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´╗┐Title: With Wolseley to Kumasi - A Tale of the First Ashanti War
Author: Brereton, F. S. (Frederick Sadleir), 1872-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "With Wolseley to Kumasi - A Tale of the First Ashanti War" ***

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With Wolseley to Kumasi, by Captain F.S. Brereton.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
WITH WOLSELEY TO KUMASI, BY CAPTAIN F.S. BRERETON.



CHAPTER ONE.

GREAT MISFORTUNE.

Dick Stapleton tossed restlessly on his bamboo bed, till the rickety
legs creaked ominously and the mosquito net waved to and fro,
threatening to descend upon his head.  The heat was stifling.  Inside
his room the thermometer stood at an unusual height, even for this Gold
Coast country, where high readings are a common occurrence, and where
hot nights are the rule rather than the exception.  The windows of the
house in which he slept, or vainly attempted to do so, were thrown wide
open, but despite that fact, they admitted nothing but the deep and
ever-recurring boom of the surf, which beats upon the sandy beach of the
Fanti country without ceasing.  Boom!  Boom!  The thunder of the waves
seemed to shake even the land, while in his mind's eye Dick could see
the spray rise high, and then fall back as white as milk, seething and
foaming, to be swallowed by the next breaker as it curled its green
crest on to the sand.  Not a breath stirred on this sultry night.  The
leaves on the forest trees within a stone's-throw of the house made no
movement.  Nothing, in fact, appeared to have the energy for movement on
this night save the myriad mosquitoes, which seemed to revel in the
heat, and an occasional beast in the forest, whose piercing cry was wont
at one time to startle our hero.

"Oh, for a breeze!" sighed Dick.  "If only a cool wind would play into
the room a fellow might fall asleep.  This mosquito net stifles me, and
yet I dare not throw it aside or I shall be well-nigh eaten.  I feel,
too, as if I had a little fever, and that is just the very thing I wish
to avoid.  I've work before me; difficulties to set aside, and--and
affairs to arrange."

For some reason his hand sought for a box deposited beneath the bed, and
his fingers touched the lock to make sure that it was closed.

"All that stands between me and starvation," said Dick.  "Just a bare
two hundred pounds in gold, a store almost depleted of goods, and two
houses which no one seems to want.  There's the business, too, and James
Langdon."

For a while his thoughts went to the man whose name he had mentioned,
and he brooded uneasily.

"He ought to go," he said to himself.  "Father trusted him, I know; but
I am sure of his dishonesty.  He has been robbing the store for years,
and he will rob me if I let him stay.  He is a sneaking half-caste, a
rogue who cannot be trusted, and if it were not for father he should be
dismissed.  Well, to-morrow I will go into the matter.  I'm tired
to-night.  If only it were not so frightfully hot!"

Dick was peevish and out of temper.  He had worked hard all day, and was
very tired, for the heat had been great.  And now that he had thrown
himself on his bed he could not sleep.  The old worries filled his mind,
only instead of being lessened, the silence of the night, the droning
insects, the shrill cries from the forests, and the deep boom of the
surf, intensified his difficulties, till they sat upon his young
shoulders like a millstone.  Presently, however, he fell into a doze,
and later his deep breathing showed that he was asleep.  Asleep?  No!
For he started suddenly and sat erect on his bed.

"I thought I heard something," he said in a whisper.  "That was a step
outside.  Some one knocked against the chair on the platform and tipped
it over.  I don't like that noise."

He threw one leg half out of the bed and waited, for, to be candid, Dick
had no liking for an encounter with some evil-doer in the small hours.
Then, mustering courage, he threw the mosquito net aside, rearranged it
over the bed, and stealthily crept to the farther side.  His hand sought
the box which contained his worldly possessions, and tucking it beneath
his arm he stole softly out on to the verandah.  There was a brilliant
moon, high up in the sky, and the silvery rays played softly upon the
sandy beach, upon the crests of the breakers, upon the white street and
the white houses, and upon the bush and forest which formed at this time
the surroundings of Cape Coast Castle.  There were deep shadows
everywhere, and Dick's eyes sought them, and endeavoured to penetrate to
their depths.  He stood still and listened, though the thump of his
fast-beating heart was all that came to his ears above the boom of the
surf.  That and the eternal droning of the insects which swarmed around.
No one seemed to be abroad this night, and yet--

"Some one was here," thought Dick, with conviction, as he stepped across
the wooden platform, with its overhanging roof, which went by the name
of verandah.  "Here is the deck-chair in which I was sitting just before
I turned in, and it is now on its side: I left it all right.  And--
That's some one!"

He drew back somewhat suddenly, while his breathing became faster.  For
some one, an indefinite shape, a native perhaps, had stepped from one of
the shadows and had peered at the verandah.  Then detecting the white
youth, he had vanished into the shadow again, as silently and as
stealthily as any snake.

"I don't like that at all," thought Dick.  "I'm alone here, and the
people know that there is gold.  They know that father kept his money in
the house, and now that he is gone they must be aware that I have it.
I'll camp out here for the night.  I wish to goodness I had gone down to
the Castle and left this box under lock and key."

He stepped back into the room which he had just vacated, and felt along
the wall till his hand hit upon a rifle.  Then he sought for cartridges,
and, having found a handful, tucked them into the pocket of his pyjamas,
and one into the breech of his weapon.  That done, he went on to the
verandah, and, pulling his chair into a corner, sat down with the gun
across his legs and the box beneath his feet.

"I could have slept," he grumbled.  "But that's out of the question.
Some blackguard wants the money, and that must be prevented.  Besides,
these Fantis would knife me with pleasure.  I don't care for the thought
of that, so here goes for a night-watch, Dick Stapleton, my boy, you'll
be anything but fresh tomorrow."

Had he been an older soldier, Dick would have remained on his legs, and
would have patrolled the length of the verandah, and even shown himself
beyond the house, out in the brilliant patch where the moon rays fell.
But he was only a young fellow, and, in addition, he was tired, fagged
out by work and anxiety.  The heat told upon him, too, and the booming
of the surf, instead of helping to keep him wakeful, seemed, now that he
was outside his room, to lull him to sleep.

His excitement, and the forebodings which the strange figure had brought
to his mind, soon calmed down and disappeared.  His head drooped.  A
cool wind got up and gently fanned his heated cheek, and within half an
hour he was asleep--far more deeply, too, than he had been when
stretched beneath his mosquito net.  He snored loudly and contentedly.
The gun slipped to the ground, and caused him to stir uneasily.  But he
did not awake.  He slipped farther down into his chair, and slept the
sleep of the exhausted, oblivious of his danger, forgetful of the vow he
had made, and of the watch which he had meant to keep.  And his snores,
the click of his rifle, and the shuffle of his feet as he stretched them
out, were as a signal to the rascal who lurked in the shadows.  He
slipped into the open and listened.  Then he dropped on all fours, and
stealthily crept towards the verandah.  At times he was hidden in the
deep shade cast by the many shrubs which surrounded the house, while at
others he knelt fully outlined--a short, broad-shouldered savage, as
naked as the day when he was born, dark grey in colour, and glistening
under the moon's rays, for his body was freely anointed with oil.  At
such moments his pace quickened till he reached another friendly shadow,
where he lurked for a minute or more, only the whites of his eyes
showing occasionally as he stretched his head from the shade.  Soon he
was near the verandah, and seemed on the point of leaping the low rail
which enclosed it, when an unearthly shriek--the familiar night-call of
a forest animal--broke the silence, and set him trembling.

"I'd wring its neck!" he growled hoarsely, while he wiped the beads of
perspiration from his forehead.  "The brute startled me, and may have
awakened the young fool on the verandah.  If it has--well, I must have
the money.  I must have it this night, too, and without further waiting.
To-morrow will be too late.  He'll know the truth then.  He's cunning,
this young Stapleton--cunning.  He's deep and too knowing, and he
suspects.  To-morrow the books will show what has been happening these
five years and more, and then--"

His eyes rolled, and an oath escaped his lips, for he thought of the
Castle, of the cell which would receive him, and of the labour to which
he would be condemned.

"To-night or never!" he muttered.  "And if the youngster stirs or
attempts to hold me, why, there's something here to make him alter his
mind.  Something to stop him altogether, to shut his mouth, and keep his
evidence from reaching the authorities."

The thought seemed to please him, for he sat back on his heels and
gripped his revolver more tenaciously.  But a moment later reflection
brought some doubt to his mind, and his breathing became deeper and more
hurried.

"They'd know," he said, with an oath.  "They're bound to know, in any
case, for I must go.  Once I have the money, I must take to the forest,
and trust to picking up a boat along the coast.  Even then I shall have
to wait for months, for there will be a hue and cry.  I'll have to make
for King Koffee's country, and take service with him.  He'll remember
who has been so good about the supply of guns and ammunition.  Yes, I'll
make for Kumasi, and wait there till the storm has blown over.  Ah! he's
snoring again.  I must be quick.  The morning will be coming in a couple
of hours."

The thought that he had a haven near at hand seemed to spur the
miscreant on to his purpose, for he rose to his feet and emerged into
the open, where the brilliant moon showed him even more clearly.  It was
obvious that he had purposely darkened his skin, for behind his ears, on
the broad of his back, and on the palms of his hands were dusky-white
patches, which he had omitted to cover.  In fact, the robber who lurked
so close to the house, and whose fingers grasped the revolver, was none
other than James Langdon, whose name was uppermost in Dick Stapleton's
mind.  This thief, who came stealthily in the night, was the half-caste
manager of the store which Dick's father had kept for many a year in
Cape Coast Castle.  Short and squat he appeared in the moon's rays, but
the light was insufficient to show what manner of man he actually was.
Had it been lighter one would have seen a heavy, ugly face, with thick
lips and splayed-out nose, telling unmistakably of his negro origin.
Crisp, airly locks, jet black in colour, covered his head, while some
straggling hairs grew from his upper lip.  The brows were low; the eyes
too close together, while the thickness of the lips alone seemed to
denote a cruel nature.  James Langdon was, in fact, far from
prepossessing in appearance, while he bore a character which was none of
the best.  He had a dusky complexion, sharp, white teeth, and that
whiteness of the eye which belongs to a native.

For years he had acted as Mr Stapleton's manager, and tales were
whispered in the place that he robbed his employer, that he had dealings
with the natives of the interior which, had they come to the knowledge
of Mr Stapleton or to the ears of the authorities, would have gained
for him instant dismissal, and in all probability imprisonment.  But Mr
Stapleton had never suspected, and the apathy of the officials had
caused them to disregard rumours.  And so it happened that James went on
with his peculations and his illicit trading till Dick came out to the
Gold Coast, just four months before, and at once plunged into the
business with the intention of mastering every detail.  Gradually, as
the books and the working of the store became familiar to him, Dick had
begun to suspect, and then had become almost certain of the fact that
the manager was dishonest.

"I'll make sure first of all," he had said.  "I am new to ledgers and
journals, and, in fact, to trade of any sort, and it is possible that I
may be mistaken.  I'll go through the entries again, so that there shall
be no room for doubt."

Unconsciously his manner had altered to the manager.  He was too honest
to be on familiar terms with a man whom he suspected of robbing his
father and as a result James guessed that he was found out, that this
young Englishman regarded him with suspicion.  He would have fled the
place then and there had he had the means.  But he had long since spent
all his ill-gotten wealth.  He remained, therefore, and while still
contemplating the step, went on with his work as if he had nothing to
fear.  A few days later a sharp bout of fever, not the first which he
had suffered by any means, attacked Mr Stapleton, and to Dick's
inexpressible grief he succumbed.

"Then I must go," said James Langdon, and with that he promptly decided
to rob the son and decamp.

Only a week had passed since Mr Stapleton's death, when the half-caste
proceeded to put his plan into execution; and there he was, disguised in
order that Dick should not recognise him, naked and well smeared with
oil, so that if his young employer happened to awake and endeavoured to
detain him, his grip would instantly slip from his body.

"He's fast asleep, and now's the time," whispered James, running his
fingers across his forehead to wipe the perspiration away.  "I'll creep
in and search for the box."

He stood to his full height and peered over the rail of the verandah at
the sleeping figure.  Then he hoisted himself over the low wall and
stole along the wooden flooring.  It took more than a minute to reach
the door of the room which Dick had recently vacated, for the sleeper
was evidently troubled with dreams, and he breathed and snorted heavily,
each sound bringing the robber to a stop, and setting him shivering with
apprehension, for this half-caste was a coward at heart.  But at length
he found himself within the room.

"Beneath the bed," he said to himself.  "That's where his father kept
the gold, and no doubt the young fool does the same.  He'll have left
the box there, and I shall be able to get it and slip away without
discovery."

He was at the bed by now, and his arms were groping vainly beneath it.
An oath escaped him when he discovered that the box was gone, and he sat
back on his heels trembling, and furious with disappointment.

"Perhaps he has moved it," he said at length.  "He guessed that some one
was about, else why did he go on to the verandah to keep watch, and why
the gun?  I'll strike a match and take a look round.  First of all, is
he quiet?"

He stole to the open door and peered at the recumbent figure, now half
illuminated by the moon.  He could see the head lolling forward, the
hands and arms trailing to the floor, and the stock of the rifle.  The
legs and feet, and the box for which he sought, were still in the
shadow.

"All's well," he thought.  "A match will not awake him, and there is no
one about to see the light."

There was a faint, rasping sound, and the glimmer of a flame lit the
room.  The half-caste searched each corner diligently till the match
burned to his fingers.  Then he flung it aside with an oath and rapidly
struck another.

"Then he must have the box with him," he exclaimed hoarsely, while the
frown on his ugly brows increased as he realised that his difficulties
were suddenly increased.  "He's asleep.  I'll capture the prize and run
to the nearest shadow.  If he follows--"

His fingers felt the lock of the revolver while he lifted the weapon and
took aim at the moonlit doorway.

"I could hit him with ease, though I have never fired one of these
before," he said.  "Time's going.  It must be done at once."

Bracing himself with the thought, the miscreant stole to the door, and
then along the verandah till he was close to Dick.  His hand went out to
search for the coveted box, and then drew back suddenly, while the blood
in his veins froze with terror.  For Dick moved restlessly and spoke in
his sleep.  Had he discovered the attempt?  Was he about to pounce upon
the intruder?  The doubt set the half-caste shivering till desperation
lent him strength, and he levelled the revolver.  His eyes shone
strangely in the moon's rays as they fixed themselves on the unconscious
youth, while the finger which lay on the trigger stiffened, causing the
hammer to rise slowly into cocking position.  Another movement would
have been Dick's last.  But the dream had passed, the nightmare which
had troubled him was gone, and he slept easily.

"I thought it was all up," growled the robber hoarsely, to himself.  "He
startled me.  There's the box."

His eye had suddenly lit upon it, and lowering his revolver he stretched
out to it, caught the handle, and with a tug dragged it from beneath
Dick's feet.  Then he scrambled from his knees, and was in the act of
leaping the rail of the verandah when the sleeper started erect.  A cry
escaped him, and in an instant he was on his feet.  Then with a shout of
fury he threw himself upon the robber.  One hand gripped the ruffian's
neck, while the other closed about his arm.  For a second, perhaps, he
retained his hold.  Then a quick movement of the half-caste threw him
off, his hands slipping from the well-oiled surface.  There was a sharp
report, and the flash of a revolver in his face.  Then he was left,
still gripping at the air, while James Langdon sought safety in flight,
his dark figure flitting across the brilliant moonlit patch to the
nearest shadow.

"Stop!" shouted Dick, now thoroughly awake.  "I know who it is.  I
recognised you by means of the flash.  It is James Langdon, the man who
has robbed my father for years.  Stop, and return the box this instant.
I promise to let you go free afterwards.  If you refuse I will shoot you
down as you run."

He stooped swiftly and picked up his weapon.  Then he leapt over the
rail and ran into the open.

"Now," he said, as he faced the deep shadow in which James had
disappeared, and in which he still lurked, fearful that his figure would
be seen as he crossed to the next, "come out and return the box.  I give
you half a minute.  After that I fire."

He could see the faint outline of the man, while the moving leaves told
of his probable position.  Dick levelled his weapon, and waited till he
judged the half-minute had passed.

"Once more," he called out, "are you coming?"

There was no answer, only the leaves shook more violently.  Dick took
careful aim, and pulled the trigger, sending a bullet into the very
centre of the figure which he had dimly perceived.  But he had a cunning
fox to deal with, and forgot that he himself stood brilliantly outlined
in the open.  James Langdon knew that he had but to draw his fire to
escape to the forest, for long before Dick could load again he would
have gained the woods.  He waited, therefore, till our hero's patience
was exhausted.  Then he threw himself flat on the ground till the shot
rang out.  An instant later he was on his feet racing into the forest.
And after him went his pursuer, hot with rage and anxiety.  Dashing into
the thick bush he endeavoured to come up with the fugitive, but all was
dense darkness here.  He struck his head against an overhanging bough,
and a moment later caught his feet in a twining vine, coming with a
crash to the ground.  He was up in a moment, only to meet with the same
fate again, while the half-caste, better versed in the ways of the
forest, crept steadily along on all fours, feeling his way through the
tangle.  Dick was beaten, and in his rage he blazed right and left into
the forest; but the shots did no harm to the fugitive, while hardly had
their reverberation died down when there followed the mocking calls of
the half-caste.

"Set a watch and keep it, Dick Stapleton," he shouted, "and learn to be
wary when James Langdon is about.  As to the box, have no fear for its
safety.  I promise to take care of the gold which it contains."

He gave vent to a boisterous laugh, a laugh of triumph, and then went on
his way, leaving Dick trembling with fury.

"Listen to this, you ruffian," he shouted back.  "You are a knave, and
have robbed me as you did my father.  Don't think to escape.  Some day
we shall meet again, and then you shall answer for this crime."

A jeering laugh was his only answer, and dispirited, and well-nigh on
the verge of tears, he retraced his steps to the house, and threw
himself into his chair, a prey to the worst misgivings, wondering what
he should do next, how he was to live, and how to repair his ruined
fortunes.



CHAPTER TWO.

GALLANT RESCUE.

Moderately tall and broad, with well-tanned skin and pleasant features,
Dick Stapleton looked a gentleman and a decent fellow as he lolled on an
old box which lay on the beach at Cape Coast Castle.  He was dressed in
white ducks from head to foot, while a big solar topee covered his head.
His collar was thrown wide open, a light scarf being tied loosely round
the neck, while his whole appearance gave one the impression that he was
decidedly at ease.  And yet he was not happy.  A week had passed since
the robbery, and in that time he had given full particulars to an
apathetic police force.  He had offered a reward for the recovery of the
treasure, and he had wondered how and where he was to live.

"There are the two houses," he had said over and over again to himself.
"One is the store, and has perhaps fifty pounds worth of goods in it.
The other, the living-house, is of greater value.  But they are useless
to me, for without capital I cannot run the store, while without means I
cannot live in the house.  And I haven't, so far, been able to come
across a tenant.  I've five pounds in cash, and when that goes I'm
penniless."

He began to throw pebbles aimlessly, vaguely wondering what he could do
to lighten his difficulties.

"It is plain that there is no work for me here," he said at length.
"Practically every white man between this and Elmina is an official of
some sort, while the natives don't count.  Of course there are the
merchants and the storekeepers, but then I am neither the one nor the
other now.  Father even never made much more than a bare living, thanks,
perhaps, to that robber.  Ah, if I had had the means to organise an
expedition I would have followed him; but then where should I have
obtained an escort?  These Fantis, fine fellows though they look, are
really cowards, so I am told."

He watched one of the ebony natives lounging in the shade some little
distance away, and noted his tall and well-proportioned figure.  Then he
turned to others, who sat with their toes dipping in the water, and
their knees submerged every now and again as a big wave thundered on the
sand.  They were the kroomen, who were accustomed to play between shore
and ship, and bring off passengers and baggage.

"They will have work soon," thought Dick, as his eye lit upon a steamer
approaching.  "But they know that it will be an hour yet before she is
at her moorings off the coast.  She's a big vessel.  One of the regular
callers."

For a little while he gazed at the ship, wondering who were aboard, and
which of the white officials who had gone away on leave some time
before, fagged and debilitated by the trying climate, would return, and
come ashore fresh and cheery, with that ruddy complexion common to
Europeans and to natives of the British Isles.

"Lucky beggars," he thought.  "They will have everything dear before
them.  They will take up the old work as if they had merely been for a
day's shooting up-country, and their friends whom they relieve will take
their bunks and sail away.  It would be a fine thing for me if I could
get a billet under the Government."

He lay there for a long time reflecting, and as he did so the ship came
rapidly closer.  When a mile from the sandy coast she dropped her
anchor, and those ashore could easily see the splash as it entered the
water.  Then she lay to, with her broadside facing the land, rolling and
heaving with monotonous regularity.  Dick watched the bustle aboard
listlessly, for it was no unusual sight for dwellers on the Gold Coast,
the White Man's Grave.  Time and again he wondered whether there might
be some one aboard to whom he could offer the store and the house, or
some one who would befriend him and perhaps obtain some post for him
which would enable him to work for a living.  For as the reader will
have learned, Dick was in difficulties.  He had come out some months
before at his father's urgent call, and had barely had time to look into
the business of the store when his father died.  Then came the theft of
the gold, and here was our hero stranded indeed, with little experience,
and with very few years behind him.  No wonder that he was dismayed.
That as his fingers closed on the five golden sovereigns in his pocket
his mind went time and again to the future, wondering what would happen
when those golden coins had perforce been changed into silver, and the
silver had dwindled away.

"If it had been in London," he said, "I should have soon found work of
some sort, or I would have eagerly taken the Queen's shilling and
enlisted.  Here there is no work, at least not for a white man, and
there is no supervising or overseeing job that I can get.  Lastly, there
is no recruiting station."

He had but stated the facts.  For the past week he had been the round of
the town, and had even gone, cap in hand, to the Governor.

"We're sorry for you, Stapleton," the hitter's secretary had said, as he
shook Dick's hand, "but we have nothing to offer.  We can't even take
over your property, nor promise to look after it while you may be away.
The best thing for you to do will be to get back to the Old Country, and
try your luck there.  You think of enlisting, do you?  Well, it's a fine
profession, is soldiering, and you are the lad to do well.  Perhaps you
might even find your way out here again, for let me tell you something.
That rogue, King Koffee, is stirring his Ashantee tribesmen up for war.
He is itching for a fight, and means to force one.  So you might pay us
a visit.  By the way, are you really in earnest?"

"About the army, sir?" asked Dick.

"Yes, about enlisting.  So many young fellows threaten to take the step,
but fail for want of pluck when the critical moment comes.  You see,
there are not so many gentlemen rankers, and whatever others say,
there's no doubt that the life is a rough one, and particularly so to
the son of a gentleman.  That's barrack life, of course.  Out on active
service it's different, for then officers and men live practically the
same life, and put up with the same hardships."

"I know it's not all a feather bed, sir," replied Dick, respectfully.
"But I'm stranded.  I can't be kicking my heels out here in idleness,
and I see few prospects of selling the store and the property.  So I
shall take what I can get for the goods now on hand and get a passage to
England.  If I can I shall work my way back, for it would be as well to
learn to rough it from the first."

"And perhaps I could help you," was the answer.  "Look here, Stapleton,
we're sorry for you.  It was very hard luck losing your money in that
way, and if you are really keen on returning home with a view to
entering the army, I'll get you a post aboard a steamer.  A word from
the Governor would influence the captain, and as you say, it is better
to rough it now, and get a little practice, before joining the ranks.
There, too, I can do something, I imagine.  Come again when you have
thoroughly made up your mind, and I will see what can be done."

Dick had to be satisfied with that, and as he lay there on the sand he
had firmly come to a decision, and resolved to ask for a post aboard the
steamer then lying in the roads, and return in her to England.

"But first I'll see whether there is any one there who wants a store or
a house," he said.  "They'll be coming soon.  I see the surf-boats are
on the way, and the rope gangway has been lowered."

He watched as some passengers clambered down the gangway, their white
drill clothing showing crisply against the dark background of the ship,
while others, less capable of the somewhat difficult feat of descending
a swaying ladder, were lowered in a chair slung from the yard.  Then his
eye lazily followed as the kroo boys thrust their long paddles into the
sea, and shot the big craft from the vessel's side.  A second took its
place at the gangway, and another load of passengers, all in gleaming
white clothes as before, descended or were slung into the boat, and were
rowed away.  After that he could see the baggage being lowered down till
other boats, which had now gone alongside, were well filled.

"There's Brown, who went home six months ago, just before I came out,"
said Dick, suddenly, as the first boat drew near the outer margin of the
surf.  "I remember he brought a message to me from father.  How well
he's looking.  When I saw him last he was a skeleton."

He rose to his feet and strolled down to the edge of the sandy beach,
where he waited to greet his friend.  There were one or two others whom
he recognised, and they waved to him.  But for a little while passengers
and friends ashore were completely divided, for a wide belt of raging
surf stretched between them.  On the outer fringe of this the surf-boat
lay to, the kroo boys standing along the sides with the tips of their
paddles just dipping in the water.  They made no movement save every now
and again when a big swelling breaker caused them to roll, and
threatened to carry the boat into the surf.  Then there was a word from
the headman, the paddles dipped deeply, and the boat swung back from the
surf.

"It wants doing to-day," said an officer, who had now taken his place
beside Dick.  "There's no wind to speak of, but there's quite a heavy
surf.  I always like watching those kroo boatmen.  Clever beggars,
Stapleton, and full of pluck when engaged in a job of this sort.  Ah,
they are off."

A shout came over the water, and at once all the paddles were plunged
deep into the sea.  The boat, helped by a breaker, sprang forward into
the surf, and then being caught up by an enormous rolling billow, she
shot forward on its crest, being lifted many feet into the air, till, in
fact, those aboard her seemed to be far above those on the beach.  But
in a moment she dropped down again, and for a few seconds was out of
sight.

"Looks as though the following wave would cover her," said the officer,
as he watched keenly for another sight of the boat.  "Those beggars are
paddling as if for their lives."

At that instant the surf-boat had again come to view, and as the officer
had remarked, the kroo boys were plying their paddles with tremendous
energy.  They looked over their shoulders with some apprehension, and
then at the repeated shouts of their leader they dug their blades into
the boiling surf and struggled to push the craft towards the shore.  But
in spite of their exertions the surf-boat seemed to be receding.  She
appeared to be slowly gliding backward down the far side of the billow
which had just passed, falling, in fact, towards the gulf which lay
between it and the monstrous wave which followed.

"They're done," cried the officer.

"They'll manage it, I think," said Dick, quietly.  "But it's touch and
go."

And that it proved to be.  The men aboard shouted, and drove their
paddles with fierce energy, while the spray licked about them, and the
following wave seemed to surround them.  The passengers, seeing their
danger, behaved like sensible beings.  They sat still and clutched their
seats, while they looked backward apprehensively.  Suddenly the boat
began to move forward.  The efforts of the paddlers were having the
desired effect.  It slowly gathered way, though the following wave, with
its green curling crest now erected high above the craft, seemed to be
about to fall upon it and swamp the passengers.  Another shout, another
fierce struggle, and the boat shot forward, the crest of the wave
doubled up, caved in at that point, subsided into the seething boil
about it, and then glided under the surf-boat, lifting it swiftly into
the air.  How it moved!  It might have been shot from a gun.  And the
kroo men had reversed their paddles.  They were now doing their utmost
to restrain the boat, to keep her from being dashed on the shore.  It
was a magnificent struggle.  The curling wave, a huge mass of foam and
water, burst with a thunderous boom on the sand, and breaking into a
million cascades, shot its torrents up on to the beach.  The boat fell
as suddenly till its keel was close to the sand, when it leapt forward
again and finally came with a bump to the ground.  At once the kroo boys
leapt over the side, waist-deep in the receding water.  They were almost
dragged from their feet, but they clutched the boat, and putting their
united strength to the task, ran her a few feet higher up, till, when
the water subsided, she was left almost high and dry.

"Bravo!" shouted the officer and Dick together.  "It was a narrow
squeak.  Ah, how are you, Preston?" went on the former as he recognised
a friend, while our hero turned to the young fellow whom he had last
seen in England.

By now a number of other residents had arrived, and there was an
animated meeting, the passengers leaping out and shaking hands.  Amid
all the excitement, the hand-gripping, the questions as to friends at
home, and as to matters on the Gold Coast, no one took notice of the
following boats save Dick, who had greeted his friend and left him to
pass on to others.  He watched, therefore, as the second craft
approached, and stared at the occupants as the stout vessel lay off the
breakers waiting for the propitious moment to arrive when it would be
wise to push forward.

There were five passengers in all, three of them officers returning to
duty, and two others, of whom one seemed to be a man of some fifty years
of age, thin and almost cadaverous, while the last by all appearances
was a very stout, short man, who found the heat trying, for he fanned
his face with an enormous topee, then mopped his brows with an
exceedingly red bandana handkerchief, and finally, with a start of
surprise, stood up and stared back at the oncoming waves with every
appearance of dismay.  Dick heard him shout, and a moment later the
tall, thin man had swept him to his seat again with an adroit movement
of the arm.

"A stranger, evidently," thought Dick.  "He has never been in the surf
before.  The other man knows the ropes well, while the officers I
recognise as old residents.  Ah, they've started.  The little fat beggar
doesn't like it."

The stout man evidently felt some tremors, for he clutched at the side,
pushing his head in between two of the kroo men, till his companion,
seeing that he was in the way, dragged him back and spoke sharply to
him.  After that he remained as if rooted to his seat, staring at the
wave which followed, and shuddering as the boat was lifted to the summit
of a crest, and again as she as quickly slid back into the abyss behind.
A shriek escaped him as the craft slowly receded, while the harder the
paddles worked and their leader shouted, the more did the terror of the
unaccustomed situation seem to fill this little stranger.  A moment
later a shout from Dick and a chorus of yells attracted the attention of
those ashore.  They turned to find the boat gone.  She had been
completely engulfed by the following wave, and for a minute nothing but
seething water could be seen.  Then a black arm shot up, and later the
whole of the kroo rowers bobbed to the surface like corks, and knowing
what was wanted, merely struggled to keep their heads above the surface
while the water swept them ashore.  Then the three officers appeared,
and rapidly followed the example set them.

"Two are missing," shouted Dick, "the fat little man and the thin one."

"Then one at least has gone for good," replied one of the passengers who
had just come ashore.  "The Dutchman couldn't swim if you paid him.  The
other could, no doubt.  Hullo!  What's happening, Stapleton?"

"I'm going in," said Dick, quietly, as he tore at his coat and kicked
his shoes off.  "Look; there's one, and he's helpless!"

He had no time for more, but coolly nodding to the group, ran into the
water, and as a wave crashed into seething foam at his feet he dived
into the mass and disappeared.  A minute later he was in the trough
beyond, and the wave which followed merely lifted him high in the air.
There was a warning shout from the shore, and a dozen fingers pointed to
his right.  But did did not see them.  Nor did he even hear, for the
roar of the surf was so great.  But he happened to catch sight of an
arm, which was instantly submerged.

"That is one," he said to himself.  "I'll get him if I dive."

Dick had learned to be wary, and knew that it is as dangerous to
approach a drowning man from behind as from the front when he is still
full of vigour.  He dived, struck out beneath the water, touched
something, and struggled to the surface, clutching the tail of a coat.
He pulled at it, and slowly the fat face of the stout little passenger
appeared, and close to his that of the thin man, the one with cadaverous
cheeks.  Then a pair of arms came into sight, and Dick gathered that the
stout stranger had gripped at the nearest person and had dragged him
down with him, making escape impossible, making it even out of the
question for the taller man to struggle for existence.

"Better get them ashore like this," he thought, with wonderful coolness
considering the danger.  "There's a wave coming.  I'll copy the kroo
boys and wait for it.  Then I'll try to get all three of us flung on the
beach."

He took a firm hold of the collar of the stout man, who was apparently
unconscious, for his eyes were tightly closed, though his arms still
retained their grip.  But the hold which Dick had obtained enabled him
to keep the fat stranger's lips just clear of the water, while it also
raised the other man's face.  Then Dick lifted his free arm for a
second.  Those ashore saw the movement and shouted, while three or four
of them ran down into the sea.  A wave was coming.  Dick could see it in
spite of the blowing spray which whisked across the water.  He took a
deep breath and gripped the coat with both hands.  The curling crest of
a green wave shut out the horizon.  There was a crash in his ears.  The
torrent caught him and almost tore his grip from the collar.  Then he
felt that he was moving.  He and the weight to which he clung shot
towards the shore, a foot or more of water covering them.  Then there
was a second crash, loud shouts from those on the beach, and
afterwards--

"Hullo!  Does it hurt?  Broke just above the elbow and we had such a
job.  No.  Lie down, sir!  You are not to move.  Lie down, I say!  You
are safe out of the water."

Dick collapsed flat on his back and stared indignantly at the individual
who had dared to give the order.  He was a trim, dapper Englishman, with
a small beard, and as he returned our hero's gaze he showed every sign
of being a man who meant what he said, and would have no nonsense.  He
was minus his coat, and his sleeves were rolled to the shoulder.

"That's an order," he laughed.  "Remember that, youngster.  An order.
See that you obey it."

He shook his fist, laughed merrily, and proceeded to unroll his sleeves
and don his coat.

They were in a large, airy room, and when Dick turned his head, he could
catch, through the widely opened windows, a view of the sea, of the ship
which had just reached the roads, and a small section of the sandy
beach.  No one was stirring.  The sun was right overhead, and the
shadows short and barely perceptible.  The atmosphere quivered with the
heat.  Even the birds and the insects seemed to have succumbed.  An
unnatural quiet reigned over that portion of the Gold Coast, and only
the surf thundered and roared.  But that was partly imagination.  Dick
could not shake off the impression that he was even then swallowed in
that huge mass of water, and that he could still hear, was deafened,
indeed, by the crash of the billows.  He looked again down at the sands.
A solitary Fanti boy languidly sauntered across the view.  There was a
boat drawn up clear of the breakers, and another lay off the ship, a
mile from the shore.  Was it all a dream, then?

"I say," he suddenly remarked, and he felt surprised that his voice
should sound so low and weak.  "Er, I say, if you please, where am I,
and what has been happening?"

"Happening?" exclaimed his companion, with elevated eyebrows.  "Oh,
nothing at all.  You acted like a madman, they tell me.  You dived into
the surf, and, as a result, the surf threw you back as if it objected to
you.  It threw you hard, too, and wet sand is heavy stuff to fall on.
You've a broken arm, and may thank your stars that that is all.  It
ought, by rights, to have been a broken neck and hardly a whole bone in
your body.  Where are you?  Why, at the Governor's, of course.  In
clover, my boy."

The jovial individual laughed as he spoke, and came close to the bed.

"You've been an ass," he said bluntly, and with a laugh.  "Seriously, my
lad, you've done a fine thing.  You went into the surf and brought out
those two drowning men.  It was a fine thing to do, but risky.  My word,
I think so!"

He took Dick's hand and squeezed it, while the bantering smile left his
lips.

"A nigger is at home sometimes in the surf," he explained; "but when you
know the coast as I do, you will realise that to get into those breakers
means death to most white men.  You want to be a fish in the first
place, and you need to be made of cast iron in the second.  I'm not
joking.  I've seen many a surf-boat splintered into bits as she bumped
on the beach.  Men are thrown ashore in the same way, and they get
broken.  Your arm is fractured, and a nice little business it has been
to get it put up properly.  The Dutchman is still unconscious, and I
fancy he swallowed a deal of salt water.  Mr Pepson, the other
individual whom you saved, is quite recovered.  He's one of those
fellows who is as hard as nails.  But there, that'll do.  I'm talking
too much.  Lie down quietly and try to sleep like a good fellow."

So it was real after all.  He had not dreamed it.  He had gone into the
surf, and the Dutchman was saved.

"And who's this Mr Pepson?" thought Dick.  "And this fellow here must
be the doctor.  One of the army surgeons, I suppose.  Fancy being at the
Governor's house.  Phew!  That ought to get me the billet aboard the
ship."  Suddenly he recollected that his fractured arm would make hard
work out of the question for a time, and he groaned at the thought.

"Pain?" asked the surgeon.  "No?  Then worry?  What's wrong?"

Dick told him in a few words.

"Then don't bother your head," was the answer.  "The Governor is not
likely to turn you out while you are helpless, and the time to be
worrying will be when you are well.  You've friends now, lad.  You were
no one before--that is, you were one amongst many.  Now you have brought
your name into prominence.  We don't have men fished out of the surf
every day of the year."

He spoke the truth, too, and Dick soon realised that his gallant action
had brought him much honour and many friends.  The Governor came that
very afternoon to congratulate him, while the members of the household,
the ladies of the Governor's party, fussed about their guest.  Officers
called to see the plucky youngster, while, such is the reward of
popularity, two of the traders on the coast made offers for Dick's
houses and the good-will of the stores.  It was amazing, and if our
hero's head had hummed before with the memory of his buffeting in the
surf, it hummed still louder now.  He was in a glow.  The clothes on his
bed seemed like lead.  The place stifled him.  He longed to be able to
get out, to shake off the excitement.

"An attack of fever," said the surgeon that evening, as he came to the
room and found Dick wandering slightly.  "The shock, hard times for the
last few weeks, and thoughtless exposure to the sun, are probable
causes.  That's what many of the youngsters do.  They think that because
an older hand can at a pinch work during the heat of the day and in the
sun, they can do the same.  They can't.  They haven't the stamina of
older men.  Here's an example.  He'll be in bed for another week."

And in bed Dick was for more than that time.  At last, when the fever
had left him, he was allowed to get into a chair, where for a few days
he remained till his strength was partially restored.  Another week and
he emerged into the open.  And here at length he made the acquaintance
of the men he had rescued from the surf.



CHAPTER THREE.

A MINING EXPEDITION.

Dick could have shouted with merriment as the two strangers whom he had
rescued after their upset in the surf came up the steep steps of
Government House to greet him, and still more was his merriment roused
as the stout little man came forward to shake him by the hand.  For this
rotund and jolly-looking individual was dressed in immaculate white,
with an enormously broad red cummerbund about his middle, making his
vast girth even more noticeable.  His round, clean-shaven face beamed
with friendly purpose, while there was about him the air of a leader.
He struggled to appear dignified.  He held his head high, and showed no
sign of feeling abashed, or ashamed at the memory of his conduct aboard
the boat.

"Ah, ah!" he gasped, for the climb had taken his breath away.  "Bud id
is hod for walking, Meinheer Dick, and zese steps zey are sdeep.  I
greed you brave Englishman as one brave man would anozer.  I render
zanks for your aid.  I am proud to shake ze hand of mine comrade who
came into ze wild sea to give me ze help."

"Goodness!" thought Dick, "he speaks as if he had actually been
attempting to save his friend, and had not really been the means of
almost drowning him."

He glanced furtively at the second stranger, as the fat man grasped his
hand and pumped it up and down, while at the same time he vainly
endeavoured to mop his streaming forehead.  But Dick could read nothing
in the face of Mr Pepson.  Perhaps the keen sunken eyes twinkled ever
so little.  Perhaps that twitch of the thin lips was a smile suppressed.
Beyond that there was nothing.  Mr Pepson gazed at his rescuer with
evident interest, and seemed barely to notice the presence of his
companion.  At length, however, he moved forward a step and addressed
himself quietly to Dick.

"Let me introduce our friend," he said, with a quaint little bow,
removing his topee as he did so.  "This is Meinheer Van Somering, of
Elmina."

"Dutch by birdh and a Dutchman to ze backbone, Meinheer," exclaimed the
stout man, as he released Dick's hand.  "I am one of ze residents of
Elmina, which was in ze hands of mine coundry till ladely, you
undersdand.  Id is a spod to visid.  Ah! zere you will find comford.
But I have nod zanked you."

"Indeed you have.  You have said enough.  I did nothing to speak of,"
exclaimed Dick, hastily.  "How are you?  None the worse for your
adventure?"

"None, we thank you," answered Mr Pepson, interrupting the voluble
Dutchman as he was in the act of launching forth into a speech.  "We
grieve to hear how badly you have fared, and we hope that you are now on
the mend.  You do not like thanks.  I see that plainly.  Then I will say
very little.  I owe you my life, Mr Stapleton, and I and all consider
your action to have been an extremely plucky one.  Now, may we sit down?
It is hot, as Meinheer says.  And these steps are steep."

"Sdeep!  Mein word!  In Elmina zere are none like dese.  Here, in Cape
Coast Castle, everyzing is sdeep.  You climb or you run downhill.  Zere
is no level.  Id is derrible!"

The fat little Dutchman threw his hands into the air with a comical
expression of disgust, and then flung himself back into a basket chair,
causing it to creak and groan and bend to one side, till Dick thought it
would certainly collapse.

Mr Pepson smiled.  "Our friend does not think greatly of this English
possession of ours," he said, "and there I agree with him, for Elmina is
by contrast a charming spot.  You have been there, Mr Stapleton--Dick I
think they all call you?"

"No, I have never been to Elmina," Dick was bound to admit.

"Ah, well, it lies some sixteen miles to the west, as you will know, and
the Dutch held it for many years--in fact, till recently, when England
bought the place.  It is beautiful in many ways.  There is little fever.
The spot is drained and the bush cut back into wide clearings."

"Ah, yes, Meinheer, and led me add, zere is a harbour.  Look zere!"

The little Dutchman danced to his feet and tiptoed to the edge of the
steep steps by which he had so recently ascended.  Then he pointed a
condemning finger at the white sandy beach, and at the thundering surf
which crashed upon it.

"See id!  Ze cruel waves, which so nearly robbed me of a dear, dear
friend, for whose life I struggled till Meinheer Dick plunged do ze
rescue.  Zere is none of zat at Elmina.  We Dutchmen made a harbour
years ago.  You can land at Elmina as you mighd in Holland.  There is
nod even a--ah, whad do you call him--ah, I have him, yes, a ribble,
zere is nod even zat, Meinheer."

The comical little fellow threw out his chest, as if that were necessary
considering its huge dimensions, and patted it gracefully, while he
looked round upon his listeners in turn as if seeking for some words of
praise and commendation.

"It is true enough," admitted Mr Pepson, and again Dick thought he
detected a half-suppressed smile.  "The country to which our friend
belongs sent excellent colonists to Elmina.  They have a harbour, and
why we have not one here passes belief.  But there.  Why let us compare
the two places and their governments?  It is sufficient to say that
Elmina has advanced as the years have passed, while this possession,
which has been in our hands for more than two hundred years, has receded
if anything.  A cargo of cement and two months' work would have made a
harbour.  An engineer with limited skill and knowledge could have
erected a breakwater which would have enabled small boats to lie snug
and secure, while there would have been no need for surf-boats.  As to
the bush.  They call this `the white man's grave.'  And so it is.  But
the health of the town could be vastly improved if proper efforts were
made.  The bush could be cleared and the place drained."

He paused and looked out to sea, while Dick, as he watched the surf and
thought over what had been said, could not help feeling that had the
measures just mentioned been carried out, his father might still be
living, and many another Englishman with him.  Indeed, there is little
doubt that at the time and until this period Cape Coast Castle and its
neighbourhood had been sadly neglected.  No English colony had advanced
less, and none was so unhealthy, though a little effort would easily
have improved matters.

"You are lately from home?" asked Mr Pepson, suddenly, turning to Dick.

"Four months ago.  I came to help my father, who had had a store here
for many years.  He died a week before you landed."

"Before you aided us in our efforts to reach the land, I think," was the
smiling rejoinder.  "I knew your father slightly, and I sympathise with
you in your loss.  Do you propose to remain in these parts?"

The question was asked so quietly that Dick could not imagine that Mr
Pepson had the smallest interest in the answer.  And yet, had he watched
this stranger, he would have seen a keen glance of the eye, a movement
of the hand which denoted eagerness.

"I shall sail for England as soon as my arm is strong enough.  I have
been promised help in getting a place aboard one of the ships.  I shall
work my way home, and then seek for employment.  I have been rather
unlucky."

"You were robbed, we hear.  But you still have some property left, and
perhaps you might find work here.  What would you say to a trip
up-country?"

Mr Pepson leaned back and surveyed our hero.  He drew a cigar from his
pocket, bit the end off, and applied a match.  And all the while his
eyes were on the young fellow who had saved his life.  As for Meinheer
Van Somering, his cheeks were puffed out with suppressed excitement.  He
leaned forward till his chair looked as if it would capsize, and he
devoured the figure seated before him with eyes which were almost hidden
behind the wreathes of fat which clothed his cheeks.

"Mind," said Mr Pepson, calmly, "a trip such as I suggest would not be
a holiday.  There are dangers other than connected with fever.  There
are natives.  Have you heard of King Koffee's hosts of warriors?"

Dick had heard a great deal, and acknowledged the fact.

"Every one seems to think that there will be trouble with them before
very long," he said.  "The Fantis, the people on this side of the Pra,
go in terror of their lives.  Yes, I know that there is danger
up-country, but then, Mr Pepson, it is not so great as to keep an
Englishman away."

"Nor one of my gread coundry, Meinheer!"

"Quite right!  Quite so, Van Somering.  Now listen, Mr Dick.  We--that
is, Meinheer and myself--are about to march into the interior, to a spot
some miles north and east of the Pra.  We are bent on gold-mining, and
we have bought a concession from this King Koffee.  Meinheer has had his
agents there for the past six months--a Dutchman and natives--and there
are shafts sunk, a stockade erected, and gold is being obtained.  Now I
have come into the venture.  The agent is about to retire, and we desire
to see our concession, and to place an agent in charge who can be relied
upon.  The post is a dangerous one.  It is also one of responsibility,
for many ounces of gold pass through the hands of the man who is in
charge.  We have been seeking for a successor, and we believe we have
found him.  You are the young man upon whom our choice has fallen."

Dick could have fallen from his chair, so great was his astonishment.

"But--but--I am only eighteen," he stammered.  "And I don't know
anything about mining."

"We want a reliable and straightforward man," said Mr Pepson, quietly,
"and we believe you to be that.  Your age does not come into the
question.  In England you might be just leaving for college, or have
held a commission in the service for a year.  You would hardly be deemed
fitted for a post of great responsibility.  Out here it is different.
You have pluck and tenacity.  Every one in the place says that.  You
speak a little of the Fanti language, and you have some knowledge of the
country and the natives.  As to the mining, no knowledge is required.
The natives sink the shafts and get the gold.  You take charge of it,
and, at stated periods, send it down to the coast.  Your greatest task
will be to see that all is secure.  To make sure that the Ashantees are
friendly, and in the event of probable trouble, to secrete the gold and
beat a retreat.  In other words, we want a sensible individual, with
some command over the natives, and with enough pluck to enable him to
live almost alone in the forests."

The offer was a tempting one.  Dick saw employment before him, and a
life which he judged would suit him well.  Then, too, longer residence
in the country would enable him to safeguard his interests on the coast,
and perhaps to sell or let the property which was all that he possessed.

"As to the pay," said Mr Pepson, "that will be liberal, far better,
indeed, than an official of your years obtains in these parts.  We have
a valuable concession, and we can afford to pay the right man.  Then,
too, there is a question of the store.  You have one, we learn.  We are
prepared to enter into an agreement to take a share of it from you, or
we will take all, paying for the house and the goodwill of the business.
In addition, since we shall want a residence, we are prepared to rent
or buy the residence in which your father lived."

Could he believe his ears?  Could it be that he was listening to a
proposition which would relieve him of all his difficulties?  Dick felt
stunned.  The roar of the surf, which had troubled him ever since his
adventure, threatened to deafen him.  He felt dizzy, and sat back in his
chair, grasping the arms for support.  Meanwhile, Mr Pepson watched him
calmly, Meinheer Van Somering beaming upon him as though he alone were
the author of all these suggestions, and as if Dick were indebted to him
only.

"I can see a brave man wid half one eye," he gasped, as he fanned his
hot cheeks.  "Meinheer is brave.  He will fighd for us.  He is ze man we
look for."

"Then I accept," exclaimed Dick, eagerly.  "I feel that I am too young
for the task, or rather, that I should be at home in England.  Out here
it is different.  I can speak a little of the language, and, if it is
any advantage, I can shoot straight.  I will go to this concession, and
will do my best in your interests.  As to the property, your suggestions
take my breath away."

"While we are only too glad to have the opportunity of thus helping a
friend.  Now, Mr Dick, we shall leave you.  It is hot, and you are
tired.  I will call to-morrow, and will then make a definite offer for
the business, or a share of it.  Meanwhile I will send some one to you
who can give you independent advice as to its value.  For business is
business, my lad, and it is necessary that your interests should be
protected.  Now, Meinheer, we will go.  It is downhill to the hotel, and
therefore easy walking."

He rose as Dick sprang to his feet, and shook our hero warmly by the
hand.  Meinheer Van Somering repeated the process, and having backed to
the edge of the stairs, swept his topee from his head and treated Dick
to an elaborate bow.  "We shall meed again, Meinheer Dick," he called
out.  "Till zen a Dutchman is proud do call himself your gread friend.
Mein word! bud id has been a pleasure to meed you."

He swept his topee on to his head again, mopped the perspiration from
his face, and descended slowly, leaving Dick with his head in a whirl,
and feeling half inclined to laugh at the memory of this Dutchman's
comical figure, his absurd attempts to be dignified, and his vast stock
of self-assurance; and more than half disposed to shed tears of joy and
relief at the words of Mr Pepson, at the offer which had been made to
him, and at the prospect for the future.  Then he sat down and did what
many another youngster has done, who has been hurt and has been sick for
a time.  He fainted from sheer weakness and inability to withstand so
much excitement.

"And that is all the thanks I get for allowing them to come," exclaimed
the trim-bearded doctor, as he glared at Dick some minutes later.  "It's
all the work of that fat little Dutchman, of that I'm sure.  He'd talk
till any one was weary.  Well, he shall not come again.  You are to be a
prisoner here, my boy, till you show signs that you are really mending.
Fainted!  Just fancy!"

He went off with a sniff and a smile, leaving Dick quite well again, but
ready now to inflict the direst punishment upon himself for displaying
such weakness.

"I could kick myself!" he exclaimed in disgust.  "Here am I, in clover,
as the doctor says, but till half an hour ago with starvation before me.
I was on my beam ends, and did not know where to look for work or help.
And here I am, with a post assured, and every prospect of earning a
decent living.  And the news upsets me.  I'm a donk ey!  A fine thing if
Mr Pepson had seen me.  A nice thing for him to know that his future
manager might faint like a girl at the first critical moment.  Pah!  I
wish some one would kick me!"

There was no one at hand to comply with his invitation, and presently
the memory of his weakness wore off and Dick fell asleep.  A few days
later he was far stronger, and when three weeks had passed he was
himself again, his arm was out of the splints, and carried in a sling,
while, when the doctor or Mr Pepson were not about, he amused himself
with using the hand and fingers.

"As well get accustomed to working the limb," he said to himself, with a
smile.  "I am sure that the expedition is dallying here till I am well,
for that is just like Mr Pepson.  He is really grateful, and his
liberality is wonderful.  I must get this arm out of the sling as soon
as possible."

Another week, in fact, brought the consent of the doctor, whereupon
active preparations for the trip up-country were commenced.  Meanwhile
our hero had learned more of his new friends.  Mr Pepson, he found, was
a wealthy trader from Sierra Leone, while Meinheer Van Somering was, as
he had proudly stated, a native of Elmina.  Born and bred there, he
spoke the native tongue like his own, and knew the Gold Coast
intimately.  It was he who had learned of the goldfield on the Pra, and
unable to purchase the concession himself, he had sent the information
to Mr Pepson.  Dick learned to like the Dutchman immensely, to laugh at
his comical appearance, his efforts towards dignity, his mighty ways
with the natives, and his good temper.  He was vastly amused at
Meinheer's other side, at his obvious nervousness, and at his boastful
ways and words.

"He is a good friend, and an amusing companion," said Mr Pepson one
day, "and if he has his little faults we must not complain.  The truth
is that he is no fighter, Dick.  When that is said, we have said
sufficient.  If we meet with trouble we may rely upon his seeking for
and finding a secure retreat.  We will not count on his help to protect
the expedition.  After all, it is only fair that the work should be
divided.  I shall command, and you will aid me.  Meinheer is chief
interpreter till you have made more acquaintance with the natives, and
he will advise us about the mines and their working.  Now let us go into
the question of the expedition.  You know the site of the mines?"

Dick had heard that it was somewhere on the river Pra, and said so.

"It is exactly ninety-four miles from here," said Mr Pepson, "and is
surrounded by dense bush.  To get to it we ascend the river Pra till we
reach a point on a level with the mines.  Then we strike into the
jungle.  We shall take with us a few sets of hand winding gear, for at
present the natives lower themselves into the shafts by their own
efforts.  The gear we have brought is simple, but it will answer well
and save labour.  Then we are taking guns and ammunition, rockets,
grenades, and a small brass cannon.  In addition there will be picks and
spades, and iron boxes, in which the gold will be packed.  As to
conveyances, there is a large launch for our own use, and she will tow a
couple of narrow native craft, and more if necessary.  Once we have
settled there, she will return with us, and will make periodical trips
from the mines as soon as you have taken charge.  She will be close to
your hand, and if you meet with trouble you will know that there is a
means of flight, and a way by which you can reach the coast.  Now let us
see to our personal outfit, for remember, we may be months away, and we
are going into parts which try the best of clothing."

They took their way into the town, for they had been chatting on the
beach, where many of the stores for their expedition had been
accumulated.  Then they went by the road which led to the house which
Dick's father had erected, and which had now passed into the keeping of
the two partners.  There they found a native tailor, with his wares
already spread out on the verandah.

"He is a humble and patient individual," said Mr Pepson, with a smile,
"and he will have carried out my orders to the letter.  These natives
cannot always cut garments, and for bush work, as for any other, it is
essential that one's clothes should fit easily and well, for otherwise
in this hot climate they are apt to chafe.  That being the case, I have
for years made it a practice to get a stock of clothes when in England,
and then allow a native to copy.  You understand, he picks a suit to
pieces, and makes use of the bits as patterns.  He has a couple of suits
here for us both.  Yours is a copy of one which we found in your room.
Come along.  Give it a trial."

This slender, cadaverous-looking Englishman from Sierra Leone seemed to
be able to think of everything.  Time and again Dick had cause to wonder
at his thoughtfulness, his care for others, and particularly for our
hero; and long ago he had ceased to do more than murmur his thanks, for
Mr Pepson would arrest him at once with a warning finger and a friendly
smile.

