Off to the Wilds, Being the Adventures of Two Brothers, by George Manville Fenn.
The setting is the northern part of what is now South Africa, in the middle of the nineteenth century. Mr Rogers is a British settler in South Africa, a "cottage farmer". The earlier Dutch farmers and settlers are called Boers. The two teenage sons, Jack and Dick, have often asked if they could all go out on a trek to visit the northern parts of the country, for a natural history collecting expedition. They had come out to South Africa for the health of Mrs Rogers, but she had died, and of the two boys, Dick was not very strong, while Jack was very robust.
Off they go, together with two Zulu boys who live on their land, the Zulu boys' father, who is a Chieftain whom they nickname "The General", and an Irish cook, who is always getting into trouble in every situation, in a most infuriating manner. There is also Peter the driver, and Dirk who is a foreloper, the man who walks ahead of the oxen to guide them into the best way.
They expect to pay for the trip with ivory from elephants, feathers from ostriches, animal skins, etc.
The various adventures include encounters with snakes, rhino, hippo, giraffes, elephants, crocodiles, cataracts, tsetse fly, marauding native tribes, a bush fire, hundreds of miles of dreary grinding effort taking many months just to cover the ground, scorching heat, and sometimes cold. And more besides.
As usual with this author there is sustained tension throughout the book. An interesting and instructive book.
OFF TO THE WILDS, BEING THE ADVENTURES OF TWO BROTHERS, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
COFFEE AND CHICORY, BUT NOT FOR BREAKFAST.
"Just look at him, Dick. Be quiet; don't speak."
"Oh, the dirty sunburnt little varmint! I'd like the job o' washing him."
"If you say another word, Dinny, I'll give you a crack with your own stick."
"An' is it meself would belave you'd hurt your own man Dinny wid a shtick, Masther Jack? Why ye wouldn't knock a fly off me."
"Then be quiet. I want to see what he's going to do."
"Shure an' it's one of the masther's owld boots I threw away wid me own hands this morning, because it hadn't a bit more wear in it. An' look at the dirty unclane monkey now."
"He'll hear you directly, Dinny, and I want to see what he's going to do. Hold your tongue."
"Shure an' ye ask me so politely, Masther Jack, that it's obliged to be silent I am."
"Pa was quite right when he said you had got too long a tongue."
"Who said so, Masther Jack?"
"Shure the masther said—and it's meself heard him—that you was to lave your papa at home in owld England, and that when ye came into these savage parts of the wide world, it was to be father."
"Well, father, then. Now hold your tongue. Just look at him, Dick."
"It's meself won't spake again for an hour, and not then if they don't ax me to," said Dennis Riley, generally known as "Dinny," and nothing more. And he, too, joined in watching the "unclane little savage," as he called him, to wit, a handsome, well-grown Zulu lad, whose skin was of a rich brown, and who, like his companion, seemed to be a model of savage health and grace.
For there were two of these lads, exceedingly lightly clad, in a necklace, and a strip of skin round the loins, one of whom was lying on his chest with his chin resting upon his hands, kicking up his feet, and clapping them together as he watched the other, who was evidently in a high state of delight over an old boot.
This boot he had found thrown out in the fenced-in yard at the back of the cottage, and he was now seated upon a bank trying it on.
First, he drew it on with a most serious aspect, held out his leg and gave it a shake, when, finding the boot too loose, he took it off and filled the toe with sand; but as the sand ran out of a gap between the upper leather and the sole close to the toe and as fast as he put it in, he had to look out for something else, which he found in the shape of some coarse dry grass. With this he half filled the boot, and then, with a good deal of difficulty, managed to wriggle in his toes, after which he drew the boot above his ankle, rose up with a smile of gratified pride upon his countenance, and began to strut up and down before his companion.
There was something very laughable in the scene, for it did not seem to occur to the Zulu boy that he required anything else to add to his costume. He had on one English boot, the same as the white men wore, and that seemed to him sufficient, as he stuck his arms akimbo, then folded them as he walked with head erect, and ended by standing on one leg and holding out the booted foot before his admiring companion. This was too much for the other boy, whose eyes glittered as he made a snatch at the boot, dragged it off, and was about to leap up and run away; but his victim was too quick, for, lithe and active as a serpent, he dashed upon the would-be robber, and a fierce struggle ensued for the possession of the boot.
John Rogers, otherwise Jack, a frank English lad of about sixteen, sprang forward to separate the combatants, but Dinny, his father's servant, who had been groom and gardener at home, restrained him.
"No, no, Masther Jack," he cried, "let the young haythens fight it out. It'll make them behave betther by-an'-by."
"I won't; I don't like to see them fight," cried Jack, slipping himself free, and seemingly joining in the fray.
"Don't, Masther Jack," cried Dinny; "they'll come off black on your hands. Masther Dick, sir, tell him to lave them alone."
The lad appealed to, a pale delicate-looking youth, clenched his fists and sprang forward to help his brother. But he stopped directly and began to laugh, as, after a short scuffle, Jack Rogers separated the combatants, and stood between them with the boot in dispute.
For a moment it seemed as if the two Zulu lads were about to make a combined attack, but there was something about the English lad which restrained them, and they stood chattering away in their native tongue, protesting against his interference, and each laying claim to the boot.
"Speak English," cried Jack. "And now you two have got to shake hands like Englishmen, and make friends."
"Want a boot! want a boot! want a boot!" the Zulu lads kept repeating.
"Well, you do as I tell you, and you shall each have a pair of boots."
"Two boot? Two boot?" cried the boy who had lost his treasure.
"Yes; two boots," said Jack. "You've got an old pair, haven't you, Dick?"
"Yes; they can have my old ones," was the reply. "Go and get them, Dinny."
"And my old lace-ups too," said Jack.
"Ugh!" ejaculated Dinny, spitting on the ground in token of disgust. "Ye'll both repint being such friends with cannibal savages like them, young gentlemen. They'll turn round on ye some day, and rend and ate ye both."
"Not they, Dinny," laughed Jack. "They'd prefer Irishmen, so we should be safe if you were there."
"Ah, ye may laugh," said Dinny, "but they're a dangerous lot, them savages, and I wouldn't trust 'em the length of my fut."
Dinny went towards the back door of Mr Rogers' roomy, verandah-surrounded cottage farm, high up in the slopes of the Drakensberg, and looking a perfect bower with its flowers, creepers, and fruit-trees, many being old English friends; and Jack proceeded to make peace between the two Zulu boys.
"Now look here, Sepopo, you've got to shake hands with your brother," he cried.
"No!" cried the Zulu boy who had been lying down when he snatched the boot, and he threw himself in a monkey-like attitude on all fours.
"Now you, Bechele, you've got to make friends and shake hands," continued Jack, paying no heed to Sepopo's defiant attitude.
"No!" cried the last-addressed, emphatically. "'Tole a boot! 'Tole a boot!" And he too plumped himself down upon all fours and stared at the ground.
"I say yes!" cried Jack; when, as if moved by the same influence, the two Zulu boys leaped up, ran a few yards, and picked up each his "kiri," a short stick with a knob at the end nearly as big as the fist, ran back to where the English lads were standing, and with flashing eyes began to beat the sand with their clubs.
"Come along, Dick!" cried Jack. "They shan't fight. You take Sepopo, I'll take Bechele. No; don't! It will make you hot, and you're not strong. I'll give it them both."
Jack, who was very strong and active for his age, made a dash at the young Zulus just as they began threatening each other and evidently meaning to fight, when for a few moments there was a confused struggle, in which Jack would not have been successful but for his brother's help, he having overrated his strength. But Dick joined in, and in spite of their anger the Zulu boys did not attempt to strike at their young masters, the result being that they allowed their kiris to be wrenched from their hands, and the next minute were seated opposite to each other on the ground.
"They're as strong as horses, Dick," panted Jack. "There! Now, you sirs, shake hands!"
"No!" shouted one.
"No!" shouted the other; and with a make believe of fierceness, Jack gave each what he called a topper on the head with one of the kiris he held.
"Now will you make friends?" cried Jack; and again they shouted, "No!"
"They won't. Let them go," said Dick, languidly; "and it makes one so hot and tired."
"They shan't go till they've made friends," said Jack, setting his teeth; and thrusting his hand into his pocket he brought out a piece of thick string, the Zulu boys watching him intently.
They remained where Jack had placed them, and going down on one knee he seized the right hand of each, placed them together, and proceeded to tie them—pretty tightly too.
"There!" cried Jack. "Now you stop till you're good friends once more."
"Good boy now," cried one on the instant.
"Good boy now," cried the other.
"Then shake hands properly," said Jack.
"Give him the boot," cried Sepopo, as soon as his hand was untied, and he had gone through the required ceremony with his brother.
