ILLUSTRATED BY E. CALDWELL
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
NEW YORK, BOMBAY & CALCUTTA
It was the youngest of the High Authorities
who gravely informed the Inquiring Stranger that
"Jock belongs to the Likkle People!"
That being so, it is clearly the duty, no less than the privilege, of the
Mere Narrator to Dedicate
The Story of Jock to Those Keenest and Kindest of Critics, Best of Friends, and Most Delightful of Comrades
The Likkle People
"Sonny, you kin reckon it dead sure, thar's something wrong 'bout a thing that don't explain itself."
That was Old Rocky's advice, given three-and-twenty years ago not forgotten yet, but, in this instance, respectfully ignored.
It happened some years ago, and this was the way of it: the Fox of Ballybotherem having served three generations in his native Tipperary, in Kaffraria, and in the Transvaal seemed entitled to a rest; and when, in the half-hour before 'lights out,' which is the Little People's particular own, the demand came from certain Autocrats of the Nightgown: "Now, tell us something else!" it occurred to the Puzzled One to tell of Jock's fight with the table leg. And that is how the trouble began. Those with experience will know what followed; and, for those less fortunate, the modest demand of one, comfortably tucked up tailorwise, and emphasising his points by excited hand-shakes with his toes, will convey the idea: "It must be all true! and don't leave out anything!"
To such an audience a story may be told a hundred times, but it must be told, as Kipling says, "Just so!" that is, in the same way; because, even a romance (what a three-year old once excused as "only a play tell") must be true to itself!
Once Jock had taken the field it was not long before the narrator found himself helped or driven over the pauses by quick suggestions from the Gallery; but there were days of fag and worry when thoughts lagged or strayed, and when slips were made, and then a vigilant and pitiless memory swooped like the striking falcon on its prey, There came a night when the story was of the Old Crocodile, and one in the Gallery one of more exuberant fancy seeing the gate open ran into the flower-strewn field of romance and by suggestive questions and eager promptings helped to gather a little posy: "And he caught the Crocodile by the tail, didn't he?" "And he hung on and fought him, didn't he?" "And the Old Crocodile flung him high into the air? High!" and turning to his two juniors, added "quite as high as the house! And the narrator accessory by reason of a mechanical nod and an absent-minded "Yes" passed on, thinking it could all be put right next time. But there is no escape from the 'tangled web' when the Little People sit in judgment. It was months later when retribution came. The critical point of the story was safely passed when Oh; the irony and poetic justice of it it was the innocent tempter himself who laid his hand in solemn protest on the narrator's shoulder and, looking him reproachfully in the eyes, said "Dad! You have left out the best part of all. Don't you remember how..."
And the description which follows only emphasises the present writer's unfitness for the task he has undertaken. In the text of the story and in the illustrations by my friend Mr. Caldwell (who was himself subjected to the same influence) there is left a loophole for fancy: it is open to any one to believe that Jock is just beginning or just ending his aerial excursion. The Important People are not satisfied; but then the page is not big enough to exhibit Jock at the top of that flight of fancy!
From the date of that lesson it was apparent that reputations would suffer if the story of Jock were not speedily embodied in some durable and authoritative form, and during a long spell of ill health many of the incidents were retold in the form of letters to the Little People. Other Less Important Persons grown-ups read them and sometimes heard them, and so it came about that the story of Jock was to be printed for private circulation, for the Little People and their friends. Then the story was read in manuscript and there were still more ambitious counsels, some urging the human story of the early days, others of the wild animal life of South Africa. Conscious of many deficiencies the narrator had left two great fields practically untouched, adhering to the original idea the story of Jock; and those who come into it, men and animals, come in because of him and the life in which he played so large a part. The attempt to adapt the original letters to the symmetry of a connected story involved, as one might have known, endless trouble and changes, necessitating complete re-writing of most parts; and the responsibility and work became still greater when, after a casual and unforeseen meeting, my friend Mr. Caldwell accepted the suggestion to come out to South Africa and spend six months with us in order to study the game in its native bush and to know the condition of the life and put that experience into the work of illustrating "Jock."
The writer is well aware that, from the above causes and one other, there are grave inequalities in style and system, and in plane of phrase and thought, in different parts of the book. For this feature, the 'one other' cause is alone put forward as a defence. The story belongs to the Little People, and their requirements were defined "It must be all true! Don't leave out anything!" It has been necessary to leave out a great deal; but the other condition has been fully and fairly complied with; for it is a true story from beginning to end. It is not a diary: incidents have been grouped and moved to get over the difficulty of blank days and bad spells, but there is no incident of importance or of credit to Jock which is not absolutely true. The severest trial in this connection was in the last chapter, which is bound to recall perhaps the most famous and most cherished of all dog stories. Much, indeed, would have been sacrificed to avoid that; but it was unthinkable that, for any reason, one should in the last words shatter the spell that holds Jock dear to those for whom his life is chronicled the spell that lies in 'a true story.'
Little by little the book has grown until it has come perilously near the condition in which it might be thought to have Pretensions. It has none! It is what it was: a simple record, compiled for the interest and satisfaction of some Little People, and a small tribute of remembrance and affection offered at the shrine of the old life and those who made it tendered in the hope that some one better equipped with opportunities and leisure may be inspired to do justice to it and to them for the sake of our native land.
Of the people who live lonely lives, on the veld or elsewhere, few do so of their own free choice. Some there are shut off from all their kind souls sheathed in some film invisible, through which no thrill of sympathy may pass; some barred by their self-consciousness, heart hungry still, who never learned in childhood to make friends; some have a secret or a grief; some, thoughts too big or bad for comradeship. But most will charge to Fate the thoughtless choice, the chance, or hard necessity, that drew or drove them to the life apart; they know the lesson that was learned of old: "It is not good for man to be alone."
Go out among them, ever moving on, whose white bones mark the way for others' feet who shun the cities, living in the wilds, and move in silence, self-contained. Who knows what they think, or dream, or hope, or suffer? Who can know? For speech among that hard-schooled lot is but a half-remembered art.
Yet something you may guess, since with the man there often goes his dog; his silent tribute to The Book. Oh, it's little they know of life who cannot guess the secret springs of loneliness and love that prompt the keeping of a trifling pet; who do not know what moves a man who daily takes his chance of life and death man whose "breath is in his nostrils" to lay his cheek against the muzzle of his comrade dog, and in the trackless miles of wilderness feel he has a friend. Something to hold to; something to protect.
There was old Blake "mad, quite mad," as everybody knew of whom they vaguely said that horses, hounds, coaches, covers, and all that goes with old estates, were his once. We knew him poor and middle-aged. How old to us! Cheery and unpractical, with two old pointers and a fowling-piece, and a heart as warm as toast. We did not ask each other's business there; and, judging by the dogs and gun, we put him down as a 'remittance man.' But that, it seems, was wrong. They were his all.
He left no letters a little pile of paper ash; no money and no food! That was his pride. He would not sell or give away his dogs! That was his love. When he could not keep them it seemed time to go! That was his madness. But before he went, remembering a friend in hospital, he borrowed two cartridges and brought him in a brace of birds. That was old mad Blake, who 'moved on' and took his dogs with him, because they had always been together, and he could not leave their fate to chance. So we buried him with one on either side, just as he would have liked it!
There was Turner, who shot the crocodile that seized his dog, and reckless of the others, swam in and brought the dog to land.
There was the dog that jumped in when his master slipped from the rock, and, swimming beside him, was snapped down in his stead! And there was the boy who tried a rescue in the dark when a rustle, yelp and growl told that the lions had his dog and was never seen again.
So it goes, and so it went, from year to year: a little showing now and then, like the iceberg's tip, from which to guess the bulk below.
There was a Boy who went to seek his fortune. Call him boy or man: the years proved nothing either way! Some will be boyish always; others were never young: a few most richly dowered few are man and boy together. He went to seek his fortune, as boys will and should; no pressure on him from about; no promise from beyond. For life was easy there, and all was pleasant, as it may be in a cage. 'To-day' is sure and happy; and there is no 'to-morrow' in a cage.
There were friends enough all kind and true and in their wisdom they said: "Here it is safe: yonder all is chance, where many indeed are called, but few so few are chosen. Many have gone forth; some to return, beaten, hopeless, and despised; some to fall in sight outside; others are lost, we know not where; and ah! so few are free and well. But the fate of numbers is unheeded still; for the few are those who count, and lead; and those who follow do not think 'How few,' but cry 'How strong! How free!' Be wise and do not venture. Here it is safe: there is no fortune there!"
But there was something stronger than the things he knew, around, without, beyond the thing that strove within him: that grew and grew, and beat and fought for freedom: that bade him go and walk alone and tell his secret on the mountain slopes to one who would not laugh a little red retriever; that made him climb and feel his strength, and find an outlet for what drove within. And thus the end was sure; for of all the voices none so strong as this! And only those others reached him that would chime with it; the gentle ones which said: "We too believe," and one, a stronger, saying: "Fifty years ago I did it. I would do it now again!"
So the Boy set out to seek his fortune, and did not find it; for there was none in the place where he sought. Those who warned him were in the little right: yet was he in the greater right too! It was not given to him as yet to know that fortune is not in time or place or things; but, good or bad, in the man's own self for him alone to find and prove.
Time and place and things had failed him; still was effort right; and, when the first was clear beyond all question, it was instinct and not knowledge bade him still go on, saying: "Not back to the cage. Anything but that!"
When many days had passed, it was again a friend who met him, saying: "Common sense is not cowardice. You have made a mistake: repair it while you may. I have seen and know: there is nothing here. Come back with me, and all will be made easy." And answer, in reason, there was none; for the little truth was all too plain, and the greater not yet seen. But that which had swelled to bursting and had fought within for freedom called out: "Failure is the worst of all!" And the blind and struggling instinct rose against all knowledge and all reason. "Not back to the cage! Not that!"
And the heart that had once been young spoke up for Auld Lang Syne: the old eyes softened and dropped: "God speed you Boy Good-bye!" And as the mail-coach rumbled off the Boy put up his head to try again.
The days passed, and still there was no work to do. For, those who were there already hardened men and strong, pioneers who had roughed it were themselves in straitened case, and it was no place for boys.
So the Boy moved on again, and with him a man in equal plight, but, being a man, a guide and comfort to the Boy, and one to lead him on the way. Hungry, they walked all day; yet when the sun went down and light began to fail the place where work and food and sleep should be was still far off. The mountain tracks were rough and all unknown; the rivers many, cold and swift: the country wild; none lived, few ever passed, that way. When night closed in the Boy walked on in front, and the man lagged wearily, grumbling at their luck. In the valley at the mountain foot they came at midnight upon water, black and still, between them and the cabin's lights beyond; and there the man lay down. Then the Boy, turning in his anger, bade him come on; and, dragging him out upon the further bank, had found unknowing some little of the fortune he had come to seek.
Still, morning brought no change; still, was there no work to do. So the man gave up, and sagging back, was lost. And the Boy went on alone.
