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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Wilds Of Africa - Chapter 27
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In The Wilds Of Africa - Chapter 27 Post by :mentor4u Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2845

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In The Wilds Of Africa - Chapter 27

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN. ASSAILED BY FOES, BUT RESCUED BY FRIENDS--CONCLUSION.

I rode on and on, but still saw no signs of the camp. Had it not been for the water-melons, I must inevitably have perished. Darkness came down over the dreary waste, making it appear still more desolate. I trusted that my steed would find his way to the camp, for I could no longer direct him with any degree of certainty. The stars shone brightly overhead; yet, as I did not know the exact bearings of the camp, they would only enable me to keep a direct line, and that might lead me far on one side or the other. Still, I should be prevented from going round in a circle, as travellers who have lost their way are apt to do, to find themselves after many hours at the spot from which they started. Every now and then I stood up in my stirrups, looking out eagerly for the camp-fire. Not a glimmer of light could I see. Dangers beset me also, I knew--old sand-wells and pitfalls might be in my path. Lions also, attracted by the smell of the meat I carried, might follow and seize me. I kept my rifle and hunting-knife ready for immediate use, while I cast an anxious look round me, every moment trying to pierce the gloom, lest some beast of prey might be stealthily approaching. It was a trying time. It would have been worse had I been suffering as before from thirst. At last I began to fear that I must have passed the camp altogether. I determined to halt, and was looking about for a bush or some rock or slight elevation under which I might form my camp, when I found my horse's fore-feet sinking into the ground. I had great difficulty in keeping my seat; but immediately rearing up, he sprang forward. The effort was vain, however, for his feet alighted only on treacherous ground, and down he sank into a large cavity. I made an attempt to spring off his back, but the ground gave way, and I found myself sinking down with him several feet below the surface. He kicked and plunged, and very nearly struck me. I managed, however, once more to get upon his back; and in a short time, finding that his efforts to get out were hopeless, he remained quiet. I had fallen into one of the holes I had dreaded. Even if I could get out myself, there was no chance of extricating my horse, and I should have to find my way to the camp on foot. The loss, too, of the horse would be a serious matter. I was as likely also to be attacked by a lion or hyena as I should have been on the level ground; for though the wild beast, if he got in, might not be able to get out again, I should nevertheless become his prey. The poor horse could with difficulty stand, and every now and then tried to change his uncomfortable position. To relieve him, I got off and stood as well as I was able, keeping my rifle ready for immediate use.

Time went slowly by. Though tired and even drowsy, I could not have gone to sleep, even had I wished it, in my uncomfortable position. I could see the stars overhead; but how deep down I was I could not well judge. It was a depth, I feared, from which I should have great difficulty, even in daylight, in scrambling out. Now and then, indeed, the dread came over me that I should be unable to do so; for the sides were of such soft sand that when I attempted to climb up it gave way below my feet, while there was sand alone at which I could grasp. I passed my time in devising plans for getting out; but I could not help acknowledging that the best of them were not likely to succeed. I might scrape the sand down, and thus, filling up the hollow, gradually rise to the surface; but there was danger of the mass above my head sliding down and overwhelming me.

These unpleasant reflections were presenting themselves to my mind, when I saw, against the sky, a huge head projecting over the edge. I could not be mistaken. It was that of a lion. In another instant he might spring down upon me. My only hope of escape was to fire immediately, and drive him off. Even then I dreaded that he might topple over when shot, and destroy me in his dying struggles. I raised my rifle and fired. A fearful roar was the answer to the sound of my piece. Scarcely daring to look up, I began loading again as rapidly as I could; for even then I feared that the monster would spring down. Roar succeeded roar. It seemed to me that it was echoed far and near by other lions. I waited for some time, but still no creature appeared. I began to hope that my shot had driven them away.

Once more I began to suffer from thirst; and cutting up a water-melon, I took part of it myself, and gave a portion to my poor steed, who showed his gratitude by licking my hand. I waited for some time, wishing for the return of day. Except when my horse made a movement, not a sound for many minutes together reached me. Then the distant roar of a lion might be heard, or the barks of hyenas or jackals. Suddenly I heard the sound of feet, as if a troop of antelopes was passing by. I hoped that they might not inadvertently tumble in on me. To scare them away I began to shout. I kept on, raising my voice to the utmost. To my surprise a shout came in return.

