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Off to the Wilds: Being the Adventures of Two Brothers, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  It was about two years before this that Mr Edward Rogers, a gentlemanholding a post of importance in the City of London, had purchased someland and come out to dwell in Natal. For physician after physician hadbeen consulted, seaside and health resort visited, but as the timeglided on the verdict of the doctors became more and more apparent as atrue saying, that unless Mrs Rogers was taken to a warmer climate herdays would be few.

  Even if she were removed the doctors said that she could not recover;but still her days might be prolonged. What was more, they stronglyadvised such a course in favour of young Richard, who was weak anddelicate to a degree.

  "Then you really consider it necessary?" said Mr Rogers to the greatphysician who had been called in.

  "I do indeed. As I have said, it will prolong your wife's days, andmost probably it will turn that delicate, sickly boy into a strong man."

  On being asked further what country he would recommend, he promptlyreplied,--

  "South Africa."

  "Natal is the place," he continued. "There you have the Drakensberg,and you can choose your own elevation, so as to get a pure, temperateclimate, free from the cold of the mountains and the heat of theplains."

  Mr Rogers was a man of prompt action, for the health of those dear tohim was his first consideration. The consequence was that after rapidlymaking his arrangements, and providing the necessaries for his new home,he took passage to Durban, arrived there in safety with his wife, twosons, and Dennis; then made his way to Maritzburg; and soon after he hadpurchased an extensive tract of land, and a pleasantly situated home,with garden in full perfection, the owner of which, having made money inthe colony, wished to retire to England.

  Here for a time Mrs Rogers had seemed better, and undoubtedly her lifewas considerably prolonged. Gardening, farming, and a little huntingformed the occupations of the father and sons, and for a time all washappiness in the sunny far-off home. Then the much-dreaded day came,and they were left to mourn for a tender wife and mother, whose loss wasirreparable.

  Richard, who partook greatly of his mother's nature, was, like hisfather, completely prostrated by the terrible loss; and though timesomewhat assuaged his grief, he seemed to have gone back in his health,and lost the way he had made up since he left England, and he had becomeso weak and delicate that Mr Rogers had consulted the doctor, who fromtime to time visited their far-off home.

  "Medicine is of no use, my dear sir," he said frankly. "I can do him nogood. I suppose he sits indoors a good deal and mopes?"


  "Then look here, my dear sir, give him a thorough change. You are nottied to your farming in any way?"

  "Not in the least."

  "Then fit up a waggon, take your horses, and have a few months' campaignin the wilds yonder. You want a change as badly as the boy, and youwill both come back, I'll venture to say, doubled in strength. Why, theivory and skins you'll collect will pay your expenses. I wish I had thechance to go."

  It was settled then, and the waggon was being fitted up with ammunitionand stores; horses, guaranteed to be well-salted, had been purchased forMr Rogers and his boys. The two young Zulus who had been hanging aboutthe place for months, making little trips with Dick and Jack, were togo; and in addition a couple of trustworthy blacks, experienced aswaggon-driver and foreloper, had been engaged; so that in a very fewdays they would say good-bye to civilisation for months, and go seek forhealth in the far-off wilds.

  The boys were delighted, for Mr Rogers proposed that they should aimfor the Zambesi River, and seek some of the seldom-traversed lands,where game abounded, and where the wonders of nature would be opened tothem as from an unsealed book.

  If Dick and Jack were delighted, the two Zulu boys were half mad withjoy. As soon as they knew that they were to be of the party they seemedto have become frantic, going through the actions of hunting andspearing wild beasts--knocking down birds with their kiris, which theythrew with unerring aim--pantomimically fighting lions, one of themroaring and imitating the fierce creature's "oomph, oomph," in a waythat sounded terribly real, while the other threatened him with hisassegai.

  Then they were always showing their cleverness as hunters by stalkingpeople--crawling up to them through the long grass, taking advantage ofevery irregularity of the ground or shrub to get nearer, and grinningwith delight on seeing the surprise and fear of the person stalked.

  For it was only during the past year that they had been so much amongstthe settlers in Natal. Their early days had been spent with their tribein the north, their father being a redoubtable chief; but he had givengreat offence to the king, and had been compelled to fly for his life,finding refuge amongst the English, with his boys.

  Mention has been made of well-salted horses, which to a sailor wouldimmediately suggest commissariat beef in pickle in good-sized tubs; butpray don't imagine that the satisfactory condiment, salt, has anythingto do with a salted horse in South Africa. A salted horse is one thatis seasoned to the climate by having passed through the deadly horsesickness, a complaint so bad and peculiar to the land that very few ofthe horses seized with it recover. When one does recover he is called asalted--that is, seasoned--horse, and his value is quadrupled.

  Mr Rogers had spared no expense in getting together good cattle. Histeam of little Zulu oxen were the perfection of health and strength, andfar more docile than is generally the case with these animals; thougheven these, in spite of their good behaviour, were exceedingly fond oftickling each other's ribs with their long horns, and saving the drivertrouble, for the pair nearest the waggon would stir up the pair in frontof them, and as these could only retaliate on their aggressors withtheir tails, they took their revenge on the pair in front; these againpunished the pair in front; and so on, and on, to the leading oxen, theresult of the many applications being a great increase of speed.

