The Boys' Big Game Series
THE ROGUE ELEPHANT
The Boys' Big Game Series
THE GIANT MOOSE. The monarch of the big Northwest; a story told over camp fires in the reek of cedar smoke and the silence of the barrens.
THE WHITE TIGER OF NEPAL. The weird story of the man-killer of the foothills. Tinged with the mysticism of India, dramatic and stirring.
THE BLIND LION OF THE CONGO. A story of the least known part of the earth and its most feared beast. A gripping tale of the land of the white pigmies.
THE KING BEAR OF KADIAK ISLAND. A tale of the bully of the Frozen North and his mysterious guardian. A game-and-man-story that makes a good boy-story.
THE ROGUE ELEPHANT. A big game hunt that leads into strange lands and stranger adventures in a real big game country.
Remarkable covers and four-color jackets. Illustrations and cover designs by Dan Sayre Groesbeck
Price 60 cents each
Publishers The Reilly & Britton Co. Chicago
THE ROGUE ELEPHANT
Illustrated by Fred J. Arting
The Reilly & Britton Co. Chicago
COPYRIGHT, 1913 by THE REILLY & BRITTON CO.
THE ROGUE ELEPHANT
I A CHANCE "OUT" 9
II OFF FOR THE FRONT 21
III QUILQUA THE MYSTERIOUS 33
IV MAKING READY 46
V THE FIRST HUNT 59
VI MOUNT KENIA 71
VII ELEPHANT 83
VIII A RECONNAISSANCE 95
IX INTO THE UNKNOWN 108
X MOWBRAY'S END 120
XI THE DESERT TREK 133
XII A DESERTED LAND 145
XIII A DESPERATE BATTLE 158
XIV THE LAKE OF MYSTERY 170
XV "UNDER THE LEFT GATE-POST" 182
XVI SELIM SHOWS HIS TEETH 194
XVII FRESH SPOOR 206
XVIII LOST! 218
XIX THE ROGUE ELEPHANT 230
XX THE BACK TRAIL 242
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
It seemed that the great beast was towering over him, reaching for him with that terrible trunk. Then he drew a careful bead on the left fore-shoulder. Frontispiece
Everything else was forgotten in the novel method of riding. Page 54
For the man, just as he relapsed into unconsciousness, murmured four words: "Help—me debbil man!" Page 118
One slash of the knife, and out trickled a little stream of yellow grains into the brown fist of the explorer. Page 192
The Rogue Elephant
A CHANCE "OUT"
"You are so crazy as a loon! Boys? Boys to such a drip dake? Nein!"
Von Hofe excitedly pounded the table until the attendants at the Explorers' Club stared. Then he leaned back determinedly and lighted his meerschaum. The lean, bronzed man who sat opposite pushed away his maps with a smile.
"You misunderstand, von Hofe. I know both these boys personally and vouch for them. You have agreed that this is to be no milk-and-water trip, with hundreds of porters bearing bath tubs and toilet water, but that we shall live off the land as we go. That right?"
The German nodded amid a cloud of smoke.
"You want me to take you into the elephant country and shoot your specimens. I have agreed to do this. I know Africa and I can do it. You are paying the expenses of the trip, but that is immaterial. If we hitch up, von Hofe, it will be on the understanding that I am in command of this expedition; that I choose those I want to go along, and that you are with me to prepare your specimens and nothing else. Now you can take it or leave it—that's final."
The elderly German paused before replying, the two men searching each other's faces quietly. As most people have it, the famous Dr. Gross von Hofe was a "taxidermist." The average "stuffer," the man who simply covers and replaces the bones of the specimen with excelsior or cotton, is properly named taxidermist, but von Hofe was an artist, known the world over for his wonderful work. In various museums of the world you may see his models, signed like the masterpieces of other artists, of rare and disappearing animals from the distant quarters of the earth, frozen in action, with the setting of the trees, grass, sand or water of their native haunts.
The other, somewhat younger than the famous artist in skin and bone, was an American of German descent—Louis Schoverling. He was one of that little class of world-wanderers, who have barely enough money to carry them about the earth's strange places, hunting and exploring, gradually pushing the frontier of civilization back into the savage quarters of the world, and most happy when self-dependent and forced to rely on gun or hook for a day's meal.
So when Dr. von Hofe was commissioned by two celebrated museums to visit East Africa and secure for each a family group of elephants—tusker bull, calf, and cow—it was natural that he should come to the New York Explorers' Club for a helper and guide. There he had picked on Louis Schoverling—or "the General," as his fellow-explorers had laughingly dubbed him after the failure of a certain South American revolution—to take him to the tuskers. Dr. von Hofe was not a hunter and he knew it. So Schoverling had agreed to go, not for the money in the trip, but for the excitement of it.
"I see," returned the big German at last, "why your comrades call you 'the General.' You are right. You shall take whom you like, und if I say you are crazy as a loon, it makes no difference. You are satisfied?"
"Quite," laughed the American. "When do we start?"
"Three weeks from to-day," returned the other, whose English was perfect save in moments of excitement. "I have a group to finish for the Metropolitan here. Then we go."
"All right. I'll meet you up here three weeks from to-day, with my friends, at twelve sharp."
Such was the interesting prelude to the letter which came to Charlie Collins at Calgary, Canada, five days later. Charlie was one of the boys whom the General had proposed to take with him to Africa. Born in Nova Scotia, he had tramped his way across the continent at the age of seventeen, when his father died. Catching the Peace River fever he had made his way back to Calgary, then up to Peace River Landing, where he went to work to make enough money to turn homesteader. At this juncture Schoverling had met him while on a hunting trip. The General had become keenly interested in the boy, whose ambitions were high. Charlie was accustomed to depending on himself, which caught the explorer's fancy. He had knocked the homesteading notion out of Charlie's head and got him a position at Calgary, where he was now learning the trade of electrician.
So when Charlie walked into the office on that Saturday morning and found a bulky letter from the Explorers' Club, he tore it open in keen anticipation. For five minutes he stood reading in amazement; then he uttered a yell that brought the eyes of the office force down on him, and rushed to the paymaster's desk.
"Give me my time, Mr. Clarke!" he cried, his gray eyes and pleasant, healthy face denoting high excitement. "I've got to quit right off!"
"What's the matter? Fallen heir to a million?" laughed the man behind the window, who was used to his men quitting at a moment's notice.
"Better than that! Jumping sandhills! I'm going to Africa!" almost shouted the boy, as he grabbed his pay envelope and put for the door.
"Hey! Better take your hat!" shouted some one, and Charlie made a quick return for his forgotten headgear, then vanished. When he found himself in his boarding-house room with the door locked, he flung off his coat and settled down to read over once more the wonderful letter. It was written in the customary vein of the explorer—as if he was talking to his reader.
"My dear Charlie:—
"Draw your time and beat it for New York. Meet me at the Explorers' Club at noon of the 22nd. Bring Jack Sawtooth ditto. You don't know him but you will soon. We're going to Africa—sail the night of the 22nd, so hump yourself, old man!
"First for the expedition. Remember asking me once why all explorers couldn't live off the land, as we did up the Mackenzie that winter? I said then that it could be done, and you're going to help prove me right in Africa. We're going to hunt elephant—not where you get them driven up while you sit in a camp-chair, either. We're going after bulls, rogues, the big fellows who live solitary, soured on life in general. We have to get two at least, for museums.
"Never mind an outfit. Don't need your snowshoes, of course. Jack will bring some knee-high moosehide moccasins—no machine-made junk, either. I'm getting the guns. Bring six of those Canadian lynx or fox steel traps. Can't seem to find 'em here, and they'll be useful.
"Have wired and written Sawtooth. He's a quarter-breed—hold on, old scout! Wait till he looks you up; Sunday, I expect. Jack is seventeen, looks like a white—and is white clear through. Next to you he's the hardiest and gamest ever. Got me skinned a mile on the trail. Educated at the Mission School. You'll like him. He's not sensitive on his blood, but rather proud of it."
Charlie paused and grinned to himself. He did not share the prejudice of a "tenderfoot" against the half-breeds. He knew well enough that as in any race a good, manly Cree or Salteaux was rather above the average white man in point of character.
"Jack has to get down from Mirror Landing, so give him a couple of days' leeway. You have plenty of time, I judge. Better fetch H. B. C. blankets; nights are cold in Africa, and we might strike into the mountains. The trip doesn't promise any more than expenses, but there is always a chance that we can trade or clean up on a bit of ivory. Once we get together we can go over the route and all that. However, the experience is worth while, and it's the best kind of an education. If we pull out ahead of the game you may have a stake to start in some kind of business for yourself.
"Check enclosed to cover expenses to New York. Don't buy any gold bricks when you strike Broadway! And don't let Jack scalp anyone on board the Overland.
"Yours in haste, "Louis Schoverling."
Charlie slowly folded up the letter and stared out of the window for a moment.
"Jumping sandhills!" he murmured softly, and turned to where "the General" hung framed on his wall. "What a prince of a friend you are to a fellow! I guess I'll give you a bit of a surprise myself, just the same!"
Eight months before, when Schoverling had gone "out," as the saying is up there, he had left Charlie in Calgary. The boy had little knowledge of the ways of the city, but after parting with his new-found friend he had thrown himself into his new life, grimly determined that he would make good. And he had. In the day he had worked at his new trade, in the evening he had plugged away at night-school, making up for lost time. He had doffed his flannel shirt and timber boots for the garb of the city, and as he looked at himself in the glass that morning he grinned again.
