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Chapter 8

Delcorte and Taylor were now in mis-stream, coming toward
us, and I called to them to keep aloof until I knew whether
the intentions of my captors were friendly or otherwise. My
good men wanted to come on and annihilate the blacks. But
there were upward of a hundred of the latter, all well
armed, and so I commanded Delcarte to keep out of harm's
way, and stay where he was till I needed him.

A young officer called and beckoned to them. But they
refused to come, and so he gave orders that resulted in my
hands being secured at my back, after which the company
marched away, straight toward the east.

I noticed that the men wore spurs, which seemed strange to
me. But when, late in the afternoon, we arrived at their
encampment, I discovered that my captors were cavalrymen.

In the center of a plain stood a log fort, with a block-
house at each of its four corners. As we approached, I saw
a herd of cavalry horses grazing under guard outside the
walls of the post. They were small, stocky horses, but the
telltale saddle galls proclaimed their calling. The flag
flying from a tall staff inside the palisade was one which I
had never before seen nor heard of.

We marched directly into the compound, where the company was
dismissed, with the exception of a guard of four privates,
who escorted me in the wake of the young officer. The
latter led us across a small parade ground, where a battery
of light field guns was parked, and toward a log building,
in front of which rose the flagstaff.

I was escorted within the building into the presence of an
old negro, a fine looking man, with a dignified and military
bearing. He was a colonel, I was to learn later, and to him
I owe the very humane treatment that was accorded me while I
remained his prisoner.

He listened to the report of his junior, and then turned to
question me, but with no better results than the former had
accomplished. Then he summoned an orderly, and gave some
instructions. The soldier saluted, and left the room,
returning in about five minutes with a hairy old white man--
just such a savage, primeval-looking fellow as I had
discovered in the woods the day that Snider had disappeared
with the launch.

The colonel evidently expected to use the fellow as
interpreter, but when the savage addressed me it was in a
language as foreign to me as was that of the blacks. At
last the old officer gave it up, and, shaking his head, gave
instructions for my removal.

From his office I was led to a guardhouse, in which I found
about fifty half-naked whites, clad in the skins of wild
beasts. I tried to converse with them, but not one of them
could understand Pan-American, nor could I make head or tail
of their jargon.

For over a month I remained a prisoner there, working from
morning until night at odd jobs about the headquarters
building of the commanding officer. The other prisoners
worked harder than I did, and I owe my better treatment
solely to the kindliness and discrimination of the old
colonel.

What had become of Victory, of Delcarte, of Taylor I could
not know; nor did it seem likely that I should ever learn.
I was most depressed. But I whiled away my time in
performing the duties given me to the best of my ability and
attempting to learn the language of my captors.

Who they were or where they came from was a mystery to me.
That they were the outpost of some pow-erful black nation
seemed likely, yet where the seat of that nation lay I could
not guess.

They looked upon the whites as their inferiors, and treated
us accordingly. They had a literature of their own, and
many of the men, even the common soldiers, were omnivorous
readers. Every two weeks a dust-covered trooper would trot
his jaded mount into the post and deliver a bulging sack of
mail at headquarters. The next day he would be away again
upon a fresh horse toward the south, carrying the soldiers'
letters to friends in the far off land of mystery from
whence they all had come.

Troops, sometimes mounted and sometimes afoot, left the post
daily for what I assumed to be patrol duty. I judged the
little force of a thousand men were detailed here to
maintain the authority of a distant government in a
conquered country. Later, I learned that my surmise was
correct, and this was but one of a great chain of similar
posts that dotted the new frontier of the black nation into
whose hands I had fallen.

Slowly I learned their tongue, so that I could understand
what was said before me, and make myself understood. I had
seen from the first that I was being treated as a slave--
that all whites that fell into the hands of the blacks were
thus treated.

Almost daily new prisoners were brought in, and about three
weeks after I was brought in to the post a troop of cavalry
came from the south to relieve one of the troops stationed
there. There was great jubilation in the encampment after
the arrival of the newcomers, old friendships were renewed
and new ones made. But the happiest men were those of the
troop that was to be relieved.

