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The Ape-Man: his Kith and Kin
A collection of texts which prepared the advent of Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
JOCK OF THE BUSHVELD
by SIR PERCY FITZPATRICK
Part IV of ( I | II | III | IV )
There was no hunting for several days after the affair with the koodoo cow. Jock looked worse the following day than he had done since recovering consciousness: his head and neck swelled up so that chewing was impossible and he could only lap a little soup or milk, and could hardly bend his neck at all.
On the morning of the second day Jim Makokel' came up with his hostile-looking swagger and a cross worried look on his face, and in a half-angry and wholly disgusted tone jerked out at me, "The dog is deaf. I say so! Me! Makokela! Jock is deaf. He does not hear when you speak. Deaf! yes, deaf!"
Jim's tone grew fiercer as he warmed up; he seemed to hold me responsible. The moment the boy spoke I knew it was true it was the only possible explanation of many little things; nevertheless I jumped up hurriedly to try him in a dozen ways, hoping to find that he could hear something. Jim was right: he was really stone deaf. It was pathetic to find how each little subterfuge that drew his eyes from me left him out of reach: it seemed as if a link had broken between us and I had lost my hold. That was wrong, however! In a few days he began to realise the loss of hearing; and after that, feeling so much greater dependence on sight, his watchfulness increased so that nothing escaped him. None of those who saw him in that year, when he was at his very best, could bring themselves to believe he was deaf. With me it made differences both ways; something lost, and something gained. If he could hear nothing, he saw more; the language of signs developed; and taking it all round I believe the sense of mutual dependence for success and of mutual understanding was greater than ever.
Snowball went on to the retired list at the end of the next trip.
Joey the Smith stood at the forge one day, trimming a red hot horse-shoe, when I rode up and dropping the reins over Snowball's head, sang out "Morning, Joey!"
Joey placed the chisel on the shoe with nice calculation of the amount he wanted to snip off; his assistant boy swung the big hammer, and an inch cube of red hot iron dropped off. Then Joey looked up with, what seemed to me, a conflict of innocent surprise and stifled amusement in his face. The boy also turned to look, and the insignificant incident is curiously unforgettable trod upon the piece of hot iron. "Look where you're standing," said Joey reproachfully, as the smoke and smell of burning skin-welt rose up; and the boy with a grunt of disgust, such as we might give at a burned boot, looked to see what damage had been done to his 'unders.' It gave me an even better idea of a nigger's feet than those thorn digging operations when we had to cut through a solid whitish welt a third of an inch thick.
Joey grinned openly at the boy; but he was thinking of Snowball.
"I wonder you had the heart, Joey, I do indeed!" I said, shaking my head at him.
"You would have him, lad, there was no refusin' you! You arst so nice and wanted him so bad!"
"But how could you bear to part with him, Joey? It must have been like selling one of the family."
"'Es, Boy, 'es! We are a bit stoopid our lot! Is he still such a fool, or has he improved any with you?"
"Joey, I've learned him full up to the teeth. If he stops longer he will become wicked, like me; and you would not be the ruin of an innocent young thing trying to earn a living honestly, if he can?"
"Come round behind the shop, Boy. I got a pony 'll suit you proper!" He gave a hearty laugh, and added "You can always get what you arsk forif it ain't worth having. Moril! Don't arsk! I never offered you Snowball. This one's different. You can have him at cost price; and that's an old twelve month account! Ten pounds. He's worth four of it! Salted an' shootin'! Shake!" and I gripped his grimy old fist gladly, knowing it was jonnick and 'a square deal.'
That was Mungo Park the long, strong, low-built, half-bred Basuto pony well-trained and without guile.
I left Snowball with his previous owner, to use as required, and never called back for him; and if this should meet the eye of Joey the Smith he will know that I no longer hope his future life will be spent in stalking a wart-eyed white horse in a phantom Bushveld. Mungo made amends.
There was a spot between the Komati and Crocodile rivers on the north side of the road where the white man seldom passed and nature was undisturbed; few knew of water there; it was too well concealed between deep banks and the dense growth of thorns and large trees.
The spot always had great attractions for me apart from the big game to be found there. I used to steal along the banks of this lone water and watch the smaller life of the bush. It was a delightful field for naturalist and artist, but unfortunately we thought little of such things, and knew even less; and now nothing is left from all the glorious opportunities but the memory of an endless fascination and a few facts that touch the human chord and will not submit to be forgotten.
There were plenty of birds guinea-fowl, pheasant, partridge, knoorhaan and bush pauw. Jock accompanied me of course when I took the fowling-piece, but merely for companionship; for there was no need for him on these occasions. I shot birds to get a change of food and trusted to walking them up along the river banks and near drinking pools; but one evening Jock came forward of his own accord to help me a sort of amused volunteer; and after that I always used him.
He had been at my heels, apparently taking little interest in the proceedings from the moment the first bird fell and he saw what the game was; probably he was intelligently interested all the time but considered it nothing to get excited about. After a time I saw him turn aside from the line we had been taking and stroll off at a walking pace, sniffing softly the while. When he had gone a dozen yards he stopped and looked back at me; then he looked in front again with his head slightly on one side, much as he would have done examining a beetle rolling his ball.
There were no signs of anything, yet the grass was short for those parts, scarce a foot high, and close, soft and curly. A brace of partridges rose a few feet from Jock, and he stood at ease calmly watching them, without a sign or move to indicate more than amused interest. The birds were absurdly tame and sailed so quietly along that I hesitated at first to shoot; then the noise of the two shots put up the largest number of partridges I have ever seen in one lot, and a line of birds rose for perhaps sixty yards across our front. There was no wild whirr and confusion: they rose in leisurely fashion as if told to move on, sailing infinitely slowly down the slope to the thorns near the donga. Running my eye along the line I counted them in twos up to between thirty and forty; and that could not have been more than half. How many coveys had packed there, and for what purpose, and whether they came every evening, were questions which one would like answered now; but they were not of sufficient interest then to encourage a second visit another evening. The birds sailed quietly into the little wood, and many of them alighted on branches of the larger trees. It is the only time I have seen a partridge in a tree; but when one comes to think it out, it seems common-sense that, in a country teeming with vermin and night-prowlers, all birds should sleep off the ground. Perhaps they do!
There were numbers of little squirrel-like creatures there too. Our fellows used to call them ground-squirrels and "tree-rats"; because they live underground, yet climb trees readily in search of food; they were little fellows like meerkats, with bushy tails ringed in brown, black and white, of which the waggon boys made decorations for their slouch hats.
Jock wanted a go at them: they did not appear quite so much beneath notice as the birds.
Along the water's edge one came on the lagavaans, huge repulsive water-lizards three to four feet long, like crocodiles in miniature, sunning themselves in some favourite spot in the margin of the reeds or on the edge of the bank; they give one the jumps by the suddenness of their rush through the reeds and plunge into deep water.
There were otters too, big black-brown fierce fellows, to be seen swimming silently close under the banks. I got a couple of them, but was always nervous of letting Jock into the water after things, as one never knew where the crocodile lurked. He got an ugly bite from one old dog-otter which I shot in shallow water; and, mortally wounded as he was, the otter put up a rare good fight before Jock finally hauled him out.
Then there were the cane-rats, considered by some most excellent and delicate of meats, as big and tender as small sucking-pigs. The cane-rat, living and dead, was one of the stock surprises, and the subject of jokes and tricks upon the unsuspecting: there seems to be no sort of ground for associating the extraordinary fat thing, gliding among the reeds or swimming silently under the banks, with either its live capacity of rat or its more attractive dead rôle of roast sucking-pig.
The hardened ones enjoyed setting this treat before the hungry and unsuspecting, and, after a hearty meal, announcing "That was roast rat: good, isn't it?" The memory of one experience gives me water in the gills now! It was unpleasant, but not equal to the nausea and upheaval which supervened when, after a very savoury stew of delicate white meat, we were shown the fresh skin of a monkey hanging from the end of the buck-rails, with the head drooping forward, eyes closed, arms dangling lifeless, and limp open hands a ghastly caricature of some hanged human, shrivelled and shrunk within its clothes of skin. I felt like a cannibal.
The water tortoises in the silent pools, grotesque muddy fellows, were full of interest to the quiet watcher, and better that way than as the "turtle soup" which once or twice we ventured on and tried to think was good!
There were certain hours of the day when it was more pleasant and profitable to lie in the shade and rest. It is the time of rest for the Bushveld that spell about middle-day; and yet if one remains quiet, there is generally something to see and something worth watching. There were the insects on the ground about one which would not otherwise be seen at all; there were caterpillars clad in spiky armour made of tiny fragments of grass fair defence no doubt against some enemies and a most marvellous disguise; other caterpillars clad in bark, impossible to detect until they moved; there were grasshoppers like leaves, and irregularly shaped stick insects, with legs as bulky as the body, and all jointed by knots like irregular twigs wonderful mimetic creatures.
Jock often found these things for me. Something would move and interest him; and when I saw him stand up and examine a thing at his feet, turning it over with his nose or giving it a scrape with his paw, it was usually worth joining in the inspection. The Hottentot-gods always attracted him as they reared up and 'prayed' before him; quaint things, with tiny heads and thin necks and enormous eyes, that sat up with forelegs raised to pray, as a pet dog sits up and begs.
One day I was watching the ants as they travelled along their route sometimes stopping to hobnob with those they met, sometimes hurrying past, and sometimes turning as though sent back on a message or reminded of something forgotten when a little dry brown bean lying in a spot of sunlight gave a jump of an inch or two. At first it seemed that I must have unknowingly moved some twig or grass stem that flicked it; but as I watched it there was another vigorous jump. I took it up and examined it but there was nothing unusual about it, it was just a common light brown bean with no peculiarities or marks; it was a real puzzle, a most surprising and ridiculous one. I found half a dozen more in the same place; but it was some days before we discovered the secret. Domiciled in each of them was a very small but very energetic worm, with a trap-door or stopper on his one end, so artfully contrived that it was almost impossible with the naked eye to locate the spot where the hole was. The worm objected to too much heat and if the beans were placed in the sun or near the fire the weird astonishing jumping would commence.
The beans were good for jumping for several months, and once in Delagoa, one of our party put some on a plate in the sun beside a fellow who had been doing himself too well for some time previously: he had become a perfect nuisance to us and we could not get rid of him. He had a mouth full of bread, and a mug of coffee on the way to help it down, when the first bean jumped. He gave a sort of peck, blinked several times to clear his eyes, and then with his left hand pulled slightly at his collar, as though to ease it. Then came another jump, and his mouth opened slowly and his eyes got big. The plate being hollow and glazed was not a fair field for the jumpers they could not escape; and in about half a minute eight or ten beans were having a rough and tumble.
With a white scared face our guest slowly lowered his mug, screened his eyes with the other hand, and after fighting down the mouthful of bread, got up and walked off without a word.
We tried to smother our laughter, but some one's choking made him look back and he saw the whole lot of us in various stages of convulsions. He made one rude remark, and went on; but every one he met that day made some allusion to beans, and he took the Durban steamer next morning.
The insect life was prodigious in its numbers and variety; and the birds, the beasts, and the reptiles were all interesting. There is a goodness-knows-what-will-turn-up-next atmosphere about the Bushveld which is, I fancy, unique. The story of the curate, armed with a butterfly net, coming face to face with a black-maned lion may or may not be true in fact; but it is true enough as an illustration; and it is no more absurd or unlikely than the meeting at five yards of a lioness and a fever-stricken lad carrying a white green-lined umbrella which is true! The boy stood and looked: the lioness did the same. "She seemed to think I was not worth eating, so she walked off," he used to say and he was Trooper 242 of the Imperial Light Horse who went back under fire for wounded comrades and was killed as he brought the last one out.
I had an old cross-bred Hottentot-Bushman boy once one could not tell which lot he favoured who was full of the folklore stories and superstitions of his strange and dying race, which he half humorously and half seriously blended with his own knowledge and hunting experiences. Jantje had the ugly wrinkled dry-leather face of his breed, with hollow cheeks, high cheek-bones, and little pinched eyes, so small and so deeply set that no one ever saw the colour of them; the pepper-corns of tight wiry wool that did duty for hair were sparsely scattered over his head like the stunted bushes in the desert; and his face and head were seamed with scars too numerous to count, the souvenirs of his drunken brawls. He resembled a tame monkey rather than a human creature, being, like so many of his kind without the moral side or qualities of human nature which go to mark the distinction between man and monkey. He was normally most cheery and obliging; but it meant nothing, for in a moment the monkey would peep out, vicious, treacherous and unrestrained. Honesty, sobriety, gratitude, truth, fidelity and humanity were impossible to him: it seemed as if even the germs were not there to cultivate, and the material with which to work did not exist. He had certain make-believe substitutes, which had in a sense been grafted on to his nature, and appeared to work, while there was no real use for them; they made a show, until they were tested; one took them for granted, as long as they were not disproved: it was a skin graft only, and there seemed to be no real 'union' possible between them and the tough alien stock. He differed in character and nature from the Zulu as much as he did from the white man; he was as void of principle as well, as his next of kin, the monkey; yet, while without either shame of, or contempt for cowardice; he was wholly without fear of physical danger, having a sort of fatalist's indifference to it; and that was something to set off against his moral deficit. I put Jantje on to wash clothes the day he turned up at the waggons to look for work, and as he knelt on the rocks stripped to the waist I noticed a very curious knotted line running up his right side from the lowest rib into the armpit. The line was whiter than his yellow skin; over each rib there was a knot or widening in the line; and under the arm there was a big splotchy star all markings of some curious wound.
He laughed almost hysterically, his eyes disappearing altogether and every tooth showing, as I lifted his arm to investigate; and then in high-pitched falsetto tones he shouted in a sort of ecstasy of delight, "Die ouw buffels, Baas! Die buffels bull, Baas!"
"Buffalo! Did he toss you?" I asked.
Jantje seemed to think it the best joke in the world and with constant squeals of laughter and graphic gestures gabbled off his account.
His master, it appears, had shot at and slightly wounded the buffalo, and Jantje had been placed at one exit from the bush to prevent the herd from breaking away. As they came towards him he fired at the foremost one; but before he could reload the wounded bull made for him and he ran for dear life to the only tree near one of the flat-topped thorns. He heard the thundering hoofs and the snorting breath behind, but raced on hoping to reach the tree and dodge behind it; a few yards short, however, the bull caught him, in spite of a jump aside, and flung him with one toss right on top of the thorn tree.
When he recovered consciousness he was lying face upwards in the sun, with nothing to rest his head on and only sticks and thorns around him He did not know where he was or what had happened; he tried to move, but one arm was useless and the effort made him slip and sag, and he thought he was falling through the earth. Presently he heard regular trampling underneath him and the breath of a big animal: and the whole incident came back to him. By feeling about cautiously he at last located the biggest branch under him and getting a grip on this he managed to turn over and ease his right side. He could then see the buffalo: it had trampled a circle round the tree and was doing sentry over him. Now and again the huge creature stopped to sniff, snort and stamp, and then resumed the round, perhaps the reverse way. The buffalo could not see him and never once looked up, but glared about at its own accustomed level; and, relying entirely on its sense of smell, it kept up the relentless vengeful watch for hours, always stopping in the same place, to leeward, to satisfy itself that the enemy had not escaped.
Late in the afternoon the buffalo, for the first time, suddenly came to stand on a windward side of the tree, and after a good minute's silence turned its tail on Jantje and with angry sniffs and tosses stepped swiftly and resolutely forward some paces. There was nothing to be seen; but Jantje judged the position and yelled out a warning to his master whom he guessed to be coming through the bush to look for him, and at the same time he made what noise he could in the tree top to make the buffalo think he was coming down. The animal looked round from time to time with swings and tosses of the head and threatening angry sneezes, much as one sees a cow do when standing between her young calf and threatened danger: it was defending Jantje, for his own purposes, and facing the danger.
For many minutes there was dead silence: no answer came to Jantje's call, and the bull stood its ground glaring and sniffing towards the bush. At last there was a heavy thud below, instantly followed by the report of the rifle the bullet came faster than the sound; the buffalo gave a heavy plunge and with a grunting sob slid forward on its chest.
Round the camp fire at night Jantje used to tell tales in which fact, fancy, and superstition were curiously mingled; and Jantje when not out of humour was free with his stories. The boys, for whose benefit they were told, listened open-mouthed; and I often stood outside the ring of gaping boys at their fire, an interested listener.
The tale of his experiences with the honey-bird which he had cheated of its share was the first I heard him tell. Who could say how much was fact, how much fancy, and how much the superstitions of his race? Not even Jantje knew that! He believed it all.
The Honey-bird met him one day with cheery cheep-cheep, and as he whistled in reply it led him to an old tree where the beehive was: it was a small hive, and Jantje was hungry; so he ate it all. All the time he was eating, the bird kept fluttering about, calling anxiously, and expecting some honey or fat young bees to be thrown out for it; and when he had finished, the bird came down and searched in vain for its share. As he walked away the guilty Jantje noticed that the indignant bird followed him with angry cries and threats.
All day long he failed to find game; whenever there seemed to be a chance an angry honey-bird would appear ahead of him and cry a warning to the game; and that night as he came back, empty-handed and hungry, all the portents of bad luck came to him in turn. An own screeched three times over his head; a goat-sucker with its long wavy wings and tail flitted before him in swoops and rings in most ghostly silence and there is nothing more ghostly than that flappy wavy soundless flitting of the goat-sucker; a jackal trotted persistently in front looking back at him; and a striped hyena, humpbacked, savage, and solitary, stalked by in silence, and glared.
At night as he lay unable to sleep the bats came and made faces at him; a night adder rose up before his face and slithered out its forked tongue the two black beady eyes glinting the firelight back; and whichever way he looked there was a honey-bird, silent and angry, yet with a look of satisfaction, as it watched. So it went all night: no sleep for him; no rest!
In the morning he rose early and taking his gun and chopper set out in search of hives: he would give all to the honey-bird he had cheated, and thus make amends.
He had not gone far before, to his great delight, there came a welcome chattering in answer to his low whistle, and the busy little fellow flew up to show himself and promptly led the way, going ahead ten to twenty yards at a flight. Jantje followed eagerly until they came to a small donga with a sandy bottom, and then the honey-bird calling briskly, fluttered from tree to tree on either bank, leading him on.
Jantje, thinking the hive must be near by, was walking slowly along the sandy bed and looking upwards in the trees, when something on the ground caught his eye and he sprang back just as the head of a big puff-adder struck where his bare foot had been a moment before. With one swing of his chopper he killed it; he took the skin off for an ornament, the poison glands for medicine, and the fangs for charms, and then whistled and looked about for the honey-bird; but it had gone.
A little later on, however, he came upon another, and it led him to a big and shady wild fig-tree. The honey-bird flew to the trunk itself and cheeped and chattered there, and Jantje put down his gun and looked about for an easy place to climb. As he peered through the foliage he met a pair of large green eyes looking full into his: on a big limb of the tree lay a tiger, still as death, with its head resting on its paws, watching him with a cat-like eagerness for its prey. Jantje hooked his toe in the reim sling of his old gun and slowly gathered it up without moving his eyes from the tiger's, and backing away slowly, foot by foot, he got out into the sunshine and made off as fast as he could.
It was the honey-bird's revenge: he knew it then!
He sat down on some bare ground to think what next to do; for he knew he must die if he did not find honey and make good a hundred times what he had cheated.
All day long he kept meeting honey-birds and following them; but he would no longer follow them into the bad places, for he could not tell whether they were new birds or the one he had robbed! Once he had nearly been caught; the bird had perched on an old ant-heap, and Jantje, thinking there was a ground hive there, walked boldly forward. A small misshapen tree grew out of the ant-heap, and one of the twisted branches caught his eye because of the thick ring around it: it was the coil of a long green mamba; and far below that, halfhidden by the leaves, hung the snake's head with the neck gathered in half-loop coils ready to strike at him.
After that Jantje kept in the open, searching for himself among rocks and in all the old dead trees for the tell-tale stains that mark the hive's entrance; but he had no luck, and when he reached the river in the early afternoon he was glad of a cool drink and a place to rest.
For a couple of hours he had seen no honey-birds and it seemed that at last his pursuer had given him up, for that day at least. As he sat in the shade of the high bank, however, with the river only a few yards from his feet he heard again a faint chattering: it came from the river-side beyond a turn in the bank, and it was too far away for the bird to have seen Jantje from where it called, so he had no doubt about this being a new bird. It seemed to him a glorious piece of luck that he should find honey by the aid of a strange bird and be able to take half of it back to the hive he had emptied the day before and leave it there for the cheated bird.
