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Ex Libris

A series of stories published in
Chums, 12 May-16 June 1917

First edition in book form: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022©
Version Date: 2022-07-15

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From Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 12 May 1917

LIKE smoke from a wet bonfire, the early morning mists surged and eddied over the broad, brown surface of the great Zambesi, so thick that the two canoes which drove their way up-stream against the swirling current had difficulty in keeping in touch with one another.

"Faith, but it's a reek, Jan!" cried the tall young Irishman, who wielded the steering paddle of the second canoe, to his white companion in the stern of the leading craft.

Jan Wisden, the alert little man who steered the first canoe, turned his head.

"A good sign, Brian," he answered. "It means the last of this endless rain. With luck, we'll reach Chishawa's Kraal to-night."

"And mighty glad I'll be, too," said Brian with a laugh, as he dipped his paddle deep to avoid a reeling eddy. "'Tis no joke at all fighting this flood. Why wouldn't we go in closer to shore? The stream wouldn't be running so strong in there."

"I'll tell you why," answered Jan.

And then, before he could say another word, came a cracking roar which boomed out through the mist like the echoes of heavy gunfire.

"Great ghost! What's that?" gasped Brian, but his voice was drowned in the uproar. Then before he could collect his wits came a shout from Jan.

"Paddle! Paddle, Brian! Drive her for all you're worth!"

Jan yelled orders to his native boys, and his canoe started away up-stream with a tremendous spurt.

Brian urged his men fiercely to follow, but they seemed paralysed with terror. Before he could get them into their stride there loomed up through the smother a huge brown wave crested with yellow foam, which bore down upon them with fearful speed.

It came from the northern bank, and Brian dug his paddle frantically in the effort to get the long craft's head round so as to meet it bow foremost.

He was just too late. With a rush and a roar the surge caught the canoe broadside, rolled her over like a chip, and left Brian and his four natives struggling in the centre of the deep, dark, crocodile-haunted river.

But for Jan's smartness not one of the five would ever have seen the bank again. Like a flash he had his canoe round and alongside the struggling swimmers. He himself caught hold of Brian and lugged him aboard, while he directed the four native boys to catch hold of the gunwale, two on each side.

"We'll have to jettison cargo," he said sharply. "She won't hold 'em loaded as she is. Take my rifle, Brian. And splash for all you're worth, you boys in the water."

It was almost a miracle that no crocodile appeared, for the great river swarms with the hideous brutes. But none did show up, and within five minutes the four boys, grey with terror, were safe in the canoe, and some four hundred-weight of valuable trade goods had sunk out of sight down to the mud fifty feet below.

The canoe was turned inshore and for some moments nobody spoke. Brian was the first to break the silence.

"What was it?" he asked.

"A fall of bank. The floods have undercut it." Then, after a pause—"We're done in, Brian."

"I know it," answered Brian with a very grim look on his brown face. "I'm sorry, Jan."

"Not your fault, sonny," replied Jan kindly. "But our trade's all gone, and there's nothing left but the grub. We may as well turn round and head back for Livingstone."


The cry came echoing faintly through the wilderness of giant reeds which fringed the muddy bank.

Jan instantly turned the broad blade of his paddle, whirling the bow round in the direction of the sound. Brian reached instinctively for his rifle.

"Sounds like a white man," said Jan in his curt way.

"Help!" The cry was more feeble now.

"All right!" shouted Brian. "Hang on, whoever you are. Help is coming."

The saffron-coloured water foamed under the bow as the boys drove the canoe through it. A moment later and she was in the shadow of the tall rushes.

"Where are you?" shouted Brian. "Sing out, can't you?"

No answer.

"Fainted or—dead," said Jan. "There's a lead."

The canoe shot in through the narrow opening, and clouds of insects rose from the dense thicket on either side.

"A canoe—there's a canoe on the bank," said Brian sharply.

Jan nodded, and deftly ran in alongside the other canoe which lay stranded, with her bow in the mud.

Brian leaned over.

"Here's the poor beggar, lying in the bottom," he said quickly. "'Fraid he's done in. There's been dirty work here."

"Is he dead?" asked Jan sharply.

"No. He's breathing. But he's in a bad way. Shot through the ribs and soaked in blood. Pass the brandy."

Jan handed a flask, and Brian wasted no time in bandaging the hole in the stranger's thin ribs, and pouring a few drops of brandy down his throat. Jan, meantime, got the big canoe ashore, and set the natives to get the tent and camp equipment up out of the fever-haunted mud.

For the next half-hour all hands were too busy to talk. At the end of that time the tent was pitched under a great many-stemmed baobab, and the wounded man made as comfortable as possible.

"Thin as a rail," said Brian pityingly as he bent over his patient. "Faith, he's had a pretty serious time, by the look of him, poor beggar!"

"Try him with a drop more brandy," suggested Jan. "The bullet went through him and out. It's loss of blood and want of grub that's brought him down to this."

Brian nodded and poured another spoonful of brandy down his patient's throat. The man's eyes opened, and the glare of terror in them was pitiful.

"It's all right," said Brian soothingly. "We're friends."

The sick man shivered. "I—I thought it was Da Freitas again," he muttered hoarsely.

"Who's he?" demanded Jan.

"Steady, Jan," said Brian. "He's not fit to talk yet. Tell Zumbo to warm up some condensed milk."

Half a tin of condensed milk mixed with warm water brought a trace of colour back to the haggard cheeks of the stranger. Presently he actually smiled.

"This is uncommon good of you chaps," he said in a stronger voice. "I believe—thanks to you—I shall pull round. I want to, if only to get even with those scoundrels."

"Da Freitas?" questioned Jan.

"Him and Pachero," answered the other. "I'll tell you. My name's Frank Oram. I've been up on the river trading. I was at Chishawa's Kraal about three weeks ago, and had the luck to save his son from a croc. Chishawa was no end pleased, and next day called me into his hut and brought up an old yellow envelope from a hole in the floor. He explained to me that a white man who had died there of fever two years earlier had left it with him, and told him the papers inside referred to a cache of ivory somewhere up on the Kafir River. He gave it to me.

"I jumped at it, but when I opened it I was nicely sold. The writing was Portuguese, and I couldn't read a word of it. And though there was a map of sorts, that was no use without the explanation.

"I went back down the river with a load of tobacco, and set to hunting for someone who would translate it. Down at Shesheke I ran into Da Freitas.

"I was a fool to trust him. His oily yellow face was enough to warn anyone. But he humbugged me, and I showed him the paper. True, I had sense enough to stand over him while he translated it so as to be sure he didn't make a copy, and I didn't let him see the map. I paid him five quid for his work, and left that night.

"Da Freitas had been watching me. He and this half-breed, Pachero, were on my track. They rushed my camp two nights later, killed one of my two boys, and the other bolted. I dodged them, got into the canoe and cleared.

"They chivied me. I had hardly any grub and had to dodge in among the islands and reed banks. My notion was to get back to Chishawa's Kraal, where I could get fresh men and food."

"You're quite near it," put in Jan in his curt way.

"I know, but a chap can't do without sleep, and I was sleeping in the canoe early this morning when they spotted me. Both of 'em opened fire at once from the bank, and one bullet got me before I could paddle out of range."

"And you went on, with that hole in you?" exclaimed Brian.

"Had to," replied Oram with a wry smile. "I managed to cross to the other side and hide up in the reeds. They came after me, but I made a lucky shot and plugged their canoe on the water line. They got back, but only just, and I expect they're busy mending her now.

"That's about all," he added, "except that the envelope is still in my pocket, with the translation."

Jan sat frowning thoughtfully.

"They'll have patched up that canoe by now," he remarked. "Chances are the beggars are this side of the river already."

"Just what I was thinking," replied Brian. "We'll need to keep watch to-night."

Oram shivered again. The awful strain of the long days of lonely flight had wrecked his nerves.

"For any sake don't let the brutes get me," he said hoarsely.

"Don't worry," replied Brian with a cheery smile. "If we can't tackle two yellow sweeps like those, we'd better chuck ourselves to the crocs." He paused thoughtfully.

"But we're stuck here, Oram, until you're fit to travel again. Might be as well to hide up those papers of yours."

Oram at once took an envelope out of the inner pocket of his ragged Norfolk jacket.

"Just what I was going to suggest," he said. "Put it anywhere you like.

"And see here," he went on, "if you chaps care to come in with me we'll go shares in the spoil. Is it a go?"

"That's decent of you," said Jan warmly.

"Jolly decent of you!" added Brian. "We've just lost all our trade by an upset, and we are on our uppers."

"Oh, don't thank me till you get the stuff," smiled Oram. "The whole thing may be a fake for all I know. Run through it, and tell me what you think."

"You read it, Jan," said Brian. "You understand Portuguese."

"More or less," Jan answered, and pulled the papers out of the envelope.

He went through them carefully, first the original, then the translation. His lip curled scornfully.

"You wasted your five quid, Oram. The chap translated the stuff all wrong."

"I might have known it," growled Oram. "One more debt to add to the reckoning. What do you think of the original yarn?"

"I think it's all right," replied Jan deliberately. "It's written by a chap called Juan Fonseca, and as it happens I met a man of that name down at Livingstone a little less than three years ago. He was Portugee by birth, but a white man all right. If he's the same man who wrote this and left it in Chishawa's Kraal, it's genuine all right.

"I guess we'd better bury it," he said briskly. "No, not under the tent floor. Under the roots of the big baobab will be a better place."

"Just as you like," replied Oram. "I can't tell you what a comfort it is to get rid of the responsibility.

"And now," he added, "I believe I could sleep. I haven't had a lot the last week."

"Best thing you could do," said Brian picking up a spade. "Come on, Jan."

When they came back, after burying the envelope, Oram was sound asleep.

"Poor beggar!" said Brian pityingly. "He's had a rotten time."

Jan nodded. "All of that," he said. He looked at Brian. "We've struck it lucky, old son. According to Fonseca's account, there's two or three tons of tusks in the cache. It means a nice little lump apiece."

Quietly as Jan spoke, there was a gleam in his eves which Brian had seldom seen before.

Jan was one of those whose family had lost everything in the South African war. Their farm had been burnt by the Boers, their stock driven off. Brian knew that it was the dream of Jan's life to rebuild the old place.

He himself, too, had his dreams, for Brian was the son of an old Irish family who had lost most of their possessions in the land troubles, and who lived in a tumbledown castle in the wilds of Connemara. Brian longed to make money enough to go home, put the old place in proper repair, and start farming in an up-to-date fashion.

"We're regular money grubbers, you and I, Jan," he said with a slight laugh.

Jan nodded. "Yes, Brian, I reckon we're proper fortune hunters. And now, my son, I'll take the small canoe and work up and down the river and see if I can spot Da Freitas's camp or his canoe. You must stay and look after Oram."

"You'll take Zumbo," said Brian.

Jan agreed and started off, while Brian busied himself with cleaning rifles and other useful jobs about the camp.

It was twelve before Jan returned. Oram was awake and stronger.

"No news," said Jan curtly. "Not a sign of the beggars. Either their canoe is bust up badly or they've hooked it."

"Don't you trust to that," said Oram earnestly. "Da Freitas isn't the sort to give up easily. It's all odds the dirty little reptile is lurking round, waiting his chance."

"We'll spot him if he is," replied Jan. "You keep your mind easy, Oram. Hope and I will make certain one way or another before night. We'll leave Zumbo with you, and here's a gun. Fire three times if you want us."

With four men paddling, and the canoe light, they shot across the river at a great pace. The sun blazed down on the streaky currents, bringing out that curious smell of marigolds peculiar to the rivers of tropical Africa.

They found the lead through the reeds where Da Freitas had beached his canoe, and Brian's rifle was ready cocked as they drew in through it. At the end the mud was marked deep by the bow of the canoe, but the craft was gone.

"Hooked it," said Jan briefly. "I told Oram so."

Before Brian could answer the crack of a rifle rang through the hot sunshine; then very quickly two more shots.

"That's torn it!" said Jan, and leaped for his steering paddle.

The boys, infected by their masters' haste, paddled as they had never paddled before. But the Zambesi is all of half a mile wide, and to Brian it seemed an eternity before they regained their own bank. All the way over the silence was unbroken, but as they neared the lead through the reeds fringing the shore, a new sound came to their ears.

A dreadful sobbing scream which was repeated over and over again and sank by degrees into deep panting groans.

The moment the canoe's bow touched the mud Brian, rifle in hand, sprang to his feet, but Jan—his face more grim than Brian had ever seen it—caught him by the arm.

"Steady!" he hissed. "The path may be guarded. This way!"

Signing to the natives to remain where they were, he turned aside, and, ducking and dodging like a hound in thick covert, made his way through the tangled vegetation that clothed the bank.

The groans continued, and now Brian could hear a monotonous thudding sound. His blood boiled in his veins. He gritted his teeth together to keep down the mad rage that almost choked him.

A shout—a quick warning cry uttered in a foreign language. The thudding sound ceased. A rifle cracked and a bullet whizzed overhead shredding the leaves, which fell in a light shower.

Jan ducked down, then with a spring burst his way through the last of the thorny undergrowth, and leaped under the big tree where the tent was pitched.

There was a sharp rustle in the bush opposite, another shot which sent Jan's hat spinning from his head. Jan fired rapidly twice in the direction of the last shot, but there was no response. Then all was still but for the groaning from the tent.

"The brutes! The brutes!" sobbed Brian, and rushed past Jan.

Jan caught him just in time.

"Down—flat!" he ordered, and as Brian dropped Jan did the same. He was an old bush fighter, was Jan, and all the tricks were his. He snaked his way forward and almost instantly vanished into the opposite scrub.

Brian longed to follow, but knew his limitations. He remained where he was, his rifle at his shoulder. Minutes passed and not a sound broke the silence of the hot windless afternoon—nothing but the monotonous, dreadful groaning from the tent.

At last a rustle and Jan's bright eyes peered through the screen of leaves opposite.

"They're gone," he said. "Gone for the present." he added significantly. "Go into the tent. I'll watch."

Brian slipped into the tent. On the cot lay Oram. His eyes were closed. He was very still. But it was not he who groaned. On the ground beside him was Zumbo, flat on his face, and it was from his swollen lips that the sounds came with hideous, heartbreaking monotony.