Rough and straight-spoken, but kindly men and true, were those he came among. What they could they did: what they had they gave. They made him free of board and bed; and, kinder still, now and then made work for him to do, knowing his spirit was as theirs, and that his heart cried out: "Not charity, but work! Give me work!" But that they could not do, for there was no work they could not do themselves.
Thus the days and weeks went by. Willing, but unused to fend for himself unfit by training for the wild rough life, heart and energy all to waste, the little he did know of no value there the struggle with the ebbing tide went on; it was the wearing hopeless fight against that which one cannot grapple, and cannot even see. There was no work to be done. A few days here and there; a little passing job; a helping hand disguised; and then the quest again. They were all friendly but, with the kindly habit of the place: it told the tale of hopelessness too well. They did not even ask his name; it made no difference.
Then came a day when there was nowhere else to try. Among the lounging diggers at their week-end deals he stood apart too shy, to proud to tell the truth; too conscious of it to trust his voice; too hungry to smile as if he did not care! And then a man in muddy moleskins, with grave face, brown beard, and soft blue eyes, came over to him, saying straight: "Boy, you come along o' me!" And he went.
It was work hard work. But the joy of it! Shovelling in the icy water, in mud and gravel, and among the boulders, from early dawn to dark. What matter? It was work. It was not for hire, but just to help one who had helped him; to 'earn his grub' and feel he was a man, doing the work of his friend's partner, 'who was away.'
For three full weeks the Boy worked on; grateful for the toil; grateful for the knowledge gained; most grateful that he could by work repay a kindness. And then the truth came out! The kindly fiction fell away as they sat and rested on the day of rest. "The claim could not stand two white men's grub" had fallen from the man, accounting for his partner's absence.
It was the simple and unstudied truth and calm unconsciousness of where it struck that gave the thrust its force; and in the clear still air of the Sunday morning the Boy turned hot and cold and dizzy to think of his folly, and of the kindness he had so long imposed upon. It was a little spell before his lips would smile, and eyes and voice were firm enough to lie. Then he said gently: If he could be spared he had not liked to ask before, but now the floods were over and the river turned perhaps it could be managed he would like to go, as there were letters waiting, and he expected news.
Up the winding pathway over rocky ledge and grassy slope, climbing for an hour to the pass, the toil and effort kept the hot thoughts under. At the top the Boy sat down to rest. The green rock-crested mountains stood like resting giants all around: the rivers, silvered by the sun, threaded their ways between: the air was clear, and cool, and still. The world was very beautiful from there.
Far, far below a brownish speck beside the silver streak stood the cabin he had left. And, without warning, all came back on him. What he had mastered rose beyond control. The little child that lies hidden in us all reached out as in the dark for a hand to hold; and there was none. His arms went up to hide the mocking glory of the day, and, face buried in the grass, he sobbed: "Not worth my food!"
Science tells that Nature will recoup herself by ways as well defined as those that rule mechanics. The blood flows upward and the brain's awhirl; the ebb-tide sets and there is rest. Whatever impulse sways the guiding hand, we know that often when we need it most there comes relief; gently, unbidden, unobserved.
The Boy slept, and there was peace awhile. Then came faint echoes of the waking thoughts odd words shot out, of hope and resolution; murmured names of those at home. Once his hand went out and gently touched the turf, reaching for the friend and comrade of the past one who knew his every mood, had heard his wildest dreams described, had seen him, hot-eyed, breathless, struggling to escape the cage; one to whom the boyish soul was often bared in foolish confidence; one who could see and hear and feel, yet never tell a little red retriever left at home; and the boy stirred and sighed, for answer to the soft brown eyes.
No! It is not good for man to be alone.
A wisp of drifting cloud came by, a breath of cooler air, and the fickle spirit of the mountain changed the day as with a wand. The Boy woke up shivering, dazed, bewildered: the mountain of his dreams had vanished; and his dog was not there! The cold driving mist had blotted out the world. Stronger and stronger grew the wind, driving the damp cold through and through; for on the bleak plateau of the mountain nothing broke its force.
Pale and shaken, and a little stiff, he looked about; then slowly faced the storm. It had not struck him to turn back.
The gusts blew stronger, and through the mist came rain, in single stinging drops portents of the greater storm. Slowly, as he bent to breast it, the chilled blood warmed, and when the first thunderclap split overhead, and lost itself in endless roars and rumblings in the kloofs and hills around, there came a warmth about his heart and a light into his eye mute thanksgiving that here was something he could battle with and be a man again.
On the top of the world the storms work all their fury. Only there come mist and wind and rain, thunder and lightning and hail together the pitiless terrible hail: there, where the hare hiding in the grass may know it is the highest thing in all God's world, and nearest to the storm the one clear mark to draw the lightning and, knowing, scurries to the sheltered slopes.
But the Boy pressed on the little path a racing stream to guide him. Then in the one group of ghostly, mist-blurred rocks he stopped to drink; and, as he bent for all the blackness of the storm his face leaped out at him, reflected for one instant in the shallow pool; the blue-white flame of lightning, blinding his aching eyes, hissed down; the sickening smell of brimstone spread about; and crashing thunder close above his head left him dazed and breathless.
Heedless of the rain, blinking the blackness from his eyes, he sat still for head to clear, and limbs to feel their life again; and, as he waited, slowly there came upon a colder stiller air that other roar, so far, so dull, so uniform; so weird and terrifying the voice of the coming hail.
Huddled beneath the shelving rock he watched the storm sweep by with awful battering din that swamped and silenced every other sound the tearing, smashing hail that seemed to strip the mountain to its very bone.
Oh! the wanton fury of the hail; the wild, destructive charge of hordes of savage cavalry; the stamping, smashing sweep along the narrow strip where all the fury concentrates; the long black trail of death and desolation! The birds and beasts, the things that creep and fly, all know the portents, and all flee before it, or aside. But in the darkness in the night or mist the slow, the weak, the helpless, and the mothers with their young for them is little hope.
The dense packed column swept along, ruthless, raging, and unheeding, overwhelming all.... A sudden failing of its strength, a little straggling tail, and then the silence!
The sun came out; the wind died down; light veils of mist came slowly by bits of floating gossamer and melted in the clear, pure air.
The Boy stepped out once more. Miles away the black column of the falling hail sped its appointed course. Under his feet, where all had been so green and beautiful, was battered turf, for the time transformed into a mass of dazzling brilliants, where jagged ice-stones caught the sunlight on their countless facets, and threw it back in one fierce flashing glare, blinding in its brilliance.
On the glittering surface many things stood out.
In the narrow pathway near the spring, a snake lay on its back, crushed and broken; beyond it, a tortoise, not yet dead, but bruised and battered through its shell; then a partridge poor unprotected thing the wet feathers lying all around, stripped as though a hawk had stricken it, and close behind it all the little brood; and further afield lay something reddish-brown a buck the large eyes glazed, an ooze of blood upon its lips and nose. He stooped to touch it, but drew back: the dainty little thing was pulp.
All striving for the sheltering rocks; all caught and stricken by the ruthless storm; and he, going on to face it, while others fled before he, blindly fighting on was spared. Was it luck? Or was there something subtle, more? He held to this, that more than chance had swayed the guiding hand of fate that fortune holds some gifts in store for those who try; and faith resurgent moved him to a mute Te Deum, of which no more reached the conscious brain than: "It is good to be alive! But ... better so than in the cage."
Once more, a little of the fortune that he had come to seek!
At sunset, passing down the long rough gorge, he came upon one battling with the flood to save his all the white man struggling with the frightened beasts; the kaffir swept from off his feet; the mad bewildered oxen yielding to the stream and heading downwards towards the falls and in their utmost need the Boy swam in and helped!
And there the long slow ebb was stayed: the Boy was worth his food.
But how recall the life when those who made it set so little store by all that passed, and took its ventures for their daily lot; when those who knew it had no gift or thought to fix the colours of the fading past: the fire of youth; the hopes; the toil; the bright illusions gone! And now, the Story of a Dog to conjure up a face, a name, a voice, or the grip of a friendly hand! And the half-dreamed sound of the trampling feet is all that is left of the live procession long since passed: the young recruits; the laggards and the faint; the few who saw it through; the older men grave-eyed, thoughtful, unafraid who judged the future by the battered past, and who knew none more nor less than man unconscious equals of the best and least; the grey-hued years; the thinning ranks; the summons answered, as they had lived alone. The tale untold; and, of all who knew it, none left to picture now the life, none left to play a grateful comrade's part, and place their record on a country's scroll the kindly, constant, nameless Pioneers!
INTO THE BUSHVELD
"Distant hills are always green," and the best gold further on. That is a law of nature human nature which is quite superior to facts; and thus the world moves on.
So from the Lydenburg Goldfields prospectors 'humping their swags' or driving their small pack-donkeys spread afield, and transport-riders with their long spans and rumbling waggons followed, cutting a wider track where traders with winding strings of carriers had already ventured on. But the hunters had gone first. There were great hunters whose name are known; and others as great who missed the accident of fame; and after them hunters who traded, and traders who hunted. And so too with prospectors, diggers, transport-riders and all.
Between the goldfields and the nearest port lay the Bushveld, and game enough for all to live on. Thus, all were hunters of a sort, but the great hunters the hunters of big game were apart; we were the smaller fry, there to admire and to imitate.
Trophies, carried back with pride or by force of habit, lay scattered about, neglected and forgotten, round the outspans, the tents of lone prospectors, the cabins of the diggers, and the grass wayside shanties of the traders. How many a 'record' head must have gone then, when none had thought of time or means to save them! Horns and skins lay in jumbled heaps in the yards or sheds of the big trading stores. The splendid horns of the Koodoo and Sable, and a score of others only less beautiful, could be seen nailed up in crude adornment of the roughest walls; nailed up, and then unnoticed and forgotten! And yet not quite! For although to the older hands they were of no further interest, to the newcomer they spoke of something yet to see, and something to be done; and the sight set him dreaming of the time when he too would go a-hunting and bring his trophies home.
Perched on the edge of the Berg, we overlooked the wonder-world of the Bushveld, where the big game roamed in thousands and the "wildest tales were true." Living on the fringe of a hunter's paradise, most of us were drawn into it from time to time, for shorter or longer spells, as opportunity and our circumstances allowed; and little by little one got to know the names, appearances and habits of the many kinds of game below. Long talks in the quiet nights up there under waggons, in grass shelters in the woods, or in the wattle-and-daub shanties of the diggers, where men passed to and fro and swapped lies, as the polite phrase went, were our 'night's entertainments,' when younger hands might learn much that was useful and true, and more that was neither.
It was a school of grown-up schoolboys; no doubt a hard one, but it had its playground side, and it was the habit of the school to 'drop on to' any breach of the unwritten laws, to 'rub in' with remorseless good humour the mistakes that were made, and to play upon credulity with a shamelessness and nerve quite paralysing to the judgment of the inexperienced. Yet, with it all, there was a kindliness and quick instinct of 'fair doos' which tempered the wind and, in the main, gave no one more than was good for him.