"What!" he would exclaim, "am I not to be allowed to do something for
the comfort of one who saved my life, and that, too, of our stout
friend, Meinheer Van Somering?  The world is indeed an ungrateful place
if one is to receive such an act with only passing thanks, to reward it
with a nod and a few polite words, and then in the rush which surrounds
us to forget the deed and the one who gallantly performed it.  Surely
there is as much pleasure in remembering a brave act and a good friend
as in anything.  I hold that a gentleman never forgets his debts of
gratitude, for they are indeed debts of honour, which can never be
settled too completely."

And Dick would become silent, though now and again he would lamely
protest that he had done nothing at all.

"That is your modesty, Dick," would be the answer.  "I may say the same.
I have done nothing more than any business man would do.  You are to be
my agent.  I have a big stake in these mines, and I wish all to go well.
Consequently, to avoid future loss, I equip my agent with the best and
see to his welfare."

There was no arguing with such a man.  He would smile that dry smile of
his and would turn away.  But Dick did not forget.  If Mr Pepson was
grateful, so also was he, for he was indeed in clover.  He saw work
before him, hard work, too; for he had been given to understand that the
post of agent would be no sinecure.  Then he was now a partner with Mr
Pepson and the Dutchman in the store which his father had had for so
many years.  It had reopened already with a flourish.  A manager had
been appointed, and there were prospects of reviving the business, so
that Dick might look forward to an income.  Then he had been credited
with a good sum, which Mr Pepson had insisted was the value of the
partnership, while a further sum was to be paid every year in the way of
rent for the residence.  And now, as if that were not enough, here was a
complete outfit.  Dick donned the clothes which the native had prepared,
and stepped into the centre of the verandah for Mr Pepson's approval.

"You will do well," said the latter, when he had surveyed him
critically.  "The stuff is some which I imported specially.  It is a
dark cloth, as you observe, and, while being thin and light, it is
strong, and to a certain extent waterproof.  It will stand the thorns in
the jungle, and better perhaps, should we meet with trouble, you will
find that it does not make the wearer conspicuous.  There is a green
shade in it, and that will be difficult to detect against the foliage.
Now the hat.  That will do, too.  It is made of the same material, and
is just the thing for the jungle.  A topee would be in the way, and
besides, the sun does not penetrate very much, and, indeed, is often not
to be seen.  You will carry a topee in your kit for open spaces."

Three days later all was in readiness, and Dick found himself dressed in
preparation for an early start.  As he looked in his glass that morning,
an hour before the sun rose above the steaming jungle and bush, he saw
there a young fellow of medium height, dressed in a loose-fitting
knickerbocker suit, with wide-awake hat to match.  A leather belt was
about his waist, and slung to it was a revolver, while on the other hip
he carried a short sword, with a keen cutting edge on one side, the
reverse being fashioned like a saw, for they would have dense jungle to
pass through, and such an implement was necessary.  Beneath the loose
coat he wore a light flannel shirt and turn-down collar, open at the
neck.  A pair of gaiters covered his calves, while his feet were clad in
strong shooting boots.  Altogether he looked a likely young fellow, and
his smooth features and firm chin, disclosing a creditable amount of
determination and obvious courage for one so young, set off his general
appearance and led one to believe that the mining partners had not made
such a bad choice after all.

"It's we who have made the mistake," said the Governor that morning to
his secretary, as he bade farewell to the expedition.  "We knew the lad
was in difficulties and wanted a job, but we thought him too young.  We
let him kick his heels till he was miserable.  We looked on while he was
robbed and ruined, and we should have helped him to slip from the
country had it not been for that plucky dash of his.  I tell you, there
are bad times coming.  I could have found him useful as a police
officer.  We want a likely fellow, who can speak this Fanti tongue, to
keep an eye open for the doings of the Elmina natives.  This fellow
would have done well.  But there! we've lost him.  It's always the way
with those in authority.  We hesitate.  We know that our choice must be
sanctioned by some man in office away at home, a man, mind you, who has
never seen the object of our choice.  That's red tape.  It kills
initiative.  It has lost us a good fellow, and these men, Pepson and the
Dutchman, have been too smart for us.  They have jumped at him, and
they've a real good fellow."

There was quite a commotion in Cape Coast Castle that morning.  Many
turned out to see the last of the expedition, and there was a cheer as
the party embarked on a surf-boat, and put out to the steam launch lying
just off the beach.

"Good luck! and watch the Ashantees," shouted one of the Government
officials.

"Bring back plenty of gold," called out another.

"Good-bye and good luck!"

The words of encouragement and a last cheer came to them as they boarded
the launch.  There was a sharp order from Mr Pepson, then the engines
revolved, the propeller thrashed the water, and they were off, Dick and
his friend watching the receding figures on the shore, while the
sprightly Van Somering climbed to the highest point of the narrow deck
and there held himself with head erect so that all might view him and
admire.

"A great swell he is, too," laughed Mr Pepson, as he and Dick turned
from the shore.  "His appearance alone should mean our security from
attack."

And our hero was fain to agree.  For the fat little Dutchman had
exceeded any former attempt.  True, he was dressed in the same loose
clothing, made of the selfsame material as worn by his comrades.  But
his vanity had added embellishments to it.  His shirt was red, a red
which dazzled the eye, while the belt which surrounded his ample waist
was some five inches in width--strong enough, in fact, to bear the
weight of two such Dutchmen, while it carried in front an enormous
revolver and a dagger of like proportions, all of which made it appear
as if Meinheer Van Somering were a man of pugnacious disposition, and
therefore to be avoided.

An hour later, a little while after the sun had risen over the jungle,
the launch glided into the river at Elmina, and came to rest close to
the mole.

"We will see first of all that our stores are here," said Mr Pepson, as
he leaped ashore.  "Then we will move on without delay.  Come with me,
Dick, and go over the list of our possessions."

Everything had been sent on some few days before from the neighbourhood
of Cape Coast Castle, where they had been landed from the steamer, and
thanks to the careful foresight of Mr Pepson, Dick found that three
dugouts, of large proportions, lay close to the mole, roped firmly
together, and in these were disposed the belongings of the expedition.
In the bows of one was the brass gun, while there were sniders in all
three and an ample supply of ammunition.  In addition, half a dozen
Fanti warriors sat on the thwarts waiting for the forward move.

"Hook on the launch," said Mr Pepson.  "Now, all aboard.  Send her
ahead, Johnnie."

Johnnie was the native boy who had been trained to man the engines of
the launch, and he rejoiced in the name given.  At the word he opened
the steam throttle till the merest jet was fed to the cylinders, and
gently drew ahead of the boats, slowly stretching out the hawser
connecting them till it was taut.  Then again there was a commotion at
the end of the launch.  The water was thrashed into foam, the ropes
creaked and stretched, and finally the launch was under way, the three
boats following gaily in the wake of the plucky steamer.  Mr Pepson was
at the wheel, and promptly put his helm over till they were heading for
the very centre of the river.

"All clear here," he said, with a smile.  "Now we make out for the sea,
for this is not the river Pra.  It lies a few miles to the west.  Once
there we shall not always have a wide, open stretch to steer through,
particularly when we have ascended a few miles.  Then, indeed, the fun
will commence, for there are sure to be sandbanks and shallows, while I
believe that crocodiles abound.  In any case the river will narrow, and
before very long the trees will come closer together and will shelter us
from the sun.  Send her full steam ahead, Johnnie."

By now they were feeling the swell at the mouth of the harbour of
Elmina, and for some minutes all clung to the sides, for the light craft
were tossed by the enormous surf running outside.  When that was safely
passed the steam launch turned to the west, and they went off along the
coast, just as they had done that morning, watching the white sandy
beach as they swept past it, the interminable forests beyond, and the
blue haze hanging over the hills and mountains in the distance.  Two
hours later they reached the mouth of the river, and having approached
it carefully, for mud banks lay off it in many directions, they shot
into an open channel, and soon found themselves ascending the Pra, a
broad river, there known as the Bustum.

"Higher up it is called the Pra," explained Mr Pepson, "until it
bifurcates.  The branch flowing from the east is then called the Prahsu,
while the one from the west is known as the river Offwin.  We do not
ascend either of these.  Our route takes us by a narrow tributary
flowing into the Pra, and by that means we reach our destination.  Now
we can go full ahead."

Once more the throttle was opened to its full extent, and with the three
boats in tow the launch steamed up into the heart of the country, with
every prospect of covering many miles ere the darkness came and caused
her to come to a stop.



CHAPTER FOUR.

A CHASE AND A FIGHT.

"In a little while the sun will be down," said Mr Pepson, as he
sprawled on the deck of the steam launch that evening.  "Then it will be
dark in half an hour or less, and we shall have to think of setting a
watch.  Meinheer will take the first one.  From seven to nine, Meinheer.
Dick will follow from that hour till midnight, and I shall take the
watch from the first moment of the new day till the light comes.  That
will be about three o'clock.  Now let us get our supper."

All day they had been steaming without adventure and without
interruption up the broad sweep of the river Pra, seeing nothing to
alarm them, and meeting with no difficulties.  So far they had had
plenty of water beneath their keels, and an ample space through which to
steer.  But there were signs that the river was narrowing, while all
felt as if the forest was hemming them in.

"Zis is noding do whad we shall have soon," the Dutchman said, with a
wave of his arm.  "Zis forest--I have been for some miles into him
before, mine friends--sdredches for a long, long way.  Id is tick, too.
See how ze drees shood up close togeder.  And watch below.  Ze creepers
are everywhere.  Id would dake a day do cud a new road a mile long.
Yes.  Id is dense.  Bud we shall have no drouble.  Ze river dakes us do
ze mine."

"For which I am only too thankful," added Mr Pepson.  "Our journey
should occupy but three days, or at the most four.  If we had to march
through the forest we should have to take an army of Fanti labourers to
cut a road.  And then think of the fever."

"And of the machinery, too," exclaimed Dick.

"Yes, that is another point," agreed Mr Pepson.  "This country has been
noted for its gold for many years.  The Ashantis have carried on a trade
since they became a nation, and there is no doubt that there are vast
natural stores.  You may ask, why have others not attempted to open
mines before this?  They have done so.  The beach at Elmina and at Cape
Coast Castle is strewn with rusting machinery, which has been landed
with a purpose, and then left to rot and rust simply because of the
difficulty of transport, and because of this forest.  Luckily for us our
mine is near the river.  But here's supper.  Sit down, Van Somering."

It was delightful to be out there in the open, even though the air
hummed with myriads of mosquitoes.  The launch and her three consorts
lay moored out in the stream some hundred yards or less from the left
bank of the river.  About them, but for the buzz of the insects and the
ripple of the water, all was still and silent.  Not a beast seemed to be
stirring, while even aboard the boats all had settled down to rest.
Johnnie, the stoker and driver, sat in the engine-well wiping his black
hands after an inspection of the machinery, while the Fanti crew lay
curled up in the bottom of the boats, two in each one, content with the
world, waiting quietly for their evening meal.  And now it was ready.
With a broad grin Johnnie announced that the water boiled, while Dick,
who had been superintending a dish of bacon which he had placed at the
furnace door, sang out that it was done to a turn.

"Then I will make the coffee," cried Mr Pepson.  "Meinheer, see that
the cloth is laid; and, Dick, steady with the bacon.  We will start fair
together."

The cloth consisted of a sheet of newspaper, a very ancient London
daily, which the Dutchman spread out on the deck.  Plates were of
enamelled iron--the class of ware to stand half a dozen campaigns--while
mugs were of the same hardy material, and were apt to be used for soup
or coffee, water or good wine, just as circumstances dictated.  It was
all very jolly.  This _al fresco_ picnic delighted Dick, and he set-to
at the meal with gusto, apologising for his appetite.

"Id is goot!  Id will make you grow sdoud, mine friend," grunted
Meinheer, in the midst of consuming a rasher.  "Id will make you grow so
big zad ze natives will zink you a gread man.  See how zey dread me,
Meinheer Van Somering!"

He looked down at his ample proportions with evident satisfaction, and
then completed his attack upon the rasher.

"Do-nighd all will be quied, mine friends," he went on.  "I shall be on
guard, and zese natives will not come.  Perhaps lader zey will ask who
we are.  I will speak wiz zem.  There will be no difficulty.  Anozer
rasher, Meinheer Dick."

They ate till they were satisfied, for there was no reason to be careful
with the rations, as they had an ample supply.  The repast was ended
with a second cup of steaming coffee, when the burly Dutchman produced a
pipe of dimensions as ample as his own, and with a bowl which took quite
a quantity of tobacco to fill it.  Mr Pepson lighted up a cigar, while
Dick produced a briar pipe.  Then for some minutes there was silence
between them, while the darkness deepened, and the cigar and the pipes
shone redder and redder.

At length it was dark, so dark on the surface of the river that nothing
was visible, and Dick could hardly see the figures of his comrades.  But
that was only for a little while.  Soon a big pale, African moon got up,
and, riding clear of the jungle, flooded the course of the river, the
left bank near which the boats lay, and the tree-tops and jungle along
that side.  On the far bank all was densely dark, and no eye could
penetrate the deep shadow which cloaked the dark and forbidding forest
which stretched unbroken beside the Pra.

"Bed!" called out Mr Pepson, indulging in a yawn.  "Meinheer, yours is
the first watch.  Wake Dick at nine.  Good-night."

"Good nighd, mine friends.  Sleeb well, for I shall protect you."

The Dutchman went aft to the tiny cabin, and fetched his rifle and a bag
of cartridges.  Then he seated himself upon the roof of the saloon, the
rifle across his knees, and his pipe held firmly between his teeth.

Dick, too, was tired.  It had been a long and interesting day, and he
had watched the passing banks of the river till his eyes ached.  Now he
felt drowsy.  He got up from the deck, stretched his arms and yawned,
and then went off to the bows.  A minute later he was wrapped in his
blanket, which covered him from head to foot, his head was on a bag
containing clothing, while his legs were stretched along the deck.  Half
an hour later he was asleep; all aboard, in fact, had turned in for
their rest, save the solitary Dutchman, who still nursed his rifle, and
puffed volumes of smoke from his lips without ceasing.

No wonder that Dick was charmed with this trip up-country.  It appealed
with all its force to a young fellow of his age.  He revelled in the
strangeness of the scenery, the dense, awe-inspiring forests, and all
the teeming life hidden in their midst, and the silent, slow-flowing
river.  That evening, too, he had thought how beautiful it all was, and
how peaceful.  He had admired the cold rays of the moon, the sleepy
boats lying beneath it, and the dark figures stretched out beneath the
thwarts.  He had listened, too, for a time to the music of the bush,
which came now more loudly to his ear.  There was the chatter of a
regiment of monkeys, the call of night birds innumerable, and the
droning hum of the insects.  Ever and anon there came a deeper sound, as
if from some beast wandering in search of its meal, while once, as he
awoke and rose on his elbow, he caught sight of a graceful four-footed
animal--a gazelle--tripping gently into the river to drink.  After that
he stretched out again, and, lulled by the droning sounds, slept deeply.

"What was that?  Ah! that beast again!" he suddenly said in a whisper,
as, some two hours later, he wakened with a start, only to close his
eyes again, for he realised at once that the shriek he had heard was one
which had often disturbed him at Cape Coast Castle--one which proceeded
from the throat of a harmless forest animal.

"Hoot!  Hoot!  Hoot!"

"An owl now," thought our hero, dreamily.  "There it goes again, and
quite close, too.  Bother the bird!"

"Hoot!  Hoot!"

This time Dick sat up on his elbow, and looked about him vainly for the
bird.  "Hoot!  Hoot!"  It came from his right, and he slowly turned his
head in that direction.  Then he did a curious thing.  He lay flat of a
sudden, and rubbed the sleep from his eyes vigorously.

"That's rummy!" he murmured beneath his breath.  "One of the boats has
disappeared, and the others are moving away, and--what does it all
mean?"

He rolled on to his back, lifted his head cautiously, and stared at the
roof of the cabin.  There was the figure of the Dutchman--immovable,
looking fantastically huge, and sprawled out at full length.  There was
no pipe now to be seen, no smoke issued from his lips, while the rifle
reposed beside him.  Then came a deep, muffled snore.  Meinheer Van
Somering was asleep.

"Then there is some one near us," said Dick, swiftly.  "Some one is
stealing the boats.  I must act with caution."

He had had experience of a midnight marauder before, and he determined
on this occasion not to be so easily beaten.  He rose to his knees, and
crawled along the deck till he reached the Dutchman.  A moment later he
had the rifle in his hands, and had drawn back the lock.  Click!  At the
crisp sound some one stirred.  A dusky figure stood up on one of the
boats close by, and commenced to pole lustily.  Then a second stood
erect, and Dick could hear the splash as his pole fell into the water.

"Stop!" he shouted.  "Bring that boat back, or I fire!"

He covered the nearest figure with his weapon, and waited, while his
shout was followed immediately by a scuffling behind him, and by the
almost instant appearance of Mr Pepson.  The latter seemed to take in
the position at a glance.  His eye detected the boat now so far away,
the two remaining ones being poled by the two dark figures, and the
huge, lumbering body of the Dutchman, still motionless and asleep.

"Shoot," he said, quietly.

Dick lifted the weapon again, sighted for his man, and fired.  There was
a loud shriek, and hardly had the echo of the shot died down when a
splash told that the bullet had reached.  But our hero was not content.
He stretched for the bag, snatched another cartridge, and, having placed
it in the rifle, covered the second man.  However there was no need to
fire, for a second splash told that the miscreant, warned by the fate of
his comrade, had leaped overboard.

"What has happened?" demanded Mr Pepson, sharply, but with no trace of
excitement in his voice.  "You were asleep, for it is barely half-past
eight.  You found our watchman also asleep, and the boats departing.
Did you see any one else?"

"No one," answered Dick, promptly.  "But there must be one other at
least.  Look!  There is a man poling the far boat."

"And he is too far away for a shot now.  I might hit him, but the light
is deceptive."

"Then why not follow sir?" exclaimed Dick.  "Johnnie banked the fires,
and in a few minutes there should be steam.  That boat won't have a
chance.  We shall be up with her before she can get far."

"But not before our goods are stolen.  No, we will give chase in one of
the other boats," said Mr Pepson, with decision.  "Meinheer, bring the
steamer along at once.  Dick and I will follow."

Already he was throwing off the hawser which held the anchor, and, as he
did so, Dick seized a pole.  A few strokes took the launch close to the
moving boats which had been so silently set adrift.

"Hold on, Johnnie, and you too, Meinheer," called out Mr Pepson.  "Now,
Dick, get aboard with the gun, and I'll follow with another.  We'll make
one boat fast and pole the other down."

He ran along the deck of the launch, while Dick leaped into one of the
native craft, two of which remained lashed side by side, and were
floating away together.  Suddenly a thought occurred to him.  He sprang
back into the launch, seized the bag of cartridges, and satisfying
himself that it was well filled, slung it over his shoulder and again
sprang into the native boat.

"Better get all ready for the pursuit," he said to himself.  "I'll set
the two boats free, and toss the end of a rope attached to one to
Meinheer.  He can make it fast aft and follow with the boat in tow."

He fell upon the lashings with eagerness, and when Mr Pepson appeared
from the cabin, carrying a rifle, Dick had the two boats separated, and
had tossed a rope attached to one to the Dutchman.

"Catch, Meinheer!" he shouted, for the burly Dutchman, since he had
become fully awake, seemed to be endeavouring to collect his wits.  The
report of the rifle had brought him languidly to his feet, and now he
stared at his two comrades in amazement, wholly unable to understand the
need for such bustling, or for so much excitement.

"Bud whad is zis?" he demanded.  "Is id ze middle of ze nighd, or--
whad?"

"It means that you've been asleep when you ought to have been keeping
watch," answered Mr Pepson, bluntly.  "Some thieves have cut our boats
adrift, and one is being poled away.  Don't stare, Meinheer.  Take the
rope Dick has thrown and make it fast.  Then follow as soon as you have
steam.  Johnnie, get that fire to blaze."

He stepped into the native craft and took the pole which Dick offered
him.

"Ready?" asked Dick.

A loud splash was the only answer, as Mr Pepson let his pole fall into
the water.  Dick followed suit, and in a little while they were shooting
down the river, which in these parts was sufficiently shallow to allow
of poling.

"Keep her in near the bank, sir," sang out Dick.  "It gets deeper out
there, and I've noticed that the fellow who is poling is sometimes
unable to bottom.  We are getting nearer already.  Can we try a shot?"

"Wait," was the answer.  "We have him in any case.  He cannot escape us,
and if we only keep him in sight he cannot take our goods.  Keep on as
we are till we are certain of a shot.  If he tries to make to the
opposite shore, where all is dense shadow, we will drop our poles and
fire together."

Ten minutes later they had overhauled the runaway to some extent, and
when half an hour had passed they judged that they were within easy
distance.

"Try a shot," said Mr Pepson.  "Your young eyes are better than mine.
Don't hesitate, my lad.  These fellows are rogues and would kill us
without a thought.  We must teach them a lesson."

Till that moment our hero would not have thought of hesitating, for he
had felt the excitement of the chase, and he realised that he had to do
with robbers who no doubt would have no scruples in killing him were he
to come upon them.  But just then the excitement had lessened somewhat.
They were overhauling the chase without a doubt, and the figure poling
the runaway boat looked so harmless there in the moonlight.  Also he
appeared to be unarmed.  However, an order was an order, and his duty
was plain.  He dropped his pole into the bottom of the boat, picked up
his rifle, and took a careful sight.

"Sight about the middle of his body--no higher," said Mr Pepson.  "That
should find a mark."

Crash!  The report of the rifle set the jungle ringing, while it
reverberated along the still surface of the river.  Then came a shriek,
followed by a shout from the shore.  The native who poled the boat
staggered and almost fell.  Then he recovered himself, answered the
shout from the shore, and in an instant had swung the boat's head round
in that direction.

"We have him sure enough," cried Mr Pepson, for the first time showing
some trace of excitement.  "He is making for the moonlit side, and
cannot escape.  At least, the boat and its freight are ours again.  Drop
the rifle and take to the pole."

They plunged their long poles into the water and sent the craft dancing
after the other.  But quick as they were, the boat in advance seemed to
shoot across the moonlit stretch, and rapidly gained the bank.  Again
there was a shout, a dark figure ran out into the river, splashing the
water loudly.  Then a second followed, while the native who had been
aboard threw his pole aside and staggered ashore.

"Heavily hit," gasped Mr Pepson, for the exertion of poling was
beginning to tell upon him.  "But I was right.  We have the boat, and,
after all, what more do we want?  Pole easily, Dick, and keep an eye on
those fellows.  Ah, they seem to have run for it.  We have nothing to
fear from them at least."

They pushed their craft gently into the shallows, till they were almost
beneath the trees.  Then, giving one lusty push, Dick stepped over the
side and waded, dragging the boat after him.  A minute later both were
ashore, and were inspecting the other craft.

"We were just in time," said Mr Pepson, in tones of the greatest
satisfaction.  "Another few minutes and they would have got clear away,
and then good-bye to the expedition, for a time at any rate.  Make her
fast, Dick, and keep a watch ashore."

Well was it for both of them that Dick did as he was told.  Indeed, from
the moment at which he had leaped into the river and commenced to wade,
his suspicions had kept him alert with his eyes fixed upon the jungle
and bush into which the three dark figures had disappeared.  And now he
was to find good cause for his wariness, for, of a sudden, as Mr Pepson
took the rope which was made fast to the bows of the runaway, and
dragged it towards the craft in which they had undertaken the pursuit, a
sharp sound came from the depths of the jungle.  It was the snapping of
a dried twig, a crisp and startling noise which caused both to look up
suddenly.

"They are not so far away, I think," said Dick, in a low voice.
"Wouldn't it be better if we moved away, sir?  We are in the full blaze
of the moon's rays here, while they are in the shadow.  That's how that
robber managed to get away from me down at the coast."

Hardly had the words left his lips when a single shot rang out,
startling the silence, while the flash of the weapon lit up the
immediate surroundings of the bush, and showed a dozen dark figures
perhaps, all in the act of running forward.  Dick noticed that in the
twinkling of an eye, and heard also the click of the missile as it
struck a hanging bough some feet in front of him.  Then there was a dull
thud, that thud which in the old days of large calibre rifles and heavy
bullets told unmistakably of a hit.  A second later a heavy splash and a
sickening gurgle told the young Englishman the horrid truth.  His
comrade had been struck and had fallen into the shallow water.

It was a terrifying position, and for a second Dick stood rooted to the
spot with consternation.  Then his courage returned, and with the memory
of that glimpse of charging figures which the flash of the rifle had
given him, he stooped, clutched his fallen friend, and staggered to the
boat.  Half throwing him into it, he leaned across the thwarts, seized
his rifle, and extracted a cartridge from the bag.  He had still a
moment to spare, for the patter of feet and the snap of many a twig told
him that the enemy were not yet quite at hand.

"They are bound to kill us both here in the light," he thought, as the
prominence of their position flashed across his brain.  "I'll get into
the shadow."

He had always been noted for his agility, and on this fine night our
hero surpassed himself.  Fear gave him strength, or else he could hardly
have lifted his comrade as he had done.  And now the same stimulus
seemed to have sharpened his wits.  He leaped at the gunwale of the boat
and pushed the craft into deeper water.  Then with a parting thrust of
his leg he scrambled aboard, while the boat, impelled by the push he had
given it, shot across the moonlit shadows, and burst its way into the
deep shade of an overhanging tree.  Dick clutched a bough and arrested
its further progress.  Then leaning his shoulder against the same
friendly limb of the tree, he raised the rifle to his shoulder.  There
was a chorus of loud shouts, the splash of many feet, and in a second
ten dusky figures burst into the full light of the moon and rushed
towards the tree which hid their quarry.  Not till then did Dick fully
realise his danger.  He had imagined till now that his foes were natives
from the river-banks, thieves who had come out to rob the expedition
during the night.  But there was one amongst the group charging down
upon him who showed that he was mistaken.  There was no chance of his
being in error, for the brilliant moon lit the scene too well, and
showed before him the half-caste James Langdon, who had so recently fled
from the coast, carrying Dick's store of gold with him.

"Then he at least shall suffer now, whatever happens to the others,"
exclaimed our hero.  Lifting his weapon again he covered the half-caste,
waited till he felt sure of his aim, and pressed the trigger.  Once
again there was a shout, and one of the unfortunate natives who aided
the rascally half-caste, leaped high into the air to fall next instant
with a splash into the water.

"Rush!  He is now unarmed!  Cut the dog to pieces!" shouted James
Langdon.

There was an ugly gleam in the eyes of the robbers as they heard the
shout, and slight though Dick's knowledge was of the language of these
Fantis, he recognised the meaning of the words.  Quick as thought he
threw his weapon down and drew his revolver.  They were close to the
tree now, and nothing but the darkness baffled them.  But there was
their disadvantage, and Dick made the most of it.  Singling out the
foremost he fired full in his face, and then, ere the report died down,
pulled heavily on the bough and dragged himself and the native boat
still farther into the shadow.  A second later the weapon spoke again,
and another of the miscreants fell.  But still their commander urged
them on.

"Think of the rifles and other goods," he shouted.  "There is only one
between you and the prize, and he is only a boy.  Rush him!  Cut him to
the chin!  Stand aside and I will lead you.  Now, are all ready?"

He turned to look at his men, and waved a native sword overhead to
encourage them.  Then he peered into the dense shadow and was in the
very act of leading a final charge when there was a sudden and
unexpected interruption.  A single shot rang out from the river, while
one of the enemy fell on his face in the water and disappeared from
sight.

"Ahoy!  Mine friends!  Are you zere?" came in the guttural tones of the
Dutchman.

"Fire on them," shouted Dick, levelling his revolver again and sending a
shot into the group.  "Fire, Meinheer!  Drive them off.  Mr Pepson is
badly wounded."

An instant later the nose of the steam launch shot into view, some fifty
yards from the bank, and Dick caught a glimpse between the leaves of the
big tree which sheltered him of the anxious face of Johnnie, peering
from over the engine-well, and of the portly figure of the Dutchman, a
portion of which was hidden by the cabin aft.  He stood there prominent
in the rays of the moon, a rifle in his hands, and his short sword
attached to his side.  Then, as his eye lit again on the group of
natives, he lifted the weapon, and hardly had the report of Dick's
revolver died down when there was a flash, and the half-caste who had
formerly robbed our hero, and who had now made such an artful attack
upon the boats of the expedition, clapped his hand to his thigh and gave
vent to a loud bellow.  Then he turned and fired a shot at the Dutchman,
a shot which flew past in the air, screaming and hissing towards the
opposite bank of the river.  But long before it could have reached that
destination the robber had swung round on his heel, and with a shout of
defiance had raced for the shadows.  After him Dick sent the remainder
of his magazine, while Meinheer Van Somering, when he had recovered from
the consternation into which the shriek of the shot had thrown him,
followed his example, much to our hero's trepidation, for the bullets
flew on either hand, cutting a shower of leaves from the trees.

"Steady, Meinheer!" he shouted.  "You will be hitting us soon.  We are
here under the tree.  I had to seek shelter from the light, for they
would have picked us off easily.  Bring the launch in and I will wade
out to you.  I fear that Mr Pepson is seriously hurt."

Leaping overboard he pushed the boat clear of the tree and of the
shadow, and soon had it alongside the launch, for the latter steamed
gently into the shallows.  Then the leader of the expedition was lifted
aboard, the two boats were made fast to the stern of the steamer, and
they pushed out into the stream.

"Better make for the far shore," said Dick.  "Then we shall not be
treated to long shots."

"Bud zese wicked robbers, Meinheer," gasped the Dutchman.  "Shall we led
zem go free?  Shall zey escape?"

"We can do nothing more," was Dick's answer, given with decision.  "They
are gone long ago.  The forest has swallowed those who are alive.  Let
them run, Meinheer, and do not trouble any more about them at the
present time.  To-morrow, when there is light, we will visit the bank
again and see what has happened to them.  For the moment let us look to
Mr Pepson.  Now, Johnnie, steer us for the far side, and when you reach
the shadow, come to a stop just inside its edge.  Whatever you do, keep
steam up, and have the propeller just moving, so that we shall not be
drifted down-stream.  Now we will light the lamp and see to our friend."

Without hesitation he took the lead, now that Mr Pepson was
incapacitated, for he realised in a moment that Meinheer Van Somering
was not to be relied on in such an emergency.  Indeed, he had been
struck with amazement at the boldness already displayed by his stout
friend, for who would have expected, knowing him as they did, that he
would have dared to stand there so conspicuously on the deck of the
launch and fire upon the robbers?  Meinheer Van Somering had gone up in
Dick's estimation.  He had proved that he had some store of courage
after all.  But he lacked self-control.  At this moment when he should
have been cool and thoughtful, for the danger had passed, he was
tramping the deck from end to end, causing the stout launch to heel to
either side.  And every minute he would halt and stare at the forest
which had just been left.  At such moments his fist would close round
his rifle, while his finger would feel for the trigger.

"Mein word!" he cried.  "Bud zey would have killed us!  Zey were robbers
and murderers.  Ah!  I shod two of zem.  Meinheer Dick, you saw me do
id."

"I saw," growled our hero, "but we can talk of that later.  Come and
help with the lamp.  Put your rifle down and leave the robbers to take
care of themselves.  Come, Meinheer, our comrade may be bleeding to
death."

There was a tone of command now in his voice, and at the sound Meinheer
dropped his weapon and came aft.  Already Dick had been able to find the
lamp, and just as the Dutchman reached him he struck a match and lit the
wick of the candle.

"Hold the lamp, please," he said.  "Higher, so that I can get a good
view.  Now, what has happened?  I heard the bullet strike heavily.  Ah!
Thank heaven!  He is alive."

"And zere, I zink, is ze wound.  See, Meinheer Dick, zere is blood.  Oh,
mine poor friend!  How he has been hurd!"

"Higher!" commanded Dick, as the Dutchman, forgetful of his request,
lowered the lamp.  "That is right.  Keep it there, please, till I have
ripped the coat open.  Ah, here is another wound in the head.  That will
account for his being insensible."

Together, the Dutchman's tendency to undue excitement arrested by the
coolness displayed by his young companion, they cut the shoulder of the
coat away and inspected the wound.  Then they went in search of bandages
and dressings, for the thoughtful Mr Pepson had included a cabinet of
drugs and instruments in the outfit of the expedition.  Neither of the
two friends who looked to the wounds had had previous experience, but
common sense helped them, while the lamp allowed them to read the
clearly printed directions contained in the cabinet.  They bathed the
wounds in the shoulder and the scalp, and applied the dressings.  Then
they put the arm in a sling, and placed it across the wounded man's
chest.

"He is coming to," said Dick, after a while.  "We will give him a few
drops of water.  Hold his head so, Meinheer.  Now I will pour a little
between his lips."

An hour later their friend was conscious again, and was sitting up with
his back leaning against the gunwale.

"I feel dizzy and my head aches dreadfully," he said, with a plucky
smile.  "Look in the cabinet, Dick, and you will find something there
which will quiet me.  Then perhaps I shall get to sleep and be myself
to-morrow.  Never fear, my friends.  The wounds are not so serious, for
the gash in my shoulder is merely a flesh wound, and the bone is quite
uninjured.  As to the scalp wound, I am a fortunate man.  I think that
the bullet must have glanced from a bough, for I heard a sound just
before I was struck.  Then it hit my shoulder, and as it flew on just
touched my head, glancing from the bone, and hitting me hard enough to
stun me.  By the way, I was standing in the water.  I suppose Dick
pulled me out again?  That is another debt I owe him."

"You ought to keep quiet," was our hero's answer, as he arrived with a
bottle and a glass in his hand.  "Here we are, sir.  A teaspoonful in a
little water, and then silence.  There, drink it up, and sleep.  We will
look to the safety of the boats."

He held the glass to Mr Pepson's lips and watched as he feebly drained
it, for there was little doubt that the leader was sadly injured, and
only his pluck had allowed him to chatter at all.  However, he
obediently drank the mixture, and seemed to be glad to settle down on
the rug which the Dutchman produced.  Another rug was thrown over him, a
cushion placed under the wounded limb, and the lamp removed from before
his eyes.  Dick and Meinheer retired to the far end of the launch and
stood there chatting in whispers, till, in less than half an hour, the
deep breathing of the sufferer told that he was asleep.

All this while the launch, with the boats trailing out behind her, lay
in the dense shadow of the river-bank, her propeller barely moving, so
that she just held her place in the river.  Close at hand could be heard
the murmur of the leaves in the forest, the chatter of monkeys, and the
call of night birds, arrested a little while ago by the reports of the
rifles.  And on the other side a fine moonlit vista was displayed.  The
surface of the river Pra lay spread out in the rays of the pale African
orb, while the water rippled and slid down toward the sea, seeming to be
particularly peaceful on this lovely night.  Looking at its shining
surface, and at the wonderful lights and shadows beyond scattered along
the face of the jungle, one almost wondered whether the coming of the
robbers were not after all a dream.  Whether murder and theft had, in
fact, been attempted, and whether away on that far shore there actually
lay the dark forms of the attacking natives who had lost their lives in
the bold and dastardly attempt.  But there could be no doubt.  As Dick
Stapleton stood in his shirt sleeves upon the roof of the tiny cabin,
rifle in hand, and cartridge bag about his sturdy shoulders, his eager
eyes searched every shadow, and followed every line of river and forest
which was illuminated.  Suddenly his arm shot out.  His figure became
rigid, while his finger pointed across the water.

"There is one of the rascals, at any rate," he said.  "He has come to
look to his comrades, and no doubt thinks that we are far away by now.
See, Meinheer, I could pick him off from here as if he were a bird, and
I should be justified.  But that's not the sort of game I like to play.
They're beaten.  They've had a lesson, and I fancy Master James Langdon
will remember it.  As for us, I should say that we have had a very
narrow escape."

There was a grunt of approval and acquiescence from Van Somering, a puff
of smoke proceeded from his lips, and he growled out a reply.

"Mein friend," he said, in condescending tones, "we are conquerors, is
id nod so?  Zen zere is no need to kill more of zese men.  Led zem go
peacefully while we make ze mosd of ze nighd which remains.  Meinheer,
id is near ze hour of midnighd.  Your wadch should commence now.  I will
sleeb, for I am weary."

He seemed to have forgotten the fact that it was his drowsiness which
had almost brought disaster to the expedition, and that Dick's watch
should have commenced at nine and ended at twelve.  With a grunt he
rolled along the deck, leaving our hero in command of the situation.



CHAPTER FIVE.

A QUESTION OF IMPORTANCE.

Dick shivered and fidgeted.  He tapped the deck gently with his toe, and
then got up and clambered to the roof of the tiny cabin again, for he
was ill at ease.  It was not the chill air of the early morning which
made his blood run cold, nor the damp mist which rose on every side from
river and jungle, from the stagnant pools lying amidst the roots of
giant trees and boulders, and from the mossy margins of the stream,
where the eddies played, and the current was still.  It was neither of
these, for there was no chill in the heart of this African country.  The
morning was almost as stiflingly hot as the night had been, though the
green of the leaves, and the shimmer of the river surface as it met his
eye through the thin mist, looked cool and refreshing.  Dick was uneasy
in his mind.  As he had sat the hours of darkness through his thoughts
had been busy.  Remorse, anguish, bitter self-condemnation had come in
turn to torture his mind, and now, as the darkness waned and the light
increased, he was constantly on the move, searching the river-bank on
the far side.

"There!  Yes, that is the tree," he said, as he pointed to the bush
beyond.  "I can recognise it, and beneath it lie those poor fellows.  I
killed them!  They are stretched out there cold and stiff, those whom
the water does not cover.  Oh, it is awful to think about."

He wrung his hands, while there was a look of anguish on his usually
jolly face.  Had James Langdon, the rascal who had made the attack in
the night which had just passed, been able to see him he would have
laughed, for this sturdy young Englishman, looking so strong and active
on this early morning, would hardly have dared to lift his rifle.  He
was suffering the torment of mind which has come to many a thousand
young warriors before him.  Not because he wished it, but owing to pure
accident, he had the blood of fellow beings on his hands.  He had killed
men.  He had seen them fall.  He remembered the horrid gurgling sound
made by the unhappy wretch who had fallen into the water and sunk to the
mud.  The hideous noise had haunted him the night through, so that he
was unmanned and shivering.  His fists were clenched, and his teeth held
tight together.

"I killed them," he murmured.

"And they have themselves to thank," said a voice at his elbow.  "So
that's how the wind blows!  Our gallant young agent would rather fall
himself and see his comrades massacred than fire on rascals who were
ready to murder all.  No!  No, I did not mean that, my lad.  But--look
here!"

It was Mr Pepson, standing there on the deck as erect as ever, as if he
had received no wound, though the bandages about his head and his
shoulder and the blood-stains upon them, showed that he undoubtedly had.
But Dick had begun to discover some unsuspected points about this
employer of his, and had come to the conclusion that he was possessed of
no ordinary pluck and go, though he showed it in his own quiet and
unassuming manner, and, in addition, that thin and cadaverous though he
seemed to be, yet this trader from Sierra Leone was as hard as nails.
He stared at him in amazement, and then flushed at his words.

"Why, you ought to be wrapped in your rug!" he exclaimed sharply.  "You
are hurt, and need a little nursing."

"A mere scratch--a flea-bite, I assure you.  I have had many worse
before this, as you may learn when I tell you a little of my life's
history.  But speaking of rugs.  That's what you want, my lad, and a
good talking-to besides.  Now, listen to me, Dick.  I don't blame you,
nor do I smile at your thoughts and feelings, for every decent fellow
has them.  I remember a ruffian who thought to rob me in South America,
many years ago.  Yes, I was a youngster little older than you are.  I
shot him dead, and lay down beside him through the night, because that
was the safest place.  When the sun came up and showed me that I was
alone and that there was no more trouble to fear, I looked at that poor
fellow.  He was lying on his back, his legs curled up beneath him, and
his hands stretched out as if he were asleep.  But his white face and
the pool beside him told me the awful truth.  I bolted.  I ran away,
Dick.  I felt like a murderer, and for days wondered whether I should be
tracked.  Then I saw the other side.  A rancher took me in hand, just as
I am doing with you, and he made me see the right side.  Why, bless me,
the world is filled with honest people and with rogues, and the latter
prey upon their fellows.  Are the honest men to put up with robbery and
violence?  Did you agree so easily to James Langdon's taking your gold?
Did you?  Come, answer the question."

Dick was cornered, and began to see the other side of the matter.  The
sun was coming up, too, and the damp mist was already beginning to
disappear.  Our surroundings often have an immense effect upon the
brightness or otherwise of our thoughts, and our hero, usually so jolly
and so genial, had felt the depression common to many who keep watch
alone during the dark hours after an action.

"Of course I didn't," he answered.  "I tried to shoot him, just as I did
last night, and he would have richly deserved his fate."

"Quite so.  And these rascals last night deserved theirs, without a
doubt.  It happened that you were the one to stand between them and
their wishes, and they did their utmost to remove you.  Theirs was might
against right, and right prevailed.  They paid the penalty, and here are
you grieving because all has happened as it should.  Come.  No more of
this nonsense!  Tell me about the action, for, remember, after the
moment when we set foot ashore, I know nothing, save that I found myself
aboard this launch, with you and Meinheer staring into my face.  That
reminds me.  Where is our fine friend?  A precious mess his laziness got
us into last night."

"Turned in and snoring," said Dick.  "Listen!"

Above the ripple of the water and the sough of the wind in the trees the
sounds proceeding from the nose of the Dutchman could be distinctly
heard.

"He must have his sleep," laughed Mr Pepson.  "Did I not tell you that
we must needs rely upon ourselves for protection?  He is made for
commerce, not for warfare."

"And yet he did well last night.  I'll tell you what happened."

They sat down on the tiny roof while Dick told how the bullet had struck
his friend, and how the flash had showed him a dozen men rushing down
upon them.

"That was an awkward position," interrupted his friend.  "I understand
that I was lying in the water.  Covered, in fact?"

There was a queer little smile on his lips, and he looked swiftly into
Dick's honest and open face.

"Yes.  You had gone below the surface.  I was stunned by the mishap.  I
thought it was all up with us."

"With me, you mean.  You could have bolted.  The boat was close at
hand."

Dick flushed to the roots of his hair, and tore his hat from his head as
if the weight troubled him.  He stared at Mr Pepson in amazement, and
then, seeing the smile, smiled back at him.

"You are chaffing me," he said.  "Trying to humbug me.  You know well
enough that no decent fellow would do that.  You wouldn't.  I wasn't
going to desert a comrade who was down and helpless, particularly when
there were such ruffians about.  So I set to work as quickly as
possible."

"You made up your mind to see the business through?"

"Yes.  I was staggered at first.  Then I caught you up, not too gently,
I fear, and dumped you into the boat.  After that I pushed her out and
shoved off into the shadow of the trees."

"Why?  What was your reason?"

Mr Pepson was like an inquisitor.  He still smiled the same little
smile, and still treated his agent to an occasional flash of his
brilliant eyes, as if he would probe him to the utmost depth.

"My reason?  Oh, we were in the light, you see.  The moon was up, and
the beggars could pot us easily.  They had guns, remember, else you
would not have been hit.  I reckoned--all of a sudden--I don't know how
it was, quite--that we should be safer there, and so into the shadow I
went.  Then they occupied our position.  I could see to shoot, while
they were bothered.  Still, they made a fine rush, and things began to
look ugly when the launch came into view.  Our friend showed his mettle,
for he fired at once, and his shot practically ended the engagement.
Then we steamed off, and, and--"

"And here we are.  And I owe you a life again, Master Dick.  Very good.
No, I won't say a word more, save that you tackled the task well.  It
was an ugly position and you seem to have chosen the only way out.  I'm
glad, too, that Meinheer put a spoke in their wheel.  Now do me the
favour of dressing these wounds again, and then we will breakfast.  Get
the bandages and a looking-glass, for then I shall be able to see the
hurts myself, and give an opinion.  You see, I am a bit of a surgeon."

At this moment the blanket beneath which the ample figure of the
Dutchman was shrouded stirred and was thrown back, and very soon,
yawning and stretching his arms, Meinheer came along the deck.  By then
Dick had the bandages and fresh dressings, as well as a bowl of water,
drawn from the river, and some clean linen to act as a sponge.  How
different, how lighthearted he looked, for, thanks to his chat with Mr
Pepson, and to the other's common sense, all his worries were dispelled,
and he saw things with an eye which was not jaundiced.  He had, in fact,
reached the stage at which others in a similar position had arrived
before.  He could see that killing was not a joyous trade, that no
ordinary human being lightly undertook it, and only when circumstances
made it imperative that he should act so as to protect his own life and
that of his friend.  Then there was no blame to be attached to the one
who had shed the blood of his fellow, so long as he was not a wanton
aggressor.

"Here we are," he called out as he came along.  "Good day, Meinheer.
Hold the bowl, please, while I get the bandages undone.  Ah, here's the
pin.  Now, sit up, sir.  That's right.  We'll have it done in a jiffy."

Very carefully and skilfully he unwrapped the bandages, and presently
the dressing was removed from the shoulder.  Mr Pepson lifted the
glass, arranged it so that he could obtain a clear view, and then
grunted.

"Humph!" he said, with one of his inscrutable smiles.  "A mere scratch.
Take the probe, Dick.  Now dip it into that other bowl which has the
carbolic in it.  That's the way.  Gently put it into the wound.  No.
Don't be nervous.  I'll soon shout if it hurts.  Press gently towards
the other place where the bullet came out.  Hah!  A mere flesh wound,
barely an inch deep.  Not even that.  I'm lucky!  The shoulder is
scarcely stiff, and a little rest in a sling will put it right in a
week.  A schoolboy would laugh at it.  Put on fresh dressings and we'll
inspect the head.  Lucky that I'm such a surgeon!"

He was as cheery as possible, and thanks to his lightheartedness his
friends, who had been looking on and helping in the task with some
misgivings, began to feel that their comrade was, after all, not so
badly hurt.

"I tell you that it was only the crack on my skull that mattered,"
persisted Mr Pepson.  "The bullet slipped through my shoulder, a mere
wound of the cuticle, and then happened to glance against my scalp and
skull.  A man can't stand that.  It knocks him stupid.  That's why I
fell, and that's why our young friend had to help me.  But it doesn't
explain why he--a mere youngster--pulled me through so well, and why he
stuck to me when many another would have bolted to save his own skin.
Heh?  What did you say, Meinheer?"

"Zat we hab a drasure.  Zat Meinheer Dick will be a gread man one of
zese days.  When he is big like me, when he has grown fine and dall,
and, and--ah, yes, sdoud, you call him; yes, when he is sdoud, then he
will be one gread, fine man.  And he is brave!  Yes, I see zad with half
one eye, for a brave man knows when he meeds one of ze same."

"Quite so, Meinheer," answered Mr Pepson, dryly.  "Which reminds me.
Dick says that you fired in the nick of time, and turned the tide of the
battle.  It was a good shot.  You did well, and Johnnie also, to bring
up the launch just then.  But stand aside a little and give me the
glass.  Hah!  Looks nasty, doesn't it, Dick," he went on, as the wound
on his scalp was exposed, and he noticed our hero wince and turn a
little pale at the sight.  "Come, come!  Looks are the worst part of it.
Bathe the wound and cover it again.  An Irishman would not give it a
second thought.  I haven't even a headache."

He rose to his feet when the dressing was completed, and walked up and
down the deck, looking perhaps a little more sallow than usual.  But his
spirits were not in the least damped or downcast.  Indeed, his two
companions had yet to learn that their leader was, in his quiet way, a
remarkable man.  As hard as nails, as Dick had already observed, cool
and courageous, and possessed of a dogged nature which defied the utmost
fatigue, which laughed, or rather smiled only, at danger, and which made
light of any wound.  Meanwhile, Dick and Johnnie were engaged at the
furnace door, and presently the aroma of coffee came to the nostrils of
the leader and the Dutchman, causing the latter to turn an eager and
expectant gaze in that direction.

"By Jobe!" he cried, "bud zad is a scend zad is goat, yes, ver goot.
Whad shall we ead zis day?"

His question was answered almost at once, for Johnnie came along the
deck bearing a steaming dish, Dick following with the coffee and
biscuit.  The newspaper was again spread on the roof of the cabin, and
all set to work with eagerness.

"And now for future movements.  We are a day's journey from the mouth of
the river, and three from the mine," said Mr Pepson.  "The question is
whether we should push on alone as we are, or whether we should return.
There is no doubt that all our Fanti men were in league with these
robbers, and left us at the first opportunity."

"And would do the same again," Dick ventured.  "If we returned for a
second crew, who is to guarantee that they will not behave in a similar
manner?"

"That is the very point.  We should run that danger.  What are your
views about this attack during the night?"

He swung round on his elbow and looked keenly at our hero.

"You saw them," he said.  "This precious rascal nearly shot you.  How
much has he had to do with the matter?"

"More than any one, I think," was Dick's answer.  "I believe him to be a
thorough rogue, and in league with the Ashantis.  Inquiries which I made
at Cape Coast Castle convinced me that he had been engaged on many
occasions in running guns and ammunition to the coast, and sending them
up-country.  Well, we have heard that there is trouble brewing.  The
natives at Elmina are in almost open insurrection.  Murders have been
committed under the eyes of the garrison, and a few white men carried
off.  In addition, there are tidings that parties of Ashanti warriors
are in the neighbourhood of the Pra.  It is my opinion that this James
Langdon is their spy, that he is watching for them and sending news of
the doings at Elmina and Cape Coast Castle to King Koffee.  That would
have brought him tidings of our expedition, for all in Elmina and along
the coast knew of our intentions--"

"While the king of the Ashantis had given us the concession, and had
promised that we should be protected," interposed Mr Pepson.  "Not that
I will trust his sable majesty's word.  The best protection that we can
have will be our rifles.  But I interrupted.  You think--?"

"That this James Langdon is a spy, and that while engaged in that work
he has time to see to other matters.  The cargo we carry is valuable.
If he could have taken the boats the expedition would have been ruined,
and we should have had to return.  Then, too, we do not know how much
more ambitious the scheme of last night's attack may have been.  They
may have arranged to steal the boats and make sure of their prize, then
to return and cut our throats.  There were sufficient of them, and I
fancy that what James Langdon would willingly do, the others would also
carry out."

"Precisely.  They would hack us all to pieces.  Never you hesitate again
to shoot, my lad.  Where such rascals have to be dealt with it is as
well to press a trigger without delay, remembering that the man who
hesitates very often is killed before he has another chance.  And you
think that this ruffian has been on the lookout for us, and that we are
not only fortunate in having our goods secure, but also in having our
lives?  I believe it.  I think the fellow would willingly have had a
little private revenge with his booty.  He has his knife in you, Dick,
because you were the first to discover him, and he will not be more
friendly disposed to us, for we are whites, and he is an outcast.  To
return to the subject of Elmina.  I heard about the natives.  Perhaps
Meinheer can tell us more."

"Zey are pigs, I dell you.  Mein word!  Bud do you know zis, mine ver
good friend?  Zese blacks were once servands.  Zey would run, and quick,
when ze order was give.  Now--now zere is no ordering zem.  Zed do nod
move.  Zey glare ad me, ad me, Meinheer Van Somering.  Zey used to sdand
and shake, so"--the burly Dutchman let his knees knock together, while
he trembled till his fat cheeks quivered--"ver good, now zey laugh, yes
zey laugh and run away."

"All of which points to disaffection and probable mutiny," said Mr
Pepson.  "Then it is clear that a second crew from Elmina would be worse
than useless.  We shall have dangers to face.  We can well do that
alone."

"While I am sure that we can manage the launch and the boats,
particularly if we tie up before it is dark, and then change our
position once the night has fallen."

"A brilliant idea, Dick, and we will carry it out.  Once at the stockade
I shall have no fear, for the men are Ashanti gold-diggers, who are not
much given to fighting.  There are a dozen of them, and I think their
loyalty can be controlled by the prospect of gold.  You see, they are
paid a percentage of what they recover from the soil.  Yes, we will push
on up-stream and avoid another attack.  If there is a moon again we will
keep on during the night.  Now about those fellows over there.  We must
go across and see how many are killed, and if any are still living.
Meinheer, what do you say?"

The Dutchman did not reply hastily, for he was considering the danger of
such an expedition.  However, in his heart of hearts, Meinheer was a
humane man when his fears were quieted, and he argued that here there
could be no danger.

"Good.  We will go, Meinheer," he said.  "Ze sooner ze bedder."

"And as I am the lightest and perhaps the most active, I will land,"
added Dick.  "Then, in case of an attack, you two can cover me with your
rifles.  There is no trusting these rascals, particularly when James
Langdon commands them."

A few minutes later the remains of the breakfast had been cleared away,
and while the trio smoked their pipes and chatted, Johnnie stoked the
furnace, throwing coal upon it till a column of smoke issued from the
funnel.  Soon the hiss of steam from the escape told that the launch was
ready for a move, and at once Mr Pepson stepped to the tiller.

"We'll leave our boats anchored over here," he said, "for it would never
do to have them over on the far shore and run the risk of attack.  In
the confusion, if there were need to escape, they would hamper us, and
would perhaps be lost.  Make them fast together, Dick, and we'll leave
Johnnie in charge."

Another two minutes saw the launch steaming away from beneath the trees
on the eastern side of the Pra, and presently her nose was pushing its
way through the reeds and osiers which cropped up here and there on the
far side.

Mr Pepson still held the tiller, a rifle beside him, and a cigar
between his lips.  The bulky form of the Dutchman was stretched out on
the deck behind the tiny cabin.  His rifle was at his shoulder, and he
surveyed the jungle eagerly, treating every dark patch and shadow to a
fierce scowl which boded ill for the man who might be lurking there.
His finger on such occasions would go to the trigger of his snider till
Dick fidgeted and felt uncomfortable, for he was not far from the line
of fire.  He lay in the bows, a light bamboo in his hands, with which he
every now and again sounded the bed of the river to make sure that there
was sufficient water.  A few minutes' gliding along in the shadows
brought them to the spot where the action of the previous night had
taken place, a spot instantly recognised by the figures lying about it.
For stretched in the sun were the victims of Dick's fire, as yet
undiscovered by the river alligators.  Dick shuddered, and transferred
his gaze to the bush.  Then, remembering Mr Pepson's words, he looked
again.  One poor wretch lay face down in the water, his body already
almost covered with drifting mud, while his feet protruded on to the
land.  Close to him lay a second, still and dark, his limbs stretched to
their fullest extent, while some paces away were three more of the
attackers, all stark and dead.