Small wonder! The shirt had boon stripped from him and his black back was crimson. A ghastly sight! There was only one weapon in the world that could have cut those terrible weals which had bitten deep through the dark skin into the red flesh beneath.

A sjambok.

With heart too full for speech Brian hastened to lift the unfortunate man and put his flask to his lips. The dark eyes opened.

"Dem debbils, dey beat me to make me tell," he muttered. "But I no tell."

Brian laid him down gently and bent over Oram. There was an ugly lump on his forehead, but he still breathed.

Brian went out and told Jan.

Jan's white teeth set, and there was a look on his deeply tanned face that might well have struck terror even into the black heart of Da Freitas.

"All right," he ground out. "We'll fix them.

"Go and fetch up the boys," he added. "I'll take Imkodo and Suli and keep watch."

"Surely we'd best break camp and get away," said Brian.

"No," snapped Jan. "Don't you see that Da Freitas and his pal are laying for us? It's no good them killing us, for then there'd be no one to tell where the paper was hid. They'll hang round and try to collar one or other of us and take him away and torture him till he owns up. That's their game."

"And what's ours?" asked Brian sharply.

"To beat them at their own. It's my bush craft against theirs. You get to work and do what you can for Oram and Zumbo. I'll attend to Da Freitas."

Brian hesitated a moment. "You'll be careful, Jan?" he begged.

"Oh, I'll be careful," said Jan grimly.

Brian slipped away towards the river and was back in a few minutes with the boys. They were scared by the firing and ready to bolt if there had been anywhere to bolt to. As there was not they made the best of a bad job and with ashy faces went to their duties. Jan, with Imkodo and Suli, vanished into the bush. Brian set the others to work to help him. He sent for water and washed and bandaged Zumbo's wounds. When he had finished he found that Oram had come round.

"Yes, it was Da Freitas," he said weakly. "Must have been watching you and Wisden. I just got off the three shots when he hit me on the head with his pistol-butt, and that's all I can tell you about it. Give me a drop of brandy, please."

Brian did so. Later he took out some supper for Jan, who came at the agreed signal.

"Not a sign of the brutes," he told Brian in a whisper. "But they're here. I'll swear it. Get back to your patients, sonny, and leave me to watch."

Brian glided away. Jan slipped back to his hiding-place.

Night fell and the air was full of the low hum of a million insects. Mysterious rustling sounds came from out the tangled depths of the bush. And somewhere out there, in the hot darkness, Jan knew that there lurked two human brutes more savage and dangerous than any of the toothed or clawed denizens of the great forest.

The hours crept on. The strain of watching grew more and more heavy. But Jan's patience was infinite. He never moved, and there was not a moment when his keen eyes failed in their ceaseless watch.

Out in the blackness a jackal began to howl. It was a hideously dismal sound, yet welcome to Jan, for it meant that the keen-nosed brute scented no danger near.

"They've camped," he muttered. "I'll lay they've camped. Gad, I wish I knew where."

The jackal ceased, the silence became intense, and presently a conviction began to grow on Jan that something was approaching. He could not see it, hear it or smell it. It was some sixth sense that gave him the warning.

He stared till his eyes ached, but the shadows in the bush were heavy and impenetrable. Opposite was a huge dead tree stump, and all of a sudden it seemed to him that its outline had altered.

Ah, it moved, and Jan froze into a stillness as complete as that of the log which hid him.

It moved. A long branch seemed to rise out of its summit, and Jan became suddenly aware that, within ten yards of him, stood the biggest elephant he had ever seen.

It was a monstrous, solitary tusker—a rogue without a doubt.

For the moment all thought of Da Freitas and his scoundrelly accomplice fled, and Jan was the hunter again.

Up went his rifle, and resting it on the log he aimed with the utmost deliberation for a particular point under the shoulder. A moment later the darkness was split by a dart of flame and the silence by the clashing report of the heavy rifle.

A trumpet-like scream like the first note of a hurricane. Then pandemonium broke loose in the sleeping forest.

The rogue, hard hit, crazy with pain and rage, spun round and went dashing blindly through the bush, screaming like a mad locomotive. Trees a foot through struck by his monstrous bulk snapped like dry sticks. He ploughed his way through the forest like a runaway steam roller. The ground shook, and even Jan, salted hunter as he was, shrank back appalled by the furies he had let loose.


The rogue, hard hit, went dashing blindly through the bush.

"What is it, Jan?" came Brian's voice sharp and quick.

"Shot an elephant. He's bolted. No harm done."

"Ah—ah—ah!" It was a thin high shriek which cut the air like a knife, and then was suddenly shut off, as you stop an electric siren by taking your finger off the button.

"W—what's that?" gasped Brian in a whisper of horror.

Jan turned to his friend.

"If you asked me, I should say that the rogue had stepped on somebody," he replied.

"And," he added, "as the bush isn't exactly populous, I should imagine that the victim is Da Freitas or Pachero."

Brian started forward, but Jan checked him.

"No," he said. "We'll wait till morning."

It was Da Freitas.

As Jan had surmised, he and Pachero had camped in a thick patch of low stuff some three hundred yards back in the bush, and this patch, as it chanced, was right in the track of the wounded elephant.

The man's body was flattened like a pancake. It was only by his head they could recognise him. Following the trail they found the elephant himself lying dead half a mile farther on.

Jan stopped and stared at the huge grey bulk which lay so still.

"He did us a good turn, Brian," he said.

Brian glanced at the scars which seamed the great side.

"He's a rogue," he said.

Jan nodded.

"One rogue has finished the other. But what about Pachero?"

"I don't think we shall see him again, Jan. And now suppose we get back and bring the glad news to Oram."



From Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 19 May 1917

Over the Edge

A GREAT fire of dry wood sent its flames leaping straight up into the windless African night, and threw a strong glare on the figures of three white men who were grouped together, poring over a rough chart which lay on the ground between them.

"Here are the hills," said the dapper, bright-eyed little man who seemed to be their leader, and pointed as he spoke to a caterpillar shaped mark on the map. "So far as I can see, they are the last range between us and the cache."

Frank Oram considered the map gravely.

"It's going to be a mighty awkward place to get all that ivory out of," he remarked.

"Ah, don't be worrying," said Brian Hope, the youngest of the three. "We'll get carriers some way."

Oram shook his head.

"We'll be lucky if we do. The natives are mighty independent up in this Bakulangwa country. There's not a white man comes here once in five years."

"Sure I don't blame them!" chuckled Brian. "'Tis nothing short of poor Fonseca's ivory hoard would have brought me through all these weary miles of bush."

"And even now we don't know for certain whether the stuff is there or not," said Jan Wisden rather grimly.

"Ah, shut up, Jan!" cried Brian. "Don't be throwing cold water on us. Sure I'm dreaming every night of the fortune we'll make out of those same tusks."

Jan looked at the boy.

"The sooner you're dreaming again, the better for you, Brian. We've a hard road to travel to-morrow. Get to your blankets, boy."

Though he spoke gruffly there was a very kindly look in his bright brown eyes, and Brian, with a laugh, got up and obeyed.

Next day found them climbing the eastern side of a range of steep hills. The ground was one mass of rocks, and it was as hot as it can be in the bush of North-Western Rhodesia.

Their lungs and tempers both had suffered by the time they reached the top and found themselves on a lofty ridge covered with boulders and crags.

"How on earth we're going to tote two or three tons of ivory back over this country beats me," grumbled Oram to Brian. "It'll take a regiment of niggers."

Jan Wisden, who was a few yards ahead of the other two, pulled up and looked back.

"You haven't seen the worst of it, Frank," he remarked dryly.

The other two, hurrying forward, found him standing on the very rim of a terrific precipice which dropped, Heaven knows how many hundred feet, to the black forest beneath. One step forward would have landed any of them in eternity.

"My faith, it's the world's jumping-off place!" muttered Brian appalled.

Oram stood staring out over the enormous stretch of country which lay beneath. He pointed suddenly to the north-west.

"There's the Sorcerer's Stone," he said suddenly.

"The rock that marks the ivory cache?" asked Brian breathlessly.

Oram nodded.

"Can't be much mistake about it. Now how, in the name of anything, can that rock stand like that without toppling over?"

Neither of the others volunteered any explanation. They stood staring at this extraordinary freak of Nature which, on de Silva's plan, was described as the Sorcerer's Stone.

Take Cleopatra's Needle. Make it as tall as St. Paul's Cathedral; then plant it in the ground so that it leans over at an angle of nearly forty-five degrees, and you may get some vague idea of what the three saw from the top of the great precipice on which they stood.

"Why is the forest dead all round the rock?" asked Brian suddenly.

"Flood," answered Jan in his curt way. "See, there's a big swamp away to the south. It must have risen in some very wet season, and the water has killed the timber right out."

"It hasn't improved the looks of the country, anyhow," remarked Brian. "What with that inky-looking swamp and that great desert of dead trees, to say nothing of that crazy rock pillar, 'tis as desolate a looking spot as ever I saw."

"It's no use standing croaking over it," said Jan briskly. "Our job is to find a way down this infernal cliff."

The advice was good, but the difficulty was to follow it. They tramped for miles along the scorching ridge, but it was not until long past noon that they found any break at all. Then they hit on a huge rift dropping at a fearfully steep angle towards the plain. The slope was covered with shingle and stones.

Oram stood staring down. "I don't like it," he said, shaking his head.

"Ah, what's the matter with it?" exclaimed Brian. "Sure it's easy enough." And with the rashness of youth he stepped over the edge.

Oram made a grab at him. He was just too late. The loose stuff gave way beneath Brian's feet, and he shot away downwards in the midst of a crackling avalanche of sand and small stones.

The others could do nothing. They watched in breathless horror while Brian went rushing downwards, hidden from sight by a thick cloud of dust.

Down, down he went. It looked all odds he would go clear to the bottom, where a horrible litter of knife-edged crags waited to receive him.

Halfway down was a ledge. From the top it looked too narrow to stop him, but evidently it was wider than they thought, for on it the avalanche spent its force, and when the dust had cleared Brian's horrified companions saw him lying on its very rim, buried to the waist in loose rubble.

"He's dead!" muttered Oram, white-faced and shaking.

Jan looked up. His lips were tight set, and there were deep lines on his forehead.

"No," he said curtly. "I saw his arm move. We must get him up." As he spoke he sprang to his feet, called up the carriers, and began rapidly unwinding a coil of rope which he took from one of them.

"There's not enough," said Oram despairingly.

"It's all we've got, anyhow," returned Jan as he rapidly looped one end round his body. "Catch hold, Oram."

He was over the edge in a moment, and as Oram and the carriers paid out the line and Jan made his perilous way downwards, masses of loose stuff broke away beneath him and went rattling down in a river of stone.

"I was right," groaned Oram, as the rope ran out and left Jan stranded on the sun-baked surface of the great slope, a good hundred feet above the ledge.

"Jan!" he shouted, "the rope's not long enough. You must come up again."

It was worse getting up than letting him down, but they did it at last. Jan was covered with dust, and his hands bleeding from ugly cuts.

"He's alive," he said breathlessly, "not hurt much either. But he can't move. We must get him up somehow. Tie everything together—blankets, all we've got."

"It won't work, Jan," replied Oram quietly. "All we've got won't go fifty feet, let alone a hundred. We must get back into the forest behind and cut bush ropes."

"It will take hours," retorted Jan desperately. "The heat is something frightful down there. The boy'll be dead before we can reach him. Besides, he's right on the edge. The stuff may give way any minute. Think of something else—for any sake think of something."

A shadow fell across them, and both started sharply as they looked up and saw a most singular figure emerge from behind a rock close by and step out beside them.

A black man—at least he had once been black, but now through age his skin had turned a sort of ash colour. He was terribly old. His wool—what was left of it—was snow white; his face was seamed with a million wrinkles; he was so thin that he seemed to have no flesh left, to be literally nothing but skin and bone. Only his eyes, deep sunk in his fleshless skull, were still alive and brilliant. By the charms he wore in a string around his neck, he was evidently a witch-doctor.

He raised an arm like a withered stick, and addressed the white men in a thin, piping voice.

Jan listened intently.

"What's he say?" demanded Oram.

"Wait! I can't understand yet. It's the queerest lingo."

He spoke again to the strange visitor, and as the other answered Jan's face cleared wonderfully.

"He says he can get to him. I don't know what he means or how, but he vows he can."

"For any sake tell him to try," answered Oram earnestly. "I'd give my share of the ivory to have that lad safe."

Jan nodded and spoke rapidly again to the old witch-doctor.

The old chap nodded, took a coil of rope, and walking a little way along the edge deliberately stepped off on to the slope.

"The old fool!" gasped Oram, and sprang forward. But Jan stopped him.

"It's all right!" he said triumphantly. "He knows what he's about. See there are knobs of rock sticking out above the shingle!"

He was correct; for there was the old man picking his way down the precipitous slope with an ease and surety simply amazing in one of his age and apparent feebleness.

The white men watched, breathlessly, but the old native never paused until he had gained the ledge on which Brian had landed. Along this he worked his way until he had reached the boy. Picking his footing, he pushed the shingle away until Brian could struggle loose. Then he gave him his hand, and led him back to the natural ladder, where he roped him, and signing to him to follow, led him slowly back up the steep.

Arrived at the top, Brian stumbled and fell in a heap. But a stiff nip of Cape brandy soon pulled him round.

"Are you hurt, lad?" asked Jan anxiously.

"Never a bit, barring bruises," was the answer; "but, Jan, it's sorry I am to have given you all this trouble. And who's our black friend? Faith, he beats any monkey I ever set eyes on."

"He's saved your life, boy," said Jan gravely. And taking up one of the packs he produced a dozen sticks of tobacco which he offered to the ancient.

The old man's bright eyes glistened as he look the prize. Then he burst again into rapid speech.

"What's the matter?" Brian asked. "What's he saying?"

Jan frowned.

"He seems to know what we're after, and he's warning us of trouble. He says others have tried to carry away the ivory, but that the stuff is accursed because it is the price of lives. He prophesies that we shall die unpleasantly if we go for it."

