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´╗┐Title: Tales of South Africa
Author: Bryden, H.A.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tales of South Africa" ***

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Tales of South Africa, by H.A. Bryden.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
TALES OF SOUTH AFRICA, BY H.A. BRYDEN.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE SECRET OF VERLOREN VLEI.

It was not until my second season's hunting with Koenraad du Plessis
that I heard of Verloren Vlei, a place I am never likely to forget.  Du
Plessis was a Transvaal Boer, descended, as his name implies, from that
good Huguenot stock which, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes,
made its way to the Cape to replenish the Dutch settlers.  The French
language quickly died out in South Africa, mainly from a stern
repression; yet here and there, all over that vast land, you may see at
this day, in the strong and stubborn Boer breed, plain traces of the
French admixture.  Du Plessis bore about him very certain indications of
his ancestry.  He was shortish for a Boer, very dark of complexion,
keen-eyed, merry, alert, vigorous and active as a cat.

Nineteen years ago, the north and east of the Transvaal, and the
countries just across the border, were wild and little-known lands,
still teeming with game.  I was wandering through this region, hunting
and exploring.  The gold-fever had recently broken out, and as I
understood something of mining and geology, I put in a good deal of
prospecting as well.  It was a vagrant, delightful existence, and I
thoroughly enjoyed it.

Du Plessis and I met first in the north of Waterberg.  I found him an
excellent good fellow; he took to me; and we quickly became great
friends.  We trekked along the Crocodile River together, crossed it
before it takes its southerly bend, and, for the whole of the dry winter
season, hunted in a glorious veldt abounding in game.  So excellent a
comrade had I found the Boer, and so well had we enjoyed one another's
company, that we engaged to meet again the following season.  Thus, at
the end of July, 1876, we were once more hunting together in that wild
and distant region north-east of the Crocodile.

One evening--I remember it well--we were outspanned in a delightful
valley between low hills, through which a pleasant stream ran--a rare
thing in the prevailing drought.  We had had a good hunt that day, and
the flesh of a fat buffalo cow filled our stew-pot.  Our oxen lay
peacefully in a strong thorn kraal close at hand--for there were lions
about--and our horses were tied up to the wagon-wheels; the fires blazed
ruddily against the outer darkness.  At one of these fires were gathered
our native boys, feasting and chattering, and laughing in high good
humour; at the other, Du Plessis and I sat in our wagon-chairs.  We had
finished our meal, and were smoking our fragrant Rustenburg tobacco and
drinking our coffee; for the day had been hot, and our hunt a long and
exciting one, and our thirst was still unassuaged.  We were talking
about gold and prospecting.  The Dutchman was not over-keen about it,
but he was anxious to help me.

"There's a kloof somewhere about here, Fairmount," (that's my name), he
said, "in which I shot a white rhinoceros five years ago.  I should like
you to see it; I remember some natives brought me a quill of gold which
they had collected up there.  I think you would find it worth looking
at; but this country is so broken, that I can't for the life of me make
out the exact spot.  We shall hit it off presently, no doubt; but just
now it's almost as hard to find as poor Tobias Steenkamp's `Verloren
Vlei.'"

"Verloren Vlei," I replied in Cape Dutch, in which we habitually spoke.
"I never heard of the place.  Where's that?"

"Allemaghte! that's a very queer story," answered Du Plessis.  "Tobias
Steenkamp was a cousin of mine.  One day four years ago he came to our
farm and outspanned.  He had had a hard trek, and lost some oxen, and
was himself smitten with fever.  He stayed a week, and he was for ever
talking of a wonderful _vlei_ [Pronounced _flay_, A vlei is the Dutch
name for a shallow lake.] he had discovered somewhere in an inaccessible
mountain range in this direction, on the shores of which he had found
much gold.  He showed us some fine nuggets; and, indeed, he excited my
brother Hans and myself so much, that we half promised to go back with
him and have a look at the place.

"Well, Tobias got over his fever, obtained fresh oxen, refitted his
wagon, and started off again for his wonderful vlei.  Hans and I could
not get away at that moment; but we meant to hunt in that direction, and
we promised to follow him up in a little time.  He left a boy with us to
show us the road.  In two months' time we had trekked up to the
neighbourhood of Tobias's great discovery, and then we received a shock.
We met his driver and servants returning with the wagon, and no master.
They told us that they had outspanned near the vlei--which they
themselves had never seen; that their master had started off alone up
the mountain next morning--he would never permit any of his boys to go
with him; and that he had never returned.  They had waited and waited,
and had then searched for him in every direction without result.  For a
fortnight this had gone on; and now they had given up the search, and
believed their master dead.  Well, Hans and I took the men back with us
to the mountain again, and made a thorough search, and sent out parties
in every direction into the country round.  We might as well have looked
for the Fiend himself; we never again found a trace of Tobias Steenkamp.
He is dead, undoubtedly, and his fate is wrapped in black mystery.  How
he disappeared, where he went, I cannot say.  We did find _spoor_ of a
man and donkey to the north-east.  The man had disappeared, and the
donkey had been eaten by a lion.  What _their_ mystery was, I know not
either.  We found no trace of a passage up the grim mountain-walls where
poor Tobias had vanished; and as for the vlei itself, well, Hans and I
could make nothing of it.  We never set eyes on it, and half doubted its
existence.  We have always called it since `Verloren Vlei,' and by that
name we and our friends still know it.  And yet Tobias was no fool; he
described the vlei very plainly to us more than once; and he firmly
believed in it.  Allemaghte! yes, of that I am quite certain; and what's
more, he showed me the gold he had found there.  It's incomprehensible."

"That's a queer story of yours, Koenraad," said I.  "I wonder I never
heard you mention it before.  How far away is this place you speak of?"

"About six days' journey from here, I suppose," replied Du Plessis; "and
it's a rough trek."

"Has any one else ever tried to discover this secret?"  I went on.

"Two or three people only," rejoined the Dutchman.  "Tobias's brother
and three other Boers who knew him went on two different occasions; but
they came away no wiser than ourselves.  Neither Tobias nor his bones
have ever come to light."

We went on chatting by the fire that night, and presently turned into
our wagons.

I am bound to confess that the Dutchman's grim story grew upon and
fascinated me.  Mystery has always a curious attraction.  Here was
hidden away some dark episode, in which this simple, unfortunate Boer
had lost his life.  I determined to try to unravel the clew; and the
gold, too, lent an additional motive to the search.

I had small difficulty in persuading Koenraad du Plessis next morning to
lead me to the place of misfortune.  We settled to trek thither, hunting
on our way; and in six days' time we found ourselves outspanned for the
night beneath the loom of the great rock fortress which held so securely
the Dutchman's secret.  It was the hour of sunset as we neared the
mountain range, which lay between us and the north-west.  The sky was a
sheet of red and gold, against which the rugged mass stood out in a
wonderful relief.  Up above the mountain tops, long skeins of great
birds, all following one another slowly and majestically in an endless
maze of evolutions, were silhouetted black against the flaming heavens.
We were a good mile away from the nearest string, but there was a
wonderful stillness of the atmosphere; all nature seemed hushed, except
for the birds--and the faint notes of their peculiar plaintive whistle
told me instantly what they were.

"Why, Koenraad," I said, "those are pelicans, and they're just going
down to water somewhere in the mountains!  See, there they go!"

As I spoke the lower skein sank gently into the mountains, and presently
chain after chain of the singular evolutionaries disappeared softly
within the range, until the last bird had vanished, and the now fading
sky lay clear and unflecked.

"Allemaghte!" ejaculated Du Plessis in his deepest tones; "those are
pelicans surely, and they have gone down to water.  Strange that I have
never seen them there before.  There is the vlei, sure enough!  We will
never rest now till we find it."

We were up at dawn next morning, and as we breakfasted we saw with
intense interest the pelicans rise from the heart of the mountain,
slowly circle about the sky, and then stretch their flight, in their
leisurely and majestic fashion, in our direction.  As they quitted the
mountain, they sank lower towards the flat country, and some of them
were evidently about to pass right overhead.

"They'll come over the wagons," said Du Plessis; "they're off for that
big salt pan we passed yesterday morning."

I dived into my wagon, and took down my rifle.  An idea had struck me.
I pushed a cartridge into the breech, and, as the great birds passed
slowly a hundred yards overhead, took aim at one and fired.  The target
was a big and an easy one: the stricken bird toppled downwards, turning
over and over in its fall, and presently hit the earth with a tremendous
thud.  One of the boys ran and brought it to me.  I opened its bill.
The pouch contained seven fresh fish--six smallish and carp-like,
well-known to the Boers as _karpers_, the seventh a "yellow fish," a
barbel-like fish of a pound and a half.

"Here, Koenraad," I said to my companion, "is proof positive that your
mysterious vlei lies in the mountain and holds water.  These fish are
fresh--they were caught early this morning; and the birds are away to
the salt pan for the day to eat and digest them."

We finished breakfast hastily, and sallied forth on our search.  First,
we followed the tiny stream near which we were camped.  This led us to
the westerly side of the mountain, and manifestly took its rise in some
marshy ground immediately beneath the rock walls.  A careful examination
convinced me that the marsh itself owed its origin to some subterraneous
escape--very probably from the vlei itself--from within the mountains.
But there was no hope of ingress in that direction.  Pursuing our
investigations, we rode carefully round the whole western and southern
face of the mountain-wall, scanning closely every yard of its surface.
This mountain-wall ran in a great semicircle; its dark-red, rampart-like
cliffs were sheer, and wonderfully free from projections and
undergrowth.  We spent the whole day searching for any trace of path or
ingress, and retired to our wagons for the evening completely
discomfited.  There was not foothold for the hardiest cliff climber that
ever risked his life in search of wildfowl eggs.

