Chapter XII. Off for Africa
 

It was long after midnight before the conversation in relation to the proposed trip to Africa came to an end. Mrs. Rover insisted that the boys should eat something, and they sat around the table discussing the viands and the two letters at the same time.

"Have you any idea where this Niwili Camp is?" asked Dick of his uncle.

"It is on the Congo, but how far froth the mouth of that stream is a question, lad. Probably we can learn all about it when we reach Boma, the capital of the Congo Free State."

"The Congo is a pretty big stream, isn't it?" questioned Sam.

"Very large indeed. At its mouth it is about ten miles wide, and it is from twelve to fourteen hundred miles long. Stanley traced its course after an expedition in which he fought over thirty battles with the natives."

"They must be fearfully savage."

"Those in the interior are. The natives that live close to the ocean are peaceable enough, so I have been told."

"And how are we going to get there?" asked Tom. "I don't suppose there are any regular steamers running to the Congo."

"No, indeed, Tom. I have written to a shipping firm in New York for information, and they will probably send word by morning," was the answer.

It can well be imagined that the boys slept but little that night. In the morning they telegraphed to Putnam Hall for their trunks, and also let Captain Putnam and their chums know how matters stood. Then began preparations for such a tour as none of them had ever before anticipated.

Word came from New York in the early afternoon mail, and the information sent was highly satisfactory to Randolph Rover. The French steamer Republique was in port, loading for Boma and other African ports, and would set sail on the coming Saturday. The firm had taken upon itself the responsibility to speak of passage for Mr. Rover and one or two others.

"Hurrah!" cried Tom. "Uncle Randolph, you had better telegraph to them at once for passage for the four of us."

"I will," answered, Mr. Rover, and the telegram was sent within the hour.

The next day was a busy one. As but little in the way of outfits could be procured in Oak Run or the adjoining villages, it was decided that they should go down to New York on Thursday afternoon and spend all of Friday in purchasing in the metropolis whatever was needed.

The only person who was really sober was Mrs. Rover, for she hated to see her husband start on such a journey, which was bound to, be full of grave perils.

"I am afraid you will never come back," she said, with tears in her eyes. "And if you and Anderson are both dead to me, what will I do?"

"Be brave, Martha," said Mr. Rover tenderly. "I feel certain that a kind Providence will watch over us and bring us all back in safety."

At last the party was ready to set off. A fond good-by was said, and away they rattled in the carryall for the railroad station at Oak Run.

"Good-by to home!" shouted Tom, as he waved his cap to his aunt, who stood beside the gateway.

"And when we come back may we bring father with us," added Dick, and Sam muttered an amen.

The journey down to New York was without incident, and as the Rovers had lived in the metropolis for years they felt thoroughly at home and knew exactly where to go for their outfit and suitable clothing for use in such a warm country was procured, and in addition each was armed with a revolver. Mr. Rover also purchased a shot-gun and a rifle, and likewise a number of cheap gold and silver trinkets.

"The natives are becoming civilized," he explained. "But, for all that, I am certain a small gift now and then will go a long way toward making friends."

The found that the Republique was a stanch-built steamer of eight thousand tons burden. Her captain, Jules Cambion, spoke English quite fluently and soon made them feel at home. He was much interested in the story Randolph Rover had to tell concerning his missing brother.

"'Tis a strange happening, truly," he remarked. "I sincerely trust that your search for him proves successful and that he returns to the arms of his family unharmed. But it is a fierce country. I have visited it twice, and I know."

"I am glad to learn that you have been up the Congo," replied Randolph Rover. "Perhaps during your leisure hours on the trip you will not mind giving me such information as conics to your mind."

"I will tell you all I know willingly," answered Captain Cambion.

Exactly at noon on Saturday the Republique was ready to sail, and with a shout from those on the wharf who had come to see the few passengers off, she sheered away and started down the bay, past Bedloe Island and the Statue of Liberty. Before night the shore line had faded from view, and they were standing out boldly into the Atlantic Ocean.

"Off for Africa at last," murmured Sam, who had been standing at the rail watching the last speck of land as it disappeared. "What a big trip this is going to be!"

"Never mind how big it is, Sam," came from Tom, "if only it is successful."

The first few days on board were spent in settling themselves. The party had two connecting staterooms, and Mr. Rover and Sam occupied one, while Dick and Tom had settled themselves in the other.

The passengers were mostly French people, who were going to try their fortunes in French Congo. There was, however, one Englishman, a man named Mortimer Blaze, who was bound out simply for adventure.

"I'm tired of England, and tired of America too," he explained. "I've hunted through the Rocky Mountains and up in Canada, as well as at home, and now I'm going to try for a lion or a tiger in Africa."

"Perhaps the lion or tiger will try for you," smiled Tom. "What then?"

"It will be a pitched battle, that's all," drawled Mortimer Blaze. He was rather a sleepy looking man, but quick to act when the occasion demanded.

The weather was all that could be wished, and during the first week out the Republique made good progress. On a steamer there was but little for the boys to do, and they spent all of their spare time in reading the books on Africa which Captain Cambion had in his library, and which were printed in English. Often they persuaded the genial captain to tell them of his adventures in that far-away country.

"You have many strange sights before you," he said to them one day. "The strange vegetation, the immense trees, the wonderful waterfalls, some larger than your own Niagara, and then the odd people. Some of the natives are little better than dwarfs, while others are six feet and more in height and as straight as arrows.

"Did you ever hear of this King Susko?" questioned Tom.

"Yes; I have heard of him several times. He is known as the Wanderer, because he and his tribe wander from place to place, making war on the other tribes."

The captain knew nothing of Niwili Camp and expressed the opinion that it had been, like many other camps, only a temporary affair. He said that the best the party could do was to strike straight up the Congo, along the south shore, and question the different natives met concerning King Susko's present whereabouts.

On the beginning of the second week a storm was encountered which lasted for three days. At first the wind blew at a lively rate, and this was followed by thunder and lightning and a regular deluge of rain, which made all of the boys stay below. The steamer pitched from side to side and more than one wave broke over her decks.

"This is the worse storm I ever saw," remarked Dick, as he held fast to a chair in the cabin. "They won't be able to set any table for dinner today."

"Dinner!" came from Sam, with a groan.

"Who wants any dinner, when a fellow feels as if he was going to be turned inside out!" So far none of the boys had suffered from seasickness, but now poor Sam was catching it, and the youngest Rover felt thoroughly miserable.

"Never mind, the storm won't last forever," said Dick sympathetically. "Perhaps you had better lie down, Sam."

"How can I, with the ship tossing like a cork? I've got to hold on, same as the rest, and be glad, I suppose, that I am alive," and poor Sam looked utterly miserable.

It was very close in the cabin, but neither door nor port-hole could be opened for fear of the water coming in. Dinner was a farce, to use Tom's way of expressing it, for everything was cold and had to be eaten out of hand or from a tin cup. Yet what was served tasted very good to those who were hungry.

"I believe we'll go to the bottom before we are done," began Sam, when a loud shout from the deck reached the ears of all of the Rovers and made Tom and Dick leap to their feet.

"What's that?" cried Dick. "They are calling to somebody!"

Above the wind they could hear a yell from a distance, and then came more cries from the deck, followed by a bump on the side of the steamer.

"We've struck something!" ejaculated Tom.

"But I guess it wasn't hard enough to do much damage."

"That remains to be seen," answered Dick. "Storm or no storm, I'm gong on deck to learn what it means," and he hurried up the companionway.