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Title: Wilmshurst of the Frontier Force
Author: Westerman, Percy F. (Percy Francis), 1876-1959
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Frontispiece: "CLUTCHED THE LIONESS JUST BELOW THE JAWS, HOLDING HER
  IN A VICE-LIKE GRIP."]



WILMSHURST OF THE FRONTIER FORCE


BY

PERCY F. WESTERMAN



  AUTHOR OF "BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S,"
  "A SUB. OF THE R.N.R," ETC., ETC.



Publishers

PARTRIDGE

London

1918



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

     I.  ON ACTIVE SERVICE
    II.  CHAOS IN THE CABIN
   III.  THE RAIDER
    IV.  SPOFFORTH, MACGREGOR AND THE LIONESS
     V.  HOW THE KOPJE WAS STORMED
    VI.  THE WARNING SHOT
   VII.  A TRUE MAN OR A TRAITOR
  VIII.  ULRICH VON GOBENDORFF
    IX.  THE FIGHT FOR THE SEAPLANE
     X.  PREPARATIONS
    XI.  THE SNIPER
   XII.  THE STORMING OF M'GANGA
  XIII.  THE FUGITIVE
   XIV.  ON THE TRACK
    XV.  RESCUED
   XVI.  'GAINST HEAVY ODDS
  XVII.  WATER
 XVIII.  IN THE ENEMY'S POSITIONS
   XIX.  CORNERED AT LAST
    XX.  QUITS



WILMSHURST OF THE FRONTIER FORCE


CHAPTER I

ON ACTIVE SERVICE

"Four o'clock mornin', sah; bugle him go for revally."

Dudley Wilmshurst, Second Lieutenant of the Nth West African Regiment,
threw off the light coverings, pulled aside the mosquito curtains, and
sat upon the edge of his cot, hardly able to realise that Tari Barl,
his Haussa servant, had announced the momentous news.  Doubtful whether
his senses were not playing him false Wilmshurst glanced round the
room.  On a metal table, the legs of which stood in metal jars filled
with water and paraffin to counteract the ravages of the white ants,
lay his field-equipment--a neatly-rolled green canvas valise with his
name and regiment stamped in bold block letters; his Sam Browne belt
with automatic pistol holster attached; his sword--a mere token of
authority but otherwise little better than a useless encumbrance--and a
pair of binoculars in a leather case that bore signs of the excessive
dampness of the climate on The Coast, as the littoral of the African
shore 'twixt the Niger and the Senegal Rivers is invariably referred to
by the case-hardened white men who have fought against the pestilential
climate and won.

A short distance from the oil stove on which a kettle was boiling,
thanks to the energy and thoughtfulness of Private Tari Barl, stood an
assortment of camp equipment: canvas _tent d'abri_, ground sheets,
aluminium mess traps, a folding canvas bath, and last but not least an
indispensable Doulton pump filter.

When a man's head is buzzing from the effects of strong doses of
quinine, and his limbs feel limp and almost devoid of strength, it is
not to be wondered at that he is decidedly "off colour."  It was only
Wilmshurst's indomitable will that had pulled him through a bout of
malaria in time to be passed fit for active service with the "Waffs,"
as the West African Field Force is commonly known from the initial
letters of the official designation.

And here was Tari Barl--"Tarry Barrel," his master invariably dubbed
him--smiling all over his ebony features as he stood, clad in active
service kit and holding a cup of fragrant tea.

Tari Barl was a typical specimen of the West African native from whom
the ranks of the Coast regiments are recruited.  In height about five
feet ten, he was well built from his thighs upwards.  Even his
loosely-fitting khaki tunic did not conceal the massive chest with its
supple muscles and the long, sinewy arms that knew how to swing to the
rhythm of bayonet exercise.  His legs, however, were thin and spindly.
To any one not accustomed to the native build it would seem strange
that the apparently puny lower limbs could support such a heavy frame.
He was wearing khaki shorts and puttees; even the latter, tightly
fitting, did little to disguise the meagreness of his calves.  He was
barefooted, for the West African soldier has a rooted dislike to boots,
although issued as part of his equipment.  On ceremonial parades he
will wear them, outwardly uncomplainingly, but at the first opportunity
he will discard them, slinging the unnecessary footgear round his neck.
Thorns, that in the "bush" will rip the best pair of British-made
marching-boots to shreds in a very short time, trouble him hardly at
all, for the soles of his feet, which with the palms of his hands are
the only white parts of his epidermis, are as hard as iron.

"All my kit ready, Tarry Barrel?" enquired Wilmshurst as he sipped his
tea.

"All ready, sah; Sergeant Bela Moshi him lib for tell fatigue party
mighty quick.  No need worry, sah."

Dismissing his servant the subaltern "tubbed" and dressed.  They start
the day early on the Coast, getting through most of the routine before
nine, since the intense heat of the tropical sun makes strenuous
exertion not only unpleasant but highly dangerous.

But to-day was of a different order.  The regiment was to embark at
eight o'clock on board the transport _Zungeru_ for active service in
the vast stretch of country known as "German East," where the Huns with
their well-trained Askaris, or native levies, were putting up a stiff
resistance against the Imperial and Colonial troops of the British
Empire.

On his way to the mess Wilmshurst ran up against Barkley, the P.M.O. of
the garrison.

"Hullo there!" exclaimed the doctor.  "How goes it?  Fit?"

"Absolutely," replied the subaltern.

The doctor smiled and shrugged his shoulders.  He knew perfectly well
that no officer warned for active service would reply otherwise.

"Buzzing all gone?"

"Practically," replied Wilmshurst.

"All right; stick to five grains of quinine during the whole of the
voyage--and don't be afraid to let me know if you aren't up to the
mark.  Suppose you've heard nothing further of your brother?"

Wilmshurst shook his head.

"Not since the letter written just before the war, and that took nearly
twelve months before it reached me.  It's just possible that Rupert is
in the thick of it with the Rhodesian crush."

Barkley made no comment.  He was an old college chum of Rupert
Wilmshurst, who was fifteen years older than his brother Dudley.  The
elder Wilmshurst was a proverbial rolling stone.  Almost as soon as he
left Oxford he went abroad and, after long wanderings in the interior
of China, Siberia, and Manchuria, where his adventures merely
stimulated the craving for wandering on the desolate parts of the
earth, he went to the Cape, working his way up country until he made a
temporary settlement on the northern Rhodesian shores of Lake
Tanganyika.

It was thence that he wrote to his brother Dudley, who had just taken
up a Crown appointment on the Coast, mentioning that he had penetrated
into the territory known as German East.

The subaltern remembered the letter almost by heart.

"There'll be trouble out here before very long," wrote Rupert.
"Britishers settling down in this part almost invariably roll a
cricket-pitch or lay out a football field.  With Hans it is very
different.  The Germans' idea of colonization is to start building up a
military organization.  Every 'post' in which there are German settlers
has its company of armed blacks--Askaris they call them.  And as for
ammunition, they are laying in stores sufficient to wage a two-years'
war; not merely small arms ammunition, but quick-firer shells as well.
Quite by accident I found kegs of cartridges buried close to my camp.
For what reason?  The natives are quiet enough, so the ammunition is
not for use against them.  I am sending this letter by a trusty native
to be posted at Pambete, as it would be unwise to make use of the
German colonial post.  Meanwhile I am penetrating further into this
stretch of territory under the Black Cross Ensign--possibly in the
direction of Tabora.  My researches may be taken seriously by the
Foreign Office, but I have my doubts.  Fortunately I have a jolly good
pal with me, a Scotsman named Macgregor, whom I met at Jo-burg.  Don't
be anxious if you don't hear from me for some time."

The letter was dated July, 1914, and three years, Dudley reflected, is
a very exaggerated interpretation of the term "some time."  Even taking
into consideration the lack of efficient internal and external
communication, the state of war embroiling practically the whole
civilized world and the perils to which shipping was subjected owing to
the piratical exploits of the Huns--all these facts would hardly offer
sufficient explanation for a total absence of news from Rupert
Wilmshurst unless----

There are parts of Africa which are still described as the Dark
Continent--wild, desolate stretches where a man can disappear without
leaving the faintest trace of the manner of his presumed death, while
in German East there were unscrupulous despots--the disciples of
atrocious kultur--only too ready to condemn an Englishman without even
the farcical formality of a court-martial.

Already events had proved that Rupert Wilmshurst's statement was
well-founded.  In her African colonies, in Kiau-Chau, and elsewhere for
years past Germany had been assiduously preparing for The Day.  Under
the firm but erroneous impression that Great Britain would have her
hands full in connection with affairs at home, that the Boers in South
Africa would revolt and that the Empire would fall to pieces at the
declaration of war between England and Germany, the Hun in Africa had
prepared huge stores of munitions and trained thousands of native
troops with the intention of wresting the adjoining ill-defended
territories from their owners.

No wonder that the Huns hugged themselves with delight when by a
disastrous stroke of statesmanship Great Britain exchanged the
crumbling island of Heligoland for some millions of square miles of
undeveloped territory hitherto held by Germany.  While Heligoland was
being protected by massive concrete walls and armed by huge guns to
form a practically impregnable bulwark to the North Sea coast of
Germany, England was by peaceful methods developing her new African
acquisition.  Germany could then afford to wait until the favourable
opportunity and by force of arms seize and hold the territory that was
once hers and which in the meantime had enormously increased
commercially at the expense of Britain.

But the Kaiser had miscalculated the loyalty of the colonies.  Canada,
South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, to say nothing of smaller
offshoots of the Empire, had rallied to the flag.  Boers who fourteen
years previously had fought doggedly and determinedly against England
volunteered for service, and their offer was accepted for expeditions
against German West Africa and then against German East, while shoulder
to shoulder with their late enemies were Imperial troops, including
Indian and West African contingents.  Amongst the reinforcements from
the latter was the Nth West African Regiment.

By six o'clock breakfast was over and the troops were falling in for
parade and C.O.'s inspection.  As Second Lieutenant Wilmshurst crossed
the dusty barrack "square," which was a rectangle enclosed on three
sides by the native huts and on the fourth by the Quartermaster's
"stores" and orderly room, he found that the men of his platoon were
already drawn up in full marching order.  At the sight of their young
officer--for it was the first time for several weeks that Wilmshurst
had appeared on parade--a streak of dazzling ivory started and
stretched from end to end of the line as the Haussas' mouths opened
wide in welcoming smiles, displaying a lavish array of teeth that
contrasted vividly with their ebony features.

That Wilmshurst was popular with his men there could be no doubt.  Had
it been otherwise not a suspicion of a smile would have appeared upon
their faces.  The subaltern had the knack of handling African troops,
and without that knack an officer might just as well transfer
elsewhere.  Firmness, strict impartiality, and consideration for the
welfare of the men under his orders had been rewarded by a
whole-hearted devotion on the part of the blacks to "Massa Wilmst,"
while every man had the satisfaction that he was known by name to the
junior subaltern.

The company officer had not yet put in an appearance, but the platoon
commanders and their subordinates were engaged either in discussing
impending plans or else minutely examining their men's equipment, lest
the eagle eye of the C.O. should detect some deficiency during the
forthcoming inspection.

"All correct, sergeant?" enquired Wilmshurst, addressing a tall Haussa,
Bela Moshi by name.

The sergeant saluted smartly, replying, with a broad smile, that
everything was in order.  A child by nature, Bela Moshi had developed
into a smart and efficient soldier without losing the simple
characteristics of the African native.  He was a first-class marksman,
although it had required long and patient training to get him to
understand the use of sights and verniers and to eradicate the belief,
everywhere prevalent amongst savage races, that to raise the backsight
to its highest elevation results in harder hitting by the bullet.

Bela Moshi was smart with the machine-gun, too, while for scouting and
tracking work there were few who equalled him.  The regiment was father
and mother to the ebon warrior, while of all the officers Wilmshurst
was his special favourite.

The subaltern realised it but could give no reason for Bela Moshi's
preferential treatment; not that Wilmshurst had gone out of his way to
favour the man.  He treated the rank and file of his platoon with
impartial fairness, ever ready to hear complaints, but woe betide the
black who tried to "get to windward" of the young officer.

Upon the approach of the C.O. the ranks stiffened.  The display of
ivory vanished, and with thick, pouting lips, firmly closed, and eyes
fixed rigidly in front the men awaited the minute inspection.

Colonel Quarrier was a man who had grown grey in the service of the
Crown.  For over thirty years he had held a commission in the Nth West
Africa Regiment, rising from a fresh young Second Lieutenant to the
rank of Colonel Commandant and ruler of the destinies of nearly a
thousand men.  "Case hardened" to the attacks of mosquitos, his system
overcharged with malarial germs until the scourge of the Coast failed
to harm him, Colonel Quarrier possessed one of the principal
qualifications for bush-fighting in the Tropics--a "salted"
constitution.

Already he had served in four African campaigns, having but recently
taken part in the comparatively brief but strenuous Kamarun expedition.
He was a past-master in the art of fighting in miasmic jungles, and now
he was about to engage in operations on a larger and slightly different
scale--bush-fighting in German East, where ranges of temperature are
experienced from the icy cold air of the upper ground of Kilimanjaro to
the sweltering heat of the low-lying land but a few degrees south of
the Line.

The parade over a hoarse order rang out.  A drum and bugle band
belonging to another regiment struck up a lively air and the black and
khaki lines swung about into "column of route."

The "Waffs" were off to the conquest of the last of Germany's
ultra-European colonies.



CHAPTER II

CHAOS IN THE CABIN

It was a march of about five miles to the beach along a straight road
bordered with palm trees.  At some distance from the highway the
country was thick with scrub, from which the sickly smell of the
mangroves rose in the still slanting rays of the sun.

Most of the heavy baggage had already been sent down, but with the
troops were hundreds of native carriers, each bearing a load of about
sixty pounds, while crowds of native women and children flocked to see
the last of the regiment for some time to come.

The embarkation had to be performed by means of boats from the open
beach, against which white rollers surged heavily, the thundering of
the surf being audible for miles.  At a long distance from the shore,
so that she appeared little larger than a boat, lay the transport
_Zungeru_, rolling sluggishly at a single anchor, while steaming slowly
in the offing was a light cruiser detailed to act as escort to the
convoy, for more transports were under orders to rendezvous off Cape
Coast Castle.

Amidst the loud and discordant vociferations of the native boatmen the
troops boarded the broad, shallow-drafted surf boats, each man having
the breech-mechanism of his rifle carefully wrapped in oiled canvas to
prevent injury from salt water.  In batches of twenty the Waffs left
their native soil, but not before three boat loads had been
unceremoniously capsized in the surf, to the consternation of the men
affected and the light-hearted merriment of their more fortunate
comrades.

Without mishap Wilmshurst gained the accommodation-ladder of the
_Zungeru_, where brawny British mercantile seamen, perspiring freely in
the torrid heat, were energetically assisting their black passengers on
board with encouraging shouts of "Up with you, Sambo!" "Mind your nut,
Darkie!" and similar exhortations.  The while derricks were swaying in
and out, whipping the baggage from the holds of the lighters that lay
alongside, grinding heavily in the swell, fenders notwithstanding.

Having seen the men of his platoon safely on board Wilmshurst went
below to the two-berthed cabin which he was to share with Laxdale, the
subaltern of No. 2 platoon.

Opening the door Wilmshurst promptly ducked his head to avoid a
sweeping blow with a knotted towel which his brother officer was
wielding desperately and frantically.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Laxdale breathlessly.  "Come in and bear a hand.
Hope I didn't flick you."

"What's wrong?" enquired Dudley, eyeing with feelings of apprehension
the sight of the disordered cabin.  "Looks as if a Hun four-point-one
had been at work here."

The "traps" of both subalterns were littering the floor in utmost
confusion.  Sheets, blankets and mosquito nets had been torn from the
bunks, while a smashed water-bottle and glass bore testimony to the
erratic onslaught of the wildly excited Laxdale.

"Almost wish it had," exclaimed the harassed subaltern.  "I was
unpacking my kit when a whopping big rat jumped out of this valise.
I'll swear that rascal of a servant of mine knows all about it.  I had
to give him a dressing down yesterday for losing some of my gear.
We'll have to find the animal, Wilmshurst.  A rat is my pet
abomination."

"Why not leave the door open?" suggested Dudley.

"An' let the bounder go scot-free?" added Laxdale, a gleam of grim
determination in his eyes.  "No jolly fear.  We'll lay him out
properly.  Here you are, take this."

He handed Wilmshurst a towel roller made of teak, forming a heavy and
effective weapon.

"This is where I think the brute's hiding," continued Laxdale,
indicating a long drawer under the lowermost bunk.  "I was stowing some
of my gear away when I spotted him.  After five minutes' strafing he
disappeared, but goodness knows how he managed to get through that
little slit.  Now stand by."

Entering into the spirit of the chase Dudley knelt down and waited with
poised stick while Laxdale charily opened the drawer.  Like most
drawers on board ship and frequently elsewhere it jammed.  By frantic
up and down movements the subaltern freed it.  Then he waited, both
officers listening intently.  Not a sound came from within.

"Don't suppose the brute's there after all.  He must have effected a
strategic movement....  Look out, by Jove!"

Acting upon his impression Laxdale had tugged the drawer half open.
Instantly there was a vision of a dark object darting with
lightning-like rapidity.

Down came Wilmshurst's towel roller a fraction of a second too late for
Mister Rat.  At the same time Laxdale moved his hands along the ledge
of the drawer and received the full force of the blow across the
knuckles.

"Sorry!" exclaimed Wilmshurst.

Laxdale, nursing the injured hand, made no audible comment.
Deliberately he relieved Dudley of the towel-roller, throwing his
companion the knotted towel in exchange.

"Where's the brute now?" he asked grimly.

A scuffling noise in a tin bath suspended from the cork-cemented roof
of the cabin betrayed the rodent's temporary hiding-place.  Both men
looked first at the bath and then at each other.

"It would be as well if we put our helmets on," suggested Wilmshurst,
replacing his "double-pith" headgear.  "Now, I'll shake the bath and
you let rip when he falls.  But please don't try to get your own back
on me."

As a precautionary measure Dudley beat the side of the bath with the
towel.  It might have been efficacious if the subaltern had been
engaging in apiarian operations, but as far as present events went it
was a "frost."

"Tilt it, old man," suggested Laxdale.

Wilmshurst carried out this suggestion only too well.  The bath,
slipping from its supporting fixtures, clattered noisily to the floor,
its edge descending heavily upon Dudley's foot.  Again a momentary
vision of the leaping rodent, then, crash!  With a mighty sweep of the
tower-roller Laxdale demolished the electric-light globe into a
thousand fragments.

"Getting on," he remarked cheerfully.  "There'll be a big bill for
'barrack damages' eh, what?  Where's the brute?"

The rat, terrified by the din, had retired to a recess formed by the
bulkhead of the cabin and the fixed wash-basin and was acting strictly
on the defensive.

"Aha!" exclaimed Laxdale.  "Now you're cornered.  No use yelling
'Mercy, kamerad.'"

Levelling the roller like a billiard cue the subaltern prepared to make
a thrust and administer the _coup de grâce_, but he had forgotten that
he had not yet found his sea-legs.  A roll of the ship made him lose
his balance, and he pitched head foremost into the rodent's retreat.
Like a flash the rat leapt, scampered over Laxdale's helmet, down his
back and took refuge in the breast-pocket of Wilmshurst's tunic.

Dudley beat all records in slipping off his Sam Browne and discarding
the tunic, for by the time his companion had regained his feet the
garment lay on the floor.

"Stamp on it!" yelled the now thoroughly excited and exasperated
subaltern.

"It's my tunic, remember," protested Dudley firmly as he pushed his
brother-officer aside.

Just then the door opened, and Spofforth, another member of the "Lone
Star Crush" appeared, enquiring, "What's all the row about, you
fellows?  Scrapping?"

"Shut that door!" exclaimed Laxdale hurriedly.  "Either in or out, old
man."

The hunters suspended operations to wipe the streams of perspiration
from their faces and to explain matters.

"Ratting, eh?" queried Spofforth.  "You fellows look like a pair of
Little Willies looting a French chateau."

"Hullo!  More of 'em," murmured Laxdale as the door was unceremoniously
pushed open and another of the "One Pip" officers made his appearance.
"Look alive, Danvers, and don't stand there looking in the air.  Walk
in and take a pew, if you can find one."

"I've come to borrow a glass," remarked the latest arrival.  "Mine's
smashed and my batman hasn't unpacked my aluminium traps.  Judging by
appearances, by Jove!  I've drawn a blank.  What's up--a toppin' rag,
or have the water pipes burst?"

Wilmshurst and Laxdale sat on the upper bunk, Spofforth on the closed
lid of the wash-basin stand, and Danvers found a temporary
resting-place on the none too rigid top of a cabin trunk.  Each man
kept his feet carefully clear of the floor, while four pairs of eyes
were fixed upon Dudley's tunic, the folds of which were pulsating under
the violent lung-movements of the sheltering rodent.

"Why not shake the brute out?" suggested Danvers.

"You try it," suggested Laxdale, whose enthusiasm was decidedly on the
wane.  "Wilmshurst here has turned mouldy.  He refuses point blank to
let me use his raiment of neutral colour as a door-mat.  I might add
that if you've ever had the experience of a particularly active member
of the rodent family scampering down your back you wouldn't be quite so
keen."

"How about turning out the machine-gun section?" asked Spofforth.
"Look here, if you fellows want to be ready for tiffen you'd better get
a move on.  Suppose----"

"Still they come!" exclaimed Laxdale, as a knock sounded on the
jalousie of the cabin door.  "Come in."

It was Tari Barl in search of his master.

"Tarry Barrel, you old sinner," said Wilmshurst, "can you catch a rat?"

"Me lib for find Mutton Chop, sah," replied the Haussa saluting.  "Find
him one time and come quick."

Dudley looked enquiringly at his cabin-mate, knowing that Mutton Chop
was Laxdale's servant.

"Oh, so that rascal's the culprit," declared Laxdale.  "Didn't I say I
thought so?"

"Bring Mutton Chop here," ordered Wilmshurst, addressing the broadly
smiling Tari Barl.

The Haussa vanished, presently to reappear with almost an exact
counterpart of himself.  It would be a difficult matter for a stranger
to tell the difference between the two natives.

"What d'ye mean, you black scoundrel, by putting a rat into my traps?"
demanded Laxdale.

"No did put, sah; him lib for come one time," expostulated Laxdale's
servant.  "Me play, 'Come to cook-house door,' den him catchee."

Producing a small native flute Mutton Chop began to play a soft air.
For perhaps thirty seconds every one and everything else was still in
the desolated cabin; then slowly but without any signs of furtiveness
the rat pushed his head between the folds of Wilmshurst's tunic,
sniffed, and finally emerged, sat up on his hind legs, his long
whiskers quivering with evident delight.

Then, with a deft movement, Mutton Chop's fingers closed gently round
the little animal, and to the astonishment of the four officers the
Haussa placed the rodent in his breast pocket.

"Me hab mascot same as officers, sahs!" he explained.  "No put him
here, sah; me make tidy."

"And there's the officers' call!" exclaimed Dudley as a bugle rang out.
"Dash it all, how's a fellow to put on the thing?"

And he indicated the crumpled tunic.



CHAPTER III

THE RAIDER

Accompanied by five other transports and escorted by the light cruiser
_Tompion_, the _Zungeru_ ploughed her way at a modest fifteen knots
through the tropical waters of the Atlantic.  Although there was little
to fear from the attacks of U-boats, for up to the present these craft
had not appeared south of the Equator, mines had been laid by disguised
German ships right in the area where numerous trade routes converge in
the neighbourhood of the Cape of Good Hope, while there were rumours,
hitherto unconfirmed, that an armed raider was at large in the South
Atlantic.

Provided the convoy kept together there was little danger in daytime in
that direction, but the possibilities of the raider making a sudden
dash during the hours of darkness and using gun and torpedo with
disastrous results could not be overlooked.

The issue of lifebelts to the native troops puzzled them greatly.  They
could not understand the precaution, for they were ignorant of the
danger of making voyages in war-time.  Their faith in the "big canoes"
of King George was so firm that, sea-sickness notwithstanding, they had
no doubts or fears concerning their safe arrival in the land where
Briton, Boer, Indian and African were doing their level best to stamp
out the blight of German kultur.

At four bells (2 a.m.) on the fifth day of the voyage Wilmshurst was
roused from his sleep by a commotion on deck.  Men were running hither
and thither carrying out a series of orders shouted in stentorian
tones.  The _Zungeru_ was altering course without slackening speed,
listing noticeably to starboard as the helm was put hard over.

Almost at the same time Laxdale awoke.

"What's up?" he enquired drowsily.

"I don't know," replied his companion.  "I can hear Spofforth and
Danvers going on deck.  Let's see what's doing."

Acting upon this suggestion the two officers hastily donned their great
coats over their pyjamas, slipped their feet into their canvas slices
and went on deck.

It was a calm night.  The crescent moon was low down in the western
sky, but its brilliance was sufficient to enable objects to be seen
distinctly.  Silhouetted against the slanting beams was the escorting
cruiser, which was pelting along at full speed and overhauling the
_Zungeru_ hand over fist.  Although the cruiser and her convoy were
without steaming lights the former's yard-arm lamp was blinking out a
message in Morse.

The transports were in "double column line ahead," steaming due west
instead of following the course that would bring them within sight of
Table Bay.  Less than a cable's length on the starboard column's beam
was the cruiser.  She had already overtaken two of the transports, and
was now lapping the _Zungeru's_ quarter.

The object of this nocturnal display of activity was now apparent.
Less than a mile away was a large steamer, which had just steadied on
her helm and was now on a parallel course to that of the convoy.

"Anything startling?" enquired a major of one of the _Zungeru's_
officers who was passing.

"Oh, no," was the reply.  "A tramp was trying to cut across our bows.
The _Tompion_ has signalled to know what's her little game.  She's just
replied that she's the steamship _Ponto_, and wants to know whether
there have been any signs of a supposed raider."

The ship's officer continued on his way.  The two subalterns, in no
hurry to return to their bunks, for the night air was warm and
fragrant, remained on deck, watching the manoeuvres of the cruiser and
the _Ponto_.

The exchange of signals continued for about ten minutes, then the
_Tompion_ resumed her station at the head of the convoy, while the
_Ponto_ took up her position on the beam of the starboard line.
Presently in obedience to a signal the ships altered helm and settled
down on their former course, the large steamer following suit, although
dropping steadily astern, for her speed was considerably less than that
of the transports.

Presently the ship's officer returned.  As he passed Wilmshurst stopped
him, enquiring whether anything had developed.

"The _Ponto_ has cold feet," explained the _Zungeru's_ officer.  "Her
Old Man seems to be under the impression that there is a Hun scuttling
around, so he's signalled for permission to tail on to us.  The cruiser
offered no objection, provided the speed of the convoy is unaffected,
so by daylight the tramp will be hull-down, I expect."

"Much ado about nothing," remarked Laxdale.  "I say, old man, let's
turn in again.  What's the matter with you?"

He grasped Wilmshurst by the arm.  The subaltern, apparently heedless
of the touch, was gazing fixedly at the tramp.  The mercantile officer
and Laxdale both followed the direction of his look, the former giving
vent to a low whistle.

From above the gunwale of a boat stowed amidships on the _Ponto_ a
feeble light glimmered.

"Help--German raider," it signalled.

"You read it?" enquired the sailor hurriedly, as if to confirm the
evidence of his own eyes.

"Yes," replied Wilmshurst, and repeated the signal.

Without another word the _Zungeru's_ officer turned and raced to the
bridge.  In a few moments the signal was passed on to the _Tompion_ by
means of a flashlamp, the rays of which were invisible save from the
direction of the receiver.

"Very good," was the cruiser's reply.  "Carry on."

A little later the general order was flashed in to the convoy.
"Increase speed to seventeen knots."

The instructions were promptly carried out as far as the transports
were concerned, but from the _Ponto_ came a signal: "Am doing my
maximum speed.  Must drop astern if speed of convoy is not reduced."

"The blighter has got hold of the code all right," remarked Laxdale.
"We'll wait and see the fun.  Wonder why we are whacking up speed?"

"The cruiser wants to get the transports out of harm's way, I should
imagine," replied Wilmshurst.  "By Jove, it's rummy how news spreads.
The whole mess is coming on deck."

The arrival of the colonel and almost all the other officers in various
"fancy rig" proved the truth of Dudley's remark.  Armed with field
glasses, marine-glasses, and telescopes the officers gathered aft,
dividing their attention between the labouring _Ponto_ and the
greyhound _Tompion_.

In about an hour the tramp had dropped astern to the distance of a
little over five miles, but was still maintaining a course parallel to
that of the convoy, while the escorting cruiser was still zig-zagging
across the bows of the leading transports.

Presently the _Tompion_ turned sharply to starboard, steering westward
for quite two miles before she shaped a course exactly opposite to that
of the convoy, signalling the while to the _Ponto_, asking various,
almost commonplace questions regarding her speed and coal-consumption.

It was merely a ruse to lull suspicion.  With every gun manned and
torpedoes launched home the cruiser flung about until she was bows on
to the stern of the tramp.  Then came the decided mandate: "Heave-to
and send a boat."

Unable to bring more than three guns to bear astern the Hun raider--for
such the so-called _Ponto_ was--ported helm, her speed increasing
rapidly.  Almost at the same time a six-inch gun sent a shell
perilously close to the weather side of the cruiser's fore-bridge.

Before the raider could fire a second time three shells struck her
close to the stern-post, literally pulverising the whole of the poop.
The after six-inch gun, which had been concealed under a dummy
deck-house, was blown from its mountings, the heavy weapon crashing
through the shattered decks to the accompaniment of a shower of
splinters and a dense pall of flame-tinged smoke.

It was more than the Huns bargained for.  Knowing that the British
cruiser was already aware of the presence of a number of prisoners on
board the raider counted on the _Tompion_ withholding her fire.  The
_Ponto_ would then "crack on speed," for in spite of her alleged
maximum of eleven knots she was capable of working up to twenty-eight,
or a knot more than the speed of the cruiser under forced draught.
These hopes were nipped in the bud by the _Tompion_ blowing away the
_Ponto's_ stern and putting both propellers out of action.

Of subsequent events immediately following the brief action Wilmshurst
and his brother officers saw little.  Their whole attention was
directed towards their men, for the Haussas, on hearing the gun-fire,
impetuously made a rush on deck--not by reason of panic but out of the
deep curiosity that is ever to the fore in the minds of West African
natives to a far greater extent than in the case of Europeans.

Next morning the _Ponto_ was nowhere to be seen.  She had foundered
within two hours of the engagement, while two hundred of her officers
and crew were prisoners of war on board the _Tompion_, and a hundred
and twenty British subjects, mostly the crews of vessels taken and sunk
by the raider, found themselves once more under the banner of
liberty--the White Ensign.

During the course of the day Wilmshurst heard the salient facts in
connection with the raider's career.  She was the Hamburg-Amerika
intermediate liner _Porfurst_, who, after being armed and camouflaged,
had contrived to escape the cordon of patrol-boats in the North
Atlantic.  For three months she had followed her piratical occupation,
re-provisioning and re-coaling from the vessels she captured.  Whenever
her prisoners grew in number sufficiently to cause inconvenience the
_Porfurst_ spared one of her prizes for the purpose of landing the
captives in some remote port.

