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Wild Life Under the Equator by  Paul du Chaillu

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A TORNADO

A TORNADO.—BEFORE THE STORM.—THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.—AFTER THE STORM.

[87] WE had just returned to our camp in the forest. The day was intensely warm; the rays of the sun poured down upon mother-earth with fearful force; in the forest all was silent as death, for Nature herself seemed prostrated.

We were in the season of the tornadoes—the latter part of the month of March.

The light air that we had, had ceased. The horizon toward the north-east grew black; at first a black spot had appeared only a little above the horizon, then gradually rose higher and higher. The sight of this token inspired awe. The wind was blowing from the opposite direction. The white and fleecy clouds that were hanging in the atmosphere as they came near the black spot gradually stopped, and were slowly absorbed into black cloud.

I looked anxiously on. To a stranger the appearance of the sky showed that a fearful storm was coming.

The birds began to fly in the air in a frightened manner; my goats began to seek for shelter; the hens hid in the huts; the dogs also sought shelter; and the people were returning in hot haste from the plantations. [88] Every living thing seemed to know what was coming: even in the far distance I could hear the roar of the gorilla.

The black spot gradually rose and formed a semicircle, while now and then the distant sound of thunder came upon our ears, warning us of the approaching storm.

At last not a breath of air could be detected, and in an instant a white spot rose under the black horizon, and instantaneously scattered it into a thousand clouds. How wild and lurid the sky suddenly appeared! In less than two minutes it was one mass of blackness, the clouds fleeing with terrible velocity, driven away by the white spot, which now increased to huge dimensions. The tops of the trees began to sway rapidly, and before we knew it the fearful wind was upon us. Our little houses were unroofed, and the wind came with a violence that was quite appalling. The limbs of the trees broke down first, then the trees themselves, and as they fell each brought down half a dozen others with it, which in falling occasioned a booming sound that resounded from hill to hill. The monkeys became frightened, and their wild chattering indicated that they were filled with terror. It was indeed a wild and terrible spectacle.

Flashes of lightning were followed by terrific claps of thunder. The first clap brought me upon my feet, for I thought the lightning must have struck some of us. I was, almost blinded by the flash. What a terrific report followed! It came on sudden and sharp like the firing of a cannon, and made my ears ring and ring till I thought I should be deafened.


[Illustration]

A NIGHT STORM IN AFRICA.

This was followed by other terrific claps of thunder [91] and flashes of lightning which seemed to illuminate the whole sky, accompanied by a pouring rain, a rain so dense that one might have fancied the skies to have been rent in two. Finally the wind ceased, and, thank God! had only lasted about ten minutes, though turning all round the compass. The rain, thunder and lightning still continued. Such a storm I had seldom witnessed even in this region of thunder and tornado. Wherever I turned, the bright light in the skies met my eyes: from the West to the North, from the North to the East, and from the East to the South.

The flashes of lightning were horizontal, of tremendous glare and length, and zigzag; sometimes they were perpendicular. For hours and hours the boom of thunder went on, fearful claps bursting from every corner of the sky without intermissions. There was scarcely a moment's interval between the reports. I took special pains to notice this fact.

The sound of the thunder seemed to come from all round the sky; the whole of the heavens seemed to be a sea of fire. What could be more sublime, in the whole domain of Nature, than this grand storm in these equatorial regions of Africa? It was worth coming from our milder climate to see it, to behold this war of the elements, to hear such claps of thunder, to see such torrents of rain pouring down.

Though filled with awe and a dread of I did not know what, I looked on till my eyes were almost blinded; I listened and listened until my ears were deafened by the appalling noise of the thunder. I am certain that no country can boast of more fearful thunder than these equatorial and mountainous regions of Western Africa.

[92] At last, after a few hours, the claps of thunder became less terrible, and there were greater intervals between the flashes of lightning, which began to diminish in brightness. Gradually the storm ceased, the clouds disappeared, and the bluest of skies was disclosed overhead. What a deep blue it was; how beautiful, how lovely, how pure, and how serene!

O God, how great thou art! I said to myself. What is man that thou lookest down upon him? He is a creature of thy hands.

The stars shone with all their brightness. At that time of the year the southern heaven was in its full beauty. All the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere were in view, and the whole sky seemed to be in a perfect blaze of light. How beautiful and resplendent the Milky Way looked! Being not far from the equator, I could see also many of the northern constellations.

The constellation of the Great Bear was in full sight, and reminded me of my northern home, of dear friends, of joys that have gone, of friendships which distance could not kill, of boys and girls I knew, and I wondered if sometimes they thought of me as I thought of them.

I was wet through; for our fires had been extinguished and we had the greatest trouble to light them again; and during the night nothing was heard but the mournful cries of the owl and now and then the disagreeable howl of the hyena.


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