Gordon Stables.

Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune



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Vike kept aloof.

He didn't like the looks of these savages.

But after climbing a conical hill, Duncan found out the true reason for the isolation of these savages. Their country was at least a thousand feet above the level of the land. And this last, except on one side where the mountains hid their snow-capped heads in the clouds, everywhere were dark and seemingly impenetrable forests.

CHAPTER IV. – TREASURE-HUNTERS. THE FOREST

The exact topography of Cannibal Glen, as the boys had named this blood-reeking territory, was, however, not the only discovery made to-day.

The other was singular in the extreme. It was nothing less than that of a ruined fort, at no great distance from the place where the balloon was anchored, but high up on the side of a hill and surrounded by a clump of trees.

The fort was built of stone, and still of considerable strength, and so constructed that it could be defended, if occasion demanded, by two resolute young men against four score savages.

Duncan thought it somewhat strange, that there was no footpath leading towards it, and that it seemed to be avoided by the natives.

They found out afterwards that the place had been the scene of a cruel massacre of white men-Portuguese without a doubt-and that it was now supposed to be the abode of evil spirits.

All the better for our young adventurers. And they made up their minds to take possession of the old fort the very next day.

That afternoon, however, they removed everything from the car of the balloon, and camped just a little way therefrom.

They had lit a fire really more for the sake of light than heat, and for, many hours after the sun's last glow tipped the snowy summits of the mountains with pink and blue, and the stars had come out, they sat here talking of home. But not of home only, but of their future prospects.

"From several strange cavities I have observed in my rambles to-day," said Duncan, "I have come to the conclusion that the white men who built that fort were also miners. Everything points to this fact, and also, alas! to that of their murderous extermination by fire and by the spears of these fiendish savages."

"Yes, Conal, it may have been many long years ago, centuries perhaps, but who can say what discoveries we may not make next. There may be buried treasure!"

Both Conal and Frank opened their eyes wider now.

"What!" cried Frank, "you think-"

"I don't think, Frank, my boy, I am reasoning from analogy, as it were. First and foremost, it is not for nought the glaud whistles."

"I don't hitch on," said the Cockney boy.

"The glaud," said Conal by way of explanation, "is a wild Scottish hawk, that always whistles aloud before darting on his prey."

"The glaud in this case," said Duncan, "is the Portuguese, who never go into any savage country except for the sake of treasure or plunder.

"Secondly," he continued, "if the band were all massacred, they doubtless had hidden their dust, and it is evidently there still.

Thirdly, these cannibal outcasts care nothing for gold, and would at any time give a large and valuable diamond for a coloured bead."

"I do declare," cried Frank, "I sha'n't sleep a wink to-night for thinking of all this. Duncan, you are clever!"

"Have you only just found that out?" said Conal, laughing. Conal was proud of his brother.

"And now," said Duncan, "shall we, after a few days of exploration, get into the balloon once more, and try to find our way to the sea-shore."

"Before I could answer that question myself," he added, "I would like to think it all out, and so I move that we curl up."

Wrapped in their warm rugs-for, at this elevation, though in mid-Africa, a rug is almost a necessity at night-the boys were soon asleep beside the fire, and no one was left on guard except dear old Vike.

He slept with one eye open, or one ear at all events, and was likely to give a good account of any savage who might come prowling around the camp.

But, by way of making assurance doubly sure, the adventurers slept with loaded revolvers close beside them.

They slept heavily.

And that, too, despite the roaring of lions far down in the plains below, and the unearthly shrieks of goodness knows what, that came, ever and again, from the dark depths of the forest.

The sun was just rising over the distant green and hazy horizon when Duncan sat up.

He rubbed his eyes, and gazed around him almost wildly.

"Conal, Frank," he cried them, "awake! awake! Where is the balloon?"

Had there been any echo it might well have answered "Where?"

The balloon was gone!

The explanation was not difficult. For, relieved of its load, it had quietly slipped its moorings during the darkness and gone on a voyage on its own account, goodness only knows where. And our heroes would never see it more.

To say that they were not deeply grieved would be far short of the truth. The loss seemed to cut them off entirely from the outer world.

But their hearts were young and buoyant, and so they did not mourn long.

After breakfast, indeed Duncan, who was the recognized leader, laughed lightly, saying as he did so:

"Come, you fellows, don't look so blue. Perhaps the loss of the balloon is a blessing in disguise."

"I don't quite see it," said Frank.

"No, you don't see the balloon. You've looked your very last on that; but listen to logic: We might have journeyed away in that balloon and been carried into regions from which we never could have got free again."

"True enough!" said Conal.

Indeed everything his brother said was right in Conal's eyes.

