Out on the grasslands, wildlife was much more abundant. The first day out, they saw a rhinocerous, which Jonathan advised them to give a wide berth saying they were ill-tempered creatures.
Over the next few days they saw elephants and another rhino. They had been travelling for nearly a week before they saw another human being. In this case, it was several human beings, three to be exact. Jonathan quickly identified them as a war party and futhermore thought they looked hostile. Thanks to eagle-eye Elizabeth, the identificaiton was made at a goodly distance and it was possible that they had not been spotted in return, although their profile high on the camels made that somewhat unlikely.
As they slid off the camels and pulled back into the bushes (hopefully out of sight), Ol' Eagle-Eye peered through the spyglass to see how the warriors were armed, and to see if maybe she could tell if they'd been seen.
"And things were going so well," she muttered under her breath.
The warriors were armed with spears and shields and, unfortunately, they seem to have spotted the explorers. At least, they were coming toward their hiding spot with some rapidity. Jonathan thought they looked like young men, intent on proving their manhood with the blood of their enemies -- and nearly any enemy would do.
Johnathan readied 'the mule' and after aiming quite carefully squeezed off his first shot at the lead warrior, hoping to put the man down and end his obvious taste for blood. Jonathan aimed and fired. 'The mule' kicked like, well, like a mule, and his first shot went high. "Damnation," he muttered under his breath" Realizing they were charging, he aimed a hair lower, fired the second barrel and was rewarded when his target flipped over backwards and lay still. That was enough for the other two young men, who swerved off and ran hooting toward the desert and some cover.
Whilst rapidly reloading and keeping his eye on the retreating men, Johnathan said "Well, shame I had to shoot one, but that's put paid to them."
Godfrey stood watch over Jonathan with his own rifle until Jonathan was reloaded.
Rose looked a little pale, "This adventure seems much less jolly now."
"Good man, Godfrey," commented Johnathan and to the ladies, "Shall we resume our trek?"
On their guard now, they continued along their way. An hour or so later, Jonathan halted the party. He thought he had heard gunshots, two of them, very faintly, from behind them.
"What is it, Sandy?" Elizabeth asked
"Gunshots, Beth," Johnathan replied, "it would seem the remaining warriors overcame their fear of guns ... but who shot them, I wonder?"
Elizabeth took a deep breath. "Well, let's proceed with caution, then."
The party proceeded with caution, as advertised. As they began to approach the lake, wildife grew more common. They saw elephants (quite the treat for Lady Rose) and wildebeest in abundance. They also saw more human wildlife as well, and something seemed to have them stirred up. A war party of six was spotted early enough that they were able to get off the camels and out of sight, and once they saw smoke rising in the distance, of a quantity that suggested a village being burned.
They struck the coast of Lake Chad at noon on the thirteenth day out of Kano and paused to consider their next step as they refilled their water bottles and let the camels drink. Following the lake north would be easy, but would be the most thickly inhabited path. At this point, though it was also the most direct. Unless they wanted to deliberately backtrack out into the desert, they would have to risk it.
"Onward!" said Elizabeth.
"Lay on, Macduff," replied Johnathan
The lake wildlife presented an interesting change and for a few days they saw no humans but only crocodiles, the occasional hippo and the odd zebra. Late one afternoon, though, they came upon the remains of a village on the shores of the lake. It appeared to have been burned fairly recently. There were no bodies, but the torn up beach suggested that the crocodiles had fed well.
Looking over the village's remains from where they were, Johnathan attempted to see any signs of life and whether any of the buildings were still standing
The foundations and mud walls of the huts remained, but the reed roofs had been consumed as had anything else burnable. The place was desolate and devoid of human life.
"It seems to me that we have stumbled into the middle of a tribal war - or something similar," opined Johnathan, "I think we should be even more on our guard and have someone constantly on watch from here on. Perhaps we should consider travelling on the edge of the desert as well, so we stand less chance of being pinned against the lake?"
The little party cut west a few miles to distance themselves from the more thickly inhabited lake shore, then they turned north again. For three days they saw noone and no living thing. The third night they heard horrible barking or coughin sound outside their tents. They quickly rolled outside scrambling for weapons, half asleep, then Jonathan recognized the sound - jackals, a large pack of them it sounded like.
"That sounds like jackals," Johnathan announced, "They shouldn't be a problem, if they get too inquisitive , a couple of shots in the air should put paid to them - we'll wait and see for a bit though."
