Dead Man's Land, by George Manville Fenn.
The heroes consist of two teenaged boys, cousins, the father of one of them, and a family tutor. They decide to leave dear old England for a while, and pay a visit to Africa. Here all sorts of adventures befall them, some pleasurable, but many of them not so. There is one particularly awkward moment when one of the boys is pounced on by a lion. However, they get out of that one. As always with Fenn's books, there are numerous tight situations, many of which appear to have no solution, but they do get out of them, perhaps with the loss of one of their bullocks.
But by the end of the tale they are only too happy to get back to England and home.
DEAD MAN'S LAND, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
JUST BEFORE DINNER.
Mark jumped up.
"You there, father! I did not hear you come in."
Doctor Robertson, tutor, half rose from his seat by the glowing library fire.
"No, my boy, and I did not hear you come in."
"Why, uncle, you have been sitting there listening!" cried Dean.
"To be sure I have. How could I help it, sir? I came in tired, and thought I would have a nap in my own chair till it was time to change for dinner, and you woke me up out of a pleasant dream which somehow shaped itself into climbing with an ice axe and nearly losing it. It was some time before I could make out whether I was really awake or dreaming still, and I lay listening and getting more and more interested in what the doctor described to you two stupid boys."
"Oh, father, you shouldn't have listened!" said Mark.
"What, sir!" cried Sir James Roche hotly. "And pray why shouldn't I have listened?"
"Because—because! Well, go on, sir."
"Well, Dr Robertson said something to us boys one day about what he called eavesdropping."
"Tut, tut, sir!" cried the boy's father irascibly. "You dare to tell me I was eavesdropping, when you three come in from your walk, and plump yourselves down at the end of the room and go on talking till you wake me up? How could I help being interested and sitting back listening to the doctor's travels? Don't I pay him to teach you boys a lot of his knowledge, and if by accident I hear some of what he says, haven't I a right to it?"
"And you have heard all I have said, sir?" said the doctor, speaking as if he were moved.
"Yes, my dear sir, everything when once I was well awake, and very fine it was. Why, Mark—Dean—didn't I suggest that I should like to hear some more?"
"Yes, uncle, you did," said Dean; "but—"
"What, sir? Are you siding with Mark, and going to accuse your uncle of being an eavesdropper?"
"No, uncle, but—"
"Hang your buts, you impudent young dog! But—but—"
"You said hang buts, uncle."
"Bah! Pooh! Well, really, doctor, I suppose I ought to have spoken when I woke up, and put you all on your guard in case you might have— Here, what does the old proverb say? 'Listeners never hear any good of themselves.' Of course you might have said—you, Mark, boy, I mean— said that I was a stingy old fellow and didn't allow you enough pocket money."
"Well, I don't think you do, father," cried Mark; "but I shouldn't have said so."
"Good boy! But I do allow you, sir, twice as much as my father used to allow me when I was your age. And then Dean might have followed it up by talking about my temper."
"I shouldn't, uncle."
"Ah, I don't know, sir. I am what Mrs Blinks calls a bit trying when my gout's bad. And then I might have heard the doctor say—oh, no, he would say nothing but what would come from a gentleman."
"Thank you, sir," said the doctor, as he stood erect now, and his words were followed by a low sigh as if of satisfaction.
"Yes, I ought to have spoken, boys," continued the baronet, "but you mustn't set it down as being dishonourable. Why, you ought to have heard me chuckling softly as I lay back there in the darkness, listening. Why, Robertson, this isn't flattery; you have a most astounding memory, and I must compliment you upon the way in which you retain things and then give them out again so that they seem to be life-like and real. And so you have always had a great desire to be a traveller?"
"Always, sir," said the doctor gravely.
"Hah! And fate has so arranged it that you were to be a student instead, and doomed you to pass your existence drumming learning into the brains of a couple of the stupidest, wooden-headed boys I know."
"Oh, I say, dad, only one! I am sharp enough; you said so yourself; and poor old Dozey can't help being such a sleepy-headed fellow."
"Eh? What's that?" cried Sir James. "You will show him whether you are sleepy-headed when you get up into your room!"
"Then he shouldn't say such things, uncle."
"Ha, ha!" laughed Sir James. "But really, my dear Robertson, you have taken me quite by surprise. You would like to travel?"
"I must confess I should, Sir James; but pray don't give me the credit of being discontented with my lot. The three years that I have passed at the manor, gladdened as they have been by your consideration and perfect trust, have been happy ones to me."
"Oh, tut, nonsense, my dear sir! When you came here I laid down the law to myself that for the first month I would lie low, as the Yankees call it, and see what sort of a fellow you were; and at the end of that time I was perfectly satisfied with my good fortune in obtaining your services. I said to myself, 'The doctor's a high-class University man, and he can turn those two boys into English gentlemen—manly gentlemen— far better than I can. He will have a terribly hard job to lick the young cubs and shape them properly, so don't interfere.' And I haven't, have I, doctor? No—no, don't say anything. I know what it would be, so hold your tongue. I will say, though, here in the darkness so as to spare the boys, doctor, that I think it's a pity that besides the metaphorical licking that the old bears are said to use to shape their cubs, I did not begin by giving you the power to give them now and then what schoolboys call 'the real' licking."
"You don't, father," said Mark, laughing merrily. "You have always said that boys can be well brought up without blows."
"Hear, hear," said the doctor softly.
"But I am afraid it was very weak of me," said Sir James. "A good thrashing, sir, now and then, would have made you less impudent."
"You mean Dean, father," said the boy mischievously.
"No, I do not, sir."
"Hear, hear! Hooray!" shouted Dean.
"But I believe," continued Sir James, "that it would have woke him up a bit, for he's nearly as bad as the Fat Boy in Pickwick."
"Oh, what a shame!" cried the boy.
"And one word more," continued Sir James, speaking earnestly now. "Do you know, Robertson, this is very odd?"
"What is, sir?" said the doctor, for Sir James had ceased speaking.
"Why, that several times lately I have sat there in that chair thinking about these two fellows and their education, and that though I don't believe in what people call the Grand Tour, it would be a fine thing for them if they were to travel and see a bit of the world. I mean real travelling, into out-of-the-way places where they could shoot, and hunt, and fish, and collect. I don't mean to go murdering about, seeing how many poor animals they could slaughter, and calling it sport, but to go out into the wilds getting their livings by their guns or rifles, and learning at the same time the wonders of animated nature, and seeing generally what there is to be found in life. Of course I know that you could impart all this to the boys by means of books of travel, but how would it be if you were to pick out some interesting country and teach them by genuine travel? Much better than nailing you down to a table with a pile of books. Why, doctor—boys—Bah! Bless my heart! There's the dinner-bell! No dressing to-day. Come along. We must talk more of this another time."
HOW MARK ROCHE GAINED THE DAY.
The idea of travelling was not allowed to cool. A few days passed, during which the project was discussed, and one morning during breakfast the baronet broke out with, "I don't want to get rid of you boys, but I lie awake of a night now, thinking of you going on such an expedition with the doctor, then growl and grumble at myself with envy."
"Then you really mean us to go, father?"
"Mean it, yes. But it comes hard that you two should have father and uncle who is ready to lay down the money—the bank notes to pay for it all, and here am I going to be left at home longing for letters that can only possibly come at very long intervals."
"Oh, father, but we shall write regularly," cried Mark.
"Of course!" said Sir James sarcastically. "Sit down at the end of a day's tramp, when you are tired out, at a comfortable library table, with a light of a shaded lamp, and write me a good long letter? Rubbish, sir! You will neither of you be in the humour for writing right away there in some forest."
"Oh, of course, uncle," cried Dean, "we shan't have a chance to sit down at a table to write, but we shall take each of us a writing case."
"Humph! Will you? I doubt it, boy; and even if you did you wouldn't be able to get at it when you were in the humour to write; and then if you did scrawl something with a pencil on a scrap of paper, where would you post your letter? In some hollow tree, or tuck it in a bladder and send it floating down a river with a direction scratched on a tin label? Bah! The doctor will take you right away into some wilds, and I shall get no letter for months, and months, and months."
"Oh, father," said Mark sadly, "I never thought of that! It would be hard, dad; and it seems selfish. It's all over. I shan't go."
"Oh!" said Sir James, trying to frown very severely, and forcing a very peculiar husky cough. "Dear, dear, how tiresome!" he cried. "Haven't got a lozenge in your pocket, have you, Dean?"
"No, uncle. Shall I get you a glass of water?"
"No, sir," almost shouted his uncle. "You know I hate cold water. Dear, dear! Barking like this, just as if something has gone the wrong way!" And the baronet pulled out a big silk handkerchief and began blowing his nose violently. "Ah, that's better now. Can't be cold coming on. Ah, much better now."
Then next moment he had clapped his hand smartly down on Mark's shoulder, and the doctor noticed that he kept it there, while there was an artificial ring in his voice as he continued, "Oh, you won't go, sir, won't you?"
"No, father," cried the boy firmly, and he gave his prisoned shoulder a hitch as if to free himself from the pressure, which immediately grew tighter.
"Oh, that's it, is it, sir? Now that I have made up my mind to it and am going to start you all off with a first class equipment, you tell me you are going to play the disobedient young dog, and plump out in a most insolent way—you heard him doctor?—that you won't go!"
"Oh, I must say on his behalf, Sir James," cried the doctor, "that he did not strike me as being insolent."
"Then you could not have been listening, sir, attentively," retorted Sir James. "I look upon it as disobedient and undutiful and—and cowardly."
"Oh, father! cowardly!" cried Mark, making another unsuccessful attempt to set his shoulder free. "How could it be cowardly?"
"Why, sir, if there's any selfishness in it you want to shuffle it off your shoulders on to mine."
"Oh, no, father; don't say that."
"But I have said it, sir," cried Sir James.
"But he doesn't mean it, Mark," cried Dean.
"What, sir! What! What! What's that, sir? How dare you!" thundered Sir James. "Are you going to be insolent and disobedient too?"
