Chapter XVII. The Attack at the Hostelry
 

The night was exceptionally cool for that locality; and, utterly worn out by their tiresome journey, all of the Rovers slept more soundly than they had anticipated.

But not for long. Dick had scarcely dropped off when he heard a noise at the doorway, which was covered with a rough grass curtain.

"Who is there?" he demanded, sitting up.

"Dat's all right," came in a whisper from Aleck. "Is dat yo', Massah Dick?"

"Yes, Aleck. What brings you?"

"I dun discovered somet'ing, sah."

"What?"

"Dat udder party dun come up an' is in de woods back ob dis, house."

"In camp?"

"No; dare is a Frenchman wot is talkin' to dah chap wot runs dis shebang, sah."

"Perhaps he wants accommodations," mused Dick.

"Can't say about dat, sah. But de fellers who come up hab a lot ob ropes wid 'em."

"That's certainly queer."

"What's the row?" came sleepily from Tom, and presently Randolph Rover and Sam likewise awoke.

In a few words the colored man explained the situation. He had just finished when the wife of the proprietor of the resort came up to the doorway.

"The gentleman is wanted outside by my husband," she said in broken French.

"What does he want?" asked Mr. Rover.

"I can't say. But he says please to step out for a moment."

Mr. Rover repeated the woman's words to the boys. "What do you make of this?" he asked.

"I tell you something is wrong," declared Dick. "I have felt it all along."

"But what can be wrong, my lad?"

"If you go outside I'll go with you, Uncle Randolph."

"Well, you can do that if you wish."

The pair arose and speedily slipped on the few garments which they had taken off. Then Dick pulled out his pistol.

"Do you think it is as bad as that?" asked Sam.

"I don't know what to think. But I'm going to take uncle's advice and count every man an enemy until he proves himself a friend."

Soon Mr. Rover and Dick were ready to go out, and they did so, followed by Aleck and preceded by the native woman. As it was dark the Rovers easily concealed their weapons in the bosoms of their coats.

They walked past the bamboo addition and to the grove of trees Aleck had mentioned. There they found the Frenchman in conversation with Captain Villaire.

"You wish to see me?" demanded Randolph Rover.

"Very much," answered Villaire in French. "If You are Mr. Randolph Rover, are you not?"

"I am."

"And this is one of your nephews?"

"Yes."

"I believe you are hunting for the young man's father?" went on Villaire.

"We are. Do you know anything of him?" demanded Randolph Rover eagerly.

"I do. He sent me to you."

"He sent you!" cried Randolph Rover in amazement. "He is, then, alive?"

"Yes; but a prisoner, and very sick. He heard of your being in Boma by accident through a native of King Susko's tribe who was sent to the town for some supplies. I heard the story and I have been employed to lead you to him, and at once."

"But -- but this is marvelous," stammered Randolph Rover. "I must say I do not understand it."

"It is a very queer turn of affairs, I admit. The other Mr. Rover must explain to you when you meet. He wishes you to come to him alone. It will not be safe for more."

As well as he was able Randolph Rover explained matters to Dick. In the meantime, however, the youth had been looking around sharply and had noted several forms gliding back and forth in the gloom under the trees. Dick was more suspicious than ever.

"Uncle Randolph, I don't believe this man," he said briefly. "The story he tells is too unnatural."

"I think so myself, Dick; but still -"

"Why didn't this man come straight to the house to tell us this?"

"I'm sure I don't know."

"Ask him."

Randolph Rover put the question to Captain Villaire. The Frenchman scowled deeply and shrugged his shoulders. "I had my reason," he said briefly. "Will you come with me?"

Before Randolph Rover could answer there came a shout from behind several trees.

"Look out fo' yourselves!" came in Aleck's voice. "Dis am a trap!"

"A trap!" repeated Dick, when of a sudden a half dozen men rushed at him and Randolph Rover and surrounded the pair. In a twinkle, before either could use his pistol, he was hurled flat and made a prisoner.

"Bind them, men," ordered Villaire sternly. "And bind them well, so that escape is impossible."

"Run for the house, Aleck!" yelled, out Dick, before those on top of him could choke him off. "Save Tom and Sam!

"I will!" came from the faithful black. And off he sped at top speed, with three or four of Captain Villaire's party after him. Cujo also went to the house, bewildered by what was going on and hardly knowing how to turn.

Randolph Rover fought desperately and so did Dick. But the two were no match for the six men who had attacked them, and ere they knew it the Rovers were close prisoners, with their hands bound behind them and each with a dirty gag of grass stuffed in his mouth.

"Now march, or you will be shot," came in bad English from one of the Villaire party. And as there seemed nothing better to do they marched, wondering why they had been attacked and where they were to be taken. Their arms had been confiscated, so further resistance was useless. When Dick lagged behind he received a cruel blow on the back which nearly sent him headlong.

A journey of several hours brought the party to a small clearing overlooking the Congo at a point where the bank was fully fifty feet above the surface of the stream. Here, in years gone by, a rough log hut had been built, which the African International Association had once used as a fort during a war with the natives. The log hut was in a state of decay, but still fit for use and almost hidden from view by the dense growth of vines which covered it.

The men who had brought Randolph Rover and Dick hither evidently knew all about the hut, for they proceeded to make themselves at home without delay. Taking the Rovers into one of the apartments of the dilapidated building they tied each to the logs of the walls, one several yards from the other.

"Now you must wait until Captain Villaire returns," said the leader of the party in French. He will be here before daylight."

"But what does this mean?" demanded Randolph Rover.

"He will tell you what it means," grinned the brigand, and walked away to another part of the hut, which was built in a long, rambling fashion, and contained a dozen or more divisions.

"We are in a pickle," remarked Dick dismally. "This is hunting up father with a vengeance."

"We won't despair yet, Dick. But I would like to know what this means."

"It probably means robbery, for one thing, Uncle Randolph. And it may mean death." And the youth, shuddered.

"If I am not mistaken I saw some of these rascals hanging around the hotel in Boma."

"That is more than likely. They have been watching their chance to attack us ever since we left the town."

Slowly the hours wore away until morning dawned. The positions of both Dick and his uncle were most uncomfortable ones, and the youth was ready to groan aloud at the strain put upon his shoulders through having his arms tied behind him.

At last they heard footsteps approaching from the opposite end of the rambling building.

"Somebody at last!" cried Dick.

He had scarcely spoken when Captain Villaire appeared, followed by -- Dan Baxter!