Chapter XIV. A Strange Meeting in Boma
 

The storm delayed the passage of the Republique nearly a week, in a manner that was totally unexpected by the captain. The fierce waves, running mountain high, wrenched the screw and it was found next to impossible to repair the accident. Consequently the steamer had to proceed under a decreased rate of speed.

This was tantalizing to the boys, and also to Randolph Rover, for everyone wished to get ashore, to start up the Congo as early as possible. But all the chafing in the world could not help matters, and they were forced to take things as they came.

A place was found among the sailors for Aleck, and soon he began to feel like himself once more. But the sea did not suit the colored man, and he was as anxious as his masters to reach shore once more.

"It's a pity da can't build a mighty bridge over de ocean, an' run kyars," he said. "Den nobody would git seasick."

"Perhaps they'll have a bridge some day resting on boats, Aleck," answered Tom.

"But I don't expect to live to see it."

"Yo' don't know about dat, chile. Look at uddert'ings. Did yo'gran'fadder expect to ride at de rate ob sixty miles an hour? Did he expect to send a telegram to San Francisco in a couple ob minutes? Did he eber dream ob talkin' to sumboddy in Chicago froo a telephone? Did he knew anyt'ing about electric lights, or movin' pictures, or carriages wot aint got no bosses, but run wid gasoline or sumfing like dat? I tell yo, Massah Tom, we don't know wot we is comin' to!"

"You are quite right, Alexander," said Mr. Rover, who had overheard the talk. "Science is making wonderful strides. Some day I expect to grow com and wheat, yes, potatoes and other vegetables, by electricity," and then Randolph Rover branched off into a long discourse on scientific farming that almost took away poor Aleck's breath.

"He's a most wonderful man, yo' uncle!" whispered the colored man to Sam afterward. "Fust t'ing yo' know he'll be growin' corn in de com crib already shucked!" and he laughed softly to himself.

On and on over the mighty Atlantic bounded the steamer. One day was very much like another, excepting that on Sundays there was a religious service, which nearly everybody attended. The boys had become quite attached to Mortimer Blaze and listened eagerly to the many hunting tales he had to tell.

"I wish you were going with us," said Tom to him. "I like your style, as you Englishman put it."

"Thanks, Rover, and I must say I cotton to you, as the Americans put it," laughed the hunter. "Well, perhaps we'll meet in the interior, who knows?"

"Are you going up the Congo?"

"I haven't decided yet. I am hoping to meet some friends at Boma. Otherwise I may go further down the coast."

The steamer bad now struck the equator, and as it was midsummer the weather was extremely warm, and the smell of the oozing tar, pouring from every joint, was sickening. But the weather suited Alexander Pop perfectly.

"Dis am jest right," he said. "I could sleep eall de time, 'ceptin' when de meal gong rings."

"Blood will tell," laughed Randolph Rover. "When you land, Alexander, you ought to feel perfectly at home."

"Perhaps, sah; but I dun reckon de United States am good enough for any man, sah, white or colored."

"Right you are," put in Dick. "It's the greatest country on the globe."

It was a clear day a week later when the lookout announced land dead ahead. It proved to be a point fifteen miles above the mouth of the Congo, and at once the course was altered to the southward, and they made the immense mouth of the river before nightfall.

It was a beautiful scene. Far away dashed the waves against an immense golden strand, backed up by gigantic forests of tropical growth and distant mountains veiled in a bluish mist: The river was so broad that they were scarcely aware that they were entering its mouth until the captain told them.

When night came the lights of Boma could be distinctly seen, twinkling silently over the bay of the town. They dropped anchor among a score of other vessels; and the long ocean trip became a thing of the past.

"I'm all ready to go ashore," said Tom.

"My, but won't it feel good to put foot on land again!"

"Indeed it will!" cried Dick. "The ocean is all well enough, but a fellow doesn't want too much of it."

"And yet I heard one of the French sailors say that he hated the land," put in Sam. "He hadn't set foot on shore for three years. When they reach port he always remains on deck duty until they leave again."

Mortimer Blaze went ashore at once, after bidding all of the party a hearty good-by. "Hope we meet again," he said. "And, anyway, good luck to you!"

"And good luck to you!" cried Tom. "Hope you bag all of the lions and tigers you wish," and so they parted, not to meet again for many a day.