"No, no; give him the boot," cried the other.
"Hold your tongues," cried Jack. "I say, Dick, let's call them something else if they are going to stop with us, Sepopo! Bechele! What names!"
"Well," said Dick, languidly, as he sat down in a weary fashion: "one's going to be your boy, and the other mine. Let's call them 'Black Jack' and 'Black Dick.'"
"But they are brown," said his brother.
"Yes, they are brown certainly," said Dick, thoughtfully. "Regular coffee colour. You might call one of them 'Coffee.'"
"That'll do," said Jack, laughing, "'Coffee!' and shorten it into 'Cough.' I say, Dick, I'll have that name, and I can tell people I've got a bad 'Cough.' But what will you call the other?"
"I don't know. Stop a moment—'Chicory.'"
"And shorten it into 'chick'. That will do, Dick; splendid! Cough and Chick. Now you two, one of you is to be Cough and the other Chick; do you hear?"
The Zulu boys nodded and laughed, though, in spite of the pretty good knowledge of the English language which they had picked up from their intercourse with the British settlers, it is doubtful whether they understood the drift. What they did comprehend, however, was, that they should make friends; and this being settled, there was the old boot.
"Give me boot, and show you big snake," cried Chicory.
"No, no, give me; show more big snake," cried Coffee.
Just then Dinny came up with two old pairs of the lads' boots, which he threw down upon the sandy earth; and reading consent in their young masters' eyes, the Zulu lads pounced upon them with cries of triumph, Coffee obtaining the two rights, and Chicory the two lefts, with which they danced about, flourishing them over their heads with delight.
"Come here, stupids!" cried Jack; and after a little contention, the boys being exceedingly unwilling to part as they thought with their prizes, he managed to make them understand that the boots ought to go in pairs; and the exchange having been made, each boy holding on to a boot with one hand till he got a good grip of the other, they proceeded to put them on.
"Ugh! the haythen bastes," said Dinny, with a look of disgust. "Think of the likes o' them wearing the young masthers' brogues. Ah, Masther Dick, dear, ye'll be repinting it one of these days."
"Dinny, you're a regular prophet of evil," said Dick, quietly.
"Avic—prophet of avil!" cried Dinny. "Well, isn't it the truth? Didn't I say avore we left the owld counthry that no good would come of it? And avore we'd been out here two years didn't the dear misthress— the saints make her bed in heaven—go and die right away?"
"Dinny! how can you!" cried Jack, angrily, as he saw the tears start into his brother's eyes, and that in spite of the sunburning he turned haggard and pale.
"Don't take any notice, Dick," he whispered, in a tender, loving way, as he laid one arm on his brother's shoulder and drew him aside. "Dinny don't mean any harm, Dick, but he has such a long tongue."
Dick looked piteously in his brother's face, and one tear stole softly down his cheek.
"I say, Dick," cried Jack, imploringly, "don't look like that. It makes me think so of poor mamma. You look so like her. I say don't, or you'll make me cry too; and I won't," he cried, grinding his teeth. "I said I'd never cry again, because it's so childish; and I won't."
"Then I'm childish, Jack," said Dick, as he rubbed the tear away with one hand.
"No, no. You have been so weak and delicate that you can't help it. I'm strong. But I say, Dick, you are ever so much stronger than when we came out here."
"Yes," said Dick, with a wistful look at his brother's muscular arms. "I am stronger, but I do get tired so soon, Jack."
"Not so soon as you did, Dick; and father says you'll be a strong man yet. Hallo! what's the matter? Look there."
The brothers turned round, and hardly knew whether to laugh or to be alarmed; for a short distance away there was Dinny dancing about, waving his arms and shouting, while Coffee and Chicory, each with his kiri, were making attacks and feints, striking at the Irishman fiercely.
"Ah, would you, ye black baste?" shouted Dinny, as roaring now with laughter the brothers ran back.
"Shoo, Shoo! get out, you dirty-coloured spalpeen. Ah, ye didn't. Kape off wid you. An' me widout a bit of shtick in me fist. Masther Dick, dear! Masther Jack! it's murthering me the two black Whiteboys are. Kape off! Ah, would ye again! Iv I'd me shtick I'd talk to ye both, and see if your heads weren't thick as a Tipperary boy's, I would. Masther Dick! Masther Jack! they'll murther me avore they've done."
As aforesaid, the two Zulu boys had picked up a great deal of the English language, but their understanding thereof was sometimes very obscure. In this instance they had heard Dinny talking to his young masters in a way that had made the tears come in Dick's eye, and driven him and Jack away. This, in the estimation of the Zulu boys, must be through some act of cruelty or insult. They did not like Dinny, who made no attempt to disguise his contempt for them as "a pair of miserable young haythens," but at the same time they almost idolised the twin brothers as their superiors and masters, for whom they were almost ready to lay down their lives.
Here then was a cause for war. Their nature was to love and fight, as dearly as the wildest Irishman who was ever born. Dinny had offended their two "bosses"—as they called them, after the fashion of the Dutch Boers, and this set their blood on fire.
Hardly had the brothers walked away than, as if moved by the same spirit, they forgot the beauty of the old boots in which they had been parading—to such an extent that they kicked them off, and kiri in hand made so fierce an attack upon unarmed Dinny that, after a show of resistance, he fairly took to his heels and ran back to the house, just as the brothers came up.
"Popo give him kiri," cried Chicory.
"Bechele de boy make Boss Dinny run," cried the other, his eyes sparkling with delight. "No make de boss cry eye any more."
"No make Boss Dick cry eye any more," repeated Chicory.
The brothers looked at each other as they comprehended the meaning of the attack.
"Why, Jack," said Dick, "what faithful true fellows they are. They'll never leave us in a time of trouble."
"No, that they won't," cried Jack; and just then a tall, stern, sunburnt man, with grizzled hair and saddened eyes, came up to where they stood. Laying his hand affectionately on the shoulder of Dick,—
"Come, my boys," he said, "dinner is ready. Let's be punctual while we are leading a civilised life."
"And afterwards, father, as punctual a life as we can," said Dick, smiling.
"Hurray!" cried Jack, giving his cap a wave in the air. "Only another week, and then, father—"
"Yes," said Mr Rogers, with a quiet, sad look, "then, my boy, good-bye to civilisation."
"Only for a time, father," said Dick, quietly.
"Till you win health and strength, my boy," said Mr Rogers, with an affectionate glance.
"And that we'll soon find," cried Jack; "for we are off to the wilds."
WHY THEY WENT AWAY.
It was about two years before this that Mr Edward Rogers, a gentleman holding a post of importance in the City of London, had purchased some land and come out to dwell in Natal. For physician after physician had been consulted, seaside and health resort visited, but as the time glided on the verdict of the doctors became more and more apparent as a true saying, that unless Mrs Rogers was taken to a warmer climate her days would be few.
Even if she were removed the doctors said that she could not recover; but still her days might be prolonged. What was more, they strongly advised such a course in favour of young Richard, who was weak and delicate to a degree.
"Then you really consider it necessary?" said Mr Rogers to the great physician who had been called in.
"I do indeed. As I have said, it will prolong your wife's days, and most probably it will turn that delicate, sickly boy into a strong man."
On being asked further what country he would recommend, he promptly replied,—
"Natal is the place," he continued. "There you have the Drakensberg, and you can choose your own elevation, so as to get a pure, temperate climate, free from the cold of the mountains and the heat of the plains."
Mr Rogers was a man of prompt action, for the health of those dear to him was his first consideration. The consequence was that after rapidly making his arrangements, and providing the necessaries for his new home, he took passage to Durban, arrived there in safety with his wife, two sons, and Dennis; then made his way to Maritzburg; and soon after he had purchased an extensive tract of land, and a pleasantly situated home, with garden in full perfection, the owner of which, having made money in the colony, wished to retire to England.
Here for a time Mrs Rogers had seemed better, and undoubtedly her life was considerably prolonged. Gardening, farming, and a little hunting formed the occupations of the father and sons, and for a time all was happiness in the sunny far-off home. Then the much-dreaded day came, and they were left to mourn for a tender wife and mother, whose loss was irreparable.
Richard, who partook greatly of his mother's nature, was, like his father, completely prostrated by the terrible loss; and though time somewhat assuaged his grief, he seemed to have gone back in his health, and lost the way he had made up since he left England, and he had become so weak and delicate that Mr Rogers had consulted the doctor, who from time to time visited their far-off home.
"Medicine is of no use, my dear sir," he said frankly. "I can do him no good. I suppose he sits indoors a good deal and mopes?"
"Then look here, my dear sir, give him a thorough change. You are not tied to your farming in any way?"
"Not in the least."