It was by a pure fluke that the raider ran almost blindly under the
guns of the _Tompion_.  Under the impression that the convoy consisted
of unescorted merchantmen the _Porfurst_ steamed athwart their track,
and slowing down to eleven or twelve knots, awaited the arrival of a
likely prey.

Finding too late that the convoy was not so impotent as at first
appearance the kapitan of the _Porfurst_ attempted a daring ruse.  Upon
being challenged by the cruiser he gave the vessel's name as _Ponto_,
the real craft having been sunk by the raider only two days previously.
The Hun stood a chance of dropping astern and slipping away but for the
furtive and timely warning signalled by a young apprentice, who,
contriving to creep unobserved into one of the boats, made good use of
a small electric torch which he had managed to retain.

Enquiries of the released prisoners resulted in the information that
they had been treated by their captors in a far better manner than the
Huns generally deal with those unfortunate individuals who fall into
their hands.  The kapitan of the _Porfurst_ was no exception to the
usual run of Germans.  It was the possibility of capture--which had
developed into a certainty--that had influenced him in his treatment of
the crews of the sunk ships.  Only the fear of just reprisals kept him
within the bounds of civilized warfare, and having behaved in an
ostentatiously proper manner towards the prisoners he received in
return honourable treatment on board the _Tompion_.

When the convoy was within two days' sail of Table Bay another convoy
was sighted steering north, while wireless orders were received for the
_Tompion_ to escort the homeward bound ships and let the transports
"carry on" under the protection of two destroyers sent from Simon's
Town.

Upon receipt of these orders the captain of the cruiser signalled the
_Zungeru_, asking her to receive on board the released crews of the
sunk ships and to land them at Table Bay.  Although wondering why the
men should be set ashore at the Cape instead of being taken back to
England the master of the transport offered no objection, and
preparations were made to tranship the ex-prisoners.

Knowing several officers of the mercantile marine, Wilmshurst strolled
into the _Zungeru's_ ship's office and asked the purser's clerk to let
him have a look at the list of supernumeraries.  There was a chance
that some of his acquaintances might be amongst the released prisoners
now on board the transport.

As far as the officers' names were concerned Dudley "drew blank."  He
was on the point of handing the type-written list back to the purser's
clerk when he noticed a few names written in red ink--three civilians
who had been taking passages in ships that had fallen victims to the
raider _Porfurst_.

"MacGregor--Robert; of Umfuli, Rhodesia--that's remarkable," thought
Wilmshurst.  "That's the name of Rupert's chum.  Wonder if it's the
same man?  There may be dozens of MacGregors in Rhodesia; I'll see if I
can get in touch with this MacGregor."

That same afternoon the Rhodesian was pointed out to Dudley by the
third mate as he strolled into the smoking-room.

Robert MacGregor was a man of about thirty-eight or forty, tall,
raw-boned and with curling hair that had a decided auburn hue.  In the
absence of any description of Rupert's chum, Dudley had no idea of what
he was like, and until he approached this MacGregor his curiosity was
not likely to be satisfied.

"Excuse me," began Wilmshurst.  "I believe your name is Robert
MacGregor?"

The Rhodesian, without showing any surprise at the subaltern's
question, merely nodded.  A man who has lived practically alone for
years in the wilds is not usually ready with his tongue.

"Did you ever run across a man called Wilmshurst--Rupert Wilmshurst?"
continued Dudley.  "He's my brother, you know," he added by way of
explanation.

"Yes," replied MacGregor slowly.  "He was a chum of mine."



CHAPTER IV

SPOFFORTH, MACGREGOR, AND THE LIONESS

Robert MacGregor pulled a pipe from his pocket and leisurely filled it
with Boer tobacco.  His slow, deliberate way contrasted forcibly with
Wilmshurst's quick, incisive manner; his slow dialect would have
irritated the subaltern beyond measure but for the fact that he guessed
the Rhodesian to be of Scots descent.

Dudley noticed particularly that MacGregor had referred to his brother
in the past tense.  It sounded ominous.

"Was a chum?" he repeated with an accent on the first word.

"In a sense, yes," replied MacGregor.  "We went for a couple of trips
into German East.  The last time was just before the war.  You know why
we went?"

"It was in connection with a hidden store of ammunition, I believe,"
replied Wilmshurst.

The Rhodesian nodded slowly, puffing steadily at his pipe.

"Rupert found a mare's nest, I fancy," he continued.  "At any rate,
before we made any really important discoveries I had to go back to
Jo'burg.  Had no option, so to speak.  Then, in connection with the
same business, I penetrated into German South-West Africa.  I was in
Bersheba for nearly a fortnight before I heard that war had broken out,
and the first intimation I had was being put under arrest and sent up
country to Windhoek.

"When Botha overrun the colony I was released and offered a sound job
at Walfisch Bay--fairly important Government appointment in connection
with the distilling plant.  That completed I thought I'd trek back to
Rhodesia and do a bit in German East.  Thinking I would do the trip
round quicker by sea I took passage on the _Ibex_, a tramp of about two
thousand tons, and within twelve hours of leaving Walfisch Bay the boat
was captured by the _Porfurst_."

"I hope I'm not tiring you with too many questions," said Wilmshurst
after he had made several enquiries respecting his brother.  The
answers received were far from satisfactory, for MacGregor seemed to
make a point of "switching off" the subject of Rupert Wilmshurst and
dwelling at length on his own adventures.

"Not at all," replied the Rhodesian.  "As regards your brother you may
get in touch with him, but German East is a whacking big country.  Are
you part of a brigade?" he asked.

"We're just the 'Waffs,'" replied Dudley.  "The West African Field
Force, you know.  As regards numbers or our scene of action I haven't
the remotest idea at present.  I don't believe that even the colonel
knows."

"At any rate," continued MacGregor, "I think I'll see your colonel and
get him to let me proceed in the _Zungeru_.  It doesn't very much
matter whether I join the Rhodesian contingent, although I'd prefer to,
or get attached to one of the Boer detachments, or even your crush, if
they'd have me.  I don't want to brag, Mr. Wilmshurst, but I'd be
mighty useful, knowing the country as I do."

MacGregor's application met with favourable consideration, although he
did not tell Wilmshurst the result of the interview with the colonel
until the transports dropped anchor in Table Bay and the rest of the
released men went ashore.

Bad weather off Cape Agulhas made the rounding of the southernmost part
of Africa a disagreeable business, but in ideal climatic conditions the
convoy, with two destroyers still on escort duties, approached Cape
Delgado, beyond which the territory of German East commences.

The short tropical dusk was deepening into night when two tramp
steamers were sighted, bearing N.N.E.  In obedience to a signal from
one of the destroyers they revealed themselves as two Dutch trading
ships bound from Batavia to Rotterdam, but driven out of their course
by a succession of gales at the commencement of the south-west monsoon.

Commanded to heave-to both vessels were boarded by examination officers
from the destroyer, but their papers being quite in order and nothing
of a suspicious nature discovered amongst the cargo they were allowed
to proceed.

At daybreak the convoy learnt that both vessels had been shelled and
destroyed by a British cruiser, but not in time to prevent them landing
two batteries of 4.1 inch Krupp field-guns at the mouth of the Mohoro
river.

"Rough luck those vessels slipping through the blockade like that,"
commented Spofforth.  "Those guns are as good as a couple of battalions
of Askaris to the Huns."

"Never mind," rejoined Danvers.  "It'll put a bit of heart into Fritz
and make him buck up.  That'll give us a chance of smelling powder."

"Perhaps," said Wilmshurst.  "I heard the major say that field
artillery was more of a drag than a benefit to the Boers in the South
African War.  It destroyed their mobility to a great extent, and not
until we had captured most of the guns did the Boer start proper
guerilla tactics--and you know how long that lasted."

"Hanged if I want to go foot-slogging the whole length and breadth of
German East," commented Danvers.  "I'd rather tackle a dozen batteries
than tramp for a twelve-month on end.  So this is that delightful spot,
Kilwa?"

He pointed to a long, low-lying expanse of land, covered with trees.
Away to the northward the ground rose, forming a plateau of coral
nearly fifty feet above the sea, and on which many huge baobab trees
were growing.  The shores surrounding the harbour were low and covered
with mangroves, but in and out could be discerned several lofty hills.
Here and there could be seen isolated native huts, while at the head of
the harbour clustered the thatch and tin-roofed houses of the German
settlement, which had for several months been in British occupation.

With their systematic thoroughness the Huns had vastly improved the
health of the hitherto miasmic-infested port, following the principles
adopted by the Americans during the construction of the Panama Canal.
Consequently much of the terrors of the fever-stricken port of Kilwa in
by-gone days had disappeared, and with the continuance of ordinary
precautions the place offered a suitable base for the columns about to
operate between the Mohoro and Rovuma rivers.

Without undue delay the Waffs were disembarked and sent under canvas on
fairly high ground at some distance from the harbour.  For the next
week intense activity prevailed, the men being strenuously subjected to
the acclimatising process, while the horses and mules had to be
carefully watched lest the deadly sleeping-sickness should make its
appearance at the commencement of the operations and thus place the
troops under severe disadvantages.

The officers, too, were not spared.  Drills and parades over they had
to attend lectures, tactical problems having to be worked out by the
aid of military maps.

These maps, based upon German surveys, were the most accurate
obtainable, but even then they left much to be desired.  Subsequent
knowledge of the country showed that frequently roads and native paths
were indicated that had no actual existence, while on the other hand
passable tracks were discovered that were not shown on the maps.  More
than likely the wily Huns allowed what were presumed to be official
maps to fall into the hands of the British, having taken particular
care to make them misleading.  It was but one of many examples of the
way in which Germany prepared for war not only in Europe but in her
territorial appendages beyond the sea.

MacGregor landed with the troops and was given a semi-official position
as scout and attached to the same battalion to which Wilmshurst
belonged.  Gradually his taciturnity diminished, until he developed
into a fairly communicative individual and was generally popular with
the Mess.

During the stay in camp at Kilwa Wilmshurst, Danvers, Spofforth and
Laxdale snatched the opportunity of going on a lion-hunting expedition,
MacGregor on their invitation accompanying them.

Taking .303 Service rifles, for which a supply of notched bullets was
provided (for game shooting purposes only these terribly destructive
missiles are allowable), and with Sergt. Bela Moshi and half a dozen
Haussas as attendants the five men left Kilwa camp at about two hours
before sunset.

An hour and ten minutes' ride brought them to a native village where
several lions had been terrorising the inhabitants by their nocturnal
depredations.  Here the horses were left under the charge of one of the
Haussas, and the party set out on foot into the bush.

"Think we'll have any luck, MacGregor?" asked Laxdale.  "Hanged if I
want to spend all night lugging a rifle about without the chance of a
shot."

The Rhodesian smiled dourly.  He knew the supreme optimism of amateur
huntsmen and the general disinclination of the King of Beasts to be
holed by a bullet.

"Unless a lion is ravenously hungry he will not put in an appearance,"
he replied.  "Of course we might strike his spoor and follow him up.
We'll see what luck we get when the moon rises."

For some distance the party travelled in silence.  With the darkness a
halt was called, for until the bush was flooded with the strong
moonlight further progress was almost impossible.

Away on the right, at not so very great a distance, came the bleat of a
goat, while further away still could be heard the awe-inspiring roar of
the lions after their prey.

"Hanged if I like the idea of those huge brutes leaping right upon us,"
whispered Spofforth.  "I, being the tallest of the crush, will be sure
to bear the brunt of his leap."

Spofforth was the giant of the battalion, standing six feet four inches
in his socks, and proportionately broad of shoulder and massive of
limb.  At the last regimental sports he carried off the running,
long-jump and hurdle events, while as a boxer and a wrestler he was a
match for most men, yet he expressed his fears with all sincerity,
inwardly wishing for the rising of the moon.

The Haussas, too, were far from comfortable.  Had they their wish they
would have lighted a roaring fire, one of the most effective though not
infallible means of keeping wild animals at bay.

The fifty minutes' halt in the desolate bush terminated when the deep
orange-hued orb of night rose above the distant sea.  As the shadows
shortened the trek was resumed, each man keeping his loaded rifle ready
for instant use.

Before they had gone two hundred yards, following a native path on
which the spoor of a couple of lions was distinctly visible, Laxdale
suddenly disappeared, while Wilmshurst, who was walking hard on his
heels, was only just able to save himself from following his example.

Followed a great commotion in which the luckless subaltern's shouts
mingled with the terrified bleating of a goat.

"Help us out, you fellows," cried Laxdale in desperation.  "I've a
whole menagerie for company by the feel of it."

"You'll scare every lion within five miles of us, laddie," expostulated
MacGregor, kneeling at the edge of the pitfall and peering into the
darkness within.

With the assistance of his electric torch Wilmshurst made the discovery
that the trap was a hole of about twelve feet in depth and about the
same distance in length.  In breadth it overlapped the path, its
presence being skilfully concealed by branches of trees overlaid with
broad leaves on which earth had been thrown and lightly pressed so as
to give it the appearance of part of the beaten track.  In the floor of
the pit pointed stakes had been driven, but fortunately Laxdale had
fallen between them and thus escaped being impaled.  His sole companion
was a goat that, left without food and water, was to act as a decoy to
the lions.  Evidently the pitfall had been recently dug, otherwise the
spoor of the beasts would not be visible on both sides of it.

"Dash the villagers!" exclaimed Spofforth impetuously.  "Why the deuce
didn't the headsman give us warning of the beastly trap?  Here, Beta
Moshi, cut a couple of young trees and knock up a ladder.  Cheer-o,
Laxdale, dear boy.  Just try and imagine you've found the better 'ole."

"Imagination goes a long way," retaliated the imprisoned sub., "but you
just jump down and put your suggestion to the practical test.  I
believe I'm being chawn up by white ants, and I'm certain that the
jiggers are already tackling my toes."

Promptly Bela Moshi set the Haussas to work, and a rough-and-ready
ladder having been constructed, Laxdale, little the worse for his
unexpected tumble, was released from the pitfall.

The journey was resumed.  Contrary to MacGregor's assertion the lions
had not been frightened away, for their deep, characteristic roar could
be heard with greater distinctness than before, although they were a
good distance away.

MacGregor looked like proving a true prophet, however, for after
following a fresh spoor for miles the hunters drew blank.  At the edge
of a pool of stagnant water the tracks ended abruptly.

"I don't fancy that water-hole," said Wilmshurst.  "It savours of
mosquitoes and other pests.  How goes the time?"

Danvers consulted his wristlet watch.

"Nearly four o'clock," he announced.  "If we are to be in camp by eight
we'll have to look slippy."

A rustling sound in the grass within a few yards of the spot where the
hunters were standing attracted their attention.  With rifles ready to
open fire they waited.  They could see the coarse tufts waving in the
moonlight.

"Stand by!" exclaimed Wilmshurst, handing his rifle to Bela Moshi, and
before his companions could grasp the situation the subaltern plunged
into the grass, made a sudden dash, and was back with a healthy young
lion cub in his arms.

"We've bagged something, at all events," he remarked triumphantly.
"The little beggar got adrift, I suppose."

"What are you going to do with it, old man?" asked Spofforth
facetiously.  "Use it as a decoy or train it to guard your kit in camp?"

"Just as likely as not the cub will act as a decoy," said Laxdale.
"Let the little brute yap a bit."

"He's yapping quite enough as it is," rejoined Wilmshurst.  "Hanged if
we can hear anything with that noise.  I hope you fellows are keeping
on the alert?"

"MacGregor's doing that," replied Danvers, indicating the silent form
of the Rhodesian, as he stood motionless as a statue, with his rifle
ready for instant use.

"Hear anything, MacGregor?" enquired Spofforth.

The man shook his head.

"Thought I did," he replied, "but I must have been mistaken."

Giving the cub into the care of Bela Moshi, Wilmshurst followed his
companions as they tramped in single file along the narrow bush track,
the Haussas tailing on to the end of the procession.

The edge of the bush was almost reached when Laxdale, with a splendid
shot at a hundred and twenty yards, brought down a large panther.  A
halt was made while the blacks skinned the dead beast, for in
practically waterless districts panther-skin is a valuable aid to the
efficiency of a Maxim gun.  Soaked in water, wrapped round the jacket
of the weapon, the evaporation keeps the gun cooler for a longer time
than if the water within the jacket alone were used.

Upon coming within sight of the camp the white men were able to walk
side by side in comparatively open country.

MacGregor, Laxdale, and Danvers were on ahead, Spofforth and Wilmshurst
about fifty paces behind, Bela Moshi with the cub was close on Dudley's
heels, while the Haussas with the dead panther were some distance in
the rear, the blacks carrying the officers' rifles since the hunters
were clear of the bush.

"I'll take the cub," said Wilmshurst, noticing that the native sergeant
was stumbling frequently as he carefully nursed the somewhat fretful
animal.

"Berry good, sah," replied Bela Moshi, handing the cub to the
subaltern.  "I tink, sah, dat----"

A chorus of yells and warning shouts from the Haussas made the officers
turn pretty sharply.  What they saw was something that they had badly
wanted to see but at the present moment had not the faintest desire to
meet.

Leaping with prodigious bounds across the flat ground was an enormous
lioness.  The devoted beast had followed her cub for miles, her
instinct telling her that when the men halted her opportunity would
come to recover the little animal.  A lioness bereft of her cubs has
been known to follow hunters for days in order either to recover or
revenge her offspring.  The sight of the large camp, however, must have
incited the gigantic feline to premature action.

Of the five white men only MacGregor retained his rifle.  Laxdale and
Danvers took to their heels, making for a large baobab that stood about
fifty yards away.  Strange to relate, MacGregor followed suit,
thrusting a clip of cartridges into the magazine of his rifle as he
ran.  Wilmshurst, hampered by the cub, stood stock still, fascinated by
the awesome sight of the approaching lioness.

Ten yards in front of Wilmshurst stood Spofforth, swaying gently on his
toes, his bulky figure thrown slightly forward and his arms
outstretched.

"Run for it!" he exclaimed in a high-pitched, unnatural voice, but
without turning his head.

Wilmshurst disobeyed--for one thing he was unable to tear himself away;
his feet seemed rooted to the ground.  For another, a sense of
camaraderie urged him to remain an impassive spectator of the impending
struggle between an unarmed man, who had voluntarily interposed his big
bulk between the hampered subaltern and the infuriated animal.

The lioness, roaring loudly, leapt.  Spofforth closed just as her
forepaws touched the ground, and the next instant man and beast were
engaged in a terrible struggle.

The powerful officer clutched the lioness just below the jaws with both
hands, holding her in a vice-like grip.  With his feet dug firmly, into
the ground he held, swaying to and fro but not giving an inch while the
cruel talons of the ferocious beast were lacerating his arms from
shoulder to wrist.

Exerting every ounce of strength Spofforth bore down, striving to
fracture the terrible jaws.  Once the lioness succeeded in dealing him
a blow with her paw that, but for the protection afforded by his double
pith helmet would have brained the man.  For a few seconds Spofforth
reeled, his head-gear fell to the ground, leaving his skull unprotected
should the lioness repeat the terrifically powerful stroke; yet not for
a moment did his grip release.

Through an eddying cloud of dust raised by the struggle Wilmshurst
watched the unequal conflict, until his will-power overcoming the
initial stages of hypnotic impotence, he threw the cub to the ground
and drew his knife.

With a sensation akin to that of a mild-tempered individual who essays
with his bare hands to separate two large and ferocious dogs engaged in
combat Wilmshurst edged towards the flank of the lioness with the
intention of hamstringing the tensioned sinews of her hind legs.

Before he could deliver the stroke Bela Moshi grasped his officer by
the shoulders and unceremoniously jerked him aside; then lifting a
rifle to his shoulders the Haussa sergeant pressed the trigger.

Down in a convulsive heap fell Spofforth and the lioness, the brute
frantically pawing both her antagonist and the dust in her death
agonies.  Then with a sharp shudder the animal stretched herself and
died, while the subaltern, utterly exhausted, lay inertly upon the
ground, his rent sleeve stained with still spreading dark patches.

By that time Laxdale and Danvers were upon the scene.  Temporary
bandages were applied to Spofforth's ugly-looking wounds, while the
greatly concerned Haussas improvised a litter made of rifles and coats.
Upon this the badly-mauled subaltern was placed and the journey resumed
towards the camp, the dead lioness and her very much alive cub being
carried in as trophies of the night's work.

"Where's MacGregor?" asked Wilmshurst.

Laxdale and Danvers exchanged enquiring glances.

"Hanged if I know," said the former.  "The last I saw of him was when
he was making for the baobab.  We were a set of blighters scooting off
and leaving old Spofforth to act like a modern Horatius."

All three subalterns knew that the Rhodesian was the only man on the
spot who had a rifle ready, yet generously they forbore to give
expression to their thoughts.

"See if you can find Mr. MacGregor," ordered Wilmshurst, addressing
Bela Moshi.

"Me go, sah," replied the sergeant, and promptly he set off towards the
baobab, keeping his eyes fixed upon the ground.

Arriving at the tree Bela Moshi rested his rifle against the trunk and
with the agility of a cat swarmed up to one of the lowermost branches.
Both Laxdale and Danvers could see that it was a different part of the
tree from that in which they had taken refuge.

Crouching on the enormous limb Bela Moshi remained motionless for a few
moments--a patch of huddled black and khaki hardly distinguishable from
the sun-baked bark.  Then he dropped lightly to the ground and by a
movement of his arms signalled to some of the Haussas to approach.

"By Jove, Bela Moshi's found him!" exclaimed Danvers, and the three
subalterns hurried to the spot.

It was MacGregor they saw, lying face downwards on a bed of dried
grass.  The Rhodesian was unconscious, but on examination no trace of
an injury could be found.  In his panic he had succeeded in climbing
the tree as far as the lowermost branch and had been seized with a
sudden faintness.

While the three officers were bending over him MacGregor opened his
eyes.  Gradually their haunted expression gave place to a look of
bewilderment, until he realised that he was surrounded by friends.

"By smoke!" he ejaculated.  "I had cold feet with a vengeance--and
before a lot of niggers, too."

"So did we--that is, Danvers and I were in a mortal hurry to get out of
the way of the lioness," rejoined Laxdale.  "Good old Spofforth bore
the brunt of it, and he's badly mauled."

"Is that so?" asked MacGregor.  "I am sorry.  It's a bad beginning,
this running away business.  I only hope the colonel and the others
won't take it badly."

"Don't worry, old chap," said Danvers.  "Feeling fit to foot it?  Good.
We've got to get Spofforth back as quickly as possible."

Walking with difficulty MacGregor managed to keep pace with the three
officers, and presently the rough-and-ready stretcher was overtaken.
Upon arriving at the camp the medical staff were soon busy, with the
result that the wounds of the injured hunter were properly dressed.

"Not so serious as at first sight," declared the senior medical
officer.  "Unless complications set in he'll be fit in a month, but
he'll carry the scars all his life."



CHAPTER V

HOW THE KOPJE WAS STORMED

A few days later the battalion left Kilwa for the scene of action, a
strong force of Germans being located by seaplane reconnaissance twenty
miles north of the Rovuma River and nearly four times that distance
from the coast.

Acting in conjunction with three battalions of the Waffs were a mounted
Boer contingent and a Punjabi regiment that had already done good
service in the northern part of the hostile colony, while three
seaplanes were "attached" to the expedition for reconnoitring purposes.

In high spirits the Waffs marched out of camp, eager for the chance of
a scrap.  The only malcontents were half-a-dozen hospital cases who
perforce had to be left behind; amongst them, to his great disgust,
Second Lieutenant Spofforth, who though convalescent was unable to
bluff the doctor that his arm was "quite all right--doesn't
inconvenience me in the least, don't you know."

At the end of four days' hard marching through scrubby grounds the
troops began to climb the almost trackless hinterland, where water was
scarce and vegetation scanty.  It was much of the same nature as the
veldt in the dry season, kopjes being plentifully in evidence.  There
were unpleasant traces of Fritz and his native auxiliaries, for several
of the springs had been systematically poisoned and
cunningly-constructed booby-traps were frequently encountered.

Nevertheless all arms were sanguine of bringing the Huns to bay.
Strong Belgian forces operating from the westward were driving the
enemy towards the advancing British, while across the Rovuma Portuguese
troops, well supplied with light field-artillery, were considered a bar
to any attempted "break-through" on the southern frontier.

Towards evening scouts reported the "spoor" of the enemy, for the
ground bore the impression of thousands of naked footprints and those
of about a hundred booted men.  A strong force of German Askaris,
supported by a "white" body of troops with machine guns and mule
batteries, were retiring in a north-westerly direction, while a small
detachment had broken off and was making almost north-east.

It was against the latter party that the Nth Waffs were to operate,
since it was recognised that a small, mobile, and determined body of
the enemy would give almost if not quite as much trouble as a large and
consequently more cumbersome force hampered with guns in a difficult
country.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Wilmshurst, as a couple of Haussa scouts hurriedly
and stealthily rejoined the advance guard.  "Tarry Barrel and Spot Cash
have tumbled upon something."

"Hun he lib for stop, sah," reported Tari Barl.

"Stopping to make fight?" asked the subaltern eagerly.

The Haussa shook his head, and moved his jaw after the manner of a
person eating.

"Lib for stop for grub," he exclaimed.  "After that on him go."

"How far?" demanded Wilmshurst.

Tari Barl indicated that the scouts had followed two distinct spoors
for more than a couple of miles without actually sighting any of the
retiring enemy.

Acting upon this information the advance guard marched into the ground
on which the Huns had recently halted.  Examination of the refuse and
other traces revealed the fact that the enemy had been there but a few
hours previously, for the ashes of the extinguished fires were still
hot.  That the march had been resumed in a leisurely manner, showing
that as yet the hostile detachment was unaware of the close pursuit,
was evident by the systematic way in which the fires had been put out
and earth thrown lightly over the embers.

"We'll halt just beyond this spot," decided the company major, when the
rest of the four platoons joined the advance guard.  "Hanged if I fancy
bivouacking on the site of a Boche camp.  What do you think of the
fresh spoors, MacGregor?"

"That's the principal line of retreat, I think," replied the Rhodesian.
"They can't go very much farther, for it will be pitch black in twenty
minutes."'

"Just so," agreed the major.  "Set the men to work, Mr. Wilmshurst.
Mr. Laxdale, you will please send a runner to the colonel and tell him
that we've proposed bivouacking here till dawn."

Until it was quite dark the Haussas toiled, building sangars and
constructing light connecting trenches with abattis of sharp thorns
sufficient to deter and hold up a rush of bare-footed Askaris, since
there was no knowing that after all the enemy had been informed of the
presence of the pursuing column.

In silence the men ate their rations, no fires being allowed, and
sentries to outlying piquets having been posted, the troops slept
beside their piled arms.

"What do you think of our chance of overtaking the bounders?" enquired
Wilmshurst of MacGregor, as the former prepared to visit the sentries.

"We ought to surprise them just after dawn," replied the Rhodesian.
"I'm just off to see the major and get his permission to try and
discover their position."

"But it's pitch dark," remarked Dudley.  "You couldn't see your hand in
front of your face.  Man, you'd be bushed for a dead cert."

"I don't know so much about that," replied MacGregor confidently.  "The
fellows up at Umfuli often used to chaff me, saying that I had eyes
like a cat.  Believe I have.  At any rate I'll risk it, and if I'm not
back an hour before dawn my name's not MacGregor."

"Let me know if the major agrees," said Wilmshurst.  "I don't want my
sentries to take pot shots at you when you return--and they are all
jolly good marksmen," he added in a tone of pride, for he had good
reason to pin his faith upon the Haussas' accuracy with a rifle.

It was not long before MacGregor returned.

"Fixed it up all right," he announced, "and now I'm off.  If, just
before dawn, you hear the cry of a gnu you'll know it's this johnny
returning, so please keep the sentries well in hand."

The subaltern accompanied the Rhodesian past the alert sentries; then,
with Wilmshurst's good wishes for the best of luck, MacGregor vanished
into the night.  In vain the young officer strained his ears to catch
the faint noise of the Rhodesian's footsteps or the crackle of a dry
twig under the pressure of his boot, but not a sound did the scout give
of his progress.

"Hanged if I'd like to take on his job," soliloquised Dudley, as he
slowly felt his way to the next pair of sentries.  "I'd have a shot at
it if I were told off for it, of course, but this darkness seems to
have weight--to press upon a fellow's eyes.  S'pose it'll end in having
to send out parties to bring the fellow in."

Truth to tell, Wilmshurst was not particularly keen on his brother's
chum.  Why, he could hardly explain.  It might have had something to do
with MacGregor's conduct when the lioness charged.  But since then the
Rhodesian had shown considerable pluck and grit, and his voluntary
offer to plunge into the bush on a pitch dark night was a great factor
in his favour, in Dudley's opinion.

The subaltern's soliloquy was cut short by the dull glint of steel
within a few inches of his chest--even in the darkness all bayonets
seem to possess self-contained luminosity--and a voice hissed, "Who
come?"

Reassuring the sentries--there were two at each post--Wilmshurst
received the report that everything was all correct.

"Macgreg, him go," declared one of the Haussas, Macgreg being the name
by which the Rhodesian was known to the black troops.

Wilmshurst was astonished.  He had heard nothing of the scout's
movements, yet the sentry, fifty yards away, had declared quite blandly
that MacGregor had passed the outlying post.

"How do you know that, Brass Pot?" asked the subaltern.

The Haussa chuckled audibly, and holding his rifle obliquely with the
bayonet thrust into the ground, placed his ear to the butt.

"Macgreg him go and go," he answered, meaning that the Rhodesian was
still on the move.

In vain Wilmshurst tested the sound-conducting properties of the rifle.
Normally of good hearing he failed to detect what to Private Brass Pot
was an accepted and irrefutable fact.

"Very good," said the subaltern, without admitting his failure.  "If
you hear foot of Macgreg come this way before sergeant come for reliefs
then you send and tell me.  Savvy?"

"Berry good, sah," replied the Haussa.

Having twice visited the sentries Wilmshurst returned to the bivouac to
snatch a few hours' sleep.  It seemed as if he had only just dozed off
when he was awakened by Sergeant Beta Moshi, who informed him that the
men were already standing to and that the brief tropical dawn was
stealing across the sky.

"Has Macgreg returned, Bela Moshi?" asked Wilmshurst, stretching his
cramped limbs, for he had not removed his boots during the last
forty-eight hours, and with the exception of a brief interval had been
on his feet practically the whole of that time.

"MacGregor?" exclaimed Laxdale, who happened to overhear his
brother-officer's question.  "Yes--rather.  It seems that he struck our
main camp about an hour or so ago.  The colonel's sent to say that we
are to attempt an enveloping movement.  The Boches are in force on a
kopje about five miles on our light front--about eight hundred of 'em
according to MacGregor's report."

"That's good," declared Wilmshurst.  All the same he felt rather
sceptical.  The spoor of the right-hand column of the retiring Huns
hardly bore out the Rhodesian's statement, but evidently the scout knew
his business.

"Is MacGregor accompanying us?" he asked, as the three subalterns
prepared to rejoin their respective platoons.