"The reward of rascality," cried Mr Pepson.  "A horrid sight, my
friends; but then we might have been in their place, and war and battles
are always horrid.  How's the depth, Dick?  Can you get ashore?"

For answer our hero tried the sounding with his stick again, and then
stood up.  Taking his rifle he dropped lightly into the water and waded
ashore.  Then he went to the figures lying about.  They were all
undoubtedly dead, and a glance satisfied him of that fact.  At once he
went on towards the bush, which at this point receded somewhat from the
river, and presently something attracted his eye.  It was a path leading
into the forest, a path freshly broken and trodden, the one, no doubt,
by which the robbers had fled.

"Leave it," shouted Mr Pepson.  "You would be in the middle of the
jungle, where all is dark, and we could not help you.  Come back.  We
have learned all that we desired.  There are five killed here, and one
whom you shot in the first boat.  But one moment.  Do any of these
fellows belong to our runaway crew?"

Dick retraced his steps slowly, and reluctantly looked at the bodies
again.  There was not the slightest doubt that they were the very men
who had come from Elmina--all, in fact, save one, whose face was
strange.

"Then James Langdon had others with him," thought Dick.  "Somehow, I
don't know why, I feel misgivings about that man.  His memory haunts me.
What if he attacked us again!"

What if our hero had known that the ruffian whose name he mentioned was
at that very moment within little more than a stone's-throw!  That James
Langdon had come down to the river-bank that morning, having left his
lair in the forest just as the launch steamed away from her anchorage of
the previous night!  That he had watched with the eagerness and stealth
of a fox, and had rubbed his hands with delight as he saw the son of the
master he had robbed drop into the water!  For this half-caste forgot
that he himself was to blame for the existence which he now led, for the
discomforts which he had now to put up with.  He placed all the blame on
Dick's shoulders.

"There he is!" he growled, as Dick waded towards the shore.  "But for
his coming to the coast I should have been able to remain there, still
unsuspected, and there, living in a good house, I could still have done
this work for King Koffee.  And I could have gained riches more quickly.
But we shall see.  Ah! he is ashore.  If he steps nearer I will shoot
him like a bird."

He crouched in the underwood, while his hand went to the pouch at his
waist.  A growl of anger and disgust escaped him, for the revolver which
he had carried was not there.  He had no weapon but a large
sheath-knife, which he carried at his hip.

"It will do as well, and it is silent," he said to himself.  "He is
coming.  The young fool will walk into the trap, and this time I will
not be flurried.  He shall come on without a suspicion, and when he has
passed me I will leap on his back and there will be an end of the
matter."

His ferrety eyes gleamed with malice.  He spat on the hand which was to
hold the knife, and then gripped it with all his strength.  His limbs
arranged themselves till the man was poised on the tips of his toes and
fingers, till he sat crouched in a position to spring upon the back of
his unsuspecting foe.  Then came the voice of the leader.  Dick stared
into the jungle till the half-caste thought he must be seen.  Then he
retired to the launch, inspected the faces of the slain, and went
aboard.

"My luck!" growled James Langdon.  "But the chance will come again.  Oh,
yes, my friend, Dick Stapleton, you will be sorry one of these days.  As
for the men who have engaged you as their agent, they are fools.  It
would be better for them if they had never met you."

He glared at the launch and her passengers as she steamed away, and
still continued to stare at them till they reached the far side of the
Pra; for a thought had struck this ruffian.

"Why not?" he asked himself.  "They will be alone.  There will be gold
in plenty.  Why should I not have my share of that or take all that they
possess?  If I have failed this time I shall succeed at the next
attempt."

The thought pleased him immensely, for his face lightened, the scowl
left his forehead, and for a moment James Langdon looked as if he were
not the villain he had proved himself to be.  But he would not have
deceived Dick Stapleton.  Had our hero been able to see him there in the
bush, he would have suspected the mischief that was brewing, and the
misgivings which now filled his mind would have been vastly increased.
As it was, he and his friends went on their way up the river, and their
adventure of the night almost forgotten in the passing scenes, and in
anticipation of the pleasures before them.



CHAPTER SIX.

FOREST DANGERS.

Two days passed without event as the steam launch made her way up the
river Pra, and each day the stream narrowed.  Indeed, the expedition was
approaching the bifurcation of the river, and so far had not come upon
the tributary which they were to ascend.

"We shall know it by two enormous cotton trees, one of which has fallen
against the other," sang out Mr Pepson that evening, as the anchor was
dropped, and the trio sat down to their meal.  "Remember, two cotton
trees, one of which is supported by its fellow.  Is that not the
description, Meinheer?"

"Good.  Id is zad.  I have never seen him, bud I know.  Meinheer Dick
shall hear how I come do find zis place.  A native run away to Elmina
and draw a map in ze sand wiz his doe.  He said, `over zere, plendy of
gold, and mines close do ze riber.'"

"And you brought the tale to me," interrupted Mr Pepson, "with the
result that we sent an agent, and after getting his report we obtained a
concession, and set native gold-diggers to work.  That's the secret of
this mine, Dick.  It's so close to the river that one can take machinery
there, and the winding gear we have brought, though small, will be
sufficient to tell us whether it is worth our while to bring more.
Transport is the main difficulty in this country, and if we have a
river, why--"

"Zere is moch gold for all," burst in Meinheer.  "Wid a riber we can
reach ze mine and can dake our goods.  Zen ze ground is clear.  Id is
rocky soil, and ze fever is nod gread."

"Which reminds me.  We must take precautions," said Mr Pepson.  "I have
brought ample supplies of quinine, and we must take a few grains every
day.  It is the only thing for an Englishman, or for any white man.  But
that is not the only precaution we must take against malaria.  I have
not lived in Sierra Leone all these years, nor travelled in many another
fever-haunted country, without learning what to avoid.  The cause of the
fever is too doubtful for me to attempt to make a statement, but
supposing it is the water, as the doctors say, then we must avoid
unboiled or unfiltered water; and boiled water is certainly the safest.
We must sleep off the ground, clear of the mists, and must choose the
highest spot.  If the stockade is well posted, all will be right.  If
not, we will rebuild it.  Then there are the mosquitoes.  Some, a few
only, whose numbers are steadily growing, say that these insects convey
the germ of malaria.  [This is now an accepted fact.]  Very good.  We
will keep them away as far as possible by the use of curtains at night.
Last of all, the man who exercises in the cool of the morning and
evening, who avoids the direct rays of the sun at midday, and who eats
and drinks lightly, stands a far better chance than does the one who is
lazy, and who is apt to indulge too much.  Pass the biscuit, Dick, and
light up if you care to do so, Meinheer."

According to their usual custom, a custom suggested by Dick, the launch
kept her steam in till darkness had fallen, and then, as soon as the
anchor had been hoisted, she ran farther up the river, and put over to
the opposite shore.  That done, she was anchored again, fires were
banked, and the party settled for the night, the watch being taken in
turn.  On the following day, after half an hour's run, Meinheer Van
Somering gave vent to a shout of delight.

"Mein friends!" he cried, as he danced on the deck till the steamer
heeled.  "Zose are ze drees.  Look you.  Two, and one lies on ze ozer.
Ah, yes, Meinheeren, and ze riber is zere also.  We are proud men
do-day!"

"We are lucky, you mean," answered Mr Pepson.  "Who ever heard of an
expedition setting off to find a tributary which runs into a river of
this size some days' journey from its outlet, a tributary the mouth of
which is hidden almost by jungle, and is marked only by two cotton
trees.  However, there it is, and now we are but a few miles from the
landing-stage.  Let's push on.  It's hot and close here, and the sky is
overcast."

They turned the nose of the launch for the narrow tributary, and steamed
slowly into it for there was no saying when they might encounter a
sunken bough or some other obstacle.  On either hand now were trees, the
dense forest, while at the base of this forest grew a network of
trailing plants.  Every variety of vine was there, and amongst them the
one which produces rubber.  Yams were seen in abundance, while orchids
and other plants hung from the trees in festoons, their blooms
illuminating many a dull patch.  The banks were composed of slimy ooze
and mud, and from these, as the boats trailed past, an occasional
loathsome form was seen to waddle, and an alligator splashed into the
water.

"Gentlemen to whom it is well to give the right of way," laughed the
leader.  "They will do us no harm, but I should be fearful if we were to
be upset.  Now, how far do we steam?"

"Five or six mile, Meinheer.  You will know when we reach ze road, for
zere is a liddle place to land.  Oh yes, zere is no difficuldy."

"Then the sooner we reach the place the better," exclaimed Mr Pepson.
"I don't like the look of the weather.  This is hardly the season for
rains, but it looks as if we were in for a torrent."

An hour later a tiny staging was seen on the left bank of the stream,
for the river was little more now.  Indeed, in most places, the trees
actually met overhead, while the dense foliage made the place so dark
that dusk might have been falling.  But in spite of the shelter obtained
from the rays of the sun, the heat was intense.  At the point where the
staging appeared there was a break in the trees, and, as they drew
opposite it, they saw that it had been erected at a point where another
stream, a tiny tributary, emerged from the forest.  Along its bank there
was a path, while its mouth seemed to have been widened.

"All of which shows that we have a thoughtful agent," said Mr Pepson,
as he put the helm over.  "Back her, Johnnie.  Steady.  Ahead a little."

Very easily and gently the four craft were brought into the tributary,
their painters being made fast to the trees which came close to the
bank.  Then the party landed and looked about them.

"Zis is hod, mein friends," grunted the Dutchman, as he stood panting in
his shirt sleeves.  "I do nod wish for zis walk in ze foresd."

"While I shall be glad to get it over," said Mr Pepson, with emphasis,
casting an eye overhead as he did so.  "I tell you we are in for a
storm, and that is hardly a pleasant prospect in such a place."

Dick wondered why, for the mass of the forest which hemmed them in on
every side seemed ample to protect them from any harm which might come
from a storm.  But no doubt his leader had had experience and knew, and
at his words he slung his rifle, took a bag of cartridges, and prepared
to march.  Johnnie, too, leapt to the shore, for there was no longer any
need to leave a guard, and within a few minutes the party was _en route_
for the gold-mine.

Almost for the first time in his experience, Dick marched by a forest
road, a track cut through the heart of the jungle, and he began to
realise what were the difficulties of transport in this remarkable
country.  For the path was barely wide enough to admit one single man,
and the great girth of the Dutchman often brought him into difficulties.
It bore signs of having been cut some weeks before, for the marks of
knives and hatchets were often to be seen.  But in spite of the care
taken in clearing it, parts were already practically impassable; for
vines and other creepers had grown across it.  However, a few sweeps
from Mr Pepson's sword cut them clear, and the party were able to
advance.  They wound here and there, following the track, which deviated
so as to avoid large trees and very thick brush.  At times they sank to
their knees in marsh land, while on several occasions they leaped or
waded across streams quietly trickling through the jungle.  It was all
very new and very strange, and our hero could have enjoyed it more had
it not been for the heat.  It was intensely hot and muggy.  Not a leaf
stirred, and not a sound came to them save the creak of an occasional
bough, and the crack of twigs which lay underfoot.  Bird and beast life
seemed to have departed.  Mr Pepson shook his head and hurried on.

"Better reach the open as soon as we can," he said.  "This is no place
for a man once the storm breaks.  Listen!  It is coming."

The tops of the trees moved while the tangle of leaves rustled.  Dick
thought he heard an indefinite sound, a distant hum, gradually rising in
intensity, but as yet it was so slight that he was uncertain.  He halted
as Mr Pepson turned round and mopped the perspiration from his face.
Then, as he replaced his handkerchief, he looked at his chief and
started back.  For the leader of the expedition, usually so calm and
self-possessed, looked as nearly terrified as Dick imagined it would be
possible for him to be.  He stared overhead, and stood there listening
acutely.

"You hear it?" he asked anxiously.  "You hear a moaning sound?"

"I fancy I did a minute or so ago, sir.  Wait.  Yes.  There it is,
without a doubt, and it is louder."

"Id is ze wind, mine frien, I zink," gasped Meinheer, seating himself on
a fallen log.

"The wind!  It is the storm.  A tornado!" exclaimed Mr Pepson,
ominously.  "I tell you we are in the greatest danger, and that we must
act if we wish to be secure.  Look about you, and find a spot where
there are very big trees, and numbers of trunks which have fallen."

He went on all fours and peered into the jungle and up towards the
summits of the trees, many of which towered for two hundred feet
overhead.  And presently, when they had moved on a few yards, Dick's
hand went out and he drew his leader's attention to a part which seemed
to meet his requirements.  A glance seemed to satisfy Mr Pepson, for in
an instant his sword was out again, and he began to hack a road to the
spot with all his strength.  There was evidently no time for
explanation, that Dick could plainly tell, for the distant hum had now
risen to a roar, which seemed much nearer, while the tops of the trees
above him rocked and strained in the wind.  Then they were still again
till another gust caught them.  Whatever the danger to be feared, he had
known Mr Pepson long enough to be sure that it must be great, else why
the haste, why so much anxiety?  Whipping out his sword he fell to
beside him, and together, with Meinheer following them, his coat over
his shoulder, and his handkerchief mopping the perspiration from his
face, they fought their way through the jungle till they had reached the
spot which Dick had pointed out.  And here Mr Pepson threw himself
exhausted on the ground, gasping with his exertions, while Dick was glad
to sit down.  As for Johnnie, he crouched at the foot of a giant cotton
tree and cowered there.  Dick could see the whites of his eyes, and
noticed that he trembled.

"Get in here," suddenly shouted Mr Pepson.  "The very place!  It may
shelter us."

He sprang to his feet, and forcing his way through some feet of the
tangle, came to a tree of somewhat smaller dimensions as to height, but
of enormous girth.

Like all the cotton trees in the forest at that point, the roots of this
leviathan barely did more than penetrate the surface of the ground, for
it was there that all the moisture lay.  Below was a hard stratum which
offered opposition, and as a result the roots had spread themselves out
over a wide area, while they had risen into the air till there was an
archway of large dimensions beneath the tree.  Dick had seen the same
before, and it had attracted his attention.  At Mr Pepson's shout he
tore after him, and presently all four were stretched under the arch.
Nor were they a minute too soon, for if there had been a roar before,
the noise now was deafening and positively awe-inspiring.  The gusts
which had up to this caught the tops of the trees seemed now to be
concentrated into one enormous blast.  The very forest shivered and
trembled.  The treetops bent and the trunks groaned.  Then the storm
burst.  A sheet of lightning lit up the sky and even penetrated to the
forest depths.  The roar became even greater, till the volume of sound
was positively deafening.  And how the trees bent!  The one beneath
which the party lay trembled and swayed.  As Dick's hand rested on one
of the giant roots he could feel it moving under the strain, and
wondered whether the huge mass would topple.

Crash!  There was a sharp sound as if a cannon of small calibre had been
fired, and a mighty tree a few yards away, fractured some feet from its
base, came with a thud to the ground.  Meinheer hid his face in his
hands and groaned, while Johnnie rolled on the ground in terror.

"That was what I feared," shouted Mr Pepson, now quite calm.  "There
will be many more before the storm is ended.  But I fancy we are safe.
They will not always fall so close to us."

Dick looked out into the jungle, his face calm and grave, though in his
heart he felt terribly afraid.  For this was something against which one
could not battle.  The storm would have its way whatever man might do,
and to stand there utterly helpless, was trying.  All round him he could
hear the crash of trees.  One fell even closer than the first, and
caused him to step backward in alarm, for the mighty trunk was dropping
directly towards him, sheering through everything that stood in its way.
It lopped the tops from half a dozen cotton trees, and brought two more
crashing through the forest with it.  Then, as Dick thought that he and
his companions must be destroyed, its branches became entangled in those
of the tree which sheltered them.  Again he felt the vast mass sway.
The trunk actually gave out a loud report as if it had cracked.  But it
was a veteran, and, thanks to its huge girth, was of unusual strength.
It stood its ground, and when Dick looked again there was the falling
tree held up in midair, with its two victims with it.  It was a
marvellous escape.

"That is the worst, I should say," said Mr Pepson, coolly.  "It was a
narrow shave, I admit, but then I was expecting trouble.  We are lucky,
I can tell you, and you will realise the fact as we push on again.  Ah!
here comes the rain.  I fancy we may congratulate ourselves."

They had indeed every cause to be thankful, for their escape had been a
narrow one.  An hour later, when they emerged from the friendly shelter
of the tree and struck out on the path once more, all realised this more
fully.  For hundreds of giants had fallen.  Their trunks lay in every
direction, many fantastically supported in mid-air, pillowed on the
branches of their fellows.

"That is what one sees all along the coast," said Mr Pepson, turning
his head, "and I am told that some of the caravan routes which pass
through this forest toward the interior are often almost completely
blocked by fallen trees.  It is the weedy youngsters that tumble.  They
run up swiftly, as straight as a rod, till they overtop the veterans.
Then comes a gale, and owing to the nature of the ground and the little
hold which their roots give them, they topple over.  We've had a lesson,
Dick.  Keep out of forests in future when the wind blows."

A little later the party emerged into the open, and were delighted to
find that there was a very wide clearing, the forest standing back on
all sides for more than a mile.  And in this space the ground rose
steeply, till its crest blotted out the view beyond.

"Rock," said Meinheer Van Somering, with a chuckle of delight.  "Dad was
ze report, I zink.  We were told dad ze mine was well placed.  I agree,
Meinheer, for in zis coundry where zere is rock zere is gold."

At this moment a shout rang out in the silence, and a figure appeared on
the crest of the rock.

"Our Dutch agent," said Mr Pepson.  "He is coming down to us, and soon
we shall be at the stockade."

Indeed, within a quarter of an hour the agent had joined them, making
his way down the steep rocky hill by a path which was invisible from
where they stood.

"Mein word!" exclaimed the Dutchman, as he stared at his agent and
watched his agility as he leaped down the steep path.  "If zat is ze
only way do ze stockade, we shall be dead.  Yes, I tell you, we shall
die, for who could climb such a blace?  Id is too steeb."

"And happens to be the nearest way," replied Mr Pepson, reassuringly.
"Never fear, Meinheer, there will be an easier way down."

That the agent was glad to see some white men could not be doubted, for
he rushed toward them with a shout, and commenced to greet Meinheer Van
Somering volubly.  Then he was introduced to the others, and shook hands
with an eagerness which showed that for many a week he had had no one
there with whom to practise the art.

"Glad to see you, gentlemen," he cried, in excellent English.  "That am
I, for it is dull here.  When you get to the top I shall show you why.
You will see to the right and left trees in one dense mass.  To the
north and south there is the same.  Nothing but trees, and the blue sky
overhead.  It becomes tiring.  But now you are here and I shall have
company.  Come this way.  We can go by the path which I have just
followed, or we can skirt round the hill."

They elected to go by the latter path, for the steep ascent would have
been too much for Meinheer.  After an hour's walk they found themselves
on the far side of the rocky highland, and there before them lay the
stockade, high up on the side of the hill, and within an easy rifle-shot
of the forest.

"Trust a man who has been in these forests before to choose the right
spot," said the agent, as he pointed it out.  "This is the windward
side, and the stockade even under a hot sun is delightfully cool.  There
is little fever here, and one can cope with it.  Mr Dick, you need have
no fears for your health.  The loneliness is the only thing which will
trouble you."

"I have been thinking about that," answered Dick, "and I fancy I shall
do something to distract my thoughts.  Work in the mines or something of
the sort.  Perhaps help to improve the stockade and make it stronger."

The agent looked at him in surprise.  "Stronger!" he exclaimed.  "And
why?"

"Because I fancy we might be attacked."

Our hero felt almost sure that there would be an attempt, for he had not
forgotten James Langdon.

"Attack!" he said disdainfully.  "The Ashantis will not harm us.  They
hate these Fanti men, and it is they against whom they war.  They are
out now with the intention of fighting.  Trust King Koffee to keep them
away from us, for if we were harmed, what would happen to the payments
made to him?  As to this fellow, James Langdon, I fancy I have met him.
You need not fear him, for he will never come so far.  If he is in the
service of the king of the Ashantis, he will be on the far bank of the
river and miles from here.  No, Mr Stapleton, there will be no need to
strengthen the post."

By now they had entered the stockade, and found it to be composed of
roughly sawn logs, trimmed with the axe.  Here and there a small
interval was left for rifles, though it was obvious that the designer of
the place expected no trouble.  In the centre was a log hut, thatched
with long strips of bark, which were pegged down to the timbers beneath.
The windows were unglazed, but rough shutters cut from packing boxes
were provided.

"Enter, gentlemen," said the agent, with some signs of pride.  "You find
yourselves in the salon, the smoking-room, and the bedroom of this
house.  It is only a rough shanty, sufficient to keep out the heat of
the sun, and the rains, when they come."

"And a fine example of your work," exclaimed Mr Pepson.  "Now, what of
the mines?  They are close at hand?"

For answer the agent led the way out of the stockade and down the far
side of the hill till the party came to the level ground.  And here it
was seen that a stream flowed, and lost itself a little way on in the
forest.

"Everything is nicely within reach," said the agent.  "You will find
that the men work in couples, and as there are twelve of them, there are
six shafts open.  We will go to them."

They ascended a small rise in front of them, and presently saw some
natives working.  They were hauling up wooden buckets from the mouths of
narrow shafts driven into the ground, and were depositing their contents
in a larger receptacle close at hand.  At the river-bank Dick noticed a
number of troughs of native workmanship, and began to gather the method
adopted by the natives in their mining.

"It is all very primitive," said the agent, "and no doubt we do not
abstract all the gold from the soil.  A large part gets washed away.
Still, considering our methods, we are doing well, and have already a
good store of pure metal.  Look into one of the shafts.  Yes, continue
to look till your eyes become accustomed to the darkness down there.
That is the man who is working in the tunnel.  You can just see his
back.  He will call out when his bucket is filled, and his friend up
here will haul it up.  It is slow, but sure, and in time there is a
quantity at the top.  If the man below comes to harder soil, his friend
goes down to the river and washes.  If not, he hauls, and at the end of
the day the two wash the gold from the soil which they have gathered."

"But how on earth does the man get down?" asked Dick, for he could see
that the hauling tackle was too weak for such a task.

"That again is simplicity itself," was the reply.  "You see that the
shaft is barely four feet across.  The man carries a kind of narrow
spade with which he digs the ground.  Well, he places that across the
top of the shaft, and lowers his feet till they come to a niche on one
wall.  There it is.  You can see it plainly.  With his feet secure he
leans back till his shoulders are against the far side of the shaft--in
fact, till he is across the cutting in a slanting position.  Then he
releases the digger and lowers it, placing it in a similar position
across the shaft.  And so he descends, repeating the movement to the
bottom."

"Primitive, certainly," agreed Mr Pepson, "and I think it can be
improved upon.  We have brought hand-winding gear with us, and they will
alter matters.  The fellow below can lower himself, or get his friend to
do so for him.  Then the labour of raising the soil will be lightened.
That reminds me.  We have left our launch and the canoes at the
landing-stage.  What steps can we take to get our goods here?"

"We will become porters to-morrow," was the answer.  "These Ashanti
fellows are good tempered and willing if taken the right way, and you
will find that they will undertake the task with pleasure.  Leave it to
me, sir."

That night the whole party lay down in the hut within the stockade.  On
the following day they returned to the river, and with the help of the
natives had transferred all their belongings to the hut before darkness
fell.  But it was a more difficult matter to bring the winding gear
through, and almost a week passed before it was in position.  By then
Dick was beginning to feel that he knew something of the work, and even
found that he could make himself understood by the natives.

"I shall have no fears for you when we leave," said Mr Pepson, one
evening as they smoked their pipes outside the hut.  "You hit it off
well with the natives, and you understand their methods of getting gold.
You will store it, check the amounts they obtain, and pay them in gold
dust if they require their money.  If not, you will show them what they
have earned, with the promise that payment will be made at any time.
The store of metal you will keep here.  Have no fears for it.  I don't
believe any one will dare to interfere with you.  Now for our movements.
I shall wait a little longer till this scalp wound is healed, and then
Meinheer, our Dutch agent and I will return to the coast.  We shall
leave Johnnie and the launch with you, for you will need to send down
for stores, and to deposit the gold, and we can return with as much ease
by means of one of the boats.  Our friend, the agent, tells us that the
wind will be set down-stream, and that a sail will carry us to the sea
almost as soon as would a propeller.  From there to Elmina and Cape
Coast Castle is nothing."

Accordingly, some three weeks later, the party set out, Dick passing
with them through the forest to the landing-stage.  One by one they
shook hands with him and entered the native boat.  Meinheer Van Somering
swept his hat from his head and gave a deep flourish and bow.  Mr
Pepson smiled his encouraging smile, while the agent busied himself with
the sail.

"Push off!" sang out the leader, and at the shout Dick sent the boat out
into the stream.  Her head was pointed down towards the river Pra, her
sail filled, and within a minute Dick was alone in the forest.  His
duties had commenced, he was now sole agent for the gold-miners, the
only white man in that part of the African forests.  He turned on his
heel, saw that the launch and the other boats were firmly secured to the
bank, and went off with his head in the air, whistling cheerily.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED.

"I don't like the news, Johnnie," said our hero, one day, some weeks
later, when he had quite settled down to his duties at the mine.  "You
say you saw some men encamped five miles and more away.  Tell me all
about them."

The native lad, an inhabitant of the coast near Sierra Leone, who had
come from that part with Mr Pepson, and who had been left to keep Dick
company and to tend to the launch, put the short black pipe which he was
smoking into the other corner of his mouth, and turned his eyes up till
the whites alone showed, a trick of which he was very fond.  He was, in
fact, a comical-looking fellow.  Short and square for a native, with
woolly hair, and a few stray wisps of beard at his chin, he was dressed
in a much patched pair of breeches, with ragged edges, the tags hanging
about his naked toes.  These same breeches were suspended from his
shoulders by an ancient pair of braces, a gift from Dick himself, while
a soiled and disreputable jacket, smeared with many a patch of grease,
was over his back, serving for shirt as well as coat.  He held a rifle
in his hand, and the state of his feet showed that he had just come in
from the forest.

"Me go dere, as you say," he said, taking the pipe from his mouth.  "Me
look for something to eat, for massa want fresh meat.  And then me see
smoke.  `Dat strange,' say Johnnie.  On de coast where me lib noting
wrong in dat.  Fires eberywhere.  Smoke all de time.  But here--"

Again his eyes turned up as if to show that this smoke was a matter for
astonishment.

"Exactly so.  Here one would feel surprised and alarmed.  Go on."

"Den Johnnie tink, and say, `dese surely bad men, not like Johnnie,' so
me start to run 'way.  Den me creep back, and soon me see better.  Dere
ten, tirty, yes, fifty big native, all wid sword and gun, and dey sit
round de fire cookin' and eatin'.  Me look for dat scoundrel, dat white
man who attack us below.  But no, he not dere.  Den me come 'way and
tell massa."

It was serious news, and for a long while our hero was silent.  For
three weeks he had gone about his work at the mine till he was
thoroughly acquainted with it.  He had been down each one of the shafts,
and had ingratiated himself with the men.  It happened that in two of
the shafts a rich deposit of nuggets had been come upon, not an uncommon
find in the goldfields of Ashanti; and that, together with the increased
comfort given by the winding gear, all of which was now in place, had so
heartened the miners that he was more than popular amongst them.  But he
was still haunted with the fear of attack.

"There must be people who know that we are here, practically with no
means of defence," he had said over and over again to himself.  "And no
doubt the news of a rich find will in time be circulated.  What is to
prevent a ruffian like James Langdon making a raid upon us?  I am here,
in charge, and I must take steps."

That same evening he went to the miners when they had come up from the
shafts, and told them the news.

"Our brothers are at war.  There is nothing in this camp to alarm us or
you," said their leader, when Dick had made himself understood, a
somewhat difficult matter, considering his small knowledge of the
language.  "The Ashantis will not touch us.  The Fantis would if they
could, for we are weak, and should fall an easy prey to them.  But these
were Ashantis."

"And to-morrow a force of Fantis might come, too," added Dick.  "Then
what could we do?"

"We should be killed, the gold would be taken, and there would be an end
of the matter."

"Then as I have no wish to be killed, I suggest that we take steps to
protect ourselves," said Dick.  "I have rifles at the stockade for all,
and will arrange a signal.  You say that you can all shoot.  That makes
matters better.  We will practise to-night.  There is a tomtom at the
stockade, left there by one of yourselves perhaps.  I will beat that as
the signal, and all will at once rush to the place, bringing their store
of gold with them."

The miners looked at one another when they heard his words, and then
commenced to discuss the matter together; for it was difficult for them
to understand the need for such precautions.  They had been at this mine
for some months now, and they had never been disturbed.  At the same
time rumour had reached them that their countrymen were at war with the
Fantis, and that being the case, the latter would treat them as enemies.
There was a big store of gold, the result of the last month's labour,
and that would certainly go.  They would be killed, too, and even if
they were not, they would lose their wages, now owing for some months.

"We will do as you ask," said their chief, half an hour later.  "There
may be need for these precautions, and in that case we may have cause to
be glad.  On the other hand, the time wasted will be only short, and
will not matter.  What else shall we do?"

"Make for the stockade, as I have said, and when there we will arrange
the method of defence," answered Dick.  "Keep your ears open for the
signal."

He left them, and an hour later, having seen Johnnie again in the
meanwhile and instructed him to sound the alarm, he retreated to the
stockade with the men, waiting till the last to see how they carried out
the movement.

"That will do very well," he said, as they arrived, panting, in the
stockade.  "Now for other orders.  The last man in throws the doors to
and is helped by his friends.  That is right.  We are now safely behind
stout walls, and can fetch our rifles.  They are kept in this rack in
the hut, and a bag of ammunition is hung to the muzzle of each.  Let
every one go in and help himself, and then run out to the walls."

He watched as the miners, a group of intelligent men, carried out his
orders.  Then as they came hustling from the hut, pushing each other
aside in their eagerness, he arrested them with a shout and with
uplifted hand.

"Some one will be shot very soon," he said.  "Some of you have already
loaded, and guns go off sooner than they are wanted to under these
circumstances.  We must do things in an orderly manner, and each must
have an allotted place.  Tell your men off to a loophole apiece, chief,"
he shouted.  "Now, that is better, and we will practise the move again."

Several times they carried out the exercise, Dick making them emerge
from the stockade, and then, at a beat on the tom-tom, rush in, close
the gates, and go in search of their rifles.  No man was allowed to load
till he was at his loophole, and then the order was that there should be
no firing unless the enemy were clearly seen.

"We have a fair store of cartridges," said Dick, "but we may have to
stand a siege.  That being the case, we must not throw them away.  Now
let each man pick out a tree or some object, and aim at it.  I'll give
the order to fire."

By now the miners were beginning to take more than a passing interest in
these manoeuvres of their young chief.  They had been talking the thing
over, and had come to the conclusion that it would be worth while to
safeguard their own interests.  They had been away from their friends
for a long time, and it might be that there was a war of considerable
proportions raging, for the Ashantis were at daggers drawn with the
Fantis, and took every opportunity of attacking them.

At Dick's call they poured a volley into space, and looked round for
more orders.

"That will do very well for to-day.  We will practise again every day,
and I want to see that the men at the top of the shaft shout the alarm
to their friends below and wait to haul them up.  There must be no
desertion of comrades."

Dick was as good as his word, too.  The following morning, when he had
carefully inspected the surroundings, and had seen that the miners were
busily at work, he caused Johnnie to sound the alarm again, and stood in
the neighbourhood of the shafts till all the men were up.  Then the
proceedings of the previous evening were repeated.

"That part of our precautions is arranged," he said to himself, as he
smoked a meditative pipe.  "Now I must look to another matter.  Johnnie
and I must take it in turns to go abroad into the forest."

It was a wise precaution, and from that day, turn and turn about, he or
the native stoker, as soon as breakfast was ended, and while the day was
still cool, would take a rifle and stalk away towards the forest.
Sometimes they would go towards the river, to see that no one had
tampered with the launch, and at others they would make in the opposite
direction.  But whichever road they followed, they were careful not to
penetrate too deeply into the jungle, and to take their bearings before
entering the bush.

"We might get lost," said Dick, "and besides, it is really laborious
work cutting a path, however narrow.  The main thing is to circle all
around the mine, looking for traces of a possible enemy, and, of course,
shooting any game we may come upon, for fresh meat is a luxury."

One day, a week later, when our hero was out on his tramp, and had
proceeded a couple of miles from the mine, he suddenly came to a halt,
and stood there listening intently, for a sound had come to his ear.

"The tom-tom!" he exclaimed.  "I feel sure, and from the direction of
the stockade.  Can the place be attacked?"

The thought threw him into a fever of apprehension, for supposing an
enemy had appeared, and his men were within the stockade, what would
happen to them without their leader?  They were excellent fellows, but
Dick had come to know that, without some one to direct them, they were
useless.

"They would be all right for an hour or two if not pressed," he said.
"But if they were rushed by a strong force--well, it would go hard with
them.  I must return.  But can it be that that tom-tom was not from the
mine?"

That was another momentous question, and, as he pondered over it, the
perspiration poured from his forehead.  He turned and retraced his steps
at a run, breaking through the jungle in his feverish haste, tearing the
vines and brambles aside and lacerating his hands and face with the
thorns.

Hark!  This time it was another sound that brought him to a standstill.
There was the clear, crisp report of a rifle, a distant shout, and then
a medley of sounds, the frantic cries of natives, and the sharp snap of
answering firearms.

The place, then, was attacked.  There could be no doubt about the
matter.  And he, the leader, was outside the stockade.  Dick clenched
his hands and ground his teeth with disappointment.  He had no fear for
himself.  He thought last of his own personal safety.  A duty had been
entrusted to him.  He had been placed at the mine to defend it, and he
was helpless to direct the men.

"They must hold their own, then," he gasped.  "I cannot get to them yet,
and they cannot know where I am.  Very well, I will go where I can see
what is happening, and then I must be guided by circumstances."

This time he did not rush through the jungle with such frantic haste.
His impetuosity had given way to prudence, and, as he walked, he peered
ahead, halting every now and again to make sure that he was not running
upon the enemy.  As he approached the clearing about the mine the snap
of rifles became more audible.  It was a spluttering fire now, an
occasional shot, and then a succession of reports.

"That is what I like to hear," he said to himself.  "It shows that they
are not so closely pressed, and I think that they must be holding their
own.  If my men were being rushed there would be shouts, and rifles
would be fired more frequently.  Ah, it is getting lighter, and soon I
shall be able to see."

He crept on all fours now, and presently came to the very edge of the
jungle.  But from where he was he could only see a fraction of the
stockade, and not a soul was in sight.  To obtain a full view he must
creep round to the far side, where the attack was taking place.

"No doubt they have their camp there," he thought, "so I must be doubly
careful.  I'll slip into the trees again and go cautiously."

Well was it for him, too, that he took this precaution, for he had
progressed only a little way when his keen eye caught sight of some
natives out in the open.  They carried rifles, and were making for the
mines.  Ditch watched them as they went to the shafts, and saw two of
their number lowered into each.  Then there was a shout, and they were
hauled up again.

"Looking for possible stragglers," he thought.  "It was a lucky idea to
have a signal to recall the men.  I suppose Johnnie must have sounded
it.  Ah, the ruffians are now looking for gold, but there again I fancy
they will be disappointed.  How I wish I had a dozen men here!  I could
pick the enemy off easily, and then a rush might drive the rest away."

By now the natives were retracing their steps, disappointed at their
lack of fortune, and at once Dick crawled on again.  An hour later he
was round at the far side, and had a full view of all that was taking
place.  A glance showed him that matters were as he had hoped.  The
timely alarm, the previous training, and the careful instruction which
had been given to the miners had resulted in their reaching the stockade
in a mass, and in closing the doors on the attackers.  Nor were there
wanting signs that they had made their presence felt by the enemy, for
ten dark figures lay sprawling in the open, some looking as though the
men slept, while in other cases the bodies were doubled up in that
fantastic position which is seen where men have been killed in the act
of charging.

"Showing that our friends held their fire till they were sure of their
aim," said Dick, with a chuckle, his spirits reviving immensely at the
sight.  "But the attack was a genuine one, for I can see one man close
outside the stockade.  Perhaps the alarm was only just given in time,
and when the miners reached the stockade the enemy were in full chase
and close behind them.  Ah!  They have been making long shots, too."

His hand went to his trigger suddenly, and he fell on his face in the
undergrowth, for he had caught sight of a native some few paces away.
He seemed to be leaning against a tree, and was partly in the open.  A
second glance, however, told that he was dead, for his head lay on his
breast, and only the tree which supported him prevented his falling from
his knees.

"Looks as though he had knelt to take a shot, and had been killed in the
act," thought Dick.  "He will be fired at again, perhaps.  One of our
men will see him, and not knowing that he has already ceased to be an
enemy will fire.  It would be safer for me to crawl on a little."

Once more he sneaked through the forest, his senses all alert, for now,
at any moment, he might come full upon the enemy.  Suddenly he heard
voices, and at the sound crouched on his face.  Then there came the
rustle of vines and leaves, the soft tread of naked feet, and the dull
blow of something harder striking the trunk of a tree.  The voices grew
louder, and, to Dick's consternation, they seemed to be coming directly
towards him.  He looked about him like a hunted animal, saw an immense
cotton tree with wide-spreading roots, just such another as had
sheltered the party during the storm which they had encountered in the
forest, and promptly crept into the narrow archway beneath.  He was
barely in time.  Hardly had he squatted in the shadow, and found an
aperture for his rifle, when a group of natives came into view, slashing
the vines and creepers with their knives.  And in their midst, his
wide-awake hat and sallow features making him conspicuous, appeared
James Langdon, his face convulsed, while his hands and teeth were
clenched with rage.  He could hardly speak, but turned every now and
again towards the stockade and shook his fists, while he growled out an
oath.

Once more Dick's rifle went to his shoulder, his cheek lay down on the
stock, and he aligned the sights dead upon the half-caste's forehead.
One pressure of the finger, the gentlest pull, and the man would be
slain.  The temptation was great, the call for such action clear, and
yet, and yet--

"Be a sportsman," whispered Dick to himself.  "Shoot a fellow in cold
blood, Dick Stapleton, even though he be a rogue and a robber?  Never!"

He lowered the rifle, while the half-caste, all unconscious of his
danger, snatched his hat from his head, and called a halt.  It was clear
that he was baffled.  One could see it on his ugly, resentful face.
There was a scowl in his every look, while his eyes, when he turned them
towards the stockade, flashed in a manner which boded little good to the
defenders, should they come into his power.

"They have us beaten, comrades," he suddenly exclaimed, while at the
words the scowl became even more pronounced.  "This white man is the
cause of our failure.  He must have suspected, else how comes it that
when we arrived they bolted to their lair?  There was a shout as we came
from the trees, and then the men at the heads of the shafts began to
wind for their lives.  In two minutes they were all racing for the
stockade, and when we got there they were safe, while their bullets were
flying amongst us.  It is that cursed Englishman!"

The bitterness of his misfortune seemed to overwhelm him, for he threw
himself on the grass, muttering and beating his hands together.  Then he
pulled a cigarette from his pocket, for this half-caste had accustomed
himself to the manners of Europeans, and lit it with a match.

"To add to our trouble, there is no gold to be had," he almost shouted.
"The dogs carried their day's takings to the stockade, where the
remainder is stacked, I suppose.  There are weeks of profit there,
comrades; and we have heard that they have done well.  Shall we retire
now till our friends come to help us, or shall we make a second attempt?
In a day we can have a hundred men to aid us, and then there will be no
doubt of success."

"While the booty will be the smaller, for the reason that it must be
divided," added one of the natives.

"Which is better than losing more lives," exclaimed James Langdon.
"Besides, there will be plenty of booty for us all, for you know what is
happening.  We are on the way to Elmina.  Your king is going to drive
these white men out of the country, and that means plenty of loot for
every man of us.  But I will leave it to you.  We will attack again now,
for there are fifty of us, or we will make a ring round them, and hold
them tight till our friends come.  We have them safely, in any case."

Dick listened with all his ears.  At the mention of reinforcements his
heart sank into his boots, while the news that war with Britain had
broken out came as a shock to him.  True, there had been grave rumours
of trouble before he and the expedition had left the coast.  But it was
expected that the difficulty would be settled amicably.  If there was
war, he was cut off from his friends.  In all probability the enemy were
already between him and the coast, and, in any case, they would make for
the river.  It was a serious situation, and had he been in any other
place, and not beset by foes, Dick would then and there have sat down
and thought deeply, for, young and inexperienced though he was, his wits
had been sharpened by the responsibility thrown upon him.  He was
naturally a shrewd young fellow; but till he came to Africa he had never
been called upon to settle questions of great moment.  He had hardly
given a command in his life, save to the boys in his company in the
cadet corps at school, and there, there had been no difficulty about the
matter.  Here, in the heart of the Ashanti forest, it was all so
different.  And yet Dick did not fall short of the estimate his
employers had formed of him.  Long before they had departed from the
mine they had approved, time and again, their appointment of him as
their agent.

"He is born for command," Mr Pepson had said.  "He is quiet, and
inclined to be cool.  He will not be hurried.  I've watched him.  Rather
than give a hasty decision he will slip away for a time, and then one
sees him smoking his pipe and evidently cogitating.  That's the sort of
lad I can rely on.  Ready, if there is need to act in haste, but given
to reflection, weighing his words, and venturing no opinion unless he
has considered beforehand.  As to courage--well, that he has, we know."

Meinheer Van Somering had invariably replied that Dick was indeed brave,
and who could realise the fact if he--a Dutchman--did not do so?

But under the present circumstances who could give thought to any
question?  Dick was crouching beneath the archway of roots within easy
reach of a band of cutthroats who had made an attack upon his stockade.
And in their midst was the ruffian who had systematically robbed his
father, and who had wound up his crimes by robbing Dick, and then making
a murderous attack upon the expedition.  Would James Langdon spare him
if he happened to discover his whereabouts?  Would he cause the forest
to be searched if he suspected that hidden within it was the youth whom
he had wronged, and against whom he was so embittered?  If Dick had had
any doubts, the next few words of the miscreant relieved his mind of
them, and set the perspiration again pouring from his forehead.

"Yes," said the half-caste, reflecting.  "Our course is clear.  We have
failed to rush them, thanks to this white man and his precautions.  I
felt that he would be suspicious of a second attack, and would be ready
for us.  Then we will surround the stockade, for what hope have we of
rushing the place?  They are armed with sniders, my comrades, and can
fire three shots to our one.  Then they are under perfect cover, while
we are exposed in the open.  No, no, it would be foolish to attack
again.  It would be wasting lives.  We will sit down and wait for our
friends, and when they come, ah! then there will be a different tale.
These miners shall hand over their gold, and this white man--what shall
we do with him?  Think of your brothers who are slain!"

"We shall be able to deal with him," answered one of the natives.  "We
can send him back to Kumasi, and there he will be slain as a sacrifice.
Yes, it will be good to appease our juju with the blood of a white man."

Dick had heard of the frightful rites perpetrated at Kumasi.  He knew
that these Ashantis were a warlike race, who were forever battling with
their neighbours, and the tale had come to the coast, a tale the truth
of which had been proved time and again, of a hideous bowl, of an
executioner's heavy knife, and of the manner in which the captives were
killed.  He shuddered when he imagined that he was so near to such a
fate.  That within a little while he might be in the town of Kumasi, and
while thousands looked on, hooting and shouting for joy, and James
Langdon mocked at him, eagerly watching for a sign that his captive
quailed, while the executioner made ready, might be dragged to that
awful bowl, forced to his knees, and have his head struck off at a blow,
while his life's blood was caught in the receptacle.  Yes, he had heard
the details.  It was said that many thousand wretched captives uttered
their last sigh in this vile town of Kumasi every year, and that King
Koffee and his warriors sought constantly to increase the number.  No
wonder that he shuddered, that he crouched still lower, while his hands
became clammy with fear.  The thought unmanned him.  These natives, with
their leader, looked like ogres waiting to take his life, and he, all
alone there, was so helpless.  But a sudden movement brought the manhood
that was within him to the fore again.  A native fidgeted.  Then he
strolled from the band, and noticing the tree, came and sat down with
his back leaning against it.  Dick could hear his breathing.  His own
heart, as it thudded against his ribs, sounded even louder, and to him,
in the extremity of his danger, it seemed that discovery was an
accomplished fact.  He gripped the rifle till the cords in his wrists
stood out clearly.  Then he directed the muzzle at the man's neck, while
his finger went to the trigger.

"Then we will arrange our stations," cried James Langdon, suddenly,
rising to his feet.  "We will surround them so thoroughly that there can
be no escape.  Come, all of you, to the edge of the clearing, so that we
may discuss the situation."

The native rose to his feet at once, to Dick's huge relief, while the
whole band crept to the edge of the forest, and looked across at the
stockade.  In their centre was the half-caste, eager and confident, in
complete command of his men, and though they were now farther away our
hero could distinctly hear and understand his directions.  The circle
was indeed to be complete.  Men were told off to occupy the summit of
the rocky crest, from which they could look down upon the stockade.  It
would be a full moon that night, so that these natives could watch the
surrounding country almost as completely as in the daytime.  Others were
ordered to occupy certain scraps of cover, with directions to fire at
any one who showed above the stockade.  And lastly, a second ring would
encompass the inner one, for James Langdon would leave nothing to
chance.

"We have a crafty fellow to deal with, and a big stake to win," he
cried, as he glared across at the stockade.  "There is gold there, my
comrades, and there are men, too, to repay for the death of your
brothers.  True, they are of your own country, but they have defied you.
They are not fighters.  They live for wealth, and run when their
country has need of them.  Think, too, of the white man.  He would be a
prize indeed in Kumasi."

How much longer he would have continued to talk it would be unwise to
guess, though there was little doubt that these natives under his
leadership required no further encouragement.  They were warriors of
Ashanti, cruel-minded and blood-thirsty, and it was nothing to them whom
they fought if they imagined they had a grievance.  But there were
others paying attention to that gathering.  As the half-caste turned to
see what effect his words had had, a single shot rang out crisply from
the stockade, and a native standing beside him sprang into the air and
fell dead on his face.  There was a stampede at once, the gathering
broke up and melted into the forest, leaving Dick alone, breathing more
freely now that the danger was lessened.

"There is some one alert at the stockade," he said, with satisfaction.
"Some one who can shoot, too.  Then I need not worry myself for the
present.  They will do well till I join them.  But how is that to be
done?  Regain the stockade I must, but how, that is the question?"

It was a sufficiently knotty one, and not to be settled in a moment.
Dick reflected that he could still make for the launch and steam down
the river, for it was hardly likely that she had been discovered, so
well were the creek and the tiny tributary hidden.  But then--

"Can't," he said, with decision.  "There are the men and the stockade to
be thought of.  Besides, I have to think of the gold.  I must get to the
stockade and join my men.  Then we can decide what course to take."

He lay in his hiding-place for hours, till the twilight came, and then
he crept to the clearing and looked out to see if he could discover the
position of the natives who formed the inner circle about the stockade.
He had heard a shot every now and again, and now as he stared from
amidst the ferns and vines, he saw first one and then a dozen dusky
prostrate figures, hiding behind boulders of large size, or masses of
bush which happened to lie in the open, and which they had been able to
reach by stealthily crawling across to them upon their bellies.  At the
back of the stockade, seeming in that half light to stand on the very
top of it, were more figures, half concealed, keeping watch upon the
place.

"Very good," said Dick, as he lay in the bush.  "I know where they are
at least, and must try to avoid them.  Go I must, and if any man comes
in my way, why--"

He rose to his knees and drew the short sword with which Mr Pepson had
provided him.  Satisfied that it would easily free itself from the
scabbard, he inspected his revolver and popped that back into its case.
Then his rifle went across his shoulder, and with a hitch he shortened
the sling till there was no danger of the weapon swinging about.  Half
an hour later twilight had gone and darkness had settled down upon
clearing and forest.

"This is my only chance," said Dick, as he rose to his feet.  "There
will be darkness for a few minutes, and then the moon will be up.  I
must make a bold dash for it."

He swung the rifle back on to his shoulders, drew his sword and
revolver, and struck off across the clearing in the direction of the
stockade.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

BESIEGERS AND BESIEGED.

It was intensely dark in the clearing, as our hero struck into it, but
by contrast with the shadows in the depths of the forest it was light,
so that he could see a few feet before him.  He could distinguish
vaguely the outline of the rocky crest near the summit of which the
stockade was posted, and beyond it and to one side the dull black band
of the encircling forest.  In one direction there was a faint glimmer in
the sky, the herald of the rising moon, while a glare rose above the
stockade, not intense, to be sure, but sufficient to tell him that a
fire was burning there.

"Then they are not alarmed," he whispered, in tones of delight.  "They
are cooking their evening meal, which reminds me that I am hungry and
thirsty, too.  I must move on.  Hullo!"

He fell like a stone, and lay with his body pressed close to the ground,
for his ear caught a sound, and his eye detected a figure on his right.
In that semi-darkness it looked huge and weird in shape, and might have
been an ox or any other animal.  But the low tones of men talking showed
him that it must be the enemy, and caused him to grip his sword with
extra determination.

"Hoot!  Hoot!"  Once more he heard the call of the night owl, the same
cry as had awakened him when ascending the Pra, and which had aroused
his suspicion.  It seemed certain that this was the signal commonly used
by the Ashantis, just as it had been for many and many a year by the Red
Indians of America.  "Hoot!  Hoot!"

The call was repeated, and almost at once, from a point but a few yards
nearer to the stockade, came the answer, "Hoot!  Hoot!"  Then the men
advanced, and halted close to their comrade, while a few words of
direction passed.  Dick could with pleasure have dropped through the
earth, so great was his dismay and consternation.  Then he could have
shouted with delight.

"Just a bit of sheer good fortune," he thought.  "Here was I advancing
right on to one of the enemy, and these fellows gave me a warning.  Very
well.  The hoot of the owl is the signal, and why should I not make it?
Why should I not follow these beggars on their rounds?  They will be
visiting the sentries, and I shall then know where all are.  I will go a
little way with them, and then slip through between two of the men."

It was a brilliant idea, and he set about carrying it out at once.  He
lifted his head and kept watch on the natives, while he listened to
their conversation.  Not that he could hear the words, for these men
were experienced warriors, and they knew that a whisper carried far on
such a still night.  They conversed in the lowest of tones, and then
moved on.  "Hoot!  Hoot!"  The weird call again broke the silence, and
was responded to.  Then the native chiefs who were going the rounds
moved on, and after them crept Dick, as silent and stealthy as a snake,
one hand placed before the other, groping the ground to see that it was
clear of twigs or other material which might betray his presence.  Then
the other would follow, and afterwards his knees would be drawn up
beneath him, and he would repeat the whole process.  "Hoot!  Hoot!"
There it was again.  A third sentry had been approached, but Dick could
not see him even though he was so close.

"Which shows me clearly how difficult the task is," he thought.  "But
for those fellows going the rounds I should have walked right on to this
batch of sentries, and then there would have been a row.  Hullo!  Some
one else is on the alert."

He could have laughed, for as the natives went on their way and repeated
their signal, the Ashanti miners in the stockade must have carefully
listened.  Then they thought they espied the enemy, standing against a
piece of open ground which happened to be exceptionally light in colour.
Suddenly a single shot rang out, the detonation startling every one,
and making our hero jump.  For a single instant the stockade became
outlined, and Dick thought he saw heads peeping up above the baulks of
timber.  Then all was darkness again and silence, save for the hoot of
the native chief and the answer of the sentry.

"Time to be moving on," thought Dick.  "I have barely half an hour in
which to reach friends, and now is my opportunity.  These fellows here
will have their attention distracted by the call of their comrades going
the rounds.  I may manage to get through.  In any case I shall chance
it, and if I am discovered I shall make a dash for the stockade.  I
suppose I shall have to run the chance of being shot, for how can my own
men know that I am not one of the enemy?  That also I must risk.
Anything better than to be out here alone."

Inch by inch he made his way across the open in the direction of the
hill, his eyes turning from side to side, while he halted every minute.
He was quite cool now.  The imminence of his danger, the knowledge that
there were enemies very near and on either hand, seemed to have braced
his nerves.  His heart had ceased to thump like a sledge-hammer against
his ribs, while he could no longer feel his pulses beating and throbbing
till it was almost painful.  He had need of every faculty, of coolness
and courage, and he did not mean to throw away a chance.  Hush!  A man,
the sentry on his right, sat up suddenly, and as Dick crouched he could
see that the fellow was listening.  He had heard something which had
aroused his suspicions, and with all the keenness of a native for the
chase he would probe the matter to the bottom, he would not be satisfied
to rest till he had cleared up the mystery.  "Hoot!  Hoot!"  He sounded
the signal, and for an instant our hero's heart failed him.  Should he
answer?  Was he seen?

"Yes, I believe he has heard me," he thought.  "He wonders who I am.  I
will answer.  Hoot!  Hoot!"

In very low tones he gave the call, and waited eagerly for what was next
to happen.  Then he gave vent to a sigh of relief.  The man was
deceived.  He took this other figure for a comrade, and imagining that
he was too close, and that the circle would be too open on the farther
side, he rose to his knees and crawled to the right, till he was out of
sight and hearing.  After that Dick waited no longer.  He crept forward,
stealthily and slowly at first, till he was yards nearer the stockade.
Then he increased the pace till he judged that he was clear of the inner
line of sentries, and almost within hailing distance of his friends.
But still he would not neglect the precautions he had decided were
necessary.

"I feel inclined to jump to my feet and make a bolt for it," he thought.
"But no, that wouldn't do, and I might easily be shot from the
stockade.  Slow and sure, said the tortoise, and I'll stick to the
motto."

None but those who have been placed in a similar position can fully
appreciate the temptation to which he was put, the huge desire which
took hold of him to rise to his feet and run.  Dick felt as the man does
who is in full view of the rifles of unscrupulous marauders, without
cover for many yards, uncertain whether to expect a hail of bullets or
not.  A sense of dignity, the feeling that it would not be courageous to
run, holds one steady; but the temptation is there.  There is a queer
little feeling in the small of the back, and if one does not run, and
conquers the temptation to act as a craven, one longs to look round, to
make sure that no violence is about to be attempted.  That was how our
hero felt, and who will blame him?  He was so near a refuge and friends
now, and seemed clear of the enemy.  It would be so easy to run.
However, he stuck to his motto, and, still remaining on his knees,
slowly crept closer to the stockade.

