E-text prepared by Charles Klingman
IN SEARCH OF THE OKAPI
A Story of Adventure in Central Africa
Author of "The Diamond Seekers" "The Fossicker" "Tales from the Veld" etc.
Illustrated by William Rainey, R.I.
Chicago A. C. McClurg & Co. 1904
I. THE HUNTER
II. A NOVEL CRAFT
III. THE CANOE ADRIFT
IV. THE STORY OF MUATA
V. TROUBLE BREWING
VI. THE FLIGHT
VII. THE THOUSAND ISLANDS
VIII. THE BULLS AND THE WILD DOGS
IX. A LION'S CHARGE
X. A NIGHT IN THE REEDS
XI. A TRAP
XII. THE MAN-EATERS
XIII. THE TREE-LION
XIV. THE OVERHEAD PATH
XV. FIGHT WITH A GORILLA
XVI. ACROSS THE LAGOON
XVII. THE PLACE OF REST
XVIII. THE FIGHT IN THE DEFILE
XIX. THE MAKER OF LAWS
XX. THE SECRET WAY
XXI. A VOICE FROM THE DEAD
XXII. A TERRIBLE NIGHT
XXIII. THROUGH THE VAULTS
XXIV. LETTING IN THE RIVER
XXV. THE CRY IN THE NIGHT
IN SEARCH OF THE OKAPI
"Dick, why do you study Arabic so closely?"
"To understand Arabic."
Dick Compton closed his book and placed it carefully in a leather case.
"It is a pity you were born curious, Venning, otherwise you would have made an excellent companion for a studious man. 'Why do I wish to understand Arabic?' Why do you stand on one leg watching a tadpole shed its tail."
"Excuse me, I always sit down to watch a tadpole."
"Yet I have seen you poised on one leg for an hour like a heron, afraid to put down the other foot lest you should scare some wretched pollywog. Why?"
"I do it for the love of the thing, Dick. What is a page of your crooked signs compared with a single green pond and all that it holds?"
"By Jove! Is that so—and would you find a volume in a caterpillar?"
"Why not? Listen to me, Dick. Take the silver-spiked caterpillar, with a skin of black satin and a length that runs to four inches. He lives his life in the topmost boughs of an African palm—a feathered dome amid the forest—and there beneath the blue sky he browses till he descends into the warm earth to sleep in chrysalis form before he emerges as a splendid moth, with glass windows in his wide wings to sail with the fire-flies through the dark vaults of the silent woods."
"All that from a caterpillar?"
"That and much more, Dicky."
"And where will this study of the caterpillar lead you, Godfrey? One can't live on a caterpillar."
"Yet there is one kind—fat and creamy—that makes good soup."
"Ugh, you cormorant! But tell me seriously, what is the end of your studies—where will they lead you?"
"To Central Africa."
"Do you mean that, Venning?"
"I do, Dick. There is one spot on the map of Africa that is marked black. That spot is covered over hundreds of square miles by the unexplored forest. Think what that means to me!"
"Fever most likely—or three inches of spear-head."
"A forest big enough to cover England! Just think of the new forms of life—from a new ant to an elephant or hornless giraffe. The okapi was discovered near that great hunting-ground—and, who is to say there are not other animals as strange in its untrodden depths?"
"Is it a wild-fowl, the okapi?"
"A wild-fowl, you duffer!" exclaimed Venning, indignantly. "Haven't you heard of the dwarfed giraffe, part zebra, discovered by Sir Harry Johnston? It lost the long neck of the original species which browses in the open veld by the necessity to adapt its habits to the changed conditions of life within the forest."
"Your neck is rather long, my boy, from much stretching to watch things. Look out that you don't have it shortened. And so you intend to visit Central Africa? That is very curious!"
"I don't see anything curious about it."
"Nor do I, as to one thing. If a fellow is crazy about butterflies, he may as well roam in Africa as a lunatic with a net as anywhere else; but the curious part of the matter is, that my study of Arabic is intended to prepare me for a trip to the very same place."
"Compton, you don't mean it," said the other, jumping from his seat.
"I do, most decidedly."
"But what has Arabic got to do with the Central African Forest?"
"Quite as much as your short-nosed elephant or long-tailed hippopotamus. I also wish to discover something that has been lost. Don't open your mouth so wide."
"Is it an animal, Dick?"
"Good gracious, no! I don't care twopence about an animal, except it is for the pot, or unless it wants me for dinner. No; mine is another search. It is connected with my father."
"Yes," said Venning, quietly; for his friend had suddenly grown grave.
"When I was a little chap, about seventeen years ago, my mother received a letter dated from the 'great forest.'"
"It contained only these words, 'Good-bye.' With it there was a letter in Arabic, written by my father's headman. That letter was seven months on its travels, and since then no other word have I heard."
Venning muttered something in sympathy.
"My mother," continued the other, "died five years ago, without having learnt the meaning of the message in Arabic. She had a wish that no one but I should read the letter, and often she told me that if it contained any instructions or directions, I was to carry them out. Well, I have interpreted the Arabic signs."
"Yes, Dick; and——"
"And I can't quite make out the meaning. There is a reference to the journal my father kept, with the statement that it was safely hidden; but then follows a reference to a Garden of Rest, to certain people who protected him, and to a slave-trader who did him an injury. These references to me are a mystery; but what is clear is his desire to have his journal recovered from the Arab slave-dealer, described merely as 'The Wolf.'"
"And that is why you wish to go to Central Africa?"
"That is why, Venning. I must recover my father's journal if it exists; I must, if it is not too late, find out how he died; I must find out who are the wild people, and what is the Garden of Rest."
"The Garden of Rest! That sounds peaceful, but it is very vague, Dick, as a direction. A garden in a forest hundreds of miles in length will take some finding."
"I have a clue."
"There is mention of the 'gates' to the garden, whose summits 'are in the clouds'—twin mountains, I take it."
"Even so, Dick, I think I should have more chance of finding my new animal than you would have of hitting off your garden."
"Well, you know now why I have been studying Arabic. I have a little money, and no ties."
"Like me. By Jove! why shouldn't we go out together?"
"Because we have some sense, I suppose," said Compton, coolly. "Have you ever roughed it?"
"I have slept out in the New Forest—often."
"Oh, that's picnicking, with the bark of the fox in place of the lion's roar, and good food in place of 'hard tack,' and perhaps the attentions of a suspicious keeper instead of a surprise attack by wild men of the woods. An explorer needs experience."
"Yes, and he must buy his own experience; but tell me how he can, unless he makes a beginning."
"Now we come to the point, Venning. He should begin with some one who already has experience."
"I see. And you will wait till some seasoned explorer kindly asks you to join him? You'll have to wait a precious long time."
"I'm not so sure," said Dick Compton, with a knowing smile.
"Have you found your explorer, Dick?" shouted Venning, eagerly.
Compton produced a leather purse and extracted a slip of paper cut from an advertisement column, and passed it to his friend.
"By Jove! eh, that's splendid!" spluttered Venning, in his excitement as he glanced at the paper.
"Read it over."
Venning read the notice—
"A GENTLEMAN, who is an experienced traveler, being about to enter upon an expedition into Central Africa, would like to make arrangements with two young men of education and of means to bear a share of the expenses to accompany him.—Apply, for further particulars, to D. H., No. 109 Box, Office of this paper."
"Let us write at once to D. H.," he said eagerly.
"I have seen him."
Venning took a deep breath and stared at his friend.
"I saw him this very morning," said Compton, quietly.
"He said you were too young! Eh? Go on—go on!"
"And I told him I thought I could find a friend who would join me."
"You mean to say that he agreed to take you?" cried Venning, jumping up.
"Oh, splendid! And you will take me to him? You're a brick. What is he like, eh? Is he old or young, eh?"
Compton kept cool outwardly, but he could not subdue the glitter of his dark eyes, or keep the colour out of his cheeks.
"He is about five feet four. I can look over his head."
"There are grey hairs in his beard."
"Quite old; old and little! What bad luck! He will have to look up to us."
"Well, you know, he can't help being small, can he?"
"I suppose, like most little men, he is as vain as he can stick, bumptious, and fidgety," said Venning, despondently.
"He struck me as being very quiet. At any rate, you can judge for yourself, as we are due to see him within half an hour. You must tell him that you are a naturalist, as he intends writing a book, in which a great deal of space will be given to animals. He said he felt a 'bit shaky on his pins' when it came to scientific terms."
"I should be glad to help him there," said Venning; "but it is too good. He would never take a youngster like me."
"He said he would rather have a youngster who would carry out his own views about treating a subject, than a man who would try to teach him his business. Come along and see him for yourself."
"Within half an hour the two friends who had just left school entered a room which was part library, part museum, armoury, dining- room, and cabin, so crammed it was.
"This is my friend Venning, Mr. Hume."
"Glad to see you, Venning. Sit down anywhere."
Compton sat down between the horns of a bleached buffalo skull, but Venning stood like one in a trance. His hand had been swallowed up by a huge palm and thick iron-like fingers, and he was staring down on a pair of the broadest shoulders he had seen, with an arching chest to match. This was the pigmy he had imagined—this man with the shoulders of a giant and the chest of a Hercules. Then his eyes ranged over the walls, gradually recovering their animation.
"Know 'em," said Mr. Hume, waving a bronzed hand towards the wall.
"I think so, sir."
"Just reel off the names."
