"About six miles an hour. Of course he goes faster when he is
running, but he will sometimes break into a walk. Five miles an
hour may be taken as the ordinary pace of a native runner, but in
cases which they consider of importance, like the present, you may
calculate on six."
The camp was at once broken up, the carriers loaded, and they
started on their way. It was late in the evening when they reached
a village about twenty miles from their starting place. They found
the inhabitants in a great state of alarm. The news had come that
a great army was marching to attack Abeokuta, and that the King of
Dahomey had sworn on his father's skull that this time the place
should be captured, and not a house or a wall left remaining. As
Abeokuta was certain to make a strong resistance, and to hold out
for some time, the villagers feared that the Dahomey people would
be sending out parties to plunder and carry away captives all over
the surrounding country. The panic at once extended to the bearers,
who declared that they would not go a foot farther. As their fears
were natural, and Mr. Goodenough was expecting a fresh relay from
Abeokuta on the following evening, he consented to their demand to
be allowed to leave immediately, and paying them their wages due,
he allowed them to depart at once on the return journey. The tent
was soon pitched and supper prepared, of fried plantains, rice,
a tin of sardines, and tea. Later on they had a cup of chocolate,
and turned in for the night.
In the morning they were awakened just at daybreak by great talking.
"Men come for baggage, sar," Ugly Tom said, putting his head in
the tent door.
"They have lost no time about it, Frank," Mr. Goodenough exclaimed.
"It was midday yesterday when the messenger left us. He had forty-five
miles to run, and could not have been in till pretty nearly eight
o'clock, and these men must have started at once."
There was no time lost. While the Houssas were pulling down and
packing up the tent Ostik prepared two bowls of chocolate with
biscuit soaked in it. By the time that this was eaten the carriers
had taken up their loads, and two minutes later the whole party
started almost at a trot. Ugly Tom soon explained the cause of
the haste. The army of Dahomey was, the evening before, but eight
miles from Abeokuta, and was expected to appear before the town by
midday, although, of course, it might be later, for the movements
of savage troops are uncertain in the extreme, depending entirely
upon the whims of their leader. So anxious were the bearers to get
back to the town in time, that they frequently went at a trot. They
were the better able to keep up the speed as a larger number than
were required had been sent. Many of the cases, too, were light,
consequently the men were able to shift the heavy burdens from
time to time. So great was the speed, that after an hour both Mr.
Goodenough and Frank, weakened by the effect of fever and climate,
could no longer keep up. The various effects carried in the hammocks
were hastily taken out and lifted by men unprovided with loads. The
white men entered and were soon carried along at a brisk trot by
the side of the baggage. When they recovered from their exhaustion
sufficiently to observe what was going on, they could not help admiring
the manner in which the negroes, with perspiration streaming from
every pore, hurried along with their burdens. So fast did they go,
that in less than six hours they emerged from the forest into the
clearing, and a shout proclaimed that Abeokuta was close at hand.
Ten minutes later the white men were carried through the gate,
their arrival being hailed with shouts of joy by the inhabitants.
They were carried in triumph to the principal building of the town,
a large hut where the general councils of the people were held.
Here they were received by the king and the leading inhabitants,
who thanked them warmly for coming to their assistance in the time
of their peril. The travelers were both struck with the appearance
of the people. They were clad with far more decency and decorum
than was usual among the negro tribes. Their bearing was quiet and
dignified. An air of neatness and order pervaded everything, and
it was clear that they were greatly superior to the people around.
Mr. Goodenough expressed to the king the willingness with which
his friend and himself took part in the struggle of a brave people
against a cruel and bloodthirsty foe, and he said, that as the four
Houssas were also armed with fast firing guns he hoped that their
assistance would be of avail. He said that he would at once examine
the defences of the town and see if anything could be done to
Accompanied by the king, Mr. Goodenough and Frank made a detour of
the walls. These were about a mile in circumference, were built of
clay, and were of considerable height and thickness, but they were
not calculated to resist an attack by artillery. As, however, it
was not probable that the Dahomey people possessed much skill in
the management of their cannon, Mr. Goodenough had hopes that they
should succeed in repelling the assault. They learnt that a large
store of provisions had been brought into the town, and that many
of the women and children had been sent far away.