Hist!  Something caught his ear, and he sat down to listen for some
minutes till he felt sure that he was mistaken.  Then he crawled on
again, till of a sudden he swung round, and, with a cry of dismay,
leaped to his feet.  There was a man following him, a figure bent almost
double, silently coming up with him.  Had he but known, it was the
identical sentry whose signal he had answered and who, still suspicious,
had returned on his tracks.  He was within three yards when Dick saw
him, and the cry had hardly left his lips when the man was upon him.

With all the ferocity of a tiger he leaped at his enemy, native sword in
hand, and as the fingers on his left hand closed on Dick's shoulder, the
murderous weapon swooped upwards in a stroke meant to transfix his body.
But again the white man had good fortune.  His guardian angel seemed to
be on the watch that night, for the point caught the sling of his rifle,
and turning aside the whole blade flashed beneath his arm till the hand
which held it came with a thud against his side.

"Dog!" shouted the man, thinking he had accomplished his purpose.

Dick made no answer.  He knew that if he did not hold that arm which
gripped the sword he was as good as dead, and quick as lightning he took
the only step to retain it.  As the blade flew beneath his arm, and the
man's hand crashed against his side, he brought his own arm down,
jamming the native's hand there.  Then he shook his hand from his
shoulder, and lifting his own blade, plunged it with all his force into
his enemy's breast.

Hardly had the man fallen at his feet, when a series of shouts rang out,
rifles blazed from the stockade, and ere he could move half a dozen
natives were upon him.  For Dick had made one miscalculation.  He had
forgotten that he was dealing with men who were from their youth trained
as warriors, men accustomed to the trail, to forest warfare, and to
every form of artifice.  He had not recollected that these Ashanti
fighters had the acutest hearing and phenomenal sight, and he, a mere
white man, accustomed to city life, had imagined that he could creep
through them.  Bitterly was he mistaken, for one had first suspected the
presence of an enemy and had then followed, while a comrade, discovering
the fact in some subtle manner, had come on his tracks, five others
following.  Gradually they had gained on the chase, so that when Dick
struck their leader down the rest were almost on him.  Again there was a
shout, taken up by a score of voices around the clearing, and in a
second a fierce hand-to-hand contest had commenced.

"The white man!  The white man!  Take him alive!  Do not kill him!"

It was James Langdon's voice, coming from close at hand, for the news
that some one was astir had been sent to him and he had followed.

"I give you all warning.  Do not slay him, if you value my friendship."

It was a fortunate thing for our hero, but not so for the natives.
Flinging their arms aside they sprang forward to bear him to the ground.
But if they had orders not to harm him, he had no scruples in killing
them.  The fear of captivity and of its consequences was before him.  He
struck out blindly with his sword, and when that was jerked from his
hand he opened fire with his revolver, his shots punctuating the shouts
of his opponents.  But it was a one-sided engagement, and the darkness
was against his chances.  Already he had almost been borne to the ground
by a huge native, who had leaped on his shoulders.  But a sudden turn,
the shortening of his pistol arm, and a quick and effective shot, had
relieved him of the burden.  Then two of the enemy had snatched at his
legs, while a third aimed for his back, and missed it by the merest
chance.  He was about to spring again, while others were there now
prepared to take his place should he not succeed.  Dick was helpless.
He had fired his last cartridge, and though he used the butt of the
revolver and his fist, he was already outmatched.  The end came quickly.
The native behind him caught his rifle in both hands, and then put out
all his strength.  Dick lost his balance, and dragged by the sling was
soon in a heap on the ground.

"Captured!  We have him!  Tie his legs and carry him off before the
other dogs can come!"

There was such a hubbub that the words were hardly heard; but the
Ashantis knew what was required of them.  They slipped a noose over his
hands and shoulders, and were drawing it tight when there was a rush of
feet in their direction.

"Dere!  Dey here.  Come long!  Fire!"

Dick could not believe his ears.  He was already being dragged away,
when Johnnie's voice broke upon his ear.  Then a number of dark figures
burst in upon his captors, and a fierce conflict began.

"Here I am.  This way!" he shouted, as he struggled with the enemy.
"Here!  Over here!"

The gallant fellows from the stockade raced after him, Johnnie being at
their head.  In his hands he held a rifle, and without doubt it was his
frantic wielding of this weapon which saved the situation.  With a crash
the stock fell upon the head of the native who had hold of our hero,
causing him to fall.  Another movement and the same fate overtook
another.  There was a scream of alarm, a few heavy blows struck by the
knives of the men, and Dick was free, unharmed, and in their midst,
boiling over with gladness and exultation.  They picked him up as if he
had been a child, and bore him in triumph to the stockade.

"Bang de door," said Johnnie, taking upon himself the command of the
station.  "Now, yo men, jest put de massa down--so.  Not throw him down,
silly!"

Utterly oblivious of the fact that the Ashanti gold-miners could not
understand, he gave his commands in a tone of comical haughtiness which
at another time would have caused Dick to roar with laughter.  This was,
indeed, a new side to Johnnie's character.  But our hero was to learn
more.

"Now man de walls, and shoot dem debils down," shouted Johnnie, taking
his rifle and running to an aperture.  "Dat so.  You quite understand.
Den me see to massa."

He was delighted to have him back, safe and sound, and stood there
wringing his hand till it seemed that he could never stop.  However,
Dick was a practical fellow, and it was a long time since he had been in
the stockade.

"Food and something to drink, Johnnie, like a good fellow," he cried.
"Run along and see what you've got, while I take a look outside.  Now,"
he said, when he had reached the walls and had discovered the position
of the chief of the miners, "what is your report?  Any sign of them?"

"They have gone back to their posts.  We knew that they were watching,
and we almost expected an attack.  We were looking for you too, chief.
You can leave us to guard the place till you are ready to come back to
the walls.  Go and eat, for you must be hungry."

Dick undoubtedly was, and fell to eagerly upon the good things which
were placed on the folding wooden table in the hut.  For Johnnie was
general caterer as well as stoker, and in addition, it seemed, commander
of the post at a pinch.  He placed a bottle of water near at hand, some
yams, and a cut of tinned beef, and on these our hero fell.

"Yo's make de most of dem water," said Johnnie, as he watched his master
drink, for it had been a hot day, and never a drop of fluid had Dick
been able to touch.  "Make de most of him, for dere little more.  De
jars nearly dry, and where we fill dem again?  So drink him to the velly
bottom."

"What!  No water in the place!  Run out already!"

No wonder that he was again dismayed, for Dick had such a young head
upon his shoulders that he could not be expected in a matter of a couple
of months or more to correct all the faults committed by his
predecessor.  True, the site of the stockade was excellent in nearly
every respect, for it commanded a wide, open space on every side, and
could not be fired into from the crest above.  It boasted a moderate
amount of shade, for there was a small group of trees within the
compound, and in addition, it enjoyed a delightful breeze, which kept it
cool, and drove the fever away.  It had its failings, however.  It could
not stand a siege, for the simple reason that it was perched well up
above the stream in which the gold was washed, and there was no well.  A
store of water was carried up every day, and that store had disappeared
with rapidity since the miners had taken post at the stockade.

"I ought to have thought of that before.  We should have had a tank or
something of the sort," cried Dick, with vexation, quite forgetful of
the fact that the nearest point at which such a thing could be obtained
was Elmina.

"Yo's dink him up and smack de lip," said Johnnie.  "No use make fuss
now dat dere no water left.  Hab to leave den, dat's all.  Get way into
de forest."

"And meet these two hundred Ashanti warriors.  No, thank you, Johnnie.
Come, tell me how all this has happened.  I was away in the forest, and
thought I heard the alarm sounded.  Then there were shots, and when I
came to the clearing and could see, there were bodies lying around, and
you were holding the enemy in check.  I heard then that two hundred more
are expected, and waited till a double ring was thrown round us.  Then I
came on.  And that reminds me.  It was a plucky rush you made, and just
saved me.  Thanks, very much."

"Noding, massa.  We wait and we expect yo come.  We guess you not seen
by de rascal enemy, and we know yo not rush here when it light.  De moon
coming up.  See um.  Den we guess you come jest after it get dark.  We
get ready, and den rush.  Simple as eatin'."

"And about the alarm?"

"Not so simple," was the candid answer.  "Johnnie seem to tink dere
trouble coming.  Eber since he meet de Ashanti war men he say, `dere
ruction ahead, dere goin' ter be smash up of de mine.'  Johnnie look out
from de hill when massa gone, every single day, and sit dere waitin' wid
de tom-tom.  Lucky, too, massa, for we not hab velly much time.  Me see
black chap come out of de tree, and den dat half-white man who fight us
before.  Johnnie beat de tom-tom till all de miners hear.  Den he run to
the stockade and pick up de rifle.  He see first one and den all de men
racing in, and after dem de enemy.  Dey rush right up to de gate.  But
Johnnie stop um."

The comical little fellow turned his eyes up to the moon and squinted at
Dick.  He threw his chest out, stood to his fullest height, and put on
an air of dignity.

"How?" asked Dick.

"Like dis.  De men run in de gate, and de last man bang um to and bolt
um.  Den we stand at the peephole and wait.  Two of de rascal come
runnin', and Johnnie take good aim.  Bang!  When me look 'gain both
lying on de face, dead's muttin'."

"And you took command of the stockade?"

"Y's guessed right, massa.  Me hold de reins.  Me shout de orders, and
de men brave and behabe demselbes.  We fire slow and careful, same as
massa tell us, and we still plenty cartridge left."

"And practically no water.  That is the most serious news, and makes it
impossible to remain for long where we are.  How long will the moon be
up, Johnnie?"

"Soon down," was the answer.  "In four hour, I tink."

"Then we will consult with the chief.  Fetch him along, Johnnie."

Dick strolled out into the compound, and having made sure that all was
quiet and that the men were alert, he took his seat close to the gate,
with Johnnie and the two chief miners beside him.  It was a strange
place and a stranger hour to have a meeting, and as remarkable, too, was
the fact that Dick could only just make himself understood and gather
the meaning of the natives, while Johnnie was useless at the task.
Still, Dick was able to act as interpreter, for he could speak a little
Fanti, and there is only slight difference between that and the Ashanti
dialect.  Tersely the young leader of the party told his news, how he
had overheard the half-caste, and how two hundred Ashanti warriors were
expected.

"They will eat us up," said the chief, with an involuntary shudder when
he heard what Dick had to say.  "They will pour like a river up to the
gates of the stockade, and we shall not stop them.  They will swarm
over, and we shall be slain."

"While if we are successful during the day they would certainly succeed
at night, chief.  Then there is the question of the water."

The chief shook his head dolefully.

"We are as good as dead," he said, "and glad I am that one can meet with
death only once.  As well sally out now and end the matter."

"And be shot down like birds," was Dick's answer.  "But I agree that the
situation is serious.  We should be better off were we out in the
forest, for there we could divide and scatter.  Again, we could make for
the launch and steam down the river."

"If it were possible," cried the chief, with a look of hope in his face.
"But how to get away?  These foxes close round us.  They know that we
are secure, for who could leave the stockade now?"

"I got in safely, thanks to your rush.  Why can we not get out again?
Can you think of nothing?  Come, man, we must make an effort."

But it was useless.  The chief of the miners could make no suggestion.
He and his men were ready to follow their leader to the death, and he
could rely upon their courage.  But they could offer no plan of escape.
They came of a race noted for its ferocity and courage, a race trained
to arms, but they were more inclined to the ways of peace.

"Then I will tell you what I think," said Dick, when many minutes had
passed, and the four had stared silently at one another as they sat in
the rays of the moon.  "We agree that death waits for us here, whether
by the knives of the enemy or by water famine.  Then we must go.  The
question becomes when and how?  I will tell you.  We must distract the
attention of these men, and this is how I propose that we shall do it.
First of all, however, are there any here who can creep like a snake
through the grass and so escape discovery?"

The chief threw his head up proudly.  "That is one of the first lessons
we learned as boys," he said.  "There is not a man here who cannot do
that."

"Then this is my plan.  As we sit here, the launch lies straight over
the crest of the hill where some of the enemy crouch.  I believe that so
far our boats are undiscovered, and that being so, the enemy will not
expect us to take that direction, seeing that it is the roughest and the
steepest.  It would be natural for us to strike to right or left of the
stockade, for the attack has been in the very centre."

There was a grunt of acquiescence as Dick paused to look at the chiefs.

"Our chief speaks wisely for one so young," said the leader.  "But we
know him now, and can expect good advice.  Say on."

"We decide, then, to flee by way of the crest.  Then we must make a
demonstration in the opposite direction.  We will choose that to our
right, being the farthest from the crest.  We will send out four of our
best and most active men just after the moon disappears, with orders to
get as close as possible to the enemy and then fire on them.  These men
will retire within five minutes, when they will be joined by more who
also will fire.  We will move swiftly from right to left and back again,
and the men can be so disposed that there will be no danger of hurting
one another.  That should alarm the enemy, and, in any case, it will
attract the attention of those in that quarter."

"They will take alarm and think that we are attempting to break through.
They will call in all the men," said the chief, with assurance.  "I
begin to follow your meaning."

"While the firing is going on two of our number who are accounted
brave"--Dick noticed that the chief again tossed his head into the
air--"will creep to the top of the hill and over it.  They will be given
a quarter of an hour to see that it is clear.  They will not be
satisfied till they have killed the sentries or shown that they are
absent.  Then one will return with the news."

"And the whole party will follow him," burst in the chief, eagerly.

"Hardly that," said Dick.  "They are still out in the open, and they
must retire.  Even then the ruse might be discovered if the firing were
not continued.  The enemy would suspect a ruse and would send out to
intercept us."

"Then what is your plan, chief?" asked the native, his curiosity aroused
to the fullest.  "The men retire and keep up the firing, you have a man
on the crest and the report that all is clear.  Surely there will be no
need for delay.  Haste, rather, is what is called for."

"Quite so," agreed Dick, quietly.  "The men retire, and as they pass
into the stockade they each take up a bundle of gold dust, for it would
never do to leave our profits to these robbers.  Then, led by the man
who has descended the ridge, the miners will creep over the crest and
descend the hill.  They will make for the track in the forest, and will
gain the boats as soon as possible.  Arrived there, they will get the
fire going aboard the launch, hook on one of the boats, or two if they
are necessary, and wait for their comrades.  I said that one of the
latter would be the scout who lay on the crest."

"That man will be myself," said the chief, calmly.  "A leader should
always take the post of danger and protect his men.  We are not
warriors, but we know how to act."

"You have proved it already.  You will be one of those two.  I shall be
the other.  No.  Do not let us argue.  Your own words prove that I have
taken the proper course.  As leader, I remain till all are gone, and I
shall keep up a fire with my rifle till all are clear.  Then I will take
steps to prevent these robbers from carrying off even a stick of
firewood, and will rejoin you on the hill.  Afterwards we will fight our
way to the boats."

He could see their eyes gleaming there in the moonlight as only the eyes
of a dark-skinned man can gleam.  The plan pleased them, that was clear,
for when Dick had explained it to them to the best of his ability, all
in turn gave expression to their approval with grunts, the meaning of
which was undoubted.  All seemed to think that they were in a very
dangerous position, and that if this plan would not help them then
nothing would.

"Better to die sword in hand than at the stroke of a vile executioner,"
said the chief.  "We could sally out and surrender.  But would that help
us?  We should be well received and well fed.  The march to Kumasi would
be by easy stages, and then the trouble would commence.  Better to die
as brave men, than to be slain as cravens, with our arms bound to our
backs."

There was undoubted truth in the statement, and the knowledge of it
heartened them all.  They would behave as brave men, and would meet this
danger with daring.  If they prospered, well and good; if not, then they
would not live long to mourn the misfortune.

"And at any rate, I shall have made sure that that robber, James
Langdon, does not reap any advantage," said Dick.  "The men will take
every ounce of gold, and if hard pressed will open the sacks and scatter
the dust.  As for the place itself, the half-caste shall not find a home
ready built for him should he elect to take up the work of gold-mining.
He shall find the land as it was, clear of all houses."

There was a look of determination on his face.  He rose, gripped each of
the chiefs by the hand, and went forward to speak to the men, for time
was pressing.  In an hour the moon would wane, and in two it would be
time to set out.  Better make the attempt at the earliest moment, and so
have ample time for escape.



CHAPTER NINE.

DECEIVING THE ENEMY.

"You have been the round of the men and have told them our plan?" asked
Dick, some minutes later, as the chiefs came to his side again.  "Is
there one who does not understand?"

"Not one, white chief.  Two are to go to the crest behind when you shall
say that the time for that movement has come.  Those two will be myself
and my brother here.  If there are men up there they shall die.  Those
who pass to the front of the stockade know their orders well.  Each will
attempt to find an enemy, and will fire.  He will fire into the forest
if he can see none, and will retire slowly, firing occasionally all the
while.  His duty also is to run from side to side, so that it may
trouble the enemy to know where we are coming.  But gradually the miners
are to collect closer to the right, and we hope the enemy will gather
there, too.  If all is well with us by then, you will know, for one will
return.  Then you will pass on to the men in front.  They will retire,
and we shall make for the forest--that is, all but myself."

Dick expressed his satisfaction, and was about to turn away when Johnnie
came forward to speak to him.

"What Johnnie do?" he asked.

"You will lead the men to the road through the forest," said Dick.
"Once you reach the launch, get your fire going and steam up.  Then lay
off, with a boat attached, if you think the launch will not carry all of
us.  See that the gold is packed on board, and, above all, destroy the
other boats.  Beat them to pieces and sink them in the stream, where
they will not block your path.  Wait and be ready for those who follow.
The chief and myself may have to run for it."

"And why me not stay to help massa?" demanded the little black fellow,
earnestly.  "We know de path in de forest.  Me quick, and can help.  Why
me not stay?"

"Because in this matter of our escape every man must carry out the task
for which he is best fitted.  We rely on you, Johnnie, to get steam up.
If you fail, what will happen to us all?"

"Um!  Me see well 'nough now," was the answer.  "Me go right 'nough.
But me rather stay, massa.  Me always want to help."

Dick patted him on the back, for he had long ago seen that Johnnie was a
faithful fellow, and had taken his master into his special favour.  He
did not trouble to seek the cause, but knew that it was a fact--the
little man had been proving his devotion to him in a hundred ways since
they two had been left alone at the goldmine.  But had Johnnie been
asked, he would have quickly supplied a reason.

"Me lob Massa Dick," he would often murmur to himself.  "He not like
some of dese white men who comes to de coast.  Dey velly young often--
jest like him--and dey tink dat dey oh so much finer dan de poor black
man.  So dey am; but no need kick and swear at um.  Massa not like dat.
He say, `please, Johnnie,' nice and friendly, when he want him food.
And he never forget `tank you, Johnnie.'  Dat what me like.  Me work for
man like dat.  And massa velly fine young fellow.  He brave.  He make
friend eberywhere--same's Massa Pepson and de fat Dutchman.  Dey his
broders, who lob him same's Johnnie."

It was a clear explanation, and no doubt was perfectly truthful.
Indeed, there is little doubt that a little more thought on the part of
the white man would often result in better relations between himself and
the man of darker complexion.  Youth and inexperience are no excuse for
harsh dealing and bitter words, for sneers and open scoffing.  The black
man needs special treatment.  He can be ruled easily and well.  He can
be made a faithful and contented servant, and there are none more fitted
to be his masters than are Englishmen.  But whatever the black may be,
he is a fellow human being, and deserves common kindness and courtesy,
till he has proved himself unworthy of either; and a little care in such
matters--more care than is always given--would perhaps lead to better
relations in our Indian dominions.

"Me go wid de first lot, den," said Johnnie.  "Time massa reach de
launch she hab steam fit to bust."

"Then off you go to the hut, and bring me along that drum of kerosene
oil we use for the miners' lamps.  Wait, though.  I'll go with you."

He trudged off to the hut, and there for a quarter of an hour he and the
little black stoker were hard at work, feeling sure that the miners
would meanwhile hold all secure.  Indeed, there was little to fear, for
the moon was still up, though it was now close to the summit of the
tree-tops, and would soon fall below the forest and be hidden.  Still,
while it was light, movement on their part, or on that of the enemy,
would be madness.

"Now, Johnnie, smartly does it, as the sailors say," cried Dick, as they
entered the hut.  "We will have that small lantern alight, and then we
will commence operations.  I am going to lay a little supper for Master
James Langdon, expert thief and murderer.  I will leave him a little
legacy which will hardly please him.  Got the lantern?  Then bring all
the picks and spare mining tools.  Bring everything, in fact, likely to
be of use in the mines, and now held in our stores.  Pile them in the
centre of the floor here close to the drum."

The native looked up in astonishment, but flew at once to carry out the
order.  It took very little time, indeed, for the stores held in the hut
were not very large or diverse.  There were just sufficient spare parts
to replace a few breakages--enough, in fact, to keep the mine going in
its then primitive condition, and till it had shown whether it was
valuable or not.  The various articles were dumped down in the centre of
the hut, while Dick busied himself with throwing there all the odds and
ends of clothing hanging to the walls, scraps of paper, and inflammable
articles.

"Now for the gold," he said.  "We have it in bags already, and have
merely to divide it.  Let me see.  There are twelve miners, and they,
with our two selves, make fourteen.  Subtract two, for the chief and
myself, who remain behind, and that leaves twelve.  Twelve bags,
Johnnie, do you hear?"

The native grinned.  He began to see a joke in all this hurry and
bustle.  He darted towards the store of gold, which was kept in small
canvas bags, and helped Dick to divide it up.  There was not a large
quantity, though the mine had done remarkably well.  Still, so rich is
the ore in Ashanti that, thanks to the work of the miners and Dick's
care, the store was of great value.

"Me laugh, ha! ha! ha!  You see de face ob dat half-white scum," cried
Johnnie.  "He lob de gold.  He say now to himself, `me soon wring de
neck ob all dem fellers, and special of de white man whom me hate like
pisin.  Yes, me turn dem out, and den me set oder boys to work.  Yes,
fine game me play.  Get shaft dug, ground open, all de labour done.  Den
walk in, find house, plenty gold, stockade, gun, eberyting.'  Golly! he
make bit mistake dis time.  He find nest clear, p'raps.  All de eggs
cooked, de old birds flown 'way, and all velly hot.  No gold, no food,
noding.  Him cuss and swear.  Him rabe.  Him say, `hang dat Dick
Stapleton.  Me kill um by little inches when me hab de feller.'  How
Johnnie like to stay and see him go crazy."

"Thank you, I'd rather be far away," said Dick, with a laugh.  "Mister
James Langdon is a gentleman who would kill me with less compunction
than he would tread on a beetle.  No, thanks.  No staying for me."

"No Johnnie, neider, tank you all same, massa.  Me get to de steamer,
and yo see.  When yo come, she fairly jumpin', so ready to go.  Yes, me
break up de oder boats and hab all ready.  Make no trouble.  Johnnie
know what to do."

"Then let's place these bags in a row just inside the door of the
stockade," said Dick.  "We'll put the lamp there, too, so that the light
cannot be seen outside, but so that the men can distinguish the bags.
Then, as they retire, they will pick one up and go up the hill.  That's
all clear.  Come along."

Ten minutes later they had laid the wealth of the gold-mine at the door
of the stockade, and each man had been brought to the position and been
given full instructions.

"You can trust the matter to them entirely, white chief," said the
leader of the miners.  "You must have seen that they are honest, and
besides, all have an interest, and if one happened to be a robber, the
others would soon arrest him."

"Then I will complete my arrangements.  I see that the moon is almost
down.  Has there been any movement amongst the enemy?"

"They have crept a little closer," was the answer.  "We did not fire, as
it did not seem necessary.  They have drawn in their circle out here in
front, and I believe that they have brought one or two men from the
crest."

It was comforting news, for if the enemy's position were known, the task
of the defenders would be easier.

"They know that our case is desperate," thought Dick, "and they have
come in closer to keep us in.  They will not make a rush themselves
after what I heard them say.  Then at the very first our men should be
able to locate them and drive them back.  Good!  Now for the last
preparation."

He went off to a corner of the stockade, and came staggering back with a
small barrel over his shoulder, while Johnnie followed with a square
case.

"Place it there carefully," said Dick, as they arrived close to the
gate.  "Now break it open, and unpack the contents."

The materials in the box were rapidly exposed to view, and one by one
they handled rockets of enormous size, detonators, and fuses, for an
assortment of explosives had been brought to the mines.  Dick took the
end of a pick and pried the lid off the cask.  Then he tore off his hat.

"Hold," he said to Johnnie.  "That's right, and keep well away from the
lamp.  It's gunpowder, and would send us up to the sky.  That's the way,
Johnnie; now put the barrel down and hold the hat."

He had filled his hat with the shining black grains, and now he arranged
the barrel a few feet within the stockade, covered it with an old cloth
which he had saturated with kerosene, and then placed the rockets and
other explosives on top.  Meanwhile the lamp was kept at a respectful
distance.  By now the moon had fallen below the tree-tops, and already
the light had faded to such an extent that it was difficult to see more
than a few feet.  It was time to begin moving, and again a call brought
all the garrison to the gate.

"This is the bomb which I hope will help us," said Dick, a grim smile on
his lips.  "Look at it there, gunpowder and bombs.  Very well, then; I
have showed it so that you will not stumble on to it.  Let each one now
lie down at the gate.  When I give you the order you will all file out,
and on your return you will find the gold bags where they are now, and
the lantern beside them.  Each will take a bag and retire to the back of
the stockade.  There one of your chiefs will be waiting for you, and he
will give you the direction.  You will make for the forest and the
boats.  A last warning.  Do not get too close to the enemy.  You know
their position, and can creep sufficiently near to make your shots tell.
Shout to one another, and make it appear as though a rush were about to
be made.  In a quarter of an hour you can begin to retire.  Come back,
firing slowly.  When you meet me I will send the word to each.  Then
slink off at once.  Now, Johnnie, the drum of kerosene."

He took the cap full of gunpowder, and began to lay a train, spilling
the black grains in a thick line across the grass towards the hut.  He
ran it in through the door, faking care to keep the train well to one
side where his feet would not touch it.  Then he emptied what remained
in a pile in the very centre.  And meanwhile Johnnie carried the lamp,
giving just sufficient light to show the way, and holding it as far from
his barrel of kerosene as possible.  And now there remained but two
things to do.  There were a few drops of water left in the bottle, drops
to which the black had drawn Dick's attention without avail.  He took
them now and threw them on his little heap of powder, stirring the mass
with his fingers, and kneading it till he had the substance soft and
sticky.  Then he arranged it in the shape of a pyramid, and, having made
his "devil," carried it into the far corner of the room.  He still had a
few grains of powder left, and these he ran as a train from the devil to
the clothing and odd stores which lumbered the floor.

"Finished," he said at length, surveying his work with much pleasure.
"Now the oil."

Taking the drum, he pulled the cork out of the bung-hole and let the
contents pour over the heap in the centre of the hut.  He threw some
over the walls, saturating every corner save the one in which the devil
was placed.  Then, carefully avoiding the train, he emerged from the
hut, crossed to the gate and repeated the same process, spreading the
inflammable fluid all round the rockets and detonators there, and taking
it to the walls of the stockade, where he again threw the contents on
the woodwork.  That done, he put the drum down, and placed the lamp
close to the bags of gold.

"Mind," he said, lifting a warning finger, as he stood in the light,
"you each take a bag and go.  You leave the lamp burning, remember that.
I shall want it to fire the train."

It was time to move.  By now the moon had sunk completely, and dense
darkness reigned over the surrounding forest and the neighbourhood of
the stockade.  Our hero looked closely at his men.  There was an air of
suppressed excitement about them, but he could see no trace of fear.
Indeed, these miners had already proved that they possessed courage, and
though they were not like their countrymen, for ever practised in the
arts of war, yet they had fair knowledge, as their behaviour had already
shown.  Each carried a rifle in his hand, while a bag of cartridges
dangled across his shoulder.  In addition, the short sword which every
Ashanti man wears, hung from the waist, ready for hand-to-hand fighting.
They sat on the ground in a circle, talking in whispers and waiting for
the signal.

"Time to move," said Dick, easily.  "Open the gates, chief."

Silently and stealthily, as if they were so many ghosts, the party
issued from the stockade, and soon our hero, the two chiefs, and
Johnnie, were alone.

"Five minutes after the first shot is fired you will move," said their
young leader.  "It will take three more to reach the crest, and then--"

"It shall be cleared," whispered the chief, with determination in his
voice.  "My comrade and I have sworn that we will slay all who lie
there.  Trust to us to do the deed without a sound, and to return in
time.  We will make sure that none are left to spy upon us."

Five minutes passed slowly, and still there was no sound.  Though the
four peered from the stockade, intent upon piercing the darkness, and
observing the movements of their comrades, there was nothing to be seen.
The ground outside might as well have been untenanted.  It was trying
work waiting there for the sound of a shot.  The seconds were like
minutes, so slowly did they seem to go.  Dick could hear his own heart
thudding, could hear the deep breathing of the chiefs, while ever and
anon the weak rays of the lamp showed him the white of Johnnie's eyes,
as he turned them towards the sky.  Ah!  It was a shout which broke the
trying silence.

A shout of alarm, coming from the lips of one of the enemy.  And quickly
following upon it came the sharp report of a rifle and a human scream,
the cry of some unhappy native who had been hit.  After that there was a
medley of calls and loud reports.  Shouts and cries of rage and
excitement came from the enemy, rifles flashed and roared, while the
muzzle-loaders of the Ashanti attackers bellowed as they sent their load
of slugs towards the stockade.  The air above the enclosure sang with
missiles of every description.  Angular pieces of lead and iron, bullets
of excellent formation, ironstone pebbles and pieces of broken rock,
hissed over the hut and stockade in answer to the fire of the defenders.

"Excellent!" said Dick, as he stared from the gateway.  "They are doing
well.  If I were not aware of the movement being carried out, I should
say that the garrison was making a sortie, or an attempt to break out,
and that they were trying to find the weakest spot in the ring thrown
round them.  Listen to the calls of the enemy, and hark! there goes a
whistle."

Above all the sound came the shrill signal, perhaps blown by James
Langdon himself.

"It may be a recall to the men on the crest," he whispered.  "Chief, it
is time for you and your comrade to move."

"We go.  In a few minutes you shall hear from us, white chief."

Dick turned to see the two brave Ashantis passing out of the stockade.
In a moment they were gone, and, like their comrades, they made not a
sound.  He and Johnnie were left alone to listen to the firing and the
shouts outside, and to strain their ears for some noise, a shout
perhaps, the firing of a rifle, to tell them that the chiefs had been
discovered.  But no signal came from the direction of the crest, they
had no intimation of the fate which had befallen the plucky two, till of
a sudden a figure rose at their feet, causing both to start back.

"I am sent by my leader," said a voice.  "The crest is clear.  There
were two of the enemy there.  They are dead."

Dick could hardly believe his ears, and the news took a load from his
mind.  If all was clear on the crest, then it was time to set the others
moving.  He swung round and addressed Johnnie.

"You stay here till the bags are gone, then follow," he said.  "I am
going to join our comrades in front."

When the black stoker looked again his master was gone, and with a sigh
and a shiver of apprehension he sat down beside the lamp, and waited
there in silence, for he and the Ashanti chief could not understand one
another.  As for our hero, he crept forward till the shots on either
hand told him that he was amongst the men.  Then he sought one of them
and whispered in his ear, with the result that the miner passed to left
and right, giving his comrades the message, with orders to pass it on.
It was wonderful with what intelligence these Ashantis carried out their
part of the work.  They began to fall back slowly, firing at the flashes
of the enemy's rifles, till they were within fifty yards of the
stockade.

"Now begin to hold your fire," said Dick, and in a minute the shots
lessened.  Another five minutes and the men were slinking back to the
stockade, while our hero raced to and fro, firing his rifle repeatedly,
so as to make the enemy think that the whole garrison was there.  He
fired, in fact, till his weapon was almost too hot to hold, and actually
blistered his fingers.  And then, when he judged that all must be clear
of the stockade, and at the crest by now, he threw down his rifle and
ran.  Dashing into the stockade, he hardly paused as he snatched up the
lamp, and went on pellmell for the hut.  Leaping the train of powder, he
ran to the far corner of the building, and knelt beside the "devil."  A
jerk threw the lantern open, and in a second he had the candle in his
hand.  There was no time for hesitation, and at once he held the flame
to the devil till it smoked and a few grains fizzled.  But it did not
fire at once.  A little more heat was required, for he had over-damped
the powder, and in his overstrung condition the extra time entailed in
providing that heat was maddening.  At any time the enemy might suspect.
They might even then be within the stockade.  He would then--Ah!  It
had fired.  The devil was well alight, throwing out its pungent fumes,
till they gripped Dick's throat.  He could move.  The act was
accomplished.  The place was as good as fired.

He rose to his feet, stamped on the candle, and stole to the door.  He
would have been out in the open in another second had not something
suddenly caused him to throw himself full length on the floor, where he
lay in deep shadow, while just in front of him a few feeble rays from
the spluttering devil passed through the door and showed him two
figures.  One was the half-caste, while beside him, bending low as they
crept across the compound, was a native, the glint from his enormous
blade coming to Dick's eyes.

"A ruse!  We have lost the birds," he heard the half-caste growl
huskily, as if his anger were choking him.  "But they are close.  I know
they are near us.  Hah!  Look there, chief.  Afire.  Look! a fire!"

They were quite close by now, and Dick saw them both start back.  Then,
as they caught sight of the spluttering devil and took in the situation,
he saw them turn to run.

"A mine!  A mine!" shouted the half-caste.

Leaping to his feet, he ran towards the gate of the stockade, the native
abreast of him, and close on their heels came Dick, aglow with
excitement.  He was bent on escape.  He felt the doors of retreat
closing on him, and he was determined to get away.  Suddenly James
Langdon turned and gripped the native.  Then he swung round, as if a
thought had occurred to him, and he had realised that there was time yet
to save an explosion.  Indeed, that was his thought, and he at once ran
back to the stockade.  An instant later he saw Dick's figure bounding
towards him in the darkness.  He gave vent to a shout, and then crashed
up against a boulder which happened to lie there, for our hero's fist
had struck him full on the chest.  The blow almost staggered Dick, too,
but he recovered his balance in a moment, and, swinging round, dealt the
native a fierce stroke on the chin, sending him reeling.  After that he
was off like lightning.  He was out of the gate ere a second had passed,
and, darting round the stockade, was soon clambering up to the crest.
Nor did he halt till he had reached the summit.

"Rest a moment," said the voice of the chief.  "I heard the commotion,
and I am glad to report that the men who followed you into the place
fled down the hill.  See the smoke coming from the hut.  And there are
the flames.  We will move when you are ready."

Some five minutes later the two set off for the forest, the native
leading, for he knew the way well, and had this enormous advantage over
his young English leader, that he could see on such a night so well that
they never once found themselves in a part where the difficulties of the
track baulked their further progress.  Since the day on which the
expedition had first arrived, Dick had often taken the short cut to the
forest which the agent had then used, and he knew how steep and
difficult it was in parts, and how much care it called for, even when
the easiest descents were selected.  Had he had to find his way down
alone on this night, he would probably have broken a limb, or lost his
foothold and rolled, certainly to be dashed senseless before he reached
the bottom.  Then, too, it was not a time for hurry, such a dark night
as this.  But they had no choice.  They could already see the glare of
the flaming stockade in the sky.  They could hear the shouts of their
enemies, and they knew, the native far better than did Dick, that
already his countrymen would be on the track.

"Once in the forest we shall be safe, I think," he said, speaking as
easily as if he had made no unusual efforts, though our hero was so
short of breath that he gasped.

"Then we will put out all our strength to reach that place."

By now they were near the foot of the rocky hill, and presently they
were running steadily across the level.  At length they reached the edge
of the forest, where they halted, Dick to throw himself on the ground
and gasp there for breath.

"A fine bonfire for our enemies," laughed the chief, exulting now that
he had left the worst of the danger behind.  "How is it that there is no
explosion?"

No explosion!  The bomb had failed!  Dick looked up suddenly, his
fatigue forgotten in an instant.

"Perhaps we walked through the train and scattered the powder," he said
breathlessly.  "Yes, I fancy that must be the secret.  But it may go
yet.  The oil should carry the flames."

A little later, when both were rested, there was a violent concussion in
the distance, the report shaking the trees.  An instant before, a mass
of burning materials shot high up above the crest, while a series of
loud explosions took place, as the rockets and detonators burst in
mid-air.  It brought a roar of exultation from the two standing beside
the edge of the forest, a roar which changed as quickly into one of
consternation.  For however successful the bomb had proved, however well
it had destroyed the stockade, and perhaps some few of the enemy, the
flames it sent into the air lit up the surroundings and showed them that
if James Langdon and his men had once been taken in they were not to be
so easily caught again; and, moreover, that on this occasion they were
bent on retrieving their misfortunes.  For racing down the crest and
across the open ground came some forty Ashanti warriors, their guns
flung this way and that, and bare swords in their hands.  They had
discovered the direction of the flying garrison, and they were in full
chase, coming like a pack of hounds who hold the scent and see victory
before them.

"Lead!" said Dick, shortly, as they swung into the forest.  "I have my
wind now, and can keep up at any pace."

It was well for him that he could do so, for the track was not an easy
one.  Still there is no stimulus so strong as that which promises a
swift and terrible fate to the one who lags behind.  Dick knew what to
expect if he were captured, and he went on without flagging.  Briars and
vines slashed him across both face and hands, lacerating the skin.
Thorns plucked him by his clothing and tore it to shreds.  He struck his
knees against fallen tree-trunks, and his feet against rotting boughs.
He plunged through narrow swamps and rivers, and dragged his legs
through mire which threatened to hold him.  And all the time the shouts
of the hunters came in his wake.  Talk of the music of the hounds!  Dick
learned during that wild dash through the heart of this dense forest to
appreciate the bitterness of that statement from the point of view of
the quarry fleeing for his very life.  He knew now how the call of the
pursuers made the blood run cold, how the yelp of Ashanti warriors made
the hair rise, and the limbs stand almost still with sheer fright.  Yes,
he was the hare this time, and had there been a man at his heels,
flogging him with a whip of knotted steel wire, or goading him with
spikes, he could not have run harder.  The perspiration poured from him.
Blood dripped from many a cut and laceration, while his breath came in
short gasps.

"Hurrah!  Him massa.  Wait now, you young debil.  Yo wait till I say go.
Hold de fire till I tell yo.  Hear?  Can't yo hear dem fellers comin'?"

Once again did Dick learn to bless the sound of that voice.  He dashed
along beside the creek, saw the launch lying some feet away, and flung
himself into the water.  The chief followed suit without hesitation, and
in a minute they were pushing out into the stream, the two fugitives
lying flat upon the deck, breathless and exhausted with their exertions.

And close on their heels came the enemy, maddened with rage, bent on
securing the whole party.  As the launch slipped into the stream and
rounded the corner, first one and then some thirty of the warriors came
tearing along the path, their dark figures hardly distinguishable in
spite of the fact that the sky was getting lighter.  But they could see
clearly.  They caught sight of the launch, and with yells of fury made
ready to follow and effect her capture.



CHAPTER TEN.

A NATIVE FLEET.

"Yo's no need for to worry, massa," sang out Johnnie, severely, as Dick
raised his head from his hands and looked along the deck anxiously.  For
the fact that it was empty, save for the chief and himself and three
others, caused him sudden anxiety.  "Yo's get de wind again, and Johnnie
see um all right.  Wait dar!  Back um!  Yo black boy ober dar, swing um
round so!"

He was in the well where the engine lay, and as he gave the orders Dick
saw by the light of the furnace that he had shut off steam.  Then he
waved to the man at the helm, and the launch gently fell across the
stream.  And there she lay, shrouded in darkness, and hidden from the
sight of the pursuers by the bank round the angle of which they were
congregated.  But whether they could see her or not, the enemy answered
James Langdon's shout with a volley from their muzzle-loaders.

"That's um.  Fire away, you debils.  See some fun soon.  See what
Johnnie and his broders do.  Listen to um cussin'."

He roared with delight, for, as the reports of the scattered volley
subsided the voice of James Langdon again came to the ear.

"Wade in!" he called out in the Ashanti tongue.  "It is only a stream,
my brothers, and in that way we shall have them.  They must not escape.
They have all the gold with them."

"Yo watch!" said Johnnie, suddenly, as a series of loud splashes told
that the enemy were attempting to carry out the movement.  "You see fun
now, massa.  Hi, yo black boys!  Fire de rifle."

It was laughable, ridiculous, but very wonderful after all, to see
Johnnie there, giving commands in his quaint English, commands which
could not be understood by a single one of the miners.  And yet this
little stoker had a head on his shoulders, and had shown that he was
deserving of much trust.  For if he did not know the Ashanti tongue, by
means of many jerkings of his arms and a huge amount of energy he could
explain his plans, and get the men to fall in with them.  And now Dick
could see that he had made good use of the short time given him at the
launch.

He had had a clear half-hour, or a little more, perhaps, and in that
small space of time he had lit the fire, had stacked the bags of gold,
for they could be seen in the cabin, lying snugly under the light of the
furnace, and had made his arrangements for defence.  He had posted his
men a little distance away, under the trees, just where they could cover
the enemy with their rifles.  They were lying in the boat selected for
their transport, and in the bows one of their number cowered over the
small brass cannon.  He had seen a gun before, that was evident, and his
eyes gleamed with excitement.  He put an arm out, clutched a bough, and
moved the position of the boat ever so little.  Then came Johnnie's
excited shout, a spout of flame burst from nine or ten rifles, and then
there was a short pause, followed by a flash, by the splutter of powder
at the vent, and then by an appalling crash as the gun went off.

"Put um helm ober, boy!  Now give um little steam.  Gently!  Backum!"

Above the screams of the enemy, the hoarse bellows of those who had
escaped the rifle bullets and the buckshot with which the gun had been
loaded, for bags of these had been brought as likely to be the proper
form of missile, the voice of Johnnie could be heard.

"Back um!  Now, yo black debil in bow, hook um on.  Throw de painter!
Make up fast as wax.  Now gib um steam.  Go 'head.  Gib um all she
know!"

It might have been rehearsed.  It was marvellous to think that all this
had been arranged by a little fellow from Sierra Leone, employed as the
stoker and driver of a steam launch.  Dick was dumbfounded.  But by now
he was past expressing his feelings, and besides, he was so exhausted
that he could hardly speak.  He saw, however, that the chief command was
in excellent hands for the moment, and, like a sensible fellow, he left
Johnnie to conduct the flight till he had his strength again.  And so he
lay flat on the deck, listening to the shouts of the pursuers, getting
now farther and farther away, to the husky voice of James Langdon, as he
raced through the trees, and to the mutterings of the native at the
engine of the launch.  Then he smiled, a grim smile of amusement and of
exultation, for he had conquered.  He had won the fight, an unequal one,
to say the least of it, and here he was, thanks to the splendid fellows
who supported him, steaming away from the mine without the loss of a
single worker, with little to mourn for, and with sufficient gold aboard
to pay all wages, and leave a very handsome margin with which to
reimburse his employers for the burning of their few spare stores and
their stockade.  In addition, there would be enough to give a fine
profit, and such encouragement that when things had quieted down and
James Langdon's account had been settled, the mine would be worked
again, and he, Dick Stapleton, would have certain employment.

"De beggar follow.  Dey runnin' down in de trees.  Berry well!  We stop
dat.  Yo boys, back dere.  Get um guns ready."

"Tell your men to load and fire into the trees when my comrade gives the
command," said Dick, in the Fanti tongue, which all the Ashantis
understand.  "Now, Johnnie, tell me what you want, and I'll pass on the
order.  You will command till we reach the river."

"Tank you, massa," was the answer, as the little fellow swung round for
a moment, showing a smiling mouth and two rows of gleaming teeth.  "You
watch, and see me gib dem pepper.  Me gib dem fellows beans."

He cut the steam off just a little till the launch slowed down, and till
the Ashantis on the bank began to overhaul her.  Meanwhile all aboard
the launch maintained silence.  Then again the native stoker shouted a
command, and a hot musketry fire was poured into the forest.  At the
same instant the launch started forward as if she had been hit, and with
the boat in tow went racing down the tributary.  Nothing could stop her
now.  Bullets and slugs whizzed overhead, and a few struck the deck and
the sides of the towing boat.  But they could not arrest the flight,
while the pursuers might shout and bawl as they liked.  The launch sped
on her way, causing the water to flood the muddy banks on either side,
and disturbing more than one of the loathsome monsters reclining there.
They came to a bend suddenly.  She swung round it, dashed for an open
reach, and shot out into the stream.

"Well done!" cried Dick, rising to his feet, and taking his post as
leader again.  "Very well done, Johnnie.  You are a born commander.
Now, put out into midstream and send her ahead.  How's steam, my lad?"

"'Nough to bust um, massa.  Plenty steam and heap coal."

"Then keep her going while I talk to the chief."

He went right aft, to where the leader of the miners sat beside his
comrade, staring to either hand and discussing the flight with his
friend.  Within six feet of them, at the end of the towing rope, lay the
boat, with ten men aboard her, all with rifles in their hands, eagerly
scanning the bank from which the last shots had come.  Overhead the sky
was already distinctly lighter.  The forest on either hand had receded
all of a sudden, while there were evident signs of coming day.

Every face aboard the two boats bore the same expression of contentment,
of pride, at the success of their efforts.  There was even a sterner
look, as if many of the men would have delighted in another brush with
the enemy.

"Never fear," said Dick to the chief, "there will be more blows to be
struck yet.  We have miles of river to traverse, and if the Ashantis are
on the war-path, it is more than likely that we shall have to run the
gauntlet of a few of them.  What do you think, chief?"

"We shall meet them on the Prahsu," was the answer.  "There will be more
trouble both for us and for the English chief.  As for these others who
have just attacked us, they are beaten.  They may cover their heads and
seek women for attack after this.  Men will laugh at them.  The two
hundred who are to follow will surely cut them to pieces if these remain
to tell the tale."

"Then we can take it easily now.  We can reserve our coal, and prepare
for this other meeting, chief.  Why should we not run down the stream at
night, or at least down that part known as the Prahsu?"

"The scheme is a good one," was the answer, "and for the white chief and
his servant it will be as well to act as you say.  For us there must be
a different arrangement.  Has our brother thought of the fate which will
come to men of Ashanti should they land on the far bank some miles down
this river?  There the cowardly Fantis live, and with them we are
forever at war.  They would kill us most certainly."

Dick had not thought of that before, and the news came as a shock to
him.  If that were the case, and these miners from Ashanti would be in
danger lower down the river, where would they be safe?  In Elmina?

"Then we shall have to part, I fear," he said, after some minutes'
thought.  "The Fantis swarm lower down the stream, and though some might
be friendly, others would soon make an attack upon you.  Where can you
go?"

"There are villages in our own country where we shall be secure, white
chief.  Already the fighting men will have left, so that our coming will
not be noticed, and there will be none strong enough to harm us.  Then,
as the warriors return, we can leave.  When all is quiet we will go to
the mine and commence work again, for you will return?"

"I should say that we shall do that without a doubt," answered Dick.
"The gold obtained has been abundant, and my employers will come again
when the country has grown quiet.  Perhaps this trouble will die down
rapidly, and we shall be back in a month or two."

"You may, and yet I doubt it, Englishman.  This war has been the thought
of my countrymen for many years.  They long to reach the coast, to have
their own town there, where they may obtain supplies and guns.  Yes, we
know that, for we have listened to their talk.  And besides, our
brothers are born to fight.  In times of peace they have little to do,
and so it happens that we are forever quarrelling with those who live
near at hand.  A few, like ourselves, are trained to mine, and the king
keeps us free from interference.  We are necessary, for with gold the
king buys guns and powder, and in our country it is a law that every
nugget found goes to him as tribute.  The dust belongs to the diggers,
while those who dare to conceal the nuggets, even if they be only as
small as the smallest bean, are taken to Kumasi and sacrificed.  Thus,
as I said, we can return to the villages, and we shall be safe so long
as we can keep away from the war parties.  For they will know that we
come from the mine, and doubtless the king, having declared that he will
fight the Fantis and the English, has given orders for all who worked
there to be slain or taken captive."

"And how do you propose to avoid these war parties?" asked Dick,
anxiously.

"In this way.  We will steam on till we are clear of these cravens who
attacked us, and as the moon grows near we will tie up under the bank.
Then, if our white chief agrees, we will serve out the dust, each man
taking what is due to him.  Then we will dive into the forest, and will
make for Kumasi.  Trust us to keep away from the fighters."

"While I shall have to run down-stream alone and escape them if I can."

"We would gladly come with you," said the native, "but it would mean
death to us.  If the white chief desires it we will come."

"No.  I will go alone.  You have done splendidly," said Dick.  "You have
proved true and more than brave.  I shall report that to our employers.
We will steam on for a little while, and then we will serve out the
wages.  Later we shall hope to meet again at the mine."

Little did Dick guess that this river would be dyed in many places with
the blood of men ere the country was quiet again, and that the forests
and woods would echo to the cheers of British soldiers ere King Koffee,
the arrogant and bloodthirsty potentate of Kumasi, would consent to
withdraw his fighters.  He did not know that even then telegrams were
speeding home to England, that the situation at Elmina and at Cape Coast
Castle was serious in the extreme, and that nothing but war and rumours
of war were in the air.  Little did he dream that he was still within
the nest of a hornet, almost the only man of his colour still alive so
many miles from the coast.  How was he to learn that thousands of
warriors were on the march, and that the forest paths were teeming with
men of Ashanti?  It was enough for him to remember the danger from which
he had escaped.  The memory of it, and of the successful defence and
escape, filled him with glee, and he looked forward to the brush which
he might have on his way down the Pra with a light heart which defied
all thoughts of failure.

Two hours later the launch ran in to the bank, and was moored under the
trees.  Then the books showing the amounts due to the miners were
produced, for Dick had had the care of these, and had sent them to the
launch in one of the bags.  There was a pair of scales also, and very
soon the portions were separated, four ounces of gold going to swell
each little heap, as a special reward for the manner in which the men
had fought.  Then each of the heaps was sewn up in a piece of canvas,
and secreted upon the person of the owner.  The remainder of the dust
was stored in the cabin again, and, that done, the launch put out from
the bank, and ran to the far side of the river.  Then, with many a cheer
and shout, the Ashanti gold-miners--excellent fellows all, and very
different from their warlike brethren--stepped ashore, and made off into
the bush.  Dick and Johnnie felt quite lonely when they had gone.  They
pushed off into the stream and steamed away.

"Better leab um boat behind," said the native, suddenly, after some
minutes' silence.  "Suppose hab to run, den boat hold um back.  P'raps
mean um dead."

It was an excellent idea, showing again that there is wisdom to be found
in a native, and that Johnnie, for all his quaint looks and merry ways,
was a thinker.

"We'll do so certainly," said Dick, at once adopting the advice.  "Look
for a spot where we can hide her, and which we can pick out again should
we require her.  It must be on this bank, too, so we will keep within
easy distance."

It was not until an hour had passed that they hit upon a suitable place.
Then, at a nod from the leader, the launch swung in closer to the bank,
while Johnnie ran to the stern and drew in the painter.  He ran the
native craft up alongside the launch, and hopped lightly into her.
Then, as Dick put the propeller astern--for the stream ran fairly strong
here--the native pushed off, and guided the boat into the shallows.
There was a massive tree there--a species of fern, growing to the height
of thirty or forty feet perhaps, and dropping its abundant spreading
foliage like an umbrella all round till the tips trailed in the water.
Johnnie pushed boldly in, and Dick could see the big fronds shaking.
Then he edged the launch closer in till her nose dipped under the
leaves, and he heard her grate against the side of the native craft.

"Got um fast front and back," sang out the native.  "No move um,
whateber happen.  She fill wid water, and not sink.  Tree hold um up
nicely.  Yes, and no one know um dere.  Whole army pass, and neber
guess.  Golly, massa, de berry place!"

"And one to find easily," answered Dick.  "Now, hop along, and let us
get off.  We've plenty of steam, and I think we'll put her hard at it.
The tales of these warriors of King Koffee make me uneasy, and I'm
anxious to get down to the coast."

Very soon Johnnie appeared from amidst the leaves, and they pushed off
into the stream till they reached the centre.  And there they remained
throughout the day, reeling the miles off rapidly, for they had the
stream to help them.

"We'll keep on without a single halt right down to the sea," said Dick,
as he sat on the edge of the engine-well, eating a meal which the native
had just cooked.  "We know there will be a moon, and now that the river
is broader we shall be able to see easily.  We'll chance sandbanks, and
hope that none will come in our path.  By to-morrow morning the natives
should be left behind, and we should be within reach of friends.  Good
coffee, Johnnie.  You are a capital hand at other thing besides making
war!"

The native stoker grinned his delight as he turned to face his master.

"When me so high me learn to cook," he said, with a merry laugh, holding
his hand out some three feet from the deck.  "In my country de women and
de children see to de food while de men smoke and sleep, and get
strength for de fight."

"A queer way of getting up one's muscle," laughed our hero.  "Just fancy
training for school sports, or a gymnastic competition, in a similar
manner!  One would be rather soft, and hardly in the best condition."

"Dere where Johnnie learn to fight," went on the stoker.  "Me go out
when me not yet a man, and in de first battle me kill an enemy.  He rush
so"--he clambered from the well, and demonstrated the method of attack
with such energy that the launch rolled--"he make stroke at Johnnie's
head, and miss um mark, golly! by de inch.  Den me answer.  Me hit wid
all de strength wid um club, and he go whop!  He fall dead on de ground.
Den me take um head, and shout de war cry."

He made another attempt to bring the last in reality before his master,
and set the forests ringing.  Dick clapped a hand over his mouth, and
pushed him into the well.

"Steady, my lad," he said.  "There may be an Ashanti army within hearing
of that call, and then what will happen?  Spin your yarn if you wish,
but do it quietly.  How's steam?"

A little abashed, but yet glowing with the memory of his victory, the
native stepped to the gauge and read off the pressure.  Then he
shovelled a heap of coal from the bunker.

"Come night, and not see so well," he said.  "Hab plenty ready to run
wid."