The next day Jack Sawtooth showed up, tired out, fresh from the wilderness. He had received the General's telegram three days before, had not stopped for the letter following, but had said farewell to his father and joined a freight sledge down to Athabasca Landing, to seek out Charlie at Calgary.
"Glad to meet you," exclaimed Charlie when his visitor was dubiously announced by his landlady. The Cree boy was lithe, straight as an arrow, open-browed and keen of eye, with none of the somber gravity of his Indian blood. "I hardly thought you'd get here so quickly."
"I didn't know what was up," smiled Jack. "Say, this is a neat little room! Where did you get the bead-work? Why, you must be an old-timer! Mr. Schoverling has not written me very often, and only mentioned you a few times."
"I've knocked around quite a bit," admitted Charlie, glancing at the Indian bead-work and the pictures of camp and trail that hung on his wall. "Don't you know where we're going?"
The other shook his head.
"We're going elephant hunting in Africa," laughed Charlie. Jack stared at him.
"Africa? Say, Collins, don't try to give me heart-failure that way! What is it now, honest?"
"You wait," chuckled Charlie, bringing out the explorer's letter and reading over all that related to the trip. Not until Jack had set eyes on it himself would he believe that Charlie was in earnest. Then he sat back and stared again.
"Me—in Africa! Great Scott, am I dreaming or just crazy? Does he mean it?"
Charlie produced the good-sized check in evidence, and Jack's amazement soon gave way to calm acceptance of the situation.
"Then we'll go to Africa, unless I wake up and find myself snowed in somewhere along the trap line. When do we go?"
"Catch the Overland to-night, if you're ready," returned Charlie promptly. Jack gave a single glance at the other's neat clothing and shook his head.
"Not much. I got enough attention coming through town," and he pointed to the jack he had deposited in the corner. "Look here, Chuck," he fell readily into the common abbreviation for Charlie then prevalent, "you fit me out with a rig like yours, in the morning. You know the ropes and I don't. Then I'll pack up those heavy moccasins I brought along and we can take the train to-morrow night. No great rush, is there?"
"Guess not," grinned Charlie, inwardly delighted at the good sense of his new comrade. "But we'll probably get an outfit in New York. Look here, Jack, I got a new suit of rough tweed last week, and won't need it now. If you don't mind, you could have that as well as not. We're built about the same. Hang on to the hickory shirt, though. We'll probably use 'em. In the meantime I've got enough reg'lar shirts to hold us, and we can dig out on the train to-night if you say."
"Suits me," answered Jack, beaming. "I'm much obliged, old man, for helping me out! Now I'll have to drop dad a note telling him about it, and can write him later from the train. Got any paper handy?"
With much interest Charlie watched the other scribble a hasty note in weird-looking characters. Jack explained that his father could read the Cree writing-language invented by Bishop Grouard, but not English. The more Charlie saw of his new friend, the better he liked him, and the two boys soon fell into a close friendship that was destined to be tested by land and sea, in more ways than either of them imagined.
"Dad will have a fit when he reads that," laughed Jack. "He'd trust me anywhere with Mr. Schoverling, though. They used to know each other when Schoverling was in the Hudsons Bay Company, years ago. Where'll you cash that check?"
"Hotel," returned Charlie. "They know me at the Alberta."
Jack was soon fixed up with "store clothes," the traps and moccasins were packed in two grips, Charlie arranged with his landlady to pack up his stuff and store it for him, and that night the two went "out"—aboard the Limited that would bear them across the continent.
OFF FOR THE FRONT
The enthusiastic boys reached New York long before the three weeks were up, but the General—as they came to call him, like everyone else—was not in evidence. He had left letters for them at the Explorers' Club, however, and had arranged for them to get a room there until his arrival.
At two minutes to twelve some days later he stepped out of the elevator and entered the library, where Charlie and Jack were waiting in no little dismay. The meeting was a joyful one all around.
"Me?" laughed the General, in answer to their rapid-fire questions. "Oh, I've been in Washington, getting some letters to pave the way for us. But where's von Hofe? He was to meet us at noon."
"Well, is he not here?" came a heavy voice from behind, and von Hofe entered with a broad smile on his bearded face. "You did not say five minutes before the hour, or one minute after the hour, so that I came on the hour—ach! Let go mine hant! I am a man, not a wood or stone image!"
Neither Charlie nor Jack had known, of course, who was behind the expedition, for the General had omitted any mention of von Hofe in his haste. But as it chanced, Charlie had been reading an article that morning which described the wonderful work done by von Hofe, and his contributions to science. So, when Schoverling introduced him, the astonished Charlie let out his accustomed expression, as he shook hands.
"Jumping sandhills! Are you the chap I was reading about this morning—the man who makes photos and sketches of animals before they're shot an' then mounts 'em the same way? Was it you who swiped the skin of a sacred white elephant out o' Siam, an'—"
"Ach, what liars these newspapers are!" But the steel-blue eyes twinkled forth from beneath the bushy yellow-gray brows, and Charlie's heart leaped as he realized that this great man must be going with them.
"You are not such foolish looking boys," decided the German, nodding his head. "Herr Schoverling, they haf the look in the eyes, the look of the dependable-upon men. I apologize. You are not crazy as a loon. Now we haf much to talk over, and we are hungry, I hope?"
"We certainly are," smiled the General, leading the way toward a private dining room which was reserved for them. Jack whispered delightedly in his friend's ear as they followed, "You catch-um that beard?"
Charlie grinned at the Chinook expression and nodded.
"He's a peach, Jack! Say, we're goin' to have the time of our lives, believe me!"
Luncheon was devoted to story-telling. Schoverling related tales of his adventures when he had joined the H. B. C. in Canada as a boy, serving his four years; the doctor jovially gave the story of certain adventures in South Africa, and Jack chipped in with a relation of Indian legend from the far north, relating to the mammoths which were said to be still alive somewhere in the frozen regions. This last, which was backed up by the explorer, interested von Hofe immensely; but at length the meal was done with, the table cleared, and they were alone with their coffee.
Schoverling drew forth a huge map, which he spread out on the table. On it was a route heavily marked in red ink, and he pointed to this as he spoke.
"I got this map from a friend of mine, in Washington at present, who was up there last year stealing ivory. It's not considered at all bad, boys, among a certain class of hunters, to make a raid into the protected regions and loot all the tusks they can get. Well, this is the latest map of British East Africa, divested of all that is thrown in by chaps who like to fill up blank spaces with names.
"Down here south and east of Lake Rudolph, you see, is the Northern Game Preserve. It is more or less indefinite, extending up to the Abyssinian border. This chap I'm speaking of went dead across it, as you can see. Incidentally, he landed in Abyssinia, which is another story.
"Now, Dr. von Hofe and I have secured permits to get the beasts we are after for scientific purposes. Coming back to the Uganda Railway, here is Nairobi, you see. We'll go just where this friend of mine went—on to Nakuro, then up to the Leikipia hills and through them into the Game Preserve—"
"To Abyssinia?" cried Charlie, leaning forward "Are we going—"
"We are nod," interrupted von Hofe, his deep voice roaring through his meerschaum smoke. "You will keep very still, if you please!"
Charlie was undecided whether to resent it or not, until he caught a wink from Jack and his quick anger was dissipated instantly.
"No," smiled the General, "we need not fear to return through British territory, for our permits are pretty general. Now let's get back to this map. Here is Mt. Marsabit, straight north of Kenia. Midway between the two we will branch off my friend's route and go over toward the Lorian Swamp. That's unknown country, except to the ivory raiders, and they keep their mouths shut; but that's where the elephants are.
"Does that suit you, Doctor? We could stick closer to civilization, of course, but we wouldn't get the big bulls. Besides, I'd like to do a bit of exploring in there. Some mighty queer yarns have come out of that country lately."
The big Teuton emitted a dense cloud of smoke before answering.
"You are not to worry about suiting me, my friend. What I want is bulls, such bulls as have never come to this country. Perhaps I will change my mind and go to the North Pole for those mammoth. Ach, what a thing! To bring a mammoth down, skin him, photograph him, mount him for the Smithsonian! What more could a man want?"
"Bosh!" exclaimed the General. "That's all been exploded long ago. Now, we're going to cut out the usual gang of porters and chiefs. I guess we can get along from village to village well enough. Bring those traps and moccasins, boys?"
"They're up in our rooms," answered Jack. "How about clothes?"
"All gone on board ship," smiled Schoverling. Charlie had already noted his appreciative glance at their first meeting, and Jack was now feeling quite at home in his new garments.
They were going from New York straight to Alexandria on a steamer of a Greek line, which would give the boys a brief glimpse of Athens en route. At Alexandria they would pick up an East Coast steamer to Mombasa.
With this the discussion was closed, but Charlie and Jack put forth an eager question as to their armament, which they had more than once discussed in wild anticipation. The General smiled, comprehending their eagerness.
"The doctor has absolutely refused to touch a gun from start to finish, boys, so that puts it up to us. I had everything we would need. There is a double-barrelled 500-405 Holland for each of us—which of course we won't use on anything but elephants. Two of them are mine, and one was loaned me for the trip. For ordinary use we will carry our 30-30s, and a number twelve shotgun. Those, with a suit case each, make up all our luggage. Any trunks, Doctor?"
"Trunks?" The blond German glared over his beard in surprise. "Would I preserve elephant hide with air? No, but I have eleven cases of chemicals, which you must take."
"Very well—that will make about twenty porters," commented the explorer quietly. "I think we'll have a mighty interesting time if we carry out my original program of living off the country. Anything more to settle?"