The spies presently came in and reported that there was no movement
on the part of the enemy, and that it was improbable that they
would advance before the next day. Mr. Goodenough was unable to
offer any suggestions for fresh defenses until they knew upon which
side the enemy would attack. He advised, however, that the whole
population should be set to work throwing up an earthwork just
outside each gate, in order to shelter these as far as possible
from the effect of the enemy's cannonballs. Orders were at once
given to this effect, and in an hour the whole population were at
work carrying earth in baskets and piling it in front of the gates.
In order to economize labor, and to make the sides of the mounds as
steep as possible, Mr. Goodenough directed with brushwood, forming
a sort of rough wattle work. Not even when night set in did the
people desist from their labor, and by the following morning the
gates were protected from the effect of cannon shot, by mounds of
earth twenty feet high, which rose before them. The king had, when
Mr. Goodenough first suggested these defenses, pointed out that
much less earth would be required were it piled directly against
the gates. Mr. Goodenough replied, that certainly this was so,
but that it was essential to be able to open the gates to make a
sortie if necessary against the enemy, and although the king shook
his head, as if doubting the ability of his people to take such a
desperate step as that of attacking the enemy outside their walls,
he yielded to Mr. Goodenough's opinion.
CHAPTER XV: THE AMAZONS OF DAHOMET
A spacious and comfortable hut was placed at the disposal of the
white men, with a small one adjoining for the Houssas. That evening
Frank asked Mr. Goodenough to tell him what he knew concerning the
people of Dahomey.
"The word Dahomey, or more properly Da-omi, means Da's belly. Da was,
two hundred and fifty years ago, the king of the city of Abomey. It
was attacked by Tacudona the chief of the Fois. It resisted bravely,
and Tacudona made a vow that if he took it he would sacrifice the
king to the gods. When he captured the town he carried out his vow
by ripping open the king, and then called the place Daomi. Gradually
the conquerors extended their power until the kingdom reached to
the very foot of the Atlas range, obtaining a port by the conquest
of Whydah. The King of Dahomey is a despot, and even his nobility
crawl on the ground in his presence. The taxes are heavy, every
article sold in the market paying about one eighteenth to the
royal exchequer. There are besides many other taxes. Every slave
is taxed, every article that enters the kingdom. If a cock crow
it is forfeited, and, as it is the nature of cocks to crow, every
bird in the kingdom is muzzled. The property of every one who
dies goes to the king; and at the Annual Custom, a grand religious
festival, every man has to bring a present in proportion to his
rank and wealth. The royal pomp is kept up by receiving strangers
who visit the country with much state, and by regaling the populace
with spectacles of human sacrifices. The women stand high in
Dahomey. Among other negro nations they till the soil. In Dahomey
they fight as soldiers, and perform all the offices of men. Dahomey
is principally celebrated for its army of women, and its human
sacrifices. These last take place annually, or even more often.
Sometimes as many as a thousand captives are slain on these occasions.
In almost all the pagan nations of Africa human sacrifices are
perpetrated, just as they were by the Druids and Egyptians of old.
Nowhere, however, are they carried to such a terrible extent as in
Dahomey. Even Ashanti, where matters are bad enough, is inferior
in this respect. The victims are mostly captives taken in war, and
it is to keep up the supply necessary for these wholesale sacrifices
that Dahomey is constantly at war with her neighbors."
"But are we going to fight against women, then?" Frank asked
"Assuredly we are," Mr. Goodenough answered. "The Amazons, as white
men have christened the force, are the flower of the Dahomey army,
and fight with extraordinary bravery and ferocity."
"But it will seem dreadful to fire at women!" Frank said.