About three hours after that, dusk began to fall, and for a little while
the fugitives were compelled to lie in close to the bank of the river,
for it was densely dark.  But the time passed pleasantly enough, for
Dick had his pipe alight for the first time since the previous day and
as he smoked it, watching the glow of the bowl, and looking across to a
similar glow proceeding from the clay gripped between the white teeth of
the native, his thoughts returned to the stockade.  He went over all the
scenes again, his nearness to James Langdon, and the luck he had had
then.  His successful attempt to reach the stockade, and the desperate
fight he had had on the way.  And, later, the retreat, with all its
numerous incidents.  He was still thinking of it when the moon came up
in all her splendour, flooding the river till it was almost as light as
day.  And then, for the first time for many an hour, he looked at
himself, and was horrified.  His hands were cut and scratched in all
directions, as doubtless was his face also.  His clothes hung in ribbons
about him, while, by the stains upon the breast of his coat and upon his
shirt, one would have thought that he had been badly hit.  But that he
certainly was not; and now he remembered how the wretch who had first
attacked him outside the stockade, had fallen under his own sword--
fallen against the one who struck the blow.

"Time to move," he said, springing to his feet.  "Steady ahead.  More.
Let her have it."

The native grinned.  He wiped his hands with a piece of waste extracted
from his pocket, and then opened the throttle.  And once he had the
launch moving at full speed he leaned back in contentment, watching his
master with one eye, while with the other he looked at the smoke curling
up from his pipe.

An hour later, as they swung round a bend in the river, and came into a
long, straight stretch, a cry of amazement escaped them.  The water on
the left bank was black with native craft, while the hubbub of some
thousands of voices came to their ears.  But that was as nothing to the
shouts which greeted the appearance of the launch when she came into the
straight.  There was a deafening burst of shouting.  Tom-toms and drums
were beaten in all directions, while the deep note of many a native
war-horn was heard.  For crossing the stream was one division of King
Koffee's army, _en route_ for the Fanti country.  And of this division,
amounting to some ten thousand men, not more than a tenth were on the
water, for there were insufficient boats within a radius of many miles
to carry more.  The passage was being made by detachments, and the first
crossing had just commenced.  That there were more of the warriors
ashore Dick quickly learned, for if there had been shouting from the men
on the water, the noise from the jungle was vastly more pronounced.  And
then the firing commenced, though the launch was beyond the range of the
cheap, Birmingham-made guns owned by the natives.  Still, the loud
reports issuing from the bush were sufficient to show what was
happening, while any doubt that there could possibly have been was set
at rest by the manner in which the surface of the river was struck and
thrashed by the bullets.  They splashed in all directions, bullets
ricocheting and screaming, slugs and buck-shot of native manufacture
dropping heavily into the water, while the numerous pebbles which were
fired sank out of sight at once.

Dick smiled grimly, once he had overcome his first feelings of
consternation and astonishment.  He stretched out from his position at
the tiller and caught up a rifle.  Another movement and he had three of
the weapons at hand, for there was a good supply on board.  And while he
held the tiller between his knees, he jerked cartridges into the
breeches.  As for Johnnie, his mouth had opened in one vast expression
of astonishment as the natives came into view, and for an instant he had
changed colour under the dark pigment of his skin.  Then, glancing at
his leader, and seeing how he was engaged, the little fellow gripped his
pipe the tighter and threw himself upon his shovel.  The door of the
furnace swung open with a clatter, and Dick heard the grating of the
shovel on the narrow iron floor of the engine-well.  A flash lit up the
stoker's figure, and Dick caught sight of a roaring fire, quenched a
second later with a mass of coal.  Then a dense volume of black smoke
swept out of the low funnel and went trailing overhead till it merged
with the clouds and the trees.  He glanced at the pressure gauge, and by
the help of the moon saw that it stood at sixty.  Johnnie turned to it
also and pointed.

"Hab plenty more soon, massa," he said.  "Make water bubble and fizz.
Boiler go bur-r-r-r-r wid de pressure.  Chimney velly hot.  Golly!  Look
at um!"

"Time to think about a shot or two," answered Dick, quietly.  "Get a
couple of rifles and some cartridges, and load.  Keep them handy to the
engine.  Then go on stoking.  By the way, have we a fender aboard?"

"Big one forard, sar.  Where hab him?"

"Right on the bows, rather low down.  Slippy, my lad."

They had little time for chatter, and both knew it.  The native crawled
on his hands and knees along the deck, and swung a large rope fender
over the bows, securing it on the very stem of the launch.  Then he ran
back, and the furnace door swung open again.  By now the steam pressure
had risen to sixty-four, and the needle was slowly jerking up.  The
funnel vomited even more inky-black smoke, while flames and small
particles of coal flew into the air, the latter raining down on the
deck.  Meanwhile the natives had not been idle, for after the first
shouts of surprise, and the salvo of bullets and slugs, the whole mass
of canoes had set off across the river to intercept the launch.  The
consequent confusion can be well imagined.  There were then screams and
shouts of anger.  Boats became locked together, and Dick saw some of the
crews striking at one another in their rage and in their anxiety to get
clear of their neighbours, and have a share in the capture.

"That gives us a chance," he said.  "If they had started from the
outside line there would have been no doubt about the issue.  Now it's
touch and go.  They may be lined across our way, or they may not.
Depends on the crews.  As for their firing, I don't care a rap about it.
Those guns don't carry over-far, and from what I saw at the stockade I
should say that at a little more than a hundred yards one would only
experience a heavy blow.  At fifty the slugs would penetrate.  Hullo!  I
don't like those beggars."

As he spoke there was greater commotion amidst the canoes, all of which
were now under weigh, while those on the outside, the river side of the
fleet, had broken clear of their comrades and were pushing for the
centre of the stream.  This, however, was not what attracted Dick's
attention, and drew the remark from him.  It was the sight of two native
craft of larger size which suddenly pushed from the shadow of the bank.
They were crammed to overflowing, and carried big crews, who knelt in a
line along each side.  In the centre stood the warriors, shouting and
gesticulating, and fighting their way through the mob.  Small
consideration did they give to those who were in their way.  Dick saw
the warriors strike at their comrades with the butts of their firelocks,
and watched as more than on of the smaller craft was overturned.  Then
he sat down and took up a rifle.

"A shot might help," he said quietly.  "How's steam?"

Johnnie pointed to the indicator and looked proud.

"Hab plenty," he said.  "Stoke um more and perhaps um bust.  Plenty
steam in de biler."

"Then get your rifle, and aim at the rowers in the first of those two
boats.  Don't leave her alone.  Keep on all the while unless you have to
stoke again."

"Not want to.  Hab plenty steam and big fire," answered Johnnie, with a
satisfied nod.  "Not hab any more coal till half-hour.  By den p'raps
not hab steamer."

"Perhaps," answered Dick, with a smile.  "We're going to see to that.
Out with your rifle."

Still gripping the tiller between his knees, while he sat on the edge of
the well, he took a long and careful aim at the first of the paddlers,
the one who set the stroke to the boat, and pressed the trigger when the
sights were on him.  Instantly there was a howl of rage, and the man
dropped back on to the rower behind him, while the whole lot came to a
halt.  But it was only for a quarter of a minute.  One of the warriors
who stood close by lifted the body and hove it overboard without
ceremony.  Then he seized the paddle and thrust it into the water.
Crack!  Dick's rifle broke the stillness which had followed the shout,
and the man who had just knelt crumpled into a mass, the same disorder
following.

"Five hundred yards I make it," said our hero quietly.  "Give them a
full sight, Johnnie, and aim for the centre of the body.  Ah!  A good
one.  I think you hit the side of the boat first, and then the man.
They don't waste time aboard those craft, and human life does not seem
to be over-valuable."

By now the launch and the fleet had sensibly decreased the intervening
distance, the latter making directly across the river Pra, while the
former raced down the centre of the river.  It had become more than ever
a question of time, and the thought made Dick redouble his efforts.  And
thanks to his shooting, the progress of the two war boats was greatly
delayed, his bullet singling out the leading paddler every time the
place was filled, till there was a panic in that part of the vessel.
Then suddenly an unexpected thing happened.  The two aboard the launch
had taken little notice of the firing which still went on from the bank
and from a number of the canoes, and which was of greater danger to the
enemy than to them, for the range of the enemy's firearms was
inconsiderable.  Now, however, a shot attracted their attention.  There
was a louder report than usual, and a bullet of large size sped from the
fleet, and striking the funnel, bored clean through it, the puncture
being plainly discernible by the flames and smoke which instantly
emerged.  Dick started forward, till he was stretched across the
after-well, the tip of the tiller in his hand, and almost at once there
was a second shot, followed by a heavy thud behind him, and finally by a
splash out in the river.  He turned to find the tiller loose in his
hand, splintered by the missile, the fracture of the shaft having taken
place an inch or two in front of the slot cut for it in the rudder.  The
steering gear was cut adrift, and as he looked at the shaft in his hand
the launch went off her course.  She shot to the right, away from the
enemy, causing a scream of rage to rise from a thousand throats.  Then,
as suddenly, she swerved to the other side, till those aboard her were
almost rolled into the water.  She seemed to see the enemy before her,
for she took the bit in her teeth, and, with her propeller thrashing the
water behind her, went directly towards them, a bow wave splashing up on
either hand.  And then the tone of the Ashantis changed.  Whatever they
were, they were men of courage, and not to be frightened by a monster of
this sort speeding down upon them.  They had, for the most part, never
seen a launch before, and those who had, had probably never seen one in
full flight.  Yet they did not flinch.  They stood in their boats, and
such a shout of triumph went up that the woods rang and rang again.
Then their guns opened with a vengeance, and a perfect storm of missiles
hurtled towards the launch.  They did not stop her.  She did not seem to
notice the bullets splashing on either hand and tumbling on her deck.
The launch had got out of hand, and as if she were tired of life and
roused to desperation by the pressure of steam which she carried, she
went on her mad course, rushing down to doom and destruction.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

RUNNING THE GAUNTLET.

"That stoking bar, Johnnie!  Quick!  For your life!"

Dick could not wait to explain, for the situation was one which demanded
instant action.  When he had recovered from his amazement at the result
of the unlucky shot from the forest, and had seen that the tiller was
broken, he had no time to reflect that but for the movement which he had
made a moment before he would have been killed by the very bullet which
had wrought the mischief.  Action, instant and effectual, was required,
and his eye had at once sought for a substitute.  Suddenly he remembered
the iron bar used for stoking the fire, and as he shouted for it he
prepared to place it in position.  With a bound he was on the deck right
aft, and kicking the butt of the fractured shaft from behind, shot it
out of its socket.  Then he gripped the rudder post and twisted it with
all his strength, contriving to head the launch for the centre of the
stream.  Two or three seconds later the native was beside him, and as
Dick held the post the bar was pushed into the socket.

"Hab um now!  Get over oder side plenty quick.  Put um over, massa."

Dick did so, with a heave which again caused the launch to roll till
water spurted through her scuppers, while the two aboard crouched on the
deck and held on for their lives.  Then he set her on a new course,
turning her head diagonally across the stream.

"Get to the rifle," he said sharply.  "And first lay mine here so that I
can grip them.  That's right.  Crouch in your engine well so as to avoid
the bullets.  Do you hear?  Go!"

Johnnie's eyes had asked a question.  He had as good as said to his
master when the caution to sit in the engine well had been given, "And
what massa do?  He not crouch.  Plenty ob cover for Johnnie, but what
about massa?"  But Dick brushed aside his question with one word, and
proceeded to fix the bar between his knees, as he had done with the
wooden tiller.

"Let 'em shoot at it again," he said, "and I guess the bullet won't do
much harm.  In any case it was a fluke, and not a bad attempt to pot me.
Hah!  That got one fellow.  I shall have to play with these men."

As he ran the launch across towards the far bank, slanting her down
stream all the while, he had seen that the fleet of canoes was now
spread out across the river, and though there were fewer of their boats
on the far side, and a narrow opening still remained there, yet the path
to the sea was barred.  He therefore steered for the far side.  But a
plan to get free was forming in his brain, and he watched for a chance
to carry it out, his eye riveted on the two war canoes.

"It's those fellows I want to dodge," he said.  "I wonder how we should
fare if we ran into one of them."

He was thinking of charging one, and measured the size of the stout
launch against that of each one of the native craft.

"We're about the same length," he said, "and as to weight it's a
toss-up.  She's crammed with men, and we've engines and a boiler aboard.
There's nothing in it.  All depends on how we hit her.  All right!"

There was something ominous in those last two words.  They meant much,
and the quiet way in which the helmsman of the launch looked round, the
set expression of his face, showed that he meant to choose well and make
the most of his opportunities.

"We've steam to drive us, and plenty of it," he thought.  "That gives us
an advantage."

Once more he put up his rifle, and for three or four minutes peppered
the enemy.  But on this occasion he directed his shots to the boats at
the far side of the river, now very close at hand.

On the part of the enemy there had been a wild endeavour to close in as
the launch, with her tiller shot away, ran down towards the near bank,
and this rush had resulted in some of the craft being upset.  Then, as
Dick fitted the iron bar and steered away again, a still madder rush was
made for the far side.  And in this the two war canoes were hardly as
successful as they had been.  They were too much hampered by their
comrades, and so it happened that they were separated widely from one
another, one only being well on its way across the stream.  The second
had barely reached the middle, and as he fired Dick turned his eye to it
every now and again.

"We shall have our chance," he thought.  "She's got away, and as she
paddles faster than the smaller fry, she's leaving an opening behind
her.  I'll give her a minute more, and then--"

"See that boat?" he called out to Johnnie.  "Well, watch.  I shall swing
round in a few seconds and steer in behind her.  Let her crew know that
you have a rifle.  Keep at it without ceasing, even after we've passed,
for I have to work the tiller.  Ready?  Over she goes!"

He might have been running his launch in a regatta race, so calm was he.
There was a smile on his face, for Dick had long got over the sensation
of fear which the sight of the enemy had at first caused him.  The
difficulty with the tiller had roused him, and now, for the life of him,
he could only look upon the whole adventure as a race, a race, it is
true, which meant life or death for him, but one nevertheless which
stirred his blood and brought all the sporting instincts of the
Englishman within him to the surface.

"A close thing.  Any one's game!" he said, as he swung the tiller over,
and turned the launch on her heel, spinning her round till the water on
either side was white with foam.  "Now for it!"

The little vessel had obeyed the movement of her new tiller with
remarkable celerity.  She might have been a torpedo boat by the way in
which she behaved.  She felt the pull of her rudder, and as if she were
a living thing she spun round in a sharp curve, the weight of her
engines and deck hamper causing her to roll heavily.  Then she righted
as she ran, and her nose sought for the narrow opening left in the very
centre of the fleet.  It was a most exciting moment.  The air trembled
with shouting, while if there had been a hail of bullets before, there
was a torrent now, aimed with all the carelessness of the native, some
overhead, some astern, and some even into the middle of comrades.  And
to these one rifle responded--that of the native stoker.  He lay in the
engine well, his head nicely clear, and his snider spat out a stinging
rain which caused many an enemy to fall in his boat, or overbalance and
slip into the river.  But though he jerked the cartridges from the
breech as rapidly as possible, he could make little impression on the
crew of the war vessel.  At the first movement of the launch there had
been a shout, and as if by magic each one of the paddlers got to his
feet and changing round knelt again.  Then the paddles dipped and the
big craft came surging back.

"She'll be across our track!" sang out Dick.  "Get below, Johnnie.  Keep
down! look out for those who manage to get aboard the launch."

At once the native slipped completely into his engine well, where he
lay, rifle in hand.  As for our hero he could not afford to take cover
just yet, for he had to direct the course of the launch.  And
magnificently he stuck to his post.  A slug struck him on the point of
the knee as he sat, and caused him anguish.  A second, fired at the same
close range, thudded against his ribs and dropped to the deck, while
another from the same discharge carried away his hat.  But he stuck
grimly to the tiller.  His eye was glued on the war vessel, and he
watched her like a cat.  She was just beginning to cross his track, but
the angle at which she moved would bring the two boats almost alongside
one another, and then--

"They would hang on and be aboard before we could look round.  No, thank
you.  We'll try some other plan."

The muscles in his steering arm were like steel bands.  There was a look
of determination on his face.  He moved the arm with a sudden jerk, and
sent the launch over when she was within thirty feet of the enemy.  A
second later he was bearing down upon her broadside.  Then, indeed,
there were shouts.  The natives saw their danger and paddled furiously
in the vain endeavour to alter their position.  But they had no chance,
for the steersman aboard the launch, conscious of the superiority which
steam gave him, countered every move instantly.  It was a matter of
seconds.  He was within five feet of them, going full speed.  The
natives saw now that they had no chance of coming alongside, and Dick
watched them drop their rifles, draw their swords and crush to the
centre of the boat.  He moved the tiller again, ever so little, and bore
right down upon the huddling group.  Then he dived into his well and sat
on the boards, one hand still gripping the tiller, while the fingers of
the other sought for his revolver.

Crash!  The launch shuddered, and stopped on her way.  But she had
weight behind her, and her frame was of sound construction.  Also she
was running at full pace, and her propeller never ceased to grip the
water.  She moved again, rose at the bows for a second or so, and then
subsided again, to the accompaniment of shouts and the sounds of
splintering wood.  Dick heard the scraping as the native boat passed
beneath the keel, and there was a gentle thud as the propeller blade
struck a portion of the wreck.

"Right over her!  What luck!"

That was all he could say, for other matters engaged his attention.  Of
the huddled group in the centre of the native boat half a dozen had
managed to gain the launch, while their comrades were already far behind
struggling in the water.  And these men who had been able to reach her
had not all contrived to get aboard.  Two reached the deck of the steam
craft at once, while the remainder clung to her side, and were now
clambering up, no easy task considering the speed of the vessel.  A
rifle cracked and one of the men aboard fell on his face.  Then Dick saw
Johnnie lift his weapon again and aim.  He pressed the trigger as the
man leaped to one side.  As he opened the breech and stretched out for
another cartridge, the native ran at him waving his short sword above
his head.  Dick's arm went up from the well, he rested the muzzle of his
weapon on the edge, and took a rapid aim.  A moment later the Ashanti
fell headlong across the boiler, while his sword clattered on the iron
floor of the miniature stokehold.

"Soon settle um hash!" shouted Johnnie, as he leaped to the deck and ran
forward, armed with his shovel.  "Hah! off yo's go.  To de riber wid
you."

He leaned over the side, and one by one he beat the Ashantis into the
water.  Then he returned to his engine, and our hero heard the furnace
door open once more.

"Steady," he called out with a laugh, which showed the relief he felt.
"Go easy, my lad, for we are out of the wood, and must husband coal.
How's the store?"

"Plenty black stone, sar.  Steam from here to Cape Coast Castle, I tink.
Golly!  Um hot!"

He groped in the pocket of his greasy jacket and produced a piece of
waste with which he mopped his face.  Then he turned his attention to
the enemy and put up his rifle.  Dick followed suit, and together the
shots rang out.

"That's where the big gun is," said Dick, as he fired at the second of
the two large boats, from which had come the bellow of the large piece
which had accounted for the fracture of the tiller.  "That fellow has
got hold of an elephant gun, I think, and he is making good shooting.
Whereabouts is he?"

"You watch, Massa Dick.  You see dat man near far end of boat?  Dat de
feller.  You watch um while me pot.  See um go splash into de water."

There was a malicious gleam in Johnnie's eye, for a second or so before
the hopes of escape which filled the minds of the fugitives had been
suddenly upset by the boom of the heavy piece owned by the enemy, and by
the hum of a bullet along the deck of the launch.  There was a steady
arm holding the gun, and had they but known it this native was one of
King Koffee's chief marksmen, an old hunter from the interior, who held
a high place in the army mainly because of his prowess with the rifle in
question.  And the boat in which he sat, or knelt, was not so far behind
that he was out of range, or even nearly so.  Indeed, barely a minute
had passed since the launch had overrun the first of the big war boats,
and had sent her to the bottom.  It was only a few seconds since Johnnie
had plied his shovel to such good effect, and the enemy were still at
close quarters.  Nor were they minded to permit these audacious
strangers to escape so easily.  A yell, a discordant shriek of
indignation had gone up as the launch dashed into and splintered the
native craft, and that had been followed by a babel of shouts, by the
clash of many a war drum, and the blowing of horns, while instantly the
whole fleet had swung round and had followed, their guns pouring slugs
after the launch.  Dick could see them clearly, the paddlers plying
their blades with terrific energy, and the fighting men standing or
kneeling, ramming charges into their muzzle-loaders in desperate haste.
Then had come that boom followed by the hum of the big bullet.

"Dat de man," said Johnnie, as he held his rifle to his shoulder.  "He
just 'bout to stand and fire um gun.  See um drop de villain."

At once our hero's rifle went to his shoulder, and, having waited to
hear the snap of his comrade's, and note that he had failed to hit the
mark, he pressed his trigger gently, holding his weapon as rigidly as
the trembling of the launch would allow.  Instantly there was an
answering report from the native boat, and he felt the breath of the
shot as it raged past his cheek and flew on ahead.  Then the man who had
fired staggered, drew himself up and, holding his huge weapon above his
head, toppled and fell like a stone into the river.

"Got um!  By gum! but dat a fine shot!  Johnnie's no good.  Bad.  Velly
bad.  Hear um shout.  No more pills ob dat size come after us."

"It was a lucky shot and may save our lives.  The beggar meant potting
us, and there is no doubt that he was a fine shot, and knew his weapon.
If one of his bullets had hit either of us I imagine that we should have
been killed instantly.  It must have been like a young cannon firing a
very big charge, for did you see how the recoil shook him?"

The stoker nodded emphatically.  "Not like shoot such gun often," he
said.  "Make shoulder sore.  But what massa do now?  Stop here and fire,
so as make dem sorry dey get in de way?"

"No, thank you," was the dry answer.  "I have seen enough of these
Ashantis to last me for a long time.  A more fierce and cruel lot of
beggars I never saw before, and you don't catch me waiting to fight with
an army.  We might burst a steam-pipe or break a connecting-rod and then
where should we be?  Look at that beggar lying over the boiler, and
think whether you would like to become a prisoner."

"No, tanks, massa," grinned Johnnie, casting his eye at the native.
"But s'pose we move 'um.  Him berry fine feller, but though him dead him
not like de heat.  Golly!  Make 'um hop to put de finger dere, on de
biler.  Him cook nicely if we leab um."

Things had occurred so rapidly that neither had given a thought to this
matter before, but now that they had killed the most dangerous of their
enemies, and the battle with the army of Ashanti had developed into a
chase between a steam launch, with ample power, and a fleet of unwieldy
boats, they had time to look about them, and to observe their own
condition.  As the stoker had said, the native who had fallen to Dick's
revolver-shot lay across the boiler, and it was more than hot there, for
out in this tropical country there was no great need for lagging (a
covering of asbestos and wood, often held in position by sheet iron, and
commonly applied to boilers in this country to help to retain their
heat, and so make steaming easier), and this launch boiler was exposed
to the air and weather.  In consequence, the unhappy wretch who had
fallen was literally cooking, and Dick was thankful when his dusky
companion caught the body by one arm, and dragging it to the side hove
it overboard.  Johnnie had little sentiment.  An enemy was an enemy,
whether dead or alive, and he made no secret of his delight that here
was another native who had fallen to their weapons.

"Good-bye yo," he shouted, as the body splashed into the river and sank
from sight.  "Yo foolish man come aboard dis vessel.  Not hab invite to
do so, and not wanted, not't all.  So jest yo go' 'way 'gain.  Yo hab
self to tank for all dis trouble."

He turned to Dick with a laugh, which was not lessened when he saw the
serious expression on his master's face.  For Dick had his own ideas as
to how an enemy should be treated, whether dead or alive, and had the
task been his he would have endeavoured to do the work decorously.  But
he had to admit to himself that one of these Ashantis, when dead, was a
repulsive-looking object, and that Johnnie was probably justified.

"What does he care?" he asked himself.  "He has, no doubt, still a large
share of his savage nature left, and he knows that these men would cut
him to pieces when alive if they could capture him.  So he treats them,
dead or alive, with the same ferocity.  Well, we've cleared decks, and
I'm not sorry.  As for those beggars behind, they might just as well
stop and save their powder; they cannot hurt us more."

There was little doubt on this point, for since the native with the big
elephant gun had toppled overboard, hardly a shot had reached the
launch, though showers of slugs cut up the water in the rear.  It was
the turn of those aboard the launch to smile and enjoy the situation.
As they ran down the stream, with the throttle now half closed, for
steam might be wanted for another emergency, they could look back at the
fast-receding fleet of boats and take full stock of them.  Also they
could watch the dusky figures bounding through the bush, some still
abreast of the launch or even farther down the stream.  They could jeer
at the frantic shouts, could wave back jubilantly to the angry signals
of the enemy, and they could afford to mock at the men who tore through
the jungle, firing aimlessly into the water.

"Good as firework!" laughed the light-hearted Johnnie.  "Moon not so
bright now, me tink, and de gun go pop! pop! wid a splosh of fire.  Fine
sight, massa!  Make de heart young and gay."

"Because we have something to be thankful for.  But don't you make any
mistake about the action, my lad; it was a close thing, a precious close
piece of business, and if it hadn't been for that gap, why, where should
we be?  That reminds me.  How are we for'ard?  What's the damage?"

The native leaped from his well and went scrambling along the deck, the
movement giving cause for an increased outburst of shouting and beating
of the drums; for the enemy still watched the retreating launch like
cats, hoping against hope that she would stop, that their fetish, to
which they sacrificed victims innumerable during the year, would step in
in time to arrest the flight and hand over the white man.  Presently
Johnnie came back with a piece of wood in his hand.

"All dat remain," he said, with a laugh.  "De bow hit right into boat,
and brake um.  Dis stick to de fender.  Noding hurt.  Launch same as
before, only bullet mark eberywhere, I 'spect."

"Then we'll look to ourselves.  What damages, Johnnie?"

"Golly!  I forget um.  Tink soon be killed by dem debils and den no
matter.  But feel um now.  Look dar!  Johnnie kill dat man if he catch
um!  What he want to fire so to spoil de beauty?  Johnnie's wife not
like dat 'tall!"

Here was a genuine grievance, and the native made the most of it as he
showed Dick his wound.  For a slug had struck him on the cheek, just
below the orbit, and had lacerated the flesh, so that there was every
prospect of much scarring; while the bleeding, as in all face wounds,
had been excessive, and his coat and breast were covered with blood.

"An honourable wound," said Dick, with a chuckle, for this little native
amused him vastly, and considering his want of good looks, it was rather
amazing to hear him talking of lost beauty.  "Honourable scars, Johnnie.
You will be able to point to that wound and say to your wife and
friends, `Johnnie get that when he fight whole Ashanti army.  Yes, he
hab one man only wid him.  He fight army alone and kill plenty.  Den he
wave de hand and leab.'  How's that, Johnnie?"

They sat opposite one another now, the enemy almost forgotten, and they
laughed till Dick had to hold his sides.  For the expression on the
stoker's face as Dick took note of his grievance was ludicrous.  He
looked surprised and grieved at first, and then utterly indignant.
Then, as our hero proceeded with the tale, he saw his point, and
commenced to smile.

"Yo make um ache, massa," he cried.  "Yes, Johnnie say all dat.  He
forget.  Dis wound show him to be brave man.  He fight whole army,
alone.  He kill heap.  He glad dat man hit um here.  Dat man friend of
him for life!"

It was natural that the two should make the most of the matter and enjoy
it to their heart's content, for the reader must recollect that a few
minutes before death stared them in the face, that for a quarter of an
hour the odds against their escape had been desperate, and that during
all that time they had been working with hand and brain and fighting at
full pressure.  And as if the danger had been a stone hung about their
necks by a cord, it had dropped now that the cord was cut.  They had
burst their way through the band swung across the river, and they had
killed the most dangerous of their enemies.  The relief was immense, and
they showed it by giddy laughter, by gripping hands, and by shouting and
gesticulating.

"You stuck to me like a good 'un," said Dick, in grateful tones.  "Had
you funked we should have been taken.  I will report to Mr Pepson."

"And massa save Johnnie.  Look at man me jest throw to de fishes.  He
kill me sure as egg if massa not fire.  Fine shot.  Big sportman, massa;
and Johnnie say so to all de town when him back.  But what part you hit?
Look!  Blood here and dere, and dere.  Eberywhere!"

He held up his hands in consternation, for our hero was indeed in a
sorry plight.  He had been little better than a scarecrow after his dash
through the bush, and his escape from the stockade, and the few hours
aboard the launch had not improved matters.  He was as black as a sweep,
for the soot from the funnel had played upon him as the launch bounded
forward, while the perspiration had helped it to adhere.  Then he had
been struck in no fewer than six places by the slugs of the enemy, and
in each case his tattered clothes told the tale.  Not that the bleeding
had been severe.  On the contrary, none of the slugs had penetrated far,
and in three of the wounds there was merely a large red bruise, now
getting more discoloured.  The skin had not been broken, and where there
had been penetration it had been so slight that the missiles had fallen
out into his clothing.  Still one cannot stop a slug without feeling the
effect, and Dick felt as if he had been playing a very hard and rough
game of football.  He limped owing to the wound on his knee.  When he
breathed he suffered considerable pain, for he had had a hard rap over
the ribs, while his shoulders were so stiff from a wound just below the
neck that he might well have fallen in the scrum and had half a dozen
lusty fellows tumbling on him.

"All's well that ends well," he cried cheerily.  "And that reminds me
that I'm hungry again.  I have come to the conclusion that fighting is
hungry work.  What stores are there, my lad?"

"Find plenty, sar.  Massa say tree week ago, `yo go down to launch and
put dis and dat aboard.  Den s'pose nigger come 'long, all right for us.
Get to launch and steam 'way.  Hab grub to fill de tumock.'  Johnnie
plenty hungry, too."

"Then off you go and lay a spread.  I'm ravenous."

Thanks to the fact that the engine well and the one aft from which the
steersman guided the launch were close together, the two comrades, for
they were that on this occasion if on no other, were able to see to the
management of the launch and enjoy a meal at the same time.  The attack
they made upon the food which Johnnie brought from the cabin was almost
as fierce as that which James Langdon had made upon the stockade.  They
washed the repast down with good hot coffee, which Johnnie made at the
furnace door, drawing water from the river.  Then they lounged in the
easiest position and smoked, the stoker his short clay, which one so
often sees gripped between the shining teeth of negro stokers, and Dick
his briar, at peace for the time being with all the world, content with
the good fortune which had befallen him.

"I've a good report to hand in," Dick said to himself, as he reflected.
"The mine has been disturbed, but that was not my fault, and from what I
have heard and seen since, I fancy those at the coast will not be
surprised at the news.  I rather expect that they will hardly hope to
see me again, for these Ashantis seem to have gone out to war rather
suddenly some little time ago.  But the mines are good for the future,
the wages are paid, and the men will return when the time comes, and in
addition I have a valuable cargo of gold dust and nuggets.  Good!  The
gains are gold dust, and one steam launch saved.  The losses are a
stockade and two native boats, one destroyed and sunk up the creek to
keep the Ashantis from using her, and the other hidden, useless to us
for the time being."

It was pleasant to think of his success, and he passed the hours till
dawn came, wondering what would happen at his meeting with his
employers.  And as the moon waned the dawn spread over the sky, at first
a mere rose pink blush, the promise of a fine day.  Then the sun got up
and peeped at the wanderers out of the river mist, till it looked like
another moon.  Three hours later the increasing width of the river
warned them that they were now approaching the mouth, and presently they
were amidst the sandbanks and upheavals of mud which form its delta.
Dick still clasped the iron make-shift tiller in his hand, and looked
wearily for the central passage, while Johnnie now and again stoked his
furnace and looked mechanically to the indicator and the water-gauge.
For they were both utterly done up and weary.  They had been awake and
active for many hours, and the flight and the fight with the natives had
helped to exhaust them.  It was therefore with little show of excitement
that Dick nodded ahead and pointed to a ship lying off the mouth of the
river.

"British war vessel," he said sleepily.  "What's she doing here?"

"Tink she make signal to us, sar," said Johnnie after some minutes.
"She wave de flag and send dem aloft."

"And there goes a gun.  Looks as though she wanted to speak us.  If
she'd give us a bed, where we could rest without caring about the launch
and our store of gold, I'd be thankful.  I'd be asleep in a jiffy if it
weren't for the thought that I've a big store aboard, and that it might
be stolen.  Hullo!  It must be a signal for us."

They were still some little distance from the war vessel, which lay to,
at anchor off the coast, rolling with the swell.  And as there was no
one else about and no other vessel, it seemed more than probable that
the flags were meant for the man in command of the launch.  But how was
Dick to tell when he knew nothing of the signalling code?  However, his
doubts were soon set at rest, for a figure in white suddenly leaped on
to the rail of the vessel, and held a big speaking trumpet to his lips.

"Launch ahoy!  Launch ahoy!"

Dick waved his grimy hand.

"Come alongside at once.  The Commodore wants to see you.  Where are you
from?  Have you seen any of the enemy?"

"Enemy!  Then they did know of the trouble at the coast.  Perhaps they
had already had a brush with the Ashantis."

Dick stood up in the well and waved again.  Then he steered the launch
towards the gangway, while Johnnie, awakening to the fact that he was
about to run alongside a man-o'-war, with all its sparkle and polish,
managed for a few seconds to summon sufficient energy to look to his
engine.  He rubbed with energy at the metal work till the launch was
almost alongside.

"Stand ready," cried Dick, sleepily.  "Hook on.  Steady.  Back her.
Stop her!"

They were hanging to the broad gangway of the war vessel, while a sea of
faces looked down upon them.  A British tar, bearded and full of
strength, stood in his white ducks at the foot of the ladder, his bare
feet splashed in the water, while he stared at the strangers in
amazement.  Up above Dick caught a fleeting glance of a sentry, all in
white, marching to and fro under the awning, and looking as though he
would have given much for the privilege of leaving his beat for one
glance over the side.  Then his eye focussed itself sleepily on two
officers leaning over the rail, both with medal ribbons upon their white
coats, while one carried his speaking trumpet.

"Where from?" he asked politely.  "We've recently had a brush with the
natives.  Can you give us news?"

"They've been in the thick of it," suddenly exclaimed the other.  "Look
at the young fellow.  He's covered with blood, and the boat's cut to
pieces; the sides are in ribbons.  Why, it must be young Stapleton,
about whose safety there has been such a commotion."

"And the fellow's done, done altogether," said the other.  "Who are you,
sir?"

"Dick Stapleton, sir.  Just got through from up country.  We met a whole
army, about to cross the Prahsu.  We got through with some difficulty,
as they were already afloat.  We're dead beat, sir, but I can't sleep
till my store of gold is looked to.  It's worth something.  Can you
help?"

Dick was weary and done up.  He had realised that long ago, but the need
for effort had kept both pluckily at their posts.  Now, however, with
the all-protecting arm of the British Navy to watch over them, the
desire for sleep was irresistible.  Their eyes were more than half
closed.  And they winked suspiciously when they attempted to look at any
one object for long.

"Sergeant of the guard!  Put a couple of men aboard at once," came the
order.  "Mr Hilden, oblige by going down to the launch and making an
inventory.  Glad to see you, Mr Stapleton.  We'll talk later.
Meanwhile come aboard and leave the gold.  It shall be well taken care
of.  Help him up, my man, and bring him along under the awnings."

A friendly and firm arm helped Dick from the launch, while another tar
took Johnnie in charge.  Our hero was almost carried to the deck above
and was straightway popped into a hammock.  Then some one held a glass
to his lips.  He drank, and at once fell asleep.  He had earned a rest
and determined to enjoy it.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

IN HOME WATERS.

"'Ello!  Awake, me 'earty!  Blow me, but you've jest slept the clock
right round!  What time o' day is it?  Nine o'clock, or thereabouts.
'Taint no use a givin' it to yer in bells, 'cos you ain't no sailor.
You've slept the clock round, Mr Stapleton, and you've laid there since
yesterday mornin', a-sleepin' like a infant.  'Twasn't no use a-tryin'
to stir yer up, though the skipper--the Commodore that is--did 'ave a
try.  'E's jest jumpin' to get yer news about these darkies.  But yer
wouldn't stir.  Yer jest kind er growl, and then yer was off agin.  Swop
me, but yer must 'ave been tired!"

"I was--dead beat," agreed Dick, looking out from the hammock, and
noticing that he was aboard the war vessel, and still lying under an
awning.  Indeed, at first he could recollect nothing, not even the fight
with the Ashantis, to such a point had exhaustion carried him.  And now,
when he stirred and opened his eyes, it was to see a burly sailor, a
British Jack tar, staring at him with a huge smile on his good-humoured
face.

"Thet's jest what the skipper says.  He sees it ain't no use a botherin'
yer, and so 'e jest leaves yer to it.  `Put a nurse on him,' he calls
out to the chief.  `See as 'e's taken care of.'  And so 'ere I am,
actin' kind of nurse.  'Ow do yer feel, Mr Stapleton, sir?"

"Hungry!  My word, I am hungry.  You say I've slept the clock round.
Then there's no wonder that I want something.  How's the launch?"

"Safe and sound, sir, and the gold, too.  Swop me, but where did it all
come from?  You must 'ave been busy to dig all that.  But you're 'ungry.
I'll send down to the gunroom.  Officers is 'aving their breakfast, and
there'll be a peck for you."

He was an amusing fellow, this rough salt, and a capital nurse he had
made.  He went to the rail of the upper deck, and sang out to the
sergeant of the guard, a marine, whose man paced the beat below.

"Mr Stapleton's compliments," he called out.  "He's awake and feels
mighty hungry."

Dick heard the sergeant turn away, and then crawled from his hammock.
Only then did he look at his clothing and his hands, and he was
horrified, for he was still the grimy object he had been when,
twenty-four hours before, he had come aboard the vessel.  He was stiff
and sore all over.  He limped to the rails, and looked down on to the
lower deck.  Scores of marines and sailors were tumbling up, chattering
and calling to one another, and amongst them was Johnnie, as lively as a
sand-boy, and quite at home with all the crew.  Indeed, he was in a
small way a hero, and had made the most of his wakeful hours, yarning to
the tars.  Dick nodded down to him, and returned the salutes of the men
as they touched their caps to him.  Then he turned red under the grime,
for a lusty fellow jumped to the railings and seized his cap.

"Three cheers for Mr Stapleton, the gentleman what's jest come down the
Pra all alone," he cried.  "Three of them, boys, and heartily!"

"Silence, please.  Higgens, direct Mr Stapleton to the spare cabin and
see to him.  Thank you, lads, we like to see a plucky act recognised."

It was an officer who spoke, and at his word the men gave another cheer
and departed, while Dick, still somewhat overcome at the honour done
him, followed the mess servant who had appeared, and went down to a
cabin.  Here he stripped off his rags, and was invited to pass through a
narrow doorway to the bath.  When he emerged, dripping and feeling
wonderfully fresh, there was the mess servant waiting to give him a
rub-down, and to help him to dress, for his shoulders were now
excessively stiff, while his knee was very painful.  He was, in fact,
sore all over.  But his joy at being amongst friends was great, and he
made light of the pain.

"Mr Hilden's compliments, sir, and he thinks these garments will be
about the size.  He hopes you will make use of them."

The servant, who was one of the marines, held out a suit of white, and
Dick gladly availed himself of the clothing.  There was a complete
change of linen also, and when at length he hobbled from the cabin he
was looking spruce and neat again--a clean young Englishman, modest of
manner, well grown, and with that air of quiet determination which is so
common to young men of our race, and which sat so well on him.  No one
would have thought that this young fellow had been up-country in a
responsible position, and that he had so recently had such a tussle with
the natives.

"What shall I do with these?" asked the servant, politely, smothering a
smile as he pointed to Dick's discarded rags.

"Throw them overboard, or burn them, please," was the smiling answer,
"and--er--er--"

"James, sir."

"Well, James, is there anything--?"

"Breakfast waiting, sir.  Yes, sir.  This way.  The officers are
waiting."

He led the way to the gunroom, and in another minute our hero was
limping across the polished boards to where a long table was placed
between two of the guns.  There were a dozen officers there, more or
less, and they at once rose to greet him.

"Glad to see you about again, Stapleton," said one, who looked as if he
were the senior.  "Let me introduce my friends.  Officers of H.M.S.
_Rattlesnake_, Mr Stapleton; Dick Stapleton, I think."

He said the last with a pleasant smile, while Dick bowed to those
present.

"Dick Stapleton, I think," repeated the officer.  "We all know that.
The ship rings with the name.  That dark fellow of yours has been
telling some secrets.  Let me congratulate you.  It is seldom we hear of
such an escape, and it is fine to come across a young fellow who, alone
up-country, has been able to hold his own so handsomely.  'Pon my word,
you've done well."

Dick went as red as the cummerbund about his waist, and felt horribly
confused.  Then, at the invitation of the officers, he sat down, and
forgetting all else for the moment enjoyed the good things put before
him, and the excellent company in which he found himself.  For there are
none jollier than naval officers, none more hospitable.  Their gallantry
has long, long ago been proved to all the world.

"As soon as you are ready we will go to the Commodore," said the officer
who had before addressed himself to Dick.  "I may say that he is simply
itching to hear your news.  You see, it's important.  We've had a brush
with the natives, and it has been a nasty business.  There's a big
disturbance going on, and the war has regularly started.  We expect
Wolseley here very soon--General Sir Garnet Wolseley, you know.  A fine
soldier, and just the officer for a job of this kind."

Dick opened his eyes in astonishment.  He had already gathered that
there was some trouble afoot.  Indeed, when he sailed up the Pra with
Mr Pepson there had been ugly rumours in the air.  Some had warned the
members of the expedition that it would be folly to go just then.
Others had said that there was always trouble threatening; that it was a
condition which had become practically chronic on the Gold Coast, and
that King Koffee was always a thorn in the flesh, feared by Fantis and
white men alike, and always liable to make a raid on the coast.  So it
had been for a long while, and he who hesitated to march into the forest
on that account was weak.  But from his own experience he knew that they
had actually gone on the war-path, and now he heard that the Navy had
had an action with them.

"And there is to be a regular war?" he asked in amazement.  "Sir Garnet
Wolseley is coming, and troops, too, I suppose?"

"Yes, there will be troops, and some are already here.  It is to be a
regular invasion.  This fellow, King Koffee, has become too troublesome
and too formidable.  His men are here on the coast, and the
neighbourhood of Elmina is in his hands.  We are in a tight corner, and
shall remain so till the reinforcements arrive.  Then we shall march to
Kumasi and burn the wasp out.  That's it precisely, Mr Stapleton.  This
king thinks that he can dictate terms to the white men.  He has a few
captives, and thinks that because he beat a white force years ago, he
can repeat the process.  He wants a lesson, and we're here to give it to
him.  Have you finished?  Please do not let me hurry you, but if you
only knew the anxiety of our Commodore, I think you would forgive any
undue haste on our part.  Our Commodore has been fretting at the
unavoidable delay.  Of course you could not help that.  Any one could
see that you were dog tired.  Yes, this way, now up the ladder and along
the deck.  Sentry, my compliments to the Commodore, and say that I have
brought Mr Stapleton."

A few seconds later the two were ushered into the wardroom of the
_Rattlesnake_, and Dick found himself bowing before the Commodore, J.E.
Commerell, V.C., C.B., who came forward to shake him by the hand.  There
were two other officers present, and it was evident by the expression on
their faces that they were eagerly awaiting news from the interior.

"This is a serious business, Mr Stapleton," said the Commodore,
motioning Dick to a seat at the wardroom table.  "I heard that you have
encountered an Ashanti army, and I have information that they were on
their way to attack the Assims, a tribe friendly to ourselves.  Tell me
all about this meeting, please, and also what other frays you may have
had with the enemy; for I have also had mentioned to me the fact that
you have had more than one skirmish."

"I'll do my best, sir," answered Dick.  "I went up-country some weeks
ago with my employers and some Fanti boatmen.  Also we took a native
stoker, Johnnie, who is here now, and has proved a splendid fellow.  We
were attacked by Ashanti robbers on the way up, and our Fantis were in
league with them.  We beat them off and went on to the mine for which we
were making.  There was a stockade there, and as soon as we had settled
matters I was left in charge of the place and of the miners.  A few days
ago, I cannot exactly remember how many, for after being awake so long
and then sleeping the clock round I am rather confused--still, it is
only a few days ago that the same leader who had previously attacked our
boats, made an attempt to take the stockade, and failed owing to the
pluck of the miners and to the watchfulness of Johnnie.  But they hemmed
us in, and we knew that they expected two hundred Ashantis to reinforce
them."

"You knew?  Excuse me, Mr Stapleton, but how could you know that when
you were, according to your own description, hemmed in the stockade?
Did they shout the news so as to frighten your men?"

The Commodore leaned across the table, and put the question, while he
looked closely at his guest.  Dick flushed again, for he felt ill at
ease in this atmosphere of the wardroom, with officers listening so
intently to his words.

"It was through an accident, you see, sir," he said.  "It happened that
when the attack was made, I was out in the forest scouting for the
enemy, for we had seen a small force in our neighbourhood a little time
before."

"Then you had taken precautions against attack, I imagine?" interrupted
the Commodore.  "You had set a watch, so as not to be taken unawares?"

"And yet they took me by surprise, sir.  They came up from the other
side, and as I was in the forest I did not know of their presence till I
heard firing.  Yes, we had taken precautions.  Johnnie was on the watch
at the stockade, and the men had been warned, and had been trained as to
their action in case of attack.  A tom-tom was beaten, and they simply
ran to the stockade and banged the door.  Then they peppered the enemy,
with excellent results."

"Meanwhile you were in the forest, cut off from your men?"

"Yes, sir.  But I managed to creep through during the night, and, thanks
to the fact that I can now understand the Ashanti tongue and speak it a
little, I learned of these reinforcements on my way through."

"And you got through without incident?"

"Hardly," admitted Dick, telling them quietly how he had been followed,
and had had to fight for his life, and how he had been rescued when on
the point of being dragged away to captivity.  "After that we fooled
them," he said easily.  "We sent out a party to the front, the direction
from which their attack had come, while we made preparations to slink
off in the opposite direction.  The party retired over the hill with the
gold, while I went on firing for a time.  We had our launch in hiding in
a creek some little distance away, and we got safely aboard her and set
off down the river, towing the men in a native boat.  Later we paid off
our men and hid the boat.  Then we steamed down-stream and had the bad
luck to meet with an Ashanti army.  They peppered us hotly, and, in
fact, nearly cut us off.  There were two big war boats which were the
greatest danger, and aboard one was a native with a big gun, firing a
heavy bullet.  He shot our tiller away at a critical moment.  But we
used the stoking rod, and--and here we are."

"Quite so, Mr Stapleton, here you are," said the Commodore, with a
pleasant little smile.  "But you will excuse me.  As a naval officer, I
would like to hear how it is that you are here at all.  You had an army
to contend with.  They were in boats.  There were two large war craft,
and a man with an elephant gun, a small cannon in fact.  Your tiller was
shot away, and I have noticed that your funnel is perforated.  Your boat
is marked with slugs from bow to stern, and there are some pounds of
slugs and pebbles on the decks or embedded in the woodwork.  You had one
stoker with you.  Two for a crew to man the vessel and fight her.  This
requires a little more explanation."

Willingly would Dick have escaped further conversation, for the reader
must recollect that he was unused to this official atmosphere, and felt
more than overawed by the presence of the officers, looking so keen and
spruce.  However, there were friendly smiles to encourage him, and he
blurted out his news.

"Oh, we ran for the far side of the river, firing as we went," he said.
"Then there was a chance.  A war boat left a gap behind her and we
slipped into it.  But they can back their boats by simply turning on
their heels and reversing their paddles, and so she came right across
us.  But we let 'em have it broadside on and crumpled 'em up.  A few
clung to us or jumped aboard, but we shot one or two, and Johnnie hit
the rest over the head with his shovel.  Then the fellow with the gun
got our range again, and it looked a little nasty for a while.  But we
shot him, and then--well, here we are."

There was a hearty laugh at his words and at the obvious confusion under
which he laboured.  But the Commodore soon straightened his features and
again asked a very pertinent question.

"If you please," he said sweetly, "who are `we'?  You say `we' all the
way through.  We left the stockade; we paid the men off; we fitted the
stoking bar as a tiller; we steered the launch over the war boat; and we
shot the man with the gun when things began to look nasty.  Do you mean
that you and Johnnie did these things together?"

Then our hero was compelled to give the details, while the perspiration
poured from his forehead.  For if he was brave, he was undoubtedly
modest.

"And now I will tell you what has happened here," said the Commodore.
"But first I must thank you for very valuable information, and at the
same time congratulate you on your very plucky conduct.  'Pon my word,
gentlemen, we should be delighted had he been one of our service.  It
would have been a fine feather in our caps to be able to send such a
report home to the authorities.  But now, my news.  You may have seen
some of us wearing slings and bandages.  We have good reason for doing
so, for three weeks ago we went up the river Pra to discuss matters with
some of these natives who seemed inclined to be turbulent.  They met us
in a friendly manner, but higher up, as our boats were being towed
closer to the bank and within easy range, an ambush of some thousand
natives opened fire upon us.  We were in a hopeless condition, for we
could not attack, and could hardly retire.  But we managed to draw away,
and returned to the ship with many poor fellows injured.  Later we
shelled the town where the ambush had been laid and smashed it to
pieces.  About the same time some of our men were ill-treated by the
natives higher up the river, and I regret to say that in all we lost
four of our brave fellows, while twenty of us were wounded, including
six officers.  However, we are all recovering.  But the range was close,
and a blow on the ribs is no laughing matter."

The Commodore moved uneasily, and it was then that Dick noticed an
unusual bulging of his coat and shirt, for in these hot parts all wore
the lightest clothing.  In fact, the Commodore had been very seriously
injured by the murderous fire of the natives.

"There has been more trouble since," went on the Commodore, "but we have
not had the worst of it.  We have realised that the time for talking has
passed, and we have given these unfriendly natives a sample of our
wares.  We have shelled towns and villages where the people were
hostile.  But they are that everywhere.  The bush swarms with enemies,
and there can be no doubt that we are face to face with a war of
moderate proportions.  In that war, Mr Stapleton, you will be able to
play a prominent part, for you can speak both the Fanti and Ashanti
dialects, and you have some knowledge of the country.  I shall ask you
to take a letter to the Lieutenant-Governor at Cape Coast Castle, in
which I will repeat what I have just said.  But perhaps you would rather
not aid the troops; perhaps you will want to return home, in which case
Her Majesty's forces will be the losers."

"I cannot say, sir," was the answer.  "Till I see my friends and
ascertain their wishes I am unable to decide.  Indeed, I am not my own
master.  May I press on at once, for I am anxious to get to them and
hand over the gold.  Besides, when they hear of this trouble, they will
be wondering what has happened to their mine."

"And I think also to the young manager who was put in charge.
Certainly, Mr Stapleton, you are at liberty to push on any time.  I
have had your launch replenished with coal, and provisions shall be
placed aboard her.  You will hardly need a crew, I should say, seeing
that you have brought her all this way with one man only and have now no
enemies to fear.  But let me warn you.  You must on no account put into
Elmina.  The neighbourhood is in the hands of the enemy.  The Elminas
there have proved false, and have thrown in their lot with the enemy.
An attack in force was made on the town and beaten off, five hundred of
the enemy being killed.  You would be fired on, not that that would
matter much now, for you must be used to the experience, but it might be
awkward.  Push straight on for Cape Coast Castle."

He said the words with a friendly smile and a twinkle of amusement,
while he gripped Dick by the hand.  There was no doubt, in fact, that he
was as impressed with the modestly described tale of Dick's adventures
as were the crew with the lurid accounts which Johnnie had given them.
And his comrades in ward and gun rooms endorsed his opinion.  It was
long since they had met with such pluck and determination, or with one
who carried his honours so easily and unconsciously.

"It's what I like to see," said the Commodore, as his guest left the
cabin.  "No side, like some of these civilians of youthful age.  No
pomposity when speaking of the natives or of men in a lower station.
Good sense all through.  Politeness and good temper, which show the
gentleman; and plenty of grit.  My word, Hilden, a fellow in our service
would deserve promotion for such conduct."

Half an hour afterwards there was a commotion aboard the _Rattlesnake_
as Dick prepared to leave.  A right hearty farewell was given him, and
numerous invitations to come again, such is the geniality and
hospitality of the Navy.  The sailors and marines had again congregated
on the deck, for they love to see an officer who has done well, and
never spare their praise where it is merited.  And down below, standing
in the launch, was Johnnie, waving to his bosom friends above, his short
clay pipe gripped between his sharp white teeth, and emitting now the
aroma of a different brand of tobacco, the powerful, far-penetrating
scent of Navy shag, the smoke which tries the stomach of the raw
recruits.  Johnnie was unaltered in appearance, save that he had had a
wash.  A bucket and a piece of soap had transformed him sufficiently,
and he stood there below in his old clothing, looking just as he did at
the stockade, save that the garments were now more ragged and stained,
while there was a huge rent extending up one leg to the knee.  The wound
on his cheek was there, covered with a piece of strapping, which gave it
unusual and ghastly proportions.  Johnnie was undoubtedly proud of that
wound, and thought no more of lost beauty.  He laughed and chattered,
and seeing Dick about to descend, called out a final farewell to his
late entertainers.

"Golly! you come all to Sierra Leone and see how Johnnie do for yo!
Plenty eat, plenty drink, and all berry glad yo come.  Dance and sing,
play de banjo or flute.  Yes, yo come, and Massa Dick be dere to meet
yo.  S'long, yo boys; glad we meet."

There was a roar from the deck above.

"So long, cocky.  If yer get tired o' stokin' that 'ere kettle, jest
apply aboard this here ship.  Plenty of baccy and grub, cocky, and
you'll be welcome.  And, Johnnie," one of the voices suddenly broke in,
silencing the others, "when yer come again with Mr Stapleton, jest
remember that quids is scarce aboard this here ship.  Jest tip 'im the
wink and bring aboard a few of them 'ere bags o' gold.  We could do with
a little extry pay and allowances."

That brought forth another roar, and a cheer as Dick took his place at
the tiller, a tiller which now, thanks to the kindness of the Commodore
and the skill of the carpenter, had been refitted.

"Cast off!" cried Dick.  "Ahead.  Let 'er have it.  Sound that whistle,
Johnnie."

