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The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa
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Series: Extraordinary Voyages
Pages (PDF): 151
Publication Date: 1872
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This is the 9th book in the Extraordinary Voyages Series by Jules Verne. Three Russian and three English scientists depart to South Africa to measure the 24th meridian east. As their mission is proceeding, the Crimean War breaks out, and the members of the expedition find themselves citizens of enemy countries.
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On the 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.
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