"That is merely an idea of civilization, Frank. In countries where
women are dependent upon men, leaving to them the work of providing
for the family and home, while they employ themselves in domestic
duties and in brightening the lives of the men, they are treated with
respect. But as their work becomes rougher, so does the position
which they occupy in men's esteem fall. Among the middle and upper
classes throughout Europe a man is considered a brute and a coward
who lifts his hand against a woman. Among the lower classes wife
and woman beating is by no means uncommon, nor is such an assault
regarded with much more reprobation than an attack upon a man. When
women leave their proper sphere and put themselves forward to do
man's work they must expect man's treatment; and the foolish women
at home who clamor for women's rights, that is to say, for an
equality of work, would, if they had their way, inflict enormous
damage upon their sex."
"Still," Frank said, "I shan't like having to fire at women."
"You won't see much difference between women and men when the fight
begins, Frank. These female furies will slay all who fall into
their hands, and therefore in self defense you will have to assist
in slaying them."
The following day the sound of beating of drums and firing of guns
was heard, and soon afterwards the head of the army of Dahomey was
seen approaching. It moved with considerable order and regularity.
"Those must be the Amazons," Mr. Goodenough said. "They are proud
of their drill and discipline. I do not think that any other African
troops could march so regularly and solidly."
The main body of the army now came in view, marching as a loose
and scattered mob. Then twelve objects were seen dragged by oxen.
These were the cannon of the besiegers.
"How many do you think there are?" Frank asked.
"It is very difficult to judge accurately," Mr. Goodenough said.
"But Dahomey is said to be able to put fifty thousand fighting men
and women in the field, that is to say her whole adult population,
except those too old to bear arms. I should think that there are
twenty or twenty-five thousand now in sight."
The enemy approached within musket shot of the walls, and numbers
of them running up, discharged their muskets. The Abeokuta people
fired back; but Mr. Goodenough ordered the Houssas on no account
to fire, as he did not wish the enemy to know the power of their
The first step of the besiegers was to cut down all the plantations
round the town and to erect great numbers of little huts. A large
central hut with several smaller ones surrounding it was erected
for the king and his principal nobles. The Dahomans spread round
the town and by the gesticulation and pointing at the gates it was
clear that the defenses raised to cover these excited great surprise.
The wall was thick enough for men to walk along on the top, but
being built of clay it would withstand but little battering. Mr.
Goodenough set a large number of people to work, making sacks from
the rough cloth, of which there was an abundance in the place.
These were filled with earth and piled in the center of the town
ready for conveyance to any point threatened. He likewise had a
number of beams, used in construction of houses, sharpened at one
end; stakes of five or six feet long were also prepared and sharpened
at both ends. That day the enemy attempted nothing against the town.
The next morning the twelve cannon were planted at a distance of
about five hundred yards and opened fire on the walls. The shooting
was wild in the extreme; many of the balls went over the place
altogether; others topped the wall and fell in the town; some hit
the wall and buried themselves in the clay.
"We will give them a lesson," Mr. Goodenough said, "in the modern
rifle. Frank, you take my double barrel rifle and I will take the
heavy, large bored one. Your Winchester will scarcely make accurate
firing at five hundred yards."
The Houssas were already on the wall, anxious to open fire. Mr.
Goodenough saw that their rifles were sighted to five hundred yards.
The cannon offered an easy mark. They were ranged along side by
side, surrounded by a crowd of negroes, who yelled and danced each
time a shot struck the wall.
"Now," Mr. Goodenough said to the Houssas, "fire steadily, and,
above all, fire straight. I want every shot to tell."
Mr. Goodenough gave the signal, and at once Frank and the Houssas
opened fire. The triumphant yells of the Dahomans at once changed
their character, and a cry of wrath and astonishment broke from
them. Steadily Mr. Goodenough and his party kept up their fire. They
could see that great execution was being done, a large proportion
of the shots telling. Many wounded were carried to the rear, and
black forms could be seen stretched everywhere on the ground. Still
the enemy's fire continued with unabated vigor.
"They fight very pluckily," Frank said.
"They are plucky," Mr. Goodenough answered; "and as cowardice is
punished with death, and human life has scarcely any value among
them, they will be killed where they stand rather than retreat."