They went away from the side of the _Rattlesnake_ with a rush, and were
soon steaming along the coast, increasing their distance from their late
friends rapidly.  Then they set their eyes towards Elmina and Cape Coast
Castle, which they hoped to reach before night.  Presently they sighted
the fort at Elmina, with the native town and the expanse of cleared
ground, precautions which the Dutch had taken against fever, but which,
in spite of the example thus set them, and the crying need, the English
had not yet attempted at Cape Coast Castle.  Then they steamed on along
the coast, rising and falling with the swell, while the music of the
surf as it fell on the sandy beach came to their ears.  In due course
they sighted the huge, irregular erection known as the Castle, and very
soon the launch was moored off the beach.  Dick signalled for a
surf-boat and in half an hour had reached the shore, taking with him his
store of gold.  There were plenty of native porters about, and he hired
six, who at once took up the bags.  Then the procession set off, and
crossing the bridge which separates the native town from the European
settlements, turned its steps towards the house in which Mr Stapleton
had lived.  No one was out as the party arrived, so Dick had the bags
piled on the edge of the verandah.  He had a little money with him, and
therefore was able to dismiss the carriers.  Then he pulled at the bell,
while he stood on the verandah keeping guard over the gold.  There was a
shuffling of feet, and a few seconds later a tall, slim figure emerged
from the main room, and gave vent to a cry of amazement.

It was Mr Pepson, gaunter than ever, with signs of suffering written on
his face, which now showed the utmost astonishment and delight.  Never
had Dick seen him so betray his feelings.  He almost shed tears, and
gripped our hero's hand so firmly that the fingers ached.  Meanwhile
Dick noticed that something had happened to his employer, for he wore
one arm in a sling, while there was a large strip of plaster at the back
of his head.

"Another wound which I owe to the Ashantis," said Mr Pepson, breaking
the silence.  "We were attacked and cut up.  But sit down.  I'm still
very weak, and your unexpected return has staggered me.  I never hoped
to see you alive again, my boy.  I have blamed myself over and over
again that the desire to obtain gold from this mine should have induced
me to place you in such a dangerous position.  And you are wounded, too.
Why, you are limping, and there are bandages here and there!"

Dick admitted the fact, for the surgeon aboard the _Rattlesnake_ had
insisted on dressing his wounds.

"But you, sir, and Meinheer?" he asked.  "You were attacked?"

"Treacherously, and I grieve to say that the agent who was returning
with us was killed at the first discharge.  It was quite near the mouth
of the Pra, and we thought that there was nothing more to fear.  We made
a capital trip of it and everything looked well.  Suddenly shots were
fired at us from the bush, and a boat pushed out toward us.  Our agent,
as I have said, was killed at the very first discharge, while I was
struck on the head, and was almost stunned.  Still I managed to seize a
paddle, and Meinheer did the same.  We paddled for our lives, with the
natives in hot pursuit.  I hardly know how it happened afterwards, but
think that Meinheer must have been cramped, and endeavoured to change
his position.  He slipped, fell against the side of the boat, and--well,
you know his size and weight--it capsized us instantly, and we were
thrown into the river.  I never saw him again.  He may have clung to the
boat and been captured.  On the other hand, it is more than probable
that he went straight to the bottom.  As for myself, I swam for the bank
and scrambled ashore, receiving another wound as I left the water.  Then
I raced on into the bush with those fiends after me, and finally fell
exhausted.  But they must have given up the chase, for when I regained
consciousness there was no one about.  I was desperately fagged, but I
knew that I should die like a dog if I remained there, so I plunged on
through the bush, and finally hit the river.  Then I came upon some
friendly natives who brought me here.  That's all, my boy, and I am more
than grieved to have to narrate it.  Poor Meinheer is gone, and if you
had been killed also I should have been heart-broken; I thank Heaven
that you are safe.  Now sit down and tell me how you managed to win
through."

"First of all, what shall be done with these bags?" asked Dick.  "They
contain gold dust and nuggets.  The mine was doing very well, and there
were rich finds, so that I have been able to bring you a good return."

Again there was amazement on Mr Pepson's face.  He gazed at his young
agent as though he could not believe his eyes and ears.  Then he
motioned to him to sit down.

"I care more for your story," he said.  "The gold is nothing to me till
I hear that.  Sit down, and let me hear all about your doings."

It was late that night when the two turned in, and on the following
morning, when the gold had been safely deposited at the bank, they
resumed the conversation, for Dick had a question to put.  His heart was
in the country, and he desired above all things to see the war through.
Besides, the idea of taking part in a campaign fascinated him, and he
longed to go up-country to Kumasi with the troops.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

ON SPECIAL SERVICE.

"Here is the letter, sir, which the Commodore gave me to carry to the
Governor," said Dick, as he and Mr Pepson took up the conversation of
the previous day.  "He offered me a post with the expedition which will
be sent to Kumasi, and I declined it until I had seen my employers.
What are your wishes in the matter?"

"That you should go," was the prompt reply.  "My inclination at first
when I returned here was to go back to England at once, for I began to
hate this country.  But I thought of you, and I stayed on the chance of
your turning up.  Now I think of Meinheer.  I give you full permission
to take this post, with the agreement that you still remain my agent,
and draw your salary.  That will be a retaining fee, for when the war is
over I shall want you again.  There, you are free to go, and I am sure
you will do much for our cause."

That afternoon Dick appeared at Government House, a familiar place to
him, and handed his letter to the Governor, who was delighted to see
him.

"Of course we shall be glad to have you," he said, "and I will send
along an official appointment this evening, stating your pay and
allowance.  For the present there is nothing for you to do, save perhaps
to ascertain from the natives what is the present whereabouts of the
Ashantis.  When Sir Garnet Wolseley arrives he will no doubt have work
for you.  You look thin and pale.  Take a rest, my boy.  A white man
cannot work for so long out here in the forest without feeling the
effects of the climate."

But Dick Stapleton was young and inclined at times to be foolhardy.  He
had the objection to remaining still common to every lad of his age.  He
loathed molly-coddling, and though at times he felt feverish, his
stubborn nature would not let him give in, lest he should be thought to
be shamming.  And so, within a few days of his arrival back at the
coast, he was exploring the mouth of the Pra once more, with Johnnie as
stoker, and a crew of ten bluejackets from the _Rattlesnake_, all intent
upon a brush with the enemy.

"Pending the arrival of Sir Garnet and the troops, you will do your
utmost to obtain tidings of the enemy," said the Commodore, as he bade
farewell to our hero.  "And above all, Dick, no meetings with armies, if
you please.  You have as complete a selection of stores aboard as we
could think of, and your crew are all picked men.  Make the
_Rattlesnake_ your headquarters, returning here with news whenever you
can."

And so Dick set off, in command of an expedition for the first time, and
a proud man he felt, too, as he sat at the tiller, with his eye on his
fine crew.  But he had only ascended a very few miles of the river Pra
when he met with an enemy even more dangerous than the Ashantis.  One
morning, as he sprawled on the deck to eat his breakfast, he was seized
with a curious sensation.

"What is there, Johnnie?" he asked listlessly, toying with the pocket
fork and knife which all campaigners carry.

"Hot coffee, massa, berry hot; and golly! look at dem tinned sausages!
Johnnie take dem from de tin jest now, and look how dey frizzle!"

Dick did look, and on another occasion he would have fallen upon the
food with eagerness, for an expedition of any sort encourages a healthy
appetite.  But this morning, strangely enough, he could not eat.  The
sight of food sickened him.  He pushed his plate away and took to his
pipe.  Even that did not please him.  The taste was all wrong, and he
sat down, looking dejected, for the first time for many a day.  Then he
commenced to shiver, till his teeth rattled together like castanets.

"'E's got it, sure enough," whispered one of the salts, an old hand on
the coast.  "This cruise 'as come to a end, chummies.  Look at 'im
shiverin'.  It's a bit of bad luck, mates, 'cos 'e was the boy to show
us some fun.  Beg pardon, sir," he went on, coming to Dick's side, "but
ain't yer feeling quite up to it?  Let's feel yer 'and."

Without further ceremony he took the hand which hung listlessly at his
young commander's side, and put his finger on the pulse, at the wrist,
for this tar had had some instruction, and was an intelligent fellow.
Then he turned to one of his mates, "Fetch along that 'ere medicine
pannier," he said shortly.  "Now, then, open it carefully, and jest lift
out that 'ere box.  If yer please, sir, jest put this under yer tongue."

With deft fingers he produced a thermometer from the medicine chest, and
placed it in Dick's mouth.  Three minutes later he inspected it, while
the look on his jolly face turned to one of concern.

"Are yer cold, sir?" he asked sympathetically.

"No; but awfully hot.  I'm burning all over," was the answer.  "And I'm
very thirsty."

"And you've got a temperature.  Tom Huggins there, 'bout ship; and,
Johnnie, let 'er skip till we're out of the river.  The orfficer's got a
go of fever, and sooner he's aboard the _Rattlesnake_ and at sea the
better for him and all of us.  I'll get yer a blanket, sir, and make yer
comfortable."

They were all very good to their young commander, and took care of him
as if he were a child, till they reached the open sea and espied the
_Rattlesnake_.  An hour later he was lying on the after deck beneath an
awning, tossing with fever, and with an orderly from the sick bay told
off to keep special watch and ward over him.  For Dick had a severe
attack.  The responsible work at the stockade, the fear of a sudden
appearance of the enemy, and the flight had all aided a notoriously bad
climate.  And at last he was down with malaria, which kept him aboard
the ship for a month.

While he is lying there, with plenty of friends about him to see to his
welfare, we will step aside for a little while, and review matters at
the coast.  War, for war's sake, is seldom waged, except amongst savage
tribes.  And even with them there is usually some grievance, some cause
which leads to the outbreak of hostilities.  It may be that more country
is desired, that the men of a certain tribe desire to take wives from
another, or that some injury done to a nation or a race years and years
before has left a feeling of bitterness and a desire for vengeance; a
grudge is owed, and is paid back at the first moment when those who have
sustained the injury are strong enough to fight.  But Britain does not
conduct her wars in that manner.  The numerous little expeditions and
minor campaigns upon which she is so often engaged are almost invariably
the direct result of molestation from some race living on her borders.

For years, perhaps, she has patiently suffered the injury, hoping by
diplomacy to put an end to the whole trouble.  Then, when her patience
is exhausted, and diplomacy has failed; or when the aggressors have
become still more audacious, she finds that war is necessary, that
nothing but armed interference will bring peace to that particular
border.  Too often her patience and forbearance have been mistaken by an
untutored race for weakness, and thus it happens that the foes she has
to meet are more numerous than they might have been.  However, the
history of these small wars is, as a rule, so very similar that one
campaign differs only in detail from another.  Troops are sent to the
part, there is an invasion, and, most likely, severe fighting.  Villages
are taken and burned, forts are stormed, and men killed and captured.
There may be a reverse, for one cannot hope for continued good fortune.
But persistence, good training and discipline tell in the end.  The
tribe is conquered, a fine is levied, and in numerous cases the British
Commissioner left to aid in the administration of the country settles
down peaceably, and a new order commences to reign.  So much so that in
time the very race which had been opposed to us begins to see some
virtue in our friendship, and when another campaign takes place against
some neighbouring chief, old enemies are united in the effort to subdue
the common foe.

Britain had had trouble with the men of Ashanti before this time, when
Dick Stapleton had been practically the first to have a brush with them.
We had crossed swords with the Ashantis more than once, and with
varying success; but, unlike other races, these men inhabiting the
forest beyond the coast-line had maintained their independence and their
bitterness.  For they had always a cause for war, and as the reader will
see presently, that cause had been increased since we acquired the town
and port of Elmina from the Dutch.  The Ashantis were at this time a
powerful nation, for the most part trained to war, and it will have been
gathered that, owing to the fact that there is ample gold in their
country, they were a wealthy nation as compared with many others in a
similar condition of civilisation.  Moreover, the commercial spirit was
strong within them.  They traded with the interior, and for many years
caravans had passed to Kumasi across the country lying still farther
from the sea, carrying products of Africa, ivory in large quantities,
food-stuffs and cottons, and what was appreciated far more perhaps,
slaves in plenty.  And in return the men who brought these caravans to
Kumasi received gold dust, and the highly prized kola nut.  Thus, it
will be seen that the Ashantis were unlike many savage races.  They were
in friendly communication with far-off peoples, and, owing to the
peculiar resources of their country, to the gold found there, and mainly
to the kola nut, which grows in profusion, and which was then
extensively cultivated, they were rich and prosperous.  It was only
natural that, with money to spend and a coast so near, they should
desire to have a port where they could trade with other nations, and
through which, in exchange for their surplus gold, they could obtain
European goods, and, above all, guns and ammunition.  For much wealth
brings the desire for more.  It engenders a feeling of pride and
superiority in the savage breast, and it is hardly to be wondered at
that the Ashantis, looking about them and comparing their own degree of
comfort and civilisation with that of their less fortunate neighbours,
desired to increase their wealth.  With guns and powder they could
fight, and could conquer neighbouring nations.  And with guns they could
make sure of a port on the coast.

It will be realised that with her object gained, Ashanti would hardly
look favourably upon any nation which attempted to put a stop to her
coast trade, and there is no doubt that it was Britain's determination
to arrest the import of guns and ammunition which led to the war which
had now commenced.  For the reader will recollect that Elmina had just
passed into our hands, having been purchased from the Dutch, who had for
very many years maintained a trade with the Ashantis.  Now, however,
Britain, being in possession of this port--if Elmina can be given such a
title--determined to put an end to the trade in guns, and indeed to all
trade, till matters were satisfactorily settled with the King of
Ashanti.  For if he had a grievance, so also had we.  For years we had
been on bad terms, and how, when Ashanti armies were threatening the
coast, and a demand was being made for free trade with Elmina, a request
on our part met with refusal.  King Koffee held certain Europeans as
captives, and before we would discuss the question of trade with him, we
desired the return of those captives, a request which was refused, a
large ransom being demanded.  Then followed negotiations, till King
Koffee, a despot ruling over an extensive country, and with much hoarded
wealth, lost all patience.  He was a powerful king, he said to himself,
and could put fifty thousand armed and trained men in the field.  Why
should he take "nay" from a race of white men living on the coast?  Why
should Ashanti be hemmed within her forests?  She was powerful and could
eat these white men up.

Promptly the armies were organised, and while Britain still dallied, the
King of Ashanti invaded our protectorate.  But still Britain held her
hand, for this was a native war, and because the Ashantis had attacked
the Fantis and other tribes, there was no reason why we should send
troops to this notoriously unhealthy coast, and fight their battles.
Thus it happened that matters at Cape Coast dragged on, while all trade
with the interior ceased.

If the invasion of the protectorate had ended with an attack upon the
Fantis and other races, Britain might well have continued her policy of
aloofness, for she had nothing to gain by invading Ashanti.  She had
tried to do so on former occasions, and had failed disastrously.  And so
she was minded now to leave matters till King Koffee and his armies had
settled their quarrel with their neighbours, when perhaps there would be
a satisfactory ending to the negotiations, and peace would result.  Then
trade would be reopened, guns and ammunition excepted, and the white men
on the coast would have ample opportunities of reaping a harvest, for,
as has been said, Ashanti was a wealthy country.  However, matters did
not stop at invasion of our protectorate.  While Dick was at the mine,
looking after the affairs of his employers, the forces of King Koffee
attacked Elmina.  They induced the natives of that town and other places
bought by us from the Dutch, to join them, and Britain suddenly awakened
to the fact that the enemy was at her very door, and that they meant to
wage war with the white man.  If there had been any doubt as to the
intentions of the Ashantis, the attacks made by their friends and allies
on the boats of the _Rattlesnake_ were sufficiently convincing proofs.
It was war, and Britain found herself, as is too often the case, utterly
unprepared for it.  But she girded on her sword, and preparations were
pushed forward so as to enable us to drive the Ashantis back, and march
on their capital.

That was the condition of affairs existing when Dick reached the coast,
and it was only because of the isolated position of the mine that he had
failed to hear earlier of the Ashanti invasion.  There were few troops
at Cape Coast Castle, and few officers.  There were practically no
stores, and certainly insufficient to support an expedition.  All was
being prepared in Britain, while ships were loading every sort of item
likely to be serviceable in the coming campaign.

Sir Garnet Wolseley, a brilliant officer, and one of our youngest
generals, had been chosen to command, while a staff of officers had been
appointed who would help him in the campaign and make success as sure as
possible.

And now a few words more before we leave the subject of Ashanti history.
Cape Coast Castle was settled by the Portuguese, and was ceded to the
Dutch in 1641.  In 1655 we captured it, and it was secured to Britain by
treaty.  Thus, at the time of this outbreak, we had been in possession
for more than two hundred years.  And what had we done during that time?
The reader who is accustomed to the tale of British progress in our
Colonies and India, in fact, in any part where men of our race gather,
might well expect to find improvement here also.  But such was not the
case.  Cape Coast Castle at this moment was much the same as it had been
when we took it from the Dutch.  No efforts had been made to clear the
forest, and to provide an open space.  The town was as unhealthy a place
as could well be found.  Trade flourished to a certain extent, but might
have been vastly improved.  And lastly, we might have encouraged the
advances of the powerful Ashantis, and thereby gained a vast trade.  We
might have opened up roads to the interior, and dredged the rivers, thus
enabling our own manufactures to find a market, and in place of sending
numerous presents to the reigning monarch of Ashanti, with a view to
conciliating him, we might very well have made a treaty with him,
whereby commerce might have been improved on both sides.  Both those who
ruled British affairs on the Gold Coast practised a short-sighted
policy, with the result that we had come into conflict on at least four
occasions with the Ashantis, and on nearly all these occasions the
question between the two nations was one of commerce.  The powerful
Ashantis were impatient of the white man's interference.  We blocked the
way to the sea, and the people of Kumasi desired a free opening, by
means of which they might exchange home products for guns and other
items much in request by them.

And now the position was precisely the same, only the purchase of Elmina
had brought matters to a head.  King Koffee had demanded the fort there,
claiming that it was his, and had been met with curt refusal.  Then, it
is said, our Governor on the Gold Coast attempted to interfere with the
barbarous customs of the Elminas, a mixed race inhabiting the
neighbourhood of the town.  This people had never encountered difficulty
on the same score from the Dutch, and they naturally resented the
action.  More than likely also they were bribed by the Ashantis.  But,
as has been seen, they promptly retaliated by throwing in their lot with
King Koffee, and by inviting him to invade the protectorate.  And that
invasion had carried the Ashantis up to the very edge of Cape Coast
Castle, and had resulted in a bombardment of Elmina.  Then matters had
settled for a time, and little was heard of the armies of the potentate
of Kumasi, till our hero rushed down upon them on the Prahsu.  But for
that chance meeting and the outrageous ambush laid for the sailors,
those in authority at Cape Coast Castle would have still gone on with
the comfortable thought that King Koffee meant no great harm to the
white men.  True, he had joined with the Elminas, and there had been an
incursion of his armies to that place, necessitating an attack by the
guns of the fleet.  But he had since disappeared, and though complaints
came from the Fantis and others that they were still suffering, there
was no evidence of that fact at the coast.  It seemed, indeed, as if the
trouble were subsiding, and as if King Koffee realised the hopelessness
of the struggle.  It was thought that he would treat with the Government
again, and would hand over the captives; then a treaty could be made
with him, and trade be revived.  Meanwhile it was risky to ascend the
Pra, or enter the country of Ashanti.  Think, then, of the astonishment
of the officials on the coast when Dick returned with his news, when,
added to the treacherous attack made upon the Navy, resulting in such
severe losses, came definite news of a large Ashanti army on the Prahsu.
And very soon the advance of this same army was reported by friendly
natives, so that there could no longer be any doubt that serious trouble
was impending.  The eyes of those in authority opened very wide indeed.
Already it had been decided that troops were wanted; but now that need
was undoubtedly urgent.

When a month had passed, therefore, and Dick was again out of his
hammock, the aspect at the coast had changed.  Where before had been
peace and repose, was now the utmost bustle.  The _Rattlesnake_ had
gone, and other ships had taken her place.  Dick himself was aboard a
hospital ship which had been sent to the coast, while in the roads,
lying a mile from the shore, with swarms of surf-boats manned by
laughing kroomen about them, were transports discharging men and
supplies.

One in particular drew the attention of all eyes, for she was the
_Ambriz_, African mail steamer, and she had just brought Sir Garnet,
together with his staff.  Dick looked eagerly at her, wondering whether
he would be given an opportunity to meet this famous General, who at
this moment had the honours of the Red River Expedition fresh upon him.
He wondered, too, whether his appointment would meet with approval, and
whether his duties would take him soon into the country of the enemy.

"I'm fit and well at any rate," he said to himself, as he leaned against
the rail.  "There's nothing like sea breeze to clear fever away, and
though I own that I was as weak as a rat when I was transferred here, I
am now, thanks to the excellent rations provided, as fit as I ever was."

"And depend upon it, you will soon be employed," answered a young
officer, who stood beside him, and who, having volunteered for service,
had come out with Sir Garnet, only to fall ill on the voyage and be sent
to the hospital ship within a few hours of reaching the coast.  "We
shall all be at it soon, and I'm glad that I've had this attack now, and
not waited till later.  Hullo! there comes the Governor's launch."

They watched the tiny vessel steam away from its anchorage just beyond
the surf opposite Cape Coast Castle, for, as has been explained, there
was no harbour on this coast, nothing had been done to afford protection
to even the smallest shipping.  The launch stood away from the shore,
and presently arrived at the gangway hanging to the side of the hospital
ship.  There was a staff officer aboard, and having ascended to the
deck, and saluted the medical officer in charge, he descended with him
to the cabin.  A few minutes later he came up again, and his companion
pointed to Dick.

"There he is," he said, with a good-natured smile.  "I pass him as fit,
and shall be glad to get rid of him, for, 'pon my word, the youngster
has been the worry of my life.  Every day he has pestered me to allow
him to go ashore.  Take him and welcome."

"Then, Mr Stapleton, the General sends his compliments and desires that
you will call at Government House and see his Chief of the Staff.  Will
you come now?"

Would he come at once?  Dick smiled at the very idea, and ran below with
all the eagerness of a boy.  Soon he appeared again, spruce and neat in
his white clothing, and stepped into the launch.

"Remember me.  Dick," sang out the young officer, who had become
friendly with him.  "If there is a boat expedition or anything going, I
am a volunteer.  Ask to choose your own staff, and don't forget that I
shall be keen."

Half an hour later the surf-boat had landed them, and our hero felt like
a young horse which has been conveyed oversea, and has not set foot on
land for many a day.  It was glorious to feel the sand under his shoes,
to see the people moving about, the laughing kroomen, the native
carriers, the mulattoes of the coast, the white men, English for the
most part, with an occasional Dutchman, all busily engaged in checking
stores.  There were young officers, as young or younger than himself, in
their shirt sleeves, with pith helmets tilted to the backs of their
heads, perspiring freely, while they saw that the stores were correct.
And everywhere, some under tarpaulins, some exposed to the air, were the
stores, cases of biscuit, of rice, of pork, and of beef.  Huge ovens for
field camps, kettles of the standard army pattern, known throughout the
service as "dickies."  Bales of clothing for native levies, cases of the
same for European troops, shells of regulation construction, swords
which were sharp on one side and had a saw edge on the reverse, star
shells meant to be fired high into the air and light up the
surroundings, hand grenades and rockets.  Dick even noted some barrels
labelled "beads," a curious thing to find in such a place.

"For the niggers and their wives," said the staff officer, with a laugh.
"That is the way in which we shall pay our way in some parts, though I
fancy it will hardly take us to Kumasi."

There was a grim smile on his face as he said the words, and he looked
closely at Dick.

"What is your opinion?" he asked.

"All depends on the force we have, and on the methods we employ, and the
strategy adopted by the enemy," answered Dick.  "If King Koffee leads
his troops against us and shows up in the open, he will be smashed to
pieces.  Our rifles would beat down his gun fire, while our shells and
gatlings would send his men running.  But it will be different."

"You have seen for yourself?  You have been up-country, they tell me."

"A little.  The forest extends for something like two hundred miles, and
we shall have no choice but to fight through it.  Whether we go by river
or road to Prahsu, there we shall have to take to the bush, and it will
be difficult work.  A man can creep close to one and stab, while rifles
are almost useless.  Then there's the climate.  But we ought to get to
Kumasi if we have the troops."

"What I think and hope.  But come along.  Here's the office."

A few moments later Dick was ushered into the large, airy room in which
the Staff held their meetings, and at once stood at attention, his hat
in his hand.  By now he had become used to official matters and people,
and therefore he felt no nervousness when he discovered that there were
four officers present, all of senior rank, while two at least were high
up in the service.  Instantly Dick's eye was riveted on the figure of
one of these officers, moderately tall and exceedingly soldierly in
appearance.

"Sir Garnet," said the other, motioning to him.  "Mr Dick Stapleton, of
whom you have heard."

Dick bowed at the name and stood, awaiting the wishes of those who had
summoned him.

"You are well and strong again, it is reported?" said the chief of the
staff.  "That is good news, for the General desires some information.
Do you consider that you are well enough to undertake another journey
into the bush?"

"Quite," was Dick's emphatic answer.  "I am fit and strong again now,
and longing to be off."

Sir Garnet smiled.  The chief of the staff smiled, while the officers
present exchanged knowing glances.

"That is like your spirit," went on the officer, "but I wish you to
consider this question before you reply, for the journey upon which we
require you to go is one from which some do not return.  We have news,
more or less reliable, of the movements of the Ashanti armies, news
which is sufficient till the troops arrive from England.  But in the
meanwhile we want to have particulars of the country beyond the Pra,
from there to Kumasi, and if possible news of the captives and of King
Koffee.  Troops are expected at the end of the year, in two months
perhaps.  So you have that time in which to get this information.  But
you know, doubtless, the condition of the country.  There are at least
two Ashanti armies lying in the jungle, and perhaps there are others."

He ceased speaking and looked questioningly at the young fellow standing
hat in hand, as if awaiting an answer, while he desired above all things
to weigh his character, to see for himself whether he were indeed the
lad of courage which the Governor had represented him to be, and whether
he were a fit person to undertake an expedition of such danger.

"There will be no mercy from the Ashantis," he added, lifting a warning
finger.  "You have met them and you should know."

"When can I start?  The sooner the better," said Dick, quietly.

"Then you will go?"

"Yes, sir, and I will get this information for you if it is possible.
What men may I have?  I'd like the old launch which I had before.  She
steams well, and has a stout hull."

"Choose your own staff and your own methods of proceeding," was the
genial answer.  "They tell me that you have patrolled the river before,
so you must know what is wanted.  Come and report here just before you
leave.  And, er--Mr Stapleton, there will be a handsome reward for this
information."

Dick was glad that he had heard that after he had accepted the task.

"After all," he thought, as he left the office, "I would rather work for
the fun of the thing and for the good of old England than for money.
If, however, there is a reward and I win it, why, all the better.  It
will be like winning a prize.  And now for the preparations.  I shall
want to think it out."

He bade farewell to the staff officer who had brought him from the ship
and went to see Mr Pepson.  A week later he set off on his hazardous
journey to Kumasi, to the headquarters of the most ferocious monarch
known to Englishmen, to the spot where everything was fetish, where
thousands of slaves were butchered in the year, and where the sight of a
white man was sufficient to rouse all the inhabitants to a condition
bordering on insanity.

"Recollect, my dear lad," said Mr Pepson, as he bade his young friend
good-bye, "that King Koffee is a wild beast, and that it would be better
for you and your men to die fighting, or to shoot one another, rather
than fall into his hands.  Good-bye, and good luck."

He turned away to hide a tear, this strong man who so seldom showed his
feelings.  But he was deeply attached to Dick, and would gladly have
kept him.  However, this was duty, duty to his country, and he was
forced to let him go.  Then he turned and watched as the surf-boat took
our hero out to his launch.  There was the scream of a whistle, the
waving of many hands, and Dick was off--perhaps never to return again.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

A BRUSH WITH THE ENEMY.

"We will look into Elmina on the way over to the Pra," said Dick, as the
launch steamed along the coast, keeping just outside the rollers.  "I
have news of something, and want to inspect.  Later we can go up the Pra
and get this other information."

He was sitting on the roof of the tiny cabin, surveying the coast with a
critical eye, while every now and again he turned his gaze to his crew
with a feeling of satisfaction.  For this was some reward for the
disappointment occasioned by his illness.  He was again on the move,
with the very same crew, and in addition there was with him young
Emmett, a youth some few months older than himself, tall and straight,
and now entirely recovered from the sickness which had prostrated him
and sent him to the hospital ship _Simoon_.

Jack Emmett was just the sort of fellow to take our hero's fancy, for he
was a genial, high-spirited lad, fond of a joke, and still keener on
seeing some fun with the enemy.  So far he had done nothing more than
inspect the Gold Coast from the sea, for he had fallen ill on the voyage
out.  But he was eager to meet the enemy, and more than that, Dick found
that he took a great interest in the coming operations, intelligently
following the movements and preparations on our side.  More than all, he
had a huge admiration for his young leader, who had in so few weeks
managed to meet with so much adventure.

"What is this news?" demanded Jack, for up till now Dick had kept his
counsel to himself.  "It is new to hear that we are to make into Elmina.
Are there any Ashantis there?"

"You will hear," was the answer.  "This I can tell you, that Sir Garnet
has had a big palaver since he reached the coast, and called in all the
kings of the tribes under British protection.  Some came in all state,
with umbrellas and tom-toms, and with the accompaniment of rattling
bones and war-drums.  Others stayed away, and sent defiant answers.
Those fellows live in the neighbourhood of Elmina, and it struck me,
when I heard the tale, that they would hardly have dared to act as they
have done had there not been some sort of encouragement."

"I follow the argument.  Then you think--?"

"That the Ashantis are somewhere in the neighbourhood.  Yes," responded
Dick.  "Let's talk to Johnnie."

He sang out for the native stoker, who relinquished his firing shovel,
and came trotting along the miniature deck, still clad in his tattered
garments, and still with the clay pipe of which he was so fond, gripped
between his teeth.  But there was a little difference.  Johnnie had
added dignity.  His was a proud mien, and whenever he stopped to speak
to a white man or even a black nowadays he always turned his right cheek
to the stranger, for there was the scar, livid and red against his dusky
skin, an honourable scar which told of fighting, of a battle in which
his master had gained a name, and he, Johnnie the stoker, a proportion
of the glory.

"Massa call," he said, raising his hand to his battered cap after the
custom of the seamen.  "Johnnie here.  What yo want?"

"Repeat this tale of Elmina," said Dick, quietly.  "Tell this officer
what you told me."

Johnnie greeted the youth beside his master in similar fashion, with an
elaborate salute, and treated him to a critical survey.

"Johnnie know little ting or two," he began, with a knowing smile.  "He
'tend dat he no good, like same as many at de coast.  He say, `hate
white men, and wish Ashanti here.'  Johnnie know dere heaps of spies at
de Castle, and he listen and open um ear.  Soon fellow come and ask him
if he find out what going to happen.  Me say glad, if plenty gold dust.
Den dis fellow he tell Johnnie dat de Ashanti lie in de bush along close
to de coast, ready to jump on de white man.  Ask me to let um know when
time come for de rush.  Dat all I know.  Johnnie take de dust and
perhaps get more later."

He looked at the two sprawling on the roof of the cabin with a cunning
smile, in which they joined.  For, after all, though it was not
precisely honest, this action of the stoker's, yet all was fair in love
and war, and if one of the agents of the enemy came to one of the
servants of the white men asking for information and offering money, was
it not in the nature of such a man as Johnnie to keep his information to
himself, giving tit-bits of news which were of no importance, while he
abstracted information as to the enemy's position, and a reward for
himself?

"And that is all, Johnnie?" demanded Dick.

"All same as me tell yo.  Noding more."

"Then you can get back to the engine.  Now, Jack," went on Dick,
"supposing it were true that the Ashantis were here, within a few miles
of Elmina, and imagined themselves hidden from the English.  Wouldn't it
be an opportunity to take them by surprise and start the campaign
favourably?  There are not many troops at the Coast, I know, but there
are marines and bluejackets aboard, and they should be sufficient."

"And they could be concentrated here rapidly.  Yes; it would be a golden
opportunity, and I see your meaning.  Then you will put in at Elmina?"

"When it is dark," said Dick.  "Then we shall not be seen, perhaps.
That is why I delayed our departure.  We are far enough along the coast
now, and I propose that we steam out a little and lay to."

The proposal was carried out at once, for they judged that they were now
some two hours' steaming from Elmina, and the day was still young.
Therefore, it was as well to keep as far out as possible.  Accordingly,
the bows of the launch shot out over the oily sea, which was heaving
continuously as it does along this long unbroken African coast, and very
soon she lay to, a couple of miles or more from the beach.

"We'll have the lines out and do a little fishing," sang out Dick.  "Any
one who likes may sleep, save the man on guard.  Johnnie, you'll need to
bank the fires, for we shall want steam later."

A canvas awning had been rigged over the deck of the launch, for the
heat would otherwise have been almost unbearable.  And beneath this the
two young officers and their crew stretched themselves at their ease,
while each dropped a line overboard, for they had been careful to bring
these in case their provisions should run short.

Some four hours later, just as the day began to draw in, they pulled up
their lines and headed for Elmina.  It was dark when they arrived off
the fort, and they steamed into the river at once, passing beneath the
bridge erected by the Dutch.  Not a sound was heard aboard.  The engines
were working dead slow, while a screen of sacks surrounded the funnel,
hiding any sparks which might have betrayed the presence of the launch.
In the bows stood two of the bluejackets, with long poles in their
hands, and presently, as the launch passed beyond the town into the
river, they stretched these ahead as far as possible, letting the tips
trail in the water.

"Take her along dead slow," whispered Dick in Johnnie's ear.  "There are
plenty of sand and mud banks, and we don't want to get stranded.  Ah!
that must be one."

Without the slightest warning, the launch came sweetly to a stop,
burying her nose in a bank of mud which cropped up in the middle of the
river.  Even the men who held the poles had not been able to detect the
obstruction in time, for their rods simply pierced the soft material.
And now, when they attempted to push the launch off, the same thing
happened.

"All walk aft," said Dick.  "Now, Johnnie, reverse the engines, and give
her more steam.  When I whistle let every man give a jump into the air."

His orders were given in the lowest tones, and were carried out without
confusion, for the British sailor hates fuss and flurry, and can be
relied on to act well and discreetly in an emergency.  All gathered aft,
and as Dick whistled they jumped into the air, shaking the launch as
they came to the deck again.  But still she clung to her cradle of mud.

"Then some of us must get overboard.  What is the depth?" asked Dick.

In the silence he could hear the two bluejackets grope for their poles,
and plunge them into the water.  Then one of them came to his side.

"About two feet of water, and three of mud," he said.  "If we was to go
over the side, we couldn't swim, and the mud would hold us.  What about
putting something at the end of the poles, sir?  Something that wouldn't
sink so easily.  How'd a couple of kegs do?"

Dick thought for a moment.  Then he went to the tiny cabin, and
unmasking a lamp, peered closely at the stores.  Thanks to the
generosity of those in charge of the commissariat, a liberal supply of
provisions of a mixed character had been handed over to the expedition,
and amongst these stores were some kegs of biscuits.  Our hero gave vent
to a whistle.

"Bring the two poles down here," he said, as a head was thrust into the
cabin.  "And let all stand round, so as to hide the light should it
show.  Now, my lad, rip off the top of this keg."

One of the sailors had his cutlass out in a moment, and soon contrived
to get the lids off two of the kegs, and the contents were poured into
an empty provision box.

"Now, how are we to make them fast?" asked Dick.  "You ought to know
better than I."

He looked at the sailors and waited their reply, while they stared at
the kegs, uncertain how to act, for it is no easy matter to attach an
article of this kind to the end of a pole.

"With a bit of rope and a good fire I'd do it in half an hour," said one
of the men at length.  "Yer see, by rights, sir, we ought to have a step
at the bottom of the keg, and lash the end of a pole down on to it.  But
yer can't do that 'cause a step needs hammerin', and that 'ud warn the
enemy if he's hereabouts.  But we've a fire, and a stoking bar, and that
'ud make a fine drill.  With a hole through the centre of the lid and
the bottom, we could push the pole through, and take a turn of the rope
round above and below the keg.  That would keep all in place and
ship-shape."

"Then we'll get to the engine," said Dick, promptly.  "Bring the kegs
and poles while I douse the light.  Now, you men," he went on, as he
came out on the deck, "stand round the engine well while we finish the
job.  Johnnie, get that bar heated."

Some twenty minutes later the four holes had been drilled, and the poles
pushed through, and secured with rope.  Then the two sailors took their
station on the bows, while the remainder went aft.  The propeller was
reversed at full speed, while the kegs were placed against the mud bank,
and the men holding the poles pushed with all their strength.  Dick gave
a low whistle, the men jumped, and this time with as gentle a motion as
when she grounded, the launch left the bank and floated in the open
water.  Two hours later the boat was brought to a rest some miles up the
river, and was pulled beneath an overhanging tree, where she lay till
morning dawned.

"We have a fine place from which to keep watch, and we'll see whether we
cannot make a catch," said Dick, as he and Jack Emmett sat down to
breakfast.  "How do you like the work, Jack?"

"It's fine," was the answer.  "This is what I have been waiting for.
And the best part of it all is that we are our own masters, and can
therefore enjoy all the more fun.  Supposing an army came along, as
happened in your case?"

"We should lie hidden; if they found us we should fight.  No more
running away for me, particularly when I have a crew like this.  Hullo!
what's the report?"

One of the sailors had ascended the branches of the tree, from which
post he could keep a watch on the river, and at this moment he whistled.
Then they saw him come swarming down to drop from a height of fully
fifteen feet on to the deck of the launch.  He alighted as easily as a
cat and came aft to his commander.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said, as he saluted, "but there's a boat full of
niggers a-coming down-stream, and they're armed."

Dick was up in a moment, and taking care to move with the utmost caution
he pushed the leaves aside and looked out.  The report was accurate, for
coming down-stream was a large native boat, with some ten men aboard, on
whose shoulders muskets were slung.  A glance showed him that some at
least were Ashantis, while the others he was not sure about.

"They must be captured," he said with decision.  "We will wait till they
are quite close, and will rush out at them.  If they fire, four of you
give them a volley.  That will be sufficient, for we want to make a
capture."

It was an exciting moment for the men of the expedition.  Not that they
had anything to fear from the men aboard the native boat.  But they were
now well above Elmina, and who could say whether the enemy were not all
round them?  In any case they must be near at hand, so that the attack
might very well be followed by a general onslaught on the part of the
Ashantis.

Dick busied himself with telling off the men to their stations, while he
bade Jack Emmett take the tiller and steer the launch.  Presently the
native boat drew opposite their hiding-place, and at once the boughs
were parted and the launch shot out into the river.  There was a shout
from the enemy, and half a dozen dropped their paddles and opened a hot
fire, their slugs whistling over the launch.

"That proves that they are enemies," said Dick, in tones of
satisfaction.  "Give them a volley, my lads."

It was high time to return the fire, for as he spoke another burst of
flame had come from the boat, and three of the sailors were struck by
the slugs.  Not that that made much difference, for the hardy fellows
did little more than grunt.  There was a quick answering flash, and
instantly four of the natives threw up their arms and toppled overboard.

"Put us at her hard!" shouted Dick, waving to Jack.  "Now swing her
round and bring us alongside.  Keep under cover if you can, my lads, and
give them a volley over their heads."

The whole manoeuvre scarcely took five minutes.  In less time than it
takes to tell, the launch had swung out into the stream, had headed for
the enemy, and finally had run alongside, a second volley from the
rifles of the seamen ripping the air over the heads of the natives.  And
that was sufficient.  Within a second they had thrown down their arms
and had grovelled on the floor of the boat.

"Get them all aboard here and lash their arms and legs," sang out Dick.
"That's the way.  Smartly does it.  Now dash a hole in their boat and
let her sink.  Turn the launch's head to the sea, Jack, and let us be
going.  Ah, there come the bullets."

There could be no doubt that there were more enemies at hand, and that
the firing had attracted their attention, for hardly had three of the
bluejackets tumbled aboard the native craft, while their comrades held
the two boats together, when a gun bellowed from the low-lying forest on
the opposite shore, and a bullet crashed into the stern of the launch.

"Jest look lively, me lad, will yer?" sang out one of the salts, as he
gripped the shoulder of one of the grovelling enemy.  "That's the sort.
Yer don't want to look at me as if I was about to eat yer, but jest hop
aboard the launch."

He used the utmost politeness, while his grip closed about the native
like a vice, and with such force that the wretch gave vent to a cry of
terror.  Then he was lifted bodily aboard the launch, where in spite of
the slugs and bullets which were now falling about her, he and his
companions were carefully and scientifically secured, Jack Tar not
deigning to hasten because the enemy happened to be near at hand.  Then
one of the salts borrowed the stoking shovel from Johnnie, and in less
than a minute the native boat had disappeared beneath the water.
Meanwhile the bush on one side of the river echoed to the shouts of the
enemy, and the fire which had at first been spasmodic, now became
furious, till the surface of the river was lashed with bullets and
slugs.

"Lie down, men, and return their fire," sang out Dick.  "Jack, sink into
that well, and steer us to the far side.  I fancy we shall be out of
range there, and I have seen none of the enemy.  We will make for the
sea now, for we have got all that we want; at least, we have obtained
nearly all.  The rest I shall hope to have soon.  That's the way, my
lads, pepper them well."

He took a rifle and lay down beside the men, firing at the flashes which
spurted from the bush.  And thanks to their superior weapons, and the
skill of the sailors, the shots of the enemy gradually subsided,
bursting out here and there afresh as they were silenced in one
particular spot.  Then Dick whistled to his men to cease fire.

"We do not wish to kill more of them," he said, "and they cannot hurt us
now.  Let each of you stand beside one of the prisoners, and if you can
impress him with your fierceness without really harming him, all the
better."

There was a knowing grin on the faces of the men as they went to carry
out their leader's commands; for they were beginning to grasp his
meaning.  And Dick, had he not been so serious, could have roared with
laughter at the grimaces of the sailors, for they carried out his wishes
to the letter till the captives writhed with terror.  Meanwhile the
launch, ignoring the continued fire of the enemy, kept to the far side
of the river and steamed down to Elmina.  Soon she passed beneath the
bridge, breasted the breakers, and was at sea again, a few gashes on her
planks, and a handkerchief or two about the arms of the sailors alone
showing that she had been in action; those, and the captives lying upon
her deck.

"Now, Jack, we will suppose that you can speak and understand the
Ashanti tongue as well as I can," said Dick, coolly, as he came aft to
the well and sat down beside his friend.  "We are about to interrogate
the prisoners, and you will pass sentence upon them.  At least, I shall
say that you are here for that purpose, and you must act the part by
looking very severe.  We will have them up one by one, and abstract all
their information.  Two of the bluejackets can stand guard over each
prisoner as he is brought, while the others will be kept out of hearing
in the bows.  Now, recollect, to get information, we must terrorise
these men.  I don't like to do so, but natives understand no other means
of persuasion.  If you offer gold they will lie and cheat you.  Now,
bring up the first of the prisoners."

It was an informal trial which was held at the stern of the launch and
would have caused the laughter of any other group of men.  But Dick and
his command were bent on obtaining information, and if they could prove
the proximity of the Ashantis, they would be doing an incalculable
benefit to the commander of the British forces, for thereby he might be
enabled to make a surprise attack, and gain a victory, a matter of great
importance at this stage of the proceedings.  And so, escorted by two of
the bluejackets, with their rifles loaded, one of the captives was
brought aft and halted just in front of our hero.  He was a sturdy
fellow, and now that two hours had passed since his capture his fears
were beginning to subside.  He looked closely at the white officers whom
he confronted, noted their youth and at once gained further confidence.
His head went up, he put on a defiant look and would have squatted there
on the deck had it not been for the sailors.

"None of yer larks, me son," said one of them, giving the man a hitch
which shot him to his feet.  "Stand steady where you're put, or--"

There was a menace in the sailor's looks, and the rifle and cutlass with
which he was armed supported the threat.  The native stood upright,
looking perhaps a little disconcerted.

"Tell me how long you have been near Elmina, and how many of your
comrades are there?" asked Dick, in the Ashanti tongue.

Astonishment was written on the man's face, and Dick noticed an
expression of dismay.  But it disappeared at once and the answer came
glibly.

"I have been there a week.  My comrades, all that remain, lie here on
this deck.  We were bringing our goods to Elmina."

"That is a lie," said Dick quietly, watching the man closely as he
spoke.  "You are an Ashanti.  That I know for certain.  Your comrades
fired at us from the shore, and you were not carrying goods.  Guns and
swords formed your only cargo.  Now, listen.  You have news to give, and
I require it.  If you give it, you will be unharmed; if you lie, you
will be killed.  I will count my fingers over four times, and if at the
end you have not spoken the truth you will be shot.  That is the
decision of my friend who sits beside me."

At once he began to count, while the native watched him, at first with
looks of incredulity, and then with an expression of concern.  Meanwhile
there was tense silence amongst the group, save for the muttered words
coming from Dick.  He was nearing the end of his count, and as if to
emphasise the fact, and at a nod from our hero, one of the sailors
pulled back the lock of his rifle with a click.  It was an ugly and an
ominous sound, and in an instant it had the desired effect.

"I will speak, white chief," said the prisoner, hastily.  "It is true
that my comrades are up the river.  How many I do not know, but there is
an army.  We have been there for weeks, and are starving.  There is
nothing more to tell."

Dick nodded curtly.  "Take him into the cabin and see that he does not
communicate with the others," he said.  "Now, let us have another
prisoner."

One by one the Ashanti prisoners were brought to the stern of the launch
and interrogated, and the story told by all was precisely the same.  The
Ashantis were in force in the jungle lying within a few miles of Elmina
and between that part and the river Pra.  They had fraternised with the
Elminas and other natives, nominally under our protection, and for the
most part they were almost starving.  They were awaiting the moment when
they might attack the white men.  There could be no doubt about the
truth of their tale, for they had each said the same, and had had no
time to concoct a story.

"We shall be welcome home again," said Dick, with a smile, as he rose
from the well.  "It is true that we have not yet gained information of
the country beyond the Prahsu, but then there is plenty of time, for the
troops who are to come out will not be here for some six weeks, and
there are insufficient here now to make the march to Kumasi.  But there
may be enough men for this expedition to Elmina.  That will, of course,
rest with Sir Garnet, but they say he is a dashing leader, and I fancy
he will strike a blow.  Full steam, Johnnie.  The sooner we are back the
better."

Five hours later our hero stood hat in hand in the office at Government
House, facing the chief of Sir Garnet's staff.

"This is very important news which you bring," said the officer,
seriously.  "Have you told any one what you have learned?"

He looked anxiously at Dick and waited for his reply, giving expression
to an exclamation of relief when he heard the answer.

"Then you and Mr Emmett are the only two who know.  Your native stoker
has suspicions, but you say that he is trustworthy.  I fancy we may be
able to hoodwink these natives."

An hour later, when Dick retired to Mr Pepson's house, the details of
an expedition had been roughly drafted, and on the following morning
orders were published.  But those in authority knew that they had
cunning foes to deal with, and that spies abounded even in Cape Coast
Castle.  And so when those who were to take part in the attack embarked,
it was with the belief that they were to sail to a different part of the
country altogether, and that Elmina and its neighbourhood was not even
under consideration.  It was with a light heart that Dick steamed back
to Elmina, and took his station near the fort, prepared to operate with
the expedition and attack the enemy.

"You will listen for our bugle calls, and direct your fire accordingly,"
the Chief of the Staff had warned him.  "Otherwise we may be firing into
one another.  Keep the men well in hand, for the bush will be dense.
But there, I am forgetting that you have had experience already.  Hold
our right flank and punish them severely."

Early on the following morning, when the marines and bluejackets had
disembarked at Elmina, and the native troops had joined them on the
beach, Dick and his men steamed up the river, and having gained a point
some miles higher up, stood in to the bank and landed, leaving two men
in charge of the launch.

"Lie off at anchor, and keep a sharp watch," he commanded.  "Now, my
lads, we will hunt in couples, and remember to use your whistles, for it
is easy to get lost here.  Follow me and be sure you go warily."

They turned their backs on the water, and plunged into the bush, their
eyes endeavouring to pierce the dense undergrowth, while their ears were
forever alert to detect the proximity of the enemy.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

BLUEJACKETS, CHARGE!

"Halt!"  Dick Stapleton lifted his hand above his head, and crouched low
in the jungle, while the sailors who followed him in single file,
slashing a path through the dense undergrowth, copied his example.
"H-h-hush!  Did you hear?  There it is again!"

Dick whispered in Jack Emmett's ear, and Jack, to whom bush work was a
novelty, stared back at his friend in amazement.  For he had seen
nothing, and there had been no sound to arouse his suspicion.  Indeed,
all about the little party looked quiet and peaceful.  Overhead towered
enormous cotton trees, running to the height of two hundred and fifty
feet, while beneath their overspreading branches were yams and plantain
trees, huge ferns and every variety of forest growth, many of these
latter being giants in themselves, but dwarfed by the ponderous girth
and height of the cotton trees.  At the feet of these wonders of the
African forest clustered vines and trailing creepers.  Orchids and
lovely lichens clung to the boughs, while huge masses of buff, violet,
pink and brilliant yellow convolvuli hung suspended in festoons,
brightening the gloom which pervaded this underworld of the jungle.  Not
a native could be seen.  Indeed, the bush was so dense that Dick and his
party could not see beyond a few feet, and every yard they advanced had
to be won by diligent cutting with sword or cutlass.  Yet our hero was
suspicious.

"There, listen!" he said again, in a low whisper.  "Listen to the
birds."

"I hear them.  But what of that?  There are heaps in these woods, no
doubt," was Jack's reply.  "That does not say that the enemy are near.
Wait, though.  That was a cheer.  Our men must be somewhere in the
neighbourhood."

At that moment a distant cheer had come to their ears through the
barrier of boughs, and at the sound both sat up suddenly and listened.
Then Dick began to crawl forward again.

"We can go on," he said quietly.  "The calls of the birds were not real,
of that I feel sure.  They were made by the enemy, purposely to let each
man know that he was near his fellows.  It's a good idea.  Halt again!"

This time he beckoned the bluejackets to come close up to him, and for a
little while they were clustered together at the foot of a cotton tree.

"We are getting near the enemy," said Dick, "and if we are rushed it
will be very easy to get separated.  We will keep in couples, and no man
is to be more than three or four feet from his comrade.  Once we are in
touch with the enemy we will whistle, so as to tell each other where we
are.  Then there will be no getting lost, and we shall not run the
danger of firing at one another.  Remember, before pulling a trigger,
give a whistle and wait a moment."

Once more he turned his face to the interior of the jungle and crept on,
and presently the call of birds was again heard.  Then he redoubled his
caution, cutting creepers from his path as silently as possible, and
removing all broken twigs from the ground.  Half an hour later he and
his men came to a sudden halt, for the darkness which had surrounded
them up to this suddenly lightened, while as if to increase their
difficulties there came the sound of more cheers, the answering yell of
hundreds of natives, and then a succession of sharp explosions which
shook the leaves.  A minute later a volley of slugs screeched overhead,
stripping the boughs, and covering the little party with the debris.

"Forward!" shouted Dick, "and let the men come up on either side of me.
We will get to this clearing and turn the enemy out."

There was no time to be lost, for it was now evident that the approach
of his party had been heard by the enemy, while the sudden lifting of
the gloom showed that there was a clear space in the forest some little
way ahead, and from this no doubt the enemy were firing.  Dick lost no
time therefore in pushing forward.  Bent double he ran between the
creepers, jumping over fallen boughs, and slashing at every obstruction
which threatened to arrest his progress.  Very soon he came to the edge
of the forest.  Meanwhile the sailors were not behindhand.  They gave
vent to a cheer, just to show their spirit, and then, spreading by
couples to either side, they scrambled forward, wriggling their way
through the bush.

"Lie flat!" shouted Dick, as they got into position, and a second volley
of slugs flew overhead.  "Now, you can see where they are.  Pick them
off, my lads.  Fire about a foot below the flashes and about the same or
a little less to the right.  That should get them."

At his order the men threw themselves on their faces, and wriggling
forward a few inches till they could obtain a clear glimpse of the open
space ahead, opened a heavy and well-directed fire at the flashes and
puffs of smoke which burst from a hundred points on the opposite side of
the clearing.  There the jungle again commenced, though it was not so
dense, and many paths could be seen cutting their way through it.
Beyond, some distance away, the glare of a big fire could be detected,
while the smoke hung over the summit of the forest trees.

"Our men at work," Dick shouted to his companion, "and these fellows who
are firing at us are between us and our friends.  We must try to drive
them away and effect a junction."

But if that was his object, it was not so easy to accomplish, for the
enemy were in full force on the far side of the narrow clearing, and had
he and his party but known it, the path taken by the British troops led
rather far to the left of the river, while so deceptive was the forest
that the glare and the smoke were actually much more distant than they
appeared.  Sir Garnet had with him a few bluejackets, with a
seven-pounder gun and a rocket trough, twenty Royal Marine Artillery,
129 Royal Marines, 205 of the West India Regiment, 126 Houssas, a force
enlisted in Central Africa, a few natives and many bearers enlisted on
the coast.  It was this force which Dick and his comrades heard.  They
had come upon the village of Essaman, and finding it vacant had set it
on fire, exploding some kegs of powder which the enemy had left, and
finding a number of muskets and war-drums, all evidence of the truth of
the report which had been brought by our hero to headquarters.  Indeed,
there was little doubt that the enemy were in force in the
neighbourhood, though so far none on our side had seen a single man.
All that Dick could perceive was the flash of guns, and the falling of
numerous leaves and twigs cut down by the slugs which hailed overhead.
Suddenly another sound attracted his attention, and his expression
changed to one of concern.

"Our fellows are going still farther away, and the enemy are closing in
on us," he said hastily.  "There is a man, and, look, others are
appearing.  They are going to try a rush.  We will warn the men.
Listen, my lads," he shouted, "the Ashantis look as if they would try a
charge, and we must stop it.  If they reach this side of the clearing
they will creep into the jungle and shoot us down easily.  Keep on
firing till I shout, then charge them as they come."

Kneeling behind a tree he kept a keen watch upon the opposite side, and
now that the enemy were exposing themselves, his bullets seldom failed
to tell.  As for the Jack Tars, they seemed to enjoy the work, for they
lay on their faces, calmly ignoring the hail of slugs overhead, and
returned the fire of the enemy with wonderful steadiness.  At Dick's
words, too, each eased his cutlass in its sheath, and just glanced ahead
to make sure that there was nothing to keep him from reaching the open.
Nor was it long before the necessity for action on their part was called
for.  The firing from the opposite side became even fiercer, and by now
Dick and the majority of his men had been hit; though, thanks to the
wide interval existing between the combatants, few of the missiles
penetrated.  Then there came the beat of a war-drum, a dull,
reverberating sound which seemed to echo through the forest, while Dick
caught fleeting glimpses of a group of the enemy, passing amidst the
trees, and exhorting their comrades.

