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Title: Oscar in Africa
Author: Castlemon, Harry
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Oscar in Africa" ***

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OSCAR IN AFRICA

BY

HARRY CASTLEMON

AUTHOR OF "GUNBOAT SERIES," "ROCKY MOUNTAIN SERIES,"
"WAR SERIES," ETC., ETC.


THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO.,

PHILADELPHIA,

CHICAGO,      TORONTO.


Copyright, 1882, by JAMES ELVERSON.

Copyright, 1894, by PORTER & COATES.


[Illustration: OSCAR'S NARROW ESCAPE.]



CONTENTS.

CHAPTER                                      PAGE
     I. AN INQUISITIVE LANDLORD,                1

    II. AFRICAN TREACHERY,                     12

   III. A DISGUSTED SPORTSMAN,                 23

    IV. THE MUSEUM,                            33

     V. COMPLIMENTS AND ORDERS,                44

    VI. AN ENGLISH NIMROD,                     54

   VII. OFF FOR AFRICA,                        65

  VIII. AN INCIDENT OF THE PAST,               77

    IX. OSCAR MAKES A NEW ACQUAINTANCE,        90

     X. A BAFFLED SWINDLER,                   103

    XI. OSCAR COMPLETES HIS OUTFIT,           113

   XII. OSCAR SEES A CHANCE TO GET EVEN,      124

  XIII. HOW OSCAR GOT EVEN,                   136

   XIV. LETTERS FROM HOME,                    148

    XV. A GOOD SHOT AND A SURPRISE,           158

   XVI. A TASTE OF CIVILIZED LIFE,            167

  XVII. A MIDNIGHT ALARM,                     177

 XVIII. OSCAR REACHES HIS HUNTING-GROUNDS,    187

   XIX. A FIGHT AND A RETREAT,                199

    XX. A COWARDLY AFTER-RIDER,               210

   XXI. AN AFRICAN CONCERT,                   221

  XXII. WHAT MCCANN DID,                      232

 XXIII. THE SENTINEL KOODOO,                  244

  XXIV. THE BATTLE IN THE GROVE,              254

   XXV. MORE SPECIMENS,                       264

  XXVI. A CALL FROM A HONEY-BIRD,             273

 XXVII. A SCRAP OF EVIDENCE,                  284

XXVIII. OSCAR SHOWS HIS COURAGE,              296

  XXIX. "THE CHARGE OF THE HEAVY BRIGADE,"    306

   XXX. OSCAR'S ASSISTANT HUNTERS,            315

  XXXI. GOOD-BY, MCCANN,                      325

 XXXII. OFF FOR THE COAST,                    337



OSCAR IN AFRICA.



CHAPTER I.

AN INQUISITIVE LANDLORD.


"Who is he, anyhow? Where does he hail from, and what is he doing here?"

The speaker leaned over the little bar in the hotel at Maritzburg, and
looked first at the landlord who stood behind it and then at half a
dozen roughly dressed companions who were congregated in front of it.

These men were cattle-dealers and speculators. They made it a business
to furnish oxen, wagons, supplies, and servants to hunters and
travellers who were bound up the country.

They claimed a monopoly in this line, and the stranger who ignored them
and exercised the right to purchase his outfit where he could do the
best was sure to suffer at their hands in one way or another.

"He is from America," answered two or three of the men at once; and the
tone in which the words were spoken betrayed both the pity and contempt
they felt for one who was willing to acknowledge that he came from so
benighted a region.

"Oh, he's a Yankee, is he?" exclaimed the first speaker. "I thought he
didn't look and act like an Englishman. Isn't there a chance to make a
few pounds out of him? He doesn't know the ropes, of course."

"If he doesn't know them all he knows a good many of them," replied the
landlord. "He has had nothing to do with anybody about the hotel since
he has been here, and has acted as independent as you please."

"What is his business?"

"That is the funny part of the story. I have heard, in a roundabout
way--_he_ has never said a word to me about himself or his affairs--that
he is going into the interior on a sporting expedition."

"He is!" exclaimed the first speaker. "Why, he's nothing but a boy!"

"And a foolish one at that," chimed in another of the cattle-dealers. "I
don't believe he ever fired a gun in his life."

"They say he has," replied the landlord. "The story goes that he has
spent a winter alone in the Rocky Mountains--wherever they may be--and
that he has killed bears and deer no end."

"I don't believe a word of it. Americans don't have money to spend in
hunting, as our gentlemen sportsmen do."

"He's got plenty of it, and has paid his bills regular. I'll say that
much for him," observed the landlord. "I am told that he is backed up by
some college in America, and that he is employed to stock a museum
there."

"Well, we don't want him here," said one of the cattle-dealers
decidedly. "Nobody but our own countrymen have the right to hunt in
Africa."

"I don't see how you are going to stop him."

"Oh, there are plenty of ways! We have stopped more than one hunter
from going over the town hill, and we can stop this one."

"I wouldn't fool with him if I were you," said the landlord. "Judging by
the way he acts, he has brought letters to somebody here in
Maritzburg--although where he got them _I_ don't know--and if he has you
had better let him alone, or you'll get into trouble."

"Be careful about what you do," said one of the men who had not spoken
before, and who answered to the name of Barlow. "He's smart, and better
posted than any stranger I ever saw. I met him in Durban. He bought an
outfit of me--oxen, wagon, and everything--all fair and square, and then
backed out."

We have introduced this man by name, because he bears a somewhat
important part in the history of Oscar's life in Africa. When we come to
speak of him again we shall see that he did not confine himself strictly
to the truth when he said that the boy had broken faith with him.

"I'd pay him for that if I were in your place," said the landlord.

He was in league with these cattle-dealers, who were swindlers without
exception, and received a share in the profits of the business he was
able to throw into their hands.

"Don't you worry," replied Barlow. "He hasn't left the colony yet."

"If I ran this hotel I would know something about him before he went
away," said one of the men. "It may be that he is a convict, and that
the story he tells about his doings in America is false."

"I have often thought of speaking to him about his object in coming
here, and as he is going away to-day, perhaps I had better do it now,"
said the landlord.

Encouraged by the approving winks and nods of his friends, all of whom
were burning with a desire to learn something authentic regarding the
silent stranger, the landlord opened the door of the bar and walked
through it toward the opposite side of the dingy little parlor, where
the subject of these uncomplimentary remarks was standing in front of
one of the windows, watching what was going on in the stable-yard.

Although one of the cattle-dealers had declared that he was nothing but
a boy, he was large enough to be called a man. He was tall and
broad-shouldered, and his tight-fitting jacket and trousers of moleskin,
with top-boots, revealed the outlines of a figure that was built for
strength and activity.

On his head he wore a light leathern helmet, with a peak before and
behind. His dress, from head to foot, had been selected with due regard
for the climate and rough life he expected to lead in the wilds of
Africa. A casual observer would not only have discovered a good-natured
face, but a bold and resolute one, and you could not look at it without
telling yourself that its owner was a boy who would dare anything. It
was our old friend Oscar Preston.

Since he left his native land, three months ago, he had learned to love
it and the people in it as he had never loved them before; and perhaps,
when we come to describe some of the incidents that happened during his
long journey, we shall see why it was so.

He looked around when the landlord came up and laid his hand familiarly
on his shoulder, but did not say anything.

"Mr. Preston," said the landlord, "as you are about to leave my house, I
should like to ask you a few questions, if you have no objections."

"Mr. Dibbits," replied Oscar, "how much do I owe you?"

"It isn't that, sir; I assure you it isn't that. You have paid your
bills like a gentleman. But when a guest comes and goes in such a
mysterious way----"

"There is nothing mysterious about me or my movements," interrupted
Oscar. "You won't let a fellow mind his own business even if he wants
to, will you? You must have heard--for it is all over town, and in
everybody's mouth--that I came here to procure specimens of natural
history for a museum in America. That much I am at liberty to tell
anybody; but my private affairs I decline to talk about. If you want to
learn anything more concerning me go to Mr. Donahue, Mr. Morgan, or Mr.
McElroy; and, if you are intimate with them, perhaps they will satisfy
your curiosity."

The landlord began to open his eyes when he heard this. Mr. Donahue was
the magistrate, Mr. Morgan was the editor of the leading political paper
in Durban, and Mr. McElroy was the delegate for the colony.

An Englishman has the greatest respect for big names, and a guest who
could speak of these gentlemen as Oscar did was one that could not be
treated with too much familiarity.

"I meant no offence, Mr. Preston," the landlord hastened to say; "but
you will acknowledge----"

"Yes, I will have to acknowledge it, for everybody tells me so," replied
Oscar. "Folks look sideways at me, and say, 'Are you not rather young
for such business, Mr. Preston?' When I first met Mr. Donahue, and told
him where I had been, and what I had done in the way of hunting in my
own country, he looked the very picture of astonishment, and said my
story was almost incredible. Perhaps he wouldn't have believed a word of
it if I hadn't brought the proofs with me. I suppose I am young in
years for such work; but what I have done, and still hope to do, will
bear no comparison with what another American boy has done--and he
didn't brag about it, either. He left his home in New England when he
was only seventeen years old, went to the La Plata River, in South
America, and walked from there to Valparaiso--a distance of more than a
thousand miles--in the face of all sorts of dangers and difficulties. I
suppose you never heard of that before?"

No; Mr. Dibbits couldn't say he had.

"Of course you never heard of it, for he wasn't an English boy. If he
had been the whole world would have heard of it. One of your own authors
says of the book he wrote about that walk, as near as I can recall the
words, 'Sir Francis Head went over this same ground on horseback, and
gave us a good account of it; but the quiet walk of this American boy is
worth infinitely more than the rough rides of the British baronet.' What
do you think of that, Mr. Dibbits?"

"It's very extraordinary--very!" replied the landlord.

"I should say it was; but it is true, and it shows that American boys
have some get-up about them, doesn't it?"

"It certainly does. I know that you will go through with your
undertaking as he did with his, for I can see by your face that you are
a brave lad."

"If you were an Irishman I should say that was blarney," thought Oscar.
"You've got an axe to grind."

"You'll be needing cattle and salted horses," continued Mr. Dibbits,
"and if I could be of any assistance now----"

"I thought there was something of that sort in the wind," said Oscar to
himself; then aloud he answered, "I have everything I need, thank you;
and even if I hadn't I should not think of dealing with any of those men
who are now standing at your bar. I know one of them; I met him in
Durban, and I know he is angry at me because I did not buy my outfit and
hire my men of him. I know, too, that he and his fellows have a way of
breaking up the hunting expeditions of men they do not like; but I
didn't come here to be broken up, and I won't be, either. If anybody
interferes with me---- Mr. Dibbits, just look at that!"

While Oscar was speaking he chanced to turn his eyes toward the
stable-yard and saw a sight that astonished and enraged him.



CHAPTER II.

AFRICAN TREACHERY.


The stable-yard was inclosed on one side by the hotel, on another by the
barn, and on the two opposite sides by upper sheds, which were built
very high and roomy in order to accommodate the Cape wagons that now and
then sought refuge there during bad weather.

There was a wagon under one of the sheds now, and an enormous affair it
was, too. It was so large that one of the ordinary lumber wagons we see
on the streets every day would have looked like a hand-cart beside it.
It belonged to our friend Oscar, and was filled to overflowing with
supplies of all kinds.

The trek-tow, or chain, by which the oxen were to draw the unwieldy
vehicle, was made fast to the tongue (the natives called it a
"dissel-boom"), and lay at full length on the ground, the yokes being
deposited at intervals beside it.

Oscar's driver and fore-loper had placed the chain and the yokes in
these positions before going to the pound to bring up the cattle.

They had been gone half an hour, and their employer was expecting them
back every moment.

Because Oscar's oxen were in the pound the reader must not suppose that
they had been engaged in any mischief, for such was not the case.

The law of the colony required that they must be taken care of every
night, when there were cultivated fields in the vicinity, and the price
that was charged for putting them in the pound was much less than Oscar
would have been obliged to pay if he had employed herdsmen enough to
keep them within bounds; besides, they were safer there than they would
have been anywhere else, for nobody could steal them.

When Oscar first took his stand in front of the window there was but one
man in the stable-yard, and he was engaged in grooming a small
iron-gray horse which he had hitched in front of the barn door.

That horse was a part of Oscar's outfit. He was by no means a handsome
or even a desirable-looking animal as he stood there with his head down,
his eyes half closed, and a general air of worthlessness and
indifference about him; but he was a "salted" horse--that is, he had had
the distemper, been cured of it, and was warranted not to have it
again--and, consequently, he was worth money.

He was one of the nags that Oscar, by the advice of his new-found
friends, had selected to carry him on his long journey; and as he had
heard a good many stories told regarding his speed, courage, steadiness,
and other good qualities as a hunter, the boy had indulged in some rosy
dreams about the runs he hoped to have when he reached the country in
which the lordly eland, the stately giraffe, and the fleet-footed quagga
and wilde-beest abounded.

While Oscar was conversing with the landlord he looked him full in the
face, and when he directed his gaze toward the stable-yard again he saw
a young man walk leisurely into it through the arched gateway, and,
after exchanging a few words with the hostler, turn his steps toward the
wagon that stood under the shed.

He stopped beside the dissel-boom, and Oscar, who had been warned that
eternal vigilance was the price he must pay for making his expedition
successful, kept his eyes fixed upon him and watched every movement.

He saw the young man look all around, to make sure that there was no one
but the hostler in sight, and then take some glittering object from his
pocket and work it up and down over one of the links of the trek-tow.

"Just look at that, will you?" repeated Oscar, seizing Mr. Dibbits by
the arm and turning him around so that he could look into the
stable-yard. "Is that the kind of care you take of property belonging to
your guests?"

"Why, whatever is the fellow doing?" exclaimed the landlord, who seemed
to be very much astonished.

"I know, if you don't," replied Oscar in a tone of voice that had a good
deal of meaning in it. "Hold on, there!" he added as the landlord
reached out his hand, as if he were about to raise the window. "Say not
a word. I'll attend to him, and if I can get my hands on him I'll see
what Mr. Donahue will have to say to him."

Oscar faced about, and giving his leather helmet a slap, to fix it
firmly on his head, started on a full run for the door.

No sooner had he left the room than the landlord quickly but noiselessly
threw up the sash, and, leaning as far out the window as he could
without losing his balance, called out in a suppressed voice:

"Thomas! Thomas! Look out for yourself!"

And having attracted the young man's attention, he went through some
sort of a pantomime that must have been perfectly understood, for Thomas
took to his heels and was out of sight in a twinkling.

The next moment Oscar Preston darted around the corner of the hotel and
entered the stable-yard. He looked everywhere for the young man, but he
was not to be found.

He glanced up at the window and saw that it was closed. He walked over
to his wagon, and after a short search found the link on which Thomas
had been at work with a saw made of a watch-spring.

The marks of the teeth were there, but he had not done the chain any
damage, because he had been interrupted before he had fairly settled
down to business.

"It's lucky that I am posted," thought Oscar as he walked around the
wagon to make sure that everything in and about it was just as he had
left it. "If that fellow had been left undisturbed for five or ten
minutes he would have sawed that link half in two. Then he would have
filled up the cut with mud, and just about the time we were going up the
town hill, and the oxen were beginning to lay out their strength, that
link would have given way and I should have had to come back for a new
start, and perhaps to have the same trick played upon me a second time.
That's the way these cattle-dealers have served more than one traveller,
trader, and sportsman, but they will have to try something else on me."

Having satisfied himself that his wagon had not been tampered with,
Oscar walked toward the hostler, who did not look up from his work.

As an accompaniment to his manipulations, he kept up a constant hissing
through his teeth, producing a sound which much resembled that which is
made by drawing a brush quickly across a curry comb.

Why he did it Oscar could not understand. Perhaps it was for the same
reason that an Irish laborer follows every blow of his pick with a
sonorous "wish-h-h!"--viz., to make his work easier.

When Oscar came up he stopped his hissing long enough to say:

"Hit's a wery fine 'oss you 'ave'ere, sir, an' I shall be glad to drink
your 'ealth and his'n, if you so please."

"I will give you half a crown if you will tell me the name of the man
who was fooling with my trek-tow just now," answered Oscar.

The hostler resumed his hissing again at once. He evidently wanted to
consider the matter before he ventured a reply.

"I'd be glad to earn the 'arf crown, sir," said he at length, "but I
can't do it. I aint seen nobody."

"I know better!" exclaimed Oscar. "He stopped and talked with you when
he first came into the stable-yard."

"Oh, _that_ man? I don't know 'im, sir. I never see 'im afore to-day."

Oscar said no more. He walked through the gateway, and, looking in the
direction of the pound, saw his oxen coming up the street.

"I'll soon be far away from this den of swindlers," said he to himself;
"but whether or not I shall be any better off than I am now remains to
be seen. Mr. McElroy says that the Dutch farmers are friendly to nobody
but Scotchmen, and how they will treat an American I don't know, for I
am the first one who has ever been here."

"Did you catch him, sir?" inquired the landlord when Oscar came back and
took his stand in front of the window again.

"Of course not!" replied the boy in a tone of disgust. "I knew I
couldn't catch him, for he has too many watchful friends about this
hotel. He was warned before I reached the stable-yard. By the way, Mr.
Dibbits, I am expecting a few gentlemen to dine with me this evening,
and I want your pleasantest parlor and the best dinner you can serve
up."

"Very well, sir," answered the landlord. "You shall have both."

Oscar turned toward the window again, and just then a horseman galloped
up to the porch and dismounted.

Giving his steed into the charge of one of the stable-boys who hurried
out to receive him, the man clattered up the steps and threw open the
door.

If there is any faith to be put in appearances, he was pretty mad about
something. His face was flushed, his shaggy eyebrows were drawn down in
a fierce scowl, and even his bushy side-whiskers seemed to bristle with
rage.

"Ah, colonel, I am surprised as well as delighted to see you back here,"
said the landlord, rubbing his hands and bowing obsequiously. "Is there
any way in which I can serve you?"

The angry man paid no sort of attention to the greeting.

He came over to Oscar's end of the parlor and stamped up and down the
floor, thrashing his boots with his riding-whip.

The boy took one look at him, and turned and gazed out of the window
again. He was fairly convulsed with laughter.

"Aha, my fine fellow," said he to himself; "you are the high-toned lord
who would not hunt with strangers, especially American _boys_! I know
what is the matter with you, and if your arrogance has met with another
rebuke I am very glad of it."

After a few turns across the room the colonel seemed to have worked off
a little of his rage, for he stopped and looked out at one of the other
windows.

Just then Oscar's oxen came into the stable-yard, and a fine-looking lot
they were--large, powerful animals, as black as jet and as sleek as
moles.

"Whose stock is that?" demanded the colonel in much the same tone he
would have used if he had been ordering one of his hounds out of his
way.

"It is mine, sir," replied Oscar politely.

The colonel started at the sound of his voice and stared hard at the
boy, who smiled and touched his cap to him.



CHAPTER III.

A DISGUSTED SPORTSMAN.


This was not the first time Oscar had met Colonel Dunhaven, for that was
the angry Englishman's name. On the contrary, they had travelled a good
many miles in company and were pretty well acquainted; but the colonel
could not be sure on this point until he had pulled out his gold
eyeglass and brought it to bear on the boy.

"Aw! It's _you_, is it?" said he, after he had taken a good look at our
hero.

The tone in which these words were uttered, and which was almost
insulting, would have made some high-spirited boys angry; but Oscar
evidently considered the source from which the words came, for he bowed
in response and looked as good-natured as ever.

"Young man," continued the colonel, "you are a fool, and those who sent
you out here are bigger fools."

Oscar did not feel at all hurt by this plain speech. He could hardly
refrain from laughing outright.

He looked down at his sleek oxen, which were now being inspanned in the
stable-yard (oxen are never "yoked" in Africa, they are always
"inspanned"), and smiled complacently as he replied:

"That's only a matter of opinion, colonel."

"No, sir; it's a fact, and nobody's opinion can alter it," said the
colonel, who seemed to grow angry again when he looked at Oscar's
well-conditioned cattle and noted the energy and willingness with which
his men went about their work. "It is perfectly ridiculous to send a boy
like you out to this detestable country on such a wild-goose chase.
You'll never succeed--you'll never get over the town hill, _I_
couldn't."

"What was the matter?" asked Oscar, who knew very well what the answer
would be. "Couldn't your oxen haul you over?"

"They might if they had got the chance, though I doubt it. They are a
sorry lot compared with yours; and I don't for the life of me see----"

The colonel stopped there; but Oscar knew what he had in his mind.

He could not see how Oscar had managed to secure so fine an outfit,
while his own, for which he had paid an exorbitant price, was so very
inferior.

"My cattle might have pulled the wagon over the hill," continued the
colonel, "but just as we came to one of the steepest parts of it the
trek-tow broke, and we wasted four mortal hours in taking it to the
blacksmith's shop and having it repaired. To make a long story short, we
did nothing yesterday but run between the wagon and the shop with that
chain, for it was broken as often as we hitched it to the dissel-boom.
By that time everything and everybody began to get discouraged. The
loose cattle and horses strayed away, the oxen refused to pull, and the
driver showed his temper by running the wagon into a hole in which the
ground was so yielding that one of the wheels sank down to the hub.
That happened late last night, and as we could go no further we camped
there. When I awoke this morning my oxen and most of my horses were
gone, and so were my men, all except my body-servant, whom I left to
guard the wagon while I came back here to see if I can find anyone who
is fool enough to buy me out. Oh, it's a beastly country, and I have
seen enough of it!"

The colonel in his rage talked very loudly, and Oscar--who out of the
corner of his eye kept watch of the men at the bar--saw that when he
began to talk of selling out they smiled at one another and exchanged
sly winks and nods. That was just what they intended he should do.

By this time Oscar's wagon was ready to start. The oxen were inspanned,
the fore-loper stood at his post with the leading reins in his hands,
the interpreter was seated on the fore-chest, and the driver, with his
long whip over his shoulder, came to the window for orders.

"I say, Ferguson!" exclaimed Oscar as he threw up the sash.

"Hi, boas!" replied the grinning Hottentot.

"Go ahead as fast as you can. I will overtake you some time during the
night, and when I find the wagon I want to find every man of you with
it."

"All right, boas!" said the driver.

He climbed to his seat on the fore-chest, cracked his whip with a report
like that of a pistol; the fore-loper moved off, and the ponderous
vehicle rolled through the gate as easily as if it had been a toy-wagon.

Heavily loaded as it was, it seemed to offer no impediment to the free
movements of the powerful span that drew it.

Oscar had rechristened all his native servants--the names to which they
generally answered being hard to pronounce and harder still to bear in
mind.

To his driver he gave the name of Ferguson. His fore-loper--another
little dried-up Hottentot--he called Johnson; and his interpreter, a
gigantic Kaffir--who in size, if not in appearance, reminded him of his
old plains guide--he dubbed Big Thompson.

This created an amusing jumble at first, for the men could not remember
their new names; but they had grown accustomed to them at last and
answered to them readily.

"You had better stop that wagon before it goes any further," said the
colonel. "You don't know what is before you."

"And I don't much care," replied Oscar. "Others have gone through, and
so can I."

The colonel stared at him in surprise, and in order to obtain a better
view of Oscar's face he brought his eyeglass into use. He had never
dreamed that this quiet, modest boy, who during the long voyage from
London docks to Port Natal had kept almost entirely to himself, could
possess so much determination. He was inclined to be angry over it, too.

"Aw!" said he in a tone of disgust; "whatever may be your other
failings, young man, you certainly are not wanting in self-conceit. You
have a most exalted opinion of yourself. I suppose you think you can
eclipse the achievements of such small fry as Cumming, Baldwin, and
Gilmore! I never heard of such impudence!"

"I don't expect to eclipse anybody. I simply mean to say that what has
been done can be done again," replied Oscar with more spirit than the
colonel had ever before seen him exhibit.

"You have good cheek, but you will sing a different song before you are
many hours older, my fine lad," said the colonel; and Oscar thought,
from the tone in which the words were spoken, that the man would feel a
grim satisfaction if he could see him come back defeated and utterly
disheartened. "Wait until your chains begin to break and your servants
to show their treachery."

"My chains will not break, for they have been so closely watched that no
one has had a chance to tamper with them," was the confident reply; "and
neither will my men prove treacherous. I did not take the first who
offered themselves, but selected those recommended by my friends."

Again the colonel looked at Oscar in surprise.

"Your friends?" he repeated. "I thought you were a stranger here, like
myself."

"So I was when I first arrived, but the letters I brought from England
made friends for me at once."

"From England! Whom do you know there?"

Oscar mentioned several names, among them that of a well-known African
hunter, whose exploits, and the book he wrote about them, had rendered
him famous the world over, adding:

"I spent a very pleasant week with that particular gentleman, and should
have remained longer with him had I been at liberty to do as I pleased.
From him I received advice that enabled me to avoid the difficulties
that have already begun to beset you."

Oscar was almost bewildered by the effect that was produced by these
words. He could hardly believe that the man who shook him so cordially
by the hand when he ceased speaking was the same Colonel Dunhaven who
had always repelled his advances with the utmost haughtiness.

The colonel was like Mr. Dibbits in one particular--he had the greatest
respect for big names.

"My dear fellow," said he, "why did you not tell me all this before?"

"You didn't give me a chance to tell you," replied Oscar bluntly. "You
snubbed me most unmercifully whenever I----"

"_Aw!_" interrupted the colonel; "that's all past and gone, and we will
consider that it never happened. The fact is, we Englishmen don't know
how to fall in with the free-and-easy ways you Americans have. We don't
take up with every Tom, Dick, and Harry that comes along. We want to
know who a man is before we open our hearts to him."

"For all that, I should think you might be gentleman enough to treat a
stranger civilly when he approaches you in a civil way."

The boy did not utter these words aloud, although he wanted to, for he
did not at all like the colonel. The latter _had_ snubbed him more than
once, and Oscar could not forget it.

"I wonder what he would say now if I should ask him to hunt in company
with me?" thought our hero. "I'll not try the experiment, for he might
consent, and I don't think I want him. I wouldn't sell out if I were in
your place, colonel," he said aloud. "You must have spent a good deal of
money in getting here. I know I did, and I never wasted a shilling; and
I wouldn't let those fellows"--here he nodded his head toward the men
who were gathered about the bar--"have the satisfaction of knowing that
they had beaten me. Take this chair, and I will tell you something."

Oscar and the colonel seated themselves in front of one of the windows,
with their backs toward the bar, and the former gave a short account of
his experience with one of the cattle-dealers. What it was we shall
presently see.



CHAPTER IV.

THE MUSEUM.


"It beats anything I ever heard of. Do you suppose that Oscar Preston
really killed a grizzly bear and saved his guide's life?"

"Of course he did. Sam Hynes received a letter last February that
contained a full account of it."

"Why didn't he tell the fellows then?"

"Because Oscar asked him to keep it secret. He didn't want his mother to
know anything about it, for fear it would frighten her, and Sam told no
one but Mr. Chamberlain."

"Who would have thought that Oscar had so much in him? We fellows have
associated with him for years, and none of us ever imagined that he had
pluck enough to face the most terrible animal on this continent, and
nerve enough to kill him with a single bullet! It's just wonderful!"

That was the opinion of all the Eaton boys, who often talked in this
way among themselves after Oscar returned from his memorable trip to the
foot-hills, and all the thrilling incidents connected with his life
there had become known. And they became known very speedily.

Oscar's safe return abrogated the command he had laid upon his friend
Sam Hynes to say nothing about the contents of his letters, and the
successful young hunter had scarcely entered his mother's door before
Sam proceeded to "unload"--in other words, to get rid of numerous
secrets to which he could hold fast no longer, and to publish abroad a
full history of everything Oscar had done during his absence.

He was able to make his statements accurate in every particular, for
Oscar had kept nothing from him.

"You can't always tell about these things," Sam would frequently remark.
"You don't know what there is in a fellow until he has been tested. It
isn't the bully of the town, the loud-mouthed braggart, or the ruffian
who is always ready to fight somebody smaller than himself who stands
up to the rack when it comes to such business as Oscar Preston had on
hand that January afternoon. I always knew that boy had uncommon nerve.
He has made a reputation already that will last longer than he will."

Our friend Oscar had indeed made a name for himself. He was the lion of
the village, and, strange to say, nobody was jealous of him.

That miserable spirit of detraction which so often comes to the surface
on occasions like this never exhibited itself but once, and then it was
promptly knocked out of time by Sam Hynes, who "laid out" one of the
"river boys" for saying that _he_ didn't believe that Oscar Preston had
brought any bear back with him, but if he had it had been killed by a
silver bullet.

The young hunter heard words of commendation and encouragement on all
sides, but we doubt if any of them sent such a thrill to his heart as
the simple, "Thank you, Oscar; I shall keep it always to remember you
by," which he heard from the lips of Sam Hynes' pretty sister when he
presented her with the antelope-skin he had brought home on purpose for
her.

There was another thing that astonished everybody, and that was the fact
that Oscar had found his brother Tom, the defaulting bookkeeper, hidden
away in those Western wilds, and that he had returned some of the money
out of which he had swindled Smith & Anderson.

Tom, as we know, had hired out to herd sheep for Ike Barker. He did his
duty as well as he knew how, and every few weeks a letter arrived from
his employer, containing the welcome intelligence that he was faithfully
living up to every promise he had made his brother.

Oscar was very glad to find himself in Eaton once more. After the toil
and excitement of his winter in the hills he thoroughly enjoyed the
quiet comforts of his home.

Everything in and about the village looked just as it did when he left
it. All his old friends were there to greet him, including Bugle, who
was so overjoyed to see his master once more that he could not be
induced to leave him for a moment. He kept close at his heels during the
day, and slept beside his bed at night. Oscar took two weeks to rest in,
and that gave him and Sam Hynes two Saturdays to spend together.

The first they passed in the woods, in company with Bugle; and although
they took their guns with them, they brought back the same loads that
were in them when they started out.

They did not go into the woods to shoot. They wanted to be alone, so
that they could talk over old times and tell each other everything that
had happened during their long separation.

The next Saturday they spent on the river; and as it was too late in the
season for ducks, they took their fishing-rods with them.

The perch and rock bass were biting finely, and Oscar caught a
good-sized string; while Sam, who wanted to talk and did not care much
for fishing anyway, reclined at his ease on one of the thwarts and
watched his friend as he drew in the shining beauties.

On Monday of the third week Oscar bade his mother and Sam good-by and
set out for Yarmouth.

He had already been there to report his arrival to the committee, and it
was by the permission of the secretary that he took his two weeks'
vacation.

He knew that he had brought back a goodly number of specimens (he had
secured a great many that we did not speak of in "The Camp in the
Foot-Hills," for the reason that there was no incident worthy of note
connected with their capture), but he was really surprised when he saw
the boxes that were piled in the museum.

It took Oscar a long time to put his specimens in shape. It was
particular work, and as he knew that it would stand as long as the
museum did, he was careful that it should be done well.

No one saw him at his labor except the students and the faculty; and the
young taxidermist sometimes wished that they would keep out of his
hearing, especially President Potter, who gave such entertaining
lectures on the nature and habits of the various animals comprising the
collection that Oscar was always obliged to stop and listen to him.

Still these interruptions were not without benefit to him.

He learned more about natural history during those brief lectures than
he had ever learned before in all his life. It was a joyous day for
Oscar when, after almost seven months of steady work, he put away his
tools and bent his steps toward his boarding-house, leaving the museum
in charge of some of the students, who were busy decorating it in
readiness for a "hoe-down," as they called it, that was to come off
there that night.

Everything was done to the entire satisfaction of the committee and of
Mr. Adrian, the gentleman through whose liberality the museum was
founded; and on this particular evening the doors were to be thrown open
to the public, and there was to be a supper and afterward a dance.

The students who were at the head of the matter had acquaintances and
friends in Eaton, and a good many invitations had been sent there.

When the five o'clock train came these invited guests came with
it--Oscar's mother and Mr. Hynes and his family being among the number.

Oscar met them at the depot, accompanied them to a hotel, and then he
and Sam--the latter having received a wink he readily
understood--managed to separate themselves from the party and to reach
the sidewalk without attracting attention.

"I want you to see it first," said Oscar as he took his friend by the
arm and hurried him away. "If I do say it myself, you will find some
good work there."

Sam was astonished at what he saw. There were four rooms in the museum,
the largest being devoted to Oscar's specimens. Against the walls were
placed huge cabinets, with glass doors. These were partly filled with
the smaller specimens, all of which were stuffed, mounted, and arranged
in the most artistic manner; but Sam scarcely bestowed a second glance
upon them, for his attention was at once fixed by what Oscar called his
"masterpieces," which were placed at intervals along the middle of the
room.

There were three of them, the first being the grizzly, which had so
nearly made an end of Big Thompson.

The position the animal assumed on that memorable afternoon, while he
was awaiting the guide's approach, was firmly fixed in Oscar's memory,
and he had succeeded in reproducing it exactly.

So life-like did the grizzly look as he stood there on his platform,
with his mane erect, his ears thrown forward, and his glaring eyes
fastened on a cabinet on the opposite side of the room, that Sam could
hardly bring himself to believe that it was safe to approach him.

The next specimen was the lordly elk that Big Thompson's
hunting-dog--the dog that was called Pink on account of the color of his
hair, which was black--had beguiled to his death.

He stood with his head raised, and looking defiantly about him, just as
he had looked when he followed Pink out of the bushes.

The third was a group representing a fight between a big-horn and two
gray wolves. One of the assailants was struggling on the ground, having
been knocked down by a well-directed blow, and the gallant buck was
making a dead set for the other, which stood with his ears laid back and
all his teeth visible, awaiting the attack.

But these "masterpieces" were not the only objects of interest that were
to be seen, as Sam found when he came to look about him.