"Excuse me, Sir James," said the doctor. "Let me say a few words."
"No, sir," cried Sir James fiercely, "not one word! This is my affair. I never interfere with you over your teaching of my boys."
"I beg your pardon, Sir James."
"No, don't," cried the baronet. "I beg yours. I am very much put out, doctor—very angry—very angry indeed. I always am when I am opposed in anything which I consider to be right. I oughtn't to have spoken to you as I did, so pray leave this to me or I may forget myself and say words to you, my good old friend, for which I shall be sorry afterwards."
The doctor bowed his head.
"I say, uncle," cried Dean.
"Well, sir, and pray what do you say?" snapped out Sir James.
"I was only going to say don't be cross with us, uncle."
"I am not cross, sir—cross, indeed!—only angry and hurt at this opposition. Well, sir, what were you going to say?"
"Nunkey, sir! Bah!" That bah! was a regular bark. "You know how I hate that silly, childish word."
"That you don't," thought the boy. "You know you always like it when you are not out of temper."
"Well, there, sir; go on."
"I was going to say, uncle, that I know how it can all be managed."
"Yes, sir, of course! Like all stupid people you want to put your spoke in the wheel and stir everything up and make the mess worse than it was before.—I say, doctor,"—and there was a peculiar twinkle in Sir James's eye—"that's what you would call a mixed metaphor, isn't it?"
"Well, Sir James," said the doctor, smiling, "it does sound something like it."
"Sound!" said Sir James, who was cooling fast. "It would look very much like it in print. Now, Dean, fire away. How were you going to put it right?"
"You come too, uncle."
"Come too!" cried the boy's uncle, growing fierce again. "How can I come too, sir? Why, sir, I should want a Sam Weller, like poor old Pickwick at Dingley Dell, when he could not go to the partridge shooting. Do you think I want to go in a wheelbarrow with someone to push me, in a country where there are no roads? Bah! Pish! Tush! Rrrrr-r-r-rubbish! Here, doctor, did you ever hear such a piece of lunacy in your life?"
"Well, I don't know, Sir James. Lunacy?"
"Yes, sir; lunacy. Now, look here, doctor, don't you begin apologising for these boys and taking their part, because if you do, sir, we are no longer friends."
"Well, Sir James, it has always been an understood thing between us that I was to be quite independent and have liberty to express my opinion in matters connected with you and your boys."
"There, I knew it! You are going over to their side!" raged out Sir James. "And I know how it will be: I shall be so upset that I shall have a fearful fit of the gout after this, and be obliged to have in that doctor with his wretched mixtures for the next fortnight. Well, sir, I must listen to you, I suppose."
"Yes, Sir James, I think you had better," said the doctor, smiling; and he glanced at Mark.
"Well, go on, then," cried Sir James.
"Oh, I say, father, don't," cried Mark sharply.
"Don't what, sir?" pretty well roared his father.
"I don't mind a nip or two, but you did give it to me then. It was like a vice."
"Pooh, boy, pooh! You are not a baby, are you?"
"No, father, but—" began Mark, wriggling his shoulder.
"Hold your tongue, sir, and don't interrupt the doctor. Now, doctor, what were you going to say?"
"I was going to say, Sir James, that I fully believe that a fit of the gout must be very painful—"
"Oh, you think so, do you?"
"Yes, Sir James, and I think also that you are not troubled with many. Of course we are not going to imitate Mr Pickwick, and a wheelbarrow is quite out of the question."
"Now, look here, sir," cried Sir James angrily—but somehow there was a want of reality in his tones—"don't you begin to suggest impossibilities. I think I know what you are aiming at."
"I should not be surprised, sir, if you do. Now, of course if we went on this expedition, or expeditions, we should be going through forests often nearly impassable; but I think I have read—"
"Oh, yes, I know," said Sir James shortly, and the boys watched the doctor with eager eyes, and as they caught his he gave to each a keen encouraging look; "you have read everything—a deal too much, I think," he grumbled, almost inaudibly.
"—that," continued the doctor, making believe that he had not heard the baronet's tetchy words, "great use is made of the blacks in Africa and India, who are quite accustomed to using a litter for the sportsmen in hunting expeditions, for the benefit of their employers."
Sir James set his son's shoulder free by giving him a fierce thrust, and his own hand too, so as to bring down his doubled fist upon the library table.
"Look here, sir," he roared, "do you for a moment think that I would consent to be carried stretched out on a couple of poles raised shoulder high by a pack of niggers? Because if you do—"
"And sometimes," continued the doctor calmly, "the sure-footed ponies of a country are very much used by travellers and hunting parties, for it is necessary that the sportsman or naturalist should not be over fatigued and should keep his nerves steady, as at times his life or that of his companions may rest upon the ability to be true in his aim at some dangerous beast about to charge and strike him down."
"Humph! Yes. That's quite true, boys. A man can't shoot straight when he's pumped out with too much exertion. I have missed horribly sometimes after a long day's tramp seeing nothing worth shooting at; and then just at the end the birds have risen, or a hare has started up and given me an easy chance, and then got away. There, go on, doctor, and don't let me check you with my chatter."
"Oh, I have not much more to say, sir," was the reply.
"Not much more to say!" cried Sir James, in a disappointed tone. "There, go on, sir; go on. The boys are very anxious to hear you— there, I won't be a sham—so am I too."
"Well, to be brief, sir—" began the doctor.
"But I don't want you to be brief," cried Sir James, thumping the table again, but this time more softly, and no coffee sprang out into the saucers.
"Oh, do go on; do go on!" said Mark's lips inaudibly, and Dean sat swinging himself softly to and fro as he rubbed his hands over his knees.
"Well, Sir James," continued the doctor, "I must say that it seems to me perfectly feasible for you to make up your mind to be one of the party."
"An old man like me, sir?" cried Sir James.
"I beg your pardon, sir; you are not an old man. I believe I number as many years as you, and saving for a slight indisposition now and then you certainly enjoy robust health."
"Oh, no, no, no, no!" cried Sir James. "That's adulation, sir, and I won't have it."
"'Tisn't father; is it, Dean?"
"Not a bit of it," was the reply. "The doctor never flatters."
"Will you boys be quiet?" shouted Sir James, and Mark clapped his hand over his cousin's lips, receiving a similar compliment from Dean in return, while Sir James threw himself back in his chair, frowned severely as he stared straight out of the wide open window, and then twitched himself about, changing his position again and again as if his seat were not comfortable.
A strange silence had fallen on the group, and it was as if three of the four individuals present were suffering from a desire to turn a questioning look upon their companions, but dared not for fear of interrupting Sir James in the deep thoughts which were evidently playing about in his brain and filling his frank, florid, John-Bull-like countenance with wrinkles.
During the space of perhaps two minutes the silence deepened, till all at once from somewhere in the stableyard there was a loud, whack, whack, whack, whack as of wings beating together, and then sharp and clear, defiant and victorious, as if a battle had been won—Cock-a-doodle-do!
"Hah!" ejaculated Sir James, starting upright in his chair, as if awakened out of a dream, and turning towards the doctor as if to speak, but only to check himself again. "Oh, absurd!" he quite shouted. "No, no, no, no; impossible; impossible! It could not be. No, no, doctor. You set me thinking and asking myself questions about why not, and all that sort of rubbish. Why, sir, for the first time since our acquaintance began, you have been playing the tempter, and nearly won, what with your litters and palanquins and ponies. No, sir; it's impossible."
"I say, Mark," said Dean, in a loud whisper, "didn't uncle once say that there was hardly such a word as impossible for a man or boy with a will?"
"Silence, sir!" cried Sir James angrily.
"I say, dad," said Mark, closing up to his father's chair and leaning upon his shoulder, "I said I wouldn't go unless you did."
"Yes, sir," cried his father fiercely, "and if you dare to let me hear you utter such insubordinate words again I'll—"
The boy leaned over to look him full in the eyes, and gazed at him firmly, and the others saw him move his lips in a slow, deliberate way as if he were saying something emphatically; and then he drew himself up and seemed to intensify his gaze.
"Well, baby," cried Sir James, "what do you mean by those dumb motions? Speak out."
Mark shook his head and tightened his lips, compressing them into a long line across the bottom of his face, the curve disappearing and a couple of dot-like dimples forming at either end.
"What do you mean by that, sir?" cried Sir James. "Tell me what you mean?"
The boy shook his head once more, and then the line disappeared, the curves came back, and he silently shaped the words as before.
"Do you want to aggravate me, sir? Such foolery! Speak out, sir, at once."
Mark drew back, walked sharply across the room and half opened the door, before turning to face his father again, the others gazing at him in wonder.
"What's come to him, doctor?" cried Sir James. "Here, Mark, I command you, sir: speak out!"
"If you don't come with us, father," said the boy, slowly and deliberately—"oh, Dean, I am sorry for you—there will be no expedition, for I won't go."
There was a moment or two's silence, and then Sir James raged out, "Well, of all the daring—here, doctor, is this the result of your moral teaching of my boys? Now, sir, frankly, what am I to do in a case like this?"
The doctor was silent for a moment or two. Then after drawing a deep breath he turned to Sir James.
"You want my advice, sir, as frankly as I can give it, between man and man?"
"Of course I do, sir," snapped out Sir James.
"Well, sir, my advice is this. Dismiss us now."
"What for—to conspire against me?"
"No, sir," said the doctor, rising; "to give you time to calmly and dispassionately weigh this matter over—I even go so far as to say, to sleep on it."
"No, I can decide now. You don't want me with you."
It is a curious fact, but three voices at the same moment gave vent to the same ejaculation, which blended together and formed one big round "O!"
"I should be an encumbrance upon you."
"You would be a great help and counsel to me, Sir James, and of course take all the responsibility off my shoulders."
"Humph! Yes. Well, that's true," said Sir James. "But you, Dean—now, sir, be honest—I want the simple truth."
"I always do tell the truth, uncle," said the boy, rather surlily; "at least, I always try to."
"Then let's have it out now, sir, without a shadow of a doubt. Let there be no trying. Wouldn't you rather that I stayed at home?"
