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Off to the Wilds: Being the Adventures of Two Brothers

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Off to the Wilds, Being the Adventures of Two Brothers, by GeorgeManville Fenn.


  The setting is the northern part of what is now South Africa, in themiddle of the nineteenth century. Mr Rogers is a British settler inSouth Africa, a "cottage farmer". The earlier Dutch farmers andsettlers are called Boers. The two teenage sons, Jack and Dick, haveoften asked if they could all go out on a trek to visit the northernparts of the country, for a natural history collecting expedition. Theyhad come out to South Africa for the health of Mrs Rogers, but she haddied, and of the two boys, Dick was not very strong, while Jack was veryrobust.

  Off they go, together with two Zulu boys who live on their land, theZulu boys' father, who is a Chieftain whom they nickname "The General",and an Irish cook, who is always getting into trouble in everysituation, in a most infuriating manner. There is also Peter thedriver, and Dirk who is a foreloper, the man who walks ahead of the oxento guide them into the best way.

  They expect to pay for the trip with ivory from elephants, feathers fromostriches, animal skins, etc.

  The various adventures include encounters with snakes, rhino, hippo,giraffes, elephants, crocodiles, cataracts, tsetse fly, marauding nativetribes, a bush fire, hundreds of miles of dreary grinding effort takingmany months just to cover the ground, scorching heat, and sometimescold. And more besides.

  As usual with this author there is sustained tension throughout thebook. An interesting and instructive book.





  "Just look at him, Dick. Be quiet; don't speak."

  "Oh, the dirty sunburnt little varmint! I'd like the job o' washinghim."

  "If you say another word, Dinny, I'll give you a crack with your ownstick."

  "An' is it meself would belave you'd hurt your own man Dinny wid ashtick, Masther Jack? Why ye wouldn't knock a fly off me."

  "Then be quiet. I want to see what he's going to do."

  "Shure an' it's one of the masther's owld boots I threw away wid me ownhands this morning, because it hadn't a bit more wear in it. An' lookat the dirty unclane monkey now."

  "He'll hear you directly, Dinny, and I want to see what he's going todo. Hold your tongue."

  "Shure an' ye ask me so politely, Masther Jack, that it's obliged to besilent I am."

  "Pa was quite right when he said you had got too long a tongue."

  "Who said so, Masther Jack?"


  "Shure the masther said--and it's meself heard him--that you was to laveyour papa at home in owld England, and that when ye came into thesesavage parts of the wide world, it was to be father."

  "Well, father, then. Now hold your tongue. Just look at him, Dick."

  "It's meself won't spake again for an hour, and not then if they don'tax me to," said Dennis Riley, generally known as "Dinny," and nothingmore. And he, too, joined in watching the "unclane little savage," ashe called him, to wit, a handsome, well-grown Zulu lad, whose skin wasof a rich brown, and who, like his companion, seemed to be a model ofsavage health and grace.

  For there were two of these lads, exceedingly lightly clad, in anecklace, and a strip of skin round the loins, one of whom was lying onhis chest with his chin resting upon his hands, kicking up his feet, andclapping them together as he watched the other, who was evidently in ahigh state of delight over an old boot.

  This boot he had found thrown out in the fenced-in yard at the back ofthe cottage, and he was now seated upon a bank trying it on.

  First, he drew it on with a most serious aspect, held out his leg andgave it a shake, when, finding the boot too loose, he took it off andfilled the toe with sand; but as the sand ran out of a gap between theupper leather and the sole close to the toe and as fast as he put it in,he had to look out for something else, which he found in the shape ofsome coarse dry grass. With this he half filled the boot, and then,with a good deal of difficulty, managed to wriggle in his toes, afterwhich he drew the boot above his ankle, rose up with a smile ofgratified pride upon his countenance, and began to strut up and downbefore his companion.