The next morning they started away, and as they were forced
upon the parade ground we prisoners were marched from our
quarters and lined up before them. A couple of long chains
were brought, with rings in the links every few feet. At
first I could not guess the purpose of these chains. But I
was soon to learn.

A couple of soldiers snapped the first ring around the neck
of a powerful white slave, and one by one the rest of us
were herded to our places, and the work of shackling us neck
to neck commenced.

The colonel stood watching the procedure. Presently his
eyes fell upon me, and he spoke to a young officer at his
side. The latter stepped toward me and motioned me to
follow him. I did so, and was led back to the colonel.

By this time I could understand a few words of their strange
language, and when the colonel asked me if I would prefer to
remain at the post as his body servant, I signified my
willingness as emphatically as possible, for I had seen
enough of the brutality of the common soldiers toward their
white slaves to have no desire to start out upon a march of
unknown length, chained by the neck, and driven on by the
great whips that a score of the soldiers carried to
accelerate the speed of their charges.

About three hundred prisoners who had been housed in six
prisons at the post marched out of the gates that morning,
toward what fate and what future I could not guess. Neither
had the poor devils themselves more than the most vague
conception of what lay in store for them, except that they
were going elsewhere to continue in the slavery that they
had known since their capture by their black conquerors--a
slavery that was to continue until death released them.

My position was altered at the post. From working about the
headquarters office, I was transferred to the colonel's
living quarters. I had greater freedom, and no longer slept
in one of the prisons, but had a little room to myself off
the kitchen of the colonel's log house.

My master was always kind to me, and under him I rapidly
learned the language of my captors, and much concerning them
that had been a mystery to me before. His name was Abu
Belik. He was a colonel in the cavalry of Abyssinia, a
country of which I do not remember ever hearing, but which
Colonel Belik assured me is the oldest civilized country in
the world.

Colonel Belik was born in Adis Abeba, the capital of the
empire, and until recently had been in command of the
emperor's palace guard. Jealousy and the ambition and
intrigue of another officer had lost him the favor of his
emperor, and he had been detailed to this frontier post as a
mark of his sovereign's displeasure.

Some fifty years before, the young emperor, Menelek XIV, was
ambitious. He knew that a great world lay across the waters
far to the north of his capital. Once he had crossed the
desert and looked out upon the blue sea that was the
northern boundary of his dominions.

There lay another world to conquer. Menelek busied himself
with the building of a great fleet, though his people were
not a maritime race. His army crossed into Europe. It met
with little resistance, and for fifty years his soldiers had
been pushing his boundaries farther and farther toward the
north.

"The yellow men from the east and north are contesting our
rights here now," said the colonel, "but we shall win--we
shall conquer the world, carrying Christianity to all the
benighted heathen of Europe, and Asia as well."

"You are a Christian people?" I asked.

He looked at me in surprise, nodding his head affirmatively.

"I am a Christian," I said. "My people are the most
powerful on earth."

He smiled, and shook his head indulgently, as a father to a
child who sets up his childish judgment against that of his
elders.

Then I set out to prove my point. I told him of our cities,
of our army, of our great navy. He came right back at me
asking for figures, and when he was done I had to admit that
only in our navy were we numerically superior.

Menelek XIV is the undisputed ruler of all the continent of
Africa, of all of ancient Europe except the British Isles,
Scandinavia, and eastern Russia, and has large possessions
and prosperous colonies in what once were Arabia and Turkey
in Asia.

He has a standing army of ten million men, and his people
possess slaves--white slaves--to the number of ten or
fifteen million.

Colonel Belik was much surprised, however, upon his part to
learn of the great nation which lay across the ocean, and
when he found that I was a naval officer, he was inclined to
accord me even greater consideration than formerly. It was
difficult for him to believe my assertion that there were
but few blacks in my country, and that these occupied a
lower social plane than the whites.