There the new boy had to run the gauntlet, and, if without a watchful instinct or a friendly hint, there was nothing to warn him of it. When Faulkner dragged to the piano protested that he remembered nothing but a mere 'morceau,' he was not conscious of transgression, but a delighted audience caught up the word, and thenceforth he was known only as 'Ankore' Harry the Sailor having explained that 'more so' was a recognized variant.
"Johnny-come-lately's got to learn" was held to be adequate reason for letting many a beginner buy his experience, while those who had been through it all watched him stumble into the well-known pitfalls. It would no doubt have been a much more comfortable arrangement all round had there been a polite ignoring of each other's blunders and absurdities. But that is not the way of schools where the spirit of fun plays its useful part; and, after all, the lesson well 'rubbed in' is well remembered.
The new assayer, primed by us with tales of Sable Antelope round Macmac Camp, shot old Jim Hill's only goat, and had to leave the carcase with a note of explanation Jim being out when he called. What he heard from us when he returned, all prickly with remorse and shame, was a liberal education; but what he remembers best is Jim's note addressed that evening to our camp:
"Boys! Jim Hill requests your company to dinner to-morrow, Sunday!"
As the summer spent itself, and whispers spread around of new strikes further on, a spirit of restlessness a touch of trek fever came upon us, and each cast about which way to try his luck. Our camp was the summer headquarters of two transport-riders, and when many months of hard work, timber-cutting on the Berg, contracting for the Companies, pole-slipping in the bush, and other things, gave us at last a 'rise,' it seemed the natural thing to put it all into waggons and oxen, and go transport-riding too.
The charm of a life of freedom and complete independence a life in which a man goes as and where he lists, and carries his home with him is great indeed; but great too was the fact that hunting would go with it.
How the little things that mark a new departure stamp themselves indelibly on the memory! A flower in the hedgerow where the roads divide will mark the spot in one's mind for ever; and yet a million more, before and after, and all as beautiful, are passed unseen. In memory, it is all as fresh, bright and glorious as ever: only the years have gone. The start, the trek along the plateau, the crystal streams, the ferns and trees, the cool pure air; and, through and over all, the quite intoxicating sense of freedom! Then came the long slow climb to Spitzkop where the Berg is highest and where our descent began. For there, with Africa's contrariness, the highest parts banked up and buttressed by gigantic spurs are most accessible from below, while the lower edges of the plateau are cut off sheer like the walls of some great fortress. There, near Spitzkop, we looked down upon the promised land; there, stood upon the outmost edge, as a diver on his board, and paused and looked and breathed before we took the plunge.
It is well to pitch one's expectations low, and so stave off disappointments. But counsels of perfection are wasted on the young, and when accident combines with the hopefulness of youth to lay the colours on in all their gorgeousness, what chance has Wisdom?
"See here, young feller!" said Wisdom, "don't go fill yourself up with tomfool notions 'bout lions and tigers waitin' behind every bush. You won't see one in a twelvemonth! Most like you won't see a buck for a week! You don't know what to do, what to wear, how to walk, how to look, or what to look for; and you'll make as much noise as a traction engine. This ain't open country: it's bush; they can see and hear, and you can't. An' as for big game, you won't see any for a long while yet, so don't go fool yourself!"
Excellent! But fortune in a sportive mood ordained that the very first thing we saw as we out-spanned at Saunderson's on the very first day in the Bushveld, was the fresh skin of a lion stretched out to dry. What would the counsels of Solomon himself have weighed against that wet skin?
Wisdom scratched its head and stared: "Well, I am completely sugared!"
Of course it was a fluke. No lions had been seen in the locality for several years; but the beginner, filled with all the wildest expectation, took no heed of that. If the wish be father to the thought, then surely fact may well beget conviction. It was so in this case, at any rate, and thus not all the cold assurances of Wisdom could banish visions of big game as plentiful as partridges.
A party had set out upon a tiger hunt to clear out one of those marauders who used to haunt the kloofs of the Berg and make descents upon the Kaffir herds of goats and sheep; but there was a special interest in this particular tiger, for he had killed one of the white hunters in the last attempt to get at him a few weeks before. Starting from the store, the party of men and boys worked their way towards the kloof, and the possibility of coming across a lion never entered their heads. No notice was taken of smaller game put up from time to time as they moved carelessly along; a rustle on the left of the line was ignored, and Bill Saunderson was as surprised as Bill ever could be to see a lion facing him at something like six or seven yards. The lion, with head laid level and tail flicking ominously, half crouched for its spring. Bill's bullet glanced along the skull, peeling off the skin. "It was a bad shot," he said afterwards, in answer to the beginner's breathless questions. "He wasn't hurt: just sank a little like a pointer when you check him; but before he steadied up again I took for the nose and got him. You see," he added, thoughtfully, "a lion's got no forehead: it is all hair."
That was about all he had to say; but, little store as he may have set on it, the tip was never forgotten and proved of much value to at least one of our party years afterwards. To this day the picture of a lion brings up that scenethe crouching beast, faced with a man with a long brown beard, solemn face, and clear unfaltering eyes; the swift yet quiet action of reloading; and the second shot an inch or so lower, because a lions got no forehead: its all hair.
The shooting of a lion, fair and square, and face to face, was the Blue Riband of the Bush, and no detail would have seemed superfluous; but Bill, whose eye nothing could escape, had, like many great hunters, a laggard tongue. Only now and then a look of grave amusement lighted up his face to show he recognised the hungry enthusiasm and his own inability to satisfy it. The skin with the grazed stripe along the nose, and the broken skull, were handled and looked at many times, and the story was pumped from every Kaffir all voluble and eager, but none eye-witnesses. Bob, the sociable and more communicative, who had been nearest his brother, was asked a hundred questions, but all he had to say was that the grass was too long for him to see what happened: he reckoned that it was "a pretty near thing after the first shot; but Bill's all right!"
To me it was an absurd and tiresome affectation to show interest in any other topic, and when, during that evening, conversation strayed to other subjects, it seemed waste of time and priceless opportunity. Bob responded good-naturedly to many crude attempts to head them back to the entrancing theme, but the professional interest in rates, loads, rivers, roads, disease, drought, and 'fly,' was strong in the older transport-riders, as it should have been, but, for the time at least, was not, in me. If diplomacy failed, however, luck was not all out; for when all the pet subjects of the road had been thrashed out, and it was about time to turn in, a stray question brought the reward of patience.
"Have you heard if Jim reached Durban all right?"
"Yes! Safely shipped."
"You got some one to take him right through?"
"No! A Dutchman took him to Lydenburg, and I got Tom Hardy, going back empty, to take him along from there."
"What about feeding?"
"I sent some goats," said Bob, smiling for a moment at some passing thought, and then went on: "Tom said he had an old span that wouldn't mind it. We loaded him up at Parker's, and I cleared out before he got the cattle up. But they tell me there was a gay jamboree when it came to inspanning; and as soon as they got up to the other waggons and the young bullocks winded Jim, they started off with their tails up a regular stampede, voorloopers and drivers yelling like mad, all the loose things shaking out of the waggons, and Tom nearly in a fit from running, shouting and swearing."
Judging by the laughter, there was only one person present who did not understand the joke, and I had to ask with some misgiving who was this Jim who needed so much care and feeding, and caused such a scare.
There was another burst of laughter as they guessed my thoughts, and it was Bob who answered me: "Only a lion, lad not a wild man or a lunatic! Only a young lion! Sold him to the Zoo, and had to deliver him in Durban."
"Well, you fairly took me in with the name!"
"Oh! Jim? Well that's his pet name. His real name is Dabulamanzi. Jim, my hunting boy, caught him, so we call him Jim out of compliment," he added with a grin. "But Jim called him Dabulamanzi, also out of compliment, and I think that was pretty good for a nigger."
"You see," said Bob, for the benefit of those who were not up in local history, "Dabulamanzi, the big fighting General in the Zulu War, was Jim's own chief and leader; and the name means 'The one who conquers the waters.'"
Then one of the others exclaimed: "Oh! Of course, that's how you got him, isn't it: caught him in a river? Tell us what did happen, Bob. What's the truth of it? It seemed a bit steep as I heard it."
"Well, it's really simple enough. We came right on to the lioness waiting for us, and I got her; and then there were shouts from the boys, and I saw a couple of cubs, pretty well grown, making off in the grass. This boy Jim legged it after one of them, a cub about as big as a Newfoundland dog not so high, but longer. I followed him as fast as I could, but he was a big Zulu and went like a buck, yelling like mad all the time. We were in the bend of one of the long pools down near the Komati, and when I got through the reeds the cub was at the water's edge facing Jim, and Jim was dancing around heading it off with only one light stick. As soon as it saw us coming on, the cub took to the water, and Jim after it. It was as good as a play. Jim swam up behind, and putting his hand on its head ducked it right under: the cub turned as it came up and struck out at him viciously, but he was back out of reach: when it turned again to go Jim ducked it again, and it went on like that six or eight times, till the thing was half drowned and had no more fight in it. The Jim got hold of it by the tail and swam back to us, still shouting and quite mad with excitement.
"Of course," added Bob with a wag of his head, "you can say it was only a cub; but it takes a good man to go up naked and tackle a thing like that, with teeth and claws to cut you into ribbons."
"Was Jim here to-day?" I asked, as soon as there was an opening. Bob shook his head with a kindly regretful smile. "No, Sonny, not here; you'd 'a' heard him. Jim's gone. I had to sack him. A real fine nigger, but a terror to drink, and always in trouble. He fairly wore me right out."
We were generally a party of half a dozen the owners of the four waggons, a couple of friends trading with Delagoa, a man from Swaziland, and just then an old Yankee hunter-prospector. It was our holiday time, before the hard work with loads would commence, and we dawdled along feeding up the cattle and taking it easy ourselves.
It was too early for loads in the Bay, so we moved slowly and hunted on the way, sometimes camping for several days in places where grass and water were good; and that lion skin was the cause of many disappointments to me. Never a bush or ant-heap, never a donga or a patch of reeds, did I pass for many days after that without the conviction that something was lurking there. Game there was in plenty, no doubt, but it did not come my way. Days went by with, once or twice, the sight of some small buck just as it disappeared, and many times, the noise of something in the bush or the sound of galloping feet. Others brought their contributions to the pot daily, and there seemed to be no reason in the world why I alone should fail no reason except sheer bad luck! It is difficult to believe you have made mistakes when you do not know enough to recognise them, and have no idea of the extent of your own ignorance; and then bad luck is such an easy and such a flattering explanation! If I did not go so far on the easy road of excuse-making as to put all the failures down to bad luck, perhaps some one else deserves the credit.
One evening as we were lounging round the camp fire, Robbie, failing to find a soft spot for his head on a thorn log, got up reluctantly to fetch his blankets, exclaiming with a mock tragic air:
"The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right."
We knew Robbie's way. There were times when he would spout heroics, suggested by some passing trifle, his own face a marvel of solemnity the whole time, and only the amused expression in his spectacled grey eyes to show he was poking fun at himself. An indulgent smile, a chuckle, and the genial comment "Silly ass!" came from different quarters; for Robbie was a favourite. Only old Rocky maintained his usual gravity.