"Rats!" growled Oram. "Tell him we will take our chance."

Jan did so. The old negro answered with impressive earnestness.

"He says that even now death follows us," Jan translated. "Someone is on our trail."

Oram looked uneasy.

"Pachero," he muttered. "But how could the nigger know anything about that skunk?"

Jan shrugged his shoulders. "These chaps do get to know things. Still, we've come a bit too far to turn back now, and I'm going to offer him another dozen sticks of baccy if he'll put us wise to a way down this infernal precipice."

To this proposal the witch-doctor eventually agreed, and a mile or so farther on led them to a narrow but fairly easy pass.

The quick tropical night was falling as, stumbling through the bone dry, dead forest, they at last reached the base of the giant rock, and stopping with one accord stared up at the mighty leaning column.

"Beats me how the thing stands," said Oram in a half frightened voice. "Looks as if a touch would topple it over. Now, where's the cache?"

"That won't run away," answered Jan curtly. "We'll camp before we look for it."

"Then we'll camp this side," said Brian.

"Sure, I wouldn't be sleeping under that thing for all the ivory in Africa."

They found a little open space fifty yards to the east of the rock and pitched their tent.

Absolutely done with their tremendous exertions they swallowed their supper, and an hour later were all rolled in their blankets and sound asleep. Not even the thought of the ivory so near at hand could keep them awake.

Jan, as usual, was the first to wake and creep out. Grey dawn was just breaking. Everything was hushed and still. Jan Wisden was a hard-headed, practical man, but even he could not repress a slight shiver as he looked round at the maze of dead trees which lifted their spectral branches against the morning sky and the huge bare column of rock, the summit of which was tinged pink by the rising sun.

"Tis a witch forest all right," came a voice, and, looking round, he saw Brian beside him. "Jan, it's an ugly place."

"All of that," agreed Jan. "The sooner we get the stuff out and quit the better I'll be pleased. Come on down to the swamp and let's see if we can find water enough for a wash."

The swamp was about a quarter of a mile away, and if the dead forest was spectral, the swamp was equally uncanny. It was an endless stretch of reedy pools between which grew impenetrable bush of a curiously dark colour. The pools were too muddy and snaky to be inviting, but they found a way down to the nearest and, dipping out water with a bucket, stripped and sluiced one another.

When Pachero Reappeared!

WHEN they got back they found breakfast ready, and Oram all eagerness to begin the search.

The map showed a cross under the southern base of the great rock. It was to the south that the column leaned, and none of the three felt happy as they entered the shadow of the mighty rock.

"Sure, it looks as if one touch would tip it," said Brian uneasily.

"Nonsense!" retorted Jan sharply. "It's stood for thousands of years, and will probably be standing when we're dead and dust. Here, get busy. This must be the place."

A bare little hollow close under the foot of the rock seemed to show clearly the spot where the ivory was cached, and once the three had started digging they very soon forgot all about the rock and everything else in the excitement of the search.

The soft black earth flew in showers, and in a short time a huge hole yawned.

Brian paused and brushed the perspiration from his forehead with the back of his hand.

"Faith, it's a mighty long way down!" he observed. "Frank, I believe that old witch-doctor has sneaked it already."

Frank Oram drove his spade in deeply. The steel blade jarred on some hard object. He heaved the earth away, stooped, and gripped something which resembled a huge tree root.

Using all his strength, he levered it up and lifted a magnificent tusk weighing fully a hundredweight. It was black as ebony, but absolutely perfect.

"Not all of it, anyway," he replied in a voice that rang with triumph.

Brian gasped.

"Hurray!" he shouted. "Hurroosh, it's made men we are!"

All three set to delving frantically, and in a few moments had opened up the whole cache. Scores of huge tusks lay piled one on another in splendid profusion. There were thousands of pounds' worth of ivory in this hoard.

One after another they lifted the great tusks out of their tomb and heaved them up into the light of day. Brian had hold of a monster and was in the act of raising it when he stopped short and stared, open-mouthed and speechless, at the black muzzle of a heavy pistol which covered him from above. Behind it was a coffee brown, evil-looking face, disfigured by a long scar running right down the left cheek from eye to mouth.

"Hands up!" came a snarling voice.

"Pachero!" cried Brian.

"Pachero," repeated the other with a hideous leer. "And just in time to claim the spoil. Dogs of Englishmen, you thought yourselves safe. You never dreamed that I was on your track.

"Put up your hands!" he snarled again, for Brian was still standing with the tusk gripped in both his grimy hands.

All in a flash it came to Brian that, although he might be killed, it was just possible that he might save the others, and the ivory for them.

"How can I?" he answered calmly. "I can't lift this thing above my head."

"Then drop it!" cried Pachero, shoving his pistol a few inches forward.

And as he did so Brian lifted the tusk and drove the butt forward at him with all his might.

There was a loud report, and Brian, dropping the tusk, staggered back. Before the half-breed could fire again, Jan had whipped his own pistol from his hip pocket, and its crack was an echo of Pachero's. With a scream of agony, the man leaped back, staggered and almost fell, then, as a second bullet cut the hat from his head, recovered himself, and bolted round the base of the great rock.

"After him!" shouted Jan. "He must not escape."

He and Oram scrambled swiftly out of the pit and dashed in pursuit. But the dead trees were thick, and the long coarse grass which grew among them gave any amount of cover. Brian, climbing more slowly after them, heard the noise of pursuit die away.

Three or four minutes later Jan and Oram were back, both looking angry and crestfallen.

"He's gone!" said Oram sourly.

Jan came straight up to Brian.

"Did he hit you, lad?"

"Never touched me," Brian answered, "The bullet glanced from the tusk."

Jan gave a sigh of relief. "Thanks be!" he said. Then, after a pause, "You saved us all, old man."

"By gosh, you did!" added Oram forcibly. "You're a white man, Brian. If we get away with this stuff, it's all due to you."

Brian was young enough to flush with pleasure at his friends' praise. But before he could speak, Jan had turned and stood listening keenly.

"What's up?" asked Oram uneasily.

The answer came in a snap and a crackle, and with a sudden, pungent smell of smoke.

"The brute's fired the wood," jerked out Jan, and dashed for the tent where the native boys were waiting.

As he came tearing back, followed by the boys, each carrying a case of precious food or ammunition, the flames rushed skywards, and the blast of heat that burst upon them was like that from an open furnace door.

"The swamp!" shouted Oram. "It's our only chance."


"The swamp!" shouted Oram. "It's our only chance."

Already a great cloud of smoke was beating down, hiding everything like a thick fog. But for the fact that Jan and Brian had already visited the swamp that morning, they could never have found their way through the choking smother.

They ran for their lives, but fast as they ran the flames travelled at least as swiftly. The dead forest, parched by weeks of drought, burnt like tinder. The roar was deafening, and a tempest of sparks beat down upon them.

Blinded and confused, it was not until they felt soft mud beneath their feet that they knew that they had won to safety. Even then they had to push deep into the tangled recesses before they could find water deep enough to save them from the leaping fury of flame which filled the whole sky and air.

"The brute!" groaned Jan. "The miserable brute! If I'd only nailed him before he could strike that match."

"One comfort, he'll hardly get clear," growled Oram.

"Don't think it. He's well to windward, You may bet on that," replied Jan bitterly. "But you hit him, Jan," said Brian.

"Bah! Cut his ear off. That's all. I shan't forgive myself in a hurry for that rotten shot."

Just then such a blast of fire came flaming out over the swamp as crisped the green reeds and forced them to duck their heads under water. The great conflagration licked up everything to the very edge of the swamp, and spread and spread until every yard of the dead forest was burnt to black timber. It was hours before the fugitives were able to creep back out of their refuge on to ground which was still almost too hot to tread upon. On every side were smouldering stumps, and a fog of acrid smoke still veiled the horrible desolation.

"Go slow!" muttered Jan. "Ten to one, Pachero will be lying in wait for us."

"D'ye think the ivory has escaped?" asked Brian anxiously.

"Some of it may," Jan answered. "But I'm not thinking a deal of that, lad. It's Pachero I'm worrying about. I'd as soon have a cobra tracking me as him."

They moved on very cautiously. Ahead, above the mist of smoke, the Sorcerer's Stone still towered above the burnt and blackened wilderness.

"That infernal rock looks more crooked than ever," muttered Frank Oram, as he peered up uneasily at the overhanging mass. The words were hardly out of his mouth before the report of a rifle rang through the hot air, and a bullet smacked into the ash-clad ground not a yard from Oram's feet.

With one accord all three leaped for shelter. They found it behind the blackened stump of what had once been a huge tree.

Two more bullets followed them, one so close that Brian felt the wind of it on his cheek.

"Where did it come from?" gasped Brian.

As if in answer to his words, a harsh and hideous laugh rang out, seemingly from the sky above.

"Look!" gasped Brian. "He's on the Stone. My faith, Pachero's on the Rock!"

It was true. In some way unknown to them the half-breed had climbed the great pillar, and sheltered in a niche a hundred feet overhead threatened them with his rifle.

Jan glanced at Brian.

"He's got us to rights," he said curtly. "We can't move without his making a target of us."

"'Deed, but it's worse than that!" replied Brian. "If he climbs higher, he can get us where we are."

Jan nodded. "You're right, lad. And that's what he's doing this minute."

There was nothing to be said, nothing to be done. There they lay at their enemy's mercy, and mercy from Pachero was as likely as charity from a tiger.

Slowly the fellow crept upwards. He was out of their range, but the muzzle of his rifle always threatened them. There was no other cover near, and it was only a matter of minutes before Pachero would be able to shoot straight down upon them. They lay, helpless, gazing up. Their lives could be measured in moments.

It was Brian saw it first, but Brian did not speak, for he believed his eyes were tricking him. But the veil of sheer and utter terror which rang out from Pachero's throat suddenly assured them all that it was true, and with one accord they leaped to their feet and ran as if devils were after them.

Yell after yell cracked the sky, but were drowned by another sound, so terrific that it seemed as though the very world were breaking to pieces—a hollow crunching and cracking like the beginning of a great earthquake.

Then a rending as though a mountain were being plucked up by the roots, followed by a shock so tremendous that the solid earth heaved and leaped beneath them, and all three were flung down on their faces in the deep carpet of ash.

When they struggled to their feet again the Sorcerer's Stone no longer blocked the sky. It lay prone, full length upon the battered earth.

"What did it?" asked Brian in a shaken voice as they stood beside the mighty bulk of fallen rock.

Jan shook his head.

"Must have been the fire. Pachero's weight could have made no difference," he answered.

"It's buried the cache," said Oram dully.

"Who cares?" retorted Jan. "It's saved our lives."

"And killed Pachero," added Brian quickly. "Don't be worrying, Frank. Sure, 'tis a sign of good luck to us. We've our lives and our rifles and our grub. A pity it is if we'd lose heart over one smack in the eye. Pluck up your spirits, man, and let's be moving. It isn't me will be spending another night in this wood of witches. What do you say, Jan?"

"You're right, lad. Let's git," said Jan briefly.



From Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 26 May 1917

Through the Gorge

WHEN, after a week's hard travelling, Jan Wisden and Brian Hope reached the hilltop above the ruins of the dead city of Kabrassa, both stopped with one accord and stood staring at the strange scene below.

"Did you ever see the like, Jan?" muttered Brian in an awed tone. "Will ye look at those walls now and the great towers rising above the trees."

Jan did not answer at once, and Brian, turning to him, saw the wiry little man shiver slightly.

"What is it, Jan?" he asked anxiously. "Is it fever you're getting?"

Jan shook his head.

"It's not fever, lad. It was just a queer feeling came over me. If I was superstitious, which I'm not, I'd say the place was haunted."

Brian nodded understandingly. He quite realised what Jan meant. The sun was low and the lost city lying in a great, cup-shaped hollow in the hills was half in shadow.

Jan roused himself sharply.

"A pretty fool I am to go talking rot like this!" he said curtly. "Let's find a camping-place and get our supper. To-morrow we'll start the search in earnest."

"Faith, a needle in a hay stack'll be a joke to this, Jan," said Brian; but Jan merely shrugged his shoulders impatiently and went on down the hill.

Near the bottom a little spring welled out of the rocks, and here Jan came to a stop and directed Zumbo, their head boy, to make camp.

Jan and Brian had just begun their supper when there was a rustle in the bush, and a man stepped into the ring of firelight. For the moment they were too amazed to speak. A man, especially a white man, was the last thing they had expected to meet in this forsaken spot, unless, indeed, it was the one whom they had come to search for, and this most certainly was not he.

"Evening, gents," he said easily. "Got a bit of baccy to spare? I've run plumb out."

Jan pulled out a plug of tobacco and handed if over.

"Sit down and have a cup of coffee," he said in his quietest voice. Brian, filling a mug with coffee, took careful stock of the stranger. The latter was a tall, skinny-looking man who might have been any age from thirty to forty. His face was half covered with a heavy beard, and what skin showed was burnt almost black by the African sun. He had queer, greenish eyes set deep under shaggy eyebrows.

"That's mighty good coffee," said the man as he drank it; and all the time Brian felt the fellow was watching them both. "You come to have a look at the ruins?"

"Yes," replied Jan.

"But you ain't tourists?" said the other.

"No, we're not tourists," Jan replied.

Brian repressed a chuckle. Jan was not an easy person to pump.

"Well," said the stranger, after a pause, "I'm game to show you round. Though I say it myself, you won't find many who know this old town better than Adam Grimble."

"How much do you want?" asked Jan.

"Ten bob a day and grub."

Jan nodded.

"Right. We'll try you, anyway.

"Seen any strangers or tourists around here lately?" he continued.

"Yes. I seed an old chap here about a fortnight since. Funny old josser, with long side-whiskers and one o' them cork helmets. Had four boys along with him."

"Which way did he go?" questioned Jan.

"Now you're asking, mister. I been wondering about that myself. He was in the ruins three days, then he took out over them hills to the east there. Said he were going to look at some caves where the old folk buried their dead. I ain't seed him since."

They talked a little more, then Grimble went off, promising to be back by daylight.

Brian watched him disappear.

"What do you think of him, Jan," he asked eagerly.