Venning reeled off the names of a score or more of animals without hesitation, and Mr. Hume looked pleased.
"There are some men," he said, "who come in here and talk over me and round me and under me about fur and feather, and they can't tell a bighorn from a koodoo by the horns on the wall. Now, my friend, you knew those over there in the corner were the horns of a koodoo, but do you know his habits?"
"No, sir; but I spent a month watching a Dartmoor deer."
"A month! Can't learn anything in a month, boy; but you've struck the right book. The pages that are spread out under the sky hold the right teaching, for those who wish to learn about animals. There are writers who make a study of structure; they argue from bones, and classify; but bones don't tell us about the living flesh and blood. You take my meaning?"
"You make a difference between the structure of animals and their habits."
"That's so, my lad. Ever read Jeffreys, and the sketches by the 'Son of the Marshes'?"
Mr. Hume nodded and filled a pipe, having a footlong stem, made out of the wing-bone of an albatross.
"I want to describe the personal habits of animals in their surroundings. I said 'personal' habits. Do you take me?"
"You think I should use another word, and say, perhaps, 'distinctive' habits. I say personal. Now, you take a lion—a bush lion or a veld lion, a yellow lion or a black lion, young or old. That lion, whichever one you take, is a lion by himself. He's got his own character and his own experience. All lions have ways in common because they're built alike. They're heavy and muscular because they've got to pull down big game; and because they're heavy they move slowly, and because they move slowly they've got to adopt common tactics in hunting. Good; but one lion differs from another, and so with other animals, right away through the list. So, I say, one must study the personal habits of animals in their own back yard, so to say, before he can give a true description of them. Do you take my meaning?"
"I should like nothing better than to study animals in their home," said the boy, burning with excitement.
"And the two of you think you would like to join me in my expedition?"
Mr. Hume looked at them out of calm yellowish eyes as if he were studying them.
"We should," they said eagerly.
"Think it will turn out a picnic—a glorified sort of camping-out, with black fellows to wait on you, and a lot of shooting and fishing? Is that your idea?"
"We were talking about that this morning," said Compton, "and we came to the conclusion that exploring was hard work. We are prepared for rough living."
"That's right. And you tell me that you are free to go without giving anxiety to relatives, eh?"
"We neither of us have near relatives."
Mr. Hume stood up and felt each one over in turn, making them draw deep breaths.
"Seem sound," he mused, "in wind and limb. But there is one thing. The great danger in Central Africa is from fever—not from animals or blacks." Here he took down a bottle of white powder, and placed a large pinch in a wine-glass of water. "Quinine is the traveler's stand-by, but there are some who cannot take quinine, It has no effect on them, and such people have no business to set foot in fever districts. Drink this?"
Compton emptied the glass with a wry face, and Venning, when his turn came, shuddered; but they got the dose down, and smiled.
"Now," said Mr. Hume, "you both of you give me references to the headmaster of your school, and I will give you one in return. I will make inquiries about you, and I would advise you to make inquiries about me. You can come back here to-morrow afternoon, and if we are mutually satisfied, we will then fix up a contract."
"I don't think we require a reference," said Venning.
"Why not?" said Mr. Hume, sharply.
"Because," blurted out Venning, turning red—"because you have lived among animals."
Mr. Hume laughed heartily with a deep rumbling laugh.
"Animals are tricky, boy; and yet," he added, "there may be a meaning in what you say. They have a dignity in death that is grand. Go and make your inquiries, lads. I am Dave Hume, the hunter, and my life has been passed in wild lands, but there are some in London who know me."
He rose up to open the door, and Venning overtopped him by inches, yet he did not look either small or unwieldy. His step was springy, and his head, poised on a massive neck, was well set, with the chin raised. He was a man, evidently, who had always looked the world straight in the face. His eyes had a yellowish tinge, and in their colour and their calm they reminded Venning somehow of a lion, an impression heightened by the tawny hue of a long beard.
The next day, the references having been satisfactorily followed up, the contract was entered upon, and the two boys paid over the sum of Pounds 50 each to David Hume, who in his turn agreed to let them share in any profits which the expedition might make, from any source whatever.
"Profits, Mr. Hume?" they asked.
"Profits from hunting, from trading, or from discovery. I don't say that we shall make anything. The chances are, of course, that we may lose all before we are a month out, but it is always well to be business-like. There is gold in Central Africa. We may discover a gold reef. There are new animals in the forest. We may catch an okapi, and if we could land it in England it would fetch a large sum. We might snare a live gorilla, and there is not a gorilla in the zoological gardens of Europe."
"A gorilla!" said Venning, thinking of a picture he had seen of an erect man-ape bending a rifle-barrel into an arch as if it were a cane.
"A gorilla!" said Compton. "I should like to find the Garden of Rest."
"You have heard his story, Mr. Venning?" said the hunter, nodding his head at Compton.
"Well, it was because of that story that I have taken you two into my expedition; otherwise I should have been obliged to decline your services on account of your youth. But the story interested me, and I will do my best to help Compton in his search."
"Thank you," said Compton, quietly.
"The Garden of Rest!" mused the hunter. "That, I take it, would be an Arabian phrase; for such a term would not occur to a native, who is too often idle to attach much value to a state of rest. It sounds peaceful; but I have it in my mind that if we ever reach the place, it will be only after much hard work, much suffering, and danger. You understand that this is no pleasure excursion?"
"We do, sir," said Compton; "yet we expect to get much pleasure from the expedition."
"Another word. I am not an exacting man; but there is one thing I will not tolerate, and that is disobedience. It is well to understand that now;" and there came a stern expression into those singular eyes.
"That is only right," said Compton; and Venning agreed.
A NOVEL CRAFT
A month was devoted to preparation—a month that was full of pleasure to the two friends, for they came into close touch with Dave Hume the hunter, and learnt to regard him almost as a brother. Ordinarily, he was curt in his speech and cold in manner, especially with strangers; but at night, when he had shed his boots and coat, he would talk to them freely of his hunting experiences, and listen with interest to their opinions. He never laughed at their mistakes, nor damped their enthusiasm, but he got the best out of them by a fine courtesy that seemed part of his nature.
Thus it was that when, early in the first week, Venning said he had an idea for a boat that could be easily carried round the cataracts and worked without much labour, he was at once encouraged to give plans and specifications.
"I read once about a 'sneak-box'—a flat-bottomed shooting canoe— that could carry a sail and serve at the same time as a cabin."
"I have used one myself duck-shooting. Go on."
"Well, sir, I built a boat on the plan given, and spent a holiday one year on the Broads. It drew very little water, and was easily managed. However, you know all that. But what I was thinking about was a design for a larger boat of the kind, with a propeller attached to it which could be worked by lever."
"By a lever?"
"Perhaps you have seen a lame man working a bicycle by a lever— well, after that principle. There would be a steel rod with cog- wheels, and one man could work the lever as the lame cyclist does without the labour of rowing." Venning waited nervously for the criticism.
"At any rate the lever would be a relief after the paddles," said Mr. Hume, gravely.
"But that is not all," continued the inventor, hastily. "I would rig up a light American windmill amidships, which could work the screw and get more speed with a following wind in conjunction with a sail rigged up forward."
"Bravo, my boy!" said Mr. Hume, laughing. "How many revolutions of the screw to the minute do you expect to get out of your windmill?"
"That depends on the power of the wind, sir. Do you think it is a mad scheme?"
"It would impress the natives," said Compton, "and at any rate we could start wheat-milling, you know, in case we came to the end of our resources."
"There's no wheat in Central Africa, you duffer! Besides, sir, it's mainly a question of gear. With a lever, cog-wheels, and a running chain after the pattern of the cycle chain, one could——"
"And ball bearings," suggested Compton, slyly.
"Yes; and ball bearings—the friction would be reduced, and we could get more power out of a screw and propeller than we could from four paddles."
"You may be right," said Mr. Hume, thoughtfully.
"We don't want to take a large party, and I confess the water transport has bothered me very much. The wind-mill, I am afraid, we must leave to some other time, but the other part of your scheme is worth placing before practical men, and I will give you a letter to a friend of mine who had a boat built on the Thames."
Venning saw the friend the very next day; the friend gave him an introduction to a member of a great firm of torpedo-boat builders on the Thames, and this gentleman very kindly gave the matter five minutes' attention.
"Your idea, eh?" said the great designer. "Explain what advantage you expect to gain."
"Less labour in working than with paddles, and greater speed."
"Humph! Well, my lad, you leave the matter with me, and I will report. You can look over the yards if you like."
Venning spent the rest of the morning among the wicked-looking sharks of the Navy, and he went back depressed with the thought that his "sneak-box" was merely a plaything. However, he picked up confidence when the next day brought an offer from the builders to turn out an aluminium sneak-box in three divisions, with capacity for a crew of six, to be worked on occasion by two men pulling at levers, driving the propeller by means of endless chains and cog- wheels, the gear to be made of best oil-tempered nickel-steel, with hardened ball bearings. Each division, when detached, of such weight that it could be easily carried by three men, but no guarantee given that the propeller would give the speed desired.
"That is good enough for us, I think," said Mr. Hume.
"They give no guarantee," remarked Compton, cautiously.
"No; but they would not undertake the work unless they had some belief in the idea, and if the propeller proves useless, we can at the worst unship it. In any case we must have the boat, and we could not improve on the makers."