There was a beach of pebbles and rocks between the high bank and the river, and as Jantje walked along it on the keen look-out for the bird, he spotted it sitting on a root half-way down the bank some twenty yards ahead. Close to where the chattering bird perched there was a break in the pebbly beach, and there shallow water extended up to the perpendicular bank. In the middle of this little stretch of water and conveniently placed as a stepping-stone, there was a black rock, and the bare-footed Jantje stepped noiselessly from stone to stone towards it.
An alarmed cane-rat, cut off by Jantje from the river, ran along the foot of the bank to avoid him; but when it reached the little patch of shallow water it suddenly doubled back in fright and raced under the boy's feet into the river.
Jantje stopped! He did not know why; but there seemed to be something wrong. Something had frightened the cane-rat back on to him, and he stared hard at the bank and the stretch of beach ahead of him. Then the rock he meant to step on to gave a heave, and a long blackish thing curved towards him; he sprang into the air as high as he could, and the crocodile's tail swept under his feet!
Jantje fled back like a buck the rattle on the stones behind him and crash of reeds putting yards into every bound.
For four days he stayed in camp waiting for some one to find a hive and give him honey enough to make his peace; and then, for an old snuff-box and a little powder, he bought a huge basket full of comb, young and old, from a kaffir woman at one of the kraals some miles away, and put it all at the foot of the tree he had cleaned out.
Then he had peace.
The boys believed every word of that story: so, I am sure, did Jantje himself. The buffalo story was obviously true, and Jantje thought nothing of it; the honey-bird story was not, yet he gloried in it; it touched his superstitious nature, and it was impossible for him to tell the truth or to separate fact from fancy and superstition.
How much of fact there may have been in it I cannot say: honey-birds gave me many a wild goose chase, but when they led to anything at all it was to hives, and not to snakes, tigers and crocodiles. Perhaps it is right to own up that I never cheated a honey-bird! We pretended to laugh at the superstition, but we left some honey all the same just for luck! After all, as we used to say, the bird earned its share and deserved encouragement.
Round the camp fire at nights it was no uncommon thing to see some one jump up and let out with whatever was handiest at some poisonous intruder. There was always plenty of dead wood about and we piled on big branches and logs freely, and as the ends burnt to ashes in the heart of the fire we kept pushing the logs further in. Of course, dead trees are the home of all sorts of 'creepy-crawly' things, and as the log warmed up and the fire eat into the decayed heart and drove thick hot smoke through the cracks and corridors and secret places in the logs the occupants would come scuttling out at the butt ends. Small snakes were common the big ones usually clearing when the log was first disturbed and they slipped away into the darkness giving hard quick glances about them; but scorpions, centipedes and all sorts of spiders were by far the most numerous.
Occasionally in the mornings we found snakes under our blankets, where they had worked in during the night for the warmth of the human body; but no one was bitten, and one made a practice of getting up at once, and with one movement, so that unwelcomed visitors should not be warned or provoked by any preliminary rolling. The scorpions, centipedes and tarantulas seemed to be more objectionable; but they were quite as anxious to get away as we were, and it is wonderful how little damage is done.
One night when we had been watching them coming out of a big honeycombed log like the animals from the Ark, and were commenting on the astonishing number and variety of these things, I heard Jantje conveying in high-pitched tones fanciful bits of information to the credulous waggon boys. When he found that we too were listening and Jantje had the story tellers' love for a 'gallery' he turned our way and dropped into a jargon of broken English, helped out with Hottentot-Dutch, which it is impossible to reproduce in intelligible form.
He had made some allusion to 'the great battle,' and when I asked for an explanation he told us the story. It is well enough known in South Africa and similar stories are to be found in the folklore of other countries, but it had a special interest for us in that Jantje gave it as having come to him from his own people. He called it "The Great Battle between the Things of the Earth and the Things of the Air."
For a long time there had been jealousy between the Things of the Earth and the Things of the Air, each claiming superiority for themselves; each could do something the others could not do; and each thought their powers greater and their qualities superior. One day a number of them happened to meet on an open plain near the river's bank, and the game of brag began again as usual. At last the Lion, who was very cross, turned to the old Black Aasvogel, as he sat half asleep on a dead tree, and challenged him.
"You only eat the dead: you steal where others kill. It is all talk with you; you will not fight!"
The Aasvogel said nothing, but let his bald head and bare neck settle down between his shoulders, and closed his eyes.
"He wakes up soon enough when we find him squatting above the carcase," said the Jackal. "See him flop along then."
"When we find him!" the Aasvogel said, opening his eyes wide. "Sneaking prowler of the night! Little bastard of the Striped Thief!"
"Come down and fight," snarled the Hyena angrily. "Thief and scavenger yourself!"
So the Things of the Air gathered about and joined in backing the Black Aasvogel; and the Things of the Earth kept on challenging them to come down and have it out; but nobody could hear anything because the Jackal yapped incessantly and the Go'way bird, with its feathers all on end and its neck craned out, screamed itself drunk with passion.
Then the Eagle spoke out:
"You have talked enough. Strike strike for the eyes!" and he swept down close to the Lion's head, but swerving to avoid the big paw that darted out at him, he struck in passing at the Jackal, and took off part of his ear.
"I am killed! I am killed!" screamed the Jackal, racing for a hole to hide in. But the other beasts laughed at him; and when the Lion called them up and bade them take their places in the field for the great battle, the Jackal walked close behind him holding his head on one side and showing each one what the Eagle had done.
"Where is my place?" asked the Crocodile, in a soft voice, from the bank where no one had noticed him come up.
The Things of the Earth that were near him moved quietly away.
"Your place is in the water," the Lion answered. "Coward and traitor whom no one trusts! Who would fight with his back to you?"
The Crocodile laughed softly and rolled his green eyes from one to another; and they moved still further away.
"What am I?" asked the Ostrich. "Kindred of the Birds, I am of the winged ones; yet I cannot fight with them!"
"Let him fly!" said the Jackal, grinning, "and we shall then see to whom he belongs! Fly, old Three Sticks! Fly!"
The Ostrich ran at him, waltzing and darting with wings outspread, but the Jackal dodged away under the Lion and squealed out, "Take your feet off the ground, Clumsy, and fly!"
Then it was arranged that there should be two Umpires, one for each party, and that the Umpires should stand on two high hills where all could see them. The Ostrich was made Umpire for the Things of the Air, and as long as the fight went well with his party he was to hold his head high so that the Things of the Air might see the long thin neck upright and, knowing that all was well, fight on.
The Jackal asked that he might be Umpire for the Things of the Earth.
"You are too small to be seen!" objected the Lion gruffly.
"No! No!" urged the Jackal, "I will stand on a big ant-heap and hold my bushy tail on high where all will see it shining silver and gold in the sunlight."
"Good!" said the Lion. "It is better so, perhaps, for you would never fight; and as soon as one begins to run, others follow!"
The Things of the Air gathered in their numbers, and the Eagle led them, showing them how to make up for their weakness by coming swiftly down in numbers where they found their enemies alone or weak; how to keep the sun behind them so that it would shine in their enemies' eyes and blind them; and how the loud-voiced ones should attack on the rear and scream suddenly, while those with bill and claw swooped down in front and struck at the eyes.
And for a time it went well with the Things of the Air. The little birds and locusts and butterflies came in clouds about the Lion and he could see nothing as he moved from place to place; and the Things of the Earth were confused by these sudden attacks; and, giving up the fight, began to flee from their places.
Then the Jackal, believing that he would not be found out, cheated: he kept his tail up to make them think they were not beaten. The Lion roared to them, so that all could hear, to watch the hill where the Jackal stood and see the sign of victory; and the Things of the Earth, being strong, gathered together again and withstood the enemy and drove them off.
The battle was going against the Things of the Air when the Go'way bird came to the Eagle and said:
"It is the Jackal who has done this. Long ago we had won; but, Cheat and Coward, he kept his tail aloft and his people have returned and are winning now."
Then the Eagle, looking round the field, said, "Send me the Bee."
And when the Bee came the Eagle told him what to do; and setting quietly about his work, as his habit is, he made a circuit through the trees that brought him to the hill where the Jackal watched from the ant-heap.
While the Jackal stood there with his mouth open and tongue out, laughing to see how his cheating had succeeded, the Bee came up quietly behind and, as Jantje put it, "stuck him from hereafter!"
The Jackal gave a scream of pain and, tucking his tail down, jumped from the ant-heap and ran away into the bush; and when the Things of the Earth saw the signal go down they thought that all was lost, and fled.
So was the Great Battle won!
MONKEYS AND WILDEBEESTE
Mungo was not a perfect mount, but he was a great improvement on Snowball; he had a wretched walk, and led almost as badly as his predecessor; but this did not matter so much because he could be driven like a pack donkey and relied on not to play pranks. In a gallop after game he was much faster than Snowball, having a wonderfully long stride for so low a pony.
A horse made a good deal of difference in the hunting in many ways, not the least of which was that some sort of excursion was possible on most days. One could go further in the time available and, even if delayed, still be pretty sure of catching up to the waggons without much difficulty.
Sometimes after a long night's trekking I would start off after breakfast for some 'likely' spot, off-saddle there in a shady place, sleep during the heat of the day, and after a billy of tea start hunting towards the waggons in the afternoon.
It was in such a spot on the Komati River, a couple of hundred yards from the bank, that on one occasion I settled down to make up lost ground in the matter of sleep, and with Mungo knee-haltered in good grass and Jock beside me, I lay flat on my back with hat covering my eyes and was soon comfortably asleep.
The sleep had lasted a couple of hours when I began to dream that it was raining and woke up in the belief that a hail storm following the rain was just breaking over me. I started up to find all just as it had been, and the sunlight beyond the big tree so glaring as to make the eyes ache. Through half-closed lids I saw Mungo lying down asleep and made out Jock standing some yards away quietly watching me.
With a yawn and stretch I lay back again; sleep was over but a good lazy rest was welcome: it had been earned, and, most comforting of all, there was nothing else to be done. In the doze that followed I was surprised to feel quite distinctly something like a drop of rain strike my leg, and then another on my hat.
"Hang it all, it is raining," I said, sitting up again and quite wide awake this time. There was Jock still looking at me, but only for the moment of moving, it appears; for a minute later he looked up into the tree above me with ears cocked, head on one side, and tail held lazily on the horizontal and moving slowly from time to time.
It was his look of interested amusement.
A couple of leaves fluttered down, and then the half-eaten pip of a 'wooden orange' struck me in the face as I lay back again to see what was going on above. The pip gave me the line, and away up among the thick dark foliage I saw a little old face looking down at me; the quick restless eyes were watchfully on the move, and the mouth partly opened in the shape of an O face and attitude together a vivid expression of surprise and indignation combined with breathless interest.
As my eyes fairly met those above me, the monkey ducked its head forward and promptly 'made a face' at me without uttering a sound. Then others showed up in different places, and whole figures became visible now as the monkeys stole softly along the branches to get a better look at Jock and me: there were a couple of dozen of them of all sizes.
They are the liveliest, most restless, and most inquisitive of creatures; ludicrously nervous and excitable; quick to chattering anger and bursts of hysterical passion, which are intensely comical, especially when they have been scared. They are creatures whose method of progress most readily betrays them by the swaying of a branch or quivering of leaves, yet they can steal about and melt away at will, like small grey ghosts, silent as the grave.
I had often tried to trap them, but never succeeded: Jantje caught them, as he caught everything, with cunning that out-matched his wilder kindred; pitfalls, nooses, whip-traps, fall-traps, foot-snares, drags, slip-knots of all kinds, and tricks that I cannot now remember, were in his repertory; but he disliked showing his traps, and when told to explain he would half-sulkily show one of the common kind.
The day he caught the monkey he was well pleased, and may possibly have told the truth. Baboons and monkeys, he said, can count just like men, but they can only count two! If one man goes into a mealie field and waits for them with a gun, their sentry will see him, and he may wait for ever; if two go and one remains, it is useless, for they realise that only one has come out where two went in; but if three go in, one may remain behind to lie in wait for them, for the monkeys, seeing more than one return, will invade the mealie field as soon as the two are safely out of the way. That was only Jantje's explanation of the well-known fact that monkeys and baboons know the difference between one and more than one.
But, as Jantje explained, their cleverness helped him to catch them. He went alone and came away alone, leaving his trap behind, knowing that they were watching his every movement, but knowing also that their intense curiosity would draw them to it the moment it seemed safe. The trap he used was an old calabash or gourd with a round hole in it about an inch in diameter; and a few pumpkin seeds and mealies and a hard crust of bread, just small enough to get into the calabash, formed the bait.
After fastening the gourd by a cord to a small stump, he left it lying on its side on the ground where he had been sitting. A few crumbs and seeds were dropped near it and the rest placed in the gourd, with one or two showing in the mouth. Then he walked off on the side where he would be longest in view, and when well out of sight sped round in a circuit to a previously selected spot where he could get close up again and watch.
The foremost monkey was already on the ground when he got back and others were hanging from low branches or clinging to the stems, ready to drop or retreat. Then began the grunts and careful timid approaches, such as one sees in a party of children hunting for the hidden 'ghost' who is expected to appear suddenly and chase them; next, the chattering garrulous warnings and protests from the timid ones the females in the upper branches; the sudden start and scurry of one of the youngsters; and the scare communicated to all, making even the leader jump back a pace; then his angry grunt and loud scolding of the frightened ones angry because they had given him a fright, and loud because he was reassuring himself.
After a pause they began the careful roundabout approach and the squatting and waiting, making pretences of not being particularly interested, while their quick eyes watched everything; then the deft picking up of one thing instantly dropped again, as one picks up a roasted chestnut and drops it in the same movement, in case it should be hot; and finally the greedy scramble and chatter.
I have seen all that, but not, alas, the successful ending, when trying to imitate Jantje's methods. Jantje waited until the tugs at the gourd became serious, and then, knowing that the smaller things had been taken out or shaken out and eaten and that some enterprising monkey had put its arm into the hole and grabbed the crust, he ran out
A monkey rarely lets go any food it has grabbed and when, as in this case, the hand is jammed in a narrow neck, the letting go cannot easily be done instinctively or inadvertently; the act requires a deliberate effort. So Jantje caught his monkey, and flinging his ragged coat over the captive sat down to make it safe. By pushing the monkey's arm deeper into the gourd the crust became released and the hand freed; he then gradually shifted the monkey about until he got the head into the shoulders of the loose old coat, and thence into the sleeve; and worked away at this until he had the creature as helpless as a mummy with the head appearing at the cuff-opening and the body jammed in the sleeve like a bulging overstuffed sausage. The monkey struggled, screamed, chattered, made faces, and cried like a child; but Jantje gripping it between his knees worked away unmoved.
He next took the cord from the calabash and tied one end securely round the monkey's neck, to the shrinking horror of that individual, and the other end to a stout bush stick about seven or eight feet long; and then slipped monkey cord and stick back through the sleeve and had his captive safe; the cord prevented it from getting away, and the stick from getting too close and biting him. When they sat opposite and pulled faces at each other the family likeness was surprising.
The grimacing little imps invariably tempt one to tease or chase them, just to see their antics and methods; and when I rose, openly watching them and stepping about for a better view, they abandoned the silent methods and bounded freely from branch to branch for fresh cover, always ducking behind something if I pointed the gun or a stick or even my arm at them, and getting into paroxysms of rage and leaning over to slang and cheek me whenever it seemed safe.
Jock was full of excitement, thoroughly warmed up and anxious to be at them, running about from place to place to watch them, tacking and turning and jumping for better views, and now and then running to the trunk and scraping at it. Whenever he did this there was a moment's silence; the idea of playing a trick on them struck me and I caught Jock up and put him in the fork of a big main branch about six feet from the ground. The effect was magical: the whole of the top of the tree seemed to whip and rustle at once, and in two seconds there was not a monkey left.
Then a wave in the top of a small tree some distance off betrayed them and we gave chase a useless romping school-boy chase. They were in the small trees away from the river and it was easy to see and follow them; and to add to the fun and excitement I threw stones at the branches behind them. Their excitement and alarm then became hysterical, and as we darted about to head them off they were several times obliged to scamper a few yards along the ground to avoid me and gain other trees. It was then that Jock enjoyed himself most: he ran at them and made flying leaps and snaps as they sprang up the trees out of reach. It was like a caricature of children in one of their make-believe chases; the screams, grimaces, and actions were so human that it would have seemed like a tragedy had one of them been hurt. They got away into the big trees once more, to Jock's disappointment but greatly to my relief; for I was quite pumped from the romp and laughter.
The river at this point was broken into several sluices by islands formed of piles of rocks on which there were a few stunted trees and dense growths of tall reeds, and here and there little spits and fringes of white sand were visible. There was plenty of small game in that part, and it was a great place for crocodiles. As we were then about half a mile below where Mungo had been left I strolled along the bank on the look out for a shot, frequently stopping to examine suspicious looking rocks on the sand spits or at the borders of the reed fringes on the little islands.
The shooting of crocodiles was an act of war: it was enmity and not a sport or a desire for trophies that prompted it, and when it did not interfere with other chances we never missed a practice shot at these fellows. I picked out several 'rocks,' so suspicious looking that I would have had a shot at them had there been a clear chance, and twice, while I was trying to make them out, they slid silently into the water before there was time to fire.
However, further on there came a better chance than any: there was something so peculiar about the look of this 'rock' that I picked a good spot and sat down to watch it; and presently the part nearest me turned slightly, just enough to show that it was a crocodile lying on the flat sand with his nose towards me and his tail hidden in the reeds. It was fifty yards away, and from where I sat there was not much to aim at, as a Martini bullet would glance from almost any part of that polished hard case if it struck at such an angle.
I was sitting on the bank above the shelving beach of the river on which a dense mass of reeds grew, and the waving feathery tops partly obscured the sight. I know the bullet hit him somewhere, because he bounded with astonishing strength and activity several feet in the air and his tail slashed through the reeds like a mighty scythe. The huge jaws opened and he gave a horrible angry bellow something between a roar and a snarlas he plunged into the river, sending masses of spray and water flying every way. He made straight across, apparently at me, swimming on top of the water at amazing speed and throwing up a wave on either side and a white swirl of foam from the propelling tail.
It was certainly a most surprising and unheard-of proceeding, and as he reached my side of the stream, and because hidden from me by the screen of reeds at my feet, I turned and bolted. It may be that he came at me with murderous intent; or it may be that, blinded by rage or pain, he came towards me simply because he happened to be facing that way; but, whatever the reason, it was painfully clear that if he meant business he would be on to me before it was possible to see him in the reeds. That was enough for me. It had never occurred to me that there was going to be any fun in this for the crocodile; but one's sense of humour and justice was always being stimulated in the Bushveld.
With twenty yards of open ground between us I turned and waited; but no crocodile appeared, nor was there a sound to be heard in the reeds. A few minutes wait; a cautious return; a careful scrutiny; and then resort to sticks and stones; but all to no purpose: there was neither sign nor sound of the crocodile; and not being disposed to go into the I reeds to look for something which I did not want, but might want me, I returned to Mungo a little wiser, it is true, but not unduly 'heady' on that account.
Half an hour's jogging along the bank having failed to propose anything, I struck away from the river taking a line through the bush towards camp, and eventually came across a small herd of blue wildebeeste. Mungo's pricked ears and raised head warned me; but the grass being high it was not easy to see enough of them from the ground to place an effective shot, and before a chance offered they moved off slowly. I walked after them, leading Mungo and trying to get a fair opening on slightly higher ground.
Presently half a dozen blackish things appeared above the tall grass; they were the heads of the wildebeeste all turned one way, and all looking at us with ears wide spread. Only the upper halves of the heads were visible through the thinner tops of the grass, and even an ordinary standing shot was not possible. I had to go to a tree for support in order to tip-toe for the shot, and whilst in the act of raising my rifle the heads disappeared; but I took chance and fired just below where the last one had shown up.
The wildebeeste were out of sight, hidden by grass six feet high, but a branch of the tree beside me served as a horizontal bar and hoisting myself chin high I was able to see them again. In front of us there was a dry vlei quite free of bush, some two hundred yards across and four hundred yards long, and the wildebeeste had gone away to the right and were skirting the vlei, apparently meaning to get round to the opposite side, avoiding the direct cut across the vlei for reasons of their own. It occurred to me that there must be a deep donga or perhaps a mud hole in front which they were avoiding; but that it might be possible for me to get across, or even half way across, in time to have another shot at them the next time they stopped to look back, as they were most certain to do; so I ran straight on.
One does not have to reason things out like that in actual practice: the conclusion comes instantly, as if by instinct, and no time is lost. To drop from the branch, pick up the rifle, and start running were all parts of one movement. Stooping slightly to prevent my bobbing hat from showing up in the grass tops, and holding the rifle obliquely before me as a sort of snowplough to clear the grass from my eyes, I made as good pace as the ground would allow.