Next morning, we followed this cliff face along the southerly aspect.
Here, after a little way, it was met by another mass of mountains, into
which it ran, terminating in a chimney-like _cul-de-sac_ at the end of a
short narrow gorge.  Here, too, apparently, there was no possible
approach upward or inward.

"It was here," said Du Plessis, "that the spoor of my cousin was last
seen.  His servants tracked him to this spot, and from there no trace of
him could be found.  It's a mystery I cannot fathom.  He could not
possibly have climbed this way."

We looked up at the dark grim rock walls above us, narrowing so that a
foot or two of pale blue sky could alone be seen, and the thing seemed
an impossibility.  No living man could have made his way up that
terrible chimney.

Retracing our steps from this dark ravine, we tried in another
direction.  All the remainder of that day, and for four long days
thereafter, we explored with infinite care and toil the mass of mountain
on the south-east, east, and northern side of the place where, from the
movements of the pelicans, the lost vlei apparently lay.  We had to
leave our horses behind on these expeditions; we toiled, climbed,
descended, struggled, and fell, often at the risk of our necks and
limbs, but were met everywhere by precipices and ravines which
absolutely barred us in these directions.  The mass of mountain, which
trended away to the north-east for some miles, was, although much broken
up, accessible with great labour, until we had approached within less
than half a mile, as we reckoned, of the mysterious place we sought.
Here, sheer and perfectly hopeless precipices shut us out, exactly as
had been the case on the open part of the mountain we had first
examined.  It seemed clear that Verloren Vlei lay within a ring-fence of
utterly inaccessible cliff wall.

On the fifth evening after our arrival, we lay wrapped in our sheepskin
karosses by the fire, stiffened, sore, and thoroughly disheartened; and
yet, evening after evening, just at the glorious time of sunset, the
pelicans had come swinging over in their majestic hundreds from the
south-east, had skeined and circled in the glowing sky, and had sunk
into the heart of the mountain, and at dawn of day as regularly had they
departed.  The vlei _must_ be there; it was heart-breaking to be baffled
in this way.

I lay long that night in my wagon, thinking out some solution of the
puzzle, until sleep at last overcame me.  While I lay asleep, I had a
very singular dream.  I dreamed that I sat upon a high cliff of rock,
looking down upon a fair lake of water, which lay girt in part by a
sandy shore, and surrounded by a ring of mountains.  It was sunset, and
one end of this lake was white with pelicans.  At other parts were
gathered flocks of wild-duck, and round about flew bands of the swift
desert sand-grouse--Namaqua partridge, as the colonists call them.  And
occasionally the flights of sand-grouse stooped in their pretty way and
drank at the margin of the water.  But I saw yet another sight in that
singular valley.  I saw a tall figure walking by the edge of the lake.
Its back was towards me, and, for the life of me, I could not see its
face.  I gazed and gazed; but the face never turned; and then suddenly
the scene vanished, and my dream was over.  Again I dreamed, and again I
saw the spreading water beneath me, and the wildfowl; but there were no
pelicans and no sand-grouse.  I saw, too, a figure walking along the
shore.  This time the figure was different.  It was shorter, and the
walk was brisker; but again the man's back was towards me, and his face
was hidden.  And then, again, the dream faded, and I saw no more.

Next morning, Du Plessis and I sat at breakfast, still stiff and sore,
yet in better heart.  Our night's sleep had restored our flagging
spirits.  We had agreed to rest after our five days of hard work, and
have a quiet day at our camp.  We were later this morning, and the last
of the pelicans were vanishing for their day's excursion as we sat down
to breakfast I was surprised, therefore, as I looked towards the
mountain, to see a string of wildfowl--evidently duck--circle a few
times in the clear morning sky, and then drop down into the mountains
again, exactly from where the pelicans sank and rose.  I nudged Du
Plessis, whose nose was in his coffee, and pointed.  "Wild-duck!" he
ejaculated--"the first time we have seen them, too.  There is the vlei,
truly enough."

Half an hour later, about nine o'clock, flights of sand-grouse came
overhead, and made straight for the heart of the mountain.  More and
more followed; there must have been many scores of them.  They were the
first we had seen at this camp.

My dream instantly came into my mind.  I attached little importance to
such things, yet the coincidence of the wildfowl and the sand-grouse was
remarkable, and I told Du Plessis what I had dreamed.  Quite in a
chaffing way, I said: "We're going to discover your vlei and its secret
after all, Koenraad.  Dreams do sometimes come true.  I wonder, though,
what on earth the two men's figures could mean?"

Du Plessis was much more serious, and said with a solemn face: "It is
not right to laugh at dreams, my friend; the Heer God sends them for
some good reason, undoubtedly.  I had nearly given this search up as
hopeless.  We must; yes, allemaghte! we must try again."

We strolled after breakfast, taking our pipes with us, to the
chimney-like _cul-de-sac_ where Tobias Steenkamp's footprints had been
last seen, four years before.  The place looked more than ever dark,
narrow, and forbidding; and as we stood upon the sandy floor of the
ravine and gazed upward to the faint patch of sky showing between the
cliffs, two hundred feet above, the sharp contrast made it yet more
awesome.  For half an hour we looked about us, examining carefully every
cranny and projection within our vision.  Suddenly a boyish expedient of
mine flashed into my mind.  I had in my young days in Derbyshire
ascended a steep and very narrow fissure in a cliff among my native
dales, by copying faithfully the example of a sweep's boy, whom I had
watched climbing the great kitchen chimney.  Why not make the attempt
here?  It looked a tremendous risk, but still it might be accomplished
up in the far corner where the cliff-walls ran but a foot or two apart.
I had hazarded my limbs many a time as a boy in search of birds' nests:
why not here in pursuit of this mystery which so strangely baffled us?
I told my plan to Du Plessis; he evidently thought very little of it.
However, as we strolled back to camp, I thought out and discussed my
scheme, and, so far as I could, prepared for it in the afternoon.  We
had at the wagons a long coil of stout rope some one hundred and fifty
feet in length.  It seemed too short for my purpose, and I fastened to
it, therefore, with the greatest care, another seventy feet of strong ox
_riems_--halters of raw hide--carefully lashed one to the other.  I thus
had over two hundred feet of rope.

Next morning, after a long night's rest, Du Plessis and I set off for
the ravine, taking with us our most useful native servant, Andries, one
of the drivers.  I carried about my person some _billtong_ (dried meat),
matches, a revolver, hunting-knife, and a flask of brandy.  Du Plessis
was equipped (save for the revolver) in the same manner.  Arrived at the
extremity of the ravine, we threw down the rope, one end of which I
attached to my waist I wore, as usual, only my flannel shirt and a pair
of moleskin trousers, and upon my feet I had a pair of _velschoens_--
Boer field-shoes, made of strong yet soft leather of home-tanned hide.
These shoes were close-fitting, light, and pliable, and exactly suited
my purpose.

I now made my way back to where a sort of ledge ran sloping upwards a
little way towards the narrowest part of the ravine--at the end.  I
carefully climbed this, and found myself, as I had expected, some thirty
feet on my way up, and now right in the narrowest extremity of the
narrow gorge.  At my back was the cliff wall; in front of me was the
opposing wall, less than two feet away; on my right was the mass of rock
ending the gorge, sometimes uneven and projecting a little, sometimes
almost smooth; on my left hand was open space, where the gorge slowly
widened out I looked upward in doubt, almost in dismay; I looked down
upon Du Plessis' serious face: it was no use waiting; I took one long
breath and began the task.  My plan was this: pressing my feet against
the wall of rock in front, and planting my back hard against the cliff
behind me, I gradually levered my way upwards.  I made use of every
inequality and jutting rock that could aid me, and occasionally obtained
an excellent rest from bits of rock on my right, upon which I could
lean, and thus relieve the tension.  I worked my way as rapidly as
possible, knowing how the strain must tell upon my legs, and, as far as
half-way, or a little beyond, progressed better and more speedily than I
could have hoped.  Now, the labour began to tell more hardly as every
ten seconds passed.  I was in good sound fettle; I had always been a
"stayer"; and my wind was in capital order; but my breath now began to
come with difficulty, the sweat was pouring from me, my shirt was
ripping off my back, and, worst of all, my legs were failing me.  At
three-fourths of the distance--about one hundred and fifty feet up--I
noticed a projecting rock on the right.  I worked up to this with
infinite difficulty, and then, leaning my right arm and as much of my
body over as possible, I rested for full three minutes.  I was now, as I
well recognised, in a very serious plight.  There were yet fifty more
feet of cliff to climb.  I had already undergone what seemed superhuman
labour, and my muscles were relaxing, my strength and wind were ebbing.
To return was as perilous as to go on; to fall meant a shocking death I
took out my brandy flask, drained it to the last drop, uttered within
myself a half-prayer to a God I had long neglected, hitched up my belt
and trousers, and struggled on.  If I live to a hundred, I never can
forget the terrible nightmare of that last fifty feet.  But for the
brandy, that put new if fleeting energy into me--it was Three Star,
luckily, and I believe it saved my life--I should never have succeeded.
I most heartily wished I had never seen Du Plessis, never started on
this accursed trip, never offered to risk my life.  I struggled on,
growing weaker and slower.  Once I slipped three or four good feet, and
only saved myself by some miraculous luck!  The sharp wall behind me
laid a deep furrow into my back as I did so, and I felt the warm blood
issuing forth and mingling with the sweat that ran from me.