"Then fit up a waggon, take your horses, and have a few months' campaign in the wilds yonder. You want a change as badly as the boy, and you will both come back, I'll venture to say, doubled in strength. Why, the ivory and skins you'll collect will pay your expenses. I wish I had the chance to go."
It was settled then, and the waggon was being fitted up with ammunition and stores; horses, guaranteed to be well-salted, had been purchased for Mr Rogers and his boys. The two young Zulus who had been hanging about the place for months, making little trips with Dick and Jack, were to go; and in addition a couple of trustworthy blacks, experienced as waggon-driver and foreloper, had been engaged; so that in a very few days they would say good-bye to civilisation for months, and go seek for health in the far-off wilds.
The boys were delighted, for Mr Rogers proposed that they should aim for the Zambesi River, and seek some of the seldom-traversed lands, where game abounded, and where the wonders of nature would be opened to them as from an unsealed book.
If Dick and Jack were delighted, the two Zulu boys were half mad with joy. As soon as they knew that they were to be of the party they seemed to have become frantic, going through the actions of hunting and spearing wild beasts—knocking down birds with their kiris, which they threw with unerring aim—pantomimically fighting lions, one of them roaring and imitating the fierce creature's "oomph, oomph," in a way that sounded terribly real, while the other threatened him with his assegai.
Then they were always showing their cleverness as hunters by stalking people—crawling up to them through the long grass, taking advantage of every irregularity of the ground or shrub to get nearer, and grinning with delight on seeing the surprise and fear of the person stalked.
For it was only during the past year that they had been so much amongst the settlers in Natal. Their early days had been spent with their tribe in the north, their father being a redoubtable chief; but he had given great offence to the king, and had been compelled to fly for his life, finding refuge amongst the English, with his boys.
Mention has been made of well-salted horses, which to a sailor would immediately suggest commissariat beef in pickle in good-sized tubs; but pray don't imagine that the satisfactory condiment, salt, has anything to do with a salted horse in South Africa. A salted horse is one that is seasoned to the climate by having passed through the deadly horse sickness, a complaint so bad and peculiar to the land that very few of the horses seized with it recover. When one does recover he is called a salted—that is, seasoned—horse, and his value is quadrupled.
Mr Rogers had spared no expense in getting together good cattle. His team of little Zulu oxen were the perfection of health and strength, and far more docile than is generally the case with these animals; though even these, in spite of their good behaviour, were exceedingly fond of tickling each other's ribs with their long horns, and saving the driver trouble, for the pair nearest the waggon would stir up the pair in front of them, and as these could only retaliate on their aggressors with their tails, they took their revenge on the pair in front; these again punished the pair in front; and so on, and on, to the leading oxen, the result of the many applications being a great increase of speed.
Then the horses were excellent. Mr Rogers had three for his own riding; a big bay, a dark grey, and a soft mouse-coloured chestnut, more famous for speed than beauty, and with a nasty habit of turning round and smiling, as if he meant to bite, when he was mounted.
Dick was clever at names, and he immediately suggested "Smiler" as an appropriate name for the chestnut. The dark grey he called "Toothpick," because of his habit of rubbing his teeth on the sharp points of the fence; while he called the big bony bay the "Nipper," from his being so fond of grazing on, and taking nips from, the manes and tails of his companions, when he could get a chance.
Mr Rogers provided three horses for his own riding, but it was with the idea of giving either of his sons an extra mount when necessary, for it was certain that there would be times when the arch-necked swift little cobs purchased for his boys would want a rest.
It was a stroke of good fortune to get such a pair, and the boys were in ecstasies when they were brought up from Maritzburg, for a handsomer pair of little horses it would have been hard to find. They were both of that rich dark reddish roan, and wonderfully alike, the differences being in their legs; one being nearly black in this important part of its person, the other having what most purchasers would call the blemish of four white legs—it being a canon amongst the wise in horseflesh that a dark or black-legged horse has better sinews and lasting powers. In this case, however, the theory was wrong, for white legs was if anything the stronger of the two.
The lads then were delighted, and this became increased when they found the little nags quite ready to make friends, and willing to eat apples, bread, or as much sugar out of their hands as they would give.
"That's right, my boys," said Mr Rogers, who found his sons making friends in this way with the new arrivals; "always feed your horses yourselves, and treat them well. Pet them as much as you like, and win their confidence by your kindness. Never ill-use your horse; one act of ill-treatment and you make him afraid of you, and then perhaps some day, when in an emergency and you want to catch your horse, he may gallop away. Go on like that, and those cobs will follow you about like dogs. But you must each keep to his own horse. Which one would you like, Jack?"
Jack stopped, and glanced at his brother, whose face was slightly flushed.
Dick was weak and delicate, while Jack was the perfection of boyish vigour; and feeling that his brother did not enjoy life as he did himself, he stopped short just as he was going to say White Legs, for there was something in the cob's face that he liked, and the little horse had let him stroke its velvet nose.
"Poor old Dick has taken a fancy to him," he said to himself; "and the other will do just as well for me."
"Let Dick choose first," he said aloud.
"Very well," said Mr Rogers. "Now then, Dick, which is it to be? though you can't be wrong, my boy, for there is not a pin to choose between them, and they are brothers."
"Should you mind if I chose first, Jack?" asked Dick.
"Not a bit," said Jack, stoutly, though his feeling of disappointment was keen, for he felt now that he would dearly love to have the white-legged cob.
You may guess then his delight when Dick declared for the black-legged one.
As soon as he heard the decision Jack had his arm over the white-legged cob's neck and had given it a hug, the horse looking at him with its great soft eyes, and uttering a low snort.
"Up with you then, my boys, and have a canter."
"Without a saddle, father?" said Dick, nervously.
Jack was already up.
"Have it saddled if you like, my boy," said Mr Rogers, kindly.
But Dick flushed, gave a spring from the ground, and was on the little cob's back.
They were both skilled riders, but Dick's illness made him timorous at times. He, however, fought hard to master his weakness; and when Jack cried, "Come on, Dick; let's race to the big tree and back," he stuck his knees into the cob's plump sides and away they went, with the wind rushing by their ears, and the cobs keeping neck and neck, rounding the big tree about a mile away on the plain, and then making the dusty earth rise in clouds as they tore back, and were checked with a touch of the bridle by the home field.
"Why, Dick, my boy, I would not wish to see a better seat on a horse," cried Mr Rogers, patting the cobs in turn. "Jack, you set up your back like a jockey. Sit more upright, my boy."
"All right, father; I'll try," said Jack, throwing himself right forward so as to hug his cob's neck. "But I say, father, isn't he lovely? I felt all the time as if I was a bit of him, or we were all one."
"You looked like it, my boy," said Mr Rogers, smiling in his son's animated face. "I wish Dick had your confidence, and you a little more of his style."
"All right, father, we'll try and exchange a bit a-piece," laughed Jack. "But I can't half believe it, father, that these are to be our own horses."
"You may believe it, then," said his father. "And now get them to the stable."
"Oh, I say, Dick, what beauties!" cried Jack. "What shall you call yours?"
"I don't know yet," replied his brother. "He's very fast. 'Swift' wouldn't be a bad name; and we might call yours 'Sure.'"
"Hum! I don't think much of those names. Hold up!" he continued, examining the hoofs of his brother's nag. "I say, Dick, what fine thick shoes he has got."
"That's a good suggestion," said Dick, laughing, and looking brighter than he had seemed for weeks. "Let's call him 'Shoes,' and his brother with the white legs 'Stockings.'"
"Shoes and Stockings!" cried Jack; "but those are such stupid names. I don't know though but what they'll do."
The question was not discussed, for the lads busied themselves in bedding down their own horses; and for the rest of that, day the stable seemed to be the most important part of the house.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE JOURNEY.
"What is it ye're doing?" said Dinny, a day or two before that proposed for the start.
Coffee and Chicory looked up from their task, grinned, and then went on sharpening the points of a couple of assegais upon a heavy block of stone, which they had evidently brought from a distance. Their faces glistened with perspiration; their knees were covered with dust; and they were in a wonderful state of excitement. Resuming their work on the instant, they tried to bring the weapons to a keen point.
"Kill lion," said Coffee, laconically; and he worked away as if the lion were round the corner waiting to be killed.
"Then ye may just as well lave off, ye dirty little naygars; for it's my belafe that you're not going at all."
Dinny went off into the house leaving the two boys apparently paralysed. They dropped the assegais, stared at each other, and then lay down and howled in the misery of their disappointment.
But this did not last many seconds; for Coffee sprang up and kicked Chicory, who also rose to his feet, and in obedience to a word from his brother they took their assegais and hid them in a tree which formed their armoury—for out of its branches Chicory took the two kiris or clubs; and then the boys ran round to the front, and stood making signs.