"Hillo! Where are you?"

I recognised Stanley's voice. I soon let him know. Presently I saw his head and Donald's projecting over the pit.

"A bad job for the horse, though we may soon get you out. But you must be almost dead of thirst, lad, as we pretty nearly are," observed Donald.

I told them of the water-melons I had found, and that I still had some remaining.

"Then hand them up, lad! hand them up!" cried Donald. "We shall have more strength to haul you up afterwards."

While he was speaking, he let down the tether-ropes. I fastened the water-melons to them.

"You will excuse us, Andrew," said Stanley, "if we satisfy our thirst before getting you up. You know from experience what it is."

Not waiting for my reply, their heads were in the melons, I suspected, before many seconds had passed. They did not keep me waiting long; but the next time the rope came down I fastened the meat to it. This was hauled up, Donald uttering exclamations of satisfaction at seeing it. By the aid of the rope I very quickly scrambled out; and as I did so I felt thankful that assistance had come, for from the depth of the hole and the nature of the sides I saw that I should not have got out without assistance. They had come upon the remains of the hartbeest, but had not discovered any water-melons, and their horses were, therefore, scarcely able to proceed. Even the small supply of the watery fruit we were able to give the poor animals greatly relieved them.

The next question was, how to get my horse up. I volunteered to descend again. With the aid of the tethers and all the straps we could muster, we managed to get a rope of sufficient length round his shoulders, so as to leave his limbs free, that he might help himself as much as possible. We then shuffled down the sand, making him leap up on it as it fell; and at length, by hard work, once more we got him on level ground.

My horse was heavily laden, but my friends remarked that could they have exchanged some of the meat for water-melons they would gladly have done so. We, however, could discover none on the ground over which we passed. Fortunately they knew the bearings of the camp, and at length its fires appeared in sight. I was surprised to find in reality how short a time I had been in the pit; for I supposed I had passed the greater part of the night there.

We found our friends bitterly disappointed at having discovered no water, as they had expected, at their halting-place. Every one was complaining,--even Kate and Bella; for even the supply intended for the young ladies had been exhausted. My tidings of the water-melons was joyfully received; and it was arranged that a party should set out with oxen and baskets at daylight. I lay down, as did Stanley and Donald, to obtain a little sleep. I was to lead the party, as I fancied I knew the direction where I had found the juicy fruit. When Senhor Silva heard the account I gave, he expressed a hope that we should find not only an abundance of melons, but a root which he called _Jeroshua_, which grows in the desert, and is of an excessively juicy nature.

While the waggons proceeded on southward, Senhor Silva and I scoured the plain in one direction, keeping sight of the oxen with the panniers, that we might summon them directly we discovered what we were in search of. Before going far, we saw the ground turned up as if some animal had been digging with its horns. Near it was a small plant, the stalk about the thickness of a crow's quill. It had apparently been broken off, and the root to which it had been attached had been consumed. Not far off, however, we saw several similar plants; and Igubo--who accompanied us with a spade--and the other blacks, who were not far off, were directed to dig. They had got down a little more than a foot, when a large tuber, twice the size of the ordinary turnip, was discovered; and the rind being removed, we found it to consist of a mass of cellular tissue, filled with fluid like the root I have mentioned. We eagerly put it to our mouths, and found it deliciously cool. The poor oxen, as soon as it was given to them, ate it eagerly. We loaded one with the roots, and sent it on to overtake the caravan.

Senhor Silva said there was another root, of a similar nature, in other parts of the desert, called the _mokuri_. The tubers are far larger. It is a herbaceous creeper. The stem, rising out of the ground, sends out its branches horizontally to a distance of a yard or more on either side. They deposit underground a number of tubers, much larger than the first I have mentioned. The natives, when seeking them, strike the ground with a stone, and discover by the difference of sound when one is beneath the spot.

In half an hour, great was our delight to see the ground covered in all directions with the water-melons of which we were in search. Igubo and his sons, who had never before seen any, instantly set upon them. They spat out the first, with wry faces. They had seized upon a bitter one. The other blacks, more cautious, ran along, cutting a small piece off with their knives, tasting each in succession, leaving the bitter and only cutting the sweet.