As Robbie settled down again in comfort, the old man remarked in level thoughtful tones: "I reckon the feller as said that was a waster, he chucked it!" There was a short pause in which I, in my ignorance, began to wonder if it was possible that Rocky did not know the source; or did he take the quotation seriously? Then Robbie answered in mild protest: "It was a gentleman of the name of Hamlet who said it."
"Well, you can bet he was no good, anyhow," Rocky drawled out. " 'Jus' my luck! is the waster's motto!"
"They do say he was mad," Robbie replied, as his face twitched with a pull-your-leg expression, "but he got off a lot of first-class things all the same some of the best things ever said."
"I da' say; they mostly can. But a man as sets down and blames his luck is no good anyhow. He's got no sand, and got no sense, and got no honesty! It ain't the time's wrong: it's the man! It ain't the job's too big: it's the man's too little!"
"You don't believe in luck at all, Rocky?" I ventured to put in.
"I don't say thar's no such thing as luck good and bad; but it ain't the explanation o' success an' failure not by a long way. No, sirree, luck's just the thing any man's like ter believe is the reason for his failure and another feller's success. But it ain't so. When another man pulls off what you don't, the first thing you got ter believe is it's your own fault; and the last, it's his luck. And you jus' got ter wade in an' find out whar you went wrong, an' put it right, 'thout any excuses an' explanations."
"But, Rocky, explanations aren't always excuses, and sometimes you really have to give them!"
"Sonny, you kin reckon it dead sure thar's something wrong 'bout a thing that don't explain itself; an' one explanation's as bad as two mistakes it don't fool anybody worth speaking of, 'cept yerself. You find the remedy; you can leave other folks put up the excuses."
I was beaten. It was no use going on, for I knew he was right. I suppose the other fellows also knew whom he was getting at, but they said nothing; and the subject seemed to have dropped, when Rocky, harking back to Robbie's quotation, said, with a ghost of a smile: "I reckon ef that sharp o' your'n hed ter keep the camp in meat we'd go pretty nigh hungry."
But it seemed a good deal to give up all at once the bad luck, the excuses and explanations, and the comfort they afforded; and I could not help thinking of that wretched wrong-headed stembuck that had actually allowed me to pass it, and then cantered away behind me.
Rocky, known, liked and respected by all, yet intimate with none, was 'going North' even to the Zambesi, it was whispered but no one knew where or why. He was going off alone, with two pack-donkeys and not even a boy for company, on a trip of many hundreds of miles and indefinite duration. No doubt he had an idea to work out; perhaps a report of some trader or hunter or even native was his pole-star: most certainly he had a plan, but what it was no living soul would know. That was the way of his kind. With them there was no limit in time or distance, no hint of purpose or direction , no home, no address, no 'people'; perhaps a partner somewhere or a chum, as silent as themselves, who would hear some day if there was anything to tell.
Rocky had worked near our camp on the Berg. I had known him to nod to, and when we met again at one of the early outspans in the Bush and offered a lift for him and his packs he accepted and joined us, it being still a bit early to attempt crossing the rivers with pack-donkeys. It may be that the 'lift' saved his donkeys something on the roughest roads and in the early stages; or it may be that we served as a useful screen for his movements, making it difficult for any one else to follow his line and watch him. Anyway, he joined us in the way of those days: that is, we travelled together and as a rule we grubbed together; yet each cooked for himself and used his own stores, and in principle we maintained our separate establishments. The bag alone was common; each man brought what game he got and threw it into the common stock.
The secret of agreement in the veld is complete independence! Points of contact are points of friction nowhere more so; and the safest plan is, each man his own outfit and each free to feed or sleep or trek as and when he chooses. I have known partners and friends who would from time to time move a trek apart, or a day apart, and always camp apart when they rejoined; and so remain friends.
Rocky in full, Rocky Mountain Jack had another name, but it was known to few besides the Mining Commissioner's clerk who registered his licences from time to time. "In the Rockies whar I was raised" is about the only remark having deliberate reference to his personal history which he was known to have made; but it was enough on which to found the name by which we knew him.
What struck me first about him was the long Colt's revolver, carried on his hip; and for two days this 'gun,' as he called it, conjured up visions of Poker Flat and Roaring Camp, Jack Hamlin and Yuba Bill of cherished memory; and then the inevitable question got itself asked:
"Did you ever shoot a man, Rocky?"
"No, Sonny," he drawled gently, "never hed ter use it yet!"
"It looks very old. Have you had it long?"
"Jus' 'bout thirty years, I reckon!"
"Oh! Seems a long time to carry a thing without using it!"
"Waal," he answered half absently, "thet's so. It's a thing you don't want orfen but when you do, you want it derned bad!"
Rocky seemed to me to have stepped into our life out of the pages of Bret Harte. For me the glamour of romance was cast by the Master's spell over all that world, and no doubt helped to make old Rocky something of a hero in the eyes of youth; but such help was of small account, for the cardinal fact was Rocky himself. He was a man.
There did not seem to be any known region of the earth where prospectors roam that he had not sampled, and yet whilst gleaning something from every land, his native flavour clung to him unchanged. He was silent by habit and impossible to draw; not helpful to those who looked for short cuts, yet kindly and patient with those who meant to try; he was not to be exploited, and had an illuminating instinct for what was not genuine. He had 'no use for short weight' and showed it!
I used to watch him in the circle round the fire at nights, his face grave, weather-stained and wrinkled, with clear grey eyes and long brown beard, slightly grizzled then watch and wonder why Rocky, experienced, wise and steadfast, should at sixty be seeking still. Were the prizes so few in the prospector's life? or was there something wanting in him too? Why had he not achieved success?
It was not so clear then that ideals differ. Rocky's ideal was the life not the escape from it. There was something sentiment, imagination, poetry, call it what you will that could make common success seem to him common indeed and cheap! To follow in a new rush, to reap where another had sown, had no charm for him. It may be that an inborn pride disliked it; but it seems more likely that it simply did not attract him. And if as in the end I thought Rocky had taken the world as it is and backed himself against it living up to his ideal, playing a 'lone hand' and playing it fair in all conditions, treading the unbeaten tracks, finding his triumph in his work, always moving on and contented so to end: the crown, "He was a man!" then surely Rocky's had achieved success!
That is Rocky, as remembered now! A bit idealized? Perhaps so: but who can say! In truth he had his sides and the defects of his qualities, like every one else; and it was not every one who made a hero of him. Many left him respectfully alone; and something of their feeling came to me the first time I was with him, when a stupid chatterer talked and asked too much. He was not surly or taciturn, but I felt frozen through by a calm deadly unresponsiveness which anything with blood and brain should have shrunk under. The dull monotone, the ominous drawl, the steady something in his clear calm eyes which I cannot define, gave an almost corrosive effect to innocent words and a voice of lazy gentleness.
"What's the best thing to do following up a wounded buffalo?" was the question. The questions sprung briskly, as only a 'yapper' puts them; and the answers came like reluctant drops from a filter.
"Yes, but if there isn't time?"
"Say yer prayers!"
"No seriously what is the best way of tackling one?"
"Ef yer wawnt to know, thar's only one way: Keep cool and shoot straight!"
"Oh! of course if you can?"
"An' ef you can't" he added in fool-killer tones, "best stay right home!"
Rocky had no fancy notions: he hunted for meat and got it as soon as possible; he was seldom out long, and rarely indeed came back empty-handed. I had already learnt not to be too ready with questions. It was better, so Rocky put it, "to keep yer eyes open and yer mouth shut"; but the results at first hardly seemed to justify the process. At the end of a week of failures and disappointments all I knew was that I knew nothing a very notable advance it is true, but one quite difficult to appreciate! Thus it came to me in the light of a distinction when one evening, after a rueful confession of blundering made to the party in general, Rocky passed a brief but not unfriendly glance over me and said, "On'y the born fools stays fools. You'll git ter learn bymbye; you ain't always yappin'!"
It was not an extravagant compliment; but failure and helplessness act on conceit like water on a starched collar: mine was limp by that time, and I was grateful for little things most grateful when next morning, as we were discussing our several ways, he turned to me and asked gently, "Comin' along, Boy?"
Surprise and gratitude must have produced a touch of effusiveness which jarred on him; for, to the eager exclamation and thanks, he made no answer just moved on, leaving me to follow. In his scheme of life there was 'no call to slop over.'
There was a quiet unhesitating sureness and a definiteness of purpose about old Rocky's movements which immediately inspired confidence. We had not been gone many minutes before I began to have visions of exciting chases and glorious endings, and as we walked silently along they took possession of me so completely that I failed to notice the difference between his methods and mine. Presently, brimful of excitement and hope, I asked cheerily what he thought we would get. The old man stopped and with a gentle graveness of look and a voice from which all trace of tartness or sarcasm was banished, said, "See, Sonny! If you been useter goin' round like a dawg with a tin it ain't any wonder you seen nothin'. You got ter walk soft an' keep yer head shut!"
In reply to my apology he said that there was "no bell an' curtain in this yere play; you got ter be thar waitin'."
Rocky knew better than I did the extent of his good nature; he knew that in all probability it meant a wasted day; for, with the best will in the world, the beginner is almost certain to spoil sport. It looks so simple and easy when you have only read about it or heard others talk; but there are pitfalls at every step. When, in what seemed to me perfectly still air, Rocky took a pinch of dust and let it drop, and afterwards wet one finger and held it up to feel which side cooled, it was not difficult to know that he was trying the wind; but when he changed direction suddenly for no apparent reason, or when he stopped and, after a glance at the ground, slackened his frame, lost all interest in sport wind and surroundings, and addressed a remark to me in ordinary tones, I was hopelessly at sea. His manner showed that some possibility was disposed of and some idea abandoned. Once he said "Rietbuck! Heard us I reckon," and then turned off at a right-angle; but a little later on he pointed to other spoor and, indifferently dropping the one word 'Koodoo,' continued straight on. To me the two spoors seemed equally fresh; he saw hours' perhaps a whole day's difference between them. That the rietbuck, scared by us, had gone ahead and was keenly on the watch for us and therefore not worth following, and that the koodoo was on the move and had simply struck across our line and was therefore not to be overtaken, were conclusions he drew without hesitation. I only saw spoor and began to palpitate with thoughts of bagging a koodoo bull.
We had been out perhaps an hour, and by unceasing watchfulness I had learnt many things: they were about as well learnt and as useful as a sentence in a foreign tongue got off by heart; but to me they seemed the essentials and the fundamentals of hunting. I was feeling very pleased with myself and confident of the result; the stumbling over stones and stumps had ceased; and there was no more catching in thorns, crunching on bare gritty places, clinking on rocks, or crackling of dry twigs; and as we moved on in silence the visions of koodoo and other big game became very real. There was nothing to hinder them: to do as Rocky did had become mechanically easy; a glance in his direction every now and then was enough; there was time and temptation to look about and still perhaps to be the first to spot the game.