"No, uncle," came sharply, and almost before the question was uttered.
"Now you, Mark," cried Sir James.
There was silence again for what seemed a minute, but probably was not half.
"Well, sir, I'm waiting."
There was another pause, and then as the baronet jerked himself forward in his chair, gazing at his son fiercely as if to drag a reply from his lips, the boy seemed to swallow something, and, as Dean afterwards said to his cousin when talking the matter over, "I could see it go down your throat just as if you were a big bull calf gulping down the cud."
"I can't help it, father; something seems to make me say it: I won't go unless you come too."
Sir James sank back in his chair, fixing his eyes first upon the doctor, then upon Dean, and lastly upon his son, and it was quite a minute now before he opened his lips to emit a long pent up breath. Then he said, "I must give in, doctor; I'm beaten."
"And you will come too, father?" cried Mark, and his utterance was full of joyous excitement.
"Yes, my boy; I'll come."
FITS OF TEMPER.
"Don't go to sleep, Dozey."
"Who's going to sleep?"
"Your eyes were nearly shut."
"Well, who's to keep them open in this glaring sun?" cried Dean, half angrily.
"Well, don't jump down a fellow's throat."
"It's enough to make one. I just put my eyes half to, because there's no shade, and you begin at me directly because once or twice I wouldn't keep awake to listen to your prosing about something or another after we had gone to bed, and I did not want to hear."
"I beg pardon," cried Mark, with mock politeness.
"Don't!" cried Dean pettishly. "Now then, what was it you wanted to say?"
"Well, I was going to say, what do you think of it now we have got here?"
"Not much; and if it's going to be all like this I shall soon be wishing we had stayed at home."
"Same here. I say, what a lot of gammon they do write in books! I always thought Africa was quite a grand country; very hot—"
"Oh, it's hot enough," said Dean sharply. "Yes, it's hot enough to make everyone seem lazy. Look at those black fellows there, fast asleep in the sun with their mouths open and the flies buzzing about. But I say, I don't think much of these soldiers. What little under-sized fellows!"
"Haven't done growing, perhaps," said Dean.
"Oh, yes; they are old 'uns. But they do look like sunburnt boys. But I say, I expected something very different from this. What stuff people do write in books! I mean to say it's too bad."
"Yes; just over a month since we started from Southampton, and here we are dropped in this miserable place along with all our luggage and boxes, and been caged up in that hotel. Do you know what I felt when I first looked ashore?"
"No, but I know what I did—as if I should have liked to tell uncle that we had better stop aboard the steamer, for I was sure we had made a mistake and come to the wrong place."
"No, no, I say, play fair; that's what I felt," said Mark.
"You felt? You couldn't, because that's what I felt."
"Well, I could, for I did feel it exactly. I say, though; where are Bob and Pretty Dance?"
"Pretty Dance," said Dean dreamily. "Yes, we have been in a pretty dance, and no mistake. I don't know where they are. Wandering about somewhere having a look at what shipping there is, for there isn't much to see in the town."
"I say, I hope those two fellows are keeping an eye on the cases. It would be a nice job if someone opened our luggage and got at the guns."
"Oh, the landlord said that would be all right. Phew! It is hot! Here, let's go and talk to the doctor."
"No, don't disturb him; he's lying down and having a nap. Let's go and talk to uncle."
"He's gone to lie down and have a nap too."
"Bother! I thought as soon as we got ashore it was all going to be interesting and beautiful, and that we should be having glorious adventures. I don't know how we are going to get through it."
"Get through what?"
"Those three days before we can start up the country."
"Oh, there they are," said Dean sharply.
"Our two keepers."
"Let's go and talk to them, then. Poor old Bacon. If it's going to be like this Bob will be frizzled."
"Well, don't walk so fast. I say, it must be hot."
"Because I feel as if I had got too many clothes on."
"Ah, it will be hotter than this; but it's the only thing that makes me think we are in a foreign country. Here, who's this? Why, it's that sailor again."
"Yes," said Dean. "What does he want? He was following us about all day yesterday when we were trying to look at the town."
"What does he want? Coppers, of course. He's a beggar."
"Well, he doesn't look like one. No, that isn't it. He's got a boat somewhere, and wants to take us up the river for a row. Shall we go?"
"No; it's too hot. Think we could buy an umbrella somewhere?"
"What for? It looks as if it had not rained here for a twelvemonth."
"Keep the sun off."
"Oh, I see. Come along, then, till we get to those stores, and we can buy one there, I daresay; but I shan't walk with you if you put it up. Bother you and your umbrella! Are you afraid you'll melt?"
"I am melting."
As Dean spoke very surlily, "that sailor," as Mark called him, a little stumpy fellow who looked as though he should have been plump and rosy, but who was ghastly pale instead, sauntered up slowly, looking very hard at Mark, and opened his lips as if to say something, but closed them again as if with an effort.
He was dressed in a sailor's canvas frock and loose trousers, both of which articles of attire were old and shabby but scrupulously clean, while his hat, a very old straw, showed an ugly rent which its owner had apparently tried to hide by means of the silken band just above its brim. But the band had slipped upwards so that a good-sized patch of crisp, curly, black hair had escaped and thrust its way out into the sun.
As the man came abreast, he opened his lips and closed them twice before passing on, and in the sultry stillness of the sleepy place they heard him give a faint sigh.
"Doesn't look much like a beggar," said Dean. "He's had a fever, or something."
"Well, I shouldn't like to have a fever here," said Mark. "I don't mean to be ill. If I am it's because I have come to a place where there's nothing to do and nothing to see. Oh, I am disappointed! Here he comes back again. He must be a beggar, and he's ashamed to ask us to give him something. No, it can't be that. For foreign beggars are not ashamed to beg. I shall ask him if he has been ill."
"No, don't. He mightn't like it," said Dean.
"Then he will have to dislike it."
"Don't talk so loud," whispered Dean, for the sailor passed close to them again, looking from one to the other wistfully.
"Poor beggar!" said Mark, as the man passed on. "I am sure he is a beggar, and he's too stupid and drowsy to beg."
"'Tisn't that," said Dean. "He wants a job."
"Well, that means he wants money. Hola!"
The man stopped and looked round eagerly, and the boys could see that his lips were quivering as he made a movement with his hand as if in salute.
"Dinheiro," continued Mark, slapping his pocket.
"Ah, gentlemen, then you are English?"
"Rather!" said Mark. "Are you hard up in this sleepy place?"
"Yes, sir—no, sir," cried the man hastily.
"What is it, then? Do you want a job?" And Mark drew out a shilling.
"Yes, sir; badly, sir."
"Well, have you got a boat?"
"No, sir; I wish I had. No, sir; thank you, sir. I did not mean that;" and the man thrust his hands deeply into his pockets, while Mark thrust his out of sight as well, shilling and all, and somehow his cheeks felt a little hotter than before, as he felt that he had made a mistake.
"I thought you wanted to take us for a row."
"Oh no, sir."
"Then what are you doing here in this out-of-the-way place?"
"Ask him where his ship is," whispered Dean.
"Yes, that's it. Do you belong to some ship in the harbour?"
"No, sir. She sailed away three months ago. I was too bad to go away with her. Fever, gentlemen."
"Oh, that's bad," said Mark. "Sick in a strange place."
"Oh, I haven't got anything to grumble at, sir. The consul's been very good to me; but I am as weak as a rat, sir, and—and—"
The poor fellow's voice during the last few words had trailed off, and ended in silence, while the two boys looked at him sympathetically and felt very uncomfortable.
"I shall be better directly, gentlemen," he said at last, with quite a gasp; and then with an effort he went on, "I beg pardon, but I heard of you. Someone told me about a party of English gentlemen going up the country towards the mountains where a fellow could shake off the fever. I can't get on, gentlemen—so weak. Better directly."
"All right," said Mark. "Take your time."
"Thank you, sir. I thought you were going away. It ain't catching, sir."
"Nobody thought it was," said Mark. "Here, let's walk on down towards the waterside."
"Thank you, sir. There, I can get on now. I heard about you gentlemen, and I thought I would make bold enough to ask you to take me with you. Sailor, sir," he continued, turning to Dean. "Turn my hand to anything, sir. Make myself useful. Consul said that a turn up in the mountains would put me right in no time. Make me strong to get a ship again. I arn't begging, sir. Look here, gentlemen," and he pulled one of his hands out of his pocket half full of silver.
"I say, Dean," said Mark, "what are we to do?"
Dean shook his head helplessly. "We can't take him: we've got two men already."
"I say, look here," said Mark; "I can't do as I like, but I will ask my father, and I daresay he will pay your passage home to England."
"Thank you, sir," said the man, with a sigh, and he shook his head sadly, "but I don't think I should live to get there."
"Oh, don't talk like that!" cried Dean, and he looked so appealingly at the man that the poor fellow smiled.
"All right, sir, I won't. They say drowning men catch at straws. I'm kind of drowning like, and when I hears as you gentlemen were going up the country, something seemed to say to me, try 'em, mate; it can't do no harm. And when I see you two young gents I tried to speak, but somehow I couldn't, and now I have—well, I have asked you, and you can't, and I might have made sure of it before."
"But you see—" began Dean.
"Yes, sir, I understand," said the man. "Thank you all the same, and good luck to you both."
He turned quickly and walked feebly away, the two boys watching him, both feeling that they must call him back; but somehow no words came.
"Oh, Dean," cried Mark, at last, "how I do hate this place! Just as if it wasn't miserable and disappointing enough before! If that poor fellow were not so bad I feel as if I should like to kick him for coming and telling us about how ill he had been. Just as if it was our fault! It is enough to make one turn ill oneself. Here, let's go in out of this broiling heat or you will be going and catching sunstroke just out of spite."
"Likely!" said Dean bitterly.
"Now, don't you turn disagreeable. I know what you are thinking."
"What?" cried Dean, in surprise.
"You are thinking that I might ask father to go to the expense of taking that poor fellow up the country. Why, he'd think I was mad."