A hungry-looking wolf grinned at him from a corner; a stately
black-tail, with lowered head and bristling mane, threatened him with
his antlers as he entered an alcove; and a bald eagle glared down at him
from his perch over one of the doors, warning him, as plainly as an
inanimate object could, to keep his hands off the flag it was grasping
in its talons.

When he paused in front of the cabinets the squirrels, that were
gathering their winter supply of nuts, the fox, that was watching a duck
he wanted to catch for his dinner, the birds, that were building their
nests, and the beavers, that were repairing their winter quarters--all
looked at him as if to ask what he meant by intruding his unwelcome
presence upon them.

In short, Sam was delighted with everything he saw, and more than once
declared that he believed some of the birds and animals were alive. He
could have paid his friend no higher compliment.



CHAPTER V.

COMPLIMENTS AND ORDERS.


"What a dreadful-looking monster! And do you mean to tell us, Mr.
Wallace, that this terrible beast was killed by a boy?"

"That's what they say," answered the gentleman addressed.

"How brave he must be! Go and find him, please. I should like to see
him."

"It will afford me great pleasure to do so. I don't know him even by
sight, but I can soon find someone who does."

It was eight o'clock in the evening. The museum doors had been opened,
and the guests had nearly all arrived.

There was a crowd about each one of Oscar's "masterpieces." Among those
who were gathered around the grizzly was a group composed of three
ladies and a gentleman, and it was one of the former who uttered the
exclamation, and asked the question with which this chapter opens.

A little distance away, and within plain hearing, stood Oscar Preston,
with his mother on his arm.

The boy had heard a good many flattering remarks during the quarter of
an hour that had elapsed since the guests began to arrive, and he had
wished more than once that he was back in the foot-hills, with nobody
but Big Thompson for company.

He could hardly make up his mind which was the most trying
ordeal--facing a grizzly when a human life depended on his nerve, or
hearing himself praised by people who, being unacquainted with him,
expressed their sentiments in his presence without the least hesitation.

"Let's go away, mother," said he in a whisper. "I don't want to be
introduced to those ladies if I can help it; for they will ask a
thousand and one questions. I shot the bear, dreadful as he looks, but I
would rather that somebody else should tell the story."

Oscar presently found Mr. Hynes and his party, who were gathered about
the third group, listening to President Potter, who, with his eyes half
closed and his hands waving gently in the air, was giving a little
lecture on the habits of the animals, and describing in glowing language
the fierce battle which Oscar had once witnessed between a flock of
bighorns and a pack of gray wolves.

He left his mother with them and strolled off by himself. Of course he
was proud of his success. He felt a thrill of pleasure whenever he heard
an exclamation of astonishment or delight from any of the guests, and
could scarcely repress a smile when his ear caught a little scream,
uttered by some timid lady, who, when about to explore some of the
numerous nooks and alcoves that were constantly presenting themselves in
the most unexpected places, found her progress disputed by some
threatening animal.

When Sam Hynes found him he was standing in a remote corner, watching
the crowd before him, and acting altogether like a disinterested
spectator.

"What are you doing here, Oscar?" demanded Sam, seizing him by the arm.
"Come out of that!"

"No, you don't!" replied Oscar. "Let go and clear out yourself."

"Can't think of it--can't _possibly_ think of it," said Sam resolutely.
"I was sent to bring you, and I am going to do it. There are a lot of
people here who want to see you."

"Why can't they look at the specimens and let me alone?" said Oscar.

"They have seen all the stuffed specimens, and now they want to see an
animated one," answered Sam. "You belong to the museum, you know. Didn't
I tell you long ago that they would make a lion of you? I'd show a
little more pluck if I were in your place. Come on, I tell you!"

Oscar was not the only brave boy who has hesitated to face a battery of
bright eyes; but he was forced to go with Sam in order to avoid a
"scene," for the latter clung to his arm with a firm grip.

He mingled with the guests, and although he blushed and stammered a
little at first, he gained confidence when he heard the sound of his
own voice, and in a few minutes he was talking glibly and sometimes
eloquently of his winter in the foot-hills.

The evening passed rapidly away. The hop was most enjoyable, and the
supper excellent; but when Oscar and his mother seated themselves in the
two o'clock train, bound for Eaton, he told her he was glad it was all
over.

He rested on Friday--and if ever a boy needed a rest he did--and spent
Saturday in the woods with Sam Hynes. They came back by the post-office,
and in his mother's box Oscar found a letter addressed to himself in the
well-known hand of the secretary of the museum committee.

He read it to Sam as they walked across the park. It contained an order
for him to report at Yarmouth on the following Monday, and wound up with
these words:


     "Mr. Adrian is so well pleased with your success as a hunter, and
     with your skill as a taxidermist, that he has offered to advance
     twenty-five thousand dollars to pay your expenses to Africa. You
     have often assured us that you were willing to go wherever we might
     think it to our interest to send you; and, taking you at your word,
     we have accepted the gift----"


Oscar stopped, and looked at Sam, who backed off and put his hands into
his pockets. They stared at each other in silence for a few seconds, and
then walked on again.


     --"we have accepted the gift [Oscar read], and we are glad to
     receive it, as it will not now be necessary for you to draw on our
     permanent fund in order to foot your bills. I think I may tell you,
     without violating confidence, that, although you said nothing to us
     concerning the difficulties and perplexities you encountered during
     your recent trip to the foot-hills, we know all about them. The
     commander of the post at Julesburg and Mr. Isaac Barker have
     written us a full history of your expedition. We appreciate your
     modesty in withholding these facts. We are both surprised and
     delighted at your unyielding courage and indomitable
     perseverance----"


"Oh, Sam, I'll not read anymore of it!" exclaimed Oscar, suddenly
stopping and folding up the letter.

"Go on," replied Sam, who was deeply interested. "It is all true--every
word of it; for you have told me all about it. 'Your courage and
perseverance'--what else?"

Oscar rather reluctantly unfolded the letter again and read:


     --"and we have not the least hesitation in calling upon you to
     engage in a still more hazardous undertaking; for you have firmly
     established yourself in our confidence. As an extra inducement the
     committee has been instructed by Mr. Adrian to double your salary.
     Report on Monday, as above directed, and begin at once to make
     arrangements looking to your immediate departure for England."


"Is that all? Good-by, Oscar Preston," said Sam, drawing a long breath.
"But you want to go, don't you?"

"For myself, yes; for mother's sake, no," answered Oscar as he put the
letter back into the envelope.

Africa was a long way off. There were a good many thousand miles of
water to be sailed over before he got there; there were icebergs in the
Atlantic, and fearful storms in the Bay of Biscay; there were fierce
wild animals and deadly serpents in this new hunting-ground; and there
were a scorching sun and a malarial climate to be faced.

Sam Hynes had not another word to say. When he reached the corner where
he was to turn off he seized Oscar's hand and wrung it energetically, at
the same time turning away his head, so that his friend could not see
his face, and then walked rapidly away.

"There is one, at least, who dreads the parting as much as I do, and if
I should never come back he'd be sorry," thought Oscar, gazing after
Sam, who, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets and his chin
resting on his breast, was taking long strides up the sidewalk. "Yes, I
know Sam would be sorry. Here is another," he added, stopping to pat
Bugle, who just then put his cold nose into his master's hand. "And
here, in this house, is the third," he said to himself as he opened the
gate. "But what can I do? My trip to the hills was the means of lifting
the mortgage off this house and giving mother a balance in the bank, and
who knows but my journey to Africa may be productive of other good
results? I must go, whether I want to or not. I said I would, and I
shall keep my word."

Oscar handed the secretary's letter to his mother without saying a word,
and then, as he did not want to see her read it, he went out and
strolled about the yard and rearranged the tools in his chest.

When he came back at the end of an hour he saw that she had been crying.

That night there was a long consultation held between the anxious
mother and the ambitious, hopeful son, but we will not stop to repeat
it, nor will we dwell upon the arrangements that were made for the boy's
departure from America.

It will be enough to say that before Oscar went to bed that night it had
been settled that the committee's order should be obeyed; that he took
the first train for Yarmouth on Monday morning; that he had an interview
with the committee, who gave him minute instructions in writing and
promised him letters that would assist in smoothing the way for him;
that he dined with Mr. Adrian, who received him as an honored guest; and
that when he came home on Tuesday night he began packing his trunk, in
readiness for the start.

The committee had given him a week in which to prepare for his long
journey, and he took it, because he wanted to spend one more Saturday
with Sam Hynes, whom he might never see again.

We will say nothing about the parting which took place on the next
Wednesday morning. There were a good many boys and not a few men at the
depot to see him off, but Sam Hynes was not among them.

He rode down in the omnibus with Oscar, and then cleared out abruptly,
just as he had done on a former occasion.

Oscar reached Yarmouth in due time, listened to more instructions,
received letters of introduction and bills of credit for a larger amount
of money than he had ever handled before in all his life; and three days
more found him on the broad bosom of the Atlantic.

Of course he was sea-sick, and that was about the only thing that
happened to relieve the monotony of the voyage, which, on the whole, was
a very pleasant as well as a remarkably quick one.

There was some delay in getting his trunk through the custom-house in
Liverpool on account of the weapons it contained; but everything was
satisfactorily arranged at last, and shortly afterward Oscar was snugly
housed in the hotel to which he had been directed by Mr. Adrian.



CHAPTER VI.

AN ENGLISH NIMROD.


If Oscar had been his own master he could have spent a few days very
agreeably in looking about the city of Liverpool.

Among other things he wanted to see were the famous docks, of which he
had heard and read so much; but his time belonged to the committee, who
paid him liberally for it, and he did not consider that he had a right
to use any portion of it for his own pleasure.

His first duty was to visit Somerset, a little town about a hundred
miles distant, and present some of his letters of introduction to a
celebrated hunter and traveller who lived there.

He knew where the town was and how to reach it, for his written
instructions and guide-book told him all about it.

Oscar lost no time in securing his ticket, and the first train that left
Liverpool for the North whirled him away toward his destination, which
he reached about midnight.

Everything he saw on the way was new and strange. He did not at all like
the idea of being locked in a "carriage"--for that is what a passenger
car is called in England.

What if there should be a smash-up? or what if that quiet, dignified
gentleman who sat opposite him and who was the only other passenger in
that compartment should prove to be an escaped lunatic, who might at any
moment become violent?

But the train, although it moved at a high rate of speed, carried him
through in safety, and the dignified gentleman on the other seat snored
lustily during the entire journey.

Oscar slept soundly at the Hare and Hounds, and awoke the next morning
to find it raining in torrents.

He ate an excellent breakfast in a cosey little parlor, and when he had
finished he sent for the landlord, who quickly made his appearance.

"Do you know Captain Horatio Sterling?" asked Oscar.

That was not the name of the gentleman to whom the young traveller's
letters of introduction were addressed; but we must call him by some
name, you know.

"Do I know the greatest hunter in all England?" exclaimed the landlord.
"Why, bless you, sir, everybody knows him. He has been all over the
world, and killed more tigers, lions, and elephants than any other
living man. He lives in that big house on the hill about a mile from
here."

"Very well," said Oscar, drawing an official envelope from his pocket.
"I would thank you to send this to him at once. There is something for
the messenger," he added, placing a shilling in the landlord's hand.

The envelope contained three letters of introduction, Oscar's card,
which also bore the name of his hotel, and a note he had written before
going to bed, containing the statement that he would be glad to wait
upon the captain at any hour of the day or evening when it might be most
convenient for the captain to grant him an interview.

Oscar saw the messenger depart on his errand, and having the parlor to
himself and not knowing what else to do, he began pacing the floor with
his hands in his pockets.

About two hours later, while he stood at the window looking out at the
lowering sky and the falling rain, he saw a gig, drawn by a
high-stepping horse and driven by a hearty old gentleman in greatcoat
and muffler, dash into the stable-yard.

A man came up to take the horse, and the driver, alighting from his gig,
bounded up the steps with all the agility of a boy and burst into the
hall.

Oscar heard the landlord greet him in an undertone, and he also heard
the visitor say in a stentorian voice:

"You have a gentleman of the name of Preston stopping with you, I
believe?"

"Yes, sir; you'll find him in that parlor, sir," answered the obsequious
landlord.

"Why, that must be the captain," thought Oscar. "I did not expect him to
come out in all this rain."

The next moment the visitor's form filled the doorway.

He was a man of herculean proportions, and although his hair and
mutton-chop whiskers were as white as snow, his face was the picture of
robust health, and it was evident from the way he brought his feet down
when he walked that he had lost little, if any, of his youthful strength
and vigor.

He was a very pleasant-looking man, and Oscar was certain that when he
came to know him he should like him.

The visitor looked all about the parlor, giving its solitary occupant
merely a casual glance, and said as he turned to go back into the hall:

"I beg your pardon, my lad. I was looking for Mr. Preston, but he
doesn't seem to be here."

"My name is Preston, sir," said Oscar. "Have I the honor to address
Captain Sterling, the African hunter and explorer, and formerly of the
East Indian army?"

The captain started as if Oscar had aimed a blow at him.

He looked hard at the boy for a moment or two, and said in a tone
indicative of the greatest amazement and incredulity:

"Are you _Oscar_ Preston, from America?"

"I am, sir," replied our hero.

"Did _you_ send me some letters a little while ago?"

"I did, sir," answered the boy.

"And you have been ordered to go to---- Am I awake or dreaming?"
exclaimed the captain, hastily undoing the heavy muffler that was
wrapped about his face.

"I assure you that there is no mistake about it," said Oscar, who rather
enjoyed the worthy captain's surprise. "I am sent here by the Yarmouth
University, and have been ordered to go to Africa to procure specimens
of natural history for its museum. I was instructed by some gentlemen in
America, who are proud to call themselves your friends, to visit you,
and I have done so in the hope that you would give me some assistance in
the way of advice and information."

This little speech seemed to banish all the captain's doubts. He came
into the parlor and shook Oscar's hand most cordially.

"I always knew that you Americans had more assurance than any other
people in the world," said he; "but this beats me completely. Why, boy,
you're crazy; and so are Mr. Adrian and all the rest of them. Help you?
Of course I will! I spent some very pleasant months in America. The
gentlemen it was my good fortune to meet there couldn't do too much for
me, and I am glad to have the opportunity to show them that I appreciate
their kindness. It has nearly ceased raining. Put on your greatcoat and
go up to the lodge with me. You will be my guest while you remain in
England."

"Thank you, sir," replied Oscar heartily. "What shall I do with my
trunk?"

"Let it alone. I will send a cart after it as soon as we reach the
lodge."

Oscar was only too glad to accept this kind invitation. The captain
would certainly be very good-natured and talkative after dinner, if at
no other hour of the day, and our hero told himself that that would be
just the time for him to gain more light upon certain points concerning
which he was now comparatively in the dark.

He hurried on his overcoat, and, after paying his bill at the hotel,
took his seat in the gig, and was driven rapidly toward the lodge.

Very frequently during the ride he found the captain looking at him with
an expression in which both surprise and amusement were blended, and
once or twice he broke out with:

"Well, well! this _does_ amaze me, sure! I expected to see a _man_."

"I hope you are not very badly disappointed," said Oscar.

"Yes, I am," replied the captain, who never hesitated to speak the
thoughts that were in his mind. "You will be beset by difficulties the
like of which you never dreamed of, and I don't know whether or not you
have judgment enough to carry you through. But I admire your pluck. The
letters you sent me say that you are a great hunter, as well as an
expert taxidermist, and that you have spent some months in the hills. I,
too, have hunted in that country, and I am very glad to meet one who can
talk to me about the sport to be found there."

The welcome Oscar received from the captain's wife put him at his ease
directly. She expressed the greatest surprise when he was introduced to
her as the "American hunter," and made Oscar smile when she said, as she
took both his hands in her own:

"My poor boy! Whatever could your dear mother have been thinking of when
she gave her consent to this thing? Those fierce wild beasts out there
in that dreadful country will eat you up at one mouthful."

Oscar found "the lodge" to be an elegant mansion, filled with costly
furniture and pictures, and kept in order by a large number of servants,
one of whom was directed to keep an eye on the guest and see that he did
not want for anything. Every object in and about the building bore
evidence of the wealth and taste of its owner.

The kennels were filled with hunting-dogs (the captain, who was an
enthusiastic fox-hunter, was master of the Somerset hounds), and the
stables contained more thoroughbred horses than any ordinary man could
possibly have found use for.

The library was a perfect curiosity shop. The old soldier had
industriously collected souvenirs of every country he had visited, and
Oscar found there assegais, war clubs, skin cloaks, and elephants' tusks
from Africa; buffalo and antelope heads and Indian bows and arrows from
America; and the floor was covered with rugs made from the skins of the
man-eating tigers that had fallen to the captain's rifle in the jungles
of Hindustan.

Many of these articles were great curiosities, of course, but it was the
captain's "battery" that occupied the most of Oscar's attention.

It was supported by deer's antlers that were fastened against the wall,
and consisted of six double-barrelled rifles and one single rifle,
carrying four bullets to the pound.

This was the captain's "elephant gun," the one with which he had secured
the tusks that now adorned one of his cabinets and the rugs that covered
the floor.

Besides these, there were three heavy double-barrelled shot-guns, making
ten guns in all. The stocks of all of them were badly battered and
scratched; some of the "grips" had been broken and mended with tin, and
altogether the weapons looked as though they had received the hardest
usage, as indeed they had.

As Oscar looked at them, he thought of his own modest "battery," and
wondered what the old campaigner would say when he saw it.



CHAPTER VII.

OFF FOR AFRICA.


Dinner was served at six o'clock in the evening. It took almost an hour
to eat it, and when it had been disposed of the captain was ready for
business, as Oscar thought he would be. He conducted his guest to the
library, and said, as he filled and lighted his well-blackened pipe:

"Now, then, my boy, what are your plans? Be explicit, so that I may know
just how I can aid you."

Oscar replied by repeating his written instructions, which he had read
so often that he knew them by heart.

"All right, so far," said the captain approvingly. "Now where's your
ordnance?"

"In my trunk," answered Oscar.

"In your _trunk_?" repeated the captain, opening his eyes and looking
up at his own tried and trusted "battery" on the walls. "It must be
rather smaller than mine, or else your trunk is larger than any I ever
heard of. Go and get it; I want to look at it."

Oscar left the room, and presently returned with his little
fowling-piece in one hand and his Sharp's rifle in the other. The
captain took the double-barrel and looked critically into the muzzle of
it.

"This will answer for Namaqua partridges--nothing else," said he. "By
the way, those birds may prove to be the best friends you will have when
you reach your hunting-grounds. If you are in want of water, and see a
flock of them on the wing, note the direction in which they go and
follow them, and you will be sure to find a spring. They never stray far
away from water, for they must have it twice a day."

The captain handed back the double-barrel and took the rifle, looking
carefully at that also, to see how large the bore was.

"This will do for spring-buck," said he; "but an eland or a wilde-beest
(naturalists call it a gnu) wouldn't stop for half a dozen such balls
as this weapon carries. Go and get the rest."

"These are all I have," answered Oscar.

"All!" vociferated the captain. "And do you think of going into the
wilds of Africa with only two guns, and pop-guns at that? Why, you might
as well commit suicide and have done with it."

"This rifle has bowled over some of the largest game in America," said
Oscar. "It killed a grizzly bear with one ball as dead as if he had been
struck by lightning."

"A chance shot, undoubtedly. I have killed an elephant with a single
bullet, and a man-eating tiger also--the one that wore the skin on which
you are standing; but such things happen only once in a lifetime."

"There was no 'chance' about my shot, sir," replied Oscar, rather
proudly. "I aimed for his spine, and there was the place I hit him. It
was a good shot, and it was made under the most trying circumstances. If
I had missed my guide would have been torn in pieces before my eyes, and
I should have been left to find my way back to civilization as best I
could."

"Well, you will never go to Africa with that battery by _my_ advice,"
said the captain. "In order to do good work you must have good weapons;
and as your life may some time depend on the way in which they do their
duty, it stands you in hand to mind what you are about. You must have at
least three heavier rifles for yourself--you may lose or break one, you
know--and a Martini-Henry carbine for each of your servants. We will go
down to Birmingham to-morrow and get them. Now sit down and tell me
about your fight with that grizzly bear."

Oscar often thought of the pleasant evening he passed in that library.
The old hunter was full of stories, and every one he told contained some
scraps of valuable information which Oscar treasured up in his memory
for future use.

The hours flew rapidly by, and it was ten o'clock before he knew it. He
began to wonder why his host did not say something about going to bed;
but the latter talked as rapidly as ever, until a servant opened the
door to announce that supper was ready.

Having never been accustomed to eating at that hour of the night, Oscar
did not make a very hearty meal; but the captain went to work manfully,
and no one would have supposed, from the way the eatables disappeared
before his attacks, that he had eaten dinner only five hours before.

It was two o'clock before Oscar went to his room, and ten by his watch
when he awoke.

He put on his clothes with all haste, wondering the while why somebody
had not called him in time for breakfast; but when he went downstairs he
learned that his host had not yet left his bed, and that breakfast would
not be ready for more than an hour.

True to his promise, the captain accompanied his guest to Birmingham
that afternoon, and picked out some weapons for him--three heavy
breech-loading Express rifles, with interchangeable shot barrels, one
ponderous muzzle-loading rifle, carrying twelve bullets to the pound,
and six carbines.

Besides these there was a case of cheap muskets, which were to be used
in trading for any curiosities which Oscar thought the committee would
like to see in the museum.

The carbines and muskets were shipped to London, where they were to
remain until Oscar was ready to start for the Cape, and the rifles he
took to Somerset with him.

That evening while they were seated at the dinner-table the captain
said, with as much enthusiasm as a school-boy would have exhibited:

"That much is done, and to-morrow we'll take a run up into Argyleshire.
I have some intimate friends up there who are acquainted at the Cape,
and in Durban, Maritzburg, Zurnst--in fact, all through the country; and
from them we'll get a letter or two that will make friends for you among
the Africanders. While they are writing them you and I will look over
their preserves, and throw a hook into their well-stocked lakes. Sleep
lightly to-night, for I warn you that I shall have you up in the morning
at a most uncomfortably early hour."

When morning came Oscar found that what was called an early hour in
England would have been called a very late hour in America.

He was up and dressed at five o'clock, and took himself to task for
sleeping so long; but it was eight before the captain made his
appearance, nine when breakfast was served, and eleven when they set out
for Argyleshire.

The two succeeding days were spent in fly-fishing and "fagging after
grouse," as the captain termed it.

Although our hero was not much of a fly-fisher, he was an adept at
shooting on the wing, and his companions were loud in their praises of
the clean and handsome manner in which he cut down his birds.

He made the acquaintance of a good many gentlemen, some of whom were old
East Indian soldiers and sportsmen, and acquainted in America as well as
at the Cape, and from them he received letters which proved to be of the
greatest assistance to him.

Oscar thoroughly enjoyed himself during his short sojourn among the
highlands, for the company into which he was thrown was most agreeable,
the shooting excellent, the game being strictly preserved, and he would
have been glad to remain longer, but duty called him, and he was obliged
to heed the call.

On the Thursday following his arrival at the lodge he took leave of his
kind hostess, and in company with the captain, who took as much interest
in the matter as he would if he had been going to Africa himself, set
out for London, where he spent two very busy weeks in purchasing an
outfit.

The captain proved to be an invaluable assistant, and although Oscar
could not see the use of half the articles he selected for him, he
afterward found that there was not a single useless thing in the whole
collection.

Some idea of the size of his outfit and of the money he must have spent
during those two weeks may be gained when we say that he had, among a
good many other heavy and bulky things, fifteen thousand rounds of
ammunition--seventy-five pounds of powder, three hundred pounds of lead
and as many of shot of different sizes--and that, when the outfit was
boxed and ready for shipment, it weighed over eight thousand pounds.

Having secured his berth and ticket and taken a receipt from the
purser, showing that his goods had been safely stowed away on board the
steamer that was to take them to the Cape, Oscar took the next day to
look about the city.

Eleven o'clock was the hour set for sailing, and long before that time
he and the captain were seated on the steamer's deck, where all was
bustle and confusion.

Porters and cabmen jostled one another, stevedores were shouting
themselves hoarse in giving orders to their perspiring gangs; careless
passengers were searching frantically for missing luggage, and in little
retired nooks and corners, out of earshot of the gay, laughing groups
around them, could be seen a wife taking a tearful leave of a husband,
or a father and mother bidding a fond farewell to a son going out into
the world to seek his fortune.

Presently the captain of the steamer took his stand upon the bridge,
bells began to ring, and a shudder ran through the mighty craft as the
donkey engines were set in motion and began the work of warping her out
of her berth toward the entrance to the dock.

Captain Sterling, who was continually thinking of some important thing
which he had neglected to say to his young friend, talked incessantly,
all the while looking about among the passengers in the hope of finding
a familiar face.

"If I could only run across just one friend for you to talk to it would
shorten the voyage by a good many miles," said he; "but they are all
strangers to me. However, you will not long want for company. Don't
expect too much of sea-sick people. At least wait until you leave
Madeira before you denounce them as a boorish, unsociable set."

At last Gravesend was reached, and there the steamer paused for a few
moments to take breath and summon her strength for the run down the
Channel--at least, that was what Oscar's companion said.

A hoarse voice, which sounded like the sigh of a tired nor'wester,
shouted, "All ashore!" whereupon the kissing and hand-shaking between
friends and relatives who were about to separate were repeated, and the
passengers made a rush for the gangway.

"Good-by, my dear boy! My heart goes with you, and if I had a few years
less on my shoulders I should go with you in person."

The kind-hearted old fellow's voice was husky, and there was a
suspicious look about his eyes, as he took Oscar's hand in both his own,
and wrung it energetically. His short acquaintance with Oscar had
affected him just as the blast of a bugle affects a superannuated
cavalry horse.

It had brought back the memory of old times to him so vividly that he
almost fancied he was young again.

"Good-by, captain!" said Oscar, whose own voice was none of the
steadiest. "I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am to you for the
services you have rendered me. I could not have got along without you.
How can I ever repay you for your great kindness?"

"You can do it by making a success of your expedition. I want you to do
that, so that I can take some credit to myself. Don't give up; whatever
happens, don't give up. I assure you I shall not forget you; and I don't
want you to forget me, either. Drop me a line as often as you are within
reach of a post-office. You can send me a letter every two or three
weeks until you reach Zurnst. If you go beyond that place you will
disappear as completely from the gaze of the civilized world as though
you had ceased to live. You will see nobody except your servants, and
perhaps a few wandering bushmen, who will be glad to give you a drink of
water from their ostrich shells in return for a few mouthfuls of dried
meat. Good-by--good-by!"

The bells rang again, the last of the visitors ran for the gang-plank,
the screw began to revolve, and the huge vessel swung around until her
bow pointed down the Channel. Oscar was off for Africa at last.



CHAPTER VIII.

AN INCIDENT OF THE PAST.


When Gravesend had been left out of sight Oscar, for the first time
since bidding adieu to his native land, began to feel lonely and
homesick.

The genial captain had won a place in his heart, and he found it hard to
part from him. He felt utterly helpless now that the prop on which he
had leaned during the past three weeks had been taken away.

He began to realize, as he had never realized it before, that he had
undertaken a journey from which many an older and more experienced
person than himself would have shrunk in dismay.

"But it can't be helped," said he to himself. "I told them I would go,
and it is too late to back out, even if I felt disposed to do so. If I
succeed I shall be able to place nearly five thousand dollars in
mother's hands. If I fail it will be nothing more than many a better
fellow has done before me. But failure is something I shall not allow
myself to think of. If I live I shall succeed."

During the first two days Oscar could gain no idea of the number of
passengers the vessel carried.

All the female portion of her living freight--and a large share of the
male portion, too--had retired to their staterooms, and given themselves
up to that malady which, when it attacks a lady, is called _mal de mer_,
and seasickness when it takes holds of a man.

Those who did not suffer in this way--among whom was Oscar--passed the
time in reading, smoking, or lounging about the decks. A most unsociable
lot they were, too.

Since taking leave of the captain at Gravesend Oscar had not spoken to
anybody except his room-mate,--a burly Englishman,--who, instead of
replying to his cheery "Good-morning, sir!" stared at him as if he were
astonished at his impudence.

Oscar took the hint, and made the mental resolution that he would not
speak again until he was spoken to.

The steamer stopped a short time at Dartmouth, and then turned her prow
toward Madeira, which was distant five days' sail.

By this time the most of the passengers had recovered from their
indisposition, and began to show themselves on deck.

The appearance of the ladies in their gay costumes made a great change
in the looks of things, as well as in the conduct of the men. Pipes and
books were thrown aside, little cliques were established here and there,
the members of which, being drawn together by kindred tastes, were ever
afterward to be seen in company, and soon Oscar was surrounded by noisy,
laughing people who seemed to be enjoying themselves, but who paid no
sort of attention to him.

The boy was socially inclined, but he did not dare to speak to anybody
for fear of being repulsed. He might have secured friends at once by
showing his letters, but that was not his way of doing things. He did
not care to publish his business to the whole ship's company, for there
was no one on board who could have the least possible interest in it--at
least he thought so. He passed some of the time in reading, and the rest
in watching the flying-fish as they arose in the air to escape the jaws
of their dreaded enemies, the albecore and skip-jack.

For once the Bay of Biscay was as smooth as a mill-pond, and after a
pleasant run down the coast of Portugal Madeira was reached on time.

As some hours were to be spent here, Oscar went ashore, took a look
about the quaint old town, feasted on fruits, and dined sumptuously at
the hotel.

When the vessel again turned her prow seaward it was for a voyage of
twenty-three days. She was not to touch land again until she reached the
Cape, unless she was blown ashore.

The last object of interest she passed was the Peak of Teneriffe, and
when that had been left out of sight the long voyage was fairly begun.

On the second day out from Madeira Oscar became aware that he was an
object of interest to a passenger whom he had not seen before since
leaving Gravesend. He was a dapper little fellow, apparently about
thirty years of age, with a haughty, imperious face, and long, wavy
whiskers, which he stroked with an air of the greatest complacency.

He wore a gold eyeglass and the most ridiculous little skull-cap
imaginable. Why he should adopt that style of head-piece under that
broiling sun (they were now beginning to experience tropical weather,
and the fruits they had taken on board at Madeira were most acceptable)
Oscar could not imagine.

He was seated under an awning, attended by his servant, who, having just
handed him an "ice" which he had brought from the bar, took his stand
behind his master's chair, and awaited further orders.

The latter took a sip at his glass, and then he looked at Oscar.

"Where in the world have I seen that man before?" said the boy to
himself, closing his book and fixing his eyes on a Portuguese
man-o'-war which had just spread its tiny sail to the breeze. "His face
is certainly familiar, but where I have---- I wonder if I didn't camp
near him the second night after I left Ike Barker's ranch? I did!" said
Oscar, slapping his book upon his knee. "It's Colonel Dunhaven. Hallo!"

This exclamation was called forth by the actions of the colonel and his
servant, who conferred together for a few minutes, looking at Oscar all
the while, and then the man left his position behind his master's chair,
and came over to the boy's side of the vessel.

"Colonel Dunhaven presents his compliments, and wants to know if he can
have a few words with you," said the lackey.

It was right on the point of Oscar's tongue to say that if the colonel
wanted to speak to him he could come where he was, but he didn't say it.
He picked up his chair, and moved over to the other side of the deck,
where the colonel was sitting.

"Aw!" said the latter as Oscar placed his chair to suit him and seated
himself in it, "I think I have seen you before."

(The colonel pronounced the last word as though it were spelled
_befoah_.)

"I was thinking the same in regard to yourself," replied Oscar. "If I am
not mistaken, I saw you in America last winter. You were with a party in
search of buffaloes."

"Aw, I was there! Beastly country that. The common people have not the
remotest idea of the propriety of things. They are altogether too
independent!"

"Those plains-guides and hunters _are_ a very independent body of men,"
answered Oscar; "and when one goes among them he must conform to their
customs or suffer for it."

"They're a beastly lot!" said the colonel. "They don't know how to treat
a gentleman. My object in asking you over here was to inquire if you
secured any game during that trip."

"I did. I could have filled all your wagons, alone and unaided."

"Did you see any bison?"

"Yes," replied Oscar, "I saw thousands of them, as I told you that
night; but my guide was in so great a hurry to reach the shelter of the
hills that I could not stop to secure a specimen. He was afraid of being
snowed up. When I returned in the spring there were none to be seen.
They had all gone south."

"Well, I and my party never saw one!" exclaimed the colonel angrily.
"Those treacherous guides of ours kept us out on the open plain until we
were overtaken by a buzzard----"

"Blizzard," corrected Oscar.

"Aw!" said the colonel, who seemed rather surprised at the interruption.
"Well, whatever the right name is, we were almost frozen, and it was
only after great difficulty and terrible suffering that we got back to
the little collection of shanties at Julesburg, by courtesy called a
fort. Then our guides coolly informed us that if we would come out there
again, and leave what they were pleased to call our airs behind us, they
would show us where we could kill more game than our horses could draw
away. Did you ever hear of such impertinence? I'll never go back to
that country, where every boor one meets considers himself the peer of
any gentleman in the land. I am now going on a sporting excursion into
the interior of Africa."

As the colonel said this he assumed an air of importance, and looked at
Oscar to see what he thought about it.

It was plain, too, that he was talking for the benefit of a party of
ladies--who had just then come up and taken their stand under the
awning--all of whom turned and looked at the colonel as these words fell
on their ears.

"There's just where I am going," said Oscar quietly.

"It is?" cried the colonel, elevating his eyebrows and allowing his
eyeglass to fall out of its place. "What business have you got there?
Why don't you stay in your own country?"

"If I had been disposed to be impertinent, or to stick my nose into
business that did not concern me, I might have asked you that question
when I saw you in America hunting for the buffaloes that you never
found," replied Oscar.