It was after taking one such casual glance around that I suddenly missed Rocky: a moment later I saw him moving forward, fast but silently, under cover of an ant-heap stooping low and signing to me with one hand behind his back. With a horrible feeling of having failed him I made a hurried step sideways to get into line behind him and the ant-heap, and I stepped right on to a pile of dry crackly sticks. Rocky stood up quietly and waited, while I wished the earth would open and swallow me. When I got up abreast he half turned and looked me over with eyes slightly narrowed and a faint but ominous smile on one side of his mouth, and drawled out gently:
"You'd oughter brought some fire crackers!" If only he had sworn at me it would have been endurable.
We moved on again and this time I had eyes for nothing but Rocky's back, and where to put my foot next. It was not very long before he checked in midstride and I stood as rigid as a pointer. Peering intently over his shoulder in the direction in which he looked I could see nothing. The bush was very open, and yet, even with his raised rifle to guide me, I could not for the life of me see what he was aiming at. Then the shot rang out, and a duiker toppled over kicking in the grass not a hundred yards away.
The remembrance of certain things makes me feel uncomfortable; the yell of delight I let out as the buck fell; the wild dash forward, which died away to a dead stop as I realised that Rocky himself had not moved; the sight of him, as I looked back, calmly reloading; and the silence. To me it was an event: to him, his work. But these things were forgotten then lost behind the everlasting puzzle, How was it possible I had not seen the buck until it fell? Rocky must have known what was worrying me, for, after we had picked up the buck, he remarked without any preliminary, "It ain't easy in this bush ter pick up what don't move; an' it ain't hardly possible ter find what ye don't know!"
"Game you mean?" I asked, somewhat puzzled.
"This one was feeding," he answered, after a nod in reply. "I saw his head go up ter listen; but when they don't move, an' you don't jus' know what they look like, you kin 'most walk atop o' them. You got ter kind o' shape 'em in yer eye, an' when you got that fixed you kin pick 'em up 'most anywhere!"
It cost Rocky an effort to volunteer anything. There were others always ready to talk and advise; but they were no help. It was Rocky himself who once said that "the man who's allus offerin' his advice fer nothin' 's askin' 'bout 's much 's it's worth." He seemed to run dry of words like an overdrawn well. For several days he took no further notice of me, apparently having forgotten my existence or repented his good nature. Once, when in reply to a question, I was owning up to the hopes and chances and failures of the day, I caught his attentive look turned on me and was conscious of it and a little apprehensive for the rest of the evening; but nothing happened.
The following evening however it came out. I had felt that that look meant something, and that sooner or later I would catch it. It was characteristic of him that he could always wait, and I never felt quite safe with him never comfortably sure that something was not being saved up for me for some mistake perhaps days old. He was not to be hurried, nor was he to be put off, and nobody ever interrupted him or headed him off. His quiet voice was never raised, and the lazy gentleness never disturbed; he seemed to know exactly what he wanted to say, and to have opening and attention waiting for him. I suppose it was partly because he spoke so seldom: but there was something else too the something that was just Rocky himself. Although the talk appeared the result of accident, an instinct told me from the start that it was not really so: it was Rocky's slow and considered way.
The only dog with us was licking a cut on her shoulder the result of an unauthorised rush at a wounded buck and after an examination of her wound we had wandered over the account of how she had got it, and so on to discussing the dog herself. Rocky sat in silence, smoking and looking into the fire, and the little discussion was closed by some one saying, "She's no good for a hunting dog too plucky!" It was then I saw Rocky's eyes turned slowly on the last speaker: he looked at him thoughtfully for a good minute, and then remarked quietly:
"Thar ain't no sich thing as too plucky!" And with that he stopped, almost as if inviting contradiction. Whether he wanted a reply or not one cannot say; anyway, he got none. No one took Rocky on unnecessarily; and at his leisure he resumed:
"Thar's brave men; an' thar's fools; an' you kin get some that's both. But thar's a whole heap that ain't! An' it's jus' the same with dawgs. She's no fool, but she ain't been taught: that's what's the matter with her. Men ha' got ter larn: dawgs too! Men ain't born equal: no more's dawgs! One's born better 'n another more brains, more heart; but I ain't yet heard o' the man born with knowledge or experience; that's what they got ter learn men an' dawgs! The born fool's got to do fool's work all the time: but the others larn; and the brave man with brains 's got a big pull. He don't get shook up jus' keeps on thinkin' out his job right along, while the other feller's worryin' about his hide! An' dawgs is the same."
Rocky's eyes for ever grave and thoughtful rested on the fire; and the remarks that came from the other men passed unnoticed, but they served to keep the subject alive. Presently he went on again opening with an observation that caused me to move uneasily before there was time to think why!
"Boys is like pups you got ter help 'em some; but not too much, an' not too soon. They got ter larn themselves. I reckon ef a man's never made a mistake he's never had a good lesson. Ef you don't pay for a thing you don't know what it's worth; and mistakes is part o' the price o' knowledge the other part is work! But mistakes is the part you don't like payin': thet's why you remember it. You save a boy from makin' mistakes and ef he's got good stuff in him, most like you spoil it. He don't know anything properly, 'cause he don't think; and he don't think, 'cause you saved him the trouble an' he never learned how! He don't know the meanin' o' consequences and risks, 'cause you kep' 'em off him! An' bymbye he gets ter believe it's born in him ter go right, an' knows everything, an' can't go wrong; an' ef things don't pan out in the end he reckon it's jus' bad luck! No! Sirree! Ef he's got ter swim you let him know right there that the water's deep an' thar ain't no one to hol' him up, an' ef he don't wade in an' larn, it's goin' ter be his funeral!"
My eyes were all for Rocky, but he was not looking my way, and when the next remark came, and my heart jumped and my hands and feet moved of their own accord, his face was turned quite away from me towards the man on his left.
"An' it's jus' the same 'ith huntin'! It looks so blamed easy he reckons it don't need any teachin'. Well, let him try! Leave him run on his own till his boots is walked off an' he's like to set down and cry, ef he wasn't 'shamed to; let him know every purtickler sort 'o blamed fool he can make of himself; an' then he's fit ter teach, 'cause he'll listen, an' watch, an' learn an' say thank ye fer it! Mostly you got ter make a fool o' yourself once or twice ter know what it feels like an' how t' avoid it: best do it young it teaches a boy; but it kind o' breaks a man up!"
I kept my eyes on Rocky, avoiding the others, fearing that a look or word might tempt some one to rub it in; and it was a relief when the old man naturally and easily picked up his original point and, turning another look on Jess, said:
"You got ter begin on the pup. It ain't her fault; it's yours. She's full up o' the right stuff, but she got no show to larn! Dawgs is all different, good an' bad just like men: some larns quick; some'll never larn. But thar ain't any too plucky!"
He tossed a chip of green wood into the heart of the fire and watched it spurtle and smoke, and after quite a long pause, added:
"Thar's times when a dawg's got to see it through an' be killed. It's his dooty same as a man's. I seen it done!"
The last words were added with a narrowing of his eyes and a curious softening of voice as of personal affection or regret. Others noticed it too; and in reply to a question as to how it had happened Rocky explained in a few words that a wounded buffalo had waylaid and tossed the man over its back, and as it turned again to gore him the dog rushed in between, fighting it off for a time and eventually fastening on to the nose when the buffalo still pushed on. The check enabled the man to reach his gun and shoot the buffalo; but the dog was trampled to death.
"Were you...?" some one began and then at the look in Rocky's face, hesitated. Rocky, staring into the fire, answered:
"It was my dawg!"
Long after the other men were asleep I lay in my blankets watching the tricks of light and shadow played by the fire, as fitfully it flamed or died away. It showed the long prostrate figures of the others as they slept full stretch on their backs, wrapped in dark blankets; the waggons, touched with unwonted colours by the flames, and softened to ghostly shadows when they died; the oxen, sleeping contentedly at their yokes; Rocky's two donkeys, black and grey, tethered under a thorn-tree now and then a long ear moving slowly to some distant sound and dropping back again satisfied. I could not sleep; but Rocky was sleeping like a babe. He, gaunt and spare 6 ft. 2 he must have stood weather-beaten and old, with the long solitary trip before him and sixty odd years of life behind, he slept when he laid his head down, and was wide awake and rested when he raised it. He, who had been through it all, slept; but I, who had only listened, was haunted, bewitched, possessed, by racing thoughts; and all on account of four words, and the way he said them, "It was my dawg."
It was still dark, with a faint promise of saffron in the East, when I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard Rocky's voice saying, "Comin' along, Sonny?"
One of the drivers raised his head to look at us as we passed, and then called to his voorlooper to turn the cattle loose to graze, and dropped back to sleep. We left them so and sallied out into the pure clear morning while all the world was still, while the air, cold and subtly stimulating, put a spring into the step and an extra beat or two into the pulse, fairly rinsing lungs and eyes and brain.
What is there to tell of that day? Why! nothing, really nothing, except that it was a happy day a day of little things that all went well, and so it came to look like the birthday of the hunting. What did it matter to me that we were soaked through in ten minutes? for the dew weighed down the heavy-topped grass with clusters of crystal drops that looked like diamond sprays. It was all too beautiful for words: and so it should be in the spring-time of youth.
Rocky was different that day. He showed me things; reading the open book of nature that I could not understand. He pointed out the spoors going to and from the drinking-place, and named the various animals; showed me one more deeply indented than the rest and, murmuring "Scared I guess," pointed to where it had dashed off out of the regular track; picked out the big splayed pad of the hyena sneaking round under cover; stopped quietly in his stride to point where a hare was sitting up cleaning itself, not ten yards off; stopped again at the sound of a clear, almost metallic, 'clink' and pointed to a little sandy gully in front of us down which presently came thirty or forty guinea-fowl in single file, moving swiftly, running and walking, and all in absolute silence except for that one 'clink.' How did he know they were there, and which way they would go, and know it all so promptly? were questions I asked myself.
We walked with the sun that is towards the West so that the light would show up the game and be in their eyes, making it more difficult for them to see us. We watched a little red stembuck get up from his form, shake the dew from his coat, stretch himself, and then pick his way daintily through the wet grass, nibbling here and there as he went. Rocky did not fire; he wanted something better.
After the sun had risen, flooding the whole country with golden light, and, while the dew lasted, making it glisten like a bespangled transformation scene, we came on a patch of old long grass and, parted by some twenty yards, walked through it abreast. There was a wild rush from under my feet, a yellowish body dashed through the grass, and I got out in time to see a rietbuck ram cantering away. Then Rocky, beside me, gave a shrill whistle; the buck stopped, side on, looked back at us, and Rocky dropped it where it stood. Instantly following the shot there was another rush on our left, and before the second rietbuck had gone thirty yards Rocky toppled it over in its tracks. From the whistle to the second shot it was all done in about ten seconds. To me it looked like magic. I could only gasp.
We cleaned the bucks, and hid them in a bush. There was meat enough for the camp then, and I thought we would return at once for boys to carry it; but Rocky, after a moment's glance round, shouldered his rifle and moved on again. I followed, asking no questions. We had been gone only a few minutes when to my great astonishment he stopped and pointing straight in front asked:
"What 'ud you put up for that stump?"