"I'd take him if I had got the money," said Dean.
"So would I if I had got the money," retorted Mark, "but I haven't. Oh, there are our two chaps again," cried the boy eagerly, as if glad to get away from the unpleasant subject. "They can see us, and are coming."
The two gamekeepers came strolling up, and Dance saluted them with, "Nice day, gentlemen! Pity we arn't got some of it at home. Shouldn't want no coke for the old vinery."
"No," said Mark shortly. "Well, what do you think of an African port?"
"Don't think nothing on it, sir. Do you, mate?"
"Think it's a fine place to get away from," replied his companion grinning uncomfortably. "Say, Mr Mark, don't you wish you was at home?"
"Oh, don't talk nonsense!" cried Mark angrily. "What's the use of saying things like that? We wanted to come, and we have come."
"But we are not going to stop here long, are we, Mr Mark, sir?"
"No, not long. Certainly not a week."
"That's a comfort, sir, because Peter Dance and me have been thinking that we should like to go and ask the gov'nor if he would send us back."
"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" snapped out Dean, upon whom the scorching sun seemed to have the effect of taking the skin off his temper.
"Well, I don't know about Bob here, sir, but I do feel that I was a fool for wanting to come," said the keeper.
"Then you would both go," cried Mark angrily, "and leave us in the lurch just because you don't like this place?"
"Well, I put it to you, Mr Mark, sir," said Bob, "speaking as gamekeepers, we thought we was coming out here to a beautiful country where it was going to be shooting all day long. And just look about you! Don't it look as if it was the last place that was ever made?"
"I don't know," said Mark shortly, "but I didn't expect that you two would have played the sneak as soon as there was a little trouble."
"Who's a-going to, Mr Mark, sir?" said Bob gruffly. "You asked us how we liked Africa, and we only as good as said we didn't like it a tiny bit. We arn't a-going to play the sneak; are we, Peter?"
"Not us," grunted Dance. "I shouldn't like to go and tell Sir James that; should you, Bob?"
"Come along, Dean," said Mark, turning from the men; and the boys walked away. "Let's get indoors. I don't know what's come to me; I feel as if I could quarrel with everybody. Let's go in and see if father's awake yet."
"Why, you can't quarrel with him," said Dean, staring in wonder at his cousin.
"Well, who said I could, stupid? Do you want to make me quarrel with you?"
"Yes, if you like. I feel as if a nice row would do me good. I'm miserable. It's been a wretched voyage, bad weather all the time, and uncle cross, and the doctor wishing—I could see he was—nearly all the time, that he had never said a word about travelling; and now after longing to get to land we have been set down here."
"Well," said Mark, "you are a nice fellow to try and cheer one up! I had just said a word or two about how wretched I was and how I felt, and then you begin quarrelling."
ALL IN TO BEGIN.
The first words which saluted the boys were from Sir James:
"Why don't you start your sun helmets?"
"Not unpacked, father. You said—"
"Oh, never mind what I said, boy, but get them out as soon as you can; a straw hat, as the doctor has just been saying, is no protection here; is it, doctor?"
"Certainly not, sir; but we shall not feel the heat so much as soon as we leave here, for the country rises."
"Pretty country!" said Sir James sarcastically. "But you boys, who was that rough looking sailor you picked up with?"
"We didn't pick up with him, father," said Mark sourly.
"What, sir! Don't tell me that! I distinctly saw you with him out of the window."
"He picked up with us, father—" began Mark; and then he caught the doctor's eye and changed his lone, saying hastily, "He was a poor fellow in distress, father."
Here Mark stopped short, for he had returned to the hotel with the full intention of pleading the poor invalid's cause, and he felt that he had commenced by speaking in a way that must increase his father's irritation, for Sir James had been quite upset by the heat of the place and the discomforts of the miserable hotel to which he had been directed when on board the liner as being the best in the port.
He literally glared at his son, and Mark shrank and turned to look at the doctor.
Sir James waited till he saw his son lower his eyes, when he too turned to the doctor and looked at him fiercely, the two men exchanging a long questioning glance.
It was a painful silence, but there was virtue in it, for when it was broken it was by Sir James, who said after drawing a deep breath, "See if you can open that window a little farther, Mark. This place feels like an oven."
Mark sprang to his feet and drew the window a little forward, and then pushed it outward again, but only back in its former place.
"Hah! That's better, my boy," said his father, quite cheerfully. "Why, doctor, what a blessing a bucketful of ice would be here—if it wasn't lukewarm, Dean, eh?"
The boy addressed tried to laugh at his uncle's joke, but the production sounded hollow, and the silence recommenced, the doctor cudgelling his brains the while for something to say that should thoroughly change the conversation; but he cudgelled in vain.
At last, though, to his great relief, feeling as he did at the time that all the responsibility of the unpleasant voyage rested on his shoulders, Sir James cleared his throat as he sat back in a wicker chair mopping his forehead, and said quietly, "A beggar, Mark?"
"No, father," cried Mark eagerly jumping at the chance of saying something to divert his father's smouldering anger; "a poor English sailor."
"Well, the same thing, my boy, and I hope you relieved him—that is, if he was genuine."
"Oh, he was genuine enough, father," cried Mark, and his words almost tumbled over one another as he related something of the poor fellow's plight.
"Tut, tut, tut, tut!" ejaculated Sir James. "Very sad. Very hard for a man to be ill away from home. It would be a charity, doctor, if you saw the poor fellow in the morning to see if you could do anything for him."
"My dear Sir James, you forget that I am not a professional medico. Of course I am willing enough, and will see the poor fellow, but I gather from what Mark here says that he has passed through all the stages of a jungle fever caught in some part of the Malay Peninsula, that he has been left here by the captain of his ship, and as far as my knowledge goes, the only thing I could recommend would be a sea voyage—say home."
"He said he didn't believe he'd live to reach home," cried Dean quickly.
"Or," continued the doctor, "a journey inland right up into the cool country away from this tropic malarial port."
"Ah!" cried Mark excitedly. "That's what he said, father, and he came to us to—"
Mark stopped short, gazing hard at his father, for a sudden shrinking as to how Sir James would take his words made him for the time being mute.
"Well, my boy, what did he say? Why don't you go on?"
"I didn't like to, father," faltered the boy.
"Why not, sir?"
"Because, father, I was afraid that you would think it so unreasonable."
"Humph! How much do you want, then, eh? I am afraid your distressed sailor is a bit of a beggar after all."
"Oh, no, father," cried Mark excitedly, and he had quite recovered his confidence now. "The poor fellow spoke as if he were appealing for his life."
"Was all this genuine, Mark, or the cunning of a practised mendicant— stop—what do you say, Dean?"
"Oh, uncle, I am sure it was genuine."
"Humph! Yes," said Sir James. "You are like what your mother was, boy—easily moved. Sounds bad, doctor. What do you say?"
"Let us first hear the whole of Mark's story, sir," replied the doctor.
"Right. Phew! I don't think it's quite so hot as it was. Now, Mark, what more have you to say?"
The boy addressed was strung up now, and he spoke out firmly and quickly.
"He said, father, that he had heard we were going up the country and to the mountains to where it would be life to him; that he was a sailor, a handy man; that he should get better quickly, and would work and put his hand to anything, if we—if we—you, I mean, father—would take him with you—us, I mean—and—those are not quite the words he said, but that's what he meant, and I—I—"
The boy glanced in his father's lowering face and stopped short.
"And you—" began Sir James, and Mark's heart sank, for he felt that his appeal was vain.
In fact, his words sank almost to a whisper as he went on, "I said I'd ask you, father, if you would take him."
"Bah!" burst out Sir James angrily. "Unreasonable! Absurd! Impossible! Do you mean to tell me that you wish me to saddle myself upon this disastrous journey with a sick man, perhaps a dying man? Why, boy, have you lost your senses? Do you mean to tell me that you would like to take him with us when we are already provided—even supposing that he was going to get better—provided, I say, with two excellent servants, strong, healthy, and ready to help us through our troubles? Answer me, sir. Don't sit staring at me in that idiotic way. Now then, tell me—you first, Dean; you were in this hobble with your cousin. Would you like to take him?"
"Yes, uncle," said Dean quietly.
"Pooh! That's your mother speaking, boy. Now you, Mark, if you are not afraid to speak, as you said just now. Would you really like to take him?"
"Yes, father; and I am sure if you saw the poor fellow you would feel the same."
"Well," cried Sir James excitedly, "of all the—the—Here, doctor, I have come, and I suppose I am to submit to—pooh!—there—it's this hot weather—let's get away as soon as we can, doctor, and—here, I feel sure that the boys have encountered some cunning impostor," and Sir James stopped short, and wiped his forehead before continuing, "Here, I say, Robertson, what about charity and one's fellow-creatures? And don't we read somewhere about helping a lame dog over a stile?"
"Yes, Sir James," said the doctor, very quietly.
"To be sure, and I am quite certain that this heat makes me feel horribly irritable. These boys take it all as coolly as—what do they say?—as cucumbers. Nothing affects them."
The two lads stared at each other as they recalled their walk, and burst into a half hysterical laugh.
"Why, uncle," cried Dean, "Mark's been horrid all day, and I haven't been a bit better."
"I am glad to hear it, boy. Then there's some excuse for me. Well, doctor, I suppose you had better go and see this fellow. I will trust to your common sense. Here, stop. You boys, has this fellow anybody here who will give him a character?"
"Yes," they exclaimed together; "the British Consul."
"Humph! Come, that sounds respectable. Well, I don't mean to stir out till we start up country. I'd go to-night if I could. And I leave it to you to see into this matter. It wouldn't be Christian-like, would it, not to lend the poor fellow a hand. There, as I said before, I trust to you, carte blanche, in that sort of thing to do what you think best."
"Thank you, Sir James," said the doctor gravely.
"Oh, you thoroughly approve of what I have said, then?"
"Thoroughly, sir, and I feel very proud of our boys."
