Blind Lion of the Congo, Page 2George Manville Fenn
MR. CRITCHFIELD IS INTERVIEWED
"What! Me?" Burt stopped short and stared at his uncle. Mr. Wallacechuckled and lifted one eyebrow.
"Of course, if you don't want to go--" he began.
"Want to!" shouted Burt, careless of the passers-by who were looking atthem curiously. "You can bet your life I want to! I'd give a milliondollars to go with you!" His face dropped suddenly. "What's the use,Uncle George? You know's well as I do, the folks ain't going to standfor anything like that. Why, dad'd have a fit if he thought I was inAfrica. What's the use of dreaming?"
"Here--trot along!" His uncle seized his arm and drew him on towardhome. "I guess you're right about that, Burt. Anyhow, you keep mum andlet me do the talking. Mind, now, don't you butt in anywhere along theline. I'm dead in earnest, young man. Maybe we'll be able to dosomething if you lie low and let me handle it. Understand?"
"I understand," replied Burt a trifle more hopefully. "Gee! If I couldonly go! Could I shoot real lions and elephants, uncle?"
"Dozens of 'em!" laughed Mr. Wallace cheerfully. "Where I want to gothere are no game laws to hinder. You'd have a tough time for a while,though. It's not like a camping trip up the Maine coast."
"Oh, shucks!" replied the boy eagerly. "Why, there ain't a boy in theworld that wouldn't be crazy to hike with you. They've _got_ to let mego!"
Although nearly bursting with his secret Burt said nothing of it untilhe returned to the shops that afternoon and joined Critch. Then he wasunable to hold in and he poured out the story to his chum. Critchlistened in incredulous amazement, which changed to cheerful envy whenhe found Burt was not joking.
"Why, you dog-goned old bookworm!" he exclaimed when Burt finished. Thered-headed boy was genuinely delighted over his chum's good luck. "Thinkof you out there shootin' your head off, while I'm plugging away hereat home! Think your folks'll kick?"
"Of course they will," groaned Burt gloomily. "Ever know a feller towant any fun, without his folks kicking like sin? They like Uncle Georgea heap, but when it comes to takin' the darlin' boy where he can have areg'lar circus, it's no go. Darn it, I wish I was grown-up and didn'thave any boss!"
"It'll be a blamed shame if they don't let you go, old sport!" agreedCritch with a smile. "But you haven't asked 'em yet. Mebbe they'll comearound all right."
"Huh!" grunted Burt sarcastically. "Mebbe I'll find a million dollars inmy clothes to-morrow morning! Say--"
"Well? Spit her out!" laughed Critch as Burt paused suddenly.
"S'pose I could work you in on the game!" cried Burt enthusiastically."That'd help a lot if the folks knew you were going, too, and if yourdad would fall for it we might take you as some kind of assistant! Itell you--I'll take you as my personal servant, my valet! How'd thatstrike you, just for a bluff?"
"Strike me fine," responded Critch vigorously. "I'd be willin' to workmy way--"
"Oh, shucks! I didn't mean that. I mean to get your expenses paid thatway, see? After we got going--"
"Come out of it!" interrupted Critch. "You talk as if you was reallygoing. Where do you reckon my dad comes in? S'pose he'll stand for anygame like that? Not on your life! Dad's figgering on pulling me into theoffice when school's out."
Burt left for home greatly sobered by the practical common sense of hischum. He was quickly enthusiastic over any project and was apt to becarried away by it, while Critch was just the opposite. None the less,Burt was determined that if it was possible for him to go, his chumshould go too.
After dinner that evening while the family was sitting in the library,Mr. Wallace cautiously introduced the subject to Burt's parents. Burtwas upstairs in his own room.
"Etta, isn't that boy of yours getting mighty peaked?"
"I'm afraid so," sighed Mrs. St. John anxiously. "But we can't make himgive up that scholarship. I'll be glad when school is over next week."