As we had not more than a load for one buffalo, we pushed on further, hoping to find a larger supply. After going a few yards, I saw Donald, who was in front, standing up in his stirrups. On getting up with him, he pointed ahead, when we saw in the distance what looked like a number of black mounds.

"A troop of elephants!" he exclaimed. "But it will be no easy matter to get near enough for a shot in this open plain."

Riding on a little further, the elephants came more closely in sight; and near them were a number of rhinoceroses. It was soon evident that they were busily employed; and Senhor Silva said he had no doubt that they were eating the water-melons, a number of which probably grew there.

Eager as Donald was to obtain the tusks, we declined assisting him in so dangerous an undertaking. Turning southward to return to the caravan, we shortly afterwards caught sight of three lions, and a whole troop of hyenas and jackals, apparently quenching their thirst with the same juicy fruit. Scarcely had we lost sight of them, when several herds of antelopes appeared, scattered widely over the plain. They also were evidently feeding on the melons. We fortunately, however, fell in with a small patch of the fruit which had not yet been attacked, and were thus able to load our oxen. Continuing our course across the desert, we supported ourselves entirely by the watery fruit I have described.

We were pushing towards a village near a fountain, where Donald expected to find an ample supply of water. He and I were riding ahead. At length some circular, beehive-looking huts appeared in sight, with a few people moving about in front of them. The men were armed with spear and buckler, and wore the usual waist-cloth in front, and ornaments on their heads and arms. Several, when they saw us, came forward, and began to shake their spears and vociferate loudly. Before we could understand their meaning, they were joined by a tall oldish-looking man, who seemed to be their chief. After he had made a long harangue, Donald answered him; but I saw by his gestures and those of his followers that no satisfactory arrangement had been arrived at. Donald began to lose temper.

"The fellows guess the strait we are in, and refuse to give or sell us water," he exclaimed, "unless I deliver to them six of my best oxen, four muskets, and I do not know how many articles besides. I have told them I will do nothing of the sort; and we shall soon see that they will come down in their demands. They know the country we have come through, and probably think we are harder up for water than is the case."

The chief waited to see if we would accede to his demands; and Donald replied that as we could do very well without water they would get nothing, whereas we would have paid them liberally for what we took. Saying this, we turned round our horses and rode off. We had not got far when several arrows came whistling after us. Fortunately none struck us or our horses, for if they had, as they probably were poisoned, the result would have been serious. As we turned our heads for an instant, we saw a large number of people collecting from numerous huts scattered about in all directions. "We hastened back to the caravan to prepare for defence; for the natives, it seemed, were too likely to attack us. Stanley at once proposed encamping and erecting a stockade, within which we might defend ourselves."

"Oh yes!" exclaimed Leo, "we could easily drive them off, as we should have done the natives of the north."

"But," observed Natty, "suppose they besiege us, what are we to do for water?"

"You are right, Natty," said Stanley. "It would be better generalship to pass their village and try to gain another fountain further on."

This, indeed, was our only secure course; for though our own blacks would certainly have fought well, Donald could not depend on his followers, who, he said, had shown the white feather on more than one occasion.

We therefore, instead of camping, as we had proposed, turned somewhat to the east, so as to leave the inhospitable village on our left hand, hoping to get a considerable distance to the south of it before daybreak. The country was tolerably level, and the moon was high enough to give us sufficient light to find our way. It was the first night we had attempted to travel without stopping, but it was absolutely necessary to do so to carry out our object. A battle with the natives was on every account to be avoided. Stanley and I rode as scouts on either hand, while Donald kept ahead to explore the way. We hoped thus to avoid being taken by surprise. We could see numerous animals moving around us. Once a vast herd of elephants hove in sight, another time one of buffaloes, while antelopes of various species bounded off as we came near. We could hear occasionally the muttering sound of lions and the cry of hyenas. Several, indeed, followed us, but as they did not approach, we refrained from firing at them, lest the sound of our rifles might betray our position, Timbo and Chickango brought up the rear on oxen, with directions only to fire in the case of any large body of natives being seen following, or should a wild beast threaten to attack them. Thus we travelled on hour after hour. We halted only once, to give the oxen some water-melons or leroshua roots, and to take a little food and water-melon ourselves, I found that Kate and Bella had become very anxious, because one of the Hottentot boys, who spoke a little English, had been telling them all sorts of stories of the ferocity of the natives, and of the way they had attacked travellers and carried off their oxen. Donald, on hearing this, soundly rated the lad, assuring the ladies that, as he had never been in that part of the country before, he could know nothing of the matter.