As nothing more seemed to present itself, the meeting was declared adjourned. Von Hofe shook hands with the boys, put away his big pipe, and retired to write some letters. As both Charlie and Jack had seen all of New York that they cared about, Mr. Schoverling spent the afternoon at the club with them, showing and explaining the cases full of savage arms, relics and curios which had been contributed by the explorers and scientists who formed the club. He introduced them to many of its famous members, a few of whom they had already met while waiting for him. It was an informal, cosy place, and during their stay the boys enjoyed themselves immensely.
As the news spread about of the General's proposed trip, a number of men who had been in Africa promptly carried all three off to the library and there ensued a high discussion. Most of them flatly declared that living on the land might be possible, but that moccasins and traps were absurd.
"But why?" laughed the General. "You fellows wear puttees and leather breeches to keep dry, and safe from scratches or snakes. Moccasins are equally as good, especially high ones like ours, and a whole lot more comfortable. You chaps who go in for big game with all the comforts of home don't know what real work is like!"
This good-natured taunt happened to hit most of those around, and the situation looked stormy until a little, awkward-looking man strolled up and joined in.
"Nonsense!" His irritated voice shrilled high above the rest. "Shut up, you fools! Why, what do you know about East Africa? When I tramped from Fort Rosebury to Kituta in my bare hide I got nothing worse than mosquito bites, and I've had to make moccasins many a time or go barefoot. I'm leaving this afternoon for Africa; how many of you chaps want to go with me? Don't all speak at once, please."
Charlie stared, expecting to see the little, bitter-tongued man mobbed. But to his vast surprise not a word was said, and the dilettante hunters faded away one by one. The little man turned to Schoverling with a bristling laugh of delight.
"See 'em run, General? Going in, I hear."
"Boys, I'd like to have you meet Mr. Mowbray," said the explorer, introducing the two. "You aren't going to British territory, I suppose?"
"Never you mind, my son," snapped the little man. "Give me back my map. Just got in from Washington an hour ago, and leave in another hour. I'll need that map worse than you will—got wind of something big."
As Schoverling pulled out the folded map and handed it over, Mowbray lowered his voice.
"I'll beat you there by some time, old boy, but I'll be around. Let you in on it, if I can't handle it. Good-looking boys, there. Keep your ears open for a nigger who says 'Me debbil man.' You can trust him. Got to go, General. Mighty glad to have met you, boys—see you later, maybe. Besselama!"
"Jumping sandhills!" ejaculated Charlie. "Who's he? A grand mogul around here? What's that last word mean?"
"Arabic for 'so-long,'" smiled the General.
"What made 'em all shut up when he handed it to them?" inquired Jack curiously.
"That's the chap, of course, who lent me the map, boys." And the General spoke very seriously. "You must never repeat what he said to a soul, or mention his name. In British Africa they have hunted him for years, by regiments; there's a price on his head of some thousands of pounds, and he's slipped into and out of the country whenever he liked. He's defeated the Somali troops and even the white regulars time and again, and no one knows how he gets into the ivory country. He does it for sheer love of the game, for he has a fortune of his own."
"You mean," asked the puzzled and wondering Charlie, "that he's one of the ivory raiders?"
"He's the ivory raider of them all," nodded Schoverling, "and the biggest man in the club here. For all his scornful words, not a man there but would bite off his tongue sooner than repeat that Mowbray was starting for Africa to-day. Why, the British would pay a thousand pounds for those half-dozen words! Now just forget it, boys."
Forget it! It was a long time before Charlie ever forgot the sight of that little man, and the time came when he was to remember him more vividly still, as was Jack also. Neither of them gave any thought to the muttered "Me debbil man." If Schoverling did, he betrayed no inkling of it through his bronzed mask of a face.
That night they were aboard the steamer. During the days that followed Charlie enjoyed every minute of the time, as did Jack also. But they were both accustomed to hard work, and the luxuries of civilization, where everything was done for them, soon grew monotonous. When they had gone over their beloved guns, oiling every inch, and received instructions for the use of the few simple medicines taken along, there was little to do except to read up on Africa, which labor they threw themselves into gladly.
They saw little of von Hofe on the way over, for he was busy on some chemical experiments; but the day before they reached Gibraltar a strange odor, which permeated the whole ship, drew down on him the wrath of the captain, after which the big Teuton abandoned his beloved mixtures.
The whole voyage to Port Said was uneventful in actual happenings. But at Port Said they went aboard the Mombasa, and off Aden they had the pleasure of meeting the gentlemanly Selim ben Amoud, and of first hearing of the Magic Lake and its mysterious Rogue Elephant guardian.
QUILQUA THE MYSTERIOUS
He was a suave, polished, open-shirted Arab, who appeared the morning after they had left Port Said and the Suez far behind, and who smiled at Louis Schoverling with the air of old acquaintance. The American sprang up with extended hand.
"Why, Selim! I had no idea you were aboard!"
"Neither had the authorities at Port Said," rejoined the Arab softly. The explorer raised his eyebrows, and Jack nudged Charlie significantly. A moment later they were being introduced, and von Hofe was explaining the object of their journey.
"It should interest Mr. ben Amoud," smiled the General, "as he is one of the largest Arab dealers in ivory—and other things—on the Coast."
Selim, much to Charlie's surprise, spoke fluent English, enjoyed his cigar as much as did the explorer, and was not as swarthy as their Italian captain. He sat quietly beneath the awning, his wide hat shading his face, and would easily have been taken for a German or Boer, with his flowing beard and European clothes. Most of the Arabs on board wore the burnous and sandals, and Charlie wondered if there were any reason behind this European garb.
The trader heard of their expedition, and gravely complimented von Hofe on his work, of which he spoke with some knowledge, until the doctor beamed genially.
After a pause Selim turned to Schoverling. "Much has happened in the two years since I last saw you. You have not, by any chance, heard of one who calls himself 'Me debbil man'?"
Charlie started, but Jack, his deep black eyes suddenly afire, gripped his arm. Von Hofe stared, and the Arab gazed at Schoverling, whose face never changed.
"Yes," replied the explorer, quietly. "We are all friends of his."
The Arab's gaze darted to one of the deck-hands, lounging on the rail near by. Charlie saw ben Amoud rise, step to the man's side, and hiss something. The man looked startled; then his face changed and he slunk away. Selim, his narrow eyes glittering, returned to his deck-chair and settled himself comfortably.
"Now we can talk, my friends. Mr. Schoverling, have you ever heard of Lake Quilqua?"
The American looked puzzled. "Can't say I remember the name, Selim. Where is it?"
"Ah, many men have asked that question!" and Selim's white teeth shone. Charlie stole a glance at Jack. His dreams of the mysterious East were being rapidly realized! "No one has ever answered it, however. It is one of those odd native yarns that are generally founded on fact, though you white men disbelieve them. Here it is for you:
"Two years ago rumors began to drift to certain of us that somewhere, far down from the Abyssinian border in that desolate land north of the Lorian Swamp, there was a lake. The tale was given me in fuller form by one of my own Arabs who had got lost and found his way out to die, crazed and raving of horrible things, only a few months ago.
"This lake, it seems, is fed by underground springs—hot springs, that spout up and fall like fountains on the water; its outlet is also by an underground river, so that the lake lies, sweltering in the sun and surrounded by desert and jungle and marsh, where no people live."
Ben Amoud turned to the calmly interested German. "You, Doctor von Hofe, are a scientist. Granted such a body of water, at an average temperature of ninety to a hundred degrees Fahrenheit; would animal life in it and near it be liable to any change in average size?"
The big man stroked his beard reflectively, pulling at his pipe.
"Possibly," he admitted at length. "But only one way. If animal life could exist at such a temperature, it would perhaps be much larger than elsewhere. For instance, a buffalo lives much in the water. In such a place as that, a buffalo's great-grandchildren would be larger, and so on through succeeding generations, each a little larger. Yes, it iss possible—but nod probable."
"Do you mean," cried Charlie, unable to repress his eagerness, "that there are giant animals there?"
The Arab smiled and waved his hand. "It is but a tale, remember. See, I have heard that in this lake are great serpents of monstrous size. That, as our friend has just said, there are such buffalo there as were never seen, and that evil spirits dwell on an island near the reed-encircled shore. But there is one thing more, that might interest you; indeed, it was my reason for telling you the story.
"Not only the wandering natives, but my own Arab, have raved of a tremendous elephant, a rogue, who dwells near there. He is said to be of great size, very wicked, and cursed by Allah with the desire to fight men. His size is said to be that of a mountain—and in truth I doubt if any man has ever seen him and lived to tell of it. There, my friends, would be a conquest worthy of your skill!"
Von Hofe grunted, but Charlie saw that his blue eyes were never off the face of the Arab. Jack sat listening with all his ears.
"What's a 'rogue'?" he asked.
"Wait till you see one and you won't need to ask. A rogue is a big bull elephant who's broken away from his herd and lives by himself in the jungle. He's usually a man-fighter, and doesn't think anything of attacking a whole herd of elephants. He's an outlaw, and he's a bad citizen to meet.
"But I hardly think, Selim," continued the General with a smile, "that we will penetrate to such a place. All we wish is a couple of very large bulls; the others of the groups can be picked up nearer home, but it is essential that we get magnificent tuskers."
"And I have told you where to get the best of all tuskers," rejoined Selim seriously. "There is some foundation for such a tale, believe me. I am not at liberty to tell you more, but perhaps you, Mr. Schoverling, could imagine a friend of yours who would be very likely to try the truth of the yarn."