"Get ready, my lads," he sang out, "and don't forget, give them a couple
of volleys and more as they run.  When I shout, form up outside and
charge.  Jack, just watch those beggars and when they cross one of the
paths let us fire together."

They lay behind two plantain trees which happened to be close together,
and followed the movements of the group of Ashanti officers whom they
had seen on the opposite side of the clearing.  Within a few seconds
they saw them emerge into one of the numerous roads cut through the
forest.  Both fired together, and gave a shout as they saw one of the
enemy, a big man, gaudily dressed and feathered, fall to the ground.  A
moment later they were throwing cartridges into their rifles as rapidly
as was possible, and were emptying their weapons at a speed which showed
what need there was for action.  For hardly had the tall leader on the
far side given a shriek and fallen, when the deep boom of the war-drum
became deafening, as if the man who wielded the stick were beating out
his indignation and hatred.  Shouts of fury filled the air, and as if
the drum were the signal, some two hundred of the dusky enemy started
from the trees and commenced to rush across the clearing.  Very fierce
and forbidding they looked as they came, for they had discarded their
muskets, or had slung them behind their shoulders, and now they were
armed with Ashanti swords, or with formidable-looking knives.

"Steady, men!" shouted Dick, at once.  "We have plenty of time to knock
a few over.  Fire as fast as you can and wait for the signal."

The forest resounded to the crack of the rifles, and to the shouts of
the natives.  Not a sound came from the bluejackets save that given out
from their weapons.  They maintained a grim silence, and stretched there
on their faces, kept up a withering fire, directing their shots with
marvellous coolness.  But there was a stern, ugly glint in their eyes,
and the hands that wielded the rifles gripped very tightly.  Then Dick
gave a shout, and in a moment all were on their feet.

"Drop your rifles," he commanded.  "Now line up.  My men, we are not to
be frightened by a lot of bellowing natives."

"Afraid.  Not us!" came the reply from one of the salts.  "Jest fancy
hooking it because of these fellers.  We'll get aboard and sink 'em,
boys."

There was a roar as the men heard the words, while the swish of
cutlasses being drawn from their scabbards could be heard.  Then Dick
gave another shout, and placing himself beside Jack Emmett at the head
of the little party he started forward, his teeth clenched, and his mind
made up to beat back this attack and conquer.

"Charge!" he bellowed.  "Charge into the middle of them."

There was now no longer need for silence, and the cheer which the men
gave showed that their spirit was not lacking.  Closely following their
young leaders they raced forward in a compact body, heading for the very
centre of the enemy.  And it was clear at once that their sudden
appearance and their warlike intentions gave food for thought to the
enemy.  The mad rush of the Ashantis came to a sudden end, the mass
halting to stare at these few enemies.  A few turned tail immediately
and fled, while some of the natives hung in the background, uncertain
how to act.  Then one of their number gave a shout and they came on
again, but this time with less determination.  A few seconds later the
combatants met, the sailors throwing themselves upon the Ashantis with
deafening cheers, cutting and slashing at them fiercely, while one of
them, happening to miss his aim, and to strike the ground with his
weapon, whereby it was jerked from his hand, took to his fists in true
nautical style, and struck right and left amongst the enemy.  Still, it
was a critical moment for Dick and his party, and only their dash and
bravery saved them.  The contest hung in the balance for a minute or
more, while the natives stabbed desperately at the sailors, some of them
doubling up and attempting to dash in below the cutlass.  But the result
was always the same.  There was a thud, and the weapon fell with
unerring aim, stretching the man on the ground.  Or if that was not the
case, Jack's knee would rise of a sudden, and the native would receive a
blow on the head which stunned him instantly.  Amidst all the clamour
came the sharp crack of the revolvers held by the two young leaders.

"Forward!" shouted Dick.  "Give a cheer, and drive them back."

Grandly did the men support him.  Though they had been fighting their
hardest before, striving to arrest the rush of the enemy, now they
charged into their broken ranks, belabouring them with their cutlasses,
striking out with their fists, and making up for their smallness in
numbers by sheer bravery and dash.  And in a minute they had gained
their object.  Many of the enemy had already fallen, and now, of a
sudden, the remainder turned tail and fled, leaving the British masters
of the situation.

"Back for the rifles, some of you," cried Dick.  "The remainder run
forward and occupy the enemy's position.  Quick, or they will bowl us
over with their slugs."

The warning came only just in time, for those of the enemy who had fled
at the first sight of the sailors had taken cover on the fringe of the
forest, in the position which they had occupied a few minutes before;
and no sooner had their comrades turned and commenced to retreat than
these men opened a scattered fire, regardless of the risk they ran of
hitting their friends.  But Dick and his men never paused.  While four
of them ran back to gather the rifles, the remainder followed close on
the heels of the enemy, and hardly had the firing opened, and the
war-drum commenced its boom again, when they were at the edge of the
forest and close upon the Ashantis who lurked there.  For some two
minutes there was another hand-to-hand contest, for these men were
caught in their lairs, and, hindered from gaining one of the numerous
paths by the denseness of the forest, were forced to turn and fight.
However, the sailors made short work of them, and very soon were lying
amidst the trees again, breathing heavily after their exertions.

Meanwhile the troops in other quarters had been engaged with the enemy,
and had driven them before them.  No sooner had Essaman been given to
the flames than the whole line advanced over more or less open country.
On our left was a grassy plateau, with a thick forest about three
hundred yards away, while directly in front the ground fell and was
covered with bush growing breast high.  Towards this the Houssas and
West Indian regiment advanced, the men shouting and filling the air with
discordant yells, while they blazed away at the bush, at the sky,
anywhere in fact, and without any definite object.  They were entirely
out of hand, as some native troops are apt to get, and at this moment
they were as dangerous to their own side as to the enemy.  However, by
dint of much energy and shouting the officers managed to get them in
hand again and enforce some fire discipline.  Then, as they advanced
through the bush, the bluejackets and the Marine Artillery took the wood
on the left in hand, and the steel gun opened upon the lurking enemy.
The rockets were also brought to bear upon them, and very soon the place
was clear, a few wounded Ashantis being discovered as we advanced.  But
still our men were far from Dick and his little force, and he had yet
much difficulty to contend with.

"First, let us see to the wounded," he said, as they lay breathing
heavily in the forest.  "Then we will follow hard upon the tracks of the
enemy, in the hope of joining our comrades.  Now, who is badly hit?"

There was no response from the tars, though he looked at each one in
turn.

"Then who is hit at all?" he asked.

"One here, sir," was the reply from one of the lusty fellows.  "One of
those rascals struck me in the leg with his knife.  He's back there,
sir, for it hurt and I give 'im what for right away.  It's a bit of a
scratch and the surgeon will fix it up when we get back.  Plenty of
time, sir."

"And I've a slug somewheres about me shoulder," sang out another; three
more acknowledging the same sort of wound, and all making light of it.

"Then we are lucky, my lads," said Dick, gaily.  "A slug is nothing.  I
have one somewhere about my ribs, and it gave me quite a nasty knock.
But I am sure it has not penetrated.  Then no one needs to be carried,
and none are bleeding to death.  Good!  We will advance.  Now, we will
go by one of these paths, and we will keep a careful watch in front and
rear as well as to either side.  Jack, take the advance, please.  I will
go to the right, for I am more used to the forests.  Keep a bright
look-out, as these fellows are fond of an ambush."

Once more they sprang to their feet and went into the forest, but on
this occasion they were able to follow a native path.  Still, their
progress was slow, for the men who scrambled through the underwood,
seeking for the enemy, could, naturally, not get along as rapidly as
those in the open.  At length, however, the party emerged from the
forest, and came upon the breast-high bush which the Houssas and West
Indians were attacking, and from the sounds proceeding from it made sure
that the enemy were then rapidly retreating.

"Then we will help them," said Dick.  "Can you men run a little
farther?"

There was an emphatic nod from all as he asked the question.

"Then we will make for the edge higher up and see what we can do.
Double!"

A few minutes later the firing taking place on their left warned them
that they were now level with the lurking enemy, and at once they came
to a halt.

"Take post in the trees on this side," came the order.  "Then you will
be able to see down into the bush and clear it.  Smartly, lads, for
there will be people watching us."

He could not have set the sailors a more enjoyable task.  They slung
their rifles, and at once set to work to swarm into the trees which grew
so plentifully close at hand.  Then one gave a lusty shout.

"There they are, sir," he cried, "and I can see our own troops."

"Then take care that they don't see you, or you may be shot by mistake.
Now, make every bullet tell."

Perched in their trees the party could look down upon the bush, for it
happened that they had halted at a spot which was elevated well above
the surrounding country.  To this the height to which they had climbed
gave them added advantage, so much so that they could distinguish the
figures of the enemy crawling and running amidst the creepers and
bracken.  Every now and again the Ashantis would halt and fire, running
on at once, bent double, and busily engaged in putting another charge in
their guns.  And all the while the Houssas and West Indians, who were
advancing into the bush, exposing themselves to this fire, could not see
a single enemy, and were suffering severely in consequence.  However,
Dick and his bluejackets soon made a difference to their comfort.  Their
rifle shots broke the silence in that spot, and brought an answering
shower of slugs from the enemy.  Then, so telling was their fire, that
the Ashantis broke and fled to the forest.

"Bravo!  Well done!  Well done, indeed, bluejackets!  Who is your
officer, please?"

An officer of some importance, who had been advancing with a small
escort along the side of the bush, suddenly rode up, mounted on a mule,
and halted beneath the trees occupied by the sailors.  Dick glanced down
and recognised him as one of Sir Garnet's staff, an officer of great
distinction.  He scrambled to the ground, rifle in hand, and advancing
took off his cap.

"Dick Stapleton, sir," he said.  "Sir Garnet put me in command of a
small party, with orders to operate as well as I was able on the right
flank.  We heard the firing and answered."

"Mr Stapleton.  Yes; I know all about you," was the reply, as the
officer returned the salute.  "I congratulate you on the fruits of your
discovery.  You have given us an excellent chance of punishing the
enemy.  Whose idea was it to take to the trees?"

"Mine, sir," admitted Dick.  "I am in command."

"Exactly so, my lad, and it was a smart movement.  It is not every
commander who would have thought of it.  May I ask if you have been
operating in the clearing on our right?  I have just passed through it."

Dick again admitted the fact, and described in a few words what had
happened.

"Not all quite so simple as you imagine, or as you have stated," was the
hearty answer.  "You give all the credit to your men.  Quite right, sir.
Every good officer who has good men to command does that.  It is only
right and fair.  Allow me to say that something is also due to the one
in command, upon whom all the responsibility of every movement depends.
Do you know the result of that little action?  No.  Then I will tell
you.  The enemy were practising a favourite manoeuvre: they were
attempting to close in on our flanks.  On the left the sailors and
marines put a stop to the movement, while here on the right they would
have succeeded had it not been for you.  Gallantly done, men; a very
fine piece of work.  You accounted for thirty-seven of the enemy, and
beat back their flank attack.  I shall take good care to mention the
matter at headquarters.  Now we will advance along this flank, and see
if we cannot induce some of the enemy to halt and give us a fight."

Dick and his men were delighted and glowing with pride.  They had worked
hard, and fought hard, too, all knew that.  But, though they were aware
that the force opposed to them was a large one, they did not imagine
that _such_ an important movement had been in progress, and that they
had been the means of putting a summary stop to it.  It was therefore
with light hearts and spirits raised to the highest point that they
continued the advance.  Then as the troops swept the enemy before them,
and turned along the beach, where they encountered another of the
hostile villages and burned it, Dick and his party received an order to
halt, and the same officer addressed them.

"We shall be moving well away from the river now," he said, "and it will
hardly be safe for you to advance with us.  Return to your launch now,
for otherwise you might have to fight every inch of the way."

Turning about the party retraced their steps past the bush and into the
forest.  Then they entered the clearing, and came upon the results of
their impetuous charge.  It was not pleasant work to look upon, and they
hurried away, and very soon were at the river.  A loud halloo brought
the launch in close to the bank and all embarked, those who had been
left aboard muttering deeply and bitterly against the cruel fate which
had caused them to miss such an opportunity and such distinction.

Meanwhile our troops had advanced still farther parallel to the beach,
and had fired two other villages.  They came upon numerous signs that
the Ashantis had been there in force, and in one spot sure evidence of
the ferocity of these people.  For they discovered the body of an
unhappy Fanti captive, suspended feet in air, and with the head slashed
from the trunk.  It was a horrible sight, and caused many of the
Ashantis to lose their lives, for our men were roused to fury, and the
musketry fire was so searching, and the rockets so well directed, that
numbers of the enemy fell.  Finally, fully satisfied with their day's
work against the enemy, the troops returned to their quarters, Sir
Garnet steaming back to Cape Coast Castle.

Late that night an officer came to Mr Pepson's in search of Dick
Stapleton.  For the report of his conduct had come to headquarters, and
he was required to be thanked for his fine services.

"A dashing young fellow, and a valuable officer," said the Chief of the
Staff, with enthusiasm.  "I am empowered to offer him a commission in
the regular service.  A gallant fellow, indeed!"

But there was no trace of our hero.  Indeed, he and his men had not
returned.  No sooner had the battle ended, as far as they were
concerned, than they steamed down the river and along the coast.  When
night fell they were lying within the mouth of the river leading to the
Pra, and as the sun came up on the following morning he looked down upon
the rakish little launch surging up the river at full steam, in search
of more information and also of a little more adventure.  Nor was it
long before one of these came to them, for late on the following morning
a shout came echoing down the river, while the eyes of all aboard the
launch flew to an object moving swiftly towards them.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

NEWS FROM ASHANTI.

"A boat! a native boat!" shouted Jack, who was keenly alert.  "And with
only one occupant in it.  Look how he's paddling!"

"For his life, I should say," chimed in Dick.  "Ah, there goes a gun;
and see where the bullet splashed.  The man who fired must have been
hidden in the forest.  I don't think the poor beggar stands a chance,
unless he steers right across to the far side of the river."

"And if he did, sir, he'd be had sure enough," sang out one of the
sailors.  "I can see a boat creeping along in the shadow.  Shall we try
a shot, sir?"

For a little while there was no answer.  It was difficult to say whether
this man--for there was undoubtedly only one in the flying craft--was an
enemy or a friend.  If he were an Ashanti, then he was certainly the
former.  But then were those who pursued him friendly natives, living
under the nominal protection of the British, therefore opposed to the
Ashantis?

"He's in trouble, of that there is no doubt," said Dick, suddenly, as
the native boat, propelled by the frantic strokes of its single occupant
and helped by the current, swept down towards them.  "And he has some
scores of enemies pursuing him.  What if he is carrying news to us?
Perhaps he is coming down with important information.  Get your rifles
ready, and if that other boat pushes out into the river get her range
and wait for the word.  Ah, he's seen us.  Did you see him wave his
paddle?"

For a moment the unhappy wretch who was coming down the stream in such
desperate haste lifted his paddle and waved it overhead with an
eagerness there was no mistaking.  Then he plunged it into the water
again, and plied it for his life.  That he was threatened with death if
captured there could be little doubt, for the unseen foes who manned the
far bank thrashed the water about him with their slugs, while the
silence and peace of the river was disturbed by the loud boom of their
muzzle-loaders, and by their excited shouts.  In a moment Dick made up
his mind to help the fugitive, whoever he might be, and at a word the
sailors lay down and commenced to fire at the bushes from which came the
puffs of smoke.  Meanwhile Jack Emmett kept the launch steadily in
mid-stream, Johnnie supplying her with a small amount of steam, which
was sufficient to keep her under way and prevent her being swept back by
the current.  As for the men who had appeared, lurking in the shadows in
their boat, a single shot sufficed to send them back round the bend of
the river.

"Perhaps they have had a taste of our rifles before," thought Dick, as
he watched the boat and saw the splash of the shot where it struck the
water close beside them.  "Anyway, they have retreated fast enough, and
I fancy the fire from the shore is dying down.  Steady, men!  I think we
have done enough.  Our fusillade has stopped their advance and that
fellow in the boat is getting out of their range.  Look at him!"

It was indeed a sight to behold, for if the fugitive had shown eagerness
before, he now displayed the utmost delight and excitement.  He shouted
to the launch, and waved his paddle again.  Then he turned, and noticing
that the slugs which were still fired at him now fell far astern, he
laughed, and standing up, shook a defiant fist.  Then once more he threw
himself on his knees, and dug his paddle into the stream, sending his
light craft ahead till the water was churned into froth at her bows.  A
few minutes later he came level with the launch, when he threw himself
down in the bottom of his boat, and lay there exhausted and out of
breath with the struggle.

"Pull him aboard and let him lie under the awning," said Dick.  "Make
his boat fast, and then we'll push along up the river.  Keep well under
cover, for we may have some trouble.  That's the way, Jack.  Keep in the
very centre, for it is so wide here that we need have little fear should
they fire, while we can reach either bank with our weapons."

Obedient to a nod from his master, Johnnie opened the throttle a little,
till the launch attained a good pace.  Meanwhile the sailors had rapidly
transferred the fugitive from his boat to the deck of the steamer, and
had made his craft fast right aft.  Only then did Dick notice that the
native was not an Ashanti, while a half-healed wound on one thigh, now
bleeding afresh after his exertions, or perhaps because of a second
injury, showed that he had little cause to thank those from whom he
fled.  As for the latter, an occasional shot from the bank told that
some were still there, though their slugs were quite harmless at that
distance, and, indeed, failed to reach the launch.  But even these soon
ceased to trouble, particularly when the sailors directed their rifles
at the flashes, and sent in a withering volley.  Of the other boat
nothing was seen, and in all probability she had long since been hidden.

"They must have rounded the bend and then dragged her into the forest,"
said Dick.  "I think we might steam on another mile, and then talk to
this fellow.  He's not an Ashanti, Jack."

"And he's no friend of theirs, either," sang out Jack, from his post at
the tiller.  "He looks thin and ill-used, and may very well have been
one of the wretched beggars you have told me about who are kept
prisoners at Kumasi, till some uncle or grandmother of King Koffee's
dies, when hundreds of captives are sacrificed."

"More than likely," was our hero's answer, for he had been in this part
of the country long enough to have learned all that was known of the
Ashantis and their ferocity.  He knew that it was said that thousands
were slain in cold blood every year in this horrible den called Kumasi,
and that the death of a king's son necessitated the slaying of at least
two thousand wretched girls, children and men, to satiate the hideous
Moloch reigning over the fetish house at the capital.  And no doubt this
poor fellow was one.  Dick nodded to him and smiled, and at the sign of
friendship the man rose and crept towards him till he crouched at his
feet.  Then he did a strange thing.  He fumbled with his twitching
fingers in the masses of his hair, and finally produced a discoloured
piece of linen.

"For the white chief," he said; "I have risked my life to bring it to
you.  These Ashanti men would have killed me as I came, and if they had
captured me--"

The very thought of what might have followed unnerved the man, who was
still suffering from the effects of his desperate efforts to escape.
His teeth shook while his limbs trembled.  Then he seized our hero by
the hand and clung to it as if his life now depended upon doing so.

"Who are you?" asked Dick, using the Ashanti tongue.  "Where do you come
from, and why have you been pursued?"

"Look at the letter, chief.  See the figures there and I will talk.  I
am an Assim.  I hate these cruel Ashantis."

The native watched with eager eyes as the strip of discoloured linen was
unfolded, and started back as if in terror as the white youth suddenly
rose from the roof of the deck cabin to his feet and glared at the
strip.  It was an important missive, evidently, for he grew red with
excitement, and gave a prolonged whistle of astonishment.  Then he
called in loud tones to Jack to come to his side.  There was a tone of
profound astonishment and relief in his voice, and he waved the strip of
linen above his head.

"News!" he shouted.  "News at last!  Look at the signature.  Poor
beggar!  How he must be suffering!"

"Who?  Who's the poor beggar?  Is it one of the captives about whom
there has been such a row?  You know whom I mean.  The Europeans for
whom King Koffee demanded a ransom."

"Yes; it is his latest prisoner," was Dick's answer.  "Look here."

He spread out the tattered piece of dirty linen upon the roof of the
cabin and showed it to his friend.  It looked as though it might at one
time have formed a portion of a white linen handkerchief, or perhaps it
was a strip torn from a man's shirt.  In any case it had been pressed
into the service of the writer of the missive for lack of other and
better material; and the ink with which the letters were scrawled was in
all probability derived from the diluted juice of some berry growing in
the forest.  They straggled across the strip, some large and some very
small, all more or less blotched and blurred, while many unmistakably
pointed to the fact that a pointed twig or some such primitive implement
had done service for a pen.

"From Meinheer Van Somering," said Dick, impressively.  "Poor beggar!
He is one of the owners of the mine, as I have already told you, and it
was he who was attacked with Mr Pepson on their way down to the coast.
The agent whose place I took was killed at the first volley, while
Meinheer capsized the boat.  The last that Mr Pepson saw of him was as
he plunged into the river.  We thought him drowned, and he is, or was, a
captive.  Listen, and I will read."

He spread the strip out once more, smoothing the many creases, and
having again run his eye over the letters commenced to read.

"`For the love of Gott, help me, mein friends.  I have made the escape
from these terrible Ashanti men.  I have come to the creek where was the
mine, and, alas! there is no boat.  All are gone.  With me is one
friend, a native, who make the escape also.  He say he can find boat
down the stream and make for the coast.  He will try.  Brave man!  If he
live, then he return with mein friend, and make the rescue.  Mein word!
how I wait for him.  Christian Van Somering.'"

It was a pathetic missive, scrawled as it was on this dirty strip of
linen, and Dick's eyes filled with tears at the thought of the miserable
condition of Meinheer.  His face assumed an expression of determination,
and he swung round upon the native with a question.  So sudden and
unexpected was the movement, that the man cringed to the deck again, and
placed his hands over his head as if to ward off a blow.

"Have no fear," said our hero, in the Ashanti tongue.  "Tell me all
about this matter; how you came to meet the white man, and how you made
your escape.  Where is he living now?"

It was pitiable to watch the relief depicted upon the face of the
fugitive as he heard the words.  He knelt upon the deck and looked about
him as though he could hardly believe his ears.  He might have been a
culprit who expected discovery at any moment, and who suddenly found
that suspicion had passed over his head and had settled upon some other
individual.  He sighed, stood up, and then began to answer.

"It is a long tale, but I can tell it shortly," he said.  "I was in the
village when the enemy came upon us, and with many others was taken
prisoner.  Here is the mark of the wound which I received as I
endeavoured to escape.  I was taken towards Kumasi, the place where
slaves are killed in the house of execution, and I knew that death was
before me.  Like many another I longed to effect an escape, and it
happened that I succeeded with the help of the white chief.  Yes, chief,
he was a prisoner also, being dragged towards Kumasi, and it was he who,
as we lay side by side one night, bit through the lashings which secured
my arms and legs.  Then I set him free and we stole away to this place
where the white chief had once been.  None suspected that we were there,
and we had hoped to find another white chief at the mine, and boats in
which to make down the river.  But there was no stockade.  The place had
been burned, and the boats were gone."

"How long ago is this?" demanded Dick.  "When did you meet the white
chief?"

The native counted the days off on his fingers and thought for a moment.
Then he stretched out his hands and lifted his ten fingers into the air
four times in succession.

"It is so many days, perhaps more," he said.  "I cannot say.  The days
were so much alike.  We lived in terror of our lives, for the enemy were
on the river and about the mine.  We hid in the forest, living on yams
and plantains.  Then the chief fell sick, and for a little while I
thought he would die.  But he recovered, and bade me go down the river
with this scrap of linen.  He lies there near the creek, chief."

"Yes, but that does not explain how you managed to make this journey,"
interposed our hero.  "How did you obtain the boat?"

"I stole it.  At night I crept through the forest close to the water,
till I came to the camp of the enemy.  Then I searched and found a boat.
After that I fled, and the chief knows what happened.  He saved my
life."

It was a simple tale of escape, and there was nothing wonderful about
it.  The incidents of it escaped the minds of the hearers at once, for
their thoughts were turned to Meinheer Van Somering, lying there in the
forest, struck down with the all-prevailing fever, no doubt.

"Of course we shall go up-stream and take him back to the coast," said
Dick, promptly.  "But first we must find out something about the enemy.
It would never do to be caught in a trap.  Tell me about the Ashantis,"
he went on, addressing the native.  "Where are their camps?"

"There are two on the river," was the answer.  "From the first I stole
the boat, and the second, which is lower down, discovered me as the dawn
came."

"Then they would certainly discover us," said Jack, when Dick had
explained matters to him.  "We should find ourselves in a regular hive,
and that would not be very pleasant.  Mind, Dick, I don't want to
discourage this idea of rescue; still, we must think of the men.  Could
we run up in the launch without being seen and followed?"

A vigorous shake of Dick's head was the answer.  "We should be
discovered as sure as eggs.  Then they would put a fleet of boats on the
river and follow.  Their guns would attract the attention of their
comrades higher up, and, well--I couldn't expect such good fortune again
as befell Johnnie and myself on a former occasion.  Frankly, to run the
launch up under, such circumstances would be madness."

There was silence for some minutes amongst the group gathered about the
cabin, the throb of the miniature engine alone breaking the silence of
the river.  A difficult question had to be settled, and the longer the
two young Englishmen stared at the strange missive written, or scratched
rather, upon the dirty strip of linen, the greater did the difficulty
become.  It was clear to both that, however big the stake, however
important the life to be rescued, they had no right to risk the safety
of the whole of the launch's crew, and there would be risk if they went.
More than that, the attempt to ascend, with the certain information
that there were two camps on the banks of the river, would be madness,
and deserving of the utmost censure.

"Ask him if he thinks we could rush through, and how far it is,"
suggested Jack, suddenly.

"It would mean death.  There are thousands of the enemy," was the
answer.  "As to the place, it is not very far.  I stole the boat last
night and by dawn I reached this part.  For some hours the stream
carried me, for I would not risk the use of the paddle."

"Twenty miles at least," muttered Dick, staring out across the water.

"And too far to risk a rush.  There is no moon to-night, Dick, and that
would be against us, for if we steamed up, it would be at full speed,
and we should come back at the same pace also.  Well, for that we want
light.  There may be banks here and there.  The risk of collision would
be great.  In short, I'm dead against it.  Don't think I'm funking; I'm
not.  We are here to gather information, and, of course, we would effect
a rescue if possible.  We are not authorised to act rashly, and endanger
the whole expedition by making an attempt which is foredoomed to
failure.  In short, we are supposed to possess common sense and courage,
and in the decision of this question it appears to me that it requires
more courage to say, `no, it can't be done; we must leave the poor
beggar,' than it does to stoke our fires and steam up the river at full
speed."

There was no doubt that Jack Emmett had placed the facts of the matter
in a nutshell, and that it pained him to say what he had said.  Dick
knew him well enough now to be sure that his companion had, sufficient
dash and daring for this or any other expedition, and he knew well, too,
that if he, the leader of this little party, gave the word, the movement
would be commenced without a murmur, and every effort made to carry it
through to a satisfactory conclusion.  But had he the right to give such
an order?  Might he risk the lives of all for one, and that one not an
Englishman?  Could he leave him to his fate, knowing that he only lay
some twenty miles away?

"Impossible!  I would rather risk anything," he said aloud.  "You are
right, Jack," he exclaimed, turning to his friend.  "I am not justified
in asking the men to join in such a dash--hair-brained attempt it would
be called.  Besides, this expedition is sent here for a purpose, and
that is to gather news of the utmost importance.  That is our aim and
object in coming here, and we must keep it prominently before us.  There
is just one saving clause."

"That is?" demanded Jack, breathlessly.

"That I have a subaltern, as I may call you.  If I am shot, or fall ill,
the launch need not return, as once before happened to us, on my
account, I grieve to state.  The launch would remain and carry out the
work."

"Quite so.  But I don't follow.  I hope you won't be shot.  If you are,
then, of course, I shall command, and it will be a case of the fortune
of war."

He might have been a Frenchman by his manner of shrugging his shoulders.
His handsome, open face showed clearly that he disliked this
conversation wherein the possible fate of his friend and commander was
discussed.

"Certainly," came Dick's answer, given in the coolest tones.  "As
leader, I give orders.  I find on going into this matter, that it would
be unwise to risk the lives of the crew and ourselves in attempting a
rescue.  But, at the same time, I cannot leave an old friend to a
ghastly fate."

"Then you will go?"

"Yes; I will go alone with this native.  He came down the river at
night, and what he has done I can do.  I will return with him, and we
will bring my friend away.  You will command in my absence, and will
remain as near as possible, so as to pick us up.  It's all very clear
and simple."

"By George! clear and simple!  You can't mean it?"

A nod of the head was his only answer, as the two young fellows stared
at each other, Dick looking very calm and determined, and Jack decidedly
taken aback.  As for the crew, who perforce, owing to the limited space
aboard the launch, had been interested listeners to the whole
conversation, they had been itching to throw in a word to encourage the
order for a dash, for nothing would have pleased these gallant fellows
more.  But they were intelligent men, and they, too, when the matter was
thrashed out before them, could understand the grave risk attached to
such an attempt, and the fact that it was not legitimate to undertake
it.  They could appreciate a brave decision, too, and as their young
leader quietly announced his intentions, they set up a cheer, which
brought the blood to his cheeks.  Jack gripped him by the hand, while
Johnnie started from his stoking well, and came a pace nearer.

"Then yo want me," he said eagerly.  "Johnnie know de forest, know dese
debil Ashanti, and hab no fear.  He fight plenty Ashanti."

"I want no one, thank you," came the answer.  "I will accompany this
native, and I shall hope to be back here two nights from this.  'Bout
ship, Jack.  We must make these beggars think that we are turning tail.
Now, I'll ask this fellow a question.  Come here, my man.  Will you
direct me to the white chief to-night, and return here with him?"

A smile broke out on the wan face of the native, and he showed his
teeth.

"I will go gladly," he said.  "To the white chief my life is due, and I
will repay the debt.  Let there be no fear for our safety.  These
enemies will not expect us, and during the night we shall easily pull up
to the creek.  In two days, perhaps, we shall return."

All was now bustle and movement aboard the launch, for many preparations
for the coming attempt had to be made.  Meanwhile, seeing that he could
not persuade his comrade not to make the journey, Jack Emmett went to
the helm and sent the launch back to her course, down the centre of the
river.  And there he held her, sitting motionless and thoughtful at the
tiller, while Dick and his men prepared the native boat.  Two rifles and
an abundant store of ammunition were placed in her, and to these were
added a cooking-pot, some tinned provisions, and a keg of water.  That
done, and some miles having been covered since they turned towards the
sea, the launch was run in toward the bank and anchored, while all threw
themselves down beneath the awning to sleep.  As evening came, they
partook of a meal, and once the night had fallen, they pulled in their
anchor and stood up the centre of the river again, their course guided
by the faint streak which intervened between the two black lines of
forest on either side.  A shield of sacking surrounded the top of the
funnel, while precautions were taken to hide all trace of light from the
fire.  In fact, the launch might have been a ghost, so silent and
invisible was she.

"Stop her.  Bring that boat forward, please."

It was Dick's voice, cool and collected as before.

"Now hold her while we embark.  Good-bye, Jack.  Good-bye, men.  Keep a
watch for us to-morrow night.  Shove her off."

A dozen hands stretched out to grip his in the darkness, and a dozen
voices, gruff and deep, and sunk to a whisper, bade him good luck and
good-bye.  A push then sent the boat clear of the launch, and within a
few seconds she was under way, the dip of the paddles being just
distinguishable.  That sound soon ceased, and as the crew of the launch
stared disconsolately after their leader, they could neither hear nor
see a trace of the boat.

"Good luck to the lad," growled one of the sailors.  "Blest if he ain't
the pluckiest gentleman as ever I see."

"And if them fellers gets 'im and does for our young orfficer, I tell
yer they'll 'ave ter pay, do yer 'ear?" growled another.  "Strike me!
but we'll give 'em something for interferin'!"

"Silence there, for'ard.  'Bout launch!  Steady there with the tiller,
and hold your tongues, my lads."

This time it was Jack Emmett's voice, strangely altered.  At once there
was silence.  But the men could think and mutter to themselves, and as
they slowly steamed down the dark river that black night, each and all,
from their new commander downward, registered a vow that if Dick
Stapleton did not soon return, they would find the cause and probe the
mystery to the bottom.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

A WELL-LAID SCHEME.

"Not a sound.  Nothing to disturb us.  We have been lucky."

"And the creek lies within an hour's paddling from here, chief.  Soon we
shall reach the white man who befriended me."

It was still quite dark, though the partial view which the curling river
Prahsu allowed of the east showed that there the sky was already
streaked with dull grey clouds, and that the day would not be long in
coming.  It was hours since the native boat had put off from the launch,
and the paddles of the two occupants had dipped regularly and
monotonously all the while, with an occasional spell of rest.  And never
once had a sound or suspicion of the proximity of the enemy alarmed
them.

"We had better paddle over to the bank and be ready to take cover
beneath the trees," said Dick, at last.  "I remember that they overhang,
and that we can run in beneath them and still paddle.  Let us get close
to them, and stay outside till the light is brighter."

"Or it may be that we shall be within the creek by then," came the
answer.  "Then there will be no danger.  We have seen no sign of the
enemy near the mine for some days past."

Turning the nose of the native boat towards the bank, they ran her in
till she was only a few yards from the long and continuous line of
overhanging boughs which clothed the side of the river.  And in that
position they paddled on till the growing light warned them that longer
stay in the open would be dangerous.  Then they plunged in beneath the
boughs, and continued their passage up the river.  Presently a cry from
the native attracted Dick's attention.

"The creek, chief," he called out.  "We will push on."

He was strangely excited, and now that the goal was in sight plunged his
paddle into the water with greater energy, and set the pace so that his
white companion had difficulty in keeping time.  They surged along
through the shallows, dodging the boughs which dropped to the water, and
ducking their heads to avoid others which came dangerously near to the
boat.  It was still hardly light when they shot the boat into the narrow
mouth of the creek, though as they rested on their paddles and looked
back, the gloom surrounding this narrow and foetid strip of water was
deeper when compared with the prospect offered by the river.

"At last," said Dick.  "We are here in safety, and still there is no
sign of the enemy.  Where is Meinheer?  Shall we have trouble in finding
him?"

"Perhaps a little," was the answer.  "He wanders here and there in
search of food, and to keep watch lest these Ashanti men should come to
the neighbourhood."

"Halt!" whispered Dick, suddenly, for he thought he saw a dark object on
the bank.  "Look there!  Is that some one watching us?  There!  He has
moved away."

They came to a sudden stop, while each peered into the jungle.  The
native lifted his head to listen, while his white companion stretched
out his hand for his rifle and took it across his knees.

"Perhaps a beast of the forest, chief.  It was not a man, of that I feel
sure.  Let us press on, for we might still be seen from the main channel
of the river, and see how light it is getting."

Once more they plunged their paddles into the water and sent the boat
ahead, though Dick, who sat in the stern, kept his eyes on the forest.
His suspicious were aroused, and he was now keenly alert, for he felt
almost sure that he had actually seen a man.  Then, too, something told
him that they were being watched.

"That was a call, too," he said to himself suddenly, as the note of a
bird came to his ear.  "Of course it may have been all right, but I
don't half like it."

He eased his sword in its sheath, and felt for his revolver, which of
late he had carried suspended to his shoulder and between his coat and
his shirt.  There it was out of the way and out of sight, while he found
that he could lay hold of it instantly.  In fact, it was an excellent
position, for whether in a boat or ashore, the weapon, placed where it
was, did not strike against objects when he sat down or moved rapidly.
A little later the bend in this stagnant creek came into view, and there
was the place where the boats had been secured when he was at the mine.
He could see the dark surface of the sluggish stream as it issued from
the jungle, and though he peered amidst the trees there was not a man or
beast to be seen.

"In a few minutes it will be lighter," said the native.  "Then we will
land and search.  Perhaps the chief will stay here on the bank while I
go in search of my friend."

Dick thought for a moment.  Would it be wise to land, and perhaps have a
dozen or more of the enemy upon him?  Would it not be wiser to stay
aboard and lie off in the stream?  That would give him an enormous
advantage in case of attack.  But suppose Meinheer were near at hand,
and he were seen and followed; he would require help.  "You shall go
ashore first," he said to the native.  "I will wait here, and when you
report that all is clear near the landing stage, I will come."

For a moment it seemed as though the man hardly liked the order, for he
looked at his companion doubtfully, and fidgeted.  Then he thrust his
paddle into the water and shot the boat close to the side.

"In a few moments," he said.  "I shall quickly decide whether there are
enemies about."

He leaped to the bank, giving the boat a push out into the stream, and
at once disappeared in the dense jungle.  For a little while the crash
of twigs and dead boughs told that he was moving, but finally the sounds
died down.  Once our hero thought he heard the far-off cry of a bird,
but he was not sure, and presently his suspicions of danger were set
aside by the recurrence of the sounds of some one moving and by the
sudden appearance of the native on the bank.

"All is clear," the man called out.  "The forest is empty.  Even the
white chief is nowhere at hand.  But we shall find him soon.  It is safe
for the chief to land."

Satisfied now that his suspicions had been groundless, and yet with the
ever-present feeling that there might be, and probably was, some danger
to be anticipated, Dick drove his paddle into the water, and sent the
nose of the boat into the bank.  The native caught the rope and dragged
at it, while his master leaped ashore, rifle in hand.  Then, together,
they pulled the boat half way up on the bank, and made the painter fast
to a tree.  Not till then did Dick observe a figure creeping towards him
through the jungle.  He gave a startled cry, and lifted his rifle to his
shoulder.  Then a second figure came into view, and just as he was in
the act of pulling his trigger a dozen natives rushed forward from
different directions, while the very man whom he had rescued down the
river, and who had brought the note from the Dutchman, leaped on his
back, and flung his hands over his face.  Then commenced a desperate
struggle, for Dick realised in a flash that he was the victim of a ruse;
that he had been hoodwinked and decoyed to this place.  At the thought
his usually placid temper broke its bounds, and in an instant he became
furious with rage, while his strength, which at all times was of no mean
order, became doubled.  With a snarl he dropped the rifle, and ere the
men charging down upon him could come to close quarters, he had gripped
the wrists of the ruffian who had leaped on his back, and torn the hands
from his face.  Then he swung the man round, and picking him up as if he
were a child, flung him with furious energy against a huge cotton tree
growing just beside him.

By then the others were at hand, and the contest was continued with
desperate earnestness.  Dick knew that he was cornered, and across his
mind the results of capture passed vividly.  In a flash he saw himself a
prisoner, led to Kumasi, there to be slaughtered.  It was a terrible
prospect, and the thought of it increased his desperation.  His teeth
closed tightly together, not a sound escaped his lips in response to the
shouts of the enemy.  Then his hand flew to his sword; but he had no
time to draw it, for one of the enemy, a tall, lanky Ashanti, was
already upon him, rushing into close quarters, and wielding an enormous
stake.  The weapon was already in the air when Dick saw his danger, and
he had barely time to leap aside.  Then his instinct caused him to make
use of nature's weapons, and in a trice his right fist flew out and
struck the native full on the forehead, sending him staggering back
against the tree at the foot of which lay the body of the native who had
acted as decoy.  There was a third close at hand by now, but nothing
daunted the solitary white man sprang at the stake which had dropped to
the ground and seized it.  Then the conflict went on with renewed energy
on his part.  With sweeping blows he held the enemy at bay, and as the
more venturesome rushed in, the stake went up with a whirl, there was a
crash, and another man fell to the ground.

It was not to be such a one-sided contest after all, and in a little
while, when he had cleared the natives farther back, Dick hoped to be
able to rush for the boat, launch it, and push it from the bank.  Then
would come the time for his revolver, and he promised himself that he
would make good use of it.  But he had greater trouble to contend with,
for the crash of broken boughs in the forest told him that others were
near at hand.  Indeed, hardly had he realised the fact that the enemy
were about to receive reinforcements, when a number of dusky figures
appeared, while a man stepped from behind a huge cotton tree.  It was
the half-caste, James Langdon, saturnine in appearance, looking thin and
wan after his long residence with the Ashantis, and showing on his ugly
features the same crafty cunning look as had first aroused our hero's
suspicion and dislike.  He, too, bore a stake in his hand and held it
poised above his head.  With careful eye he aimed it at the young fellow
fighting by the bank of the river; then, with a sudden movement he threw
it as if it were a spear, and with such deadly aim that it struck the
object on the temple.

Dick fell like a log.  Had he been an ox that had been struck a true
blow with the pole-axe he could not have fallen more swiftly.  One
instant he stood there, breathing hard, and whirling his club, defiant
and by no means conquered, and the next he lay an inert mass at the feet
of the rascal who had decoyed him up the river.

"A fine shot!" shouted the half-caste.  "On to him, and make his hands
and feet fast.  Now a pole, and we will carry him.  Later, when he has
recovered, he shall drag his own body to Kumasi for the sacrifice."

He stood by with every sign of satisfaction as the natives obeyed his
orders, and smiled his cruel smile as the last of the lashings were
completed.  By this time a pole had been slashed from the underwood, and
with a refinement of cruelty for which this race are known, the Ashantis
thrust the pole between Dick's feet and hands, which were held together
by the lashings, and prepared to carry him away suspended in that
fashion.

"We will look at these comrades of ours," said James Langdon, as they
turned to depart.  "Ah, our friend, the white fool, struck true and
well.  The man is stunned.  It will be hours before he recovers.  Who
will wait with him?"

"And risk the coming of this man's friends?  None of us," came the
answer.  "Let him lie, and if he escapes, then he is fortunate.
Besides, he has comrades to keep him company."

He pointed to three others who had been struck down by the stake, and at
once the half-caste bent over them.

"They are all hit badly, but will regain their senses, I think," he said
calmly.  "Well, let them lie there and recover while we push on.  What
of this one, though?"

"Dead!" replied the man who had answered his first question.  "I saw him
thrown against the tree, and heard the crash.  His back is broken and
also his head.  He will never recover."

"Then fling him into the river and let us be going.  After all, he
played for a stake, and would have had the bulk of the reward for this
fool's capture.  But he bungled it.  His fingers should have gripped the
neck, for then they could not have been so easily grasped.  It is a
lesson to us all.  Fling him in and pick up your burden."

None of the men seemed to think that there was anything remarkably
inhuman in their action, for to these Ashantis human life was very cheap
indeed, and kindness and mercy almost unknown qualities.  While a man
was alive and possessed of full strength he was a comrade to be
respected, for he could take care of himself.  Dead, however, or badly
injured, he was a nuisance, a positive burden, to be rid of at the first
moment; to be robbed and deserted, or to be flung into the nearest
stream like a dog.  Without a thought, therefore, they picked up the man
who had played his part so well and flung him with a loud splash into
the stagnant stream.  Then, without a second look at their unconscious
fellows, they turned, picked up the pole, and went off through the
forest in the wake of James Langdon.

When Dick regained his senses an hour later his first feeling was one of
extreme anguish in both hands and feet, and very soon the pain caused
his scattered wits to return, and led him to discover the cause of his
trouble.  He was suffering tortures, so much so that the agony swamped
all thought of his miserable condition as a captive.  He struggled, and
begged to be set down.

"Cut his legs adrift, then," said James Langdon, brutally.  "Now place
him on his feet and make a creeper fast to his hands.  Better still,
lash them behind his back instead of in front; then two of you can hold
the end of the creeper."

They threw their prisoner on the ground and cut both lashings.  Then
they swung him over on to his face and tied his hands behind, making a
long creeper fast to the lashing.  A moment later they picked him up and
placed him on his feet.  He staggered and fell at once, his limbs
doubling up beneath him.

"He won't stand, then!" cried the half-caste, his cruel nature delighted
at the sight of so much suffering, and at the plight in which he saw the
son of his old employer.  "Set him up again and hold him there.  I will
thrash him till he changes his tune and agrees to make good use of his
legs."

There was no haste about this ruffian.  He drew a sheath knife and went
in search of a knotted vine, returning with it, still plying his blade
and paring off the small branches attached to it.  Then he took his post
behind his prisoner.

"Raise him, and stand well aside," he cried, with a gay laugh.  "Now we
will see how long it takes us to persuade him."

Could the prisoner have freed his hands at that moment and managed to
reach his tormentor, he would have taken such a grip of his throat that
James Langdon's villainy would have been summarily ended for all time.
Dick felt the cruel sting of the lashes as they fell upon his back,
across his face, and on his legs and shoulders.  But his indignation and
rage at such cowardly and dastardly treatment helped to ease the pain.
He clenched his fingers, closed his lips firmly, and when he could fixed
his gaze upon the ruffian who belaboured him.  Then, gradually, as the
man tired and his blows lost power, and as the circulation returned to
the prisoner's legs, he gained sufficient strength to stand, and then to
hobble.

"See what a good healer I am," laughed the half-caste.  "Others would
have rubbed his legs and feet.  I use my whip to his back, and the sulky
dog is roused.  He finds that it will be as well to walk and do as he is
bid."

"And he will find it in him to punish such an act when the time comes,"
gasped Dick.  "I do not threaten, James Langdon, thief and ruffian.  I
give you due warning.  When the time comes, I will shoot you as if you
were a wild beast, without notice and without mercy.  Vermin such as you
are do not deserve ordinary treatment."

For a few seconds the half-caste was taken aback, for at heart he was an
arrant coward, and the mere mention of what might happen to him was
sufficient to shake his nerve.  But he had the game in his own hands
now, he flattered himself.  This time the youth at whose door he laid
all his troubles, the need which drove him to live this life in the
jungle, the fever which racked him, and a hundred other evils, was
securely bound, a prisoner, from whom no danger was to be apprehended.
His words were harmless.  He was as helpless as a new-born babe.

"When the time comes I shall be prepared," he said, with a laugh which
he vainly endeavoured to make easy and light.  "For the present we will
advance, and leave threats and chatter till later.  Advance, and beat
the dog if he shows signs of lagging."

Had the Ashanti warriors who helped in the capture and who now formed
the escort had even hearts of stone they would have pitied their
prisoner.  The very fact that he had made a very gallant and determined
fight for freedom would have aroused their enthusiasm and respect.  But
these men of Kumasi had long since had all such feelings driven from
their breasts.  The constant succession of cruelties of the most
frightful nature perpetrated at Kumasi had hardened them to all human
feeling and misery.  They had, every one of them, from the time when
they were mere children, been daily witnesses of executions, of
unmeaning and ferocious tortures, and of endless bloodshed.  Mercy they
had never encountered.  There was but one punishment for prisoners and
evil-doers alike, for the thief, the murderer, and those whose cruel
fate had caused them to be born in slavery.  The executioners stretched
out their greedy and remorseless hands for all, and who could say when
their turn would come?  Was it remarkable, therefore, that these men
marched on before and behind their prisoner, belabouring him when his
steps flagged, and shouting oaths at him?  And so, in this sorry plight,
his feet tingling still, while his hands felt as if the skin would
burst, so tight were the lashings, Dick was hurried on through the dark
and sombre forest out to the clearing and to the site where had stood
the mine stockade.  There, as the procession halted, he threw himself on
the ground in an exhausted condition, wishing almost that he might die.
His thirst was now unbearable, while his head throbbed and ached from
the blow he had received.  No wonder, too, if he were apathetic, if his
fate were now a matter of little concern to him; for his present
miseries overshadowed all else.

"Give him some water, and put him in the shade," ordered the half-caste.
"Two of you stand over him with your guns, and if he moves thrash him
with the vine.  We will teach him how to behave while he is in our
hands."

He glared at his prisoner, who took not the slightest notice of him.
But as soon as the water was brought Dick drank it greedily, for he was
parched.  Then he lay down, his hands still secured behind his back, and
very soon, utterly wearied by his night's work, and by his struggle with
the enemy, he fell fast asleep, enjoying a dreamless rest which was of
the greatest service to him.

What would have been the feelings of those gallant souls away down the
river had they known of the treachery to which their young leader had
fallen a victim!  Had they but guessed that the fleeing native was only
part of a clever plan, laboriously thought out by the half-caste robber
whose thefts had driven him to take to the forests, and who, like so
many of those who have wronged the man whose salt they have eaten, had
turned all his hate and vengeance upon that man or his representative!
But how could they guess?  It had all been so real.  The native boat
appearing at dawn, with a shouting mob in full pursuit, as if the light
had only then enabled them to discover the runaway.  Their shots,
falling recklessly about the boat, and the desperate haste of the native
himself, his wound and his apparent exhaustion, had all aided in
misleading the crew of the launch.  They never imagined that their
presence in the river had been instantly detected, and that when they
lay to for the night, their exact whereabouts had come to the ears of
James Langdon and his roving band of free-booters.  But that was what
had happened.

The half-caste had learned that Dick Stapleton had formerly come up the
river, and had been taken back to the sea owing to an attack of fever.
His spies, of whom there were many on the coast, had told him how the
young fellow fared, and had sent news as soon as preparations for
another expedition with the launch had been commenced.  Then he had
hatched his plot to trap his master's son, and with fiendish ingenuity
had relied upon the gallantry of his dupe to lead him into the net.
What was easier than for this man, accustomed to clerical duties, and,
as it chanced, acquainted with Meinheer, to scrawl a few letters on a
piece of linen, and sign the Dutchman's name? for he knew well that the
fraud in the signature would never be detected.  It was a well-planned
plot, and had succeeded only too well, though the victim had made a hard
fight for his liberty and had given unexpected trouble.

And so while Dick lay there in the shade, fast asleep, the crew of the
launch dozed the hours away, knowing well that they could not look for
his return till late the following night.

Some few hours after Dick had fallen asleep he was kicked and ordered to
stand up.

"We start for Kumasi," said James Langdon, with a leer, "for the seat of
the great King Koffee.  There is a prospect before you, young man, and
you will have time to think about it.  Make sure of him," he went on,
turning to his followers, "for the captive is no longer mine.  He
belongs to the King, and it will be a bad day's work for the one whose
carelessness results in his escape.  Now, march on, and let us push the
pace."

Three days later the procession marched into the town of Kumasi, their
prisoner still in their midst, footsore and weary, but with courage
undaunted.  They passed at once along the principal street, and Dick was
astonished to find that it was very wide, that neat huts stood in an
orderly line on either side, and that trees grew here and there,
offering a welcome shade.  The thousands who came to stare and mock at
him seemed neat and tidy, though they boasted little clothing, while the
whole air of the town was one of prosperity and orderliness.  But there
was one huge drawback, which attracted the prisoner's attention the
instant he set foot in Kumasi, indeed, even before he reached the town.
Where there should have been the pleasantest of breezes there was the
most ghastly and nauseating odour of dead men, and as the procession
advanced the cause of this became more and more apparent.  For Kumasi
was like a charnel house.  The bodies of the hundreds of poor wretches
who were slain were simply thrown into the nearest stagnant stream, or
were piled in a narrow grove, the fetish grove, adjacent to the house of
execution.  In truth, the smell of blood was everywhere, and on every
hand dark stains told of its presence.  No wonder that he shuddered,
while his courage began to evaporate.

"How awful!" he thought.  "The place makes one feel deadly sick, and the
sights on either side are shocking.  If that is to be the end, then the
sooner the better.  But I am not done yet.  I will have a try for
freedom, and it may be that I shall succeed.  To think I have been made
a fool of, and that letter was a forgery.  Poor old Meinheer is dead
after all."

Even in the depths of his misery he could think unselfishly of others,
of the unfortunate Dutchman whose name had been sufficient to bring his
young agent to this plight.  A moment later his thoughts were
interrupted by James Langdon.

"The lions have had a good view of him," he laughed, as he nodded to the
crowd, who evidently held the half-caste in some awe.  "In a little
while he shall afford them more sport, and they shall see what sort of a
captive I have brought them.  Pack him into the hut here, next to mine,
and watch him while I go to the King.  My servant will see to his food.
Cut his lashings and bundle him in."

A man produced his sword, and the lashings were cut.  Then, with the
smallest ceremony, Dick was bundled into the hut, a one-roomed erection,
smelling evilly, and almost devoid of light.  But it was his for the
moment, and he revelled in the opportunity it gave him to be alone.  He
sat down in one corner, feeling weary and sore from head to foot, while
the evil smell of the place made him horribly sick.  He was faint and
giddy, and when at length the food was brought which was to be his
evening meal, he pushed it from him.

He was down again with fever.  No white man can live in the heart of the
Ashanti forests, particularly on the river, without subjecting himself
to the risk of incessant fever attacks, and once the malady has been
gained, the paroxysms are apt to recur very often.  Hardship, privation
and excitement generally are sufficient to cause them to return, and it
is therefore not wonderful to have to record that Dick Stapleton was
again a victim.  His teeth chattered, he was miserably cold in spite of
the fact that the temperature in this stuffy hut was almost unbearable,
and he had no appetite.  Indeed, he was soon semi-delirious, and it was
not till many weeks had passed that he was himself again.  The fever,
want of nursing, unsatisfactory foods, and incarceration in the hut did
their work too thoroughly, so that on this occasion he was longer in
recovering.  And when he was stronger, and was allowed to step from the
hut, it was to find Kumasi in a ferment, to discover the house of
execution fully occupied, and the bodies of fresh victims everywhere.
For the British advance had begun.  Sir Garnet Wolseley, the energetic
and indefatigable worker, was already on the way to the capital of the
Ashantis, with a goodly following of troops behind him.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

KING KOFFEE, THE TERRIBLE.

Kumasi was in an uproar.  The long, wide street which cut through the
heart of the huge town was alive with Ashanti warriors, and with
shrieking women and children.  There was consternation on every face,
and fierce anger at the news which had just come from the river Prahsu.

"Your soldiers have bridged the river and are about to advance," growled
James Langdon, as he threw the door of the prison hut open and accosted
Dick.  "These fools here think that their fetish will prevail and keep
the British back.  I know better, for I have seen British troops.  They
will reach this place, and perhaps give it to the flames.  Then they
will retire, and as they go we shall fall upon them and cut them to
pieces.  You need not think that they will find you here.  You are a
marked man, and, at the last, when the advance still takes place, the
Ashantis will offer you to their fetish in the hope that your sacrifice
will arrest the enemy.  It would have been better for you, Dick
Stapleton, had you never interfered with me."