The order was given, and by the fourth week the little boat was launched on the Thames for its first trial. It looked workmanlike in spite of its wide beam and shallow draught, for the great designer who had fashioned the lines of the fastest destroyer afloat had himself drawn up the plans after giving a day's careful thought to the job. The shaft, which rested on nickel-steel sockets, with ball bearings supported by nickel-steel ribs for lightness, was protected by a water-tight casing, and all the other parts made of the very best metal, so as to secure both lightness and strength, with a complicated set of cog-wheels to take off the strain. The steering was by a neat wheel right forward, where the look-out man could have an uninterrupted view. Forward, too, was the socket for the metal mast. The boat was fifteen feet in length, with a beam of four feet amidships, tapering fore and aft, with a well in the centre, and the remaining space covered in with a light aluminium deck, strengthened by oak bends. There was sleeping-room for two, so that with a crew of four there would have to be four watches of three hours each. The peculiar features of the long, low craft were the two levers rising above the after-deck through slots, which gave each a thrust of about one and a half feet, and two saddle-like seats borne on stout supports, one near the stem facing the bows, and the other further forward facing the stem. Venning perched himself on one seat, Compton on the other, one of the hands took the wheel, and Mr. Hume and the designer sat in the well.
Compton's clear-cut face, with well-formed jaws, showed no other sign of interest than a rather amused smile, but Venning's fair features were flushed with excitement and nervous expectation, A man pushed the boat out. It moved at first sluggishly.
"Full speed ahead!" cried out Mr. Hume.
Venning pulled his lever over, and as he shot it back Compton pulled his, the two moving to and fro easily as if they had been rowing a steady stroke.
"She moves, she moves!" cried Mr. Hume, with a shout.
"Take her over the mile," said the designer to the steersman; and he pulled out his watch with exactly the same look of calm interest he showed when presiding over the trial of the fastest craft afloat.
The shining aluminium boat answered to her helm, slipped through the muddy waters in a graceful curve, and then steadied for the straight course.
"Let her go, boys."
The levers worked to and fro with an easy swing; there rose the hum of the chains moving easily below, and the quickened churning of the propeller blades.
The designer glanced from his watch to the bank, which was fast slipping away, and nodded his head at Mr. Hume.
"Easy all. I think she will do;" and he nodded at Venning. "Ten minutes."
"A mile in ten minutes—six miles an hour!"
"And it was as easy as nothing," said Venning—"wasn't it, Dick?"
"Like cutting bread," said Compton.
"Very good, I think; but you must remember that she carries no cargo. Now we'll try her with the sail alone, and then with the sail and screw combined, and then with the screw and oars, for you will see that I have fitted row-locks."
Under a fair breeze the boat skimmed along at a merry pace, with no wave worth speaking of; and with the sail and screw she put on an additional four miles, and with the oars an extra three, making from nine to ten miles an hour.
"I congratulate you, Mr. Venning," said the designer, as they stepped out, thoroughly pleased.
"I am sure, sir, we thank you," said the boy, warmly.
"Eight," said Mr. Hume; "and we are thoroughly pleased with the craft, every one of us."
"She is a beauty," put in Compton—"a real beauty; and I think she would be perfect if a light awning could be fixed up over the after- deck."
"That could be done easily.
"It would be an improvement, certainly," said Mr. Hume.
"I will rig up brackets to hold the rods for the awning."
"And we could fix up mosquito curtains round the sides. That is A 1. Now, what is her name to be?" And Mr. Hume looked at Venning.
He had thought of a name, and was prompt with it—the Okapi.
"And what does that mean?" asked the builder, with a smile.
Venning explained, and the name was adopted.
"Now," said the builder, "if Mr. Venning will come down to-morrow afternoon, my workmen will take the Okapi to pieces in his presence before packing it for delivery in the docks, and explain thoroughly how it is to be put together. I will give orders for several extra plates with fittings to be placed in one of the divisions, so that if you have an accident you will have the material for repairing the mischief. You understand, aluminium cannot be soldered, but you could cover a hole by means of nuts and screws."
Venning was in time next day to receive his instructions, and made in his note-book an outline sketch of each part. While he was so engaged, Mr. Hume, with Compton, were seeing the outfit packed for the steamer, every purchase having been made with great judgment, so that nothing superfluous figured in the list. Their armament consisted of one double express for Mr. Hume, two sporting carbines for the boys, three Mauser revolvers, and one fowling-piece, strong hunting-knives, as well as four Ghoorka knives for cutting a path through the forest. As far as possible all their food-stuff was concentrated in tabloids and essences; each had his own special tin- lined medicine-case, in addition to the common drug-chest; each his own water-bottle of double canvas, a material which, permitting evaporation, keeps the water cool; and each his regulation "billy," or cooking-tin. As for clothing, it was a mixture of luxury and rough wear, of the best silk underwear, cellular shirts of a light blue, and yellow chamois-skin breeches, warranted to grow tougher with use. Putties were discarded, as likely to give harbourage to "jiggers," which bore into the toes, in favour of soft leather high boots, tightly fastened at the knee; and the outfit included needles for the making of moccasins, or veld schoen, from the hides of the larger antelope.
"Why do you select all blue shirts, Mr. Hume?" asked Venning.
"On account of the mosquitoes."
"Consider the feeling of the gorillas," said Compton, dryly. "Perhaps they would prefer green."
"They may find us green enough for their taste, Compton; but I am not joking. Mosquitoes have a preference for some colours and an aversion for others. They dislike blue most of all, so you see I have a purpose in selecting blue—not only for the shirts, but for the mosquito curtains."
"All these precautions for a wretched fly."
"Exactly. A mosquito's gimlet carries more terrors for the explorer than the elephant's trunk, and his hum is more dreaded than the roar of the lion. The mosquito is fever-winged, alert, and bloodthirsty. He carries the germs of malaria with him; and malaria kills off more men than all the reptiles and wild animals combined."
"Is there no way of fighting?" asked Compton, impressed.
"Oh ay; they are fighting him on the West Coast by draining the swamps, where he breeds about the villages. But who can drain the swamps of the Congo, or let light into the Great Forest?"
"Then we stand a fair chance to catch malaria?"
"A better chance," said Mr. Hume, grimly, "than we have of catching the okapi. Fear the mosquito, but at the same time take every precaution against its attack. I have an idea myself that nature has provided a safeguard."
"Quinine?" said Venning.
"Quinine is an antidote. I mean a preventive—but that is your department, Venning. It will be one of your duties to study the little brute, and you may make a great discovery, for instance, it has been discovered that the mosquito dislikes certain colours. Why? It may be that he would show more distinctly on one colour than on another, and so fall an easy victim to an insect-eating bird. But it may be that the leaves of some plant of a particular hue, or the juices of the plant, are distasteful to the insect. Flies don't like the leaves of the blue-gum, and I guess mosquitoes have their likes and dislikes. Find the plant they dislike, and we may defy them."
They had no accommodation for such a luxury as a tent, but instead they purchased canvas hammocks, each with a waterproof covering, and a roll of green canvas with strong eyelet-holes, to serve the purpose of a tent, in addition to a canvas awning with bamboo rods, to cover the whole boat in case they were not able to land for any length of time.
It was a pleasant time for the boys, and when at last they were pitching down the Channel into the Bay of Biscay, having meanwhile passed through a miserable twenty-four hours, they inhaled the strong salt air and clapped each other on the back.
It was grand!
They stood in the bows, one hand on the rail, the other on the brim of a hat, and tasted the salt with a smack of the lips. The wind blew its life into their eyes, brightened them, toughened their skins, reddened them, and the spray, drying on the red, softened the colour to a fine healthy brown. Then the good ship heeled over and rolled back with a swing of the yards, and the first roller from the Atlantic went majestically by. They were on the old, old track of the adventurers, of the sea-rovers, of the great captains, of the empire builders, and before them, far off in the fastness of the Dark Continent, was the Great Forest with all its secrets fast held.
THE CANOE ADRIFT
They passed in time the rocks that guard Madeira, the green bay of Funchal, the peak of Teneriffe, and then the ship turned on its heel to the West Coast, and, while yet a thousand miles away, was welcomed by two messengers—a shrike and a hawk-moth, who had sailed along some upper current of air with red sand from the Sahara to filter down at last on to a firm resting-place.
They went away down into the Gulf of Guinea, and with many a call by the way to discharge cargo, approached the mouth of the Congo, whose flood gave a tawny colour to the sea. So far they had seen nothing but the squalid fringe of the Continent, and the damp heat had steamed them and tried them, but the young explorers had not lost the fine edge of their imagination. They knew that hundreds of miles back in the unexplored heart of the land there were secrets to be unraveled, and though they shed their warmer clothing, they retained their ardour. The river somewhere in its far reaches held for them, and them alone, new forms of life—the grandfather of all the crocodiles, a mammoth hippo; and somewhere in the forest was some huge gorilla waiting to offer them battle. Moreover, were these not the gates of the Place of Rest?
"Surely," said Compton, as they steamed slowly into the night off the mouth of the great river, "thy slave is not cast down because the black children of the mud-house at our last calling-place did mock us with their mouths, and the man, their father, wore the silk hat and frock-coat of civilization?"
"Perish the thought," said Venning, throwing a banana peel at a brilliant flash of phosphorescent light in the oily waters. "Yet the man-who-was-tired, he of the parchment face, who sat on a verandah with his feet on the rail, prophesied that within seven days we should be sighing for English bacon in the country where a white man could breathe."