Charlie's quick eyes roved from face to face. He had not fought with the world for most of his life and emerged unable to read men's faces, young as he was; and he knew enough of Jack by this time to feel confident that the other was losing nothing of what went on.
At the Arab's last words a glance flashed between him and the explorer. Von Hofe was frankly puzzled over these references to an unknown person, but he asked no questions, wisely. It was the explorer who finally spoke.
"Yes, I can imagine such a man, Selim. But we are in no way connected with him, nor are we acting in conjunction with him. He told me, the day he left New York, that he had something big on hand, and would perhaps meet me later."
The Arab smiled slightly and tossed his cigar over the rail. Charlie had jumped at the conclusion that they spoke of Mowbray, the ivory raider, when Selim had first uttered the catch-phrase or password. At Schoverling's reply he knew that he had been right, and watched eagerly for more.
But the conversation shifted to other things, and during the morning there was no more said of the mysterious lake. The two boys got off by themselves and discussed the matter, but arrived nowhere.
"Prob'ly Mowbray is making a try for that Quilqua business," concluded Jack sagely. "It sounds mighty good to me, old boy?"
"Here too," agreed Charlie. "But Selim laid it on too thick, with sea serpents and elephants like mountains. Bet a dollar to a pine chip that he had some axe to grind with the General. You wait and see."
"Mebbe," conceded Jack doubtfully. "He's a slick-lookin' proposition, Chuck. I saw the lines of a gun in his coat pocket, too. He didn't do much grinding, anyhow. The General didn't fall for his line of talk worth a cent. Well, let's get back; it's almost time for lunch—or what do they call it here? Tiff 'em?"
"Tiffin," chuckled his friend; "same's they do in India. There's a heap of Indians all down the coast, 'cause it's a Mohammedan country an' they don't lose caste by coming over to work."
All of which explanation was largely lost on Jack. Charlie knew a good deal of the East Indians, having witnessed most of the Hindu immigrant riots in western Canada, and he was frankly interested in them as a race.
When they returned to the after awning they found Selim just saying good-bye. He was to leave the ship at Ras al Kyle, a port on the Italian Somaliland coast, and they were nearly due to reach there. So he suavely bowed himself away, in odd contrast to his Boer-like appearance, and the boys immediately deluged the General with questions. Dr. von Hofe rumbled out a laugh.
"Would you prefer my absence, General? I—"
"Nonsense, Doctor!" broke in Schoverling sharply. "Here is all I know," and he told the big German of meeting Mowbray, and of the latter's words.
"So!" drawled von Hofe. "Then, this Selim ben Amoud is who?"
"I have heard that he is the wealthiest Arab on the east coast," replied the American. "You noticed, I suppose, what he first said?"
Charlie nodded eagerly.
"Privately, I have no doubt that he is a slaver," went on the explorer. "He has a hand in everything, and is always in hot water with the British authorities. He was trying to find out whether or not our expedition had anything to do with that of Mowbray. I have met him before and we know each other slightly."
"Well," asked Jack, "is Mowbray going to the magic lake?"
The explorer laughed. "Who knows? The whole yarn may be a bluff—probably is. Selim would like the British to think that Mowbray's party is merely exploring, and perhaps he thinks we will spread the news, in which he is mistaken. Or, he may have been honest in the matter; you can never tell what lies behind his words."
At this Charlie's face fell slightly. He had been intensely interested in the Arab's tale, and the thought that it was a put-up job did not appeal to him in the least.
"But wasn't it true?" he inquired, disappointed. "It sounded pretty good to me!"
"Frankly, Charlie, I don't believe a word of it. You can hear yarns like that wherever you go, and they usually pan out pretty small—just like Jack's story of the mammoth up in the north. You noticed the password, 'Me debbil man'? Well, there isn't a particle of doubt in my mind that Mowbray and Selim are parts of a big underground concern for illicit trading. I don't for a minute think Mowbray would traffic in slaves, but of course he's the biggest ivory raider in the game."
"Then it's a sort of conspiracy?" shot out Jack quickly. "Any chance of our gettin' mixed up in the business?"
"Not a bit of it," asserted the explorer, with a smile at von Hofe. "I'll answer for that, Jack. Selim is satisfied, and we'll probably never hear from him or Mowbray again. Our own trip is perfectly fair and square, the authorities will know everything we do, and we can't afford to soil our fingers with anything crooked. It doesn't pay."
"That is why," struck in Dr. von Hofe, "I came to you. 'Schoverling,' they told me, 'he is straight.' It is a good reputation to have, my friend."
The boys nodded, understanding. A look of gratification crossed the explorer's face, such gratification as comes to a man when he knows that he has won the esteem of other men.
"We are not looking for hot water and sea serpents," went on the doctor with a broad smile at the boys. "We are looking for elephants, let us remember, please!"
With that, the topic of Lake Quilqua was promptly dropped. At Ras al Kyle, Selim ben Amoud went ashore—this time wearing sandals and burnous—and the Mombasa took up her interrupted journey south. But late that night, as the boys swung into their bunks, Jack gave vent to his long-repressed thought.
"Chuck, I wish to thunder we were goin' to hunt for that lake!"
"Forget it," advised Charlie. "Von Hofe isn't paying expenses for us to chase around after sea serpents. Anyhow, Jack, when you come to think it over it doesn't stand to reason that there's any such place as that. There's a heap of sense in what the General said. I've heard that Injun yarn about the mammoths up north; but you know's well as I do that when it comes down to hard pan there's nothin' to it. Same with this magic lake."
"Guess you're right," sighed Jack regretfully, turning out the light. While the boys were turning in, Dr. Gross von Hofe was replying to a certain question put to him by the General, before they retired.
"Yes, my friend, it could be. Lieutenant Graetz found just such gigantic buffalo at Lake Bangweolo, and was all but killed by them. He has promised that I shall mount one, when he is able to undertake a second expedition to bring home specimens. But elephants and sea serpents—ach, no! Such a yarn is crazy."
"So crazy as a loon," laughed Schoverling, and said good night.
Before them lay the picturesque harbor, filled with Arab dhows from Zanzibar and the Somali ports, tramp steamers, coasters, and a trim French corvette up from Madagascar. Up above the waters rose the old Arab city, now a trim English-ruled town of immense trade, while behind all shimmered the vivid green of trees.
"Dandy sight, isn't it!" and the boys turned to find Schoverling at their side, with the doctor. "That old town used to have a sultan, as Zanzibar has, and a gay pirate life was led along the east coast in the days of Captain Kidd. Portugal captured the place, but the Arabs drove her out again. Now England is making Mombasa into a mighty big trading center, and as the Uganda Railway taps the Cape-to-Cairo, which is about done, things are going to boom."
Charlie and Jack had seen considerable of the cosmopolitan aspect of Port Said, although they had had no time to visit Alexandria, but here was something entirely new to them. As they passed through the streets to the Mombasa Club they were surrounded by English officers in neat uniforms, by Somali and other native troops, by Arabs in fez and burnous, and above all by Indians. Hindus and Mohammedans alike moved through the streets, some wearing the fez, others the turban; there were Sikhs and Gurkhas, lordly Brahmins who disdained to touch the Europeans with their garments, and those of the lower castes who were equally particular.
"I was reading the other day," said Charlie, "that the Indians were swarming over here by the shipload, and this certainly looks like it!"
Louis Schoverling brushed aside the would-be native guides, and led the party direct to the Mombasa Club, where they were soon comfortably ensconced. Barely had they arrived when a bronzed, trim Englishman sought out the explorer.
"Mr. Schoverling?" he inquired. "I am Inspector Harrington. The governor heard that you and Doctor von Hofe came in on the Mombasa, and he detailed me to look after you. He was anxious to see you in person, as our embassador at Washington had written him, but he was called up country yesterday."
"That is very good of you," returned the explorer, introducing his party. "I was assured at Washington that you would have our permits for us."
"They are ready at the Government House," said the inspector. "We are anxious to extend every courtesy to you and Doctor von Hofe, of course. You won't do any trading?"
"Frankly, I don't expect to. We are here to procure specimens and nothing else. But if I could pick up any ivory on my own hook, I suppose it would be all right?"
"With you, yes," smiled Harrington. "Men like you and Selous and Cuninghame can be accepted at the standard of gentlemen. Unfortunately, there are some who cannot. Now, how about porters and so on?"
"We'll take about twenty-five porters," answered the explorer carelessly. At this the Englishman sat up.
"My word! Are you spoofin' me or what? Twenty-five porters! Why, Roosevelt had two hundred, to say nothing of askaris, saises, tent boys, and the rest!"
Smiling, Schoverling and von Hofe explained their plan of action. Harrington's amazement grew into settled doubt that such a march was possible, for although a remarkably fine young officer, he was decidedly conservative.
"We are all used to doing things for ourselves," concluded the explorer. "The doctor is less used to the trail, but he can wash his own dishes and things right enough, and we'll do the shooting."
"Well, it's your expedition," returned Harrington, "and not mine. But how do you expect to send back the skins with such a small safari?"
"Safari" was the term used for caravan, and was usually applied to the entire expedition, who instead of being on the march, were said to be "on safari."
"There is where I want your help," said Schoverling. "We will camp at the nearest possible point to Mt. Kenia and let the doctor make what sketches he desires. There we will kill the cows and calves and send back their skins. For this purpose we can pick up porters on the spot, but I must have three or four reliable men to bring them back. Also, I want a good cook who can act as a sort of major-domo over the men at each place."