"Aw!" said the colonel, who saw the point. "Are you trying to chaff me?"

"No, sir. I spoke in sober earnest."

"It is very extraordinary," said the colonel, languidly accepting his
eyeglass, which his servant hastened to pick up and restore to him. "How
are you going? I am going alone with my own establishment, which I shall
purchase at Durban."

"I am going in the same way," answered Oscar.

"Aw! But I have had experience, my dear fellow, and you have not," said
the colonel. "I once belonged to the Honorable East India Company's
service, and have hunted tigers in the wilds of Hindustan--tigers, do
you hear?"

"And I have hunted grizzly bears in the foot-hills of the Rocky
Mountains," replied Oscar, who could scarcely refrain from laughing.

"But a bear is not to be compared to a tiger in strength and ferocity,
you know, young fellow."

"I am not so sure of that. If you are at all posted, you must know that
some naturalists contend that if the grizzly was allotted his proper
place in the animal kingdom he would be called the king of beasts
instead of the lion."

"It's all the merest nonsense. Why, an old army officer--a college chum
of mine--once told me that he had seen a lion trot off with a good-sized
heifer in his mouth, carrying it as easily as a cat carries a rat!"

"I don't doubt it; but the bear family do not carry their prey as the
_felidæ_ do. They drag it along the ground if it is heavy, or carry it
between their paws if it is light. My guide told me that he had seen a
grizzly weighing a thousand pounds drag a buffalo weighing eighteen
hundred a distance of two miles."

"Aw! he was guilty of the most barefaced mendacity! Another ice,
Roberts, and then I will retire to my stateroom."

This was a hint that the colonel desired the interview brought to a
close, so Oscar picked up his chair and walked away.

"He will never have a chance to repeat that," thought the boy, while
his face burned with indignation. "The next time he wants to see me he
can come where I am. So Big Thompson was guilty of lying, was he? I am
of the opinion that there would not be much left of you, my fine
gentleman, if he had heard you say so."

The colonel did not trouble him any more, and Oscar was glad of it. He
seemed to be a thoroughly selfish as well as a very conceited person,
and the boy wanted nothing to do with him.

Still he did not lack for company. The passengers began to inquire who
that modest young fellow was who always kept by himself, and seemed to
be acquainted with no one on board, and one day the captain, prompted by
curiosity, entered into conversation with him, during which he heard
some things that made him wonder.

The name of Captain Sterling proved to be an "open sesame," for every
passenger on board had heard of that celebrated hunter and traveller,
although none of them were personally acquainted with him.

But his name was full of influence. It secured Oscar a seat at the
captain's table, and brought him to the notice of a select circle, who
never grew weary of listening to what the boy had to say regarding the
plains and their inhabitants.

The time never hung heavily on Oscar's hands after that. The days were
spent on deck in social converse, and the evenings in the cabin,
listening to lectures and singing, or in witnessing amateur theatricals.

The colonel looked on in surprise, but made no effort to renew his
acquaintance with Oscar. He was afraid the latter might offer to
accompany him on his hunting expedition.

At last, much to the regret of Oscar, who wished that the voyage might
be indefinitely prolonged, Table Mountain came into view. As there was
no table-cloth on it, the vessel moved into the harbor, and in a few
hours was safely moored to the wharf.



CHAPTER IX.

OSCAR MAKES A NEW ACQUAINTANCE.


As Oscar's freight was all booked for Cape Town, it was necessary that
it should go through the custom-house before it could be reshipped on
the _Ivanhoe_, the little coasting steamer that was to convey the young
hunter and his outfit to Port Natal.

In superintending this transfer Oscar was kept busy, for he was on deck
from the time his goods were taken out of the steamer's hold until the
_Ivanhoe's_ hatches were closed over them.

Then he secured his bunk on board the coasting vessel, and, being free
from care and anxiety, was at liberty to accept some of the numerous
invitations he had received from those of the steamer's passengers who
called Cape Town their home.

He dined with one, ate an eleven o'clock supper with another, and at
three in the morning was sleeping soundly in his bunk, while the
_Ivanhoe_ was skimming over a dark and threatening sea, with a lowering
sky above her, and a strong southerly gale howling through her rigging.
But the day dawned bright and clear, and at an early hour Oscar was on
deck.

The change from the roomy deck of the steamship to his cramped quarters
on board the coasting vessel was not a pleasant one, and neither were
his fellow-passengers as agreeable as those of whom he had just taken
leave, and in whose company he had passed so many happy hours.

They were a boisterous, good-natured crowd, and acted more like Western
men than any he had before met on that side of the Atlantic.

The most of them were roughly dressed, and some carried riding-whips in
their hands. They did not seem to be very favorably impressed with the
appearance of Colonel Dunhaven (who came on deck about midday, languid
and sleepy-looking as usual), for the remarks they made concerning him,
some of which he must have overheard, were anything but complimentary.

The colonel looked at Oscar through his eyeglass, but did not seem to
recognize him.

"That man has certainly mistaken his calling," thought Oscar as he
leaned on the rail and looked down into the water. "He hasn't energy
enough to carry him through. If he is so helpless now that he has to
have a man to wait on him continually, what will he do when he starts on
his journey? He would look nice swinging a heavy ox-whip and wading
about in mud, knee-deep, wouldn't he?"

The _Ivanhoe_ came to anchor twice before reaching her destination--once
at Port Elizabeth, where some of the passengers who were bound for the
diamond fields left her, and the next time at East London.

The captain made all haste to transact his business at the latter town,
for the open roadstead in which his vessel was anchored was a dangerous
place.

Although there was scarcely any wind stirring, and the sea was
comparatively smooth, the surf rolled wildly on the beach, and it was a
mystery to Oscar how the boats ever got through it.

Besides, there was a suspicious-looking bank of clouds off in the
southern horizon, of which the captain and his mates kept close watch.

There was wind in those clouds, but it did not touch the _Ivanhoe_. She
reached Port Natal in safety, and Oscar made all haste to get ashore,
his long sea-voyage being happily ended.

He had accomplished the easiest part of his undertaking. Perils,
privations, and discouragements were yet to come.

The next day Oscar handed an invoice of his goods to the custom-house
officers, and having obtained a permit to land his guns, and seen all
his boxes and bales put safely under lock and key, he took his seat in a
post-cart, and, in company with the colonel, his body-servant, and two
other passengers, was whirled away toward the town of Durban, which lay
three miles inland from Port Natal.

Here he was to deliver two of his letters of introduction, which were
addressed to Mr. Morgan, the editor of the leading newspaper.

As it was late in the afternoon, he decided to wait until the next
morning before he sought out Mr. Morgan.

Having registered his name, and seen his trunk carried to his room, he
walked out on the porch, where he was accosted by a "horsey" looking
individual, who held a riding-whip in his hand.

Oscar had caught a momentary glimpse of the man when he alighted from
the post-cart, and knew, as soon as he laid his eyes upon him, that he
belonged to a class with whom Captain Sterling had frequently and
earnestly warned him to have nothing to do.

He was a cattle-dealer and speculator--a human shark, who profited by
the misfortunes of others.

His first words indicated that he had been looking at the register.

"You're from America, I believe," said he with easy familiarity.

Oscar replied that he was.

"Big nation that, and fine people in it, too. Going up the country?"

"I think some of it," Oscar replied.

"Are you going far up?" asked the man.

"Beyond Zurnst, probably; that is, if I can get there," replied Oscar,
taking possession of a chair, and depositing his feet on the railing.

The man opened his eyes and began to look earnest. He ascended the
steps, and, taking up a chair, seated himself by the boy's side.

"Are you a clerk?" was his next question.

"No, I'm not a clerk."

"Sportsman, then, most likely?"

"In a small way."

"Then I am just the man you want to see," said the cattle-dealer.
"You'll need a wagon, a span of oxen, half a dozen salted horses, and a
big lot of supplies."

Oscar said he knew that.

"Well, it's my business to furnish those things to gentlemen who are
going up the country, and I will fit you out in good shape without the
least trouble to yourself. I have a good, strong wagon--the best in the
country--with canvas tent and all complete."

"What is it worth?" asked Oscar.

"A hundred and twenty-five pounds."

"How much do you ask for your oxen?"

"Fifteen pounds apiece."

"Got any salted horses?"

"Plenty of them, and they are worth a hundred each. They are fine
runners and good, steady hunters, used to elephants, lions, buffalo, and
all that sort of game. You'll be wanting dogs, too," said the man, who
began to think he had struck a gold mine.

"Yes; but I don't expect to pay much for them."

"Oh, you'll have to if you get good hunters! You want experienced and
well-broken dogs, of course, for green ones would run away the moment
they caught sight of big game, and leave you to shift for yourself.
Suppose you come over and take a look at that fine outfit."

"I don't believe I care to bother with it to-day. There is no use in
rushing things, and I want to rest this afternoon."

"There's no time like the present," said the cattle-dealer earnestly.
"Somebody may get the start of you if you don't close the bargain at
once, for of course I shall sell to the first man who will give me my
price."

"All right," replied Oscar indifferently; "sell if you get the chance. I
suppose there is more than one outfit to be had in Durban."

"No, there isn't. Mine is the only good one there is left. It is true
there are some rattletrap wagons and broken-down oxen to be had at high
prices, but no gentleman would be seen riding after such a turnout. Why,
even the Hottentots would laugh at him. Besides," added the man,
speaking in a low, confidential tone, "there are a good many swindlers
here."

Oscar said he knew that, too.

"They'll sell you a patched-up and freshly painted wagon for a new one,
and for salted horses they'll offer you green ones, that have never been
further up the country than Maritzburg. If you will take my advice you
will come and secure that bargain now."

Just then voices sounded in the hall, and Colonel Dunhaven came out,
accompanied by three or four cattle-dealers, the indefatigable
body-servant bringing up the rear.

As they passed down the steps Oscar caught enough of their conversation
to satisfy him that the colonel had been successfully "roped in."

"There," exclaimed Oscar's companion, "your friend is caught! Those men
are all swindlers, and they will cheat him out of his eye-teeth."

"He's no friend of mine," said Oscar.

"Why, you came up in the same post-cart, and went into the hotel
together."

"That may be; but still he is not my friend. I am alone."

"You are?" exclaimed the cattle-dealer, who was really astonished. "Do
you mean to say that you are going so far up the country all by
yourself? You can't do it. You will need a first-class man for a
companion and adviser. I know one--a brave fellow, a splendid rider, and
a dead shot--who will be glad to go with you. I'll engage him if you say
so."

"Not to-day," answered Oscar. "I shall need all the things of which you
have spoken, but I say again that I'm in no hurry to get them."

"Well, think over what I have said, and let me know what you conclude to
do, will you?" said the man, rising from his chair.

He was growing uneasy. Some of his friends had caught a pigeon that they
were going to pluck, and he wanted to have a hand in the proceeding.

"Yes," said Oscar; "I'll think of it."

"All right. Remember that that is a promise between gentlemen, and that
I am to have the first chance."

"Gentlemen!" thought Oscar as the cattle-dealer sprang down the steps
and walked rapidly in the direction in which his friends had gone with
the colonel. "I wonder if he calls himself one? My friend Dunhaven has
put his foot in it, sure! I wonder that he doesn't go to some of his
countrymen here who are experienced, and ask them to assist him in
selecting an outfit."

If Oscar had been better acquainted with the colonel he would not have
wondered at it at all.

That gentleman cherished the same opinion now that he did while he was
fooling about on the plains. He thought he was fully posted in
everything relating to hunting and travelling, and his insufferable
egotism and self-conceit would not permit him to ask advice of anybody.

But a few days' experience with unruly cattle, saucy drivers, bad roads,
and African treachery changed all this, and he was glad to accept favors
at the hands of the boy he had so unmercifully snubbed.

The next morning Oscar despatched a messenger to Mr. Morgan's office
with his letters of introduction, and a note similar to the one he had
written to Captain Sterling.

Half an hour later the editor answered that note in person. He was
profoundly astonished when he saw Oscar, and like everybody else who
knew what object he had in view in coming to Africa, gave it as his
opinion that our hero was altogether too young in years to engage in any
such hazardous enterprise.

But he received him very cordially. He ordered Oscar's trunk to be
taken to his house, then led him away to his office.

After conversing with him for an hour or more, and drawing from him all
his plans and a short history of his former exploits, Mr. Morgan said:

"You seem to be very confident, my lad, and I glory in your unalterable
determination to go through in spite of every difficulty. You are the
first American who has ever come here on an expedition of this kind. You
would have the hardest kind of work before you even if everybody felt
friendly toward you and was willing to lend you a helping hand; but,
unfortunately, such is not the case. You will find treachery on all
sides of you so long as you remain in the settlement. To begin with,
steer clear of all cattle-dealers. Don't let one of them approach you."

"I have already been approached by one of them, who assured me that he
had the only serviceable outfit that was to be found in Durban," replied
Oscar.

"You didn't buy it?" cried the editor.

"No, sir! Captain Sterling told me to look out for them," said Oscar,
who then went on to tell of his interview with the cattle-dealer.

"What sort of looking fellow was he?"

The boy described him.

"That's Barlow," said Mr. Morgan. "He and the most of the gang he runs
with live in Maritzburg, and bigger scoundrels never went unhanged."

Oscar thought of the colonel, and made the mental resolution that he
would warn him against the cattle-dealers as soon as he could find
opportunity to go back to the hotel.



CHAPTER X.

A BAFFLED SWINDLER.


"Those cattle-dealers are good men to let alone," continued Mr. Morgan.
"They want money, and they are not very particular where or how they get
it, so long as they _get_ it. They make it a business to do all they can
to prevent every traveller from getting beyond the limits of the colony.
They will sell you a span of broken-down oxen and a rickety old wagon,
charging exorbitant prices for the same, and provide you with servants
who are too lazy to earn the salt they eat on their meat. These men are
in the pay of the cattle-dealers, and are expected to do everything in
their power to discourage you. If they find that you are resolved to go
on, they will pound your cattle until they get rusty and refuse to draw
the wagon. They will drive you into an ant-bear's hole, and break an
axle or smash a wheel by running over a rock they might easily have
avoided. The town hill, on the other side of Maritzburg, has proved to
be an insurmountable barrier to many a would-be sportsman. Just about
the time he reached the steepest ascent smash would go the trek-tow, and
an examination would reveal the fact that one of the links had been cut
half in two. As you are an American, they will be particularly hard on
you; and I warn you that eternal vigilance is the price you must pay for
your success."

"Captain Sterling told me that," said Oscar. "He also informed me that
the object of these swindlers is to disgust the traveller, so that he
will sell off his supplies and outfit at a sacrifice."

"That's just it," replied the editor. "Even the men of whom you purchase
your oxen, wagon, and goods will set to work to defeat you in order that
they may buy the things back for less than they sold them for. My advice
to you is to buy your oxen and supplies in Maritzburg. They are much
cheaper there than they are here, and by doing that you will save
hauling over a road which just now is in a pretty bad condition, owing
to the recent heavy rains. I will give you letters to my friends Donahue
and McElroy, who, at my request, will aid you in every way they can and
see that you are not imposed upon."

Oscar thanked the editor, and remarked that friends in England had given
him letters to these same gentlemen.

"That's all right; but a little additional note from me will not hurt
anything," said Mr. Morgan. "You had better buy a wagon here. I know
where you can get an excellent one for a hundred and ten pounds, and
that includes dissel-boom, trek-tow, yokes, water-butts, fore- and
after-chests, and canvas tent."

"That is about seventy-five dollars less than Barlow wants for his
wagon," observed Oscar.

"And it is a better one, too," said Mr. Morgan, after he had made a
mental calculation to find out how many pounds there were in
seventy-five dollars. "I have seen that wagon of his, and I will wager
fifty pounds against a shilling that you would never get over
Maritzburg Hill with it, to say nothing of the Drackenburg, which is as
much worse than any hill you ever saw as you can imagine."

"What are oxen worth in Maritzburg?"

"About ten pounds."

"Then Barlow wants to cheat me out of about $375 and intends to furnish
me with a poor outfit into the bargain," said Oscar. "That money might
as well stay in my pocket as to go into his."

"Better--much better!" the editor hastened to reply. "Now, if you will
excuse me for a while, I will get through with my morning's work, and
then we will go and see that wagon. Come in again in an hour, and you
will find me quite at your service."

Oscar left the editorial sanctum and went out on the street. He easily
found his way back to the hotel, and there he saw Colonel Dunhaven and
his servant, surrounded by the same cattle-dealers he had seen in their
company the day before.

The swindlers were determined that their prey should not escape them. As
he ascended the steps the Englishman and his servant went into the
parlor.

"Hello, there!" cried a voice. "Are you ready to keep your promise now?"

Oscar looked up and saw Barlow approaching.

"I have been looking for you all the morning," he said. "Where have you
been?"

Oscar was not aware that that was any of Barlow's business, so he made
no reply.

"Are you ready to keep your promise now?" repeated the cattle-dealer.

"What promise?"

"Why, to come over and buy that outfit I am going to sell you. It's all
here, but the supplies we'll have to get up at Maritzburg."

"I didn't promise to buy any outfit of you," said Oscar.

"You didn't?" cried the cattle-dealer. "Did I not say to you, the last
thing before I left you yesterday, 'Remember that that is a promise
between gentlemen, and that I am to have the first chance'?"

"You did. And what did I say?"

"You said you would take it."

"You are mistaken. You asked me to think it over, and I told you I
would do so."

"What conclusion have you come to?"

"That I don't want any of your things. I can do better."

"Hello! Here's a go. Come, now, that won't go down. It might with some
folks, but not with me," said Barlow in a threatening tone. "I have
bought six salted horses for you--they cost me a hundred and ten pounds
apiece, but I told you that you could have them for a hundred, and _I_
am a man of my word--and hired nine servants for you. I have also
engaged that friend of mine of whom I told you, and he is all ready to
inspan, and go down to Port Natal after your guns and other truck, just
as soon as you give me the stumpy down. Cash in hand was the agreement,
you know. Here's the bill, itemized and receipted--all regular," added
the cattle-dealer as he drew a folded paper from his pocket, and made an
effort to put it into the boy's hand.

"I don't want to see it," said Oscar, who was fairly staggered by the
man's effrontery. "You must think I have taken leave of my senses. Do
you suppose that I would purchase an expensive outfit without seeing
it?"

"I told you it was the best in the colony, and you took my word for it
and agreed to buy it."

"I did nothing of the kind! I tell you now that I will not take it!"

"Here _is_ a go, sure enough!" exclaimed Barlow. "What shall I do with
these six salted horses?"

"I don't care what you do with them."

"And what shall I say to my friend and to the servants I engaged for
you?"

"That is a matter in which I am not interested. If you engaged them at
all you did so without any authority from me."

"Come, now," said the cattle-dealer, slapping the folded paper into his
open palm, "take the outfit, and I'll knock off half the hundred pounds
I have charged you for my services and call it fifty. Can anything be
fairer than that? Come, now."

"A hundred pounds!" cried Oscar. "Do you pretend to say that you've done
nearly five hundred dollars' worth of work since yesterday afternoon?"

"I don't know anything about your dollars; but I told you I would fit
you out, fair and square, without any trouble to yourself, and I have
kept my word, as I always do. Of course I expect to be paid for doing
it, and a hundred pounds is the regular price."

"You'll not get it out of me."

"Well, then, I'll have you up before the justice for breach of
contract!" exclaimed Barlow fiercely.

"Do so, and we will see how much you will make out of it. Be good enough
to let me pass."

He brushed by the cattle-dealer as he spoke, and once more started
toward Mr. Morgan's office, but before he had made many steps Barlow
overtook him and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Look here, my fine Yankee lad," said he between his clenched teeth,
"you had best make a friend of me. I have known more than one traveller
to break down before he got over the town hill."

"I know what you mean by that," replied Oscar; "but you had better be
careful how you try any tricks on me. If you think you can bluff me into
buying a wagon that is ready to fall to pieces, and a team of worthless
oxen, you have reckoned without your host. You picked me up for a
greenhorn, but I know more than you think I do. Now from this time
forward I want you to keep away from me. I shall have nothing more to do
with you."

So saying, Oscar walked on again, leaving the baffled swindler alone
with his disappointment.

The latter followed him with his eye and looked down at the bill he held
in his hand.

"You won't have anything more to do with me, won't you?" said he between
his clenched teeth. "Well, then, I shall have something to do with you.
You haven't got out of the colony yet, and never will."

If Oscar could have seen the expression Barlow's face wore as he thrust
the bill into his pocket and hurried down the street he would have
needed no other evidence to satisfy him that Mr. Morgan knew what he was
talking about when he said that eternal vigilance was the price the
young hunter must pay to make his expedition successful.



CHAPTER XI.

OSCAR COMPLETES HIS OUTFIT.


That Barlow was very angry over his failure to compel Oscar to purchase
his outfit and supplies of him at the prices he set upon them was
evident from the manner in which he ground his teeth and shook his fists
in the air as he strode rapidly along.

He walked the whole length of the principal street, and finally turned
toward a dilapidated Kaffir kraal, in the open door of which sat a young
man, smoking a dingy pipe and watching a span of oxen that were feeding
close at hand.

This was the "friend" of whose varied accomplishments as a hunter the
cattle-dealer had spoken in terms so flattering; but if Oscar could have
seen him he would have thought twice before consenting to take him as a
companion on a long and perilous journey.

His appearance was against him. His face bore the traces of recent
dissipation, and there was a swaggering, rowdyish air about him that
would not have suited Oscar at all.

Close beside the kraal was the wagon that Barlow had tried so hard to
force upon our hero, and a most disreputable affair it was. It had been
newly painted, to conceal some of the numerous injuries it had received
during the long years it had been in service; the dissel-boom and both
the axle-trees were strengthened with strips of raw-hide; the canvas
tent was torn and patched in a dozen places, and the chests and
water-butts looked as though they were about to fall to pieces.

The oxen feeding close by, and which were a part of "the best outfit to
be had in the colony," were a fit team for such a wagon as this, for
they were in strict keeping with it.

A more forlorn and vicious-looking lot of brutes it would have been hard
to find anywhere. The whole concern was not worth half the money Barlow
had demanded for the wagon alone.

"Well, Thomas," said the cattle-dealer as soon as he came within
speaking distance of his friend, "that little game is blocked."

Thomas uttered a rough exclamation and knocked the ashes out of his
pipe. He looked disappointed as well as angry.

It was plain that these two worthies had hoped to make something
handsome out of Oscar.

"Yes," continued Barlow, "it's blocked. I had thought to rope him in
very easy, but he's much too knowing."

"I didn't expect any of the time that you could do anything with him,"
growled Thomas. "They say that those fellows from the other side the
pond are awful sharp, and cut their eye-teeth early."

"And aren't we sharp, too, I'd like to know?" demanded Barlow. "He
hasn't got out of the colony yet. I told him that I had seen more than
one traveller break down before he got over the town hill, and we must
see to it that he breaks down, too. Understand?"

"I think I do," answered Thomas, with a grin.

Thrusting his hand into the inside pocket of his coat, he took out a
well-worn wallet and produced from it something that looked like a
watch-spring.

"The teeth are pretty small, but they have cut through a heap of iron,"
said he, drawing the spring out to its full length.

"If you can give them a chance to cut into the Yankee's trek-tow it will
be the best job they ever did for us," said Barlow. "If he buys his oxen
and wagons of the farmers, and his supplies at Maritzburg, his outfit
will be a splendid one, and breaking him down will be as good as finding
a new diamond field. We're going to see fun in a few days. There's
another chap in town--a colonel of something or other--who has been
taken in hand by Harris and the rest of the boys. They have sold him a
wagon and a span of oxen at a good price, and contracted to furnish him
with supplies here in Durban. They have hired the right kind of men for
him, and when he tries to climb the town hill he'll find himself in a
fix. Won't they bleed him, though! I might have made a few pounds out
of him," added the cattle-dealer, with a long-drawn sigh, "but I didn't
bother with him, for I was sure I could manage this Yankee boy to suit
me. No matter; he isn't out of our reach yet, and we'll make him open
his eyes."

Meanwhile Oscar, all unconscious of the plans that were being laid
against him, returned to Mr. Morgan's office, and reported the result of
his interview with the cattle-dealer.

"Wouldn't it be a good plan for you to say a word to the colonel?" he
asked, after he had told where and when he first met that gentleman.
"You are a countryman of his, and might have some influence with him."

"I'll not go near him. He's a snob. His men will smash his wagon if they
can't discourage him in any other way, and then desert him. You see if
they don't. Now we will go to lunch, and after that we will ride out
into the country to see a man who will sell you a wagon worth your
money. He will sell you a span of oxen, too, but I would not advise you
to buy of him,--and neither will he,--for you can do much better in
Maritzburg."

When Oscar went to bed that night he was the owner of a ponderous Cape
wagon, entirely new, and two salted horses, all of which had cost him
£310.

He had taken a cordial leave of the editor, after thanking him for his
advice and for the interest he had taken in the affairs of one who was
an entire stranger to him, and at daylight the next morning seated
himself in a post-cart and was driven rapidly toward Maritzburg.

He had also bargained with the farmer of whom he purchased his wagon and
horses to haul his goods up from Port Natal.

With Mr. Morgan's aid he had secured a small pack of mongrel dogs,
deerhounds, greyhounds, pointers, and curs, which was to be brought up
with the wagon.

While on the way to Maritzburg Oscar saw something that made him think
of his double-barrel, that was stowed away in his trunk under the seat.
It was a flock of white-necked ravens. They sat on the trees by the
roadside, and showed no signs of alarm as the post-cart dashed by so
close to them that the driver could have touched them with his whip if
he had made the attempt.

Oscar looked closely at them, noting the attitude of their bodies and
the position in which their heads were held, so that he would know how
to set up his specimens after he had shot them.

No sooner had Oscar reached his destination than he was surrounded by a
new gang of cattle-dealers, who, having learned that he was going up the
country, insisted on selling him an outfit.

But the boy dismissed them in the most unceremonious manner, and lost no
time in hunting up Judge Donahue and Mr. McElroy.

These gentlemen received him with the greatest courtesy, and were
untiring in their efforts to assist him. They superintended the buying
of his provisions, hired for him men who they knew could be trusted, and
selected a span of oxen which looked very unlike the one Barlow wanted
to sell him.

His driver and fore-loper were Hottentots; his "boss"--who was also the
interpreter and man-of-all-work--was a Kaffir, who spoke English well
enough to make himself understood; and his cook was an Irishman, with a
rich brogue and an inexhaustible fund of humor.

The Hottentots and Kaffir were engaged to go with Oscar wherever he
went, and to return with him to Maritzburg; while the Irishman was to go
no further than Leichtberg, in the Transvaal, where he expected to find
relatives.

Paddy O'Brian was a genuine son of the Old Sod. He wore velveteen
knee-breeches, long stockings, and hob-nail shoes, and carried all his
worldly possessions tied up in a handkerchief, which, when travelling,
he slung over his shoulder, on the end of a blackthorn stick that he had
used in more than one faction fight.

He had never seen any animal more to be dreaded than a pugnacious
billy-goat, and had never handled a gun, but he had for several months
officiated as cook in the family of Judge Donahue, who recommended him
as an honest, painstaking man, and one who would not let a hungry
sportsman starve while waiting for his dinner.

He excited Oscar's mirth every hour in the day, especially when he
addressed him as "me lord."

Although Paddy had kissed the blarney stone, there was no blarney about
this. He thought that every man who came to Africa to hunt must of
necessity be an English nobleman, for he did not believe that anybody
else had money to spend in that way.

The offer of ten pounds for the faithful performance of his duties as
cook almost took his breath away.

While Oscar was engaged in making ready for his departure two
interesting incidents happened.

The first was the arrival of Barlow and his man Thomas, both of whom
lived in Maritzburg. They came seated in their rattletrap of a wagon,
and drawn by their span of crow-bait oxen, which acted all the time as
if they were on the lookout for an excuse to become "rusty."

The driver's arms must have ached, for he was compelled to belabor them
continually in order to keep them in motion.

Barlow and his man were not long in finding out how things were going,
and when they saw Oscar's outfit, which was fully as expensive and as
complete in all its details as any they had ever seen before, they
became all the more determined that they would compel him to sell out,
so that they could purchase it for a mere tithe of its value.

But they did not know how wary and resolute a boy they had to deal with.

Acting upon Judge Donahue's advice, Oscar put his oxen and horses into
the pound every night, and taking Paddy O'Brian into his confidence,
ordered him to sleep in the wagon.

Paddy, being always ready for a row, willingly complied, and it would
have given him the greatest pleasure to break the head of anybody who
ventured to tamper with that vehicle or its cargo.

One thing that amused Oscar exceedingly was the perseverance exhibited
by his landlord in trying to "pump" him and his servants; but he got no
satisfaction.

Oscar would not talk about his private affairs, and his men could not,
for they knew nothing about them.

In fact, no one knew much about him or his business except the few
gentlemen to whom he had been introduced, and he was looked upon by
"outsiders" as a very mysterious person.

The other interesting incident of which we have spoken was the arrival
of Colonel Dunhaven, who came in grand style, riding a fine horse, and
closely followed by his body-servant, who rode another equally as good.

He had fared better at the hands of the cattle-dealers, so far as the
appearance of his outfit was concerned, than Oscar thought he would.

His cattle, although they were not to be compared to Oscar's slick
Zulus, were in a tolerably fair condition.

His wagon was a very good one, and he had servants enough for half a
dozen hunters; but his head man looked too much like Thomas to be
trusted.

The colonel galloped up to the porch, threw his reins to Roberts, and
went into the hotel.



CHAPTER XII.

OSCAR SEES A CHANCE TO GET EVEN.


When Oscar arose the next morning and looked down into the stable-yard
he saw that it was empty. The colonel's wagon had gone on toward Howick,
and the colonel himself was in the parlor eating an early breakfast,
preparatory to following it on horseback.

A glance at his own wagon, which stood in front of the supply store, on
the other side of the street, showed him that the cattle-dealers were
out in full force, and that those he had seen loitering about the hotel
ever since he arrived there had been joined by Harris and the rest of
the "boys" who had supplied Colonel Dunhaven with his outfit.

The sight of them did not trouble him, however, for Paddy O'Brian was
sitting on the dissel-boom, with his stick in his hand, and the dogs
were lying under the wagon.

"That would be a bad crowd for those rascals to meddle with," thought
Oscar as he put on his clothes. "Paddy looks as though he could handle
two or three ordinary men, and I am certain that there are some dogs in
that pack that would just as soon take hold of a fellow as to let him
alone. Indeed, I am afraid of them myself. There he goes!" added the
young hunter as the colonel and his servant rode away from the hotel
steps, neither of them paying the least attention to the boisterous
farewells that were shouted at them by the cattle-dealers across the
street. "I shall expect to hear from him in the course of two or three
days."

Oscar heard from the colonel in less than one day--that very afternoon,
in fact. While he was seated in the parlor he heard a heavy step in the
barroom, and Barlow's voice addressing the landlord.

"That's one smash-up," said the cattle-dealer in a tone of exultation.
"Harris and the rest of 'em worked it pretty slick on that English
snob."

"What has happened?" inquired Mr. Dibbits.

"Trek-tow broke--that's all; and the colonel is up to the blacksmith
shop getting it repaired, and swearing about the beastly hills we have
here in Africa. I say, old fellow, we must break up that little Yankee
in some way. He's got a splendid outfit, everything top-notch, and
there's a pile of money in it if we can only make him sell out. Harris
tried to bribe that Irishman of his to leave the wagon, but Paddy told
him to hold his jaw and wouldn't stir a step."

Barlow went out, and Oscar laid down his pen and walked to the window.
His wagon, fully loaded and ready for the start, had been backed under
one of the sheds, and Paddy O'Brian sat at his ease on the dissel-boom,
puffing at a short pipe, and blowing the smoke into the eyes and
nostrils of the dogs whenever they showed a disposition to become too
familiar. Oscar raised the window and called to him.

"Take off your caubeen, if that's what you call it in Irish," said he.
"I've got something for you."

Paddy doffed his hat, and his employer tossed a couple of sovereigns
into it.

"That isn't to be taken out of your wages, Paddy," Oscar explained. "It
is a present from me. You may want to buy something for yourself or your
sweetheart before we start. Judge Donahue tells me you have a
sweetheart."

"Long life to your honor!" cried the Irishman as soon as he had
recovered from his surprise.

"That is to reward you for being faithful to your trust," continued
Oscar. "You see you didn't lose anything by refusing to take the bribe
Harris offered you this morning."

Paddy began to understand the matter now. He backed away from the
window, and, looking through the gateway, saw the man who had tried to
bribe him passing along the street.

"There he is overbeyont. Say the worrud, your honor, an' I'll go an'
bate him."

"No, no!" said Oscar quickly. "That would never do. The way for you to
beat him is to keep a close watch over the wagon. Don't allow a stranger
to go near it."

"Bedad, I won't, then," said Paddy.

He went back to the shed, and Oscar closed the window, but stood looking
through it, watching the motions of his faithful servitor.

The latter took the money out of his hat, jingled it in his closed
hands, and finally put it carefully away in his pocket. Then he jumped
up and executed a wild Irish war-dance, at the same time whirling his
stick viciously in the air and uttering suppressed whoops.

"The only thing that man needs now to make him supremely happy is a head
to crack," thought Oscar as he went back to his writing. "I don't think
it would be quite safe for anybody to make another attempt to bribe
him."

Having completed and mailed his letters, Oscar went about his unfinished
business, feeling perfectly satisfied that the care of his outfit had
been committed to trusty hands.

Two or three times during the afternoon and evening he heard from
Colonel Dunhaven through Judge Donahue, who told him that the man who
knew so much about travelling in Africa that he would not ask advice of
anybody was having an exceedingly hard time of it.