  There was something very laughable in the scene, for it did not seem tooccur to the Zulu boy that he required anything else to add to hiscostume. He had on one English boot, the same as the white men wore,and that seemed to him sufficient, as he stuck his arms akimbo, thenfolded them as he walked with head erect, and ended by standing on oneleg and holding out the booted foot before his admiring companion. Thiswas too much for the other boy, whose eyes glittered as he made a snatchat the boot, dragged it off, and was about to leap up and run away; buthis victim was too quick, for, lithe and active as a serpent, he dashedupon the would-be robber, and a fierce struggle ensued for thepossession of the boot.

  John Rogers, otherwise Jack, a frank English lad of about sixteen,sprang forward to separate the combatants, but Dinny, his father'sservant, who had been groom and gardener at home, restrained him.

  "No, no, Masther Jack," he cried, "let the young haythens fight it out.It'll make them behave betther by-an'-by."

  "I won't; I don't like to see them fight," cried Jack, slipping himselffree, and seemingly joining in the fray.

  "Don't, Masther Jack," cried Dinny; "they'll come off black on yourhands. Masther Dick, sir, tell him to lave them alone."

  The lad appealed to, a pale delicate-looking youth, clenched his fistsand sprang forward to help his brother. But he stopped directly andbegan to laugh, as, after a short scuffle, Jack Rogers separated thecombatants, and stood between them with the boot in dispute.

  For a moment it seemed as if the two Zulu lads were about to make acombined attack, but there was something about the English lad whichrestrained them, and they stood chattering away in their native tongue,protesting against his interference, and each laying claim to the boot.

  "Speak English," cried Jack. "And now you two have got to shake handslike Englishmen, and make friends."

  "Want a boot! want a boot! want a boot!" the Zulu lads kept repeating.

  "Well, you do as I tell you, and you shall each have a pair of boots."

  "Two boot? Two boot?" cried the boy who had lost his treasure.

  "Yes; two boots," said Jack. "You've got an old pair, haven't you,Dick?"

  "Yes; they can have my old ones," was the reply. "Go and get them,Dinny."

  "And my old lace-ups too," said Jack.

  "Ugh!" ejaculated Dinny, spitting on the ground in token of disgust."Ye'll both repint being such friends with cannibal savages like them,young gentlemen. They'll turn round on ye some day, and rend and ate yeboth."

  "Not they, Dinny," laughed Jack. "They'd prefer Irishmen, so we shouldbe safe if you were there."

  "Ah, ye may laugh," said Dinny, "but they're a dangerous lot, themsavages, and I wouldn't trust 'em the length of my fut."

  Dinny went towards the back door of Mr Rogers' roomy,verandah-surrounded cottage farm, high up in the slopes of theDrakensberg, and looking a perfect bower with its flowers, creepers, andfruit-trees, many being old English friends; and Jack proceeded to makepeace between the two Zulu boys.

  "Now look here, Sepopo, you've got to shake hands with your brother," hecried.

  "No!" cried the Zulu boy who had been lying down when he snatched theboot, and he threw himself in a monkey-like attitude
on all fours.

  "Now you, Bechele, you've got to make friends and shake hands,"continued Jack, paying no heed to Sepopo's defiant attitude.

  "No!" cried the last-addressed, emphatically. "'Tole a boot! 'Tole aboot!" And he too plumped himself down upon all fours and stared at theground.

  "I say yes!" cried Jack; when, as if moved by the same influence, thetwo Zulu boys leaped up, ran a few yards, and picked up each his "kiri,"a short stick with a knob at the end nearly as big as the fist, ran backto where the English lads were standing, and with flashing eyes began tobeat the sand with their clubs.

  "Come along, Dick!" cried Jack. "They shan't fight. You take Sepopo,I'll take Bechele. No; don't! It will make you hot, and you're notstrong. I'll give it them both."

  Jack, who was very strong and active for his age, made a dash at theyoung Zulus just as they began threatening each other and evidentlymeaning to fight, when for a few moments there was a confused struggle,in which Jack would not have been successful but for his brother's help,he having overrated his strength. But Dick joined in, and in spite oftheir anger the Zulu boys did not attempt to strike at their youngmasters, the result being that they allowed their kiris to be wrenchedfrom their hands, and the next minute were seated opposite to each otheron the ground.