And so it came to pass that Daniel Mann—after the doctor had seen him and had had an interview with the British Consul—was prescribed for with the news that he would be taken upon the expedition. Thanks to this intelligence, he looked at the end of two days quite a different man, even after hearing from the two keepers the anything but cheering words that they thought the governor must be mad.
Two days later the party, bag and baggage, were on their way up country to the extreme point, the rail head, so to speak, of civilisation—the spot where the advance guard of British troops kept back the black wave of savagedom, and where waggons and bullocks were to be purchased and the career of wild adventure was to begin.
It had been a long slow journey, but every day as they ascended, the weather, though hot, was tempered by crisp breezes which the doctor declared to be a joy to breathe.
"Health, boys," he said. "Why, can't you feel that you are growing and enjoying life? If you want any proof of the healthiness of the country, look at that sailor."
"Yes; isn't it wonderful!" cried Mark.
"Yes," said Dean; "uncle was talking about it only this morning. He asked me if I didn't see how his colour was altering."
"Oh, that's only the sun," said Mark.
"Think so?" said the doctor, smiling. "I think it's more than that."
"But it was getting out of that nasty damp oven of a port," said Mark. "I felt horrible there, and as if I should be ill if we stopped."
"So did I," added Dean; "and didn't it make—" The boy paused for a moment as if hesitating.
"Well, didn't it make what?"
"—Mark disagreeable," said the boy, with a merry, mischievous look.
"Oh, come, I like that!" cried Mark. "Why, you must have noticed, doctor. Dean was nearly always half asleep, and when he was awake he did nothing but find fault."
A short time after, when the boys were alone, Mark suddenly turned sharply upon his cousin with, "I say, why did you stop short when we were talking to the doctor?"
Dean turned rather red.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"What do I mean? You know."
"Yes; you were going to say that father was dreadfully cross all the time. Come, confess."
"Well," said Dean hesitating, "I am afraid I did think something of the kind."
"Afraid! Why, you did, you beggar, and then packed it all on to my shoulders. Hullo, here comes Mann—man—handy man—Daniel Mann—Dan Mann. What a rum name! Hasn't been very handy yet, though."
"I say, don't! You will have him hear what you say."
"I don't care. Let him! I wasn't saying any harm about him, poor chap. He's coming to us—wants to say something, I suppose."
The conversation was taking place just outside the so-called hotel, though the boys had dubbed it the tin tabernacle—a rough, hastily-built house that had been fitted up by an enterprising trader, where the party found temporary accommodation.
"Well, Daniel? Feel better?"
"Dan, please, sir. My mates never put any 'yel' at the end of my name."
"That isn't the end," said Mark sharply. "That's the middle. Well, do you feel better?"
"Feel better, sir?" said the man, whose miserably pallid face was overspread for the moment by a warm glow, while the tears of gratitude stood in his eyes. "Why, every morning since we came up I have seemed to be coming to life again."
"Well, don't cry about it," said Mark shortly.
"Oh, that's nothing, sir," said the man, using the back of both fists to brush away the signs of his emotion. "That's only being so weak, sir. Don't you take any notice of that. You see, I have been going backwards and getting quite like a kid again. And oh, gentlemen, it was a lucky day for me when I run against you two."
"Stop!" cried Mark angrily. "This is the third time you have begun talking to us like this, and we won't stand it; will we, Dean?"
"No, that we won't," cried his cousin. "Here, Daniel—Dan, I mean—"
"Thank you, sir. That's better."
"You wait a bit. I had not finished," continued Mark. "If ever you say another word to us, whether we are together or whether we are alone, about being grateful, and that sort of thing, I shall say you are a canting humbug—at least, my cousin will; I shouldn't like to be so harsh."
Dean dug his elbow into his cousin's ribs at this.
"And we don't want to think that of you," continued Mark. "I say, though, you do look a lot better."
"I am, sir," said the man, smiling. "And now we have got up here, sir, I want you to ask Sir James and the doctor to set me to work."
"Why, you are too weak yet."
"Weak, sir? Not so weak as that. 'Sides, doing a bit of hauling or something of that kind will help to get me in sailing trim once more. Why, arter all these long weeks lying by and feeling that I should never be a man again—why, the very sound of doing something sets one longing."
"Well, you go on getting better."
"Better, sir! I am better," cried the man sharply. "I know I don't look thin and like a fellow on the sick list, but the time I overhauled you down there at the port I felt like a walking shadder."
"Ah, that's the doctor's physic," said Dean.
"Physic, sir? Why, he never give me none—nothing but some white stuff—ten drips as he let drop carefully out of a little bottle. No, sir, it warn't that, but getting up here where one could breathe, and now instead of lying awake in the dark with the mysture running off one's face in drops, I just put my head down of a night feeling the cold air blowing over one, and the next minute I am fast asleep."
"Yes, one can sleep here," said Mark, "sound as a top."
"Yes, sir; same here, sir. Oh, I shall be all right in a day or two, sir, if I can get to work. I don't hold with hanging about with them two men of yourn looking at me as if I warn't worth my salt."
"Do they?" said Mark sharply.
"Well, perhaps it arn't that, sir, but that's what I feel."
"But look here," cried Mark; "aren't they civil to you? Because we are not going to stand that; are we, Dean?"
"Beg pardon, sir; please don't you go a-thinking that I'm a-finding fault."
"You look here," said Mark. "If they—"
"Oh, I beg your pardon, sir," said the man. "You see, it's like this; you picked me up, quite a stranger, and it's quite nat'ral that they shouldn't like a chap on the sick list stuck along with them all at once."
"It's no business of theirs," said Mark shortly. "They have come out here with us to do their duty; and just now it's their duty to do what's right by you, and if my father or the doctor knew that—what?"
"Well, sir, I daresay I'm wrong, but I've got it into my head that one of them feels a bit jealous like that I'm going to step into his shoes and that he'll be dismissed his ship."
"Pshaw!" ejaculated Mark angrily. "He has no right to think anything of the kind. You three have got to work together and be like messmates, as you sailors call it."
"That's right, sir; messmates is the word; but—" The man stopped.
"Well, out with it," said Mark. "What were you going to say?"
"Well, sir," said the man, hesitating, and he turned now to look half appealingly at Dean, "you see, sir, I am a bit weak still in the head."
"Of course you are! Then go on getting strong."
"Thankye, sir; that's what I am doing," said the man; "but I can't help every now and then thinking that all this 'ere is too good to be true, and that as soon as Sir James and the doctor thinks that I'm all right again they will say, 'There, my lad, you are about fit to shift for yourself, and you can go.'"
"Oh, I see," said Mark sarcastically.
"Yes, sir, that's it," said the man, with a sigh.
"Now, let's see," said Mark, and he gave his cousin a peculiar look; "I suppose, fairly speaking, it will take about a month before you are quite right again."
"Bless your heart, sir, not it! Fortnight, more likely; I should say about a week."
"Well, I hope that in a month's time—for that's what I'll give you; eh, Dean?"
"Oh, quite," said his cousin decisively.
"Well, I will put it at three weeks," said Mark, "and by that time I hope we shall be a couple of hundred miles farther up the country, with the ponies and the waggons and the teams of oxen all with us in travelling trim, right away in the wild country, where there's no settlement—not a house—nothing but here and there one of the blacks' camps—kraals, as they call them; eh, Dean?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Well, then, at the end of that time—oh, I shall make it a month—"
The man drew a deep breath.
"And then my father will have a quiet chat with the doctor and take his opinion. He always goes by Dr Robertson's opinion, doesn't he, Dean?"
"Always," said his cousin.
"And then he'll what slang people call sack you. You sailors don't say sack, do you?"
"No, sir," said the man sadly. "When I was in the Royal Navy we used to call it being paid off."
"Well, it doesn't matter," said Mark. "Then of course when we are hundreds of miles from everywhere my father will pay you off."
"Oh, no, sir," said the man earnestly, "I don't expect no pay."
"Never mind what you expect. My father, I say, will tell you to be off and shift for yourself and get back to that moist oven of a port the best way you can. Won't he, Dean?"
Dean caught his cousin's eye, and said decisively, "Yes, of course. That's just like uncle;" and by means of an effort he kept his face straight, looking, as Mark afterwards told him, like a badly carved piece of solid mahogany.
"Yes, sir," said the man sadly; "and I daresay I shall be able to steer my way right enough, and for all his kindness I shall be very thankful, and—"
"Yah!" shouted Mark. "Didn't I tell you that if ever you spoke again like that I'd—I'd—"
"I beg your pardon, sir."
"This chap's very weak still in his head, Dean, or else he would not dare to think that an English gentleman would behave like a cad. There, man Dan—no, I mean Dan Mann—just make up your mind that you are in for this trip with all its troubles and hard work."
"Do you mean it, sir?" cried the man, and he looked from one to the other.
"Mean it? Why, of course we do. So never say anything about it again. Ah, here come father and the doctor. Would you like to ask them if what we say is true?"
"Not now, sir," said the man. "I am a bit weak still, more shaky than I thought."
The poor fellow's voice sounded very husky during the last few words, and he hurried away, watched by the boys.
"I say, Dean, he's better," said Mark. "He could not walk like that a fortnight ago. Do you know, I begin to like that chap. He's rather comic looking, but he is such a regular sailor."
"Yes," said Dean, "with quite a sailor's frank boyish sort of way."
"Like you, eh?" said Mark.
"Get out! Don't chaff. Present company always excepted. I wasn't thinking about you. But I say, didn't he take it all in as innocent as could be about uncle setting him adrift out in the wilds?"
"Yes.—Well, father, how many bullocks have you bought?"
"Forty-eight, my boy. Fine ones."
"Forty-eight!" cried the boys, in a breath. "Twenty-four in a span."
"Precious long span, uncle," said Dean, laughing, as he stretched from thumb tip to little finger measuring along his arm.
"Yes, rather," said the doctor. "They are long spans; but we are obliged to provide against loss. Like to come and see them, boys?"
"Of course!" they cried, in a breath.
HOW TO HANDLE A WHIP.