No doubt the rifle held in front of me made it difficult to notice anything on the ground; but the concentrated stare across the vlei in the direction of the galloping wildebeeste was quite as much the cause of what followed. Going fast and stooping low, with all my weight thrown forward, I ran right into a wildebeeste cow. My shot had wounded her through the kidneys, completely paralysing the hind quarters, and she had instantly dropped out of sight in the grass. The only warning I got was a furious snort, and the black looking monster with great blazing blood-shot eyes rose up on its front legs as I ran into it.
To charge into a wounded wildebeeste ready to go for you, just when your whole attention is concentrated upon others two hundred yards beyond, is nearly as unpleasant as it is unexpected; it becomes a question of what will happen to you, rather than of what you will do. That at any rate was my experience. The rifle, if it had hindered me, also helped: held out at arms length it struck the wildebeeste across the forehead and the collision saved my chest from the horns. There was an angry toss of the big head and the rifle was twirled out of my hand, as one might flip a match away.
I do not know exactly what happened: the impression is of a breathless second's whirl and scramble, and then finding myself standing untouched five yards away, with the half-paralysed wildebeeste squatting like a dog and struggling to drag the useless hind quarters along in its furious efforts to get at Jock who had already intervened to help me.
The rifle lay within the circle of the big hooked horns; and the squatting animal, making a pivot of its hind quarters, slewed round and round, making savage lunges at Jock and great heaves at me each time I tried to get the rifle.
It often happens that shots touching the kidneys produce a paralysis, temporarily severe, which passes off to a great extent after some minutes and leaves the wounded animal well able to charge: it happened to me some years later while trying to photograph a wounded sable.
I tried to hook the gun out with a stick but the wildebeeste swung round and faced me at once, snapping the sticks and twirling them out of my hands with surprising ease and quickness. I then tried another game, and by making feint attacks from the other side at last got the animal gradually worked away from my gun; and the next attempt at raking was successful.
When the excitement was over and there was a chance of taking stock of the position, I found that Jock had a pretty good 'gravel rash' on one hip and a nasty cut down one leg; he had caught the wildebeeste by the nose the instant I ran into it, and it had 'wiped the floor' with him and flung him aside.
I found my bandolier with a broken buckle lying on the grass; one shirt sleeve was ripped open; the back of the right hand cut across; hands and knees were well grated; and there were lumps and bruises about the legs for which there was no satisfactory explanation. I must have scrambled out like an unwilling participant in a dog fight.
It was a long job skinning, cutting up, and packing the wildebeeste, and when we reached the outspan the waggons had already started and we had a long tramp before us to catch them.
I drove Mungo before me, keeping him at an easy jog. We had been going for possibly an hour and it was quite dark, except for the stars and the young moon low down on our right; the road was soft and Mungo's jogging paces sounded like floppy pats; there was no other sound at all, not even a distant rumble from the waggons to cheer us; Mungo must have been sick of it and one might have thought him jogging in his sleep but for the occasional pricking of his ears a trick that always makes me wonder how much more do horses see in the dark than we do. I walked like a machine, with rifle on shoulder and glad to be rid of the broken bandolier, then transferred to Mungo; and Jock trotted at my heels.
This tired monotonous progress was disturbed by Mungo: his ears pricked; his head went up; and he stopped, looking hard at a big low bush on our left. I gave him a tap with the switch, and without an instant hesitation he dashed off to the right making a half circle through the veld and coming into the road again fifty yards ahead, and galloped away leaving a rising column of dust behind him.
I stood and faced the bush that Mungo had shied at, and the first thing that occurred to me was that my bandolier and cartridges were with the pony. Then Jock growled low and moved a few steps forward and slightly to the right, also sheering off from that bush. I felt that he was bristling all over, but there was neither time nor light to watch him. I stepped slowly sideways after him gripping the rifle and looking hard at the bush.
Our line was much the same as Mungo's and would take us some seven or eight paces off the road more than that was not possible owing to the barrier of thorns on that side. When we got abreast of the bush two large spots of pale light appeared in the middle of it, apparently waist high from the ground.
It is impossible to forget the tense creepy feeling caused by the dead stillness, the soft light, and the pale expressionless glow of those eyes the haunting mystery of eyes and nothing more!
It is not unusual to see eyes in the night; but this was a 'nervy' occasion, and there is no other that comes back with all the vividness and reality of the experience itself, as this one does. And I was not the only nervous one. Mungo incontinently bolted probably what he saw warranted it; Jock, as ever, faced it; but when my foot touched his hind leg as we sidled away he flew round with a convulsive jump. He too was strung to concert pitch.
As we moved on and passed the reflecting angle of the moon, the light of the eyes went out as suddenly and silently as it had appeared. There was nothing then to show me where danger lay; but Jock knew, and I kept a watch on him. He jogged beside me, lagging slightly as if to cover our retreat, always looking back. A couple of times he stopped entirely and stood in the road, facing straight back and growling; and I followed suit. He was in command; he knew!
There was nothing more. Gradually Jock's subdued purring growl died down and the glances back became fewer. I found Mungo a long way on, brought to a standstill by the slipping of his load; and we caught up to the waggons at the next outspan.
THE OLD CROCODILE
We reached the Crocodile River drift on a Sunday morning, after a particularly dry and dusty night trek. 'Wanting a wash' did not on such occasions mean a mild inclination for a luxury: it meant that washing was badly needed. The dust lay inches deep on the one worn veld road, and the long strings of oxen toiling along kicked up suffocating clouds of fine dust which there was seldom any breeze to carry off: it powdered white man and black to an equal level of yellowy red. The waggons were a couple of hundred yards from the river; and, taking a complete change, I went off for a real clean up.
We generally managed to get in a couple of bathes at the rivers real swims but that was only done in the regular drifts and when there were people about or waggons crossing. In such conditions crocodiles rarely appeared; they prefer solitude and silence. The swims were very delightful but somewhat different from ordinary bathes; however remote may have been the risk of meeting a crocodile when you dived, or of being grabbed by one as you swam, the idea was always there and made it more interesting.
Being alone that day I had no intention of having a swim or of going into the open river, and I took a little trouble to pick a suitable pool with a rock on which to stand and dress. The water was clear and I could see the bottom of the pool. It was quite shallow three feet deep at most made by a scour in the sandy bed and divided from the main stream by a narrow spit of sand a couple of yards wide and twenty long. At the top end of the sand spit was a flat rock my dressing table.
After a dip in the pool I stood on to the sand spit to scrub off the brown dust, keeping one unsoaped eye roving round for intrusive crocodiles, and the loaded rifle lying beside me. The brutes slide out so silently and unexpectedly that in that exposed position, with water all round, one could not afford to turn one's back on any quarter for long. There is something laughable it seemed faintly humorous even then in the idea of a naked man hastily washing soap out of his eyes and squeezing away the water to take a hurried look behind him, and then after careful survey, doing an 'altogether' dowse just as hastily blowing and spluttering all the time like a boy after his first dive.
The bath was successful and ended without incident not a sign of a crocodile the whole time! Breakfast was ready when I reached the waggons, and feeling very fit and clean in a fresh flannel shirt and white moleskins, I sat down to it. Jim Makokel' brought the kettle of coffee from the fire and was in the act of pouring some into a big mug when he stopped with a grunt of surprise and, looking towards the river, called out sharply, "What is it?"
One of the herd boys was coming at a trot towards us, and the drivers, thinking something had happened to the oxen, called a question to him. He did not answer until he reached them and even then spoke in so quiet a tone that I could not catch what he said. But Jim, putting down the kettle, ran to his waggon and grabbing his sticks and assegais called to me in a husky shouting whisper which imperfectly describes Jim's way of relieving his feelings, without making the whole world echo: "Ingwenye, Inkos! Ingwenye Umkulu! Big Clocodile! Groot Krokodil, Baas!"
Then abandoning his excited polyglot he gabbled off in pure Zulu and at incredible speed a long account of the big Crocodile: it had carried off four boys going to the gold fields that year; it had taken a woman and a baby from the kraal near by, but a white man had beaten it off with a bucket; it had taken all the dogs, and even calves and goats, at the drinking place; and goodness knows how much more. How Jim got his news, and when he made his friends, were puzzles never solved.
Hunting stories, like travellers tales, are proverbially dangerous to reputations, however literally true they may be; and this is necessarily so, partly because only exceptional things are worth telling, and partly because the conditions of the country or the life referred to are unfamiliar and cannot be grasped. It is a depressing but accepted fact that the ideal, lurid and, I suppose, convincing pictures of wild life are done in London, where the author is unhampered by fact or experience.
"Stick to the impossible, and you will be believed: keep clear of fact and commonplace, and you cannot be checked."
Such was the cynical advice given many years ago by one who had bought his experience in childhood and could not forget it. Sent home as a small boy from a mission station in Zululand to be educated by his grandparents, he found the demands for marvels among his simple country relatives so great that his small experience of snakes and wild animals was soon used up; but the eager suggestive questions of the good people, old and young, led him on, and he shyly crossed the border. The Fields of Fancy were fair and free; there were no fences there; and he stepped out gaily into the Little People's country The Land of Let's Pretendia! He became very popular.
One day, however, whilst looking at the cows, he remarked that in Zululand a cow would not yield her milk unless the calf stood by.
The old farmer stopped in his walk, gave him one suspicious look, and asked coldly, "What do they do when a calf is killed or dies?"
"They never kill the calves there," the boy answered, "but once when one died father stuffed the skin with grass and showed it to the cow, because they said that would do."
The old man, red with anger, took the boy to his room, saying that as long as he spoke of the lions, tigers and snakes that he knew about, they believed him; but when it came to farming! No! Downright lying he would not have; and there was nothing for it but larruping.
"It was the only piece of solid truth they had allowed me to tell for months," he added thoughtfully, "and I got a first-class hiding for it."
And was there no one who doubted Du Chaillu and Stanley and others? Did no one question Gordon Cumming's story of the herd of elephants caught and killed in a little kloof? and did not we of Barberton many years later locate the spot by the enormous pile of bones, and name it "Elephants' Kloof"?
There are two crocodile incidents well known to those whom time has now made old hands, but believed by no one else; even in the day of their happening they divided men into believers and unbelievers. The one was of 'Mad' Owen only mad, because utterly reckless riding through Komati Drift one moonlight night alone and unarmed, who, riding, found his horse brought to a stop, plunging, kicking and struggling on the sand bank in mid-stream where the water was not waist deep. Owen looking back saw that a crocodile had his horse by the leg. All he had was a leaded hunting crop, but, jumping into the water he laid on so vigorously that the crocodile made off, and Owen remounted and rode out.
There are many who say that it is not true that it cannot be true; for no man would do it. But there are others who have an open mind, because they knew Owen Mad Owen, who for a wager bandaged his horse's eyes and galloped him over a twenty foot bank headlong into the Jew's Hole in Lydenburg; Owen, who when driving four young horses in a Cape cart flung the reins away and whipped up the team, bellowing with laughter, because his nervous companion said he had never been upset and did not want to be; Owen, who But too many things rise up that earned him his title and blow the 'impossible' to the winds.
Mad Owen deserves a book to himself; but here is my little testimony on his behalf, given shamefaced at the thought of how he would roar to think it needed.
I crossed that same drift one evening and on riding up the bank to Furley's store saw a horse standing in a dejected attitude with one hind leg clothed in trowsers' made of sacking and held up by a suspender ingeniously fastened across his back.
During the evening something reminded me of the horse, and I asked a question; and the end of Furley's answer was, "They say it's all a yarn about 'horse-whipping' a crocodile: all we know is that one night, a week ago, he turned up here dripping wet, and after having a drink told us the yarn. He had the leaded hunting-crop in his hand; and that's the horse he was riding. You can make what you like of it. We've been doctoring the horse ever since, but I doubt if it will pull through!"
I have no doubt about the incident. Owen did not invent: he had no need to; and Furley himself was no mean judge of crocodiles and men. Furley kept a ferry boat for the use of natives and others when the river was up, at half a crown a trip. The business ran itself and went strong during the summer floods, but in winter when the river was low and fordable it needed pushing; and then Furley's boatman, an intelligent native, would loiter about the drift and interest travellers in his crocodile stories, and if they proved over-confident or sceptical, would manuvre them a little way down stream where, from the bank, they would usually see a big crocodile sunning himself on a sand spit below the drift. The boys always took the boat. One day some police entered the store and joyously announced that they had got him bagged the old villain at last!"; and Furley dropped on a sack of mealies groaning out "Glory, Boys! The ferry's ruined. Why, I've preserved him for years!"
The other crocodile incident concerns "Lying Tom" brave merry-faced blue-eyed Tom; bubbling with good humour; overflowing with kindness; and full of the wildest yarns, always good and amusing, but so steep that they made the most case-hardened draw a long breath.
The name Lying Tom was understood and accepted by every one in the place, barring Tom himself; for, oddly enough, there was another Tom of the same surname, but no relation, and once when his name cropped up I heard the real Simon Pure refer to him as "my namesake the chap they call Lying Tom." To the day of his death Tom believed that it was the other Tom who was esteemed the liar.
Tom was a prospector who 'came in' occasionally for supplies or licenses; and there came a day when Barberton was convulsed by Lying Tom's latest.
He had been walking along the bank of the Crocodile River, and on hearing screams ran down just in time to see a kaffir woman with a child on her back dragged off through the shallow water by a crocodile. Tom ran in to help "I kicked the dashed thing on the head and in the eyes," he said, "and punched its ribs and then grabbed the bucket that the woman had in her hand and hammered the blamed thing over the head till it let go. By Jimminy, Boys, the woman was in a mess: never saw any one in such a fright!"
Poor Tom suffered from consumption in the throat and talked in husky jerks broken by coughs and laughter. Is there one among them who knew him who does not remember the breezy cheeriness, the indomitable pluck, the merry blue eyes, so limpidly clear, the expressive bushy eyebrows, and the teeth, too perfect to be wasted on a man, and even flashing with his unfailing smiles?
Tom would end up with "Niggers said I was 'takati': asked for some of my medicine! Blamed niggers; got no pluck: would've let the woman go!"
Of course this story went the rounds as Tom's latest and best; but one day we turned up in Barberton to deliver our loads, and that evening a whisper went about and men with faces humorously puzzled looked at one another and said "Lying Tom's a fraud: the crocodile story is true!"
For our party, shooting guinea-fowl in the kaffir lands along the river, came upon a kraal where there sat a woman with an arm so scarred and marked that we could not but ask what had caused it. There was no difference in the stories, except that the kaffirs after saying that the white man had kicked the crocodile and beaten it with the bucket, added "and he kicked and beat with the bucket the two men who were there, saying that they were not men but dogs, who would not go in and help the woman. But he was bewitched: the crocodile could not touch him!"
Some of Tom's stories were truly incredible, but not those in which he figured to advantage: he was too brave a man to have consciously gained credit he did not deserve. He died, slowly starved to death by the cruel disease the brave, kindly, cheery spirit, smiling unbeaten to the end.
That was what Jim referred to when he called me to kill the murderer of women and children. It pleased him and others to say that this was the same crocodile; and I believe it was. The locality was the same, and the kraal boys said that it was in the old place from which all its murderous raids had been made; and that was all we knew.
I took the rifle and went with the herd boy; Jim followed close behind, walking on his toes with the waltzy springy movement of an ostrich, eager to get ahead and repeatedly silenced and driven back by me in the few hundred yards' walk to the river.
A queer premonitory feeling came over me as I saw we were making straight for the bathing pool; but before reaching the bank the herd boy squatted down, indicating that somewhere in front and below us the enemy would be found. An easy crawl brought me to the river bank and, sure enough, on the very spot where I had stood to wash, only fifty yards from us, there was an enormous crocodile. He was lying along the sand-spit with his full length exposed to me. Such a shot would have been a moral certainty, but as I brought the rifle slowly up it may have glinted in the sun, or perhaps the crocodile had been watching us all the time, for with one easy turn and no splash at all he slid into the river and was gone.
It was very disgusting and I pitched into Jim and the other boys behind for having made a noise and shown themselves; but they were still squatting when I reached them and vowed they had not moved nor spoken. We had already turned to go when there came a distant call from beyond the river. To me it was merely a kaffir's voice and a sound quite meaningless: but to the boys' trained ears it spoke clearly. Jim pressed me downwards and we all squatted again.
"He is coming out on another sandbank," Jim explained.
Again I crawled to the bank and lay flat, with the rifle ready. There was another sand streak a hundred yards out in the stream with two out-croppings of black rock at the upper end of it they were rocks right enough, for I had examined them carefully when bathing. This was the only other sandbank in sight: it was higher than it appeared to be from a distance, and the crocodile whilst hidden from us was visible to the natives on the opposite bank as it lay in the shallow water and emerged inch by inch to resume its morning sun bath. The crocodile was so slow in showing up that I quite thought it had been scared off again, and I turned to examine other objects and spots up and down the stream; but presently glancing back at the bank again I saw what appeared to be a third rock, no bigger than a loaf of bread. This object I watched until my eyes ached and swam; it was the only possible crocodile; yet it was so small, so motionless, so permanent looking, it seemed absurd to doubt that it really was a stone which had passed unnoticed before.
As I watched unblinkingly it seemed to grow bigger and again contract with regular swing, as if it swelled and shrank with breathing; and knowing that this must be merely an optical delusion caused by staring too long, I shut my eyes for a minute. The effect was excellent: the rock was much bigger; and after that it was easy to lie still and wait for the cunning old reptile to show himself.
It took half an hour of this cautious manuvring and edging on the part of the crocodile before he was comfortably settled on the sand with the sun warming all his back. In the meantime the waggon boys behind me had not stirred; on the opposite side of the river kaffirs from the neighbouring kraal had gathered to the number of thirty or forty, men, women and children, and they stood loosely grouped, instinctively still silent and watchful, like a little scattered herd of deer. All on both sides were watching me and waiting for the shot. It seemed useless to delay longer; the whole length of the body was showing, but it looked so wanting in thickness, so shallow in fact, that it was evident the crocodile was lying, not on the top, but on the other slope of the sand spit; and probably not more than six or eight inches in depth of body was visible.
It was little enough to aim at, and the bullet seemed to strike the top of the bank first, sending up a column of sand, and then, probably knocked all out of shape, ploughed into the body with a tremendous thump.
The crocodile threw a back somersault that is, it seemed to rear up on its tail and spring backwards; the jaws divided into a huge fork as, for a second, it stood up on end; and it let out an enraged roar, seemingly aimed at the heavens. It was a very sudden and dramatic effect, following on the long silence.
Then the whole world seemed to burst into indescribable turmoil; shouts and yells burst out on all sides; the kaffirs rushed down to the banks the men armed with sticks and assegais, and the women and children with nothing more formidable than their voices; the crocodile was alive very much alive and in the water; the waggon boys, headed by Jim, were all round me and all yelling out together what should or should not be done, and what would happen if we did or did not do it. It was Babel and Bedlam let loose.
With the first plunge the crocodile disappeared, but it came up again ten yards away thrashing the water into foam and going up stream like a paddleboat gone reeling roaring mad if one can imagine such a thing! I had another shot at him the instant he reappeared, but one could neither see nor hear where it struck; and again and again I fired whenever he showed up for a second. He appeared to be shot through the lungs; at any rate the kaffirs on the other bank, who were then quite close enough to see, said that it was so. The waggon boys had run down the bank out on to the first sand spit and I followed them, shouting to the kaffirs opposite to get out of the line of fire, as I could no longer shoot without risk of hitting them.
The crocodile after his first straight dash up stream had tacked about in all directions during the next few minutes, disappearing for short spells and plunging out again in unexpected places. One of these sudden reappearances brought him once more abreast, and quite near to us, and Jim with a fierce yell and with his assegai held high in his right hand dashed into the water, going through the shallows in wild leaps. I called to him to come back but against his yells and the excited shouts of the ever-increasing crowd my voice could not live; and Jim, mad with excitement, went on. Twenty yards out, where increasing depth steadied him, he turned for a moment and seeing himself alone in the water called to me with eager confidence, "Come on, Baas."
It had never occurred to me that any one would be such an idiot as to go into water after a wounded crocodile. There was no need to finish off this one, for it was bound to die, and no one wanted the meat or skin. Who, then, would be so mad as to think of such a thing? Five minutes earlier I would have answered very confidently for myself; but there are times when one cannot afford to be sensible. There was a world of unconscious irony in Jim's choice of words "Come on!" and "Baas!"
The boy giving the lead to his master was too much for me; and in I went!
I cannot say that there was much enjoyment in it for the first few moments not until the excitement took hold and all else was forgotten. The first thing that struck me was that in the deep water my rifle was worth no more than a walking-stick, and not nearly as useful as an assegai; but what drove this and many other thoughts from my mind in a second was the appearance of Jock on the stage and his sudden jump into the leading place.