"Well," said Frank after a pause, "I'm not going to bother about it. The Pope was correct in saying, 'What is, is right.'"

"It wasn't the Pope, Frank, but Pope the poet."

"Ah, well, it doesn't matter; only I had such grand dreams last night."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, indeed. I was wandering through the diamond mines of Golconda, with Aladdin's lamp in one hand and a horse's nose-bag in the other. And I filled that nose-bag too, you bet."

"Well, Aladdin, or not Aladdin, I move now that we move up the hillside and take formal possession of the Portuguese old fort."

"I second the moving motion," said Conal.

So Duncan and Conal became the carriers; Frank, with Vike, remaining below on guard until everything was taken up.

It took them the whole of that day, and the next as well, to settle down in their new quarters, and to make everything snug and comfortable.

To their great delight, at the foot of a rock not far off they found a small well with a spring of the coldest water, bubbling up through the rocks.

It was partly no doubt on account of this very well, that the former inhabitants of the fort had chosen this spot as their habitat.

One room, and one only, of the ruin was roofed, and this they commenced to overhaul and thoroughly clear and clean.

They shuddered somewhat, however, when they came across human bones, and these had been charred by fire, and so told a terrible tale.

But Duncan and his comrades were not to be daunted, and determined to make this their living-room, for no matter how hard the rain might fall, their stores would be dry and safe.

Besides the door, there was one opening which had been a window.

It was at first proposed to barricade it up, but this would have prevented ventilation, and shown fear also.

"I have it!" cried Frank.

"Well?"

"Erect two skulls. There they are all ready to hand."

This was done.

The terrible relics were fastened to short poles, and one was stuck at each side of the window outside.

For a time, at all events, the boys might well consider themselves safe, for superstition is far more deep and rife in heathen lands than it is in Christian, and that is saying a good deal.

"I do think all this is rather jolly than otherwise," said Frank a morning or two after they had got nicely settled, as he termed it, "and I wouldn't mind living here for some time."

"I'm afraid we'll have to, Frank," said Duncan, laughing.

"Bar the vicinity of that ugly king, and his crowd," Conal put in.

"But you must admit, captain, that there is a spice of romance in this mode of life, and I wouldn't mind much what happened to me, if there was a ground-work of romance in it."

Frank was reminded of these remarks by his fellows some time after this, and after a thrilling adventure, in which he happened to be first-person-singular.

"But I say," he added, "what shall we call ourselves? Crusoes? Eh?"

"I think," said Conal, "that a Crusoe must live on an island."

"Hermits, then."

"No. You can't have a plurality of hermit. A hermit is a hermit, and he is all by himself. If a lot of people come and live in the same place he is a hermit no longer."

"Solitaires," suggested Duncan.

Conal laughed aloud.

"Why," he cried, "you stupid old Duncan, a solitaire is a sleeve-link or collar-stud or something."

"Foresters, then."

"Fiddlesticks! The forest is miles away."

"Treasure-hunters?"

"That's better. And we'd best leave it at that."

"Well, having made everything snug, suppose we go and see the fat king again."

"Good! and then go and fish. There is a nice little stream down here, and we might even have a peep into the forest."

"Happy thought!" said Frank.

Frank's mind, by the way, was partially built upon happy thoughts, and there was always one or two ready to bob up on the surface.

"What now, Frank?"

"We've lots of wine, and we won't drink it. Suppose we take King Pig a bottle."

They did so, and also some more beads.

They marched-that is, Frank and Duncan, Conal being left at home to keep house-straight to the king's kraal.

They sang as they entered the village, seeming to know by instinct what I had to learn from experience, that a happy, independent, and careless manner goes a long way to impress savages with one's superiority.

The cannibal king was just getting up. He had eaten too much the night before, and overslept himself. But he seemed glad to see our heroes, smiled, and poked his black, fat fingers funnily towards them.

His hut was a big one, but something in it immediately caught Frank's eye. It was a huge, black, and horribly ugly doll. The king's god, without a doubt. It was as black as the ace of clubs, with red lips and white tusks. The eyes seemed to glare at the intruders, but the intruders didn't mind.

Frank drew nearer to it, for something in this wooden god's head shone with a light that was perfectly dazzling. Anyone could have seen it was a diamond of the purest water.

How could he secure it? that was the question. Why, that stone was a fortune in itself. Robbing a cannibal king might not be much of a crime, but the treasure-hunters recoiled from the idea.

Barter! Ha! that indeed. Finance is a fine thing!

Frank held out a handful of beautiful beads, and pointed to the god's grinning head.

But the king looked frightened, and shook his head.

Frank replaced the beads in his pocket.

