Chapter XI. The Rovers Reach a Conclusion
 

For the three Rover boys the Golden Star could not make the trip from Cedarville to Ithaca fast enough. They fretted over every delay, and continually wondered if there was any likelihood of their missing the train which was to take them to Oak Run, the nearest railroad station to Valley Brook farm, their uncle's home.

But the train was not missed; instead, they had to wait half an hour for it. During this time they procured dinner, although Dick felt so strange he could scarcely eat a mouthful.

"Uncle Randolph doesn't say much," he murmured to Tom. "He might have said more."

"We'll know everything before we go to bed, Dick," answered his brother. "I don't believe Uncle Randolph would telegraph unless the news was good."

They indulged in all sorts of speculation, as the train sped on its way to Oak Run. When the latter place was reached it was dark, and they found Jack Ness, the hired man, waiting for them with the carriage.

"There, I knowed it," grinned Jack. "Mr. Rover calculated that only Dick would come, but I said we'd have 'em all."

"And what is this news of my father?" questioned Dick.

"It's a message as was picked up off the coast of Africky," replied Ness. "Mr. Rover didn't explain very clearly to me. He's a good deal excited, and so is the missus."

"And so are we," remarked Sam. "Can it be that father is on his way home?"

"I calculate not, Master Sam. Leas'wise, your uncle didn't say so," concluded the hired man.

Never had the horses made better time than they did now, and yet the boys urged Ness continually to drive faster. Swift River was soon crossed -- that stream where Sam had once had such a stirring adventure -- and they bowled along past the Fox and other farms.

"Here we are!" shouted Dick at last.

"There is Uncle Randolph out on the porch to greet us!"

"And there is Aunt Martha!" added Sam. "I do believe they look happy, don't you, Tom?"

"They certainly don't look sad," was the noncommittal answer; and then the carriage swept up to the horse-block and the three boys alighted.

"All of you, eh?" were Randolph Rover's first words. "Well, perhaps it is just as well so."

"We simply couldn't stay behind, uncle," said Sam. "And we are dying to know what it all means."

"But you must have supper first," put in Aunt Martha, as she gave one and another a motherly kiss. "I know riding on the cars usually makes Tom tremendously hungry."

"Well eat after we have had the news," said Tom. "We're dying to know all, as Sam says."

"The news is rather perplexing, to tell the truth," said Randolph Rover, as he led the way into the library of the spacious home. "I hardly know what to make of it."

"Who brought it?" questioned Dick.

"It came by mail -- a bulky letter all the way from Cape Town, Africa."

"From father?"

"No, from a Captain Townsend, who, it seems, commands the clipper ship Rosabel. He sent me one letter inclosing another. The first letter is from himself."

"And is the second letter from father?" burst out Tom.

"Yes, my boy."

"Oh, let us see it!" came in a shout from all three of the Rover boys.

"You had better read the captain's communication first," answered Randolph Rover. "Then you will be more apt to understand the other. Or shall I read it for the benefit of all?"

"Yes, yes, you read it, Uncle Randolph," was the answer.

"The letter is dated at Cape Town, and was written a little over a month ago. It is addressed to 'Randolph Rover, or to Richard, Thomas, or Samuel Rover, New York City,' and is further marked 'Highly Important-Do Not Lose or Destroy.'"

"And what is in it?" asked the impatient Tom. "Do hurry and tell us, Uncle Randolph."

And then his uncle read as follows:

"TO THE ROVER FAMILY, New York:

I am a stranger to you, but I deem it my duty to write to you on account of something which occurred on the 12th day of April last, while my clipper ship Rosabel, bound from Boston, U. S. A., to Cape Town, Africa, was sailing along the coast of Congo but a few miles due west from the mouth of the Congo River.

"Our ship had been sent in by a heavy gale but the wind had gone down, and we were doing more drifting than sailing to the southward when the lookout espied a man on a small raft which was drifting toward, us.