For three or four hours the fight continued. Several officers,
evidently of authority, surrounded by groups of attendants, came
down to the guns; but as Frank and Mr. Goodenough always selected
these for their mark, and - firing with their guns resting on the
parapet - were able to make very accurate shooting, most of them
were killed within a few minutes of their arriving on the spot.
At the end of four hours the firing ceased, and the Dahomans retired
from their guns. The Abeokuta people raised a cry of triumph.
"I imagine they have only fallen back," Mr. Goodenough said, "to
give the guns time to cool."
While the cannonade had been going on a brisk attack had been kept
up on several other points of the wall, the enemy advancing within
fifty yards of this and firing their muskets, loaded with heavy
charges of slugs, at the defenders, who replied vigorously to
them. Their cannonade was not resumed that afternoon, the Dahomans
contenting themselves with skirmishing round the walls.
"They are disappointed with the result of their fire," Mr. Goodenough
said. "No doubt they anticipated they should knock the wall down
without difficulty. You will see some change in their tactics
That night Mr. Goodenough had a number of barrels of palm oil
carried on to the wall, with some of the great iron pots used for
boiling down the oil, and a supply of fuel.
"If they try to storm," he said, "it will most likely be at the
point which they have been firing at. The parapet is knocked down
in several places, and the defenders there would be more exposed
to their fire."
It was at this point, therefore, that the provision of oil was
placed. Mr. Goodenough ordered fires to be lighted under the boilers
an hour before daybreak, in order that all should be in readiness
in case an attack should be made the first thing in the morning.
The Abeokutans were in high spirits at the effect of the fire of
their white allies, and at the comparative failure of the cannon,
at whose power they had before been greatly alarmed. Soon after
daylight the Dahomans were seen gathering near the guns. Their
drums beat furiously, and presently they advanced in a solid mass
against the wall.
"They have got ladders," Mr. Goodenough said. "I can see numbers
of them carrying something."
The Houssas at once opened fire, and as the enemy approached
closer, first the Abeokutans who had muskets, then the great mass
with bows and arrows, began to fire upon the enemy, while these
answered with their musketry. The central body, however, advanced
without firing a shot, moving like the rest at a quick run.
Mr. Goodenough and. Frank were not firing now, as they were devoting
themselves to superintending the defence. Ostik kept close to them,
carrying Frank's Winchester carbine and a double barreled shotgun.
"This is hot," Mr. Goodenough said, as the enemy's slugs and bullets
whizzed in a storm over the edge of the parapet, killing many of
the defenders, and rendering it difficult for the others to take
accurate aim. This, however, the Abeokutans did not try to do.
Stooping below the parapet, they fitted their arrows to the string,
or loaded their muskets, and then, standing up, fired hastily at
the approaching throng.
The walls were about twenty-five feet high inside, but the parapet
gave an additional height of some four feet outside. They were
about three feet thick at the top, and but a limited number of men
could take post there to oppose the storming party. Strong bodies
were placed farther along on the wall to make a rush to sweep the
enemy off should they gain a footing. Others were posted below to
attack them should they leap down into the town, while men with
muskets were on the roofs of the houses near the walls, in readiness
to open fire should the enemy get a footing on the wall. The din
The Dahomans, having access to the sea coast, were armed entirely
with muskets, these being either cheap Birmingham trade guns or
old converted muskets, bought by traders for a song at the sale
of disused government stores. It is much to be regretted that the
various governments of Europe do not insist that their old guns
shall be used only as old iron. The price obtained for them is
so trifling as to be immaterial, and the great proportion of them
find their way to Africa to be used in the constant wars that are
waged there, and to enable rich and powerful tribes to enslave and
destroy their weaker neighbors. The Africans use very much heavier
charges of powder than those in used in civilized nations, ramming
down a handful of slugs, of half a dozen small bullets, upon the
powder. This does not conduce to good shooting, but the noise made
is prodigious. The Abeokutans, on the other hand, were principally
armed with bows and arrows, as, having no direct access to the sea
coast, it was difficult for them to procure guns.