Johnathan projected an air of confidence, trying to reassure the others.
"Rose, would you mind stoking the fire up a bit, please? it might scare them off; Beth, please keep an eye out in that direction, if you'd be so kind? Godfrey, try moving the camels a bit cloer in, there's a good chap and I'll see if I can't bag one or two of the blighters if they get too close," asked Johnathan in a light tone. When he finished he moved slightly away from the camp towards the camels furthest from the fire, all the time looking for the jackals.
Rose nodded and tossed a bit more scrub onto the fire as Godfrey went toward the camels. Sandy looked around, there they were! It was a big pack, easily a dozen shapes loping about in the darkness. Godfrey moved the camels in toward the fire. "They're a bit skittish," he said. "But the jackals don't seem inclined to come too close."
"Thank-you Rose, and thank-you Godfrey; do you best with them old man," answered Johnathan, " I have the beasts in my sights now ... as we are trying to avoid detection, I'd rather not shoot unless absolutely necessary - do we have some scraps or somesuch we can throw them?"
As he spoke, Johnathan was watching the pack as best he could ready to shoot the moment one made for the camels.
Rose spoke, "Godfrey, perhaps a flaming stick or something might serve to frighten them?"
"Yes, Lady Rose," replied Godfrey. "It might." Godfrey selected a flaming brand and a few smaller flaming sticks and set forth. "Take that, you filthy cur!" He cried hurling a stick at one of the beasts which skipped nimbly away. He repeated the process, recovering his sticks where he could, while Jonathan kept watch. Elizabeth joined him with her Coates&Dean at the ready.
A yipe from the left indicated that Godfrey had succeeded in scorching one of the jackals. "Good show," called Rose.
It soon became clear the beasts were not interested in a fight and it was just a matter of time before they were scattered. Godfrey kept up his barrage while Rose tended the fire and Elizaeth and Jonathan stood watch in case the beasts turned on Godfrey. After an hour so, the pack gave up and skulked off in search of easier meat.
"Well done chaps," said Johnathan after the last of the beasts had left, "Good show. I'll stay up and make sure the blighters don't come back. Get your heads down, but keep your weapons handy."
Johnathan settled in to his vigil watching for the return of the Jackals.
The night passed without further disturbance. The next day passed quietly as well, with the only difficulty being Jonathan's tendency to slip into sleep and start to slide off his mount. Toward noon, Elizabeth thought she caught a glimpse to the south of the large "bird" that had dogged their steps earlier. The sight was not repeated, though.
At camp that night they again consulted the map. Their best estimate put them even with the top of Lake Chad and ready to turn east. The question was to head directly east and then try to head north to Dunaga or to head directly toward where they believed Dunaga to be and navigate by compass alone.
"Hmmm," said Johnathan, "I think it would be good if we inventoried our supplies before reaching that kind of decision"
The party did so and decided they had enough supplies to risk it. "Well," said Elizabeth, "I'm partial to the shortest route at this point. That bird creature has me jumpier than... Well, than a jackal around a campfire."
The party made a quick jaunt to the lake to fill up their water containers and water the animals, then took a compass reading and headed off into the desert. Their best guess was that it would take a week or ten days to reach Dunaga.
The first day, a pack of jackals trailed them for part of the day but turned back as they drew further and further away from the lake.
All was quiet for three days, then on the fourth they spied a dust cloud in the distance. Out came the spyglasses and they determined it to be a group of six arabs on camels. They looked rough customers, with long rifles and sabres, probably bandits said Jonathan. Worse luck, they had probably seen the dust cloud raised by the British and were heading their way.
Johnathan tried to guess how far the bandits were from them while he looked about for a clump of rocks or something similar to provide cover.
"Drat, drat, drat," said Elizabeth, as she brought her revolver to ready.
They were perhaps two miles away, and cover was nowhere in sight, although he remembered passing a rock outcropping a mile or so back.
"I think you had it right there, Beth," said Johnathan. "There's no cover I can see. Everyone get off your camel and pull it down to its knees. Try to turn it so its between us and the bandits - or better yet see if we can circle them. Then get you rifles ready, I'm afraid ..."
The little band made what cover they could and waited as the camel-riding bandits bore down on them. Just outside of rifle range, they leapt off their camels, ran forward and threw themselves to the sand.
