"Don't fly away without us, doctor!" shouted Joe.
"Never fear, my boy!--I am securely lashed. I'll spend the time getting my notes into shape. A good hunt to you! but be careful. Besides, from my post here, I can observe the face of the country, and, at the least suspicious thing I notice, I'll fire a signal-shot, and with that you must rally home."
"Agreed!" said Kennedy; and off they went.
The Forest of Gum-Trees.--The Blue Antelope.--The Rallying-Signal. --An Unexpected Attack.--The Kanyeme.--A Night in the Open Air.--The Mabunguru.--Jihoue-la-Mkoa.--A Supply of Water.--Arrival at Kazeh.
The country, dry and parched as it was, consisting of a clayey soil that cracked open with the heat, seemed, indeed, a desert: here and there were a few traces of caravans; the bones of men and animals, that had been half-gnawed away, mouldering together in the same dust.
After half an hour's walking, Dick and Joe plunged into a forest of gum-trees, their eyes alert on all sides, and their fingers on the trigger. There was no foreseeing what they might encounter. Without being a rifleman, Joe could handle fire-arms with no trifling dexterity.
"A walk does one good, Mr. Kennedy, but this isn't the easiest ground in the world," he said, kicking aside some fragments of quartz with which the soil was bestrewn.
Kennedy motioned to his companion to be silent and to halt. The present case compelled them to dispense with hunting-dogs, and, no matter what Joe's agility might be, he could not be expected to have the scent of a setter or a greyhound.
A herd of a dozen antelopes were quenching their thirst in the bed of a torrent where some pools of water had lodged. The graceful creatures, snuffing danger in the breeze, seemed to be disturbed and uneasy. Their beautiful heads could be seen between every draught, raised in the air with quick and sudden motion as they sniffed the wind in the direction of our two hunters, with their flexible nostrils.
Kennedy stole around behind some clumps of shrubbery, while Joe remained motionless where he was. The former, at length, got within gunshot and fired.
The herd disappeared in the twinkling of an eye; one male antelope only, that was hit just behind the shoulder-joint, fell headlong to the ground, and Kennedy leaped toward his booty.
It was a blauwbok, a superb animal of a pale-bluish color shading upon the gray, but with the belly and the inside of the legs as white as the driven snow.
"A splendid shot!" exclaimed the hunter. "It's a very rare species of the antelope, and I hope to be able to prepare his skin in such a way as to keep it."
"Indeed!" said Joe, "do you think of doing that, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Why, certainly I do! Just see what a fine hide it is!"
"But Dr. Ferguson will never allow us to take such an extra weight!"
"You're right, Joe. Still it is a pity to have to leave such a noble animal."
"The whole of it? Oh, we won't do that, sir; we'll take all the good eatable parts of it, and, if you'll let me, I'll cut him up just as well as the chairman of the honorable corporation of butchers of the city of London could do."
"As you please, my boy! But you know that in my hunter's way I can just as easily skin and cut up a piece of game as kill it."
"I'm sure of that, Mr. Kennedy. Well, then, you can build a fireplace with a few stones; there's plenty of dry dead-wood, and I can make the hot coals tell in a few minutes."
"Oh! that won't take long," said Kennedy, going to work on the fireplace, where he had a brisk flame crackling and sparkling in a minute or two.
Joe had cut some of the nicest steaks and the best parts of the tenderloin from the carcass of the antelope, and these were quickly transformed to the most savory of broils.
"There, those will tickle the doctor!" said Kennedy.
"Do you know what I was thinking about?" said Joe.
"Why, about the steaks you're broiling, to be sure!" replied Dick.
"Not the least in the world. I was thinking what a figure we'd cut if we couldn't find the balloon again."
"By George, what an idea! Why, do you think the doctor would desert us?"
"No; but suppose his anchor were to slip!"
"Impossible! and, besides, the doctor would find no difficulty in coming down again with his balloon; he handles it at his ease."
"But suppose the wind were to sweep it off, so that he couldn't come back toward us?"
"Come, come, Joe! a truce to your suppositions; they're any thing but pleasant."
"Ah! sir, every thing that happens in this world is natural, of course; but, then, any thing may happen, and we ought to look out beforehand."
At this moment the report of a gun rang out upon the air.