"Fancy not," replied Danvers.  "He's pretty well done up, I imagine.
The scrub's a bit thick out there, and a fellow can't crawl far without
picking up a few thorns.  Plucky blighter, what?"

"A" Company was to work round to the right of the hostile position, "B"
operating to the left, both having two hours' start of the remainder of
the battalion, which was to deliver a frontal attack simultaneously
with the flanking movement.

With the night-mists still hanging in dense patches over the scrub
tactics were resumed.  Wilmshurst had good reason to be delighted with
his men as the scouts and advance guards slipped off to their detailed
positions.  At a hundred yards they were lost to sight and sound,
threading their way with the utmost caution through the long grass like
experienced hunters stalking their prey, while the various units kept
well in touch with each other by means of reliable runners.  Other
methods of communication were out of the question.  Flag-waving and
heliograph would have "given the show away" with the utmost certainty.

All feelings of physical tiredness vanishing under the magic spell of
impending action, Wilmshurst led his extended platoon toward their
allotted positions.  It was slow work.  The ground was difficult; every
spot likely to afford concealment to a hostile sniper had to be
carefully examined.  The absence of bird life was ominous.  It meant
that either the returning Huns had disturbed the feathered denizens or
else the advance of the Haussas had driven them over the enemy
position, in which case the wily Hun would "smell a rat."

It was noon before Wilmshurst gained his preliminary objective.  The
tropical sun was beating down with terrific violence, the scrub
offering scant shelter from its scorching rays.  Already the
previously-dew-sodden ground was baked stone-hard, the radiating heat
imparting an appearance of motion to every object within sight.

Literally stewing, the subaltern threw himself flat on the ground under
the slight shadow of a dried thorn bush, and waited, at intervals
sweeping the bare outlines of the kopje with his prismatic glasses.

Thirty long drawn-out minutes passed.  According to plan the enveloping
movement ought to have been completed an hour ago, but not a sign was
given that "B" Company had arrived at their position--a sun-baked donga
at a distance of fifteen hundred yards behind the kopje.

Up crept Bela Moshi, his ebony features distended in a most cheerful
looking grin.

"Hun him lib for sit down, sah!" he reported.  "Five Bosh-bosh (his
rendering of the word Boche) an' heap Askari--say so many."

He opened and closed his fingers of both hands four times, meaning that
the hostile post consisted of five Germans and forty native troops.

"They saw you?" asked the subaltern.

"Dem no look," replied the sergeant.  "Too much busy make eat."

"How far away?"

"One tousand yards, sah," declared Bela Moshi.

Writing his report on a leaf of his pocketbook Wilmshurst gave the
paper to Tari Barl with instructions to deliver it to the company
commander.

Quickly the major's reply was received.  The hostile post was to be
surrounded, but no action taken until the order was given for the
concentrated rush upon the Huns holding the kopje.

As rapidly as due caution allowed the enveloping of the outpost was
completed.  From his new position, less than four hundred yards from
the spot where the unsuspecting Huns were bivouacking, Wilmshurst could
keep them under close observation.

Three of the Germans were middle-aged men, bearded, swarthy, and
dressed in coffee-coloured cotton uniform, sun helmets and gum boots.
The other two were quite young men, whose attention, despite the heat,
was mainly directed towards the Askaris.  Evidently some of the stores
had gone adrift, for the young Huns were browbeating a number of
natives, punctuating their forcible remarks by liberal applications of
their schamboks, while their elders looked on in stolid but unqualified
approval.

"Dem make for one-time good shot, sah!" whispered Bela Moshi, calmly
setting the backsight of his rifle.  "Blow Bosh-bosh him head-bone
inside out an' him not know anyting."

"Go steady, Bela Moshi," cautioned the subaltern.  "Pass the word for
the men to fire one volley over their heads--but not before I give
orders--and then rush them with the bayonet.  We want them alive,
remember."

A whistle rang out faintly away on the left.  The call was repeated
much nearer, while distinct blasts rose through the heated air.  It was
the signal for the advance.

Almost as soon as Wilmshurst put his whistle to his lips a crisp volley
from the rifles of his platoon rent the welkin, then with fierce shouts
the khaki-clad, barefooted Waffs leapt to their feet, their bayonets
glittering in the sun.

At first, too utterly astonished to realise that they were hopelessly
trapped and outnumbered, the Huns stood stock still, gazing stupidly at
the converging ring of steel.  The Askaris for the most part attempted
to bolt, but finding their retreat cut off, grovelled in the dust.

"Hands up!" shouted Wilmshurst.

The three bearded Huns obeyed promptly and meekly.  Of the others one
held up his arms with sullen reluctance, his flabby face distorted with
rage.  The fifth, dropping on one knee, picked up a rifle and levelled
it at the on-rushing British officer.

"The fellow's showing pluck, by Jove!" was the thought that flashed
through Dudley's mind.  Like all brave men he admired courage even in a
foe.  The fact that running over rough ground and firing a revolver at
fifty yards did not give him much chance against a steadily held rifle
entered into his calculations.

Before the Hun could press trigger a score of rifles spoke.  The Waffs,
on seeing their young officer's danger, took no chances, and the
German, his head and chest riddled with bullets, toppled over stone
dead upon the ground.  As he fell his fingers closed convulsively
against the trigger of his rifle and the bullet intended for Wilmshurst
sung past the subaltern's left ear.

A loud yell from the other young Hun proclaimed the fact that he, too,
was hit.  A bullet fired at the resisting German had been deflected,
passing through the fleshy part of his comrade's left arm.  It was hard
luck on a surrendered prisoner, but on these occasions luck, both good
and bad, crops up at every available opportunity.

"Sorry, Fritz," exclaimed Wilmshurst apologetically.  "Accident, you
know."

There was no time for explanation.  Directing a Haussa to attend to the
Hun's injury and ordering others to round up and disarm the prisoners
Wilmshurst hurried his men to the storming of the kopje.

On all sides the Waffs were climbing the slopes, yelling and cheering
vociferously, but not an answering shout came from the rocky summit.
It required enormous restraint on the part of the foe to withhold their
fire, while already the Haussas had passed the zone where a volley at
comparatively short range would have played havoc with them.

The silence on the part of the enemy seemed incomprehensible unless,
not having sufficient numbers to hold the edges of the flat-topped hill
they had concentrated at one spot, where with machine-guns they could
rake the skyline as the Waffs breasted the top.

Over the position the exultant troops poured, the one fly in the
ointment being the fact that their rush had met with no resistance.  In
extended order they re-formed and dashed across the plateau--a rapidly
contracting line of khaki tipped with steel.

Almost in the centre of the top of the kopje was an irregular mound of
piled rocks and earth.  Towards this the Waffs charged, their officers
momentarily expecting the rattle of musketry and the tic-tac of
machine-guns.

Without resistance the Waffs bore on, overran the supposed earthworks
and found--nothing.

There were not even traces of Hun occupation.  The enemy had got clear
away with the exception of the small post rushed by Wilmshurst's
platoon.  By an evident error of judgment on the part of MacGregor--a
non-existent position had been the object of the column's attention,
and although the operations were not entirely futile officers and men
realised that they had experienced a great disappointment.

Descending the kopje the Waffs fell in, having secured their prisoners
under a strong escort.  The order to march was about to be given when
the distant rattle of musketry was distinctly heard.

The colonel looked at the senior major enquiringly.

"A raiding crush, sir," replied the latter to the unspoken question.
"While we've been on a wild goose chase Fritz is raiding our camp."



CHAPTER VI

THE WARNING SHOT

Nobly the sorely-tried Waffs rose to the occasion.  Notwithstanding
their arduous advance and its meagre results they eagerly hastened to
meet the new danger, knowing that with the destruction of their baggage
and transport and their lines of communication cut they would be in a
serious position in the almost waterless scrub.

They required little urging, the officers' words of encouragement being
quite perfunctory although well-intentioned.  In open order with
flankers thrown out the Waffs hurried through the bush, the sound of
continuous rifle-fire growing louder and louder.

"Button's holding out all right," declared the company-major to
Wilmshurst, referring to the lieutenant left in charge of the camp.
"He has MacGregor and young Vipont to back him up and twenty-five
Haussas.  Hullo, what's that?"

"German machine-guns, sir," replied Wilmshurst promptly.

"Yes, worse luck," resumed the major.  "We've been running after the
shadow and the substance butts in during our absence."

An orderly came dashing up with a written message.  The major's face
fell as he read it.

"We're out of it again, Wilmshurst," he remarked, after the runner had
been sent back with a confirmatory report.

"How's that, sir?" asked the subaltern.

"Orders from the colonel for 'A' Company to hold the position shown on
the attached map, and to cut off the retreat of the enemy.  Here we
are: see this kloof?  Three platoons are to lie in ambush at that spot,
another--yours, Mr. Wilmshurst--will take up a position two miles to
the north-west, in case any stragglers attempt to break through the
smaller defile shown on the map.  It looks nothing more than a native
path.  We'll find that out later on."

At the word of command "A" Company halted until the rest of the
battalion was almost out of sight.  Then the detachment, moving to the
right in column of fours, marched at a rapid pace along a comparatively
clear path through the scrub.

When the three platoons had taken up their position at the indicated
spot Wilmshurst's platoon had still a distance of two miles to
cover--and that two miles was the roughest part of the whole day's
march.  It was a disused track possibly dating back to the old days
when the Arab slave-raiders traversed the greater part of Central
Africa in search of "black ivory," and was now greatly overgrown by
cacti and other fibrous plants.  Here and there palm trees had fallen
completely across the path, while in no part was it more than a yard in
breadth, being hedged in on both sides by dense tropical vegetation.
And yet the track was distinctly marked upon the German-compiled maps
with which the British troops were working.

It was hardly a route that any European under ordinary circumstances
would tackle under the glaring heat of the afternoon's sun.
Mosquitoes--harbingers of malaria--and fire-flies buzzed in swarms,
snakes and lizards, their hitherto undisturbed solitude rudely shaken
by the stealthy patter of three score pairs of bare feet, wriggled
across the swampy ground, while overhead thousands of frightened birds
flew in large circles, chattering the while in a way that would alarm
every Boche within a radius of three miles.

A mile and a half of this sort of marching--the Haussas were in single
file--and the platoon emerged into a wider track running obliquely
across the path they had taken.  Halting his men Wilmshurst, assisted
by Sergeant Bela Moshi, examined the ground.  There were evidences that
a number of European and native troops had passed, going in the
opposite direction to the Waffs' bivouac, while what was somewhat
remarkable there were more recent tracks of a horse's hoofs.

"Him am gov'ment horse, sah," declared the sergeant.  "Him lib for go
plenty fast no time," meaning that the animal was a British Army mount
(this from the peculiar shape of the horse-shoe prints) and had passed
by quite recently.

"Probably Sutton dispatched a mounted orderly to summon help," thought
Wilmshurst.  "In that case the fellow's taken the wrong track.  He'll
be back shortly.  Hope it will be before Fritz ambles along here--if
it's our luck that the Huns do retire this way."

Two hundred yards further on the scrub became quite scanty in a wide
belt that terminated in a low range of hills.  The slopes of the rising
ground were fairly steep except at a gap in the centre, where a deep
ravine had been utilized by the makers of the road.  It was an ideal
spot for an ambuscade.  Sheltering behind the cacti that abundantly
covered the hill the Haussas could extend on a fairly broad front, and
concentrate a heavy fire upon any enemy retiring along the path.  The
maxim on its tripod mounting was set up to enable it to sweep the
expected column with an oblique fire, its panther-skin encased
water-jacket being camouflaged by foliage carefully placed so as not to
obstruct the sights.

Hardly were these preparations completed when, with a terrific roar and
a tremendous cloud of dust, an explosive missile burst within two
hundred yards of the platoon's position.

"Dash it all!" ejaculated Wilmshurst.  "That's a thundering big shell.
Keep down, men."

The Haussas in natural and childlike curiosity were craning their necks
to see the unexpected sight.  Just then a loud buzzing sound came from
immediately overhead.  At the risk of being blinded by the terrific
glare the subaltern glanced aloft to see a large seaplane that, having
completed a long volplane, had restarted its engine.  By the
conspicuous marks on the wings and fuselage Wilmshurst made the
disconcerting discovery that the aircraft was a British machine, and
that it was diligently engaged in attempting to bomb the Waffs out of
existence under the mistaken idea that they were an enemy patrol.

"That's done it!" muttered Wilmshurst.  "The silly joker has put the
kybosh on our chances of surprising the Boches.  Lucky if we escape
being hit with some of the infernal eggs!"

With difficulty restraining the Haussas from opening fire, for they
would not be convinced that the "great buzz-bird" could possibly make a
mistake, and that it must be a Boche machine, Dudley awaited
developments, watching with decided apprehension the seaplane circling
to take up a favourable position for another bomb-dropping effort.

The second missile burst in a donga a hundred yards to the rear of the
Haussas' line, while a few seconds later a third exploded at half that
distance again on the Waffs' flank.

Wilmshurst was now sarcastically interested.

"If you can't do better than that, old son," he chuckled, "you'd better
hook it.  My word, if ever I meet you on terra firma, I won't forget to
chip you."

The ineffectual strafing continued for nearly a quarter of an hour.  At
the end of that time the airmen, either discovering their mistake or
else having been called up by wireless to attack more numerous forces,
desisted from their present operations.  Banking steeply the seaplane
bore away rapidly in a south-easterly direction, and was soon a mere
speck in the azure sky.

Followed a long period of inaction on the part of the Haussas.  Scarce
daring to move lest a keen-eyed Askari should detect their presence,
the Waffs hugged the sun-baked earth until the lengthening shadows
warned them of the approach of night.

The distant firing had passed from rapid volleys through desultory
exchange of shots to a complete cessation.  The rest of "A" Company
were not engaged, so it appeared to the still hopeful Haussas that
their foes had effected a retreat in a different direction from that
expected.  With the fall of night a large hostile detachment might
easily slip through the scantily-held lines, and that accounted for the
uneasy glances that the Waffs gave at the declining orb of day.

"Hist, sah!" exclaimed Beta Moshi.  "Dey come."

With every sense keenly on the alert Wilmshurst strove to detect the
approach of the foe.  Already the men had slipped clips of cartridges
into the magazines of their rifles, and, the exact range being known,
had set sights to eight hundred yards, at which distance the retiring
Huns would be on slightly-sloping ground practically destitute of cover.

A cloud of dust rising sullenly in the still air marked the approach of
the column.  The Huns were moving rapidly, although there were no
sounds to indicate that they were fighting a rear-guard action, while
there were no signs of any advance guard.

"We've got them cold," exclaimed Wilmshurst, gleefully, then, "No. 1
Section, volley firing, ready."

Suddenly a shot rang out away on the left front of the concealed
Haussas.

"Who the deuce fired that?" thought the subaltern angrily, vowing to
make it hot for the luckless black who could not keep control over his
itching trigger finger.

The mischief was done.  At the warning shot the retiring enemy stopped
short almost in the jaws of the trap that awaited them; then at a hot
pace they disappeared into the bush to be swallowed up in the rapidly
deepening night.

"Find out who fired that shot, sergeant," ordered Wilmshurst.

Bela Moshi's efforts were unavailing.  Even when the platoon was
paraded and every man's rifle examined the culprit was not discovered.

"Jolly rummy," mused the subaltern.  "It's a dead cert that none of my
men fired.  Some one did.  Why and for what reason?"

Fired with anger at the futile ending to their tedious efforts the
Haussas sent a deputation to the young officer offering to search the
bush in the direction from which the shot came, for the men of the
extreme left flank were emphatic in their belief that they heard the
sounds of booted feet after the report.

"Off you go, then," replied Wilmshurst.  "Hurry back if you hear the
'Fall in.'"

The two men selected--Tari Barl and No Go--lost no time in starting
upon their hazardous quest.  Armed only with their bayonets the Haussas
vanished into the darkness.

Another period of tension ensued.  The tropical heat of the day gave
place to intense cold as the parched earth rapidly radiated its heat.
Presently the stars began to glimmer in the firmament, their brightness
increasing to their full splendour of an African night.

Still no message came for the platoon to fall back upon the rest of "A"
Company.  Vaguely Wilmshurst began to wonder whether the outlying Waffs
had been overlooked.  Sixty hours of almost continuous and strenuous
work were beginning to tell.  Most of the Haussas, utterly worn out,
were sleeping in easy yet undignified postures upon the ground, the
only men keeping awake being Bela Moshi and the other section commander
and sentries posted before Wilmshurst gave the word to stand easy.

Even the subaltern found his head drooping.  Half a dozen times he
pulled himself together, only to realise that the overpowering desire
for sleep had him firmly in its grip.

Suddenly the stillness was broken by the cautious challenge of one of
the sentries.  Tari Barl and his companion were returning.

"Well?" exclaimed Wilmshurst interrogatively, as the stalwart blacks
stood stiffly to attention.

"Man him gone," declared Tari Barl, with the important air of a person
making a momentous statement.

"Yes, I know that, Tarry Barrel," replied the subaltern impatiently.
"Is that all?"

"Me find dis in bush, sah," continued the imperturbable Haussa, holding
up a small, glittering object for his officer's inspection.

It was a recently-fired rimmed cartridge-case.  Holding his electric
torch to the base of the case he gave vent to an exclamation of
perplexed surprise.

For on it were cut the British Government broad arrow and the Roman
numeral V., which showed that the cartridge was similar to those issued
to the Waffs on leaving camp at Kilwa.

"Treachery!" muttered Wilmshurst.  "I wonder----"



CHAPTER VII

A TRUE MAN OR A TRAITOR?

It was in the early hours of the morning when "A" Company marched into
bivouac.  The men dismissed, Wilmshurst wrote out his report, handed it
in and promptly fell sound asleep.

The colonel, wisely deciding that little could be done with men worn
out with sleeplessness and fatigue, issued orders that the pursuit
would be abandoned until the Haussas had recovered their usual form.
Meanwhile other columns were on the track of the raiders, who, but for
the vigilance and dogged determination of Lieutenant Sutton, would have
"wiped out" the Waffs' bivouac during the latter's wild-goose chase.

For five hours the young officer, assisted by Second-lieutenant Vipont
and a handful of Haussas, held the Huns at bay.  With rifle, bayonet
and bomb the plucky sons of the Empire manned the frail defences, until
the enemy, unable to achieve their objective, retired before the
returning battalion could bring them to action.

"Hullo, Wilmshurst!" exclaimed Laxdale, as the three subalterns of "A"
company met just before a belated breakfast.  "What happened to you?"

"A wash-out," replied Dudley.  "Held on till five this morning, and
never a chance of a shot; or rather, when it came we were dished."

"Heard the news?" asked Danvers.  "No?  We had it this morning.  The
Huns have rushed a Portuguese position on the Rovuma.  The Portuguese
skedaddled, leaving the whole battery of quick-firers intact.  I
suppose it'll mean our chasing Fritz southward right through Portuguese
East.  With luck we'll corner them on the Zambesi."

"Guess you're wrong, Danvers," interrupted Laxdale.  "I know how the
business is going to end; street fighting in Cape Town.  Fritz won't
stand, so it's an everlasting chase until he's got the sea at his back."

"Any one seen MacGregor this morning?" enquired Wilmshurst.

"MacGregor?  Didn't you find him?" asked Vipont, who had joined the
group of tired-eyed subalterns.  "After the column left camp--about an
hour and a half, I should say--he asked Sutton to let him try and
overtake the battalion.  Said he didn't want to swing the lead with a
mere scratch on his shin-bone.  So he mounted and rode off.  That's the
last I saw of him."

"How long before the Huns attacked?" asked Danvers.

"Three hours," replied Vipont.  "You don't suggest that a skilled scout
blundered right on top of them?"

"Not at all," his questioner hastened to assert.  "For one thing after
he followed us he would be on a diverging route to that taken by Fritz
& Co.  What do you say, Wilmshurst?"

Dudley shook his head.  He had no particular cause either to like or
dislike the man, but he hesitated to give definite utterance to his
suspicions.  It was decidedly un-British to condemn a man before being
sure of actual facts and to sow the seeds of distrust against an
individual who was not present to defend himself.  But somehow the
chain of events--the horse's footprints on the kloof road, the warning
shot when the hitherto unsuspecting Huns were approaching the ambush,
the mark V. cartridge case--all pointed to treachery on the part of
some one, while MacGregor's disappearance coincided with the other
points that had occurred to the subaltern.

"He may be bushed," he replied.  "It's just likely that he'll turn up
again soon.  Has his absence been reported?  I'll mention it, if you
like.  I have to see the adjutant in a few minutes."

Wilmshurst found the adjutant in his "office," which consisted of three
walls of piled ammunition boxes, with a double covering of canvas.  The
furniture was composed of a desk (an upturned packing-case) and a
couple of chairs (smaller dittos) the former being littered with
official forms and papers, for even in the wilds of Africa the British
Army cannot dispense with red-tape formalities.

"Mornin', Mr. Wilmshurst," was the adjutant's greeting as he returned
the subaltern's salute.  "Want to see you with reference to that report
of yours, don't you know.  Take a pew.  You'll find that case pretty
comfortable, and come in out of the sun.  Look here: from your report I
understand that a warning shot was fired, but not by any of ours.  Is
that so?"

Wilmshurst paused.  The adjutant was quick to notice his hesitation.

"Come, come!" he continued sharply.  "Do you suspect any one?  If so,
out with it.  We can't stand on sentiment in matters of this
description, don't you know."

"Are you aware, sir, that MacGregor left camp shortly after we left
camp and has not returned?"

"Hasn't he, by Jove!" exclaimed the adjutant.  "Well, what about it?
Has that anything to do with the case in point?"

"I hope not, sir," answered the subaltern, "but--but----"

"Proceed," urged his questioner calmly.

Wilmshurst, seeing no other course, boldly took his plunge, stating his
views upon the connection between the scout's disappearance and the
timely warning received by the retiring enemy, producing as evidence
the rimmed cartridge case, which by reason of its shape and calibre
could not be fired from a Mauser rifle.

"Dash it all!" exclaimed the adjutant explosively.  "What sort of
reptile have we been harbouring?  I'm afraid that what steps we take
concerning him will be locking the stable door after the horse has
gone."

"We arc working simply in conjecture, sir," observed the subaltern.
"He may be all right, after all."

"Conjecture, confound it!" shouted the other.  "What d'you call this?"
holding up the cartridge case.  "If it isn't circumstantial evidence,
what is?"

At that moment an orderly put in an appearance.  "Macgreg him horse am
come back, sah," he reported, saluting.

The adjutant, picking up a sheaf of papers and putting on his
sun-helmet, hurried to the lines where the horses were picketed,
Wilmshurst following and the orderly bringing up the rear.

Already news of MacGregor's disappearance had spread, although there
was no thought of treachery in the minds of the other officers.  They
had come to the conclusion that the Rhodesian in an access of zeal had
blundered right into the enemy column.

The appearance of the horse bore out this surmise.  The animal was
lathered with foam, its eyes bloodshot and its limbs trembling.  Across
the hind quarters was the sear of a bullet that had cut away the hair
and left a slight wound in the hide.  One stirrup was missing, cut
through by means of a sharp implement, while the saddle and reins were
dappled with blood-stains.

"Bless my soul, Manners!" exclaimed the colonel turning to the
adjutant.  "What does this mean?"

"Dunno, sir, I'm sure," answered the dum-founded officer.

"We can't let the affair drop," decided the C.O.  "It's not fair on
MacGregor to sit still.  Tell off a section and follow the horse's
tracks.  Perhaps the man has been wounded--it looks very much like
it--and may be lying out in the bush."

Promptly Bela Moshi and about a dozen men were dispatched to follow up
the spoor.  Good trackers all, they ought to experience but little
difficulty, notwithstanding the fact that hundreds of men had been
trampling the ground, for the Haussas vie with the Australian
aborigines and the Red Indian in the act of tracing a man or an animal
for miles with uncanny skill and persistence.

Hardly had the Haussas departed on their errand when a couple of
British naval officers literally staggered into the bivouac.  At first
they were too utterly done up to speak.  They were parched with thirst,
their drill uniforms torn in their long trek through the scrub, and
their boots were cut almost to pieces.  One of them was limping badly
as the result of a sprained ankle.

Under the care of Doctor Barclay the stragglers soon recovered
sufficiently to give a coherent account of their misadventures.  They
were the observer and pilot of one of the seaplanes attached to the
Rovuma column, their base being close to a large sheet of water formed
by the inundation of the river.  Out reconnoitring they had discovered
a party of Huns and had bombed them very effectually.  That was their
version, although Wilmshurst had good reason to believe that they were
quite under a misapprehension on that score.  On the return flight the
engine developed ignition troubles, and there was no help for it but to
plane down.  The airmen were lucky in being able to find a fairly open
stretch of ground, but the unexpected happened.  The floats of the
seaplane skidded over the hard ground and caught against some
obstruction, with the result that the machine was badly damaged, the
pilot and observer being thrown violently.

Forty miles from their base the airmen realised that it was almost out
of the question to make their way on foot through the scrub, especially
as there were several small rivers to be negotiated.  So they decided
to find the bivouac of the Waffs which they had spotted on their
outward flight.  According to their estimate the distance was about
eight miles, but in reality it was almost twice that distance.

Owing to the intense heat they were compelled to discard their
overalls.  Their foot gear was totally inadequate against the thorns
and stony ground.  Without water and with only a bar of chocolate
between them they experienced terrible hardships before they sighted
their temporary refuge.

Their chief anxiety was now the question whether the seaplane could be
recovered.  On this score their minds were set at rest, when the
colonel promised to send out a fatigue party to dismantle the machine
and transport it to the banks of the Runkoma, a small stream
sufficiently wide to allow the seaplane to taxi provided the floats
were still intact.

"You might take that job on, Mr. Wilmshurst," remarked his company
commander.  "Your platoon will be just about sufficient to provide the
necessary labour, and also a covering party, although I don't
contemplate any trouble from the Huns.  We've just heard that Fritz has
had a nasty smack at Motungba, which more than counterbalances his
recent success against the Portuguese on the Rovuma."

The action to which the major referred was a brilliant little affair on
the part of the main column operating in the Rovuma valley.  The Huns
were found to be in a strong natural position, the defence of which was
further increased by well-constructed trenches and entanglements.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of a frontal attack, a Punjabi
regiment stormed the defences, the Indians making terrific havoc with
bombs.  The Askaris broke and fled, the Germans alone putting up a
fight until they were either killed or captured.  The native levies in
their flight were overtaken and cut up by a squadron of colonial horse,
and with slight loss the Imperial forces scored a dashing little
victory, capturing four field guns and one naval gun removed from the
cruiser _Konigsberg_, beside a vast quantity of arms and ammunition.

The result of this engagement was a junction with the gallant Belgian
forces, the Huns being split up into two groups, of which the principal
force was on the Portuguese border, while the other, subdivided into
mobile detachments, was doubling back towards the Rufigi river.

"These fellows will give trouble," declared the major.  "They won't
stand.  They are in a mortal funk of enveloping movements; but by the
time we've rounded 'em up we'll be jolly sick of the show, you mark my
words."

The return of Bela Moshi and his section diverted Wilmshurst's
attention into another channel.  The Haussa sergeant had succeeded in
following the spoor of MacGregor's horse for three and a half miles
along the path taken by the Waffs of their practically barren
operations against the kopje when the Huns had been reported.  Here the
trail ended in a medley of hoof-prints, while hard by a rock were
traces of the splaying of half a dozen bullets.  In the sun-baked grass
in front of the rock were found ten used cartridge cases and a
stirrup-iron, but a prolonged search faded to reveal any traces of the
missing Rhodesian's departure from the spot where he had apparently
been brought to bay.  There were hundreds of footprints all around;
those of Askaris and Germans, for none of the imprints of booted feet
bore any resemblance to those of Robert MacGregor.

At the first opportunity the adjutant called Wilmshurst aside.

"You didn't mention your suspicions to any one else?" he enquired.

"No, sir," replied Dudley.

"It's just as well for the present," continued Captain Manners.  "For
MacGregor's sake I hope that you have done him an injustice, but I am
quite convinced that you acted judiciously in communicating your
suspicions to me.  However, there's still one point that wants clearing
up.  The patrol did not find MacGregor's body.  Nor was there any spoor
to show which way he went if he did succeed in breaking through the
enemy.  The third surmise is that he might have been taken prisoner.
If so, is it likely that the Huns provided him with a horse?  I think
not.  Knowing Fritz as we do, the sort of thing that they would do
would be to lash his wrists, and drag him at the end of a line--but
Bela Moshi was emphatic that none of the boot-prints corresponded to
those of the missing man.  Until the mystery is cleared up, we are at a
loss to understand whether MacGregor is a true man or a traitor."



CHAPTER VIII

ULRICH VON GOBENDORFF

Hauptmann Max von Argerlich, senior surviving officer of the 99th
Regiment of Askaris, was in a furious temper with himself and every one
with whom he came in contact.  It might have been the unusual exertion
of a forced march in the heat of the sun, or an insufficiency of food
that had upset him.  The hard-worked Askaris had good cause to dread
his passionate outbursts, for on these occasions lashes were ordered at
the faintest pretext, for efficiency, according to the hauptmann's
ideas, could only be maintained by an active display of physical force.

Von Argerlich's depleted and harassed force lay entrenched at M'ganga,
after having withdrawn from another fortified position half an hour too
late according to the hauptmann's idea.  All but surrounded, the
Askaris just managed to escape being captured to a man, and now,
temporarily safe from pursuit, the regiment had arrived at a prepared
position to await another column known to be retiring in a
north-westerly direction.

The hauptmann was a middle-aged officer, a Prussian who through some
indiscretion that had given offence to his Imperial master had been
practically banished by being sent to German East Africa.  That was two
years before the war.  Upon the outbreak of hostilities he hoped by
melodramatic means to find himself restored to favour, but to his
chagrin he saw that younger officers gained promotion in the German
Colonial Forces while he remained at this present rank of hauptmann.

With a bottle of spirits by his side von Argerlich sprawled upon a camp
bed, while in the absence of  mosquito curtain two lean Askaris,
terrified by the Hun's drunken outburst, were diligently fanning him
with broad leaves of a palm, knowing that if their efforts relaxed or
developed into greater zeal than the hauptmann desired, the schambok
awaited them.

Von Argerlich had good cause to remember the scrap before the retreat.
A bullet fired from behind had nicked his ear, and he knew that it was
one of his Askaris who had fired.  As a warning he had ordered half a
dozen of the luckless natives to be executed, but even then he was far
from certain that the culprit was included in the number.  There were
strong signs of mutinous insubordination in the ranks of the 99th
Askari Regiment, and only the fact that the expected column was on its
way to join the forces under von Argerlich's command kept the black
troops in any semblance of order.

The hauptmann was both sorry and glad on that account; sorry because he
would automatically drop into a subordinate position when other German
officers superior in rank came in with the column; glad, since there
would be sufficient Europeans to overawe the iron-disciplined yet
mutinous native troops.

The appearance of the German sergeant-major interrupted the hauptmann's
reveries.  Clicking his heels and stiffly saluting the veteran awaited
his officer's permission to speak.

"Well, dolt?" enquired von Argerlich thickly.

"A scout has just reported that the Gwelba column has been sighted,
Herr Hauptmann," announced the warrant officer.  "The advance guard
ought to be here within half an hour."