"There is no snap in the air; but I can breathe freely. See;" and Compton took a deep breath.
"That is the teaching of the hunter," said Venning, wisely. "Deep breathing gives a man deep lungs. That is his teaching. Also this, that a man should keep his skin clean and his muscles supple by hard rubbing after the bath. Therefore, I did ask the bo'sun to turn the hose on us in the morning when they clean down the decks. It is good friction."
"And he has another saying—that it is good for the skin to apply oil with the palm of the hand till the skin reddens. I have a smell about me like a blue gum-tree, for the ointment he gave contains eucalyptus oil."
"And the fat of a goat. There is much virtue in goats' fat, and the eucalyptus is not to the taste of the trumpeter."
"Then why don't you say so in good English?" and Compton dropped away from his high-flown speech. "I bet that's a shark kicking up all that phosphorescence."
"He swims in fire, like the—like the——"
"Like Apollo, you lean-minded insect. With every sweep of his tail he sends out diadems of liquid gems, and his broad nose shovels fire before him like a——"
"Stoker. Exactly; and if we had a lump of fat pork and a hook we could drag him up and collect a basketful of jewels. I dare say he is leering up at us with a green and longing eye."
"Did you hear that cry?" asked Venning, suddenly.
"No." "Was it the shark whispering, do you think?"
"Shut up and listen."
They leant over the rail and peered into the night. The drowsy air throbbed to the measured beat of the engines, but they scarcely noticed that accustomed sound.
"There it is again."
"Yes. I heard something like a sheep bleating."
"Would a sheep be swimming out here, you ass?"
"The shark's off—look!" and they saw a streak of fire shoot forward.
"And there goes another. By Jove, they must have heard the cry!"
"I'm sorry for the sheep then," muttered Compton.
They bent far forward, listening intently, and following the course taken by the sharks as defined by the gleaming wake. The leadsman swung out the sounder as the vessel slackened down with a yell from the escape-valve that drowned all other sounds with its deafening clamour.
"By the deep nine!" cried a bass voice.
The bell in the engine-room signaled the skipper's order, and the ship felt her way once more. Again there was silence, save for the throb of the engines and the grating of the steering-chain at intervals.
"I have not heard the cry again," said Compton.
"Can you see anything over there—follow the line of my finger— there, just by that gleam?"
"Yes; I think there is something."
"Then I think the captain ought to know;" and Venning ran off first to Mr. Hume.
"Something afloat, eh?" and Mr. Home rose from his deck-chair.
"Some one in distress, I think," They went on to the bridge, and Venning began his story; but the captain cut him short by wheeling round to the rail.
A startling response came in a long, quivering wail out of the dark sea.
"By the lord," muttered the captain, "what's that?"
"Jackal," said Mr. Hume.
"Impossible! We are miles from the shore."
"Jackal, sure enough. Maybe sent adrift by a flood, and taken to a tree."
The captain laughed. "I thought it was a hoodoo at least. Well, lad"—turning to Venning—"you don't want me to pick up a creature like that?"
"I don't think it is far away, sir. I think I see a tree or boat, and if you would lower me over the bows and ease the vessel——"
"Perhaps I could pick it up."
"You are not afraid of being bitten?"
"I think it would know I meant it good."
The skipper laughed good-humouredly. "Well, you're a plucky lad, and, at any rate, I'd not be losing time." He touched the bell, and motioned to the steersman. The ship slowed down and came round. "Mr. Bobbins, just sling this young gentleman over the port-bows, and have a light lowered. Do you still stick to your bargain?"
Venning answered by sliding off the bridge and climbing up into the bows, where a knot of sailors had gathered at the gangway. A rope was looped round his thigh, so as to give his arms play, and two men stood to pay him over and down.
"Here she is!" sang out the mate.
The bell rang out, "Stop her," and Venning went over, catching the rope above his head with his left hand, and taking a turn round with his right foot. There was a scraping sound against the side of the vessel.
"I've got hold," he shouted. "It's a tree—no, a boat." Then, "By Jove!"
"What is it?" cried several together, excited by the startled exclamation.
"Lower the light!" The lantern sank over the side, but those above could not see well because of the bulge of the hull.
"Now lower me. I shall get in and make fast."
"Take care!" cried Mr. Hume.
"Look out for the sharks, sir," sang out a sailor. "There's one coming up."
"Lower away, please—quick!"
The men lowered. "That's right. I'm in the boat, or whatever it is. Now let down the lantern."
Those leaning over the side saw Venning reach up for the lantern, and then they heard a snarling and snapping.
"Stand ready to haul in!" cried the captain. "That brute will attack the boy. One of you men go down."
The snarling continued, mingled with soothing cries from Venning; and then the weird howl burst forth anew, daunting the sailor who was carrying out the captain's order.
The mate stepped forward. "Stand aside!" he cried, and swung himself over and down. He reached Venning's side, and they saw him peering about him.
"By thunder!" he muttered.
"What is it?" demanded the captain, irritably. "D'ye expect me to spend the whole night here?"
"A minute, sir. Let over a running tackle, and we'll have the whole thing aboard."
"Lively there! Lower the tackle, and don't stand staring with your mouths open. Swing out those davits."
The davits swung out, the tackle ran through the pulleys into the water with a splash, and the mate shifted the unknown craft, with its mysterious freight, amidships. A few moments he occupied in getting the tackle into position.
"Haul in!" he shouted.
"Heave!" roared the captain, in a state of high excitement; and the sailors, wrought up to a pitch, heaved with a will.
The captain, Mr. Hume, and Compton, peering over the side, saw a long, narrow canoe rising up, with the forms of the mate and Venning standing amidships, and some huddled object aft.
The canoe swung clear of the rails, the tackle was made fast, the davits swung in, and then the canoe was slowly lowered to the main deck.
"Why, it's a man," shouted Compton.
"And a dog," muttered the sailors, falling back. "With a mouthful of teeth."
The mate and Venning stepped out as the canoe reached the deck, and the mate turned the lantern full on the huddled group, showing a jackal, with raised mane and bared teeth, crouching over the prostrate form of a man, whose teeth also were bared, and whose eyes seemed to glare with the same fury that showed in the flaming green eyes of the animal.
"What a pair of demons!"
"The man is gagged and bound, captain," said Venning. "If the cook will bring a piece of meat for the jackal, I think I can get to the man without trouble."
"You've done very well, Venning," said Mr. Hume, quietly. "Leave this matter to me; it is more in my line."
With his eyes on the jackal, he placed his hand on the side of the canoe and moved forward gently while he spoke in Kaffir. "Peace, little friend," were his words, as he afterwards explained to the amazed captain. "We are hunters both, eh? We know each other, eh? There is no harm in me towards you. You know it, little hunter; you know it well."
It was strange to hear the deep accents of an unknown tongue, strange to see a man using speech in complete gravity to a wild animal, but stranger than all to note the effect on the animal itself.
At first the red mouth opened wide and the green eyes flamed up, but as the strong hand crept nearer, the glare went out under the steady gaze of the man's tawny eyes, and next, with a whimper, the jackal crept forward on its stomach, till the sharp black nose smelt the man's hand.
"We are friends, little hunter, we three;" and the great fingers passed over the yellow body up towards the face of the bound man. "Friends—together—for we are hunters all—you, myself, and this poor one here with his speech cut off." "We will see to that, eh?" The fingers were on the man's face, and with a twist the gag was out, and the man drew in his breath with a great sob.
"Ow—ay, that is better; now a little water."
Still keeping his eyes fixed on the man and his beast, Mr. Hume held out a hand for a cup, and with a moistened handkerchief bathed the cracked and swollen lips. The eyes of both the man and his beast continued fixed on the hunter, following his every movement, and never straying to the ring of faces round, showing white in the glare of the light. The strong fingers moved swiftly here and there, loosening the hide ropes that bound the legs and arms, and then rubbing ointment with a strong smell of eucalyptus into the bruised skin.
"So—now a little broth for the man, cook, and a scrap of meat for the jackal. Gently, gently, cook; don't scare them, and don't crowd in, you others."
"Ay, ay," burst out the captain, in a sudden fury. "What's the whole ship's company doing here? Is this a garden-party, Mr. Robbins?"
"Get forward!" roared the mate, in a voice that sent the jackal almost crazy with renewed fright; and at the creature's wild cry the sailors hurried off, muttering that they had taken a whole cargo of misfortune aboard.
The hunter looked reproachfully at the mate, who was mounting to the bridge, and then began once more to soothe the frightened animal, which in time took a bit of raw meat he proffered. The man drank his broth, and then sat up to stare about him with quick glances. When lying down he had seemed black, but, now that he was in the light, it was seen that he was more mahogany than black, with a more prominent nose and thinner lips than are usually found with the negroid stock. His hair, however, was in little tufts, and the white of his eyes had the smoky hue of the negro. As he sat, Mr. Hume rubbed the back of his neck, and fed him with broth, a mouthful at a time, and as this went on the fierce black eyes again and again returned from their swift, suspicious range to the hunter's face.
"He seems to grow stronger," said Venning.
"Fetch a rug from my cabin; we will make him a bed in his own canoe. He will rest easier there till the morning."
The rug was brought, and the man nodded his head as it was arranged comfortably; then, with another long intent look at the hunter, he settled himself down with a sigh, spoke a word to his strange companion, which at once curled itself at his feet, and was asleep.