"I guess we'll pack him off with Howard," put in Mr. St. John. "I'llsend 'em up the Kennebec on a canoe trip."
"Nonsense!" snorted the explorer. "What the boy needs is somethingdifferent. Complete change--ocean air--make him forget all about hisbooks for six months!"
"There's a good deal in that, Tom," agreed his sister thoughtfully."Perhaps if I took him abroad for a month or two--"
"Stop right there!" interrupted the explorer. "Take him abroad, indeed!Tie him to your apron strings and lead him to bang-up hotels? Dress himup every day, stuff him on high-class grub? Nonsense! If you want him togo abroad, for goodness sake give him a flannel shirt and a letter ofcredit, and let him go. Don't baby him! Give him a chance to develop hisown resources. Guess you didn't have any indulgent papa, Tom! All theboy wants is a chance. Why won't you let him have it?"
"Don't be a fool, George!" cautioned his sister, smiling at theoutburst. "You know perfectly well that I don't want my boy runningwild. He's all we have, and we intend to take care of him. And I warnyou right here not to put any of your notions into his head. It's badenough to have one famous man in the family!"
The explorer laughed and winked at Mr. St. John, who was enjoying thediscussion from the shelter of his cigar smoke. At this, however, hecame to the aid of his brother-in-law.
"Yes, George is perfectly right, Etta. Burt needs to shift for himself abit, and I think the Kennebec trip will be just the thing for him if wegive him a free hand and let him suit himself. I don't want to send himoff to foreign countries all alone."
"Look here, Tom." Mr. Wallace leaned forward and spoke very earnestly."That kind of a vacation isn't worth much to a good, healthy boy. Hewants something he has earned, not something that's shoved at him. MakeBurt earn some money while he's having a good time. He'll enjoy it twiceas much. Make him pay his own expenses somewhere; do something that willrepay him, or get busy on some outdoor stunt that will give himsomething new and interesting to absorb him. Think it over!"
The conversation ended there for the night. Mr. Wallace was satisfiedthat he had sown good seed, however, and went up to Burt's room with asmile.
"Hello, uncle!" cried the boy, giving up his chair and flinging himselfdown on the bed. "Say anything to the folks yet?"
"A little. We'll have to go slow, remember! Now just what do you knowabout putting up skins and taking them from their rightful owners?"
"Me? Not a whole lot. Let's see. I helped Critch skin an' mount ChuckEvan's bulldog, some birds, a weasel--"
"Hold on!" laughed Mr. Wallace. "That's not what I mean. Know anythingabout horned animals?"
"No," admitted Burt. "I've read up 'bout 'em though. So's Critch."
"Suppose you had a deer's horns to take off. How'd you do it?"
"Take his skin off by cuttin' straight down the breast to the tail,"replied Burt promptly. "Make cross-cuts down the inside o' each leg an'turn him inside out. For the horns you make a cut between 'em, then backdown the neck a little."
"Wouldn't you take his skull?" questioned Mr. Wallace.
"Sure! I forgot that. You'd have to cut between the lids and eye-socketsdown to the lips an' cut these from the bone. For the skull, cut her offand boil her."
"Pretty good!" commented his uncle. "I guess you've got the knowledgeall right. How'd you do in Africa about the skin?"
"Nothing," grinned Burt. "'Cording to your books you just salt 'em welland ship 'em to the coast."
"All right!" laughed his uncle. "Get those rabbits done up?"
"You bet!" Burt made a wry face. "We rubbed them with arsenic. That'sabout the only stuff that'll hold them in this weather. We make moneythough--or Critch does. We've done lots of birds for a dollar each, andwe got five for Chuck's bulldog."
"I wish you'd take me over to your friend's home to-morrow night ifyou've nothing special on," replied Mr. Wallace. "I'd like to have alittle chat with him. Are his parents living?"
"His father is, but not his mother. They only live about three blocksdown the line. We'll go over after supper."
"Well, I'll go back and write another chapter before going to bed." M
r.Wallace rose and departed. He left Burt wondering. Why did his unclewant to see Critch?