"Now," shouted Godfrey, momentarily forgetting he was no longer commanding a squad of soldiers. He and Jonathan fired, both missing their targets. Jonathan handed Susy to Elizabeth to reload and grabbed the Mule. Godfrey worked the action on his Lee-Metford and both men fired again. Jonathan switched to his nitro express and again the men's weapons thundered. This time one of the bandits was struck and threw up his handbefore lying still. The remaining bandits began to return fire. Several bullets thudded around them, then Jonathan heard Godfrey curse, "Damn." A moment later he felt stung in his own leg.
The bandits, except the one who had been shot, crawled back and hid behind their camels to reload. Even after reloading they remained behind such cover as the camels provided.
"Is there anything we can do that would be more useful than re-loading while you get shot?" asked Elizabeth, handing a loaded something to Sandy and turning to help Godfrey.
"Sandy, you're next," Elizabeth said, as she put the finishing touches on Godfrey's wound and brandished a bottle of antiseptic.
"By all means, Beth," Johnathan replied, "Please forgive me if I have to interrupt you, though ..."
"You are too kind," replied Johnathan. As he lay behind his camel with the redoubatable Dr Beth bandaging his wound, Johnathan watched the bandits, rifle at the ready, feeling sure, they would try something soon.
Elizabeth glanced at the western horizon as she put the finishing touches on Johnathan's bandages. "It looks like it will be getting dark soon. Do you suppose we're safer under cover of darkness, or are our troubles just beginning?"
"I would say the latter," replied Johnathan. "These scum will probably try to sneak up on us and mureder us in the dark. Perhaps we should be ready to move as soon as night falls ..."
"Excellent plan, Sandy," said Elizabeth. She packed her medical kit back neatly and checked the camels' loads in preparation for a hasty getaway.
The party prepared to move and began to wait out the tense hours til nightfall. Suddenly a scream broke the silence. Something was happening where the bandits lay. Another hoarse cry rose, then a bustle of activity surrounded the enemy camp. They watched in astonishment as the bandits raced to and and mounted their camels then fled in the direction whence they had come.
A moment later a lone camel breasted a small dune and they were halooed in English.
"Who on earth...?" asked Elizabeth.
To their astonishment, the rider was Colonel Gascoin who had shared their boat into Africa. "Good Lord," he said upon recognizing them. "I thought it was some Europeans in trouble and I couldn't leave them to the savages, but I never thought it could be you! What are you doing out here in the wastes?"
"We are continuing our African adventure," said Elizabeth. She glanced at Sandy and Rose, a tiny wrinkle of suspicion creasing her forehead. "It seems we got ourselves in a bit of a bind. Thank goodness you showed up, Colonel." She beamed at Colonel Gascoin and said, "And what brings you out here to the middle of nowhere?"
"Damned traitorous guides, if you can call 'em that. I wanted to hunt big cats, and the guide said he knew where there were leopards. Then out here in the middle of the desert, they tried to rob me, the swine. I showed them a thing or two, but they fled and I've been lost out here the last day or two. It's a good thing for both of us I came along, I'm damned if I know how to get back to civilization from here."
Johnathan looked at the Colonel carefully trying to judge if his appearnace matched his story and whether his equipment backed it up.
It was hard to say. He seemed healthy enough, although his camel was not heavily loaded with provisions. He was armed with a very fine K&K .450 and a revolver of some type in a holster. He was dressed for the climate. Nothing immediately gave the lie to his story.
"Well, most of the civilization comes to you out here. Villages are few, but we've encountered many travellers," said Elizabeth. "If you'd like, I can sketch out a map that will get you back to Kano."
"Are you not bound there yourself? I confess, I would feel more comfortable travelling with a group," said the Colonel.
"Not for quite a while yet, I'm afraid Colonel," replied Johnathan.
"I see." There wa a moment of awkward silence. "Well, then, I suppose I must fare alone ..." He showed no sign of departing, though.
"Perhaps you would care to share our camp and supper this evening before you begin your journey...?" said Elizabeth, carefully keeping a smile on her face and avoiding exchanging glances with Rose and Sandy.
"But first, Colonel, would mind awfully coming with myself and Godfrey to make sure of those bandit scum?" asked Johnathan, "I think we should just go and make sure they won't be bothering us in the night ..."
"You gentlemen be careful. We'll start arranging the meal."
Elizabeth smiled as she spoke, but as soon as they were out of earshot, she whispered to Rose, "I don't know why exactly, but I don't think I trust him. We should take turns keeping watch tonight so we don't wake up with no camels and no provisions -- or with knives in our backs."