"It is well," replied the hauptmann, rising unsteadily.  "Tell
Lieutenant Muller to get the men under arms.  Where's my sword?  Hans,
you black schweinhund, bring me my boots, and take care that there are
no centipedes in them, or----"

Still grumbling the hauptmann buckled on his sword, donned his
sun-helmet and boots and went out into the open space between the
trench and the lines of low-built huts where the remnants of the 99th
regiment--250 men out of a full strength of 1,200--were falling in.

Worn and weary the advance guard of the column limped into the camp,
followed at regular intervals by the main body.  With the latter was
Oberst von Lindenfelt, the senior officer of the column, and another
individual dressed in nondescript garments whose face seemed familiar
to von Argerlich.

"Greetings, Max!" exclaimed von Lindenfelt.  "Let us hope you have
plenty of food.  We are almost starving."

"Not much in that line, Herr Oberst," replied von Argerlich.  "How have
you fared?"

"Donnerwetter!" said the oberst vehemently.  "Things have gone badly.
It is indeed fortunate that we managed to find our way in.  Had it not
been for von Gobendorff here--you have met von Gobendorff before, I
understand?"

"Der teufel!" ejaculated the hauptmann, grasping the hand of the
motley-garbed man, "of course I have.  Ulrich, ten thousand pardons,
but in two years a man is apt to alter, especially in these strenuous
times.  Has anything happened that you have been compelled to drop your
Scottish name?  Let me think.  Ach!  I have it.  MacGregor, was it not?"

Ulrich von Gobendorff shook his head.  "Nothing compelled me, Max," he
replied.  "The time was ripe--therefore Robert MacGregor is no more.
The name and character served their purpose," he continued, assuming a
boastful tone.  "It was I who warned von Lindenfelt's column when it
stood a good chance of being cut off at Gwelba kopje.  Again it is to
my credit that a detachment of our forces was not ambushed at Zwarte
kloof.  I covered my tracks very effectively, did I not, Herr Oberst?
Himmel.  I have news for you, Max.  The brother of your personal enemy,
Rupert Wilmshurst, is with the English forces operating against us.
Several times I have spoken to him."

"Has he any suspicion?" asked the hauptmann anxiously.

"None at all," replied von Gobendorff.  "It was easy to tell him a
plausible tale.  And how fares the interfering Englishman, Rupert
Wilmshurst?"

"We still have him in close confinement up in the Karewenda Geberge,"
replied the hauptmann carelessly.

"A personal matter?" enquired Oberst von Lindenfelt.

"The accursed Englishman struck me a blow because I thought fit to
chastise a thieving native woman," replied von Argerlich.  "That was
when the fellow was still prowling round to find the ammunition which
we buried in readiness for the present time.  Our good friend Ulrich
trapped him."

"Why didn't you shoot the Englishman as soon as I had departed for
South-West Africa?" enquired Ulrich von Gobendorff.  "It would have
been a simple solution to the difficulty, for dead men tell no tales."

"I would have done so," replied the hauptmann, "but for this reason.
There were hundreds of natives who saw him taken away under arrest.  If
things go wrong with us they will most certainly inform the English.
Also I do not wish to be a subject for reprisals, as I hear our foes
are adopting that attitude.  If we are to be on the losing side it pays
us to walk circumspectly.  By the bye, have you heard anything lately
of your brother, Ernst?"

"Not for many months," replied Ulrich von Gobendorff.  "The last time I
received indirect tidings that he was doing good work in England.  It
will take a very smart man to catch Ernst.  He is one of the most wily
Secret Service Agents in the employ of the German Imperial Government."

Oberst von Lindenfelt having dismissed the troops the three Germans
adjourned to the hauptmann's quarters, where over the remains of the
bottle of spirits conversation was resumed.

"Tell me how you gave the Englishman the slip, Ulrich," asked von
Argerlich.

"It was quite a simple matter," replied the spy.  "I informed the camp
commander--he was a simple sort of leutnant--that I was going to
overtake the column, the column, by the bye, having been sent by me on
a fool's errand to capture an imaginary laager on Gwelba kopje.
According to previous arrangements I fell in with Hauptmann Schmidt's
company, and he obligingly set a squad of his Askaris to work to stage
the last stand of Scout MacGregor.  We trampled the grass, left a few
cartridge cases lying about and sent my borrowed horse away with a
bullet-wound in his flank to hurry him up, and to give additional
colour to the effect.  I should not be surprised to see the name of
Robert MacGregor posthumously honoured with the British Military Medal
or something of that sort."

The three Huns laughed uproariously.  Under the temporarily
exhilarating effect of the rank spirit they were beginning to forget
their physical exhaustion.

"To be on the safe side," continued von Gobendorff, "it will be
necessary for me to get as far away from the Nth-West African Regiment
as I can.  I presume that you have no objection to my leaving you, Herr
Oberst?"

Von Lindenfelt grunted assent.

"Can you get clear of the colony?" he asked.  "Every frontier is
guarded, while since the _Jaguar_ succeeded in running her cargo of
quick-firers ashore even the coast is rigidly patrolled by those
accursed English cruisers."

"Give me a dozen native carriers, rifles and ammunition, and I'll wager
that before another fortnight I'll be in Rhodesia," declared von
Gobendorff.  "Once there the rest will be easy; train to Cape Town,
mail-boat to Plymouth, our splendid unterseebooten permitting; then,
having applied to a certain compatriot in London for a forged passport,
I'll cross to Flushing and be in German territory three months from
now."

"If you do, please don't forget to inform the authorities at Berlin
that I am still doing good work for the Fatherland," remarked the
hauptmann earnestly.  "The War Office seems to forget us out here."

"Quite so," agreed von Lindenfelt.  "We do not get even Iron Crosses,
although we are still holding out after two years of incessant
guerrilla warfare.  Only the other day----"

A junior officer stood in the doorway, his flaccid features working
with excitement.

"Pardon, Herr Oberst," he exclaimed, as he saluted.  "An English
aeroplane----"

"Donnerwetter!" interrupted the German excitedly.  "Is that so?  Von
Argerlich, I trust that there is a positively bomb-proof shelter
available?  How far away is the accursed machine, Herr Schmidt?  Is it
flying in the direction of M'ganga?"

"No, sir," replied the leutnant gravely.  He wanted to smile, but a
display of mirth at the expense of a superior officer was not
advisable.  "It has fallen at about twelve kilometres from here.  Our
scouts reported that the two occupants were seen tramping through the
bush in the direction of the English bivouac four miles south of
Gwelba."

"Why did not the Askaris shoot them?" demanded Oberst von Lindenfelt.

"There were but three of our scouts and the Englishmen were armed,"
explained the German.  "I would venture to suggest, Herr Oberst, that
the men did well to return immediately with their report rather than
risk being disabled in an attempt to engage the airmen."

Von Lindenfelt pondered a few moments, then he turned abruptly to
Ulrich von Gobendorff.

"I believe you understand aeroplanes, Ulrich," he said.  "Did you not
fly at the great Johannesthal meeting a few years ago?  I thought you
told me so.  Ah! yes.  You will accompany Hauptmann von Argerlich and a
half company of Askaris.  If the machine is easily repairable, fly it
back here, otherwise destroy it.  Until this duty is performed I
withhold my permission for you to leave the column.  Start as soon as
possible.  A horse will be provided you."

It was useless to demur.  The oberst's word was law.  Inwardly raging
von Gobendorff rose to his feet, stiffly saluted and followed the
hauptmann out of the hut in execution of von Lindenfelt's order.



CHAPTER IX

THE FIGHT FOR THE SEAPLANE

At dawn Wilmshurst left the camp, accompanied by the full platoon, to
attempt the salving of the crippled seaplane.  It was a comparatively
easy matter to follow the tracks of the two airmen, for the
down-trodden grass and the frequent sights of wisps of clothing
adhering to the briars and thorns were evidences of a spoor that even
an indifferent scout could determine.

"Those two johnnies must have had a rough time of it," thought the
subaltern.  "I can well imagine their difficulties.  It's a wonder they
got to the camp at all, for there are distinct spoors of lions.  What's
that, Bela Moshi?"

"Big rhino him come by," reported the sergeant, pointing to heavy
depression on the ground.  What he meant was that a rhinoceros had cut
across the bush path not so very long ago, as the freshly trampled
grass showed.

"All right," replied Wilmshurst.  "Warn the men to be on the alert.  We
don't want casualties."

Bela Moshi hurried to the head of the column, for the Haussas were in
single file, owing to the narrowness of the bush-path.

At that moment the platoon was crossing a dried water-course, the
ground shelving steeply on both sides.  The subaltern had an almost
uninterrupted view of the heads and shoulders of the men preceding him
as the foremost began the stiff ascent beyond the nullah.

Suddenly the Haussas broke right and left, uttering warning shouts.
Charging down the narrow track was a huge animal of the buffalo tribe,
commonly known in Central Africa as a "bush-cow."

The ground trembled under the thud of the brute's ponderous weight as
it rushed at terrific speed to attack the khaki-clad blacks.

One man alone stood his ground.  Dropping on one knee he fired straight
at the centre of the tufts of hair that concealed the animal's eyes,
the range being less than thirty yards.

Dudley heard the almost simultaneous crash of the rifle and the thud of
the bullet against the bush-cow's frontal-bone, but apparently unharmed
the animal continued its headlong rush.

Too late the plucky Haussa attempted to avoid the impetus by springing
aside.  Even as he leapt to his feet the man was caught by the lowered
head of the ferocious brute and tossed ten feet in the air.

Across the bed of the dried-up stream the bush-cow charged, until
Wilmshurst hurriedly came to the conclusion that it was quite time for
him to dodge behind a tree.  As he made for shelter he saw the animal's
fore-legs collapse and its ponderous carcass plough the ground.

Making his way through the press of excited Haussas Wilmshurst saw that
the bush-cow was stone dead.  The bullet had penetrated the brain,
entering by a neatly-drilled puncture and emerging by a hole as large
as a man's fist.  Yet, although hit in a vital spot, the animal had
covered a distance of nearly fifty yards before collapsing.

"One no go," declared Bela Moshi.  "Anoder him lib for come plenty
quick."

"Think so?" remarked the subaltern.  "Then don't stand bunched up
together--extend.  Three of you lift Nara Gilul into the shade."

Anxiously Wilmshurst examined the brave but unfortunate black.  Nara
Gilul was fully conscious in spite of having fallen on his head, but
two of his ribs were fractured and his shins were badly cut although
protected by his puttees.

"Nara Gilul him stop till we come back," suggested the corporal of his
section in answer to Dudley's question as to what was to be done.  "Him
'ab rifle an' ammunition.  Him lib to take care ob himsel'.  Berry much
him fault."

"That won't do, corporal," said Wilmshurst.  "We must send him back.
Take five men with you.  It will be only two hours' trek."

Accordingly the Haussas set to work to make a stretcher, performing the
task with wonderful celerity.  They were on the point of lifting the
helpless man when the shout was raised.

"Bush-cow, him come!"

"Take cover, all of you!" shouted the subaltern, loath to hamper his
task by additional casualties.

The Haussas obeyed with one exception--Bela Moshi.

The sergeant, slipping a clip into the magazine, stood right in the
centre of the path along which the second bush-cow was tearing, eager
to avenge its mate.

Wilmshurst made no further attempt to order Beta Moshi to take refuge.
He realised that to do so would flurry the imperturbable sergeant, but
he was entirely at a loss to understand why the Haussa was apparently
courting disaster in precisely the same way as the luckless Nara Gilul
had done.

A rifle bolt clicked in the bush on the sergeant's flank.

"Unload!" he hissed, knowing that the risk he ran from an excited man
with a loaded rifle was greater than that confronting him.

At a terrific pace the bush-cow bore down.  Twenty yards from the
motionless man the brute lowered its head.  In that position its vision
was obscured by the thick tufts of long hair.  Having taken its final
"sighting position" the animal relied upon its momentum to achieve the
destruction of its human enemy.

The moment the bush-cow lowered its head Bela Moshi, with every sense
on the alert, leapt sideways behind a tree.  Then, as the infuriated
quadruped thundered past, the Haussa brought his rifle to the shoulder
and fired.

Thirty yards further the bush-cow dropped and died with a bullet
through its heart, while the victor, grinning as only a black can grin,
strode magnificently up to his victim and planted one foot upon the
quivering carcass.

The injured man having been sent back and the carcasses of the two
animals dragged aside--they would provide excellent meat if the task of
sun drying the flesh was not unduly delayed--the march was resumed,
until on gaining the summit of a low hill the wings of the broken-down
seaplane were visible as they rose obliquely above the scanty scrub at
a distance of nearly two miles.

Halting his men, Wilmshurst made a careful survey of the ground by
means of his binoculars.  A number of large birds--_aasvogels_, or
African vultures--were circling over the derelict.  It was therefore
safe to conclude that no human being, unless helpless to lift a hand,
was in the vicinity.

In the midst of his investigations Tari Barl approached with a
self-satisfied smile on his ebony features.

"Askari him foots, sah!" he reported, holding up three fingers of his
right hand to indicate that he had discovered the spoor of three of the
German native soldiery.

"H'm!" muttered Dudley.  "That's rotten news.  New spoor, Tarry Barrel?"

The Haussa nodded vehemently, and led his officer to the footprints.

Examination showed that three natives had been following the spoor of
the two naval airmen.  The firm tread of the latter--for at that stage
of the journey they were comparatively fresh--was partly obliterated by
the typical imprints of a black walking stealthily on his toes, for the
impress of the heels hardly occurred.  The Askaris had abandoned the
trail a short distance from the brow of the hill, for there were marks
where they had stood and debated, and the spoor leading in a
north-westerly direction showed that they had gone by a different route
from the one they had followed.  This track did not lead in the
direction of the stranded seaplane, so Wilmshurst conjectured that the
Askaris had made straight for their main body, possibly with the
intention of bringing men to recover the trophy.

Again the subaltern levelled his glasses and swept the skyline.
Wending their way down a bare kloof were about two hundred armed blacks
and three men in European garb riding in the centre of the column.

"MacGreg him dar, sah!" exclaimed Bela Moshi.

"Nonsense!" replied Wilmshurst, yet in his heart he was not at all sure
but that the Haussa was right.

"MacGreg him make palaver with Bosh-bosh," declared the sergeant.

It was a contest between a pair of high-powered field glasses and the
eyesight of a native.  Vainly Wilmshurst wiped the lenses and looked
and looked again without being able to satisfy himself that Bela
Moshi's statement was correct.

"Here, you boy!" said the sergeant addressing Tari Barl.  "You come
here an' use yer eyes all one time quick.  Say who am white man on der
black horse."

"Me tink MacGreg him come," replied Tan Barl after a brief survey.
"No; me no tink me know."

Wilmshurst waited inactive.  Until the approaching hostile column had
descended from the high ground and the men were deep in the bush,
attempt on the part of the Haussas to advance from the ridge would
result in the latter's detection.  So, holding the men well under cover
Wilmshurst kept the Huns under observation until it was safe to attempt
a surprise.

Long before the extended line of troops had marched into the
scrub-laden valley, the subaltern was forced to come to the conclusion
that MacGregor was not only with the enemy, but obviously one of them.
As the distance decreased he could make out the man's features, quite
distinctly, and could see him talking volubly with the German officers
on either side.

The Askaris were numerically far stronger than Wilmshurst's platoon,
but the Haussas had a great advantage--that of being the surprising
force.  In bush fighting especially this is a decided advantage, since
the closeness of the ground prevents the troops attacked knowing the
number or disposition of their opponents, while the moral effect of a
sudden rush of well-armed and disciplined men upon enemies practically
unprepared for the onslaught cannot be under-estimated.

"MacGreg him make for maquisha," declared Bela Moshi grimly, as he
carefully blacked the foresight of his rifle.

"Maquisha" in the Haussa language signifies something more than
finished.  A man might say, "I've finished eating," for example, and
yet in a few hours he will be again satisfying his hunger, but
"maquisha" signifies finished in the penultimate sense--the final
extermination of a certain person or thing.

"No, no, Bela Moshi," said Wilmshurst decidedly.  "We want MacGreg
taken prisoner.  That's important.  Pass the word along; tell the men
that there's a month's pay to the Haussa who takes MacGreg alive."

It was rather a tall order, and Wilmshurst knew it.  MacGregor, now
openly a traitor, would not be likely to surrender in view of the fact
that a drum-head court-martial and an ignominious death in front of a
firing-party would certainly be his fate.

Returning his field glasses and confidently snapping the lid of the
case Wilmshurst gave the word to advance in open order.  He had decided
upon a position about two hundred yards short of the derelict aircraft,
guessing that the still unsuspecting enemy would concentrate upon that
objective, and thus form a compact and easy target for the Haussas'
rifles.

Naturally concluding that the airmen had chosen the most open stretch
of ground available for the purpose of making their landing, Wilmshurst
found that his judgment was sound.  Right in the centre of the valley
the scrub was almost entirely absent, the ground being covered with
grass little more than ankle deep in height and absolutely devoid of
cover over a belt of nearly four hundred yards in width.

Up to a certain point the Huns showed caution, for presently two
Askaris, pushing on ahead of the main body, came into view.  That they
expected no danger was apparent from the fact that they had their
rifles slung.  At the sight of the derelict seaplane they stood
stock-still, for it was the first aircraft at rest that they had seen.
Then bounding across the intervening stretch of grass they wandered
round and round the machine, jabbering and pointing out to each other
various parts of the aeroplane that particularly struck their attention.

The shrill blasts of a whistle diverted their thoughts into another
direction.  The officer in charge of the Askari column had signalled to
the scouts to advance and examine the scrub beyond the place where the
seaplane stood.

Like well-trained dogs the two native soldiers obeyed, and with their
rifles still slung they hastened towards the position occupied by the
alert Haussas, passing between two clumps of cacti behind which were
hiding Tari Barl, No Go, Double-headed Penny and two more of No. 1
Section.

The Haussas let them pass.  Unsuspicious the Askaris proceeded until
their movements were hidden from their friends by the intervening
scrub, then with hardly a sound the five lithe and muscular Waffs leapt
upon them.

Before the startled men could even utter a gurgle they were lying flat
on their backs, unable to move hand or foot, while a hand laid over
their mouths and a keen-edged bayonet laid across their throats warned
them that silence was the only alternative to sudden death.

Accepting the former choice the prisoners were bound and gagged, and
taken a hundred yards or so into the bush, a Haussa mounting guard over
them to make sure that the wily Askaris did not slip their bonds.

Wilmshurst's anxiety was now the thought that the main body would not
emerge from the bush, since the two scouts were not able to signal that
all was well.  Several minutes passed, but still the German troops
failed to debouch from the scrub.

A stealthy footstep behind him made the subaltern turn his head.  To
his surprise he saw Bela Moshi rigged out in the uniform and equipment
of one of the captives.

"Me give Bosh-bosh de word 'Come on' one time quick, sah," he
announced.  "Me know how."

Wilmshurst did not think fit to enquire how the resourceful sergeant
acquired the information.  There are times when an officer does well
not to question his subordinate's actions.

"Very good, carry on," he whispered.

Standing in a gap between two clumps of bushes Bela Moshi, grasping his
rifle a few inches from the muzzle, held the weapon vertically above
his head moving it to and fro five or six times.

The decoy signal was almost immediately answered by the appearance of
the main body of the Askaris and with them the three Europeans, who
were still mounted.

Wilmshurst let them approach until the foremost Askaris were within a
hundred yards of the seaplane.  They were now in no semblance of order,
surging impetuously forward, their officers towering head and shoulders
above the throng.

Sharp and shrill rang out the subaltern's whistle.  A volley, crisp and
clear, burst from the line of admirably concealed Haussas, then each
man "let rip" as fast as he could withdraw, and thrust home the bolt of
his rifle and bring the weapon to his shoulder.

It was such a tremendous surprise that for a moment the Askaris, save
those who dropped, stood stock still.  Then, panic-stricken, they broke
and fled, the German officers setting them the example.

As the so-called MacGregor wheeled his horse Bela Moshi, who had
withheld his fire, saw his opportunity.  At five hundred yards he sent
a bullet crashing through the devoted animal's head.  Like a stone the
horse dropped, throwing its rider to the earth.

By some means the dried grass took fire, the flames crackling and
roaring as they spread with great rapidity, fortunately away from the
broken-down seaplane.  Through the whirling clouds of smoke could be
faintly discerned the backs of the fugitives, many of whom dropped as
they ran with a Haussa's bullet betwixt their shoulder blades, while
remorselessly the devouring element made its way in the direction of
the place where the traitor had fallen.

So complete was the demoralization of the foe that Wilmshurst had now
no hesitation in ordering an advance at the double.  Although the
German levies still greatly outnumbered the Haussas the former had--in
Tommy parlance--"the wind up properly," and numerical superiority no
longer counted.

With fixed bayonets the platoon swept forward.  Over the path of the
fire the Haussas rushed, the still glowing embers failing to deter
them, their bare feet notwithstanding.  Yelling and shouting they
pursued their foes, sweeping aside all isolated attempts at resistance,
until the remnants of the hostile column were driven more than two
miles from the scene of their surprise.

It took considerable efforts on the part of the non-commissioned
officer to make the highly-elated Haussas desist from pursuit, but
Wilmshurst knew too well the rashness of a prolonged chase through
difficult country.  Retiring, picking up wounded and prisoners as they
went, the Waffs re-formed on arriving at the open belt of ground where
the brilliant little victory had commenced.

By this time the scrub was well alight, fanned by the strong
south-easterly breeze.  The fire was also working against the wind, but
the concerted efforts of the Haussas prevented it approaching the
derelict aircraft.

In vain a search was made for the traitor who was known to the Haussas
as MacGreg.  His horse, surrounded by half a dozen badly-charred
corpses, was discovered, but of the rider there were no signs.
Reluctantly Wilmshurst was forced to come to the conclusion that
fortune had favoured the recreant, and that under cover of the dense
smoke the fellow had either crawled away or else had been carried by
some of the Askaris.



CHAPTER X

PREPARATIONS

"Well, sergeant; how many casualties?"

Bela Moshi, wearing a broad smile, saluted.

"Brass Pot, him head-bone blown inside out," he replied, as cheerfully
as only a Haussa can when reporting losses amongst his comrades.
"Nimshi Pali, him no good--maquisha.  Dat all dead, but plenty much
Haussa hurt--so many."

He indicated by means of his fingers that fifteen were more or less
seriously wounded, a fairly heavy toll of the sixty odd men who had
paraded that morning.  Nevertheless, the sacrifice had not been made in
vain, for a numerically stronger force had been completely routed with
the loss of eighteen left dead upon the field, and thirty-eight wounded
and unwounded prisoners, together with fifty-nine Mauser rifles, which,
for want of transport, were smashed after the bolt action of each had
been removed.

Having taken proper precautions against a surprise counter-attack,
although such a step was unlikely in view of the demoralization of the
defeated force, Wilmshurst directed his attention to the object of the
expedition--the saving of the seaplane.

West African natives are as a rule good carpenters and blacksmiths, and
the Haussas were no exception.  Under Wilmshurst's directions they set
to work to dismantle the machine, removing the planes as carefully and
expeditiously as a party of crack mechanics from the Royal Air Force
factories.  One of the floats was badly smashed, but the other was
practically intact except for a small jagged hole in the three-ply
mahogany.

In a couple of hours the machine was ready for transport across five
miles of bush country, although, fortunately, the ground was fairly
level.

A pair of mountain gun wheels on a broad base-line had been brought for
the purpose, and the chassis, engine included, was rested on the axle.
Relays of men steadied and propelled the heavy load, others armed with
axes and entrenching spades going on ahead to clear the path.  Other
parties transported the floats and planes, while advance and rear
guards and flankers were thrown out to guard against a possible
surprise, while an escort had to be provided for the prisoners.

With frequent halts it was not surprising that the rate of progress was
roughly one and a half miles an hour, and it was close on sunset when
the rescued seaplane arrived at the banks of a small river, where the
Waffs, having struck camp in the vicinity of Gwelba, had only just
marched in.

Colonel Quarrier was delighted with Wilmshurst's report and personally
complimented him upon the way in which he had accomplished the
difficult task with which he had been entrusted, and also the brilliant
little action, which was quite unexpected.

"Pity you didn't either plug or capture that worthless scoundrel
MacGregor," he remarked, for there was now no doubt about the utter
faithlessness of the supposed Rhodesian.  "A man like that will cause
more trouble than a dozen machine-guns.  I suppose, in the course of
former conversations with him, you did not detect any trace of a
foreign accent?"

"None whatever, sir," replied Dudley.

"Or mannerisms?"

Again the subaltern replied in the negative.

"I can only hope," continued Colonel Quarrier, "that the fellow isn't
an Englishman.  It is just possible that he is of German nationality,
and that long years of residence either in Great Britain or the
colonies has enabled him to totally suppress his Hunnish accent and
traits, although it is almost an impossible matter to eradicate his
sympathies for his kultured Fatherland.  'Once a German, always a
German,' you know."

Having been dismissed by his colonel, Dudley was questioned and
congratulated by Captain Manners, the adjutant, who also expressed
regret that the so-called MacGregor had contrived to escape capture.
The members of the "Lone Star Crush" were boisterously warm in their
congratulations, chaffing the subaltern as well as they knew; but
Wilmshurst, alive to the mannerisms of his brother-officers, took their
facetious remarks in good part.

The two officer-airmen added their thanks and good wishes.  They were
still too weak to walk any distance and had to be carried in
roughly-constructed "dhoolies" by the Haussas.  Their relief on
learning that the seaplane was safely alongside the river was great,
especially when they were promised that the work of repairing the
floats would be put in hand forthwith.

"Your C.O. evidently wants to get rid of us," declared the pilot
smiling.  "A crippled 'bus hampers the mobility of the column.  We
heard that a runner came in just now before we left Gwelba, with the
news that an ammunition column and details are on their way up-country.
We've sent down for more petrol, so things look rosy--thanks
principally to you."

"That's nothing," expostulated Wilmshurst.  "Merely returning good for
evil--that's all."

"'Returning good for evil,'" repeated the pilot.  "I don't understand
you."

"Let me explain," continued Dudley, laughing at the thought of
disillusioning the airmen.  "A day or two ago my platoon were posted on
the M'ganga road.  We were just settling down nicely to give Fritz a
warm welcome when you two fellows started dropping bombs on us."

"Good heavens!" ejaculated the observer.  "We thought we were strafing
a mob of Huns.  No damage, I trust?"

"You would have heard of it before now if there had been," replied
Wilmshurst.  "The nearest one just dusted some of my men, that's all.
We couldn't get you to see that we were a Haussa platoon, and I had a
nice old job keeping my men in hand.  They wanted to take pot shots at
you.  By the bye, what made you chuck it--clear out after dropping only
a few bombs?"

"Our last, fortunately for you," said the pilot.  "I say, what a frost!
An' we claimed four direct hits, didn't we?"

"We did," corroborated the other dourly.  "We seriously considered the
idea of giving you a couple of trays of Lewis gun ammunition, Mr.
Wilmshurst.  You'd be surprised how difficult it is to distinguish
between British and German native troops from any height.  By the bye,
did you find a mahogany box in the fuselage?  Good! it contains
undeveloped photograph plates.  One we took of your position.  I'll
send along a print when we get back to our base.  It will interest you."

The Waffs were to remain in camp for three days, pending the arrival of
the convoy.  Even had the latter not been expected the Haussas were
temporarily rendered immobile by the presence of the crippled seaplane
and her crew, and also by the number of prisoners.  The captive Askaris
were subjected to a strict examination, with the result that it was
discovered that Robert MacGregor was really a German, and a person of
some official capacity, since he was on friendly terms with the Hun
commandant, while an Askari sergeant gave the traitor's name with great
distinctness, Ulrich von Gobendorff, adding that the German used to
have charge of a fortified post at Twashi in the Narewenda Hills.

"That's not so very many miles from the Rhodesian border," thought
Wilmshurst, as he made a note of the name in his pocket-book.  "I
wonder if we are ever likely to operate in that district?"

Other information given by the prisoners fixed the position of a German
entrenched post held by three native regiments and a handful of whites,
at M'ganga, under the command of von Lindenfelt.

"M'ganga?  I thought this was M'ganga," exclaimed the puzzled adjutant,
referring to a map.  "Ask the prisoner how far he marched and in what
direction before he was captured?"

The man having replied, Captain Manners was able to locate the spot.
On the German-inspired maps it was shown as a place, whereas, according
to the Askari's description M'ganga was a fairly extensive table-land,
precipitous on three sides, while on the fourth the ground descended in
a series of slight terraces to a broad but shallow river, fordable at a
dozen places, within a distance of a couple of miles.

"If only the beggars will stand," exclaimed Colonel Quarrier, "the
place will be well worth going for.  With our small force a turning
movement seems rather a tall order.  Of course, if we can get in touch
with the Pathan regiments at Kilmoro--and there's a detachment of
Rhodesian Light Horse, too, I believe."

"Yes, sir," agreed the senior major.  "If we can co-operate--cannot we
send a runner, sir?  He'll be back before the ammunition and a supply
column comes in."

In quick time the repairs to the seaplane were completed, and the craft
moored afloat in a wide expanse of the river.  Owing to the difficult
country, where an aeroplane fitted with landing-wheels would be at a
loss to find a suitable spot to alight, a seaplane stood a better
chance, owing to the presence of several wide rivers, and here the Sea
Service machines of the Royal Air Force scored over the German
aircraft; most of which were already _hors de combat_, and could not be
replaced owing to the lack of material and the cutting off of German
East Africa from practically all communication without.

On hearing of the proposed attack upon von Lindenfelt the naval airmen,
who were rapidly recovering from the effect of their arduous and
perilous trek, volunteered to remain and co-operate.  For observation
purposes and machine-gunning the Huns they would be able to render
yeoman service, while, when their offer was promptly accepted, the
ingenious officers set to work to manufacture bombs.

These missiles, rough and ready in construction, were none the less
formidable, while the moral effect was a great consideration.  The
"eggs" consisted of small sacks filled with cordite, both loose and in
cartridges, while by manipulating the fuses of Mills bombs, so that the
period between release and explosion was increased to six seconds, the
improvised missiles were made to detonate just before reaching the
ground after a fall of six hundred feet.

The tempestuous shouts of the Haussas announced the arrival of the
transport column, for food was beginning to run short and the men's
rations would have had to have been reduced had not the expected stores
been speedily forthcoming.  There was petrol, too, enough for a series
of flights over a distance of two hundred miles; while to the intense
satisfaction of officers and men big Jock Spofforth rejoined the
regiment, looking none the worse for his encounter with the lioness,
except for the still raw scars on his brawny arms.

"Just in time for a dust-up, I find, old man," was his reply to
Wilmshurst's greeting.  "You've been lucky already, I hear?  Where's
that MacGregor chap?  Is he still with the battalion?"

Briefly Dudley explained what had happened.

"Skunk," muttered Spofforth.  "So we've been taking a dirty Hun under
our wing, so to speak.  I don't mind admitting now that I didn't think
much of the blighter when he pushed off and promptly fainted."

"But I scooted, too," interrupted Laxdale, "and left you to tackle the
lioness."

"I also plead guilty," added Danvers.