It was decided that the Rovers should not leave the ship until morning. It can well be imagined that none of the boys slept soundly that night. All wondered what was before them, and if they should succeed or fail in their hunt.

"Dis aint much ob a town," remarked Aleck, as they landed, a little before noon, in a hot, gentle shower of rain. "Nuffin like New York."

"There is only one New York, as there is but one London," answered Randolph Rover. "Our architecture would never do for such a hot climate."

Along the river front was a long line of squatty warehouses, backed up by narrow and far from clean streets, where the places of business were huddled together, and where a good share of the trading was done on the sidewalk. The population was a very much mixed one, but of the Europeans the English and French predominated. The natives were short, fat, and exceedingly greasy appearing. Hardly a one of them could speak English.

"I don't see any Americans," remarked Dick. "I suppose -"

"There is an American store!" burst out Sam, pointing across the way. He had discovered a general trading store, the dilapidated sign of which read:

          SIMON HOOK,

       Dealer in Everything.
     English Spoken by an American.
       Horn of All Kinds Bought.
     Yankee Boots Are the Best!

"He believes in advertising," laughed Dick. "I'd like to go in and see Simon Hook. Perhaps he'll remember something about father!" he added suddenly.

"That's an idea!" returned Tom. "Let us go in, Uncle Randolph."

Mr. Rover was willing, and they entered the low and dingy-looking establishment, which was filled with boxes, barrels, and bags of goods.

They found the proprietor sitting in an easy chair, his feet on a desk, and a pipe in his mouth.

"Is this Mr. Hook?" asked Randolph Rover.

"That's me," was the answer; but Mr. Hook did not offer to rise, nor indeed to even shift his position.

"We saw your sign and as we are Americans we thought we would drop in," went on Mr. Rover.

"That's right; glad to see you," came from the man in the chair; but still he did not offer to shift his position.

"Been here many years?" asked Dick.

"About twenty."

"How is business?" put in Tom, bound to say something.

"Aint none, sonny."

"You don't look very busy."

"It's a fool's place to come to, sonny. When these goods are sold I'm going to quit." Mr. Simon Hook paused long enough to take an extra whiff from his pipe. "What brought you here?"

"We are on a hunt for a missing man," answered Randolph Rover. "Did you ever meet him? His name is Anderson Rover, and he is my brother."

"Anderson Rover?" Simon Hook thought for a moment. "I remember him. He was a gold hunter from Californy, or somethin' like that."

"Yes; he was a mine owner."

"Went up the Congo four or five years ago -- maybe longer?"

"Yes."

"I remember him. He had lots of money, and took several guides and a number of other, natives along."

"Have you seen or heard of him since?" questioned Dick eagerly.

Simon Hook shook his head. "No, sonny. 'Twasn't to be expected."

"And why not?" put in Tom.

"Because them as goes up the Congo never, comes back. It's a fool's trip among those wild people of the interior. Stanley went up, but look at the big party he took with him and the many fights he had to get back alive."

At this announcement the hearts of the Rover boys fell.

"You never heard one word of him?" persisted Sam.

"Nary a word, sonny. I reckon he's either lost in the jungle or among the mountains, or else the natives have taken care of him."

"Did he say anything about the trail he was going to take?" asked Randolph Rover. I understand there are several."

"He was going to take the Rumbobo trail, most all of 'em do." Simon Hook drew a long breath. "Say, can I sell you any of these old things of mine cheap?"

"Perhaps you can," said Randolph Rover.

"We are bound for the hotel now. We will come in later."

"Glad to see you," and as they left the shopkeeper waved them a pleasant adieu with his hand. But he never stirred from his chair.

"I guess he has grown tired of trying to sell goods," observed Tom.

"Perhaps he knows that if folks want the things he has to sell they are bound to come to him," said Dick. "His store seems to be the only one of its sort around."

The hotel for which they were bound was several squares away, located in something of a park, with pretty flowers and a fountain. It was a two-story affair, with spacious verandas and large rooms, and frequented mostly by English and French people.

They had just entered the office; and Randolph Rover was writing his name in the register, when Dick caught sight of somebody in the reading room that nearly took away his breath.

"Well, I never!"

"What is it, Dick?" asked Tom quickly.

"Look at that boy reading a newspaper. It is Dan Baxter -- Dan Baxter, just as sure as you are born!"