Just the reverse is true in Colonel Belik's land. He
considered whites inferior beings, creatures of a lower
order, and assuring me that even the few white freemen of
Abyssinia were never accorded anything approximating a
position of social equality with the blacks. They live in
the poorer districts of the cities, in little white
colonies, and a black who marries a white is socially
ostracized.

The arms and ammunition of the Abyssinians are greatly
inferior to ours, yet they are tremendously effective
against the ill-armed barbarians of Europe. Their rifles
are of a type similar to the magazine rifles of twentieth
century Pan-America, but carrying only five cartridges in
the magazine, in addition to the one in the chamber. They
are of extraordinary length, even those of the cavalry, and
are of extreme accuracy.

The Abyssinians themselves are a fine looking race of black
men--tall, muscular, with fine teeth, and regular features,
which incline distinctly toward Semitic mold--I refer to the
full-blooded natives of Abyssinia. They are the patricians--
the aristocracy. The army is officered almost exclusively
by them. Among the soldiery a lower type of negro
predominates, with thicker lips and broader, flatter noses.
These men are recruited, so the colonel told me, from among
the conquered tribes of Africa. They are good soldiers--
brave and loyal. They can read and write, and they are
endowed with a self-confidence and pride which, from my
readings of the words of ancient African explorers, must
have been wanting in their earliest progenitors. On the
whole, it is apparent that the black race has thrived far
better in the past two centuries under men of its own color
than it had under the domination of whites during all
previous history.

I had been a prisoner at the little frontier post for over a
month, when orders came to Colonel Belik to hasten to the
eastern frontier with the major portion of his command,
leaving only one troop to garrison the fort. As his body
servant, I accompanied him mounted upon a fiery little
Abyssinian pony.

We marched rapidly for ten days through the heart of the
ancient German empire, halting when night found us in
proximity to water. Often we passed small posts similar to
that at which the colonel's regiment had been quartered,
finding in each instance that only a single company or troop
remained for defence, the balance having been withdrawn
toward the northeast, in the same direction in which we were
moving.

Naturally, the colonel had not confided to me the nature of
his orders. But the rapidity of our march and the fact that
all available troops were being hastened toward the
northeast assured me that a matter of vital importance to
the dominion of Menelek XIV in that part of Europe was
threatening or had already broken.

I could not believe that a simple rising of the savage
tribes of whites would necessitate the mobilizing of such a
force as we presently met with converging from the south
into our trail. There were large bodies of cavalry and
infantry, endless streams of artillery wagons and guns, and
countless horse-drawn covered vehicles laden with camp
equipage, munitions, and provisions.

Here, for the first time, I saw camels, great caravans of
them, bearing all sorts of heavy burdens, and miles upon
miles of elephants doing similar service. It was a scene of
wondrous and barbaric splendor, for the men and beasts from
the south were gaily caparisoned in rich colors, in marked
contrast to the gray uniformed forces of the frontier, with
which I had been familiar.

The rumor reached us that Menelek himself was coming, and
the pitch of excitement to which this announcement raised
the troops was little short of miraculous--at least, to one
of my race and nationality whose rulers for centuries had
been but ordinary men, holding office at the will of the
people for a few brief years.

As I witnessed it, I could not but speculate upon the moral
effect upon his troops of a sovereign's presence in the
midst of battle. All else being equal in war between the
troops of a republic and an empire, could not this
exhilarated mental state, amounting almost to hysteria on
the part of the imperial troops, weigh heavily against the
soldiers of a president? I wonder.

But if the emperor chanced to be absent? What then? Again I
wonder.

On the eleventh day we reached our destination--a walled
frontier city of about twenty thousand. We passed some
lakes, and crossed some old canals before entering the
gates. Within, beside the frame buildings, were many built
of ancient brick and well-cut stone. These, I was told,
were of material taken from the ruins of the ancient city
which, once, had stood upon the site of the present town.

The name of the town, translated from the Abyssinian, is New
Gondar. It stands, I am convinced, upon the ruins of
ancient Berlin, the one time capital of the old German
empire, but except for the old building material used in the
new town there is no sign of the former city.