"Can't size him up yet," replied Jan.

"Think he really knows anything about old Meggieson?" continued Brian.

"I shouldn't wonder if he knows a good deal," Jan answered rather grimly. "I can't say I was taken with his looks or manner."

"Then why in the name of anything are you employing him?"

"Because I'd rather have him where I can see him, Brian. Do you get me?"

"Faith, I do," Brian answered with a laugh. "And if we can use him to earn us the reward Sterne offered for finding the old Professor, why so much the better—eh, Jan?"

"This was the way the old chap went," explained Grimble, as he pointed to a narrow gorge which cut upwards through the tall cliffs at a stiff angle.

"And where is this burial cave?" asked Jan.

"Up there—to the right. Want to see it?"

Jan nodded; and they started up the gorge. After a tough scramble they gained the top, and looked down from a height of fully five hundred feet into the forest-shrouded ruins below.

"Now what about the cave?" inquired Jan. Grimble pointed to a broad ledge some thirty feet below.

"It runs in from there. I tell you straight it's a nasty place to get to."

"If this old gentleman we're looking for got there we ought to be able to. D'ye know the way?"

"Only time I've been there I worked down that crevice with a rope," said Grimble.

"Good enough," replied Jan. "I see you've got a rope. Lead the way."

Grimble fastened one end of the rope round a boulder, and grasping it firmly, started off hand over hand down the chimney-like fissure.

"I'll take jolly good care he goes first," muttered Jan to Brian. "The more I see of the beauty the less I like him."

Grimble disappeared from sight over a projecting ledge, and only the vibration of the rope showed that he was still on it. After another minute or two the quivering ceased.

"Is it all right?" shouted Jan.

"All right," came back Grimble's voice, ringing hollow among the rocks.

"You next, Brian," said Jan briefly.

Brian slid easily down. As soon as he was off the rope he gave a shout, and Jan followed. They found themselves on a broad level ledge from which opened the arched entrance of a vast cavern.

"Where's Grimble?" was Jan's first question.

"Gone on into the cave. Said he was going to light a torch."

"I don't see any light," replied Jan, with sudden suspicion.

"I saw him go in," said Brian. "Ah, there's his light."

A faint glow like that from a candle showed in the darkness. Jan and Brian went cautiously towards it.

"It's a candle right enough," said Brian; "but where's Grimble?"

With a sharp exclamation Jan bolted for the entrance. Brian, wondering what was up, followed. Jan reached the ledge first and rushed towards the fissure. Brian saw him make a wild jump at something, miss it and slip back. Looking up, he saw the dangling end of the rope disappearing up the gully. A mocking laugh came from above.

"The pig!" muttered Jan. "He's tricked us finely. He must have slipped past us in the darkness while we were hunting the candle like a pair of silly moths.

"It's my fault," he added curtly. "I ought to have watched him. But what's his game?"

"Plain enough," replied Brian quickly. "He's responsible for the Professor's disappearance, and now he means that we shall disappear too."

Jan went to the edge of the precipice and lay flat down on his stomach. His keen eyes roved here and there across the cliff.

It was some minutes before he rose to his feet.

"We can get down, lad," he announced. "It'll be a nasty job, but it's possible. See that projecting stone about twenty-feet to the right. If we can reach it we can gain that ledge below. After that it doesn't look so bad."

Brian said nothing. To him the climb seemed impossible.

"Off with your boots," said Jan curtly. "You'll climb better barefooted."

Both stripped off boots and socks and tied them on their backs. Jan opened his big clasp-knife, and holding it crossways between his teeth, he stepped, cautiously over the end of the overhang, dug his left hand into a cranny, and drove the toes of his right foot into a narrow crevice beneath.

Inch by inch he worked his way forward, and Brian, setting his teeth, followed. Jan looked back.

"Move just as I do. Don't look down," he said.

Brian knew that one slip, the failure of a hand- or foot-hold would send him toppling into the frightful abyss below. He tried not to think of it, but to keep his whole attention on the work. At last Jan gained a point within six feet of the projecting rock. Then he stopped, and Brian saw that there was absolutely no handhold between him and it. Clinging with one hand, he took the knife from his mouth and deliberately set to digging one. Each fragment of rock went tinkling down endlessly into the blue depths beneath. Brian had all he could do not to watch them. His own fingers were cramping badly.

It seemed to Brian hours before the job was finished and Jan able to swing across the gap. But he did it at last, and Brian followed.

"Good work, lad!" said Jan cheerily as they clung together on the spur and got their breath. "The rest won't be so bad. But I wish I knew what had become of that swab Grimble. It would be awkward if he started rolling rocks on us from above."

"He'll not wait to do that. Sure, he thinks we're safe enough in that cave where he left us," replied Brian. "Will we go on, Jan?"

Jan nodded; and they started again. As Jan had prophesied, the worst was over, and the rest, though stiff enough, was not too bad. Zigzagging up and down the face of the mighty cliff they came at last to a ledge some twenty feet from the bottom.

"Done it at last," remarked Jan. "And now for a little chat with Adam Grimble!" As he spoke he lowered himself over the ledge and laid hold of a small bush which grew out of the cliff-face a little way below.

"Look out!" cried Brian sharply. It was too late. The bush came out by the roots, and before Brian's horrified eyes the plucky little man thudded to the bottom.

Brian spotted a soft place below, chanced it, and dropped, reaching the ground in safety.

"Jan!" he cried desperately. "Jan!"

But Jan lay very still. His eyes were closed, and to Brian it seemed that he had ceased to breathe.

Brian reached for his water-bottle. It was empty. He looked round wildly, spotted a gleam of water through the trees in the distance, and dashed off.

A little brook tinkled among the trees, and stooping, he dipped his bottle into it. Before he could regain his feet he heard, a rustle behind him. He leaped to his feet just in time to meet the rush of a bullet-headed man who came at him like a tiger. There were two others behind him.

Taken by surprise as he was, his fists were ready. He met the first with a smashing right-hander, and the fellow collapsed with a yell. The next tripped over him, and Brian got the third round the waist with the grip of a bear and swung him with all his strength. He went rolling across the hard ground like a rubber ball.

The second man was on his feet again. He was Grimble himself, and before Brian could spring clear he had closed. Grimble had the lean, wiry strength of an ape, and battle as he might the tall Irish boy could not free himselfz of the clinging grip. To and fro they reeled, Brian fighting with a desperation born of the need to help Jan rather than to save himself.


The man had the lean, wiry strength of an ape,
and the tall Irish boy could not free himself.

Grimble tripped and fell with Brian on top of him.

"Help, Deeks! Help!" yelled Grimble, then his shout was cut to a gurgle as Brian got his fingers on his windpipe.

There was a rush of feet, a stick whizzed through the air, and its knobbed end descended on Brian's head. A shower of sparks flashed before his eyes, and he dropped helpless on top of his first assailant.


TO be knocked out is a comparatively painless proceeding. To come to after a knock-out blow is always highly unpleasant, the more so when, as in Brian's case, your bed is bare rock, and there is no ministering angel in the way of a nurse to hold a cold sponge to your forehead.

The light was dim, and the only substitute for a nurse that Brian could see was an elderly gentleman with a pinched, white face and long white hair. The latter was sitting beside him, with his head bowed forward, looking extremely unhappy. Both he and his companion were chained like dogs to the wall behind them.

Brian's aching eyes roved past him and fell on walls of solid masonry which surrounded him and arched upwards till they nearly met, leaving only a small hole overhead, through which a patch of brilliantly blue sky was visible. The place was like a huge stone bottle, and for the life of him Brian could not size it up.

He glanced at the old man again, and an idea dawned slowly in his pain-dulled brain.

"Are you Professor Meggieson?" he asked.

The old gentleman started.

"My poor boy, I thought you were dead," he exclaimed.

"Faith, I'm a long way off that yet," replied Brian. "But are ye the Professor?"

"Yes, sir, I am Professor Meggieson—was at least before these fiends, Grimble and Deeks, turned me into a caged beast."

"And what did they do that for?"

"Because in the course of my researches I have been fortunate enough to hit upon a symbol of the ancient sun worship, a great disc done in virgin gold. It is a treasure beyond price. I hid it, but most foolishly mentioned it to Grimble, and he, the miserable barbarian, demanded that I should give it up to him. Imagine it! He would melt it down."

The Professor's voice rose. His eyes glowed with indignation.

"So they put ye in here, hoping ye'd change your mind?" said Brian.

"I have existed in this abominable slave pit for thirteen days. But never—not if I die here—shall those villains have the secret of my golden sun."

"Slave pit, ye call it?" said Brian.

"Yes. This is where the ancients kept their slaves at night. They were driven down through the opening above, then the ladder was taken away and they were left to stew through the sweltering night. Ah, never did I think that I, Professor of Ancient History, should come so clearly to realise the sufferings of those poor wretches." He broke off suddenly.

"But who are you, my young friend, and how did you come here?" he inquired.

Brian told him who he was and that he and Jan had come to search for him.

"And Jan's lying there at the foot of the cliff, dying maybe, with no one to help him!" he said bitterly.

He started up as he spoke. "I must go to him," he cried wildly. "I must go and help him. There must be some way out."

"There is no way out," replied the Professor gravely. "No way out at all, save through that hole above."

Brian dropped back with a groan. His head ached horribly, and his mouth was dry as dust. He was as near despair as he had ever been.

There was a long silence. Then the Professor spoke again.

"I must give it up," he said sadly. "For myself I would not care. They might kill me before I would say a word, but I cannot leave these brave fellows who have come to help me to die in misery."

"What is it? What are ye saying, sir?" asked Brian thickly.

The Professor roused. "That I must give up the disc," he said firmly. "I will tell them when they come."

"Ye'll not do it," Brian was suddenly wide awake. "Ye will not do it, Professor. Sure, Jan would say the same as me. Would we be buying our lives from thim divils?"

A faint smile crossed the Professor's tired face.

"My lad, believe me, I appreciate your pluck," he answered. "But I have thought it all out and have made up my mind. It would not be right for me to refuse to ransom ourselves. Say no more. I have made up my mind."

"About time you did too, you old fool," came a coarse voice from above; and looking up, Brian saw Grimble's hairy face outlined against the evening sky in the opening overhead. "Now then, out with it, and when I've got the plunder I'll pull you out and let you loose."

Brian leaped to his feet.

"You get the plunder!" he cried. "Never in this world, ye black-faced ape!"

Grimble growled savagely.

"Who asked you to put your oar in, you meddling fool?" he roared. He choked with fury. "But I'll teach you who's master before I've done with you. Here, Deeks!"

There was a shuffling sound above. Brian realised that they were dragging something up to the pit mouth. He wondered what it was.

He had not long to wait. Next moment a great mass of burning grass was flung down into the pit. It fell to the bottom and blazed up fiercely. Then more and more was flung down. It was wet, and great coils of smoke rose, and began to fill the hollow with a stifling smother.

"Now what do you think o' that?" came Grimble's jeering tones.

Brian and the Professor were dumb with horror. The smoke was awful. It caught their eyes, their throats, and in a moment they were half blind and choking miserably.

Brian strained furiously at the chain which held him, but old as it was, it was far too strong to break.

"When you're ready, ye can shout," Grimble sneered from above.

"It's no use, Hope," gasped the Professor, the tears streaming from his smarting eyes. "Five minutes of this will finish us. We must give in."

"Not yet," answered Brian hoarsely. "Get your head close to the ground. It's not so bad there."

Not so bad perhaps, but bad enough. Brian's throat was like fire. The agonies he endured were unspeakable. He would have given worlds for a drink of water. And still the smoke rose so that the whole pit was like the inside of a chimney.

Minutes went by. The Professor was flat on his face. Brian spoke to him, but he did not answer.

"It's no good," groaned Brian. "I'll have to give up."

He glanced at the burning mass. A flame showed and the smoke was thinning. He resolved to hang on a little longer.

"Had enough?" It was Grimble's voice again. "If you haven't, just say so."

Brian did not answer.

"You've gone a bit too far, Adam," came a second voice—that of Deeks. "You've finished 'em, you fool."

"Not a bit of it," growled Grimble. "They're shamming. Here, wake up, you, or I'll wake you up all right."

Still Brian was silent. There was a pause. Then, peering up cautiously, he saw a rough ladder being pushed down. His heart beat furiously as through the thinning smoke he spotted Grimble's' lanky form appear on the upper rungs.

Grimble came halfway down.

"You, Hope!" he bellowed. "Wake up and answer or I'll make you.

"I mean it," he added threateningly.

Brian lay still and silent. He had a wild hope that the fellow might venture within his reach.

Crash! The sound of the shot was like a cannon in that confined space. The bullet chipped the rock above Brian's head.

Was it a bluff, or would the next bullet bury itself in his body?

Brian never knew. At that moment came a smothered shriek. A heavy body came toppling through the pit mouth and fell full on Grimble, sweeping him off the ladder. He and Deeks together fell with a crash on to the rock floor below. There they lay very still among the embers of the still smouldering fire.

"That's for you!" came a triumphant shout from above.

"You, Jan?" gasped Brian, and struggled up. It was all he could do. His senses failed and he collapsed in a heap on the floor.

"And how was it ye did it, Jan?" asked Brian. "Faith, I thought when I went for the water it was dead ye were entirely."

Brian, Jan and the Professor were sitting round their camp fire when Brian asked this question. After getting the prisoners out of the pit Jan had refused to say a word until their wants had been attended to. Now the little man looked up with a smile.

"No, lad," he said. "Luckily I was only stunned. But I lay there a good while, I fancy, before I came to. Then I found the faithful Zumbo sitting by me on his hunkers, and pouring water over my head. Seems he'd watched the whole business from above, but it had taken him an hour or more to get down into the valley.

"He'd had the sense to bring my gun, so I went off on the warpath, and managed to get the drop on two of the bounders and hold them up. Luckily one was pretty badly damaged already. It wasn't so easy to round up t'other chaps. I had to wait till Grimble got into conversation with you. Then I was on to Deeks."

"And tipped him over?" grinned Brian.

Jan nodded.

"I had to," he said briefly. "I didn't know he'd break his neck."