In the first confusion he had passed unnoticed, probably at my heels as usual, but the instant I answered Jim's challenge by jumping into the water he gave one whimpering yelp of excitement and plunged in too; and in a few seconds he had outdistanced us all and was leading straight for the crocodile. I shouted to him, of course in vain he heard nothing; and Jim and I plunged and struggled along to head the dog off.
As the crocodile came up Jock went straight for him his eyes gleaming, his shoulders up, his nose out, his neck stretched to the utmost in his eagerness and he ploughed along straining every muscle to catch up. When the crocodile went under he slackened and looked anxiously about, but each fresh rise was greeted by the whimpering yelps of intense suppressed excitement as he fairly hoisted himself out of the water with the vigour of his swimming.
The water was now breast-high for us, and we were far out in the stream, beyond the sand spit where the crocodile had lain, when the kaffirs on the bank got their first chance and a flight of assegais went at the enemy as he rose. Several struck and two remained in him; he rose again a few yards from Jim, and that sportsman let fly one that struck well home. Jock who had been toiling close behind for some time and gaining slowly, was not five yards off then; the floundering and lashing of the crocodile were bewildering, but on he went as grimly and eagerly as ever. I fired again not more than eight yards away but the water was then up to my arms, and it was impossible to pick a vital part; the brain and neck were the only spots to finish him, but one could see nothing beyond a great upheaval of water and clouds of spray and blood-stained foam. The crocodile turned from the shot and dived up stream, heading straight for Jock: the din of yelling voices stopped instantly as the huge open mouthed thing plunged towards the dog; and for one sick horrified moment I stood and watched helpless.
Had the crocodile risen in front of Jock that would have been the end one snap would have done it; but it passed clear underneath, and, coming up just beyond him, the great lashing tail sent the dog up with the column of water a couple of feet in the air. He did as he had done when the koodoo bull tossed him: his head was round straining to get at the crocodile before he was able to turn his body in the water; and the silence was broken by a yell of wild delight and approval from the bank.
Before us the water was too deep and the stream too strong to stand in; Jim in his eagerness had gone in shoulder high, and my rifle when aimed only just cleared the water. The crocodile was the mark for more assegais from the bank as it charged up stream again, with Jock tailing behind, and it was then easy enough to follow its movements by the shafts that were never all submerged. The struggles became perceptibly weaker, and as it turned again to go with the stream every effort was concentrated on killing and landing it before it reached the rocks and rapids.
I moved back for higher ground and, finding that the bed shelved up rapidly down stream, made for a position where there would be enough elevation to put in a brain shot. The water was not more than waist high then, and as the crocodile came rolling and thrashing down I waited for his head to show up clearly. My right foot touched a sloping rock which rose almost to the surface of the water close above the rapids, and anxious to get the best possible position for a last shot, I took my stand there. The rock was the ordinary shelving bedrock, uptilted at an easy angle and cut off sheer on the exposed side, and the wave in the current would have shown this to any one not wholly occupied with other things; but I had eyes for nothing except the crocodile which was then less than a dozen yards off, and in my anxiety to secure a firm footing for the shot I moved the right foot again a few inches over the edge of the rock. The result was as complete a spill as if one unthinkingly stepped backwards off a diving board: I disappeared in deep water, with the knowledge that the crocodile would join me there in a few seconds.
One never knows how these things are done or how long they take: I was back on the rock without the rifle and had the water out of my eyes in time to see the crocodile roll helplessly by, six feet away, with Jock behind making excited but ridiculously futile attempts to get hold of the tail; Jim swimming, plunging and blowing like a maddened hippo formed the tail of the procession, which was headed by my water-logged hat floating heavily a yard or so in front of the crocodile.
While a crowd of yelling niggers under the generalship of Jim were landing the crocodile, I had time to do some diving, and managed to fish out my rifle.
My Sunday change was wasted. But we got the old crocodile; and that was something, after all.
THE FIGHTING BABOON
On the way to Lydenburg, not many treks from Paradise Camp, we were outspanned for the day. Those were the settled parts; on the hills and in the valleys about us were the widely scattered workings of the gold diggers or the white tents of occasional prospectors.
The place was a well-known and much frequented public outspan, and a fair sized wayside store marked its importance. After breakfast we went to the store to 'swap' news with the men on the spot and a couple of horsemen who had offsaddled there.
There were several other houses of sorts; they were rough wattle and daub erections which were called houses, as an acknowledgment of pretensions expressed in the rectangular shape and corrugated iron roof. One of these belonged to Seedling, the Field Cornet and only official in the district. He was the petty local Justice who was supposed to administer minor laws, collect certain revenues and taxes, and issue passes. The salary was nominal, but the position bristled with opportunities for one who was not very particular; and the then occupant of the office seemed well enough a pleased with the arrangement, whatever the public may have thought of it.
He was neither popular nor trusted: many tales of great harshness and injustice to the natives, and of corruption and favouritism in dealing with the whites, added to habitual drunkenness and uncertain temper, made a formidable tally in the account against him; he was also a bully and a coward, and all knew it; but unfortunately he was the law as it stood for us!
Seedling, although an official of the Boer Government, was an Englishman; there were several of them on the goldfields in those days, and for the most part, they were good fellows and good officials this one was an exception. We all knew him personally: he was effusively friendly; and we suffered him andpaid for the drink. That was in his public capacity: in his private capacity he was the owner of the fighting baboon of evil and cruel repute.
If ever fate's instruments moved unconscious of their mission and the part they were to play, it is certain that Jock and Jim Makokel' did so that day the day that was the beginning of Seedling's fall and end.
It is not very clear how the trouble began. We had been sitting on the little store-counter and talking for over an hour, a group of half a dozen, swapping off the news of the goldfields and the big world against that from Delagoa and the Bushveld; Seedling had joined us early and, as usual, began the morning with drinks. We were not used to that on the road or out hunting; indeed, we rarely took any drink, and most of us never touched a drop except in the towns. The transport rider had opportunities which might easily become temptations the load often consisting of liquor, easy to broach and only to be paid for at the end of the trip; but we had always before us the lesson of the failures. Apart from this, however, we did not take liquor, because we could not work as well or last as long, run as fast or shoot as straight, if we did. And that was reason enough!
We had one round of drinks which was 'called' by one of the horsemen, and then, to return the compliment, another round called by one of us. A few minutes later Seedling announced effusively that it was his 'shout.' But it was only ten in the morning, and those who had taken spirits had had enough, indeed, several had only taken a sip of the second round in order to comply with a stupid and vicious custom; I would not and could not attack another bottle of sour gingerbeer; and thus Seedling's round was reduced to himself and the proprietor. No man however thirsty would drink alone in those days it was taken a mark of meanness or evidence of 'soaking' and the proprietor had to be ready at any time to 'take one for the good of the house.'
A quarter of an hour passed, and Seedling, who had said nothing since his 'shout' was declined, turned away and strolled out, with hands thrust deep in the pockets of his riding breeches and a long heavy sjambok dangling from one wrist. There was silence as he moved through the doorway, and when the square patch of sunlight on the earth floor was again unbroken the man behind the counter remarked,
"Too long between drinks for him! Gone for a pull at the private bottle."
"Is that how it's going?"
"Yah! all day long. Drinks here as long as any one'll call, but don't do much shoutin' on his own, I tell you! That's the first time I seen him call for a week. He wanted to get you chaps on the go, I reckon. He'll be wrong all day to-day. I know him!"
"Cost him two bob for nothing, eh!"
"Well, it ain't so much that; ye see, he reckoned you'd all shout your turns, and drinks'd come regular; but he sees you're not on. Twig? I'm not complainin' mind you Lord no! He don't pay any way! It's all 'chalked up' for him, an' I got to wipe it off the slate when the next loads comes and he collects my customs' duties. His liquor's took him wrong to-day you'll see!"
We did see; and that before very long. We had forgotten Seedling and were hearing all about the new Barberton district, when one of the waggon boys came running into the store calling to me by my kaffir name and shouting excitedly, "Baas, Baas! come quickly! The baboon has got Jock: it will killhim!
I had known all about the vicious brute, and had often heard of Seedling's fiendish delight in arranging fights or enticing dogs up to attack it for the pleasure of seeing the beast kill the over-matched dogs. The dog had no chance at all, for the baboon remained out of reach in his house on the pole as long as it chose, if the dog was too big or the opening not a good one, and made its rush when it would tell best. But apart from this the baboon was an exceptionally big and powerful one, and it is very doubtful if any dog could have tackled it successfully in an open fight. The creature was as clever as even they can be; its enormous jaws and teeth were quite equal to the biggest dog's, and it had the advantage of four 'hands.' Its tactics in a fight were quite simple and most effective; with its front feet it caught the dog by the ears or neck, holding the head so that there was no risk of being bitten, and then gripping the body lower down with the hind feet, it tore lumps out of the throat, breast, and stomach pushing with all four feet and tearing with the terrible teeth. The poor dogs were hopelessly outmatched.
I did not see the beginning of Jock's encounter, but the boys' stories pieced together told everything. It appears that when Seedling left the store he went in to his own hut and remained there some little time; on coming out again he strolled over to the baboon's pole about half way between the two houses and began teasing it, throwing pebbles at it to see it dodge and duck behind the pole, and then flicking at it with the sjambok, amused by its frightened and angry protests. While he was doing this, Jock, who had followed me to the store, strolled out again making his way towards the waggons. He was not interested in our talk; he had twice been accidentally trodden on by men stepping back as he lay stretched out on the floor behind them; and doubtless he felt that it was no place for him: his deafness prevented him from hearing movements, except such as caused vibration in the ground, and, poor old fellow, he was always at a disadvantage in houses and towns.
The baboon had then taken refuge in its box on top of the pole to escape the sjambok, and when Seedling saw Jock come out he commenced whistling and calling softly to him. Jock, of course, heard nothing: he may have responded mildly to the friendly overtures conveyed by the extended hand and patting of legs, or more probably simply took the nearest way to the waggon where he might sleep in peace, since there was nothing else to do. What the boys agree on is that as Jock passed the pole Seedling patted and held him, at the same time calling the baboon, and then gave the dog a push which did not quite roll him over but upset his balance; and Jock, recovering himself, naturally jumped round and faced Seedling, standing almost directly between him and the baboon. He could not hear the rattle of the chain on the box and pole, and saw nothing of the charging brute, and it was the purest accident that the dog stood a few inches out of reach. The baboon chained by the neck instead of the waist, because it used to bite through all loin straps made its rush, but the chain brought it up before its hands could reach Jock and threw the hind-quarters round with such force against him that he was sent rolling yards away.
I can well believe that this second attack from a different and wholly unexpected quarter thoroughly roused him, and can picture how he turned to face it.
It was at this moment that Jim first noticed what was going on. The other boys had not expected anything when Seedling called the dog, and they were taken completely by surprise by what followed. Jim would have known what to expect: his kraal was in the neighbourhood; he knew Seedling well, and had already suffered in fines and confiscations at his hands; he also knew about the baboon; but he was ignorant, just as I was, of the fact that Seedling had left his old place across the river and come to live in the new hut, bringing his pet with him.
It was the hoarse threatening shout of the baboon as it jumped at Jock, as much as the exclamations of the boys, that roused Jim. He knew instantly what was on, a grabbing a stick made a dash to save the dog, with the other boys following him.
When Jock was sent spinning in the dust the baboon recovered itself first, and standing up on its hind legs reached out its long ungainly arms towards him, and let out a shout of defiance. Jock regaining his feet dashed in, jumped aside, feinted again and again, as he had learnt to do when big horns swished at him; and he kept out of reach just as he had done ever since the duiker taught him the use of its hoofs. He knew what to do, just as he had known how to swing the porcupine: the dog for all the fighting fury that possessed him took the measure of the chain and kept outside it. Round and round he flew, darting in, jumping back, snapping and dodging, but never getting right home. The baboon was as clever as he was: at times it jumped several feet in the air, straight up, in the hope that Jock would run underneath; at others, it would make a sudden lunge with the long arms, or a more surprising reach out with the hind legs to grab him. Then the baboon began gradually to reduce its circle, leaving behind it slack chain enough for a spring; but Jock was not to be drawn. In cleverness they were well-matched neither scored in attack; neither made or lost a point.
When Jim rushed up to save Jock, it was with eager anxious shouts of the dog's name that warned Seedling and made him turn; and as the boy ran forward the white man stepped out to stop him.
"Leave the dog alone!" he shouted, pale with anger.
"Baas, Baas, the dog will be killed," Jim called excitedly, as he tried to get round; but the white man made a jump towards him, and with a backhand slash of the sjambok struck him across the face, shouting at him again:
"Leave him, I tell you."
Jim jumped back, thrusting out his stick to guard another vicious cut; and so it went on with alternate slash and guard, and the big Zulu danced round with nimble bounds, guarding, dodging, or bearing the sjambok cuts, to save the dog. Seedling was mad with rage; for who had ever heard of a nigger standing up to a Field Cornet? Still Jim would not give way; he kept trying to get in front of Jock, to head him off the fight, and all the while shouting to the other boys to call me. But Seedling was the Field Cornet, and not one of them dared to move against him.
At last the baboon, finding that Jock would not come on, tried other tactics; it made a sudden retreat and, rushing for the pole, hid behind it as for protection. Jock made a jump and the baboon leaped out to meet him, but the dog stopped at the chain's limit, and the baboon just as in the first dash of all overshot the mark; it was brought up by the jerk of the collar, and for one second sprawled on its back. That was the first chance for Jock, and he took it. With one spring he was in; his head shot between the baboon's hind legs, and with his teeth buried in the soft stomach he lay back and pulled pulled for dear life, as he had pulled and dragged on the legs of wouned game; tugged as he had tugged at the porcupine; held on, as he had held when the koodoo bull wrenched and strained every bone and muscle in his body.
Then came the sudden turn! As Jock fastened on to the baboon, dragging the chain taut while the screaming brute struggled on its back, Seedling stood for a second irresolute, and then with a stride forward raised his sjambok to strike the dog. That was too much for Jim; he made a spring in and grasping the raised sjambok with his left hand held Seedling powerless, while in his right the boy raised his stick on guard.
"Let him fight, Baas! You said it! Let the dog fight!" he panted, hoarse with excitement.
The white man, livid with fury, struggled and kicked, but the wrist loop of his sjambok held him prisoner and he could do nothing.
That was the moment when a panic-stricken boy plucked up courage enough to call me; and that was the scene we saw as we ran out of the little shop. Jim would not strike the white man; but his face was a muddy grey, and it was written there that he would rather die than give up the dog.
Before I reached them it was clear to us all what had happened: Jim was protesting to Seedling and at the same time calling to me; it was a jumble, but a jumble eloquent enough for us, and all intelligible. Jim's excited gabble was addressed with reckless incoherence to Seedling, to me, and to Jock!
"You threw him in; you tried to kill him. He did it. It was not the dog. Kill him, Jock, kill him. Leave him, let him fight. You said it Let him fight! Kill him, Jock! Kill! Kill! Kill!"
Then Seedling did the worst thing possible; he turned on me with,
"Call off your dog, I tell you, or I'll shoot him and your nigger too!"
"We'll see about that! They can fight it out now," and I took the sjambok Jim's hand and cut it from the white man's wrist.
"Now! Stand back!"
And he stood back.
The baboon was quite helpless. Powerful as the brute was, and formidable as were the arms and gripping feet, it had no chance while Jock could keep his feet and had strength to drag and hold the chain tight. The collar was choking it, and the grip on the stomach the baboons own favourite and most successful device was fatal.
I set my teeth, and thought of the poor helpless dogs that had been decoyed in and treated the same way. Jim danced about, the white seam of froth on his lips, hoarse gusts of encouragement bursting from him as he leant over Jock, and his whole body vibrating like an over-heated boiler. And Jock hung on in grim earnest, the silence on his side broken only by grunting efforts as the deadly tug tug tug went on. Each pull caused his feet to slip a little on the smooth worn ground; but each time he set them back again, and the grunting tugs went on.
* * * * *
It was not justice to call Jock off; but I did it. The cruel brute deserved killing, but the human look and cries and behaviour of the baboon were too sickening; and Seedling went into his hut without even a look at his stricken champion.
Jock stood off, with his mouth open from ear to ear and his red tongue dangling, blood-stained and panting, but with eager feet ever on the move shifting from spot to spot, ears going back and forward, and eyes now on the baboon and now on me pleading for the sign to go in again.
Before evening the baboon was dead.
* * * * *
The day's excitement was too much for Jim. After singing and dancing himself into a frenzy round Jock, after shouting the whole story of the fight in violent and incessant gabble over and over again to those who had witnessed it, after making every ear ring and every head swim with his mad din, he grabbed his sticks once more and made off for one of the kraals, there to find drink for which he thirsted body and soul.
In the afternoon the sudden scattering of the inhabitants of a small kraal on the hillside opposite, and some lusty shouting, drew attention that way. At distances of from two to five hundred yards from the huts there stood figures, singly or grouped in twos and threes, up to the highest slopes; they formed a sort of crescent above the kraal; and on the lower side of it, hiding under the bank of the river, were a dozen or more whose heads only were visible. They were all looking towards the kraal like a startled herd of buck. Now and then a burly figure would dart out from the huts with wild bounds and blood-curdling yells, and the watchers on that side would scatter like chaff and flee for dear life up the mountain side or duck instantly and disappear in the river. Then he would stalk back again and disappear, to repeat the performance on another side a little later on.
It was all painfully clear to me. Jim had broken out.
We were loaded for Lyndenburg another week's trekking through and over the mountains and as we intended coming back the same way a fortnight later I decided at once to leave Jim at his kraal, which was only a little further on, and pick him up on the return journey.
I nearly always paid him off in live stock or sheep: he had good wages, and for many months at a time would draw no money; the boy was a splendid worker and as true as steel; so that, in spite of all the awful worry I had a soft spot for Jim and had taken a good deal of trouble on his account. He got his pay at the end of the trip or the season, but not in cash. It was invested for him greatly to his disgust at the time, I am bound to say in live stock, so that he would not be able to squander it in drink or be robbed of it while incapable.
Jim's gloomy dignity was colossal when it came to squaring up and I invited him to state what we wished me to buy for him. To be treated like an irresponsible child; to be chaffed and cheerfullly warned by me; to be met by the giggles and squirts of laughter of the other boys, for whom he had the most profound contempt; to see the respectable Sam counting out with awkward eager hands and gleaming eyes the good red gold, while he, Makokela the Zulu, was treated like a piccanin Ugh! It was horrible! Intolerable!
Jim would hold aloof in injured gloomy silence, not once looking at me, but standing sideways and staring stonily past me into the far distance, and not relaxing for a second the expression of profound displeasure on his weather-beaten face. No joke or chaff, no question or reason, would move him to even look my way. All he would do was, now and again, give a click of disgust, a quick shake of the head, and say: "Aug! Ang-a-funa!" ("I do not desire it!")
We had the same fight over and over again, but I always won in the end. Once, when he would not make up his mind what to buy, I offered him instead of cash two of the worst oxen in his span at the highest possible valuation, and the effect was excellent; but the usual lever was to announce that if he could not make his choice and bargain for himself I would do it for him. In the end he invariably gave way and bargained with his kaffir friends for a deal, venting on them by his hard driving and brow-beating some of the accumulated indignation which ought to have gone elsewhere.
When it was all over Jim recovered rapidly, and at parting time there was the broadest of grins and a stentorian shout of "Hlala Kahle! Inkos!" and Jim went off with his springy walk, swinging his sticks and jabbering his thoughts aloud, evidently about me, for every now and again he would spring lightly into the air, twirl the stick, and shout a deep throated "Inkos!" full of the joy of living. A boy going home for his holiday!
This time Jim was too fully wound up to be dealt with as before, and I simply turned him off, telling him to come to the camp in a fortnight's time.
* * * * *
I was a day behind the waggons returning, and riding up to the camp towards midday found Jim waiting for me. He looked ill and shrunken, wrapped in an old coat and squatting against the wall of the little hut. As I passed he rose slowly and gave his "Sakubona! Inkos!" with that curious controlled air by which the kaffir manages to suggest a kind of fatalist resignation or indifference touched with disgust. There was something wrong; so I rode past without stopping one learns from them to find out how the land lies before doing anything.
It was a bad story, almost as bad as one would think possible where civilised beings are concerned. Jim's own story lacked certain details of which he was necessarily ignorant, it also omitted the fact that he head been drunk; but in the main it was quite true.
This is what happened, as gleaned from several sources: several days after our departure Jim went down to the store again and raised some liquor; he was not fighting, but he was noisy, and was the centre of a small knot of shouting, arguing boys near the store when Seedling returned after two days' absence. No doubt it was unfortunate that the very first thing he saw on his return was the boy who had defied him and who was the cause of his humiliation; and that that boy should by his behaviour give the slenderest excuse for interference was in the last degree unlucky. Seedling's mind was made up from the moment he set eyes on Jim. Throwing the reins over his horse's head he walked into the excited gabbling knot, all unconcious of his advent, and laid about him with the sjambok, scattering and silencing them instantly; he then took Jim by the wrist saying, "I want you"; he called to one of his own boys to bring a reim, and leading Jim over to the side of the store tied him up to the horse rail with arms at full stretch. Taking out his knife he cut the boy's clothing down the back so that it fell away in two halves in front of him; thcn he took off his own coat and flogged the boy with his sjambok.