The day after we arrived, the town was gaily decorated with
flags, streamers, gorgeous rugs, and banners, for the rumor
had proved true--the emperor was coming.

Colonel Belik had accorded me the greatest liberty,
permitting me to go where I pleased, after my few duties had
been performed. As a result of his kindness, I spent much
time wandering about New Gondar, talking with the
inhabitants, and exploring the city of black men.

As I had been given a semi-military uniform which bore
insignia indicating that I was an officer's body servant,
even the blacks treated me with a species of respect, though
I could see by their manner that I was really as the dirt
beneath their feet. They answered my questions civilly
enough, but they would not enter into conversation with me.
It was from other slaves that I learned the gossip of the
city.

Troops were pouring in from the west and south, and pouring
out toward the east. I asked an old slave who was sweeping
the dirt into little piles in the gutters of the street
where the soldiers were going. He looked at me in surprise.

"Why, to fight the yellow men, of course," he said. "They
have crossed the border, and are marching toward New
Gondar."

"Who will win?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows?" he said. "I hope
it will be the yellow men, but Menelek is powerful--it will
take many yellow men to defeat him."

Crowds were gathering along the sidewalks to view the
emperor's entry into the city. I took my place among them,
although I hate crowds, and I am glad that I did, for I
witnessed such a spectacle of barbaric splendor as no other
Pan-American has ever looked upon.

Down the broad main thoroughfare, which may once have been
the historic Unter den Linden, came a brilliant cortege. At
the head rode a regiment of red-coated hussars--enormous
men, black as night. There were troops of riflemen mounted
on camels. The emperor rode in a golden howdah upon the
back of a huge elephant so covered with rich hangings and
embellished with scintillating gems that scarce more than
the beast's eyes and feet were visible.

Menelek was a rather gross-looking man, well past middle
age, but he carried himself with an air of dignity befitting
one descended in unbroken line from the Prophet--as was his
claim.

His eyes were bright but crafty, and his features denoted
both sensuality and cruelness. In his youth he may have
been a rather fine looking black, but when I saw him his
appearance was revolting--to me, at least.

Following the emperor came regiment after regiment from the
various branches of the service, among them batteries of
field guns mounted on elephants.

In the center of the troops following the imperial elephant
marched a great caravan of slaves. The old street sweeper
at my elbow told me that these were the gifts brought in
from the far outlying districts by the commanding officers
of the frontier posts. The majority of them were women,
destined, I was told, for the harems of the emperor and his
favorites. It made my old companion clench his fists to see
those poor white women marching past to their horrid fates,
and, though I shared his sentiments, I was as powerless to
alter their destinies as he.

For a week the troops kept pouring in and out of New Gondar--
in, always, from the south and west, but always toward the
east. Each new contingent brought its gifts to the emperor.
From the south they brought rugs and ornaments and jewels;
from the west, slaves; for the commanding officers of the
western frontier posts had naught else to bring.

From the number of women they brought, I judged that they
knew the weakness of their imperial master.

And then soldiers commenced coming in from the east, but not
with the gay assurance of those who came from the south and
west--no, these others came in covered wagons, blood-soaked
and suffering. They came at first in little parties of
eight or ten, and then they came in fifties, in hundreds,
and one day a thousand maimed and dying men were carted into
New Gondar.

It was then that Menelek XIV became uneasy. For fifty years
his armies had conquered wherever they had marched. At
first he had led them in person, lately his presence within
a hundred miles of the battle line had been sufficient for
large engagements--for minor ones only the knowledge that
they were fighting for the glory of their sovereign was
necessary to win victories.

One morning, New Gondar was awakened by the booming of
cannon. It was the first intimation that the townspeople
had received that the enemy was forcing the imperial troops
back upon the city. Dust covered couriers galloped in from
the front. Fresh troops hastened from the city, and about
noon Menelek rode out surrounded by his staff.

For three days thereafter we could hear the cannonading and
the spitting of the small arms, for the battle line was
scarce two leagues from New Gondar. The city was filled
with wounded. Just outside, soldiers were engaged in
throwing up earthworks. It was evident to the least
enlightened that Menelek expected further reverses.