The brothers had such a keen love of anything in the way of sport that, expecting something new, they ran out and willingly followed the two young blacks out into the grassy plain about a mile from the house, when after posting their young masters behind a bush, Coffee and Chicory whispered to them to watch, and then began to advance cautiously through the grass, kiri in hand, their eyes glistening as they keenly peered from side to side.
"What are they going to do?" said Dick.
"I don't know. Show us something. I wish we had brought our guns. Look out!"
There was a whirring of wings, and the two Zulu boys struck attitudes that would have been models for a sculptor; then as a large bird similar to a partridge rose up, Coffee sent his knobbed club whizzing through the air; another bird rose, and Chicory imitated his brother's act; and the result was, that the cleverly thrown kiris hit the birds, which fell in amongst the long grass, from which they were retrieved by the lads with shouts of triumph—the birds proving to be the coranne, so called from the peculiarity of their cry.
"Well done, boys!" cried Jack. "They'll be good eating."
"Boss Dick, Boss Jack take Zulu boys, now?" said the kiri-throwers, eagerly.
"Why, of course. You know you are going," replied Dick.
"Dinny say Zulu boys not going," cried Chicory.
"Then Dinny knows nothing about it," said Dick, angrily. "If he don't mind he'll be left behind himself."
Coffee sent his kiri spinning up in the air, Chicory followed suit, each catching the weapon again with ease; and then they both dashed off across the plain as if mad, and to the astonishment of the brothers, who took the brace of birds and walked back towards the house, to continue the preparations for the start.
For there was so much to do, packing the great long tilted waggon with necessaries, in the shape of tea, sugar, coffee, and chocolate. Barrels of mealies or Indian corn, and wheaten flour, besides. Salt too, had to be taken, and a large store of ammunition; for in addition to boxes well filled with cartridges, they took a keg or two of powder and a quantity of lead. Then there were rolls of brass wire, and a quantity of showy beads—the latter commodities to take the place of money in exchanges with the natives—salt, powder, and lead answering the same purpose.
It was a delightful task to the boys, who thoroughly enjoyed the packing, and eagerly asked what every package contained, when they had no opportunity of opening it; while Mr Rogers looked on, smiling at the interest they took.
"Here y'are, young gentlemen," said Dinny. "The masther seems to think that you're going to do nothing but suck sweet-stuff all the time you're out."
"Why, what's that, Dinny?" cried Dick, who had just brought out a heavy box.
"Sure, it's sugar-shticks and candy," said Dinny; and he went off to fetch something else.
"Why, so it is, Dick," said Jack. "I say, father, are we to pack this sweet-stuff in the waggon? We don't want it."
"Indeed, but we do," said his father, coming up. "Why a handful of sweet-stuff will make friends with a Boer, when everything else fails. Here, put this in the fore box. Perhaps, when I bring this out you'll be glad to get at the sweet-stuff."
"What is it, father?" said Dick.
Mr Rogers opened the little deal case and turned it out, to begin packing it again.
"Here's a bottle of chloroform, and another of castor oil; two bottles of chlorodyne; a pound of Epsom salts; four large boxes of pills; a roll of sticking-plaster; a pot of zinc ointment; and a bottle of quinine and one of rhubarb and magnesia."
Jack's countenance was a study. For as his father carefully repacked the little box the lad's face grew into a hideous grimace. He waited till Mr Rogers had finished his enumeration, and then clapping his handkerchief over his mouth, he uttered a loud "Ugh!" and ran and stood a few yards away.
"I shan't go," he cried.
"Why not?" said Mr Rogers, smiling.
"Why the waggon will smell, of nothing but physic. What's the good of taking it, father?"
"The good? Well, my boy, there's nothing like being prepared; and we are going far away from doctors, if we wanted their help. We may none of us be unwell, but it is quite likely that we may, either of us, get a touch of fever. Besides, we might meet with an accident; and for my part, as I have a little knowledge of medicine and surgery, I know nothing more painful than to find people sick and to be unable to give them the remedy that would make them well. We shall be sure to find some sick people amongst the natives, and they have a wonderful appreciation of the white man's medicine."
"Well, look here," said Jack, "if you'll shut the box up very tightly, I'll consent to come."
Mr Rogers smiled, and did shut the little box up very tightly, after which the preparations went on; and it was perfectly wonderful to see what that waggon would hold.
There was a moderate case of wines and spirits, also to act as medicines; several dozens of coloured blankets for presents; waterproof sheets. A cask of paraffin oil was swung under the floor, and by it a little cooking-stove, while beside these swung a long box containing spades and shovels, for digging the waggon-wheels out of holes, tools for repairs, wrenches, and jacks and axes, till it seemed as if there would be no end to the stores and material.
Then leather slings were nailed up under the tilt for the rifles and guns, so that they might always be ready to hand; for they were going into the land of wild beasts and savage men. Above all, their stores had to be so packed that their positions could be remembered, and they could be obtained when wanted, and yet leave space for blankets to be spread, and the travellers find room to sleep beneath the tilt upon the top.
The preparations went on; the black driver who was to manage the oxen busied himself along with the foreloper, whose duty it is to walk with the foremost oxen, in getting their great whips in trim, and in seeing the trek-tow and dissel-boom—as the great trace and pole of the waggon are called—were perfect; and they practised the team as well.
Many of the readers may not know that for an expedition like this, where the waggon party expect to be travelling for months, perhaps for a year, through a country where roads are almost unknown, and where the great heavily-laden, but wonderfully strongly-made waggon, has to be dragged over rocks, through swamps, and into and out of rivers, a team of fourteen, sixteen, or, as in this case, even twenty oxen, will be yoked to the great chain or rope called the trek-tow. For some of the poor animals are sure to succumb during the journey; or they may be killed for food, the loss being not so much felt when a superabundant number is taken.
With the leading pair of oxen walks the foreloper, whose duty it is to choose the best road, and to avoid stones and marshy places where the wheels would sink in; and the success of an expedition depends a good deal upon having a good foreloper.
In this case Mr Rogers had secured a trusty Kaffir, who had been frequently into the interior; but his appearance was against him, for he had lost one eye, from a thrust of a bullock's horn. But Dinny said that the one left was as good as two, for when Dirk looked at you, it seemed to go right through your head and tickle the hair behind.
Off to the Wilds—by George Manville Fenn
INSPANNING FOR THE TRIP.
The eventful morning at last! Bright, clear, and the dew lying thick upon the thirsty earth. All the arrangements had been made; the waggon stood ready. Peter the driver was upon the box in front of the waggon; the boys were mounted, and a couple of neighbours had ridden over to see them start; but to the infinite vexation of Dick and Jack, the young Zulus had not returned. They had started off on the day when they killed the coranne, and that was the last that had been seen of them.
"Now, Dinny, you may let the dogs loose," cried Dick, who looked brighter and better, his father thought, than he had been for days. Dinny at once obeyed; when, yelping and barking with delight, the four dogs—Pompey, Caesar, Crassus, and Rough'un—came bounding about, leaping up at their masters, and taking short dashes out into the plain and back.
"Where are those two boys?" said Mr Rogers suddenly. "I haven't seen them for days."
"Dinny offended them," said Jack petulantly, as he patted the arched neck of Stockings. "He told them they shouldn't go."
"Sure I only hinted to the black young gintlemen that it was just possible the masther might lave them behind, when they took themselves off in the most ondacent way; and that's all I know, sor."
"Here they are!" cried Jack suddenly, "Hi-yi-yi-yi—Coff! Hi-yi-yi-yi— Chick!"
"Hi-yi-yi-yi-yi!" echoed back; and the two boys came running up, one on either side of a fierce-looking, very powerfully-built Zulu—a handful of assegais, and his long, narrow, oval shield in one hand, and for costume a fringe of skins round the waist, a sort of tippet of the same over his back and chest, and smaller fringes just beneath each knee. His back hair was secured in a knot behind, and depending from it were some feathers, one of which drooped right down his back.
He was a noble-looking specimen of humanity, and as he came up he gazed almost haughtily round at the party, seeming as if he had come as an enemy, and not as a friend.
"Been fetch de father," cried Coffee, pushing the great Zulu towards Mr Rogers. "Father going to boss. Kill and hunt lion."
Mr Rogers raised his eyebrows a little, for he had not reckoned upon this; but one more or less on such an expedition did not matter, for plenty of provisions would be killed; and a man like this was no little addition to their strength.
"Oh, very good," he said. "Dinny, run into the house, and fetch the bread and meat we left. I daresay the boys are hungry."
Coffee and Chicory understood that, and they began to grin and rub their "tum-tums," as they called a prominent part of their persons; but the next moment they had dragged their father to introduce him to Boss Dick and Boss Jack, smiling with delight on seeing their young masters shake hands with the Zulu warrior.