I would like to tell all that happened for one reason: it would explain the murderous man-hunting feeling that possessed us when we heard it! But it was too cruel: let it be! Only one thing to show the spirit: twice during the flogging Seedling stopped to go into the store for a drink.
Jim crawled home to find his kraal ransacked and deserted, and his wives and children driven off in panic. In addition to the flogging Seedling had, in accordance with his practice, imposed fines far beyond the boy's means in cash, so as to provide an excuse for seizing what he wanted. The police boys had raided the kraal; and the cattle and goats his only propertywere gone.
He told it all in a dull monotone: for the time the life and fire were gone out of him; but he was not cowed, not broken. There was a curl of contempt on his mouth and in his tone that whipped the white skin on my own back and made it all a disgrace unbearable. That this should be the reward for his courageous defence of Jock seemed too awful. We went inside to talk it over and make our plans. The waggons should go on next day as if nothing had happened, Jim remaining in one of the half tents or elsewhere out of sight of passers-by. I was to ride into Lydenburg and lodge information for in such a case the authorities would surely act. That was the best, or at any rate the first, course to be tried.
There was no difficulty about the warrant, for there were many counts in the indictment against Seedling; but even so worthless a brute as that seemed to have one friend, or perhaps an accomplice, to give him warning, and before we reached his quarters with the police he had cleared on horseback for Portuguese territory, taking with him a led horse.
We got most of Jim's cattle back for him which he seemed to consider the main thing but we were sorely disgusted at the man's escape.
That was the year of the 'rush.' Thousands of new comers poured into the country on the strength of the gold discoveries; materials and provisions of all kinds were almost unprocurable and stood at famine prices; and consequently we the transport riders reaped a golden harvest. Never had there been such times; waggons and spans were paid for in single trips; and so great was the demand for supplies that some refused transport and bought their own goods, which they re-sold on the goldfields at prices twice as profitable as the highest rates of transport.
Thus the days lost in the attempt to catch Seedling were valuable days. The season was limited, and as early rains might cut us off, a few days thrown away might mean the loss of a whole trip. We hurried down, therefore, for the Bay, doing little hunting that time.
Near the Crocodile on our way down we heard from men coming up that Seedling had been there some days before but that, hearing we were on the way down and had sworn to shoot him, he had ridden on to Komati, leaving one horse behind bad with horse-sickness. The report about shooting him was, of course, ridiculous probably his own imagination but it was some comfort to know that he was in such a state of terror that his own fancies were hunting him down.
At Komati we learned that he had stayed three days at the store of that Goanese murderer: Antonio the same Antonio who on one occasion had tried to drug and hand over to the enemy two of our men who had got into trouble defending themselves against raiding natives; the same Antonio who afterwards made an ill-judged attempt to stab one Mickey O'Connor in a Barberton canteen and happily got brained with a bottle of his own doctored spirit for his pains.
Antonio suspecting something wrong about a white man who came on horseback and dawdled aimlessly three days at Komati Drift, going indoors whenever a stranger appeared, wormed the secret out with liquor and sympathy; and when he had got most of Seedling's money out of him, by pretence of bribing the Portuguese officials and getting news, made a bold bid for the rest by saying that a warrant was out for him in Delagoa and he must on no account go on. The evil-looking half-caste no doubt hoped to get the horse saddle and bridle, as well as the cash, and was quite prepared to drug Seedling when the time came and slip him quietly into the Komati at night where the crocodiles would take care of the evidence.
Antonio, however, overshot the mark; Seedling who knew all about him, took fright, saddled up and bolted up the river meaning to make for the Lebombo, near the Tembe Drift, where Bob McNab and his merry comrades ran free of Governments and were a law unto themselves. It was no place for a nervous man, but Seedling had no choice. He had liquor in his saddle bags and food for several days; but he was not used to the bush, and at the end of the first day he had lost his way and was beyond the river district where the kaffirs lived.
So much is believed, though not positively known; at any rate he left the last kraal in those parts about noon, and was next heard of two days later at a kraal under the Lebombo. There he learnt that the Black Umbelusi, which it would be necessary to swim as Snowball and Tsetse had done lay before him, and that it was yet a great distance to Sebougwaans, and even then he would be only half way to Bob's. Seedling could not face it alone, and turned back for the nearest store.
The natives said that before leaving the kraal he bought beer from them, but did not want food; for he looked sick; he was red and swollen in the face; and his eyes were wild; the horse was weak and also looked sick, being very thin and empty; but they showed him the foot-path over the hills which would take him to Tom's a white man's store on the road to Delagoa and he left them! That was Tom Barnett's at Piscene, where we always stopped; for Tom was a good friend of ours.
That was how we came to meet Seedling again. He had made a loop of a hundred and fifty miles in four days in his efforts to avoid us; but he was waiting for us when we arrived at Tom Barnett's. We who had hurried on to catch him, believing that the vengeance of justice depended on us, forgot that it has been otherwise decreed.
Tom stood in the doorway of his store as we walked up five feet one in his boots, but every inch of it a man with his hands resting idly on his hips and a queer smile on his face as he nodded welcome.
"Did a white man come here on horseback during the last few days from the Drift?"
"No, not the whole way."
"Is he here now?"
"You know about him, Tom?"
"Seedling! the chap you're after, isn't it?"
"Yes," we answered, lowering our voices.
Tom looked from one to the other with the same queer smile, and then making a move to let us into the store said quietly: "He won't clear, boys; he's dead!"
Some kaffirs coming along the footpath from the 'Bombo had found the horse dead of horse-sickness half a day away, and further on only a mile or so from the store the rider lying on his back in the sun, dying of thirst. He died before they got him in.
He was buried under a big fig-tree where another and more honoured grave was made later on.
* * * * *
Jim sat by himself the whole evening and never spoke a word.
THE LAST TREK
It was Pettigrew's Road that brought home to me, and to others, the wisdom of the old transport riders' maxim: 'Take no risks.' We all knew that there were 'fly' belts on the old main road but we rushed these at night, for we knew enough of the tsetse fly to avoid it; however the discovery of the new road to Barberton, a short cut with plenty of water and grass, which offered the chance of working an extra trip into the short Delagoa season, tempted me, among others, to take a risk. We had seen no 'fly' when riding through to spy out the land, and again on the trip down with empty waggons all had seemed to be well; but I had good reason afterwards to recall that hurried trip down and the night spent at Low's Creek. It was a lovely moonlight night, cool and still, and the grass was splendid; after many weeks of poor feeding and drought the cattle revelled in the land of plenty. We had timed our treks so as to get through the suspected parts of the road at night, believing that the fly did not trouble after dark, and thus we were that night outspanned in the worst spot of all a tropical garden of clear streams, tree ferns, foliage plants, mosses, maidenhair, and sweet grass! I moved among the cattle myself, watching them feed greedily and waiting to see them satisfied before in-spanning again to trek through the night to some higher and more open ground. I noticed then that their tails were rather busy. At first it seemed the usual accompaniment of a good feed, an expression of satisfaction; after a while, however; the swishing became too vigorous for this, and when heads began to swing round and legs also were made use of, it seemed clear that something was worrying them. The older hands were so positive that at night cattle were safe from fly, that it did not even then occur to me to suspect anything seriously wrong. Weeks passed by, and although the cattle became poorer, it was reasonable enough to put it down to the exceptional drought.
It was late in the season when we loaded up for the last time in Delagoa and ploughed our way through the Matolla swamp and the heavy sands at Piscene; but late as it was, there was no sign of rain, and the rain we usually wanted to avoid would have been very welcome then. The roads were all blistering stones or powdery dust, and it was cruel work for man and beast. The heat was intense, and there was no breeze; the dust moved along slowly apace with us in a dense cloud men, waggons, and animals, all toned to the same hue; and the poor oxen toiling slowly along drew in the finely-powdered stuff at every breath. At the outspan they stood about exhausted and panting, with rings and lines of brown marking where the moisture from nostrils, eyes and mouths had caught the dust and turned it into mud. At Matolla Poort, where the Lebombo Range runs low, where the polished black rocks shone like anvils, where the stones and baked earth scorched the feet of man and beast to aching, the world was like an oven; the heat came from above, below, around a thousand glistening surfaces flashing back with intensity the sun's fierce rays. And there, At Matolla Poort, the big pool had given out!
Our stand-by was gone! There in the deep cleft in the rocks where the feeding spring, cool and constant, had trickled down a smooth black rock beneath another overhanging slab, and where ferns and mosses had clustered in one little spot in all the miles of blistering rocks, there was nothing left but mud and slime. The water was as green and thick as pea-sopup; filth of all kinds lay in it and on it; half a dozen rotting carcases stuck in the mud round the one small wet spot where the pool had been just where they fell and died; the coat had dropped away from some, and mats of hair, black brown and white, helped to thicken the green water. But we drank it. Sinking a hankerchief where the water looked thinnest and making a little well into which the moisture slowly filtered, we drank it greedily.
The next water on the road was Komati River, but the cattle were too weak to reach it in one trek, and remembering another pool off the road a small lagoon found by accident when out hunting the year before we moved on that night out on to the flats and made through the bush for several miles to look for water and grass.
We found the place just after dawn. There was a string of half a dozen pools ringed with yellow-plumed reeds like a bracelet of sapphires set in gold deep deep pools of beautiful water in the midst of acres and acres of rich buffalo grass. It was too incredibly good!
I was trekking alone that trip, the only white man there, and tired out by the all-night's work, the long ride, and the searching in the bush for the lagoon I had gone to sleep after seeing the cattle to the water and grass. Before midday I was back among them again; some odd movements struck a chord of memory, and the night at Low's Creek flashed back. Tails were swishing freely, and the bullock nearest me kicked up sharply at its side and swung its head round to brush something away. I moved closer up to see what was causing the trouble: in a few minutes I heard a thin sing of wings, different from a mosquito's, and there settled on my shirt a grey fly, very like and not much larger than a common house-fly, whose wings folded over like a pair of scissors. That was the "mark of the beast." I knew then why this oasis had been left by transport-rider and trekker, as nature made it, untrodden and untouched.
Not a moment was lost in getting away from the 'fly.' But the mischief was already done; the cattle must have been bitten at Low's Creek weeks before, and again that morning during the time I slept; and it was clear that, not drought and poverty, but 'fly' was the cause of their weakness. After the first rains they would begin to die, and the right thing to do now was to press on as fast as possible and deliver the loads. Barberton was booming and short of supplies and the rates were the highest ever paid; but I had done better still, having bought my own goods, and the certain profit looked a fortune to me. Even if all the cattle became unfit for use or died, the loads would pay for everything and the right course therefore was to press on; for delay would mean losing both cattle and loads all I had in the world and starting again penniless with the years of hard work thrown away.
So the last hard struggle began. And it was work and puzzle day and night, without peace or rest; trying to nurse the cattle in their daily failing strength, and yet to push them for all they could do; watching the sky cloud over every afternoon, promising rain that never came, and not knowing whether to call it promise or threat; for although rain would bring grass and water to save the cattle, it also meant death to the fly-bitten.
We crossed the Komati with three spans forty-four oxen to a waggon, for the drift was deep in two places and the weakened cattle could not keep their feet. It was a hard day, and by nightfall it was easy to pick out the oxen who would not last out a week. That night Zole lay down and did not get up againZole the little fat schoolboy, always out of breath, always good-tempered and quiet, as tame as a pet dog.
He was only the first to go; day by day others followed. Some were only cattle: others were old friends and comrades on many a trek. The two big after-oxen Achmoed and Bakir went down early; the Komati Drift had over-tried them, and the weight and jolting of the heavy disselboom on the bad roads finished them off. These were the two inseparables who worked and grazed, walked and slept, side by side never more than a few yards apart day or night since the day they became yoke-fellows. They died on consecutive days.
But the living wonder of that last trek was still old Zwaartland the front ox! With his steady sober air, perfect understanding of his work, and firm clean buck-like tread, he still led the front span. Before we reached the Crocodile his mate gave in worn to death by the ebbing of his own strength and by the steady indomitable courage of his comrade. Old Zwaartland pulled on; but my heart sank as I looked at him and noted the slightly 'staring' coat, the falling flanks, the tread less sure and brisk, and a look in his eyes that made me think he knew what was coming but would do his best.
The gallant-hearted old fellow held on. One after another we tried with him in the lead, half a dozen or more; but he wore them all down. In the dongas and spruits, where the crossings were often very bad and steep, the waggons would stick for hours, and the wear and strain on the exhausted cattle was killing: it was bad enough for the man who drove them. To see old Zwaartland then holding his ground, never for one moment turning or wavering while the others backed jibbed and swayed and dragged him staggering backwards, made one's heart ache. The end was sure: flesh and blood will not last for ever; the stoutest heart can be broken.
The worst of it was that with all the work and strain we accomplised less than we used to do before in a quarter of the time. Distances formerly covered in one trek took three, four, and even five now. Water, never too plentiful in certain parts, was sadly dimished by the drought, and it sometimes took us three or even four treks to get from water to water. Thus we had at times to drive the oxen back to the last place or on to the next one for their drinks, and by the time the poor beasts got back to the waggons to begin their trek they had done nearly as much as they were able to do.
And trouble begot trouble, as usual! Sam the respectable, who had drawn all his pay in Delagoa, gave up after one hard day and deserted me. He said that the hand of the Lord had smitten me and mine, and great misfortune would come to all; so he left in the dark at Crocodile Drift, taking one of the leaders with him, and joined some waggons making for Lydenburg. The work was too hard for him; it was late in the season; he feared the rains and fever; and he had no pluck or loyalty, and cared for no one but himself.
I was left with three leaders and two drivers to manage four waggons. It was Jim who told me of Sam's desertion. He had the cross, defiant, preoccupied look of old; but there was also something of satisfaction in his air as he walked up to me and stood to deliver the great vindication of his own unerring judgment:
"Sam has deserted you and taken his voorlooper." He jerked the words out at me, speaking in Zulu.
I said nothing. It was just about Sam's form; it annoyed but did not surprise me. Jim favoured me with hard searching look, a subdued grunt, and a click expressive of things he could not put into words, and without another word he turned and walked back towards his waggon. But half-way to it he broke silence: facing me once more, he thumped his chest and hurled at me in mixed Zulu and English: "I said so! Sam lead a Bible. Sam no good. Umph! M'Shangaan! I said so! I always said so!"
When Jim helped me to inspan Sam's waggon, he did it to an accompaniment of Zulu imprecations which only a Zulu could properly appreciate. They were quite 'above my head,' but every now and then I caught one sentence repeated like the responses in a litany : "I'll kill that Shangaan when I see him again!"
At Lion Spruit there was more bad luck. Lions had been troublesome there in former years, but for a couple of seasons nothing had been seen of them. Their return was probably due to the fact that, because of the drought and consequent failure of other waters, the game on which they preyed had moved down towards the river. At any rate, they returned unexpectedly and we had one bad night when the cattle were unmanageable, and their nerves all on edge. The herd-boys had seen spoor in the afternoon; at dusk we heard the distant roaring, and later on, the nearer and more ominous grunting. I fastened Jock up in the tent waggon lest the sight of him should prove too temping; he was bristling like a hedgehog and constantly working out beyond the cattle, glaring and growling incessantly towards the bush. We had four big fires at the four corners of the outspan, and no doubt this saved a bad stampede, for in the morning we found a circle of spoor where the lions had walked round and round the outspan. There were scores of footprints the tracks of at least four or five animals.
In the Bushveld the oxen were invariably tied up at night, picketed to the trek-chain, each pair at its yoke ready to be inspanned for the early morning trek. Ordinarily the weight of the chain and yokes was sufficient to keep them in place, but when there were lions about, and the cattle liable to be scared and all to sway off together in the same direction, we took the extra precaution of pegging down the chain and anchoring the front yoke to a tree or stake. We had a lot of trouble that night, as one of the lions persistently took his stand to windward of the cattle to scare them with his scent. We knew well enough when he was there, although unable to see anything, as all the oxen would face up-wind, staring with bulging eye-balls in that direction and braced up tense with excitement. If one of them made a sudden move, the whole lot jumped in response and swayed off down wind away from the danger, dragging the gear with them and straining until the heavy waggons yielded to the tug. We had to run out then and drive them up again to stay the stampede. It is a favourite device of lions, when tackling camps and outspans, for one of them to go to windward so that the terrified animals on winding him may stampede in the opposite direction where the other lions are lying in wait.
Two oxen broke away that night and were never seen again. Once I saw a low light-coloured form steal across the road, and took a shot at it; but rifle-shooting at night is a gamble, and there was no sign of a hit.
I was too short-handed and too pressed for time to make a real try for the lions next day, and after a morning spent in fruitless search for the lost bullocks we went on again.
Instead of fifteen to eighteen miles a day, as we should have done, we were then making between four and eight and sometimes not one. The heat and the drought were awful; but at last we reached the Crocodile and struck up the right bank for the short cut Pettigrew's Road to Barberton, and there we had good water and some pickings of grass and young reeds along the river bank.
The clouds piled up every afternoon; the air grew still and sultry; the thunder growled and rumbled; a few drops of rain pitted the dusty road and pattered on the dry leaves; and that was all. Anything seemed preferable to the intolerable heat and dust and drought, and each day I hoped the rain would come, cost what it might to the fly-bitten cattle; but the days dragged on, and still the rain held off.
Then came one black day as we crawled slowly along the river bank, which is not to be forgotten. In one of the cross-spruits cutting sharply down to the river the second waggon stuck: the poor tired-out cattle were too weak and dispirited to pull it out. Being short of drivers and leaders it was necessary to do the work in turns, that is, after getting one waggon through a bad place, to go back for another. We had to double-span this waggon, taking the span from the front waggon back to hook on in front of the other; and on this occasion I led the span while Jim drove. We were all tired out by the work and heat, and I lay down in the dusty road in front of the oxen to rest while the chains were being coupled up. I looked up into old Zwaartland's eyes, deep, placid, constant, dark grey eyes the ox-eyes of which so many speak and write and so few really know. There was trouble in them; he looked anxious and hunted; and it made me heart-sick to see it.
When the pull came, the back span, already disheartened and out of hand, swayed and turned every way, straining the front oxen to the utmost; yet Zwaartland took the strain and pulled. For a few moments both front oxen stood firm; then his mate cut it and turned; the team swung away with a rush, and the old fellow was jerked backwards and rolled over on his side. He struggled gamely, but it was some minutes before he could rise; and then his eye looked wilder and more despairing; his legs were planted apart to balance him, and his flanks were quivering.
Jim straightened up the double span again. Zwaartland leaned forward once more, and the others followed his lead; the waggon moved a little and they managed to pull it out. But I, walking in front, felt the brave old fellow stagger, and saw him, with head lowered, plod blindly like one stricken to death.
We outspanned on the rise, and I told Jim to leave the reim on Zwaartland's head. Many a good turn from him deserved one more from me the last. I sent Jim for the rifle, and led the old front ox to the edge of the donga where a bleached tree lay across it . . . He dropped into the donga under the dead tree; and I packed the dry branches over him and set fire to the pile. It looks absurd now; but to leave him to the wolf and the jackal seemed like going back on a friend; and the queer looks of the boys, and what they would think of me, were easier to bear. Jim watched, but said nothing: with a single grunt and a shrug of his shoulders he stalked back to the waggons.
The talk that night at the boys' fire went on in low-pitched tones not a single word audible to me; but I knew what it was about. As Jim stood up to get his blanket off the waggon, he stretched himself and closed off the evening's talk with his Zulu click and the remark that "All white men are mad, in some way."
So we crawled on until we reached the turn where the road turned between the mountain range and the river and where the railway runs to-day. There, where afterwards Cassidy did his work, we outspanned one day when the heat became so great that it was no longer possible to go on. For weeks the strorm-clouds had gathered, threatened, and dispersed; thunder had come half-heartedly, little spots of rain enought to pock-mark the dust; but there had been no break in the drought.
It was past noon that day when everything grew still; the birds and insects hushed their sound; the dry leaves did not give a whisper. There was the warning in the air that one knows but cannot explain; and it struck me and the boys together that it was time to spread and tie down the buck-sails which we had not unfolded for months.
While we were busy at this there came an unheralded flash and crash; then a few drops as big as florins; and then the flood-gates were opened and the reservoir of the long months of drought was turned loose on us. Crouching under the waggon where I had crept to lash down the sail, I looked out at the deluge, hesitating whether to make a dash for my tent-waggon or remain there.