"But with this difference," rejoined Spofforth: "you were unarmed and
he had a rifle.  Ah, well; you fellows have stolen a march on me, and
I've a lot of leeway to make up.  When do we move against M'ganga?"

"As soon as we are in touch with the Indian crush," replied Danvers.
"It may be tomorrow."

"Hurrah!" exclaimed Spofforth.  "Let's hope it will be a decent scrap,
and that von Gobendorff will be present at the meeting."



CHAPTER XI

THE SNIPER

It was not until thirty-six hours later that the Waffs moved out of
camp for the purpose of delivering a surprise attack upon von
Lindenfelt's position.  From N'gere a strong force of Pathans,
accompanied by a mule mountain battery, was marching in a
north-easterly direction to cut off, if possible, the Huns' retreat,
while the Rhodesian Light Horse was operating between M'ganga and the
Karewenda Geberge in order to keep contact with any German troops
likely to attempt to reinforce von Lindenfelt's garrison.  To still
further encompass the hostile position a force of Belgians was
approaching from the westward.  Even if these resolute and energetic
troops failed to be in for the actual fighting, they would most
effectually round up any stragglers, who would otherwise contrive to
escape to the hinterland, where strong bands of Huns still maintained
guerrilla tactics.

Almost as soon as it was light the seaplane rose from the surface of
the river and flew westwards to note the respective dispositions of the
other troops operating against M'ganga.  In the absence of wireless
Colonel Quarrier could receive the airmen's report only by means of a
written message dropped from the seaplane, while before the storming
troops were in position the airmen would have to return to their
temporary base, replenish petrol and then fly off to bomb von
Lindenfelt's stronghold.

Progress was slow as far as the Haussas were concerned.  Although there
were no indications that the Huns expected an attack so promptly they
had made certain preparations.  The only approach from the south-east
was by means of a narrow path through well-wooded and undulating
country, and for miles from M'ganga the wily Germans had beset the road
with pitfalls and booby-traps.  There were caltrops by the
hundred--sharp-pointed spikes stuck into the ground, their tips
cunningly hidden by dead leaves--which were responsible for a few
casualties as the Haussas' bare feet came in contact with the barbs.
These devices the blacks countered by means of implements shaped like
exaggerated hoes which they pushed in front of them.

Other defensive measures were heavy logs suspended by boughs
overhanging the path by means of light but strong wires.  An unwary
footfall would release a catch which in turn would cause the baulk of
timber to crash to the earth.  There were old muskets, charged to
bursting point with slugs and nails, which were fired by similar
devices, while on three occasions fougasses, or land-mines, were
exploded, fortunately without causing casualties.  The Haussas, not to
be outdone by their Askari foes, had taken the precaution of driving
oxen well in front of the advance guard, and although six beasts had
been killed by infernal machines, the troops succeeded in crossing the
belt of forest with a loss of five men slightly wounded.

"The explosion of those fougasses has knocked on the head our chances
of delivering a surprise attack," remarked the company commander to
Wilmshurst.  "It will be a frontal attack against a prepared foe.
Let's hope the Huns won't bolt."

"That's the general opinion, sir," replied the subaltern.  "The men are
simply longing for a scrap.  Fritz has thrown away one good chance.  He
might have played Old Harry with us if he had posted a couple of
companies in ambush in the forest."

"I wasn't sorry to get clear of the place," admitted the major.  "A
hundred men might have been lying in wait in those underglades and our
flankers wouldn't spot 'em.  Hullo, here's the seaplane."

Flying at a comparatively low altitude the machine approached rapidly
"down wind."  In the clear atmosphere the concentric red, white, and
blue circles that indicated its nationality were visible from a great
distance, while presently the features of the observer could be
distinguished as he leant over the side of the fuselage.

Presently a small object to which coloured streamers were attached was
dropped from the seaplane.  Greatly to the curiosity of the blacks, who
watched the descending message with undisguised wonderment, the object
did not explode on reaching the ground as they fully expected it to do;
and it was with an absurd display of caution that Tari Barl and Blue
Fly went to receive it.

"The C.O--sharp!" ordered Wilmshurst.  "Don't hold the thing like a
snake--it won't bite."

Tari Barl departed on his errand, and returned presently, looking very
crestfallen.

"What's wrong, Tarry Barrel?" asked the subaltern.

"Colonel him call me one time fool, sah," he reported.  "Him tell you
come see him all in dashed hurry quick."

"I wonder what Tarry Barrel has been doing?" thought Dudley as he
hastened to report to his C.O.

Colonel Quarrier was laughing, so were the adjutant and the regimental
sergeant-major.  In the former's hand was the unrolled scrap of paper
on which the airmen's message was written.

"It's all right, after all, Mr. Wilmshurst," said the colonel.  "Your
runner is a bit of a blockhead, as I think you'll admit.  Evidently
under the impression that these coloured ribbons were a present to me
from the skies, he handed over the streamers, while the case containing
the writing, which had been soiled when it fell to the ground, he
carefully cut off and threw away.  As you are here you may as well
inform your company commander the news: the --th and --th Pathans are
in their prearranged positions.  There will be a twenty-minutes'
bombardment by the mountain battery in conjunction with an attack by
the seaplane.  At four forty-five the Waffs will advance in three lines
to the assault.  That's all, Mr. Wilmshurst."

The subaltern saluted and withdrew.  It was now three o'clock and an
hour and three-quarters were to elapse before the battalion went into
action.

"Looks as if we've cornered the beggars, Mr. Wilmshurst," remarked the
major, when Dudley had communicated the C.O.'s message.  "I suppose
they are still there," he added.

The two officers searched the crest of the hill through their
field-glasses.  So elaborate and skilful were the enemy defences that
the powerful lenses failed to detect any trace of the rifle pits and
sand-bagged parapets of the trenches.  Nor were any troops visible.
The top of the table-land looked as deserted as an unexplored land in
the Polar regions.

Wilmshurst lowered his binoculars.  He was about to make some reply
when to the accompaniment of a shrill whistling sound his helmet was
whisked from his head, falling to the ground a good ten feet from where
he stood.

For some minutes the two officers regarded each other, the major
anxiously the other whimsically.

"Hit?" asked the major laconically.

"No, sir," replied Wilmshurst.

"Jolly near squeak," continued the other.  "I think we'll choose a
little less exposed position to resume our observations."

Dudley retrieved his helmet.  A couple of clean-cut holes marked the
entry and exit of a bullet, the missile having missed the subaltern's
head by a fraction of an inch.

"We've drawn their fire, sir," he exclaimed.  "They are still there."

"A sniper at eight hundred yards, I should imagine," observed the
company commander.  "A jolly good shot for a Hun.  We'll try our luck
again."

Making their way to the depression in the ground where the Haussas of
"A" and "B" Companies were lying, the two officers set a couple of men
to work to rig up a dummy soldier.  When complete the effigy was slowly
moved so that from the hostile position it gave the appearance of a
Haussa brazenly and defiantly moving out in the open, while a dozen
officers swept the ground on their front with their field-glasses to
try to detect the faint flash of a sniper's rifle.

A puff of smoke rose from behind a bush at a distance of half a mile,
and almost immediately following the sharp crack of a rifle a bullet
"knocked spots" off the effigy.

Without hesitation twenty or more Haussas let fly in the direction of
the puff of smoke.

"What are you aiming at, men?" shouted the major.

The score of blacks grinned unanimously.  In their minds they had no
suspicion but that they had acted promptly and efficaciously.

Again the dummy was held aloft, and again the same thing happened.

"I've spotted him, sir!" exclaimed Wilmshurst.  "Caught sight of the
flash about fifty yards to the right.  Fritz, old sport, you're
exposed."

While the riflemen were keeping up a hot fire upon the bush that they
supposed was concealing the sniper the company-commander ordered Bela
Moshi to turn a machine gun upon the position that Wilmshurst had
spotted.

Before twenty-four rounds had been let loose a man sprang three feet in
the air, and fell inertly upon the ridge that had but imperfectly
protected him.

"Dead as mutton," reported Wilmshurst, after bringing his glasses to
bear upon the ill-starred Hun.  "He nearly had me, though," he
soliloquised, tentatively fingering the double perforation in his
helmet.

There was no lack of volunteers to examine the sniper's lair.
Regardless of the risk of being potted at by other enemy riflemen Bela
Moshi, Tari Barl, and Spot Cash crept forward, taking advantage of
every available bit of cover.

In twenty minutes the Haussas returned, reporting in characteristically
native terms that the German's head had been literally riddled with the
burst of bullets from the Maxim.  They brought his rifle and
ammunition, his field glasses and a small electric battery.  In
connection with the latter wires were run from the sniper's lair to the
bush from which the puffs of smoke had been seen.  Here small charges
of black powder had been placed so as to be exploded from a safe
distance and thus deceive the Haussas as to the rifleman's actual
position.  The Hun was a bit of a strategist, but he had overreached
himself.  It was the dense smoke from the black powder that had given
him away.  Had he used the so-called smokeless powder the Haussas might
have expended hundreds of rounds without discovering the cheat.

Wilmshurst examined the weapon that had so nearly done him in.  It was
an improved Mauser, bearing the German Government proof mark and the
date 1917, and was fitted with the latest approved type of telescopic
sight, while on the muzzle was fixed a small metal cylinder that
effectually silenced the report.

"That's strange, sir," he remarked to the major.  "We distinctly heard
the report."

"We did," agreed the company commander.  "I cannot understand it unless
the Boche for some reason fired several rounds with the silencer
removed.  If so, why?"

Before the discussion could be carried further a dull, booming sound
came from behind the table-land of M'ganga, while at a little height
behind the German position appeared the mushroom-like cloud of white
smoke as the shrapnel burst.

"Good!" ejaculated the company commander, replacing his binoculars.
"We've had the orchestral selection; the curtain rises on the First
Act."



CHAPTER XII

THE STORMING OF M'GANGA

A loud whirring noise audible above the distant cannonade announced
that the seaplane was passing overhead to participate in the strafing
of Fritz.  Of necessity the airmen had to fly high in order to avoid
being hit by the British shrapnel, but the summit of M'Ganga offered a
big target and the bombs were soon dropping merrily upon the trenches,
dug-outs, and storehouses of von Lindenfelt's position.

In a very few minutes the table-land was enveloped in a piebald pall of
smoke, yet no return fire came from the two 4.1 inch guns that were
known to be with von Lindenfelt's column.  Apart from the bursting
shells and bombs there were no evidences of movement in the Huns'
stronghold--a circumstance that caused the Waff officers to wonder
deeply and mutter under their breath.

"Fix bayonets!"

The sharp click of the weapons being fixed to the rifles rattled along
the line of excited Haussas.  Then in open order the blacks hurried
forward to take cover.  Nor did any hostile bullet seek to check their
progress.  Without hindrance the black and khaki steel-tipped line
gained a pre-arranged position within four hundred yards of the base of
M'Ganga plateau.

Here the men were halted to take a "breather" before essaying the final
task, while the company officers foregathered, consulting their
synchronised watches.  In another ten minutes--five minutes before the
time for the bombardment to cease--the Haussas were to start on their
desperate frontal attack.

"How goes it?" enquired Wilmshurst of Jock Spofforth, as the giant
strolled leisurely across from the platoon.

"Rotten," admitted the other candidly.  His big fingers were trembling
slightly as he applied a match to a cigarette.  "First time going into
action, you know.  It's the hanging about business that gets on a
fellow's nerves."

"You'll be all right when the advance sounds," declared Dudley.  "I
felt like it once."

"Simply had to stroll over and have a palaver with you," continued
Spofforth.  "I was afraid that my men would spot my hands trembling.
Hope the Boches are standing.  Hang it all!  Why did nature let me grow
to this height?"

Spofforth was laughing now.  The mental tension of the seemingly
interminable wait was over.

"Two minutes more--hop it, old man," cautioned Wilmshurst.  "The best
of luck."

The whistles sounded.  Almost immediately, as if by some uncanny means
the distant gunners saw that the infantry were in motion, the strafe
ceased.  Overhead the seaplane still circled.  The bomb-dropping part
of their task completed the airmen lingered to watch the advance, and
if occasion offered to assist the storming troops by means of their
Lewis gun.

The natural features of the face of the plateau made the ascent a
difficult one.  Often the Haussas had to climb upon their comrades'
shoulders, and in return help them to surmount an awkward terrace; yet
everything considered the triple line was well maintained, the blacks
needing no encouragement from their white officers, who, perspiring
freely in every pore, were well ahead of their men.

The summit at last.  Well-nigh breathless, Wilmshurst, although by no
means the first, drew himself over the rocky edge of the table-land to
find the ground plentifully sprinkled with barbed wire entanglements.
Although this form of defence had been badly knocked about by
shell-fire there was still sufficient wire, either in tension or else
in snake-like coils, to offer serious impediment to the advance.

Suddenly the opening shot of a ragged, ill-aimed fusillade burst from a
line of zig-zagged trenches a hundred yards from the edge of the
plateau.  A Haussa, in the act of assisting a comrade, sprang high in
the air, and fell, his hands in his death-agony clutching at
Wilmshurst's ankles.

Without knowing what trapped him the subaltern measured his length on
the ground.  Probably the fall saved his life, for a corporal
immediately behind him was shot through the chest.

"Prone position--independent firing," shouted the major, realising that
it was a forlorn hope for a few men to charge.  Until a sufficient
number of bayonets was on the plateau a forward movement was out of the
question.

Coolly the Haussas threw themselves on the ground, taking advantage of
every scrap of cover.  To the accompaniment of the constant whip-like
cracks of the rifles other blacks clambered upon the fairly level
ground until three companies were in readiness to continue the advance.

Again the whistle sounded.  The crowd of prostrate Haussas rose to
their feet, yelling and shouting as they lurched forward with levelled
bayonets.  Men fell almost unheeded as the Waffs forced their way
through the gaps in the barbed wire, and swept right and left to avoid
the shell craters.  By this means platoons became intermingled, while
companies overlapped each other, but steadily the onward rush continued.

The Askaris in the first line of trenches did not wait.  The sight of
the tips of the glittering bayonets was too much for their courage.
Their fire ceased; they turned and scurried over the parados, followed
by bullets from the Haussas and met by bullets from their German
task-masters, who had taken the precaution of stiffening their native
levies with a lead ration should they show signs of weakening.

In this predicament the Askaris halted and faced about.  Already the
Haussas were astride the first trench and interlocked with the nearmost
of their foes, the while a German machine gun was playing on the
combatants with the delightful impartiality that a Hun displays to save
his own hide.

Temporarily the Haussas' charge was checked.  The machine gun was
playing havoc with them.  Then, suddenly, the ominous tic-tac ceased,
while overhead came the pop-pop-pop of the seaplane's automatic gun.
It was more than the Huns had bargained for.  Some dived into
underground retreats, others bolted, showing a clean pair of heels to
the Askaris, who were now resisting valiantly.

In the mêlée Wilmshurst found himself attacked by three muscular
natives, who for some reason did not attempt to fire, but fought with
their rifles and bayonets.

One the subaltern shot with the last cartridge in his revolver.
Hurling the empty weapon at the head of the second--which the Askari
avoided by adroitly stepping aside--Dudley parried a bayonet-thrust
with the sole weapon at his disposal, a "loaded" trench-stick.  As he
did so the second native closed, delivering a thrust that drove the
bayonet through the left sleeve of the subaltern's tunic.  Before the
man could recover his weapon, Wilmshurst brought the heavy stick down
upon his fingers.

Dropping his rifle the Askari gripped the subaltern's wrist with his
uninjured right hand, while a third native ran in to drive his bayonet
through the young officer's chest.

A deafening report sounded close to Wilmshurst's ear; he felt the blast
of a rifle shot on his cheek, but he had the satisfaction of seeing the
Askari topple forward and bite the dust.

Wilmshurst settled the third antagonist very effectively by delivering
a crashing blow with his left upon the point of the Askari's chin.  The
man relaxed his grip and dropped.

"Thanks, Bela Moshi!" exclaimed Wilmshurst, catching sight of the
sergeant as the latter thrust a fresh clip of cartridges into his
magazine.

The struggle in this part of the line was now over.  The Haussas were
engaged in firing shots into the dug-outs to intimidate their German
occupants.  Fifty or sixty prisoners were being disarmed and rounded
up, while the wounded had to be given attention.

Wilmshurst, picking up his revolver and reloading it, looked around for
his brother subalterns.  There was big Jock Spofforth in the act of
putting a first-aid dressing round a bullet wound in Danvers' arm,
while Laxdale was sitting on the ground and nursing his left foot.

There was no time to make enquiries just then.  It was satisfactory to
learn that all the officers of "A" Company were alive; those who were
wounded were making light of their hurts.  On the right flank the
struggle was still in progress, and until all resistance was at an end
Wilmshurst had no time for other things.

Acting upon his company commander's orders the subaltern took charge of
the task of clearing out the dug-outs, while the remaining platoons of
"A" and "B" Companies re-formed, and hastened to the support of their
comrades who were still hotly engaged.

"If we only had a supply of bombs!" thought Dudley as he watched the
ineffectual attempt of his men to induce the occupants of a deep
shelter to surrender.

Half a dozen Haussas were gathered round the entrance firing volleys
into the cavernous depths, and punctuating the fusillade by
quaintly-worded threats of what they would do if the Bosh-bosh didn't
"show hand up one time bery much quick."

Bidding his men be silent, Wilmshurst demanded the surrender of the
Germans in the dug-out.  Hearing a British officer's voice one of the
Huns replied defiantly:

"We no surrender make to a schweinhund Englander.  We food haf for six
week, an' you cannot hurt us."

"Can't we, by Jove!" replied Wilmshurst.  "Sergeant, bring along that
box of bombs."

"Bery good, sah," said Bela Moshi, grinning as he hurried away a few
steps on a phantom errand.

"Now, then," continued the subaltern.  "I give you one minute to make
up your minds; if you refuse to surrender we'll blow you to blazes.  I
take the time from now."

Half a minute passed in absolute silence as far as the vicinity of the
dug-out was concerned, although three or four hundred yards away the
desultory firing still continued.  Three quarters of a minute: there
was a shuffling sound from the subterranean retreat and the guttural
voice of several Huns engaged in excited debate.

"Fifty seconds!" announced Wilmshurst.  "Ten seconds more."

"Do not t'row der pomb; we surrender make!" implored a voice.

"Out you come, then; one at a time," ordered Dudley.

With his revolver ready for instant action should the Huns display any
signs of treachery the subaltern awaited the appearance of his
captives, while the Haussas stood by to back up their young officer
should necessity arise.

The first to appear was the junior lieutenant, looking very scared.
Finding that nothing occurred to cause him physical hurt he held his
arms high above his head, at the same time saying something to his
unseen companions.

Then came Hauptmann von Argerlich, pale-faced under his sun-burnt
complexion.  He had good cause to feel afraid, for he was by no means
uncertain that the British possessed a record of his deeds--deeds that
might be worthy of the German arms, but certainly would not be regarded
with any degree of favour by nations with any respectable code of
honour.  Poisoning wells, for example, was quite a favourite and
pleasant Hun trick when the perpetrators of the outrage were all able
to place a safe distance between them and their foes; it was quite
another matter when the officer responsible for the dastardly deeds was
a prisoner of war.

Three more Germans followed, and then came a full-faced, double-chinned
Prussian, wearing an order on his cotton drill uniform.  In his hand he
held a sheathed sword, the scabbard of which had already been
unfastened from the slings.

"I am Commandant Hendrich von Lindenfelt," he announced as captor and
captive exchanged salutes.  "I make surrender and claim der treatment
due to der brisoners of war."

"That'll be all right," rejoined Wilmshurst.  "Please keep your sword
until the colonel decides--I mean, until you are taken to Colonel
Quarrier of the Nth Waffs.  Are all the German officers here?"

"Yes," replied von Lindenfelt.  "All except those who killed and
wounded are."

"I am anxious to find a certain individual known as von Gobendorff,"
continued the British subaltern.  "Can you give me any information
concerning him?"

The oberst seemed considerably taken aback.

"I do not know any person so called," he replied after a slight
hesitation.

"Think again, Herr von Lindenfelt," prompted Wilmshurst.  "The man we
want is von Gobendorff, otherwise known as Robert MacGregor, and is
known to have belonged to the forces under your command."

Von Lindenfelt shook his head, this time resolutely and defiantly.

"I do know not," he declared.

It was practically useless to press the question.  There were,
Wilmshurst argued, other means of finding out.

Setting a guard over the prisoners Dudley sent a file of Haussas to
explore the dug-out.  In less than a minute the corporal returned.

"Number one big hole, sah," he reported.  "Me no find no one time man
in no place."

As a result of this somewhat mystifying intelligence Wilmshurst entered
the dug-out.  Descending a flight of a dozen wooden steps he gained the
ante-room, a space fifteen feet in length and about seven in breadth.
It was absolutely proof against the heaviest gun employed in the German
East campaign, while, as a safeguard against bombs that might be lobbed
into their retreat, the door of the second room was protected by a wall
of sandbags backed with massive slabs of African teak.

By the aid of flaming brands held by the blacks Wilmshurst was able to
make a rapid, but none the less complete examination of the shelter.
Evidently it was the headquarters dug-out, judging by the smashed
telephone, the pile of broken instruments, and the heap of paper ash
that littered the floor.

At the subaltern's order the blacks prodded the walls with their
bayonets and hammered the floor with the butt ends of their rifles, but
no suspicion of the existence of a concealed "funk-hole" was to be
traced.

"Precious little here," commented Wilmshurst.  "I'll have to keep the
place open for the colonel's inspection, I suppose."

Regaining the open air he posted a sentry over the entrance and,
collecting the German prisoners, awaited the arrival of the C.O.

By this time all resistance on the summit of M'ganga was over.  Away to
the north-east came occasional reports of rifle-firing, showing that
the Pathans and the Rhodesian horse were engaging the fugitives.

The one fly in the ointment was the escape of von Gobendorff.  There
was, of course, the possibility that he had been shot or had contrived
to slip away during the action.  In the latter case he had the cordon
of troops to take into consideration; but knowing the wiliness of the
man and the fluency with which he spoke English, Dudley began to feel
rather dubious concerning the Hun's apprehension.

Otherwise the brilliant little affair was highly successful.
Practically the whole of von Linderfelt's staff had been either killed
or captured; most of the Germans in the firing-line had shared a
similar fate, while the surviving Askaris were either captured or had
escaped in small numbers through the lines of the encircling forces.

Von Lindenfelt had not counted upon the use of light artillery against
his strong position, but the fire of the mountain batteries, assisted
by the seaplane's bombs, had proved terribly destructive.  Of the
4.1-inch guns mounted for the defence not one remained intact, their
destruction materially helping the Waffs in their frontal attack.  A
considerable quantity of military stores also fell into the hands of
the victors, much of the booty being found upon examination to have
been sent to German East Africa during the last three months.

As a result of the operation a large hostile column operating in the
neighbourhood of the Rovuma had ceased to exist.  There were other
roving forces still in the district, and against these the Haussas were
to operate in conjunction with other detachments.

"It's all right when we catch Fritz sitting," remarked Spofforth.  "The
trouble is that he strongly objects to be caught.  We'll have to chase
him from the Rovuma to Kilimanjaro and back before we square up this
business."

"And, even then, corner him in Cape Town," added Danvers facetiously.
"I can see myself spending my seventieth birthday on this job."



CHAPTER XIII

THE FUGITIVE

On the evening of the capture of M'ganga a white man, fatigued and
desperately hungry, stood irresolute upon the banks of the Kiwa River,
roughly forty miles from the scene of the Waffs' successful operations.

It would have been a difficult matter to recognise in the jaded man the
once well-set-up individual known in certain quarters as Robert
MacGregor; nor was there much resemblance between the fugitive and the
German secret service agent, Ulrich von Gobendorff--yet the man was
none other than he whom the officers of the Haussa regiment
particularly wished to lay by the heels.

By a series of hair-breadth escapes von Gobendorff had succeeded in
making his way past the Pathan infantry picquets.  For twenty minutes
he had crouched up to his neck in the miasmatic waters of a forest
pool, with thousands of mosquitoes buzzing round his unprotected head,
while a patrol of the Rhodesian Light Horse halted within twenty yards
of his place of concealment.

And now, with a strip of linen tied round his head, a ragged cotton
shirt, a pair of "shorts" that were hardly any protection from the
thorny cacti, and a pair of badly-worn "veldt schoen" as the sum total
of his clothing and footgear von Gobendorff awaited the fall of night
in the depths of a tropical forest.

His limbs were covered with scratches that were causing him intense
pain and irritation; his face was swollen under the attacks of
mosquitoes, until his bloodshot eyes were hardly visible above his
puffed up cheeks.  Unarmed with the exception of an automatic pistol,
he was about to brave the dangers of a night 'midst malarial mists and
wild beasts of an African forest.

As the sun sank von Gobendorff collected a heap of wood and leaves and
kindled a fire.  For the present he judged that he was practically free
from pursuit.  In any case he would take the risk of lighting a fire.
It was not likely that British patrols would be wandering through the
dense tropical vegetation during the hours of darkness.

Under the wide-spreading branches of a baobab the Hun was able to make
one fire serve his purpose.  Ordinarily he would have lighted three or
four at a distance of five or six yards from each other, and thus found
comparative immunity from the attacks of lions and hippos, but the
baobab--it reminded him of a certain incident when he was "attached" to
the Haussas--was able to protect both rear and flank from the voracious
assaults of any four-footed creatures.

As the fire blazed brightly von Gobendorff consumed his last ration--a
small cube of highly-concentrated food, which he had in his possession
on the development of the attack on M'ganga.  Throughout his flight,
although tormented with the pangs of hunger, he had resolutely refused
to draw upon his scanty commissariat.  And now it was eaten: for the
rest of his journey he would have to depend upon his wits to obtain
food.  Rather grimly he reflected that an automatic .302, although an
efficient "man-stopper" in a _mêlée_, was not to be compared with a
rifle as a means of procuring food.

Although inured to exposure in a tropical country von Gobendorff was
feeling severely the effect of the sun upon his insufficiently
protected limbs.  In the rapidly cooling air his blistered skin was
stretched so tightly that every movement of his neck, arms and legs
gave him intense pain.  The mosquitoes, owing to the glare of the
burning wood, had ceased their attacks, but the effect of their
previous onslaughts was greatly in evidence.

Slowly and carefully lying down on a pile of broad leaves the Hun tried
to fall asleep, but in vain.  Racked in every limb, his head throbbing
as if it harboured a rapidly working piston, he endured--waiting for
the dawn that would give him no respite from his torments.

Presently the denizens of the forest began their nocturnal activities.
In the sluggishly-flowing river hippopotami floundered noisily.
Elephants crashed through the brushwood making their way to the water,
while at intervals rhinoceri and bush-cows charged blindly past the
fiercely burning fire.  Von Gobendorff was in a big game hunter's
paradise, but he failed utterly to show enthusiasm at the prospect.

At intervals he crawled to his reserve stock of fuel to replenish the
fire, knowing that if he allowed the comforting and protecting flame to
die out he stood an almost certain chance of falling a victim to a
four-footed foe.  Once a large bush-cow thundered almost through the
blazing logs, bellowing frantically as a panther with its claws deeply
dug into the huge brute's hide was remorselessly tearing at the throat
of its prey.

Monkeys, too, huge simians looking human-like in the dull red glare,
came shuffling from the shadow of the neighbouring trees to gaze
fixedly at the unusual sight of a fire.  Muttering, chattering and
gesticulating they watched the Hun's bivouac for several minutes until
the sudden spring of a large cat-like animal claimed one victim and
sent the rest of the monkeys flying for their lives.

With the first streak of dawn the nocturnal Bacchanalia ceased.  Von
Gobendorff, who had longed for the break of day in order to resume his
flight to a supposedly safe refuge in the Karewenda Hills, found
himself unable to resist the sleep of utter exhaustion, and as the last
faint wreath of pale grey smoke rose from the dying embers he dropped
into a deep slumber.

He awoke to find the glade bathed in brilliant sunshine.  The sun was
almost overhead, while he himself was lying in the dense shadow cast by
the overspreading branches of the baobab.  Through an opening in the
otherwise dense foliage he could see the river rippling in the dazzling
light, while partly hauled up the bank and partly resting between the
reeds was a canoe--a dug-out of about twenty-five feet in length.

"Himmel!" muttered the German.  "This is indeed good fortune."

The means of crossing the broad Kiwa River was at his command.  He had
made up his mind on the previous evening to risk a horrible death by
attempting to swim the stream.  He had seen what appeared to be logs
drifting silently with the eddying current--logs that on the approach
of danger would reveal themselves in their true characters, for the
river swarmed with hippopotami.

Von Gobendorff was on the point of issuing from his retreat when the
sound of voices and the rustling of the brushwood warned him that the
owners of the canoe were returning.

Listening intently he recognised the dialect as that of the Birwas--a
native tribe occupying a considerable tract of the hinterland.  He knew
the language well--he had the Hun's typical capability of acquiring a
knowledge of foreign tongues.

Presently the blacks came in sight--two lithe and stalwart natives
armed with primitive bow and spear.  One man carried the hindquarters
of a gnu, the other had a brace of birds dangling from the haft of his
spear.

With an effort von Gobendorff pulled himself together and strode boldly
into the open.

Halting, he signed imperiously to the Birwas to approach.

The blacks obeyed promptly.  Experience had taught them to carry out
the behests of their German masters with the utmost celerity.  With
every indication of abasement they approached and awaited the white
man's orders.

Von Gobendorff pointed to the still warm embers of the fire.

"I am hungry," he said.  "Get me something to eat and drink, and be
sharp."

While one of the Birwas cut strips of flesh from the gnu and spitted
them on skewers, the other placed more wood on the fire and coaxed it
into a blaze.  The grilling operation in progress the fire-tender ran
to the canoe to return with a couple of small gourds of water, some
dried berries somewhat resembling coffee beans and a flat cake of
mealie bread.

Von Gobendorff soon discovered that the natives had been serving in the
German outpost at G'henge, a position overrun and captured by a Sikh
battalion about three months previously.  They had, they declared, been
very well treated by their new masters.

The fugitive smiled grimly, immediately wincing as the movement of the
facial muscles gave him a thrill of pain.  It was evident, he reasoned,
that the Birwas had mistaken him for an officer of the British forces.

Hardly able to wait until the meal was prepared von Gobendorff turned
to and ate with avidity, washing down the food with copious draughts of
hot and far from palatable beverage.  Having refreshed he ordered the
blacks to hide all traces of his bivouac and made them carry him to the
canoe.  He realised how imperative it was that he should cover his
tracks, and by no means the least important measure was to prevent any
prints of his veldt schoen being discovered on the moist marshland on
the river bank.

"Take me to Kossa," ordered von Gobendorff, naming a small military
post on the Kiwa about thirty miles down the river, and at a point
where the stream made a semi-circular bend before running in a
south-westerly direction to join the Rovuma.

For the first time the Birwas demurred.

"There are strong rapids a little distance down stream," declared one.
"We are not skilled in working a canoe.  Can we not take you across to
our village, where there are plenty of men who will paddle you to
Kossa?"

"My word," said von Gobendorff, "is law."

