By Airship to Ophir - Fenton Ash - ebook

By Airship to Ophir ebook

Fenton Ash

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Opis

Dated 1928. „By Airship to Ophir”, written by Fenton Ash, tells the story of an airship and two aircraft meander round central Africa picking up an assortment of natives in a search for the fabled land of Ophir, which is eventually reached and found to be inhabited by a race of people of Arab/Hebrew mien. This fantasy adventure would suit anyone interested in old fantasy novels for children and young people. Fenton Ash is the first and main pseudonym of UK civil engineer and author Francis Henry Atkins (1847-1927) who was a writer of „pulp fiction”, in particular science fiction aimed at younger readers. He wrote under the pseudonyms Frank Aubrey and Fenton Ash.

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Liczba stron: 448

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Contents

PREFACE

I. THE MESSAGE

II. MORE MYSTERY

III. AT THE LION ROCK

IV. HOW DR. CAMDRAY ARRIVED

V. THE SECRET OF THE ROCK

VI. TRUANTS ON AN AEROPLANE

VII. THE END OF THE RACE

VIII. SALONDAH

IX. A TREACHEROUS ATTACK

X. A STRANGE DISCOVERY

XI. IN DIRE PERIL

XII. "WELCOME TO CAMBRAY TOWN!"

XIII. OVER THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON

XIV. AMONG THE PIGMIES

XV. IN GORILLA LAND

XVI. A TERRIBLE FIVE MINUTES

XVII. "FURA!"

XVIII. THE STRANGE CAMP

XIX. AN EVENTFUL NIGHT

XX. ROUSING A HORNETS' NEST

XXI. A TIGHT CORNER

XXII. HOW THE FIGHT ENDED

XXIII. THE STRANGER'S STORY

XXIV. THE STRANGER "GOES FOR A SPIN."

XXV. THE SEARCH FOR THE CASTAWAYS

XXVI. AT THE LAST GASP

XXVII. "A FEW WORDS OF ENGLISH."

XXVIII. GRAHAM'S "SECRET."

XXIX. LESLIE'S PERIL

XXX. A CHASE IN A HURRICANE

XXXI. LOST ON AN AEROPLANE

XXXII. MOBBED BY EAGLES

XXXIII. MUTINY AT THE CAMP

XXXIV. A TIMELY RESCUE

XXXV. A "WILD MAN OF THE WOODS."

XXXVI. LESLIE RISES A STEP

XXXVII. IN THE "WILD MAN'S" GRASP

XXXVIII. A STRANGE CAPTURE

XXXIX. THE "WILD MAN" SPEAKS

XL. A SURPRISING TRANSFORMATION

XLI. THE START FOR FURA

XLII. PRINCE AKOLAH'S RETURN

XLIII. SALONDAH AGAIN

XLIV. MYSTERIOUS PREPARATIONS

XLV. HOW THE DOCTOR SET HIS TRAP

XLVI. "BOTTLED UP!"

XLVII. JOYFUL NEWS FOR ROLAND

XLVIII. A GOLD MINE OF ANCIENT OPHIR

XLIX. CONCLUSION

PREFACE

THE world to-day is watching with wonder and almost breathless interest, the amazing rapidity of the progress that is being made towards that “conquest of the air” which, but a few years ago even, seemed only the vainest of vain dreams.

And while we look on, many of us are, consciously or unconsciously, drawing mental pictures of what life on our globe will be like when success shall have been finally achieved.

Among such speculations, the assistance that will be afforded to the exploration of hitherto unknown, or little-known regions, is one which appeals so strongly to the imagination, and holds out such fascinating possibilities that apology is scarcely needed for drawing attention to it under the guise of fiction.

The day is not vary distant when the “dirigible” and the aeroplane, self-contained as to renewal of gas, petrol, electricity, or whatever the motive force may be, relatively safe, and free from frequent, irritating breakdowns, will be able to float above the impenetrable forest, the steaming, malarial swamp, or the densest jungle; and to sail serenely over mountains which have previously defied the efforts of the most daring mountaineers to scale them. In that day, the work of the explorer and the geographer will be made comparatively easy; and the naturalist, and the big game hunter, will be able to seek for specimens and trophies in places to which access is at present denied to them. No corner of the earth will then remain unvisited; and Nature will be made to yield up many secrets which have as yet been successfully hidden from us.

But whatever our gains in this direction, they will be small compared with the benefits likely to be reaped by humanity generally in other ways. Not only will the dark places of our globe be laid open to our view, but the yet darker deeds by which they are now befouled will, we may be permitted to hope, be put an end to for ever.

To-day, the slave hunter still carries on his infamous traffic in many parts of “Darkest Africa,” as free from interference as in the days when Sir Samuel Baker wrote “Ismalia.” His ferocious raids, with their accompaniments of butcheries, torturings, and all kinds of unspeakable horrors, continue practically unchecked. And they will so continue, for many and many a year yet, if we have to wait for the slow opening up of the vast interior of the continent by means of the construction of roads and railways.