After a short rest we again pushed on. The sun at length rose above the dry plain, shedding a brilliant glow of crimson over the whole eastern horizon, and lighting up the summits of the bare rocks, and clumps of trees here and there, with a red tinge. I could not help dreading, with the prospect of a burning day before us, that water might not be found. At length we arrived at one of the sand-wells I have before described. We eagerly rushed into it, and sank our reeds, in the hope of obtaining water. It came, but at a slow rate, which promised but a scanty supply for our thirsty cattle, even though we might obtain enough for our own wants. The blacks quenched their thirst by sucking narrow reeds, which they ran into the sand. Donald, after examining it, gave orders to them to dig, in the hope of obtaining a larger quantity. The result of the operation was satisfactory, and we accordingly resolved to encamp there for a day or two, till our cattle had obtained enough water to last them till we could get across the desert. There was an abundance of grass, growing in tufts, and a small group of trees near us, which would afford us shade and firewood. Stanley also hoped to kill some game. The poor cattle had to wait, though, till our horses had the water they required.

Leo and Natty had been amusing themselves outside the camp. "Here; see what we have got!" cried Leo, returning after they had wandered to a short distance. "Hillo!" he exclaimed, turning round as I went out to meet them. "Why, it was a long creature just now; and see, it has turned into a ball; and a big ball it is!"

The ball of which Leo spoke was covered with large black scales, somewhat the size and shape of the husk of the artichoke, which overlapped each other in a very curious and beautiful manner. David quickly solved the mystery of the scaly ball. Being allowed to remain quiet for a few minutes, it unrolled itself, when it was seen to possess a head and a broad tail, likewise covered with scales. He pronounced it to be one of the manides or scaly ant-eaters--a rare animal, and seldom seen. It had a long extensile tongue, furnished with a glutinous mucous for securing its insect food. It was entirely destitute of teeth, so that it was evident it must suck in the creatures it caught, and swallow them whole.

David said that the manides are very inoffensive animals; that they live solely on ants and termites. They burrow to a great depth in the ground. For this, as also for extracting their food from ant-hills and decayed wood, we found that the creature's feet were armed with powerful claws, which it could double up when walking.

"We are getting into a thorny district," observed Donald, who had joined us, "very different to the thornless one we have passed through. What do you think of this?" he observed, stooping down and picking up a round disc with a sharp thorn in the centre. "Suppose this was to run into a poor animal's foot; it would take him months to get it out, even if he did not become lame for life."

Soon after we camped Donald started off on a hunt by himself. He had not been gone long when we saw him returning from the north, with a gemsbok, or oryx, as I have before called it, across his saddle. Considering the weight he carried, he came pressing on at a rapid rate. He was not a man much given to exhibiting his feelings, but I saw that something was the matter.

"Quick, lads!" he exclaimed. "We must get ready to defend our camp without loss of time. I thought as I rode along that I would just take a look at our inhospitable friends, and see what they were about. When I had got halfway between this and their village, I caught sight of a large number of them stealing along across the plain. I think they must have seen me, or perhaps they took me for a cameleopard or ostrich; for I only showed for a moment behind an ant-hill, then quickly again got under cover to reconnoitre them. There are some two or three hundred fellows at least, and by the way they were marching I am very certain that they intend to attack us. I had just shot this oryx, and I had no wish to leave it for them, or I might have been here sooner; but there is time to get ready, if we are sharp about it."