The king looked wofully sad.

"The wine," said Frank, and Duncan produced it. He poured some out into a little tin cup and drank, then corked the bottle.

"Goo-goo-goo!" exclaimed the king, excitedly.

"Why, the old rogue," said Duncan, "knows what it is. Let him smell the bottle."

"Confound him, no! He'd seize and drink the lot."

But he handed him some in a cocoa-nut shell, and having gulped that down, he handed the shell back to be refilled.

Frank laughed, but shook his head.

He now offered the beads and the bottle for the diamond, and at once the cannibal yielded.

He waddled over towards the god, and digging out the glorious gem with the point of an ugly crease-which doubtless had slit many an innocent throat-he handed it to the financier, Frank Trelawney.

Frank first put it carefully in his pocket, then he proceeded to insert three beautiful and large beads in the hole in the god's forehead, left empty by the abstraction of the gem.

"Goo-goo-goo!" cried the king.

"Don't be a big baby! You'll have the wine in a brace of shakes".

Determined to be honest, Frank not only placed a string of beads about the neck of the idol, but a larger and more handsome one over the king's broad brisket. Then he gave him nutful after nutful of sherry till there wasn't a drop left in the bottle.

The king thought he would sing now.

His song was like the snoring of an Indian frog. But the king was happy.

So was Frank.

"I say, Duncan," he said, "a knowledge of finance is an excellent thing. And honesty is the best policy, isn't it? Well, we've made one man happy this morning. It is very soothing to one's conscience, and really, Duncan, I wouldn't mind making a few more cannibals happy-"

"At the same price?"

"That's it," said Frank.

The king slept, and, leaving his wives to fan him, the boys slipped away.

They now went back "home", as they called the haunted fort, then arranged for a day's sport.

The stream they soon reached was close to the forest, and seemed alive with fish. The tackle which they used was simple but effective. Not original either, for country boys in Scotland constantly use it, and though the marvellously-dressed and fully-equipped Englishman may fish all day and catch nothing, the ragged urchin not far off is making a string of dozens-a string that the Cockney eventually purchases and palms off as the result of his own prowess.

Such is life! But the tackle? Oh, yes, the tackle! Well, it was a bent pin, a short string and rod, with a morsel of an insect for bait.

But Duncan and Frank made a discovery to-day that was alarming.

After catching sufficient fish to suffice for more than one hearty meal, they hid their rods and tackle in the bush, and ventured to march towards the forest.

It was terribly darksome and gloomy, with very little undergrowth, and as they knew there were lions about they ventured forward with great caution, keeping close together, treading lightly, and keeping a good look-out on every side.

They had not gone far before they found that this great woodland was the abode of creatures, probably quite as much to be dreaded even as lions.

The first part they traversed, however, was apparently a land of delight, just as it was a land of the most brilliant flowering trees and shrubs, among which thousands of bright-winged birds chattered and sang, while parrots by the score mimicked them.

"Surely," said Frank, "we have come to paradise at last! Did ever you see such glorious fruit? Oh, we must indulge, Duncan, and carry back some guavas and mangoes to poor lonely Conal and Viking."

They did indulge, and that too without stint.

But this paradise soon drew to an end.

"Anyhow, Duncan," said Frank, cheerfully, "we shall know now where to find both fish and fruit."

"Hark!"

Well might he say hark.

The sounds that now broke harsh and terrible upon their ears would have appalled older and stouter hearts than theirs.

CHAPTER V. – FIGHTING THE GORILLAS

Frank and Duncan had undoubtedly been rash. They had penetrated for fully a mile into the gloomy depths of this dark, primeval forest. The sun-life of beautiful birds and luscious fruits-Frank's paradise-they had left far behind. Here was nothing that could be called inviting: slimy, rotting leaves on the bare ground, with here and there a huge and ugly toadstool; and the branchless trunks of mighty trees covered with white and yellow mildew or flour-like fungi. And these trees towered skywards, forming a dark green canopy overhead, that no sunlight could ever penetrate, nor moonlight or star-rays at night.

The silence for some time had been both cold and irksome. I cannot otherwise describe it.

But now that dread silence was broken, and not only high overhead, but far away in front, the forest suddenly awoke into a sylvan pandemonium.

What yells, what shrieks, what hoarse and fearful cries!

The boys instinctively drew closer together, and stood ready to shoot.

But nothing appeared, though the awful noises increased rather than diminished.

Frank saw Duncan's lips moving, but he could hear nothing.

Surely they were in a demon-haunted forest.

They looked at each other, then at once commenced a speedy retreat.

They ran as fast as ever they had done at school, and up behind them came the roar of the demons. But they could see no creature as yet, though they often glanced furtively behind them.