  "They're as strong as horses, Dick," panted Jack. "There! Now, yousirs, shake hands!"

  "No!" shouted one.

  "No!" shouted the other; and with a make believe of fierceness, Jackgave each what he called a topper on the head with one of the kiris heheld.

  "Now will you make friends?" cried Jack; and again they shouted, "No!"

  "They won't. Let them go," said Dick, languidly; "and it makes one sohot and tired."

  "They shan't go till they've made friends," said Jack, setting histeeth; and thrusting his hand into his pocket he brought out a piece ofthick string, the Zulu boys watching him intently.

  They remained where Jack had placed them, and going down on one knee heseized the right hand of each, placed them together, and proceeded totie them--pretty tightly too.

  "There!" cried Jack. "Now you stop till you're good friends once more."

  "Good boy now," cried one on the instant.

  "Good boy now," cried the other.

  "Then shake hands properly," said Jack.

  "Give him the boot," cried Sepopo, as soon as his hand was untied, andhe had gone through the required ceremony with his brother.

  "No, no; give him the boot," cried the other.

  "Hold your tongues," cried Jack. "I say, Dick, let's call themsomething else if they are going to stop with us, Sepopo! Bechele!What names!"

  "Well," said Dick, languidly, as he sat down in a weary fashion: "one'sgoing to be your boy, and the other mine. Let's call them `Black Jack'and `Black Dick.'"

  "But they are brown," said his brother.

  "Yes, they are brown certainly," said Dick, thoughtfully. "Regularcoffee colour. You might call one of them `Coffee.'"

  "That'll do," said Jack, laughing, "`Coffee!' and shorten it into`Cough.' I say, Dick, I'll have that name, and I can tell people I'vegot a bad `Cough.' But what will you call the other?"

  "I don't know. Stop a moment--`Chicory.'"

  "And shorten it into `chick'. That will do, Dick; splendid! Cough andChick. Now you two, one of you is to be Cough and the other Chick; doyou hear?"

  The Zulu boys nodded and laughed, though, in spite of the pretty goodknowledge of the English language which they had picked up from theirintercourse with the British settlers, it is doubtful whether theyunderstood the drift. What they did comprehend, however, was, that theyshould make friends; and this being settled, there was the old boot.

  "Give me boot, and show you big snake," cried Chicory.

  "No, no, give me; show more big snake," cried Coffee.

  Just then Dinny came up with two old pairs of the lads' boots, which hethrew down upon the sandy earth; and reading consent in their youngmasters' eyes, the Zulu lads pounced upon them with cries of triumph,Coffee obtaining the two rights, and Chicory the two lefts, with whichthey danced about, flourishing them over their heads with delight.

  "Come here, stupids!" cried Jack; and after a little contention, theboys being exceedingly unwilling to part as they thought with theirprizes, he managed to make them understand that the boots ought to go inpairs; and the exchange having been made, each boy holding on to a bootwith one hand till he got a good grip of the other, they proceeded toput them on.

  "Ugh! the haythen bastes," said Dinny, with a look of disgust. "Thinkof the likes o' them wearing the young masthers' brogues. Ah, MastherDick, dear, ye'll be repinting it one of these days."

  "Dinny, you're a regular prophet of evil," said Dick, quietly.

  "Avic--prophet of avil!" cried Dinny. "Well, isn't it the truth?Didn't I say avore we left the owld counthry that no good would come ofit? And avore we'd been out here two years didn't the dear misthress--the saints make her bed in heaven--go and die right away?"

  "Dinny! how can you!" cried Jack, angrily, as he saw the tears startinto his brother's eyes, and that in spite of the sunburning he turnedhaggard and pale.

  "Don't take any notice, Dick," he whispered, in a tender, loving way, ashe laid one arm on his brother's shoulder and drew him aside. "Dinnydon't mean any harm, Dick, but he has such a long tongue."