His oxen, after breaking the trek-tow faster than the blacksmith could
mend it, had at last turned "rusty" and run the wagon into an ant-bear's
hole, in which it was so hopelessly "stalled" that it would take an
extra span of oxen to draw it out.

"But even if he finds anybody who is accommodating enough to haul him
out on hard ground, he will not be any better off than he is now," added
the judge. "His whole rigging has been sawed into, and if the town hill
does not prove to be an obstacle he cannot get over, the Drackenberg
will."

The next morning Oscar dressed himself in one of the moleskin suits he
had purchased in England and packed his trunk, which was stowed away in
the wagon.

He had ordered his driver to start for Howick at an early hour, and
when he went downstairs he found everything in readiness for inspanning
as soon as the oxen were brought from the pound.

His interpreter and the two Hottentots had gone after them. Paddy
O'Brian occupied his usual seat on the dissel-boom, twirling his stick
in one hand and holding fast to a saddled horse with the other. Oscar
opened the window and Paddy got upon his feet.

"Good-morning to your honor!" he exclaimed. "An' can I go now, I dunno?"

"Yes, go on," answered Oscar. "But be sure and join the wagon when you
hear it go by the house."

Paddy got into the saddle and rode off to pay his last visit to his
sweetheart, and to present her with a few trifles he had purchased with
the two sovereigns he had earned by his devotion to duty.

Barlow, who was always on the watch, saw him ride out of the gate, and,
believing that the wagon was left unguarded, made all haste to send his
man Thomas into the stable-yard to operate on the trek-tow with his saw.
But Oscar, who was on the watch, detected him in the act, and defeated
his plans, as we have already described.

While the boy stood at the window Colonel Dunhaven, utterly disgusted
with his short experience of African life, came into the room, and after
using some pretty strong language regarding the country and Oscar's
business in it, began to talk of selling out and going home.

Our hero had a long conversation with him, and during its progress the
colonel was amazed to learn that the humble American youth had brought
with him letters from some of the best known men in England.

_Then_ his icy reserve melted, and he was as affable as one could wish;
but he did not succeed in working his way into Oscar's good graces. It
was too late. The boy, as we have said, had seen quite enough of him.

"When I saw you with those cattle-dealers in Durban I knew that you were
going to be cheated," said Oscar as he and the colonel seated
themselves. "I tried to make you understand it, but you told me, in
effect, that it was none of my business. One of those men behind us
tried to force a most inferior outfit on me, and threatened to prosecute
me because I declined to be imposed upon. Did you examine your trek-tow
to see if anybody had been fooling with it?"

"No," said the colonel in surprise.

"You ought to have done so. I know that you are a victim of treachery."

"I know that, also. Didn't I tell you that my servants had deserted me,
and that my cattle and horses had been allowed to stray away?"

"The men from whom you purchased your outfit are responsible for all
that. They intend to keep you here if they possibly can."

"And for what purpose, pray?" asked the colonel, still more astonished.

"They want to force you to sell your goods back to them for a good deal
less than you gave for them. I know what I am talking about, for I have
heard stories of their villainy told by a dozen different gentlemen who
are acquainted with their way of doing business."

Just at that moment, as if to corroborate these words, Barlow
approached and laid his hand familiarly on the colonel's shoulder.

The surprised Englishman quickly brought his eyeglass to a focus and
stared up at him as if he meant to annihilate him by his angry glances.

"Fellow!" he vociferated, promptly shaking off the cattle-dealer's hand.

"No offence, sir," said Barlow, who, having an eye to prospective
profits, could not afford to make the colonel angry. "I heard you say
something just now about selling out."

"And if I did speak of it what's that to you, I would like to know?"
demanded the colonel angrily.

"It is just this much to me," answered Barlow in his free-and-easy way.
"If you want to sell out I am the man you are looking for. I want a rig
just like yours, and a wagon-load of supplies; and if you are open for a
bargain I will make you an offer now, and pay you cash in hand."

"I decline to exchange any more words with you," said the colonel.

"Well, think it over, then, will you, and let me know what you decide
to do. Remember, I want the first chance."

The Englishman made no reply. He turned his back to the cattle-dealer,
and, taking off his eyeglass, thrust it into his pocket with a rather
vicious movement.

"What did I tell you?" said Oscar when Barlow had gone back to his
companions at the bar. "That man is probably working for the ones of
whom you bought your outfit. They are all in league, and don't mean to
let you get over the town hill if they can help it."

"I don't see how you have escaped their persecutions," said the colonel.

"I haven't escaped them altogether. I saw a man in the act of cutting
into one of the links of my trek-tow just now, but when I went out to
catch him the landlord, or some other friend of his, warned him, and he
got safely off. He did the chain no damage, however, for I gave him no
time. I bought a good outfit all through--and I'll warrant it didn't
cost me as much money as you paid for yours--and after I got it I kept
watch over it night and day."

"I don't know what to do," said the colonel, looking down at the floor
in a brown study. "My wagon is in a terrible fix, but I don't like to
give up."

"I wouldn't give up," said Oscar promptly. "If I were in your place, I
should go back to the wagon. It must be watched every minute, and your
man Roberts can't stand guard all day and all night too. He must be
relieved, so that he can get some sleep. I shall be detained in town
until one o'clock, probably, and then I shall go on after my wagon, and
spend the rest of the night with it. To-morrow we will put our two teams
together and see what they can do. What do you think of the
proposition?"

The colonel thought it a good one, and was glad to accept it. Acting
upon Oscar's suggestion, he ordered out his horse and rode away.

The boy watched him as long as he remained in sight, frequently saying
to himself:

"I knew I would some day have a chance to get even with him, but I
didn't think it would come so soon."



CHAPTER XIII.

HOW OSCAR GOT EVEN.


"Hurrouch! Look out there! Bedad I'll break the head of yez!"

This was the way in which Oscar Preston was welcomed when he dismounted
in front of his wagon, about three o'clock in the morning, and put his
foot upon the dissel-boom, preparatory to climbing in and taking
possession of the swinging cot that was slung up under the arches which
supported the canvas tent.

He had passed a very pleasant evening in the company of the gentlemen he
had invited to enjoy his hospitality at Mr. Dibbit's hotel. The dinner
was excellent, for the worthy landlord knew how to serve those who had
the money to pay for his attentions, and after full justice had been
done to it, and he had taken leave of his friends, each of whom gave
him some additional advice in regard to the route to be pursued, and
the manner in which he ought to conduct himself in certain emergencies,
Oscar mounted his horse, which, for want of a better name, he had
christened "Little Gray," and rode toward Howick.

About a mile beyond the blacksmith shop he discovered a wagon on the
veldt, or open field, which he judged to be Colonel Dunhaven's. It was
lying almost on its side, and there were no living things to be seen
about it, no oxen or horses, or even a dog to challenge him.

His own camp, which he reached after he had ridden about ten miles
further on, presented a more cheerful appearance. The huge wagon was
right side up, and there was a fire burning brightly beside it.

His oxen, fastened two and two in their yokes, were lying at their ease,
"chewing the cud of contentment"; the horse Paddy O'Brian had ridden
away from the hotel in the morning was tied to one of the hind wheels of
the wagon, and the dogs were curled up under it.

Awakened by the sound of his horse's feet, they came out in a body and
welcomed him vociferously.

Having quieted them, Oscar dismounted, and while he was taking the
saddle off Little Gray and tying him beside his mate he heard a rustling
in the wagon and a voice muttering:

"Hould aisy there, ye blackgarrud!"

Oscar laughed silently, and told himself that he had not the slightest
reason to fear that his property would be interfered with so long as
Paddy O'Brian had anything to do with it. He walked around the wagon to
warm his hands at the fire (it was cold, and the heavy overcoat he wore
was not at all uncomfortable), and saw his native servants sleeping
there, covered up, head and ears, with their skin cloaks.

"I am all right so far," thought Oscar as he looked about him with a
pleased expression on his face, and thought of the trials that had been
so graphically described to him. "Thanks to my good friends, I have
escaped every annoyance. I am almost sorry I offered to assist the
colonel, for I shall lose much valuable time by it. I know he never
would have offered to help me if I had been in trouble. How he would
have stared at me through that eyeglass of his if he had seen me
hopelessly stalled and my oxen rusty, while his own team was moving
smoothly along the hard road! But that's the way I am going to get even
with him."

Having thoroughly warmed himself at the fire, Oscar turned toward the
wagon; but no sooner had he laid his hand upon the fore-chest than Paddy
O'Brian's blackthorn stick whirled through the air and struck the lid
with a sounding whack.

Fortunately he missed his aim in the dark, but the unexpected attack
startled Oscar, who jumped back with an angry exclamation.

"If I hurted yez I beg yer pardon," said Paddy in a sympathetic tone.
"But kape away from that wagon, for I'm the best little man in Afriky."

During his long intercourse with the honest but combative Irishman Oscar
could discover but one fault in him, and that was, it took him forever
to wake up. Oscar could spring from his cot, rifle in hand, at any hour
of the night, and the moment he landed on his feet all his senses came
to him, and he knew just what he was about, but Paddy never found his
wits until he had done something he ought not to have done.

He gave a ludicrous example of this one night, and came very near
sealing his death warrant by it. What it was shall be told in its proper
place.

"If you think you are going to get a fight out of me you are mistaken,"
said Oscar.

Paddy, who was wide awake now, was profuse in his apologies.

"It's all right," said his employer; "but in future don't be quite so
free with that stick of yours. Be sure you are striking at the right
man."

Oscar slept soundly in his comfortable bed, and at daylight was awakened
by his cook, who called him to breakfast. He ate alone, sitting in a
camp-chair beside a cheerful fire which Paddy O'Brian had kindled for
his especial benefit, and as he sipped his coffee and looked around at
his possessions he felt like a young monarch.

This was his first taste of African life. In this way he was to live for
long months to come.

Breakfast over, Oscar began to bestir himself and to issue some rapid
orders, which were as rapidly obeyed. A saddle was put on Little Gray,
the oxen were fastened to the trek-tow and started back toward Colonel
Dunhaven's disabled wagon, led by the fore-loper and followed by the
driver and interpreter, the latter being armed with a jambok, which is a
long, pliable whip made of rhinoceros-hide.

After seeing them well under way Oscar gave his cook some minute
instructions regarding the duties that were to occupy his attention
during his absence, and then mounted his horse and set out at a gallop.

When he came within sight of the colonel's wagon he did not see anybody
about it. Greatly surprised at this, he rode up, and, drawing aside the
fly, looked into the tent, fully expecting to find it deserted; but
there was the colonel, fast asleep in his swinging cot, and Roberts
snoring on the fore-chest.

"You are a pretty pair, I must say," thought the boy, whose first
impulse was to go back to his own wagon, leaving the colonel to get out
of his predicament as best he could. "I have come ten miles on purpose
to help you, only to find you both fast asleep. Look here!" he shouted.
"This will never do. You ought to have been at work on this wagon at the
first peep of day."

"Aw!" said the colonel, raising himself on his elbow and rubbing his
eyes, while Roberts rolled off the fore-chest with alacrity. "Is that
you, Mr. Preston?"

"Yes, it is I; and I have caught you both in bed," replied Oscar in no
very amiable tones. "If you want any of my help look alive. Where is
your jack-screw?"

"Jack-screw?" repeated the colonel languidly, sinking back on his pillow
and putting his hands under his head. "Really I don't think we have such
an article in the outfit! Have we, Roberts?"

"No, sir," replied the latter promptly.

Oscar could hardly believe his ears. One of the most necessary
implements--one that is used in African travel as often as a spade or a
pick--had been left behind. The colonel might as well have come away
from Maritzburg without his "battery."

"Harris said we didn't need any," added Roberts.

"That wasn't the only falsehood he told you," said Oscar in disgust.
"How do you suppose you are going to get that wheel out of there?"

"I don't know, I am sure, unless we pull it out with the oxen," drawled
the colonel.

"There are not oxen enough in the country to pull it out, and neither
was there a trek-tow ever made that would stand the strain," answered
the boy, who was almost ready to boil over when he saw how indifferent
the person most interested in the matter of extricating the wagon seemed
to be. "Neither have you any oxen--at least I don't see any," he
continued, looking all around the field.

"Why, didn't you bring any with you?" asked the colonel, raising
himself on his elbow again.

He looked interested now, and there was something in the tone of his
voice, and in the expression of his face, that provoked Oscar, who knew
then, as well as though the colonel had explained it to him, that his
offer of assistance had been taken in a very broad sense.

The colonel expected that Oscar would draw his wagon out on firm ground,
and that he himself would have no trouble about it. He expected to pay,
and to pay liberally, for the service, but he wanted nothing to do with
the work.

While it was being done he would sit by in a camp-chair and smoke his
pipe and look on, while Roberts held an umbrella over his head.

But Oscar did not intend to waste any of the committee's time in working
for money. He had simply offered to assist the colonel, but he did not
expect that all the responsibility would be shifted upon his own
shoulders.

"My oxen are coming," replied Oscar, "but it will be an hour or more
before they will get here. By that time the dew will be off the grass,
and they must be turned loose to graze. Why didn't you bring your oxen
up yesterday?"

"My dear fellow, didn't I tell you that my servants have all deserted
me?" answered the colonel.

"Then, why didn't you go in search of them yourself?"

"Because I don't choose to do work that others are paid to do for me."

"You'll have to act as your own servant if you get anything done," said
Oscar. "Suppose you send Roberts down to the blacksmith shop after a
jack-screw."

This proposition fairly staggered Roberts, who looked first at Oscar and
then at his own spotless livery.

"What harm is there in it?" demanded the boy sharply. "You'll have to do
worse things than that before you get back. You had better put your
pride in your pocket while you stay in this country, for if you think
you are going to keep those clothes looking as nice as they do now you
will be disappointed."

"Why can't you send one of your own men?" asked Roberts.

"Because they are not here, and when they arrive they will have to herd
the cattle to keep them from straying away. I didn't agree to boss this
job--I only offered to help; and seeing that you are not going to do
anything about it, I will bid you good-day."

"Stop! stop!" cried the colonel in an imperious tone. "Set your price,
and go to work and get the wagon out the best way you can."

"I can't get it out with one team and only three men to do the work. You
ought to have had your oxen and servants here bright and early."

"How in the world was I to get them when I didn't know where they were?"

"You ought to have found out where they were. But I have wasted time
enough. Good-day."

Oscar turned his horse's head toward his own camp, and rode rapidly
until he had met and sent back the oxen.

After that he allowed his horse to settle down into a walk; and as he
rode along he thought over the events of the morning, and wondered how
much the outside world would have known about Africa if all Englishmen
had been like Colonel Dunhaven.

Oscar had not been able to "get even" with him, after all, but he had
shown his good will.

As soon as the oxen reached the wagon they were turned loose to graze.
By the time they had eaten their fill it was too hot to travel, and so
Oscar took to his wagon and wrote up his diary.

At three o'clock in the afternoon he gave the order to inspan, and
shortly after sunset went into camp within sight of the town of Howick.



CHAPTER XIV.

LETTERS FROM HOME.


We wish we could say that from this time forward Oscar prosecuted his
journey without any mishap, but such was not the case. Accidents of all
kinds were of almost daily occurrence, and that was no more than one
could expect in a country in which the roads are left to take care of
themselves, and are passable only for the strongest of wagons, drawn by
teams the most powerful.

Before the foot of the Drackenberg Mountains was reached Oscar had
fashioned three new dissel-booms with his own hands, and the trek-tow
had been repaired more than once. But there was something of which he no
longer stood in fear, and that was treachery. His men were all capable,
honest, and willing, and never shirked their share of the work.

Before attempting the ascent of the dreaded Drackenberg Oscar
off-loaded and had his wagon thoroughly overhauled by a blacksmith.

He afterward told himself that it was well he did so, for he found the
pass to be the worst place he ever got into. His own oxen alone never
could have pulled his heavy wagon up that steep incline.

But, as good luck would have it, he came up with a couple of Dutch
farmers, who had spent two days in camp at the foot of the mountains,
smoking their pipes, and looking first at the pass and then at their
wagons, and trying to make up their minds whether or not they could
reach the top with two teams to each vehicle.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when Oscar found them. He
immediately out-spanned a little distance away, and, in company with his
interpreter, went over to invite the Boers to drink coffee with him;
but, to his surprise, the men flatly refused to have anything to do with
him.

"What's the matter with them, Thompson?" asked Oscar.

"They say they don't like Englishmen, and won't drink coffee with
them," answered the interpreter.

"But I am not an Englishman," said Oscar. "Ask them if they ever heard
of America. I don't suppose they ever did," he added to himself.

In this the boy was happily mistaken. The Boers could not understand all
he said (it turned out afterward that they were by no means as ignorant
of the English language as they pretended to be), but they caught the
word "America," and straightway began to exhibit a lively interest in
our hero--that is, as lively an interest as men of their temperament
could exhibit in anything.

They took their pipes out of their mouths and looked at him, while
something that was doubtless intended for a smile overspread their
faces.

When the boy walked up and offered them his hand they took it and shook
it cordially.

"Now, Thompson, ask them again if they will come over and have some
coffee," said Oscar.

The men did not refuse this time. A Boer is very fond of coffee, and
although there are few of them who will spend any of their own money for
it, they are quite willing to drink it when it is provided at the
expense of somebody else.

Oscar's guests emptied their cups almost as fast as Paddy O'Brian could
fill them, and poured the hot liquid down their throats in a way that
made that worthy individual open his eyes.

"Now, Thompson," said Oscar when the huge coffee-pot had been drained of
its last drop, "tell them that if they will help me pull my wagon over
the Drackenberg I will help them pull theirs over."

This was a very plain and simple proposition, and it seemed as though
anybody ought to have understood it; but it was evident that the Boers
did not.

When Big Thompson repeated his employer's words to them in Dutch they
arose from their seats, went a little way from the wagon, and held a
long and earnest consultation.

Then they came back, and, through the interpreter, asked that the
proposal might be repeated. This they did so many times that Oscar began
to be provoked, and to wonder at their stupidity.

He afterward learned that this way of doing business was characteristic
of the Dutch farmers. They never would accept any offer until they had
consulted with some of their friends, and it was impossible to hurry
them.

Oscar's guests, although they were anxious to get over the mountains,
were fully half an hour in making up their minds whether or not they
would accept the proposition that had been made them; but they did
accept it at last, and after the bargain had been ratified by another
pot of coffee, liberally sweetened, they went back to their camp, and
Oscar proceeded at once to inspan. Half an hour afterward his wagon
moved off, drawn by thirty-six oxen, and began the toilsome ascent.

It was ten hours' hard work to reach the summit. Strong and willing as
most of the oxen were, they could not draw the heavy vehicle more than
fifty feet without stopping to take breath, and then it was necessary
that the wheels should be blocked with large stones, the brakes not
being powerful enough to hold them.

While Oscar was toiling up the pass behind one of the wheels, carrying
in his arms a stone weighing between twenty and thirty pounds, one of
the Boers, similarly provided, following close behind the other, he
often thought of Colonel Dunhaven, and wondered what the man who had
been ready to give up in despair because his wagon had been "stalled" on
level ground would have thought of such work as this.

There was danger in it, too, as Oscar learned before he had gone a great
way, for whenever they reached a particularly bad portion of the road,
where the rocks arose on one side and a gulf yawned on the other, the
Boer, who had by this time found out that he could talk a little
English, was sure to remark that a wagon had gone over there only a
short time before.

If Oscar's had gone over it would have taken a good many cattle with it
unless the trek-tow broke; but, fortunately, no accident happened.

The skilful drivers--there were two of them besides
Oscar's--accomplished the ascent in safety, and at last the summit of
the pass was reached.

There a breathing spell was taken and more coffee drank, after which the
Boers unhitched their oxen, leaving Oscar to take care of himself.

In two hours more his wagon was standing in the edge of a grassy plain,
and Oscar was sleeping soundly in his cot, while Paddy O'Brian nodded
over his pipe, and the Hottentots toiled back over the mountain to
assist the Boers.

About noon Oscar awoke, feeling perfectly refreshed, and, drawing aside
the fly of his tent, took a look at the dreaded Drackenberg by daylight.

It had been a bugbear to him from the start, and he had repeatedly been
warned that, unless he were possessed of an unusual amount of pluck and
determination, his journey would end when he reached it.

But it had been passed in safety, thanks to the friendly Boers, and it
was a relief to him to know that he need not bother his head about it
again, for a year at least.

Two days afterward Oscar reached Harrismith, and after outspanning below
the town he climbed the hill and made inquiries for Mr. Hutchinson, to
whom he had letters of introduction.

That gentleman said he was glad to see him, gave him a large package of
letters and papers which Mr. Donahue had forwarded by post-cart, and
invited him to dinner.

Oscar looked first at his letters and then at his clothes--which were
beginning to show signs of wear--and wondered how he could decline the
invitation.

"Never mind your clothes," said Mr. Hutchinson--a jolly old gentleman
who reminded Oscar of his friend Captain Sterling. "We don't expect
hunters to look as though they had just come out of some lady's
bandbox."

"I am greatly obliged to you, sir," replied Oscar; "but when I tell you
that these are the first letters I have received from home since
leaving Maritzburg I know you will not press the matter."

"Oh, oh--of course! Then say to-morrow--to-morrow evening at six,
sharp."

Oscar accepted this invitation, and, picking up his package, hurried
down the hill.

"Dinner at six," thought he as he quickened his pace almost to a run.
"These English cling to their old-time customs wherever they go. I
wouldn't delay the reading of these letters for the sake of all the
dinners that were ever served up."

The wagon seemed to be a long way off; but Oscar reached it at last, and
throwing himself upon his cot, tore open the package, and began sorting
out its contents.

He found there several letters from his mother; others from Sam Hynes,
Leon Parker, Captain Sterling, and Mr. Donahue.

The letters were long and full of news, and Oscar became so deeply
interested in reading them that he did not know that Paddy O'Brian had
twice called him to dinner.

"I don't want anything to eat," said he when Paddy had at last
succeeded in attracting his attention by thumping the fore-chest with
his stick. "I have something better on hand."

Oscar had not gone very far into his third letter before he felt as
homesick as Leon Parker did when he found himself, friendless and alone,
in the fort at Julesburg. A lump rose up in his throat, a mist gathered
before his eyes, and, throwing down the letter, he sprang off his cot
and rushed out of the wagon. It seemed to him that he would suffocate if
he stayed in there a moment longer.

"Paddy," he exclaimed, "put the saddle on Little Gray!"

"And don't ye want any dinner at all at all?" asked the cook.

"No, I don't. Hurry up!"

Paddy made all haste to obey, and then stood and looked wonderingly
after his employer, who, as soon as he was fairly seated on Little
Gray's back, set off over the plain as if all the lions in Africa were
close at his heels.



CHAPTER XV.

A GOOD SHOT AND A SURPRISE.


"I wish that wagon and its contents were at the bottom of the sea, and
that I were safe in Eaton again," said Oscar to himself as he flew over
the plain. "If I had gone through with my expedition and was on my way
to the coast it would be bad enough; but as it is I don't wonder that
Leon Parker had to take his bed. The doctors say that people have died
of homesickness before now, and I believe it."

For a few minutes Oscar was certainly in a very bad way; but the fresh
air and Little Gray's easy, rapid motion seemed to have a soothing
effect on him, and after he had ridden a mile or more at a headlong
gallop he turned about and went back to the wagon.

He knew that he must do something to keep up his spirits, and for want
of something better he seated himself on the dissel-boom and talked to
Paddy O'Brian.

It was the best thing he could have done. Paddy was as witty as any of
his race, and after Oscar had enjoyed a few hearty laughs he climbed
into the wagon and finished the reading of his letters. Then he set to
work to answer them.

He was busy until long after midnight, writing by the light of a lantern
that stood on the fore-chest, and he did not complete his task until
three o'clock the next afternoon.

Then he took out of his trunk one of the extra suits of moleskin which
he had not yet worn, and after making his toilet with a great deal of
care, picked up his letters and climbed the hill to Harrismith to keep
his appointment with Mr. Hutchinson.

That gentleman, who was acquainted with almost everybody in the country,
gave him a letter to a friend who lived about a hundred and fifty miles
distant, and before the dew was off the grass the next morning Oscar had
left Harrismith a long way behind him.

Up to this time the young hunter had secured but a very few specimens,
and they were mostly birds.

He had not taken a rifle out of its holster but once, and that was to
shoot a baboon he saw frisking about in a rocky ravine through which the
wagon passed, and whose skin was now stowed away in one of his chests.

He was getting into a game country, and almost every day he saw small
herds of spring-bucks and wilde-beests feeding in plain view.

The temptation to stop and try a shot at them was strong, but he
resisted it, for the reason that he thought it would be a waste of time.

He did not know how to hunt African game, and his object was to reach
the home of Mr. Lawrence, a gentleman to whom he had been given letters
of introduction, and whom he hoped to induce to act as his instructor.

Mr. Lawrence was a prosperous farmer as well as an enthusiastic
sportsman. He had been in Africa long enough to know how to bag all the
different kinds of game with which the country abounded, and he was
engaged in his favorite recreation, riding to the hounds, when Oscar
met him. It came about in this way:

When on the march the young hunter always rode quite half a mile in
advance of the wagon, and one morning he had the good fortune to come
within easy shooting distance of the largest herd of spring-bucks he had
ever seen.

The little animals crossed the track not more than a hundred yards in
advance of him, and Oscar had a fair view of them. They ran at the top
of their speed, bounding along like so many rubber balls, and clearing
from twelve to fifteen feet at a jump without the least apparent effort.

When they reached the wagon-track they sailed over it as easily as if
they had been furnished with wings, and then trotted along with their
noses close to the ground, as if they felt in a very sportive mood.

Being unarmed, Oscar could do nothing but sit in his saddle and look at
them, reproaching himself the while for not bringing a rifle with him.

If he had had one of his double-barrels in his hands he could have
secured a couple of specimens and some fresh steaks for dinner without
the least difficulty.

When the afternoon march began he rode out with an Express rifle on his
shoulder, but he waited in vain for another herd of spring-bucks to
cross the track. There were plenty of them in sight, but they took care
to keep out of range.

The dogs, as usual, went off hunting on their own hook, but instead of
driving the game in his direction they drove it farther away, and
finally disappeared among the hills.

"Such a chance as I had this morning doesn't happen more than once in a
fellow's lifetime," thought Oscar regretfully. "However, I have learned
something by it. I know now how to set up a spring-buck if I ever get
one, and have been convinced that in this country a hunter had better
keep a rifle by him all the time."

Oscar went off into a revery, which lasted nearly an hour, and from
which he was finally aroused by the baying of a hound. He did not pay
much attention to it at first, but when he found that there was more
than one hound giving tongue, and that their music was growing louder
every moment, he straightened up and began to look about him.

All at once a large, dark-brown animal appeared over the brow of a hill
about a quarter of a mile to his right, and came toward him with the
speed of the wind.

In an instant Oscar dropped to the ground, and looking over his horse's
back, watched the movements of the game. He had scarcely taken up his
position before a number of dogs came into view. They did not run in a
compact body, as hounds usually do, but were spread out in a sort of
skirmish order so as to cover each flank of their quarry. Oscar was
quick to notice this, and he could not help congratulating himself on
the intelligence displayed by his pack of mongrels.

"I had no idea they had so much sense," said he to himself. "The game,
whatever it is, can't turn either way without running the risk of being
caught. Its only chance is to keep straight ahead and outrun the dogs;
but whether or not it can do that is a question. I never saw them move
so swiftly before."

Oscar drew his head further down behind the saddle as he cocked both
barrels of his rifle and waited with a beating heart for a chance to
shoot.

Just then the game, discovering an enemy in front, swerved from its
course, presenting a full broadside, and giving the excited young hunter
the first fair view of a wilde-beest (the gnu of the naturalist) he had
ever had.

This movement sealed its fate. As quick as thought Oscar sprang around
the head of his horse, which stood motionless in his tracks, raised his
rifle to his shoulder, and holding far enough in advance of the gnu to
make allowance for distance and motion, pressed the trigger.

The first shot was a clean miss, but the second bullet told loudly, and
when the smoke cleared away Oscar had the satisfaction of seeing the gnu
lying on the ground all in a heap.

"There's something for Yarmouth!" he shouted. "That was the best shot I
ever made."

Oscar at once ran forward to secure his prize and to prevent the dogs
when they came up from spoiling its skin. He was greatly delighted, as
well he might be, for he had secured a splendid specimen.

He straightened it out and looked at it, lost in admiration. It was a
little more than four feet in height at the shoulders, and its mane and
tail looked so much like those of a horse that, had it not been for its
horns and hoofs, it might have been taken for rather a long-legged
Shetland pony.

"It is a beautiful specimen," said Oscar aloud as he walked slowly
around the animal, so that he could view it from all sides.

"It certainly is, but I should like to know what business you have
shooting my game?" said a voice near him.

Oscar looked up in the greatest surprise and saw a horseman standing
within twenty feet of him. Where he came from so suddenly was a mystery.

"That's my wilde-beest," continued the stranger. "I have been following
him for more than an hour. Turn him over and you will see the mark of
my bullet in his flank."

Oscar acted like a boy who had just been awakened out of a sound sleep.
He rubbed his eyes to make sure that he was not dreaming, and then he
saw that the dogs which had gathered about him, and whose speed and
style of hunting he had so much admired, were not his own.

They were magnificent Scotch deer-hounds, and looked about as much like
the members of his own pack as Oscar looked like the grinning little
Hottentot who sat on his horse a short distance behind the man whose
sudden and unexpected appearance had so startled and surprised him.



CHAPTER XVI.

A TASTE OF CIVILIZED LIFE.


"How came you here?" asked Oscar as soon as he could speak.

He straightened up and took a good look at the hunter, and this is what
he saw: A thick-set, broad-shouldered man, a gentleman on the face of
him, dressed in a suit of white duck, cut in regular Boer style. His
short jacket was open in front, showing the broad belt he wore about his
waist and in which he carried his ammunition--at least Oscar thought so,
for he saw a large powder-horn sticking out of one of his pockets. He
wore a wide-brimmed hat on his head, and as much of his face as could be
seen over his whiskers was as brown as sole-leather.

He carried a heavy double-barrelled rifle across the horn of his saddle,
and rode a magnificent horse, whose glossy breast was flecked with
foam, showing that he had been ridden long and rapidly.

Close behind the stranger, on another horse that looked equally as good,
sat his Hottentot after-rider, who also carried a heavy rifle in his
hands.

The hunter's face wore a good-natured smile, and there was a merry
twinkle in his eye. He evidently enjoyed Oscar's surprise.

"Who are you?" continued the boy.

"Seeing that you have had the impudence to bag my game, I think that is
a proper question for me to ask," was the reply.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Oscar, who had by this time fully
recovered himself. "I supposed this gnu had been started by my own dogs.
I didn't know that there was another white person within two days'
journey of this place."

"Gnu!" repeated the stranger. "I haven't heard that word before in
years. You are not English?"

"No, sir. I am an American."

"Ah, indeed!" exclaimed the hunter, now astonished in his turn. "And
what in the world are you doing out here, so far from home, may I ask?"

"I came here to procure specimens of natural history for a university
museum," answered Oscar.

He expected that the hunter would be surprised, and he certainly was.
Everybody was surprised when the boy told what his business was.
Probably no one of his years had ever been engaged in such an
undertaking before.

"_You_ did!" exclaimed the horseman.

"Yes, sir, _I_ did," replied Oscar, who thought his new acquaintance
looked a little incredulous. "And I have the papers to prove it."

"Where are your companions?"

"They are with the wagon. If you will ride on with me until I outspan I
shall be glad to have you drink coffee with me. Of course this is your
game, you having had the first shot at it, but, if you will permit me, I
will put it into my wagon and save you the trouble of carrying it."

The horseman made no reply. The wagon came up just then, and while Paddy
O'Brian and the Kaffir were putting the wilde-beest into it the strange
hunter looked all around, as if he were searching for something or
somebody he could not find. When the wagon moved on again Oscar mounted
his horse and rode on ahead, in company with his new acquaintance.

"Where did you say your companions were?" the latter asked at length.

"These are all I have," answered Oscar--"a driver, fore-loper,
interpreter, and cook."

The stranger was greatly amazed.

"Do you mean to tell me that you are the owner of this wagon and the
leader of this expedition?" said he.

"I do, sir."

"And you, a mere lad, who has hardly got out of pinafores, have come out
here all by yourself to---- It beats everything I ever heard of!"

"I have got on very well so far, sir, although I have taken but very few
specimens. You see, I don't know how to hunt the game one finds here,
but I _do_ know right where I can go to get instructions. Do you know a
gentleman living somewhere in this country of the name of Lawrence?"

"I have a slight acquaintance with him."

Oscar looked at the stranger. There was something in the tone of his
voice and in the expression of his face which told him that he was at
that moment in the company of the man he wanted to see.

Hastily excusing himself, he rode back to the wagon, climbed into it,
and took from one of the pockets a package of letters, with which he
galloped back to his companion's side.

"Mr. Lawrence," said he, "my name is Oscar Preston, and there are
letters of introduction to you which some of your friends were kind
enough to give me."

The gentleman took the letters and read them as he rode along. When he
had made himself master of their contents he turned in his saddle and
shook the young hunter's hand.

"I am glad to see you, and I give you a hearty welcome," said he.

Then he issued some hasty orders in Dutch to his after-rider, who
wheeled his horse and hastened back to the wagon.

"My house is only ten miles away," continued Mr. Lawrence, "and I have
sent word to your driver not to outspan until he gets there. I confess
that I am very greatly surprised at your--your--I was going to say
foolhardiness; but no one can be called foolhardy who goes coolly and
deliberately about a thing after he has counted well the cost, so I will
say your courage and perseverance. I supposed, of course, that you had
some person of years and experience with you to superintend matters.
Young man, you have already done wonders, and if you keep on as you have
begun there is no telling what you may not accomplish before you pass
along this track again on your way to the coast. There is plenty of game
about here belonging to the order _Ruminantia_. I suppose you know what
I mean by that?"