Once more I set my teeth for the last twenty feet.  I recovered my
ground, and foot by foot fought my way on.  The muscles of my legs
quivered like aspen leaves; I feared they would give way each moment.
At last--I hardly know how--I found my face above the cliff; the sweet
outer air met me; I gave a last struggle, got foothold on the right,
flung myself forward, and lay upon the cliff top with my feet still
projecting over the edge.  I remember hearing a faint shout from far
beneath me, and then all swam.

When I came to, I suppose I had lain senseless for a quarter of an hour.
I was in sorry plight indeed.  I was stiff, sore, bleeding from my
back, and the poor remnant of my shirt hung in front of me.  I staggered
to my feet and looked about me.  A glance showed me that there were yet
difficulties to be overcome before we could descend to the vlei, yet
they were not insuperable.  The chiefest of them lay in a sharp
saddle-back of rock, sheer on either side, which had to be crossed
somehow before the main mass of the inner ring of mountain could be
attained.  But my strength was coming back to me; a sense of triumph and
elation over the dreadful task I had conquered rose in my breast; and my
determination to pierce the secret of the valley was stronger than ever.

Here and there upon the cliff top grew some wild olive trees, stunted
and dwarfed, but strong.  To one of these I fastened the end of the rope
I had brought up with me.  I now approached the edge, lay down, and
looked over.  Du Plessis was there, gazing anxiously upward.  I shook
the rope and shouted to him to come up.  We had agreed upon this plan,
if I succeeded; and he now fastened the lower end of the rope round his
waist and began his climb.  With the help of the rope it was
comparatively easy work.  The Dutchman was strong in the arms and
active, and came steadily on.  Occasionally he unbound the rope, and
refastened it at a higher point to his waist, as an insurance against
falls.  In fifteen minutes he was up beside me.  Even his journey had
been no light one.  He, too, streamed with perspiration; his limbs
trembled, and he flung himself to the ground to gather breath and rest.

"Maghte!  Fairmount," he gasped as soon as he had recovered a little
breath, "you must have got up by a miracle.  Even with that rope, I
don't think I would care to climb the cliff again.  'Tis a job only fit
for a klipspringer [a small and very active mountain antelope], not a
man!"

We rested full twenty minutes, smoked a pipe of tobacco, and then set
about completing the rest of our task.  The sharp saddle-back, a bridge
of rock which crossed another deep ravine between us and the inner
mountain, looked excessively nasty.  In some places it was as much as
four feet wide; in others it narrowed to as little as two.  There were
about forty yards of it; and in portions the surface was rugged and
sharp.

"Come along, Du Plessis," I said; "the sooner we're over the better.
The rest seems easy enough."

The broader part of the bridge came first, and admitted of walking for
ten yards.  Then it narrowed.  I went down upon all-fours, and crawled.
It was nerve-shaking work; for the bridge fell away sheer on either
side, and the drop of nearly two hundred feet meant a horrible death.
In the middle of the bridge the space was too narrow even for crawling;
it was necessary to sit astride, and so fudge one's way along for ten or
twelve yards.  At last the broader part came again, and in five yards
more the solid mountain top and safety were achieved.  Du Plessis had
followed close behind, imitating carefully my tactics.  As we stood up
upon safe ground again, I noticed that he was deadly pale.  He shook his
head, as he looked at me ruefully, and wrung the sweat from his brow.
"Man!" he said, "if I had not been _shamed_ into following you, I never
would have come across that place, no, not for a thousand Verloren
Vleis.  You are unmarried and a little foolhardy.  I am married, and
have a wife and six children pulling at my jacket.  I didn't bargain for
these adventures; they are only fit for baboons."

"Come on, Koenraad," I replied, laughing.  "It's a nasty crossing, I
own; but it's all plain sailing now, apparently."

We went on over the mountain for twenty minutes; then came a shallow
kloof, thickly bushed at bottom; then another ascent, a rough walk of
another half-hour; and then, clearing some more bush and low scrub that
grew here upon the mountain top, we came suddenly upon an enchanting
scene.  "The vlei!" we exclaimed in a burst together, then stood and
gasped in very pleasure and bewilderment.

Right below us, ringed in by a perfect amphitheatre of mountain, lay an
oval sheet of water, its smooth surface, unruffled by a flaw of wind,
shining beneath the ardent sunlight like the mirror of a giantess.  This
vlei--the long-lost vlei, undoubtedly--was about half a mile long by
three hundred yards in breadth.  Here and there upon the placid water
floated troops of wildfowl; and high in the air hung a fishing-eagle or
two, keenly intent upon sport beneath.  Immediately below us, the lake
seemed deep; but towards the far end, it evidently shallowed, and upon
one side of that end grew dense masses of reeds.  The shores, save where
the reed-beds grew, were in places sandy; elsewhere, of rock.  Between
the water and the mountain sides, which sloped easily downward, and were
well bushed, was an outer ring of reddish soil, masked by a park-like
growth of scattered acacia thorns.  It was now the month of August, and
getting towards African spring-time, and, favoured doubtless by the
neighbourhood of the vlei, the acacias were already putting forth a
pleasant bravery of green leafage.  Birds--many of them of brilliant
plumage--were in plenty about this gem-like spot.  It seemed that here
in this secret place Nature had done her utmost to atone for much of the
drought and hardship that at this season lay in the wilderness outside.

For five minutes we stood gazing with a sense of rapture at this goodly
scene.  We looked keenly hither and thither, but could discern no trace
of human existence.  Then we descended.  We reached the water without
great difficulty; upon its margin we lay down and drank long and
eagerly.  Having thus refreshed ourselves, and eaten some of the little
store of food we had brought with us, we set out to explore the vlei
thoroughly.  The chief thing in our minds was to ascertain the fate of
Tobias Steenkamp, whether living or dead.  And first we settled to
search systematically the side upon which we stood.  We looked carefully
for traces of spoor, yard by yard along the sand fringing the water.
Not a footprint could we discover.  Once or twice we came across the
tracks of klipspringers and leopards, but no sign of human life was
there.  We turned back, and searched among the groves of thorny acacia,
now fragrant with the strong scent of the rich sweet blossoms, but with
the same ill success.  It was now late in the afternoon; we passed round
the end of the vlei, skirted the reed-bed, and then came upon more rocky
formation.  It was here that I first convinced myself of the
gold-bearing richness of the valley.  In a crevice of rock, time-worn by
long ages of water-wear and decay, I picked up three smallish nuggets.
I am afraid this success rather threw us off the search for Tobias
Steenkamp, of which we had already begun to despair.  Several times
during the day we had raised our voices and hallooed loudly, in faint
hopes of an answer.  The cliffs eagerly returned us echo after echo, but
there was nought else.  For the rest of the short afternoon time we
scrambled about the rocks, peering into crannies and basins.  We had
fair success, and by evening had between us gathered some fourteen
ounces of gold, all in nuggets.

It was now sundown; already the pelicans had arrived, and were sailing
about the sky in marvellous intricacies; the light was going fast, and
we must prepare to camp for the night.  We had told our men at the
wagons not to expect us till next day; they would be therefore under no
anxiety.  We picked a place not far from the water, where the view was
open, and danger from the approach of night _ferae_ minimised.  We chose
a smooth sandy spot under a wall of rock.  In front we made two good
fires, and then, having eaten a scant supper, we sat smoking and talking
beneath the warm starlight.  It was about nine o'clock; we were both
becoming drowsy, when Du Plessis suddenly sat bolt upright and listened
breathlessly.  "Did you hear that?" he whispered in a low, intense
voice.  "No," I said, sinking my voice too, for the man's strange
demeanour rather awed me.

"I heard a man groan--or a _spook_," he said.

Now, I am not a believer in spooks at any time; yet it was a wild, eerie
place, and the senses of these Boer hunters are so preternaturally
quickened by long acquaintance with savage life, that I knew Koenraad
must have heard something.

I listened intently, and again we both heard a faint groan, as of a man
in pain.

"Allemaghte!" whispered Du Plessis, "what, in the name of the Heer God,
can it be?"  A moment later he clutched me by the arm, and pointing with
his right hand, whispered fiercely: "Look! look!"

The moon was now up and shining brightly, and the valley had passed from
the dimness of the starlight.  I looked where the Boer was pointing, and
saw something that sent a shiver down my back.  Certainly there _was_ a
shapeless _something_ crawling slowly towards the water on our left
front, one hundred and fifty yards away.  Again came the faint groan we
had heard.

"This is bosh," I said.  "It's a man, undoubtedly, and he's in pain.  It
may be your cousin.  Come and look."  I sprang to my feet, picked up my
revolver, and started off.  Du Plessis pulled himself together--he had
need, for he was a firm believer in spooks--and followed closely.  We
approached the creeping thing--it looked more like a man.  I hailed it,
and again a low groan came.  We reached the dark object.  It was a man,
or the remains of one, emaciated, half-clad in tattered rags; and it
crawled upon all-fours, dragging one leg.  It was not a Boer--not Tobias
Steenkamp.  In a flash it came into my mind that here was the second
figure, of my strange dream.

"Who are you?"  I said.