  Then the horses were excellent. Mr Rogers had three for his ownriding; a big bay, a dark grey, and a soft mouse-coloured chestnut, morefamous for speed than beauty, and with a nasty habit of turning roundand smiling, as if he meant to bite, when he was mounted.

  Dick was clever at names, and he immediately suggested "Smiler" as anappropriate name for the chestnut. The dark grey he called "Toothpick,"because of his habit of rubbing his teeth on the sharp points of thefence; while he called the big bony bay the "Nipper," from his being sofond of grazing on, and taking nips from, the manes and tails of hiscompanions, when he could get a chance.

  Mr Rogers provided three horses for his own riding, but it was with theidea of giving either of his sons an extra mount when necessary, for itwas certain that there would be times when the arch-necked swift littlecobs purchased for his boys would want a rest.

  It was a stroke of good fortune to get such a pair, and the boys were inecstasies when they were brought up from Maritzburg, for a handsomerpair of little horses it would have been hard to find. They were bothof that rich dark reddish roan, and wonderfully alike, the differencesbeing in their legs; one being nearly black in this important part ofits person, the other having what most purchasers would call the blemishof four white legs--it being a canon amongst the wise in horseflesh thata dark or black-legged horse has better sinews and lasting powers. Inthis case, however, the theory was wrong, for white legs was if anythingthe stronger of the two.

  The lads then were delighted, and this became increased when they foundthe little nags quite ready to make friends, and willing to eat apples,bread, or as much sugar out of their hands as they would give.

  "That's right, my boys," said Mr Rogers, who found his sons makingfriends in this way with the new arrivals; "always feed your horsesyourselves, and treat them well. Pet them as much as you like, and wintheir confidence by your kindness. Never ill-use your horse; one act ofill-treatment and you make him afraid of you, and then perhaps some day,when in an emergency and you want to catch your horse, he may gallopaway. Go on like that, and those cobs will foll
ow you about like dogs.But you must each keep to his own horse. Which one would you like,Jack?"

  "Oh! the--"

  Jack stopped, and glanced at his brother, whose face was slightlyflushed.

  Dick was weak and delicate, while Jack was the perfection of boyishvigour; and feeling that his brother did not enjoy life as he didhimself, he stopped short just as he was going to say White Legs, forthere was something in the cob's face that he liked, and the littlehorse had let him stroke its velvet nose.

  "Poor old Dick has taken a fancy to him," he said to himself; "and theother will do just as well for me."

  "Let Dick choose first," he said aloud.

  "Very well," said Mr Rogers. "Now then, Dick, which is it to be?though you can't be wrong, my boy, for there is not a pin to choosebetween them, and they are brothers."

  "Should you mind if I chose first, Jack?" asked Dick.

  "Not a bit," said Jack, stoutly, though his feeling of disappointmentwas keen, for he felt now that he would dearly love to have thewhite-legged cob.

  You may guess then his delight when Dick declared for the black-leggedone.

  As soon as he heard the decision Jack had his arm over the white-leggedcob's neck and had given it a hug, the horse looking at him with itsgreat soft eyes, and uttering a low snort.

  "Up with you then, my boys, and have a canter."

  "Without a saddle, father?" said Dick, nervously.

  Jack was already up.

  "Have it saddled if you like, my boy," said Mr Rogers, kindly.

  But Dick flushed, gave a spring from the ground, and was on the littlecob's back.

  They were both skilled riders, but Dick's illness made him timorous attimes. He, however, fought hard to master his weakness; and when Jackcried, "Come on, Dick; let's race to the big tree and back," he stuckhis knees into the cob's plump sides and away they went, with the windrushing by their ears, and the cobs keeping neck and neck, rounding thebig tree about a mile away on the plain, and then making the dusty earthrise in clouds as they tore back, and were checked with a touch of thebridle by the home field.

  "Why, Dick, my boy, I would not wish to see a better seat on a horse,"cried Mr Rogers, patting the cobs in turn. "Jack, you set up your backlike a jockey. Sit more upright, my boy."

  "All right, father; I'll try," said Jack, throwing himself right forwardso as to hug his cob's neck. "But I say, father, isn't he lovely? Ifelt all the time as if I was a bit of him, or we were all one."

  "You looked like it, my boy," said Mr Rogers, smiling in his son'sanimated face. "I wish Dick had your confidence, and you a little moreof his style."

  "All right, father, we'll try and exchange a bit a-piece," laughed Jack."But I can't half believe it, father, that these are to be our ownhorses."

  "You may believe it, then," said his father. "And now get them to thestable."

  "Oh, I say, Dick, what beauties!" cried Jack. "What shall you callyours?"

  "I don't know yet," replied his brother. "He's very fast. `Swift'wouldn't be a bad name; and we might call yours `Sure.'"

  "Hum! I don't think much of those names. Hold up!" he continued,examining the hoofs of his brother's nag. "I say, Dick, what fine thickshoes he has got."

  "That's a good suggestion," said Dick, laughing, and looking brighterthan he had seemed for weeks. "Let's call him `Shoes,' and his brotherwith the white legs `Stockings.'"

  "Shoes and Stockings!" cried Jack; "but those are such stupid names. Idon't know though but what they'll do."

  The question was not discussed, for the lads busied themselves inbedding down their own horses; and for the rest of that, day the stableseemed to be the most important part of the house.