Chapter XXIII. Dick Meets an Old Enemy

One afternoon Dick found himself alone near the edge of a tiny lake situated on the southern border of the jungle through which the party had passed. The others had gone up the lake shore, leaving him to see what he could catch for supper.

He had just hooked a magnificent fish of a reddish-brown color, when, on looking up, he espied an elderly man gazing at him intently from a knoll of water-grass a short distance away.

"Richard Rover, is it -- ahem - possible?" came slowly from the man's thin lips. "Surely I must be dreaming!"

"Josiah Crabtree!" ejaculated Dick, so surprised that he let the fish fall into the water again. "How on earth did you get out here?"

"I presume I might - er -- ask that same question," returned the former teacher of Putnam Hall. "Did you follow me to Africa?"

"Do you imagine I would be fool enough to do that, Mr. Crabtree? No, the Stanhopes and I were content to let you go -- so long as you minded your own business in the future."

"Do not grow saucy, boy; I will not stand it."

"I am not saucy, as you see fit to term it, Josiah Crabtree. You know as well as I do that you ought to be in prison this minute for plotting the abduction of Dora."

"I know nothing of the kind, and will not waste words on you. But if you did not follow me why are you here?"

"I am here on business, and not ashamed to own it."

"Indeed. And you -- did you come in search of your missing father?"

"I did."

"You once said he was missing. It is a long journey for one so young."

"It's a queer place for you to come to."

"I am with an exploring party from Yale College. We are studying the fauna and flora of central Africa -- at least, they are doing so under my guidance."

"They must be learning a heap -- under you."

"Do you mean to say I am not capable of teaching them!" cried Josiah Crabtree, wrathfully.

"Well, if I was in their place I would want somebody else besides the man who was discharged by Captain Putnam and who failed to get the appointment he wanted at Columbia College because he could not stand the examination."

"Boy! Boy! You know nothing of my ability!" fumed Crabtree, coming closer and shaking, his fist in Dick's face.

"Well, I know something of your lack of ability."

"You are doing your best to insult me!"

"Such an old fraud as you cannot be insulted, Josiah Crabtree. I read your real character the first time I met you, and you have never done anything since which has caused me to alter my opinion of you. You have a small smattering of learning and you can put on a very wise look when occasion requires. But that is all there is to it, except that behind it all you are a thorough-paced scoundrel and only lack a certain courage to do some daring bit of rascality."

This statement of plain truths fairly set Josiah Crabtree to boiling with rage. He shook his fist in Dick's face again. "Don't dare to talk that way, Rover; don't dare - or -- I'll -- I'll --"

"What will you do?"

"Never mind; I'll show you when the proper time comes."

"I told you once before that I was not afraid of you -- and I am not afraid of you now."

"You did not come to Africa alone, did you?"

"To be sure I did not. I have a large party with me."

"In this vicinity?"

"Yes, within calling distance. I tell you that -- and it's the truth -- so that you won't try any underhand game on me."

"You - you --" Josiah Crabtree broke off and suddenly grew nervous. "See here, Rover, let us be friends," he said abruptly. "Let us drop the past and be friends-at least, so long as we are so far away from home and in the country of the enemy."

This sudden change in manner astonished Dick. Was Crabtree serious? Certainly the man's manner would indicate as much.

"Well, I'm willing to let past matters, drop -- just for the present," he answered, hardly knowing what to say. "I wish to pay all my attention to finding my father."

"Exactly, Richard - and - er - you -- who is with you? Anybody I know?"

"Sam and Dick and Alexander Pop."

"Is it possible! And that black, how is it be came along?"

"He joined us by accident. But what of your party?"

"They are a set of rich young students from Yale in their senior year who engaged me to bring them hither for study and - er -- recreation. And that puts me in mind. You will not -- ahem -- say anything about the past to them, will you?"