There was silence a minute. Then the Professor spoke:

"I am not sorry," he said gravely. "Men like those are a danger to their fellows."

"Faith, ye've hit it once, sir," agreed Brian. "'Tis better dead he is. But thanks be, you're alive. Did he know they've promised us two hundred pounds if we bring you back fit and well."

"I am glad of that," answered the Professor warmly. "Indeed you have earned the money."



From Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 2 Jun 1917

THE hillside was bare rock on which the African sun blazed down searchingly. You could see the air dancing as it does over a lime-kiln.

To Brian Hope, the tall young Irishman, the spot looked barren and desolate beyond words, and he was surprised to see the gleam of interest in the eyes of his companion as he stood at the forest edge and looked out across the waste of tumbled rocks.

"Come on with ye, Jan," he said. "This place makes my eyes ache just to look at."

"Then they'll ache a lot more before you're through, son," replied Jan in his dry way.

"Ah, what do ye mean, Jan?"

"I mean that we're going to camp right here, Brian. This place looks good to me."

"Good for snakes or sunstroke," retorted Brian.

Jan laughed. "It's a sure thing you've never been prospecting before, lad. If there isn't metal here I'll be badly disappointed."

"Metal?" said Brian blankly.

"Aye—tin or maybe silver. Anyhow, we'll have a look."

Brian shrugged his shoulders. What Jan said went, and he did not waste time remonstrating.

A small brook ran down from the hills and lost itself in the bush below. It was only a trickle, but enough for their needs, and before sunset their carriers had pitched camp, and all preparations were made for a stay of some days.

"Ye think there's a chance of making good here, Jan?" questioned Brian as the two sat over their supper in the cool of the evening.

"All I say is it's worth trying," replied Jan. "I've seen no more likely looking ground since we started out. I won't promise we'll make that fortune we've been looking for so long, but I've a notion we'll earn good interest on that five hundred we got for finding Professor Meggieson."

"If we're going to stay here long, we'll be needing meat," remarked Brian.

"We will that, lad, and it's you will go and look for it first thing in the morning."

Brian's face brightened. He loved shooting as much as he hated digging. And he had done a deal of digging since he and Jan had started out on this prospecting trip.

"You bet I will," he said heartily; and reaching for his rifle set to work on his regular nightly task of cleaning and oiling it.

The sun was hot yet above the hills next morning when Brian set out. He had to go alone, for Jan needed all four of the boys to help him in his work.

Game was scarce, and it was well on in the afternoon and far down in the low country before Brian found the recent spoor of an eland. The eland is the biggest of all antelopes and by far the finest eating. Brian vowed he would have the beast if he had to track till night.

But luck, which had been against him all day, was now suddenly good to him. He spoored the eland into a patch of lew but thick bush, and his heart beat fast as he realised the creature was almost certain to be still grazing there.

The bush was dotted with those gigantic ant-hills which are found all over Rhodesia. They were great conical mounds, ten or twelve feet high, and under their cover Brian crept softly up.

He peered round the edge of one, and there was the eland, a splendid bull, nearly as big as a horse, standing under the low, spreading branches of a great thorn tree.

Brian lifted his rifle soundlessly and aimed with the greatest care at the hollow behind the shoulder. His finger tightened gently on the trigger, a whip-like crack echoed through the forest, and the eland, making one convulsive leap into the air, fell crashing to the ground.

"Faith, Jan himself wouldn't beat that!" declared Brian in high delight, as he drew his knife and ran across. He meant to carry a good joint back to camp, and hang up the rest of the meat, to be fetched next morning.

He had hardly got the blade into the throat, before a tremendous crackling and crashing made him leap to his feet and snatch up his rifle.

Out from the bush, right through the ant-heaps, came a native boy, running for dear life. Sweat dripped from him, his face was the colour of ashes, his eyes were almost popping out of his head.

Right at his heels raced the most fearsome looking monster. Bigger than any bull, it was covered with shaggy hair, and its vast, sharp-pointed horns had a sweep of full seven feet from tip to tip. Its little fierce eyes glowed blood-red, and in spite of its ton of weight, it came along at the speed of a motor-car.

There was no chance for anything but a snap shot, and no one knew the risk better than Brian. Any big-game man would sooner face a charging lion than a wounded wood buffalo.

But he had to save the boy, and there was not a second to spare. As the buffalo came crashing past he fired twice in rapid succession.


Brian had to save the boy, and there was not a second to spare.
As the buffalo came crashing past he fired twice in rapid succession.

Both bullets got home, for the huge brute reeled and for an instant he thought it was done. But next instant it had recovered and, wheeling pivot-like, came driving, at him furiously.

Brian made one leap for the nearest ant-hill and just managed to get behind it. Round came the buffalo, quick as a terrier on a rat, and Brian only saved himself by a frantic scramble up the steep side of the mound.

With a bellow that set the hot air quivering, the huge beast wheeled again, and made a ferocious charge at the hill. A buffalo does not charge blind like a bull. The brute had its fiery eyes on Brian all the time, and to his horror he saw it come shooting up the ant-hill as quickly as he had climbed himself.

There was no time to shoot, no time for anything but to leap down on the far side. He caught his foot, stumbled and came down in a heap at the bottom. He gave himself up for lost, but as he flung himself sideways there was a great crash, and a cloud of dust rose. The crust of the ant-hill had broken through under the buffalo's weight and the creature's forelegs were in up to the shoulders.

Brian sprang to his feet, flung his rifle to his shoulder and the heavy .38 calibre bullet smashed into the buffalo's throat and ploughed through to its spine. The shaggy head jerked up convulsively, then fell forward, and a ton-weight of dead bone and flesh came rolling harmlessly down to firm ground.

As Brian stood panting, hardly realising that the danger was at an end, a little black figure ran up and, flinging itself before him, lilted one of his feet and tried to place it on his head. It was the native boy.

"Steady on!" exclaimed Brian. "Don't be licking my boots. Here, get up wid ye. There's no danger any more."

He took hold of the boy and pulled him up. The lad, who was no more than sixteen, but a better looking youngster than most of the natives, was pouring out a string of what were evidently thanks, although Brian could not make out much of what he was saying.

When the boy had quieted down a bit, Brian turned to the eland and began butchering it. The boy had no knife, but he helped hang up the meat.

"Not that it's much good," said Brian ruefully. "The boy's dead sure to bring his tribe along to-night, and there won't be enough left to feed a jackal by the morning."

He shouldered all he could carry, nodded to the youngster, and pushed off at a smart pace for camp. It was nearly dark when he got there, and the first thing he saw was Jan sitting over the fire and scraping a piece of stone with a knife.

Jan glanced up.

"Meat! Good for you, lad. I knew you'd get it."

"And what's the good word with you, Jan? Have ye found the fortune yet?"

Jan held up the piece of stone. It was dark in colour, and clearly very heavy.

"Twenty per cent, tin, Brian," he answered, and quiet as his voice was it held a little ring of triumph which told Brian a deal more than the bare words. "Twenty per cent. tin, lad. It may not be a fortune, but it's the first step to one. With any luck at all, we'll sell this claim for a couple of thousand pounds."

"Good for yourself, Jan!" cried Brian; and then told of his own experience with the buffalo and the boy.

Jan wanted to start out and fetch the meat at once, but he saw Brian was too done to guide them back all that long way. So he made him get to sleep at once; and they were up and off at dawn. A pleasant surprise awaited them. The meat was untouched.

"They're white niggers, these new friends of yours," said Jan with a smile. "We'll take the eland and leave them the buffalo. Load up now, boys."

IT was a long tramp back to camp with their heavy load, and it was nearly midday when they arrived. Then they had to put all hands to work to strip the meat and dry it into biltong. They were in the middle of this when Brian heard a slight sound, and looking up, was almost paralysed to see the muzzle of a rifle covering his head.

The man who held the weapon was a tall, bearded person, with a crooked nose and an ugly eye.

"Put your hands up!" he remarked, pushing the black muzzle significantly closer.

Brian had no choice but to obey, and glancing rapidly sideways, saw that Jan, like himself, was also covered, while a third man, a great tub of a chap, with a huge moustache, threatened Zumbo and the other three native boys.

"Now ye derned thieves," remarked the man who covered Brian, "p'raps you'll be kind enough to tell us what ye mean by trying to steal our prospect."

"Your prospect!" retorted Jan sharply. "It's nothing of the sort. We found it and staked it."

"Ho, did ye? And shifted our stakes first, didn't ye?"

"That's a lie, and you know it," answered Jan. "It's you who are the thieves, and not we."

"You crow, loud, my bantam," jeered the big, broken-nosed fellow. "Well, me and my pals ain't got time to argue with ye. Git up, the lot of ye, and march. No monkey business now, or—"

A significant movement of his rifle made his meaning plainer than words.

Brian's blood boiled. He would have given two fingers to hurl himself at the ugly, sneering brute. But he hadn't a chance. The three scoundrels had him and Jan absolutely at their mercy. There was nothing for it but to obey.

Without their rifles, without food or any of their possessions, they were marched away through the bush.

What was going to happen they could not even guess. All they knew was that they were at the mercy of as ugly a looking gang as they had ever run against.

Their captors took them downhill into the low country, and on and on through narrow tracks in the windless heat of the African noon.

Brian was dog-tired, but he watched like a cat for any chance of escape. It was no use. The man who guarded him never took his eyes off him. There was nothing for it but patience. After an hour's hard marching Brian caught a gleam of water through the trees. A minute or two later they came out on the bank of a good sized river. It was the Luaba, which they had crossed on their way up.

Under the bank, in a little backwater, three canoes were drawn up. While two of the men guarded the prisoners, the third, a wizened, evil-faced monkey of a man, chose the oldest, smallest canoe and untied it.

"Git in!" said the broken-nosed man curtly to Brian.

Brian obeyed. There was no help for it.

Then Jan was driven in.

"Hold out your hands," was the next order.

"Tie 'em, Dench," ordered Broken-Nose. And the monkey-faced man proceeded to lash their wrists tightly with stout cord.

Then all three got into the largest canoe and towed the little one out into the stream. They took it to the middle and cast it loose.

Broken-Nose gave it a good shove off.

"Bye-bye," he said sneeringly.

Jan turned, and his eyes glittered like steel.

"Au revoir," he answered quietly. "To our next meeting!"

"Ye fool!" jeered Broken-Nose with a snarl. "Ye've seed the last of us, and the last o' the mine ye stole."

Without another word he dipped his paddle, and the three drove back to the shore.

The small canoe drifted rapidly down stream. There was a strong current, and though at times she swung in eddies she never came anywhere near the shore.

Brian looked at Jan. The latter was working desperately at his wrists, chafing the cord against the gunwale of the canoe.

"What's to happen, Jan?" asked the young Irishman with unusual seriousness.

"Need you ask?" replied Jan fiercely. "It's meat for crocodiles we'll be if we don't get free soon. Work, lad, work!" he urged. "Work so that we can get ashore and after those infernal thieves."

Brian obeyed, and began chafing the lashings against the opposite gunwale. It was useless, for the cord was new and harsh. It would have taken a knife to cut it.

Jan stopped.

"Put your hands over here, Brian. Let me try to untie the knot."

But, his fingers were swollen and almost useless, and the monkey-faced man had done his work too well. The perspiration streamed down Jan's face, while the canoe floated fast down between the thick walls of forest.

Brian looked round.

"We're going quicker," he said.

"I know," Jan replied briefly.

There came to Brian's ears a strange sound. It was a deep boom like an organ-note. It was very faint and distant, but did not cease for a single moment. And as he listened Brian realised that it was increasing in volume.

"D'ye hear that, Jan?" he asked presently.

Jan nodded. "D'ye know what it is?" he countered.

"Faith, it sounds like a waterfall."

"It is, lad. And unless something mighty like a miracle happens, we'll be over it before we're a quarter of an hour older."

"That's what they meant for us, I suppose," muttered Brian.

"Not a doubt of it. It was the quickest and quietest method of getting us out of the way. Who's to say murder if a couple of men go over the falls in a canoe?"

The roar grew steadily louder. Jan picked desperately at the knots on Brian's wrists, but though he tore his nails till they bled he could not loosen them.

The force of the current increased. The canoe rounded a curve, and now the roar was thunder. Dead ahead, about half a mile away, a vast column of foam rose high in the air.

"Chuck it, Jan," said Brian. "You can't do any good.. And if you could, there's no time left."

Jan turned and looked at the shining spray-cloud. His lips were tight set.

"To think we'll never have a chance to get even!" he muttered.

Brian was not listening. His eyes were fixed upon the bank.

"Look!" he cried sharply. "Look, Jan!"

A canoe had suddenly shot into view. It was a small native craft, and there were four men in it. Natives, all of them, and by the way they drove along, evidently picked paddlers. They came from a point almost opposite, and paddled as hard as ever they could go towards the little craft in which Jan and Brian were fast drifting to destruction.

"Gad, they've pluck!" muttered Jan.

The fall was now not three hundred yards away, and they themselves in the full grip of the racing current.

The muscles on the arms of the natives in the canoe stood out like cords as they fought their way across. But hard as they worked, they were carried sideways, one foot for every three they advanced.

Suddenly Brian gave a shout.

"It's my boy, Jan. Sure, it's the lad the buffalo was after."

His voice was almost drowned in the thunder of the fall, but Jan understood and nodded.

On came the canoe. Next moment it was abreast of the derelict.

The native boy in the stern of the other canoe rose to his feet, and as his canoe bumped alongside, sprang lightly into the other. A knife flashed in his hand, and in a trice he had slashed the cords which bound Jan and Brian. He shouted to his men, and they flung two spare paddles across. Jan caught one, Brian the other, and both crews set to work desperately to save themselves from the fate which it seemed now too late to escape.

The boy was in the stern. He turned the canoe at an angle to the stream, at the same time shouting frantically to the white men. Luckily, Jan who knew most native languages, understood.

"There's an eddy, Brian. To the left there. Close above the falls. He says it's our only chance."

To anyone watching from the bank it must have looked as though both crews were bent on committing suicide. The two light, craft drove right down upon the left-hand edge of the falls. Brian's heart was in his mouth. It seemed any odds on the next ten seconds seeing the end. He found himself wondering if the drop would take long, and whether he would know when he reached the bottom.