"On coming closer, we discovered that the man was white and that he looked half starved. We put out a boat and rescued the poor creature but he had suffered so much from spear wounds and starvation that, on being taken on board of our ship, he immediately relapsed into insensibility, and out of this we failed to arouse him. He died at sundown, and we failed, even to learn him name or home address.

"On searching the dead man's pockets we came across the enclosed letter, addressed to you, and much soiled from water. As you will see, it is dated more than a year back and was evidently in the possession of the man who died for some time. Probably he started out to deliver it, or to reach some point from which it could be mailed.

"I trust that the message becomes the means of rescuing the Anderson Rover mentioned in the letter, and I will be pleased to learn if this letter of mine is received. The Rosabel sails from Cape Town to Brazil as soon as her cargo can be discharged and another taken on.

"Very truly yours,

"JOHN V. TOWNSEND, Captain."

As Randolph Rover ceased reading there was a brief silence, broken by Tom.

"So the man who died held a letter. And what is in that, Uncle Randolph?"

"I will read it to you, boys, although that is a difficult matter, for the writing is uneven and much blurred. On one part of the sheet there is a blot of blood -- the blood, I presume -- of the poor fellow who was trying to deliver the communication."

Unfolding the stained document, Randolph Rover bent closer to the table lamp that he might read the more easily. As for the boys, they fairly held their breaths, that no spoken word might escape them.

"The letter is addressed to me," said the uncle. "But the envelope is, as you can see, very much torn. I will read," and he did so.

"NIWILI CAMP, on the Congo,

"July the 18th, 189--.

"DEAR BROTHER RANDOLPH:

"If, by the goodness of God, this reaches you, I trust that you will set out without delay to my, assistance.

"I write under great difficulties, as a prisoner, of the Bumwo tribe of natives, ruled by King Susko.

"I have discovered the secret of a gold mine here, and the king will not let me go, fearing that I will tell the outside world of my discovery and bring the English or French here to slay him and his followers. They know nothing here of Americans.

"I entrust this to the care of an English sailor who is going to try to make his escape. I cannot go myself, having had my leg broken by a blow from one of my jailers.

"I am sick and weak in body, and it may be that I will soon die. Yet I beg of you to do what you can for me. If I die, I trust you to be a father to my dear boys, Dick, Tom, and Sam, and ask Martha for me to be a mother to them.

"The king expects soon to remove to another camp at a place called Rhunda Konoka (the Water Well). Perhaps he will take me along, or else he may slay me.

"All those who were with me are dead excepting several natives who have joined the Burnwo tribe.

"Good-by, and do what you can until you are certain that I am dead.

"Your loving brother,

"ANDERSON ROVER"

When Randolph Rover ceased reading he saw that there were tears in the eyes of all of the boys, and that his wife was also crying. His own voice had had to be cleared continually. To all the letter was like a message from the grave.

"And that is all?" questioned Dick, breaking the silence.

"That is all, my boy -- and the letter was written about a year ago!"

"But we'll go in search of him!" put in Tom, quickly. "He may be alive yet."

"I thought I would go," answered Randolph Rover, "and I thought, possibly, that I might take Dick with me."

"Oh, you must take me too!" burst out Tom. "I could never bear to be left behind."

"And you must take me," interrupted Sam. "We always go together, you know."

At this talk Randolph Rover was somewhat taken aback. "All!" he cried. "Why, what would three boys do in the heart of Africa?"

"Look for father!" cried Tom. "I shan't stay behind -- you can't make me!" he went on half defiantly.

"We have been through lots of adventures, uncle, you know that," came from Sam. "We are not afraid."

"But the danger, boys --" began the uncle.

"What danger wouldn't we face for father's sake!" said Tom. "I'd go through fire and water for him."

"You had better let us all go," said Dick.

"If you don't let Tom and Sam go, why, the chances are they'll --"

"Run away and go anyway," finished Sam.

"Oh, Uncle Randolph, say we can go; please do!"

At this enthusiasm the uncle smiled sadly.

"All-right, boys; as you are bound to have it so, you shall all go. But don't blame me if the perils are greater than you anticipate, and if the undertaking costs one or more of you your lives."