"Water, for God's sake!" was all the poor wretch could utter.  I ran to
the water, filled the top of my felt hat, and came back.  The tattered
figure drank eagerly.

"Come, Du Plessis," I said; "let's carry him up to the camp-fire."

We picked the poor framework up, and carried it to the fire; it weighed,
I suppose, about five stone.  Then we got out Du Plessis' flask, poured
out some brandy, mashed up some biscuit and water with it, and
administered the mess out of the flask cup.  The brandy seemed to revive
the poor creature.  We gave him a piece of _billtong_ to suck, and at
last he spoke.

"I know your face," he said, looking at me; "don't you remember Spanish
Jack?"

Of course I remembered Spanish Jack, a well-known prospector in the
Eastern Transvaal some few years before.  Three parts English, one part
Spanish, he was one of those restless pioneers who move, Uhlan-like,
before the main body of the gold-diggers, always on the hunt for new
finds.  Looking at the poor death's-head before me, I could only
recognise, in the dark, cavernous eyes and the mass of tangled black
hair, the faintest traces of the strong, restless, dare-devil prospector
known as Spanish Jack.

"How did you come here?"  I queried, and in the same instant, "What's
become of Tobias Steenkamp?" asked Du Plessis in Dutch.

"Give me a drop more brandy," answered the man in a hoarse whisper, "and
I'll tell you."

We gave him part of our small remaining stock, with some water, and he
went on, speaking, however, with great difficulty.

"I was up in these parts with a donkey and a bit of an outfit four years
ago, and I heard from a nigger that a Dutchman had got into this place;
and, after a lot of trouble, I found my way in too, from another
direction, nor'-east there.  I had some grub, and I meant to camp for a
week, as alluvial gold was wonderfully plentiful.  On the fifth day
after I got here, Tobias Steenkamp turned up.  It was the second and
last trip he made.  He was mad to find me here, and told me it was his
place, and I was to clear.  We quarrelled; he struck me, and in my rage
I out with my knife and stabbed him in the chest.  He died within an
hour.  You will find his bones along there under a bit of a cairn near
the water.  Well, after that I only wanted to get out of the place.  I
took what gold I had picked up, and started up the mountain again.  In
my hurry I was careless; I fell, broke my right thigh, and here I have
been ever since.  My leg healed in a rough sort of way; but there's a
false joint; the bone kept coming away, and I could never walk properly
again.  I managed to pick up food by snaring fowl and catching fish; but
latterly I've been too weak to do that.  For the last month I've been
slowly starving.  Lizards and roots are what I've lived on--that's God's
truth.  My leg's been getting worse, and I've had to crawl, mostly,
these last three months.  I never expected to reach the water again
after to-night, and then I think I should have pinched out.  Time
enough, too.  This place has been worse than hell itself."

There was a hunted terror in the man's eye that implied more than his
words.  I doubted somehow whether I had heard the plain truth.  The poor
wretch was by this time exhausted, and could say no more.  I gave him,
at his request, a piece of tobacco; he clapped it into his cheek, and
thought he could doze a bit.

I turned to Du Plessis, who had meanwhile, with very grim looks, edged
away from the man who, he understood from me (I had translated the gist
of the prospector's story), had slain his cousin.  His feeling of
vengeance was strong--remember, he was but a primitive Transvaal Boer;
but what could even he say, as we looked at this poor travesty of a man,
this living skeleton, with its broken, deformed leg, that now slept,
huddled up to the fire as closely as the starved Bushman of the
Kalahari?

It was now late, and Du Plessis and I, too, lay down and slept; the day
had been long and hard, and we were dog-tired.  The dawn was cold; and
coatless, almost shirtless, as I was, I awoke early, very stiff and
sore.  Du Plessis had a cord coat on; he yet slept soundly, and even
snored.  But the figure across the fire seemed very still.  I moved
quietly to it, touched it gently.  It was stiff and cold.  Spanish
Jack's troubles and agonies were over; his prospecting was done; and for
the blood upon his hands he would never answer upon this earth.  Whether
he died from the excitement of the meeting; whether that last agonising
journey to the water had spent the remaining flicker of strength left
within him; whether the story he had told us of Tobias Steenkamp's death
was the true one, I cannot tell.

I roused Du Plessis.  Together we went down towards the vlei and found
the pile of stones, where, surely enough, the bones of a tall man--
undoubtedly Tobias Steenkamp--lay.  These we carefully replaced; then,
exploring up-hill from where we had come upon the prospector, we found a
cave or hollow in which the poor wretch had evidently made a home.  Here
were Steenkamp's hat and hunting-knife, among other remnants; and here,
too, a pile of nuggets, no doubt collected by Spanish Jack.  These
nuggets, with a small skin bag partly full of gold-dust, washed, no
doubt, from the sands of the vlei--a small tin digger's pan of Spanish
Jack's showed us that--we took with us.  After that, we buried the dead
prospector as well as we could, piled big stones above his rude grave,
and quitted the place.

We had no wish to tarry there, fair as was the spot.  Rather the grim
associations of the vlei, the deed of blood enacted there, and the
melancholy death we had been witnesses of, impelled us away from it.

After much toil, we safely reached our wagons late that afternoon, worn
and famished.  We had, somehow, no wish to bequeath to others the secret
of the vlei.  Having safely descended by the rope, therefore, we set
about destroying our traces.  Two of our boys were waiting for us at the
bottom of the ravine.  With these we took a united haul at the rope.
The strain was great; the rope parted, as we had expected, far up the
cliff, where the hide riems joined the rope itself, and no vestige of
our means of descent remained to searchers from below.  Next day we
trekked from the neighbourhood.  The gold we had found realised, some
months later, seven hundred pounds, which Du Plessis and I divided
between us.

Verloren Vlei, with its smiling face, its dark history, and its wealth
of gold--for gold must be there in abundance--lies, I believe, to this
day still a secret and an unknown place.  No doubt the pelicans and the
sand-grouse that first revealed its mysteries to Tobias Steenkamp and
ourselves, still visit it in time of drought--towards the driest period
of African winter.  Some day, I suppose, its recesses will be made
accessible and its wealth laid bare.  For others that day may come; but
for ourselves, neither Koenraad du Plessis nor I have any wish--having
prospered in other directions--to tempt fortune there again.



CHAPTER TWO.

A BUSHWOMAN'S ROMANCE.

Nakeesa, the Bushwoman, awoke just as dawn crept upon the silent veldt.
She belonged to that strange houseless race of wild hunters who roam the
waterless, illimitable deserts of the North Kalahari, subsisting
sometimes on game, at other times upon roots, reptiles, and berries.

It is needless to say that Nakeesa lay roofless.  A little screen of
branches, interwoven with a friendly bush, sheltered her and her
sleeping husband and her child from the chill south wind that just now
began to move through the desert.  It was June--midwinter--and the night
had been keen even to frostiness--so cold that Nakeesa had lain almost
_in_ the fire through the long hours.  Her short hartebeest-skin cloak,
and the tiny skin petticoat about her loins, only half protected her
gaunt, three-quarter starved frame.  The baby had nestled in the warmest
corner of her cloak, as near to the fire as might be without burning.
So close had Nakeesa lain to the pleasant warmth, that the shins of her
poor bony legs were burnt raw, as they had been for weeks past.  Her
man, Sinikwe, lay scorched in exactly the same way.

You may never, indeed, see a Masarwa Bushman or woman who does not show
marks of fire-burn upon the nether limbs.  Among the old people, if you
look close enough, you may see that their wrinkled breasts and bellies
are scorched and raw also.

Nakeesa sat up, pushed a half-burned stick or two into the smouldering
fire, and looked about her.  Sinikwe lay still asleep.  There was no
need to wake him, and, indeed, he would resent such interference.  She
looked about her in a dull, rather hopeless way.  There was no food in
the camp--if camp it could be called.  Sinikwe had shot or snared no
meat of late.  Drought lay upon the desert, and game was scarce.  In a
little while she must be digging for roots in the hard sunbaked soil,
and her babe would be crying at her lean, starved breast.  All day
yesterday had she been sucking water from a moist hole in the ground,
and discharging it from her mouth into ostrich shells and a calabash--a
sufficiently fatiguing operation in thirsty soil.  But these things
alone hardly troubled Nakeesa.  They were natural incidents of Bushman
life, and scarce needed regrets.  Something deeper and more bitter lay
within her soul--something that even her cowed, submissive nature
constantly rebelled against.

Twelve months since, Nakeesa's father had handed her over to Sinikwe,
who, for the consideration of two solid brass cartridge cases (articles
much prized by Masarwas as snuff-boxes) and the half of a slain eland,
had bought her as wife.  Now Nakeesa had no great admiration for
Sinikwe.  He was a good hunter, it was true; all Masarwas are.  But he
was lazy, and not very amiable; he was ugly even for a Bushman; and she
had had another youth in her eye.  Kwaneet--the pleasant, merry
Kwaneet--who had shown her several little kindnesses at Makwa Pool, and
had presented her with many titbits of flesh, while their respective
families squatted near that water, was the man of her secret choice.

Kwaneet, too, knew this, and was anxious to link his fortunes with
Nakeesa's; but, most unfortunately, Sinikwe had acquired the coveted
cartridge cases from an English hunter, and had secured his wife.
Kwaneet, it is true, could easily have slain an eland, and had offered
to do so; but though, like Sinikwe, he carried at his neck--as every
decent Masarwa should--his own well-polished brass cartridge case, as
snuff-box, he had not two spare ones to offer Nakeesa's father; and so
he had lost Nakeesa, and Sinikwe had taken her.