I looked hard, and answered confidently, "Two hundred!"
"Step it!" was his reply. I paced the distance; it was eighty-two yards.
It was very bewildering; but he helped me out a bit with "Bush telescopes, Sonny!"
"You mean it magnifies them?" I asked in surprise.
"No! Magnifies the distance, like lookin' down an avenue! Gun barr'l looks a mile long when you put yer eye to it! Open flats brings 'em closer; and 'cross water or a gully seems like you kin put yer hand on 'em!"
"I would have missed by feet that time Rocky!"
"You kin take it fer a start, Halve the distance and aim low!"
"Aim low, as well?"
"Thar's allus somethin' low: legs, an' ground to show what you done! But thar's no 'outers' marked on the sky!"
Once, as we walked along, he paused to look at some freshly overturned ground, and dropped the one word, 'Pig.' We turned then to the right and presently came upon some vlei ground densely covered with tall green reeds. He slowed down as we approached; I tip-toed in sympathy; and when only a few yards off he stopped and beckoned me on, and as I came abreast he raised his hand in warning and pointed into the reeds. There was a curious subdued sort of murmur of many deep voices. It conveys no idea of the fact to say they were grunts. They were softened out of all recognition: there is only one word for it, they sounded 'confidential.' Then as we listened I could make out the soft silky rustling of the rich undergrowth, and presently, could follow, by the quivering and waving of odd reeds, the movements of the animals themselves. They were only a few yards from us the nearest four or five; they were busy and contented; and it was obvious they were utterly unconscious of our presence. As we peered down to the reeds from our greater height it seemed that we could see the ground and that not so much as a rat could have passed unnoticed. Yet we saw nothing!
And then, without the slightest sign cause or warning that I could detect, in one instant every sound ceased. I watched the reeds like a cat on the pounce: never a stir or sign or sound: they had vanished. I turned to Rocky: he was standing at ease, and there was the faintest look of amusement in his eyes.
"They must be there; they can't have got away?" It was a sort of indignant protest against his evident 'chucking it'; but it was full of doubt all the same.
"Try!" he said, and I jumped into the reeds straight away. The under-foliage, it is true, was thicker and deeper that it had looked; but for all that it was like a conjuring trick they were not there! I waded through a hundred yards or more of the narrow belt it was not more than twenty yards wide anywhere but the place was deserted. It struck me then that if they could dodge us at five to ten yards while we were watching from the bank and they did not know it Well, I 'chucked it' too. Rocky was standing in the same place with the same faint look of friendly amusement when I got back, wet and muddy.
"Pigs is like that," he said, "same as elephants jus' disappears!"
We went on again, and a quarter of an hour later, it may be, Rocky stopped, subsided to a sitting position, beckoned to me, and pointed with his levelled rifle in front. It was a couple of minutes before he could get me to see the stembuck standing in the shade of a thorn tree. I would never had seen it but for his whisper to look for something moving: that gave it to me; I saw the movement of the head as it cropped.
"High: right!" was Rocky's comment, as the bullet ripped the bark off a tree and the startled stembuck raced away. In the excitement I had forgotten his advice already!
But there was no time to feel sick and disgusted; the buck, puzzled by the report on one side and the smash on the tree on the other, half circled us and stopped to look back. Rocky laid his hand on my shoulder:
"Take your time , Sonny!" he said, "Aim low; an' don't pull! Squeeze!" And at last I got it.
We had our breakfast there the liver roasted on the coals, and a couple of 'dough-boys,' with the unexpected addition of a bottle of cold tea, weak and unsweetened, produced from Rocky's knapsack! We stayed there a couple of hours, and that is the only time he really opened out. I understood then at last that of his deliberate kindliness he had come out that morning meaning to make a happy day of it for a youngster; and he did it.
He had the knack of getting at the heart of things, and putting it all in the fewest words. He spoke in the same slow grave way, with habitual economy of breath and words; and yet the pictures were living and real, and each incident complete. I seemed to get from him that morning all there was to know of the hunting in two great continents Grizzlies and other 'bar,' Moose and Wapiti, hunted in the snows of the North West; Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Lions, and scores more, in the sweltering heat of Africa!
That was a happy day!
When I woke up next morning Rocky was fitting the packs on his donkeys. I was a little puzzled, wondering at first if he was testing the saddles, for he had said nothing about moving on; but when he joined us at breakfast the donkeys stood packed ready to start. Then Robbie asked:
"Going to make a move, Rocky?"
"Yes! Reckon I'll git!" he answered quietly.
I ate in silence, thinking of what he was to face: many hundreds of miles perhaps a thousand or two; many, many months maybe a year or two; wild country, wild tribes, and wild beasts; floods and fever; accident, hunger, and disease; and alone!
When we had finished breakfast he rinsed out his beaker and hung it on one of the packs, slung his rifle over his shoulder, and picking up his long assegai-wood walking-stick tapped the donkeys lightly to turn then into the Kaffir footpath that led away North. They jogged on into place in single file.
Rocky paused a second before following, turned one brief grave glance on us, and said:
"Well. So long!"
He never came back!
Good dogs were not easy to get; I had tried hard enough for one before starting, but without success. Even unborn puppies had jealous prospective owners waiting to claim them.
There is always plenty of room at the top of the tree, and good hunting dogs were as rare as good men, good horses, and good front-oxen. A lot of qualities are needed in the make-up of a good hunting dog: size, strength, quickness, scent, sense and speed and plenty of courage. They are very very difficult to get; but even small dogs are useful, and many a fine feat stands to the credit of little terriers in guarding camps at night and in standing off wounded animals that meant mischief.
Dennison was saved from a wounded lioness by his two fox terriers. He had gone out to shoot bush-pheasants, and came unexpectedly on a lioness playing with her cubs: the cubs hid in the grass, but she stood up at bay to protect them, and he, forgetting that he had taken the big 'looper' cartridges from his gun and reloaded with No. 6, fired. The shot only maddened her, and she charged; but the two dogs dashed at her, one at each side, barking snapping and yelling rushing in and jumping back so fast and furiously that they flustered her. Leaving the man for the moment, she turned on them, dabbing viciously with her huge paws, first at one, then at the other; quick as lightning she struck right and left as a kitten will at a twirled string; but they kept out of reach. It only lasted seconds, but that was long enough for the man to reload and shoot the lioness through the heart.
There was only the one dog in our camp; and she was not an attractive one. She was a bull terrier with a dull brindled coat black and grey in shadowy stripes. She had small cross-looking eyes and uncertain always-moving ears; she was bad tempered and most unsociable; but she was as faithful and as brave a dog as ever lived. She never barked; never howled when beaten for biting strangers or kaffirs or going for the cattle; she was very silent, very savage, and very quick. She belonged to my friend Ted, and never left his side day or night. Her name was Jess.
Jess was not a favourite, but everyone respected her, partly because you knew she would not stand any nonsense no pushing, patting or punishment, and very little talking to and partly because she was so faithful and plucky. She was not a hunting dog, but on several occasions had helped to pull down wounded game; she had no knowledge or skill, and was only fierce and brave, and there was always the risk that she would be killed. She would listen to Ted, but to no one else; one of us might have shouted his lungs out, but it would not have stopped her from giving chase the moment she saw anything and keeping on till she was too dead beat to move any further.
The first time I saw Jess we were having dinner, and I gave her a bone putting it down close to her and saying, "Here! good dog!" As she did not even look at it, I moved it right under her nose. She gave a low growl, and her little eyes turned on me for just one look as she got up and walked away.
There was a snigger of laughter from some of the others, but nobody said anything, and it seemed wiser to ask no questions just then. Afterwards, when we were alone, one of them told me Ted had trained her not to feed from any one else, adding, "You must not feed another man's dog; a dog has only one master!"
We respected Jess greatly; but no one knew quite how much we respected her until the memorable day near Ship Mountain.
We had rested through the heat of the day under a big tree on the bank of a little stream; it was the tree under which Soltké prayed and died. About sundown, just before we were ready to start, some other waggons passed, and Ted, knowing the owner, went on with him intending to rejoin us at the next outspan. As he jumped on to the passing waggon he called to Jess, and she ran out of a patch of soft grass under one of the big trees behind our waggons. She answered his call instantly, but when she saw him moving off on the other waggon she sat down in the road and watched him anxiously for some seconds, then ran on a few steps in her curious quick silent way and again stopped, giving swift glances alternately towards Ted and towards us. Ted remarked laughingly that she evidently thought he had made a mistake by getting on to the wrong waggon, and that she would follow presently.
After he had disappeared she ran back to her patch of grass and lay down, but in a few minutes she was back again squatting in the road looking with that same anxious worried expression after her master. Thus she went to and fro for the quarter of an hour it took us to inspan, and each time she passed we could hear a faint anxious little whine.
The oxen were inspanned and the last odd things were being put up when one of the boys came to say that he could not get the guns and water-barrel because Jess would not let him near them. There was something the matter with the dog, he said; he thought she was mad.
Knowing how Jess hated kaffirs we laughed at the notion, and went for the things ourselves. As we came within five yards of the tree where we had left the guns there was a rustle in the grass, and Jess came out with her swift silent run, appearing as unexpectedly as a snake does, and with some odd suggestion of a snake in her look and attitude. Her head, body and tail were in a dead line, and she was crouching slightly as for a spring; her ears were laid flat back, her lips twitching constantly, showing the strong white teeth, and her cross wicked eyes had such a look of remorseless cruelty in them that we stopped as if we had been turned to stone. She never moved a muscle or made a sound, but kept those eyes steadily fixed on us. We moved back a pace or two and began to coax and wheedle her; but it was no good; she never moved or made a sound, and the unblinking look remained. For a minute we stood our ground, and then the hair on her back and shoulders began very slowly to stand up. That was enough: we cleared off. It was a mighty uncanny appearance.
Then another tried his hand; but it was just the same. No one could do anything with her; no one could get near the guns or the water-barrel; as soon as we returned for a fresh attempt she reappeared in the same place and in the same way.
The position was too ridiculous, and we were at our wits' end; for Jess held the camp. The kaffirs declared the dog was mad, and we began to have very un¬comfortable suspicions that they were right; but we decided to make a last attempt, and surrounding the place approached from all sides. But the suddenness with which she appeared before we got into position so demoralised the kaffirs that they bolted, and we gave it up, owning ourselves beaten. We turned to watch her as she ran back for the last time, and as she disappeared in the grass we heard distinctly the cry of a very young puppy. Then the secret of Jess's madness was out.
We had to send for Ted, and when he returned a couple of hours later Jess met him out on the road in the dark where she had been watching half the time ever since he left. She jumped up at his chest giving a long tremulous whimper of welcome, and then ran ahead straight to the nest in the grass.
He took a lantern and we followed, but not too close. When he knelt down to look at the puppies she stood over them and pushed herself in between him and them; when he put out a hand to touch them she pushed it away with her nose, whining softly in protest and trembling with excitement you could see she would not bite, but she hated him to touch her puppies. Finally, when he picked one up she gave a low cry and caught his wrist gently, but held it.