"Certainly, sir. You mean animals that chew the cud."

"Exactly. You can see for yourself that there are plenty of them, and
you must stay with me as my guest until you learn how to hunt them. It
will give me great pleasure to assist you in any way I can. You will
find that I am something of a naturalist as well as a hunter. Of the
_Carnivora_----"

"They are the flesh-eaters," said Oscar when his companion paused and
looked at him.

"Well, we don't have many of them here, and you will have to take your
chances with them when you find them, for it is little that I can tell
you about them."

Oscar was soon on the best of terms with his new friend, who chatted
away as familiarly as though he had known the boy all his life.

In about three hours they reached Mr. Lawrence's house; and if we were
to say that Oscar was surprised at the sight of it we should but feebly
express his feelings.

Here, in the midst of a wilderness more than fifty miles from any
neighbor, the English gentleman had created a perfect little paradise.

The road led through an extensive orchard of orange, apple, plum, peach,
and walnut trees, and after that came a vineyard that was fairly purple
with grapes.

At the lower end of the lawn, which must have contained a hundred
acres, was a large pond sheltered by weeping-willows and covered with
ducks and geese.

The house was in perfect keeping with its surroundings. It was a large,
roomy structure, well built, and furnished in a style which made Oscar
wonder.

The first room into which he was conducted was the library--think of a
library in the heart of Africa!--and there he remained until Mr.
Lawrence brought in his wife and children, who greeted the visitor in
the most cordial manner.

This was the first taste of civilized life that Oscar had had along the
route outside of the towns he passed, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.

It seemed like old times to find himself seated at a farmer's table once
more, and to have educated and refined people to talk to. But when he
went to bed his trouble began. His couch was too soft and he could not
sleep.

After rolling and tossing for half the night he spread one of the
quilts on the floor, and in five minutes more was in dreamland.

Oscar spent a month under Mr. Lawrence's hospitable roof, and during
that time he received all the instructions he needed. What they were it
is not necessary to tell here, for we shall learn something about them
when we find him alone on the plain, dependent on his own resources and
surrounded by wild beasts which disturbed his camp every night, and
often did something worse.

He made some improvements in his new friend's stuffed specimens, gave
him lessons in taxidermy, and Mr. Lawrence, in return, presented him
with two of his fine Scotch deer-hounds.

One of these went back to Eaton with him and took the place of Bugle,
who died of old age during his master's absence, and the other--well,
Oscar did not keep him a great while, and we shall soon tell how he lost
him.

One bright morning Oscar, with many regrets, took leave of his kind host
and his family and resumed his journey. The oxen, invigorated by their
long rest, walked off in the most lively manner with the heavy wagon,
which had been thoroughly overhauled by Mr. Lawrence's blacksmith.

He was bound for new hunting-grounds, far beyond Leichtberg, at which
place Paddy O'Brian was to take leave of him.



CHAPTER XVII.

A MIDNIGHT ALARM.


"What in the world is the matter with those horses?"

Oscar had just finished writing up his diary, and was getting ready to
tumble into his cot. The camp, which had been made in the edge of a
little grove a quarter of a mile from the nearest water-hole, had been
put in order for the night.

The trek-tow was stretched from one of the hind wheels of the wagon to a
tree that stood twenty yards away, and to this the oxen were tied. The
horses were fastened to the rear of the vehicle, and under it were all
the dogs and three goats which Oscar had purchased of Mr. Lawrence.

Paddy O'Brian was sitting on the dissel-boom smoking his pipe. A little
distance away a fire was burning brightly, and around it were seated
the Kaffir interpreter and the two Hottentots, who had erected a high
fence of thorn bushes to protect them from the attack of any hungry
beast which might be disposed to make a meal of one of their number.

It was the first time they had taken this precaution, and when Oscar saw
them building the fence he told himself that at last he had got into a
country in which dangerous animals abounded.

The reader will bear in mind that when our hero hunted in Africa game
was by no means as plenty as it was in Gordon Cumming's day.

The settlers, who increased in numbers every year, made savage war upon
the antelope to supply their tables, and upon the beasts of prey to
protect their flocks and herds, and now it was a rare thing to find any
very dangerous animal between Zurnst and the coast. Consequently Oscar
had thus far been allowed to pass his nights in peace.

The building of that fence of thorn bushes, however, was as good
evidence as he needed to show him that he might begin to expect trouble
now, and, in fact, it came that very night.

While he was writing in his diary, by the dim light of a lantern, using
the fore-chest for a desk, Little Gray and his mate suddenly began
pulling at their halters, and snorting as if they were greatly alarmed
about something, whereupon the men about the fire brought their
conversation to a close, and the Kaffir arose and peered into the
darkness.

"Now, then, what's the matter with the cattle?" exclaimed Oscar, who
knew by the sudden jar communicated to the wagon that the oxen had also
become alarmed, and were pulling at the trek-tow. "If there is any
varmint about why don't the dogs say so? Go out there and speak to the
horses, Paddy, and I will look around a bit."

After putting his writing materials away in one of the pockets that hung
against the arches by which the tent was supported Oscar picked up a
rifle, and made the circuit of the camp, much to the surprise and dismay
of his native servants, one of whom called out in his broken English:

"Hi, baas! you'd best have a care. Something might spring out at you."

It _was_ rather a dangerous proceeding to stroll around in the darkness,
so far away from the protecting glare of the camp-fire, and the thought
that possibly there might be some beast of prey loitering about, waiting
for his supper, made the boy's heart beat a little faster than usual;
but his hand was as steady as a rock.

He had unbounded confidence in himself. He knew that he seldom missed
his aim, and he calculated to make a specimen of the first animal that
showed himself.

He walked around the camp without seeing anything (there was something
there that saw _him_, however, and made all haste to get out of his
way), and as the horses and oxen had by this time become quiet he
climbed into the wagon and went to sleep.

About midnight a terrible hubbub arose. The first thing that Oscar heard
was the bleating of one of the goats that were tied under the wagon.

Then the dogs barked vociferously, the horses snorted and tried hard to
escape from their fastenings, the oxen bellowed and pulled at the
trek-tow, and the native servants shouted in chorus, and ran toward the
wagon, waving aloft the blazing brands they had snatched from the fire.

Oscar, always cool and collected, sprang out of his cot and caught up a
rifle, while Paddy O'Brian--who had doubtless been dreaming of
Donnybrook Fair--rolled off the fore-chest, with his ready stick in his
hand. It is probable that he had heard of the instructions given by one
of his countrymen to a novice during a riot, "Whenever you see a head
hit it," for he carried it out to the very letter.

"Hurrouch!" yelled Paddy, striking up a war-dance, and twirling his
stick in his hand. "Sorra one of me knows what the foight is about, but
take that, ye spalpeen!"

As he uttered these words he brought his stick down in the most approved
fashion, and it landed on the head of Big Thompson (who just then came
rushing up with a firebrand in one hand and an assegai in the other),
flooring him in an instant.

Had it been a white man's head the consequences might have been
serious; but the Kaffir's thick skull was his protection. He was on his
feet again in a twinkling, and the honest Irishman was never before so
near death as he was when the native drew back his spear in readiness
for a throw.

"Hould aisy, ye blackguard!" cried Paddy, who was now wide awake.

At that instant Oscar Preston sprang between him and the enraged Kaffir,
and the native, cowed by his employer's bold front, and not liking the
looks of the rifle he held in his hands, all ready for a shot, lowered
his spear and walked back to the fire.

The next thing was to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. One of the
goats was missing; that fact was established at once, for the piteous
bleatings of the poor animal could be heard growing fainter and fainter
as the daring robber hurried away.

All attempt at rescue would have been unavailing, and, to tell the
truth, Oscar did not think of making any.

The night was pitch dark, and the actions of the dogs, which followed
close upon the heels of the robber and barked at him, but dared not lay
hold of him, made the boy believe that the animal was one that had
better be left alone.

What species he belonged to Oscar, of course, could not tell, but
everything proved that he had been very sly about his work.

He had taken his prey from under the very noses of the sleeping dogs,
and neither they nor the horses or oxen knew that there was anything
wrong until they were alarmed by the bleating of the goat.

"He must have been a powerful as well as a cunning beast," thought Oscar
as he examined the broken rope, which was almost as large as a clothes
line. "That goat must have weighed sixty or seventy pounds. When Mr.
Lawrence gave me those hounds he assured me that they would attack
anything from a porcupine to a leopard; but they didn't dare take hold
of this fellow. Where was he, I wonder, while I was walking about the
camp? Whew! I don't want anything to do with such a varmint in the
dark."

The dogs came in one after another; and when quiet had been restored
Oscar went to bed again.

It was a long time before Big Thompson forgave the Irishman for knocking
him down. He looked savagely at Paddy whenever the latter came near him,
and muttered something between his clenched teeth, and it took a good
share of Paddy's tobacco to restore the Kaffir to his usual good nature.

After this nothing worthy of interest happened until the wagon reached
Leichtberg, where Paddy O'Brian was to leave Oscar's employ.

Oscar had letters of introduction to Mr. Evans, an English gentleman
living in Leichtberg, and, as usual, he was cordially received.

During the progress of one of his conversations with Mr. Evans, who,
like all the rest of those whose acquaintance he had made since leaving
his native land, was an ardent and experienced sportsman, Oscar spoke of
the loss of his goat, and asked what sort of an animal it was that
carried it off.

"It was a hyena--a spotted hyena--the pest of this country," replied
his host. "It was well for your dogs that they did not take hold of him,
for he would have made mince-meat of the whole pack before they could
have yelped twice. In point of cunning and rapacity, the spotted hyena
surpasses every beast of prey in Africa. I except nothing. An animal
that can take a child out of its mother's arms when both are asleep, and
get away with it without alarming anybody, would not have much
difficulty in stealing a goat from under a wagon, would he?"

Oscar could only look the surprise that these words occasioned.

"What I am about to tell you I know to be a fact, although you will
scarcely credit it," continued Mr. Evans. "When I first came to this
country wolves, as we call them here, were in the habit of paying
regular nightly visits to the streets of Cape Town, and it was not so
very long ago that their howling (the cries they utter sound more like
laughing than howling, and for that reason they are sometimes called
laughing hyenas) was heard from Table Mountain.

"In the Kaffir country they are so numerous and daring that they make a
business of entering the villages of the natives and carrying off young
children. When a native builds a house, which is in form something like
an old-fashioned straw bee-hive, the floor is raised two or three feet
from the ground, and covers only part of the house--the back part. In
the space between this raised floor and the door, which is nothing but a
piece of antelope hide, the calves are tied every night, for protection
from the storms and from wild beasts. Now you would suppose that when a
wolf got into one of these houses he would grab the first thing he came
to, but he won't do it. He'll not look at lambs or calves if he has once
tasted human flesh. He will pass them without alarming them, get upon
the raised floor, and take a child from under its mother's kaross, and
he will do it in so gentle and cautious a manner that no one is
awakened. What do you think of that?"

Oscar did not know what to think of it. It beat anything he had ever
heard of.



CHAPTER XVIII.

OSCAR REACHES HIS HUNTING-GROUNDS.


"What are the habits of these hyenas?" asked Oscar after a few moments'
pause. "What do they do with themselves during the daytime? I should
like to know all about them, for I want to take a specimen or two back
with me."

"I certainly hope you will succeed in getting one; but if you do it will
be more by good luck than good management," replied his new friend. "I
have hunted in this country for sixteen years, and during that time I
have shot but very few of them. They do the most of their hunting in the
night. During the daytime they are hidden away among the rocks in
ravines so dark and gloomy that you would think twice before going into
one of them. I never heard of a hunter being attacked by them, but I
should not like to press one too closely. If I came upon him unawares I
shouldn't feel easy until he was dead or disabled."

"Couldn't I trap one of them?" asked Oscar.

"There's not one chance in a thousand," was the reply. "They are very
cunning."

The longer Oscar talked with his host, and the more he learned about
these fierce and wary animals, the more determined he became to secure
one of them by some means or other.

He succeeded, too, by what he then considered to be a stroke of good
fortune, although he afterward wondered if his prize did not cost him
more than it was worth.

"By the way," said Mr. Evans after he had told the young hunter all he
knew about hyenas and their habits, "what are you going to do now that
your cook has left you?"

"I don't know," answered Oscar. "I suppose I shall have to hire a
native."

"And go into the wilderness with no one to talk to?" exclaimed Mr.
Evans. "You mustn't do that. You would go crazy in less than a month. I
have hunted alone, and know something about it. You must have a
companion."

Oscar replied that he would be only too glad to take one with him if he
knew where the right sort of person could be found; and there the matter
ended until the next evening.

While he was busy cooking his supper a man approached and handed him a
note, which proved to be from the gentleman with whom he had taken
dinner the day before. It introduced the bearer, Robert McCann, as one
who, for a suitable consideration, would accompany him as cook,
companion, and after-rider.


     I do not recommend him [so the note ran], for I know but little
     about him. He has been into the interior on several trading
     expeditions, and is well acquainted with the country for which you
     are bound. He claims to be an old elephant hunter. He is the only
     man that can be found in Leichtberg just at present, and if I were
     in your place I would rather take him than go without anybody.


"Well," said Oscar after he had read the note, "if you can act as my
guide after I get beyond Zurnst, and can tell where the best
camping-grounds are, and find water for the cattle when they get
thirsty, I think you are the man I want, provided you know how to retain
your good-nature at all times and under all circumstances. I have known
men who were the best kind of fellows so long as they had a tight roof
over them and a warm fire in front of them, or a well-filled table at
their elbow, but who proved to be anything but agreeable companions when
they were caught out in a storm and had to go cold, wet, and hungry. Can
you handle a rifle?"

"I can't remember the day when I couldn't," replied the man in a tone
Oscar did not like.

"I want not only a good cook, but also an after-rider who is a dead
shot, and who can be depended on in any emergency," continued Oscar. "I
am not going into the wilderness on a pleasure excursion. I am going
there to hunt, and the sooner I get through with the work that has been
laid out for me to do the sooner I can go home. I want a man who is not
afraid of work, and who is not all the time trying to see how little he
can do to earn his food and wages."

Oscar then went on to describe the man's duties, telling him, in the
plainest language, what he should expect if he agreed to accompany him
into the wilderness; and at the end of half an hour a bargain had been
struck, and Robert McCann returned to the village, after promising to be
on hand bright and early the next morning, all ready to "set in."

"They told me he was a young fellow, but I didn't expect to find him a
boy," soliloquized McCann as he walked toward Leichtberg. "Of course he
can't boss me, and I shall take pains to let him see it. And he had the
impudence to ask if I could handle a gun, and to tell me that he wanted
an after-rider who could be depended on! I'll warrant I can kill game
where he can't find any; and as for standing up to the rack when trouble
comes---- Hold on a bit!" said Mr. McCann, rubbing his hands gleefully
together. "Wait until he gets his first sight of a mad buffalo! I'll
make him wish he had never seen or heard of Africa! I am to receive
twenty-five pounds for staying with him until he gets back to
Leichtberg. He wants me to be gone nearly a year, but if I can make him
come back in two or three months so much the better for me. I shall earn
my twenty-five pounds very easily. Aha! that's an idea that is worth
thinking of."

"I don't much like that fellow," said Oscar to himself as he looked
after McCann's retreating figure. "He is inclined to be insolent, and I
am afraid there is much more brag than work in him. But, after all, he
is better than nobody, and if I don't like him I can give him his
walking-papers as soon as we arrive at Zurnst."

But McCann proved, at the start, to be better than his employer thought
he would. He was an excellent cook, was possessed of considerable
intelligence, was rather fluent in speech, and Oscar found no little
pleasure in listening to his stories, of which he seemed to have an
inexhaustible supply.

Sometimes the young hunter thought McCann drew largely on his
imagination when telling of the wonderful exploits he had performed
among the elephants and lions of the "Great Thirst Land"; and, indeed,
he did.

He supposed he could say what he pleased and Oscar would believe it.

The wagon had hardly left Zurnst before McCann began to carry out his
plans for bringing Oscar's expedition to an end by telling some of the
most fearful yarns the boy had ever heard.

He said, among other things, that the lions which were to be found in
some of the plains that lay along Oscar's proposed route were so
numerous and savage that they would not wait to be attacked, but would
assume the offensive, even in the daytime, and drive hunters off their
grounds.

He affirmed that the water was totally unfit to drink, being so full of
animal life that an attempt to clear it by boiling only turned it into
porridge; that the fountains were many days' journey apart, and that he
had more than once seen thirsty oxen driven frantic by simply getting a
sniff of the water-butt in the rear of the wagon.

"Oh, it's a dreadful place, Mr. Preston!" he would often say. "You have
no idea of what is before you."

"That is just what folks told me when I went hunting in the
foot-hills," Oscar would reply.

"But this is different. You had plenty of water, and there were no lions
to kill your stock. I really don't know whether you can stand it or
not."

"Can you?"

"Me? Oh, yes; I've been there! You will find that there is no discount
on me."

"I am delighted to hear it. The next time we see Zurnst I shall be able
to say that I have been there, too."

This answer always made McCann uneasy. He was not half the hunter he
pretended to be, as we shall presently see, and he did not think that
Oscar was much of a hunter, either.

If the latter had had a few more years on his shoulders McCann never
would have agreed to accompany him into the wilderness.

He was afraid to go there; but when he found that his employer was
nothing but a boy he thought he could work upon his fears and make _him_
afraid to go there.

But they had not made more than two weeks' journey beyond Zurnst before
McCann began to see that he had been badly mistaken in the boy.

Oscar did not scare worth a cent. He held straight ahead, keeping his
course without once consulting his companion, finding every fountain on
the way with as much ease as though he had been acquainted with the
country all his life, and finally arrived at the camping-ground toward
which he had been directing his course ever since leaving Zurnst.

He and McCann, who always led the way on horseback, reached it about
half an hour ahead of the wagon.

After watering their horses they rode up out of the dry water-course in
which the fountain was located and looked about them.

No one but an African traveller ever gazed upon such a scene as that
which was presented to Oscar's view that evening. It was one that made
his heart thrill.

The plain, which stretched away before and on each side of him as far as
his eyes could reach, looked for all the world like some of the parks
he had seen in England. It was as level as a lawn, and he could hardly
bring himself to believe that the little groves that were scattered
about over it had not been planted there by human hands.

The plain was fairly covered with game, which had congregated there to
feed on the rich grass. It was big game, too, and Oscar could scarcely
repress a shout of exultation at the sight of it.

The moment the young hunter and his companion rode out of the
water-course a cloud of dust arose in the distance, and through it Oscar
obtained his first view of one of the most dreaded animals in Africa--a
buffalo; not the timid bison of our Western plains--which is not a
buffalo at all--but a beast that is so savage that it is always ready to
charge any living thing that comes in its way, so active and determined
that a single lion cannot whip it in a fair fight, and so powerful that
it has been known to overturn a heavily loaded Cape wagon with the
greatest ease.

Behind the buffaloes--there was a vast herd of them--came a drove of
quaggas, which were followed by a number of zebras, and elands,
wilde-beests, and harte-beests brought up the rear.

The cloud of dust raised by such a multitude of hoofs soon shut out
everything from view, but not until Oscar had caught a momentary glimpse
of something that increased his excitement.

"Did you see that ostrich?" he exclaimed, turning to his companion in
great glee. "It wouldn't take so very many of them to materially reduce
the expenses of this expedition, for Mr. Lawrence told me that every
bird carries around with him feathers worth between forty and fifty
pounds."

"So he does," answered McCann; "but I don't think you can even get a
specimen. You don't own a horse that can keep within sight of a
full-grown ostrich."

"Oh, I shouldn't think of trying to ride them down! Mark my words: If I
can find that fellow's nest I will take him and his mate to America with
me. I'll conceal myself in the nest while the owners are absent, and
shoot them when they come back."

"Well, you couldn't hire me to do a thing like that," said McCann with
emphasis.

"Why not? I know that a stranger cannot approach a tame ostrich with
impunity, for the bird will knock him down and strike him with his feet;
but a wild one would rather run than fight."

"I know that, too; but still you may find something in the nest that
would rather fight than run. Do you see that creature over there?"

As McCann spoke he directed his employer's attention to a bird,
considerably larger and heavier than any crane Oscar had ever seen,
which was stalking along the plain about a hundred yards away, stopping
now and then to examine some object on the ground.

When he drew himself up at his full height the long feathers on the back
of his head stuck out so that he looked as though he carried a quill-pen
behind each ear.

"I see him," said Oscar. "It's a secretary-bird."

"Well, whenever you see them look out for snakes. You might find one
curled up in that ostrich nest."



CHAPTER XIX.

A FIGHT AND A RETREAT.


"I tell you, Mr. Preston, this is the most dangerous place in the whole
country," continued McCann, "and you risk your life and ours by staying
here."

"I can't help it if I do," replied Oscar. "I thought of that before I
came to Africa, and you ought to have thought of it before you hired out
to me. It is my business to go where the game is to be found. That's
what I was sent here for."

"But just look at it for a moment," said McCann earnestly. "This
fountain is the only water there is in the country for miles around."

"Exactly. I knew that when I came here, and it is just the reason I am
going to stay. The game always comes where the water is."

"Yes; and so do the hyenas, leopards, and lions. The hyenas will rob
you of your goats, the leopards will show a partiality for your dogs,
and the lions will drive off your horses, and perhaps gobble you or one
of your men up for dessert."

"If they do it will be our own fault," answered Oscar, who began to
believe that his after-rider was not quite as courageous as he said he
was. "It is our business to look out for things. Here is the wagon.
Outspan under those trees, and have supper ready for me in an hour."

"You are never going out to hunt!" exclaimed McCann. "It will be pitch
dark before you know it."

"I shall not go far," was the reply. "I want to shoot one of those
secretary-birds before I go to bed."

As soon as the wagon came to a standstill Oscar climbed into it, and
after putting the rifle he had carried all day into its case he selected
from among his other weapons a heavy double-barrelled shot-gun.

With this in his hand, and a belt full of cartridges about his waist, he
mounted Little Gray, all unconscious that the animal's speed would soon
be tested to its very utmost, and rode out in search of a secretary.

It was a lovely evening, and Oscar was in just the mood to enjoy it.

Turtle-doves cooed to one another from the trees over his head;
long-tailed finches, commonly called the widahbird, flitted through the
branches; a garrulous honey-bird tried hard to attract his attention as
he rode past, and now and then flocks of Namaqua partridges sailed by,
uttering their melodious notes, and settled down about the fountain.

Oscar looked at all these birds, but did not try a shot at any of them.
He had no time to waste, for darkness would soon be upon him.

As soon as he was fairly out of the grove he discovered one of the birds
of which he was in search, stalking along about two hundred yards in
advance of him.

Oscar rode toward it, keeping close watch of every move the bird made,
so that he might know how to set it up after he had shot it.

The secretary soon discovered his approach, and, straightening up,
looked curiously at the hunter for a few seconds, after which, like the
industrious bird he was, he went about his business again.

He did not seem to be very much afraid, but still he showed very plainly
that he did not care for company, for when Oscar had approached within
fifty yards of him he moved away in so awkward and ostentatious a manner
that the young hunter laughed outright.

He did not run or hop, but walked off with long, measured strides, and
in much the same manner that a boy progresses when he is mounted on
stilts.

The secretary seemed to be trying to show off, and the longer Oscar
looked at him the louder he laughed.

While his merriment was at its height Little Gray--who was moving
rapidly along, with his bridle hanging on his neck--uttered a loud
snort, and jumped aside so suddenly that Oscar came within a hair's
breadth of being thrown to the ground.

If he _had_ been his hunting expedition would probably have been ended
then and there; for when he reigned up his frightened steed, and looked
around to see what had caused his alarm, he saw curled up in the sand,
close by the track his horse had made, a hideous puff-adder, or, to
speak according to the books, a horned _cerastes_, than which there is
not a more deadly serpent in Africa. There is no known antidote for its
bite.

It is supposed by some writers on natural history to be the same reptile
that Cleopatra used when she destroyed herself. It was so large in
proportion to its length that it could not coil itself up as other
serpents do, but lay in the form of a figure of eight.

It was excited and angry, and raised its horrid head and thrust out its
tongue in the most vicious manner. Oscar looked all around for a stick
or stone, but could not find any; and as he did not want to shoot for
fear of alarming the secretary-bird, he rode on, leaving the reptile to
curl up and go to sleep again.

"I'll attend to you when I come back," said he as he put his horse into
a gallop, and resumed his pursuit of the bird, whose long strides had
carried him over a good deal of ground during this short delay. "I am
down on all such things as you are."

In a few minutes more Oscar was riding within a hundred yards of the
secretary, which kept stalking steadily ahead, as if he had made up his
mind to go somewhere. Something must have told him that Oscar meant
business this time, for he would not allow the boy to come as close as
he did before.

He took wing, rising so far out of range that it would have been useless
to fire at him, and, sailing majestically around the hunter, flew toward
the fountain, Oscar had played with him a little too long, and his prize
had slipped through his fingers.

He turned in his saddle to watch the bird's graceful flight, and took
note of the fact that before he had gone far he began settling toward
the ground.

He came down gradually at first, then with a rush, and the moment he
landed on his feet, began that awkward stalk again; but this time he
moved in a circle, and kept his wings outstretched and his head turned
on one side, as if he were watching some object on the ground.

Oscar was at a loss how to account for this, until he discovered that
the bird had alighted on the very ground which he had passed but a few
minutes before. Then the matter became quite clear to him.

"I declare, he is after that adder," said Oscar, turning his horse
around so that he could have a better view of what was going on. "Now,
let's see the fight. Go in, Mr. Secretary; I'll bet on you every time!"

Just then the adder raised his horned head from the ground, only to be
knocked flat immediately by a lightning-like stroke from one of the
bird's wings. Then the secretary darted forward, and made an effort to
seize the reptile in his strong, hooked beak; but quick as the bird was
the snake was quicker, and frustrated the attempt by throwing back its
head in readiness to strike.

Nothing daunted, the brave bird backed off, and, after a little
manoeuvring, knocked the reptile flat again, and this time succeeded in
laying hold of it before it could recover itself.

Oscar expected to see the bird devour his prey on the spot; but instead
of that he arose straight in the air until he had reached an altitude of
two hundred feet or more, and then he allowed the snake to drop to the
ground.

Swooping down after it with the velocity of an eagle, the bird caught up
the now disabled reptile and repeated the operation again and again; and
having at last satisfied himself that his enemy was dead, he walked off
and left it lying on the plain.

"I wouldn't shoot him if I could," said Oscar, who had watched the
struggle with the keenest interest. "These birds live almost entirely on
poisonous reptiles, but this one's actions prove that he wasn't hungry.
He killed that adder just because he hated him and didn't want to have
him around. It's too bad to shoot a bird like that, even for scientific
purposes. If that fight could be represented in the museum it would be
well worth looking at; but I wouldn't skin and stuff that adder for all
the money Mr. Adrian is worth. Perhaps I can mount the bird as he
appeared when----"

Oscar's soliloquy was interrupted by a most startling incident. While he
was following the secretary-bird he had approached within twenty yards
of one of the numerous little groves that was scattered over the plain.

When he turned his horse about to watch the fight we have just described
his back was toward this grove, from which there now issued, without
warning of any kind, an enemy which gave him a fright that he will
remember to his dying day.

The first intimation he had of the terrible danger that threatened him
was a quick movement on the part of Little Gray, who sprang forward so
suddenly that Oscar very narrowly escaped being unhorsed.

As it was his feet were jerked out of the stirrups, and he was thrown
over on one side, so that he hung by one leg and by one arm, which he
had managed to throw around the horn of his saddle.

If he had lost his hold, or if the saddle had turned with his weight,
it would have been all up with Oscar Preston, for almost at the tail of
his horse, which was now running at the top of his speed, came one of
those dreaded animals he had seen scurrying off through the dust an hour
or so before--a buffalo.

This old rogue, having concealed himself in the grove, had doubtless
been watching the young hunter ever since he left the wagon, and waiting
for him to come within fair charging distance.

He certainly was a vicious-looking brute as he came full tilt after the
horse, with his tail in the air and his shaggy head covered with broad,
flat horns, lowered close to the ground in readiness to toss both Little
Gray and his rider toward the clouds, and to Oscar's frightened eyes he
looked as big as an elephant.

"I am afraid I shall never see home again," said Oscar, who wondered how
he could think so clearly when every nerve in his body was vibrating
with terror. "My strength is all leaving me. I am growing weaker every
moment."

It was a most alarming thought, but right on the heels of it came a
gleam of hope. His horse was gaining at every jump--very slowly, it is
true, for the buffalo, heavy and clumsy-looking as he was, ran at a
surprising rate of speed, but still he was _gaining_.



CHAPTER XX.

A COWARDLY AFTER-RIDER.


Oscar kept his pale, scared face turned over his shoulder and his eyes
fixed upon the shaggy forehead of the charging buffalo, from which he
could not have removed them if he had tried. The fear that he would lose
his hold and be gored to death did not cause him to lose his presence of
mind; and when he saw that the gallant little nag, to which he clung so
desperately, and on which all his hopes of life depended, was steadily
widening the gap between him and his fierce pursuer, his strength and
courage came back to him, and in an instant he was firmly seated in the
saddle, although, as he afterward declared, he could not tell how he got
there.

Little Gray astonished and delighted his young master that evening and
covered himself with glory. He proved to be very swift, and Oscar was
not long in making up his mind that he had nothing to fear.

When he was fully satisfied on this point his alarm gave way to an
intense desire to make a specimen of the savage beast that had so nearly
been the death of him.

He still carried his double-barrel in his hands--he was somewhat
surprised to find it there, and wondered how he had managed to hold fast
to it when he so narrowly escaped being thrown from his saddle, and
terror had rendered his muscles so weak that he could scarcely sustain
his own weight--but the heavy shot with which it was loaded would have
made little impression upon the buffalo. They would have added to his
fury, but they would not have checked his headlong rush. The only thing
Oscar could do was to alarm the camp and obtain McCann's assistance.

The latter was a dead shot with the rifle--at least he had often said he
was--and it would be no trouble at all for him to bring the buffalo down
at the distance of a hundred yards, even though he were moving at the
top of his speed. With these thoughts in his mind Oscar began shouting
with all the power of his lungs:

"McCann! McCann! Bring a rifle out here and shoot this buffalo! I wish I
could shoot him myself to pay him for the scare he gave me," he added
mentally; "but if I ride to the wagon to get a rifle he will be sure to
follow me there, and mercy knows what damage he wouldn't do if he got in
among the oxen. All I can do is to lead him close enough to the grove to
give McCann a fair chance at him. McCann, are you deaf? Bring a rifle
out here and shoot this buffalo!"

A few moments later Oscar had the satisfaction of knowing that his wild
calls for help had been heard.

The dogs set up a yelp, and came through the grove in a body; but the
only man he could see was Big Thompson, who followed close after the
pack, carrying a bunch of assegais in his hand.

Excited as he was, Oscar told himself that he had never seen a human
being run as that Kaffir did. If he had lived in a civilized country he
could have made his fortune on the race-track.

The dogs dashed at the buffalo at once, and quickly diverted his
attention from Oscar, who drew up his horse and stopped to see the
fight.

The huge beast charged right and left at his nimble assailants, which
easily kept out of his way, and during one of these charges he caught
Oscar's wind and made another dead set at him.

Little Gray made haste to give him all the room he wanted, and in so
doing led the buffalo within a few yards of the edge of the grove in
which the Kaffir had taken up his position.

As the game passed him the native threw one of his spears. It flew
through the air with surprising force and precision, and, striking the
buffalo fairly in the side, buried its head out of sight between his
ribs.

"Great Scott!" ejaculated the astonished Oscar, who sat half turned
about in the saddle, and left his horse to pick out his own way. "Who
would suppose that that man's arm had so much power in it? Where would
Paddy O'Brian be now if Thompson had thrown one of those spears at him?"

That the buffalo was severely wounded was evident from the increased
fury with which he charged the dogs, which had followed close at his
heels.

Seeing that his attention was fully occupied by them, Oscar stopped at a
safe distance, and faced about to watch the battle, and to look for
McCann, who had not yet made his appearance.

As soon as a favorable opportunity was presented another assegai was
launched into the air by the Kaffir's sinewy arm, and, like the first,
it found a lodgment in the body of the buffalo, which just then caught
Oscar's favorite hunting dog, a huge mastiff, on his horns, and threw
him twenty feet high by simply raising his head. When the poor brute
came down all the fight was gone out of him--and all the life, too.

"Such work as that won't do!" shouted Oscar, who was trembling all over
with excitement. "McCann, why don't you bring out that rifle? Come up
closer, Thompson, so that you can have a fair chance at him! Kill him,
and I will give you a musket!"

Now a musket is something every native covets. Some of them have been
known to travel five hundred miles on foot through the wilderness, every
day running the risk of being killed by wild beasts or captured by
members of tribes hostile to them, in order to reach the diamond fields,
in which they will give a year's labor for a musket worth ten or twelve
dollars.

Big Thompson would probably have done the same thing, and thought
nothing of it, but he would not take his chances with an enraged
buffalo.

He could not be induced to advance more than fifty yards from the
shelter of the grove. He wanted to be within reach of the trees, so that
he could take refuge in one of them in case the buffalo made a charge
upon him.

He hurled two more of his spears with his unerring aim, but they did not
seem to have much effect upon the buffalo.

He bellowed with rage and pain, and bled profusely, but continued to
fight the dogs with as much spirit as ever.

"I believe I will go after a rifle myself," thought Oscar. "If this
battle isn't ended pretty soon I shall lose that buffalo, for it will be
as dark as a pocket in ten minutes more. I wonder what is the matter
with McCann? He must know what is going on out here."