Nakeesa's eyes, as she squatted over the fire this morning, ranged over
typical Kalahari scenery.  In front of her lay an open grassy clearing,
yellow with sun-parched winter grass.  This and other glades in the
vicinity Sinikwe meant to set fire to in a day or two, in order to renew
the vegetation, as the first rains came on, and so attract the game.
Beyond the clearing, and upon the left hand and right, stretched the
pleasant open forest of the desert--groves of giraffe-acacia (_kameel
doorn_), through which still wander freely in these pathless, waterless
solitudes the tall giraffe, the portly eland, the brilliant red
hartebeest, and the noble gemsbok (prototype of the fabled unicorn).

This Kalahari forest scenery, flat though it is, is very beautiful,
resembling closely some English deer park, or the natural woodland of
some wild Surrey common.

The deep red glow of sunrise was now apparent through the trees to the
eastward, long streamers of rose-pink flew upwards in the pale sky; a
roller or two, brilliant in gorgeous colouring of metallic mauves and
violets, purples, blues, and greens, began to cry amid the forest, and
to flash hither and thither across the clearing.  Dainty steinboks and
timid duykers (small antelopes, quite independent of water, to be found
all over the desert) rose stiff from their cold night couches, shook
themselves, and began to feed.

Suddenly a movement to the right attracts Nakeesa's attention.  She
looks again, and an involuntary click of surprise and pleasure rises to
her tongue.  She touches her man lightly.  Sinikwe is awake and upon his
haunches in an instant; his narrow, bleared eyes seek what Nakeesa has
seen, and they watch together in a motionless silence.

From behind a spreading acacia tree, from which it has been plucking the
green leafage, strides into a little glade of the grove a great cow
giraffe.  She is fat and fresh, her dappled, orange-tawny hide gleams
under the now risen sun with high condition, her great, melting, dark
eye is placid and free from fear.  Timid creature though she is, in
these wilds she feels secure enough.  She halts for a minute in the
glade, lazily champing at a bit of acacia leafage which projects from
her lips, and, raising her immense neck yet higher, and in the same
motion swinging her head easily round, looks behind for her fellows.
That giraffe cow, so plump, so well coloured, upon which Sinikwe's eye
is now fiercely rivetted, is young, but full grown.  She measures
seventeen good feet from the base of her hoofs to the tip of her false
horns, as she stands there, and you may search all Africa--ay, all the
world--for a more wonderful, more beautiful picture of feral life in its
most primaeval form.

There is no air of wind blowing from the Masarwas towards the giraffe;
the breeze trends rather the other way, and they are safe from betrayal
by that foe.  They are concealed from sight by the screen of bush
beneath which they crouch, and a few handfuls of sand, cast by Sinikwe
upon the smouldering fire, silently destroys that evidence of human
life.

In another minute the great creature swings her head round, satisfied
that her fellows are near, and stalks slowly on.  She is but sixty yards
away now, and, passing another group of trees and some bush, emerges
upon the open glade.  Before she has reached the further side, the rest
of the troop are to be seen following in her wake.  There are six of
them in all: a mighty dark chestnut bull, nineteen feet tall, three more
cows, and two calves.  The beautiful giants stride like strange
automatons across the clearing, with that gliding, deceptive walking
pace of theirs, and join the leader at a great spreading acacia, from
which they all begin to pluck, with upstretched necks and prehensile
tongues, the dark-green foliage.

Sinikwe's eyes had greedily followed the great cow in all her movements.
That is the quarry he means to strike for.  Luckily he had smeared his
tiny bone-tipped reed arrows with fresh poison taken from the entrails
of the N'gwa caterpillar only yesterday.  He now picks up his bow and
quiver, slings the latter across his back, and steals away by a
circuitous route to intercept the troop.  It is three hours before he
gets his shot.  At length, after infinite patience and manoeuvring, he
has wormed himself into a patch of thick bush, by which, as he had
reckoned, the great cow would pass.  Stooping on one knee, he harbours
there, motionless as some bizarre figure of bronze; the cow glides past,
like some great desert ghost; Sinikwe lets fly his arrow deep into the
thinnest part of her tough hide, under the hinder part of the belly; the
startled creature flies crashing through the forest, and the Masarwa
knows that with her death is now only a question of hours.  It may be a
day, or two days, or even three, but the poison already at work is fresh
and at its deadliest; the arrowhead went well home, and the cow is his.

He returns to Nakeesa, gives her the news, and sends her into the grass
veldt to dig up roots, while he himself prepares to make snuff.  Taking
her babe on her back, neatly slung in her skin cloak, Nakeesa hies her
to a likely spot.  She takes also with her an empty tortoiseshell in
which to bring home the bulbs, and a sharp-pointed stick garnished at
top with a circular piece of soft stone.  With this last implement she
can the more easily crow up their dinner.

Out there in the hot sun Nakeesa patiently digs and digs, slowly
accumulating the dish of roots.  The red sandy soil is now burning hot
to the touch; there is no inch of shade from the scorching sun, and she
has not tasted food or water for twenty hours.  These things trouble the
Bushwoman not at all; they have always been a part of her existence, and
she cannot imagine a world without toil and heat, hunger and thirst.
Just now, too, she is somewhat comforted at the thought of a mighty
feast of meat in the not distant future.  Sinikwe is lazy, and time
after time neglects to hunt game when Kwaneet--Kwaneet is often in her
mind--would have brought in good store of flesh.  But Sinikwe, to give
him his due, is as good a hunter and spoorer as any in the wide
Kalahari, if the game is nigh and not far to seek.  She knows that the
giraffe is as good as dead, that soon, for a few brief days, she may
revel in a gross plenty, and that her babe will be less petulant again.
In two hours Nakeesa has filled the tortoiseshell and returns to her
man.

Sinikwe, meanwhile, has been having an easy time, preparing a fresh
supply of snuff against his coming spooring operations and the feast
that is to follow.  Out of the dead fire he has extracted some ash from
a particular sort of bush which he put in last night.  This he works
down to the finest possible consistency.  Taking from a leather pouch a
tiny piece of tobacco--the precious gift of a Lake trader--he cuts off a
piece, and in turn reduces that to fine dust by means of flat stones.
Then carefully mingling the ashes and the tobacco dust, and again
grinding them down together, his snuff is made.  With this prized
commodity he can refresh his jaded senses upon a difficult spoor,
titillate his nerves after a big gorge of flesh, and purchase the
pleased glances of his wife when in his bounty he shall deign to bestow
a pinch or two upon her.  Besides his snuff-making, an operation
demanding the gravest care, Sinikwe has sharpened up the blade of his
only spear, at once his weapon of defence, carver and skinning-knife, to
the haft of which he has fastened his skin cloak and a small calabash of
water in preparation for the journey before him.  He has sharpened, too,
his primitive hatchet, used for chopping bones and extracting marrow.
That hatchet--the head of iron, the haft of rhinoceros horn--is
Sinikwe's most treasured possession.  His father acquired it long since,
at infinite cost of feathers and ivory from the Bechuana who fashioned
it.

Presently Nakeesa comes in, and the roots--curious little smooth bulbs,
sweet and nutty to the taste--are divided, three-fourths to Sinikwe,
one-fourth to Nakeesa.  These bulbs are bestowed in thin transparent
crops taken from dead guinea-fowls, which are now softened in water for
the purpose.  A skewer of wood is run throughout several; in half an
hour the sun has again dried these curious receptacles, and the
Bushman's bread supply is complete.  Taking his lion's share of the
food, and munching a few bulbs before he departs, Sinikwe now exchanges
with his wife a few sentences in that curious, whining, inarticulate
form of speech peculiar to the Bushman, every passage of it as full of
clicks as tongue, throat, teeth, and palate can make it; shoulders his
belongings, and sets off briskly upon the spoor of the wounded giraffe.

Nakeesa is to follow him at leisure; she will, you may swear, be up at
the carcase long before Sinikwe has made much havoc with it.  But she
has to carry more water and the child, and will take her own time.  She
devours a few bulbs and then goes to the water-pit.  At present there is
no water there, only some moist sand in a deep hollow.  But Nakeesa
knows what she is about.  To the end of a hollow reed she has fastened a
tuft of grass.  This she inserts into the damp hole which she scoops
from the sand.  Then she kneads sand round the base of her rude pump and
over the tuft of grass and sucks.  Little by little the water thus
collected reaches and fills her mouth, from which it is discharged, by
means of a thick stalk of desert grass, into an ostrich shell.  It is
hard work and slow, but in two hours Nakeesa has filled her three
remaining ostrich shells.  These and some others, the holes of which are
all carefully sealed with grass, she bestows in a rude net of fibre.

With this load, together with a calabash of water, her babe, her larder
and household gear (the bulbs, a steinbok skin, and the tortoiseshell),
she sets off on her way towards that banquet of giraffe flesh for which
her soul now pines.  It is a long, long journey, but she has no trouble
whatever in following Sinikwe's spoor.  She traces it to the spot where
the Masarwa set off upon the tracks of the wounded cow, and then, mile
after mile through the desert, she deciphers easily the familiar tale
that slowly the earth unfolds to her.  The giraffe is strong and lusty,
and the poison takes long to do its work upon so huge a frame.