The Dahomans poured up in a mass to the foot of the wall, and then a
score of rough ladders, constructed of bamboo, and each four feet
wide, were placed against the walls. Directly the point to be
attacked was indicated, Mr. Goodenough had distributed his cauldrons
of boiling oil along the walls, and had set men to work to pierce
holes through the parapet at distances of a couple of feet apart,
and at a height of six inches from the ground. A line of men with
long spears wore told to lie down upon the ground, and to thrust
through the holes at those climbing the ladders. Another line of
holes was pierced two feet higher, through which those armed with
muskets and bows were to fire, for when the enemy reached the foot
of the walls their fire was so heavy that it was impossible to
return it over the top of the parapet.
Immediately the ladders were placed, men with ladles began to throw
the boiling oil over the parapet. Shrieks and yells from below
at once testified to its effect, but it was only just where the
cauldrons were placed that the besiegers were prevented by this
means from mounting the ladders, and even here many, in spite of
the agony of their burns, climbed desperately upward.
When they neared the top the fight began in earnest. Those without
were now obliged to cease firing, and the besieged were able to
stand up and with sword and spear defend their position. The breech
loaders of Mr. Goodenough and the Houssas and Frank's repeating
carbine now came into play. The Dahomans fought with extraordinary
bravery, hundreds fell shot or cut down from above or pierced by
the spears and arrows through the holes in the parapet. Fresh swarms
of assailants took their places on the ladders. The drums kept up
a ceaseless rattle, and the yells of the mass of negroes standing
inactive were deafening. Their efforts, however, were in vain. Never
did the Amazons fight with more reckless bravery; but the position
was too strong for them, and at last, after upwards of a thousand
of the assailants had fallen, the attack was given up, and the
Dahomans retired from the wall followed by the exulting shouts of
the men of Abeokuta.
The loss of the defenders was small. Some ten or twelve had been
killed with slugs. Three or four times that number were more or
less severely wounded about the head or shoulders with the same
missiles. Frank had a nasty cut on the cheek, and Firewater and
Bacon were both streaming with blood.
There was no chance of a renewal of the attack that day. Sentries
were placed on the walls, and a grand thanksgiving service was
held in the open space in the center of the town which the whole
"What will be their next move, do you think?" Frank asked Mr.
"I cannot say," Mr. Goodenough said; "but these people know
something of warfare, and finding that they cannot carry the place
by assault, I think you will find that they will try some more
cautious move next time."
For two days there was no renewal of the attack. At Mr. Goodenough's
suggestion the Abeokutans on the wall shouted out that the Dahomans
might come and carry off their dead, as he feared that a pestilence
might arise from so great a number of decomposing bodies at the
foot of the wall. The Dahomans paid no attention to the request,
and, at Mr. Goodenough's suggestion, on the second day the whole
populace set to work carrying earth in baskets to the top of the
wall, and throwing this over so as to cover the mass of bodies at
its foot. As to those lying farther off nothing could be done. On
the third morning it was seen that during the night a large number
of sacks had been piled in a line upon the ground, two hundred
yards away from the wall. The pile was eight feet in height and
some fifty yards long.
"I thought they were up to something," Mr. Goodenough said. "They
have been sending back to Dahomey for sacks."
In a short time the enemy brought up their cannon, behind the shelter
of the sacks, regardless of the execution done by the rifles of
Mr. Goodenough's party during the movement. The place chosen was
two or three hundred yards to the left of that on which the former
attack had been made. Then a swarm of men set to work removing some
of the sacks, and in a short time twelve rough embrasures were made
just wide enough for the muzzles of the guns, the sacks removed
being piled on the others, raising them to the height of ten feet
and sheltering the men behind completely from the fire from the
"They will make a breach now," Mr. Goodenough said. "We must prepare
to receive them inside."
The populace were at once set to work digging holes and securely
planting the beams already prepared in a semicircle a hundred feet
across, behind the wall facing the battery. The beams when fixed
projected eight feet above the ground, the spaces between being
filled with bamboos twisted in and out between them. Earth was
thrown up behind to the height of four foot for the defenders to
stand upon. The space between the stockade and the wall was filled