Dinny did not look at all pleasant as he brought out the bread and meat, which was rapidly shared by the Zulu and his boys, who evidently meant to eat the food as they went along; so after one more look round, and a glance at the two great water-casks swung behind the waggon, Mr Rogers gave the word, Peter the driver stood up on the great chest strapped in front, cracking his whip with both hands, and Dirk the foreloper followed suit.
"Trek Hans! Trek Buffler! Trek Zulu! Trek boys! Trek!" shouted Peter, dancing about on the chest in his excitement.
"Trek, beauties! Trek, beauties! Trek! Trek! Trek!" yelled Dirk.
The oxen slowly tugged at their yokes, the great trek-tow tightened, the wheels of the fine new waggon creaked; and as Mr Rogers mounted the big bay, his sons took off and waved their caps, giving a loud cheer, for now they were really off to the wilds.
A TASTE OF SOMETHING TO COME.
There was but little in the way of incident for some time. The dogs seemed to be never weary of hunting here and there, thrusting their noses under every rock, their heads into every hole; but they found nothing till after the midday halt, when a furious barking from the setter Rough'un took the attention of all, and Mr Rogers and the boys cantered up to a thin cluster of trees, where, on what seemed to be at first a broken stump, but which on nearer inspection proved to be a tall ragged ant-hill, a vicious-looking snake was curled, swinging its head about threateningly, and darting out its forked tongue at the dog, which kept its distance, barking furiously.
"A poisonous fellow—cobra evidently. Now, Dick, bring it down."
"No; let Jack shoot, father," said Dick. "My head aches, and I'm tired. Well, yes, I will."
"That's right, my boy. I want you to master this weakness," said his father. "And besides, I want you to try how your horse stands fire. Nip him tightly with your knees."
Dick cocked his double-barrelled breechloader—fired—and the serpent hissed loudly and began to descend, but a shot from Jack's rifle laid it writhing on the ground, when, before it could be prevented, Rough'un seized it behind the head, worrying it furiously.
Fortunately the creature was mortally wounded, or it might have gone hard with one of the dogs, its poison being very violent; and the others coming up soon tore it to pieces.
"Your horses behaved admirably," said Mr Rogers. "You must train them, my boys, so that they will stand where you leave them, and take no more notice of a shot fired over their heads than at a distance."
They halted directly after for a midday meal, the oxen finding a plentiful supply of fresh grass and water, and after a good rest they were once more on the way, the horses behind under the care of Dinny and the Zulu warrior.
Mr Rogers and his sons were close to the oxen, Coffee and Chicory were close behind, and they were inspecting the team, which was pulling steadily and well, when Mr Rogers said,—
"Well, boys, we may as well get our guns. We shall soon be in the hunting country now."
"Hi! Yup-yup-yup!" shouted Coffee.
"Ho! Yup-yup-yup!" yelled Chicory. The dogs began to yelp and bark; and in the excitement, as they saw an animal like a great long-eared spotted cat dash out of a clump of trees and make for some rocky ground, all joined in the chase; Mr Rogers ran as hard as the rest, forcing his pith hunting-helmet down over his head. Coffee got well in front, waving his arms and shouting; but Chicory trod upon a thorn and began to limp. As for Jack, in his excitement he tripped over a stump, and fell sprawling; while Dick had hard work to save himself from a similar mishap. Last of all, whip in hand, came the foreloper, who had left the oxen in his excitement, flourishing and cracking his lash.
There was a sharp hunt for a few minutes, during which the followers toiled on over the rocky ground, seeing nothing after their first glimpse of the lynx—for such Mr Rogers declared it to be; then they met the dogs coming back, looking very stupid, and quite at fault.
Rough'un, however, went on with Coffee, and Jack followed, to find that the lynx had evidently gone down a deep rift, where it was impossible to follow it; so they went back to the waggons, both Jack and his father determining that in future they would never be without either gun or rifle in hand.
Every minute, almost, as they journeyed on, the boys realised the value of having the waggon made in the best manner, and of the strongest wood that could be obtained, for it bumped and swayed about, creaking dismally beneath its heavy load, and making the casks and pots slung beneath clatter together every now and then, as it went over some larger stone than usual. They saw too the value of a good foreloper; for if a careless man were at the head of the oxen, the waggon might at any moment be wrecked over some rugged rock or sunk to the floor in a black patch of bog.
The dogs seemed rather ashamed of themselves after the chase of the lynx, and went with lolling tongues to trot behind the waggon, Pompey now and then making an angry snatch at Caesar, while Crassus threw up his muzzle and uttered a dismal yelp. Rough'un, too, did not seem happy, but to have that lynx on his conscience; for he kept running out from beneath the waggon, and looking back as if bound to finish the chase by hunting the cat-like creature out; but he always altered his mind and went under the waggon once more, to walk close to the heels of the last pair of oxen, one of which looked back from time to time in a thoughtful meditative way, with its great soft eyes, as if in consideration whether it ought to kick out and send Rough'un flying.
This act made Rough'un run forward, and as the ox bent down snuffing at it, the dog leaped up at its muzzle, then at that of the next ox, and went on right along the whole span, saluting all in turn without getting trampled, and ending by retaking his place beneath the waggon front.
For Rough'un was a dog of a different breed to his fellows, and though he hunted with them he did not associate with them afterwards, but kept himself to himself.
There was not much to interest the boys after the first excitement of the start was over, for they had to travel over plain and mountain for some distance before they would reach ground that had not been well hunted over by the settlers; but every step took them nearer, and there were endless matters to canvass. For instance, there were the capabilities of their horses, which grew in favour every time they were mounted; the excellences of their guns, presented to them by their father for the expedition, light handy pieces, double-barrelled breechloaders, the right-hand barrel being that of an ordinary shot-gun, the left-hand being a rifle sighted up to three hundred yards.
It would be hard to say how many times these guns were loaded and unloaded, slung across their owners' backs and taken down again, while the eagerness with which they looked forward to some good opening for trying their skill was notable.
But beyond an occasional bird which fled with a loud cry at the approach of the waggon, and a little herd of springbok seen upon the edge of a low hill quite a mile away, there was little to break the monotony of the journey over the hot sandy waste, and every one was pretty weary when, just at sundown, they came in sight of a low house, the abode of a Boer who had settled there some years before, and who, with his large family, seemed to be perfectly content, and who smiled with satisfaction on being presented with some sweets in return for his civility in pointing out the places where the out-spanned oxen could find an abundance of grass and water.
Here the first experience of sleeping in a waggon was gone through, and very comical it seemed to boys who were accustomed to the comforts of a well-regulated home.
Dick laughed, and said that it was like sleeping in the attic, while the servants slept in the kitchen, for the drivers and the three Zulus made themselves snug under the waggon, Dinny joining them very unwillingly, after a verbal encounter with Dick, who, however much he might be wanting in bodily strength, was pretty apt with his tongue.
"Sure, Masther Dick, sir, Dinny's the last boy in the world to grumble; but I'm a good Christian, and the blacks are as haythen as can be."
"Well, Dinny, and what of that?"
"Why, ye see, Masther Dick, I'm a white man, and they are all blacks; and," he added with a grin, "I shouldn't like to catch the complaint."
"What complaint, Dinny?"
"Why, sure, sir, it would be very painful to you and Masther Jack there, and the masther himself, if you found poor Dinny get up some fine morning as black as a crow."
"Get along with you," cried Jack.
"Oh, be easy, Masther Jack, dear," cried Dinny; "and how would you like to slape under a waggon wid five sacks of smoking and living coals like them Zulus and Kaffirs is?"
"I wouldn't mind," replied Jack. "We are on a hunting expedition, and we must take things in the rough."
"Sure an' it is rough indade," grumbled Dinny. "I'm thinking I'd rather go sthraight home to my poor owld mother's cabin, and slape there dacent like, wid nothing worse in it than the poor owld pig."
A FALSE ALARM.
Mr Rogers had felt a little hesitation in giving the fierce-looking Zulu permission to make one of the party, but as they journeyed on across the apparently interminable plains between the Vaal and the Great Crocodile rivers, he awoke more and more to the fact that he had secured a valuable ally. For the old warrior entered into the spirit of the expedition at once, helping with the oxen or to extricate the waggons in difficult places, showing himself quite at home in the management of horses, and being evidently an excellent guide, and above all a hunter of profound knowledge and experience.
As soon as he realised the intentions of Mr Rogers, he became most earnest in his endeavours to get the party well on their way farther and farther into the wilds, making the eyes of the boys dilate as he told them in fair English of the herds of antelope and other game he would soon show them in the plains; the giraffes, buffaloes, elephants, and, above all, the lions, whose haunts he knew, and to which he promised to take them.