Nakeesa toils on doggedly with her load.  She sleeps the first night
(she started in the afternoon) in a belt of Mopani forest.  At earliest
dawn, as soon as she can see spoor, she is away again steadily trudging.
It is weary work.  The white glare of the sun upon the light calcareous
sand, through which she ploughs all morning, is trying enough; yet
infinitely more distressing is it when she crosses the four miles of a
vast salt pan.  The blinding glare thrown up from the flat white surface
of the pan makes even the seasoned eyes of a Bushwoman throb and smart,
and the heat is terrible.

There is a gleam of satisfaction even upon the salt pan, however.
Nakeesa sees plainly enough by the spoor that the giraffe cow is in sore
trouble.  Here she has reeled, there spurned the smooth white sand as
she starts off again at speed, galled into frenzy by the poison that now
runs riot through her veins.  And ever, like bloodhound upon a trail,
run the footprints of Sinikwe side by side with the giraffe spoor.
Nakeesa sees that he has put on his hide sandals, so burning is the
glittering white sand.  So plain is the tale to her eyes that Nakeesa
knows now surely enough that to-morrow by noon she will rest by the dead
carcase.

In the hottest hour of afternoon, as she mounts with a sense of relief
the further edge of the great salt pan, Nakeesa sees a figure coming
towards her.  Who can it be?  Not Sinikwe, certainly.  In five minutes
her old lover, Kwaneet, stands before her.  They squat them down beneath
a solitary Mopani tree, whose bifid, butterfly-like leaves (now parched
and shrivelled), turned ever edgewise to the sun, afford them the
scantiest shade, and exchange greeting.  Kwaneet takes a little--a very
little--of the precious snuff from the cartridge case at his neck, and
offers his friend a pinch from the palm of his hand.  With a gratitude
almost too great for words Nakeesa takes and enjoys the precious stuff.
What a relief!  No dainty cup of afternoon tea was ever so grateful to
fashionable dame as that pinch of snuff to the weary Masarwa woman.  Her
eyes sparkle a little, she plucks up energy again.

"So, Kwaneet!" she says.  "Have you had water?  Whence come you?"

"There is no water," replies the Masarwa.  "I am eaten up by the sun.
Two mornings agone I drank a little.  I go to Makwa, where there may be
yet a little.  And I shall there hunt for hartebeest-skins against the
coming of Khama's headmen.  What news have you, Nakeesa?  I saw the
print of Sinikwe's sandal yonder, following the Ng'habe," (giraffe),
"and so came on this way, knowing I should meet you.  How goes life with
you?"

"There is no news," returned Nakeesa.  "I heard some lies only from the
Bakalahari at Bachukuru fountain.  Khama's men are hunting in Mababi.
As for me and my babe, we starve.  Sinikwe has done no hunting till
yesterday for moons past.  Better had it been if thou hadst been my man,
Kwaneet!"

"Come with me now, Nakeesa," replied Kwaneet.  "I will find thee meat.
We will go far," (pointing north) "and defy Sinikwe."

"Nay, I dare not," answered Nakeesa.  "Sinikwe would follow and slay us
in our sleep.  I dare not.  Be patient.  Something may happen.  Our life
is short, and has many dangers."

During this interview Nakeesa had been turning over something in her
mind.  The snuff and its pleasures quite decided her.  She took an
ostrich eggshell from her burden, cleared the orifice of grass, and
offered water to Kwaneet.  The Masarwa drank half the contents of the
shell, then returned it to Nakeesa.

"Thanks for the drink; the water is good.  But what will Sinikwe say?"

"Oh, that is nothing," returned the woman.  "I spilled the water, did I
not? and Sinikwe must do his worst.  If he returns this way he will know
who had it.  I cannot help it.  You are my friend--and far more."

Nakeesa knew there would be trouble about the water.  She herself had
had but one sip since she started.  She dared to take no more.  But she
knew her risk, and cheerfully accepted it--for Kwaneet's sake.  In ten
minutes they parted and went their ways.  Bushmen are not a
demonstrative folk, and there was little fuss on leave-taking.

Not a little cheered by the meeting with Kwaneet, Nakeesa held steadily
on her course till sundown, and for the second night slept upon the
spoor of her husband and the now dying giraffe.  Again with the earliest
streaks of light she rose and pursued her journey.  Her babe was very
fretful.  She herself yearned for the end of the travel; even for a
Bushwoman ground nuts are but poor sustenance for a three days' foot
journey, under a heavy load, and smitten by a parching sun.  Only the
immense vitality and the silent capacity for endurance characteristic of
these desert-bred Masarwas sustained her.  In the early cool of this
fair African morning Nakeesa passed through tracts of leguminous bush,
decked in a bravery of lilac-coloured blossom.  As she emerged upon a
broad opening, a troop of noble gemsbok stood at gaze at fifty paces,
then cantered leisurely away, their long, spear-like horns glinting to
the sunlight.  But neither the splendour of the dawn, nor the pleasant
flowers, scarcely even the great antelopes, had any attraction for
Nakeesa's eyes.

At last, just upon hot noon, Nakeesa looked skywards, and saw against
the hard, torrid glare bands of vultures wheeling and circling high
above the earth.  There, at last, was her goal.  Below the foul birds
the giraffe undoubtedly lay dead.  Sinikwe's presence alone kept them
aloof.  In half an hour Nakeesa stood by the carcase and greeted her
husband.  Sinikwe paused in his operations--he was chopping ribs from
the huge frame, and from head to foot was smeared and stained with
blood.  For once he was in a good humour; blood and meat had rendered
him mellow, as with wine.  The day passed in butchering and drying meat,
in a continual round of feasting.  At night, by the fire, Sinikwe,
utterly gorged and drunk with flesh, lay down to sleep.  Nakeesa had had
enough, but she had not eaten in so gross a manner as her lord.  Even to
the woman of the desert there seem intuitively to come restraints and
limits, which to the man are unknown.

The stars came sparkling forth in their hosts, the deep indigo hollow of
space intensifying their marvellous brightness.  Amid that galaxy of
diamonds, the Southern Cross, Orion's Belt, the Great Dog, Centaurus,
Cetus, and many another constellation, stood majestic.

Presently the weird, shrill wail of the jackal and the hideous cry of
hyaenas told that even in these dry wastes the night creatures were
wandering in search of food.  These sounds disturbed not Nakeesa, though
she heard them; she knew that the fire and the presence of human life
would sufficiently protect the giraffe's carcase.  There were no lions
so far from water.  Towards midnight the risen moon, now nearly at her
full, shone broad upon the veldt.  Her intense brightness made clear all
things upon the desert, and paled the stars.  The night grew very chill
as the hours crept by.  Unconsciously, Nakeesa and her man lay yet
closer to the fire.  It was an hour past midnight when Nakeesa suddenly
awoke.  Neither the strong moonlight nor the fretful cries of the
jackals had roused her, but an almost imperceptible vibration of the
sand somewhere near.  What danger was it?  Very softly she raised her
head and peered from beneath her cloak.  Yes, she was right; there, ten
yards away, something crawled over the dry red sand.  Under the amazing
brilliancy of the moon it was quite clear to Nakeesa what the thing was.
It was a great puff-adder; and the gentle vibration of the reptile's
scales against the sand, as it slowly crawled, had aroused her.

The moon shone bright against one side of the loathsome creature, making
clear beneath its searching rays the flat venomous head, the vile,
wicked eye, nay, even the very scales of the swollen serpent.  Upon the
other side, as Nakeesa saw, a narrow band of ink-black shadow moved with
the slow motion of the reptile.  All this Nakeesa noted instantly.  What
enthralled her attention yet more was the direction in which the
puff-adder headed.  It made directly for Sinikwe, attracted
instinctively by the promise of warmth.  At any other time, probably,
the Bushman would have awakened--his instincts would have warned him;
but now, overcome by the debauch of flesh, he slept on.

Meanwhile, as the snake slowly approached her man, something like a
struggle arose in Nakeesa's breast.  Conscience goes for little in the
wilds, yet something like conscience told her that if the puff-adder
reached Sinikwe and caused his death, hers was the blame.  But, she
argued, he is a desert man and can surely protect himself.  She ignored
wilfully his gorged, helpless slumber; she thought only of Kwaneet, of
her own wrongs.  After all, human life is of small account with the
Bushman; he must take his risks.  She had seen her own mother's corpse
half devoured by a lion; her brother had died disembowelled by a
buffalo's horn.  What is death in the desert?  Here was fate in the form
of a puff-adder.  Why should she interfere with it?  So reasoned Nakeesa
as the moments fled.  The serpent reached Sinikwe; it crawled slowly,
slowly beneath a corner of his skin cloak, close to his breast and arm,
and lay still.

For two hours Nakeesa lay watching in a frozen silence the end of this
terrible business.  At last Sinikwe stirred.  The weight of his body
shifted heavily on to the snake; there was a struggle beneath the cloak,
a dreadful cry arose from the Bushman, and then, like a mad thing,
Sinikwe leapt to his feet.  The hideous reptile, its long curved fangs
still fixed deep in the man's breast, hung on, as these snakes will do.
Sinikwe took the vile creature by the neck, tore it from its hold, and
flung it to earth.  Nakeesa meanwhile had sprung up, as if from sleep,
and snatched up the assegai.  With a blow she broke the serpent's back,
and then with the sharp blade cut off its head.