Harrington pulled out his notebook and jotted down the requirements methodically. Then he rose and shook hands all around.
"As a member of the Club," he told the explorer, "you need no cicerone. You will take the morning train? Well, I will meet you here at eight o'clock with your men. Good-bye!"
For the remainder of the day they rested. Schoverling departed to see that their cases were placed aboard the train safely, while the boys rambled around town with the doctor. The latter had been in Mombasa before, but to-day his head was full of the expedition.
Instead of the great quantity of salt usually taken along to cure hides, he was using a strong chemical powder of his own invention, which could be dissolved in water, and thus be greatly diffused. His fifteen cases comprised not only a sufficient supply of this, but also the medicines which were likely to be necessary.
It had been found that a certain supply of provisions would have to be taken along, but Schoverling was well satisfied when it was found that evening that twenty-five porters would be sufficient for all. Their tents were small sleeping-tents, and two porters could carry the lot with ease.
That evening they had a long talk with Piet Andrus, a Boer merchant of the city. He very strongly advised them to procure ox-wagons at Nakuro and to proceed north with them.
"I do not know the country up north of the Guasa Nyero," he said, "but I can see no reason why oxen could not be used. It would save porter hire and be more reliable. If you lost them, for any reason, you could always hire porters. I am going up on the same train with you, and if you like, would be glad to pick out seasoned beasts."
After a brief discussion it was decided to take both porters and wagons as far as the first camp, and then send back the porters with the skins taken there.
In the morning Harrington arrived, followed by a group of men. These, it proved, were all Indians who had been in the British army and in Africa for years. They salaamed at the verandah steps.
"First your cook and general manager," smiled the inspector. "Gholab Singh!"
A strapping Gurkha stepped out and saluted. Charlie liked his manner at once.
"Gholab Singh," said Schoverling promptly, "are you willing to serve me faithfully and follow wherever I lead?"
"I am, sahib," returned the other in a quiet, confident voice.
"Then you will cook for us, and will be in charge of the safari under my orders. The pay shall be as the inspector sahib has agreed with you. Is it well?"
"It is well, sahib."
Harrington then brought up the gun-bearers—two Gurkhas and a stalwart Sikh. The last, Guru, the General chose for himself as personal attendant. To Charlie was alloted Amir Ali, and to Jack, Akram Das. All three were faithful and highly recommended by the inspector. The four remaining, one an Arab half-caste, two Somali, and one a Gurkha, were to take charge of the safari under Gholab Singh, and to return with the skins as obtained.
At the railroad station Gholab Singh was given money for the tickets and food en route, and the men vanished into one of the tiny carriages. Special arrangements had been made in honor of Schoverling and the doctor, however, and as the weather was fine they were to travel on a wide seat fastened across the cow-catcher, which held four with comfort. The boys took their places with some misgivings, but found the seat comfortable enough.
Inspector Harrington now waved them farewell, with assurances that all had been arranged for their comfort on the trip, which would take two days. Andrus, they knew, was on board, and had that morning wired ahead to his traders to prepare teams and wagons. In fact, the general courtesy with which they met both surprised and delighted the two boys.
"They seem to do things just to please you," exclaimed Jack happily, as he gave a last wave to Harrington and the train started. "Are they as hospitable and obliging as this all the time, General?"
"Those we meet are, Jack. But you must remember that we are a special party, and that most of these men, who are big men themselves, consider it an honor to assist the doctor, here. That chap Harrington, for instance, just got in from two years up-country. He had charge of some three hundred square miles of absolutely savage country, and with a dozen Somalis kept order and law enforced. Andrus is another real man, and real men are above smallness."
As the train pulled out everything else was forgotten in the novel method of riding. The boys already knew that on each side of the railroad was a great game reserve, but on the first day's trip they saw nothing save one or two antelope and jackals. Birds were plentiful, however, and the rolling country was constantly presenting a change of scene before them.
The neat railroad stations were always surrounded with curious crowds of natives, some half dressed. As a rule the station agents and officials were Indians in the government service. Both Charlie and Jack kept their pocket cameras busy.
Toward evening they retired into their special carriage and wrote their last letters home, which would be mailed at Nakuro. But with the morning they were in the game country, and took advantage of the first stop to resume their seats in front. Now everything was changed. At one moment they would pass a group of giraffe, running in their ungainly fashion to one side; hartebeests, impalla and other varieties of antelope were everywhere, gazing in fearless fashion at the train. Herds of zebra came into sight, while through the trees scampered monkeys in endless variety.
"They know they're safe, all right," chuckled Charlie, as a herd of beautiful little gazelles stopped a dozen yards away to stare in mild wonder. "Funny how animals get to know where they're protected."
"It's the same in the Yellowstone," said von Hofe. "Within the limits they are almost tame, but across the line—pouf! and they are gone."
The wonderful journey, like no other in the world, was ended at last, however, and they puffed past Lake Nakuro to the village station. Here their trip was ended, their baggage was rolled off, and they were taken in charge by a young subaltern, Lieutenant Smithers, together with the Boer merchant, Piet Andrus. The latter offered them the hospitality of his trading store, which they gratefully accepted.
"Now to business," said the General that night after dinner. "Lieutenant, what would be your advice as to porters? I'd like to get off in the morning, if possible."
"The usual way," laughed Smithers, "is to take Swahilis, but you seem to be an unusual party. Since you are going to take wagons from here, I would suggest that you load everything into the wagons and trek north to Jan Botha's ranch. There you can pick up a score or two of Masai. They are an offshoot of the old Zulu stock—brave as lions, faithful enough, and able to provide for themselves. This safari business is largely bally rot, to my mind."
"Bully for you!" cried Charlie in delight, while the others laughed heartily.
"According to law," said Smithers, "you'll have to provide tents for the porters. But the Masai would laugh at such things, and this will save you a good deal of carriage. How about horses?"
"They are in the compound," said Miers, the local agent of Andrus' firm. "I have two good wagons and a dozen 'salted' oxen, specially selected. This gives you six to a wagon, and even if you lose four of the beasts, the other eight will do the work. Better to have too many than too few."
Von Hofe nodded, thoroughly satisfied. By 'salted,' the trader meant that the animals had been through the sickness caused by the bite of the tsetse fly, and were henceforth immune to the worst scourge of Africa. That night there was a gathering of the Boers, English settlers, and officers at the station, all of whom were keenly interested in the novel excursion. It was the general opinion that the expedition would succeed, although the nature of the country beyond the mountains was an open question.
"Well," commented Charlie that night, as he made ready to share his bunk with Jack, "we're off! Looks like we'd have a bully time, eh?"
"It sure does, if we strike a rogue," chuckled Jack. "I'm crazy to get out those guns, Chuck. Funny the doctor doesn't care for shooting."
"He's got some tough work ahead of him, all right. Did you see those paints an' things he brought along? Right on the job! Well, see you in the morning. Good night."
THE FIRST HUNT
The place was astir with the dawn, and after sunrise, with breakfast over, the party prepared for the start. Gholab Singh took charge of loading the wagons, and the main question was the matter of personal equipment.
Each of the boys carried matches in a water-tight box, compass, and sheath-knife, of course. The elephant guns and ammunition were stored away for future reference, but the 30-30s were to be slung in holsters at their saddles for the present. Each wore a bandolier for cartridges, and their ordinary clothes—flannel shirt and khakis. And, instead of sun helmets, each boy wore his northern hat—a light, stiff brimmed Stetson.
"As our shoes go to pieces," said the General, "we'll replace 'em with moccasins. No use fussing with leggings while we're going to ride. We'll have open veldt country as far as Mount Kenia, anyway. Just get the idea that we're in Canada, going by wagon from Athabasca to Fort McMurray."
Dr. von Hofe was the only member of the party who from habit insisted on leggings and boots. Their horses were steady, flea-bitten little beasts, not unlike mustangs, and mounts had been provided for the gun-bearers, to the huge delight of all three. Gholab Singh also demanded a horse, which he obtained, as being worthy of his dignity.
It was a military-looking little cavalcade. The Indians had all served in the native cavalry regiments and Gholab maintained strict military discipline. Behind their saddles the boys strapped slickers and H. B. C. blankets—the sight of the latter making Jack just a trifle homesick. Water canteens also were slung at the saddle.
After receiving a letter from Andrus to Jan Botha, Louis Schoverling gave the order to march. Gholab Singh rode to the gate of the compound, reined up, and drew from his neck his silver whistle. One sharp blast, and the two wagons, containing the four who were to bring back the skins, started. A shouted farewell, and the two boys followed the General and von Hofe to the head of the march, the Sikh riding with them and the other gun-bearers on each side of the wagons.
"Isn't this glorious?" declared Charlie as he rode at Jack's side. "I thought it would be as hot as blazes!"
"Oh, we'll need our blankets at night, I guess,—hello! There's an antelope! What kind is he, General?"
Charlie unslung his glasses hastily to gaze at the quiet figure on a ridge four hundred yards away, but the explorer answered quickly.
"Grant's gazelle, Jack. The most beautiful of all antelopes. He must be an old buck, to judge from his long horns."
"When are we going to hunt a little?" asked Charlie. "I'm itching to get at the guns."
"Not till this afternoon. We can knock over a couple of small antelope then, which will be plenty for all of us. See here, Doctor. These wagons won't make Botha's ranch until sometime to-morrow. How would it suit you to ride on and put up there overnight, then get our Masai all ready to start as soon as the wagons come up?"
"I am very happy," declared von Hofe, who was settled down comfortably in his saddle, his pipe going full blast. "It matters not to me a bit. Perhaps it would be better to spend to-night in solid comfort."