"Now, boys," said Mr. Hume, "you go to bed. I will watch here, and in the morning, maybe, we will find out the mystery."
In the morning the steamer was on the yellow waters of the Congo, and the boys forgot even about the strange couple in their first view of the mighty river; but the sight of a native-manned canoe, shooting out from the mist which hung in wisp over the waters, recalled the incident. They found Mr. Hume in an easy-chair, drinking his early morning cup of coffee, and at his feet, stretching along the scuppers, was the canoe, still with its crew aboard and asleep, though the jackal slept apparently with one eye open. The canoe was, they saw, made out of a single tree-trunk, and was thickly coated with the slime of the river, a heavy, sodden, roughly shaped craft, most unlike the light boat that skimmed into view from out the mist.
"What do you make of it?" said Mr. Hume, after the two boys had made a long inspection.
"It seems to me," said Venning, "that the jackal has a very dark coat."
"That is so; it is unusually dark. What does that suggest to you?"
"Well, as the colour is adapted to the nature of the country in which the animal hunts, I should say that the jackal came from a wooded district."
"Good. And what is your opinion, Compton?"
Compton bent down to examine the bows. "Look here, sir," he said; "there is a prayer to Allah carved in Arabic on a leaden medallion, and fixed into the wood."
"Is that so?" and the hunter looked at the signs with interest. "I had not seen that. And it means——"
"That Arabs had something to do with the making of the canoe."
"Umph! I doubt very much if it is Arab-built. That talisman may have been found by a native and fixed on—though that is impossible;" and Mr. Hume pondered. "The Arabs may have taken the canoe from the native owner and fixed in the medallion."
"He's awake," said Venning; and the three of them saw that the man, without so much as a movement of surprise at his awakening under such altered circumstances, was keenly observing them.
After he had gravely inspected each in turn, he sat up and raised his hand in salutation. The rug slipped off his shoulders, showing his bare breast, with every rib exposed, and clearly outlined in blue was the form of an animal.
"A totem!" exclaimed the hunter.
"Otter," said Venning.
"Ask the steward if he has the porridge ready that I ordered."
Venning ran off, and returned with a basin of thick oatmeal porridge. The man took it gravely, made another salutation, and ate the whole.
"There's nothing wrong with him," said Mr. Hume, with a smile. "Now we'll get him out of that and fix him up comfortably. I like his looks, and have hopes that he will be useful."
They removed him to a deck-chair, whither he was followed by the jackal, who was in such a state of suspicion that he declined food.
"What I think," said Mr. Hume, in answer to the boys, who wanted his explanation, "is this—that the man and the jackal have come from the interior."
"From the Great Forest?"
"Probably from the Great Forest; for these reasons—that the men who shaped the canoe had no knowledge of the coast-built craft with their high bows; that the man is of a different race from the coast tribes; and because the jackal, from his dark markings, is evidently from a thickly wooded region. That is merely a theory, which does not help us much, and certainly does not explain how he came to be bound and gagged in a canoe at sea hundreds of miles from the forest. However, the main point is that we have got him, and having got him, will keep him."
"Against his will, sir?"
"Oh, I reckon he will be only too thankful for our protection."
"I should think, sir," said Venning, "the fact of his totem being an otter proves that his tribe derives its living mainly from fish."
"That is plausible; but it may, again, be a sign of chieftainship, and a chief I have no doubt he is. Maybe he was sent adrift by some rival faction; but that can scarcely be, for he would not have survived a long journey; and, again, the canoe would have gone aground."
"There is another explanation," said Compton, with a grin. "He may not have come down the river at all. He may have been set adrift from one of those ships we passed for insubordination."
"Ships do not carry canoes or jackals," said Venning, who had made up his mind that the castaway was from the forest, and from nowhere else.
They went down to breakfast, and the morning was occupied in getting their kit and packages together. At noon the steamer was berthed at a pier, and their packages were transferred to a paddle-wheeler, which was to take them over three hundred miles up the wide estuary to a Belgian station. Thence, perhaps, they would proceed hundreds of miles further by another river steamer before they took to their own boat.
"Why, we may be days before we really get to work," said Venning, when the vastness of the Congo was forced on his attention by a casual reference to "hundreds of miles."
"Days—weeks, my boy, before we come to the fringe of our field. The river is more than half the length of the Continent; its length is half the distance by sea from Southampton to the Cape, and, next to the Amazon, it pours a greater body of water into the sea than any river in the world."
"Africa," said Compton, "seems to be the driest and the wettest, in parts, of any country; and all its great rivers, except the Nile, run to waste."
"They'll keep," said Mr. Hume. "When the old world gets tired, worn out, and over-populated, it will find use for these big, silent, deserted rivers, that would carry the ships of the world on their yellow waters."
THE STORY OF MUATA
They went from the wide estuary into the true river, with a width that opened out at times to twenty miles; and while the white men sweltered on the sticky decks, the rescued man grew in strength. When they reached Stanley Pool his skin was like satin again, with a polish on it from the palm-oil he rubbed in continually.
And when he found his strength he found use for his tongue, and in the speech he made to his rescuers. Mr. Hume caught the meaning of a few words of Bantu, Compton detected a phrase or two in Arabic, and Venning, who had been schooling himself since they passed Banana Point at the river mouth, picked out other words in the tongue of the river tribes.
The meaning of his speech, when they had made a mosaic of the different understood facts, was this—that he was a great man in his own land, but only a child now, being without arms or men, but that if the white men ever came to his place, he would be a father and a mother to them. He would throw his shield before them, and protect them with bow and spear.
After this they sat together learning a polyglot speech that would serve roughly as a medium of exchange.
And this was the story of the chief, slowly put together out of these talks—
"I am Muata the chief. The kraal of my house is toward the setting sun, but the fire no longer burns on the hearth. The men-robbers fell upon the place in the early morning. The people were scattered like goats before the lion. Many were taken by the men-robbers, and many were slain; and among them my father.
"The chief's wife, my mother, fled with me into the Great Forest. Many days she lived on roots, and the 'little people' found her in her wanderings. They took her by crooked paths far from the land of her people. Ohe!
"Through the dark woods—through the dark and terrible woods, through the mist and the rain, with much pain, she followed them as they went before her like shadows. And in the folds of her blanket she bore me on her back. It is true.
"She was straight as the palm when she fled from the kraal, and when after long journeying she set me down at the hiding-place, she was thin and bent. Thin and bent was the chief's wife, she who had maidens to wait on her.
"At the hiding-place in the forest there were people whose kraals had been burnt by the men-robbers. Outcasts they were, of many tribes, living together without a chief; but the place was fat, and they grew fat, being without spirit.
"And Muata the child played with other children and grew. He grew on the fatness of the land, and when he could walk, his playmates were the young of the jackal; his playthings were the bow and the spear.
"Ohe! Muata grew to strength like the lion's cub in the knowledge of the hunt. She, even his mother, taught him to follow the trail, showed him the leaf bruised by the foot of a man traveling, showed him the tracks of the beasts, taught him the cries of the animals.
"She rubbed the oil into his skin, set him to hurl the spear, to shaft the arrow, to hit the mark; set him to run and swim, to creep like a snake, to bound like the buck.
"So Muata grew in the ways of a hunter; and when the men of the place went on the hunt, Muata went with them—went as a hunter, and the hut of his mother had meat to spare.
"Then the chief's wife took the boy to the headmen, and the witch- doctors. They drew on his body the sign of the otter—he who is cunning and brave, who is at home on land or in the water. They made him a warrior, he who was a boy, because there was always meat in the hut of his mother.
"But his mother spoke. 'O Muata, hunter of the wild pig, take your spear and your bow, and the quiver of arrows with the iron heads. You will hunt men.' Thus it came that Muata went alone on the war- trail. With him went his mother, who carried the pots and the sleeping-mat, she who carried nothing at her kraal.
"The trail led into the Great Forest toward the rising sun, and there were dangers between the sunrise and its setting—dangers between the setting of the sun and its rising.
"A man-ape of great stature, hairy and fierce, stood before us in the path. He lifted his brows at us, and bared his teeth. Muata was afraid, but his mother called to him softly—called to him not to run, called to him to drive this thing from her path.
"Muata notched an arrow and smote the man-ape in the neck. Yoh! He stood like a man upright, and roared. His roar was like the roar of a lion in pain. Foam came from his lips, and his eyes were fierce.
"The knees of Muata shook; his blood was like water. He was afraid, but his mother laughed and cracked her fingers. The man-ape drew near, but she stood—she the chief's wife. So Muata the boy notched an arrow, and would have loosened it, but she spoke—'Let him come still nearer, O warrior.'
"Muata grew stronger at the word. The man-ape came nearer. Three paces away he stood—and his head was above the head of Muata, his arms were like a young tree, and the chest was like the chest of two men. He opened his mouth and the arrow flew into his throat, bit deep till the point stood out behind. He clutched the shaft with his hands, rocked, and fell, and Muata, taking his spear, thrust it between the great ribs.
"Yoh! the man-ape was dead, and the chief's wife broke the great teeth from the jaw, and cut off the hairs above the eyes. She burnt them, and mixed them with his blood, for Muata to drink. Muata drank and was strong.
"So those two passed through the forest, through the silent dark of the woods, in pain and hunger. Passed out into the plains where there were kraals and yellow men in white coverings.