That was Jess, the mother of Jock!
THE PICK OF THE PUPPIES
There were six puppies, and as the waggons were empty we fixed up a roomy nest in one of them for Jess and her family. There was no trouble with Jess; nobody interfered with her, and she interfered with nobody. The boys kept clear of her; but we used to take a look at her and the puppies as we walked along with the waggons; so by degrees she got to know that we would not harm them, and she no longer wanted to eat us alive if we went near and talked to her.
Five of the puppies were fat strong yellow little chaps with dark muzzles just like their father, as Ted said; and their father was an imported dog, and was always spoken of as the best dog of the breed that had ever been in the country. I never saw him, so I do not really know what he was like perhaps he was not a yellow dog at all; but, whatever he was, he had at that time a great reputation because he was 'imported,' and there were not half a dozen imported dogs in the whole of the Transvaal then. Many people used to ask what breed the puppies were I suppose it was because poor cross faithful old Jess was not much to look at, and because no one had a very high opinion of yellow dogs in general, and nobody seemed to remember any famous yellow bull-terriers. They used to smile in a queer way when they asked the question, as if they were going to get off a joke; but when we answered "Just like their fatherBuchanan's imported dog," the smile disappeared, and they would give a whistle of surprise and say "By Jove!" and immediately begin to examine the five yellow puppies, remark upon their ears and noses and legs, and praise them up until we were all as proud as if they had belonged to us.
Jess looked after her puppies and knew nothing about the remarks that were made, so they did not worry her, but I often looked at the faithful old thing with her dark brindled face, cross-looking eyes and always-moving ears, and thought it jolly hard lines that nobody had a good word for her; it seemed rough on her that every one should be glad there was only one puppy at all like the mother the sixth one, a poor miserable little rat of a thing about half the size of the others. He was not yellow like them, nor dark brindled like Jess, but a sort of dirty pale half-and¬-half colour with some dark faint wavy lines all over him, as if he had tried to be brindled and failed; and he had a dark sharp wizened little muzzle that looked shrivelled up with age.
Most of the fellows said it would be a good thing to drown the odd one because he spoilt the litter and made them look as though they were not really thorough¬bred, and because he was such a miserable little rat that he was not worth saving anyhow; but in the end he was allowed to live. I believe no one fancied the job of taking one of Jess's puppies away from her; moreover, as any dog was better than none, I had offered to take him rather than let him be drowned. Ted had old friends to whom he had already promised the pick of the puppies, so when I came along it was too late, and all he could promise me was that if there should be one over I might have it.
As they grew older and were able to crawl about they were taken off the waggons when we outspanned and put on the ground. Jess got to understand this at once, and she used to watch us quite quietly as we took them in our hands to put them down or lift them back again. When they were two or three weeks old a man came to the waggons who talked a great deal about dogs, and appeared to know what had to be done. He said that the puppies' tails ought to be docked, and that a bull-terrier would be no class at all with a long tail, but you should on no account clip his ears. I thought he was speaking of fox-terriers, and that with bull-terriers the position was the other way round, at that time; but as he said it was 'the thing' in England, and nobody contradicted him, I shut up. We found out after¬wards that he had made a mistake; but it was too late then, and Jess's puppies started life as bull-terriers up to date, with long ears and short tails.
I felt sure from the beginning that all the yellow puppies would be claimed and that I should have to take the odd one, or none at all; so I began to look upon him as mine already, and to take an interest in him and look after him. A long time ago somebody wrote that "the sense of possession turns sand into gold," and it is one of the truest things ever said. Until it seemed that this queer-looking odd puppy was going to be mine I used to think and say very much what the others did but with this difference, that I always felt sorry for him, and sorry for Jess too, because he was like her and not like the father. I used to think that perhaps if he were given a chance he might grow up like poor old Jess herself, ugly, cross and unpopular, but brave and faithful. I felt sorry for him, too, because he was small and weak, and the other five big puppies used to push him away from his food and trample on him; and when they were old enough to play they used to pull him about by his ears and pack on to him three or four to one and bully him horribly. Many a time I rescued him, and many a time gave him a little preserved milk and water with bread soaked in it when the others had shouldered him out and eaten everything.
After a little while, when my chance of getting one of the good puppies seemed hopeless and I got used to the idea that I would have to take the odd one, I began to notice little things about him that no one else noticed, and got to be quite fond of the little beggar in a kind of way. Perhaps I was turning my sand into gold, and my geese into swans; perhaps I grew fond of him simply because, finding him lonely and with no one else to depend on, I befriended him; and perhaps it was because he was always cheerful and plucky and it seemed as if there might be some good stuff in him after all. Those were the things I used to think of sometimes when feeding the little outcast. The other puppies would tumble him over and take his food from him; they would bump into him when he was stooping over the dish of milk and porridge, and his head was so big and his legs so weak that he would tip up and go heels over head into the dish. We were always picking him out of the food and scraping it off him: half the time he was wet and sticky, and the other half covered with porridge and sand baked hard by the sun.
One day just after the waggons had started, as I took a final look round the outspan place to see if anything had been forgotten, I found the little chap who was only about four inches high struggling to walk through the long grass. He was not big enough or strong enough to push his way even the stems of the down-trodden grass tripped himand he stumbled and floundered at every step, but he got up again each time with his little tail standing straight up, his head erect, and his ears cocked. He looked such a ridiculous sight that his little tragedy of "lost in the veld" was forgotten one could only laugh.
What he thought he was doing, goodness only knows; he looked as proud and important as if he owned the whole world and knew that every one in it was watching him. The poor little chap could not see a yard in that grass; and in any case he was not old enough to see much, or understand anything, for his eyes still had that bluish blind look that all very young puppies have, but he was marching along as full of confidence as a general at the head of his army. How he fell out of the waggon no one knew; perhaps the big puppies tumbled him out, or he may have tried to follow Jess, or have climbed over the tail-board to see what was the other side, for he was always going off exploring by himself. His little world was small, it may be only the bedplank of the waggon and the few square yards of the ground on which they were dumped at the outspans but he took it as seriously as any explorer who ever tackled a continent.
The others were a bit more softened towards the odd puppy when I caught up to the waggons and told them of his valiant struggle to follow; and the man who had docked the puppies' tails allowed, "I believe the rat's got pluck, whatever else is the matter with him, for he was the only one that didn't howl when I snipped them. The little cuss just gave a grunt, and turned round as if he wanted to eat me. I think he'd 'a' been terrible angry if he hadn't been so s'prised. Pity he's such an awful-looking mongrel."
But no one else said a good word for him: he was really beneath notice, and if ever they had to speak about him they called him "The Rat." There is no doubt about it he was extremely ugly, and instead of improving as he grew older, he became worse; yet, I could not help liking him and looking after him, sometimes feeling sorry for him, sometimes being tremendously amused, and sometimes wonderful to relate really admiring him. He was extraordinarily silent; while the others barked at nothing, howled when lonely, and yelled when frightened or hurt, the odd puppy did none of these things; in fact, he began to show many of Jess's peculiarities; he hardly ever barked, and when he did it was not a wild excited string of barks but little suppressed muffled noises, half bark and half growl, and just one or two at a time; and he did not appear to be afraid of anything, so one could not tell what he would do if he was.
One day we had an amusing instance of his nerve: one of the oxen, sniffing about the outspan, caught sight of him all alone, and filled with curiosity came up to examine him, as a hulking silly old tame ox will do. It moved towards him slowly and heavily with its ears spread wide and its head down, giving great big sniffs at this new object, trying to make out what it was. "The Rat" stood quite still with his stumpy tail cocked up and his head a little on one side, and when the huge ox's nose was about a foot from him he gave one of those funny abrupt little barks. It was as if the object had suddenly 'gone off' like a cracker, and the ox nearly tumbled over with fright; but even when the great mountain of a thing gave a clumsy plunge round and trotted off, "The Rat" was not the least frightened; he was startled, and his tail and ears flickered for a second, but stiffened up again instantly, and with another of those little barks he took a couple of steps forward and cocked his head on the other side. That was his way.
He was not a bit like the other puppies; if any one fired off a gun or cracked one of the big whips the whole five would yell at the top of their voices and, wherever they were, would start running, scrambling and floundering as fast as they could towards the waggon without once looking back to see what they were running away from. The odd puppy would drop his bone with a start or would jump round; his ears and tail would flicker up and down for a second; then he would slowly bristle up all over, and with his head cocked first on one side and then on the other, stare hard with his half-blind bluish puppy eyes in the direction of the noise; but he never ran away.
And so, little by little, I got to like him in spite of his awful ugliness. And it really was awful! The other puppies grew big all over, but the odd one at that time seemed to grow only in one part his tummy! The poor little chap was born small and weak; he had always been bullied and crowded out by the others, and the truth is he was half starved. The natural consequence of this was that as soon as he could walk about and pick up things for himself he made up for lost time, and filled up his middle piece to an alarming size before the other parts of his body had time to grow; at that time he looked more like a big tock-tockie beetle than a dog.
Besides the balloon-like tummy he had stick-out bandy-legs, very like a beetle's too, and a neck so thin that it made the head look enormous, and you wondered how the neck ever held it up. But what made him so supremely ridiculous was that he evidently did not know he was ugly; he walked about as if he was always thinking of his dignity, and he had that puffed-out and stuck-up air of importance that you only see in small people and bantam cocks who are always trying to appear an inch taller than they really are.
When the puppies were about a month old, and could feed on porridge or bread soaked in soup or gravy, they got to be too much for Jess, and she used to leave them for hours at a time and hide in the grass so as to have a little peace and sleep. Puppies are always hungry, so they soon began to hunt about for themselves, and would find scraps of meat and porridge or old bones; and if they could not get anything else, would try to eat the raw-hide nekstrops and reims. Then the fights began. As soon as one puppy saw another busy on anything, he would walk over towards him and, if strong enough, fight him for it. All day long it was nothing but wrangle, snarl, bark and yelp. Sometimes four or five would be at it in one scrum; because as soon as one heard a row going on he would trot up hoping to steal the bone while the others were busy fighting.
It was then that I noticed other things about the odd puppy: no matter how many packed on to him, or how they bit or pulled him, he never once let out a yelp; with four or five on top of him you would see him on his back, snapping right and left with bare white teeth, gripping and worrying them when he got a good hold of anything, and all the time growling and snarling with a fierceness that was really comical. It sounded as a lion fight might sound in a toy phonograph.
Before many days passed, it was clear that some of the other puppies were inclined to leave "The Rat" alone, and that only two of them the two biggest seemed anxious to fight him and could take his bones away. The reason soon became apparent: instead of wasting his breath in making a noise, or wasting strength in trying to tumble the others over, "The Rat" simply bit hard and hung on; noses, ears, lips, cheeks, feet and even tails all came handy to him; anything he could get hold of and hang on to was good enough, and the result generally was that in about half a minute the other puppy would leave everything and clear off yelling, and probably holding up one paw or hanging its head on one side to ease a chewed ear.