"Very well. Guru!"
"Yes, sahib?" The Sikh drew up and saluted.
"You will bring the other gun-bearers with us for a short hunt. We are going to have an early meal and then push on. Gholab Singh, I leave the safari in your care. You know the way to Jan Botha's?"
"I do, sahib. We will arrive to-morrow morning at ten of the clock."
Charlie winked at Jack, who smiled. The military precision of the stately Gurkha was of no little amusement to them at first, but Gholab promised to be a valuable man in a pinch. The gun-bearers were of little use at present, but would be highly necessary later on, and with their advice Schoverling knew that the two novices in Africa would get along well enough.
Von Hofe having absolutely no interest in hunting, save as regarded his own work, stayed with the wagons. The other six rode out to one side, parallel with the line of march. At a word from Guru, Amir Ali spurred up his horse and departed at a steady gallop to the right.
"He will beat up something," replied the Sikh to their looks of surprise. "Here game is not very thick."
Amir disappeared amid the tall grass and dotted trees, and five minutes later Charlie, with rifle ready, saw a tiny shape bounding through the grass two hundred yards to the right.
"You first, Chuck," exclaimed Jack quietly.
Setting his sights for two hundred yards, Charlie aimed behind the shoulder of the antelope, and fired. The shot went a little high, owing to the jump of the beast, but the boy gave a yell of satisfaction as the antelope went down, its back broken by the shot. As they rode up he mercifully killed it with a shot through the brain, and the two boys looked down on their first Thomson's gazelle, or "tommy."
"Good shot, Charlie," declared the explorer. "Now one for you, Jack, and we'll have enough for this time."
A mile or so farther on Jack got his chance at one of the larger Grant's, and fetched him down with a single shot at three hundred yards, which caused the two Indians to give a cry of delight at his skill. By the time Amir rejoined them the wagons, were "hull down" on the horizon. Guru and Akram Das slung the two gazelles over their saddles, and all six started across the veldt at a brisk canter.
Suddenly Jack's horse, in the lead, stopped dead still, trembling. In vain the boy urged him on, wondering what was the matter. The horse only backed, his ears flat, and then Jack saw that those of the others were doing likewise.
"What's the trouble, General?" exclaimed Charlie. Schoverling unslung his rifle.
"Lion, boys. These are well-trained horses, evidently. See that patch of mimosa just ahead? We are down-wind from that, and they probably smelled a lion. Head around it, and they will be all right."
They arrived opposite the little ridge, topped with a dense growth of long grass, thorn and trees, when an exclamation burst from the Sikh. Out from the thicket broke a long, tawny shape, barely a hundred yards away. It was a magnificent black-maned lion, who stood lashing his sides and watching them as they drew rein.
"There's your chance for a lion," said Schoverling, as the Indians cast a glance at him. Charlie shrugged his shoulders, watching the animal with eager interest.
"What's the use in killing him, General?" he replied. "We don't want his skin particularly, and he's no good for food. How about it, Jack?"
The other's hand fell from his rifle-butt.
"Of course, Chuck. He won't attack us, I suppose?"
"You'd like the excuse, eh?" laughed the explorer. "No, he won't attack us. He's probably got his dinner in that thicket, and heard us coming. It might be of advantage to the sheep ranchers hereabouts to kill him, but certainly not to us."
They rode on, leaving the tawny beast still gazing after them. The Indians were keenly disappointed over not shooting the lion, but neither boy had cared to do so. They had been too well trained to slaughter needlessly; Jack, in particular, had no small share of the Cree feeling that animals are but "little brothers," and more than once thereafter Charlie heard him mutter the Indian's apology for taking life, as he shot.
Upon rejoining the wagons a halt was made, Gholab Singh taking charge of the gazelles. After a good dinner the four white men rode on ahead, following the rude track across the veldt, and the wagons were speedily out of sight.
"This looks a whole lot like the Alberta and Montana country," declared Charlie as they rode along. "With those hills off in the distance, and the dry gullies fringed with trees, a fellow might think he was just pushing across our own range land. Wouldn't this be a swell cow country, Jack?"
"Looks like it," rejoined the Cree. "Look at those ostriches! Isn't that a ranch, up there among those buttes?"
By the aid of their glasses they could see a small ranch-house, a good four miles away, but clear-cut and distinct in the rarefied atmosphere of the plateau. White dots were scattered near by, which Schoverling declared were sheep.
"They must suffer to some extent from wild animals," he said, "but on the whole the sheep ranges up here are in fine shape. It's a great little old country, boys. If I could make up my mind to settle down I'd like to take up a few thousand acres back near the hills and try irrigation."
"It is too dry," nodded the doctor wisely. "Some day they will irrigate all this. Then the animals will be gone, all gone."
"What of it?" said Jack slyly. "Folks will come just the same to see the masterpieces made by the great von Hofe! The sooner the game goes, the more valuable you will be."
"Ach, no!" Von Hofe shook his head sadly. "It is not nice to see the fine animals be killed off. Look at South Africa—all the game is gone, all the Zulu kingdoms are gone, and instead there is railroads and mines and factories. It is not nice."
"Well, that's the advance of civilization," declared Schoverling. "It was the same in Ohio and Missouri and Montana—everywhere. And yet there are always new fields to conquer."
"As long as the H. B. C. ran things," flashed up Jack, with the true Indian prejudice, "it was all right in Canada. The Company took care of the game first rate. But now everybody takes a whack at trapping—and where's the beaver gone?"
"True enough," sighed the explorer. "But the hunter must give place to the settler, Jack."
A spirited argument ensued, to which Charlie and von Hofe listened amusedly. In the end Jack had to confess that Schoverling was right, however. Towards evening they got into more rolling country, while to the northeast towered up the hills about Mount Kenia, whose snowy summit had been long visible, although nearly a hundred miles away.
Just before sunset they cantered up to Botha's ranch. The hospitable Boer did not need the letter from Piet Andrus to welcome them, and the boys were keenly interested in his family. This consisted of his wife, two stalwart, bearded sons, and their own families—chubby little Dutch people who clambered over everyone, once their shyness had been removed. Von Hofe was soon a prime favorite with them.
After dinner was over, the boys discovered that Botha was related to the famous General of the same name, and had fought through the Boer war with him until his capture. Like many other Boers, Jan had brought his family up into the new country, where his sons had grown up, and where his great ranch was speedily making him wealthy. Dutch and English lived side by side on a perfectly friendly footing, and the old quarrels were forgotten forever.
Jan Botha willingly agreed to ride over early in the morning, and set them right at the Masai village, a dozen miles away, where he was well known. So Charlie and Jack found themselves up before the dawn with the rest of the family, eating breakfast by lamplight, and with the first light of dawn they were on horseback, shivering in the chill morning air.
An hour after sunrise they reached the village, a collection of grass huts beside a river in the hills. Charlie was a little surprised to find that the Masai were stalwart, eager-faced warriors, well dressed in blankets or cotton cloth draped from the shoulder, and bearing spears, bows, and black-and-white shields of hide.
"I wonder if they are really a branch of the Zulus?" asked Jack while Botha was talking with the headman.
"Hardly," said Schoverling. "But no doubt they are distantly connected. Perhaps they are some of the Zulus driven north by the great king Tchaka, a hundred years ago. They are extremely fierce warriors, and highly respected by the other natives. With a score of those fellows for bodyguard, we'll get along finely."
Bakari proved to be the name of an English-speaking Masai who was put in charge of twenty-five men and hired to accompany the expedition as far as Mount Kenia, or beyond. As the Masai eat nothing but meat, foraging for vegetables would be an easy matter, Charlie concluded.
They reached the Botha farmhouse about nine, the warriors loping easily behind them. An hour later, almost to the minute, the wagons topped a rise and Gholab Singh drew up and saluted. As there was no use in delay, they all bade the hospitable Boers farewell, and pushed on straight for Kenia.
Now began the real march—a swift, ceaseless trek over veldt and through the foot-hills, for Schoverling was in haste to reach Mount Kenia, secure the cow and calf skins, and be gone on the real work of the expedition, which lay farther on. Had he been able to foresee just what that work would be, his eagerness would have been increased tenfold.
"Gholab," he said that afternoon, "we are going to push for Kenia as hard as we can. Can we push the oxen day and night?"
"Easily, sahib. Halt for three hours at dawn, at noon, and at nightfall. This will rest the beasts well, and the rest of the time we can march. There will be a good moon for a week yet."
The Masai seemed to make little of a forced march, and so it was agreed upon. The Indians and Masai did not mix, but Bakari and his men yielded ready obedience to the semi-uniformed figure of Gholab Singh. That afternoon the real work of the two boys began.
"Charlie, you and Jack come over here," called Schoverling, who was sitting with von Hofe in one of the wagons, poring over a map. "We'll have to have meat for these Masai by sundown. I must go over our route with the doctor, so it's up to you. Get busy."
"Aye, aye, General!" and the boys saluted in high delight. They called their two gun-bearers, but Guru the Sikh refused to be left out of the part, so all five cantered off ahead, followed by the eager Masai at a little distance.
Their first taste was not very encouraging. One of the Masai had leaped ahead to a ridge in the veldt, and motioned them that there was game on the other side. Slipping from their horses, the boys stole up gun in hand, to see a herd of at least fifty wildebeest and zebra grazing about three hundred yards off. But before they could get up their guns, the quick-eyed beasts were off like the wind and out of range in an instant.
"Pretty rotten," exclaimed Charlie disgustedly. "Say, they move like a streak!"