He wondered more than ever the next evening. When they arrived at thesmall frame house in which Howard and his father lived, Mr. Wallacechatted with the boys for a little and then turned to Mr. Critchfield, akindly, shrewd-eyed man of forty-five.
"Mr. Critchfield, suppose we send the boys off for a while? I'd like tohave a little talk with you if you don't mind."
"All right, uncle," laughed Burt. "We'll skin out. Come on up to thehouse, Critch."
When they got outside, the red-haired boy's curiosity got the better ofhim and he asked Burt what his uncle wanted with his father.
"Search me," answered Burt thoughtfully. "He put me through the thirddegree yesterday about skinning deer. Next time he gives me a chanceI'll ask him about taking you along."
"What!" exclaimed Howard. "Have your folks come around?"
"I don't know. I'm leaving it all to Uncle George. Believe me, they'vegot to come around or I'll--I'll run away!"
"Yes, I've got a picture o' you running away!" grinned Critch. "Mebbedad'll tell me what's up when I get home."
But Critch was not enlightened that night nor for many nightsthereafter. This was the last week of school and Burt was too busy withhis examinations to waste much time speculating on the African trip.Howard was also pretty well occupied, although not trying for anyscholarship, and for the rest of the week both boys gave all theirattention to school. On Friday evening Burt arrived home jubilantly.
"Done!" he shouted, bursting in on his mother and uncle. "Got it!"
"What, the scholarship? How do you know?" asked his mother in surprise.
"Prof. Garwood tipped me off. Won't get the reg'lar announcement tillcommencement exercises next week but he says I needn't worry! Hurray!One more year and then Yale for mine!"
"Good boy!" cried Mr. Wallace. "Guess you've plugged for it though.Burt, I'll have that book finished next week. If she goes through allright I'll be off by the end of the month for Africa." He winkedmeaningly. "Guess I'll take you along."
"What!" exclaimed Mrs. St. John in amazement. "Take him along? Why,George William Wallace, what do you mean?"
"What on earth d'you suppose I mean?" chuckled her brother. "Whyshouldn't Burt take his vacation with me if he wants to? Don't you thinkI am competent to take care of him?"
Burt was quivering with eagerness and his mother hesitated as she caughtthe anxious light in his eyes. He stood waiting in silence, however.
"George," replied his mother at last, "are you serious about this? Doyou really mean--"
"Of course I do!" laughed the explorer confidently. "If I know anythingabout it, Burt'd come back twice as much a man as he is now. Besides weought to pull out ahead of the game, because I'm going after ivory."
"Wait till Tom comes home," declared Burt's mother with decision. "We'lltalk it over at dinner. You'll have a hard task to convince me thatthere's any sense in such a scheme, George!"
As her brother was quite aware of that fact he forbore to press thesubject just then. A little later Mr. St. John came home from the worksand at the dinner table his wife brought up the subject herself.
"Tom, this foolish brother of mine wants to take Burton away to Africawith him next month! Did you ever hear of anything so silly?"
"Don't know about that," replied Mr. St. John, to his son's intensesurprise. "It depends on what part of Africa, Etta. You must rememberthat the world's not so small as it used to be. You can jump on a boatin New York and go to Africa or China or Russia and never have to botheryour head about a thing. What's the proposition, George?"
"I've been thinking that it would do Burt a lot of good to go with me tothe Congo," answered the explorer. "The sea voyage would set him up infine shape, and we would keep out of the low lands, you know."
"The Congo!" cried his sister in dismay. "Why, that's where they torturepeople! Do you--"
"Nonsense!" interrupted Mr. Wallace impatiently. "The Congo is just ascivilized as parts of our own country. We can take a steamer at themouth and travel for thousands of miles by it. I have one recruit fromNew Britain already, and I'd like to have Burt if you'll spare him."
"Why, who's going from here?" asked Mr. St. John in surprise.
"Young Critchfield," came the reply.