All along the surface of the earth there lay for a minute or so a two-feet screen of mingled dust and splash: long spikes of rain drove down and dashed into spray, each bursting its little column of dust from the powdery earth. There was an indescribable and unforgettable progression in sounds and smells and sights a growth and change rapid yet steady, inevitable, breathless, overwhelming. Little enough could one realise in those first few minutes and in the few square yards around; yet there are details, unnoticed at the time, which come back quite vividly when the bewildering rush is over, and there are impressions which it is not possible to forget.
There were the sounds and the smells and the sights! The sounds that began with the sudden crash of thunder; the dead silence that followed it; the first great drops that fell with such pats on the dust; then more and faster yet still so big and separate as to make one look round to see where they fell; the sound on thc waggon-sail at first as of bouncing marbles, then the 'devil's tattoo,' and then the roar!
And outside there was the muffled puff and patter in the dust; the rustle as the drops struck dead leaves and grass and sticks; the blend of many notes that made one great sound, always growing, changing and moving on full of weird significance until there came the steady swish and hiss of water upon water, when the earth had ceased to stand up against the rain and was swamped. But even that did not last; for then the fallen rain raised its voice against the rest, and little sounds of trickling scurrying waters came to tone the ceaseless hiss, and grew and grew until from every side the chorus of rushing tumbling waters filled the air with the steady roar of the flood.
And the smells! The smell of the baked drought-bound earth; the faint clearing and purifying by the first few drops; the mingled dust and damp; the rinsed air; the clean sense of water, water everywhere; and in the end the bracing sensation in nostrils and head, of, not wind exactly, but of swirling air thrust out to make room for the falling rain; and, when all was over, the sense of glorious clarified air and scoured earth the smell of a new-washed world!
And the things that one saw went with the rest, marking the stages of the storm's short vivid life. The first puffs of dust, where drops struck like bullets; the cloud that rose to meet them; the drops themselves that streaked slanting down like a flight of steel ramrods; the dust dissolved in a dado of splash. I had seen the yellow-brown ground change colour; in a few seconds it was damp; then mud; then all asheen. A minute more, and busy little trickles started everywhere tiny things a few inches long; and while one watched them they joined and merged, hurrying on with twist and turn, but ever onward to a given point to meet like the veins in a leaf. Each tuft of grass became a fountain-head: each space between, a little rivulet: swelling rapidly, racing away with its burden of leaf and twig and dust and foam until in a few minutes all were lost in one sheet of moving water.
Crouching under the waggon I watched it and saw the little streamlets, dirty and débris-laden, steal slowly on like sluggard snakes down to my feet, and winding round me, meet beyond and hasten on. Soon the grass-tufts and higher spots were wet; and as the water rose on my boots and the splash beat up to my knees, it seemed worth while making for the tent of the waggon. But in there the roar was deafening; the rain beat down with such force that it drove through the canvas-covered waggon-tent and greased buck-sail in fine mist. In there it was black dark, the tarpaulin covering all, and I slipped out again back to my place under the waggon to watch the storm.
We were on high ground which fell gently away on three sides a long spur running down to the river between two of the numberless small watercourses scoring the flanks of the hills. Mere gutters they were, easy corrugations in the slope from the range to the river, insignificant drains in which no water ever ran except during the heavy rains. One would walk through scores of them with easy swinging stride and never notice their existence. Yet, when the half-hour's storm was over and it was possible to get out and look round, they were rushing boiling torrents, twenty to thirty feet across and six to ten feet deep, foaming and plunging towards the river, red with the soil of the stripped earth, and laden with leaves, grass, sticks, and branches water-furies, wild and ungovernable, against which neither man nor beast could stand for a moment.
When the rain ceased the air was full of the roar of waters, growing louder and nearer all the time. I walked down the long low spur to look at the river, expecting much, and was grievously disappointed. It was no fuller and not much changed. On either side of me the once dry dongas emptied their soil-stained and débris-laden contents in foaming cataracts, each deepening the yellowy red of the river at its banks; but out in mid-stream the river was undisturbed, and its normal colour the clear yellow of some ambers was unchanged. How small the great storm seemed then! How puny the flooded creeks and dongas yet each master of man and his work! How many of them are needed to make a real flood!
There are few things more deceptive than the tropical storm. To one caught in it, all the world seems deluged and overwhelmed; yet a mile away it may be all peace and sunshine. I looked at the river and laughed at myself! The revelation seemed complete; it was humiliating; one felt so small. Still, the drought was broken; the rains had come; and in spite of disappointment I stayed to watch, drawn by the scores of little things caught up and carried by the first harvest garnered by the rains.
A quarter of an hour or more may have been spent thus, when amid all the chorus of the rushing waters there stole in a duller murmur. Murmur it was at first, but it grew steadily into a low-toned distant roar; and it caught and held one like the roar of coming hail or hurricane. It was the river coming down.
The sun was out again, and in the straight reach above the bend there was every chance to watch the flood from the bank where I stood. It seemed strangely long in coming, but come it did at last, in waves like the half-spent breakers on a sandy beach a slope of foam and broken waters in the van, an ugly wall with spray-tipped feathered crest behind, and tier on tier to follow. Heavens, what a scene! The force of waters, and the utter hopeless puniness of man! The racing waves, each dashing for the foremost place, only to force the further on; the tall reeds caught waist high and then laid low, their silvery tops dipped, hidden, and drowned in the flood; the trees yielding, and the branches snapping like matches and twirling like feathers down the stream; the rumbling thunder of big boulders loosed and tumbled, rolled like marbles on the rocks below; whole trees brought down, and turning helplessly in the flood drowned giants with their branches swinging slowly over like nerveless arms. It was tremendous; and one had to stay and watch.
Then the waves ceased; and behind the opposite bank another stream began to make its way, winding like a huge snake, spreading wider as it went across the flats beyond, until the two rejoined and the river became one again. The roar of waters gradually lessened; the two cataracts beside me were silent; and looking down I saw that the fall was gone and that water ran to water swift as ever, but voiceless now and was lost in the river itself. Inch by inch the water rose towards my feet; tufts of grass trembled, wavered, and went down; little wavelets flipped and licked like tongues against the remaining bank of soft earth below me; piece after piece of it leant gently forward, and toppled headlong in the eager creeping tide; deltas of yellow scum-flecked water worked silently up the dongas, reaching out with stealthy feelers to enclose the place where I was standing; and then it was time to go!
* * * * *
The cattle had turned their tails to the storm, and stood out. They too were washed clean and looked fresher and brighter; but there was nothing in that! Two of them had been seen by the boys moving slowly, foot by foot, before the driving rain down the slope from the outspan, stung by the heavy drops and yielding in their weakness to the easy gradient. Only fifty yards away they should have stopped in the hollow the shallow dry donga of the morning; but they were gone! Unwilling to turn back and face the rain they had no doubt been caught in the rush of storm-water and swirled away, and their bodies were bobbing in the Crocodile many miles below by the time we missed them.
In a couple of hours the water had run off; the flooded dongas were almost dry again; and we moved on.
lt was then that the real 'rot' set in. Next morning there were half a dozen oxen unable to stand up; and so again the following day. It was no longer possible to take the four waggons; all the spare cattle had been used up and it was better to face the worst at once; so I distributed the best of the load on the other three waggons and abandoned the rest of it with the fourth waggon in the bush. But day by day the oxen dropped out, and when we reached the Junction and branched up the Kaap, there were not enough left for three waggons.
This time it meant abandoning both waggon and load; and I gave the cattle a day's rest then, hoping that they would pick up strength on good grass to face the eight drifts that lay between us and Barberton.
OUR LAST HUNT
We had not touched fresh meat for many days, as there had been no time for shooting; but I knew that game was plentiful across the river in the rough country between the Kaap and Crocodile, and I started off to make the best of the day's delay, little dreaming that it was to be the last time Jock and I would hunt together.
Weeks had passed without a hunt, and Jock must have thought there was a sad falling away on the part of his master; he no longer expected anything; the rifle was never taken down now except for an odd shot from the outspan or to put some poor animal out of its misery. Since the night with the lions, when he had been ignominiously cooped up, there had been nothing to stir his blood and make life worth living; and this morning as he saw me rise from breakfast and proceed to potter about the waggons in the way he had come to regard as inevitable, he looked on indifferently for a few minutes and then stretched out full length in the sun and went to sleep.
I could not take him with me across the river, as the 'fly' was said to be bad there, and it was no place to risk horse or dog. The best of prospects would not have tempted me to take chance with him, but I hated ordering him to stay behind, as it hurt his dignity and sense of comradeship, so it seemed a happy accident that he was asleep and I could slip away unseen. As the cattle were grazing along the river-bank only a few hundred yards off, I took a turn that way to have a look at them, with natural but quite fruitless concern for their welfare, and a moment later met the herd-boy running towards me and calling out excitedly something which I made out to be:
"Crocodile! Crocodile, Inkos! A crocodile has taken one of the oxen." The waggon-boys heard it also, and armed with assegais and sticks were on the bank almost as soon as I was; but there was no sign of crocodile or bullock. The boy showed us the place where the weakened animal had gone down to drink the hoof slides were plain enough and told how, as it drank, the long black coffin-head had appeared out of the water. He described stolidly how the big jaws had opened and gripped the bullock's nose; how he, a few yards away, had seen the struggle; how he had shouted and hurled his sticks and stones and tufts of grass, and feinted to rush down at it; and how, after a muffled bellow and a weak staggering effort to pull back, the poor beast had slid out into the deep water and disappeared. It seemed to be a quite unnccessary addition to my troubles: misfortunes were coming thick and fast!
Half an hour was wasted in watching and searching; but we saw no more of crocodile or bullock, and as there was nothing to be done I turned up stream to find a shallower and a safer crossing.
At best it was not pleasant: the water was waist-high and racing in narrow channels between and over boulders and loose slippery stones, and I was glad to get through without a tumble and a swim.
The country was rough on the other side, and the old grass was high and dense, for no one went there in those days, and the grass stood unburnt from season to season. Climbing over rocks and stony ground, crunching dry sticks underfoot, and driving a path through the rank tambookil grass, it seemed well-nigh hopeless to look for a shot; several times I heard buck start up and dash off only a few yards away, and it began to look as if the wiser course would be to turn back. At last I got out of the valley into more level and more open ground, and came out upon a ledge or plateau a hundred yards or more wide, with a low ridge of rocks and some thorns on the far side quite a likely spot. I searched the open ground from my cover, and seeing nothing there crossed over to the rocks, threading my way silently between them and expecting to find another clear space beyond. The snort of a buck brought me to a standstill among the rocks, and as I listened it was followed by another and another from the same quarter, delivered at irregular intervals; and each snort was accompanied by the sound of trampling feet, sometimes like stamps of anger and at other times seemingly a hasty movement.
I had on several occasions interrupted fights between angry rivals: once two splendid koodoo bulls were at it; a second time it was two sables, and the vicious and incredibly swift sweep of the scimitar horns still lives in memory, along with the wonderful nimbleness of the other fellow who dodged it; and another time they were blue wildebeeste; but some interruption had occurred each time, and I had no more than a glimpse of what might have been a rare scene to witness.
I was determined not to spoil it this time: no doubt it was a fight, and probably they were fencing and circling for an opening, as there was no bump of heads or clash of horns and no tearing scramble of feet to indicate the real struggle. I crept on through the rocks and found before me a tangle of thorns and dead wood, impossible to pass through in silence; it was better to work back again and try the other side of the rocks. The way was clearer there, and I crept up to a rock four or five feet high, feeling certain from the sound that the fight would be in full view a few yards beyond. With the rifle ready I raised myself slowly until my eyes were over the top of the rock. Some twenty yards off, in an open flat of downtrodden grass, I saw a sable cow: she was standing with feet firmly and widely planted, looking fiercely in front of her, ducking her head in threatening manner every few seconds, and giving angry snorts; and behind, and huddled up against her, was her scared bewildered little red-brown calf.
It seems stupid not to have guessed what it all meant; yet the fact is that for the few remaining seconds I was simply puzzled and fascinated by the behaviour of the two sables. Then in the corner of my eye I saw, away on my right, another red-brown thing come into the open: it was Jock, casting about with nose to ground for my trail which he had over-run at the point where I had turned back near the deadwood on the other side of the rocks.
What happened then was a matter of a second or two. As I turned to look at him he raised his head, bristled up all over, and made one jump forward; then a long low yellowish thing moved in the unbeaten grass in front of the sable cow, raised its head sharply, and looked full into my eyes; and before I could move a finger it shot away in one streak-like bound. A wild shot at the lioness, as I jumped up full height; a shout at Jock to come back; a scramble of black and brown on my left; and it was all over: I was standing in the open ground, breathless with excitement, and Jock, a few yards off, with hind-legs crouched ready for a dash, looking back at me for leave to go!
The spoor told the tale: there was the outer circle made by the lioness in the grass, broken in places where she had feinted to rush in and stopped before the lowered horns; and inside this there was the smaller circle, a tangle of trampled grass and spoor, where the brave mother had stood between her young and death
* * * * *
Any attempt to follow the lioness after that would have been waste of time. We struck off in a new direction, and in crossing a stretch of level ground where the thorn-trees were well scattered and the grass fairly short my eye caught a movement in front that brought me to instant standstill. It was as if the stem of a young thorn-tree had suddenly waved itself and settled back again, and it meant that some longhorned buck, perhaps a koodoo or a sable bull, was lying down and had swung his head; and it meant also that he was comfortably settled, quite unconscious of danger. I marked and watched the spot, or rather, the line, for the glimpse was too brief to tell more than the direction; but there was no other move. The air was almost still, with just a faint drift from him to us, and I examined every stick and branch, every stump and ant-heap, every bush and tussock, without stirring a foot. But I could make out nothing: I could trace no outline and see no patch of colour, dark or light, to betray him.
It was an incident very characteristic of Bushveld hunting. There I stood minute after minute not risking a move, which would be certain to reveal me staring and searching for some big animal lying half-asleep within eighty yards of me on ground that you would not call good cover for a rabbit. We were in the sunlight: he lay somewhere beyond, where a few scattered thorn-trees threw dabs of shade, marbling with dappled shade and light the already mottled surface of earth and grass. I was hopelessly beaten, but Jock could see him well enough; he crouched beside me with ears cocked, and his eyes, all ablaze, were fixed intently on the spot, except for an occasional swift look up to me to see what on earth was wrong and why the shot did not come; his hind-legs were tucked under him and he was trembling with excitement. Only those will realise it who have been through the tantalising humiliating experience. There was nothing to be done but wait, leaving the buck to make the first move.
And at last it came: there was another slight shake of the horns, and the whole figure stood out in bold relief. It was a fine sable bull lying in the shadow of one of the thorn-trees with his back towards us, and there was a small ant-heap close behind him, making a greyish blot against his black back and shoulder, and breaking the expanse of colour which the eye would otherwise easily have picked up.
The ant-heap made a certain shot impossible, so I lowered myself slowly to the ground to wait until he should begin feeding or change his position for comfort or shade, as they often do: this might mean waiting for half an hour or more, but it was better than risking a shot in the position in which he was lying. I settled down for a long wait with the rifle resting on my knees, confidently expecting that when the time came to move he would get up slowly, stretch himself, and have a good look round. But he did nothing of the kind; a turn or eddy of the faint breeze must have given him my wind; for there was one twitch of the horns, as his nose was laid to windward, and without an instant's pause he dashed off. It was the quickest thing imaginable in a big animal: it looked as though he started racing from his lying position. The bush was not close enough to save him, however, in spite of his start, and through the thin veil of smoke I saw him plunge and stumble, and then dash off again; and Jock seeing me give chase, went ahead and in half a minute I was left well behind, but still in sight of the hunt.
I shouted at Jock to come back, just as one murmurs good-day to a passing friend in the din of traffic from force of habit: of course, he could hear nothing. It was his first and only go at a sable; he knew nothing of the terrible horns and the deadly scythe-like sweep that makes the wounded sable so dangerous even the lioness had fought shy of them and great as was my faith in him, the risk in this case was not one I would have taken. There was nothing to do but follow. A quarter of a mile on I drew closer up and found them standing face to face among the thorns. It was the first of three or four stands; the sable, with a watchful eye on me, always moved on as I drew near enough to shoot. The beautiful black and white bull stood facing his little red enemy and the fence and play of feint and thrust, guard and dodge, was wonderful to see. Not once did either touch the other; at Jock's least movement the sable's head would go down with his nose into his chest and the magnificent horns arched forward and poised so as to strike either right or left, and if Jock feinted a rush either way the scythe-sweep came with lightning quickness, covering more than half a circle and carrying the gleaming points with a swing right over the sable's own back. Then he would advance slowly and menacingly, with horns well forward ready to strike and eyes blazing through his eyebrows, driving Jock before him.
There were three or four of these encounters in which I could take no hand: the distance, the intervening thorns and grass, and the quickness of their movements, made a safe shot impossible; and there was always the risk of hitting Jock, for a hard run does not make for good shooting. Each time as the sable drove him back there would be a short vicious rush suddenly following the first deliberate advance, and as Jock scrambled back out of the way the bull would swing round with incredible quickness and be off full gallop in another direction. Evidently the final rush was a manuvre to get Jock clear of his heels and flanks as he started, and thus secure a lead for the next run.
Since the day he was kicked by the koodoo cow Jock had never tackled an unbroken hind-leg; a dangling one he never missed; but the lesson of the flying heels had been too severe to be forgotten, and he never made that mistake again. In this chase I saw him time after time try at the sable's flanks and run up abreast of his shoulder and make flying leaps at the throat; but he never got in front where the horns could reach him, and although he passed and repassed behind to try on the other side when he had failed at the one, and looked up eagerly at the hind-legs as he passed them, he made no attempt at them.
It must have been at the fourth or fifth stand that Jock got through the guard at last. The sable was badly wounded in the body and doubtless strength was failing, but there was little evidence of this yet. In the pauses Jock's tongue shot and slithered around, a glittering red streak, but after short spells of panting his head would shut up with a snap like a steel trap and his face set with that look of invincible resolution which it got in part from the pursed-up mouth and in part from the intensity of the beady black-brown eyes: he was good for hours of this sort of work.
This time the sable drove him back towards a big thorn-tree. It may have been done without design, or it may have been done with the idea of pinning him up against the trunk. But Jock was not to be caught that way; in a fight he took in the whole field, behind as well as in front as he had shown the night the second wild dog tackled him. On his side, too, there may or may not have been design in backing towards the tree; who knows? I thought that he scored, not by a manuvre, but simply because of his unrelaxing watchfulness and his resolute unhesitating courage. He seemed to know instinctively that the jump aside, so safe with the straight-charging animals, was no game to play against the side sweep of a sable's horns, and at each charge of the enemy he had scrambled back out of range without the least pretence of taking liberties.
This time the sable drove him steadily back towards the tree, but in the last step, just as the bull made his rush, Jock jumped past the tree and instead of scrambling back out of reach as before, dodged round and was in the rear of the buck before it could turn on him. There were no flying heels to fear then, and without an instant's hesitation he fastened on one of the hindlegs above the hock. With a snort of rage and indignation the sable spun round and round, kicking and plunging wildly and making vicious sweeps with his horns; but Jock, although swung about and shaken like a rat, was out of reach and kept his grip. It was a quick and furious struggle, in which I was altogether forgotten, and as one more desperate plunge brought the bull down in a struggling kicking heap with Jock completely hidden under him, I ran up and ended the fight.
It always took him some time to calm down after these tussles: he became so wound up by the excitement of the struggle that time was needed to run down again, so to say. While I was busy on the double precaution of fixing up a scare for the aasvogels and cutting grass and branches to cover the buck, Jock moved restlessly round the sable, ever ready to pounce on him again at the least sign of life. The slithering tongue and wide-open mouth looked like a big red gash splitting his head in two; he was so blown, his breath came and went like the puffing of a diminutive steam-engine at full speed, and his eyes with all the wickedness of fight but none of the watchfulness gone out of them, flickered incessantly from the buck to me: one sign from either would have been enough! It was the same old scene, the same old performance, that I had watched scores of times; but it never grew stale or failed to draw a laugh, a word of cheer, and pat of affection; and from him there came always the same response, the friendly wagging of that stumpy tail, a splashy lick, a soft upward look, and a wider split of the mouth that was a laugh as plain as if one heard it. But that was only an interruption a few seconds' distraction: it did not put him off or satisfy him that all was well. His attention went back to the buck, and the everlasting footwork went on again. With his front to the fallen enemy and his fore-legs well apart he kept ever on the move forwards and backwards, in quick steps of a few inches each, and at the same time edging round in his zigzag circle, making a track round the buck like a weather chart with the glass at 'Changeable.'