To add greater emphasis to his words he produced his automatic pistol.
The argument was conclusive.  With every indication of fear the two
natives pushed off, and seizing the paddles they propelled the unwieldy
craft down stream.

Compared with his previous mode of travelling the Hun found the journey
bordering almost upon the luxurious.  He would have preferred a
cushion, a double helmet and a sun-umbrella with a canopy thrown in,
but reflecting that he was fortunate in being able to tackle the Kiwa
without having to resort to swimming, he endured the glare with
comparative equanimity.

Concerning the perils of the rapids he decided to take his chances.  It
was just possible that the Birwas had lied, hoping to deter him from
his purpose.  That they were fairly experienced in the art of canoeing
was evident by the way in which they skilfully avoided the numerous
hippopotami, their broad-bladed paddles entering the water without the
faintest suspicion of a splash.

Whenever, as frequently happened, the canoe passed a native village von
Gobendorff, no doubt with the loss of a certain amount of prestige,
took up a position at full length at the bottom of the canoe, strictly
warning his boatmen that they were to maintain absolute silence as far
as his presence was concerned.

The canoe had barely passed a small collection of huts when the two
Birwas began to jabber vociferously, pointing at an object a hundred
yards ahead.

"Why this noise?" demanded von Gobendorff, who understood the cause of
the conversation.  "You have passed dozens of 'river-cows' before?"

"This one is awake and furious," replied one of the natives.  "We
sought to keep to the bank, and the animal has seen us."

The Hun sat up and drew his pistol.  A brief glance on either hand
showed that there were no signs of escape by running the canoe ashore.
The banks were here quite twenty feet in height, precipitous and topped
with dense vegetation.  There was deep water close to land, while in
mid-stream a mud-bank just showed above the swirling current.

"Go on!" he ordered.

The men plied their paddles vigorously.  Although the
heavily-constructed canoe was incapable of any great speed, and was
also undermanned, the commotion of the paddles and the frantic shouts
of the two blacks made up for the lack of manoeuvring powers.  The
hippo dived.  The canoe shot past.

Von Gobendorff breathed freely, but he was too premature.  The
hippopotamus reappeared amidst a smother of foam.  Its wide-open jaws
closed up on the gunwale of the dug-out.

The canoe listed dangerously.  The Birwas still further endangered its
stability by standing upright and raining absolutely ineffectual blows
with their paddles upon the armour-plated head of the amphibian.  The
air in the vicinity of the heeling craft was thick with spray and
flying fragments of woodwork.

Raising his pistol von Gobendorff placed the muzzle within an inch of
the hippo's right eye, and fired two shots in quick succession.  Then,
without waiting to observe the effect, he put two bullets into the
animal's left eye.

With a stupendous jerk that dipped the badly shattered gunwale under
the water the hippo relaxed its grip and disappeared.  Whether mortally
wounded or not there were no means of ascertaining, but the brute was
seen no more.

Throwing their paddles into the bottom of the canoe the two natives,
crouching on the uninjured side to keep the jagged hole above the
surface, plied their gourds frantically in order to get rid of the
quantity of water that had poured over the gunwale.  This task having
been completed von Gobendorff noticed with a certain amount of
apprehension that the freeboards betwixt the edge of the gaping hole
and the water was less than four inches.

In the excitement of the encounter the Hun had overlooked the fact that
already the canoe was within the influence of the rapids.  The Birwas
had spoken truly--there were cataracts; what was more there was now no
means of avoiding them.

The banks on either hand were still steep and precipitous, while,
undermanned, the heavy canoe could not be propelled against the stream,
the speed of which exceeded five miles per hour and was steadily
increasing as the rapids drew nearer and nearer.

The thunder of the foaming water could now be heard distinctly, as the
canoe, held in the inexorable grip of the swirling torrent, swayed
towards the danger.  The two natives realised their peril.  Their black
faces were suffused with an ashy grey hue; their eyes were wide open
with fear.

"Paddle backwards!" ordered von Gobendorff, knowing that to attempt to
turn the canoe would mean both loss of time and increased chances of
being immediately swamped.

With every muscle strained to its utmost capacity the Birwas strove
desperately to back up-stream.  Anxiously von Gobendorff kept his eyes
fixed upon a mark in the bank.  For a few minutes he watched--then he
muttered curses under his breath.  The canoe was slowly yet surely
losing ground.  He was fully aware that, apart from its damaged
condition, the cumbersome craft stood no possible chance of escape in
the maelstrom-like eddies of the rapids, unless by sheer good fortune
combined with the skill of the two natives the canoe could be made to
avoid the jagged rocks between which the waters of the Kiwa rushed.

Suddenly the German caught sight of a huge teak-tree that, having been
uprooted, was trailing over the banks.  It was a faint chance, but von
Gobendorff decided to risk it.

Raising his hand he pointed towards the tree-trunk.  Already the roar
of the water made it impossible for the Birwas to hear him speak.  The
men nodded and again began to ply their paddles vigorously, keeping
close to the border between the main stream and a back-eddy by this
part of the right bank.

With a quick turn of his broad blade the bowman urged the canoe's bows
diagonally against the mass of timber.  Caught by the full force of the
current the dug-out swung round, crashed against the tree and, listing,
was immediately swamped by the inrush of water.

Von Gobendorff leapt to safety.  With cat-like agility he swarmed up
the inclined bank.  Here he stood and waited, watching the efforts of
the two natives to save themselves.

The bowman had succeeded in getting astride the massive log and was
endeavouring to extricate his companion from the peril that threatened
him, for the other had been thrown out of the canoe and was pinned
between the tree and the side of the water-logged craft.

In spite of the Birwa's most strenuous efforts the trapped man was
unable to extricate himself from the vice-like grip, for edges of the
jagged hole in the canoe's side were pressing hard against his thigh,
while the canoe itself, forced against the tree-trunk by the
swiftly-running current, could not be moved in spite of the combined
efforts of the two blacks.

A third man would have made all the difference.  The trapped Birwa
raised his eyes appealingly to the white man, but von Gobendorff
stirred not so much as a little finger.

The Hun, having no further use for the natives, was merely awaiting the
catastrophe that would effectually cover his tracks.  Without the need
of further aid from the Birwas he was now within measurable distance of
the Karewenda Hills.  Another six hours ought to find him in at least
the temporary shelter of the German fortified post of Twashi.

With a sardonic expression on his face von Gobendorff waited and
watched.  For a full five minutes the grim struggle was maintained.
The trapped Birwa's strength was fast failing.  Already greatly
exhausted by his strenuous work with the paddle he was rapidly
collapsing under the strain.

Suddenly he relaxed his grip.  The water-logged canoe dipped, and was
swept under the tree, taking with it the doomed native, whose last
despairing cry was drowned in the roar of the rushing river.  For a few
moments the surviving Birwa remained kneeling on the inclined mass of
timber, trembling in every limb, then, slowly and with every sign of
temerity he began to make his way up the trunk to dry land.

Raising his pistol the Hun fired straight at the man's head.  The
Birwa's arms collapsed, he fell at full length upon the rounded mass of
timber, and, slipping sideways, toppled inertly into the foaming
torrent.

"Hamba gachle!" exclaimed von Gobendorff, using a Zulu expression that
he had picked up in his many and diverse wanderings through South and
Central Africa.  "Dead men tell no tales, and you were in my way."

Then, recharging the magazine of his automatic pistol, the German
turned, and, setting his face towards the north-west, strode rapidly
towards the Karewenda Hills.



CHAPTER XIV.

ON THE TRACK

"Mr. Wilmshurst, I shall require you to proceed on special service,"
said Colonel Quarrier.

"Very good, sir," replied Dudley promptly, and awaited the C.O.'s
instructions.

It was the evening of the fall of M'ganga.  The prisoners had been
collected and were about to be sent under escort to Kilwa.  Fully under
the impression that he was to be detailed for this monotonous but
necessary duty Wilmshurst had reported himself to his colonel, but to
his intense satisfaction he soon found that such was not the C.O.'s
intention.

"Concerning this MacGregor-Gobendorff fellow," continued Colonel
Quarrier.  "It seems as if he has slipped through our fingers.  We have
been robbed of much of the satisfaction of capturing the position on
that account.  The Rhodesian Light Horse patrols are all back and
report no luck as far as the capture of von Gobendorff is concerned,
and the same applies to the Indian troops.  From some of the prisoners
we learnt that the fellow slipped away during the preliminary
bombardment, and that he was not mounted.  I have arranged with Colonel
Mopesson, of the Light Horse, for a mounted patrol to be sent in
pursuit, and since it is desirable for some one to identify the Hun--it
sounds like counting our chickens before they are hatched, by the
bye--I propose that you accompany the Rhodesians."

"Yes, sir," replied the subaltern.

"Very good.  You have half an hour to make preparations," resumed the
C.O.  "Take a batman with you--a man who can ride well.  You will
rejoin your battalion at Kossa in three days' time, circumstances
permitting."

Wilmshurst saluted and withdrew to make his brief preparations.  Having
given Tari Barl instructions to pack his kit the subaltern sent for
Sergeant Bela Moshi.

"Find me a man who can ride well," he said.

A broad grin overspread the Haussa non-com.'s face.

"No go for look, sah," he replied.  "Me know one time quick.  Good man;
him ride like de wind."

"Then bring him here," continued Wilmshurst.

"Him here, sah--me, Bela Moshi."

"I didn't know that you could ride," remarked the subaltern dubiously,
fancying that Bela Moshi in his desire to accompany him was inventing a
fairy tale concerning his equestrian abilities.

"Me one-time groom in Freetown, sah," declared Bela Moshi.  "Me lib for
ride any old hoss till him bust."

"I'll try you," announced Wilmshurst.  "If you are wasting my time look
out for squalls."

At the lines where the horses were picketed the Haussa picked out a
powerful-looking brute--a "salted" Cape horse which had shown
considerable temper at previous times.

Vaulting upon the animal Bela Moshi rode it barebacked, urging it at a
gallop and finishing by taking a formidable obstacle in the shape of a
cactus-bush.

"How can do, sah?" he asked.

"Good enough," replied Wilmshurst.  "Cut off and pack your kit.  We
have only ten minutes."

Well within the time specified the Haussa was ready for the trek, his
kit consisting of a blanket, rifle and ammunition, a haversack and his
cooking utensils.  In addition he carried his master's water-filter and
a light waterproof tent weighing together with the socketed poles a
little over two pounds.

"Good luck, old man!" exclaimed Spofforth, as his brother subaltern
rode off to join the patrol.  "Kindest regards to MacGregor when you
meet him.  Tell him how awfully delighted all of us will be to see him."

Wilmshurst's new comrades were all men of the Rhodesian farmer type,
well set-up, sturdy, independent and resourceful--a band of chums
voluntarily taken from their homesteads to render them immune from
invasion by tackling the Hun on his own ground.

All were splendidly mounted on horses inured to the miasmic climate,
"led" animals carrying their necessary equipment.  Each man knew how to
take care of himself.  He knew only the elementary principles of drill,
but was none the less a very tough proposition for a Hun to tackle.
Skilled in woodcraft and travelling, able to cover great distances with
the minimum of fatigue, and capable of going on short rations without
loss of efficiency the Rhodesians were ideal men for the work on hand.
One and all had a score to wipe off; though few, if any, had fallen in
with von Gobendorff they deeply resented the Hun's audacity in posing
as a Rhodesian, while those who were of Scots descent and bore Scottish
names were highly indignant at the idea of a German adopting the
honourable and ancient cognomen of MacGregor.

Through the far-flung Pathan outposts they passed and rode into the
night.  Scores of Askaris, who had thrown away their arms, signified
their willingness to surrender.  Some were questioned concerning the
flight of von Gobendorff, their replies confirming the reports of the
prisoners taken at M'ganga; and the surrendered men were ordered to
return and give themselves up to the Indian troops, since the main
objective of the patrol was the pursuit of the spy, von Gobendorff.

That night the patrol bivouacked a short distance from a native kraal,
the inhabitants of which gave them a warm, demonstrative and noisy
welcome, at the same time providing them with a goat, plenty of mealies
and water.  Enquiries elicited the information that a party of
villagers had seen a white man hurrying through the bush, and
fortunately had not given any indication of their presence.  According
to the natives' report the fugitive was making in a north-westerly
direction.

"He'll have his work cut out to cross the Kiwa," declared the sergeant
of the patrol.  "The river's pretty full just now and swarms of hippos.
I doubt whether he'll tackle it at night."

"In that case we'll boot and saddle an hour before sunrise," declared
Wilmshurst.  "My man, Bela Moshi, will be able to follow the spoor like
a cat....  Oh, yes, light as many fires as you like.  Von Gobendorff is
too far away to see the glare."

The night passed quietly.  Although there were wild animals prowling
round they kept a respectful distance.  Men in pairs took turn in
keeping watch, their comrades lying wrapped in blankets, with their
feet towards the fire, each with his loaded rifle by his side.

After a good meal, consisting of roast goat's-flesh, millet bread and
hot chocolate, the trek was resumed, the Haussa following the spoor
with the sagacity and skill of a sleuth-hound until it was light enough
to enable the Rhodesians to follow up the trail.

After a distance of five miles had been covered the patrol halted in
perplexity, for, seemingly from nowhere another spoor joined that of
the one they were following.  There were distinct imprints of two men
walking--one wearing veldt-schoen, the other the heavy marching boot
supplied to the German colonial units.

The latter was of slightly recent origin, as witnessed by the fact that
here and there the footprints of the boots had partly obliterated those
of the veldt-schoen.

"It strikes me we've only just tumbled on the right spoor," declared a
Rhodesian.  "Of the two I should imagine von Gobendorff was wearing
military boots.  I suppose you didn't happen to notice what he wore
while he was attached to the Waffs?"

"Boots and gaiters," replied Wilmshurst.  "But, of course, that was
some time ago."

"And boots are scarce in this show," rejoined the other tentatively.
"When a man gets used to wearing a certain pair he's not likely to
discard them in a hurry.  I'll bet that is von Gobendorff's trail."

"And the other?" asked Dudley.

"A nigger might be wearing veldt-schoen," suggested another Rhodesian.
"Perhaps he looted them, and in his natural vanity, decided to put them
on instead of slinging them round his neck.  In my experience I find
that a native 'boy' will wear veldt-schoen, but he'll draw the line at
boots."

"In any case," remarked Wilmshurst, "the two spoors lead the same way,
so we'll carry on."

Half a mile further the tracks separated, the older ones continuing
straight on, those of the boots breaking away to the left.

After a brief debate the pursuers decided to follow the latter spoor.
This they followed for another four miles until it vanished on an
expanse of hard, sun-baked ground.

"We're close to the Kiwa," announced one of the patrol, who had pushed
on ahead for fifty yards.  "There's a kraal over yonder, and I can see
the water between the trees."

Into the native village the pursuers rode, to hear a tale of woe from
the headman.  An armed German had passed through not an hour
previously.  He had demanded food and native beer; he had made no
attempt to pay for the articles, and out of sheer mischief had set fire
to a hut.  Commandeering a canoe he had compelled the natives to ferry
him across the river, and the four blacks who manned the craft had just
returned with the news that he had gone into the bush.

"What was the German like?" asked a Rhodesian, who spoke the language
of the natives with the utmost fluency.

The headman began to give an elaborate and detailed description, but it
was soon evident that the pursuers were on the wrong track.

"Dash it all!" exclaimed Wilmshurst impetuously.  "We've lost the
fellow--what's that, Bela Moshi?"

"Go ober dem water one-time quick, sah; den you catch Bosh-bosh as him
go for run away."

"That's a smart idea," declared Dudley, never backward in giving credit
for other persons' ideas.

"Quite good," agreed the section commander of the patrol.  "Over we go;
the horses will have to swim."

Borrowing a couple of canoes the pursuers stepped into the cumbersome
craft, four men in each had their loaded rifles ready to fire at any
hippos that might attack the horses; the others, grasping the reins of
the well-trained animals, guided them across.

The passage of the Kiwa--which was here about one hundred and twenty
yards in breadth--was performed without mishap, in spite of the fact
that the current ran at a speed of two knots, for the spot where the
crossing was effected was two miles below the rapids that had all but
claimed von Gobendorff as a victim.

Just as the second canoe was running aground one of the natives uttered
a cry of surprise, and pointed to a water-logged dug-out drifting
broadside on down stream.  It was a prize well worth having, and
without waiting to put Wilmshurst and the rest of the passengers ashore
the blacks paddled out and secured the derelict.

"Golly, sah!" exclaimed the Haussa sergeant.  "Him canoe have one-time
man alive.  Now him dead as mutton."

Lying on the bottom of the canoe with his head raised above the water
was a native.  As the rescuing craft ran alongside the man opened his
eyes.

The call of humanity having a prior claim to the importance of the
pursuit Wilmshurst and the Rhodesians rendered all the aid in their
power to revive the badly-wounded man.  Examination showed that he had
been shot at close range by a small-bore high velocity bullet.  The
missile had scraped his right ear, and entering at the shoulder had
emerged just above the third rib.  It was a nasty wound, but with
ordinary attention it ought not to prove fatal.

Finding that he was being well treated the injured man recovered
sufficiently to explain what had occurred.  There was no mistaking the
description of his assailant--also another crime had been added to the
list against Ulrich von Gobendorff, that of attempted murder.

"So the blighter is making for Twashi," remarked Wilmshurst, consulting
his field service map.  "That's well up in the Karewenda Hills.  We may
head him off even yet."

Mounting, the patrol, their energies quickened by the evidence of this
latest Hunnish atrocity, set off at a gallop across the comparatively
open country betwixt the Kiwa and the base of the Karewenda Hills.  Woe
betide von Gobendorff should he be spotted by one of the lynx-eyed
Rhodesians.



CHAPTER XV

RESCUED

It was well into the dry season.  As far as the eye could reach lay an
expanse of sun-baked ground dotted with scrub and parched grass,
terminating in the rugged outlines of the Karewenda Geberge.  In the
clear African atmosphere the hills, although a good forty miles
distant, looked no more than ten or twelve miles away.  With a powerful
telescope an outpost on the high ground ought to be able to spot the
khaki-clad horsemen as they spurred across the bush.

The patrol had no immediate intention of following the fugitive's
spoor.  Their idea was to cut off his retreat by keeping on a parallel
route until they had out-distanced him, and then, by extending to the
right, to achieve their object.  It was a game of hide-and-seek on a
large scale--a contest of wits.  Around the spot where the Hun was
supposed to be an extended cordon was being formed.  It was up to him
to break through--if he could, but once detected he stood little chance
against a well-mounted patrol composed of some of the crack shots of
Rhodesia.

"We've cut across his spoor," announced one of the men.  "Jones has
just semaphored through.  We've nabbed him this time."

The order was passed from man to man for the investing horsemen to
contract the enfolding circle.  Each man, his rifle ready for instant
use, trotted towards an imaginary centre, the while keeping his eyes on
the alert for signs of the fugitive.

Then, without warning, a column of smoke, beaten down by the strong
northerly wind, rose from the scrub at a point a good two miles off.
In a very short space of time the cloud increased in density of volume,
moving with the rapidity of a trotting horse.

At the signal the patrol closed.  The situation was serious, for not
only were the chances of a successful pursuit knocked on the head, but
there was the danger of the men being overtaken by the flames.

"Start another fire down wind," suggested one of the Rhodesians.

"The horses won't stand it," objected another.  "They're getting jumpy
already."

The man spoke truly.  The animals, scenting danger, were becoming
restless.  The order was therefore given to mount, and the patrol
galloped back in the direction of the Kiwa River, never drawing rein
until they reached a ford two miles below the spot where they had
crossed earlier in the day.

So swift was the advance of the bush-fire that the scrub on the
furthermost bank was ablaze within twenty minutes of the time when the
patrol recrossed the river, while right and left for miles the ground
was covered with fiercely roaring flames.  Clouds of black and brownish
smoke swept across the stream, red hot embers mingling with the eddying
vapour.

The patrol held their ground, keeping their horses under control by
adopting the expedient of covering the horses' heads with blankets.
With the possibility of the bush on their side of the river taking fire
this was the safest course to pursue short of a forty mile ride across
difficult country with the devouring element hard at their heels.

Mingled with the roar of the flames came the frequent crashes of
falling trees, and the hiss of blazing embers as they fell into the
water.  The heat was terrific, while at times the smoke was so dense
and suffocating that the men had the greatest difficulty to breathe.
Elephants, bush-cows, rhinoceri and swarms of smaller animals,
stampeded by the flames, plunged panic-stricken into the river, taking
no notice of the men as they dashed past them.

For two hours the ordeal lasted, then, having consumed everything of a
combustible nature the fire burnt itself out.  Almost miraculously the
flames had failed to gain a hold upon the scrub on the nearmost bank.
The river had formed the furthermost limit, but across the stream as
far as the eye could reach there was nothing to be seen but an expanse
of blackened thorn-bushes, from which a faint bluish vapour rose in the
now still and sultry air.

"Nothing more doing to-day, boys," declared the leader of the patrol.
"We'll bivouac close to the village and try our luck to-morrow.  Ground
will be cool enough by then, I reckon."

"Von Gobendorff won't stand much chance in that," remarked another,
indicating the devastated ground.  "We may find his remains.  That'll
be some satisfaction."

"Unless he started the fire," added Wilmshurst.

"But we were surrounding his hiding-place," declared the first speaker.

"We believe we were," continued the subaltern.  "It's just likely that
we missed his spoor, and that he was to windward of us.  The fire may
have started spontaneously, but it's my belief that von Gobendorff
fired the grass."

At daybreak on the following morning the patrol recrossed the river.
With a heavy dew still upon the ground the devastated track gave the
horses no inconvenience, although the air was heavy with the pungent
smell of charred wood.  In extended order they followed the track which
the fugitive had been reported to have taken until they arrived at the
further-most limit of the fire.

Each man as he closed in the centre made the same report--nothing had
been seen of the body of the much-sought-after Hun.

"We've drawn a blank, it seems," remarked Wilmshurst.  "There's nothing
for it but to carry on until either we overtake him or come in touch
with the enemy patrols.  We've a clear twenty-four hours before we
rejoin our regiment."

Mile after mile the patrol rode, but not the faintest trace of von
Gobendorff's line of flight was to be seen.  Whether he was alive or
dead was a mystery yet unsolved.

Towards midday they arrived at a kraal situated in a vast semi-circular
expanse of open ground bounded on three sides by scarps of the
Karewenda Hills.  The greatest caution was now necessary, the task of
the patrol, failing von Gobendorff's capture, being to find out whether
the lower slopes of the hill were held in force or only lightly so.  If
possible there was to be an avoidance of an exchange of shots with
hostile outposts, but in any case the Rhodesians were to withdraw at
the first sign of opposition.

The headman of the kraal, like most of his kind, was very
communicative.  Already the natives were appreciating the change of
masters, for under German rule their lot was a hard one, forced labour
and scanty or often no remuneration being the order of things.

He had seen no one answering to von Gobendorff's description, but he
gave other information.  The Germans were withdrawing their forces to a
position on the northern slopes of the hills, and had already destroyed
two guns which they were unable to remove from an abandoned redoubt
about five miles to the east of the kraal.  He also said that a German
patrol escorting a white prisoner had passed along a native path at
less than a mile of the village only an hour or so previously.

Questioned further the headman replied that the prisoner was not a
"warrior"--meaning that he was not dressed in military uniform--and
that for several months past he had been kept in captivity in the now
abandoned fort.  Several of the villagers had seen him when they went
to dig earthworks for the Huns.  In their hurried retirement the
Germans had overlooked the fact that they had a prisoner, and the
patrol had been sent back to bring him in.

"How many men?" asked Wilmshurst, one of the Rhodesians translating the
question and its reply.

"Four white soldiers and ten Askaris, O chief," replied the headman.

"Good enough," exclaimed Wilmshurst.  "We ought to be able to settle
that crowd and release the prisoner."

The headman willingly allowed two natives to point out to the patrol
the path which the Huns had taken.  A reference to the map showed that,
allowing the hostile patrol two hours' start, an ambush could be
arranged at a spot four miles distant where the path crossed a spruit.
It was unpleasantly close to one of the still occupied enemy outposts,
but with quickness and decision the coup ought to be accomplished
without much difficulty.

The native guides, although on foot, had no trouble to keep up with the
mounted men, and when the latter arrived at the place chosen for the
surprise they found that the Germans were not yet in sight.

Dismounted and accompanied by Bela Moshi Wilmshurst made his way along
the side of the track until he came in touch with the hostile party.
The Huns, suspecting nothing, were resting.  Two Askaris had been
posted as sentries, but they, too, were lax, little thinking that there
was any danger of a surprise.  The prisoner was seated at the base of a
large tree, another Askari mounting guard over him.  His back was
turned in Wilmshurst's direction, but the subaltern was able to discern
that the unfortunate man was practically bald-headed and wore a thick,
straggling beard.

Up to that moment Dudley had been buoyed up by the hope that the
prisoner might be his brother Rupert, but at the sight of the bent and
aged figure his anticipations were shattered.

"We'll have him out of their clutches, at all events," he soliloquised
as he cautiously signed to Bela Moshi to withdraw.

Regaining the patrol Wilmshurst explained how matters stood, and a
decision was quickly formed to attack immediately, taking advantage of
the lax state of the hostile party, without waiting for them to
approach the previously selected spot for the ambush.

Dismounting and leaving their trained horses under the charge of a
piquet the men cautiously made their way through the scrub until they
were within eighty yards of the still unsuspecting Huns.

Extending the Rhodesians took up their desired position on a
semi-circular formation, enabling each one to fire should necessity
arise without the risk of hitting one of his own party, at the same
time making it almost a matter of impossibility for the ambushed Huns
to break away without being shot down.

A whistle sounded.  Up sprang the curved line of khaki-clad troopers,
each man covering one of the enemy with his rifle, while a stern order
to surrender immediately was given to the completely astonished Germans.

The Askaris obeyed the command without demur, but the Germans were made
of stiffer material.  Throwing themselves at full length they grasped
their rifles.

It was a signal for the Rhodesians to open fire--and the Huns paid the
penalty.  In less than a minute the action was over.  The Askaris were
unarmed and ordered to take themselves off, their rifles having been
broken and the bolts removed.

Wilmshurst hastened to the prisoner, who at the opening fire had rolled
on the ground by the side of a fallen tree.  The subaltern found him
lying face downwards, unable to rise, his wrists and ankles being
secured by thongs of raw hide.

With a couple of strokes of his knife Dudley severed the bonds and
assisted the released captive to his feet, for the man was so exhausted
that he was incapable of standing unsupported.

"You're all right now," said the subaltern reassuringly.  "Can you sit
in a saddle for----"

"Good heavens!--Dudley!" exclaimed the gaunt and haggard prisoner.

It was Wilmshurst's turn to be dumfounded.  He stepped back a pace and
looked the rescued man Intently in the face.  Was it possible that this
human wreck was his once well-set-up and powerfully-built brother?

"Rupert!" he exclaimed dubiously.

"That's me," rejoined the other.  "Rather, what's left of me."

"Found an old pal?" enquired the patrol-commander, as the Rhodesians
crowded round the object of their recent operations.

"My brother," replied Dudley.

"Good business," was the hearty rejoinder.  "But we must be moving.
We've alarmed every enemy post within five miles of us."

The patrol hurried back to the spot where they had left their horses,
Bela Moshi settling the question of how the physically weakened Rupert
Wilmshurst was to be moved by lifting him in his strong arms.

"Nothing ob him, sah," confided the Haussa.  "Him weight of one-time
porter load."

It was an exaggeration of speech on the Haussa's part, for the nominal
burden of a Coast porter is roughly sixty pounds, but Rupert's weight
had decreased from a normal "twelve seven" to a little over seven
stones.

With the utmost dispatch the patrol remounted.  Bela Moshi gave up his
steed to "Massa Wimst's brudder" and rode one of the led horses.  In
single file the men retraced their course, maintaining a steady trot.

As they entered the kraal where the headman had given them such
important information they found the natives in a state of agitated
turmoil.  The Huns had by some means discovered that these "black
subjects of his Imperial Majesty the German Emperor" had entertained a
hostile patrol, for within twenty minutes of the departure of
Wilmshurst and his companions a party of Askaris, commanded by a German
officer, had visited the village.  By way of punishment half a dozen
huts had been burnt and an indemnity of fifty goats and a hundred
litres of corn demanded, the headman and five other principal
inhabitants being seized as hostages.

So great was the faith of the blacks in the "white soldiers of King
George" that they rose _en masse_, liberated the hostages and drove the
Askaris from their village.  But the trouble was far from over, for
native scouts reported a concentration of German troops on the
south-eastern side of the village, while other Askari battalions were
debouching from the north-east, having been hurriedly sent from one of
the fortified posts on the Karewenda Hills.

"And so our line of retreat is cut," remarked Dudley.  "Very well;
we'll have to fight to a finish."



CHAPTER XVI

'GAINST HEAVY ODDS

The Rhodesians were men of few words.  They were men of action; of the
same blood as the gallant party who, under Major Wilson, fought against
thousands of Matabele until the last cartridge had been fired and the
last man fell with his face to the foe under the keen stabbing-spears
of Lobengula's warriors.

The enemies that were threatening them were of a worse type.  The
Askaris, naturally ferocious, were under German command, and the
German, whenever he is confident that he is on the winning side,
exhibited all the brutality and cruelty of his Hunnish ancestors.
Attila was a scourge; his modern descendants are simply imitators who,
having the thin veneer of civilisation, combine science with bestial
brutality in their methods of waging war.

Two of the troopers who were acquainted with the native dialect
proceeded to place the village under a rough form of organisation.  In
spite of the severe restrictions laid upon the natives by their German
taskmasters--amongst others they were not allowed to carry arms--the
blacks managed to produce long-secreted numbers of spears, bows and
arrows and a few antiquated smooth-bore muskets.

Men were sent into the bush to cut down thorns and sharpened stakes.
These were set up in front of the existing stockade, the inner side of
which was still further strengthened by earth thrown up from a trench
three feet from its base.  "Panjies" or sharpened bamboos were set
obliquely from the foot of the stockade, on the outside, to check a
rush at close quarters; the stockade itself, forming no protection
against modern rifle-fire, was to be used merely as an obstacle, the
defenders seeking cover in the ditch and behind the embankment formed
from the excavated material.

Hardly were these preparations completed when the shrill notes of a
bugle rang out, and a mounted officer, followed by a native orderly
bearing a white flag, appeared from the cover afforded by the bush.

Evidently the Huns had more faith in the Briton's respect for the flag
of truce than they had regard for that emblem in the hands of their
foes, for after a brief pause the officer, finding that his appearance
was not greeted with a volley of rifle-bullets, trotted boldly towards
the closed gate of the stockade.

"Halt!" ordered the Rhodesian officer, when the German drew within
audible distance.  "Deliver your message."

The German, standing in his stirrups, shouted a demand for the instant
surrender of the garrison, promising honourable treatment if the terms
were complied with, and stating that the investing troops were fully
aware of the weak numbers of the British patrol.

"You might have spared yourself the trouble, Herr Offizier," replied
the patrol commander.  "We mean to stick it."

"Vat you mean by 'stick it'?" demanded the envoy.

"To fight it out," was the grim reply.  "Come on; we're ready."

The German made no further remark to the Rhodesian, but began an
harangue in the native dialect, inciting the blacks to turn against
their white allies, promising immunity and rewards.