But for Sinikwe life was now as good as ended.  Despite his Bushman
remedies, the poison quickly overpowered him.  After an hour and a half
of dreadful pain, gallantly borne, he fell into a torpor.  As the sun
rose he lay upon the sand there dead.

An hour after sunrise Nakeesa quitted the spot.  She left the body to
the vultures and jackals and hyaenas.  A Bushman needs no burial.
Taking as much meat as she could carry, the unfinished water, and her
child, she set off to join Kwaneet.  It was a long two days' journey,
this time cheerfully endured.  Before sunset of the second day, she
squatted herself down by the side of the man of her choice, at the water
of Makwa.

"I am here, Kwaneet," she said.  "Sinikwe is dead.  A snake slew him at
night by the giraffe.  Take me, I am thine."

So Kwaneet, not displeased, took Nakeesa to wife, and for a year or more
they wandered about the desert, hunting, drinking at this pit and that;
sometimes, when the drought gripped that thirsty land, devouring the
bitter water-melons in place of drink, as they roamed the great deserts
and followed the game.  Those were the pleasantest days of Nakeesa's
hard life.  She had never known flesh so abundant; they wandered far
afield into the most secluded haunts of the game, and Kwaneet had never
been so successful in his hunting.  Moreover, Kwaneet was neither a
difficult man to live with, nor a hard master, and Nakeesa, by nature,
like many Masarwa women, a great conversationalist, soon found herself
acquiring a strong influence over the simple, easily managed hunter.
Yet she had a great affection for Kwaneet, and tempered her sway with
many little amenities.

In their second winter together the drought had been intense; not a pit
or sucking-hole held water in the desert, there were no melons, and the
game had nearly all trekked for the rivers.  And so Kwaneet and Nakeesa,
too, had quitted the open veldt and the waterless forest, and lived
temporarily on the banks of the upper Tamalakan, north-east of Lake
Ngami.

One morning Kwaneet came back to their camping-place with a piece of
welcome news.  Half a mile away he had found the carcase of a fat zebra,
killed by a lion quite recently, and only a quarter devoured.  Here was
a ready-made feast, without the trouble of hunting.  Nakeesa had two
children now; her elder, a boy, by Sinikwe, a precocious little Bushman
imp, could toddle alone; her younger, Kwaneet's son, she still carried.
They set off together along the river, which was now swarming with bird
life.  Roseate flamingoes and ibises, lovely egrets, storks and cranes
and herons, were to be seen decking the shallows.  Charming jacanas with
chestnut plumage, white and golden gorgets, long legs, and the
slenderest spidery feet, ran in little troops upon the thinnest film of
floating vegetation.  Great spur-heeled Senegal cuckoos flapped heavily
from one reed-bed to another.  Duck, geese, widgeon, and teal thronged
the spreading waters, and clamoured incessantly.  A hippopotamus or two
blew in the distance; sluggish crocodiles floated, log-like yet
watchful, in middle stream.  For the Masarwas, who love the dry deserts,
and shun the haunts even of black mankind, all this wealth of river-life
seemed a very welcome and a very novel change.  But then there was a
kraal of Makobas within five miles, which was a drawback.

It was not long before they came to the dead zebra, which lay in a
little opening from the river, surrounded by dense bush.  Kwaneet went
first.  He walked up to the carcase and stooped to examine it.  As he
did so there was a fierce, guttural growl from the bush nearest to him,
a lightning-like flash of a yellow body, and in an instant he lay there
beside the zebra, a great yellow-maned lion standing over him.  The
brute stood with bared teeth, snarling in fiercest wrath.  Kwaneet had
driven him from his prey that morning, it is true, but he had bided his
time, and now his revenge had come.  For once the Masarwa had made a
miscalculation.  As a rule the lion, driven from its prey in daylight
will steal away without showing fight.  This particular lion happened to
be very hungry and very daring; there were not many hunters in that
country, and so Kwaneet had suffered.

But in the instant that the lion made his rush and stood over the
Masarwa, many things thronged into Nakeesa's brain.  Her man there, from
whom she had received so many kindnesses, and with whom she had lived so
happily--nay, for a Bushwoman, so merrily--lay there in dire peril.
Surely his life was better than hers.  Surely she could strike a blow
for him?  Her babes, herself, all other things, were forgotten; she must
save Kwaneet, the best, and kindliest, and bravest hunter of all that
wilderness.  She had Kwaneet's assegai upon her shoulder.  With this she
ran in upon the lion, and with all her force drove home the blade deep
into its ribs.

The wound was not a mortal one--at the moment--and the enraged brute
turned instantly at Nakeesa, struck her to earth, and then fastened his
teeth, with a hideous, crunching sound, deep in the bones of her neck.
For a good half minute it continued this deadly work, then, noticing the
year-old child, crying in the back of the woman's cloak, it gripped that
also between its teeth, and put an end to it.  Meanwhile Kwaneet, almost
uninjured by the lion's first rush, had crawled away unnoticed, and,
with Nakeesa's elder lad, regained a place of safety.

So Nakeesa lay there dead by the river, her days of toil and of pleasure
all ended.  She had shown two great extremes of evil and good in her
nineteen years of existence.  She had refused to save the life of
Sinikwe (the man who treated her ill, and whom she loathed) from the
puff-adder--an act as good as murder, most men will say.  And for
Kwaneet, who had treated her with some kindliness, and whom she loved
with as much love as a Masarwa is capable of, she had given her whole
being--life itself.  She could do no more.

As for Kwaneet, having satisfied himself, without much emotion, at a
later period of the day, of the death of his wife and child, and having
taken as much zebra meat as the lion had left, he went his way.
Nakeesa's elder child--now three years old--was, of course, a perfectly
useless encumbrance to him.  He therefore sold the boy to some Batauana
people for a new assegai, and soon after returned to his desert life.

Nakeesa's bones are long since scattered, broken, and devoured by the
beasts of the desert; but her skull, a little, round, smooth skull, lies
there, yellow and discoloured, in the far swamps of the Tamalakan river.
Her poor, squalid, desert love-story can scarcely be said to point a
moral, or even adorn a tale.  It merely affords one more instance of the
complex nature of the human heart--of human emotions--even in the
crudest and most savage aspect of African life.



CHAPTER THREE.

A DESERT MYSTERY.

One of the cheeriest of Christmas Days was that spent on the pleasant
banks of the Limpopo River, not many years since.  Two hunting friends
were trekking through Bechuanaland towards the Zambesi, and it happened
by great good fortune that, just at the junction of the Notwani and
Limpopo Rivers, they found outspanned the wagons of two hunters and
traders southward bound from the far interior.  These men were
travelling down-country with heavy loads of ivory, ostrich feathers,
skins, and other produce, and they had with them a big troop of cattle
obtained in barter.  In these fitful encounters in the African
wilderness men are always well met, and it needed no pressing from the
new-found acquaintances to induce them to outspan together, and combine
forces for Christmas cheer and Christmas chatter.  A brief council of
war soon settled the all-important question of commissariat.
Smallfield, the younger of the traders, had shot a good rooibok the
evening before, which furnished venison for all, and they had already
baked a store of bread from fresh Boer meal.  The new-comers, on their
side, freshly equipped from Kimberley, could provide tinned
plum-puddings, tinned tomatoes, peas, jams, and other luxuries,
including dried onions, most precious of vegetables in the veldt; and
they had further some excellent Scotch whisky.  They had, besides, half
a dozen brace of guinea-fowl and pheasants, shot during the day in the
jungles bordering the river, so that all the concomitants of a capital
African banquet were ready to hand.

Just at sundown the preparations were complete, and no merrier party,
you may swear, ever sat down to their Christmas meal.  They supped by
the light of a roaring camp-fire, eked out by a lantern or two placed on
the cases that served for tables.  The servants were enjoying themselves
at another fire at a little distance; the oxen lay peacefully at their
yokes; the wagons loomed large alongside, their white tents reflecting
cheerfully the ruddy blaze of the fire; the night was perfect, still and
warm, and the stars, like a million diamond sparks, scintillated in the
intense darkness of the dome above.  What wonder, then, that all felt
happy and contented?

Supper at length over, the coffee-kettle was banished to obscurity and
the whisky produced.  The travellers lit their pipes and toasted their
absent friends and each other, and then ensued a long and delightful
evening.

The traders were two capital, manly fellows, well versed in the sports
and toils and pleasures of the far interior; the new-comers themselves
had been in the hunting veldt before, and they had all, therefore, many
things in common.  Many and many a yarn of the chase and adventure they
exchanged; many a head of gallant game they slew again by the cheerful
blaze.  The up-country trekkers mentioned that they thought of trying a
new bit of veldt, rather away from the beaten track, if but they could
find water in the desert, and good guides and spoorers--they were bent
on entering the wild and little-known tract of country north of the road
to the Mababi veldt.  "Well," said the elder of the traders--Kenstone
was his name--"you'll find game there after the rains--giraffe, gemsbok,
hartebeest, eland, koodoo, roan antelope, and perhaps a few elephant, or
a rhinoceros or two.  But it's a wild, barren veldt; the country as you
go north is a good deal broken, and, unless the rains have been good,
water is terribly scarce there.  As for myself," (gazing rather moodily
at the camp-fire, and stroking his thick, brown beard), "I once went
into that veldt, and never wish to see it again.  I had a most uncanny
adventure there--an experience I never again wish to repeat if I live to
a hundred.  In all the years (and they are close on five-and-twenty now)
I have been in the hunting veldt, I never spent so incomprehensible and
horrible a time as the few days I am thinking of.  Ugh!" and the big man
shivered as he spoke.