Stanley, on hearing this, was in his element. He immediately ordered out all hands to cut down the smaller trees from the group I spoke of, to form palisades. The waggons and carts were placed on one side, while palisades were fixed all round, and strong cross-beams secured to them. This done, we set to work to throw up an embankment, which, with the light sand, was easily accomplished, the upright posts keeping it in its place. We thus, in a wonderfully short time, had a little fortress which might have stood a siege against men armed with muskets. As we hoped our expected assailants had no firearms among them, we felt no apprehension as to the result. The chief danger was that they might try to starve us out, which there was a possibility of their doing should they persevere in surrounding us. We were working away till long after dark by the light of our fires. Scouts were sent out, but came back after some time stating that they could see nothing of the enemy. At length Stanley expressed his belief that Donald had been mistaken; at which our friend bristled up. No, he was certain he had seen an army of blacks; probably, however, when they caught sight of him, they might have thought better of the matter.

"But perhaps they were merely on a hunting expedition," said David, "or collecting water-melons."

"They were keeping too close together for hunting; and as they were following in our track, they would have found neither water-melons nor water-roots," answered Donald. "Do not be too sure that they will not come yet. These people, as I fancy you have experienced, like to take their enemies by surprise; and they will not come on in broad daylight with tom-toms and shouts, depend on that. It would be well that those who have the morning watch should keep a bright look-out, or we may be attacked when we least expect it."

Donald's advice was not thrown away on me. I had just relieved Stanley, who had taken what would at sea be called the middle watch, Jack and Timbo being my companions. The night was perfectly still. I could hear the low muttering of lions in the far distance, with an occasional roar as some other creature approached to dispute their prey with them. Now and then the trumpeting of elephants reached me, probably on their way to some distant fountain, or in search of roots or water-melons. I thought it was almost impossible that any enemies could approach without being discovered. Still, I had been too well accustomed to discipline at sea not to keep as bright a look-out as I should have done had I known they were near. I was standing with Timbo on the north side of the fort, when he asked me to let him go out to a little distance.

"If dey come, dey come soon; and we no see dem till dey close to de wall," he whispered.

Trusting to his judgment, I willingly let him do as he proposed. He accordingly slipped over the palisade on one side, and I could barely distinguish him as he crept along over the ground towards the north. He was soon lost to sight. Jack and I kept anxiously looking out for his return. I felt little alarm about the natives, but I was afraid that some prowling beast might attack him. I must have waited half an hour or more, when I distinguished a long object crawling along on the ground. In the gloom I could not make out whether it was Timbo, or a panther perhaps, or a huge snake, so noiselessly and stealthily did it approach. It made, however, for the side of the fort, and in a short time Timbo came up to me, having been admitted by Jack through the sally-port in the rear.

"Dey come!" he whispered. "Dey no see me, dough. Dey t'ink dey find us all asleep. I go call de captain and de rest, and de black fellows; and we all get ready, and lie down and snore loud; and den, when de enemy come, we jump up wid loud shout, and dey run away."

Timbo's plan of action was simple, and I hoped might prove effective; so I begged him to carry it out. In a few seconds all our party, crawling out from their huts, or from beneath the waggon or lean-tos, assembled noiselessly, and took up their station at the palisades, kneeling down so as not to be seen by those approaching. Thus we all remained ready for the attack. Some time passed away, and no enemy appeared; and I could not help suspecting that Timbo might by some means have been mistaken. He, however, was positive that he had seen the enemy, and was rather indignant at my supposing that he could have been deceived. We kept watching on every side, not knowing on which the blacks, if they really were coming, might make their attack. At length I saw an object moving along the ground, exactly as Timbo had approached the fort; then another and another appeared. I found that Timbo had seen them too, and immediately he managed to give the information to our companions, when, somewhat to my amusement, a loud chorus of snores ascended from all parts of the camp. "Dat good," he whispered to me; "dey t'ink we all sleepy. Now, see!"

As he spoke, we could distinguish several black figures crawling on the ground close up to the fort. They stopped and listened, then rising to their feet, ran back to their companions, who yet, we supposed, remained concealed in the neighbouring bushes and long grass. Fearing, probably, that the snoring garrison might awake, the whole array of blacks now advanced, crouching down close to the ground, and had we not been watching for them, they might easily have got close up without being discovered. They advanced in a semicircle, closing gradually in on the fort. We lay still as death. The dogs, I should have said, had been muzzled, and stowed away under the waggon, where they remained quiet. Closer and closer the blacks advanced. "Dey t'ink dey climb over and we not know," whispered Timbo. "Now, see!"