"And the chiefs wife spoke: 'Behold, it is for this I have suffered much for thee, Muata. What I have sown in sorrow and pain I will reap in your strength. Look and look again! Those are of the race who destroyed the kraals of your people. They are men-hunters, kraal-burners, slayers of children. Steal upon them where they walk idly, and for each arrow slay a man.'
"Muata waited on these men a day and a night, and when he sought his mother on the edge of the forest his quiver was empty, and the chief's wife spoke: 'Where did the arrow strike, O warrior?' And Muata answered, 'In the throat, O my mother.' And the chief's wife said again, 'It is well; but the warrior sees to it that he can recover his arrow. And your quiver is empty.' So Muata returned and recovered his arrows, for the men lay where they fell, the living having gone into the kraals in fear.
"So Muata and the chiefs wife went slowly back to the place of hiding. And because Muata had slain the man-ape and the robbers— they who slay children—the chief's wife sought out the headmen, and spoke: 'Oh, listen! This is Muata, the son of a chief. He has slain the man-ape, and for each arrow that was in his quiver a man-robber. It is fit that he be your chief.' But they laughed, and the chiefs wife held her peace.
"And again, after the crops were gathered, Muata went again on the war-trail alone—went to the river, followed it down the bank, and the little people led him to a kraal in the wood by the river bank— a kraal with a high fence, the kraal of the yellow men-robbers. Muata dived beneath the fence with a short spear in his hand. With his spear he slew the man who watched by the gate, opened the gate, and put fire to the huts. The yellow men ran, some into the forest, and there the little people found them; others fled into a canoe to cross; Muata swam after, and with his spear ripped open the bottom, so that it filled and sank.
"And again, when the place of hiding was reached, the chief's wife sought out the headmen and spoke, saying that Muata was a chief's son. They put her aside with words, saying there was no proof of this last thing he had done. But Muata whistled, and the little people came forward, saying the chiefs son had destroyed the kraal of the evil-doers. Then the headmen took counsel, and again put the chief's wife off.
"The chief's wife bowed her head, but, seeing that she was weak, and that her mind was fixed on the thing she asked for, Muata took the matter into his own hand. He bade the women prepare a big hut for his mother—he put a stick to their shoulders; and when a man sought to slay him there in the presence of them all, Muata smote the man under the arm with his spear. So they built the great hut, and women waited on the chief's wife, his mother, carried water for her, cut the wood, and built the fire.
"So Muata was chief, and year by year he led the men of the place against the yellow robbers, till the name of Muata was feared.
"The would Muata take to himself wives, and would drink beer, and grow fat; but his mother counseled with him, saying he was a boy— saying he was only at the beginning of the path. And Muata listened, for she was wiser than all, and he set his heart on the plan she put before him to win back the land of his people.
"Thus Muata the chief was still a warrior and a hunter. He followed the spoor into the fastnesses of the woods, and trained the young of the jackal to drive the buck towards him.
"Ohe! it was ended. The evil-doers, the child-slayers, the robbers of men, sent spies into the forest, and when Muata returned from his hunting there was wailing at the kraal, and the fire was dead on the hearth. And the women cried, 'O chief, they have taken the lioness; they lured her out with tales of ill that had befallen Muata, even the young lion. So she went forth between the gates, and they, the robbers, carried her away.'
"Muata turned on his heel straightway. He sought the trail of the man-thieves. It was plain and level. It led through the forest, and by night his jackal led him on the scent. By day he followed; by night and day Muata went on the track to the river. At the river he heard news. They had gone on the river towards the setting sun.
"Muata took a canoe from the river people, and with his jackal he followed, while the sun rose and set many times, and he came to the father of rivers.
"The waters were wide, and his canoe was like a leaf carried here and there. His heart was sad, but the spirit of his mother prevailed. He followed, and a man came to him saying that the yellow men were near at hand, and sick of the sickness that shakes. Muata gathered together his strength and pushed on. Ohe! and he fell into the hands of his enemies like a child. He went among them sleeping, and when he awoke his hands and limbs were bound.
"And the enemy mocked him, saying, 'Is this Muata?' saying, 'even the ant will make him cry aloud;' and they smeared fat on him. They shook the ants over him, and they bit deep. They reviled him, they spat on him, as day by day he followed in the canoe tied to their greater canoe. They made plans about him to kill him, but the chief man said even a dog had his price. So they forebore to slay Muata, but they carried him down the father of waters to where there was a still greater canoe with wings. They put a gag into his mouth to still his voice, but in the night the jackal bit through the rope, and Muata was alone on the waters.
"Then the jackal cried suddenly, and Muata was borne out of the water, and he was fed.
"That is the story of Muata, and his heart goes out to the white men who brought him out of the darkness."
That was the story of Muata!
The white boys looked and wondered. This man who had been through so many dangers could not be much older than they were. If his story were true, he had shown endurance, courage, and a force of character that set the stamp of greatness upon him as greatness would be reckoned among his kind.
Was it true that he had slain a gorilla with bow and arrow, that he warred successfully against the Arab slave-hunters? Had he subdued a band of men by sheer force of will?
The boys believed him. They did not stop to ask whether the story was probable. They formed their opinion upon the manner of the young chief—upon his grave dignity, and upon the absence of a boastful spirit.
"If his story is true," said Mr. Hume, "he owes much to his mother."
"Where is your mother?" asked Compton.
"The chief's wife is not a woman," said Muata. "And yet she is a woman. She beguiled them in the forest by pretence of great submission and fear of the woods. So they trusted her to bring firewood, believing she would not go far from the camp. But she was watching for sign of the little people. This I know, for she vanished in the woods near the river. And the yellow hunters of men knew not how she had gone; but they left word to people by the river to say to me that my mother had been carried away in a canoe."
"And what will you do now?"
"See, I am no one—a liver on kindness, a slave at the gate. But in time Muata will return to the place of hiding."
"Better stay with us, Muata. We go into the forest ourselves. We will give you food, and teach you how to use the weapon of the Arab hunters. You will hunt for us, work in the canoe for us, and, maybe, we will go with you to your hiding-place."
"The forest is dark and terrible. Why, will my father enter the darkness with his sons?"
"We go to hunt, and for the love of the woods and the water. Has not a hunter joy in the hunting?"
"I know it;" and the chief observed them intently, as if he were unpersuaded. "The ways of white men are strange. Muata hunts to keep the hut supplied with meat, but the white man carries his meat with him. When he kills he leaves the meat and takes only the horns or the skin of the thing he has slain. Muata is not a child. When he sees a single vulture in the sky, he knows there are others coming behind. A white man comes out of the beyond into the black man's country. He is soft-spoken; he is a hunter only. Mawoh! and behind him comes an army."
"What do you know about white men, Muata?"
"The wise men at the hiding-place talked. They knew one such. He lived among them. His ways were strange. He talked with the trees; he sought among the rocks; he communed with spirits. He was harmless, but the wise men said others would follow on his trail doing mischief. So I ask, my father, why do you wish to enter the forest?"
"Because," said Compton, leaning forward, "my father was lost in the forest, and I would find him. Tell me, where is the white man your old men talked of?"
"The forest takes, the forest keeps," said Muata, lifting a hand solemnly.
"Do you mean," asked the boy, quietly, "that the white man does not live?"
"The people dealt well by their white man. They gave him food; they carried water for him, and built his fire. Even I, as a child, carried wood to him and listened at his knees."
"I am not blaming the people; but I want to find the place that is called the Place of Rest, where my father lived; perhaps where he died."
"This, then, is the hunting?" said the chief, softly.
Mr. Hume recognized the suspicion in the altered tone and suave manner of the chief.
"We have spoken," he said sharply. "We go into the forest to hunt and to seek without anger against any. We thought you would have worked in well with us; but I see you are a man of a crooked mind."
"Softly, my father," said the chief, quietly. "Is it wise that a chief should listen to the counsel of strangers without taking thought for his people?"
"We saved the chief's life."
"The chiefs life is his own"—Muata snapped his fingers—"but the secret of the hiding-place is the life of the people. Go slowly, my father. Muata would work for you and with you; his shield is your shield; his eye is your eye; but the secret of the hiding-place is not his to give away."
"Then you must land here on the bank among your enemies."
The chief glanced at the far-off wooded banks, with lines of smoke rising from cooking-fires.
"I have no weapons," he said.
"We cannot help that," said Mr. Hume, with indifference. "Either you agree to take us to the Place of Rest, or you land."
Muata rose up, looked under the flat of his hand all around, then let the cotton sheet they had given him slip to the deck. The jackal started up, with his ears pricked and his eyes fixed on his master's face. The chief caught hold of a wire rope and jumped on to the rail, where he steadied himself.
"What will you do?" asked Mr. Hume.
Muata turned round and pointed to the otter on his chest.
"You don't mean to say," said Venning, indignantly, "that you are going to let him swim ashore? Why, the bank is miles away, and the crocodiles are in between."
Muata's glance fell on the jackal, and he spoke to it. The animal whined, then crouched.
"A favour, my father," he said. "If the beast followed me, he would be food for the crocodiles. Place him on land when you reach the bank, for the sake of good hunting."
"I will do so."
The chief took another long glance around, then drew himself up for the dive.
"Stop," said Mr. Hume.
Muata looked round.
"Your shield is our shield. So be it. We will not ask you to lead us to your hiding-place. Is that so, Compton?"