They were actually in the great mist wreath. The crash of falling water was deafening. Then suddenly the canoe swung sideways, and spun right round, barely escaping a vast mass of dark rock which loomed up under the water.

She steadied, then, under the dip of the three paddles, shot on again. Before Brian could realise it her bow struck solid ground.

If Brian could not understand their rescuer's language, he could not doubt his sentiments. The lad was fairly dancing with delight. After a while he and his men, who had also got in safely, lifted out the canoes and portaged them up the bank for about half a mile. Then they paddled across in safety.

"His name is Kanga," explained Jan, "and he's the son of the headman. He's taking us to his father's village."

There were no half measures about Kanga, or his father either.

The latter, a very fine-looking old savage, received his visitors with open arms. Neither he nor his son could do enough for them. They were given a big hut for themselves. Mealie porridge and steaks cut from the buffalo itself were brought in clean wooden platters. There was pombe, the native beer, plenty of milk, and any amount of eggs. They had such a supper as they had not eaten for weeks.

The chief, whose name was Mandi, was very anxious to hear how his white friends had got into such a fix, and Jan told him the whole story. Mandi's stern eyes glowed, and he immediately suggested that he should muster his whole force—some sixty fighting men, and wipe the mine thieves off the face of the earth.

To Brian's surprise, Jan refused.

Old Mandi was quite upset, but Jan was firm. The only thing he would sanction was that a party should be sent out to find and bring in Zumbo and their other three native boys, who had no doubt fled into the bush.

This was done, and next evening Zumbo and his three were found and brought in. They were badly scared and very hungry, but otherwise none the worse. They, like their masters, enjoyed the rest and fat living in Mandi's kraal, and there they all remained quietly for a week.

Brian was worried. He always trusted Jan, but now he really thought that the little man must have taken leave of his senses.

"Sure, the hounds will eat all our grub," he complained. "And they'll be taking out our tin, and maybe using our guns."

Jan grinned, but would not answer, and it was not until the eighth morning that he at last suggested a trip to their old camp.

He took twenty of Mandi's men, refusing any more.

They reached the edge of the bush below the bare hillside at an early hour, but Jan would not hear of an attack. Instead, he moved quietly uphill along the little brook for about half a mile. There he stopped, well out of sight of the camp, and choosing a good spot, set his men to work to dam the stream.

This did not take long, and soon the flow was quite cut off.

Brian's doubts of Jan's sanity increased, but when Jan hid his force among the rocks and scrub and told them to be quiet, he began to smell a rat.

Sure enough, in about an hour's time, a figure came tramping up the hill, and Brian's breath came more quickly as he recognised the broken-nosed leader of the gang.

He was scowling savagely, but when at last he reached the dam his expression changed to puzzlement. It changed still more when, without the slightest warning, Jan and Brian together jumped down over the bank, and before the fellow could so much as shout, had him flat on his back.

He was instantly gagged and tied and dragged aside into the bushes.

"One," chuckled Jan. "Are you getting the hang of it, Brian?"

"'Deed, I am, then," replied Brian grinning. "Is it the lot ye hope to bag, Jan?"

"I do," replied Jan briefly, as he hid again.

Another hour passed, and Jan nudged Brian.

"Here's Monkey-Face," he whispered.

Monkey-Face fell into the trap as easily as Broken-Nose, but it was getting well on in the afternoon before the third, the tubby man with the walrus-like moustache, appeared.

Brian, slipped up behind him and jammed Broken-Nose's rifle against his head, and laughed outright at the look of blank amazement on the fat fellow's face.

"That's the lot," said Jan, coming up, and helping to tie the prisoner. "Now what about having a look at our prospect?"

"Faith, and it's time we did!" exclaimed Brian. But Jan only smiled in his dry way, and leaving the prisoners in charge of their native allies, they went towards the claim.

"Will ye look at it!" cried Brian as they came near. "Sure, they've hoisted half the countryside!"

They had not quite done that, but the mine thieves had certainly used a considerable quantity of dynamite and had opened out a regular chasm among the rocks.

Jan stood beside it, and pointed to where a broad band of dark-coloured ore crossed the strata.

"There's the vein, Brian," hie remarked, "Nothing to do but pick the stuff out."

Brian glanced at his partner, and saw the twinkle in his eyes. He himself burst out laughing.

"Ah, Jan, it's you are the cute one!" he said. Jan shrugged his shoulders.

"It's always easier to let the other chaps do the work," he answered, "They've saved us a week's hard digging, to say nothing of more dynamite than we can afford. But it's taken you some time to see it, lad. Now what shall we do—work it or sell it?"

"I'm fed up with this part of Africa," said Brian quickly. "I vote we sell it."

Sell it they did, and got eighteen hundred pounds for it. As for the three thieves, they took them to the nearest Chartered Company Post, and it is not likely that the three will do any more mine stealing for some years to come.



From Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 9 Jun 1917

THE stout bamboo rod bent nearly double, and Brian Hope had to run hard along the creek bank to save the last of his line from being ripped clean off his reel. But no fish could stand such a strain for long, and presently a great dark blue back appeared on the surface, the bright red fins waving, and a minute later he had it close under the bank.

He leaned down, drove his gaff into the scaly side, and lifted ashore a splendid tiger-fish of nearly twenty-five pounds weight.

"Jan!" he shouted, "Jan! Will ye look here? Isn't it the finest ye ever saw?"

Jan Wisden, Brian's partner, came quickly down the bank, and there was a smile on his clean-cut, brown face as he looked at Brian's prize.

"A good fish, Brian. Pretty near a record. Pity it's no use to eat."

"Oh, the boys will eat it," laughed Brian. "Here, Zumbo, can you make a dinner of it?"

"I can dat, baas," replied the nigger, showing all his ivories in a broad grin.

Brian took the glittering spoon bait out of the great fish's sharp-toothed mouth, and Zumbo carried his prize away.

A little later Brian went back to the camp for dinner. He and Jan were on a trip which combined business and pleasure. With money which they had recently made by the sale of a tin mine they had started a store at a place called Ganti, in North-Western Rhodesia, and they were now on trek buying native tobacco and maize, and spending their spare time in shooting and fishing.

Both of them were out to make their fortunes in this wild country, but though business was fairly good the big sums they needed were still only a dream of the future.

They had just finished some very excellent hooder steaks when Zumbo appeared under the tree where they were making their meal.

"I found dis in de inside ob de big fish, baas," he observed, handing over to Brian a small flat object.

Brian turned it over carelessly.

"Faith, the baste must have been mighty hungry to swallow a chunk of wood," he remarked.

"Let me see it," said Jan.

"I thought so," he added quickly. "Brian, where are your eyes? This is more than a chunk of wood. There are words cut on it."

"Words?" cried the Irishman. "What d'ye mean, Jan?"

"Just what I say. Wait, I must get to the light. I can't see them properly. The thing's been inside the fish for some time."

Brian followed him as he went out into the strong sunlight. "Can you read it?" he asked eagerly.

"To any white man. Help. Prisoner in gorge head of the Masoro. Bring plenty rope. John Cheverton."

These were the words that Jan read out.

The two stared at one another in speechless amazement.

"Prisoner in the gorge of the Masoro!" repeated Brian. "For pity's sake, what's he mean? Why, this creek is the Masoro."

Jan nodded.

"Yes, this is the Masoro," he answered frowning. "But I never heard of any gorge. Wonder if it's genuine."

"Why wouldn't it be?" demanded Brian. "Faith, no one would take the trouble to go cutting all that on a piece of wood unless he was in a mighty bad fix."

"That sounds reasonable," allowed Jan.

"Sure, it's reason itself, and 'tis up to us to help the poor beggar out of the fix he's in."

Jan stared thoughtfully at Brian.

"You mean that, lad? You mean you want to start off on a journey of goodness knows how many miles, just to see if you can help out a man who, for all you know, may be dead already."

"I do," said Brian stoutly.

"There's no money in it, Brian. You'll be wasting a lot of time, when you ought to be piling up that fortune."

"Let it go then. Jan, we've been mighty lucky lately. I'd feel bad, indeed I would, if I thought we'd left the poor beggar to his troubles, when maybe we could be getting him out of them."

"You're a fool, Brian," said Jan, but in spite of his words there was a twinkle in his keen eyes. "I'm not going to argue with you. When do you want to start?"

Brian chuckled outright.

"If I'm a fool, you're another, Jan. We'll start this very afternoon that ever is."

There was no missing the way. The river was their guide. But how far they had to travel was quite another matter. None of the natives had even heard of the gorge of the Masoro, but all agreed that the river came down out of mountains which were the highest and steepest in the country.

On the third day they sighted these mountains. They were tall blue peaks which rose steeply out of the bush, and their height may be gathered from the fact that it took two days more to reach their foot.

Out of the hills the river came roaring down in a foaming torrent. The banks were thick with ferns and all sorts of lovely plants. Everything was green and fresh, and the air deliciously cool and clear.

"'Deed, Jan, it's worth coming, even if we don't find Mr. John Cheverton," said Brian as he sniffed the fresh breeze gratefully.

Jan looked up the river valley. His forehead was puckered thoughtfully.

"It's a rum business, lad. I wonder where the fellow can have got hung up."

"We'll see before nightfall," declared Brian confidently.

For the next three hours they tramped steadily uphill alongside the bubbling, foaming river. It was about ten in the morning when they came upon the gorge. The valley suddenly pinched out into a narrow gap, with sheer cliffs on either side, and not a foot of space between them and the rushing water. The two stood at the lower entrance to the gorge, and looked up it. All they could see was a long vista of falls and rapids broken by black crags which heaved their streaming heads above the snowy foam.

"It's us for the high hills, Jan," said Brian. "Never a boat that ever floated could get up or down that stream."

"As we don't happen to have a boat that don't make much odds," said Jan dryly. "Personally, I suggest we rest a while and have a mouthful of grub before we start mountain climbing."

Crazy as he was to go ahead, Brian realised the wisdom of Jan's suggestion. They sat down and devoured cold meat and biscuit, washed down with deliciously cool water from the river. Then they turned back a little, and began the steep climb out of the valley.

The hillside was a regular thicket, but they found a game path and struggled slowly up, and after an hour of real hard work found themselves on the top. It was country as wild as even Jan. had ever seen. There was not a sign of natives, and game was so plentiful it looked as though the bush had never been shot over at all.

Every glade was full of buck, and they saw a big black rhinoceros and even a couple of the rare mountain zebra. They could have killed enough game for an army, but, as Jan said, they could not use it, and in any case they would be sure to find plenty nearer to their camp. So in spite of all temptations, neither fired a shot.

Slowly they worked round so as to get back to the edge of the gorge, and about two o'clock reached it again.

Far below the river roared downwards on its journey to the lowlands, but even up here the bush was so thick that they could not see far in either direction. There was nothing for it but to plod on until they came to an opening.

The farther they went the higher grew the walls of the gorge until, as Brian said, it was a regular cañon like one of those vast cracks which seam the desert of Western America.

Another hour passed, then Brian, who was leading, pulled up short. Jan, close behind, heard him give an astonished gasp.

"What is it, lad?" he asked. Then, as he came up alongside, he, too, stopped and stood staring.

Here the gorge opened as abruptly as it had closed below. They stood on the edge of a pocket in the hills—a pocket about three miles long and perhaps a mile wide.

At the top end the cliff was unbroken. The river seemed to rise out of the base of the rock; at the bottom, almost exactly below the spot where they stood, it escaped in a thundering waterfall into the narrow gorge.

It was the depth of the place that held the pair spellbound. From the edge on which they stood down to the bright green turf below was at least eight hundred feet, and the cliff was not only sheer but actually overhanging.

Brian was the first to speak.

"Faith, 'tis no wonder the chap told us to bring plenty of rope—at least if he's down there at the bottom of that everlasting pit."

"He can't, be," returned Jan. "How could he have got there?"

Brian shrugged his broad shoulders.

"Ask me another, Jan." Then quite calmly he added: "But there he is, large as life and twice as natural."

He pointed as he spoke to a spot about halfway up the valley, and sure enough there was a man sitting on a rock beside the river.

Jan could only gasp. He was too amazed to speak. How any human being could have arrived alive at the foot of those tremendous cliffs was a problem which would take some solving.

"Rope's no good," he said at last.

"Nivir a ha'porth!" answered Brian. "What will we do? 'Tis too far to talk to him."

Jan's answer was to raise his rifle and pull the trigger.

The effect on the man below was electrical. He leaped up as if shot by a spring, and began staring all round. Brian waved a handkerchief. The poor fellow saw it, and came running like a lunatic.

But even when he reached the bottom of the cliff they could not hear a word. The distance was too great.

Brian tore a leaf from his pocket-book and scribbled a few lines. He tied the note to a stone and flung it over. The man pounced on it like a starving dog on a bone.

"What did you say, Brian?" asked Jan.

"That we were here to give him a hand. And I asked him which way we'd go to get to him."

"What's the use of that? If he knew a way down, he'd get up," answered the practical Jan.

"Faith, I'm not so, sure of that."

"Watch him now."

Mr. John Cheverton was signalling vehemently with waving arms. It was plain he was pointing them to the head of the valley.

"Didn't I tell ye?" said Jan. "Come on now."

They started along the rim of the cliff. Cheverton, still waving vehemently, kept pace with them below. It took nearly an hour to reach the north end of the valley, and when they did get there the cliffs were as high and as steep as ever.

Cheverton stood below, still signalling furiously.

"He's crazy," growled Jan.

"No," replied Brian. "He's wanting us to go farther."

Cheverton's gestures were unmistakable. Even Jan was convinced. Brian scribbled another note and flung it down. Then the two, with their carriers, pushed on once more. By this time they were all very tired, and the natives were not only fagged but frightened. It was clear they thought there was something uncanny about the white man down in that tremendous pit.

The ground was covered with thick bush. There was no track through it, and it was very difficult to keep a straight course. Even Brian had began to feel distinctly discouraged when suddenly the faint roar of rushing water reached his ears, and he started forward.

Bursting through a belt of tangled scrub, he found himself on the edge of a gorge wider and shallower, but otherwise just like the one on the south side of the valley. At the bottom, the river roared in a torrent, and suddenly vanished into a black tunnel in the rock.