We let the blacks get close to the palisades. They were touching them, expecting without difficulty to climb over, when at a word from Stanley up we all started, firing directly in their faces. The result was even more satisfactory than we could have anticipated, for in an instant the front ranks rushed away, knocking down those behind them in their terror, when the whole army instantly took to flight. The two boys gave vent to loud hurrahs, which were taken up by the rest of our party, when Kate and Bella, who had not been told of what was likely to take place, came rushing out of their tent to inquire what had occurred. We soon found, however, that we were not to gain so easy a victory as we had hoped. The blacks, recovering from their fright, and not acquainted with the effects our firearms were able to produce at a distance, once more assembled, and advanced bravely to the attack. We were consequently compelled to give them a volley, but except from the rifles of two or three of our best shots, very few of our bullets took effect. Seeing that we were not to be taken by surprise, the enemy again retired. We were in hopes that they had gone off altogether. To ascertain whether this was the case, Timbo volunteered once more to go out. He soon returned, saying that they had only retired under shelter, and from the sounds he had heard, he suspected that they proposed making another attack. We waited anxiously till daybreak. On looking out, we saw numerous blacks moving among the bushes. Then a large body appeared, apparently assembling to hold a consultation. After a time they separated, dividing into several small bodies. These marched forward, and posted themselves at equal distances round the camp. It was now clear that, having failed in their expectation of taking us by surprise, they had resolved on starving us out. Fortunately they could not interfere with our water, or they would have done so; indeed, they might possibly not have been aware of the supply we were gradually obtaining from the well.

The day passed away, but our pertinacious enemies made no signs of moving. Of course they kept us on the alert all night, not knowing at what moment they might again attack us. On the second day things began to look serious; for though we had water, provisions were growing scarce. Donald began to talk of cutting our way through the enemy; but as they could assail us at their pleasure as we marched along, this would have been a dangerous proceeding.

"It must be done," he said at last; "if we remain here another day we shall starve, and it is better to run the risk of fighting than to do that."

We had at length obtained a sufficient supply of water for the cattle, and had we been unmolested, we might now with confidence proceed on to the next fountain, after which Donald hoped to find each day a sufficient supply of water. Stanley however proposed, instead of risking an attack while moving on, to sally out with horse and foot and drive the enemy away. He, with Senhor Silva and Donald, were to form the cavalry, and I was to lead a party of infantry, consisting of Jack, Chickango, Igubo and his two sons, and four of Donald's Hottentots.

"We must go too, then!" exclaimed Leo, when he heard the proposal.

"No," answered Stanley. "I have no doubt of your bravery, but you will show it better by remaining to assist David and Timbo in garrisoning the fort." After some hesitation Donald agreed to this plan.

At length, as evening drew on, the blacks appeared in greater numbers than before. Instead of allowing them to approach, however, we opened a warm fire upon them, when even at a considerable distance. This seemed to astonish them, as probably they were not aware that our bullets would reach so far, and once more they retreated under cover. Scarcely had they gone, when Donald gave us the unsatisfactory information that one meal alone remained for the party in the camp.

"Then, my friends," said Stanley, "let us lose no time in making our retreat. We may get to a long distance before the blacks discover that we have left the fort; and if they follow us, we must turn round and drive them off."

The necessity of moving was so obvious, that no time was lost in preparing to start. The waggons were laden, the oxen yoked. The usual fires were lighted, to deceive the enemy. Then in perfect silence we quitted the camp, Stanley and I bringing up the rear, and Timbo and Jack and four other men, well-armed, on foot. We moved on slowly; for neither we, our horses, nor cattle were capable of much exertion. Every now and then Stanley halted and faced round to ascertain whether we were pursued; but some hours passed by, and we began to hope that the enemy had retreated before we commenced our march, or had not ventured to follow us. We knew well, however, that if the blacks did pursue us, they would come on stealthily, so that we should have but a short time to prepare for their reception. Leo and Natty were persuaded to remain in the waggon with their guns loaded, ready to do battle for Kate and Bella; while Donald had put arms into the hands of the most trustworthy of his men, who promised to fight bravely should we be attacked. However, he confessed that he had no confidence in their valour. After riding for some time at a distance from the waggon we once more joined them, hoping that we should be able to proceed without molestation.