The Colonel accompanied Godfrey and Jonathan as Jonathan led them to where the Bandits were when he had last seen them to verify the Colonel's story. On the way Johnathan whispered to Godfrey, "Keep your eye on him, there's something funny going on here ..."
Johnathan did his best to creep up to where the bandits had been.
There were three bandits lying sprawled where they had been hit; one was the one felled by Jonathan, two others had also been hit by large caliber bullets. Their intricate and beautiful rifles lay near them.
Johnathan had a quick look at them trying to ascertain if the Colonel's story was true. It looked reasonable to him.
"Colonel, did you see what happened to the other bandits, by any chance?" asked Johnathan
"Blighters fled off that way," he pointed roughly east. "Decided a fair fight wasn't to their taste, I expect."
Johnathan looked around to see if he could see any trace of the bandits' camels, but the fleeing men had retained the presence of mind to take their colleague's mounts.
"Gentlemen, do you mind awfully helpinmg me to collect those rifles? I'd rather not leave them here"
"Of coure, sir," said Godfrey. "Nice workmanship on these." He gathered the weapons deftly.
With anything the bandits had discarded recovered the three men returned to their camp
The ladies had prepared a light meal and greeted the returning men warmly. "What did you find, Jonathan?" asked Rose.
"Not much, Rose," he replied, "these rifles, three dead bandits and tracks of those that ran away. I think the Colonel put paid to them quite satisfactorily."
"The blighters ran at the taste of British Steel, eh wot?" said the Colonel.
"Indeed they did Colonel," replied Johnathan. "I'm sorry, which regiment did you say you were with?"
"Ex of the 12th Surrey Rifles, splendid lads," was the reply.
"Well done, Colonel. I imagine we shall have to keep our eyes peeled on watch tonight, just in case those who escaped should return," said Elizabeth.
"A wise thought, young Elizabeth," said the Colonel. Behind his back, Rose made a small moue of disgust.
Elizabeth smiled and fluttered her eyelashes in a parody of feminine pleasure. The Colonel didn't seem to notice she stroked her revolver as she did.
"Why, thank you. Shall we eat our meal as we determine who takes first watch? We certainly don't need our big, strong men fainting from hunger when they're protecting us."
"Indeed yes!" cried the Colonel.
The conversation over dinner remained general, and it was agreed that the Colonel and Jonathan would take the first watch, with Godfrey taking the second and the two ladies taking a half watch each with Godfrey.
Once the others were asleep the Colonel began to chat a bit about his travels in Africa, mostly on the coast. After a while, he commented, "We're out in the middle of nowhere here, where are you bound that brings you to such a place?"
"Well, just between you and me Colonel, my cousin Rose is a deuced strange lady," began Johnathan. "She got into her head that she should see the desert for herself - must have been too many stories I told her, I guess. So anyway, I insisted upon coming with her, to look after her so to speak and here we all are!"
"Been a bit interesting up till now," he continued, "the bandits were the worst though - so far! How about you Colonel, are you on leave from the 14th?"
"12th," he answered negligently, "retired, don'tyaknow. Hunting is my game name. Got a taste for it on my foreign postings. So where are you bound, then, if not back to civilization quite yet?"
"Well to tell the truth, I leave the navigating to Rose," Johnathan replied, "She's very competent and Elizabeth is a dab hand with a map and comapss as well. I'm just along for the trophies."
"Ah, capital, capital," said the Colonel, although he looked vaguely annoyed. "You don't have some secret hunting spot do you? I'd like to see that!"
"Ha-Ha! I'd should be so lucky Colonel!" Johnathan replied, "If I had a secret spot, I'd be navigating to it, wouldn't I? still maybe I'll be able to nab a desert lion or two ..." Johnathan trailed off as he began whistling softly to himself while he cleaned his rifles (again).
The Colonel took the hint and the rest of their watch passed quietly. Then Godfrey took over, with the ladies in alternation. Godfrey and Elizabeth were first. "Godfrey," said Elizabeth, "Do you think this Colonel fellow is on the up and up? I wonder if we're not being overly suspicious."
"It's hard to say, Miss. It is a coincidence him finding us out here, but then gunshots carry a good distance in the desert. Gunshots ..." for some reason, that almost seemed to mean something to Godfrey. "There are some natives that would try to rob and strand a man, like those unfortunates we shot."