In the following pages an attempt has been made to illustrate what the advent of “chariots of the air” may do to bring about the final extinction of these slaver gangs.

The picture may or may not be deemed a fanciful one. Yet I do not think I am venturing upon any extravagant prediction if I say I believe that many of my youthful readers will live to see it justified by actual events.

I may venture yet farther, and say that quite possibly some of them may themselves one day take part in somewhat similar adventures. And amongst these there may even be one or two embryo Cambrays, who may be stimulated by what they read here to emulate the worthy doctor’s efforts in the cause of humanity. If this should indeed ever be the case, then my present story will have done something more then merely serve to while away an idle hour.

The Author.

I. THE MESSAGE

“HOW the lions are roaring round us to-night, Dan! There must be more of them than usual about.”

“Yes, sir; ye see it be a extra dark, bad night, an’ that makes ‘em bolder. It sounds to me as if theer be a party on. Our reg’lar lion friends, what comes other nights, ‘as sent out invertation cards, belike, to a lions’ supper party.”

“H’m! Well, we don’t want them to make their suppers off us–or off the professor’s oxen, either. Better tell the boys to see to the fires.”

“Ay, ay, sir! I’ll make ‘em stir their selves. Ginger! What a clatter!”

It was something more than a “clatter” that was going on just then around the lonely camp in the African wilderness. There had come an outburst of booming, reverberating roars which fairly seemed to shake the earth.

Of the two who had been speaking, the first one was a good-looking, muscular young fellow, Roland Woodham by name, a ward of Professor Kelmar, the leader of the party. The other was an old hunter, a grizzled, weather-beaten veteran of the forest and plain, called Dan Beach.

They were seated near the middle of a circle of considerable extent formed by a ring of fires, which again were placed inside a skilfully-constructed fence of thornbush. Within the enclosure thus guarded were tents, wagons, and other items of a traveller’s outfit. In and out amongst these could be seen a promiscuous assortment of native “boys,” hunters, headmen, and carriers, some standing or sitting about in groups, chattering and laughing, some sprawling on the ground as though courting sleep.

Near at hand were oxen, many of them tugging desperately at the stakes to which they were tethered, and adding to the din by bellowing with fright; while others of the poor creatures, too frightened to move or utter a sound, simply stood still and trembled in a cold sweat.

The largest tent of all had a “porch” or awning in front of it, where, seated beside a table with a lamp, was a tall, bearded man with a tanned complexion and strong, wiry-looking figure, dressed in a hunter’s white costume and helmet. This was Professor Kelmar, an experienced explorer and naturalist. He was reading a book, and was studying it so deeply as to appear utterly indifferent to the uproar around him.

As to the locality of the encampment, the professor himself would have been puzzled to say positively, more than that he was not very far from the boundary line of the British-African state of Uganda. He was conducting an exploration into unknown territory, in the somewhat vague hope of discovering what had become of a friend of his, another explorer–one of world-wide repute–named Dr. Cambray.

Dr. Brinton Cambray had led a large and well-equipped party some years before into the unexplored interior of Africa, and then, so far as the civilised world was concerned, seemed to have completely disappeared.

What had become of him none could say. Rumours had floated down to the coast, but they were so many and so various, so hopelessly contradictory one of another–and some, at least, were of so wild and extraordinary a character–that nothing could be made out of them.

So at last the professor had determined to go himself in search of his friend, taking with him only a small party, consisting of his ward, Roland Woodham, his faithful henchman, Beach–who had accompanied him in more than one previous trip of the kind–and a few natives on whose fidelity he knew he could implicitly rely.

Roland and Beach had been seated beside the fire which had cooked their evening meal, and were now engaged in cleaning their rifles by the light of the flames.

“I shouldn’t care to be a lonely traveller out on the plain on a night like this,” said Roland with a slight shudder, as there came a short interval of comparative silence. “I wonder if there’s any belated native abroad to-night?”

“No fear, sir; or if there be, he’s passing the night up a tree,” Beach declared. “Nobody in his senses goes about alone in the dark here. They keeps to their villages–an’ they beant too safe even theer; or else, if so be there’s a party of ‘em, they camps fur the night, and makes up plenty o’ fires same as we be doin’.”

The hunter had laid his rifle carefully aside and risen to his feet, and having delivered himself of this last observation, was turning to cross over to the natives’ quarters, when he suddenly stopped and stared about him.

“Did ye hear that, sir?” he exclaimed.

“Hear what, Dan?”

“Why–I doan’t rightly know, Mr. Roland,” Beach answered hesitatingly. “But I thought, somehow, as I ‘eard voices overhead like.”

This amused Roland, who laughed; and as though the lions thought he was laughing at them, his reply was drowned in a fresh outburst of roars from outside the camp.