"When he leads us," said Compton, nodding his head, "it will be at his own will."
"At any rate," muttered Venning, "he has proved himself to be a man; but I wonder if he would have reached the shore?"
As he spoke the jackal howled, and the chief, who was still standing on the rail, slipped and fell with a splash. They ran to the side, and the jackal, with another howl, sprang to the rail and thence into the river, where a second or two later it was in the troubled wake of the steamer, beating frantically with its fore paws.
"Man overboard!" shouted Mr. Hume. "Stand by with a rope."
But the Belgian skipper on the little bridge held to his course, while a small knot of coloured passengers aft stood laughing and chattering.
"Stop her, you swab," cried Mr. Hume; then, as the man took no notice, he ran to the wheel, thrust aside the steersman, and jammed the wheel over.
The displaced man, with an oath, flung himself at the hunter with the sympathy of the passengers, who, ceasing their laughter, advanced with menacing cries.
Before the boys had time to comprehend the situation, Mr. Hume settled the matter out of hand. Letting go the wheel, he caught his assailant by the waistband, and with a heave flung him overboard. Then with a quick right and left he sent two of the others reeling.
"Now," he roared at the skipper, "back her, or by the Lord I'll fling you in as well."
"Fetch the rifles," said Compton to Venning.
A moment later the two boys stood at the ready with their rifles, and amid a babel of cries the skipper signaled "Stop her." The steamer slowed up, swung gently round, and shaped back to where three dark spots showed.
"There are four," cried Venning, at his first swift glance; "and one is a crocodile. It is making for the jackal."
"Take the wheel, Compton," said Mr. Hume, quite calm again. "Give me your gun, Venning."
The hunter, with the gun, went to the side and looked over. Nearest him was the man he had thrown overboard; beyond was the jackal, making a great splashing; and further on was the face of Muata, who was crying out encouragement to his faithful companion as he swam swiftly towards it; and to the left, moving rapidly towards the jackal, was the crocodile, swimming in a great swirl, with only his eyes showing, and the end of his snout. The hunter steadied himself with a shoulder against a stanchion, and then, without hurry or excitement, and after a look round the deck at the people, to see if there was any further mischief brewing, took deliberate aim and fired.
A shout went up, and the very people who had a minute before been so hostile, now were abject in their praise of Mr. Hume, for the crocodile span round and round in answer to the shot.
"Stand by with a rope, Mr. Compton," cried the hunter, taking command as if by right; and Compton obeyed promptly, but without excitement.
The first man caught the line and swarmed up wet, but subdued in spirit, casting an appealing glance at his late assailant. Muata, in the mean time, reached the half-drowned jackal, held it by the scruff of the neck with one hand, and, turning over on his back, waited for the rope. This flung and seized, he also climbed on board, but there was nothing abject in his appearance. Standing with his head thrown back and his nostrils quivering, he glared a moment at the group of natives; then, seizing a bar of iron, he made a bound forward, uttering a wild war-whoop.
There would have been bloodshed had not Mr. Hume, with surprising quietness, flung himself forward and seized the chief round the waist.
Compton, cool and ready, wrenched the bar away; and, seeing this, the natives plucked up spirit, calling on the white man to throw the "black dog" to the crocodiles, which had been attracted by the blood of their wounded fellow, still beating the water in his flurry.
Venning, however, stepped between with his rifle, and the uproar ceased once more.
"Now," said Mr. Hume, holding the chief by his arm, "what does this mean? What harm have those men done you?"
"My father has the lion's grip. Mawoh! Muata was a babe in his arms."
"That may be, but it is no answer."
"What harm! Did not my father hear the jackal give tongue?"
"I heard; and those jackals there"—indicating the watching group— "yelped at me, so that I flung one into the water. But—what then? Do you seek to slay when your beast howls?"
"My father does not know, then."
"I want to know, for it seems to me you were all mad together."
"Ohe! it is the madness that slays. Ask of those mudfish there for news of the man who stood behind them to slay Muata, who had the gun aimed to shoot when Muata leapt into the water. Ask them, and they will lie."
"What manner of man was this?"
"One of those who hound me in the canoe—even one of the man-hunters who seized my mother."
Mr. Hume looked at the boys. "Did either of you see an Arab on board? Muata says a man was about to fire at him when he sprang overboard."
"I thought he fell," said Compton. "I saw no one with a gun."
"Nor I," said Venning; "but the Arab may have gone below."
Mr. Hume hailed the captain. "My man said an attempt was made on his life. Have you taken an Arab onboard?"
"I have some mad English on board," said the captain, gruffly; "and I will see they do not stay on longer than I can help."
"As to that we will see."
The captain nodded his head and signaled full speed ahead, turning his back on the Englishman.
"I think we can manage the lot," said Compton, coolly.
Mr. Hume laughed. "Perhaps so; but it would be very awkward to be detained at the next station as prisoners, or to be sent back. We must let the matter slide."
"Shall we search the ship, sir?"
Mr. Hume shook his head. "Suppose we found some suspicious passenger. What then? There was no actual attempt on Muata, and we have only his word; besides"—and he glanced at the angry captain— "there is no need to look for trouble—it will come."
He was right. At the next station, reached within a few hours, the captain lodged a complaint to the authorities in the persons of the Belgian officials, who were evidently charmed with the opportunity of teaching the Englishmen a lesson.
First of all, they placed Muata in chains straight away on their finding that he was a dangerous person. When Mr. Hume protested, they placed him under restraint; and that done, they pronounced judgment. The English would pay a fine of Pounds 100, surrender their weapons, and return to Banana Point by the next steamer down.
"Is that all?"
"That is all. But stay. As you will be possibly detained a fortnight, there would be a charge for maintenance."
"Be good enough," said Mr. Hume, producing a document, "to read that paper. It is a passport from the President of the Congo State— your king—authorizing Mr. Hume and party to proceed with his servants by land or water anywhere within the State for purposes of exploration."
The officers examined the document with sour faces, and one of them made an observation in a low tone.
"Precisely," said the other. "This document," he remarked, turning to Mr. Hume, "is not in order. It has not been visaed by the officers at the sub-stations."
"But it was initialed by your superior at the coast."
"It must go back to the sub-stations for endorsement."
Mr. Hume put a restraint on his temper. "And how long will that take?"
"Who knows? Perhaps a month."
"And in the mean time?"
"In the mean time, m'sieur, you will remain our guests."
"Is there no other way?"
"Monsieur must surrender himself to the unpleasant delay. There is no other way." "Unless—but m'sieur would not perhaps face the expense."
"There is a special transport for State business, but to call upon the service for other than State purpose there would be a charge of ten pounds per day."
"I see." Mr. Hume saw that these gentlemen wished to make money out of him. "Very good. I will myself go to the sub-stations by your special transport, and if the Governor says the charge is reasonable, I will pay on my return. I think that will meet the matter."
But it did not at all meet the matter, and the junior officer at once informed his senior that unhappily the special transport had that very morning developed a leak in the boiler.
There followed an embarrassing delay. The authorities waited for Mr. Hume to make a business-like proposal, but the hunter remained grimly silent. The two officers whispered.
"Observe, m'sieur," said the senior, clearing his throat, "my colleague suggests a middle way. If you will place sum demanded by the State in these cases, in the nature of a surety for good faith, we may permit you and your friends to proceed."
"My servant also?"
"The man you have bound."
"Ohe! Pardon, m'sieur; you are not aware that he is an offender against the laws—a notorious criminal. He will be detained and tried."
"I will remain to attend his trial, unless a sum will secure his freedom also?"
"There is a price on his bead."
"Offered by the slave-hunters?"
The shot went home. The officers had been hand in glove with the lawless traders, but they did not want the matter bruited about by meddlesome Englishmen. They scowled.
"He has broken the peace," said the senior, sharply; "he has slain the servants of the State. Am I to understand that you claim to be his master, responsible for his conduct?"
"No, m'sieur," exclaimed the hunter, quickly, fearing he had gone too far, and shifting his ground. "The man is a stranger; do with him as you please; but as for us, since we are here, we will, with your permission, make the place our headquarters. We could not be in better hands."
"You wish to wait for another steamer while your passports are visaed?"
"We will proceed in our own boat, which we would put together."
"Ah, you have a little boat?"
"A very small boat, m'sieur, with barely room for four men. We should be honoured to have your opinion on its qualities, and also upon our stores and their suitability."
Venning looked at Mr. Hume with puzzled eyes. He could not understand his callous abandonment of Muata.
"But," he began, "we cannot——"
"I think it is an excellent place," said Compton, quickly; "and perhaps these gentlemen would be good enough to assist us with advice out of their great experience."
"We should be delighted," said Mr. Hume, politely.
The senior officer stroked his huge moustache with an air of renewed importance.
"There are two spare rooms in my little house," murmured the junior— "one for the stores, the other for sleeping quarters."
"It is understood," said Mr. Hume, "that we pay rent, and also that we pay for the protection you may afford us. I insist on that, messieurs."
The senior nodded a dignified assent, but he was not quite won over, and retired to his quarters, while his junior inspected the landing of the goods, including the sections of the boat. In the afternoon, however, after his nap, the senior succumbed to the influence of a good cigar, and condescended to sample some of the stores. He was even pleased to crack a few jokes over the novel machinery for working the screw of the Okapi by levers, and in the evening he invited Mr. Hume to a friendly game of cards, thoughtfully including in his invitation a bottle of brandy and a box of cigars, for, said he, he wished to wash out the execrable taste of the everlasting manioc.