Whenever the father began to talk in this strain his two sons grew excited, and started to perform hunting dances, in which the number of imaginary lions and buffaloes they slew was something enormous. Every now and then, too, the boys killed some imaginary elephant, out of whose unwieldy head they made believe to hack the tusks, which they invariably brought and laid at their young masters' feet, grunting the while with the exertion.
Dick soon grew tired of it however.
"It's all very well," he said; "but if that is the way we are to load the waggons with ivory, we shall be a long time getting enough to pay the expenses of the journey."
Mr Rogers joined them one day as they were walking along in advance of the slow-moving waggon, and began to question the Zulu about the game in the wilds north of where they were; and in his broken English he gave so glowing an account that his hearers began to doubt its truth.
He said that when he had had to flee from his own people for his life, he had at first gone right away into the hunting country, and stayed there for a year, finding out, in his wanderings, places where hunting and shooting people had never been. Here, he declared, the wild creatures had taken refuge as in a sanctuary; and he declared that he should take the boss who had been so kind to his boys, and both the young bosses, to a wild place where they would find game in abundance, and where the forests held the great rhinoceros, plenty of elephants, and amongst whose open glades the tall giraffe browse the leafage of the high trees. There in the plains were herds of buffalo too numerous to count, quagga, zebra, gnu, eland, and bok of all kinds. There was a great river there, he said, full of fish, and with great crocodiles ready to seize upon the unwary. The hippopotamus was there too, big and massive, ready to upset boats or to attack all he could see.
Mr Rogers watched his sons attentively as the Zulu narrated his experience of the land, and he was delighted to see how much Dick was already leaving off his dull languid ways, and taking an interest in what was projected. One thing the father wished to arrive at, and that was whether Dick would be frightened through his weakness, and the hunting parties consequently do him more harm than good. But just then a question put by his son showed him that he was as eager as his brother for an encounter with the wild creatures of the forest and plains.
"And do you say there are lions?" said Dick.
"Yes, plenty lion," said the Zulu. "They come to camp at night, and try to get the ox and horse."
"Oomph! oomph! oomph!" growled Coffee, in an admirable imitation of the lion's roar.
"Keep big fire," said the Zulu, "then no lion come."
"Well, Dick," said Mr Rogers, "how do you feel? Ready for the fray?"
"Yes, father, I am longing for the time when we shall get amongst the wild beasts. I want to try my gun; and I want to grow strong and manly, like Jack."
"All in good time, my boy," replied Mr Rogers, smiling. "We shall soon be leaving civilisation almost entirely behind, and then you shall make your first attempts at becoming a mighty hunter."
Comparatively uninteresting as the journey was, they still had plenty to take their attention—grand views of distant mountains; wondrous sunsets; great flights of birds; but the absence of game was remarkable; and twice over, in spite of their being so well armed and provided, Mr Rogers was glad to purchase a freshly-killed springbok of a Boer, at one of the outlying farms that they passed.
On the seventh night out though, their fortune was better, for they had out-spanned, or loosened their oxen from the waggon, just by a clump of trees in a wide plain, and the Zulu went off the moment they stopped.
Both Peter and Dirk began to complain, for they expected help from their black companion; but upon this occasion they had their work to do without aid, Coffee and Chicory having also gone off with their kiris in search of game.
Mr Rogers and his sons started off to see if they could provide anything palatable for supper; but though there was a swampy lagoon about a mile away, they did not catch sight of a single duck, and were returning tired and disappointed when they caught sight of the Zulu signalling to them to come.
"He has found something," cried Jack eagerly; and they hastened over the rugged intervening space, to find that the father of Coffee and Chicory was evidently a keen hunter, and ready enough in knowing where to look for creatures that would do for food.
With almost unerring instinct he had found out this clump of trees, evidently one where guinea-fowl came to roost; and full of hope that they would now obtain a good addition to the larder, or, in plain English, a few birds to roast for supper, guns were supplied with cartridges, and the little party waited for the coming of the spotted birds.
The pleasurable anticipations of the boys, who had a lively recollection of the toothsome bird with a flavour half-way between roast fowl and pheasant, seemed likely to be damped, for they had been waiting quite half an hour without hearing or seeing anything, when suddenly the Zulu laid his hand upon Jack's arm, and pointed in a direction opposite to the waggon.
"Well, what are you pointing at?" said Jack. "I can't see anything. Yes, I can; there they are, father. Look out!"
Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!
Half-a-dozen rapid shots, and then, amidst the whizzing of wings and cries of the birds, some of which flew off, while others ran through the short grass at an astounding rate, Coffee, Chicory, and their father ran out beneath the trees; and the result of the firing was brought in—ten fine plump birds for their supper.
This was the first night that they had passed in the open, the previous halts having been made at some farm; so after the supper the blacks were set to gather in more wood, the fire was well made up, and the oxen secured, it being decided to begin at once upon the regular plan that they would have to adopt in the enemy's country, the enemy being formed of the various wild creatures against whom they were having their campaign.
Years back the spot where they were encamped had been famous for lions, but from what Mr Rogers had heard, none had been seen here now for a considerable time. Still he thought it better to take precautions, the party being divided into three watches, the first of which he took himself, with Chicory for a companion; Jack was to take the second, with the Zulu; and Dick, Coffee, and Dinny were to form the third.
The oxen and horses having been all secured, the fire was piled up, and those who were to rest gladly availed themselves of the opportunity, and in a very short time nothing was to be heard but the fluttering noise made by the burning fire, and the snorting sigh of one or the other of the horses.
In due time Jack was aroused, to sit up and stare at his father.
"What's matter?" he said sleepily.
"Nothing, only that it is your turn to watch," said his father.
"Why, I've only just lain down," replied Jack. "It can't be time yet."
But a good rub at his eyes seemed to bring a little thoughtfulness as well, and he climbed put of the waggon and descended to the ground.
"I don't think you will have anything to alarm you, my boy," said his father. "Wake me up though if there is the slightest sign of danger."
Jack promised, and, shivering and uncomfortable, he crept up to the fire, which the Zulu renewed; but though he roasted his face and knees, his back felt horribly cold, and he heartily wished himself at home, and in his snug bed. But the Zulu began to look round at the cattle, to satisfy himself that all were safe; and then seating himself with his assegai across his knees close to the fire, he began to tell the young Englishman about the dangers that would have surrounded them if they had encamped here a few years earlier; and, then he lapsed into such vivid accounts of his own hunting adventures and escapes, that the four hours' watch seemed to have passed like magic, and Jack was ready to finish the next; but recalling the last injunctions he had received from his father, he went to the waggon, roused up Dick, and from under it Dinny and Coffee, and soon after left them to finish the morning watch.
Jack felt as if it would be of no use to try and sleep again; but knowing that their next day's journey would be very fatiguing, he lay down in his brother's place, found the blankets very warm and cosy, and then, with the sound of Dinny yawning loudly, he fell fast asleep. He seemed hardly to have closed his eyes, when a shout aroused him, just as he heard his father seize his double rifle, and go to the front of the waggon.
Jack did likewise, with as much speed as his sleepy confusion would allow; and on reaching the opening he found that it was still dark, so that he could not have been long asleep, the fire was burning brilliantly, and every one was on the alert.
"Yes, I seemed to hear it myself in my sleep," said Mr Rogers, in answer to some words spoken by Dick. "Did it sound near?"
"Sure, sor, it was close by, and I thought the bastes had got one of the bullocks."
The Zulu was with them now, having sprung from his place beneath the waggon, asking eagerly what was wrong.
"They heard a lion prowling round," replied Mr Rogers.
"No, no," said the Zulu. "No lion here."
"But I heard it quite plainly," said Dick, who felt angry at being doubted.
"Sure and I did too, so close to me shoulder that I could feel the baste's breath blow over on to me chake."
"No, no," said the Zulu. "Look! see!"
He pointed towards the oxen and horses in turn.
"But it would be impossible to see it in this darkness," said Mr Rogers.
"Yes, but the oxen," said the Zulu. "They would not lie quiet if there was a lion."
"Of course not," said Mr Rogers, envying the savage his knowledge. "Then what caused the alarm?"
There was no reply; and after satisfying themselves that all was safe, and piling up the rest of the wood upon the fire—for the streaks of the coming dawn could be seen—the tired watchers returned to the waggon, and slept until roused for breakfast, when the secret of the alarm came out, Coffee having been afraid to confess at the time that he knew it was his brother imitating the lion's cry in his sleep, his proximity to Dick and Dinny making it seem the more real. Feeling sure that he would be punished if he spoke, Coffee had remained silent, and so the matter ended, Dick laughing heartily at the false alarm, though Dinny would not believe that the cry emanated from the boy.