The enemy, however, seeing that they were but little more than a hundred yards from the sunlight, mustered up courage for the attack.

And down from the trees they leapt-a score, at least, of hideous, long-armed, hairy gorillas.

If they did not possess the courage, they at all events had far more than the strength of ordinary men.

As they advanced they beat their breasts furiously, uttering savage cries.

"A clear head now!" shouted Duncan.

Both young fellows leaned their rifles against trees to make sure of their aim.

Br-rang! Br-rang!

The sound awakened the echoes of the ugly forest, and two gorillas fell dead.

There was a silence of fully fifteen seconds, and the boys went hurrying on again.

Then came wailings and howlings, as of grief, but these were quickly changed to yells of anger, and on they came once more. They soon overtook our two heroes, who, after firing with good effect, drew their revolvers and made a running battle of it.

Luckily they never once allowed these fiendish monsters to get into grips, else speedily indeed would they have been throttled to death.

Out into the sunshine, the glorious life-giving sunshine at last. And now they were safe. They crawled rather than walked as far as a little stream that trickled from a rock, and threw themselves down exhausted.

But youth soon recovers from exertion, and terror too, and so they finally found themselves back at the ruined fort loaded with both fruit and fish.

Happy indeed was Conal to see them, for, far away from the fort though the forest was, he had listened appalled to the awful medley of yells and shrieks, and made sure they were being murdered.

"Hillo!" cried Frank, cheerful once again-and hungry also-and it seems to me Frank was always hungry-"Hillo! Why, you have actually dinner ready?"

"Yes," said Conal, laughing. "Vike and I found some sweet-potatoes and we cooked these."

"But that splendid fish you are broiling?"

"Ah! isn't she a beauty? But you should have seen the little girl who brought it, carrying it on a little grass rope. She was a beauty too. And we had quite a little flirtation."

"Conal! I'm-"

"Oh, are you, indeed? but I don't mind. I gave Umtomie-that's her pretty name-two lovely beads, and she sat there and sang to me, so sweetly! Then she brought me a calabash full of water, and, smiling over teeth quite as white and even as a pointer puppy's, she waved her hand, her lily hand-no, her raven hand-"

"That's more truthful, Con."

"And off she trotted once again."

"Then, I suppose," said Frank, "the sunshine went all out of your life, eh?"

"Well, there did seem to be a partial eclipse or something. But down you sit to chow-chow."

Down they did sit, and a right hearty meal they made.

It was Conal's turn to go sporting the next day. But he and Duncan gave the forest a wide berth, and so nothing very wild in the shape of adventure fell to their lot.

Much time was spent every day now in prospecting.

Duncan couldn't and wouldn't believe that the hands that built that strong fort had not dug for and found both gold and diamonds.

And he determined, if possible, to find some also.

Unluckily they had no mining-tools, neither spade, shovel, nor pick-axe.

But Frank was a boy of infinite resources.

"Why not make miners' tools?" he said. "We have chisels and hammers and what not, and there is a tree growing yonder that is as hard as iron!"

"What! Another happy thought, Frank?"

"Yes, Duncan, my brave old captain, and I haven't got half-way to the bottom of my mine of happy thought yet."

Well, picks and spades were now actually fashioned, partly by tools, partly by fire. And then the boys set to work with a will to open the old mines.

They had worked for a whole week, but without success, when one evening a loud and awful trumpeting told them that elephants had arrived on the plains below, or were passing through the country of the cannibals for pastures new.

"What a splendid chance for sport!" cried Frank.

"Yes," said Conal. "Fancy bagging a few elephants. Tuskers, don't they call them, brother?"

"Yes, in India the males are so named, but here in Africa both sexes have tusks, though those on the he ones are bigger, and are said to be better ivory."

It was determined, therefore, to march against the elephants next day, and neither Conal nor Frank could sleep very well for thinking of it.

Now, though I have no desire to be hard upon my heroes, I must say that I am not sorry for what happened, because elephants-next to our friend the dog-are probably the wisest and most innocent animals in the world.

When, therefore, Duncan next forenoon killed a lady elephant and Conal wounded a bull, the lady being his wife, it was no wonder he should lose his temper and charge right down on the lad.

To fly was impossible. There was no refuge anywhere. But Conal did attempt to retreat. He stumbled and fell, however, and next moment the awful foe was upon him. A less brave boy would have fainted, but there was no such weakness about Conal, though he felt his hour was come, and Duncan, who was fully eighty yards away, could not assist him. He put his hands to his eyes to avoid being a witness to the dreadful death of his brother, which now seemed inevitable.



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