Brian snatched his hat off and waved it.

"Hurroosh!" he cried. "It's ourselves have solved the puzzle. Look for yourself, Jan. 'Tis a tunnel takes the river into the valley."

Brian was right. There was no doubt about that, and now the puzzle became clear. Cheverton must in some way have been swept down the river, and through the tunnel into the valley. Once there, it was clearly out of the question for him to get back.

The next thing was to find a way down into the gorge, and luckily they had not far to go before they came upon a cross rift which allowed them to scramble down.

But by this time it was nearly dark, and they were dead beat. Even Brian agreed that a night's rest was necessary before making an attempt at rescue.

That night they slept like logs, but it was barely light before they were at the water's edge. The ravine was broader here and they were able to work down to the mouth of the natural tunnel where the river made its plunge into the dark.

"I see now why the chap said rope," observed Jan, peering into the gloom.

"How do ye mean?" asked Brian.

"Plain enough, isn't it, son? If we don't want to take up a permanent residence in that valley, we've got to have some way of getting back against the stream. And rope's the only thing that'll do it."

Brian nodded.

"It's right ye are, Jan. But how will we get through at all?"

"Build a raft—fix some sort of windlass in the bank here, then let her down slow."

"'Tis the best scheme, Jan. Let's be starting."

There was plenty of timber, and the gorge soon rang with axe blows. By midday they had the raft ready and also the windlass. Then Brian went up again to pace out the distance between the tunnel entrance and the exit into the valley.

He made it little more than two hundred yards, and they had rope enough for that.

Cheverton was waiting below. He waved his arms wildly at sight of Brian. Brian flung him a note to explain what they were doing, but as soon as he had read it the prisoner seemed to go crazy. He waved and shouted frantically.

For the life of him, Brian could make nothing or it except that Cheverton was trying to warn him Of something. He gave it up and went back, to find that Jan had the raft launched and moored close by the entrance to the tunnel.

"See here, Brian," said Jan rather seriously, "it won't do for both of us to go down together. We can't trust the boys to handle the windlass. One will have to stay and look after 'em, while the other goes through."

"Then ye will let me try through, Jan," begged Brian.

Jan hesitated, but finally agreed. Brian stripped to his trousers, and carrying only his big hunting knife, took his place on the raft.

"Ready?" said Jan. Brian nodded, the rough windlass began to creak, and the raft to move slowly down stream.

In spite of all his pluck, Brian did not feel quite happy as his clumsy craft slid into the black gloom. The water was deep and black, and queer gurgling, sucking noises echoed strangely against the rocky arch overhead. The air was warm and moist, and the sides of the tunnel were covered with strange, pale growths. The whole atmosphere of the place had a distinctly uncanny feel.

The roof was high, and outside the sun shone straight down into the gorge. It was not quite dark, and Brian's eyes soon became accustomed to the dim light.

One thing he was thankful for. There was no heavy fall between him and the valley entrance. He would have heard the roar if there had been. The water, though swift, was comparatively smooth: he could still hear the creaking of the improvised windlass as Jan and the native boys let the rope out slowly.

The cavern widened. It grew lighter. Where the light came from he could not tell, but it was clear there was a shaft somewhere in the limestone above which reached the upper air.

A queer musky smell came to his nostrils and his heart began to beat faster. Though he could see nothing, some subconsciousness warned him of danger.

He looked this way and that, and suddenly saw, to the right, two orbs of glowing fire. For a moment he was absolutely horror stricken. What awful beast could be lurking in this cavern? The smell was that of a crocodile, but no crocodile could live in such swift water. Besides, the eyes were far too close together for those of a croc.

He had a light signal cord, and his hand went out to seize it. Before he could reach it the two green lamps shot forward, and a blow like that of a battering ram stretched him flat on his back. It was the merest chance that he was not knocked clean off the raft. Before he could get his breath again, long before he could pick himself up a great, cold rustling coil was across the raft, and its weight crushed his legs.

Brian's blood ran cold as he realised the truth. His assailant, was a python, a brute of a size he had never even dreamed of.

This was what Cheverton had been trying to warn him of. That thought flashed across his mind, and almost before it had passed the raft tilted under the weight of the monster and the water caught him to the waist.

He groped for his knife. It stuck in its sheath, and for the moment he could not get it loose. He had the impression of enormous coils stretching endlessly away into the dimness, half under water, half out, and the whole length of the monster trickling across towards him.

Where the head was he could not for moment make out, but the pressure across his legs was growing every instant.

At last he tugged the knife loose, and even as he did so the great head came stabbing at him again, this time from the left.


Brian tugged the knife loose, and even as he
did so the great head came stabbing at him again.

He met it with the point of his blade, but it was more by chance than skill that the point struck full between the huge jaws which yawned at least a foot wide, and were armed with three-inch fangs, each as sharp as lancets.

Between the force of his blow and the drive of the great snake, the knife was buried almost to the hilt.

The result was simply appalling. The huge head was drawn back with such force that the knife was whipped out of Brian's hand, and the monster, mad with pain, flung its coils in mad contortions.

The whole place was full of its thrashings, the water was lashed into waves, and foam flew to the very roof. The raft rocked and dipped so that Brian was forced to cling to it with both hands to save himself from being flung off.

"Jan!" shouted Brian at the pitch of his voice. "Jan, pull me back!"

He hardly hoped that Jan could hear, yet next moment he felt the raft check, then by the way the water bubbled over him he knew it was drawing back. The python still thrashed madly just below him, and every now and then its great head was flung up to the roof, only to drop again and disappear. But, plainly, it was too busy getting clear of the knife to give attention to anything else.

Yard by yard the raft was drawn back until at last Brian felt the blessed sunlight on his face, and heard Jan's anxious voice in his ear. He stammered out his story, then for almost the first time in his life fainted dead away.

It was only a few minutes before he came round to find Jan bandaging his arm, which was badly scored by the python's teeth. Five minutes rest and a nip from Jan's flank put him right again, then Jan took up his rifle and got upon the raft.

"You're not going down?" said Brian sharply.

Jan patted his rifle.

"Don't worry, lad. If the brute isn't dead already, this will finish him. Let me down slow. There's no danger."

From long experience, Brian knew it was no use arguing. He got up and went to the windlass.

The minutes seemed hours as Jan drifted slowly out of sight down the tunnel. At last came a tug on the signal cord. It was repeated three times, and was the sign to stop.

A few seconds pause, then the crash of rifle woke the echoes. Twice he fired, and Brian waited breathless.

Two tugs. It was the signal to go on.

"Baas, him all right," remarked, Zumbo encouragingly. "I took him done killed dat sarpint."

The rope ran out and out until there were only a few coils left. Once more came signal to stop, then after a few anxious minutes the one sharp tug which mean "Rewind!"

It took nearly a quarter of an hour to get the raft back, but at last it came in sight and when Brian saw that there were two men on it he whipped off his hat and gave a cheer which was echoed by the sweating negroes.

"Here he is," said Jan as he stepped ashore. "Here's Cheverton."

"But the snake, Jan. Where's the snake?" demanded Brian eagerly.

"Sorry I couldn't bring him, too," in his dry way, "but the fact is this raft isn't built for more than two passengers. Still if you want him, we'll make another trip."

He turned as if to step on to the raft again, but Brian grasped, him by the arm.

"You ass!" he said. "I wouldn't have you go down that place again for a farm."

"Nor I either," said Cheverton with a shiver.

The man's face was gray and lined. His voice was husky.

"Man," he said, turning to Brian, "it near killed me to think of you coming through there, into the very jaws of that brute, and me not able to warn you."

"And how did ye know he was there?" asked Brian.

Cheverton shivered again.

"Haven't I seen him a score of times? Haven't I lived in terror of him these months past? Haven't I piled the cave I slept in with rocks every night to keep out? I tell you, gentlemen, I'd have gone mad if I'd had another month in that infernal prison."

Jan pulled out his flask. "You drink a little of this," he said quietly; "then you'll feel better and we'll push on back to camp."

Later that evening, when Cheverton was asleep, Jan and Brian sat over the fire, talking in low voices.

"How did he get in?" asked Brian. "Did he tell ye?"

Jan nodded.

"He was washing for gold up stream, and was caught, by a flood and swept down."

"Poor beggar! Faith, he must have had a rotten time. I'm mighty glad we got him out, Jan. Wasn't it worth the time and trouble?"

Jan chuckled gently. "It was," he said, and pulling a small leather bag out of his pocket, threw it across to Brian.

Brian untied the top and opened it. He put in a thumb and finger and drew out a pinch of dull yellow, heavy dust.

"Gold?" he whispered.

"Gold," said Jan. "Cheverton didn't waste his time down below there. He's brought out three times that, and swears that's our share. I told him we wouldn't take it, but he vows if we don't he'll chuck it back into the creek."

Brian laughed softly.

"Sure we can make better use of it than the snakes can, Jan. I'm thinking we're a step nearer that fortune of ours."



From Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 16 Jun 1917

"WHACK her up, boys! Whack her up!" said Jan Wisden as he glanced anxiously at the fast darkening sky.

"There's the very brute of a storm brewing," he added in a lower tone to his young partner, Brian Hope.

There was no doubt about it. To the north the horizon was livid black, and the monstrous cloud edged with masses of rolling white vapour was fast covering the whole sky. The air had that peculiar stinging heat which, in Africa, is the sure warning of a coming tornado.

With the sweat streaming down their shining black bodies, Zumbo and the three other native boys paddled like mad. They knew as well as their masters what it meant to be caught on the open river in such a storm as was now brewing.

A flickering line of blue fire leaped in the heart of the black mist.

"My faith, but it's coming, Jan!" exclaimed Brian. "We'd better bunk for the bank."

Jan glanced round keenly. Suddenly he pointed to a low range of bluffs which bordered the river a little higher up on the eastern side.

"That's our place," he answered. "There'll be caves there. Paddle, Zumbo! If we can reach it we'll get off with dry skins."

The boys redoubled their efforts. The foaming wake lengthened as the canoe drove across the glassy water.

Another flash, which lit the gloom with a lurid light. The thunder pealed louder. Before its echoes died a puff of cold air rippled the smooth surface.

Jan swung his steering-paddle, the canoe went racing for the bank.

"Hooray!" cried Brian. "I see a cave." The next three minutes were one terrific rush. The moment the canoe grounded her crew leaped out and hauled her far up the bank. Then everyone shouldered a part of the cargo, and bolted for the cave mouth which yawned in the low sandstone of the bluff. Tent, rifles, provisions and trade goods all were rushed into shelter.

The work was barely done before, with a shriek like that of a thousand steam whistles, the storm burst in all its fury. The trees bent double before the blast, the air was full of driving rubbish, and through the waterspouts of rain the lightning played a devil's dance across the river and through the forest.

"Faith, it's as well we're out of that, Jan," said Brian, looking out on the mad fury of wind and wave.

Jan did not answer. He was looking at the floor of the cave and frowning.

"There's been someone here lately," he said in his curt way. As he spoke he turned and went inwards.

The cave was of no great size, merely a hole eight feet high at the mouth, and tapering back ten or twelve yards. The sky was so dark that all inside was gloom.

Jan took an electric torch from his pocket and flashed it inwards, and at the sight which it revealed both he and Brian started back, then recovering themselves, hurried forward.

A man lay flat on his back near the inner end of the cave—an elderly man with hair turning grey. His eyes were closed, his face was waxen, and as the light fell upon his shirt, it showed it stained with dull crimson.

"Dead!" muttered Brian.

Jan knelt quickly and opened the shirt. Right in the centre of the chest was the blue mark of a bullet-wound. Jan laid his hand on the heart. He shook his head.

"Dead, Brian. Dead, but barely cold. There's been foul play here, lad."

For a moment Brian stood looking down pitifully at the dead man. Then suddenly he stooped and picked up something which lay on the cave floor half hidden by the outstretched arm of the murdered man.

It was a slip of paper.

"There's writing on it, Jan. Quick, hold the torch. This may throw some light on how the poor chap came by his death."

Jan held the torch and Brian smoothed the crumpled slip. The writing was a pencilled scrawl.

"He was dying when he wrote it," said Brian pitifully. "Wait now till I read it."

"To anyone who finds my bones.—It was Grint got me, the treacherous hound. I leave my share to my brother Walter. The gilded man is in the cave under Koroba. Kloof on east side. Entrance opposite the steaming spring. Be careful, for—"

Brian stopped and shook his head.

"I can't make anything of the rest of it, Jan. It's just a scrawl. Look for yourself."

"No," said Jan. "It's quite illegible. Wait, though. There's a signature of sorts."

"So there is. F—r—a. Yes, it's Frank—Frank Fordyce."

"Frank Fordyce," repeated Jan. "Yes, that's it. And Grint, whoever he was, killed him."

"But what's he mean, Jan? For pity's sake, what's the gilded man?"

"There you've got me, lad. But Koroba, I know where that is."

"Faith, it's a queer business!" muttered Brian. "I'm wondering who this Grint is, and where he is and why he killed him."

"He can't be far away, Brian. Fordyce here hasn't been dead more than a few hours. As for the reason, no doubt it's the treasure. The treacherous brute wanted it all for himself."

"Then that's where he's gone," said Brian eagerly. "Jan, if we went to Koroba, it's ourselves might catch him."

"Very likely we might. But what about our trading?"

"Never mind the trading, Jan. 'Tis up to us to bring this scoundrel to justice."

Jan looked thoughtful.

"'Pon my soul, I believe you're right, lad. And I'll own, too, I'm a bit curious to know what the gilded man means."

"Sure then—"

Brian broke off suddenly. "Who's that?" he cried, and darted to the mouth of the cave. Jan saw him dash out into the still pouring rain and hurried after him.

There was a sharp cry of alarm, then Brian reappeared, dragging with him a man.

Such a man! He was as tall as Brian, but thin as a scarecrow. He had a gaunt face with hollow eyes and a great hooked nose. His eyes, set wide apart, were pale in colour, and at present glassy with fright. With his long, thin, scraggy neck, he had the oddest resemblance to a buzzard, a likeness heightened by the fact that his head was bald as a billiard ball.