Sir James turned back with the doctor, and soon after the boys were intently examining the drove of nearly fifty beautiful, sleek, well-bred oxen in their kraal, where they were in charge of their drivers, one a big, bluff, manly-looking fellow, well bronzed by the sun, and with Englishman stamped upon every feature, forming a striking contrast to his companion, a flat-nosed, half-bred Hottentot, who grinned at them stupidly.
"We just want another look round, my lad," said the doctor.
"All right, sir," said the big driver, endorsing his appearance by his speech; and taking the lead, he showed the little party and expatiated upon the qualities of the leading and pole oxen, upon how sleek and well they looked, and gave to each its name, while the Hottentot driver, who confined himself to Dutch, helped to call up bullock after bullock, all of which answered sluggishly to their names.
Then the boys were made acquainted with the novelties, to them, of dissel-boom, trek-tow, and yokes.
"But I say," cried Mark, "you don't call that a whip, do you?" And he pointed to one that might have been used in Brobdingnag.
"Yes, sir; that's the whip," said the Englishman, laughing. "You see, one wants a long one to touch up an ox who may be the leader twelve bullocks' lengths away from where you are sitting on the box."
"Let's try," said Mark.
The man smiled as he took down and handed the gigantic thong.
"Mind what you are doing, sir," he said. "A waggon whip is rather an awkward thing, until you are used to it; but when you are you know it is a nice, neat, handy little tool. You see, it's a two-handed weapon."
"That's plain enough," said Dean, laughing. "Let's have a try after you, Mark."
"Yes," said his cousin, giving the whip a wave round, its heavy lash whistling through the air.
"Here, stop!" cried Sir James angrily. "What do you think you are doing? Salmon fishing? It's a good thing, doctor, that there's no hook at the end."
"Oh, I'm very sorry, father," said the boy, colouring.
"Very sorry, indeed! Why, you nearly cut my ear off. Here, doctor, we had better go."
"No, no, don't go, father. I won't try any more;" and Mark hastily handed the great whip back to the driver.
"Here, but I want to try," said Dean.
"Well, you are not going to try now," said his uncle, half irritably. "You will have plenty of chances, both of you, when you have got a field to yourselves. You will be scaring the bullocks."
"All right, sir," said the big fellow, replacing the whip by the great tilted waggon. "I'll teach you how to handle it when we get out on the veldt. Like me to show you, perhaps, now?"
"No, no," said Sir James; "not while we are here."
"It's quite safe, sir," said the man good-humouredly. "I could give a flip to any one of the bullocks you like to point out without the thong coming near anybody."
"Oh, let him, please, father."
"Very well," said Sir James, rather grumpily. "Shall we stand farther off?"
"Oh, no, sir," replied the man.
"Let's pick out that one with the white nose," whispered Dean. "I don't believe he can hit it;" and he pointed to one fat beast that was standing almost alone blinking its eyes and ruminating over its cud.
"Yes; hit that one," said Mark.
The man seemed to give the long whip an easy wave in the air, and the point of the lash alighted on the bullock's smooth neck, making the animal start and toss its head; and then in response to a command which sounded like Barrk, it slowly sidled close up to the nearest of its fellows, and then went on chewing the cud again.
"Ay, ay, Jacob!" shouted the driver, and he uttered a few words in a patois that was probably a composition of Dutch and Hottentot, which made the little yellow flat-nosed driver come shambling up, grinning, to take the big whip pitched to him and go off to a distance of some five-and-twenty yards, where, after uttering a few incomprehensible cries which had the effect of making such of the bullocks as were crouching in the sand rise slowly to their feet and sidle up together, the strange looking driver gave the whip a wave or two where he stood, and began to crack it, at every whish producing what sounded like a series of rifle shots, watching the English driver the while until he was told to desist.
"Bravo!" cried Mark, and Dean clapped his hands.
"I say, can you crack a whip like that?" cried Dean.
"Oh, yes, sir. Teach you too, if you like."
"Well, I do like," said the boy; "but when uncle isn't here."
When the interiors of the two great tilted waggons that were close at hand had been examined with some curiosity, as they were to be storehouses and dwelling-places combined, the little party went off in another direction, Mark eagerly enquiring what was to be their destination now.
"Oh, I was going to show you the little cobs the doctor has bought— ponies, I suppose I ought to call them."
"What, has he got them already?" cried Mark.
"Oh, yes; it has been very short work," said the doctor. "The officer who has charge of the little garrison here introduced me to a dealer, and I think we have been very fortunate to meet a gentleman who was well acquainted with the ways of the settlers here, for he has given me some very good hints, and in addition promised to have a guide found who was hanging about the camp and is now waiting here after being up the country with a hunting party who left for Beira about a fortnight ago. He is one of the Illakas, Sir James," continued the doctor, "and it seems that he has been expelled from his tribe for being friendly to the English."
"Quite a savage, then," said Sir James.
"Oh, yes; I suppose he is a pure-blooded black, and knows the country well. Let me see, we must turn down in this direction, I think. Yes— pass that corrugated iron shed-like house—to be sure, that's it—and there's the man the ponies belong to."
He nodded in the direction of a little keen-looking man who appeared rather mushroom-like, thanks to the well-worn, broad-leafed felt hat he wore. He was leaning over a rough enclosure in which four ponies were browsing, and keenly watching the approaching party as he smoked.
As soon as he realised that they were coming in his direction he took his pipe from his mouth, tapped the ashes out upon a post, took off his hat and stuck the short pipe in the band.
"Come to have a look at the ponies, gentlemen?" he said.
"Yes," said Sir James; "I want my son and nephew to have a look at them and try them."
"I see," said the man, scanning the boys attentively. "My man isn't here. Like them saddled and bridled?"
Sir James looked at the two boys, as the man continued, "Can the young gentlemen ride?"
He glanced at the doctor as he spoke.
"Yes," said the latter quietly; "after our fashion in England. Well broken horses. But they can't ride wild beasts."
"Well, no, captain; nobody expects that; but I shall have to keep you waiting a bit while I have my man found, and send him to borrow a saddle and bridle. I have only got two, and one of the officers from up at the barracks and his friend have got them for the day. I have plenty of halters, and I can clap a rug on one of the ponies. What do you say to that, young gentlemen?"
"I'd rather have one without the rug," said Mark, "if they are quiet."
"Quiet as lambs, sir, as long as you don't play any larks with them."
"Oh, we shan't play any tricks," said Mark.
"That's right, sir. Out here we like to treat a pony well. They are scarce, and worth their money. I am afraid, sir," continued the man, turning to the doctor, "that I did not charge enough for them."
"But you don't want to draw back from your bargain?" said the doctor sternly. "I paid you the price you asked."
"Yes, sir. The captain up yonder brought you to me as English friends, and him and his officers are good customers to me. No, I am not going to ask more. Only I will go as far as this: if you bring them back to me sound and in a fair condition I will take them again at the price. Here, one of you," he shouted to a group of idlers who had sauntered up to the fence of the enclosure, "go to the house and ask the missis to give you a couple of halters and a horse rug. My chap, Browne, has gone to meet the officers."
One of the men sauntered off quietly, leaving the party of strangers to walk across the kraal, the boys keenly examining the little browsing animals.
"Well, doctor," said Sir James, "I must say I admire your choice. They are beautiful little creatures, and I hope that they have no vice."
"Vice! Not they, sir," said their late owner, as the ponies upon being approached lifted their heads to stare at the visitors for a few moments and then go on browsing at the low-growing bushes that formed their feed. "This don't look like vice, does it, sir?" said the man, thrusting his hand into his pocket and drawing it out full of maize.
One of the ponies raised its head, stretched out its neck in the direction of the extended hand, and trotted up.
"These mealies are rather a hard bite for them, sir, but this lot are very fond of a taste, and I let them have one now and then; but of course you will always have a few sacks handy.—Now, young gentlemen, try this one," and he poured some of the golden grain into Mark's hand. "You too, sir," he continued, and he brought out some more to trickle into Dean's.
There was no doubt so far in the tameness of the two ponies, which fed quietly enough from the boys' hands and submitted to being handled, patted and held by their thick forelocks or manes.
By this time the dealer's messenger had returned with a couple of halters.
"Missis can't find a horse rug," said the man surlily.
"Never mind; we can do without, I daresay. But just be on the lookout, and if you see my Browne send him to me. Now then, gentlemen, like to try barebacked?"
"Yes," said Mark; and as soon as a halter had been thrown over one of the ponies' heads the dealer handed the end to him.
"Oh, come," he said, "not the first time you have been on a pony;" for Mark held up one leg, which the man took in his hand and gave him a hoist; and the boy making a spring at the same time dropped on the pony's glossy back, but like vaulting ambition overleaped himself and rolled over on the other side, startling the pony into making off. But the dealer made a snatch at the halter, just in time, and it stopped short, snorting.
"Hurt, my boy?" cried Sir James, anxiously.
"No, father; only vexed," said the boy, dusting the sand from his flannels. "Now then," he continued, to the dealer, "you hoisted me too hard."
"Going to have another try?"
"Why, of course," cried the boy angrily. "Think I was frightened by a thing like that?"
"You'll do; you'll do," said the dealer, with a little chuckle. "Now then; it was half my fault, and half yours."
The next moment Mark was in his seat, holding his mount with a tight hand as it began to paw up the sand, eager to start.
"Wait for me," cried Dean, for the dealer was clapping the halter on another of the ponies, whose back Dean reached without mishap; and then as if thoroughly accustomed to run together, the attractive looking little pair moved off at an easy canter, closely followed by the other two, and going soon after at a quiet hand gallop twice round the large kraal, and stopping short close up to the dealer at the end of their career.
The boys jumped down, and the two unmounted ponies waited patiently while the halters were shifted and the performance repeated.
"Well, gentlemen, are you satisfied?" said the man, patting the ponies' necks as he spoke.
"Yes, quite," said Sir James. "What do you say, doctor?"
"I should say more than satisfied, only I am afraid that they won't be up to our weight."