"Something is on your mind, Godfrey. Tell me, what did you find when you went to check the robbers' resting place with Colonel Gascoin?" A light came on somewhere behind Elizabeth's eyes.
"Godfrey, were the robbers shot by any other than yours or Sandy's guns? Because I don't remember hearing shots before the Colonel arrived -- only screams. Is that what drew you up about gunshots?"
"They had definately been struck by bullets other than ours. But you're right, there were no gunshots. That's what seemed strange," said Godfrey.
"The plot thickens. At least we have some confirmation that Gascoin isn't on the level. We'll have to let Rose and Sandy know as discreetly as possible," said Elizabeth.
"I'm not sure I follow you, Miss," said Godfrey.
"Well, Colonel Gascoin claims to have shot 'the blighters,' but there were no gunshots prior to his appearance. So it's likely he didn't shoot them as he said he did -- at least he didn't shoot them defending us. He may very well have shot them earlier and rearranged the story a little to get in good with our little group. I think Rose and Sandy need to know the facts of the matter, but I don't think we should tip our hand to the Colonel any sooner than is necessary," said Elizabeth.
"Of course, he could actually go his own way tomorrow and we wouldn't have to worry so much about it. Somehow, I doubt it. I believe he has some other reason to join our camp than mere companionship."
"With that, I fully agree, Miss," said Godfrey.
Elizabeth nodded and continued her watch.
Morning came and with it the heat. The various folks puttered around loading their animals until finally, there was nothing else to load and the crew stood around by their beasts waiting for someone to do something.
"Do you feel you know your route, Colonel?" asked Elizabeth. "We wouldn't want you to get lost again in this cruel, cruel country."
"Ah, I think I have my bearings, yes," the Colonel said. He reluctantly mounted his camel and set off in the direction he had been pointed, pausing once to wave when he was a hundred yards off.
"You know," said Johnathan as the Colonale vanished in the distance, "I can't help feeling we've done the wrong thing by the Colonel. Still, what's done is done. Shall we depart?"
"You're very kind, Johnathan," said Elizabeth, "but Godfrey and I put our heads together last night and I'm not sure the Colonel was shooting straight with us." She explained the realisation they'd come to about the gunshots and Colonel Gascoin's role in the battle of the previous evening.
"Well, I feel a bit better now - thanks, Beth," Johnathan replied.
"Good," said Elizabeth with a smile. "He may not be the villain in our little drama, but he is definitely off.
"Have we got everything together? Shall we set out?"
And so once again, the little party set forth. Now deep in the desert, they saw little life at all, and no human life whatsoever for several days. Sandy, serving as guide put them two days from Dunaga, if they were on course and schedule. Elizabeth was pleased to note that the strange bird, if bird it was, had not been seen for nearly a week. However, there was something disturbing her. Several times over the last few days, she thought she had seen a dust plume behind them. One or two might be accidental, but more often than that seemed odd.
Elizabeth had lagged behind for a moment, but pulled up even with her companions.
"Sandy... Rose... Turn around. Do you see that cloud of dust back there? It's dissipated a little, but you can still see the remnants if you look closely."
Johnathan looked as closely as he could trying to make out the cloud and see if he could draw any conclusions from its shape.
It was less of a cloud than a thin plume, as if something had raised a small dust cloud.
"Does it look like something is... spitting dust to you? Or shooting dust? It looks very deliberate to me," Elizabeth muttered.
"To be honest, I can't make out much more than that it IS a dust cloud," replied Johnathan.
"Perhaps," said Rose, "It's the other way round. Something is trying not to spit dust and succeeds most of the time."
"Oh, my. Now I have to re-think this thing," said Elizabeth, wrinkling her brow.
"Don't wrinkle your brow, dear," said Rose.
"Then I shall have to sigh," said Elizabeth, sighing.
"I can't tell... Would you say the plume appears to be moving or stationary? Is someone digging or is someone travelling?
"The way that dust is flying, I'd say it must be something mechanical. I don't think an elephant or a camel would be so precise." She put the spyglass to her eye again.
"Well, it's a little out of the way to check on it. Besides, I don't think we could sneak up on it out here, and I'd be loathe to walk into the unknown without the benefit of surprise. What do you think, O intrepid companions?"
"I think it's best that we keep an eye on it as we progress," replied Johnathan.
"Onward!" said Elizabeth, cheerfully.