And then the imperial troops fell back upon these new
defenses, or, rather, they were forced back by the enemy.
Shells commenced to fall within the city. Menelek returned
and took up his headquarters in the stone building that was
called the palace. That night came a lull in the
hostilities--a truce had been arranged.

Colonel Belik summoned me about seven o'clock to dress him
for a function at the palace. In the midst of death and
defeat the emperor was about to give a great banquet to his
officers. I was to accompany my master and wait upon him--
I, Jefferson Turck, lieutenant in the Pan-American navy!

In the privacy of the colonel's quarters I had become
accustomed to my menial duties, lightened as they were by
the natural kindliness of my master, but the thought of
appearing in public as a common slave revolted every fine
instinct within me. Yet there was nothing for it but to
obey.

I cannot, even now, bring myself to a narration of the
humiliation which I experienced that night as I stood behind
my black master in silent servility, now pouring his wine,
now cutting up his meats for him, now fanning him with a
large, plumed fan of feathers.

As fond as I had grown of him, I could have thrust a knife
into him, so keenly did I feel the affront that had been put
upon me. But at last the long banquet was concluded. The
tables were removed. The emperor ascended a dais at one end
of the room and seated himself upon a throne, and the
entertainment commenced. It was only what ancient history
might have led me to expect--musicians, dancing girls,
jugglers, and the like.

Near midnight, the master of ceremonies announced that the
slave women who had been presented to the emperor since his
arrival in New Gondar would be exhibited, that the royal
host would select such as he wished, after which he would
present the balance of them to his guests. Ah, what royal
generosity!

A small door at one side of the room opened, and the poor
creatures filed in and were ranged in a long line before the
throne. Their backs were toward me. I saw only an
occasional profile as now and then a bolder spirit among
them turned to survey the apartment and the gorgeous
assemblage of officers in their brilliant dress uniforms.
They were profiles of young girls, and pretty, but horror
was indelibly stamped upon them all. I shuddered as I
contemplated their sad fate, and turned my eyes away.

I heard the master of ceremonies command them to prostrate
themselves before the emperor, and the sounds as they went
upon their knees before him, touching their foreheads to the
floor. Then came the official's voice again, in sharp and
peremptory command.

"Down, slave!" he cried. "Make obeisance to your
sovereign!"

I looked up, attracted by the tone of the man's voice, to
see a single, straight, slim figure standing erect in the
center of the line of prostrate girls, her arms folded
across her breast and little chin in the air. Her back was
toward me--I could not see her face, though I should like to
see the countenance of this savage young lioness, standing
there defiant among that herd of terrified sheep.

"Down! Down!" shouted the master of ceremonies, taking a
step toward her and half drawing his sword.

My blood boiled. To stand there, inactive, while a negro
struck down that brave girl of my own race! Instinctively I
took a forward step to place myself in the man's path. But
at the same instant Menelek raised his hand in a gesture
that halted the officer. The emperor seemed interested, but
in no way angered at the girl's attitude.

"Let us inquire," he said in a smooth, pleasant voice, "why
this young woman refuses to do homage to her sovereign," and
he put the question himself directly to her.

She answered him in Abyssinian, but brokenly and with an
accent that betrayed how recently she had acquired her
slight knowledge of the tongue.

"I go on my knees to no one," she said. "I have no
sovereign. I myself am sovereign in my own country."

Menelek, at her words, leaned back in his throne and laughed
uproariously. Following his example, which seemed always
the correct procedure, the assembled guests vied with one
another in an effort to laugh more noisily than the emperor.

The girl but tilted her chin a bit higher in the air--even
her back proclaimed her utter contempt for her captors.
Finally Menelek restored quiet by the simple expedient of a
frown, whereupon each loyal guest exchanged his mirthful
mien for an emulative scowl.

"And who," asked Menelek, "are you, and by what name is your
country called?"

"I am Victory, Queen of Grabritin," replied the girl so
quickly and so unexpectedly that I gasped in astonishment.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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