All the day Muata stood bound to a post in the square, the central figure of a ring of squatting natives, who chewed manioc and discussed his approaching fate with much satisfaction.
He was there, an erect, stoical figure, when the boys sought their room in the little thatched house—a room bare of furniture, divided from the next compartment by hanging mats of native make.
"It's a beastly shame," said Venning, for about the fourth time, as he stared out at the black faces reflected in the blazing log-fires.
"What is a shame?" asked Compton, who was inspecting the partition before seeking his hammock.
"You know well enough. Not a soul stands by the chief; even his jackal bolted as soon as he jumped ashore."
"Because Muata ordered him. He is probably watching from the dark."
"All the worse for us, then. I never thought Mr. Hume would have knuckled down so easily. Hark at him shouting over the game."
"What is the game, do you think?"
"Cards," snorted Venning, in disgust.
"So! Queer sort of partition this;" and Compton moved the mat aside. "No need for doors, you see. Hulloa! Who are you?"
"Me Zanzibar boy, master," exclaimed a soft, oily voice.
"Then clear out."
"Me put here watch my master—see black fellows no steal."
"Oh, I see. Chuck a cake of tobacco, Venning. Here! You like that?"
"Ver good," said the boy, reaching out a yellow hand for the tobacco.
Venning crossed over and peered into the other room. "You boy," he said, "tell me, what will they do to Muata?"
The Zanzibari chuckled. "You want know, eh?"
"We don't care. One black fellow does not matter," said Compton, coolly.
"You brute!" muttered Venning, but stopped as Compton's hand gripped him.
The Zanzibari chuckled again. "What you give, eh, if cut loose that Muata?"
"What do you say?"
"You pay me? Good. In night Muata is loose. He run up river. Bymby master go along in little boat, pick Muata up, eh? What you pay?" and the boy chuckled softly.
"Suppose I tell your white master, you rascal?"
"Wow! You tell, they kill poor Zanzibar boy."
"Then clear out," said Compton, launching a kick; "and if I see any more of you I will tell."
The boy turned sulky. "Me guard—me stay."
"You go," said Compton, "or I will call your masters, and let them deal with you."
Growling under his breath, the self-styled "guard" slunk soft-footed out of the room. Compton struck a match and looked around the apartment, then turned to Venning with a grin.
"That is the game," he whispered.
"I think I understand," Venning replied softly. "That fellow was testing you?"
"And you think Mr. Hume has not forgotten Muata?"
"I am sure he has not."
They crept into their hammocks, but not to sleep, and they were wide awake when Mr. Hume entered noisily some two hours later.
"To-morrow night," he shouted boisterously.
"With pleasure, and the night after, for good visitors are rare," called the Belgian.
"And good hosts also. Touching those two men you promised as the crew for my boat?"
"They will be here to-morrow evening," said the senior officer, thrusting a head round the mat. "Ah, you are comfortable, eh? Yes, I sent a messenger to Hassan's camp by the vessel which brought you. Rest well."
"They are good fellows, these Arabs," said Mr. Hume, with enthusiasm—"good fellows. I remember once——"
"To-morrow night," said the officer, as he withdrew, laughing.
Mr. Hume hummed cheerfully as he prepared for bed, taking no notice of his young comrades, who were regarding him with silent disfavour. With one yawn after another he blew out the light, and struggled into his hammock, to fall asleep almost at once.
Venning's uneasiness returned. He tossed restlessly, listening to the unaccustomed noises from without, and as the hours went by, and at last the sound of talking about the fires died off in a lazy drone, the desire to see what had become of Muata was too strong to resist. Softly he lowered himself to the earth-floor, but, soft as he moved, others had heard.
"Are the mosquitoes troublesome?"
Venning started at the deep voice so unexpected. "I did not know you were awake, sir."
"I sleep very lightly my boy."
"As you are awake, sir, I would like to say——"
But he stopped as the mat rustled.
"Come in," said Mr. Hume.
"Me guard, great master"—in the same soft, oily tones Venning had heard before. "Hear noise. Think may be thieves."
"Mosquitoes, not thieves," said Mr. Hume, quietly. "Bring a light."
The Zanzibar boy complied, and, holding a taper above his head, looked not for mosquitoes, but at the rifles in the corner.
"The skeeters, master," he muttered, with an evil squint at Compton, who was blinking at the light.
"Better get back into your hammock, Venning. You can go, boy; and keep a good watch, for we are coming to the thieves' hour."
The man showed his white teeth in a grin as he withdrew.
"Don't stir from your hammocks until I do," said Mr. Hume, very sternly, in a whisper; then louder, "Good night, Venning."
"Good night, sir," said Venning, convinced that the master was alive to the game, and more easy in his mind.
As he dropped off to sleep he heard the wail of a jackal, and next he was awakened by the sound of a native chanting. It was already daybreak, and Mr. Hume stood on the verandah, having drawn the mats aside.
The sun, striking under the thatch, shone on the hunter's tawny hair and beard, and Venning wondered how for a moment he could have doubted the courage of a man with such a lion-like head. But he was to receive another shock.
"Silence, dog!" roared the hunter, addressing the singer, evidently.
Compton, who was sitting on his hammock dressing, looked out.
"By Jove," he muttered, "he's shouting at Muata!"
Venning jumped down to the floor and looked out. Muata was still bound to the post, and, with his face to the sun, was chanting his words of greeting or of farewell in tones that lacked the deep chest-notes of his war-cry.
One of the natives, hearing the order of the white man, flung a stick at the chief with an insult; but Muata, nothing heeding, sang on his slow song in a voice that was almost like a woman's.
"Must white men lose their sleep because a robber is to die?" roared the hunter again.
Venning snatched up a beaker of water and ran out barefooted. He held the water to the chiefs mouth. Muata turned his smouldering eyes on the boy, sucked in a mouthful of the water, and then shot it out over Venning's outstretched arm.
Venning dropped the mug, and went back with a red face to see the two officers regarding him with sour faces.
"Serve you right," shouted Mr. Hume, in apparent fury. "When will you learn to treat a black like the brute he is?"
"Quite so," said the senior officer, showing himself. "I am glad to find you have no ridiculous sentiment."
"Ah! good morning, my friend," said Mr. Hume, heartily. "As for my young comrade, you must pardon him."
"He has his lesson," said the officer, dryly, as he pointed to the soaked pyjama.
"The man woke me with his singing. I have seen men shot for less than that."
"In good time," said the officer, with a sinister look, "the accusers will be here to-night, and to-morrow"—he made a gesture— "to-morrow you can also choose the two men you need for your boat's crew."
After breakfast, Mr. Hume had an opportunity of speaking without the fear of being overheard, for they finished putting the Okapi together, and worked her out by the levers into the river, where she gleamed in the sun.
"I dare say you think I am a brute," he said, "and I don't blame you; but if we mean to save Muata's life, we must appear to be altogether indifferent to his fate. Those men are keeping a close watch on us."
"I know it," said Compton.
"You do, eh?"
"That Zanzibar boy was spying on us last night before you came, and he tried to get us to bribe him to free Muata."
"I hope you were not so foolish as to fall into the trap?" said the hunter, sharply.
"I kicked him out of the place," said Compton. "I told Venning you were playing a game for Muata's life."
"You did me justice?" said Mr. Hume, with his gaze on Venning.
"It seemed to me terrible to leave him without a word of encouragement," said the boy; "but I am awfully sorry I doubted you, sir."
"You don't now, eh? Well, that's all right, and I think the chief knows too. That is why he spouted the water over you."
"A strange way of showing his gratitude," laughed the boy, with a reddening face at the thought of the outrage.
"Not so strange. He saw the Belgians, and did it to put them off their guard."
"That ought to help us in our plans for his escape."
"We have plans, have we?"
"You have," said Compton, confidently; "and your plan is our plan."
"Thank you," said the hunter, quietly. "If the plan is to succeed, it must work to-night. I do not fear these people here, but I must say I fear the Arabs who are expected this evening."
"I understand that you will choose two of those Arabs as boatmen?"
"The Belgians have arranged that, Compton, not I. Have you any suggestions to offer?"
"I think, sir, that we should get all our things stored in the boat to-day," said Venning.
"Eight; and then?"
"And then," said Venning, his face all alight with ardour—"and then—why, sir, then you shoot one of the hippos over there on that little island. Shoot two; and while all the people in the village are cutting them up for a great feed, we could free Muata undetected."
"That is not so bad," said Compton, judiciously.
"Not at all," said Mr. Hume. "But when Muata is free, what is to become of him—suppose, that is, he can get away unobserved?"
"I have it," said Compton. "The Zanzibar spy suggested it. Let Muata wait for us up the river, and we will pick him up."
Mr. Hume stroked his beard for some moments in silence.
"We'll, try that plan," he said finally; "but don't show any excitement. The native, remember, is a very keen observer. Now pull the boat in."
In the afternoon the village hummed with excitement. The word had gone round that the new white man who had shot the crocodile would give a feast, and the people squatted in rows on the bank watching a couple of their stalwart fellows preparing a canoe for an expedition after the river-horse. When Mr. Hume appeared with his Express in company with the Belgian officers, who were indifferent sportsmen, the people saluted him with a feeling of gratitude for favours to come in the shape of fat meat.