"You bet. Well, there's lots more where they came from."
And there was. Half a mile farther on they came upon a dozen kongoni—another form of antelope—feeding about some bushes. Happening on a drift, or dry water-course, the boys and Guru crawled up this and managed to get a shot. This time Charlie dropped a buck perfectly, but Jack had to place a second bullet in his animal. The Masai took charge of the bodies, tying the hoofs together, placing a long spear between, and two men trotting off with each toward the wagons.
Guru declared that this was not half enough meat for them all, so accompanied by the rest of the Masai, they rode on, just within sight of the caravan. Suddenly an eland dashed out from a clump of bushes barely a hundred yards off, not having heard their approach. Jack fired, missed, fired again, and the eland gave one high spring and rolled heels over head. But as he did so Bakari let out a yell, and they drew rein suddenly at sight of a lion leaping toward them through the long grass, plainly bent on mischief.
"We've roused him up, all right," exclaimed Charlie hastily, as he drew bead. "I'll give him a chance to turn off."
But the lion, as they discovered later, had been disturbed at his feeding, and came straight for them. The Masai showed no signs of flinching, and the horses trembled but stood still. Anxiously Charlie waited until the great beast had come within two hundred yards, flying over the grass-hummocks in great bounds, then he drew trigger.
The lion went down, but was up again instantly with a roar of pain. Charlie gave him another bullet, but with no better result. At a hundred yards the Masai spread out, spears and arrows ready, but with his third bullet Charlie dropped the huge beast for the last time, the ball piercing the eye to the brain.
"Good shot, old man," cried Jack, as the other wiped the sweat from his face. That had been an anxious moment.
"Had to hit him in the eye," returned Charlie. "Didn't see where else to shoot, after I missed his shoulder."
But he had not missed the shoulder. His first shot had been a mortal one, and his second had struck nearly in the same place; the tremendous vitality and energy of the lion had served to carry him forward until the third bullet pierced his brain. This gave Guru a chance to point out the advisability of shooting for the shoulder, in which case the lion would be crippled and could not charge.
The lion was packed off to be inspected, then photographed, and on the way back Jack knocked over a small Grant's gazelle, which would make the food supply a sufficient one. Charlie received many compliments on his first lion from von Hofe and Schoverling, and regretted that keeping the skin was impossible under the circumstances.
At six that evening they outspanned the oxen, fed and watered them at a waterhole, and rested for three hours, during which all the party slept save Schoverling, who remained on guard. At nine the march was taken up again, and they went on steadily until four in the morning. The night was cold. Overhead on the horizon blazed the Southern Cross, while the moon afforded a good light.
At seven in the morning the oxen were inspanned and they went forward until noon. On this occasion the General accompanied the boys, and they brought in enough game for the rest of the day and night. During their noon halt they met a freighter's wagon-safari trekking west to some of the outlying ranches, but the men were all Boers or natives, and no stop was made.
So during four days and nights they pushed on relentlessly. During the last two days they ran into a driving, cold rain, but finally this was gone and the boys found themselves on the verge of the heavily forested country about Mount Kenia.
At the last stopping place, a shallow drift, or river, in a valley under the western slopes of the great hills, it was decided to make camp here beside the drift, as a sort of headquarters. They had met scattered parties of Kikuyu men, and had passed one or two of the native villages, so after a day's rest a number of the Masai were sent out to bring in some of the natives.
"They can tell us any news of the elephants," declared Schoverling, "and can guide us to the herds. It's ticklish business going without some of them along."
"Why so?" inquired Charlie, "Are they such good hunters?"
"Never mind," laughed the explorer. "You wait and you'll see something."
With this the boys were forced to be content. The lower slopes of the mountains were heavily forested, while the valleys were nothing but jungle. Great trees reached far up above, and between them giant bamboos formed an almost impenetrable mass.
Bakari returned with a dozen Kikuyu hunters, who readily agreed to lead the party to elephants. There was a herd of about fifty, they declared, a day's journey to the east, and as it was morning now, the General determined to start out at once.
"Now, Doctor, just what stuff do you want to take along?"
"My sketching kit," replied the German, all action on the instant. "My small camera I have in my pocket. Beyond this, nothing."
The two Somalis were appointed to take care of the doctor's needs. Half a dozen of the Masai volunteered to serve as porters, for the tents and some supplies had to be carried. It was arranged that the camp should be supplied with fowls, pigs and vegetables from the nearest village, but at the last moment it developed that they would have to do without pigs, the Gurkhas being Mohammedans and refusing to allow pigs in the camp for fear of defilement.
The horses would of course have to be left behind. For an hour the camp was in a buzz of excited preparation. The elephant guns and cordite ammunition were broken out, the blankets, slickers and other necessaries were loaded up on the porters, and the three hunters donned their moccasins for the first time.
"Feels mighty good to get back into moosehide," laughed Charlie, as he laced up the water-tight flaps. "What are the Masai chattering about, Jack?"
"Making a corral—zareba, they call it—out of thorns," answered the other, looking out through the end of the wagon. "For the oxen, I suppose. I heard the General giving them orders about it. Gholab's bossing things lively."
Charlie finished first, and had barely emerged from the wagon-tilt when he saw that something was wrong. The horses were pulling wildly at their pickets, and a number of the porters had dropped their loads. Von Hofe and Schoverling were in the other wagon, making final preparations. But they were not fated to leave the camp for that day at least.
"Hey, Jack! General!" shouted Charlie. "Tumble out lively—something's busted!"
At this moment Guru and Amir Ali ran up excitedly, uncasing the heavy guns and loading them as they ran. Amir reached Charlie first, and thrust the weapon into his hand.
"Rhino, sahib! Rhino coming through the bushes from the river!"
Jack and the explorer leaped to the ground from the wagons as Akram ran up with the third gun. The Masai had clustered at the edge of the camp, but as the explorer took in the situation the warriors broke and fled before a huge dun shape that crashed bushes and trees down before it in blind rage. Charlie gasped at the size of the beast, for he had not yet seen a rhino.
"Female," stated the General quietly. "Going to tear things up, too. Ready, boys?"
By this time the ground was littered with cast-off loads, while the natives fled in all directions. Fortunately, the zareba and oxen were at the other end of the camp, and the courageous Gholab ran down to the horses and loosed them as the rhinoceros charged.
This made the three hunters unable to fire for an instant. Gholab ducked behind a huge tree, and the infuriated brute crashed full into it, knocking off a great flake of the bark and wood. Stunned for an instant, it stood glaring around, and in that instant Schoverling fired.
His bullet took the rhino behind the shoulder, but the beast, rage darting from its deep-set eyes, whirled in the direction of the wagons. It was barely fifty yards from them, and as the explorer fired his second barrel, Charlie pulled trigger also. The tremendous charges halted and shook the big animal, but for an instant only. Then, rocking and stumbling, it came on full tilt for the wagons, the wicked-looking head held low.
One of the Kikuyu porters had started to slip across the open space, and was caught before he could escape. As the terrified man turned, the head of the rhino caught him and tossed him a dozen feet into the air. But that gave Jack and Charlie their chance. As the head went up, they fired together.
Jack's bullet broke the rhino's off-shoulder; that of Charlie tore into her throat. Jack fired again, and at this instant Guru handed back Schoverling's rifle, reloaded; but another bullet was unnecessary. The huge beast stood for a moment quite still, then swayed and plunged down, dead.
"Good!" came the calm voice of von Hofe from behind them. "Now led us see how the man hurd iss."
Only his accent betrayed his excitement as he led the way to the injured porter. The man had been gored in the side by the horn, but had saved himself from mortal injury. The doctor dressed his wound and saw him borne off to the village; meanwhile, the others had gathered about the dead rhino, the natives with wild shouts and chants, the two boys in silent wonder.
"You chaps'll have to give me lessons in shooting," laughed the General. "See here—my first bullet missed her shoulder, and my second likewise. She couldn't have gone far, though; but she could have finished us right enough. That was good shooting, boys."
"Wouldn't have been," admitted Charlie, "if she hadn't lifted her head. Jumping Sandhills! How that fellow did go up!"
"Lucky he wasn't killed," added Jack. "I got her with both bullets, right in the shoulder. Chuck's bullet must have gone clear through to her tail."
It proved that the bullet fired by Charlie through her throat had penetrated to the spine, thus paralyzing her. But as the honors were equal, it did not matter greatly. The Masai took possession of the hide, while the Kikuyu bore off the flesh to their village.
"I guess that ends our trip for to-day," said Schoverling ruefully, as Gholab was directing the re-ordering of the camp. "Everything is badly mussed up; even the men are demoralized. Well, no matter. We can leave the camp in better shape, perhaps."
So, content with their conquest of that day, they gave all their attention to putting the camp in better order. Jack learned how the thorn zareba was built, and Charlie visited the Kikuyu village with his camera. The elephant trip was to take place the next day, and guides came over that night, with a fresh party of natives.
The start was made early. First went Schoverling, von Hofe and the boys, with the guides and gun-bearers. Then the Masai marched along, followed by the crowd of natives. So far they had not struck the mountain slopes, and the Kikuyu led them deeper into the great African forest.
The sun was shut out above by the dew-wet foliage,—twisted vines, trees and bushes all matted together. The party traveled by means of old elephant trails, which alone made the jungle passable to man. Hour after hour they walked through the tangle of vegetation, striking into fresh paths, twisting and turning until the boys felt hopelessly lost.