"Silly old fusser! Can't you see he's finished?" He could not hear anything, but the responsive wag showed that he knew I was talking to him; and, dodging the piece of bark I threw at him, he resumed his ridiculous round.
I was still laughing at him, when he stopped and turning sharply round made a snap at his side; and a few seconds later he did it again. Then there was a thin sing of insect wings; and I knew that the Tsetse fly were on us.
The only thought then was for Jock, who was still working busily round the sable. For some minutes I sat with him between my legs, wisping away the flies with a small branch and wondering what to do. It soon became clear that there was nothing to be gained by waiting: instead of passing away the fly became more numerous, and there was not a moment's peace or comfort to be had, for they were tackling me on the neck, arms, and legs, where the thorn-ripped pants left them bare to the knees; so, slinging the rifle over my shoulder, I picked Jock up, greatly to his discomfort, and carried him off in my arms at the best pace possible under the circumstances. Half a mile of that was enough, however: the weight, the awkwardness of the position, the effort to screen him, and the difficulty of picking my way in very rough country at the same time, were too much for me. A tumble into a grass-hidden hole laid us both out sprawling, and I sat down again to rest and think, swishing the flies off as before.
Then an idea came which, in spite of all the anxiety, made me laugh, and ended in putting poor old Jock in quite the most undignified and ridiculous plight he had known since the days of his puppyhood when his head stuck in the bully-beef tin or the hen pecked him on the nose. I ripped off as much of my shirt as was not needed to protect me against the flies, and making holes in it for his legs and tail fitted him out with a home-made suit in about five minutes. Time was everything: it was impossible to run with him in my arms, but we could run together until we got out of the fly belt, and there was not much risk of being bitten as long as we kept up the running in the long grass. It was a long spell, and what with the rough country and the uncontrollable laughter at the sight of Jock, I was pretty well done by the time we were safely out of the 'fly.' We pulled up when the country began to fall away sharply towards the river, and there, to Jock's evident satisfaction, I took off his suit by that time very much tattered and awry.
It was there, lying between two rocks in the shade of a marula tree, that I got one of those chances to see game at close quarters of which most men only hear or dream. There were no snapshot cameras then!
We had been lying there it may be for half an hour or more, Jock asleep and I spread out on my back, when a slight but distinct click, as of a hoof against a stone, made me turn quietly over on my side and listen. The rock beside me was about four feet high, and on the other side of it a buck of some kind, and a big one too, was walking with easy stride towards the river. Every footstep was perfectly clear; the walk was firm and confident: evidently there was not the least suspicion of danger. It was only a matter of yards between us, and what little breeze there was drifted across his course towards me, as he too made for the river, holding a course parallel with the two long rocks between which we were lying. The footsteps came abreast of us and then stopped, just as I was expecting him to walk on past the rock and down the hill in front of me. The sudden halt seemed to mean that some warning instinct had arrested him, or some least taint upon the pure air softly eddying between the rocks had reached him. I could hear his sniffs, and pictured him looking about, silent but alarmed, before deciding which way to make his rush.
I raised myself by inches, close to the rock, until I could see over it. A magnificent waterbuck bull, full-grown and in perfect coat and condition, was standing less than five yards away and a little to the right, having already passed me when he came to a stop; he was so close that I could see the waves and partings in his heavy coat; the rise and fall in his flanks as he breathed; the ruff on his shaggy bearded throat, that gave such an air of grandeur to the head; the noble carriage, as with head held high and slightly turned to windward he sniffed the breeze from the valley; the nostrils, mobile and sensitive, searching for the least hint of danger; and the eye, large and full and soft, luminous with watchful intelligence, and yet mild and calm so free was it from all trace of a disturbing thought. And yet I was so close, it seemed almost possible to reach out and touch him. There was no thought of shooting: it was a moment of supreme enjoyment. Just to watch him: that was enough.
In a little while he seemed satisfied that all was well, and with head thrown forward and the sure clean tread of his kind, he took his line unhesitatingly down the hill. As he neared the thicker bush twenty yards away a sudden impulse made me give a shout. In a single bound he was lost among the trees, and the clattering of loose stones and the crackle of sticks in his path had ceased before the cold shiver-down-the-back, which my spell-breaking shout provoked, had passed away. When I turned round Jock was still asleep: little incidents like that brought his deafness home.
* * * * *
It was our last day's hunting together; and I went back to the dreary round of hard, hopeless, useless struggle and daily loss.
One day, a calm cloudless day, there came without warning a tremendous booming roar that left the air vibrating and seemed to shake the very earth, as a thousand echoes called and answered from hill to hill down the long valley. There was nothing to explain it; the kaffirs turned a sickly grey, and appealed to me; but I could give them no explanation it was something beyond my ken and they seemed to think it an evil omen of still greater ill-luck. But, as it turned out, the luck was not all bad: some days passed before the mystery was solved, and then we came to where Coombes, with whom a week earlier I had tried and failed to keep pace, had been blown to pieces with his boys, waggon, oxen, and three tons of dynamite: there was no fragment of waggon bigger than one's hand; and the trees all around were barked on one side. We turned out to avoid the huge hole in the drift, and passed on.
There were only twenty oxen left when we reached the drift below Fig Tree. The water was nearly breast high and we carried three-fourths of the loads through on our heads, case by case, to make the pull as easy as possible for the oxen, as they could only crawl then. We got one waggon through with some difficulty, but at nightfall the second was still in the river; we had carried out everything removable, even to the bucksails, but the weakened bullocks could not move the empty waggon.
The thunder-clouds were piling up ahead, and distant lightning gave warning of a storm away up river; so we wound the trek-chain round a big tree on the bank, to anchor the waggon in case of flood, and reeling from work and weariness, too tired to think of food, I flung myself down in my blankets under the other waggon which was outspanned where we had stopped it in the double-rutted veld road, and setting comfortably into the sandy furrow cut by many wheels, was 'dead to the world' in a few minutes. Near midnight the storm awoke me and a curious coldness about the neck and shoulders made me turn over to pull the blankets up. The road had served as a storm-water drain converting the two wheel furrows into running streams, and I, rolled in my blankets, had. dammed up one of them. The prompt flow of the released water as soon as I turned over, told plainly what had happened. I looked out at the driving rain and the glistening earth, as shown up by constant flashes of lightning: it was a world of rain and spray and running water. It seemed that there was neither hope nor mercy anywhere; I was too tired to care, and dropping back into the trough, slept the night out in water.
In the morning we found the waggon still in the drift, although partly hidden by the flood, but the force of the stream had half-floated and half-forced it round on to higher ground; only the anchoring chain had saved it. We had to wait some hours for the river to run down, and then to my relief the rested but staggering oxen pulled it out at the first attempt.
Rooiland, the light red ox with blazing yellow eyes and topped horns, fierce and untamable to the end, was in the lead then. I saw him as he took the strain in that last pull, and it was pitiful to see the restless eager spirit fighting against the failing strength: he looked desperate. The thought seems fanciful about a dumb animal and perhaps it is; but what happened just afterwards makes it still vivid and fitted in very curiously with the superstitious notions of the boys. We outspanned in order to re-pack the loads, and Rooiland, who as front ox was the last to be released, stood for a few moments alone while the rest of the cattle moved away; then turning his back on them he gave a couple of low moaning bellows and walked down the road back to the drift again. I had no doubt it was to drink; but the boys stopped their work and watched him curiously, and some remarks passed which were inaudible to me. As the ox disappeared down the slope into the drift, Jim called to his leader to bring him back, and then turning to me, added with his usual positiveness, "Rooiland is mad. Umtagati! Bewitched! He is looking for the dead ones. He is going to die to-day!"
The boy came back presently alone. When he reached the drift, he said, Rooiland was standing breast-high in the river, and then in a moment, whether by step or slip, he was into the flood and swept away. The leader's account was received by the others in absolute silence: a little tightening of the jaws and a little brightening of the eyes, perhaps, were all I could detect. They were saturated with superstition, and as pagan fatalists they accepted the position without a word. I suggested to Jim that it was nothing but a return of Rooiland's old straying habit, and probed him with questions, but could get nothing out of him; finally he walked off with an expressive shake of the head and the repetition of his former remark, without a shade of triumph, surprise, or excitement in his voice: "He is looking for the dead ones!"
We were out of the fly then, and the next day we reached Fig Tree.
That was the end of the last trek. Only three oxen reached Barberton, and they died within the week: the ruin was complete.
OUR VARIOUS WAYS
When the trip was squared off and the boys paid, there was nothing left. Jim went home with waggons returning to Spitzkop: once more for the last time grievously hurt in dignity because his money was handed to my friend the owner of the waggon to be paid out to him when he reached his kraal; but his gloomy resentment melted as I handed over to him things for which there was no further need. The waggons moved off, and Jim with them; but twice he broke back again to dance and shout his gratitude; for it was wealth to him to have the reims and voorslag, the odd yokes and strops and waggon tools, the baking pot and pan and billies; and they were little to me when all else was gone. And Jim, with all his faults, had earned some title to remembrance for his loyalty. My way had been his way; and the hardest day had never been too hard for him: he had seen it all through to the finish, without a grumble and without a shirk.
His last shout, like the bellow of a bull, was an uproarious good-bye to Jock. And Jock seemed to know it was something of an occasion, for, as he stood before me looking down the road at the receding waggons and the dancing figure of Jim, his ears were cocked, his head was tilted a little sideways, and his tail stirred gently. It was at least a friendly nod in return!
A couple of weeks later I heard from my friend:
"You will be interested to hear that that lunatic of yours reached his kraal all right; but that's not his fault. He is a holy terror. I have never known such a restless animal: he is like a change in the weather you seem to feel him everywhere, upsetting everything and every one the whole time. I suppose you hammered him into his place and kept him there; but I wouldn't have him at a gift. It is not that there was anything really wrong; only there was no rest, no peace.
"But he's a gay fighter! That was a treat: I never laughed so much in my life. Below the Devil's Kantoor we met a lot of waggons from Lydenburg, and he had a row with one of the drivers, a lanky nigger with dandy-patched clothes. The boy wouldn't fight just yelled blue murder while Jim walloped him. I heard the yells and the whacks, like the beating of carpets, and the was Jim laying it on all over him legs, head, back, and arms with a sort of ferocious satisfaction, every whack being accompanied by a husky suppressed shout: 'Fight, Shangaan! Fight!" But the other fellow was not on for fighting; he floundered about, yelled for mercy and help, and tried to run away; but Jim simply played round him one spring put him alongside each time. I felt sorry for the long nigger and was going to interfere and save him, but just then one of his pals called out to their gang to come along and help, and ran for his sticks. It was rare fun then. Jim dropped the patched fellow and went like a charging lion straight for the waggons where the gang were swarming for their sticks, letting out right and left whenever he saw a nigger, whether they wanted fight or not; and in about five seconds the whole lot were heading for the bush with Jim in full chase.
"Goodness knows what the row was about. As far as I can make out from your heathen, it is because the other boy is a Shangaan and reads the Bible. Jim says this boy Sam is his name worked for you and ran away. Sam says it is not true, and that he never even heard of you, and that Jim is a stranger to him. There's something wrong in this, though, because when the row began, Sam first tried to pacify your lunatic, and I heard him sing out in answer to the first few licks, 'Kahle, Umganaam; Kahle, Makokel'!' (Gently, friend; gently, Makokel'.) 'Wow, Makokela y' ou bulala mena!' (Wow, Makokela, you will kill me.) He knew Jim right enough; that was evident. But it didn't help him; he had to skip for it all the same. I was glad to pay the noble Jim off and drop him at his kraal. Sam was laid up when we left."
It is better to skip the change from the old life to the new when the luck, as we called it, was all out when each straw seemed the last for the camel's breaking back, and there was always still another to come. But the turn came at last, and the 'long arm of coincidence' reached out to make the 'impossible' a matter of fact. It is better to skip all that: for it is not the story of Jock, and it concerns him only so far that in the end it made our parting unavoidable.
When the turn did come it was strange, and at times almost bewildering, to realise that the things one had struggled hardest against and regarded as the worst of bad luck were blessings in disguise and were all for the best. So the new life began and the old was put away; but the new life, for all its brighter and wider outlook and work of another class, for all the charm that makes Barberton now a cherished memory to all who knew the early days, was not all happy. The new life had its hours of darkness too; of almost unbearable 'trek fever'; of restless, sleepless, longing for the old life; of 'home-sickness' for the veld, the freedom, the roaming, the nights by the fire, and the days in the bush. Now and again would come a sleepless night with its endless procession of scenes, in which some remembered from the past were interlinked with others imagined for the future; and here and there, in these long waking dreams came stabs of memory flashes of lightning vividness: the head and staring eyes of the koodoo bull, as we had stood for a portion of a second face to face; the yawning mouth of the maddened crocodile; the mamba and its beady hateful eyes, as it swept before the bush-fire. And there were others too that struck another chord: the cattle, the poor dumb beasts that had worked and died: stepping-stones in a man's career; the 'books,' the 'chalk and blackboard' of the school used, discarded, and forgotten! No, they were not forgotten; and the memory of the last trek was one long mute reproach on their behalf: they had paved the roadway for the Juggernaut man.
All that was left of the old life was Jock; and soon there was no place for him. He could not always be with me; and when left behind he was miserable, leading a life that was utterly strange to him, without interest and among strangers. While I was in Barberton he accompanied me everywhere, but absurd it seems there was a constant danger for him there, greater though less glorious than those he faced so lightly in the veld. His deafness, which passed almost unnoticed and did not seem to handicap him at all in the veld, became a serious danger in camp. For a long time he had been unable to hear a sound, but he could feel sounds: that is to say, he was quick to notice anything that caused a vibration. In the early days of his deafness I had been worried by the thought that he would be run over while lying asleep near or under the waggons, and the boys were always on the look-out to stir him up; but we soon found that this was not necessary. At the first movement he would feel the vibration and jump up. Jim realised this well enough, for when wishing to direct his attention to strange dogs or Shangaans, the villain could always dodge me by stamping or hammering on the ground, and Jock always looked up: he seemed to know the difference between the sounds he could ignore, such as chopping wood, and those that he ought to notice.
In camp Barbeton in those days was reckoned a mining camp, and was always referred to as 'camp' the danger was due to the number of sounds. He would stand behind me as I stopped in the street, and sometimes lie down and snooze if the wait was a long one; and the poor old fellow must have thought it a sad falling off, a weary monotonous change from the real life of the veld. At first he was very watchful, and every rumbling wheel or horse's footfall drew his alert little eyes round to the danger point; but the traffic and noise were almost continuous and one sound ran into another; and thus he became careless or puzzled and on several occasions had narrowly escaped being run over or trodden on.
Once, in desperation after a bad scare, I tried chaining him up, and although his injured reproachful look hurt, it did not weaken me: I had hardened my heart to do it, and it was for his own sake. At lunchtime he was still squatting at the full length of the chain, off the mat and straw, and with his head hanging in the most hopeless dejected attitude one could imagine. It was too much for me the dog really felt it; and when I released him there was no rejoicing in his freedom as the hated collar and chain dropped off: he turned from me without a sign or sound of any sort, and walking off slowly, lay down some ten yards away with his head resting on his paws. He went to think not to sleep. I felt abominably guilty, and was conscious of wanting to make up for it all the afternoon.
Once I took him out to Fig Tree Creek fifteen miles away, and left him with a prospector friend at whose camp in the hills it seemed he would be much better off and much happier. When I got back to Barberton that night he was waiting for me, with a tag of chewed rope hanging round his neck, not the least ashamed of himself, but openly rejoicing in the meeting and evidently never doubting that I was equally pleased. And he was quite right there.
But it could not go on. On day as he lay asleep behind me, a loaded waggon coming sharply round a corner as nearly as possible passed over him. The wheel was within inches of his back as he lay asleep in the sand: there was no chance to grab it was a rush and a kick that saved him; and he rolled over under the waggon, and found his own way out between the wheels.
A few days after this Ted passed through Barberton, and I handed Jock over to him, to keep and to care for until I had a better and safer home for him.
* * * * *
One day some two years later there turned up at my quarters an old friend of the transport days Harry Williams he had been away on a long trek 'up north' to look for some supposed mine of fabulous richness of which there had been vague and secret reports from natives. He stayed with me for some days, and one evening after the bout of fever and ague had passed off and rest and good feeding had begun to pull him round, he told us the story of their search. It was a trip of much adventure, but it was the end of his story that interested me most; and that is all that need be told here.
They had failed to find the mine; the native who was supposed to know all about it had deserted, with all he could carry off; they were short of food and money, and out of medicines; the delays had been great; they were two hundred miles from any white men; there was no road but their own erratic track through the bush; the rains had begun and the fever season set in; the cattle they had one waggon and span were worn out; the fever had gripped them, and of the six white men, three were dead, one dying, and two only able to crawl; most of their boys had deserted; one umfaan fit for work, and the driver then delirious with fever completed the party.
The long journey was almost over; and they were only a few treks from the store and camp for which they were making; but they were so stricken and helpless it seemed as though that little was too much, and they must die within reach of help. The driver, a big Zulu, was then raving mad; he had twice run off into the bush and been lost for hours. Precious time and waning strength were spent in the search, and with infinite effort and much good luck they had found him and induced him to return. On the second occasion they had enticed him on to the waggon and, as he lay half unconscious between bursts of delirium, had tied him down flat on his back, with wrists and ankles fastened to the buckrails. It was all they could do to save him: they had barely strength to climb up and pour water into his mouth from time to time.
It was midday then, and their dying comrade was so far gone that they decided to abandon one trek and wait for evening, to allow him to die in peace. Later on, when they thought it was all over, they tried to scrape out a grave for him, and began to pull out one old blanket to wrap round him in place of a shroud and coffin. It was then that the man opened his eyes and faintly shook his head; so they inspanned as best they could and made another trek. I met the man some years afterwards, and he told me he had heard all they said, but could only remember one thing, and that was Harry's remark, that 'two gin-cases were not enough for a coffin, so they would have to take one of the blankets instead.'
In the morning they went on again. It was then at most two treks more to their destination; but they were too weak to work or walk, and the cattle were left to crawl along undriven; but after half an hour's trekking, they reached a bad drift where the waggon stuck; the cattle would not face the pull. The two tottering trembling white men did their best, but neither had strength to use the whip; the umfaan led the oxen this way and that, but there was no more effort in them. The water had given out, and the despairing helpless men saw death from thirst awaiting them within a few hours' trek of help; and to add to the horror of it all, the Zulu driver, with thirst aggravating his delirium, was a raving lunatic struggling and wrenching at his bonds until the waggon rattled, and uttering maniac yells and gabbling incessantly.
Hours had gone by in hopeless effort; but the oxen stood out at all angles, and no two would pull together in answer to the feeble efforts of the fainting men. Then there came a lull in the shouts from the waggon, and in answer to the little voorlooper's warning shout, "Pas op, Baas!" (Look out, Master!) the white men looked round and saw the Zulu driver up on his knees freeing himself from the reims. In another moment he was standing up full height a magnificent but most unwelcome sight: there was a thin line of froth along the half-opened mouth; the deep-set eyes glared out under eyebrows and forehead bunched into frowning wrinkles, as for a few seconds he leaned forward like a lion about to spring and scanned the men and oxen before him; and then as they watched him in breathless silence, he sprang lightly off the waggon, picked up a small dry stick as he landed, and ran up along the span.
He spoke to the after-ox by name as he passed; called to another, and touched it into place; thrust his way between the next one and the dazed white man standing near it, tossing him aside with a brush of his arm, as a ploughshare spurns a sod; and then they saw how the boy's madness had taken him. His work and his span had called to him in his delirium; and he had answered. With low mutterings, short words hissed out, and all the sounds and terms the cattle knew shot at them low pitched and with intense repression he ran along the span, crouching low all the time like a savage stealing up for murderous attack.
The two white men stood back and watched.
Reaching the front oxen, he grasped the leading reim and pulled them round until they stood level for the straight pull out; then down the other side of the span he ran with cat-like tread and activity, talking to each and straightening them up as he had done with the others; and when he reached the waggon again, he turned sharply and overlooked the span. One ox had swung round and stood out of line; there was a pause of seconds, and then the big Zulu called to the ox by name not loudly but in a deep low tone, husky with intensity and the animal swung back into line again.
Then out of the silence that followed came an electrifying yell to the span: every bullock leaned to its yoke, and the waggon went out with a rush.
And he drove them at a half-trot all the way to the store: without water; without help; without consciousness; the little dry twig still in his hand, and only his masterful intensity and knowledge of his work and span to see him through.
"A mad troublesome savage," said Harry Williams, "but one of the very best. Anyhow, we thought so; he saved us!"
There was something very familiar in this, and it was with a queer feeling of pride and excitement that I asked:
"Did he ever say to you 'My catchum lion 'live'?"
"By gum! You know him? Jim: Jim Makokel'!"