"And by the look of you, it would have been easier for you had you
hanged yourself weeks ago," answered our hero, calmly, and with a smile
which made his captor writhe.  "You look as though you were haunted, and
I think that you must have had a very miserable time since you left the
coast.  You are a traitor and a murderer, and you are bound to be caught
and punished."

"Not if I rejoin the British.  What if I set you and the other Europeans
free!  Would you obtain a pardon?"

Dick emphatically shook his head, for he mistrusted this man.  More than
that, he was wise enough to know that even though James Langdon might
desire to do as he said, the Ashantis would never permit such action.  A
glance at the face of the half-caste was sufficient to show that he was
ill at ease.  Matters were beginning to look serious for King Koffee and
his people, and the very sight of this half-caste, who had urged them to
action and to resistance, angered them.  They had lost faith in him, and
James Langdon knew that at any time the King's favour might be withdrawn
and he himself fall a victim.  He turned away with an oath.  Then he
called for the guard which kept watch over the house, and gave an order.
At once Dick was bound and led off down the street, and having reached
a wide open space, close to the horrible fetish grove, he was brought to
a halt within a few paces of the enormous sacrificial bowl, with its
legs in the form of crouching lions, on the edge of which the Ashantis
were wont to slay their victims.  Never in all his life had he seen such
a hideous sight.

"Terrible! terrible!" he murmured.  "To think that men could be such
brutes!  It is horrible!"

He closed his eyes for a little while, and then opened them again as
there was a commotion.  Then, indeed, he gave a start, for four white
men were slowly led into the arena, all strangers to him, and all
miserable prisoners like himself.  They looked at him sharply, and one
of them called out a greeting.

"Sorry to see you here," he said, with a foreign accent.  "How long have
you been a prisoner?"

"About six weeks.  And you?"

"A year perhaps.  We had hoped to be freed by the payment of a ransom.
Now I suppose we must wait for the troops if these brutes will allow us.
There is never any saying what they may do.  To-day there will be a
great sacrifice, and we are always dragged here to witness the awful
scene.  What news?"

He asked the question eagerly, and in a few words Dick narrated how Sir
Garnet had landed and commenced operations, and how by now the troops
must be at the coast and probably on the march up.

"Then that accounts for this butchery.  They are trying to stop the
advance, and these poor people have to suffer.  Shut your eyes as long
as you can, my lad.  I'm hardened."

But Dick could not.  He looked on with dilated eyes and shuddered, for
the next three hours were indeed too horrible to relate.  Some hundreds
of wretched slaves and prisoners were ruthlessly slaughtered, while the
mob looked on, gloating.  But happily for the white prisoners, there was
little noise, only an occasional shriek from some waiting victim.  The
poor wretches were led to the bowl, and knives were thrust through their
cheeks so that they could not utter a sound.  Then their heads were
forced over the edge of the bowl, and with a sweep of the sacrificial
knife they were decapitated.

"It's done with for to-day," at last said the prisoner who had spoken
before, addressing Dick, wearily.  "A few score more of these poor
people have been killed--men, women and children, and now the last test
of all has been carried out.  The fetish priests have said that if men
who are tied up in the forest and left alone die quickly, the Ashantis
will be victorious.  If they live for many days the British will
succeed.  They have put knives through the cheeks of two of the captives
and have led them away.  It's all very horrible and very terrible.  But
never fear, things may come right yet.  By the way, who is that sallow
dog who fights with the Ashantis and advises them?  See him there.  He
is watching and listening."

Dick did not answer, for James Langdon suddenly emerged from the crowd,
where he had hidden himself the better to watch his prisoner.  Now,
however, he came forward at a run, and stood in front of the man who had
spoken.

"Sallow dog, you call me," he cried angrily.  "I will tell you who I am.
I am the one who has so far kept you white men alive, and to me you may
look for the order which will bring you here again for execution.  That
is your answer."

He scowled at the prisoner and then went off, giving an order as he left
the arena.  At once the guards closed round the prisoners, and all were
marched away, Dick being taken back and flung into his hut.  He sat down
at once with his back to the wall, and his eyes fixed on the door, and
for an hour he hardly stirred a finger.  Now and again his eyes moved a
little, as the light which streamed beneath the door altered, and the
shadow of a passing man crossed it.  Otherwise he allowed nothing to
disturb his thoughts.

"I will do it," he said at last, rising to his feet and pacing up and
down.  "I am strong now, and once away I can live in the forest with
ease, for there are plantains everywhere.  I will make an attempt this
very night, and if I fail, well it will only hasten my death by a very
few hours."

"Food and water.  Take it!"

The door was thrown open by the man appointed to feed the captive, and a
bundle of plantains tossed into the hut.  An earthen pot containing
water was set down just inside the hut, and then the door was slammed,
for the man was in a hurry.  Like all the inhabitants of Kumasi, he was
eager to go into the forest to watch the poor wretches tied up there,
and to listen to news of the invaders.  The guards also, two of whom
were set to watch the hut, had their attention distracted on this day,
for as Dick peered through the crevices in the door he could see them
gossiping with the passers-by, and straying far from the hut.  When
darkness fell the town was still in a state of agitation, for further
news had come of a British victory, and the watch on the hut was even
more careless.  But the Ashantis had not entirely forgotten their
prisoner, as Dick soon discovered.  For as he looked out into the wide
street, watching the numerous almost nude figures seated about the
fires, and the warriors passing to and fro, a gentle grating on the far
side of the door warned him that he might expect a visitor.  As quick as
a flash he crossed the floor and sank to the ground on the far side,
where he feigned to be asleep.  He had hardly gained this position when
the door was burst open, and two men entered, the second bearing a
torch.

"Gone!  He has escaped!  Those dogs have let him go!  Ah, no!  He is
here!"

The half-caste clenched his hands, and turned furiously upon the native
bearing the torch, for as he entered, the half light cast by the flame
had illuminated only a portion of the hut, and he imagined that the
prisoner had gone.  Then he caught sight of his figure in the corner,
and heaved a sigh of relief.

"Safe!" he exclaimed, with a growl of satisfaction.  "Not escaped.  That
is good.  Have we disturbed your sleep?"

Dick looked up wearily, blinking at the light, and then seeing who it
was, and pretending that he had only just discovered the presence of his
enemy, he rolled over again, treating him with scorn and silence, as was
his custom.

For a little while the half-caste and his attendant stared at him
thoughtfully, then they turned and left the hut.

"I felt ill at ease," Dick heard James Langdon mutter; "I fancied that
he had escaped, and I came to see for myself.  I can sleep peacefully
now if I do not dream of these British."

He clenched his hands again as he moved away, and Dick heard him
muttering still as the door was slammed.  Then came the sound of his
steps, a fierce kick as he pushed open the door of his own abode, and a
sharp crash as he swung it to again.

"Sick and weary," thought Dick.  "His conscience is hurting him, or
rather, perhaps, he begins to feel the net closing round him.  We shall
see.  I gave him due warning, and if the time comes I will kill him as
if he were a fly.  Now for business."

He rose stealthily to his feet and went to the door, where he remained
for some minutes staring out into the street, and taking note of the
position of his guards.  Then he went in succession to some half-dozen
tiny peep-holes, which he had diligently bored through the wattle wall
of the hut.

"All clear," he said, with a satisfied chuckle.  "It's quite dark now,
and as these people go to bed early the place will soon be quiet.  I'll
give the guards a little time to settle down and then I'll move.  This
is the side for operations."

He went to the wall which faced the hut in which dwelt the half-caste
and set to work upon it.  Slipping his hand into his sleeve, he produced
an angular piece of iron, a fragment of a cooking-pot which he had
picked up in a corner of the hut.  Many an hour had he spent in
sharpening an edge of the fragment upon a stone dug up from the dried
mud floor, and now it was as keen as a razor.  Holding it firmly in his
hand, he swept it slowly and in a circle over the wattle wall, his
fingers following the cut.  Then he repeated the process, very slowly
and very carefully, severing the stems one by one.  Like all the
habitations in Kumasi, the prison in which he was incarcerated was built
of wattle, woven roughly together, and plastered with mud to fill the
interstices.  Thus when he had contrived to cut through the stems a
large piece of the wall was freed, with the mud still clinging to it.
Dick swung it open very slowly and peeped out.  Then he replaced the
section, and once more went the round of the hut, peering in all
directions.  Not a soul was moving, and even the guards had thrown
themselves down beside the log fire disconsolately, for the news
received that day was most disheartening.

"Not time to move yet," he thought.  "They look quiet enough, but they
are not sleepy.  I'll wait a little, and then we'll see what happens."

An hour later he swung the section open and stared out.  Then he
squeezed through the opening and threw himself flat on the ground.
Wriggling a few inches along beside the hut he soon obtained an
unobstructed view of the street, and could see the twinkle of the dying
embers, with, here and there, a figure crouching over them.  There were
the guards, too, drowsing near one of the fires, their weapons dangling
beside them.  A dog barked in the distance, and for a little while a
number of the curs which infested the streets of the horrible town set
up a chorus of responsive howls, which were more than disconcerting.
One of the guards stirred, while a man who had been crouching over one
of the distant fires, no doubt thinking of the fighting in prospect,
rose and sauntered along till he arrived near the hut, where he opened
up a conversation on the same old subject.

"They are at the Prahsu, these white dogs," he said.  "What will be our
fortune now?  What think you, comrade?"

"How should I know or be able to guess?" was the sulky answer.  "Go to
our fetish men.  Or better, be patient for a little.  There are the dogs
whom we have bound out in the forest.  If they die to-morrow we conquer.
If not--"

"We die.  We shall do that.  Listen to one of them groaning.  Is that
the call of a dying man?"

He held up his hand and pointed across the street, and away across the
enclosure where the executions had taken place, to the forest beyond,
and as he pointed there came the call of a man in pain, strong and
clear, and full of power.

Dick shuddered, while the guards and their visitor became suddenly
silent.  They had much to think about, and could obtain little comfort
from their wise men and soothsayers.  The auguries were all against
them.  Strange things were happening.  The tale was abroad that a child
had just been born who was able to converse fluently immediately after
its birth.  Then some falling star had struck the town.  And now, the
men who had sat so patiently at the coast, were advancing in spite of
sacrifices, in spite of a liberal shedding of blood.  There was little
comfort for the Ashantis.  Talking made matters worse.  It was better to
go to the privacy of one's own hut and brood alone over the trouble.

Dick heard the stranger bid good-night.  Then he watched his figure
disappearing.  A minute later he was on his feet, creeping across the
dark patch of ground intervening between his prison and the next
habitation, where James Langdon dwelt.

For a moment we must leave Dick, while we turn to the leader of the
British expedition at the coast, and see what arrangements he had made
for the difficult task before him.  For this campaign was no trifling
affair.  It was not an ordinary war, wherein battles of great importance
might be expected, with open fields for manoeuvring, but a conflict
wherein our troops and their leaders would have to engage with many
unexpected difficulties, and meet face to face a danger greater than
that offered by the enemy.  It was bad enough at the coast, where there
were cool, fresh breezes on occasion, though to be sure the place had
well earned its name of "the white man's grave," but up-country, in the
forest and jungle, with its numerous swamps, its unhealthy exhalations,
its damp heat, and its rotting vegetation, there lurked the germs of
fever, the worst form of ague, that fell disease which has slain so many
men of our race, and with which it may be rightly said our scientists
are only now becoming fully acquainted.  Its symptoms, its shivering
attacks, its racking fevers they know well, as intimately as they can be
known; as also the fact that recurrences take place, that many a man
long since returned to England has attacks of jungle fever, or whatever
he may care to term it.  But the method of transmission of this malady
to human beings was not so certain a matter, and few knew then rightly
how to battle with it.  It was, in fact, the enemy to be contended with,
and had any one doubted that, he had only to ask at the coast and sum up
the number of men and officers already placed _hors de combat_ on its
account.  This was first and foremost to be a doctors' war, and when all
available precautions were taken, it became next a war against forest
and jungle, and the foes who might be lurking there.

To reach Kumasi was no light undertaking, even if no opposition were to
be expected, and the decision to advance upon it by land made the
difficulty all the greater.  It would be hard to say who was responsible
for this, though it would seem that those at home, wholly unacquainted
with the coast perhaps, were allowed to have a say in the matter.  In
any case materials were sent out for erecting a light railway, and were
disembarked at great cost and labour.  And with what result?  It was
hard enough to cleave a path thirty inches wide through the jungle and
forest, let alone one of five feet; while the necessary transport was
not forthcoming.  And so the railway material lay where it had been
landed, while labourers and carriers were employed from amongst the
natives, hundreds of whom had flocked to the town owing to the
incursions of the Ashantis.  Sappers set them their tasks, and as the
weeks crept on a path was hewn through the forest in a direct line to
the Prahsu.  Sometimes open ground relieved the labour, and here and
there stations were formed, and food and ammunition collected.  At last
the bend of the river was reached, and unhindered by the enemy, who were
in the vicinity, the sappers bridged it and laid out a little town for
the accommodation of the troops and the small escort sent to defend this
advance station.  Finally the promised troops came, and the advance
commenced.  Of the force engaged the bulk may be said to have been
British, for our native allies, with few exceptions, proved useless
cowards.  A few men of the Assim tribe made excellent scouts under Lord
Gifford, while other natives did like service.  But for fighting the
majority were hopeless, and very rightly no dependence was placed upon
them.  Elsewhere, operating from another quarter, was a larger force of
more reliable natives, from the Lagos district, close to Benim, under
command of Captain Glover, and though their actions were of little
service, a small portion of the force was to be heard of later.  They
were operating on the Rio Volta, the river forming the boundary between
the Gold and Slave Coasts.

It must not be supposed that because the Ashantis, who had invaded the
protectorate, hesitated to interfere with the working parties hewing a
road to the Prahsu and carrying supplies there, they did not come into
conflict with our marines and bluejackets who, in many cases, formed the
garrison at the depots which had been formed.  Those at Dunquah, a place
some twenty-odd miles from the coast, had a smart brush with the enemy,
while at Abracampa a huge force of Ashantis, numbering ten thousand at
least, suddenly surrounded the post.  Like so many of the others, it was
but a native village, placed in a small natural clearing, and now
roughly fortified.  The garrison was a very slender one indeed, and yet
in spite of that fact they held the enemy at bay, killing very many of
them.  Time and again the attacks were repeated, till at length
reinforcements arrived, and taking the enemy unawares dispersed them
with great slaughter.  In the enemy's camp numerous rifles, guns,
umbrellas and war-drums were found, besides evidences of sacrifices.  In
fact, wherever the Ashantis had been, grim relics were left behind, all
of which only added to the keenness of our men to reach Kumasi and put a
stop to such barbarities.

And now the prospect was brighter.  The second battalion of the Rifle
Brigade was already _en route_, while the Welsh Fusiliers and the Black
Watch were a little way in the rear.  On the road also were Royal
Artillery, Engineers, Marines, surgeons, Commissariat officers, and war
correspondents, amongst the last the familiar figure of G.A. Henty,
whose name must be well known to thousands and thousands of boys and
grown men, and whose active brain created heroes in every country and
clime under the sun.

From Cape Coast Castle the troops marched to Inquabin as a first stage,
and from there through various stations, all with more or less
unpronounceable names, till they came finally to the Prahsu, sixty-nine
miles from the sea.  There they found Sir Garnet completing his
preparations for the march upon Kumasi.  The troops had toiled for the
most part in single file along the narrow forest tracks, and they knew
that the same work was before them.  But they did not know what their
leaders had taken to heart; that the forest on the far side of the river
might and probably did hide thousands of enemies, and that that tract
must be crossed, and the town of Kumasi captured within the next
fortnight.  For already there were not wanting signs that the rains were
about to commence, and when they set in tracks through the forests would
become swamps and narrow streams great swirling rivers.  Worse than all,
rain and wet soon play havoc with a man, and in a fever-stricken
country, such as the land of Ashanti, predispose to an immediate attack.

Having dealt with the movement of the troops, and shown how Sir Garnet
and his men had diligently pushed forward to the Prahsu, and had, by
dint of bush fighting, and particularly by their actions at Dunquah and
Abracampa, driven the Ashantis from the protectorate, we can now return
to Kumasi.

The night was rather dark, but fine.  Overhead the stars twinkled, and
could be seen through the leaves of the trees which lined the main
street.  One tree grew in front of each house or hut, and was fetish or
sacred.  At its roots were placed odd bits of crockery, a rough
doll-shaped image, and other objects, all regarded as fetish and likely
to lull the anger of the mighty fetish which kept the people in its
grip, and which held sway at the execution house and temple to which
Dick had been led.

"If it had been raining it would have been better, perhaps," thought the
escaping prisoner.  "But I don't know.  All depends on the luck I have.
The plan may work well, and our friend may find himself caught in a net
of my weaving this time.  If so, then I shall not mind the light so
much.  Now for the chance to enter."

He had crept across the open space between the two huts, and was now
close against the wattle wall behind which James Langdon was sleeping.
As he lay at full length Dick could hear the ruffian's deep breathing,
and when a few minutes had passed could catch his mutterings.  He
stirred, and Dick heard the soft bed of palm-leaves, upon which he lay,
rustle at the movement.  But our hero made no attempt at escape, nor did
he move from his position.  He waited, as calmly as he could, though it
was hard to smother his excitement and still the thumping of his heart.
There was so much to be attempted, and such a terrible ordeal to look
forward to if he failed.  Across his mind's eye flashed the memory of
that awful scene close to the brass sacrificial bowl.  The rows of
intended victims, forced to look on at the sacrifice, their hunted
looks, and the agony on the face of the one about to be sacrificed.
Then there was the mob, with the warriors dancing their wild dance of
death and brandishing their weapons; while in the background, smug and
complacent, like Nero of old, sat King Koffee, tall and fat, nodding a
signal when the moment for execution came.  For half an hour, as Dick
crouched in the shadow, the memory of the horrid scene flitted
continuously before him.  Then he stood up suddenly and clenched his
hands together.

"I won't let such things take my pluck away," he said in a hoarse
whisper.  "I'll think of the friends on the river and at the coast.
This brute is responsible for all my miseries, and it is his turn to
suffer.  He has brought me here.  Well, he shall help me to return."

He pulled up the cuffs of his tattered sleeves, as if to prepare for a
struggle, then he crept round to the door of the house.  There was a
native stool there, a heavy article, and he grasped it and lifted it
well above his head.  Then, without hesitation, he knocked loudly upon
the door.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

DICK STRIKES A BLOW.

Bang!  Dick's knuckles struck the door of the native hut with a sharp
rap, and he repeated the knock immediately.  Then he listened eagerly
for some sound from the sleeper within.  There was no answering call,
and nothing to denote that the man was there.

"Fast asleep," thought Dick.  "But he is there, I know, for on the far
side I could hear his breathing.  I'll knock again."

He was in the very act of doing so when out of the corner of his eye he
caught sight of one of the drowsy guards who lay beside the dying fire.
The man had, apparently, heard the knock, and had sat up now to see what
it meant.  Then he sauntered towards the prisoner's hut as if to
investigate the matter.  The escaping prisoner's heart stood still,
while his wits worked rapidly.

"If I returned and crept through they might discover the opening, and
then good-bye to liberty," he thought.  "If I stay here he will see me.
I'll get behind the hut, and if there is an alarm I'll run for it.  Yes,
that will be the best plan."

He watched the guard closely as he rose to his feet, and then silently
slid along behind the hut.  And as he did so the native strolled towards
the place where the half-caste lived and peered at the door.  Then he
retraced his steps to the prison, and throwing the catch down, stared
in.  Once more the prisoner held his breath while he tingled with
excitement.  He stood on his toes, ready at the first alarm to sprint
away down the street, while his eye rapidly picked out the most likely
path to take.  Then he heaved a sigh of relief, relief the like of which
none can appreciate but those who have found themselves in similar
positions.  The guard must have mistaken a shadow, perhaps a portion of
the palm-leaf bed, for the prisoner, and been satisfied.  He emerged
from the hut, and once more sauntered up to the door of the one in which
James Langdon lay.  As he did so, a sound within told that the sleeper
had awakened.  He stirred, came to the door and threw it open, staring
out at the man suspiciously.

"You knocked?" he exclaimed.  "It roused me, but I was heavy with sleep
and did not rise at once.  What is wrong?  You have let the prisoner
escape!  Dog!  You have let him go at the very last moment!"

He sprang from the doorway and gripped the man by the throat, digging
his fingers in till the native choked and dropped his musket.  His eyes
dilated; he struggled with all his might, striking fiercely at the
half-caste, and then suddenly became limp.  Indeed, when James Langdon
released his hold, the man fell helpless to the ground.  But it seemed
that he was more frightened than hurt, for Dick had long since
discovered that all in Kumasi treated the rascal who had decoyed him
into captivity with unusual deference, owing perhaps to his friendship
with the King, though of late his power had been declining as that of
the British rose.  The native gasped, held up an arm, and endeavoured to
speak, while the half-caste stood over him with the musket as if he
would club his brains out with the butt.

"Say he is gone and I will kill you on the spot," growled the ruffian.
"If he is safe, well and good.  You shall be uninjured.  But why, then,
did you knock?"

"Knock!  I was lying at the fire keeping watch on the prison when I
heard a sound and came to see what it was.  Doubtless, some one moved in
a neighbouring hut and disturbed me and you also.  Then I went to the
prison, and found the dog there, fast asleep in his corner."

"But some one knocked.  I swear that.  It roused me, I tell you!"

The native rose feebly to his feet and glanced askance at the
half-caste.

"It must be as I say," he ventured.  "The sound came from some other
hut.  In any case, the prisoner is safe."

He went off to his fire again, muttering beneath his breath, for of late
the ruffian who had taken up the cause of the Ashantis had been somewhat
curious in his manner.  Gathering troubles, perhaps an uneasy
conscience, and the ever-present dread of impending punishment, which
seemed to come closer and closer in spite of all his efforts, were
having their effect.  His temper was harsh and easily aroused, he was
hard to please, and wore nowadays a haggard look, showing clearly that
his sleep was disturbed.

"Dreams! dreams!" growled the sentry, as he took his seat again.
"Dreams and the fire-water which he has been drinking.  It is said that
he and the King sit in the palace of a night, smoking and taking
fire-water.  No wonder he sees and hears things which do not exist.  I
have felt the same myself."

And the same conclusion must have been dawning upon the troubled mind of
the rascal standing at his door.  He began to wonder whether he had
actually heard the knocking, or whether it was another of those dreadful
nightmares which had troubled him of late, in which a huge bluejacket,
with bristling beard, had stood above him waiting for the word to thrust
his cutlass to his heart.  He groaned, then stretched his arms and
yawned, and turned towards the prisoner's hut.  He walked a few paces in
that direction, and, seeming to change his mind and be satisfied with
the tale of the sentry, he turned about and entered the hut again.  Dick
at once stole round to the door, his stool still grasped in his hand.

"I would rather have it like that," he thought.  "He is awake and able
to take care of himself.  He had a revolver strapped at his belt, and
therefore is armed, far better than I am.  He shall have a glimpse of
me, and then--Well, it is his life or mine, and I have given him
warning."

There was no time to hesitate, and though Dick would have scorned to
strike a defenceless man, he had every excuse for making an attack upon
this rascal who had so often injured him.  He hardened his heart,
therefore, and having ascertained that the guard, who had so recently
appeared, was seated near the fire some little distance away, and with
his back turned in that direction, he slipped up to the door and knocked
ever so gently.

"Again!  It is a knock!  I am not mistaken.  Well!"

James Langdon, boiling over with indignation, and with his fiery temper
fully roused, strode to the door revolver in hand and threw it open.
Then he fell back a pace in sheer amazement, while he stood for an
instant staring at the figure barring his path.  Used to the dense
darkness of the interior of the native hut, his eyes picked out the
features of his prisoner almost instantaneously.  It was his turn to
gasp this time.  The suddenness of the apparition took his breath away
and robbed him of his energy.  Then, in a flash, he realised that this
must actually be his prisoner, the youth to whom he put down all his
miseries.  A snarl escaped him, and his fingers closed tighter on his
weapon.  In less than a second he would have had it at Dick's head and
pulled the trigger had not the latter acted.  He was satisfied now; he
was attacking an armed man who had due and proper warning.  Dick struck
with the swiftness of lightning, the heavy stool hitting the half-caste
across forehead and face and knocking him senseless.  But the matter was
not finished yet, and as the rascal fell, Dick was swift to follow up
his advantage.  He clutched at the man and lowered him gently to the
floor.  Then he took his revolver, and, throwing himself on his knees,
peered out at the sentry.  The man had turned on his elbow and was
looking towards the hut, for he had heard the sound of the blow and he
was not quite satisfied.

"Fighting with his shadow," he growled at length.  "It will be a good
thing for us when the fire-water kills him, or a British bullet settles
his account.  But for him I should be sleeping in comfort, and not
sitting here, feeling as if I still had his fingers about my gullet.
Bah!  Let him dreamt.  Let him shoot himself if he wishes."

The fellow expressed little surprise when, some few minutes later, the
figure of the half-caste emerged from the hut and stood out in the open.
The native watched him through half-closed eyes, while one hand sought
for his musket.

"At the risk of my life I will shoot him if he lays a hand on me again,"
he said.  "But it would lead to certain execution."

The figure stood lolling against the wall of the hut, with his hat drawn
down over his eyes, his collar turned up at his ears, while his hands
were sunk in his pockets.  He was cold.  He shivered and then stamped
his feet.  A little later he began to pace backward and forward, and as
if a sudden thought had occurred to him, went to the door of the prison.
He threw it open, glanced in, and then shut and barred the door again
with every sign of satisfaction.

"Safe and sound," he said.  "He will not escape the knife of the
executioner.  You can go.  You and your comrade.  I cannot sleep, and
will keep watch myself."

Astonishment and delight were written on the features of the guard, but
he did not demur.  The opportunity to be rid of a hated duty was too
good to be ignored, and at once, rousing his comrade, the two went off
down the street.  And Dick watched them as he lolled there, hands in his
breeches pockets.  He had taken an enormous risk in acting as he had
done, but he felt that it was the surest way to regain his liberty.  He
argued with much justice that dressed in the clothes of the half-caste
he would be taken for that ruffian, while the darkness would hide all
deficiencies.  As to the voice, he could simulate that.  He could speak
gruffly, as if the night air affected his throat, while he had
sufficient command of the language now to carry the plan out fully.  And
so far it had succeeded.

"Which means that my escape will probably not be discovered till
to-morrow morning.  Perhaps not even then.  That will give me a start,
and with a little luck I shall be able to get well away.  Now for food
and ammunition."

He dived into James Langdon's hut again, and searched for the articles
which he required.  Some minutes later he reappeared, and having
ascertained that the coast was clear, he strode down the wide street of
Kumasi, his eyes peering in all directions in search of an enemy.  He
had arrived at a point only a little distance removed from the opposite
end of the town, when a sound suddenly startled him.  It was the voice
of a man in agony--a deep, heart-rending groan, which brought him to an
abrupt halt, and set him listening to its repetition.

"One of the poor beggars whom these ruffians tied up in the forest to
die," he said to himself.  "If I could I'd help him.  But how can I
manage such a thing?  I'd not leave this place without trying to rescue
the other Europeans if I thought that possible.  But it's not.  They are
scattered, and the attempt would be fatal.  My word! what cruelty!"

The groan came to his ears again, and after it a second, deeper in tone,
as though forced from the lips of the wretch who uttered it by the
utmost depths of misery and pain.  It was horrible!  If Dick's blood had
stirred at the sight of the cruelties perpetrated by the executioners,
it boiled now at the thought of those two unhappy natives, captives of
the Ashantis, who had been tied up in the forest, their cheeks
perforated with the knives to hold down the tongue so that they could
not talk, and left there to moan and die soon if the fates were to be
kind to Kumasi and its King, and to the unfortunate victims also, or to
live on in abject suffering for many days, till thirst and starvation
brought unconsciousness.

"I'll go to them," he said, after a minute's thought.  "I can't leave
this awful place with their groans in my ears.  I'll risk releasing
them, and perhaps they may help me."

His resolution was made and adhered to in spite of the obvious delay and
danger it would cause.  But he had a soft heart, and could not bear to
think of such misery.  Turning aside he slipped down between two of the
houses and came to a foetid stream, in which, no doubt, lay the bodies
of many of yesterday's victims.  He crossed it in safety, standing back
a little way and jumping as far as possible into the darkness.  Then
there were other houses to pass, and another row of dying embers, before
none of which could he see a single Ashanti.  They were all abed, and
the only denizens of this loathsome place who were awake were a few
stray mongrel curs, one of which started from its lair beside one of the
houses, and hearing the thud of Dick's feet as he landed on the far side
of the stream, set up a loud barking, which was taken up almost
instantly by a score of others elsewhere.  But suddenly a gruff voice
from within one of the huts commanded silence, and the baying ceased.

"Then I can go on," said Dick.  "I thought it was going to lead to more
trouble, for if the dogs were to sight me they would follow, making
enough noise to awake the whole of the town.  Here we are.  Here is the
forest, and I fancy I am in the right direction."

It was still very dark, and, in fact, had it not been for the many
fires, he would hardly have found his way as he had done.  Perhaps he
would have blundered against one of the huts, or even come upon some
wanderer.  Not that he would therefore have been discovered to be an
escaping prisoner.  He would have carried out his _role_ of being the
half-caste, and if that failed there was the revolver.  But fortune
favoured our hero on this occasion, and in a little while he gained the
forest and plunged into its black depths.  Groping his way blindly
through it, striking his shins against fallen boughs and trunks of
trees, and sometimes almost breaking his head against similar
obstructions, he finally found himself on a native path, along which the
way was easy.

"A piece of great luck," he thought, "and this probably leads to the
spot where the poor fellows are imprisoned.  I'll keep along for a
little, and then give them a whistle."

But he had no need to do that, for after a little while, when he had
traversed some fifty yards or more, the same miserable groan came to his
ear, and gave him indisputable evidence of the proximity of the
captives.  A few minutes later he was close to them, and, passing to the
two trees to which they were bound, ran his hands over their bodies.
The miserable natives had been placed some two feet from the ground
against the trunks of enormous cotton trees, and their hands and feet
had been dragged backwards by means of ropes, and so tightly that they
did not slip to the ground.  The agony of such a position can be
imagined, and if to that be added the torture of two native knives
thrust right through the cheeks, some estimate can be obtained of the
barbarities practised by the Ashantis, of their insane and meaningless
cruelty, and of the urgent need there was for some more enlightened
nation to come to the town and stop the practice.  Dick slid his hand up
to the cheek of the first of the unhappy men, and gently withdrew the
knives.  Then he spoke to him in low tones.

"Who are you?" he asked, first in Ashanti, and then in the Fanti tongue.

"We are Assims," came the answer, low and indistinct, for the knives had
almost robbed the man of the power of speech.  "We were captured months
ago and imprisoned at Kumasi.  Who are you?"

"A white man from the coast, also a prisoner, till an hour ago.  Will
you swear to follow me if I set you free?"

There was no mistaking the earnestness of the reply, or the man's
eagerness to be cut free of his lashings.

"Release us, and we shall owe you our lives," he answered.  "We are set
here to die, and if you give us life and liberty, we will follow you and
fight for you.  We are allies of the great white chiefs, and you can
trust us."

Without more ado Dick took one of the ghastly knives and cut the man
down, doing the same for his comrade a minute later.  Stretching them
with all care and gentleness on the ground, he set to work to rub their
limbs, for it was not so long ago that he had experienced the cruel
result of tight lashings.  He had known what it was to feel a tingling
in his extremities, and then acute pain, as if feet and hands would
burst.  And later, when the cords were cut loose, the agony of returning
life to his limbs, the inability to move finger or toe or to support his
weight.  And to cure him the inhuman monster who had borne the name of
James Langdon had thrashed him till strength had come.  Well, the
half-caste was dead.  Dick had struck him a blow which had crushed in
his skull as if it had been an egg-shell, and thinking of it now as he
rubbed the limbs of these poor fellows, he could only rejoice, and
congratulate himself that he had done bare justice.

"It was man to man," he thought.  "He deserved his death, and he had due
warning.  It was not as if I had knocked and then struck him in the
darkness of the hut.  I gave him a chance, and--well, the best man won.
Now, how are you both?"

The poor fellows were trembling with joy, and wept freely.  By now they
had regained to some extent the use of their hands, and they, too,
rubbed at their feet till they were able to stand and hobble a few
paces.

"We will wait till you are quite able to walk," said Dick.  "We have far
to go to-night, and it will be better to sacrifice a few minutes here
than to lose them on the road.  Do not hurry.  Soon you will be strong
again."

"We are fit to go now," at last said the spokesman of the two.  "Where
will the white man turn his face?"

"To the Pra.  Our troops are there, and if we can meet them we are safe.
Do either of you know the road?"

There was an exclamation from both at once.

"We have marched it time and again," said one.  "As slaves we have
accompanied the Ashanti armies, and we can find the road even in the
dark.  But we must be careful.  There are thousands of men about, and if
we met them we should be killed."

"Then you will want weapons.  Pick up the knives and tuck them in your
waist cloths.  Now lead the way.  Better still.  We will cut a vine and
hold on to it.  Then there will be no straggling."

A little later the three set out, the leader setting the direction along
the path without a moment's hesitation.

"It will lead us to the main war road," he explained, "and after that
all will be easy.  There is but one way to the Pra, for the forest is
too thick for many paths to be cut.  Follow, white chief, and I will
take you to the river."

All that night the trio kept on through the forest, their way made easy
by the path cut and kept free of undergrowth with constant labour.  Now
and again they would call a halt, for the two captives whom Dick had
rescued were still very feeble, and their feet and ankles were greatly
swollen.  But it is wonderful what an amount of ill-treatment a native
can put up with at times, and how marvellously they recover from the
most serious of wounds.  True, they have as a rule little stamina, and
sickness cuts them down by the hundred.  But perhaps because of the life
they lead these natives of Africa often show less sensitiveness to pain
than do Europeans, and therefore can put up with injuries which with the
majority of white men would prove quickly fatal.  And so, in spite of
the hours that these men had been dangling, they were able to march, for
the wounds in the cheeks were of small consequence.  When day dawned
many miles intervened between themselves and Kumasi.

"We will seek for a hiding place and rest," said Dick, as the light
beneath the trees grew stronger.  "As the afternoon comes we can push on
again.  Let us gather some fruit and have a meal."

Late on the following afternoon three weary men, one a white youth
dressed in tattered clothing which showed signs of much travelling,
tottered across the bridge which the engineers had erected across the
Prahsu, and made for the hutted camp of the British.  On all sides men
were bustling to and fro.  Natives were carrying bales and boxes on
their heads, sailors and soldiers were lolling about the open camp
fires, smoking their pipes and yarning, while at the far side of the
bridge was a kilted sentry, striding to and fro.  He stared at the
new-comers, brought his rifle from the slope, and dropped the bayonet
level with Dick's chest.

"Not so fast, me lad," he said gaily.  "Where from?  Whom do you want to
see?  'Alt, or there's going to be trouble."

That brought them up suddenly and set Dick laughing.

"A fine welcome after two months' absence," he said.  "Sentry, I want to
see the Chief of the Staff, and after that Mr Emmett.  As for where
I've come from, Kumasi is the answer.  Now, how long have you been
here?"

"My business, young feller," was the reply, when the sentry had
recovered from his astonishment at being answered in his own tongue, for
Dick might have been of any nationality.  "Yer want the chief, do yer?
'Ere, Corporal McVittie, take these fellers to the sergeant of the
guard."

A little later our hero, with his two black companions, was being
marched under escort in amongst the huts, and was finally brought to a
halt opposite a collection of tents devoted to the use of the leaders of
the expedition.  There were British officers standing or sitting in
front of many of these, while the dress of some showed that they
belonged to the Royal Navy.  At one end of the line a Welsh Fusilier
paced his solitary beat, while a blue-jacket, burly and heavily bearded,
did sentry duty at the other end.  And it was this latter individual who
first recognised the new-comer.

"What's this!" he gasped, stepping a little way from his beat.  "'Ere,
sergeant, split me! but that 'ere's Mr Stapleton!  Mr Dick Stapleton!
Do yer 'ear me?"

His face flushed red with indignation at the sight presented to him, but
discipline was discipline, and already he had said too much.  However,
before the sergeant of the guard could answer, a number of officers
emerged from a tent close by and faced the white youth and natives under
escort.  There was a loud exclamation of surprise, and in a moment Dick
was gripping the hand of the Chief of the Staff, while close to him was
Jack Emmett, bronzed with the sun, eagerly waiting for his share in the
greeting.

"Bless my life!  Dick Stapleton, reported as missing on the river!
Where on earth have you come from?  And looking so wan and thin, too!"

"From Kumasi, sir.  I was taken prisoner, and escaped two nights ago.  I
brought these two Assims along with me.  They had been tied up in the
forest to see how long they could live without food and water, I suppose
so that the enemy might have some augury of their fortunes.  They know
the ground perfectly, sir.  You asked for that information, and here it
is."

There was a commotion in the camp for more than an hour, and as the
night fell, and the men gathered about their huge log fires, every
tongue wagged on one story alone.  But the noise was greatest where the
bluejackets had their quarters, for there reclined the crew of the
launch which had returned so disconsolately from their quest up the
river.  As for Dick, he had been feted by the officers, and ever since
had been engaged with the members of the staff, to whom he gave all his
news of Kumasi, and drew sketches of the road leading to the town.

"You have our congratulations," said the Chief, as he rose to bid him
good night, "and I may say that you have done us inestimable service, so
much so that, though it is not the usual custom, and is, indeed, an
exceptional occurrence, we shall send your name home in our despatches.
And now for to-morrow, when we advance.  You, with your two natives,
will be well in our front with the remaining scouts under Lord Gifford
and others.  When you come to Kumasi you may find it necessary to fall
back on us for support."

"And if the Ashantis are in the same condition of panic, may I advance,
sir?" asked Dick, quietly.  "I have every reason for asking the
question, for I know roughly the whereabouts of the captives, and if I
can get in at an early hour, I may be able to save them."

"You shall have more men.  You shall have your old crew, my lad.  I know
well that you will lead them discreetly.  Save these prisoners for us,
and you will have completed some very fine work.  There.  Off you go,
Mr Stapleton.  I would willingly keep you and listen to all you have to
say, but I see that you are very tired.  And besides, we are off at
cock-crow tomorrow."

Once more he shook hands with our hero and nodded adieu.  Then he
stepped across to the tent occupied by Sir Garnet, and told him of the
remarkable occurrence.

"A really gallant and modest lad, General," he said, feelingly.  "I
could not be prouder of him had he been my own son."

When morning dawned on the following day the hutted town was all bustle
and hurry, and very soon the bridge over the river resounded to the
tramp of many feet, for the punitive army was on the march.  The last
stage of this short and historic campaign had commenced.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE DESTRUCTION OF KUMASI.

Excitement rose high early that morning as the main body of the British
force crossed the bridge over the Prahsu and began their invasion of
Ashanti proper, for stern fighting was expected.  It was known now that
the protectorate on the coast side of the river was freed of all
enemies, so effective had been the operations carried out by Sir Garnet,
and in addition, thanks to the information supplied by Dick and his two
men, and by Lord Gifford, one of the most valuable officers in this
campaign, it was ascertained for certain that the road on the Ashanti
side, as far as a range of hills known as the Adansi range, was also
entirely clear.  Beyond that the enemy lurked, while there were rumours
that large bodies were operating on the flanks, prepared to close in on
us.

Not a snap of the fingers did our gallant fellows care for this news.
They itched to be at Kumasi, and in their hearts all had registered a
vow to strike hard in the interests of mercy.  For even the men who had
only recently landed, and who had marched directly up-country, had seen
sufficient to convince them that it was high time that King Koffee and
his barbarians were subjugated.  On every road the Ashantis had left
their sacrifices, wretched slaves done to death with horrible
mutilations, or lashed to trees and left there to die like those two
poor fellows at Kumasi.  And so every man pressed forward eagerly, keen
to reach Kumasi and punish these miscreants, and then eager to return to
the coast again, for, despite quinine every morning, and the most rigid
adherence to special rules to ward off the fever, that enemy already had
a grip of the attacking force.

Dick and his little band, accompanied by Jack Emmett and Johnnie, and
with a naval officer in addition, marched in the very centre of the
road, wide awake, and keenly searching every bush and every likely bit
of cover.  As they advanced and the days passed they joined with the
troops in many little skirmishes in which they drove the enemy back.  At
last, at a place known as Amoaful, they gained information that the
Ashantis were in full force and sent back the news.  Indeed, from
tidings which they and Lord Gifford had gathered, there were at least
twenty thousand Ashantis barring the path.

"We shall see fighting, chief," said one of the men whom Dick had
rescued.  "These Ashantis have chosen well, for look at the bush.  We
have been crossing land which is more or less open.  But here it is very
dense, and though there are many paths through it they are hard to
follow.  If we beat them now they are conquered altogether."

It was, as he had said, a most difficult piece of country, and on closer
inspection it was found that the paths to which the native had alluded
were tracks about eight feet wide, down which the rain rushed in
torrents in the wet season.  As a consequence these paths had sunk
considerably, leaving a narrow channel with steep banks, and on either
side a dense and almost impenetrable barrier of forest.  Yet, from
previous experience, it was known that the Ashantis could and would make
use of the forest, wriggling their way through it with great rapidity.

It was obvious to all that the critical hour had arrived, and very soon
the orders for the advance were issued.

"You will advance and get into touch directly in your front," said the
officer who came to Dick.  "Fire steadily, and move on very slowly, as
otherwise you may get ahead of the other detachments and run the danger
of being cut off.  Listen to the bugle calls, and never fire unless you
are sure that it is against the enemy.  It is so easy to become confused
in the bush.  Directly behind you will be the Highlanders, the Welsh
Fusiliers, some artillery, and a couple of small guns and
rocket-troughs.  Be sure to notify your position to them.  On the left
you will have the Naval Brigade, a native regiment, some engineers and
rocket-troughs.  On the right there will be the remainder of the Naval
Brigade, some native levies and detachments of engineers and artillery.
There.  You have the orders in full, and may advance immediately."

Dick saluted and went back to his men, and very soon they were engaged
with the enemy.  As to the other columns they broke into skirmishing
order, and went forward at a run till they gained the bush.  Then the
musketry duel became extremely fierce, the crackle of firearms being
incessant.  There had been nothing like it in the whole campaign before,
for the enclosed woods added to the roar of the rifles.  Our troops
broke into section, three in advance of each company and one in rear, as
a support, and the men soon thrust a passage for themselves through the
jungle.  But, just as formerly, no enemy was visible.  It was a duel of
sniders and rockets against guns firing slugs, and our soldiers and
sailors had only the smoke and the flashes at which to aim.  The air
above them was torn with hundreds of pellets, and on every side the
leaves and twigs fell like rain, cut and lacerated by the missiles.  Men
and officers were struck in all directions, and yet they persevered.  At
first it was very slow work, for the Ashantis clung to their posts in
spite of the heavy fire.  However, when some two hours had passed, and
Dick and his men, who were now joined by the Highlanders, had advanced
scarcely more than a hundred yards, a gun and the rocket-troughs came
into action, the boom of the latter shaking the forest.  They were
answered by a perfect babel of shouts and the firing of thousands of
guns, showing clearly the strength of the enemy.  Then, as the
Highlanders pressed forward and the enemy retired, and finally, as the
bagpipes struck up, and the gallant Scots got to their legs and charged
down the position, the Ashantis broke and ran for their lives.
Meanwhile, on the right and left flanks, our flanking parties were being
very heavily engaged at close quarters.  At length that on the left
drove their enemy back, and were able to advance, while on the right the
Ashantis, probably ignorant of the fate of their comrades on the other
flank, held manfully to their position.  Their fire here was terrific,
so rapid, in fact, that it was thought that they must have slaves with
them ready to hand loaded muskets and reload those discharged.  However,
as soon as the guns and rockets had got to work the order was given to
advance.  And now, in a few moments, the scene was changed.  Hitherto
our men had been fighting more or less silently, their rifles alone
breaking the stillness, with an occasional boom of a gun or rocket, or a
bugle-call.  But as the advance was sounded, and the men plunged into
the bush to hunt the enemy from his favourite lair, there was a British
cheer, and then the roar of savage natives.  The dusky levies whom we
had enlisted, and who had done admirably in this action, were now the
avengers.  They slung their muskets, drew their long knives and native
swords, and plunged with shrieks of delight into the forest.  And
numbers of Ashantis died that day at their hands, thereby paying the
penalty of many an atrocity.

The engagement had lasted fully five hours, and during all that time
Dick and his little party had kept together, and had fired continuously.
Thanks to their previous experience, they were able to undertake this
new class of warfare with more knowledge than their comrades.  They kept
in couples, and each couple retained its touch with that on either side
by means of shouting, and in this order they left the tracks, and crept
right into the woods.

"Our own side know where we are and what we are doing, so we will hold
our fire whenever I signal," said Dick.  "That means advance again some
thirty yards, keep close to the ground.  Then, when we are quite near
the enemy I will whistle, and we will pour in our volleys."

For an hour it had been impossible to carry out this manoeuvre, but
gradually, as the Highlanders drove the enemy farther into the woods,
Dick and his men advanced.  Their method of attack proved disastrous to
the Ashantis, for on several occasions the latter were so occupied with
the fire from the Highlanders that they did not notice the silent
approach of the sailors, and these men were able to get to quite close
quarters.  Then Dick's whistle sounded, a terrific volley was poured in,
and at once the whole party were on their feet, charging down upon the
enemy.

It was not a matter of surprise, after such a stern engagement, to find
that every one of this gallant band was wounded, one sailor being
entirely disabled by a slug through his thigh.  The remainder had many
wounds, but none of them were very serious; and later, when the
overworked surgeons had a moment to spare, a few small dressings and
strips of plaster were sufficient.

In this battle two hundred and fifty of our force were wounded or
killed, the latter numbering, fortunately, only two.  The loss of the
enemy was very great, though the actual number could not be ascertained,
owing to their custom of removing the bodies wherever possible.  Still,
there were sufficient left in the forest and on the tracks to show that
their killed had been very numerous.

"And now for Kumasi," said Dick, as he and his men threw themselves on
the ground and prepared to sleep.  "In four days we should be there if
the enemy do not stop us.  My lads, you'd better pull your belts a
little tighter, for the baggage is not up yet, and we have no rations
left."

It was the same with the whole force who had been in the fight; and on
that night they lay down supperless, and slept just where they had
fought.  Dick and his men, however, contrived to fare a little better,
for they had the wily Johnnie with them.

"Yo stay still like so," he said, as he strutted up to his leader.
"Johnnie see to food.  Plenty in de forest.  Soon fetch him."

He was as good as his word, for very soon he came back with a number of
plantains, and, splitting these, roasted them before the fire which had
been made at the foot of a cotton tree.  The meal was a welcome one,
though not so nice as rations would have been on this night.  However,
the soldier and the sailor alike have to take matters as they come when
on service, and the cheery spirits of the men of the navy were not
damped in the least.

On the following day the advance again commenced, and four days later,
having had one very serious meeting with the Ashantis, commanded by King
Koffee in person, the troops arrived within a mile of Kumasi.

"We halt here for half an hour," said an officer to Dick, as he lay in
the bush with his men.  "We have had a flag in from King Koffee, and
have given him that time to surrender."

"Then I will creep forward and see that all is clear," was our hero's
answer.  "I have permission to do so from the general."

"In that case you may advance.  But be cautious, Stapleton.  There are
thousands of the enemy everywhere, and it would be better to have the
Highlanders near at hand."

He left the little party marvelling at the dash of this civilian
soldier.  But he knew what Dick's object was, and, with him, feared lest
on the arrival of the force, they should find the Europeans massacred.
Dick and his gallant little band, led by the natives whom he had rescued
from Kumasi, at once took to the forest again, and carefully crept
through it on hands and knees.  No one ventured to speak a syllable, and
whenever it was necessary to issue an order our hero raised his hand,
gathered the men close to him, and signalled.  And in this way, passing
between vast bodies of fleeing Ashantis, who were so intent on procuring
their own safety, that they failed to detect the presence of the
British, the party came at length to the verge of the pestilential swamp
which borders the town on one side.  Not till then, perhaps, did the
bluejackets fully comprehend the force of the tale which Dick had told
them.  It was only when they came actually to this spot and saw the
awful results of the frequent executions which took place at this
loathsome town, that they realised the agony suffered there, and the
need there was to put a summary end to it all.  Their teeth closed
tight, and they gripped their rifles nervously.

"If they'd only stand, the cruel-hearted brutes," whispered one of the
men, "we'd jest give 'em sacrifice.  This here place smells of the dead.
Pah!  I shall be glad when we're quit of it."

"Silence!  The half-hour is up now, and in a little while we shall hear
the bugle for the advance.  We will march into the town at once, and
shoot down any who oppose us.  These natives know where the European
prisoners are, and will lead us to them.  As each is found, bring him
along with us till we come to the last.  Ah!  That's the bugle."

Over the summit of the dense forest the faint notes came, sounding the
last advance movement of the troops, and the knell of the blood-stained
town of Kumasi.  Dick and his men rose to their feet, skirted the marsh,
and within ten minutes were in the town.  The native guides led them at
once to the quarter in which the prisoners were located.  Nor were they
too soon by any means.  For Kumasi was gone mad.  Thousands of figures
fled through the wide streets to the forest beyond, while a party, some
two hundred strong, told off for the purpose, no doubt, by King Koffee,
were even then dragging the European captives from the prisons with the
intention of conveying them to the temple of sacrifice.

"Charge!" shouted Dick, as he came in sight of the force, and at once,
with a mighty cheer, the band of sailors and young officers broke into a
run.  And as they went, at an order from their leader, they pulled their
triggers without lifting their rifles to their shoulders, sending a
shower of bullets into the enemy.  The Ashantis broke immediately and
ran for their lives.  Dick and his men at once surrounded the prisoners.

"Good gracious!  The last of the prisoners!  How did you manage to get
away?"

Dick turned to find the very European who had spoken to him when a
prisoner in Kumasi, and at once rushed forward to shake him by the hand.

"I cut my way out," he answered, "and--well, here I am, while the troops
are just behind us.  We have beaten the Ashantis handsomely, and they
are in full flight."

"While we are safe, thanks to you," replied the other, gripping Dick's
hand enthusiastically.  "I heard the order given to those fellows who
have just bolted.  They were to take us to the execution hut and kill
us.  A pleasant prospect from which you have saved us!  I thank you for
all of my comrades and for myself."

"Then there are four of you in all?" said Dick, as he counted the
prisoners off and shook each by the hand.

"Five," corrected the other.  "The last is ill, poor chap.  He lies over
here in a hut set by itself.  I will lead the way."

Still accompanied by the sailors, the party of rescued prisoners crossed
the street to a hut close to the swamp.  And there, a mere skeleton now,
after weeks of the terrible African fever, and lying on a bed of palm
leaves, was Meinheer Van Somering, hardly recognisable, too weak and ill
to speak.

There is little more to tell of Kumasi.  Our troops marched in within
the hour of Dick's arrival and occupied the town.  On the following day,
King Koffee still failing to send in his messengers of peace, the place
was burned to the ground, only three houses escaping.

Then the troops turned their faces to the coast and commenced their long
march back.  And, as it proved, the return journey was not begun a
moment too soon, for the rains commenced in earnest, and ere the coast
was reached the men had to march along forest paths thick with mud, and
perhaps covered by three feet of water.  Where before had been smooth
grass land was now a swamp, extending for considerable distances.  Then,
too, at the rivers, it was found that the bridges erected by the sappers
with so much skill were already useless, or washed away.  So the fine
body of men, all more or less wounded, had to wade across, carrying
their rifles above their heads.  As for the sick, they were borne in
hammocks, and in this manner Meinheer Van Somering reached the coast and
was straightway put on board ship.  Dick and Mr Pepson joined him
there, with Johnnie to act as servant.  Of the gallant troops and
bluejackets who took part in the campaign, a large number were stricken
down with fever, and of these a large proportion died.

Never before perhaps had a campaign been conducted where such
difficulties had to be contended with; and when one comes to consider
the distance Kumasi lies from the coast, the extent and depth of the
forests, and the extraordinary nature of the fighting, one is bound to
admit that never before or since have our men showed more courage and
persistence, while our officers and their gallant leader could not have
displayed greater skill and foresight.

Dick returned no more to the white man's grave.  His health had been
considerably impaired by his residence there, and, besides, he found
work awaiting him in England.  For Mr Pepson was a wealthy man, and had
need of a partner in his business.

"Not a word," he exclaimed when Dick attempted to thank him.  "If I
cannot do this for one who has fought my battles so well, I should
indeed be ungrateful.  You deserve all that I offer, and I am sure that
you will make an excellent partner."

And this seemed to be the opinion also of Mr Pepson's niece, a very
charming girl some two years Dick's junior.

"Go to Africa again, Dick!" she exclaimed, when he broached the subject.
"That I forbid, because uncle tells me that the climate would kill you.
And he says that he needs you here in his business.  Surely that is
reason enough for your remaining."

There was a pretty little smile about the corners of her mouth as she
said the words, and curiously enough, Dick, the stubborn, who had made
up his mind to a thing out in Ashanti and had carried it out, whatever
the danger and difficulty, gave way with the best of grace and with an
answering smile which spoke volumes.  Need the reader feel surprise when
he hears that Dick first made his position strong in Mr Pepson's
business, proving without a doubt that he was of the greatest value, and
that then he asked his fair friend a little question?

He has been married for many years now, and rents a fine place an hour's
run from London.  But once in each year our hero is wont to run up to
the capital, there to meet a select party of friends, all of whom had
been engaged in that fierce campaign in Ashanti.  Familiar faces are
there, and many of the breasts which in that day boasted but a single
decoration, now gleam with miniature medals.  Dick wears a single badge,
the medal presented to civilian fighters.  But he and his deeds are not
forgotten.  There are always the heartiest greetings awaiting him, and,
indeed, such is his popularity, and so well are his brave deeds
remembered, that when his erect and well-known figure enters the room in
which the gathering takes place, there is a general turning of heads,
eager conversations are suddenly arrested, and all advance to grip his
hand.  There is no need for the butler at the door to announce him, for
to every one this tall and unassuming gentleman is known.  They smile a
real welcome to him, and then the buzz of their voices breaks out again:
"It's Stapleton--gallant Dick Stapleton."

The End.





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