Talking in this way to himself, Oscar started to ride around the
combatants toward the wagon; but no sooner had he put his horse in
motion than the buffalo caught sight of him and charged him as viciously
as before.

Little Gray set off at his best pace without waiting for the word, and
his rider, instead of going toward the wagon, as he had intended to do,
directed his course toward the fountain.

Just before he reached it he made a quick turn to the right and galloped
down the plain, but the buffalo, which had evidently had enough of the
fight, did not follow him; he kept straight ahead.

Harassed at every step by the active dogs, he plunged down the steep
bank into the dry bed of the stream, throwing a cloud of sand and
gravel into the air, dashed up the opposite incline, and disappeared in
the fast gathering darkness. In two minutes more all sounds of the chase
had died away in the distance.

"Good-by, buffalo," murmured Oscar, who had once more reined in his
horse. "That's what I call provoking. I would willingly have given my
best rifle if I could have secured him. There's one thing about it," he
added, affectionately patting the neck of his steed, which, with head
erect and nostrils dilating, was gazing in the direction in which the
game had disappeared, "I shall not be afraid to hunt buffaloes so long
as I am on Little Gray's back. If I had only had a rifle instead of a
shotgun in my hands I should have had a fine specimen now, for I could
have killed him easily enough. Now I'll go and see what McCann has to
say for himself."

In no very amiable frame of mind Oscar rode back to the wagon. When he
came within sight of it what was his surprise to see his bold
after-rider--the dead shot who had killed lions and elephants without
number--perched upon the top of the tent, while his driver and
fore-loper were snugly ensconced among the branches of a neighboring
tree!

He had looked for just such conduct in his Hottentots, for Mr. Donahue
and all the rest of his friends had told him that they were the greatest
of cowards, but he had expected better things of McCann.

"You are a good one, I must say!" exclaimed Oscar in disgust. "Why
didn't you come out there and help me? You had time enough to shoot a
dozen buffaloes if you had had any 'get up' about you!"

"I--I didn't know you wanted any help," stammered McCann. "Didn't you
tell us to look out for ourselves? I supposed you would come straight to
the wagon, and that the buffalo would follow you. That's the reason I
got up here."

"Do the words 'Bring a rifle out here and shoot this buffalo' sound like
'Look out for yourselves'?" demanded Oscar angrily. "If you are an old
hunter, as you claim to be, you ought to have known that I would not
lead a frantic beast like that into camp, to knock the wagon about and
gore the oxen and horses! And if you misunderstood me, how does it come
that the Kaffir didn't misunderstand me, too? He came out there and
helped me all he could with his spears. He didn't kill the buffalo, I am
sorry to say, but he showed his good will, and I shall remember him for
it. Come down and dish up my supper, and see that Little Gray has an
extra measure of mealies. If I wasn't so far away from the settlements I
would turn him adrift to-morrow," added Oscar to himself as he
dismounted and turned his horse over to the Kaffir, who just then came
into camp. "He has not yet earned the fifteen pounds advance I gave him,
but I would rather lose that amount of money than have such a coward
about me."

"He's getting almost too bossy for a boy," soliloquized McCann as he
descended from his perch. "Who would think to look at him that there was
so much in him? That was the first buffalo he ever saw, and yet he was
as cool as any old hunter. If that is the way he is going to behave I
don't want to act as his after-rider, and I won't either, for the first
thing I know he will get me into trouble. I think I know a way to make
him go back, and if I don't succeed in it I shall desert him. I am not
going to risk my life for twenty-five pounds. And if I go I shan't go
empty-handed. Mark that, Mr. Preston."

"Say, Thompson!" shouted Oscar from the wagon, "take that as a slight
reward for your courage. When you want more let me know. You are the
only one among them that has pluck enough to face a mouse."

As Oscar said this he handed out a pound plug of navy tobacco, which the
Kaffir received with joyful smiles. The Hottentots looked at it with
envious eyes, and even McCann's mouth watered. He had been on half
rations almost ever since he left Zurnst.



CHAPTER XXI.

AN AFRICAN CONCERT.


Oscar was so disheartened over the loss of the buffalo, and so angry at
the boastful McCann for the arrant cowardice he had exhibited, that he
did not at all enjoy his supper.

He forced down a few mouthfuls, drank a cup or two of tea, and then went
out among the cattle and horses (he now owned four of the latter, having
purchased two steady old hunters while he was in Leichtberg) to satisfy
himself, by personal examination, that they were securely fastened. Then
he looked at the supply of firewood, and having lighted his lantern,
climbed into the wagon and devoted himself to his diary.

If McCann could have known what he wrote regarding the part he had
played in the exciting scene that had just been enacted he would have
felt like going off somewhere and hiding himself.

"I'll fix you to-morrow, my fine fellow!" said Oscar to himself, smiling
over the thought that had just then suggested itself to him. "I'll make
you prove some of your boasts, or acknowledge yourself to be a coward."

One would think that McCann had already proved himself a coward; but if
additional evidence were needed to fully establish that fact, and to
prove beyond a doubt that there was no dependence to be placed in him in
times of danger, an incident happened that very night which caused the
after-rider to show himself up in his true colors.

Just as Oscar closed his diary and arose to put it away in the hanging
pocket in which he usually kept it he was startled by a sound that made
the cold chill creep all over him. He knew what it was as well as though
he had heard it every day of his life. It was the roar of a lion.

It was repeated five or six times, and ended in long-drawn sighs, which
grew lower and deeper until they sounded like the mutterings of distant
thunder.

This was followed by a sound that almost paralyzed the young hunter--a
sound made by something scrambling into the forward end of the wagon.

He turned quickly, fully expecting to see the opening filled by the
shaggy head of the terrible king of beasts; but he saw, instead, the
pale, almost livid, face of the redoubtable McCann, who was making all
haste to seek a place of refuge.

"What do you want in here?" demanded Oscar as soon as he had somewhat
recovered himself.

"Didn't you hear that lion?" asked McCann in a trembling voice.

"Having a pair of good ears, I did," answered Oscar. "What of it?"

"Why, he is close to us--within a stone's throw of us!" gasped McCann,
looking all around for some little hole to crawl into.

"How do you know that? I haven't lived in Africa as long as you have,
but I know that you can't tell where a lion is when you hear his roar.
It sounds just as loud and distinct when he is half a mile away as it
does when he is only a hundred yards from you."

"I wish this one was a hundred miles away," panted McCann, sinking down
behind the fore-chest and trembling violently in every limb. "I told you
what would happen if you stayed here; and if you lose all your stock
don't blame me for it. Don't you know that the water-hole is only two
hundred yards away? He is coming there to drink."

"Well, we can't help it, can we? I say, Mack," exclaimed Oscar, a bright
idea striking him, "go out there and shoot him when he comes to drink.
You have often done such things, you know; and I will give you an extra
twenty-five pounds if you will secure a lion's skin for me to take home
with me. I can't do it, for if I should find myself within range of one
of those fellows I should be so badly frightened that I couldn't cover
him with the sights. You will find one of the Express rifles and plenty
of cartridges in that case."

McCann was too badly frightened to reply. Indeed, so abject was his
terror that, if Oscar had not been possessed of an extraordinary amount
of pluck, some of his after-rider's cowardice would have communicated
itself to him.

Even a timid person can keep up some show of courage in times of danger
when there are brave men around him, but it takes a man of nerve to
present a bold front when in the company of poltroons.

Oscar was not frightened; he was only excited--very highly excited,
too--for his hands trembled, and his heart beat audibly, as he took his
heaviest rifle from its case and pushed a couple of cartridges in the
barrels.

"You are never going to shoot at him?" cried McCann.

"You just let me get a fair sight at him, and see if I don't shoot," was
Oscar's reply.

"Then we're all dead men," declared the terrified after-rider. "He'll
jump right into the wagon."

"Well, if you didn't want to run such risks why did you come out here?"
demanded his employer sternly. "I am not going to lose any of the stock
if I can help it. You ought to know that we have nothing to fear from
the one whose voice we have just heard, for when a lion means business
he doesn't go about warning all the other animals of his approach; he
keeps quiet. But there may be others about, you know."

Holding his rifle in his hands, in readiness for a shot, Oscar took his
seat on the fore-chest, while McCann groaned and shivered behind it.

The former had scarcely taken up his position when the roar was
repeated, apparently nearer than before (the lion is so perfect a
ventriloquist that he could not be certain on this point), and it was
the signal for a concert the like of which but few hunters have ever
listened to.

An answering roar came from the other side of the water-course--a
deep-toned roar of defiance. There was an instant's pause, and then a
whole chorus of the resounding notes rang out on the night air.

It continued for perhaps half a minute, and when it died away it was
answered in just the same manner, proving that the lion whose voice
Oscar had first heard was attended by a troop quite as numerous as the
one on the other side of the water-course.

No words can describe the effect of these sounds. Many a brave and
experienced hunter has been completely demoralized by them.

Oscar's blood went rushing back upon his heart, leaving his face as pale
as death itself, and his hair seemed to stand on end.

The natives ceased their conversation and lay down close beside their
fire, drawing their skin cloaks over their heads; the horses snorted and
trembled with fear; the oxen pulled at the trek-tow; the dogs whined and
sought refuge under the wagon, and McCann groaned behind the fore-chest.

"There's nothing to make such a fuss about," said Oscar, who knew that
he might as well turn about and go back to the coast as to show the
white feather in the presence of his men. "Two strange troops of lions
are approaching the water-hole from different directions, and they are
daring one another to come on--that's all. You had better go out and
mend your fires."

"Eh? I wouldn't go out there for all the money there is in Africa,"
replied McCann in a scarcely audible voice.

Seeing very plainly that there was nothing to be expected of the
after-rider, for that night at least, Oscar laid down his rifle, and was
about to step upon the dissel-boom, intending to go out and replenish
the fires himself, when something happened that proved almost too much
for his courage.

The roars of defiance had all this while grown louder and fiercer, and
the way in which the kingly beasts challenged one another when they
arrived on opposite sides of the fountain was simply terrific.

They kept this up for a minute or two, and finally some of the boldest
and angriest of them came together.

A terrible battle ensued, and Oscar could not tell whether there were
two or a dozen engaged in it. He knew that they did not all take part,
for he could hear some of them roaring with all the power of their
lungs, as if they hoped in that way to encourage their respective
champions to greater exertions.

The hubbub they raised was altogether too much for the nerve of the
Hottentots, who suddenly jumped up from behind the fence of thorn bushes
they had built around their fire, and ran toward the wagon, chattering
like monkeys.

"Keep out of here," said Oscar sternly. "Go back and throw on more
wood."

The Hottentots disappeared as if by magic, and Oscar, holding fast with
both hands to his heavy rifle, which had more than once been on the
point of slipping out of his grasp, stood on the fore-chest and listened
to the noise of the combat.

He strained his eyes, trying to peer through the darkness to obtain a
glimpse of the contestants, but all in vain. The banks of the
water-course in which the fight was carried on were high, and there were
several trees between him and the fountain.

But even if the battle had taken place on the open plain he could not
have witnessed it, for the color of the lion's hair renders him
invisible in the dark. Mr. Lawrence had told him that, on more than one
occasion, while he was watching a fountain at night, he had heard a lion
loudly lapping the water within twenty feet of him, and yet he could not
see him.

Oscar was recalled to himself by the actions of the Kaffir, who, having
mended his own fire, had taken up a blazing brand in each hand, and
started out to replenish the others. He was so cool, and went about his
work so deliberately, that Oscar regained his courage while he looked at
him.

Taking his rifle with him, so as to be ready for any emergency, Oscar
hastened to the Kaffir's assistance; and in a few minutes more all the
fires were burning brightly.

When he returned to the wagon the fight was over, the lions had ceased
their roaring, and everything was quiet.

"I'll just tell you what's a fact," soliloquized Oscar as he seated
himself on the fore-chest and laid his rifle across his knees. "Hearing
a lion roar in a menagerie, when he is safe behind iron bars, and
hearing a dozen or more of them give tongue here in the wilds of
Africa, where there is literally nothing to protect you from their fury
if they take a notion to pitch into you, are two widely different
things. I never want to listen to another concert like that as long as I
live. I have no ear for such music."

He took off his cap and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. The
exciting ordeal through which he had passed had brought the perspiration
out all over him.



CHAPTER XXII.

WHAT McCANN DID.


There was little sleeping done in the camp that night. McCann kept his
place behind the fore-chest, the Hottentots never showed themselves or
made their whereabouts known, and the young hunter and his Kaffir
interpreter stood guard, kept the fires blazing, and listened to the
noise made by the animals that were constantly going to and from the
fountain. There seemed to be no end to them.

If there were any faith to be placed in one's sense of hearing, Oscar
had seen but a very small portion of the game that inhabited that
section of the country. Sometimes the noise made by their hoofs
continued for ten minutes at a time without the least interruption.

After the lions had finished their battle and quenched their thirst
there was quiet for an hour, and then the other animals began coming in.

First came the small antelopes, then the larger ones, such as the
wilde-beests, elands, and harte-beests; then the zebras, quaggas, and
buffaloes; and if there had been an elephant or a rhinoceros in the
neighborhood he would have come last.

The hour selected by the lion depends entirely upon circumstances. If
the moon rises late he comes to the fountain soon after dark; and if it
rises early he postpones his visit until near morning, unless he has had
a hearty supper, and then he drinks whenever he happens to feel thirsty.

While Oscar was listening, and wishing it was daylight, so that he could
see the immense herds that were constantly passing by within less than
two hundred yards of his wagon, he was treated to another contest.

It did not frighten him as the first one did, for he knew that the
animals which engaged in it were not much to be feared; still it made
him nervous and timid, it was so wild and unearthly. It sounded, for all
the world, as though a dozen or so demented persons were joining in a
hearty laugh over something.

It was enough to try anyone's nerves, and it was no wonder that the
terror-stricken after-rider drew himself into a smaller compass behind
the fore-chest, and cried out that another such night would be the death
of him.

"There's nothing to whine over," said Oscar. "A pack of laughing hyenas
have found poor Major's body--that's all."

Major was the name of the mastiff that had been killed by the buffalo.

"Yes, and after they get through with him they may take it into their
heads to see what there is under the wagon," replied McCann.

"Let them come," said Oscar. "These fires throw out a good deal of
light, and I'll knock over the first one I can draw a bead on. But look
here, Mack. You have heard all these sounds before, and how does it come
that they have such an effect on you to-night? They scare you more than
they do me."

"The reason is just this," answered McCann: "The trading expeditions I
have accompanied through here have never consisted of less than four or
five wagons, and sometimes we have had as many as twenty men with us.
The lion will not bother such a crowd as that if he is left alone. If
anything happens to-night there are only two of us to do the fighting."

"And who are they?" asked the young hunter.

"Why, you and me, of course. Who else is there? Big Thompson couldn't do
anything with his little spears, even if he had the courage to face a
lion; the Hottentots would take to the nearest trees, and----"

McCann paused, and Oscar finished the sentence for him by saying:

"You would climb to the top of the wagon, leaving me to get out of the
scrape the best way I could."

Oscar put his feet upon the fore-chest, leaned back against the arches
that supported the tent, and, although he did not expect to close his
eyes in slumber, he was fast asleep in a very few minutes.

He awoke at daylight, and found his servants already astir. The
Hottentots had turned up safe and sound, and were watering the stock at
the fountain; the Kaffir was busy at one of the fires, cooking their
breakfast and his own; and McCann, having dished up a frugal meal for
his employer, was on the point of calling him, when Oscar stepped down
from the dissel-boom, with a towel and a piece of soap in his hand.

The boy looked at his after-rider in great surprise. The exciting events
of the night must have had a terrible effect upon his nerves, for he
seemed to have grown ten years older since the sun went down. He was
pale and haggard, his eyelids drooped, and he moved as though he had
scarcely strength enough left to stand upon his feet.

"What's the matter, Mack?" asked Oscar cheerfully. "Did the concerts to
which we listened last night scare all the life out of you?"

"Oh, no, sir!" replied the man, who was bolder now that it was daylight
and the lions were gone. "I am going to have rheumatic fever, I am
afraid."

"That's bad," said Oscar; but still there was not much sympathy in his
tones. He shrewdly suspected that the only thing that troubled his
after-rider was an utter lack of courage, and that he was feigning
sickness for some purpose of his own. "Hadn't you better take something
for it? You know where the medicine-chest is. I suppose you can't go
with me to follow up the spoor of that buffalo Big Thompson wounded
yesterday?"

"Indeed, I can't," replied McCann in a weak voice. "I couldn't sit in
the saddle for half an hour to save my life. It will be no use for you
to follow up the spoor, for you will find nothing but bones when you get
to the end of it. The lions, hyenas, and jackals have made a meal of him
before this time."

"I suppose they have; but we may find some beast which has not yet
satisfied his appetite hanging around the carcass, you know," said Oscar
as he kneeled on the ground and plunged his head into the water-bucket
that served him as a wash-basin.

That was just what McCann was afraid of, and it was one reason why he
did not want to go with his employer when the latter left the camp to
follow up the spoor; but, of course, he did not say so.

"As soon as the cattle come up put the saddles on Little Gray and
Leichtberg, and tell Thompson that I want him to go with me to act as
trailer and after-rider," said Oscar, drawing his head out of the bucket
long enough to take breath. "Tell him, also, to put ropes and collars on
Ralph and Rover. We will take them with us and leave the rest of the
pack in camp."

Leichtberg was the name of one of Oscar's new horses, and Ralph and
Rover were the two deer-hounds which had been presented to him by Mr.
Lawrence.

Oscar had noticed that these high-toned animals would not hunt well when
in company with the other members of the pack, and he wanted to see what
they could do by themselves.

"I want to get away from here as soon as I can, and consequently I must
improve every hour. By this time next week we shall be fifty miles
deeper in the wilderness," said Oscar as his head went down into the
bucket again.

McCann, who was quite well enough to obey these orders, walked off
toward the Kaffir's fire, muttering to himself:

"Here's one who won't be fifty miles deeper in the wilderness by a week
from to-day. I don't think you will go any further, either; but if you
do you will find me missing on the morning you get ready to start. Mind
that!"

Big Thompson, whose courage was equal to McCann's cowardice, made all
haste to carry out his employer's instructions, working to such good
purpose that by the time Oscar had finished his breakfast the horses he
had named were saddled and waiting, the two deer-hounds had been put in
the leash, and the rest of the pack were tied under the wagon.

Having provided the Kaffir with one of his best rifles and a belt full
of ammunition, Oscar armed and equipped himself and then mounted Little
Gray.

"Now, Mack," said he, "as soon as you have eaten your breakfast set to
work with the Hottentots and gather a good supply of firewood. Heap it
up as high as the wagon if you want to, for what we don't burn to-night
we can burn some other night, you know."

McCann promised obedience, and Oscar and the Kaffir rode away.

The man watched them as they passed the fountain and ascended the
opposite bank of the water-course, and when they disappeared from his
view he arose from the camp-chair in which he had been sitting, with his
elbows on his knees and his chin resting on his hands.

He did not look or act much like a sick man now. His step was light and
quick, his eyes were wide open, and there was a smile of triumph on his
face.

"I've had about enough of this," said he as he placed his foot on the
dissel-boom. "I ought never to have come out here with that boy, for I
ought to have known that he hadn't sense enough to keep him out of
trouble. I never would have come with him, either, if I had had any idea
that he had so much determination. I was sure I could frighten him and
make him turn back; but since I can't do that I can do the next best
thing."

McCann climbed into the wagon and began rummaging about in the hanging
pockets.

The first contained towels, soap, a brush and comb, and other toilet
articles; but they were not the things McCann wanted to find. Neither
did he take two looks at the writing materials in the second, or the old
newspapers in the third; but when he came to the fourth he uttered an
exclamation, indicative of the greatest satisfaction.

Plunging his hand into it, he drew out a large brown envelope, which he
had seen so often that he recognized it at once as the article he was in
search of.

He opened it and took out a folded paper, on which was traced, in inks
of different colors, a neat and comprehensive map of the country beyond
Zurnst.

The red line showed the route Mr. Lawrence had pursued when he was on
his last hunting expedition, the blue pointed out the position of the
mountains on each side of the track, and the black dots indicated where
the best water and camping grounds were to be found.

"This thing has stood in my way long enough," said McCann as he
replaced the map and deliberately tore it and the envelope into four
pieces. "If he hadn't had this in his possession I could have lost him
on the plain and made him turn back before he had left Zurnst a week's
journey behind him; but every time I tried to draw him out of his course
this map always set him right. He'll not consult it any more, I bet you!
He'll miss it, of course, but he'll think he lost it somewhere along the
route. I shall see home again in less than two months, and then Mr.
Preston will fork over the balance of my twenty-five pounds, or I'll
have him up before a magistrate."

Talking in this way to himself, McCann got out of the wagon, and walking
up to the nearest fire threw the map into the flames; and then, without
waiting to see what became of it, he took possession of his employer's
chair and proceeded to eat a hearty breakfast.

It might have interested him somewhat to know that, of the four pieces
into which he had torn the map, only three were consumed, the other
being caught by the wind just as it was about to drop into the coals,
and carried out into the grove.

It remained there a day or so, moving about from point to point under
the influence of every little breeze that struck it, and finally it was
blown out upon the plain, from which it returned most unexpectedly to
confront McCann with proofs of his guilt.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE SENTINEL KOODOO.


When Oscar reached the fountain he was surprised to find no traces of
the terrible conflict that had taken place there the night before. He
knew it was no uncommon thing for a fight like that to terminate only
with the death of one of the combatants, and he could not understand how
two animals, as strong and active as lions were, could struggle so long
and desperately without leaving at least a few drops of blood behind
them to testify to the severity of the contest in which they had been
engaged. But Oscar could discover none, and in fact he could see nothing
to indicate that there had been any game about the fountain during the
night, for the hoofs of the horses and oxen had obliterated all the
tracks.

The hounds, however, knew that some of the fleet-footed antelopes they
had so often followed had been there, for their noses told them so, and,
well trained as they were, it was all the stout Kaffir could do to
control them.

Having looked about the fountain to his satisfaction, Oscar told the
Kaffir to go ahead, and the latter, still holding the hounds in the
leash, at once set off in the direction in which the wounded buffalo had
disappeared.

There was no spoor to follow at this point that Oscar could see, for the
plain was literally covered with hoof-prints, and it did not seem
possible that the most expert trailer could distinguish the prints of
the buffalo's feet from among so many. But the Kaffir, who seemed to
know just what he was about, was never once at fault. He led the way at
a rapid pace, passing around the outskirts of several little groves of
mimosa trees and thickets of thorn bushes, at which Oscar looked
suspiciously, telling himself the while what splendid hiding-places they
would make for any angry buffalo or hungry beast of prey which might
feel inclined to dispute their further advance, and after he had gone
about three miles he suddenly stopped his horse and pointed silently
before him.

Oscar looked and saw something lying on the ground a short distance
away. He rode up to it, and found that it was the carcass of the
buffalo. The head, crowned with the formidable-looking horns, but
stripped bare of flesh, some of the larger bones, and a few tufts of
hair were all that were left of the terrible beast that had come so near
ending his career as a hunter.

The Kaffir dismounted to secure the heads of his spears, which had been
broken from the shafts, while the hounds, detecting the recent presence
of the fierce carnivora that had feasted there, raised the bristles on
the back of their necks and showed their white teeth in the most savage
manner.

"Well, Thompson, those little spears of yours did some damage, after
all, didn't they?" said Oscar. "Our buffalo fell when he reached this
spot, and the lions made a meal of him. I was in hopes they would leave
the head alone. It wouldn't have looked bad over one of the doors of the
museum if it were well set up. I don't suppose there is any such
thing---- Hallo!"

Oscar threw the sling of his double-barrel over his arm, allowing the
weapon to drop down by the side of his horse, and hastily drawing his
field-glass from its case, brought it to bear upon a distant object that
had attracted his attention.

On the summit of a rocky hill, quite a mile and a half away, was
something that might have been taken by an inexperienced hunter for a
stump or a clump of bushes, but to Oscar's eyes it looked like an
animal. It was an animal, too; and just as Oscar raised his glass to his
eyes it moved, presenting its broadside, and giving him a fair view of
it.

The young hunter had never seen anything like it before, but he knew in
a moment what it was. The long, twisted horns, the thin, spare mane on
the neck, the long hair on the chin, throat, and breast, the narrow
bands of white descending from the back and passing obliquely down the
sides and over the hips, all of which could be plainly seen by the aid
of the powerful field-glass, told Oscar that the animal was a
koodoo--one of the largest, bravest, and most pugnacious antelopes in
Africa.

The position he occupied, and the attitude he assumed, standing, as he
did, on the top of the highest hill he could find, with his head turned
toward the hunters, whose presence he had already detected, proved that
he was a sentinel. Beyond a doubt there were others of the same species
feeding on the other side of the hill, and this old fellow was keeping
watch over them. When Oscar lowered his glass the Kaffir grinned and
nodded his head, at the same time pointing toward the sentinel with one
hand, while with the other he raised his rifle as if he were about to
shoot at him.

"That is just what I want to do," said Oscar, who readily caught the
meaning of this pantomime. "Lead on and show me how to do it. I know
I've got to creep up on him, and I want to get as close to him as I can
before I begin."

In obedience to this command the native mounted his horse and rode away,
still holding fast to the hounds, which trotted along by his side. He
did not go toward the antelope, but moved off in another direction,
holding his way over the treeless plain, upon which the sun was now
beating down with the most intense fury. The sentinel koodoo was
evidently very much interested in their movements, for Oscar could see
that he kept close watch over them.

Oscar knew that he had undertaken something that would test his skill as
a hunter to the utmost. There is not an animal that roams the African
plains that is harder to bring to bag than the koodoo. It makes little
difference to him whether he fights or runs. He does one about as well
as he does the other, and it is not an easy task to beat him at either.

When pursued on horseback he will make for the rockiest and most uneven
ground he knows of, and it is seldom that he allows the hunter to be
brought within fair shooting distance of him. If hard pressed he will
dive into a thicket of thorn bushes where a horseman cannot follow him,
and if brought to bay by the dogs he will kill them as fast as they come
to him, should they chance to be scattered in the chase so that they
cannot all attack him at once.

His immense strength (he stands more than four feet in height at the
shoulders, and is heavily built), his great courage and determination,
his sharp horns, which he uses with as much skill as a fencing-master
exhibits in handling his foils, make him the most formidable of the
antelope tribe. The most successful as well as the most sportsmanlike
way of hunting them is by stalking; and in this way Oscar hoped to be
able to secure that sentinel koodoo.

Big Thompson led his employer straight ahead until they had placed a
range of high hills between themselves and the koodoo, under cover of
which he hoped to bring Oscar within short stalking distance of the
game. Having marked well the hill on which the sentinel had been seen,
he kept on until he thought he had reached a point opposite to it, and
then he reined in his horse and looked at the boy. Oscar, who understood
what he meant, handed him his reins and dismounted.

"Now, Thompson," said he, "keep your ears open, and when you hear me
shoot, turn the dogs loose and come on at your best pace."

A short run over a rocky piece of ground brought Oscar to the foot of
one of the hills that composed the range of which we have spoken. There
he stopped to take note of the direction of the wind, and to put to
practical use one of the hunters' devices of which he had heard while he
was on the plains.

He pulled up several handfuls of weeds and grass, and tied them around
the crown of his hat in such a way that, when placed on the ground and
viewed at the distance of fifteen or twenty steps, his head-piece looked
like a luxuriant tuft of herbage that had been stepped on by something
or somebody.

"I don't think that sentinel will suspect anything when he sees that,"
thought Oscar as he placed the hat on his head, picked up his rifle, and
made his way toward the top of the hill on his hands and knees. "If it
will work in America with so shy an animal as the pronghorn, as I have
been assured it will, I do not see why it will not be equally successful
here in Africa with a koodoo."

When Oscar reached the top of the hill he found that he was not mistaken
in the opinion he had formed when he first caught sight of the sentinel
buck. The old fellow still kept his position and stood gazing steadily
in the direction in which he had seen Oscar and his after-rider
disappear, and near the base of the hill that served him for a lookout
station were the rest of the herd--a dozen of them in all--feeding in
perfect security, knowing that their sharp-eyed and keen-scented guard
would give them due notice of the approach of danger. Oscar could see
them all without the aid of his field-glass, although they were fully
half a mile away.

If the ground had been level the bare thought of stalking the koodoo
under that broiling sun would have been enough to discourage Oscar; but
fortunately it was cut up into deep gullies and ravines and covered with
hummocks and boulders, which afforded him every opportunity for
concealment. He was to leeward of the herd, too, and that was another
thing that was in his favor.

"I wouldn't take fifty dollars for my chance of bagging that buck,"
thought Oscar as he crawled slowly through the grass, keeping his eyes
fastened upon the sentinel. "He is looking the wrong way."

Before this thought had fairly been formed in the young hunter's mind
the buck faced about and turned his head in Oscar's direction. He seemed
to be looking straight at the young hunter, and to suspect something
also, for now and then he raised one of his fore feet and stamped it
spitefully on the ground.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE BATTLE IN THE GROVE.


No one but the most enthusiastic hunter would be willing to pass through
what Oscar did that day just for the sake of procuring a rare specimen
of natural history. He was half an hour in getting over the brow of the
first hill, and three hours more in coming within fair shooting distance
of the koodoos.

For thirty long minutes he lay there in the broiling sun, scarcely
daring to move a muscle, for the buck, whose suspicions had been aroused
by the sudden disappearance of the hunters, was constantly moving about
in a circle, as if he wanted to keep his head turned toward all points
of the compass at once.

Oscar began to grow thirsty and dizzy. His rifle-barrel felt as though
it had just come out of the fire, and his hands began to burn as if they
were blistered.

Stalking game in Africa was very different from stalking game in the
foot-hills when the snow was a foot deep on the ground, and more than
once Oscar was on the point of giving up in despair; but knowing that
one cannot be a successful hunter until he has learned to wait, and to
wait patiently, and that if he ever succeeded in shooting a koodoo it
would be by going through an ordeal just like the present, he endured
the broiling with as much fortitude as he could; and when at last the
sentinel turned his head away from him, and kept it turned away for a
moment longer than usual, he wormed his way rapidly over the hill and
threw himself, panting and almost exhausted, under the shade of a
friendly boulder.

"My goodness!" exclaimed Oscar, pulling off his hat and fanning his
flushed face vigorously; "this is more than I bargained for. My brains,
if I have any, were never intended to stand such a baking. I'd give
something now for a good drink from the brook that ran through the
valley in which Big Thompson and I camped while we were among the
foot-hills."

Oscar lay under the shade of the boulder for a quarter of an hour, and
then, fearing that the koodoos might wander away out of sight, or become
alarmed at something and run off, he picked up his rifle--which seemed
to have increased wonderfully in weight since he first shouldered it
that morning--and continued his weary stalk.

When he reached the top of the next hill he found the sentinel as alert
and uneasy as ever, but his erratic movements did not embarrass Oscar
now as they did a little while before, for he managed to place a big
rock between himself and the buck, and under cover of it he made more
rapid progress.

Still the sun was hot and the stalking difficult, and when, at last, the
young hunter arrived within easy range of the game and laid his rifle
carefully over the top of the boulder behind which he had crept for
concealment, he was so nearly overcome with heat and weariness that he
trembled all over, and it was a long time before he could hold his heavy
weapon steady.

"I'll make sure work of you, my vigilant friend," said Oscar to himself
as he cocked both barrels of his rifle and drew a fine sight on the
sentinel's shoulder. "If I can have the satisfaction of setting you up I
shall be in some measure repaid for this day's experience, which is
about the toughest I have had yet."

The rifle cracked, the bullet flew true to its aim, and the sentinel
koodoo fell dead in his tracks. Without waiting to see the effect of his
shot--for he was sure he had made a good one--Oscar turned his rifle
toward the other members of the herd, which had huddled together just as
our prong-horns do when they become alarmed and cannot make up their
minds where to look for the danger that threatens them. Taking a quick
aim at the largest buck, he fired his second barrel at it, and made
another good shot--at least he thought so at first, for when the smoke
cleared away he saw the buck struggling on the ground.

A minute later, however, he succeeded in regaining his feet and ran
after the rest of the herd, which were stepping out at their best pace
for the nearest grove, clearing all the obstacles that lay in their path
with the most surprising agility. Having put fresh cartridges into his
rifle, Oscar lay down under the boulder to await the coming of Big
Thompson with the dogs. Impatient as he was to make a close examination
of his prize, he could not go to him just then.

The excitement of the hunt being over, he became sensible of the fact
that he had done a good deal of hard work, and that he was very tired
and tormented with a raging thirst. Having always been so situated that
he could seek the shelter of his tent during the heat of the day, he had
never before realized how intensely hot the afternoon sun was at
meridian. Even the artificial breeze he raised with his hat, which he
had stripped of its covering of weeds and grass, did not afford him any
relief, for it felt like the blast of a furnace.

When the hounds came up Oscar led them across the intervening gully and
put them upon the trail of the koodoos. They took up the scent at once,
and followed it at a rate of speed that seemed to argue well for the
ultimate capture of the wounded member of the herd. In a few minutes
they were out of sight in the grove, and just then Big Thompson galloped
up, leading Oscar's horse.

"I've got one of them, sure; there he is, and I want you to take him in
front of you on your horse, and go with me in pursuit of the one I have
wounded," said Oscar as he sprang upon Little Gray's back. "I must have
both of them, for I am resolved that I'll never again hunt koodoos, or
anything else, in the middle of the day."

Although Oscar had often read about koodoos and heard them described
more times than he could remember, he was by no means prepared to see
what he did see when he rode up to his prize. The buck looked more like
a small ox than an antelope, and Oscar saw at a glance that his work was
not yet finished. It was plain that the Kaffir's horse could not carry
him, even if they had muscle enough between them to put him on the
animal's back.