"Stop that!" shouted the patrol commander sternly, raising his voice
above the angry murmur of the villagers.  "Another word and the flag of
truce will not protect you."

The Hun scowled sardonically, and out of sheer bravado resumed his
incitement to the natives to surrender.

Picking up a rifle the Rhodesian took careful aim at the horse's chest
at point-blank range.  The weapon barked.  For a moment neither horse
nor rider stirred, then without warning the animal's forelegs
collapsed, throwing the Hun headlong in the dust.

The terrified orderly wheeled, and casting aside the white flag, rode
at full gallop to the shelter of the bush, his hasty and undignified
retreat being carried out without let or hindrance on the part of the
defenders of the kraal.

The German officer lay where he fell, the dead steed pinning him down
as it lay on its side with its hind, off-side leg rigidly extended at
an oblique angle to the ground.  Partly stunned by his fall the officer
tried ineffectually to rise; then after a while he relaxed and lay
motionless in the broiling sun with swarms of mosquitoes buzzing round
the prostrate horse and rider.

Apart from the advantage of having a prisoner in their possession the
call of humanity urged the defenders to release and bring in the
injured Hun.  The barricaded gate was thrown open, and two troopers ran
to effect the work of mercy.  Even as they bent over the prostrate
officer and dragged aside the animal's carcass a ragged fire burst from
the bush at a distance of five hundred yards.  Bullets ricochetted from
the dusty ground or whizzed unpleasantly close to the men's ears; but
coolly they proceeded with their task, and, unscathed, regained the
shelter of the stockade, bearing their prisoner between them.

"It's von Bohme, second-in-command of the Kelji Post," declared Rupert
Wilmshurst.  He was too chivalrous to relate the indignities and
hardships he had suffered at the hands of this Hun in particular.
"They abandoned the post yesterday.  Unless I'm mistaken they've a
couple of machine guns with them."

"Any field guns?" asked Dudley anxiously.

"Not to my knowledge," replied his brother.

"Thank heaven for that!" rejoined the subaltern fervently.  "Well, how
do you feel?"

"Able to use a rifle," answered Rupert grimly.

A heavy hostile fire was being maintained from three sides, the bullets
either flying high--one of the characteristic faults of African native
troops--or else knocking splinters from the timbers forming the
palisade.  The defenders, lying close, made no attempt to reply, for
the attackers were adept at taking cover and offered no target to the
former's fire.  Presently, as Rupert Wilmshurst had predicted, came the
rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, and a swathe of bullets traversed the
open ground in front of the defences, rising until the hail of nickel
simply cut a gap in the palisade like a scythe against the ripe corn.

Between the huts some villagers engaged in driving their goats to a
more secure spot came under the machine-gun fire, two men being killed
and four wounded, the herd suffering severely; but these were the only
casualties, the defenders, both white and black, keeping admirable
cover.

For a quarter of an hour the one-sided action was maintained, then
still under the covering fire of the machine gun a battalion of Askaris
advanced at the double in company formation _en échelon_.
Simultaneously a half-battalion debouched on the opposite side of the
kraal.

Until the stormers came within four hundred yards their advance was
covered by the machine guns (for another had joined in the fray), and
consequently the scanty defenders dare not risk exposure; but the
moment the covering fire had to cease lest it should cause casualties
amongst the advancing troops the Rhodesians opened rapid fire at almost
point blank range.

The front attack stopped dead, the Askaris in open order falling in
heaps before the accurate fire of the trained Rhodesians.  Despite the
efforts of their officers to advance the native troops refused to
stand.  Bolting they were followed by galling volleys until the
resumption of the deadly machine-fire compelled the defenders to take
cover.

The rear attack was a more formidable affair, in spite of the fact that
the enemy force was considerably smaller than that of the frontal
assault.  Met by fewer rifles, for only a mere handful of white men
could be told off on that side of the kraal, the Askaris contrived to
reach the palisade.  It was here that the native auxiliaries proved
their worth, for with stones, arrows and throwing spears they put up
such a formidable defence that at close quarters these primitive
weapons held their own against the rifles and bayonets of the German
black troops.

For several moments the contest swayed with varying success until more
Rhodesians, who could now be spared from the front on which the main
assault had been repulsed, doubled up and made such good use of their
rifles that the enemy broke and fled, leaving behind forty or fifty of
their number lying dead in front of the stockade.

"Guess they've had enough," remarked Rupert Wilmshurst, who
notwithstanding his weak state had played a strong part in the defence.

"Doubt it," replied his brother.  "Perhaps they won't make another
frontal attack while daylight lasts, but when it's dark they'll try
their luck."

The hours passed slowly.  Occasional bursts of machine-gun fire
punctuated the continuous rifle-firing from the men concealed in the
bush.  It was a prodigious waste of ammunition without any good result,
for the white men were too hardened to be shaken by the moral effect of
bullets whizzing overhead, while the native warriors, taking the
pattern set by their allies, showed no signs of fear or panic.

"If we only had a machine-gun," thought Dudley.  "By Jove, I've a mind
to have a shot at bringing in one of those brutes after dark."

He broached the matter to the patrol commander, who gave permission to
any of his men to volunteer for the hazardous enterprise.  There was no
lack of aspirants, for practically every man expressed his wish to take
part in the sortie.  Finally the subaltern chose three Rhodesians and
his Haussa sergeant.

Taking a compass bearing of the position of one of the machine-guns,
for the cloud of steam arising from its overheated water-jacket
disclosed its place of concealment, Wilmshurst made a careful note of
the fact for subsequent use.  There was, of course, the possibility of
the machine-gun being moved as soon as night fell, but that was a risk
that the sallying party must be prepared to chance.

Darkness came, but the desultory hostile fire was still maintained, the
bush being pin-pricked with the vivid flashes from the rifles.  It was
now a nerve-racking ordeal, for more than once the defenders issued
from their trench and manned the outer palisade under the erroneous
impression that another attack was developing.

"It's a jolly good thing for us that they haven't any bombs," remarked
the patrol-commander.  "I don't fancy our blacks would stand up to
them.  By Jove! the villagers have shown any amount of pluck."

"They know that if the kraal's taken, their lives won't be worth a
brass farthing," rejoined one of the men.

"Don't know so much about that," added another.  "They had a chance to
let us down and save their hides, but they weren't having any."

A meteor-like trail of reddish light whizzing through the air
interrupted the argument.  Anxiously the defenders watched the course
of the missile, guessing but not knowing exactly what it was, until
with a crash it alighted upon the palm thatched roof of a hut about in
the centre of the kraal.

Several men rushed to the spot, regardless of the flying bullets, with
the intent on of tearing away the smouldering missile, but before they
could reach the hut the dull red glow gave place to a vivid bluish
flame.  The mobile weapon was an incendiary rocket.

In a minute the hut was a mass of flames, the sparks communicating the
fire to the flimsily-constructed buildings adjoining it.

Strenuously the defenders, both white and black, sought to confine the
devouring element to certain limits by pulling down the huts in the
vicinity, but other incendiary rockets followed in rapid succession,
while the fire of the machine-guns redoubled in violence.

The fire-fighters made excellent targets in the fierce light, their
forms being silhouetted against the blazing huts, yet their losses were
comparatively few, for the machine guns were badly laid.  Nevertheless,
before the men could take cover two Rhodesians were badly wounded, a
dozen villagers killed and thirty odd seriously injured.

In the midst of this turmoil Dudley, whose attention was centred upon
the enemy, detected a large body of men deploying from the bush.
Simultaneously other formidable detachments advanced upon the kraal on
all sides, showing up distinctly in the terrific glare of the burning
huts.  To add to the horror of the scene native women and children were
shrieking in terror, and the horses and cattle were neighing and
bellowing as they instinctively realised the peril that threatened them
from the rapidly spreading flames.

But for the presence of their black allies the troopers would have
mounted and ridden straight at their assailants, running a good chance
of cutting their way out by weight of numbers and the speed of their
horses; but no thought of abandoning the natives to their fate entered
the heads of their allies.  It would be a fight to a finish.

Leaving the conflagration to take its course every available man
hastened to the palisade.  Rapid independent fire delayed but failed to
check the charge of ferocious, wildly shouting Askaris, whose courage
had been worked up by promises of rewards if successful, and dire
punishment in the event of failure.  Full in the blaze of light the
horde of black faces gave the defenders the impression that they were
confronting a swarm of demons.

On both sides rifles cracked, steel crossed steel.  Again spears and
arrows came into play, while some of the defenders hurled blazing
faggots with great effect upon the German levies.  Yells, shouts and
shrieks of pain mingled with the rattle of musketry and the roar of the
burning huts.

Both sides fought stubbornly and furiously, but with this difference:
the defenders of the kraal were staking their existence upon the
result, the attackers, although under severe penalties in the event of
failure, were not confronted with the supreme decision that awaited
their foes.

Taking a favourable opportunity Wilmshurst and his squad climbed over
the palisade at a point where no attack was being made, and dropping to
the ground doubled in the direction of the now silent machine gun.  It
was a daring stroke, as it temporarily weakened the little garrison,
where every rifle counted; but in the event of the raid proving
successful the possession of the deadly weapon would make all the
difference between victory and defeat.

Overtaking and avoiding numbers of wounded Askaris and a fair
sprinkling of Germans painfully making their way back to their lines
the raiders covered the intervening eight hundred yards in double time.
At the edge of the scrub the subaltern halted his men in order that
they might recover their breath.

They had discarded their rifles.  Dudley and the Rhodesians were armed
with revolvers, Bela Moshi carrying an automatic pistol, formerly the
possession of a now defunct Hun, and a long, heavy, keen-edged knife
resembling the Mexican machete.  Each man knew exactly what was
required of him, and, what was more, he was capable of carrying it out.

Creeping through the bush and outwitting a couple of Askari sentries
posted on the right front of the machine gun position the raiders came
in sight of their coveted prize.

The gun team was standing easy chattering furiously, and paying scant
attention to the progress of their comrades in the assault.  Bela Moshi
afterwards declared that they were squabbling over the possession of a
small keg of rum, which was to them a far more important business than
the attack upon the kraal.  Their European non-commissioned officer was
absent, otherwise the laxity of discipline would not have been taking
place.

Apparently there were no infantry reserves.  If there were, they were
posted at a considerable distance from the machine gun position.  It
was, therefore, expedient to make a surprise attack with fire-arms,
since the noise was immaterial as far as alarming the supports, and
very efficacious in throwing the machine gunners into a state of
demoralization.

Of the six Askaris forming the detachment five dropped at the first
volley; the sixth, after first rolling on the ground, sprang into the
bush, followed by a couple of shots the effect of which was not known.

Smartly Bela Moshi picked up the gun and tripod; a Rhodesian corporal
and a trooper seized the box containing the ammunition.  Then, preceded
by a sergeant and followed by Wilmshurst and the remaining man, the
raiders bore off their trophy.

Followed by the ineffectual fire of the two sentries the squad doubled.
By the sounds in the rear it was evident that the alarm had been
communicated to the reserves, as the hurried patter of bare feet and
the excited orders of the German section commanders announced that the
men were aware of the loss of the machine gun.  Musketry fire was
opened upon the retiring raiders, but in the darkness the shots whizzed
harmlessly overhead.

The haphazard fire was, however, taking toll amongst the attackers who,
already casualties, were crawling or walking back from the palisade.  A
German officer, hit in the left arm, blundered right upon the captured
weapon and its escort.  For the moment he was puzzled, knowing that
orders had been issued for the machine-gun party to remain in their
original position.  Then, distinguishing the British uniform, he drew a
pistol and shouted to the party to surrender.

"Surrender yourself!" exclaimed the Rhodesian sergeant, raising his
revolver.

The Hun's reply was a shot that nicked the lobe of the non-com.'s right
ear.  Almost immediately the latter returned the compliment, shooting
the German dead on the spot.

"Sorry," muttered the Rhodesian apologetically, for he had respect for
a brave foe.  "You asked for it, Fritz."

The next instant Beta Moshi stumbled, the subaltern only just
contriving to avoid tripping over his prostrate body.  Thinking that
the Haussa sergeant was hit one of the covering party began to raise
the machine-gun from the ground, but the Haussa was holding it tightly
in his arms.

Almost overthrowing the Rhodesian Bela Moshi regained his feet, swung
the trophy over his shoulder and resumed his pace.

The returning party were only just in time.  Already a formidable
number of Askaris had broken through the stubbornly-defended palisade,
and by sheer weight were forcing their opponents back.

Faced by hordes of German levies and with the line of burning huts
preventing further retirement the defenders of the kraal were in a very
tight corner indeed.



CHAPTER XVII

WATER!

In double quick time Wilmshurst's party hurried over the stockade at
the same place where they had clambered out a short time previously.

Setting the tripod of the captured gun upon the raised bank at the rear
of the palisade the Rhodesians fitted a belt of ammunition and promptly
opened fire.  Enfilading the attackers the effect of the totally
unexpected hail of bullets was stupendous.  The dense masses of Askaris
simply melted.  Only those nearest to the garrison escaped the
machine-gun fire, since it was impossible to traverse further to the
right without hitting friend as well as foe.  Before the first belt of
ammunition had been expended most of the men who had gained a footing
in the village were _hors de combat_.

The assault was by no means over.  Strong reserves were thrown into the
breach, taking advantage of the lull in the firing.  Working coolly and
rapidly the machine-gunners fitted a new belt, but the difficulty now
arose that the weapon could not be trained over the palisade, which,
owing to its irregular form, screened the massed assailants.

Lifting the weapon and resting it upon the top of the stockade Bela
Moshi shouted to the corporal to jump on his shoulders.  In this
difficult position the machine-gun reopened fire, but before
twenty-five rounds had been fired the weapon jammed.

The gun was served by three men only--the Rhodesian sergeant and
corporal and Bela Moshi.  The rest of the party, including Wilmshurst,
had hurried off to reinforce the sorely-tried men engaged hand to hand
with the Askaris in the breach.  Of the three only the corporal knew
much about the internal mechanism of a German machine-gun, and in the
ruddy, flickering light his task was greatly complicated.

Again the weapon was hoisted on the Haussa's broad shoulders.  This
time the mechanism acted without a hitch.  The Askaris broke and fled,
leaving a third of their number on the ground, while those who had
gained a footing within the kraal lost heart and threw down their arms.

Nevertheless the danger was by no means over.  At two other points the
kraal had been entered, the defenders being forced back until
two-thirds of the village was in the hands of the foe.  The
fiercely-burning huts now formed an effectual defence, the survivors of
the garrison having concentrated in a space in the form of a segment of
a circle, a portion of the palisade comprising the arc and the line of
flaming huts the chord.  For the present the barrage of fire was
impassable, but what would happen when the conflagration burnt itself
out remained a matter for anxious speculation.

Rhodesians and blacks worked together to dig a trench and construct a
parapet.  It was a strenuous task, for in order to give as much space
as possible to the already congested defenders the new defence work had
been pushed as far forward as the strength of the flames permitted.
The while desultory long-distance firing was indulged in by the
discomfited foe, the bullets pinging against the hard ground or flying
with a sharp "siss" overhead.

While this work was in progress the corporal hurried up and addressed
Wilmshurst.

"Your nigger sergeant's hit, sir," he reported.

The subaltern made his way to the spot where the machine-gun had been
placed out of the line of hostile fire, since a single bullet might put
it out of action.  Lying upon the ground with his head propped against
the ammunition box was Bela Moshi.

The Haussa was barely conscious.  He recognised his young officer and
gave a determined but ineffective attempt to smile.  Already one of the
men had cut away Bela Moshi's tunic, revealing a bullet wound on the
right side of the chest.  Even as Dudley placed his water-bottle to the
sergeant's lips the Haussa's eyes closed and he lost consciousness.

"What do you make of it?" asked Dudley, addressing the man attending to
the patient.

"He's as like to snuff it, sir," he replied.  "Can't tell exactly--and
it's a tough job to tackle with only a field-service dressing."

"When was he hit?" continued the subaltern.

"That's a mystery, sir," was the answer.  "We'd brought the gun under
cover--there wasn't a chance of being hit by direct fire, you'll
understand--and the black seemed to crumple up suddenly.  Never said a
word, but just pitched on his face.  I'll do my level best for him,
sir."

Leaving his water-bottle--and water was a scarce commodity, as the
supply within the kraal had been overrun by the fire--Dudley made his
way to the gap in the palisade, where other units were hard at work
digging a ditch across the exposed opening.  Here he came face to face
with his brother, whose left arm was bandaged and in a sling.

"Copped it, you see, Dudley," remarked Rupert.  "If there's any trouble
knocking about I'm bound to stand in.  But I guess I did my whack
before I was knocked out," he added grimly.  "Managed to work off sixty
rounds, and when we started I found myself wondering if I had the
strength to pick up a rifle."

"What have you got?" asked his brother.

"Bayonet thrust," was the reply.  "We were jammed up anyhow, but the
fellow who gave it me won't try the trick on any one else.  Have you
any water?"

Dudley shook his head.

"Sorry," he replied.

"Seems a scarcity of it," continued Rupert.  "All the men's
water-bottles are bone-dry, and it's hot work tackling a kraal fire.
The niggers, too, are clamouring for water."

"The fire's burning itself out, I fancy," remarked Dudley.  "Before
dawn we ought to be able to get to the well.  Now I must do my whack."

Taking a spade of native workmanship from the hands of an exhausted
trooper the subaltern set to work with a will, for much had to be done
in a very short space of time.  It was a case of excavating under
extreme difficulties, for apart from the smoke and heat from the
blazing huts bullets were dropping frequently and at random upon that
part of the kraal still held by the hard-pressed but as yet
unconquerable garrison.

Throughout the rest of the night the enemy made no attempt to renew the
assault.  With the dawn the worst of the task of shortening the line
was accomplished, and the jaded men threw themselves down to rest,
until every available position immune from rifle fire was covered with
khaki and black figures sleeping the sleep of utter exhaustion.

There was little rest for Dudley Wilmshurst and the patrol-commander.
Having visited the sentries they examined the defences in order to
discover if there were any weak points that had escaped notice during
the hours of darkness.

With the exception of half a dozen huts every building comprising the
kraal was reduced to a heap of charred wood and ashes, from which smoke
was rising sullenly in the still air.  The stockade adjoining had
shared the same fate, and had it not been for the earthworks
constructed during the night the rear of the defences would have been
completely open to direct rifle fire.  At present the heat of the
smouldering embers was too great to allow any attempt to procure water
from the well that was situated almost in the centre of the kraal,
close to the site of the headman's hut.

The captured machine gun was still under cover, ready to be rushed to
any point where an attack might develop, but the trouble that
confronted the team was the fact that the water in the jacket had
evaporated and no more was at present procurable.  The supply of rifle
ammunition, too, was running perilously short.  In view of the
liability of the machine gun to jam after a few rounds, Wilmshurst
would have had no hesitation in using the cartridges from the belt had
the gun been a Maxim.  But here he was beaten, for the difference in
British and German small-arms ammunition makes an interchange
impossible.

The next best thing was to arrange existing stocks, so that a few
troopers had plenty of .303 ammunition.  The others, supplying
themselves with rifles and cartridges taken from the hundreds of German
dead, were then in a position to give a good account of themselves
should the enemy again attack at close quarters.

Having completed his present duties Wilmshurst made his way to the hut
where Bela Moshi had been taken after his wound had been dressed.  The
building, consisting of bamboo walls and palm-leaf thatch, had been
converted into a hospital and made bullet proof by piling up earth
against the sides to a height of about six feet.  Above that the
bamboos and the roof were riddled with bullets, making it a hazardous
business for any one to stand upright.

In the limited space were two Rhodesians suffering from gunshot wounds.
Almost every other man of the patrol had been hit, but one and all made
light of their injuries, and after receiving attention had resumed
their places in the defence.  Over thirty villagers had been badly
wounded, but these were receiving the attention of their fellows,
since, for some unexplained reason, they were reluctant to have their
wounds dressed by their white allies.

"Going on famously, sir," announced the Rhodesian corporal, who, having
played a gallant part in the defence, had returned to his errand of
mercy.  "I've extracted the bullet; it had lodged only a quarter of an
inch under the skin and close to the right of his backbone.  I don't
fancy the lungs are touched.  He'll pull through if any of us do."

"That's great!" exclaimed Wilmshurst, overjoyed that his devoted Haussa
sergeant stood a good chance of recovery.  "You ought to have been a
doctor, corporal."

"I was very near it, sir," was the reply.  "Had two years at Bart's and
then chucked up the idea and came to Rhodesia.  But this is somewhat
remarkable; what do you make of it, sir?"

The corporal held up for inspection the bullet that had narrowly
escaped putting an end to Bela Moshi.

"Automatic pistol bullet, by Jove!" exclaimed the subaltern, handling
the piece of nickel.

"Yes, sir," continued the corporal, "and the Haussa has been muttering
while he was coming to.  Putting two and two together, so to speak, I
fancy he stopped the bullet that grazed our sergeant's ear when we were
bringing in the gun."

"Ah, yes; Bela Moshi did fall, but he was quickly on his feet again,"
remarked Wilmshurst.

"With a bullet that had all but just passed completely through his
body," added the Rhodesian.  "And after that he acted as a platform--he
had a man standing on his shoulders for nearly a quarter of an
hour--and only collapsed after the attack had been broken.  There's
vitality and pluck for you, sir!"

"And if we come out of this business alive I'll see that Bela Moshi's
case is reported to the proper quarter," declared Dudley.

"The only thing against him is the want of water," said the corporal.
"I'd risk getting plugged for the sake of a couple of bottles of water.
How about the well, sir?"

"We're having a shot at it as soon as possible," replied the subaltern,
and picking up his water-bottle, he left the hut.

The urgency of the matter decided Dudley.  If humanly possible he meant
to make the attempt forthwith.  A glance at the still smouldering
débris told him pretty plainly that it was a dangerous if not
impossible undertaking, but for the sake of his Haussa sergeant the
subaltern determined to procure the precious fluid.

He sought out his brother, but Rupert was sound asleep.  Rupert was the
only person he wanted to inform of his projected expedition, but that
course was denied him.

With the bottle slung across his shoulder and a native jar--holding
about a gallon--in each hand, Dudley leapt into the trench and scaled
the parapet before the few men who were in the vicinity were aware of
his intention.  Then drawing a deep breath, like a diver about to make
a plunge, he dashed into the belt of smoke-laden air.

At every pace his boots kicked up showers of white ashes.  The heat
penetrated the thick soles, it singed his hair and scorched his face
and hands.  He felt himself wondering why he was such a fool as to try
conclusions with a mass of hot embers ... why wasn't he content to wait
another two hours or so, when the heat would have greatly decreased.
Supposing he lost his bearings in the smoke and couldn't find the well
after all?

These and a dozen other deprecatory thoughts flashed across his mind as
he stumbled onwards.  He had had but a brief knowledge of the plan of
the kraal previous to the fire.  He remembered that the well stood in
the centre of a fairly open space.  There, at any rate, would he find a
comparatively safe oasis in the desert of hot embers.

"By Jove, that was a narrow one!" he soliloquised as a bullet--one of
many shot at a venture--whizzed dangerously close to his ears and
knocked up a number of small fougasses as it ricochetted in the embers.

He wanted to breathe.  Already the air was on the point of being
exhausted in his lungs, yet he durst not gasp for breath.  Another
twenty yards ... or was it forty?  He was hardly sure of his
whereabouts....  Mentally he enquired if he had been making a detour
instead of keeping in a straight line.  Maintaining direction in a haze
of smoke was far more difficult, he reflected, than in a fog,
especially when there was a time limit fixed for the performance.

Almost before he was aware of it Wilmshurst literally blundered upon an
open expanse where the short grass had been burnt off close to the
ground.  Surrounded by a barrage of bluish vapour that rose from
irregular mounds of débris, the subaltern was able to breathe
comparatively fresh air.

Ahead was the well, its windlass of hard teak charred but otherwise
uninjured.  It was a different case with the rope.  The fibre had
smouldered badly; it would be unwise to attempt to raise the heavy
bucket by it.

Cutting adrift a length of the coir rope the subaltern bent it to the
neck of one of the jars and drew up the vessel full of liquid.  The
water was loathsome in appearance, its surface being covered with ash
and fragments of charcoal of various sizes.  Prudence, as taught by
long months of practical experience on the Coast, urged the young
officer to resist the desire to slake his burning thirst.  No water
unless boiled and filtered can be drunk by Europeans without grave
risks of deadly disease.  But Wilmshurst now threw caution to the winds.

With avidity he filled the joined palms of his hands with the brackish
and otherwise unpalatable liquid and raised it to his lips.  He drank
deeply, unmindful of millions of unseen germs in his almost frantic
efforts to relieve the pangs of his parched throat.

Then completing his stock of hardly-gained water Wilmshurst turned to
retrace his way, aware that during his stay a steady breeze had
suddenly sprung up.  Under its influence the dangers of the passage
through the embers were greatly increased, for, fanned by the wind,
numerous mounds of débris had flared up again, while the volume of
smoke had spread in density, blowing straight into his face.

For some moments Dudley stood irresolute; then seized by a sudden
inspiration he ran down wind, plunging through the charred wreckage.
He was going directly away from that part of the kraal still held by
his comrades.  His new direction led towards a part of the hostile
investing lines, but he preferred to run the risk of being sniped at
six hundred yards to fighting his way through the now steadily burning
débris.

As he expected, his passage through this part of the devastated village
was relatively easy.  Being the first of the huts to take fire this
section had almost burnt itself out.  Occasionally he had to dodge
round a heap of still burning timber.  The heat was almost unbearable,
while the smoke penetrating his lungs made him gasp and cough
violently; so much so, that twice he had to place his precious
water-jars on the ground and clutch at his throat in his distress.

At length a line of blackened, calcined posts told him that he had
emerged from the kraal, and that he was on the line formerly occupied
by the stockade.  For another fifty or sixty yards he held on, until
the smoke cleared considerably; then changing direction, he began to
circumvent the abandoned line of defence until he came to the still
held position.

It was not long before several bullets, whizzing perilously close,
warned him that the enemy had spotted him through the eddying wreaths
of vapour.  Others, striking the earth with a dull thud, ricochetted
within a few inches of his feet.

Bending, until his jars were almost bumping on the ground, the
subaltern summoned his remaining energies in a final spurt and doubled
almost recklessly towards his goal.

Through the smoke he heard the sharp challenge of one of the sentries.
He tried to reply, but no sound came from his parched throat.  The man
raised his rifle, when his sergeant, recognising the dishevelled,
swaying form of Second-Lieutenant Wilmshurst, ordered the man to
recover arms.  Then a white mist swam before the subaltern's eyes, and,
retaining sufficient presence of mind to place the hardly-won jars of
water upon the ground, he stumbled inertly into the arms of the
Rhodesian sergeant.



CHAPTER XVIII

IM THE ENEMY'S POSITION

It was not long before Wilmshurst regained consciousness, to find that
his precious stock of water was being boiled under the direction of the
patrol-corporal.  With admirable restraint the men, knowing that the
subaltern had risked a horrible death for the sake of his black
sergeant, had put the whole of the liquid to boil, insisting that a
fair distribution would be made when the water was fit for drinking.  A
little over two gallons was not much among so many, but it would just
assuage their thirst until the steadily-declining heat of the
smouldering ruins permitted access to the well.

Producing his pump-filter, for Bela Moshi had taken particular pains to
leave it in a safe place before the sortie, the subaltern strained the
liquid.  It was warm and insipid, yet it was now free from
contamination, and Bela Moshi drank it with avidity.

A suspicion of his broad smile flitted across his face as he took the
life-giving draught.

"You tink me lib for die, sah?" he enquired whimsically.

"No fear!" replied Wilmshurst, knowing that to a remarkable degree a
"nigger" can control his ability to live or die.  He had known of a
black man who, grievously upset in a quarrel, declared that he was
going to die, and promptly lying down and turning his face to the
ground, the man was a corpse within half an hour.  "You get well one
time quick, or me berry angry."

The subaltern's reply reminded him of a doting parent talking to a
small child in baby language.  Bela Moshi was a mere child in certain
respects, and the mild threat had its effect.  "Den me tink me lib,
sah," he said.

With this assurance Wilmshurst left to snatch a few hours' much-needed
rest.  The bulk of the white men comprising the garrison were behind
the earthworks.  Occasional sharp bursts of rifle firing came from the
bush, but no reply was made by the defenders of the kraal.  Ammunition
was too scarce and precious to be thrown away at haphazard firing upon
an unseen foe.  The Germans' remaining machine gun was unaccountably
silent.  Perhaps it had failed, after the manner of automatic weapons.
On the other hand, although the captured machine-gun was liable to jam
after a few rounds, owing to its having become overheated, the Huns
were ignorant of the fact, and thus the practically useless weapon was
a strong moral factor in favour of its captors.

Dudley slept for a solid four hours, to awake considerably refreshed to
find that some one had spread a double ground-sheet above him, so as to
form a tent, for the sun was now directly overhead.

"Hullo, Rupert!" he exclaimed, upon seeing his brother.  "How goes it?"

"Feeling quite my old self," was the reply.  "A fellow can buck up even
in present circumstances after being penned up by a mob of rascally
Huns."

"What happened to you?" asked Dudley.

Rupert shrugged his bent shoulders.

"Don't ask me," he replied.  "Some day I'll tell you--if we get out of
this scrap."

"Did you hear what became of Robert MacGregor?" persisted Dudley.

"A thundering good old pal!" declared his brother heartily.  "If he'd
not been obliged to go back to Rhodesia I don't think I would have been
landed in a German prison.  I'd give a lot to shake old Bob by the hand
again."

The subaltern regarded his brother intently.  Rupert, he saw, was
speaking quite naturally and without any trace of sarcasm.  It was
clear that he had not the slightest idea of the double, nay multi-dyed
treachery of Ulrich von Gobendorff.

"Dash it all!" he soliloquised.  "I can't enlighten old Rupert just
now.  Revelations must come later--if, as he remarked, we do come out
of this business alive."

About four o'clock in the afternoon the irritating rifle fire ceased.
Fifteen minutes passed without a shot winging its way from the dense
scrub; and although one or two of the defenders boldly stood upon the
parapet to draw the enemy, their tempting position brought no response.

"Guess we'll hike out and bring in some water," declared one.  "No time
like the present, and we are as dry as a bone."

"Very good," agreed the patrol-commander.  "Only look sharp about it.
This lull in the firing may mean that the Boches are up to some of
their knavish tricks."

Accordingly five men, each carrying four jars, set off to the well.
The dangers that Wilmshurst had encountered were now over, and in a
short space of time the five returned.  Although they had been in full
view of the enemy positions throughout, their progress had not been
molested by so much as a single shot.

"The blighters are saving it up for us for to-night," declared a
trooper.  "Wonder if a couple of us could steal through their lines and
make our way to the main column?  A few squadrons would make Fritz sit
up."

"No use unless we were mounted," objected another; "and a fellow
couldn't hope to dash through their lines at full gallop.  He'd be
chock full of bullets before he got within fifty yards of them."

"I'd risk it, anyway," asserted the first speaker.  "Either mounted or
dismounted I reckon I'd do it as soon as it gets dark.  But I'm hanged
if I can understand why Fritz is so horribly quiet and well-behaved."