"Jist as if I was such a biby as to belave that story, Masther Jack," he said. "I tell ye it was the lion himself attacking the bastes, and you'll see he'll be about the camp now every night, as regular as clockwork. It's very good of the masther to try and put one at his aise about the wild bastes; but that there was a lion—I know it was; and if, Masther Jack, dear, I'm missing some night, ye may know that there's a lion aiting of me; and I hope ye'll take me bones back and give me a dacent burying somewhere among Christians, and not lave them kicking about out here in a foreign land."
"But how can you be so stupid, Dinny? Father says it was Chicory, and you know how he imitates the wild beasts."
"Ah, do ye take me for a baby, Masther Jack?" said the man, reproachfully. "There, let it go. I'm your father's servant, and he must have his own way; but it's cruel work this coming out into such savage lands; and there's one man as will niver see home parts again."
When once Dinny had got an idea in his, head, to use his own words, "a shillelagh would not knock it out;" so he remained perfectly certain that the camp had been attacked by a lion; and he went about prophesying that the coming night would produce two.
HOW THE BOYS FOUND IT WAS NOT EASY TO SHOOT.
The oxen were in-spanned and the horses saddled, on as glorious a morning as ever shone over the great African continent. The breakfast things had been stowed away, a glance given round to see that nothing had been left behind; the driver's and foreloper's whips cracked; and with loud shouts of, "Trek, boys, trek!" the great waggon slowly went on its course, every one forgetting the troubles of the disturbed night, in the glorious sunshine and dew-glittering herbage.
Coffee and Chicory ran and bounded and spun their kiris in the air, catching them again, and then running on beside the cantering horses of their young masters, while their father ran beside Mr Rogers' big bay. Above all, the dogs showed their delight by barking, yelping, and making insane charges here and there, Rough'un's great delight being to run his head into one or other of the holes made by the burrowing animals of the plains, and then worrying and snapping at nothing until he was called away.
As the waggon lumbered on, father and sons wandered off to left or right, exploring, examining the trees and strange plants, and sometimes bringing down some bright-plumaged bird, which was carefully laid in a tin case carried for the purpose by the Zulu, ready to be skinned and dressed to keep as a specimen on their return.
That they were approaching the game country was now hourly becoming plainer, for from time to time little knots of bok could be seen upon the hills; but when Dick or Jack eagerly drew the attention of the Zulu to the fact, he laughed, and said it was nothing, bidding them to wait.
"We must have some venison for dinner to-day, boys," said Mr Rogers, cantering up; "so one of you had better try your rifle. Who's it to be?"
"Let it be Jack, father," said Dick, quietly; "my hands are not steady yet."
"Very good," said Mr Rogers; while the Zulu listened attentively, trying to comprehend every word. "Now then, Jack, how shall you go to work? There is a little herd of half-a-dozen springbok there, on that hill, nearly a mile away."
"Get close and shoot them," replied Jack, stoutly.
"Say, if you can, my boy," replied Mr Rogers, smiling. "Now look here, Jack, this is the way the Boers shoot springbok, and I don't think you will find a better plan. Have a few cartridges handy, so that you can load quickly, and then gallop easily towards the herd, which will begin playing about, till they grow too alarmed to let you get nearer, and then they'll bound off. This is your time: gallop up as close as you can, and when you see they are about to go, leap from your horse and fire—reload, and fire again. If you are very quick you may get three shots at the herd before they are out of range."
"But suppose I miss, father?" said Jack.
"Don't suppose anything of the kind, my boy," said Mr Rogers, smiling; "but go and do it. Time enough to consider failure when you have failed."
Jack nodded, opened the breech of his gun, placed half-a-dozen cartridges ready, leaped down to tighten the girths of his saddle, the cob standing perfectly still. Then mounting once more, he waved his hand, touched his horse's sides with his heels, and away it went like the wind.
As he started, Chicory, who seemed to have adopted him as his leader, made a bound at the saddle, caught hold of the pommel, and ran by his side with marvellous speed.
The springbok seemed to pay not the slightest heed to their approach, and Jack was beginning to feel excited with the chase, and to calculate how far they should be able to get before having to dismount, when all at once there was a sudden check; he went flying over his horse's head, his double barrel escaped from his hand, and he found himself lying on the hard sandy earth, confused and puzzled, with Chicory trying to pull him up; and Stockings standing close by, snorting and shivering with fear.
Jack got up, and limped to where his rifle lay, feeling stupid, and wondering how it was that he had been thrown; and he had but regained his piece, and was ruefully examining it, when his father and Dick came galloping up.
"Much hurt, my boy?" cried Mr Rogers, eagerly.
"Only my leg and arm a little," said Jack, rubbing first one and then the other; "but I did think I could ride better than that, father."
"Ride, my boy? Why, no one could have helped that. Don't you know how it was?"
"I know Stockings threw me," replied Jack.
"Threw you? Nonsense, boy! He set his fore feet in an ant-bear hole, and turned a complete somersault. We were afraid that he had rolled upon you."
"Then a good rider couldn't have helped it, father?"
"Helped it? No, my boy."
"Oh, I feel better now," said Jack, laughing; and, limping up to his horse, he patted its neck and remounted, though not without difficulty. "Where's the bok, Chicory?"
Chicory pointed to where they were, nearly a mile away, and looking exceedingly small, but quite clear in the bright African atmosphere; and without a word he set off again.
"Ought he to go, father?" said Dick.
"Yes, my boy. He is not much hurt, and it will be a lesson to both him and his horse. I am glad to see that he has so much spirit."
A short chuckle close by made Mr Rogers turn his head, and he saw that the Zulu understood his words, and was smiling approval.
"Brave boy! Make big hunter warrior, some day," said the Zulu.
"Boss Dick big brave hunter too," cried Coffee indignantly, as he went and laid a hand upon the neck of Dick's horse. "Boss Dick go shoot bok?"
"Not now, Coffee," replied Dick, smiling; and then the little group remained watching Jack, who was in full chase of the springbok, which, as he came nearer, began to skip and bound and gambol together, leaping over each other's backs, but all the time watching the coming enemy.
It was an exciting time for Jack, and in it he forgot the pain in his shoulder and the stiffness of his leg. He had the rifle-barrel ready cocked, and his feet out of the stirrups, and at last, when he had galloped up to within a couple of hundred yards, he saw such evident preparations for flight on the part of the little bok, that he leaped down, dropped upon one knee, and fired straight at the flying herd.
Before the smoke had risen he had another cartridge in the rifle, and fired again. Once more he threw open the breech and loaded—and fired, though by this time the bok were seven or eight hundred yards away. But in spite of the care in the aim taken, no bok fell struggling to the ground, and Jack rode back slowly to join his father, wondering whether the bore of his rifle was true, for he knew, he said to himself, that he had aimed straight.
When he hinted at the possibility of the rifle being in fault, his father smiled, and Dick gave him so comical a look that Jack said no more, but rode on silently by the side of the waggon, till, seeing his disappointment, his father joined him.
"Why, you foolish boy," he exclaimed, "it was not likely that you would hit one of those flying bok. It is a matter of long practice; and even the Boers, who have studied such shooting for years, often miss."
"But you see, father, I did make such a dreadful mess of it," pleaded Jack. "I came off my horse; and then I shot over and over again, and missed. I can't help feeling what a muddle I made."
"Well, for my part," said his father, "I am rather glad that you failed. If you had succeeded, my boy, without effort at the first trial, it would have made you careless. These failures will teach you the necessity for using care, and trying to perfect yourself as a marksman."
"But there'll be no bok for dinner," said Jack ruefully.
"Never mind," replied Mr Rogers. "I daresay the boys will bring in something."
He was right, for Coffee and Chicory brought in six great plain partridges, which they had knocked down with their kiris, and these were roasted at the midday meal, and eaten with the appetite found in the desert.
As the day wore on, and after the refreshed oxen were once more doing their duty, the effects of the last night's scare began to show itself, Peter, Dirk, and Dinny declaring that they had seen lions creeping after the waggon in the distance, ready to pounce upon the oxen as soon as it was dark.
Dirk reported this to Mr Rogers, who gave them all a good, talking to about their cowardice.
"Why, look at these Zulu boys," he cried; "they don't show any fear, while you grown men are almost as bad as children."
"Sure, sor, an' the Zulu boys don't know any better," said Dinny. "They're little better than the bastes themselves."
"Well, there are my own boys," exclaimed Mr Rogers. "They are not afraid. I wonder at you, Dinny, an Irishman, and to set such a bad example to these blacks."
"And is it afraid?" said Dinny. "Not a bit of it. I'm not a bit afraid at all; but I can't help thinking of what my poor mother's feelings would be if she came to know that her only son Dennis had been aiten up by wild bastes. I don't mind a bit, but I wouldn't hurt her feelings for the world."
