Chapter XXII. A Hurricane in the Jungle
 

On and on went the expedition. In the past many small towns and villages had been visited where there were more or less white people; but now they reached a territory where the blacks held full sway, with -- but this was rarely -- a Christian missionary among them.

At all of the places which were visited Cujo inquired about King Susko and his people, and at last learned that the African had passed to the southeast along the Kassai River, driving before him several hundred head of cattle which he had picked up here and there.

"Him steal dat cattle," explained Cujo, "but him don't say dat stealin', him say um -- um -"

"A tax on the people?" suggested Dick.

"Yes, um tax. But him big Vief."

"He must be, unless he gives the people some benefit for the tax they are forced to pay," said Tom.

At one of the villages they leaned that there was another American Party in that territory, one sent out by an Eastern college to collect specimens of the flora of central Africa. It was said that the party consisted of an elderly man and half a dozen young fellows.

"I wouldn't mind meeting that crowd," said Sam. "They might brighten up things a bit."

"Never mind; things will pick up when once we meet King Susko," said Dick. "But I would like to know where the crowd is from and who is in it."

"It's not likely we would know them if they are from the East," said Sam. "Probably they hail from Yale or Harvard."

Two days later the storm which Cujo had predicted for some time caught them while they were in the midst of an immense forest of teak and rosewood. It was the middle of the afternoon, yet the sky became as black as night, while from a distance came the low rumble of thunder. There was a wind rushing high up in the air, but as yet this had not come down any further than the treetops. The birds of the jungle took up the alarm and filled the forest with their discordant cries, and even the monkeys, which were now numerous, sit up a jabber which would have been highly trying to the nerves of a nervous person.

"Yes, we catch um," said Cujo, in reply to Dick's question. "Me look for safe place too stay."

"You think the storm will be a heavy one?" asked Randolph Rover anxiously.

"Werry heavy, massah; werry heavy," returned Cujo. "Come wid me, all ob you," and he set off on a run.

All followed as quickly as they could, and soon found themselves under a high mass of rocks overlooking the Kassai River. They had hardly gained the shelter when the storm burst over their heads in all of its wild fury.

"My, but this beats anything that I ever saw before!" cried Sam, as the wind began to rush by them with ever-increasing velocity.

"Him blow big by-me-by," said Cujo with a sober face. "Him big storm, dis."

"The air was full of a moanin' sound," to use Aleck's way of expressing it. It came from a great distance and caused the monkeys and birds to set up more of a noise than ever. The trees were now swaying violently, and presently from a distance came a crack like that of a big pistol.

"Was that a tree went down?" asked Randolph Rover, and Cujo nodded. "It is a good thing, then, that we got out of the forest."

"Big woods werry dangerous in heap storm like dis," answered the African. "Tree come down, maybe kill um. Hark! now um comin'!"

He crouched down between two of the largest rocks and instinctively the others followed suit. The "moanin" increased until, with a roar and a rush, a regular tropical hurricane was upon them. The blackness of the atmosphere was filled with flying tree branches and scattered vines, while the birds, large and small, swept past like chips on a swiftly flowing river, powerless to save themselves in those fierce gusts.

"Keep down, for your lives!" shouted Randolph Rover; but the roar of the elements drowned out his voice completely. However, nobody thought of rising, and the tree limbs and vines passed harmlessly over their heads.

The first rush of wind over, the rain began, to fall, at first in drops as big as a quarter-dollar and then in a deluge which speedily converted the hollows among the rocks into deep pools and soaked everybody to his very skin. Soon the water was up to their knees and pouring down into the river like a regular cataract.

"This is a soaker and no mistake," said Sam, during a brief lull in the downpour. "Why, I never saw so much water come down in my life."

"It's a hurricane," answered Randolph Rover, "It may keep on --"

He got no further, for at that instant a blinding flash of lightning caused everybody to jump in alarm. Then came an ear-splitting crack of thunder and up the river they saw a magnificent baobab tree, which had reared its stately head over a hundred feet high from the ground, come crashing down, split in twain as by a Titan's ax. The blackened stump was left standing, and soon -- this burst into flames, to blaze away until another downpour of rain put out the conflagration.

"My, but that dun been awful!" murmured Aleck with a shiver. "Ise glad we didn't take no shelter under dat tree."

"Amen," said Tom. He had been on the point of making some joke about the storm, but now the fun was knocked completely out of him.

It rained for the rest of the day and all of the night, and for once all hands felt thoroughly, miserable. Several times they essayed to start a fire, by which to dry themselves and make something hot to drink, but each time the rain put out the blaze. What they had to eat was not only cold, but more or less water- soaked, and it was not until the next noon that they managed to cook a meal.

When at last the sun did come out, however, it shone, so Sam put it, "with a vengeance." There was not a cloud left, and the direct rays of the great orb of day caused a rapid evaporation of the rain, so that the ground seemed to be covered with a sort of mist. On every side could be seen the effects of the hurricane- broken trees, washed-out places along the river, and dead birds and small animals, including countless monkeys. The monkeys made the boys' hearts ache, especially one big female, that was found tightly clasping two little baby monkeys to her breast.

The storm had swollen the river to such an extent that they were forced to leave the beaten track Cujo had been pursuing and take to another trail which reached out to the southward. Here they passed a small village occupied entirely by negroes, and Cujo learned from them that King Susko had passed that way but five days before. He had had no cattle with him, the majority of his followers having taken another route. It was thought by some of the natives that King Susko was bound for a mountain known as the Hakiwaupi -- or Ghost-of-Gold.

"The Ghost-of-Gold!" repeated Dick. "Can that be the mountain father was searching for when he came to Africa?"

Inquiries from Cujo elicited the information that the mountain mentioned was located about one hundred miles away, in the center of an immense plain. It was said to be full of gold, but likewise haunted by the ghost of a departed warrior known to the natives as Gnu-ho-mumoli -- Man-of-the-Gnu-eye.

"I reckon that ghost story, was started, by somebody who wanted, to keep the wealth of che mountain to himself," observed Tom. "I don't believe in ghosts, do you, Cujo?"

The tall African shrugged his ebony shoulders, "Maybe no ghost -- but if dare is, no want to see 'um," he said laconically. Nevertheless he did not object to leading them in the direction of the supposedly haunted mountain.

So far the natives had been more or less friendly, but now those that were met said but little to Cujo, while scowls at the whites were frequent. It was learned that the college party from the East was in the vicinity.

"Perhaps they did something to offend the natives," observed Randolph Rover. "As you can see, they are simple and childlike in their ways, and as quickly offended on one hand as they are pleased on the other. All of you must be careful in your treatment of them, otherwise we may get into serious trouble."