"I must either skin him right here, in this hot sun, or else set my wits
at work and think up some way to get him to the wagon without dragging
him on the ground," said Oscar in deep perplexity. "Thompson, you stay
here and keep the vultures off, and I will go and see what has become of
the other one. When I come back I shall have to go to camp."

So saying, Oscar put Little Gray to the top of his speed and rode toward
the grove, in which both koodoos and hounds had disappeared but a few
minutes before. As he drew near to it he became aware that there was
something going on in there. He heard the bleating of the koodoos,
mingled with a chorus of barks, growls, and whines, the like of which he
had never heard two dogs utter before. If his whole pack had been in
there baying the koodoos they could not have created a greater uproar.

"They've got him!" said Oscar gleefully as he threw himself from his
horse and pulled the reins over his head, so that the animal would step
on them and check himself if he attempted to stray away during his
master's absence. "If I don't make haste they'll tear him all to pieces.
What was that? I declare, he has given one of them a prod with his
horns!"

Just then a piercing howl of pain came from the gloomy depths of the
grove, bearing testimony to the fact that one of the hounds had been
severely wounded. With it came other sounds that ought to have made
Oscar very cautious, but in his excitement he did not hear them. The
only thought in his mind was that there was a desperate fight going on
in the thorn bushes, a short distance away, between the wounded antelope
and the hounds, and that, if he did not put in an appearance and bring
it to a speedy close, the koodoo would kill both his dogs, or else the
dogs would kill the koodoo and tear his skin, so that one of his prizes,
for which he had worked so hard, would be useless as a specimen.

Holding his rifle in one hand and parting the bushes before his face
with the other, Oscar worked his way into the grove, making as little
noise as possible, for fear that the koodoo would make off if he became
aware that the dogs he was so gallantly fighting were about to receive
assistance. Louder grew the noise of the conflict as the young hunter
drew nearer to the combatants, and now he noticed that he could hear the
baying of but one dog, and that the koodoo, having ceased his bleating,
was giving utterance to very strange sounds. They resembled----

"Great Scott!" ejaculated Oscar.

For a moment his heart stood still and his hand trembled, like a leaf
shaken by the wind. Just then he reached the edge of the thicket, and
saw, in a little open space before him, the battle-ground and all the
animals that had taken part in the struggle.

There were seven of them--three that would never do battle again, and
four that were still alive and full of fight. The dead ones were Rover,
who was so badly torn that he might have been taken for almost anything
except a Scotch deer-hound, the koodoo, and an immense spotted hyena,
which was impaled upon its powerful horns. In falling the buck had
pinned his antagonist to the ground in such a way that he could not
release himself, and the two had died there together.

The survivors of the fight were three other hyenas, which were
ravenously devouring the antelope, and Ralph, who, unharmed and angry,
bounded lightly about them, nimbly eluding the savage dashes they made
at him, and protesting with all his might against such a desecration of
his master's property. It was a most unexpected sight, and Oscar was so
surprised and startled by it that, for a moment, he did not know whether
to stand his ground or take to his heels.



CHAPTER XXV.

MORE SPECIMENS.


"I am afraid I shall never win much of a reputation as an African
hunter," was the first thought that passed through Oscar Preston's mind
after he had recovered from his astonishment and alarm. "The longer I
stay here the less I seem to know about things. I heard those hyenas
laughing very plainly--as plainly as I did last night, when they found
poor Major's body--and yet I was foolish enough to think that the noise
was made by the koodoo."

The bushes were so thick and Oscar's approach had been accompanied by so
little noise that the hyenas had neither seen nor heard him. They did
not see or hear him now as he cocked both barrels of his rifle and
raised it to his shoulder, for each one of them was too fully engrossed
with a desire to obtain his full share of the antelope and to keep off
the hound, which showed a disposition to bite any hind leg that was for
a moment exposed to his attacks.

Covering the head of the largest hyena with the sight, Oscar sent a
bullet crashing through his brain, whereupon the others incontinently
took to their heels, and were out of sight before the young hunter could
get a chance to put in the second barrel.

Have you ever noticed how great a commotion so small an animal as a
squirrel can make among the dead leaves when he has been brought down
from his lofty perch by a bullet through the head? If so you can have a
very faint idea of the rumpus that hyena kicked up in that thicket of
thorn bushes. He was all over the ground in two seconds' time, and the
way he threw the dirt, leaves, and twigs about made Oscar wonder. His
head hung down as though he had lost all control over it, but his legs
seemed to retain all their strength, and when he landed fairly on his
feet, as he did two or three times during his convulsive struggles, he
bounded into the air as if he were made of india-rubber.

After trying in vain to call off the hound, which ran about, watching
for an opportunity to lay hold of the wounded animal, Oscar sent the
contents of his second barrel into his body, and that ended the matter.
Having reloaded his rifle, the young hunter stepped out of his place of
concealment to take a nearer view of the battle-field. The koodoo was
worthless as a specimen, but the head was uninjured, and that Oscar
resolved should be preserved and taken to Yarmouth with him. It would
afford him great pleasure, he thought, to call the attention of those
who visited the museum to the long spiral horns, and then to show them
the savage beast which the buck that once carried those horns had killed
while battling for his life.

The hyenas had doubtless attacked the antelope when he first entered the
grove; and when the hounds came up and interfered with them the fierce
animals resented their impertinence by killing the first one that came
within reach of their claws.

Oscar had become very much attached to his hounds and he felt Rover's
loss very keenly. Although he had never had much opportunity to hunt
with them, he had placed great confidence in them, on the strength of
Mr. Lawrence's recommendation, and now he felt as if he had lost one of
his main props.

He had often thought that when he went back to Eaton, after setting up
in the museum all the specimens he had shot in Africa, and settled down
under his own vine and fig tree to take a well-earned rest after his
arduous labors, it would be very pleasant to have some of the
four-footed friends who had shared his perils by his side to enjoy that
rest with him. But Major and Rover were dead, and there was only one
decent member of his party left. That was Ralph, and his turn might come
any day.

Oscar had straightened out the hyena he had shot and took a good look at
him. He was the oddest-looking beast the boy ever saw, and he told
himself that for once Nature had made a mistake, and joined together a
part of two different animals. The shoulders were high and strong, the
fore legs long and massive, and the hind legs were small and weak by
comparison; but that they were fully capable of doing their share of
work was shown by the manner in which they had assisted those heavy
shoulders to bound into the air when Oscar's bullet was sped on its
deadly errand.

Having examined his prizes, Oscar called his dog to heel, hurried back
to the horse, and rode at full speed toward the place where he had left
his after-rider. It is one thing to shoot game in Africa, and another
thing to save it after it is shot, and Oscar knew that he must act
promptly if he wished to secure the fruits of his day's toil.

"Ralph," said he, when he reined in his horse by the side of the one on
which the Kaffir was mounted, "lie down there and watch that buck.
Thompson, come with me."

Ralph would have been willing to obey this command if Rover had been
there to keep him company; but he did not want to stay there by himself,
and when Oscar and Big Thompson rode away he went after them.

Of course that would never do. There must be a guard of some kind left
with the buck, or the vultures, which were now circling around the hill
and settling on the trees in the nearest grove, would gather to the
feast before the hunters were two hundred yards away, and by the time
they returned there would be another fine specimen ruined. After
thinking a moment Oscar dismounted, and making one end of a hitching
strap fast around the hound's neck, tied the other to one of the buck's
horns.

"There!" said he as he galloped away with his after-rider. "The koodoo
is safe from the vultures; but whether or not the hound is entirely safe
I don't know. There's no telling how many fierce animals there may be
hidden away in that grove, watching our movements. Hurry up, Thompson!
We've lots of work to do, and it will be dark before we reach the
wagon."

Oscar's next care was to make sure of the trophies he had left in the
grove, and that could only be done by carrying them through the thorn
bushes and transporting them on the backs of the horses to the top of
the hill on which the sentinel buck was lying. It was absolutely
necessary that the game should all be gathered together in one place,
so that the Kaffir could keep watch over it while his employer went back
to camp, for if any portion of it were left alone for a quarter of an
hour, Oscar might not be able to find it again when he wanted it. The
thorn bushes in the grove were thick, the koodoo's head and the hyenas
were heavy, the horses restive and very much opposed to carrying their
burdens after they had been placed on their backs--in short, Oscar and
his man were hindered in their operations in so many different ways that
it was fully two hours before their spoils had been transferred from the
grove to the top of the hill.

During all this time Ralph had kept up such a constant howling that it
was a wonder he had not brought an enemy of some sort to him. He was
glad to be released, and ran gayly in advance of his master, who
galloped off toward the wagon, taking the after-rider's horse with him.

He had no difficulty in finding his way, for when he came out in the
morning he had not neglected to face about in his saddle and look
behind him occasionally, and in this way he had made himself acquainted
with all the principal landmarks. Oscar did not stop to give his horses
water at the fountain, although they were sadly in need of it (so was
he, for the matter of that), but rode at once to the wagon, and found
McCann and his Hottentots engaged in earnest conversation. He would have
thought nothing of it had it not been for the manner in which they acted
when they saw him coming. They separated immediately, walking off in
different directions, and that was enough to arouse Oscar's suspicions.

"They are hatching up some mischief," said the young hunter to himself;
"and that cowardly McCann is at the bottom of it, whatever it may be,
I'll be bound. I wish I had never seen that fellow, for he isn't worth
the salt he eats on his meat. Here, Mack!" he shouted. "Put the saddles
on the other horses, and take these down to the fountain. Bring back a
bucket of water when you come. Ferguson, go out and drive in Hautzman;
and, Johnson, you lend a hand here--I want you for the rest of the day."

Oscar seized an axe and hurried into the grove, followed by his
fore-loper. Selecting a couple of saplings about fifteen feet in height,
he ordered the Hottentot to cut them down and drag them to the fire,
after stripping off their branches; and having set all his men at work,
he hastened back to the wagon, and began rummaging about for something
to eat.

How often, while he was thus engaged, did he think of his mother's
clean, cool pantry! He had made it a point to visit that pantry
regularly every night when he came from school, tired and hungry, and he
was sure to find there a bowl of milk that had just been brought from
the spring-house, and a generous slice of brown bread and butter beside
it.

But there were no such luxuries to be had here. He found a little cold
meat and about half a pint of tea that McCann had left in the pot, and
with these and a piece of hardtack he was obliged to be content.



CHAPTER XXVI.

A CALL FROM A HONEY-BIRD.


By the time Oscar had eaten his lunch the driver came up with
Hautzman--a steady old ox, which showed a great partiality for hardtack
and sugar, and had become so gentle from being often regaled with these
delicacies that he had learned to answer to his name and to follow his
master about like a dog.

"Now, Ferguson," said Oscar, as he stepped out of the wagon with a coil
of rope in one hand and some sugar in the other, "look alive, for this
fellow has six miles to travel between this time and dark. Tie a leading
rheim around his horns and hold him while I fix the harness."

The harness was a very primitive affair, and did not require a great
deal of fixing. It was simply a surcingle, and a breast-band to keep it
from slipping back out of its place. To the ends of this breast-band
were fastened the small ends of the saplings, which the fore-loper
brought up by the time the harness was finished.

The larger ends, which were to trail on the ground, were kept from
spreading by two braces, which were securely lashed to them about five
feet apart.

The intervening space was filled up with a network of ropes which passed
from one brace to the other, and when the contrivance was finished Oscar
had a drag that would sustain a much heavier weight than he intended to
bring home on it.

He knew that Hautzman would be willing to draw it out to the hill on
which he had left his specimens, but whether or not he would draw it
back after it was loaded was "another and a deeper question." It was
quite possible that he might take a notion to run away when he saw the
hyenas.

By the time Oscar was ready to start McCann returned from the fountain,
bringing with him a bucket of water. Seeing that he looked curiously at
the drag, the boy said:

"I caught the idea from the Indians I saw about Julesburg, but I have
added a few improvements of my own. I've got a koodoo, a koodoo's head,
and two hyenas to bring back on it. I can't stop now to tell you how I
got them, for I must be off so that I can get back before dark. Have
some tea ready for me--I will bring the steaks when I come--and keep
your ears open for signal guns. Go on, Johnson, and make him walk as
fast as you can."

Thirsty as he was Oscar drank sparingly of the water McCann had brought
from the fountain, after which he filled his canteen, sprang upon one of
his fresh horses, and rode off, leading the other.

He overtook the fore-loper in a few minutes, and then they jogged along
side by side at a snail's pace.

It takes a good while for a slow-walking ox to go three miles, and
consequently much time was consumed on the march.

But it was ended at last, and, contrary to his expectations, old
Hautzman behaved with the greatest propriety.

He did not draw back or even hesitate when the fore-loper led him up to
the place where the specimens were lying.

He pointed one of his long horns at the dead hyenas, glared at them out
of the corner of his eye and bellowed defiantly, but that was all.

After refreshing themselves with a drink of water--which tasted as
though it had been over a slow fire all day--Oscar and the Kaffir set to
work to load the drag, Johnson holding fast to the leading rheim.

In ten minutes the work was done, and the return march began. It was
growing cooler now, and Hautzman, heavily loaded as he was, walked
faster than he did coming out.

It was scarcely dark when they came within sight of the grove in which
the camp was located, but McCann was evidently frightened, for the sun
had not been long out of sight behind the hills before he began firing
signal guns.

Oscar answered him occasionally, but that did not seem to satisfy
McCann. He was so very much afraid that his employer might lose his way
on the plain, and leave him to pass the night alone among the lions,
that he shot off a good many rounds of fixed ammunition that might have
been put to a better use. He had tea ready, and Oscar was not long in
handing over the steaks.

The boy was tired, for it was a long time since he had spent so many
hours in hunting (even while he was shooting in company with Mr.
Lawrence he had always rested during the heat of the day); but there was
no sleep for him until his specimens had been made ready for mounting.

His men watched all his movements with the greatest interest, and Oscar
became so deeply engrossed with his work that he paid scarcely any
attention to the roaring of the lions and the laughing of the hyenas.

McCann did, however. When the first muffled roar reverberated among the
hills the after-rider retreated to the wagon, took possession of a bed
he had made up behind the fore-chest, and that was the last the young
hunter saw of him until he stepped over him, about four o'clock in the
morning, to put away his skins.

Contrary to his usual custom, Oscar slept late, and, in accordance with
the orders he had given the night before, no one disturbed him.

He ate a light breakfast, passed a few hours in writing letters, which
he knew he might never have an opportunity to send to those to whom they
were addressed, and then wondered what he should do next.

He thought of the buffaloes, but his blood had had time to cool and he
was in no hurry to put himself in the way of one of those dangerous
animals.

He remembered the ostriches and elands--specimens of which he hoped to
secure some day--but the bare thought of stalking the one or riding down
the other while the sun was blazing so fiercely over his head was
discouraging.

While he sat on the dissel-boom, debating the matter, his attention was
attracted by a honey-bird, which, after trying in vain to arouse him by
calling to him from a neighboring tree, flew down in front of his face
and hovered there, just as a humming-bird does when he is inspecting a
honeysuckle.

These little birds were very familiar, and had shown themselves to be so
utterly devoid of fear that it was all Oscar could do to bring himself
to shoot a couple of them for specimens.

"I say, McCann!" exclaimed Oscar, turning to his after-rider, who was
lying at his ease under the wagon, "what sort of honey do you have in
this country?"

"Oh, the honey is good enough," was the reply, "but it isn't worth the
risk that one has to run to get it. You don't want anything to do with
that rascally bird."

"Why not?" asked the boy.

"Because he will lead you into trouble."

"Oh, that's all nonsense!" said Oscar. "Mack, you are about twenty years
behind the times. That old superstition was exploded long ago."

"I know a good many experienced hunters who will tell you that the
belief that a honey-bird will lead one who is foolish enough to follow
him to a snake or a sleeping lion is not a superstition, but a reality,"
was McCann's reply. "I am well enough acquainted with them to know that
they are treacherous. Years ago I used to work for two transport-riders,
brothers, of the name of Baker. One day the younger one took a fool
notion into his head that he wanted some honey, and although his brother
tried hard to make him stay by the wagon, he wouldn't do it. He followed
one of those birds up a gloomy, thickly wooded ravine and never came
back. The bird led him to a lion, and the beast killed him. He would
doubtless have made a meal of him that night if we had not found the
body and taken it away."

"It was little you had to do with taking it away, I'll warrant," said
Oscar to himself. "That story may be true, and then again it may be,
like a good many others you have told me, manufactured out of the whole
cloth. Saddle up a couple of the horses--Little Gray and another."

"You'll be sorry for it," said McCann as he slowly, almost painfully,
arose from the ground.

Up to this time he had been lively enough, but now, when he saw a
prospect of work before him, and dangerous work, too, all the symptoms
of the fever with which he had been threatened, the day before came back
to him again. His step was slow and feeble, and he moved as though he
could scarcely keep his feet.

"I don't know whether I can sit in a saddle or not," said he as he
crawled out from under the wagon.

"I didn't ask you to try, did I?" said Oscar, who could not make up his
mind whether he ought to laugh or get angry. "I shall take Thompson with
me."

This was just what McCann wanted, and yet Oscar's words enraged him. He
had found, greatly to his surprise, that his employer's success did not
depend upon him; that his feigned illness made no sort of difference
with Oscar's hunting; that the Kaffir was quite capable of taking his
place as after-rider--and all these things galled him.

A conceited person always feels hurt when he awakes to the fact that
the world and the people in it can get on about as well without him as
they can with him.

By the time the horses had been saddled and watered at the fountain
Oscar and his after-rider were ready to mount them. The honey-bird,
which had watched their movements with every appearance of interest,
showed his delight at the prospect of a hunt as plainly as the dogs did.

The latter frisked about in dangerous proximity to Little Gray's feet,
and the bird flitted from tree to tree, keeping a short distance in
advance of the horsemen, and coming back now and then to hover before
their faces, as if urging them to greater speed.

He led them around the grove, and on arriving at the opposite side took
wing and flew across the open plain to a second grove, about a quarter
of a mile away. From this grove he led them to another; but instead of
keeping them in the outskirts he flew into it and was lost to view.

Oscar fanned himself with his hat, looked suspiciously at the thick
bushes before him, and took time to reflect.

"I don't much like the looks of such thickets as these, for I have
always found something in them," said he to himself. "What shall I find
in this one, I wonder? Hunt 'em up, dogs! If there is anything in there
drive it out. Come on, Thompson!"

The Kaffir touched the ground almost as soon as his employer did, and
kept close at his heels as he worked his way into the thicket in pursuit
of the honey-bird.



CHAPTER XXVII.

A SCRAP OF EVIDENCE.


Oscar had often told himself that the Dutchmen who first settled in
Africa must have had a keen sense of the fitness of things when they
named these bushes "wait-a-bits." They were as full of thorns as a
rosebush. The thorns were two or three inches in length, and the ends
were turned down into little hooks that were both sharp and strong. They
were continually pulling off his hat or catching in his clothing, and
then he was obliged to "wait a bit" before he could extricate himself
from their grasp. How the Kaffir managed it, with his bare feet and no
clothes at all on worth speaking of, was a mystery; but he got through
somehow, and he did not make half as much fuss about it as Oscar did.

There was one thing in their favor, however--these bushes did not
extend far into the grove. They grew only in the outskirts of it, and
after they had been passed the way was comparatively clear.

This particular thicket was not more than twenty yards wide, but it took
them almost half an hour to get through it.

The honey-bird kept them company all the time, hovering over their heads
and chirping loudly, as if he were trying, in his bird's way, to
encourage them.

Just as they pushed the last bush away, and stepped out into the little
open space on the other side of the thicket, four of the dogs appeared.

It was well for at least one of the hunters that they did so, for their
keen sense of smell enabled them to detect the presence of something
that Oscar did not expect to find there.

"I think we have reached the spot, Thompson," said Oscar, pointing to a
tree in which their little guide was hopping about. The bird seemed to
be excited now, for his movements were quick and nervous, and he showed
no disposition to go any further. "The honey must be in that tree. You
go around that way, and see if you can find a hole in it, and I'll go
this way."

The hunters moved off in different directions, but had not made more
than half a dozen steps when the dogs became aware that there was
something in the bushes that grew around the foot of the tree in
question.

The thicket was too small to conceal any very large animal, and Oscar's
first thought was that the dogs had winded a snake, probably a poisonous
mamba--a species that frequents the timber, and is not often found on
the open plain. Its bite is deadly, and the natives affirm that it will
chase a man for the purpose of biting him.

"I don't know but McCann was right, after all," said Oscar as he backed
away from the thicket. "If there is a snake in there I'll spoil your
head for you, my treacherous friend, so that you'll not fool anybody
else as you have fooled me, and I'll make war on your kind so long as I
stay in Africa. Thompson, look around and see if you can find a stick.
Our chances for hitting so small an object as a snake with a rifle-ball
are rather---- Eh? Do you see him?"

Just then the dogs rushed at the thicket, barking loudly, and the
Kaffir, who had been closely examining the bushes, raised his rifle with
a quick movement, and fired at something he saw there.

The next moment, with every hair on his body sticking toward his head,
his mouth wide open, showing a frightful array of teeth, his eyes
flashing with fury, and the blood trickling from a wound in his side,
out bounded a magnificent leopard.

The dogs scattered right and left, but one of them was not quick enough
in his movements to escape instant death. He was knocked flat by a blow
from the paw of the enraged animal, which, after making two or three
high short springs, growling savagely all the while, halted and faced
about, as if he had made up his mind to run no further.

Laying his chin down between his fore paws, and waving his tail from
side to side, as a cat does when she is watching a mouse, the fierce
animal fastened his eyes upon Oscar, whom he seemed to have singled out
as a victim; but instead of creeping toward him he writhed backward, as
if he were measuring off the distance he intended to clear when he made
his spring.

Then came the critical moment. The animal drew his cat-like ears flat
down against his head, and at the same instant two ready fingers pressed
the triggers. The reports sounded like one, and the leopard, arrested in
his leap before he had fairly left the ground, rolled over on his side,
powerless for mischief.

Oscar's rifle spoke again a few seconds later, and the honey-bird came
fluttering down from his perch. His head was spoiled, sure enough, for
it was shot from his body.

"He'll never fool any more hunters," said Oscar as he walked up to
examine the leopard after reloading both barrels of his rifle. "I say,
Thompson, I think you have earned a musket by this day's work. You put
two balls into him very cleverly. If this is the way you are going to
back me up when I get into trouble I shall be your debtor for ten
pounds when we get back to Maritzburg. We don't want any honey, do we?
This fellow's mate may be loafing about in some of these thickets, and
the best thing we can do is to get out of here."

It was hard work to carry their prize through those thorn bushes. The
leopard was not very heavy at the start,--he did not begin to be as
large as either of the hyenas Oscar had secured the day before,--but he
grew heavy before they got him out to the plain.

When they reached the edge of the grove Oscar was glad to sit down and
rest, while the Kaffir went in pursuit of the horses, which had been
alarmed by the noise of the fight, and would no doubt have made the best
of their way back to the wagon if they had not hobbled themselves by
putting their feet through their bridle-reins.

No amount of coaxing could induce Little Gray to consent to carry the
leopard to camp, and the Kaffir's horse objected so strenuously to
having anything at all to do with the matter that Oscar was obliged to
lash his prize fast to the saddle, while the Kaffir clung to his nag
with both hands to keep him from running away.

When this had been done Oscar mounted Little Gray and turned him toward
the wagon; but before he reached it he met with two surprises. The first
came about in this way:

While he was riding along, with his gaze fastened thoughtfully on the
ground, and wondering how many narrow escapes an African hunter could
have before some wild beast succeeded in getting the better of him, his
eye chanced to fall upon something that instantly arrested his
attention.

In Eaton he had probably walked over such objects a dozen times in a
day, and never noticed them at all; but they were so uncommon in the
wilds of Africa that the sight of this one interested him at once--so
much so that he swung himself from his horse and picked it up.

It proved to be a piece of brown envelope. Inside of it was a strip of
white paper, at which he gazed in the greatest amazement. It was part of
the map that his friend Mr. Lawrence had drawn for him. Scarcely able
to credit the evidence of his eyes, Oscar put the paper into his pocket
and climbed back into his saddle.

"How, in the name of all that's mysterious and bewildering, did that map
get scattered about in this way?" he kept saying to himself, and every
time he asked the question he took the paper out of his pocket and
looked at it again. "It certainly is my map--or all there is left of it.
I would know it if I had picked it up in the streets of London; but if I
_had_ found it there I could not be more surprised than I am to find it
here. I am sure that I put it in the third pocket on the right-hand side
of the tent, and how in the world---- I wonder if McCann----"

Oscar took off his hat and dug his fingers into his head to stir up his
ideas. That name suggested something to him, and brought back to his
memory a good many little incidents that had happened since he left
Zurnst--all trivial enough in themselves, but which when taken together
made up a weight of evidence against the after-rider (an after-rider
only in name) that was overwhelming.

"I ought to have been on the lookout for some such thing as this,"
thought Oscar, who, beyond a doubt, would have come to an open rupture
with McCann if the latter had been near him at that moment. "He has done
everything he could to discourage me. He has put the brakes on the wagon
when we were going up hill in order to make the oxen part the trek-tow;
he has tried to lead me out of my course, and make me lose my way on the
plain, so that he could turn me back to Zurnst; he has told the most
dreadful stories of the dangers I was running into, and tried over and
over again to make me promise that I would secure what specimens I could
here, and then go back; and, as a last resort, he has destroyed my map.
It must have been McCann, for there is no one else about the wagon who
knows the value of that piece of paper."

Oscar felt savage enough during the rest of the ride, and consequently
he was just in the right humor to act--and to act resolutely--in an
emergency that presently arose.

While he was thinking about McCann, and wondering if there were any way
in which he could satisfy himself of the man's guilt before he openly
charged him with destroying the map, an exclamation from his after-rider
aroused him.

He looked up and found that he was in plain view of the fountain. The
oxen were gathered on the bank, and on the opposite side of them were
the driver and fore-loper, who were shouting and cracking their whips to
turn the cattle away from the fountain.

On the opposite bank of the water-course were four wagons, and a drove
of strange oxen were just coming down to the fountain to drink.

"Visitors!" cried Oscar, shaking his bridle-rein and putting his horse
into a gallop. "I hope they are English or Scotch; but even if they are
Dutchmen, and can't understand a word I say, I shall give them a hearty
welcome. I didn't know before that I was so lonely."

In a few moments Oscar met his oxen, which had been turned about with
their heads toward the plain, and also his driver, who hurried up to
him with a face full of news.

"Hi, baas!" he exclaimed. "Boer man shoot ox."

"What?" shouted Oscar.

"Yaas; shoot dead," replied the Hottentot, who was all excitement.
"Shoot _all_ dead. No let drink water."

Greatly bewildered, Oscar looked around for McCann, and seeing him
following after the herd, galloped around to meet him.

"What's the trouble here?" he asked. "To whom do those wagons belong?"

"The owners are Dutch transport-riders, who are on their way to the
Kalahari Desert--Sechelle's country, you know--to trade for feathers and
ivory," answered McCann. "They arrived here about half an hour ago."

"What does Ferguson mean by saying that they will not let my oxen
drink?" continued Oscar.

"He means that the Boers want all the water for their own cattle, and
swear that they will shoot any strange ox or horse that comes near the
fountain," replied McCann. "Knowing that they are not the kind of
people who make idle threats, I thought it best to keep the stock away
from the water until you came."

Oscar was almost ready to boil over with rage. He had never heard of
such a piece of impudence before in all his life.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

OSCAR SHOWS HIS COURAGE.


Since crossing the Drackenberg Oscar had had but little intercourse with
the Boers he had met along his route. Knowing them to be a stupid,
pig-headed race, deaf to reason and blind to everything except
self-interest, he wanted nothing to do with them if he could help it.

The only way in which they could be touched was through their pockets.
He had found that they were quite willing to cheat him in a trade and to
drink all the coffee he could afford to offer them, but they never
thought of granting him a favor in return. They expected to be liberally
paid for everything they did for him.

They believed that every hunter who came to Africa must of necessity be
an Englishman, and they were very spiteful toward them, for they had
somehow got it into their heads that England was laying plans to
subjugate their country.

"Isn't that pool public property?" demanded Oscar as soon as his
indignation would permit him to speak. "What right have they to say that
my cattle shall not drink there?"

McCann shrugged his shoulders and waved his hand toward the fountain, as
if to say that if his employer chose to use his eyes he would see
something that would enable him to answer that question for himself.

Oscar rode out so that he could take a survey of the water-hole, and saw
four men standing in line in front of it, holding their rifles in their
hands. On the opposite bank stood their drivers and after-riders, all
armed, and ready to lend assistance in case Oscar and his men showed a
disposition to be belligerent.

Everything seemed to indicate that there was trouble ahead, and Oscar
was in just the right frame of mind to meet it.

"I'd be willing to give something handsome if McCann had just half Big
Thompson's pluck," thought the young hunter, who wasted not a moment in
deciding upon his course. "But I am alone, and how I am going to come
out it is hard to tell. Johnson," he shouted, "you and Ferguson run
around in front of those oxen and hold them where they are. When I give
the word drive them to the fountain, and I will see that the way is
clear. Come on, Thompson. I want you to tell them that I have something
to say about this business."

"Oh, Mr. Preston!" cried McCann in great alarm, "mind what you are
about."

"I will," answered Oscar.

"You don't know what a determined lot they can be if they once make up
their minds to it," continued McCann. "They would just as soon shoot as
eat."

"I don't care how determined they are," was the boy's reply. "And as for
shooting, that is a game two can play at. I am not going to stand by and
see my stock suffer from thirst when there is plenty of water close at
hand, you may depend upon that. Come on, Thompson!"

In spite of the entreaties and remonstrances of McCann, who earnestly,
almost tearfully, declared that his employer would surely bring himself
into serious trouble if he attempted to combat the Boers' resolution to
hold the fountain for the exclusive use of their own stock, Oscar rode
away, first satisfying himself that his driver and fore-loper had obeyed
his orders to stop the oxen.

When he arrived on the bank above the fountain the Boers drew closer
together for mutual protection, and one of them, a gray-headed old
patriarch, raised his hand as a signal for him to halt. Instead of
obeying Oscar motioned to the Boers to get out of his way, at the same
time cocking both barrels of his rifle, which he held in such a way that
its threatening muzzle pointed straight at the patriarch's breast.

Not satisfied with this demonstration, which had a visible effect upon
the courage of the Boers, Oscar thrust his hand into the breast-pocket
of his jacket and brought out a heavy revolver, the hammer of which
clicked ominously as he dropped the weapon by his side.

Without saying a word the Boers moved out of his path, and Oscar and
Big Thompson, the latter still carrying the leopard across his saddle,
drove their horses into the fountain and loosed the bridle-reins so that
they could drink.

"Now, Thompson," said Oscar, who, in spite of his anger, was outwardly
calm, "ask these Dutch gentlemen what they mean by such work as this."

The interpreter propounded the question in his own way, and received a
torrent of reproaches, threats, and abuse in reply. The Boers shouted at
the top of their voices, shook their fists at Oscar, who shook his
cocked revolver at them in return, and the Hottentots on the bank joined
in with yells and furious gestures.

"Well, Thompson," said Oscar when he thought he had waited long enough
for an answer, "whenever you can make sense out of this Babel of tongues
let me know it."

"The Boer men say that this is their fountain because they water here
every time they go on their trading expeditions," was the substance of
the Kaffir's reply. "They are going to stay here two or three days, and
rest their cattle and fill their water-butts, and there is no more in
the pool than they want themselves. If the English trader wants water
for his oxen he can just inspan and go off and hunt it up, for, he shall
have none here."

"What makes them think I am a trader?" inquired the boy. "Did anybody
tell them so, or did they only guess at it?"

The reply increased Oscar's surprise and indignation. It was to the
effect that the Englishman's white servant had told them so not more
than ten minutes ago.

"That's something else I have to thank McCann for," said Oscar. "Now,
Thompson, tell them what _I_ say," he added, throwing his right leg over
the horn of his saddle, so that he sat sideways on his horse, "woman
fashion." He seemed to handle his cocked weapons very carelessly, for as
often as he changed his position the muzzles were sure to come in line
with the heads of some of the Boers, who were prompt to step out of
range, "_I_ say that this fountain does not belong to them, for it is
not located on their land. I have a better right to it than they have,
for I came here first. I am going to stay here a week or two; perhaps
longer. I am not an Englishman or a trader, and neither am I going off
to hunt up another fountain. It is my intention to water my cattle right
here, and _now_. Tell them to put that in their big pipes and smoke it."

The Kaffir told them, and the reply that came back through him was:

"The Boer men say that they will shoot the first strange ox or horse
that puts his nose into the water."

Oscar had ridden away from the fountain, but when these words were
translated to him he promptly turned about, and rode back again. He
drove his horse in knee-deep, and scowled savagely at the Boers, who
were struck motionless and dumb by his conduct. Little Gray put his nose
into the fountain several times, and blew the water about, but the
Dutchmen did not shoot him.

"Thompson, tell these gentlemen that my oxen are coming here to drink
now, and that if they want to begin shooting when they come up to go
ahead," said Oscar. "But warn them, also, that for every shot they fire
I shall fire two, and I shall make every one count. If they want to go
on with their trading expedition they had better let me and my property
entirely alone. Now go and tell the boys to bring up the cattle."

Big Thompson translated his employer's emphatic words, and then turned
and rode up the bank, while the Boers drew off on one side to hold a
consultation.

Oscar kept his place in the fountain until his oxen arrived, and then he
rode up between them and the Boers, passing so close to the latter that
his horse fairly crowded them out of his path, and stood guard over them
while they drank their fill.