It was in the midst of this deep-toned chorus that something came hurtling through the air–something which fell just between Dan and the young fellow still seated beside the fire–something which flashed white as it came into the light of the lamp in the tent on the one side and the firelight on the other.

“Great Scott!” cried Dan. “What be that?”

He had again started off to speak to the native “boys,” and he once more turned back, in order to see what it was that had fallen. But Roland, leaning over and crawling a foot or two, reached it first.

In an instant he had jumped to his feet, and was holding the something up in his hand, and examining it by the aid of the flickering firelight.

“Jupiter! Why–it’s a letter!” he gasped.

“A what, sir?” asked Dan, amazed.

“A letter–and it’s addressed to the professor!”

Beach stared helplessly up into the sky. Nothing to be seen there save inky blackness. Then he stared again at Roland.

“A letter!” he muttered to himself. “Great Scott! He says it’s a letter!”

The roars had died down into hoarse, muttering growls and grunts; and it so happened that just then Professor Kelmar looked up from the book he was reading, and saw his ward coming towards him with something white in his hand.

“What have you there?” he asked.

“A letter, sir–just arrived,” was the surprising answer.

“A letter? What do you mean, Roland?” The professor frowned. He did not like silly, boyish jokes such as this seemed to be.

“It’s true, sir,” Roland declared. “Look at it!”

He held out a pebble some few inches in length, and weighing perhaps four or five ounces. To it a letter was securely tied by a piece of native fibre in place of string.

Professor Kelmar took it and looked at it curiously. Then he slipped the fastening off, and turned the missive over and over. It was a thick envelope, carefully sealed with wax, and bearing his name.

So astonished did he feel that he continued to stare at the envelope for what seemed quite a long time. Finally he broke the seal, opened it, and took out and read the enclosure.

The contents seemed only to add to his mystification.

“Roland!” he cried. “How did this come here?”

“That’s more than I can say, Mr. Kelmar,” the youngster returned. “I’m trying to think the puzzle out. It seemed to drop from the clouds, just now.”

“Do you mean that some messenger has arrived with it on a night like this?”

Roland shook his head.

“No, sir; no messenger has come into camp. It dropped almost at my feet.”

“Do you mean, then, that someone flung it from the outside over the hedge and the fires?”

“That’s what I’m trying to think out, sir. It fell just when that last little tune-up of our four-footed camp-followers was at its loudest. But I can scarcely think it was one of them who–”

“Don’t talk rubbish!” interrupted the professor angrily.

“Indeed, sir, I don’t mean it that way. But I can hardly think that any person could be outside and threw it in. So where on earth it came from I can’t imagine.”

The professor meantime was reading the epistle itself, and as he read the expression of his face altered and became excited and eager.

“Extraordinary!” he exclaimed. “However it came, it’s a wonderful letter–short as it is, it’s a marvellous letter, Roland! What it says is as astonishing as the way it came. It tells me most welcome news–that Dr. Cambray is alive, and he wants me–but, Roland we must find that messenger! He must be a brave fellow and a faithful one–to venture here on such a night. If he is still outside we must have him in. Dan, go and find him, and bring him here to us! We can’t leave him out there!”

Dan had drawn near, and had listened to the talk between his leader and Roland.

“Of course not–of course not,” said the hunter, in a dazed sort of way. “Only, sir, if I bring him in I’ll have t’ bring in the hull menagerie as is outside, I’m thinking. If he were ever theer, he’s bin eat up long ago.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I means as there weren’t no messenger. Couldn’t a bin. Nobody could a come through them roaring ‘ungry creetures wi’out bein’ eat up! Ye knows that yesself, sir. No; he can’t be outside the hedge–even if he could have thrown that theer stone as fur–which, beggin’ yer pardin, sir, I takes the liberty to misdoubt. ‘Sides, it didn’t come from the outside like.”

“That’s just it,” Roland put in. “I agree with Dan. I doubt if anyone could have thrown the stone from outside–especially the way this was thrown.”

“How else could it have come, then?” Professor Kelmar demanded.

Roland was silent. It was a question he could not answer. But Beach had quite made up his mind.

“It’s witchcraft, sir; that’s what it be,” he said.

The professor turned away impatiently, and, bidding the two attend him, went off to the native side. There he ordered the boys to get torches and follow, and, in spite of the danger attending his proceedings, he made the circuit of the whole camp, close to the hedge, calling loudly to anyone who might be waiting on the other side, and bidding him reveal his whereabouts.

Bit it was all in vain. There was an ominous absence of anything like a human reply to their calls. Only the lions roared again, in defiant answer to what they thought was a sort of challenge meant for them.

“He must have rushed up to the hedge, thrown the letter over and rushed away again,” the professor finally decided.

“If he did he’s lion’s meat by this time–that’s sartin,” growled Dan to himself. “But theer warn’t no one theer. It be witchcraft!”

The professor returned thoughtfully to his tent, where, spreading the paper out on his table, he read it out aloud for the benefit of his two white companions. And this is all there was to read.

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