I was very thankful when the sun rose; and though his beams were likely to be somewhat hot, they greatly cheered our spirits. I was on the point, at Stanley's request, of riding on to ask Donald Fraser when he proposed to camp, when, looking round, I saw away to the north, on the summit of an elevation we had passed over, a dark line moving towards us. I pointed it out to Stanley.

"It is the blacks! There can be no doubt about that," he answered. "We must be prepared for them. I did not suppose they would have ventured so far in pursuit."

"I say, Andrew, we must drive these fellows off, and have done with them," said Leo. "You will see how Natty and I will fight!"

I was sure from his determined look that he would be as good as his word, and that Natty would not be less courageous, though he made no remark. Stanley had given orders that not a shot was to be fired till he issued the word of command. We were standing in expectation of receiving it, when Timbo shouted out, "See! see! some horsemen come dis way!" We looked towards the west--the direction in which he pointed-- where, under a cloud of dust, a herd of buffaloes were seen scampering across the plain, with several horsemen in close pursuit. On they came directly towards our black enemies, who did not perceive them till they were within a distance of four or five hundred yards. The herd of buffaloes dashed madly forward into the very midst of the blacks, whom they scattered in every direction. Numbers were knocked over. The rest, taken by surprise, attempted to escape by flight. Instantly Stanley threw himself upon his horse and galloped forward, shouting to the hunters. The buffaloes meantime continued their charge wherever they saw the negroes assembled, and in a few minutes swept half round the circle, raising the siege in the most effectual manner. Stanley's shouts soon attracted the attention of the hunters. A few words from him explained the state of affairs, and together they charged towards the remainder of the black army, who had hitherto stood their ground. The latter, without even stopping to draw their bows, took to flight towards the north, still followed, in the most extraordinary manner, by the buffaloes, who rushed in and out among them, urged on by the shouts and cries of the hunters in the rear. In a few minutes not a black was to be seen, except those who had been knocked over by the infuriated animals. All this time the only shots fired had been at the buffaloes, three of whom lay dead on the ground. At length the herd, after pursuing the blacks for a considerable distance, turned off to the east, leaving us possessors of the field.

As we were hurrying out to welcome the strangers, we saw Stanley warmly shaking hands with them, when what was my surprise as they rode up to recognise the Messrs. Rowley and Terence O'Brien!

"We will tell you all about it," said the latter, as we warmly shook hands. "But don't you know him?" and he pointed to the fourth horseman.

I could scarcely believe my eyes, when my friend, the worthy first mate of the _Osprey_--whom I thought had long been numbered with the dead-- jumped off his steed and took me by the hand.

"I have not a very long yarn to spin," he said, "though it is a somewhat wonderful one. When I was washed off the deck, I found near me a topmast, which had probably been carried away and cut adrift from some craft ahead of us. I clung on to it, and was picked up a day or two afterwards by a vessel which had to touch at Walfish Bay on her way to the Cape. Finding a party settled there on a whaling speculation, I agreed to remain. However, after some time, as few whales were to be caught, I determined to go on to the Cape. Just as I was about to sail, I received an invitation from a gentleman--Mr Ramsay--about to start into the interior on a hunting and trading expedition, to accompany him as an assistant. The life he proposed to lead was a new one to me; but I had had enough of salt water, and after a little consideration accepted it. Who should arrive directly afterwards but our friends here, who, after having been cast on shore and gone through all sorts of adventures as they travelled down the coast from the north, had at length reached Walfish Bay. But they will give you an account of themselves. Do not ask, though, about their poor sister," he whispered. "She is gone! Died soon after they landed; and that wretched fellow Kydd, he was washed off the raft in passing through the surf. These three young men alone remained, with scarce a rag on their backs, and not a sixpence in the world. They were therefore very glad to accept the offer made to them by my friend, to assist him in shooting elephants, and rhinoceroses, and other game. From what I have seen of them, they are better suited to that sort of work than the steady business of a colonist. We have now been out six months, and are on the point of turning westward; indeed, had the buffaloes not led us in this direction, we should not have come further to the east. The prospect of the desert is not over-inviting, and for my part, I have had enough of hunting. I have run a narrow chance of being killed a score of times by lions and elephants, not to speak of rhinoceroses and buffaloes, hyenas and snakes, and I do not know what other creatures. When my engagement is over, I have made up my mind not to accept another of the same sort, but to stick to the sea as long as I am fit for work, or till I can save enough to enable me to settle down in a snug cottage in old England."