"Who are you?" demanded Jan sharply. The man glared at him horribly, but did not speak.

"I believe he's Grint," said Brian keenly. The other found his tongue.

"Grint! No, I'm not Grint. I'm Walter Fordyce," he answered in a harsh voice.

"What—brother of the dead man?" exclaimed Brian.

"Dead, is he?" cried the other in a lamentable voice. "Alas, I feared as much."

"Explain!" ordered Jan, staring at the newcomer with some suspicion. "Where were you? How did you come to allow Grint to kill your brother?"

"I allow him!" retorted the other, suddenly roused. "Man, it's a miracle I wasn't killed, too. It was early this morning that Grint turned round on us, and if I hadn't had the luck to be awake when he fired at Frank, I'd have gone in too. The hound had taken my rifle, so I hadn't a chance to put up a fight. All I could do was to make a bolt for the bush, where I managed to dodge him and hide."

"And where have you been since?" asked Jan.

"Hunting him," answered the other grimly, "And by thunder, I got him, too!"

"What—without a gun?"

"I didn't need a gun. I knowed he'd take the canoe and make his getaway. You know this here river?"

"Yes," Jan answered.

"Then you knows them narrows a mile above here?"

Jan nodded.

"That's where I got him. A rock did the trick."

"You chucked it off the cliff?"

"That's how," said Fordyce.

Brian shivered slightly. No doubt the revenge was just, yet the cold-blooded way in which the man told his story was horrible.

"Why did this chap tackle you?" asked Jan.

"Because he wanted the lot of what we was after—the dirty dog," responded Fordyce.

Jan nodded. The reply seemed to satisfy him.

"Better pull those wet things off," he said. "You'll get fever if you're not careful."

"I'll be glad to change," replied Fordyce, and going to the fire which the native boys had lit in the mouth of the cave, began to strip.

An hour later the three sat together at supper. They fed early because, afterwards, they had to bury the dead man.

"What are your plans, Fordyce?" asked Jan abruptly.

"I'll go down country with you if you'll let me. I can't do nothing alone without canoe or grub."

"We're going up," said Jan.

There was a gleam in Fordyce's eyes.

"You game to make a bit?" he demanded.

"Always game for that," replied Jan.

Fordyce stared at him.

"We were on a big thing—my brother and I. Treasure. It's there all right. You needn't doubt that. You help me get it out, and you shall have a quarter share each. That suit you?"

"Sounds all right," said Jan, "What's it worth?"

"Fifty thousand pounds, or maybe more," answered Fordyce. "All in gold."

"And we're to have half between us?"

"That's what I said."

"It's a go," replied Jan.

A gloomy range of mountains towering towards the sky cut off all view to the northward, and though the morning sun lit their lofty summits, it failed to relieve the dreariness of their ragged cliffs and tremendous gorges.

So at least thought Brian Hope, as he stood staring up at the mighty range, the tallest and most rugged he had ever seen.

He heard Jan's light step behind him and turned to see his partner coming towards him with a slight frown on his face.

"What's up, Jan? Sure, ye look as if ye'd swallowed a sov. and found a halfpenny."

"Fordyce has gone sick," said Jan shortly.

"Faith, he couldn't be much sicker than he's looked since we found him. 'Tis a skeleton at the least that fellow is and no mistake. And what's the matter with him?"

"Don't know," growled Jan. "May be fever, or he may have eaten too much. 'Tisn't starving makes him thin."

"It is not," replied Brian. "Then is it wait we must till he's better?"

"No. He agrees that we'd better go ahead. Trusts us that far, anyhow."

"Faith, it's a wonder!" smiled Brian, but the smile had a touch of bitterness. It was very clear that neither he nor Jan were exactly fond of the vulture-headed man.

"We will take our guns? he added.

"Every time," replied Jan.

A few minutes later the pair were tramping up the lonely valley towards the lofty cliffs at its head.

"Kloof on the east side, the note said," remarked Brian thoughtfully. "That's over to our right, there. Did you ask Walter Fordyce?"

"I did," replied Jan. "I asked him specially. He says it's the last kloof to the right."

"Just as well to know," said Brian. "There's a regular tangle of gullies up in front of us."

Brian was right. The broad, bare valley broke up into half a dozen narrow ravines which cut deep into the mountain-side. Walking as briskly as the rough ground allowed, the two reached the mouth of the one to the extreme right and plunged into its depths.

It was very narrow. The rook walls on either side were of immense height, and much broken by ledges and terraces. Here and there a clump of scraggy bush clung in a pocket, but most of the rock was bare and black. Down the bottom, among the tumbled boulders, a little trickle of water made its way. It was dark in colour, evidently highly charged with mineral.

Brian stooped and tried it with his hand.

"It's warm, Jan," he said sharply. "Sure, it's the steaming spring safe enough."

"Then we're on the right track, son," replied Jan with evident relief.

Brian looked at Jan curiously.

"You've been having doubts, Jan."

"I have, lad," Jan acknowledged.

"'Deed then, I don't wonder. There's something about Fordyce that doesn't make one too confident. Have ye noticed, Jan, how he watches us all the time?"

"I have," said Jan simply.

They were half a mile up the gorge when Jan stopped and looked round.

"Is it the smell is worrying ye, Jan?" asked Brian.

Jan nodded.

"I've smelt it too," said Brian. "'Tis like a kennel of dogs.

"Begorra, what's that?" he broke off, as a harsh barking cry echoed weirdly down the gorge. Next instant a large stone came crashing down from above, missing them by a few feet only.

Jan grasped Brian by the arm and wheeled him round.

"Cover—get cover!" he cried. "It's the baboons."

As the two bolted back another rock thundered behind them, flinging up splinters like a shell. A chorus of the hideous cries rang up and down the deep kloof, and instantly the walls became alive with great shaggy spidery forms which poured out of every cave mouth.

A monstrous ape dropped full in their path and ran at them, barking horribly. Jan flung up his rifle and blew its brains out.

The din which followed was appalling. The death cry of the brute was echoed from a hundred throats.

"Here! Get in under here," cried Jan, and whirled for a little hollow under a rock projecting from the cliff.

"Keep your back to the wall and shoot quick!" Jan ordered in a low, tense voice.

Stones rolled in a cataract from above, but the ledge protected them from this bombardment. Then with a rush the whole ape pack was upon them. It was a nightmare of glaring eyes, flashing teeth and long, shaggy arms plucking at them to drag them to destruction.

Both had repeating rifles. No other weapons could possibly have saved their lives. And both were seasoned hunters and did not lose their heads for a moment. Every bullet had its billet, and, as a rule, the billet was the brain of one of these monstrous man monkeys which crowded upon them to destroy them.

One after another the apes dropped until the dead bodies piled up into a barricade in front of the little hollow. But more and more came on. The gorge was full of them. They poured by scores out of their hiding-places in the cliffs above. Baboons do not usually attack mankind, but when they do their fury and resolution are matchless. They fight to the death.

Brian's hammer snapped. Jan slipped in front of him.

"Quickly!" he cried. "I've only two cartridges in the magazine."

Brian's fingers shook a little in spite of himself as he thrust in another clip. A monstrous baboon sprang past Jan and its hairy fingers grasped Brian's leg in a grip like that of a steel vice. Another instant and he would have been jerked out of his refuge and torn to pieces, but Jan was ready, and the monster dropped with half its skull blown away.

Once more Jan fired, then he dropped back, and Brian took his place, and fired and fired again. The crash of the rifles was deafening as the echoes rolled up and down the gorge. But still the baboon hordes poured on. Their fury was something horrible. They seemed not to care how many died if they could only wipe out the invaders of their solitude. They scrambled madly over the bodies of the dead and clutched and clawed at the two humans whose rifles bellowed death unceasingly.

Both Brian and Jan were bleeding, and their clothes hung in rags. Their shoulders and ears ached with the constant concussion; they were half poisoned by the stench of the unclean hordes; their eyes were dizzy with the surge of the shaggy beasts which kept sweeping upon them.

Jan dropped back once more to reload, and Brian heard in his ear the fatal words: "My last clip, Brian!"

He himself had only two clips left. He slipped one to Jan, then blazed, away right and left at two more of the apes which came leaping over the barricade.

"We're got our knives," he said.

"Much use they'll be," panted Jan as he blew a hole through the chest of still another of the great man monkeys.

Things could hardly have looked worse. The apes seemed countless, and the more were killed the more came pouring from their fastnesses in the heights above. Never in all his long experience of the wild had Jan seen baboons exhibit such fury.

The pile of dead in front was now breast high. It was only this that saved them. As the brutes came leaping over, the men fired deliberately, not wasting one of their few remaining cartridges.

Again Brian's hammer snapped. His last bullet was fired. He drew his knife. But in his heart he knew it was useless. Man's strength is nothing matched against the steel-like muscles of the baboon.

A roar like thunder. The air outside was thick with dust. The apes, screaming like savages, gave way. Brian staggered back, gasping between exhaustion and amazement.

Again the crash. He realised that a cataract of gigantic boulders were leaping and roaring down into the kloof from some point, high above. The apes, packed as they were in a solid mass, were crushed by the dozen. Their screams were shocking. Nothing—not even their fury—could stand against such a frightful bombardment. They broke and fled, flashing back for the deep caves in which were their homes, like spiders running up a wall.

"Baas! Baas!" came a shout from above.

"Zumbo—it's Zumbo!" cried Brian. "Hooray for Zumbo, Jan!"

"He's got more pluck than I reckoned," answered Jan, and cupping his hand to his mouth sent back an answering shout.

Brian looked out.

"All's clear, Jan. The last blessed monkey's hooked it."

"The sooner we follow that example the better," replied Jan as he clambered over the bodies of the slain. The two wasted no time in getting back to the mouth of the gorge, where Zumbo, climbing down from above, met them.

"Good for you, Zumbo!" exclaimed Brian. "You saved us."

"But what made you follow us?" demanded Jan quickly.

"It was dat man, Fordyce, baas," replied Zumbo scowling. "Soon as you and Massa Brian go 'way him get well mighty quick, and make ready to go off. Him tell Zumbo to stay in de camp. Den he take some of dem bits ob dynamite and go away up de valley.

"I tink dat mighty queer, and as soon as him gone little way I follow him. He not see me."

"Where did he go?" asked Jan sharply.

"Him take de fourth of dem kloofs. I know dat not de way him tell you to go, so I get 'spicious, and climb up de kopje so's to watch him. Den I hear de rifles banging, and I reckon dere was something wrong. So I go quick and see dem baboons jumping down. When dey all get down into de kloof, I jest naturally rolled de rocks on dem. I guess dat busted 'em, baas."

Brian broke into a ringing laugh, "It certainly did, Zumbo. Jolly smart, wasn't it, Jan?"

But Jan was looking very serious.

"Where's that brute gone?" he growled, "Brian, there's something crooked here."

"How do you mean, Jan?"

"It's my belief," said Jan slowly, "that this fellow sent us up here on purpose."

Brian went rather pale.

"Knew of the baboons, you mean?"

"Just so. And meant us to be wiped out so that he could get the whole of the treasure, whatever it is."

Brian stared at Jan, open-eyed.

"What a brute! And yet, Jan, 'pon my soul, I believe you're right. What else did he sham ill for, if it wasn't for that, and why did he take the dynamite?"

"Well soon find out, anyhow," said Jan, his lips setting grimly. "Come on."

With Zumbo's assistance there was no trouble in finding which way Fordyce had gone, and they had not walked a mile up the other gorge before they came on a cross ravine which led to the right and eventually cut into the gorge of the apes, only much higher up it, and beyond the caves where the baboons lived.

And here almost the first thing they saw was a thick cloud of white vapour.

"The steaming spring!" said Brian.

"Aye, and the cave mouth opposite," replied Jan as he reloaded his rifle with cartridges which Zumbo had brought him.

Headed by Jan, the three crept quietly in under the arched roof of a large cavern.

"There's a light," whispered Brian, pointing.

"Be careful," warned Jan, bending double.

Yard by yard they advanced towards the light, which they presently saw to be a candle stuck upon a rock. Jan stopped and listened, but all was still as at the bottom of a well.

They crept nearer, and now they saw that the light gleamed on a great shapeless mass of some dull yellow substance which lay on the floor of the cave. Brian felt his heart beating furiously. He caught Jan by the sleeve.

"Gold!" he muttered. "The gilded man."

Jan paid no attention. His eyes were fixed on the yellow object, or rather on something dark which lay beneath it. Suddenly he pulled out his electric torch and switched it on full. The white glare fell upon the strangest and most horrible sight that either had ever seen.

Flat upon the rock floor lay the body of Fordyce, and on top of it, crushing it under its gigantic weight, a statue more than life size of a man done in a yellow gleaming metal.

Brian staggered back.

"Saints preserve us! It's killed him, Jan."

Jan licked his dry lips. For a moment there was complete silence.

Then Jan went nearer.

"He did it himself," he said briefly. "He put a shot in and it went off too soon. See, the pedestal on which the statue stood is shattered. Yes, and here is more of our dynamite."

It took them nearly an hour to get the mangled corpse out from under the crushing weight of the gilded man. Then Jan, mastering his repugnance, deliberately went through the pockets of the dead man.

At last he stood up with a crumpled packet of letters in his hand. He took them to the light and went through them.

"I thought so," he said grimly. "The man is not Fordyce at all. He is Grint. See, here is his photograph, and here is a letter from the elder Fordyce engaging him to help him and his brother in the search."

Brian gasped.

"Then Grint killed both of them!" he said.

"Precisely. And would have killed us, too, if it had not been for Zumbo. He planned for the apes to finish us while he went the safe way to get the gold."

Brian turned and glanced at the idol.

"And this is gold, Jan?" he asked in an awed tone.

"Solid gold, lad. And ours for the taking. It's the fortune at last that we've been hunting for so long."

"Then let's take it and clear, Jan," answered Brian. "'Tis no place, this, to be lingering in."

Jan nodded.

"Right, Brian. Hand me that hammer and chisel that Grint left there. We'll break up that blood-stained image, and see if we can't make good enough use of it to make up for the lives it has cost and the harm it has done."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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