"That's what we'd all like to know," added the sergeant.  "I'm that
curious that I fancy taking a stroll that way myself."

Shortly afterwards a party of villagers were collected and set to work
to bury the bodies of those who had fallen in the futile assault.  The
natives, contrary to expectation, performed their tasks without let or
hindrance from the enemy, although the men engaged in the work offered
a tempting target.

With the fall of darkness the mental attention of the garrison became
acute.  At every slight or unaccountable sound the men strained eyes
and ears and grasped their rifles to meet an imaginary rush.  Just
before midnight a shot rang out, the flash of the rifle being clearly
discernible at a point immediately fronting the scene of the most
formidable attack on the previous night.

"They're coming, boys!" exclaimed the patrol-commander.  "Ten rounds
rapid when I give the word, then independent firing.  Don't waste a
single shot."

Only the click of the rifle-bolts and the quick breathing of the men
broke the stillness.  Even the natives, awed by the impending assault,
were silent as they handled their bows and long-hafted spears.

"Hear anything?" whispered the patrol-commander, edging close to
Wilmshurst.

"Nothing," replied the subaltern.

"They're coming, sir," exclaimed a deep voice.

The subaltern raised his binoculars and swept the intervening space.
The powerful night-glasses revealed no sign of the approaching enemy.

Again a flash, followed by the sharp report of a rifle, the bullet
knocking splinters from one of the cross-pieces of the stockade--and
then utter silence.

"Dashed if I can stick this!" declared Wilmshurst.  "I'll go out and
sec what's doing.  With luck I'll be back in an hour."

"Very good," agreed the Rhodesian patrol-commander.  "Give the word
'Buluwayo' for the countersign.  Good luck!"

Without loss of time the subaltern started on his mission of
investigation.  Once clear of the kraal he realised a sense of
loneliness.  He would have given almost all he possessed for the
companionship of his trusty Bela Moshi.  Then, shaking off the
instinctive depression, he devoted his thoughts to the work on hand.

He was taking a different route from the one he had followed on the
occasion of the capture of the machine-gun.  It was unfamiliar ground,
flat and totally devoid of cover.  Ahead lay a line of dark shadows
that marked the commencement of the encircling bush.  It was only
slightly over a quarter of a mile away, but the distance seemed
interminable as he slowly and cautiously held on.

Once he stood stock still, his heart beating violently.  Ten yards
ahead a man lay prone on the short grass.  The faint starlight glinted
on the barrel of a rifle, which was pointed straight at the lone
subaltern.

Momentarily Wilmshurst expected to see the blinding flash of the rifle.
The fellow was a long time lingering over the sights, he thought.  The
young officer moved a couple of paces to the right.  The sinister
muzzle seemed to be following him, tantalisingly menacing.

Acting upon a sudden impulse Wilmshurst flung himself flat on the
ground.  After a pause he raised his head and looked towards the
sniper, for such he took him to be.  The man had not stirred.  His
rifle was cocking upwards at an acute angle to the ground, "I believe a
dead Hun has given me cold feet," muttered the subaltern, and creeping
stealthily he made a wide detour round the rigidly immovable figure.
Then, satisfied up to a certain point, he crawled towards the
motionless object.

It was an Askari.  The man was one of the first to be shot during the
onslaught.  He had fallen face downwards, but still grasped his rifle
in such a position that there was good reason for mistaking him for a
sniper.

From this point Wilmshurst resumed his outward journey, proceeding on
hands and knees and halting at frequent intervals to place his ear to
the ground.  He could detect no audible evidences of the foe.  Never
before, in the course of two separate campaigns against native troops
officered by Germans, had he known such absolute silence amongst the
black rank and file.

On and on he crawled, grimly soliloquising that much more of this mode
of progression would make him imagine that he was a new type of
serpent, for as he approached the outer fringe of scrub he literally
moved on his stomach.

Proceeding thus he passed between two large thorn bushes.  Beyond was a
slight artificial depression in the ground, on the bottom of which were
hundreds of metal cartridge cases.

By the peculiar pungent odour he knew that they had been fired within
the last twelve hours.  Some were trodden into the loose earth, which
bore numerous indications of having been trampled both with boots and
bare feet.

"By Jove!" he thought.  "Fritz has cleared out."

Even as the idea flashed across his mind a rifle-shot rang out on his
left.

Promptly Wilmshurst flattened himself to the ground, and waited
breathlessly for further developments.  The weird silence was
maintained save for the distant croaking of bullfrogs in a marsh.

"Booby trap!" he declared, and cautiously groped around to find out if
he had incautiously touched a fine wire.  At a radius of his extended
arm he found nothing of that nature.  Perhaps, after all, a sniper was
concealed in the bushes on his left, for the bullet had not been
directed at him.

Bent upon investigating the mystery Wilmshurst crept round the
intervening bushes.  Before he had traversed thirty yards his head came
in contact with the stock of a rifle.  The weapon was lashed to a
couple of stout bamboos.  Fastened to the trigger was a short piece of
wire, to which in turn was tied a length of raw hide.  The subaltern
gave a chuckle of satisfaction.  His discovery confirmed his surmise
that the investing force had raised the siege, leaving rifles so
arranged that they would fire automatically after various intervals in
order to convey the erroneous impression that the bush was still held
in force.

The raw hide cords had been placed in position during the heat of the
day.  After dark the heavy dew moistened the hide and caused it to
contract until the tension upon the trigger was sufficient to release
the bolt action and detonate the cartridges.

A similar ruse, embodying more ingenuity, had been practised by the
British troops during the successful evacuation of the Gallipoli
peninsula; but in this case the fixed rifles were fired by means of a
small trickle of water dropping from an upper receptacle into a lower
one.  To the latter was tied a cord, the other end of which was
fastened to the trigger.  As soon as half a gallon of liquid entered
the lower tin can, resulting in a pressure of about seven pounds on the
trigger, the rifle was fired.

"And there are plenty of discarded tins lying about," thought
Wilmshurst.  "It seems strange that methodical Fritz should waste a
good raw-hide thong when simpler and more efficacious means are
available, unless--ah!  I wonder if it was a lack of water that made
them clear out?"

Wilmshurst was nothing if not thorough.  Before returning with the
joyful news to the kraal he meant to satisfy himself that the Huns had
abandoned all their positions.  It would be a bad business if, on the
strength of the young officer's report, the patrol left the village and
attempted to rejoin the main body only to find themselves suddenly
attacked in the open by vastly numerically superior forces.

Checking his direction from time to time by means of his luminous
compass Dudley penetrated nearly a mile into the bush.  Everywhere
there were evidences that the enemy had retired in the direction of the
Karewenda Hills, while the not distant sounds of wild animals showed
that the bush was clear of anything of the nature of numerous parties
of human beings.

Satisfied on this point the subaltern was about to retrace his way when
he heard a stealthy footfall on the dew-soddened ground within a few
paces of the spot where he stood.

Softly and deliberately Wilmshurst dropped to the earth, screened by
the broad leaves of a cactus.  He could hardly believe the evidence of
his senses when, almost within arm's length, appeared the foremost of a
single file of Haussas--men not only of his own battalion but of his
platoon.



CHAPTER XIX

CORNERED AT LAST

Checking the natural exuberance of his wildly delighted men Wilmshurst
obtained the information that the battalion, acting in conjunction with
a Punjabi infantry regiment and a couple of squadrons of Light Horse,
was about to deliver a surprise attack upon the enemy.  Once again the
wily Hun had disappointed the British forces.  By means of native
scouts the Germans had learnt of the approach of the relieving forces,
and without waiting to exchange shots the former had effected a prompt
and skilfully-conducted retirement.

Accompanied by one of the Haussas Wilmshurst hastened to inform his
commanding officer of the state of affairs.  On the way he found big
Spofforth with the advance-guard.  The latter greeted his missing chum
cordially.

"You're a lucky blighter!" he exclaimed, as he critically surveyed
Dudley's ragged and dishevelled appearance.  "You always manage to see
some fun.  Here are we, after two days' hard marching, sold completely,
and not a chance to fire a shot.  Well, what have you been doing?"

"I'll tell you later," replied Wilmshurst.  "I must report to the C.O.
Briefly, we've missed von Gobendorff, but we've had one of the toughest
little scraps I've ever experienced."

Colonel Quarrier was both delighted and disappointed with his junior
officer's report.  His satisfaction at the news of the successful
defence of the kraal was unbounded; but his brow darkened when he
learnt of the escape of Ulrich von Gobendorff.

"We heard from native sources that you were in a tight corner, Mr.
Wilmshurst," he remarked in conclusion.  "How the news got through in
so short a time is one of those unsolved mysteries appertaining to the
inhabitants of Central Africa.  We pushed ahead with a column hoping to
catch Fritz sitting; but we were done.  Well, ought you to rejoin your
temporary unit?  If you prefer you can remain till dawn, for I do not
intend to move further till then.  We don't want any exchange of shots
by mistake."

"I'll return, sir," replied the subaltern.  "The men will be bucked to
hear the good news.  I shouldn't wonder if they aren't getting a bit
anxious, for I was due back an hour ago."

Without mishap the subaltern traversed the intervening stretch of
scrub, crossed the open space and gained the kraal, where, as he had
expected, the good news was hailed with enthusiasm.  For the first time
since the investment of the village the defenders were able to snatch a
few hours' undisturbed sleep unaccompanied by the intermittent reports
of rifles and the constant expectation of being called to arms.

Dawn was breaking when a squadron of Rhodesian Light Horse cantered up
to the bullet-torn stockade, their arrival being hailed with three
cheers by the undaunted patrol and a deafening clamour from the
natives, who had played no inconspicuous part in the defence of the
kraal.  Twenty minutes later the Waffs marched in, followed by an
Indian battalion, which bivouacked in the open.

"Here we remain--so the C.O. says," declared Danvers, as the four
platoon-commanders of "A" Company gathered together in a native hut
temporarily converted into the mess.  "It's a step nearer the Karewenda
Hills, and there, according to accounts, Fritz will make a last stand."

"Unless he prefers Cape Town," added Spofforth, and the five officers
laughed at the jest.  "As things are going it reminds me of that kid's
game 'Ring-a-ring-o'-Roses'--simply barging round and round and getting
no forrarder."

"Dashed smart chap that servant of yours, Wilmshurst," remarked
Laxdale, after the subaltern had related the story of Bela Moshi's
devotion.  "And how is he progressing?"

"Splendidly, according to Dr. Barkley's latest report," replied Dudley.
"If any fellow deserves the D.C.M. it's he."

"And a little bird whispered to me," continued Laxdale, "that a certain
member of the antient and accepted order of the Lone Star Crush did a
jolly risky thing--fetching water under enemy fire."

Wilmshurst coloured hotly.

"Rot!" he ejaculated.  "Fritz couldn't see me.  They were putting up a
lot of small arms ammunition, of course.  No, that's nothing; almost
forgot about it, in fact."

But if Wilmshurst had dismissed the incident from his mind the water
had not forgotten him.  The poisonous germs in the non-filtered liquid
were doing their lethal work, and that evening the subaltern was down
with a severe bout of malaria.

In a covered dhoolie Wilmshurst was sent down to a hospital base-camp.
With him went Rupert, who, on the setting in of the reaction following
his release, was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Within a couple of months Dudley was back with his battalion.  Many
times he bitterly reproached himself for being out of action for that
period simply because he did not exercise sufficient restraint when he
drank the tainted water.  He realised that he alone was to blame, while
most of the trouble fell upon the shoulders of his brother
platoon-commanders, who already had their full share of work and
responsibility.

He found the battalion at a place twenty miles further away from the
Karewenda Hills than the kraal where he had played so conspicuous a
part in its defence.

"You needn't have been so rattled about it, old boy," declared
Spofforth.  "You've missed none of the fun, for the simple reason that
there hasn't been any.  A fortnight ago we were within sight of Twashi.
There was a Belgian column operating on the north-west side.  It looked
as if we were going to do something great, when we had to retire
through lack of provisions.  It appears that a few Huns got away and
started playing the deuce with our lines of communication; put the
kybosh on a couple of convoys and generally made things unpleasant."

"Rather," agreed Laxdale.  "I've been hungry many a time, but now I
know what it means to have to tighten one's belt.  I'll qualify for the
Army Light-weight Championship yet."

"A week ago I seriously thought of going on exhibition as a living
skeleton," remarked Danvers.  "You've been jolly lucky, Wilmshurst;
you're as fat as a prize turkey-cock.  They've been stuffing you down
at the base."

"At any rate I'll soon work it down to normal," rejoined Wilmshurst.
"Any company news?"

"Nothing much," replied Spofforth.  "Two casualties in your platoon.
Bela Moshi is still away (hard lines, thought Wilmshurst), but the
recommendation for the D.C.M. has gone through.  The black sinner will
be as proud as a dog with two tails when he gets the medal."

Within a week of Dudley's rejoining, the column was again in position
to resume offensive operations.  Well guarded convoys had arrived,
including a much-needed ammunition column, while with the advent of the
rainy season the difficulty of feeding the horses and mules was
considerably reduced.

The troops advanced on a broad front, the Waffs in the centre, a
Punjabi battalion on the right and a Pathan regiment on the left.
Light Horse and Indian Lancers operated on both flanks, while a battery
of mountain guns acted in support of the infantry.

For the last three weeks a strong Belgian column had been sitting on
the banks of the Tuti, a river flowing in a south-westerly direction
behind the Karewenda Hills and joining the Kiwa fifty miles S.S.W. of
M'ganga.  By holding the fords the Belgians effectually cut off the
retreat of the Huns from Twashi, and the latter being fully aware of
that unpleasant fact were confronted with one of two alternatives--to
fight it out or surrender.

Four days' steady marching brought the British column within striking
distance of the outermost lines of defence.  The difficult nature of
the ground made it impossible to run the position.  A frontal attack
had to be delivered in order to pierce the line, but before this could
be done the intervening ground had to be carefully reconnoitred, as
many of the defences had been thrown up during the last few days, Fritz
working with feverish energy when he found himself cornered.

During the course of the day four Germans approached the outlying
piquets and made signs that they wished to surrender.  Blindfolded they
were escorted to headquarters and subjected to a rigorous examination.
They admitted frankly that supplies both of food and ammunition were
running short and that the Askaris were restless and showing signs of
mutiny.  The prisoners also gave details of the position of some of the
German advance works, stating that they were but lightly held.  Each
man being showed a military map he indicated the position of the
defence in question; and, what was more, the descriptions coincided
with each other.

"It would be well, however, not to take too much for granted, sir,"
remarked the adjutant to Colonel Quarrier after the Germans had been
removed.  "This surrender business may be a put-up job to throw dust in
our eyes.  Their yarn has a sort of carefully-practised savour about
it."

"Perhaps you are right," agreed the C.O. of the Waffs.  "It would be as
well to be content with a feint upon this section of the defences in
case there is a labyrinth of mines.  What sort of ground is this?"

He pointed with a pencil to the map spread out in front of him.  The
adjutant looked, frowned and tugged at his moustache.

"I really cannot say, sir," he replied at length.  "If the map is
correct----"

"I refer to the actual terrain," interrupted Colonel Quarrier.  "Look
here, Manners; if it is fairly undulating, and not too steep on the
north-eastern side, it ought to be admirably suited for a
_coup-de-main_.  Frontal, of course, but that is inevitable."

"Just so, sir," murmured the adjutant.  Colonel Quarrier deliberately
folded up the map.  "Very well," he said in conclusion.  "Send a
reliable officer out.  I want an accurate report.  Whom can you
suggest?"

Captain Manners pondered.

"There's Mr. Spofforth, sir----"

"Too jolly lanky for the job," objected the colonel.

"Mr. Danvers----"

"Took lowest marks at map-reading," continued the critical C.O.  "A
smart officer in every other respect."

"Mr. Laxdale----"

"Lacks caution," declared Colonel Quarrier.  "No pun intended.  A good
man in a rush at the head of his platoon, but for individual
work--Who's next?"

"Mr. Wilmshurst, sir."

"Only just out of hospital," was the C.O.'s dictum.

"But fit and as keen as mustard, sir," persisted the adjutant for two
reasons.  He was getting a bit bored at having his recommendations
summarily "choked off"; he also knew that Dudley Wilmshurst was, apart
from being a soldier, a scout by instinct, and that he had plenty of
experience of the conditions of life in the bush.

"Very well, then," declared the C.O.  "Broach the subject to him
privately, Manners.  If he jumps at it, send him to me."

Ten minutes later Second-Lieutenant Dudley Wilmshurst "jumped."



CHAPTER XX

QUITS

The subaltern decided to go out alone.  One man stood a far better
chance of escaping detection than two; so greatly to the dismay of
every Haussa in his platoon he faced the difficult task single handed.

Mounted on a nimble pony and carrying rifle and ammunition, revolver,
binoculars, map and compass Wilmshurst was bent upon conserving his
energies during the ride across the previously reconnoitred ground.  On
new terrain he would tether his steed and proceed on foot.

The air was still and sultry.  Away to the north great black clouds
piled themselves up in sombre masses, indigo-coloured with edges of
watery green and flaming copper.  Against the dark background the
distant horizon stood out clear and distinct, owing to the exaggerated
refractory conditions of the atmosphere.

"A regular deluge before long," decided Dudley.

He viewed the approaching storm with equanimity.  The clearness of the
atmosphere rendered his task lighter, while the change of weather would
tend to keep the Askaris within their lines.  Even German military
despotism could not conquer the native levies' dread of a thunderstorm.
Finally the darkness and rain on the bursting of the storm would enable
him to get back without so much chance of being spotted, for on
reconnoitring it is on the return journey that casualties to the scouts
happen most frequently.

The subaltern's sole protection from the rain was a waterproof ground
sheet.  Originally fawn-coloured it had been liberally camouflaged with
bizarre circles, squares and triangles painted in a medley of
colouring.  At five hundred yards the wearer was practically invisible,
the "colour-scheme" blending with the surrounding ground in a most
effective manner.  For the present the ground sheet, wrapped into a
small compass, was strapped in front of the pommel of the saddle.

Making his way past the outlying piquets Wilmshurst rode steadily.  The
ground was undulating, the general tendency being a gentle rise.
During the last few days the hitherto dry and parched land had been
covered with rapidly growing vegetation, vivid green grasses shooting
up to an average height of eighteen inches and transforming the open
ground into a state strongly resembling the prairies of the New World.

Crowds of _aasvogels_, gathered around the carcass of a mule, rose on
the subaltern's approach, uttering discordant cries as they flew away
from their interrupted meal.  It was unfortunate but unavoidable, and
had Wilmshurst been within a couple of miles of a hostile post the
aerial commotion would have "given him away."

Checking his map with various prominent landmarks the subaltern arrived
at the limit of his ride, a clump of sub-tropical trees that crowned a
horseshoe-shaped hill.

"That's all right so far," thought Dudley, comparing the contour of the
hill with the plan.  "Now comes the unknown."

His military map showed an absolute desert as far as detail was
concerned.  Topographical knowledge was practically at zero judging by
the almost blank portion of paper representing the ground between the
subaltern and the twin spurs of the Karewenda Hills against which
Colonel Quarrier proposed making their actual frontal attack.  It was
Wilmshurst's task to cross this unknown ground, finding out the best
route for troops to advance in column of route without being detected,
and a suitable place for extending in open order prior to the final
phases of the assault.

Tethering his pony by means of a long hide-rope--for out of
consideration for the animal he forbore to hobble it, since there was a
possibility that he might not be able to return to it, Wilmshurst
fastened the rolled ground-sheet over his shoulder after the manner of
a bandolier, and holding his rifle ready for instant action began his
seven-mile trek.  In order to baffle the enemy scouts should they be
out, Dudley wore a pair of flat-soled boots to the feet of which were
fixed a dummy pair of soles and heels in the reverse way.  Any one
picking up the spoor would be under the erroneous belief that the
wearer was walking in the opposite direction to the actual one.

"Judging by my footsteps I must be a pigeon-toed blighter,"
soliloquised Wilmshurst, as he noted the turned-in prints in the soft
ground.  "I must look out to that, or I'll give the show away."

On and on he went, making his way from one point of cover to another,
yet without seeing or hearing the faintest sign of the German patrols.
It was not a reassuring business, for scouts might be in the vicinity,
and a scout unseen is a far greater menace than one who incautiously
betrays his presence.

Following the course of a donga he found that the narrow valley formed
an admirable means for a column to advance if protected by flankers,
but after tracing it for the best part of two miles Wilmshurst
discovered that it terminated abruptly, merging into a vast open plain.

Cautiously the subaltern crept up the sloping face of the donga until
his head was just above the edge of the level ground.  By the aid of
the glasses he made a prolonged and cautious survey.  Eight hundred
yards on his right front were swarms of vultures busily engaged in
their revolting pastime; at a similar distance on the left were four
_springbok_ grazing unconcernedly.  Both signs tended to prove that
there were no human beings about, for in the case of the _springbok_
their keen scent enabled them to detect the presence of the hunter to
such an extent that it was a difficult matter to get within easy range
of them.

Having taken a series of compass bearings and entered a few details on
his map Wilmshurst started off for a kopje midway between the
_aasvogels_ and the _springbok_.  Although he took the greatest pains
to keep out of sight the nimble quadrupeds suddenly bolted, flying like
the wind.  A few seconds later the vultures rose from their interrupted
repast, flying almost immediately over the prone form of the subaltern.

"Fishy--very," mused Wilmshurst.  "What made the _aasvogels_ fly this
way?  I'll sit tight and await developments."

For the best part of half an hour he remained perfectly quiet, not even
risking to use his binoculars, lest the reflected light might attract
the attention of a hostile scout.  By this time the storm was drawing
nearer--slowly but surely.  As yet no rain had fallen.  There were the
indigo-coloured clouds ahead; behind the sky was one unbroken expanse
of dirty yellow haze.  It reminded Wilmshurst of the efforts of an
amateur painter trying to "lay on" a coat of yellow paint with a
tar-stained brush.  Far away to the north came the reverberations of a
peal of thunder.  It was Nature's signal to the wary to take cover.

Finding at the end of thirty minutes that nothing happened to indicate
the presence of an enemy, for the _aasvogels_ had returned to their
carrion feast, Wilmshurst essayed the remaining portion of his
interrupted advance.  The kopje, he decided, was to be the extreme
limit of his reconnoitring expedition.  From it he ought to be able to
form a tolerably accurate idea of the nature of the terrain up to the
base of the natural bastions of the Karewenda Hills.

Wilmshurst had taken only half a dozen steps when a rifle shot rang
out.  Practically simultaneously with the shrill whistle of the bullet
something seemed to hit the subaltern on the left shoulder like a blow
from a hammer.

"That's done it," was his mental exclamation.  "Stopped one this time,
by Jove!"

And spinning round twice he dropped to the ground.

Feeling horribly sick and faint Dudley sat up.  He found that he was
lying in a slight hollow, the surrounding ground being sufficiently
high to afford good cover, while ahead and on the right were bushes of
long-spiked thorn.

Satisfied on the point of concealment Dudley next devoted his attention
to his wound.  Ripping open the sleeve of his coat he discovered that a
bullet had passed completely through his left arm just below the
shoulder.  There was very little loss of blood, showing that the
missile had missed the principal veins and arteries, but whether it had
smashed a bone was still a matter of uncertainty.

Applying a first-aid dressing to the best of his ability, Wilmshurst
prepared to "grin and bear it."  He realised that developments would be
mostly a contest of patience.  The sniper was anxious to know the
actual result of his shot, but too cautious to close until he felt
certain that he had killed his victim.  Wilmshurst, anxious to "get his
own back," also knew that premature action would spell disaster.  All
he could do was to sit tight and hope that his enemy would leave his
lair.

Slowly the minutes passed.  The numbing sensation of the wound was
giving place to hot, stabbing pain, while in spite of the sultriness of
the air a cold sweat oozed from the young officer's forehead.

"Dash it all!" he soliloquised.  "Hope I'm not going to faint or do
something silly."

He bent forward until his head rested on his knees.  In a few minutes
the feeling of vertigo passed.  A draught from his water-bottle had the
effect of temporarily quenching the burning pain that gripped his
throat.

"That's better," he declared, and straightway set to work to carefully
blacken the foresight of his rifle, adjust the wind-gauge (for the
first of a steady cross-wind had sprung up) and set the sights to six
hundreds yards.

"Not so bad with the use of one arm only," he muttered complaisantly.
"Hullo, here's the rain!"

With the typical fierceness of a tropical storm the rain beat down.
Hailstones as big as a walnut thudded the ground, rebounding a foot or
so in the air until all around was blotted out by the terrific
downpour.  Underneath the waterproof sheet Dudley lay, knowing that
there was no chance of the sniper venturing from his lair while this
battery of nature's weapons was in action.  It was almost pitch-black,
save for the phosphorescent-like light emanating from the falling rain.
Occasional vivid flashes of lightning o'erspread the sky, followed by
rumbling peals of thunder.

Taking particular pains to keep his rifle dry Wilmshurst lay close
until the initial downpour had passed.  Then, acting as promptly as his
crippled condition would allow, he laid the muzzle of the weapon on a
fork of one of the bushes.  As he expected he found that he could take
aim without much risk of being spotted, since the bush formed an
efficient screen.

Still no sign of the sniper.  Wilmshurst had no definite idea of the
fellow's position.  He could only surmise, basing his assumption on the
report of the rifle, that he was either on the kopje ahead or else
concealed behind one of the boulders on its side.

"Fritz knows how to play a waiting game too, I see," muttered
Wilmshurst, as he deliberately wiped off a globule of water that had
dropped upon the backsight of his rifle.  "Hope he won't keep me
waiting about till after midnight.  I must stick it till he shows up."

The wounded subaltern bore no animosity towards the man who had shot
him.  In a true soldierly spirit he realised that the Hun had acted
like a sportsman.  It was merely a question of which scout was the
sharper and Wilmshurst had been caught napping.  Really he wanted to
congratulate Fritz upon his excellent shot, but before qualifying his
wishes on that score he must get his own back--shot for shot.

A thin haze of bluish smoke rose from a depression in the ground, and,
caught by the wind, eddied into obscurity.

"Silly juggins!" exclaimed Wilmshurst.  "Bad habit smoking when you're
supposed to be _en perdu_.  Now I know where to look for you."

The Hun was evidently arriving at a conclusion that he had "downed his
man," but with the intention of waiting a little longer he was not able
to resist the inclination of smoking a pipe.

Bringing the butt of his rifle to his shoulder Wilmshurst lingered over
the sights--not with the idea of firing at a wreath of smoke, but to
test his ability to "pull off" gently.  To his surprise he found that
the throbbing pain in his left shoulder had little or no effect upon
his steadiness of aim.  Provided Fritz showed himself the subaltern
felt almost certain of scoring an "inner" if not a "bull."

In a quarter of an hour the puffs of smoke ceased.  Wilmshurst had a
mental vision of the Hun knocking out the ashes on the heel of his boot
and placing the pipe away in his pocket.

"Now he'll be moving," thought Dudley.

His surmise proved correct, for first the upper part of the head and
then the face and shoulders of a man appeared above a ridge of ground.

Wilmshurst stirred neither hand nor foot, lest in spite of the screen
afforded by the bush his movements might be noticed by the alert scout.

Followed a few long-drawn moments of suspense as the scout made a
careful survey by means of his field-glasses.  Apparently satisfied he
replaced the binoculars and carrying his rifle at the trail prepared to
descend the knoll.

Deliberately and cautiously Wilmshurst glanced along the sights of his
rifle.  He would wait, he decided, until Fritz was some distance from
his lair.  It would give him a chance to get in a couple of shots if
the first perchance should miss.

With his body from the waist upwards showing clearly against the
copper-hued clouds the Hun offered a splendid target.

Gently the subaltern's finger crept to the trigger.  In his interest in
his foe he forgot the stinging, throbbing pain.  The rifle, supported
by the fork of the tree, was as steady as a rock.

Just as Wilmshurst was about to press the trigger a lurid blinding
flash seemed to leap from the ground immediately on his front.  With
the echoes of an appalling crash that shook the solid earth ringing in
his ears Dudley found himself gazing blankly ahead but seeing nothing.
Dazzled by the sudden intensity of light, deafened by the concussion,
he was conscious of a vile, sulphurous odour assailing his nostrils.

Gradually the mist decreased until he was able to see with comparative
ease.  His first thought was for his rifle; he was agreeably surprised
to find that it was intact, for it seemed marvellous that the lightning
had missed the steel barrel.

Then he looked in the direction of his enemy.  The Hun was lying prone,
his head pillowed on his arm.  The other, curiously enough, was
projecting obliquely in the air.  All around the grass was burning,
while already the luckless man's uniform was smouldering.

Abandoning all thought of concealment in his desire to aid his foe
Wilmshurst sprang to his feet, and supporting his useless left arm by
his right doubled towards the spot where the man had dropped.

As he drew near he saw that the German's rifle had been hurled quite
ten yards.  The barrel was partly wrenched from the stock, and for a
distance of about a foot from the muzzle the steel had been split,
revealing the glittering rifling.

Taking in these details at a glance Dudley gained the side of the
prostrate man.  One look was sufficient to show that the Hun had been
killed outright.

"Hard lines, Fritz," exclaimed Wilmshurst aloud.  "I'm glad I didn't
have to pot you."

Something prompted him to grasp the dead man by his shoulder and turn
him over on his back.  As he did so, Dudley gave vent to an involuntary
ejaculation of surprise.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed.  "It's von Gobendorff."

      *      *      *      *      *

It was close on sunset when Wilmshurst, racked with pain, returned to
the bivouac.  Willing hands assisted him from the saddle, yet, firmly
declining to submit to the attentions of the medical officer until he
completed his task, the wounded subaltern made a lucid report and
submitted his maps for inspection.

Next morning he was sent down to the base hospital, protesting the
while that the wound was not serious enough to keep him away from his
platoon just as the fun was commencing.

      *      *      *      *      *

A fortnight later, while Wilmshurst was convalescing at Kilwa, he was
surprised by a deputation of officers of his regiment--Spofforth,
Danvers, Laxdale, and three or four more.

"How goes it, old man?" exclaimed Spofforth, the leader of the
deputation.  "You've something to show for your little dust-up."

"I have," admitted Dudley.  "A clean puncture through the arm.  But
what are you fellows doing here?  You don't mean to say that the
business is over?"

"By something I mean the M.C.," continued Jock Spofforth, ignoring
Wilmshurst's questions.  "It's in to-day's orders, so we're here to
offer congrats.  The battalion's doing well--a D.S.O., two M.C.'s and
five D.C.M.'s; not a bad record, eh, what?"

"Yes, the show's over as far as we are concerned," added Laxdale.  "We
marched in yesterday.  It was a jolly satisfactory piece of work that
final attack on Fritz's position."

"Sorry I hadn't a hand in it," remarked Wilmshurst.

"You did, old man," protested Spofforth.  "Those maps of yours--they
were simply it.  We just romped home, as it were.  But buck up and
don't look so down in the mouth.  One would fancy you didn't cotton on
to the Military Cross.  And here's news.  We are expecting orders for
Mesopotamia, so that ought to cheer you up."

And Wilmshurst, M.C., of the Frontier Force, cheered up accordingly.





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