"Don't you make any mistake, sir. These little fellows can do more than you expect—that is, if you treat them well. You won't ride them till they founder, I'll be bound. Just you take care that they have enough, and you will find that they will do all you want. You would like me to keep them till you start, I suppose?"
"Certainly," said the doctor; and soon after the little party returned to their inn, the boys talking eagerly about their new acquaintance.
"But I say, father," said Mark, "why, what a party we are going to be— five men, our four selves, four ponies, and all those oxen. Let's see; that's all, isn't it?"
"No," said Sir. James; "you forget the guide."
"Black, isn't he, uncle?"
"Yes; I suppose he's a regular Kaffir, a sort of Zulu. What did the captain say he was, doctor?"
"An Illaka, he called him, I believe, something of the same sort of black, as the Matabeles. But you have forgotten two more."
"Two more, sir?" said Dean. "No, we have counted them all."
"What about the two black forelopers?"
"Why, what are they?" cried Mark.
"The two blacks who go in front of the foremost bullocks."
"Oh," said Mark. "I say, we are beginning to grow."
"Yes," said Sir James; "we are getting to be a pretty good hunting party. What with ourselves, men and cattle, we shall have a good many mouths to feed."
"But you don't want to go back, father?"
"I did, thoroughly," replied Sir James, "when we were down at that dreadful port."
"But not now, uncle," cried Dean.
"Certainly not, my boy. I am as eager to go forward as you boys, and I believe the doctor too. I think we are going to have a most delightful trip. But I say, this doesn't look to me a very good specimen of the health of the country;" and he nodded his head in the direction of a very tall, extremely thin, bilious-looking individual who passed them, and whom they saw make his way right up to the dealer's house.
"Talk about moustachios," cried Mark. "Why, they look like those of a china figure in a tea-shop. I wonder what he calls himself."
"And this one too," said Dean, for they met a fine-looking, well built black with well-cut features, nose almost aquiline, and a haughty look of disdain in his frowning eyes, as, spear over shoulder, he stalked by the English party, not even deigning to turn to glance back.
"I should think he's a chief," said Mark; "a sort of king in his way."
"Doesn't cost him much a year for his clothes," said Dean, laughing, for the big fellow's costume was the simplest of the simple.
"Ah, not much," said Sir James, looking after the man; "one of Nature's noblemen, who looks as if he had never done a stroke of work in his life. I wonder whether he would ever dare to make use of that spear."
"I don't think there's any doubt about it, sir," said the doctor, "if he were offended; and if we meet men like that we shall have to be friends, for that's an ugly looking weapon that he carries over his shoulder with such a jaunty air."
"What are you thinking about, doctor?"
"I was thinking about the full-blooded black that the captain yonder promised to get us for our guide, and I was wondering whether that was likely to be he."
The doctor's words made the rest turn to gaze after the fine-looking, lithe and active black, who stalked on, haughty of mien, without even seeming to give a thought to the English intruders upon his soil.
'MAK' IS SENT IN.
The barracks of Illakaree did not form an attractive object in the lovely landscape surrounded by hills, in and out amongst which the Reptile River ran, for a building hastily raised of corrugated iron never was and never will be beautiful.
"I say ugly," said Mark to his cousin, "but all the same I should like to be inside one when there was a bad hailstorm. My word, what a shindy there would be with the big stones—lumps of ice, I suppose, they would be in a place like this—hammering down upon the zinc roof."
"The soldiers look cheery enough."
"And healthy," said the doctor.
"Thoroughly," said Sir James. "It is a pity they cannot make arrangements down at the port to give their men a holiday up here."
They were close up to the captain's quarters, and he, catching sight of the party, came out hastily to shake hands.
"Well," he said, in a light cheery way, "what can I do for you? How are you getting on?"
"Excellently," said the doctor, "thanks to you. We have secured the ponies, two waggons, and two span of oxen with their drivers."
"That's right. Have you got your forelopers too."
"Not yet, but I suppose there will be no difficulty about them."
"Not the slightest. We generally have one or two black fellows eager to get a job with someone going up country. I will undertake to find them. The oxen are all right, for I have seen them. You couldn't have had a better lot, and you are quite right too over the ponies. Now, is there anything else I can do?"
Before the doctor could speak, the frank, good looking young captain turned to the boys.
"Nice lucky pair of young dogs you are—going on a natural history and hunting trip like this! What wouldn't I give to come with you!"
"Well, come, then," said Sir James. "I should be delighted to strengthen our party with such a companion. You know a good deal about the country, don't you?"
"Well—yes. I have had two or three little excursions in the direction you are going through the great forests and away on to where the old stones are said to be, Dr Robertson," continued the speaker, turning to that visitor.
"But I understood you to say that you had never seen them."
"No; I had to turn back, for my leave had nearly expired, and I came away with the belief that there were no ruins, and that those who had reported about them had seen nothing but some of the castle-like kopjes that look sometimes at a distance like built fortresses of huge granite stones. Still I have heard on the other hand that there are such ruins, and that after their fashion the black tribes keep it a secret and look upon the spot as a sort of Mecca—a sacred place which it is dangerous to approach and which they will not allow the white man to come near for fear he should be hurt, and from fear on their own part of the old bogeys which haunt the ruins. I don't answer for this. It may be all talk, and if I had time there is nothing I should like to do better than to prove it."
"Then you think there is risk in going there."
"No," said the captain, "I really do not. If there were I don't think that the guide would be so ready to undertake his task."
"But the ruins may exist," said the doctor; and the boys listened with their ears wide open or well on the gape for news.
"Certainly; there is plenty of room," said the captain, laughing; "and the black fellow I told you about, as far as I can make out from his jumble of the Ulaka language and broken English, declares that he has seen them—big stone kraals, he calls them."
"Well, why can't you come with us to see?" said the doctor. "It is bound to be very interesting."
"Awfully," said the captain, "and there must be plenty of good sport out there. I'll vouch for that."
"What shall we get?" asked Mark eagerly.
"Lions," said the captain, smiling—"plenty of them. Do you like lion shooting?"
"How can I?" said Mark testily. "How could I? I never shot anything bigger than a pheasant in my life. You are laughing at me."
"Oh, no," said the captain, patting him on the shoulder; "and I daresay next time we meet you will have bagged one or more, and have the skins to show me. Then you will get leopards, which by all means shoot, for they are very mischievous. You will find plenty of hippos in the river, and crocs too. That's why they call it Reptile River; and if you go on far enough, as you ought to if you have plenty of time, you may get a shot or two at giraffes. Ah, and as I say if you go on far enough you may run against okapis."
"O—what, sir?" cried the boys eagerly.
"Oh, a curious new animal that they are reporting. They say it looks half way between a giraffe and a zebra, and it's found in the great central forests. Ah, boys, you have got a fine time before you, and as I said before, I envy you both."
"Then why not think better of Sir James's invitation?" said the doctor. "I am sure you would be able to assist us wonderfully. Say you will come."
"Can't," said the captain firmly. "Duty. The people about here are very peaceable now, but they may break out at any time; and suppose there was an emeute amongst these blacks while I was away shooting. I thank you, Sir James, most heartily, but it is impossible. You will have a capital guide, though, who will show you the way far better than I could."
"Yes, the guide," said Mark hastily. "That's why we have come up this morning."
"Well, you couldn't have come at a better time," said the officer. "He has been far away, for some reason best known to himself, but he marched into camp last evening, looking as if he were monarch of all he surveyed."
"Then that's the man we saw!" cried Dean excitedly.
"Tall, black, fine-looking fellow, well built, and a savage chief every inch of him?"
"Yes," said Mark eagerly; "and hardly any clothes."
"That's the man. There, I will send one of my men to fetch him here;" and stepping to the window he called to the sentry on duty to pass the word for someone to hunt out Mak and bring him there.
"Mak!" said the doctor, laughing. "What, have you got Scotch blacks here?"
"Oh, no. We call him Mak because he is like one of the Makalaka. Properly he belongs to a great tribe called the Ulakas, who used at one time to occupy the kopjes about here. I suppose that is why this place has come to be known as Illakaree."
Only a few minutes later the tall, stately-looking black of the preceding evening was seen crossing the barrack enclosure, carrying his spear over his shoulder and looking down with a sort of contempt at the young bugler by his side, to which the boy retorted by looking up as contemptuously at the stalwart black, thinking of him as a naked nigger.
"Now I don't wish to interfere," said the captain. "I only want to be of service to you gentlemen out in this wild place, if I can. It is no presumption to say, I suppose, that you can't understand the Illaka dialect?"
"Certainly not," said the doctor. "I daresay I could get on if the man addressed me in ancient Greek."
"Which he will not do," said the captain, laughing. "He will say very little, and what he does say will consist of the most curious jumble of English that ever man gave utterance to. So will you trust me to make terms with him as to what he is to do and what he is to be paid? I purpose offering him the same terms as were given to him by his last employers. He wants very little—and no current coin. A good knife or two and some brass rings will satisfy him. And as to his work that he is to do for you, I tell you frankly that he will not do a stroke, but he will tramp with you upon hunting expeditions till he will tire you out; he will be as keen-scented as a dog, a splendid tracker of every kind of wild beast, and if needs be he will fight for you bravely to the death."
"Well, you couldn't give him a better character," said the doctor, "for our purpose. But what bad qualities have you to put against this?"
"Oh, he is a very wolf at eating."
"Well, it's only fair that he should be," said Mark, "if he hunts for and finds the meat."
"I quite agree with you," said the captain. "Then let me see; I did tell you that he won't do a stroke of work. He is too great a swell— for he really is a chief, and was beaten by a stronger party and had to retreat for his life."
"But I say," said Mark, "how are we going to get on with him if he is going to carry on in that stuck-up, haughty way?"
"Oh, that's nothing," said the captain, laughing. "He puts that on when he comes into camp, to show his contempt for my men. A few of the larky spirits teased him a bit some time ago, and he wouldn't stand it. But I have seen a good deal of him, and he likes me because I wigged the men and gave them to understand before him that I would have none of that nonsense. Why, when he is away out in the forest or veldt with a hunting party—and people treat him well—he is like a merry boy, a regular child of nature. But treat him with contempt, and it raises his bile directly. We are too fond of treating these natives as niggers, but some of them are fine fellows, and as brave as lions—Pooh! Nonsense! As brave as men can be. Yes," he continued, as an orderly appeared, "send in Mak."