After the hint I had received from my friend Gritton, I forebore to make too minute inquiries of the Rowleys as to their adventures. Terence O'Brien, however, gave me most of the particulars. They had undergone a fearful amount of suffering even before they were cast ashore, and a still greater amount afterwards. It is surprising, indeed, that poor Miss Rowley should have survived so long on the raft; and we all, indeed, had cause to be thankful that we had been preserved from similar sufferings.

As soon as part of the buffalo flesh had been divided among our half-famished party, and had been cooked and eaten, we inspanned and pushed on to join Mr Ramsay's caravan. Though there was little chance of our being pursued by the hostile natives, I was very thankful when at length the fires of his camp appeared in sight. Terence O'Brien had galloped on to announce our coming, and he now came up with loud whoops and cries, followed by most of his party, from whom we received the warmest welcome. We had still, however, a long journey before us; but the road was known, the fountains were within moderate distances of each other, and the natives were friendly. Mr Ramsay had been successful both in hunting and trading, and the large piles of huge elephant and hippopotamus tusks, lion and panther skins, and other articles, rather excited Donald Fraser's envy. "However," he observed to me, as he looked at his fellow-trader's well-filled waggons, "I have had the satisfaction of rescuing you and your friends, Mr Crawford, out of as dangerous a position as travellers in Africa can well be placed in, and I have no reason to complain of the liberality of your generous friend, Senhor Silva."

We at length reached Walfish Bay, where we found a vessel, the _Flying Fish_, just on the point of sailing for the Cape. The Rowleys and Terence O'Brien were, however, so enamoured of their hunting life, that they determined to start off into the wilds again on their own account. Our kind, noble-minded, and generous friend, Senhor Silva, here bade us good-bye, intending to wait for a vessel which was expected to call in on her way to Saint Paul de Loando. He shook my hand warmly.

"I am a widower, as you know, and I had a hope, I confess, which I must not speak of, for I see that it is vain," he said. "You will think of me, and so will your sweet cousin, I trust, sometimes; and I shall be truly glad to hear of your happiness."

We all embarked on board the _Flying Fish_, hoping at length, after all our adventures, to reach our destination in safety. I had made up my mind to settle on shore, and assist my cousins in cultivating their farm. Perhaps my cousin Kate had something to do with my resolution. At all events, when I proposed it she appeared very well pleased.

Leo, when he heard of it, exclaimed, "Oh, how delightful! because then, Andrew, you will not carry Natty away, as I was afraid you might have done; and he and I can manage to get on so capitally together. We have formed all sorts of plans already, and I only hope that you may marry Kate, and he, by-and-by, can marry Sheila; and then we shall all be brothers, `and live happily together to the end of our days,' as the story books say."

Though our voyage was a pleasant one, I was very thankful when at length the lofty height of Table Mountain appeared ahead, covered with its table-cloth, and we dropped our anchor off Cape Town. We had still a long journey before us; but at length the anxiety which my uncle and aunt had been so long suffering on account of the non-appearance of their children was relieved by our safe arrival at their farm.

After a few days' rest, we all set to work on the special duties apportioned us. Kate did not neglect Bella's education, even though in the course of the following year she became the mistress of a house of her own, of which I was the master. David settled down as the medical man of the district. Stanley, though he occasionally went out hunting, became a first-rate farmer, ably assisted by Timbo, Chickango, and Igubo and his two sons, who expressed no desire to return to their part of Africa. Jack Handspike accompanied Mr Gritton to sea, but lately came back again, saying that he had had enough of it, and was determined henceforth to plough the land instead of the ocean. I may say of myself and of all my friends indeed, that "whatsoever our hands find to do, we do it with all our might," humbly endeavouring to serve God in our daily walk in life, and thereby enjoy that true happiness which even in this world can be obtained by those who know the right way to seek it.


(THE END)
William H. G. Kingston's Novel: In the Wilds of Africa

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