Chapter XXVII. The Journey to the Mountain
 

By noon of the day following the Rover expedition was on its way to the mountain said to be so rich in gold. The students from Yale went with them.

"It's like a romance, this search after your father," said Chester to Dick. "I hope you find him. You can rest assured that our party will do all we can for you. Specimen hunting is all well enough, but man hunting is far more interesting."

"I would like to go on a regular hunt for big game some day," said Tom. He had already mentioned Mortimer Blaze to the Yale students.

"Yes, that's nice -- if you are a crack shot, like Sanders. He can knock the spots from a playing card at a hundred yards."

"Maybe he's a Western boy," laughed Sam.

"He is. His father owns a big cattle ranch there, and Sanders learned to shoot while rounding up cattle. He's a tip-top fellow."

They had passed over a small plain and were now working along a series of rough rocks overgrown with scrub brush and creeping vines full of thorns. The thorns stuck everybody but Cujo, who knew exactly how to avoid them.

"Ise dun got scratched in 'steen thousand places," groaned Aleck. "Dis am worse dan a bramble bush twice ober, by golly!"

For two days the united expeditions kept on their way up the mountain side, which sloped gradually at its base, the steeper portion still being several days' journey distant.

During these days they shot several wild animals including a beautiful antelope, while Sam caught a monkey. But the monkey bit the boy in the shoulder, and Sam was glad enough to get rid of the mischievous creature.

On the afternoon of the second day Cujo, who was slightly in advance of the others, called a halt.

"Two men ahead ob us, up um mountain," he said. "Cujo Vink one of dern King Susko."

"I hope it is!" cried Dick quickly.

The discovery was talked over for a few minutes, and it was decided that Cujo should go ahead, accompanied by Randolph Rover and Dick. The others were to remain on guard for anything which might turn up.

Dick felt his heart beat rapidly as he advanced with his uncle and the African guide through the tangle of thorns and over the rough rocks. He felt that by getting closer to King Susko, he was also getting closer to the mystery which surrounded his father's disappearance.

"Dar him am!" whispered Cujo, presently. "See, da is gwine up into a big hole in de side ob de mountain?"

"Can you make out if it is Susko or not?"

"Not fo' certain, Massah Dick. But him belong to de Burnwo tribe, an' de udder man too."

"If they are all alone it will be an easy matter to capture them," said Randolph Rover. "All told, we are twelve to two."

"They have disappeared into the cave." Cried Dick a minute later. "Come on, and we'll soon know something worth knowing, I feel certain of it."

Cujo now asked that he be allowed to proceed alone, to make certain that no others of the Burnwo tribe were in the vicinity.

"We must be werry careful," he said. "Burnwos kill eberybody wot da find around here if not dare people."

"Evidently they want to keep the whole mountain of gold to themselves," observed Dick. "All right, Cujo, do as you think best -- I know we can rely upon you."

After this they proceeded with more care than ever-along a rocky edge covered with loose stones. To one side was the mountain, to the other a sheer descent of several hundred feet, and the footpath was not over a yard wide.

"A tumble here would be a serious matter," said Randolph Rover. "Take good care, Dick, that you don't step on a rolling stone."

But the ledge was passed in safety, and in fifteen minutes more they were close to the opening is the side of the mountain. It was an irregular hole about ten feet wide and twice as high. The a rocks overhead stuck out for several yards, and from these hung numerous vines, forming a sort of Japanese curtain over the opening.

While the two Rovers waited behind a convenient rock, Cujo crawled forward on his hand and knees into the cave. They waited for ten minutes, just then it seemed an hour, but he did not reappear.

"He is taking his time," whispered Dick.

"Perhaps something has happened to him," returned Randolph Rover. "I do not like this oppressive silence. Have your pistol ready for use. We may need our weapons."

"I've had my pistol ready all along," answered the boy, exhibiting the weapon. "That encounter with the lion taught me a lesson. If Cujo -- What's that?"

Dick broke off short, for a sound on the rocks above the cave entrance had reached his ears. Both gazed in the direction, but could see nothing.

"What alarmed you?" asked Randolph Rover hurriedly.

"I heard a rustling in the bushes up there perhaps, though, it was only a bird or some small animal."

"I can see nothing, Dick."

"Neither can I; but I am certain -- Out of sight, Uncle Randolph, quick!"

Dick caught his uncle by the arm, and both threw themselves flat behind the rocks. Scarcely had they gone down than two spears came whizzing forward, one hitting the rocks and the other sailing over their heads and burying itself in a tree trunk several yards away. They caught a glance of two natives on the rocks over them, but with the launching of the spears the Africans disappeared.