  Dick looked piteously in his brother's face, and one tear stole softlydown his cheek.

  "I say, Dick," cried Jack, imploringly, "don't look like that. It makesme think so of poor mamma. You look so like her. I say don't, oryou'll make me cry too; and I won't," he cried, grinding his teeth. "Isaid I'd never cry again, because it's so childish; and I won't."

  "Then I'm childish, Jack," said Dick, as he rubbed the tear away withone hand.

  "No, no. You have been so weak and delicate that you can't help it.I'm strong. But I say, Dick, you are ever so much stronger than when wecame out here."

  "Yes," said Dick, with a wistful look at his brother's muscular arms."I am stronger, but I do get tired so soon, Jack."

  "Not so soon as you did, Dick; and father says you'll be a strong manyet. Hallo! what's the matter? Look there."

  The brothers turned round, and hardly knew whether to laugh or to bealarmed; for a short distance away there was Dinny dancing about, wavinghis arms and shouting, while Coffee and Chicory, each with his kiri,were making attacks and feints, striking at the Irishman fiercely.

  "Ah, would you, ye black baste?" shouted Dinny, as roaring now withlaughter the brothers ran back.

  "Shoo, Shoo! get out, you dirty-coloured spalpeen. Ah, ye didn't. Kapeoff wid you. An' me widout a bit of shtick in me fist. Masther Dick,dear! Masther Jack! it's murthering me the two black Whiteboys are.Kape off! Ah, would ye again! Iv I'd me shtick I'd talk to ye both,and see if your heads weren't thick as a Tipperary boy's, I would.Masther Dick! Masther Jack! they'll murther me avore they've done."

  As aforesaid, the two Zulu boys had picked up a great deal of theEnglish language, but their understanding thereof was sometimes veryobscure. In this instance they had heard Dinny talking to his youngmasters in a way that had made the tears come in Dick's eye, and drivenhim and Jack away. This, in the estimation of the Zulu boys, must bethrough some act of cruelty or insult. They did not like Dinny, whomade no attempt to disguise his contempt for them as "a pair ofmiserable young haythens," but at the same time they almost idolised thetwin brothers as their superiors and masters, for whom they were almostready to lay down their lives.

  Here then was a cause for war. Their nature was to love and fight, asdearly as the wildest Irishman who was ever born. Dinny had offendedtheir two "bosses"--as they called them, after the fashion of the DutchBoers, and this set their blood on fire.

  Hardly had the brothers walked away than, as if moved by the samespirit, they forgot the beauty of the old boots in which they had beenparading--to such an extent that they kicked them off, and kiri in handmade so fierce an a
ttack upon unarmed Dinny that, after a show ofresistance, he fairly took to his heels and ran back to the house, justas the brothers came up.

  "Popo give him kiri," cried Chicory.

  "Bechele de boy make Boss Dinny run," cried the other, his eyessparkling with delight. "No make de boss cry eye any more."

  "No make Boss Dick cry eye any more," repeated Chicory.

  The brothers looked at each other as they comprehended the meaning ofthe attack.

  "Why, Jack," said Dick, "what faithful true fellows they are. They'llnever leave us in a time of trouble."

  "No, that they won't," cried Jack; and just then a tall, stern, sunburntman, with grizzled hair and saddened eyes, came up to where they stood.Laying his hand affectionately on the shoulder of Dick,--

  "Come, my boys," he said, "dinner is ready. Let's be punctual while weare leading a civilised life."

  "And afterwards, father, as punctual a life as we can," said Dick,smiling.

  "Hurray!" cried Jack, giving his cap a wave in the air. "Only anotherweek, and then, father--"

  "Yes," said Mr Rogers, with a quiet, sad look, "then, my boy, good-byeto civilisation."

  "Only for a time, father," said Dick, quietly.

  "Till you win health and strength, my boy," said Mr Rogers, with anaffectionate glance.

  "And that we'll soon find," cried Jack; "for we are off to the wilds."