The Boers remonstrated--at least Oscar thought they did, for they kept
up a constant shouting all the while--but they made no hostile
demonstrations.

When the oxen had quenched their thirst Oscar followed them to the
wagon, and saw them put in their yokes and tied up for the night.

"I was really afraid you were going to get into trouble with those
Dutchmen," said McCann from his seat on the dissel-boom.

"Oh, you were, were you?" exclaimed Oscar, who stood in front of the
fire, with his hat pushed on the back of his head and his hands thrust
deep into his pockets. "And you did all you could to help it along,
didn't you?"

McCann started, and tried to look surprised, but only succeeded in
confirming the suspicions that had already been formed in the mind of
his employer.

His face grew red and white by turns, and he could not meet the boy's
eye.

"You are not only a coward--a most contemptible coward--but you are a
scoundrel as well," continued Oscar. "When I return to the coast I shall
post you far and wide. You never shall impose upon anybody else as you
have imposed upon me, if I can help it. You dare not go any further into
the wilderness with me, you are too big a coward to go back to Zurnst
alone, and you are determined to make me go back with you. You told
those Boers that I am an Englishman and a trader, hoping in that way to
excite their hatred and jealousy of me. You tried to lose me on the
plain, and to lead me out of my way, so that I could not find water; and
when you learned that I was able to travel without any help from you, by
referring to a map Mr. Lawrence had given---- Aha!" exclaimed Oscar as
McCann's face flushed guiltily, "you thought you would stop me by
tearing up my map, didn't you?"

"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Preston," stammered McCann. "Indeed I
don't."

"Don't you, though? Look at that!" cried Oscar, pulling from his pocket
the pieces of paper he had found on the plain, and holding them close in
front of the man's face. "Look at _that_!" he repeated as he rubbed the
pieces violently up and down over McCann's nose.

This was almost too much for even a coward to stand. McCann jumped to
his feet with an angry exclamation, and drew his clenched hand back as
if he were about to strike.



CHAPTER XXIX.

"THE CHARGE OF THE HEAVY BRIGADE."


If McCann thought he was going to frighten his employer he was destined
to be disappointed. Oscar took a step forward, and there was a look in
his eye that McCann had never seen there before.

"Don't try my patience too severely," said he. "If you do you will be a
different-looking man when I get through with you. There's no surgeon in
this country, and I don't know whether the Boers could patch you up or
not."

The threat implied in these words took all desire for a fight out of
McCann. He sank back on the dissel-boom, rested his elbows on his knees,
and fastened his eyes on the ground.

"Now," continued Oscar, throwing all the emphasis he could into his
words, "I tell you once for all, and I want you to bear in mind that I
mean just what I say, neither more nor less, that I have put up with
your cowardice and treachery long enough, and just as surely as I detect
you in the attempt to throw so much as a straw in my path, just so
surely will I turn you adrift on the plain, to find your way back to
Zurnst as best you can. If you had one of your own countrymen to deal
with he would wear a rawhide out over your back, and he would serve you
right, too."

So saying, Oscar climbed into the wagon, and proceeded to secure
everything in it that could be put under lock and key. But first he took
out of one of his chests a large envelope, like the one McCann had
destroyed, and drew from it a map which was an exact counterpart of the
one Mr. Lawrence had given him.

"That was rather a bright idea of mine," said he after he had made sure
that the contents of the chest had not been tampered with. "It is well,
in this country, to have duplicates of everything. McCann didn't do me
as much injury as he thought he did, but it was a contemptible trick,
all the same."

"What is the meaning of that move, I wonder?" thought McCann, who was
making his employer's tea at his own fire. "Two weeks ago I should have
been sorry to see him do that, but now I don't care. The Boers will take
me, for they told me so."

Having put all his books and papers where he thought they would be safe
from McCann's prying eyes, Oscar got out of the wagon, walked up to his
own fire, and took possession of his camp-chair.

"Now, McCann," said he, "I want a plain understanding with you, and
after I have had it I shall never again refer to this matter. Not being
blind, I have seen for a long time that you are not contented here, and
if you want to leave me and go with those Boers I am quite willing that
you should do so. All I ask is that you will leave openly and
aboveboard, like a man."

"Oh, I don't want to go!" answered McCann with more haste and emphasis
than the occasion seemed to require. "I don't deny that I should like
to see Leichtberg again; but those transport-riders are not going that
way. They are bound for the desert, and if I should go with them I
should not see home again for eighteen months at least. You'll be going
back yourself in less time than that."

"I certainly hope so. Then you think you had better stay with me, do
you?"

"Of course I do. That was the bargain I made."

"We'll not say anything about that," replied Oscar with some impatience.
"You bargained to act as my after-rider, too, and you have never done
it. If you want to stay, all right. You can keep yourself employed about
the camp, since you are afraid to go out of it; but mind you, now, no
more treachery. Is my tea ready?"

Oscar worked late over the leopard that night, and when his task was
finished lay down in his cot and went to sleep, lulled by the roaring of
the lions and the laughing of the hyenas.

He smiled whenever he thought how terrified he was when he first heard
those sounds. Now he paid no more attention to the lions than he did to
the prairie wolves that howled about his camp when he was journeying to
and from the foot-hills.

When he awoke the next morning the Dutchmen were in motion. They did not
like such a neighbor as Oscar had shown himself to be, and were going
off to hunt up another fountain, at which they could rest their cattle
and fill their water-butts in peace.

"Good riddance," thought Oscar while he performed his ablutions in the
bucket which he always found waiting for him, filled with fresh water.
"I know now that I did just right last night. If they had found that I
was afraid of them they would have taken full control of that pool, and
I could have taken my choice between seeing my cattle perish of thirst
and inspanning and hunting up another water-hole. Now what shall I do
to-day?"

This question and the discussion of the breakfast that McCann had served
up for him occupied Oscar's attention during the next twenty minutes,
and the coffee was finished and a decision reached at about the same
moment.

To begin with, there was no earthly use in hunting in the direction in
which the Boers had gone, for they would scare all the game along their
route.

He would spend the day on the other side of the water-course and try to
shoot another of that herd of koodoos (he had already forgotten the firm
resolution he had made that he would never again try stalking under an
African sun), for he wanted to secure two of each variety of the _fauna_
whenever he could get them.

So he gave the necessary orders, and in a quarter of an hour more he and
Thompson were ready for the hunt. This time they each carried a canteen
filled with water, and all the dogs went with them.

This was another fatiguing day for Oscar, but, on the whole, it was an
exciting and glorious one. He succeeded in shooting another fine
specimen of the antelope tribe, and was the involuntary spectator of a
scene he would not have missed for a good deal, but which he would not
willingly have witnessed again at so close quarters under any
consideration.

Such a sight as Oscar saw that day is never seen anywhere out of Africa.
There was "game, game, nothing but game," all around him, but it was
very wild, and would not permit him to come within range.

As fast as he advanced immense herds of wilde-beests, elands, quaggas,
and zebras would scamper away to the right and left, and wheeling about
like bodies of trained cavalry that were about to harass an enemy's
flank, they would halt and begin feeding on the very ground the hunters
had just passed over.

Having looked in vain for the koodoos among the hills and rocks, Oscar
and his after-rider dismounted, under the friendly branches of a mimosa
tree, to rest and eat their lunch.

"It would never do for us to go back to the wagon empty-handed, would
it, Thompson?" said Oscar as he sipped the warm water from his canteen
and looked with longing eyes toward the large bodies of antelopes that
seemed to be gathering in the lower end of a little valley about a mile
away. "And since the game will not let me go within gunshot of it, don't
you suppose you could make it come to me? Couldn't you go around to
leeward of it and make the dogs drive it this way?"

The Kaffir said he could.

"Of course I shouldn't stay near this tree, for there is no place to
hide. I think that rock out there"--here Oscar pointed to a little
boulder that lay on the plain about a quarter of a mile away--"would be
a good place of concealment, don't you? Very well. Take the dogs out and
see what you can do for me."

Oscar added such suggestions and instructions as he thought necessary,
and when the Kaffir had finished his lunch he mounted his horse, called
to the dogs, and rode away, leaving the boy to his meditations.

When he had been gone an hour Oscar picked up his rifle, and began the
laborious task of creeping a quarter of a mile on his hands and knees to
reach the boulder of which he had spoken.

He had timed the Kaffir's movements with tolerable accuracy, and he had
not been in his place of concealment more than ten minutes before a
cloud of dust arose in the distance, telling him that the game was in
motion.

The cloud extended a long distance on each side of the boulder, and from
it there issued a rumbling noise that sounded like the roar of an
approaching express train. Then it occurred to Oscar, for the first
time, that he had been just a little foolhardy. He looked anxiously to
the right and left of him, but there was no place of refuge nearer than
the tree under which he and Thompson had eaten their lunch. There was no
time to run back to it, for that "heavy brigade" was charging down upon
him with the speed of the wind.

"Good gracious!" soliloquized Oscar. "What if they should run over me
and trample me to death?"

His heart beat rapidly at the thought, and it required the exercise of
all the nerve he possessed to enable him to stand his ground.



CHAPTER XXX.

OSCAR'S ASSISTANT HUNTERS.


Fortunately for Oscar Preston he was not dealing with the stupid bison
of our Western plains, which will dash madly over a precipice when
stampeded, and when suffering for want of water walk deliberately into a
quicksand that is already choked with the bodies of their dying
comrades.

The animals that were then approaching, always alert and wary, scented
danger while it was yet in the distance, and, dividing right and left,
gave Oscar's boulder a wide berth.

But one herd--composed of antelopes, that are held by some hunters to be
the equal of the koodoo in cunning, and greatly its superior in
speed--was caught napping this time, and when Oscar's rifle cracked one
of them fell.

While the young hunter was watching for a chance to put in his second
barrel he was startled by a clatter of hoofs behind, so loud that it
drowned all the rest, and, looking over his shoulder without changing
his position, he was horrified to see a herd of buffaloes, numbering a
hundred or more, dashing by within less than thirty yards of him.

They carried their tails high in the air, held their shaggy heads close
to the ground, in readiness to toss the first thing that came in their
way; their eyes were fairly green with fury, and, taken altogether,
their appearance was enough to frighten anybody.

Oscar, knowing that his only chance for life lay in concealment, hugged
the ground as closely as he could until the last of the herd had passed
him, and then, jumping to his feet, gave the nearest of them a shot
behind the shoulder.

He knew the bullet had taken effect. But the buffalo kept straight
ahead, and presently he and his companions were out of sight.

When the cloud of dust and the animals that raised it had passed on, and
the dogs had swept by, running at random, but all keeping up a terrific
yelping, Oscar arose to his feet, and went to take a look at his new
prize.

It was a valuable one--an oryx, sometimes called gemsbok--and, like the
koodoo, was probably destined to stand alone in the Yarmouth Museum, the
only representative of its species.

It was about three feet and a half high at the shoulders, and, like many
other African antelopes, carried a bushy tail and an erect mane.

Its horns were long and straight, and the markings about its head made
it look as though it had a bridle on.

This species is quite independent of water, grows fat on arid plains,
where any other antelope would starve to death, and is so fleet and
enduring, and so very alert and watchful besides, that it is almost
impossible to shoot one of them. By the time he had completed his
examination the Kaffir came up.

"Go and get my horse," said Oscar, "and then take this fellow up in
front of you, and lead the way toward the wagon. We'll go home. A koodoo
and an oryx in two days ought to satisfy anybody. I had a snap shot at a
buffalo, but I didn't bring him down."

When Oscar came to retrace his steps he found that he had ridden much
further away from the wagon than he supposed.

He did not see any landmarks that were familiar to him until he reached
the hill on which he had shot the sentinel koodoo, and then it lacked
only an hour of being dark.

As they were riding over this hill the Kaffir suddenly stopped, and
without saying a word pointed before him with his finger.

Oscar turned his head, and saw some animal lying under a tree that stood
in the edge of the nearest grove.

"What is it?" he asked in a cautious whisper. "It cannot be an elephant
or a rhinoceros!"

"No," answered the after-rider. "Buffalo. Bad hurt. Look out!"

"Oh! that's my old friend, is it?" exclaimed the boy. "I'll see if I
can't make a better shot this time."

The young hunter had not yet forgotten how badly he had been frightened
by a charging buffalo on the evening he was hunting the secretary-bird,
and consequently the Kaffir's warning was entirely unnecessary. He
intended to look out, and he was resolved, also, to secure that
buffalo's head if he could.

"I am going up nearer, to see if I can get a shot at him," said he in a
low tone. "When he charges I will lead him by, within a few yards of
you, and you must be ready to drop him. Be sure and do good work now,
for I don't know how these horses of ours are going to act."

Oscar rode slowly toward the buffalo, and the longer he looked at him
the larger he seemed to grow.

It was plain that he was badly wounded, and that made him all the more
dangerous. Having approached within less than fifty yards of him without
attracting his attention, Oscar stopped his horse and took a few minutes
in which to decide upon a plan of operations.

"If I shoot at him from the saddle and my horse throws me I shall be in
a fix," said he to himself. "If I dismount, and the buffalo charges me,
and my horse will not let me mount him again, I shall be in another
fix. Perhaps I had better make him get up."

The buffalo got upon his feet a few seconds later, but Oscar did not
make him do it. It was the dogs.

They came in, one after the other, having given up the pursuit of the
antelopes, and on discovering the buffalo rushed at him in a body.

The savage beast met them half-way, charging directly toward Oscar, who
wheeled his horse and fled at the top of his speed.

As he flew by the hill on which the Kaffir was stationed the latter
fired both barrels of his gun, each bullet telling loudly upon the
buffalo; but he never stopped, nor did he seem to notice Oscar, who
circled around out of his way, and drew up a little distance in the rear
of the Kaffir. He kept straight on to the nearest grove, and in five
minutes more both he and the dogs were out of sight in the bushes.

"Come on, Thompson!" shouted Oscar after he had listened for a few
moments to the sounds of the chase. "He is going on through, and we
will meet him on the other side."

Oscar rode fast, and to his great delight succeeded in reaching the
opposite side of the grove just as the buffalo broke through the bushes
into the open ground.

The hunter's blood was up now, and without waiting to inquire whether or
not he ran any risks by such a proceeding he pulled up his horse, and
discharged both barrels of his rifle as rapidly as he could draw the
trigger.

When he took the weapon down from his shoulder he found that he was
still firmly seated in his saddle, and that his horse was standing
motionless in his tracks.

"Come now, old fellow, that was pretty well done," said Oscar
approvingly. "Little Gray himself couldn't be steadier. If this is the
way you are going to behave that buffalo is mine."

A piercing shriek from the Kaffir, who had followed close at his heels,
interrupted Oscar's soliloquy.

The native was leaning forward in his saddle, his eyes were fixed with a
frightened stare, and his finger was pointing steadily at some object
on the other side of Oscar.

The boy looked, and saw a sight that made the cold chills creep all over
him. Two new hunters, whose aid was neither required nor desired, had
suddenly appeared upon the scene.

They were a full-grown lion and lioness. They had doubtless been
sleeping away the day in a little clump of thorn bushes that grew in the
open plain, about a hundred yards from the grove, and having been
aroused from their nap by the yelping of the dogs, they had come out of
their retreat to take part in the hunt.

"Tao! tao!" shouted the Kaffir, who wheeled his horse and was off at
breakneck speed.

Scarcely realizing what he was doing, Oscar sat motionless in his saddle
and watched the chase. The dogs lost no time in withdrawing from the
race, and the buffalo and the lions were left to settle the matter among
themselves.

The huge beast kept resolutely on, but the long bounds of his savage
pursuers rapidly diminished the distance between them, and at last the
lioness, outstripping her heavier companion, sprang into the air and
fastened her claws in his flanks.

During the short but desperate battle that followed Oscar gained a
pretty good idea of a buffalo's strength, activity, and courage. The
lioness did not pull him down, as the boy expected she would, for she
could not.

The buffalo shook her off with the greatest ease, charged her with the
utmost fury, and if her mate had not been close at hand to lend his
assistance it is hard to tell how the fight would have ended.

His superior weight and muscle brought the matter to a speedy
termination. Fighting gallantly to the last, the buffalo went down, and
in a few minutes his struggles were over.

Now, beyond a doubt, it would have been a magnificent act of daring if
Oscar Preston had ridden up to those lions and settled both of them by
sending a bullet through their heads; and if he had done so we should be
glad to record the fact. But he did nothing of the kind. He sat on his
horse like one stupefied until the chase and the battle were ended, and
then withdrew, quite content to leave the noble beasts to the full
enjoyment of their supper.



CHAPTER XXXI.

GOOD-BY, McCANN.


Surrounded by the dogs, which had gathered about him for protection,
Oscar rode slowly away, looking back now and then to make sure that the
lions were not following him, and as soon as the trees of the grove hid
them from his view he put his horse to his best pace and galloped up
beside the Kaffir, who was awaiting his appearance with no little
impatience and anxiety.

"Whew!" panted Oscar, pulling off his hat and wiping his forehead with
his handkerchief. "We don't want that buffalo's head, do we, Thompson? I
don't think it would pay to bother with it. That was my first, and I
sincerely hope it will be my last, sight of a wild lion. I am glad you
didn't drop the oryx in your hurried stampede, for if you had I don't
believe I should have gone back after him. Now let's reach the wagon
without loss of time."

Never before had Oscar felt as timid as he did that night.

He gave every clump of bushes and every stone that was large enough to
conceal a lurking beast of prey a wide berth, and did not draw an easy
breath until he saw the glare of the camp-fires shining through the
trees in front of him. By that time it was pitch-dark.

The only persons he saw as he rode up the bank, after watering his horse
at the fountain, were the driver and fore-loper, who ran up to the
Kaffir, chattering in chorus, swinging their arms around their heads,
and pointing toward the opposite side of the water-course.

They were full of news, and Oscar, who thought that something alarming
must have happened during his absence, waited impatiently to learn what
it was. He could gain no idea of it from the language of the Hottentots,
for that was perfectly unintelligible to him, nor from the countenance
of the Kaffir, who did nothing but grin while he listened.

"Well," said he when the hubbub had subsided so that he could make
himself heard, "what is it?"

"Mack--he gone," said Thompson sententiously.

"Gone?" repeated Oscar, a suspicion of the truth breaking upon him at
once.

The Kaffir grinned again, and the Hottentots nodded their heads and
began backing off, as if they expected a great ebullition of fury on
Oscar's part.

"Gone?" said the boy again. "Did he go on foot?"

"No; took he hoss and gun," replied Thompson.

"Which way did he go?"

The three natives pointed silently in the direction of Zurnst.

"Thompson," said Oscar, "put that antelope down in front of the wagon.
Did either of you fellows get supper for me?"

Yes, there was a supper waiting for him, and it was a good one, too--the
best he had eaten since leaving Zurnst. Oscar smiled when he sat down to
it.

He knew that it was the result of the combined efforts of his driver
and fore-loper, who had taken this way of showing their employer that
they sympathized with him in the loss of his cook, and that they had not
aided or abetted McCann in any way.

For several minutes they stood at a respectful distance, watching him,
and waiting for him to get angry; but seeing that he sipped his coffee
very contentedly, and showed no signs of flying into a passion over
something he could not help, they finally withdrew to their own fire.

When Oscar had finished his supper he settled back in his camp-chair,
folded his arms, and looked down at the ground in a brown study.

"So McCann has stolen a horse and gun, and cleared out, has he?" said he
to himself after he had spent a few minutes in reviewing the situation.
"Well, he has rendered himself liable to the law, which will snatch him
bald-headed the moment he gets back to the settlements; but I can't stay
here long enough to see justice done him, and so all the punishment he
receives will be from me. He will not meet his friends again under a
year and a half, and I hope to see mine before that time expires. He
never went toward Zurnst, because he's too big a coward to travel so far
by himself. He probably went in that direction, but he did it just to
throw me off his trail. As soon as he was out of sight of the camp he
made a circle around, and went off in pursuit of those Boers. I shall
find him in their company to-morrow night. And when I do find him,"
added Oscar, while his eyes flashed, and his hands clenched
involuntarily, "he must give up my property or fight. When I get my gun
and horse back he can go where he pleases."

A visit to the rear of the wagon, where the horses were eating their
evening's rations of mealies, revealed the fact that Little Gray was
missing; and an inspection of his "battery" resulted in the discovery
that his heavy single-barrelled rifle--his "elephant gun," as Captain
Sterling called it--was gone.

The young hunter made no comments, but when he brought out his tools and
went to work on the oryx there was an expression on his face that
McCann would not have liked to have seen there.

Before he went to sleep that night Oscar made all his arrangements for a
vigorous pursuit of his thieving cook, and daylight found him and
Thompson in the saddle. By the time the dew was off the grass so that
the horses could graze they had travelled fifteen miles.

They were just that far from water, too, and Oscar, knowing that his
animals could not quench their thirst until he reached the Boer
encampment, made but a short halt for rest and refreshment.

When he mounted again he pressed forward with all haste, and just as the
sun was setting came within sight of the party of whom he was in search.

Their wagons were drawn up on the open, about two hundred yards from a
little grove, and Oscar knew that in or near that grove he would find a
fountain.

In America hunters and travellers make it a point to camp close beside a
water-course, provided that grass and wood are handy, but in Africa a
different plan is pursued. The wild beasts which come to the pools every
night to drink require plenty of elbow room, and the traveller takes
care to see that they have it.

He stops his wagon at a distance, drives his stock to and from the
fountain, and the water he needs for his tea and coffee is brought to
his camp in buckets.

He is also suspicious of groves and thickets, because they afford
lurking-places for lions and leopards; and he always camps on the open
plain and builds his fire behind a barricade of thorn bushes.

Thirsty as he was, Oscar did not turn toward the fountain, but drew a
bee-line for the wagons. He had a disagreeable and perhaps a dangerous
task before him, and he wanted to get through with it as soon as he
could.

Oscar had not ridden far before he became aware that his approach was
discovered, and that there was a commotion among the Boers and their
attendants.

He brought his field-glass to bear upon them, and saw that they were
arming themselves and forming in line, so as to cover the wagons.

"I see him, Thompson," said Oscar at length. "He is hiding behind that
second wagon from the left, and he has got my horse and gun with him.
We'll soon have him out of that. I don't know whether we will or not,"
he added to himself. "If I had white men to deal with I should have no
fears of the result; but these wooden-headed Dutchmen have no more sense
than the cattle they drive, and it is hard to tell how they will act."

Nothing daunted by the preparations that had been made to receive him,
Oscar rode straight on toward the Boers, and when the patriarch made a
sign for him to halt he paid no sort of attention to it. The least show
of timidity or irresolution would have been fatal to him. He had come
there with plans of his own fully developed, and he intended to let the
Dutchmen see that he had the pluck to carry them out.

He kept on until he had come within ten feet of the Boers, who held
their cocked muskets in their hands, all ready to shoot, and then he
drew up his horse.

"Thompson," said he, "tell these men that they are harboring a
thief--that my cook has stolen a horse, saddle, bridle, and rifle from
me, and that I have come here to get them. Tell them that I don't care
for the thief himself--he isn't worth his grub, and they can have him if
they want him--but I want my property, and, what's more, I'm bound to
have it."

"Let's see you get it!" shouted McCann from his hiding-place behind the
wagon.

Oscar's face grew a shade paler as these words of defiance fell upon his
ears, but he made no reply. He had come there to act, and not to argue
with McCann.

The Kaffir, however, was full of talk, and, not receiving a satisfactory
reply to his translation, he proceeded to abuse the Dutchmen without
stint.

The latter replied in angry tones, shaking their fists and flourishing
their muskets in the air; and for a moment or two things looked as
though there was going to be a fight.

"What do they say, Thompson?" asked Oscar.

"The Boer man say he don't know nothing about the hoss and gun," was the
interpreter's reply.

"They don't, eh?" exclaimed Oscar. "That's all I want to know. If they
won't help me get my property back I'll take it without help."

As Oscar said this he put his horse in motion, intending to ride to
McCann's place of concealment, and compel him to surrender his
ill-gotten gains. As he was about to pass through the line a Boer
attempted to seize his horse by the bridle, but that was an unfortunate
move for him.

Drawing sharply in upon the curb-bit, Oscar struck his horse a smart
blow with the whip that was tied to his wrist; whereupon the animal shot
forward like an arrow from a bow, and striking the Boer full in the
breast, sent him flying through the air as if he had been thrown from a
catapult.

Without waiting to see what had become of him, or to learn what he was
going to do about it when he recovered his feet, Oscar rode around the
nearest wagon, and found himself face to face with his runaway cook.

There was his missing horse, saddled and bridled, and at his head stood
McCann, with the stolen rifle in his hand and his left arm passed
through Little Gray's bridle-rein. The man's face was as white as a
sheet, and he was trembling all over; but still he was trying to keep up
some show of courage.

"Come no nearer," said he in a tone which he intended should strike
terror to the boy's heart. "If you don't go away, and let me alone, I'll
shoot you, so help me!"

Oscar made no reply. Swinging himself from his saddle with great
coolness and deliberation, he approached the trembling culprit with a
steady step, holding his cocked rifle in such a position that the muzzle
of it pointed straight at McCann's breast.

"Keep that shooting-iron directed toward the clouds," said he sternly;
and, almost involuntarily, McCann obeyed. "Now let go of it," he added
when he had come near enough to place his hand upon the weapon.

The man dropped the elephant gun as if it had been a coal of fire.
Oscar let down the hammer, took hold of Little Gray's bridle, from which
McCann withdrew his arm without being told, and quietly led him away.

Very soon afterward he and the Kaffir were riding toward the fountain,
while the Boers stood watching them in silence.

They camped on the plain that night, and the next morning set out for
the wagon, which they reached in safety.



CHAPTER XXXII.

OFF FOR THE COAST.


If time would permit we might tell of many more interesting and exciting
adventures, of which Oscar was the hero, during his career in Africa,
but those we have already described must suffice.

They will serve to give the readers some idea of the poetry of the life
he led for thirteen long months. Of the prose--of the trials,
disappointments, and discouragements--we have had little to say,
preferring to deal as much as we could with the bright side of his
experience.

He remained in his camp nearly a month, during which time he secured
heads of nearly all the larger animals that were to be found in the
country round about, as well as many specimens of the smaller ones, and
then once more set out on his travels.

At the same time the trouble began. Some of the fountains in which he
had expected to find water in abundance were dried up, and not
infrequently he and his men were obliged to dig for hours before they
could procure water enough to moisten the tongues of the thirsty cattle.

The sun burned him by day, the frosts chilled him at night, and when the
rains came on the dry water-courses were transformed into roaring
torrents, which he forded at the imminent risk of capsizing his wagon
and losing all the fruits of his toil.

He had always been unfortunate in regard to his dogs. He hardly ever got
into a fight without losing one or more of them, and his bad luck
continued until there were but three of his pack left--Ralph, and two
cowardly mongrels that were not worth the meat they ate.

In process of time his stock began to suffer also. One of his horses,
that was warranted "salted," died of the distemper; the hyenas carried
off all his goats, and finally a lion pulled down Little Gray, about a
hundred yards from the wagon, and killed him in broad daylight.

This was too much for Oscar, who, reckless of the consequences, caught
up one of his Express rifles and sent two bullets into the lion,
whereupon the beast charged through the camp with the utmost fury,
killing one of the oxen, frightening the rest so badly that they took to
their heels and were not seen again for two days, and wounding Ralph so
severely that his life was despaired of.

Up to this time Oscar had enjoyed the best of health; but now the fever
attacked him and laid him in his cot.

He was so ill that he began to be alarmed, and to make matters worse
Thompson one night approached the wagon and stated he and the others had
thrown off their allegiance, and that henceforth the young hunter must
look out for himself.

This incident, if it did not save Oscar's life, at least hastened his
recovery, for the prompt measures he took to suppress the mutiny threw
him into a perspiration, which broke up the fever so completely that he
never even heard of it again.

Ten minutes before he would not have thought it possible for him to
stand upon his feet; but now he jumped out of his cot with all his
old-time activity, and, catching up one of his rifles, ordered his men
to inspan and treck at once, and they made all haste to obey.

One would think that, in the face of such discouragements as these,
Oscar would have lost all heart.

Well, he often was dispirited, and always lonely and homesick; but he
stuck to his purpose with dogged determination, working faithfully every
day and longing for the hour of his release.

It came at last, though long delayed, and it was with a feeling a little
short of ecstatic that Oscar, one bright morning, ordered his men to
inspan and strike out for Zurnst.

The minute instructions he had received from the committee, by which his
movements had been governed during the whole of his stay in Africa, had
been carried out to the very letter.

Every species of animal on the list which President Potter had given him
was represented in his collection, either by a head or a whole
specimen, and his time was up to a day.

"What more can they ask?" thought Oscar as, with a delicious feeling of
relief, he took possession of his cot and watched his travel-worn cattle
as they stepped briskly out over the blind trail--the trail his own
wagon had made months before. "I've got everything they told me to get,
and many things besides that they never thought of. I tell you, I have
been through the mill since I passed along this route, headed the other
way, but I have come out all right, and now, thank goodness, I am off
for the coast and _home_! Treck along there, Thompson; the faster we
travel the sooner we shall reach Maritzburg, you know."

Oscar stopped at his old camp long enough to off-load and give his wagon
a good over-hauling, and then set out for Zurnst.

The acquaintances he had there made when he first came through had not
forgotten him, but as they had received no word from him since he went
away they had given him up for lost, and looked upon him as one risen
from the dead. They listened in genuine astonishment to the stories of
his adventures, and told him that he had done something that any old
hunter might well be proud of. They denounced McCann's cowardice and
treachery in the strongest terms, and promised to see to it that he did
not impose upon any other traveller as he had imposed upon Oscar.

When he had reached Leichtberg Oscar mailed almost half a peck of
letters which he had written at various times, and when he reached Mr.
Lawrence's his heart was gladdened by the sight of almost as many more,
addressed to himself, which had been forwarded to that gentleman's care
by Mr. Donahue.

Oscar read these letters with no little anxiety. It was so long since he
had heard from home, and so many things might have happened during that
interval of silence!

But there was only one of them that contained any bad news, and that was
from Sam Hynes, who, in a glowing obituary, which took up nearly a whole
sheet of notepaper, conveyed to Oscar the news of Bugle's untimely
death.

When Oscar read that he looked down at Ralph, the only remaining canine
companion of his travels, the two worthless curs of which we have spoken
having deserted him at Leichtberg. That sagacious animal was by no means
a beauty. The long journey he had made across the burning sands, and the
rough treatment he had received from his foes, had completely spoiled
his good looks. But there was plenty of fight left in him, and Oscar
decided on the instant that he should go home with him to fill Bugle's
place.

The young hunter continued his journey with a light heart after reading
those cheering letters from home. Even the dreaded Drackenberg, which
now and then loomed up before his mental vision, had no terrors for him.

He had his wagon thoroughly repaired at Harrismith, in readiness for the
ascent, crossed the pass in safety, and in due time drew up before the
hotel in Maritzburg.

Mr. Dibbits was there to meet him, and so were Harris and his gang of
swindlers, all of whom started as if they had seen a ghost.

"Why, Mr. Preston!" exclaimed the landlord as soon as he could speak.

"Yes, Mr. Dibbits, it is I; or, rather, all there is left of me,"
replied Oscar. "By the way, what became of our friend Colonel Dunhaven?"

"Colonel Dunhaven!" repeated the landlord, looking bewildered. "Oh, that
was the gentleman who started for the interior the same time you did.
Humph! he was a nice fellow to think of going into the wilderness, _he_
was. His wagon got stalled up here in an ant-bear's hole, and he got
discouraged, sold out, bag and baggage, and bundled himself off to old
England."

Our hero thought of all he had passed through during the last two years,
and told himself that that was the best thing the colonel could have
done. A man who would allow himself to become discouraged as easily as
that had no business in Africa.

Oscar passed but one night in Maritzburg, and what with dining and
visiting with his friends, and fighting off Harris and his gang, who
persisted in making him very inadequate offers for his outfit, and
chaffing the landlord, who showed an overweening desire to learn how he
had succeeded during his hunt, he had a lively time of it.

The next day he bagged a couple of white-necked ravens, and they were
the last specimens he shot in Africa.

With the assistance of his good friend Mr. Morgan, Oscar succeeded in
disposing of his outfit at very fair figures. He sold everything except
Ralph and the double-barrelled rifle with which he had secured the most
of his trophies.

Then he bade his friends good-by, and took passage on board the little
coasting vessel for Cape Town, at which place he transferred himself and
his belongings to a steamer bound for London.

From there he went to Liverpool, and after he had seen his boxes and
bales stowed away in the hold of the vessel that was to take him and
them to Boston he still had time to run up to "the lodge," to say
good-by to his friend and mentor Captain Sterling.

The latter sat up all night listening to his stories, and would have
been glad to keep him for a month; but Oscar had paid his passage, and
so he was obliged to make the interview a short one.

The run across the Atlantic was accomplished without incident worthy of
note, and in due time Oscar found himself and all his specimens in
Yarmouth. He remained there long enough to give Mr. Adrian and the
committee a hurried account of his experience, and then set out for
Eaton, where a warm welcome awaited him.

He is there now, surrounded by all his old-time friends, enjoying a
well-earned rest, and only waiting for the summer vacation to begin his
wanderings again.

A scientific expedition, which is to be composed of some of the
professors and students attached to Yarmouth University, is being
organized to start for the Yellowstone country, and Oscar is to have
charge of it.

He has already secured Big Thompson--the _genuine_ Big Thompson--to act
as guide, and that is a guaranty that the members of the expedition will
see plenty of sport, even if they do not accomplish anything in a
scientific way.

We doubt, however, if Oscar Preston will ever again take part in scenes
so stirring and exciting as those of which he was the hero while he was
hunting in Africa.


THE END.



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