The fine-looking black stepped in, to stand in dignified silence, looking keenly round at the party, while the captain spoke to him in broken English which sounded somewhat like that of a weak old nurse prattling to a child, and in answer to which the black responded with the single word, "Good."
"There," said the captain, "I have explained everything to him, gentlemen, and his word 'Good' means that he will serve you faithfully, and show you plenty of game, to find which he will take you to the mineral forest where the trees are so high that it is nearly always twilight, and after that guide you on to the great city where the old people lived, and show you the mighty stones with which they built. That's all, gentlemen. Metaphorically signed and sealed and witnessed by your humble servant, Frank Lawton, of Her Majesty's 200th Light Infantry."
"Thank you," said the doctor. "I never knew there was so much in the one word good before."
Mark glanced at the black, who had been listening intently to the doctor, and catching the boy's movement he fixed him with his eyes so that they two were for some moments apparently trying to read each other's thoughts.
"Well, you look all right," said the boy to himself, and his frank, open countenance expanded into a pleasant smile.
At this the haughty face before him changed suddenly, as if so much natural sunshine had flashed out, and stepping up to the boy he turned his spear upside down so that the point of the keen, leaf-like blade rested on the plain boarded floor of the captain's room, and bending forward he laid the back of his right hand upon Mark's breast.
"Baas," he said, in a deep musical voice; and then moving slowly and with dignity he passed round to each, to repeat the action and the word, his eyes beaming upon everyone in turn, and then finishing off by uttering once more the one word, "Good."
He then glanced at the captain and asked him some question, to which the captain nodded.
The next minute he had glided bare-footed and silent out of the room, while as the party watched they saw him march haughtily past the window and away across the barrack yard.
"There, gentlemen, that's settled, then," said the captain.
"Settled?" said Sir James. "But I ought to give him what the country people call a fastening penny, ought I not?"
"Oh, no, nothing of the kind."
"But about finding him when we want to start? For I want to get away from here as soon as possible."
"You will not have to find him," said the captain, laughing. "He will find you. You may see him hanging about, or you may not. But you may depend upon one thing, that from henceforth he will be like your shadow. Oh, but one word," the captain added. "Your men seem quiet, respectable fellows, but it might be advisable for you to say a few words to them about their treatment of your guide. You know what I mean—about their looking upon him as a nigger. I don't think you need speak to Buck Denham, the big bullock driver, nor to the Hottentot. There."
Sir James and the doctor offered plenty of words of thanks, at which the captain laughed.
"My dear sirs," he said, "not a word more. Put yourselves in my place and suppose I came up country as you did. Wouldn't you have been as pleased as I and our mess are to meet a brother Englishman so far away from home? So not a word more but these: If ever I can serve you in any way, here I am, and you know my name. There, boys, we will see you off when you start, and fire a salute, just as if we had had a visit from the Prince."
MARK'S FIRST WATCH.
"Now, look here," said Sir James, "we have talked all this matter over quite enough, and it is high time that we started in a business-like way, so as to avoid all confusion."
"Hear, hear," said the boys together, and Sir James went on.
"First of all, I am nobody."
"Oh! Oh, I say, father!" cried Mark laughing.
"You hold your tongue, and don't interrupt. I repeat that I am nobody, only a visitor who looks on and joins in the sport when I feel so disposed, and one whom you and your men must take care of."
"But we must have a captain, sir, to give all orders."
"Of course," said Sir James. "I constitute you captain; you, Mark, first lieutenant; Dean, second lieutenant."
"But, Sir James—"
"Dr Robertson, I have planned all this, and I presume that I have a right to do as I please."
"Certainly, sir," said the doctor.
"And perhaps I may think it right to interfere when things are going on not to satisfy me."
"Of course, sir;" and the boys looked at one another.
"Well," continued Sir James, "we have arrived at this pitch, that we are quite independent of the inn. I have paid everybody, and for the last two nights we have been practising camping out, and are going to sleep again to-night in our waggons as we intend to do during our campaign. You, Robertson, have reported to me that everything is properly packed, the waggons loaded with our stores. You have trained our men to occupy their places; we make this waggon our tent or fort to sleep in or sleep under, according to the weather; in short, there is nothing to prevent our starting to-morrow morning."
"So soon, father?" said Mark.
"So soon, sir! Yes. Haven't we been busy here for a fortnight, making our preparations? And a very busy time it has been. I consider that we have finished our stay here with bidding good-bye to the officers and thanking them. You saw how I stopped back at the barracks this evening. Do you know what it was for, doctor?"
"To tell Captain Lawton that I would rather not have any nonsense and procession or firing of farewell salute, and that I had made up my mind that we would start early to-morrow morning."
"Then we really are to go to-morrow, father?"
"But, uncle," protested Dean, "there are several more things that might be useful and that I should like to get."
"Of course there are, sir," said his uncle shortly, "and so there would be if we stopped about here for another month. Now, no more words. You have got your marching orders, captain—I mean, doctor; and you will go round with your officers and see the blacks, the two drivers, and our own three men, so that there may be no excuse for their not being ready."
"Exactly so, Sir James. I am very glad that we have come to this climax."
"So am I," said Sir James. "Eh? What's that, Mark?" for the boy was whispering to his cousin. "What's that you are saying?"
"Oh, I was only talking to Dean, father," said the boy, rather confusedly, and his face turned scarlet, lit up as it was by the swinging lantern beneath which he was seated.
"Yes, sir; I saw you were; and you were protesting against my orders for what I presume you call this hurried start."
"That I am sure I was not, father. I was only joking to Dean."
"And what was the joke, sir? You, Dean, what did he say?"
"I don't like to tell you, uncle."
"I insist that you tell me at once, sir," said Sir James angrily.
The boy gave a deprecating look at his cousin, and then went on hesitatingly, "Mark said that it was comic—"
"Well, sir? Go on."
Dean coughed to clear his voice.
"He said it was comic that you had just made us all officers and then ended by taking it all out of the doctor's hands and playing captain yourself."
"Humph! Well," grunted Sir James, "it does sound a little odd. But this was the final instructions as I was making resignation. But stop a minute. I had just made the reservation that I should interfere if I thought proper. Now I have done. Give your final orders, captain; and then if it was my case I should say, lights out and let's all have a good rest till daylight to-morrow morning. By the way, whose turn is it to take the watch to-night, doctor?"
"Yours, Sir James, and I relieve you two hours after midnight."
"And to-morrow night?"
"Mark first watch, Dean the second."
"Not settled yet."
"Good; and I think it was a very excellent arrangement of yours, doctor, to begin as we did on the first night of our moving into camp."
That night seemed all too short, and Mark could hardly believe that it was close on daylight when the doctor roused him to see the fierce-looking black, spear-armed, dimly showing by the light of the lantern the former carried, while Dean would not believe it at all, but treated it as part of a dream, and turned over, fast asleep again.
"Oh, I say," cried Mark, "did you ever see such an old dozey, doctor?"
"Catch hold of one arm," said the doctor. "I'll take the other. Here, Mak, take hold."
He handed the lantern to the black, who took it and stood looking on while the sleeper was regularly set upon his legs, to stand staring in alarm at the glistening eyes and the white grinning ivory of the man's teeth.
"Oh," he cried, in a half startled tone, "I thought—it can't be morning!"
"Can't it?" said Mark, laughing. "Let go, doctor, I think he's awake now."
"Awake! Of course I am. But I say, is breakfast ready?"
"No, Dean," replied the doctor, "and will not be till we are a couple of hours on our track."
The bustle attending starting had already begun; the waggon drivers were busy with the oxen, the keepers were saddling up two of the ponies, the sailor was proving his right to be called a handy man, and stowing the necessaries of the night in the fore and aft chests of the second waggon, and in an almost incredible space of time everything was ready for the start, and the order was given by the doctor.
Then came the cracking of the whips and the lowing of a couple of uneasy bullocks; there was a strain on the long trek-tow, and the great lumbering waggons moved off into the early dawn, the ponies being led, for the heads of the expedition all agreed that it would be pleasanter to walk till after sunrise through the crisp, cool air and not let their blood stagnate by riding behind the slow, sluggish pacing of the oxen.
At the end of two hours there was a halt for breakfast at a spot selected by the black Illaka, and he looked on while Dan started a fire with a small supply of wood. Dance fetched water from a little stream that ran gurgling by the place, which was evidently in regular use for camping. Bob, after picketing the ponies so that they could browse, went off and brought back more wood, and there with everything looking bright and picturesque in the morning sun, so well had the doctor arranged matters that Mark declared that only one thing was wanting to have made it the most delicious breakfast they had ever had in their lives.
"Why, what did you want, boy?" said Sir James.
"We ought to have shot some birds of some kind, father, to have cooked."
"Oh, never mind the birds. We will have them for dinner," said Sir James merrily.
"If we shoot them," said the doctor. "Here, Dan, give me another mug of coffee, and then look thoroughly well after yourself."
Only about an hour was spent before a fresh start was made, and then the journey was resumed in the most orderly way and kept on till noon, when water was reached at a curve of the little river along which the track led through a dense grove of umbrageous trees. Here there was ample pasture for the cattle, which fed and rested in the shade for a good three hours in the hottest part of the day, while an abundant meal was prepared, after which a deliberate start was made by the well refreshed party.
Then followed a long, slow bullock march till quite early evening, and again the black led them to a beautiful woodland patch at a place where the river whose banks they were following showed a good shallow crossing, another display of traces proving that it was a customary halting-place on the way to some kraal.
Here the great creaking waggons were drawn up, a fire was made and the men busied themselves looking after the cattle and the ponies, a capital meal was prepared, but without any addition being made by rifle or gun; and just at dark, by the light of the twinkling lanterns, preparations began for passing the night.