours after the German flag on the garrison house faded from view the Rhine Castle was beating swiftly up the eastern coast of Africa on her two-thousand-mile trip.