Great ferns and mosses grew about them. Mighty trees with trunks corrugated and knotted towered overhead, draped with Spanish moss and filled with scampering, chattering monkeys. Into and across tree-ferned ravines, through dashing streams of icy water, past cataract and morass, the party plowed its devious way until long past noon.
Suddenly one of the guides held up a warning hand and slipped ahead. In a few moments he returned in great excitement.
"Elephant!" he whispered. "Him close! Come!"
No sign of elephant could Charlie or Jack see until they had advanced another hundred feet in the half-gloom. Then the guide pointed out the spoor, deep and heavy in the damp leaves that matted the trail. Here the natives squatted down to wait, and here also the boys made a discovery.
Charlie had stepped ahead, a little to one side of the trail. But as he did so the guides started forward in silent dismay. He paid no attention to them, trying to peer through the dense vegetation; suddenly it seemed that everything gave way beneath him, and the next moment his legs were dangling in vacancy, while he gripped the vines and sticks spread over a great hole dug at one side of the track.
The others broke into quiet laughter at his amazed expression, while the guides pulled him out hurriedly and silently. Then he saw that he had tumbled into an elephant pit—a long, deep trench, narrowing at the bottom.
"I told you you'd see something," whispered the explorer, as Charlie recovered himself, somewhat disgusted. "Now let's get busy on the trail."
By lighting a match and by watching the tree-tops far overhead they ascertained that the wind was right for an approach, and with guides and gun-bearers they started off on the spoor.
"How many, do you think?" asked Schoverling cautiously. Jack had been studying the signs intently, and answered without hesitation.
"About eight females, three little fellows, and a big chap."
"Just what the guides say," grinned the explorer delightedly. "Pretty good, eh, Doctor? We were lucky in finding them so near camp."
The trail was now marked by freshly broken branches and splintered trees, while in places the bushes were trampled down for yards, where an elephant had stopped to feed. Charlie declared that the animals were not more than half an hour ahead of them, at which the explorer nodded.
Dr. von Hofe had been sketching busily for some time, paying special attention to the spoor and the marks of feeding. He made careful photographs as they advanced, and as Charlie watched him he wondered at the painstaking efforts of the big German to get every smallest detail correctly. Then Schoverling beckoned, and the two boys slipped ahead with him, their moccasined feet as noiseless as the naked soles of the guides.
"Hear anything?" muttered the explorer when they had gone a hundred yards. Listening, Charlie could hear a faint crashing, and his heart leaped in excitement. Jack nodded also.
They went on, but now the noise grew plainer and seemed to come from one side. As they stood in perplexity, Charlie saw a single elephant track leading off ahead.
"General! One fellow has struck off through there—the others have doubled back, and are on one side of us. We could follow that single track."
A guide was sent back for the others, and now the gun-bearers handed over the heavy guns, retaining the thirty-thirties for emergencies. Slowly they crept forward in silence, while the gruntings, crashings, and rumblings of the great beasts came to them clearly. Cutting through the single track, they soon came upon the whole spoor of the herd again—but this time they knew that Charlie had been right, and that the beasts could not be far ahead.
So dense was the matted vegetation, however, that nothing could be seen. One of the guides pointed to a tree-trunk with his spear, and a thrill went through the boys at sight of the fresh-rubbed bark. From one side flew up a flock of hornbills, with squawkings and flappings of wings, but the slow movements of the elephants went on.
At this juncture the guides nimbly sidestepped any farther advance by going up trees like monkeys. They indicated that the herd was close at hand, and again the party stole forward, rifles ready for instant action.
"Makes you feel queer," murmured Jack in Charlie's ear, "to hear 'em and not be able to get a crack."
Every sense on the alert, Charlie gripped Schoverling's arm and pointed ahead. A long tendril of Spanish moss at a bend in the trail was shaking slightly, and without a sound the three stepped off the trail to one side, followed by the Indians. The doctor had remained some distance behind, to sketch a strange flower.
Something huge and shadowy appeared vaguely, and the hunters drew back farther still amid the tangle. Then there came a tremendous crash, and, at the side of the trail proper a sudden quivering seized the vegetation. At the same moment that the first elephant appeared leisurely, two more crashed from the undergrowth.
Schoverling cast a quick glance of warning and shook his head. The two who had burst through from the side stopped to feed, and after them came two calves. All three were cows, but there were crashings all around, and the Indians were as nervous as the two boys. They stuck to their post nobly, however, the smaller rifles ready. The explorer leaned over and breathed in Jack's ear.
"Give the two cows both barrels. I'll bag the calves."
Jack nodded and passed the word to Charlie. But slight as the breathed whisper had been, the sensitive ear of the elephants caught it and their heads went up. Without hesitation Charlie aimed at the eye of the cow on the right, and all three pulled trigger together.
Fortunately they stood at some distance apart, or the concussion of the three heavy guns would have worked sore damage. Charlie's cow shivered and went down at the first shot; that of Jack trumpeted loud and shrill and tried to whirl, but the second barrel, just back of the shoulder, finished her.
The General had given each calf a single barrel. One plunged to its knees, the other stood shivering. The boys felt the Indians press the lighter guns into their hands, as a great crashing arose ahead. The single cow in the trail proper was just turning, so rapidly had all passed, when Charlie and the General fired together. Both bullets struck her vitally, and she went down.
For an instant the forest was filled with shrill trumpetings and the earth seemed to shake beneath the tread of the frightened beasts. So loud was the clamor that there came not the slightest warning of their danger until the trees directly opposite them swayed and shattered apart, and the enormous head and tusks of a great bull shoved through.
There was no time to run, even had they been able. Jack let drive with both barrels of his 30-30, and the huge beast paused with the shock. In that brief instant the large guns, already reloaded by the agile bearers, were thrust forward. Charlie brought his up and fired just as the bull plunged on. The enormous trunk swept up and then down, hardly a yard in front of them. One step more, and he would be on them.
But even as the boys shrank aside instinctively, Schoverling fired deliberately, right and left. So close was the huge head that Charlie could distinctly see both bullets go home, each taking the bull in an eye fair and square.
It was enough. For a moment there was no movement—a little trickle of blood came from each eye—and then the mighty head dropped, the trunk swept down to the trail, and over went the tusker on his side, the last sweep of his trunk narrowly missing Guru as he leaped away.
"Jumping sandhills! I'm satisfied!"
Charlie sank down weakly on a fallen bamboo, gazing at the tremendous bulk five feet away. Jack, deadly pale, gripped his gun and waited while the crashings and trumpetings died away. The explorer, his deep bronze flushed with red, smiled and mopped his face.
"By George, that was a close thing, boys! I wouldn't go through that again for a million dollars cash." He turned and gripped the hands of the gun-bearers. "Guru, Amir, Akram, you are men! I am proud of you!"
"I guess we all owe you a vote of thanks, General," smiled Jack weakly. Charlie nodded.
"You bet! Jack and I both missed his eye—what dandy shots those were!"
The nervy Indians showed their white teeth at the praise showered on them, and a moment after, von Hofe appeared excitedly, followed by a stream of Masai and Kikuyu. These gave wild yells of excitement and leaped and danced on the fallen carcasses, while the story of that terrible moment was told the doctor. He could barely speak, as he realized what the danger had been.
"Himmel! Ach, er ist—it iss vonderful! Bang-bang, und you haf ein, zwei, drei cows, two calfs, und a bull killed! I shall no more say—ach! Avay—raus!"
And with a roar of anger he rushed at one of the Masai who had triumphantly thrust his long spear into the elephant's hide. The warrior gave one look, then vanished with a long leap, while the disgusted doctor pulled out the spear and flung it after him.
"Afraid they'll spoil your skin, eh?" laughed the explorer. The swift change from the tragic to the ridiculous restored them all to even balance once more, and they went forward to examine the kill. It was indeed a wonderful example of shooting, the whole affair having taken hardly more than two or three minutes, and Charlie found it hard to realize that in such a short space of time they had almost fulfilled the requirements of the whole world-over expedition.
The bull was a large, old fellow, and the General pronounced his tusks as weighing at least a hundred and thirty pounds each. It was a great piece of luck that he should have wandered out of the wilds almost to their side, for full-grown bulls with good tusks are rarely found. The big Teuton pronounced him exactly suitable for one of his groups.
The two cows who had been shot together were both of good size; the third was smaller. The two largest were selected for skinning, together with the calves. For a few moments the doctor sketched and photographed, then handed over the task of skinning to Guru and his two assistants, who were thoroughly qualified.
"Do you want to stay by them?" asked Schoverling. "If not, we might get back to camp by dark, and they can bring in the sections of skin."
"The Sikh knows all about it," replied von Hofe. "Yes, he will see that they are careful. Let us go back and rest."
As the explorer captured one of the guides and explained his wishes, the boys gazed at the scene before them. Stripped naked, the natives were swarming over the great carcasses, which had to be skinned without a moment's delay. Most of them were already splashed with blood, festoons of meat were dripping from the branches, and the busy hands and knives were making fast progress with the work. It was not a nice scene, and Charlie turned away; but Jack watched it until the explorer called him.
Carrying their own guns now, they found the trip back to camp a weary one. All were tired and hungry, not having eaten since morning, and it was dark when they finally stumbled into camp, to be met with exultant shouts. Runners had already come across the forest paths bearing loads of meat, and after a good wash in one of the mountain streams the four sat down to a delicious meal of broiled elephant's heart and flapjacks, with tea for beverage.
"Do you chaps realize that we almost accomplished the work of this expedition in about two minutes?" asked the General, smiling. The boys leaned back with a sigh of content.