When either of the big puppies tackled the little fellow the fight lasted much longer. Even if he were tumbled over at once as generally happened and the other one stood over him barking and growling, that did not end the fight: as soon as the other chap got off him he would struggle up and begin again; he would not give in. The other puppies seemed to think there was some sort of rule like the 'count out' in boxing, or that once you were tumbled over you ought to give up the bone; but the odd puppy apparently did not care about rules; as far as I could see, he had just one rule: "Stick to it," so it was not very long before even the two big fellows gave up interfering with him. The bites from his little white teeth sharp as needles which punctured noses and feet and tore ears, were most unpleasant. But apart from that, they found there was nothing to be gained by fighting him: they might roll him over time after time, but he came back again and worried them so persistently that it was quite impossible to enjoy the bone they had to keep on fighting for it.
At first I drew attention to these things, but there was no encouragement from the others; they merely laughed at the attempt to make the best of a bad job. Sometimes owners of other puppies were nettled by having their beauties compared with "The Rat," or were annoyed because he had the cheek to fight for his own and beat them. Once, when I had described how well he had stood up to Billy's pup, Robbie caught up "The Rat," and placing him on the table, said: "Hats off to the Duke of Wellington on the field of Waterloo." That seemed to me the poorest sort of joke to send five grown men into fits of laughter. He stood there on the table with his head on one side, one ear standing up, and his stumpy tail twiggling an absurd picture of friendliness, pride and confidence; yet he was so ugly and ridiculous that my heart sank, and I whisked him away. They made fun of him, and he did not mind; but it was making fun of me too, and I could not help knowing why; it was only necessary to put the puppies together to see the reason.
After that I stopped talking about him, and made the most of the good points he showed, and tried to discover more. It was the only consolation for having to take the leavings of the litter.
Then there came a day when something happened which might easily have turned out very differently, and there would have been no stories and no Jock to tell about; and the best dog in the world would never have been my friend and companion. The puppies had been behaving very badly, and had stolen several nekstrops and chewed up parts of one or two big whips; the drivers were grumbling about all the damage done and the extra work it gave them; and Ted, exasperated by the worry of it all, announced that the puppies were quite old enough to be taken away, and that those who had picked puppies must take them at once and look after them, or let some one else have them. When I heard him say that my heart gave a little thump from excitement, for I knew the day had come when the great question would be settled once and for all. Here was a glorious and unexpected chance; perhaps one of the others would not or could not take his, and I might get one of the good ones. . . Of course the two big ones would be snapped up: that was certain; for, even if the men who had picked them could not take them, others who had been promised puppies before me would exchange those they had already chosen for the better ones. Still, there were other chances; and I thought of very little else all day long, wondering if any of the good ones would be left; and if so, which?
In the afternoon Ted came up to where we were all lying in the shade and startled us with the momen¬tous announcement:
"Billy Griffiths can't take his pup!"
Every man of us sat up. Billy's pup was the first pick, the champion of the litter, the biggest and strongest of the lot. Several of the others said at once that they would exchange theirs for this one; but Ted smiled and shook his head.
"No," he said, " you had a good pick in the beginning." Then he turned to me, and added: "You've only had leavings." Some one said "The Rat," and there was a shout of laughter, but Ted went on; "You can have Billy's pup."
It seemed too good to be true; not even in my wildest imaginings had I fancied myself getting the pick of the lot. I hardly waited to thank Ted before going off to look at my champion. I had seen and admired him times out of number, but it seemed as if he must look different now that he belonged to me. He was a fine big fellow, well built and strong, and looked as if he could beat all the rest put together. His legs were straight; his neck sturdy; his muzzle dark and shapely; his ears equal and well carried; and in the sunlight his yellow coat looked quite bright, with occasional glints of gold in it. He was indeed a handsome fellow.
As I put him back again with the others the odd puppy, who had stood up and sniffed at me when I came, licked my hand and twiddled his tail with the friendliest and most independent air, as if he knew me quite well and was glad to see me, and I patted the poor little chap as he waddled up. I had forgotten him in the excitement of getting Billy's pup; but the sight of him made me think of his funny ways, his pluck and independence, and of how he had not a friend in the world except Jess and me; and I felt downright sorry for him. I picked him up and talked to him; and when his wizened little face was close to mine, he opened his mouth as if laughing, and shooting out his red tongue dabbed me right on the tip of my nose in pure friendliness. The poor little fellow looked more ludicrous than ever: he had been feeding again and was as tight as a drum; his skin was so tight one could not help thinking that if he walked over a mimosa thorn and got a scratch on the tummy he would burst like a toy balloon.
I put him back with the other puppies and returned to the tree where Ted and the rest were sitting. As I came up there was a shout of laughter, and turning round to see what had provoked it I found "The Rat" at my heels. He had followed me and was trotting and stumbling along, tripping every yard or so, but getting up again with head erect, ears cocked and his stumpy tail twiddling away just as pleased and proud as if he thought he had really started in life and was doing what only a 'really and truly' grown¬-up dog is supposed to do that is, follow his master wherever he goes.
All the old chaff and jokes were fired off at me again, and I had no peace for quite a time. They all had something to say: "He won't swap you off!" "I'll back 'The Rat'!" "He is going to take care of you!" "He is afraid you'll get lost!" and so on; and they were still chaffing about it when I grabbed "The Rat" and took him back again.
Billy's failure to take his puppy was so entirely unexpected and so important that the subject kept cropping up all the evening. It was very amusing then to see how each of those who had wanted to get him succeeded in finding good reasons for thinking that his own puppy was really better than Billy's. However they differed in their estimates of each other's dogs, they all agreed that the best judge in the world could not be certain of picking out the best dog in a good litter until the puppies were several months old; and they all gave instances in which the best looking puppy had turned out the worst dog, and others in which the one that no one would look at had grown up to be the champion. Goodness knows how long this would have gone on if Robbie had not mischievously suggested that "perhaps 'The Rat' was going to beat the whole lot." There was such a chorus of guffaws at this that no one told any more stories.
The poor little friendless Rat! It was unfortunate, but the truth is that he was uglier than before; and yet I could not help liking him. I fell asleep that night thinking of the two puppies the best and the worst in the litter. No sooner had I gone over all the splendid points in Billy's pup and made up my mind that he was certainly the finest I had ever seen, than the friendly wizened little face, the half-cocked ears and head on one side, the cocky little stump of a tail, and the comical dignified plucky look of the odd puppy would all come back to me. The thought of how he had licked my hand and twiddled his tail at me, and how he dabbed me on the nose, and then the manful way in which he had struggled after me through the grass, all made my heart go soft towards him, and I fell asleep not knowing what to do.
When I woke up in the morning, my first thought was of the odd puppy how he looked to me as his only friend, and what he would feel like if, after looking on me as really belonging to him and as the one person that he was going to take care of all his life, he knew he was to be left behind or given away to any one who would take him. It would never have entered his head that he required some one to look after him; from the way he had followed me the night before it was clear he was looking after me; and the other fellows thought the same thing. His whole manner had plainly said: "Never mind old man! Don't you worry: I am here."
We used to make our first trek at about three o'clock in the morning, so as to be outspanned by sunrise; and walking along during that morning trek I recalled all the stories that the others had told of miserable puppies having grown into wonderful dogs, and of great men who had been very ordinary children; and at breakfast I took the plunge.
"Ted," I said, bracing myself for the laughter, "if you don't mind, I'll stick to 'The Rat.'"
If I had fired off a gun under their noses they would have been much less startled. Robbie made a grab for his plate as it slipped from his knees.
"Don't do that sort of thing!" he protested indignantly. "My nerves won't stand it!"
The others stopped eating and drinking, held their beakers of steaming coffee well out of the way to get a better look at me, and when they saw it was seriously meant there was a chorus of:
"Well, I'm hanged."
I took him in hand at once for now he was really mine and brought him over for his saucer of soaked bread and milk to where we sat at breakfast. Beside me there was a rough camp table a luxury sometimes indulged in while camping or trekking with empty waggons on which we put our tinned-milk, treacle and such things to keep them out of reach of the ants, grasshoppers, Hottentot-gods, beetles and dust. I put the puppy and his saucer in a safe place under the table out of the way of stray feet, and sank the saucer into the sand so that when he trod in it he would not spill the food; for puppies are quite stupid as they are greedy, and seem to think that they can eat faster by getting further into the dish. He appeared to be more ravenous than usual, and we were all amused by the way the little fellow craned his thin neck out further and further until he tipped up behind and his nose bumping into the saucer see-sawed him back again. He finished it all and looked round briskly at me, licking his lips and twiddling his stumpy tail.
Well, I meant to make a dog of him, so I gave him another lot. He was just like a little child he thought he was very hungry still and could eat any amount more; but it was not possible. The lapping became slower and more laboured, with pauses every now and then to get breath or lick his lips and look about him, until at last he was fairly beaten: he could only look at it, blink and lick his chops; and, knowing that he would keep on trying, I took the saucer away. He was too full to object or to run after it; he was too full to move. He stood where he was, with his legs well spread and his little body blown out like a balloon, and finished licking the drops and crumbs off his face without moving a foot.
There was something so extraordinarily funny in the appearance and attitude of the puppy that we watched to see what he would do next. He had been standing very close to the leg of the table, but not quite touching it, when he finished feeding; and even after he had done washing his face and cleaning up generally, he stood there stock still for several minutes, as though it was altogether too much trouble to move. One little bandy hind leg stuck out behind the table¬ leg, and the bulge of his little tummy stuck out in front of it; so that when at last he decided to make a move the very first little lurch brought his hip up against the table-leg. In an instant the puppy's appear¬ance changed completely: the hair on his back and shoulders bristled; his head went up erect; one ear stood up straight and the other at half cock; and his stumpy tail quivered with rage. He evidently thought that one of the other puppies had come up be¬hind to interfere with him. He was too proud to turn round and appear to be nervous: with head erect he glared hard straight in front of him, and, with all the little breath that he had left after his big feed, he growled ferociously in comical little gasps. He stood like that, not moving an inch, with the front foot still ready to take that step forward; and then, as nothing more happened, the hair on his back gradually went flat again; the fierceness died out of his face; and the growling stopped.
After a minute's pause, he again very slowly and carefully began to step forward; of course exactly the same thing happened again, except that this time he shook all over with rage, and the growling was fiercer and more choky. One could not imagine anything so small being in so great a rage. He took longer to cool down, too, and much longer before he made the third attempt to start. But the third time it was all over in a second. He seemed to think that this was more than any dog could stand, and that he must put a stop to it. The instant his hip touched the leg, he whipped round with a ferocious snarl¬ his little white teeth bared and gleaming and bumped his nose against the table-leg.
I cannot say whether it was because of the shout of laughter from us, or because he really understood what had happened, that he looked so foolish, but he just gave one crestfallen look at me and with a feeble wag of his tail waddled off as fast as he could.
Then Ted nodded over at me, and said: "I believe you have got the champion after all!"
And I was too proud to speak.
( I | II | III | IV )
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