"Indeed I do. Good old Jim!"
* * * * *
Years afterwards Jim was still a driver, working when necessary, fighting when possible, and enjoying intervals of lordly ease at his kraal where the wives and cattle stayed and prospered.
But I never saw my dog again. For a year or so he lived something of the old veld life, trekking and hunting; from time to time I heard of him from Ted and others: stories seemed to gather easily about him as the do about certain people, and many knew Jock and were glad to bring news of him. The things they thought wonderful and admirable made pleasant news for them to tell and welcome news to me, and they were heard with contented prode, but without surprise, as "just like him": there was nothing more to be said.
One day I received from Ted that he was off to Scotland for a few months and had left Jock with another old friend, Tom Barnett Tom, at whose store under the Big Fig Tree, Seedling lies buried; and although I was glad that he had been with a good friend like Tom, who would care for him as any one could, the life there was not of the kind to suit him. For a few months it would not matter; but I had no idea of letting him end his days as a watch-dog at a trader's store in the kaffir country. Tom's trouble was with thieves; for the natives about there were not a good lot, and their dogs were worse. When Jock saw or scented them, they had the poorest sort of luck or chance: he fought to kill, and not as town dogs fight; he had learnt his work in a hard school and he never stopped or slackened until the work was done; so his fame soon spread and it brougt Tom more peace than he had enjoyed for many a day. Natives no longer wandered at will into the reed enclosed yard; kaffir dogs ceased to sneak into the store and through the house, stealing everything they could get. Jock took up his place at the door, and hungry mongrels watched him from a distance or sneaked up a little closer when from time to time he trotted round to the yard at the back of the building to see how things were going there.
All that was well enough during the day; but trouble occurred at night. The kaffirs were too scared to risk being caught by him, but the dogs from surrounding kraals prowled about after dark, scavenging and thieving where they could; and what angered Tom most of all was the killing of his fowls. The yard at the back of the store was enclosed by a fence of close-packed reeds, and in the middle of the yard stood the fowl-house with a clear space of bare ground all around it. On many occasions kaffir dogs had found their way through the reed fence and killed fowl perching about the yard, and several times they had burgled the fowl-house itself. In.spite of Jock's presence and reputation, this night robbing still continued, for while he slept peacefully in front of the store, the robbers would do their work at the back. Poor old fellow! They were many and he was one; they prowled night and day, and he had to sleep sometimes; they were watchful and he was deaf; so he had no chance unless he saw or scented them.
There were two small windows looking out on to the yard, but no door in the back of the building; thus, in order to get into the yard, it was necessary to go out the front door and round the side of the house. On many occasions Tom, roused by the screaming of the fowls, had seized his gun and run round to get a shot at the thieves; but the time so lost was enough for a kaffir dog, and the noise made in opening the reed gate gave ample warning of his coming.
The result was that Tom generally had all his trouble for nothing; but it was not always so. Several times he roused Jock as he ran out, and invariably got some satisfaction out of what followed; once Jock caught one of the thieves struggling to force a way through the fence and held on to the hind leg until Tom came up with the gun; on other occasions he had caught them in the yard; on others, again, he had run them down in the bush and finished it off there without help or hindrance.
That was the kind of life to which Jock seemed to have settled down.
He was then in the very prime of life, and I still hoped to get him back to me some day to a home where he would end his days in peace. Yet it seemed impossible to picture him in a life of ease and idleness a watch-dog in a house sleeping away his life on a mat, his only excitement keeping off strange kaffirs and stray dogs, or burrowing for rats and moles in a garden, with old age, deafness, and infirmities growing year by year to make his end miserable. I had often thought that it might have been better had he died fighting hanging on with his indomitable pluck and tenacity, tackling something with all the odds against him; doing his duty and his best as he had always done and died as Rocky's dog had died. If on that last day of our hunting together he had got at the lioness, and gone under in the hopeless fight; if the sable bull had caught and finished him with one of the scythe-like sweeps of the scimitar horns; if he could have died like Nelson in the hour of victory! Would it not have been better for him happier for me? Often I thought so. For to fade slowly away; to lose his strength and fire and intelligence; to outlive his character, and no longer be himself! No, that could not be happiness!
Well, Jock is dead! Jock, the innocent cause of Seedling's downfall and death lies buried under the same big Fig Tree: the graves stand side by side. He died, as he lived true to his trust; and this is how it happened, as it was faithfully told to me:
It was a bright moonlight night Think of the scores we had spent together, the mild glorious nights of the Bushveld! and once more Tom was roused by a clatter of falling boxes and the wild screams of fowls in the yard. Only the night before the thieves had beaten him again; but this time he was determined to be even with them. Jumping out of bed he opened the little window looking out on to the fowl-house, and, with his gun resting on the sill, waited for the thief. He waited long and patiently; and by-and-by the screaming of the fowls subsided enough for him to hear the gurgling and scratching about in the fowl-house, and he settled down to a still longer watch; evidently the kafir dog was enjoying his stolen meal in there.
"Go on! Finish it!" Torn muttered grimly; "I'll have you this time if I wait till morning!"
So he stood at the window waiting and watching, until every sound had died away outside. He listened intently: there was not a stir; there was nothing to be seen in the moonlit yard; nothing to be heard; not even a breath of air to rustle the leaves in the big fig-tree.
Then, in the same dead stillness the dim form of a dog appeared in the doorway, stepped softly out of the fowl-house, and stood in the deep shadow of the little porch. Tom lifted the gun slowly and took careful aim. When the smoke cleared away, the figure of the dog lay still, stretched out on the ground where it had stood; and Tom went back to bed, satisfied.
* * * * *
The morning sun slanting across the yard shone in Tom's eyes as he pushed the reed gate open and made his way towards the fowl-house. Under the porch where the sunlight touched it, something shone like burnished gold.
He was stretched on his side it might have been in sleep; but on the snow-white chest there was one red spot.
And inside the fowl-house lay the kaffir dog dead.
Jock had done his duty.
Snake stories are proverbially an 'uncommercial risk' for those who value a reputation for truthfulness. Hailstorms ate scarcely less disastrous; hence these notes!
MAMBA.This is believed to be the largest and swiftest of the deadly snakes, and one of the most wantonly vicious. The late Dr. Colenso (Bishop of Zululand) in his Zulu dictionary describes them as attaining a length of twelve feet, and capable of chasing a man on horseback. The writer has seen several of this length, and has heard of measurements up to fourteen feet (which, however, were not sufficiently verified); he has also often heard stories of men on horseback being chased by black mambas, but has never met the man himself, nor succeeded in eliciting the important facts as to pace and distance. However that may be, the movements of a mamba, even on open ground, are, as the writer has several times observed, so incredibly fast as to leave no other impression on the mind than that of having witnessed a magical disappearance. How often and how far they 'travel on their tails,' whether it is a continuous movement or merely a momentary uprising to command a view, and what length or what proportion of the body is on the ground for support or propulsion, the writer has no means of knowing: during the Zulu war an Imperial officer was bitten by a mamba while on horseback and died immediately.
HAILSTORMS. Bad hailstorms occur every year in South Africa, but they do not last long (ten minutes is enough destroy everything that stands). The distances are immense, and the area of disturbance is usually a narrow strip; hence, except when one strikes a town, very few people ever witness them. This summer hailstorms were more general and more severe in the Transvaal than for some time past. A bad storm baffles description. The size of the hailstones is only one of the factors a strong wind enormously increases the destructiveness; yet some idea may be gathered from the size of the stones. The writer took a plaster cast of one picked up at Zuurfontein (near Johannesburg), in November 1906, which measured 4½ inches long, 3½ wide and 1½ inches thick a slab of white ice. In the Hekpoort Valley (near Johannesburg) and in Barberton, about the same date, the veld was like a glacier; the hail lay like snow, inches deep, and during the worst spells the general run of the hailstones varied in size from pigeons' eggs to hens' eggs; but the big ones, the crash of whose individual blows was distinctly heard through the general roar, are described as 'bigger than cricket balls' and 'the size of breakfast cups,' generally. with an elongation or tail like a balloon. Sheep and buck were killed, and full-grown cattle so battered that some were useless and others died of the injuries; wooden doors were broken in, the panels being completely shattered; corrugated iron roofs were perforated, and in some cases the hailstones drove completely through them. The writer photographed a portion of a roof in Barberton which had suffered thus and saw plaster casts formed by pouring plaster of Paris into the indentations which two hailstones have made in a flower bed in diameter equalling, respectively, tennis and cricket balls.
Near Harrismith, O.R.C., in 1903, two herd boys with a troop of about a hundred goats and calves were caught by the hail. The boys and all the stock, except one old goat, were killed.
NOTE. The spelling of Cape Dutch and native names is in many cases not to be determined by recognised authority. The pronunciation cannot be quite accurately suggested through the medium of English. The figures of weights and measurements of animals are gathered from many sources, and refer only in first-class specimens. The weights are necessarily approximate.
AASVOGEL. (D), a vulture (lit. carrion bird).
ANTBEAR, AARDVARK (D) (Orycteropus Afer).
ANT-HEAP, mound made by termites or 'white ants.' Usually formed by one colony of ants; about two to four feet in base diameter and height, but often in certain localities very much larger. The writer photographed one this year near the scene of the Last Hunt, eighteen feet base diameter and ten feet high, and another in Rhodesia which formed a complete background for a travelling waggonette and six mules. In both cases these mounds were 'deserted cities,' and trees, probably fifty to one hundred years old, were growing out of them.
ASSEGAI (pro. ass-e-guy) (N), native spear.
BAAS (D), master.
BANSELA (pro. ban-sé-la) (N), a present.
Beker (pro. beaker) (D), a cup.
BILLY, a tin utensil with lid and handle, used for boiling water.
BUCKSAIL, tarpaulin for covering transport waggons, which are known as buck-waggons.
BUFFALO, Cape buffalo (Bos Caffer). Height, 5 ft. 6 in.; Weight possibly 1000 lbs.; horns, 48 in. from tip to tip and 36 in. each in length on curve.
BULONG or BILTONG (pro. biltong) (D), meat cut in strips, slightly salted, and dried in the open air.
BUSHBUCK, a medium-sized but very courageous antelope (Tragelaphus scriptus). Height, 3 ft.; weight, 130 lbs.; horns (male only), 18 in.
BUSHVELD, properly BOSCHVELD (D), bush country; also called Low Veld and Low Country.
CANE RAT (Thryonomys swinderenianus).
CETYWAYO (see KETSHWAYO).
CHAKA, properly TSHAKA (N), the first of the great Zulu kings and founder of the Zulu military power.
DASSIE (pro. daas-ey) (D), rock-rabbit; coney (Procavia (Hyrax) capensis) (lit. little badger).
DINGAAN, properly DINGAN (E) (N), the second of the great Zulu kings; brother, murderer, and successor of Chaka.
DISSELBOOM (D), the pole of a vehicle.
DONGA (N), a gully or dry watercourse with steep bank.
DOUGHBOYS, scones; frequently unleavened dough baked in coals; also ash-cakes, roaster cookies, stick-in-the-gizzards, veld-bricks, &c.
DRIFT (D), a ford.
DUIKER (pro. in Eng. dyker, in Dutch dayker) (D), a small antelope found throughout Africa (Cephalophus grimmi). Gross weight, 30 to 40 lbs.; height, 28 in.; horns, 5½ in. (lit. diver, so called from its habit of disappearing and reappearing in low scrub in a succession of bounds when it first starts running).
GO'WAY BIRD, the grey plantain eater (Schizorhis concolor)
HARTEBEESTE (pro. haar-te-beast) (D) a large antelope, of which there are several varieties, varying in gross weight from 300 to 500 lbs. Height, 48 in.; horns, 24 in.
HIGHVELT, properly HOOGEVELD (D), high country; the plateau, about 5000 to 6000 ft. above sea-level.
HONEY BIRD, the honey guide (several species); family Indicatoriaæ.
HONEY-SUCKER, sunbird (several species); family Nectarriniidæ.
HORSE-SICKNESS, a lung affection prevalent during summer in low-lying parts; generally fatal; caused by microbes introduced in the blood by some insect.
IMPALA, (N), an antelope (Æpyceros melampus); habitat, Bushveld; weight, 140 lbs; horns, up to 20 in., straight.
IMPI, (pro. impey) (N) an army or body or armed natives gathered for or engaged in war.
INDUNA, (pro. in-doó-nah) (N), a head-man, captain or chief, great or petty.
INKOS (pro. in-kos 'os' as in verbose) (N), chief; used as a term of respect in address or salutation.
INSPAN, properly ENSPAN (D), to yoke up, harness up, or hitch up.
ISANDHL' WANA, properly 'SANHL'WANA, incorrectly ISANDULA (pro. saanshle-waá-na), meaning 'the little hand,' the hill which gave the name to the battle in which the 24th Regiment was annihilated in the Zulu War, 1879.
KAFFIR CORN, sorghum.
KAHLE (pro. kaa-shle, corrupted in kitchen Kaffir to 'gaashly') (N), gently, carefully, pleasantly, well. 'Hamba kahle,' farewell, go in peace. 'Hlala (pro. shlala) kahle,' farewell, stay in peace.
KEHLA (pro. keh-shlaa) (N) a native of certain age and position entitled to wear the head ring. Dutch, ring kop ring head.
KERRIE or KIRRIE, native sticks used for fighting, frequently knobbed; hence, knob-kerrie.
KETSHWAYO (pro. ketsh-wy-o), incorrectly CETYWAYO, fourth and last of the great Zulu kings.
KLIPSPRINGER (D), a small antelope, in appearance and habit rather like chamois (Oreotragus saltator) (lit. a rock-jumper).
KLOOF (D), a gorge.
KNEEHALTER (D), to couple the head to one foreleg by a reim or strap attached to the halter, closely enough to prevent the animal from moving fast.
KNOORHAAN, commonly, but incorrectly KOORHAAN or KORAAN, (D), the smaller bustard (lit. scolding cock).
KOODOO, properly KUDU (N) (Strepsiceros capensis). Habitat, rugged bushy country. Height, 5 ft.; weight, 600 lbs.; horns, up to 48 in. straight, and 66 in. on curve.
KOPJE (pro. copy) (D), a hill (lit. a little head).
KRAAL (pro. in Eng. crawl) (D), an enclosure for cattle, sheep, &c., a corral; also a collection of native huts, the home of a family, the village of a chief or tribe.
KRANS (D), often spelt KRANTZ (German) (D. krans, a circlet or crown), a precipitous face or coronet of rock on a hill or mountain.
LAGAVAAN, a huge water lizard, the monitor. Cape Dutch, lagewaan (pure Dutch, laguaan) (Varanus niloticus). Maximum length up to 8 ft.
LOOPER, round shot for fowling-piece, about four times the size of buck shot.
MARULA, in Zulu UMGANO, a tree which furnishes soft white wood, which is carved into bowls, spoons, &c.; fruit eaten or fermented for drink (Sclerocarya caffra).
MEERKAT (D), a small animal of the mongoose kind (properly applied to Suricata tetradactyla, but loosely to several species).
MIDDLEVELD, properly MIDDELVELD (D), the mixed country lying between the Highveld and the Bushveld.
NEKSTROP (D), the neck-strap, or reim, which, attached to the yokeskeys, keeps the yoke in place.
NIX (D), nothing (from D. niets).
ORIBI (N), a small antelope (ONrtbia s(oparia). Weight, 3° Ibs.;
height, 24- in.; horns, 6 in.
OUTSPAN, properly UITSPAN (D), to unyoke or unharness; also the camp where one has outspanned, and places where it is customary, or by law permitted, to outspan.
PAUW (pro. pow) (D), the great bustard (lit. peacock).
PANDA, properly 'MPANDE (N), the third of the great Zulu kings.
PEZUZU (N), on top, up, above.
PARTRIDGE, PHEASANT, names applied somewhat loosely to various species of francolin.
Poort (pro. pooh-rt) (D), a gap, or gorge in a range of hills (lit. gate).
QUAGGA, zebra (correctly applied to Equus quagga, now extinct, but still applied to the various species of zebra found in South Africa.
REIM (pro. reem) (D) a stout strip of raw hide.
REIMPIE (pro. reempy) (D), a small reim.
RIETBUCK, properly (D) RIETBOK (pro. reet-buck), reed buck (Cervicapra arundinum). Height 3 ft. 6 in.; gross weight, 140 lbs; horns, male only, up to 16 in.
SABLE ANTELOPE (Hippotragus niger; Dutch, zwaart witpens) Height 4 ft. 6 in.; weight 350 lbs; horns, up to 48 in. on curve.
Sakubona (N), Zulu equivalent of 'Good day.'
SALTED HORSE, one which has had horse-sickness, and is thus considered immune (as in small-pox); hence 'salted' is freely used colloquially as meaning acclimatised, tough, hardened, &c.
SCHANS (pro. skaans) (D), a stone or earth breastwork for defence, very common in old native wars.
SCHELM (D), a rascal; like Scotch skellum.
SCHERM (pro. skarem) (D), a protection of bush or trees, usually against wild animals.
SJAMBOK (pro. in English shambok, in Dutch saam-bok) (D), tapering raw-hide whip made from rhinoceros, hippopotamus, or giraffe skin.
SKEY (pro. skay), a yokeskey; short for Dutch jukskei.
SLOOT (D), a ditch.
SPAN (D), a team.
SPOOR (D), footprints; also a trail of man, animal, or vehicle.
SPRINGBUCK, properly SPRINGBOK (D), a small antelope, (Antidoreas (Gazella) euchore). Habitat, highveld and other open grassy country. Height, 30 in.; weight, up to 90 lbs.; horns, 19 in. (lit. jumping buck).
SPRUIT (pro. sprait; also commonly, but incorrectly, sproot) (D), a stream.
Squirrel or TREE RAT, native name 'MCHINAAND (Funisciurus palliatus).
STEMBUCK (Cape Dutch, stembok or steinbok, from the pure Dutch steenbok, the Alpine ibex), a small antelope (Raphicerus campestais). Height, 22 in.; weight, 25 lbs.; horns 5 in.
STOEP (pro. Stoop) (N), a raised promenade or paved verandah in front or at sides of a house.
TAMBUKI GRASS, also TAMBOOKIE, and sometimes Tambuti (N), a very rank grass; in places reaches 15 ft. high and stem diameter ½ in.
TICK, or RHINOCEROS, BIRD, the 'ox-pecker' (Buphaga Africana).
TIGER. In South Africa the leopard is generally called a tiger; first described by the Dutch tijger.
TOCK-TOCKIE, a slow-moving beetle, incapable of flight. Gets name from its means of signalling by rapping the abdomen on the ground (tenebrionid beetle of the genus Psammodes).
TREK (D) (lit. to pu11), to move off or go on a journey; a journey, an expedition e.g., the Great Trek (or exodus of Boers from Cape Colony, 1836-48); also, and commonly, the time, distance, or journey from one outspan to another.
TREK GEAR, the traction gear, chain, yokes, &c., of a waggon. The Boer pioneers had no chains, and used reims plaited into a stout 'rope'; hence trek-touw, or pulling rope.
TSESSEBE, an antelope, one of the hartebeeste family (Damaliscus lunatus; Dutch, bastard hartebeeste). Height, 48 in.; weight, 300 lbs.; horns, 15 in.
TSETSE FLY, a grey fly, little larger than the common house fly, whose bite is fatal to domesticated animals.
TWIGGLE, little people's word for the excited movement of a small dog's tail, believed to be a combination of wriggle and twiddle.
UMFAAN (N), a boy.
UMGANAAM (N), my friend.
UMLUNGU (N), the native word to describe a white man.
VELD (pro. felt) (D) the open or unoccupied country; uncultivated or grazing land.
VLEI (pro. flay) (D), a small shallow lake, a swamp, a depression intermittently damp, a water meadow.
VOORLOOPER (D) (lit. front walker), the leader, the boy who leads the front oxen; the pat'-intambu (Zulu for 'take the reim').
VOORSLAG (pro. foor-slaach) (D) (lit. front lash or skin), the strip of buck hide which forms the fine end of a whip-lash.
WATERBUCK (Cobus ellipsiprymnus; Dutch, kring-gat). Height, 48 in.; weight, 350 lbs.; horns, males only, 36 in.
WILDEBEESTE (pro. vill-de-beast) (D) (lit. wild cattle), the brindled gnu, blue wildebeeste's (Connochaetes taurinus). Height, 4 ft. 6 in.; weight, 400 lbs.; horns, 30 in.
WILD DOG, the 'Cape hunting dog' (Lycaon pictus).
WOODEN ORANGE, fruit of klapper, a species of Strychnos.
WOLF, the usual name for the hyena, derived from tijger-wolf, the pure Dutch name for the spotted hyena.
YOKESKEY, the wooden slat which, coupled by nekstrops, holds the yoke in place.
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