"Then oblige me, Dinny, by holding your tongue, for if I hear any more complaints I shall send you back."
"Sind me back!" ejaculated Dinny, as soon as his master had gone. "Sind me back across the big desert all alone by meself. Why, it would be worse than murther. It's meself wishes I hadn't come."
Whatever he may have wished, these sharp words had the effect of silencing Dinny for the time being; but when the Zulu had led them at last, just at sundown, into a dense patch of forest, where the overhanging trees made the gloom quite oppressive, Dinny's eyes showed white circles round them; and if it had not been for the fact that they found a Boer and his family encamped by the water they had been seeking, the Irishman would have probably turned, and at all risks have fled.
People are ready enough to make friends out in the desert, and the Boer gladly offered the use of the fire he had made, and a part of the springbok he had shot, on receiving a share of some of the good things brought by the newcomers. Then, with the great camp-kettle simmering over the fire, and with the boys patiently waiting for their share of the provisions, guns were cleaned and laid ready for use, the men the while busily attending to the oxen and horses, while the Zulu and his boys collected wood into a pile to keep up the fire.
"Sure an' it's a dreadful melancholy-looking place," said Dinny with a shudder. And then he listened attentively while the Boer expressed his belief that there were lions in the neighbourhood, though they were not often seen.
HOW NATURE WAS STRONGER THAN TRAINING.
Days and days of steady travel, and the slowly gained miles mounted up till they had journeyed far into the interior. Mr Rogers, yielding to the importunities of his boys, had several times over been ready to come to a halt; but the Zulu still pointed forward, and feeling that there must be much truth in his declarations regarding the game country on ahead, he was allowed to act as guide.
It was a long journey, but though they did not have much sport, it was not monotonous, for Mr Rogers was a good naturalist, and eager to collect everything curious in beetle, butterfly, and bird, so that all hands were pretty busy from dawn to dark. Coffee and Chicory, after they had been taught not to pull off the feathers, became very clever at skinning birds, some of which had been denizens of the woods, some of the lagoons and marshes they had passed, and which were shot at daybreak, or else after sunset, from amongst the great beds of reeds. Then if they were ducks, the bodies became occupants of the great pot; if they were not considered eatable they fell to the share of the dogs.
That great iron pot, which was always suspended from three poles over every fire that was made, became an institution. The idea was taken from a hint given by a hunting-party, one of the gentlemen forming it telling Mr Rogers that, upon returning weary and exhausted to camp, there was nothing so restorative us good rich soup. Consequently, whenever a buck was shot, great pieces of its flesh were placed in the pot, and allowed to stew till all their goodness was gone, when the blacks considered them a delicacy, the rich soup being the portion of the hunting-party.
Game was scarce, but they got a sufficiency of either small bok or birds to supply their wants; and, whether it was the constant change, the fresh air, the rich meat essence which Dick partook of with avidity, or whether it was a combination of the effect of all these, the change in the boy was magical. He could take a long ride now without feeling weary, and wanting in appetite; he was ready to buckle to and help when the waggon was stuck, literally putting his shoulder to the wheel with a will, and in place of hanging back, he was now the first to spy out game, and set off in chase, making Jack quite envious by coming back in triumph with a couple of springbok hanging from his saddle-bows, both having had to succumb to his rifle.
But this was not to be borne; and Jack at once took Chicory into his confidence.
"I must shoot a springbok, Chick," he said. "Dick has shot two."
"Boss Jack shoot springbok to-morrow," said the boy, decisively; and soon after daybreak roused his young master, and pointed out across the plain towards the rising sun.
"Bok," he said laconically; and while Jack was giving a finishing touch or two to his dress, the boy ran off, and began to saddle Stockings, having the little horse ready by the time Jack was prepared to mount.
The others were not awake, saving the Zulu and Dick, who had the morning watch; so Jack got off unquestioned, and rode away in the direction pointed out by Chicory, whose dark eyes made out the presence of the little bok long before they could be seen by his young master, who began to think that he had been deceived, and expressed his doubts upon the point.
But Chicory smiled, and laid his hand upon Jack's arm, pointing to where some shadow shapes of animals could be seen through the faint mist hanging over a low clump of hillocks; and with a cry of joy the boy pressed his horse's sides, and went off at a swinging canter, without discomposing Chicory in the least, for the boy held on to a strap at the pummel of the saddle as before, and there being no ant-bear hole in the way, or, the horse having learned better through his fall, they rapidly neared the little herd, which began the antics peculiar to these animals, till the lad was getting close up, when they began to flee at a tremendous rate.
Quick as thought, Jack had sprung from his saddle, and sent a bullet after the herd; then another, and another; but all apparently without result. Then disappointed and vexed, Jack turned to Chicory as if it was his fault. But the boy had climbed an old ant-hill, and was watching the flying herd with his eyes shaded by his hand.
"One down—two down," he cried, sending joy through Jack's breast; for, on galloping after the herd, it was to find one bok lying dead, and another so badly wounded that it became an easy capture.
It was with no little importance then that Jack rode back with his two bok, ready to receive the congratulations of his father, for his manifest improvement in handling his rifle, and in hunting the bok according to the accepted plan.
At last their guide, after looking-on with something almost supercilious in his face at this, to him, puny style of hunting, and contentment with such small game as birds, springbok, and the like, announced that the next day they would be entering upon what he termed his hunting country.
The travellers had now reached a more rugged tract of land, scored with deep ravines, along which, at some time or another, small rivers must have coursed, while now the narrow stony tracks were found convenient for waggon tracks, though often enough the way was cruelly difficult, and all had to set to and clear a passage for the wheels by bodily removing some of the worst of the stones.
There was no hesitation or hanging back at such times, for all had to set to, even Dinny playing a pretty good part, considering that he abhorred manual labour.
Quite a change seemed to have come over the General, as Dick aptly dubbed their Zulu guide; for though he gave way in everything connected with the management of the waggon, and was exceedingly respectful to Mr Rogers, no sooner did any hunting matter come to the front, or a question of the best direction to take, than he seemed to take the lead as if in spite of himself.
At first Mr Rogers felt annoyed, and ready to put the man down; but in a very short time he saw that the Zulu's sole thought was for the success of the expedition, and that his actions were the natural results of his former life; for, savage though he was, and servant to this expedition, he had been a prince in his own tribe, and a leader amongst the people.
The night was coming on fast, when one day, after a long and weary trek, the heavily-laden waggon was approaching a belt of elevated forest-land, where the General had assured Mr Rogers they would find water.
It had been a toilsome day, hot and dusty, and at their midday rest there had been hardly a mouthful of herbage for the tired oxen, while water there was none. The contents of the two casks swinging behind the waggon were jealously guarded for the travellers' use; but so miserable did the cattle seem that the two boys asked their father to tap one of them for the oxen and horses.
"It will be but a taste a-piece," he said; "but perhaps you are right, boys."
Then the tap being set running, every ox and horse had a refreshing taste, though it was hard work to get the pail away from each thirsty mouth.
Then all through that long parching afternoon they had toiled on, with the draught cattle growing more listless, the horses sluggish and restless; and a general feeling of weariness seemed to have seized upon all.
The result was shown in the silence with which they progressed. The driver and foreloper ceased to shout and crack their whips; the Zulus trudged slowly on behind the waggon; and out of compassion for their horses, Mr Rogers and his sons walked beside the weary beasts.
"You are sure we shall find water at sundown?" said Dick to the General.
"Nothing is sure out in the wilds, young master," said the Zulu gravely. "There should be water there. If there is not, we must trek on through the night, to the first river or spring."
"But will there be water there?"
"We shall be in the game country then, and I can soon find where the game goes to drink, and can lead you there."
This was satisfactory, and they trudged on and on, with the land gradually rising, making the pull more heavy for the oxen, whose tongues were lolling out, and whose efforts at last became so painful that Mr Rogers at once accepted his sons' proposal, which was that the horses should help.
A halt was called, and great stones were placed beneath the wheels to make sure that there should be no running backwards on the part of the waggon, and then the tethering ropes were fastened to the horses' saddles; the Zulus and the boys took their head; the word was given to start; the ropes that had been secured to different parts of the waggon tightened; and though the horses could not pull as if they were properly harnessed, the impulse they gave relieved the weary oxen, and after half an hour's toilsome drag, the waggon was drawn to the top of the incline, and the travellers had the pleasure of seeing that a tolerably level way lay before them.
But there was no sign of water, and Mr Rogers looked serious as he swept the dimly seen country before him with his glass.
"Had we not better outspan here?" he said, "and let the oxen rest. We could start again at daybreak."