Naturally the curiosity of his audience was at once excited.  The
younger trader, Smallfield, spoke first.

"Why, George," he said, "I never heard you speak of that country.  I
never even knew you had been in it.  What's the yarn?  It must be
something out of the common if it gives _you_ the blues.  You're not
sentimental, as far as I remember."

"No, Jim," returned Kenstone, "I never mentioned the thing to you or to
any one else, bar, perhaps, two or three folks.  It's eleven years gone
since it all happened.  My old partner, Angus (he's down in the Colony
now), who was with me at the time, knows all about it, and I reported
some of the circumstances to a Transvaal Landdrost when we got back.
Otherwise I have never talked about the matter--I should only be
chaffed, and it's not a pleasant topic at the best of times.  It gave me
a very nasty _schrijk_ [Fright] at the time, I remember.  However, it's
all far enough away now; if you and these gentlemen would like to hear
the yarn, as it's Christmas-time, and we're so well met, why, I'll break
my rule and tell you all about it.  And mind, what I tell you are solid
facts.  You know I don't `blow,' Jim, or spout tall yarns for the
benefit of down-country folks or bar-loafers at Kimberley.  What I saw I
saw, and, please God, hope never to see again."

All were as keen as mustard for the story, and Kenstone went on.

"Well, let me fill my pipe, and give me another _soupje_ of whisky,
and," (nodding a health to his hearers over his glass) "here goes:--

"It was in '74 that Angus and I were making our third trip to the Lake
N'gami country.  This time we had got leave from Khama to trade and hunt
in Mababi and the Chobe River country; and we meant to push even beyond,
to the region between the Sunta and the Okavango, if the fever would let
us.  We made a good trek of it across the `thirst'--there had been very
late rains that year--and even after crossing the Lake River we made
good travelling well on towards the Mababi flat.  We heard from the
Makobas and Masarwas along the river that there was still some water
standing in the bush on our right hand, that there were elephant in
there, and that other game was abundant.  It is not often that this
veldt is accessible--from scarcity of water--and it seemed good enough
to quit the wagon road for a time, and try the bush for ivory.  Before
reaching Scio Pans, therefore, we turned right-handed, and struck into
the bush with one wagon--the other, in charge of our head driver, being
sent on to the water, there to await our coming.

"We had some Masarwa bushmen with us, and they were as keen as hawks at
the prospect of showing us heavy game, and getting a liberal supply of
flesh.  Northward we trekked steadily through wild desolate country for
the best part of one day, and outspanned by a desert pool for the night.
Here we were greatly disappointed to find no spoor of elephant,
although giraffe, ostrich, gemsbok, and hartebeest were fairly
plentiful.  Next day at dawn we again pushed doggedly on, Angus and I
taking different directions, and riding some miles ahead of the wagon on
the look-out for elephant-spoor.  I rode behind a Masarwa at a steady
pace all morning without finding the least sign of the game we wanted,
and, after an off-saddle at midday, once more pushed on in a
north-westerly direction.

"Rather suddenly we came upon a _klompje_ of giraffe, and as the
elephants seemed very much in the air and we wanted meat, I rammed the
spurs in and galloped headlong for the _kameels_ [Camels.  The Boer term
for giraffe].  It was desperately hot, and we were shut up in thick
thorny bush in which not a breath of wind stirred, and I consequently
had not got my coat on.  The beast I rode for, a fat, fresh young cow,
led me a pretty dance of two miles, hell for leather, at a terrific pace
through the very thorniest jungle she could pick; and although I
presently ranged close up to her rump, and with my third bullet (firing
from my horse) brought her down with a crash, she had taken pretty heavy
toll of me.  My flannel shirt was torn to ribbons, and my chest and
shoulders were rarely gashed about.  Never hunt `camel', gentlemen, in
thick bush, without a stout coat on; that's the advice of an old
veldt-man, and it's worth remembering.  I ought to have known better
that day, but I was not prepared for game at that particular moment.

"Well, I stuck my knife into the cow's back and found her well covered
with fat, and the Masarwa coming up soon after, we set to work to skin
and cut her up.  Presently, having fastened about twenty pounds of meat
to my saddle, and carrying the long, prehensile tongue dangling far
below my belt, I saddled up, leaving the Masarwa, who had a calabash of
water, to finish the job and wait for the wagon to pick him up next
morning.

"I myself took a sweep north-north-east, with the intention of working
round to the wagon before sundown.

"I had not left the Masarwa half an hour, when I suddenly, to my intense
surprise, cut the spoor of a wagon running pretty well east and west,
and going westward.  It was not fresh, but at the same time not very old
either.  It might have been a month or two old at most.  `Now,' thought
I, `what in the mischief does this mean?'  Very few hunters use this
veldt.  I knew Khama had sent no wagons that way this season, and the
only white man in front of us this year was Dirk Starreberg, one of the
few Dutch hunters to whom Khama gave permission to hunt in his veldt.
Starreberg's wagon it could only be.  And yet it struck me as strange
that Dirk, whom I knew well--for he was a noted interior hunter--should
be trekking in this veldt.  He was, I knew, bound for the Victoria
Falls.  Probably, like ourselves, enticed by the unwonted water supply
and the possibility of a slap at the elephants, he had turned off
somewhere between Nata River and Daka, and pushed across for the Chobe.
Thus reasoning, I turned my horse's head, and, with the westering sun
now on my right flank, struck homeward for the wagon.  I rode on for
half a mile, and then came another strange thing.  As I crossed an open
glade I saw coming towards me the figure of a man.  I knew in a moment
who it was.  The slouching walk, the big, burly form, the vast red
beard, the rifle carried--as Dirk always carried his--by the muzzle end,
with the stock poised behind his shoulder--it was none but Dirk
Starreberg himself.  But there was something amiss with him.  He looked
worn and troubled, almost distraught, it seemed to me, at that distance;
and he gazed neither to right nor left of him, but passed hurriedly and
very swiftly in front of me at a distance of about eighty paces.

"`Hallo!  Dirk!'  I shouted.  `Allemaghte! war loup jij?  Wacht een
bitje, Dirk!'  (Almighty! where are you off to?  Wait a little, Dirk!)
To my utter astonishment, the man took not the slightest notice, but
passed on.  I became indignant, and yelled, `Dirk, Dirk, have you no
manners?  It's me, George Kenstone.  I want you.  Stop!'  Still the man
passed on.  In another moment he had reached the bush again.  He turned
now, beckoned to me with his right hand, and, in another instant, had
disappeared into the low forest.

"I was extremely annoyed, and after staring like a fool for a second or
two, struck in spurs rather sharply and galloped after him.  I was not
three seconds in reaching the bush where he had entered, but, to my
surprise, Dirk had vanished.  I searched hither and thither, shouted--
ay, swore--but still no Dirk.  I came back, at length, to the point
where I had last seen the Boer.  Surprise Number 3.  There was my own
spoor as plain as a pikestaff in the red sand, but of Dirk Starreberg
_not one trace of spoor was to be seen_!

"Now, spoor, as you all know, is a thing that never lies.  I had seen
Dirk cross the clearing and enter the bush at this point.  Where were
his tracks?  I got off my horse and hunted carefully every bit of the
way across the glade where I had seen Dirk pass.  I am a reasonable good
veldt-man, but--so help me God!--I never could find one trace of the
man's spoor, this way or that.  I rubbed my eyes.  It was
incomprehensible.  I searched again and again, carefully and
methodically, with the same result.  There was always my own and my
horse's spoor, but no one else's.

"By this time I was not a little bothered.  There must be some infernal
mystery which I could not fathom.  My eyesight had never yet failed me.
It was broad daylight, and I was neither asleep, nor dreaming, nor
drunk.  An old childish superstition crept for an instant upon my mind,
to be instantly cast aside.  And yet the flesh, even of grown manhood,
is weak.  I remember distinctly that I shivered, blazing hot as was the
afternoon.  The bush seemed very still and lonely, and I am bound to say
it suddenly struck me it was time to move for the wagon.  I got on to my
good nag, walked him away, and presently set him into a brisk canter,
which I only once slackened till I made the camp, just at sundown, a
couple of hours later.

"I told Angus what I had seen.  He laughed, and told me I had evidently
missed the spoor, although he admitted that it was strange that Dirk had
made no sign when I hailed him; and next morning we moved on rapidly,
picked up the meat of the dead giraffe, and then a little later struck
the wagon-spoor I had found yesterday.  This we followed briskly until
four o'clock p.m., when we came upon an old outspan, and discovery
Number 4.

"Here was a good-sized water-pit in limestone formation.  There were the
remains of the camp-fire; and it was evident, from several indications,
that the wagon, whosever it was, had stood at least two days at this
spot.  The camel-thorn trees [Giraffe-acacias] grew pretty thickly all
around, and there was a good deal of bush, and altogether it was a
sequestered, silent spot.  Lying by the largest of the dead fires was an
object that instantly quickened our interest in the mystery we were
unravelling--the skeleton of a man, clean-picked by the foul vultures,
but apparently untouched by jackals or hyaenas.  There were still the
tattered remains of clothing upon it, and one velschoen--a Boer
velschoen--upon the right foot.  I turned over the poor bleached
framework to try and discover some inkling of its end.  As I did so, out
pattered from the skull on to the sand a solid Martini-Henry bullet,
slightly flattened on one side of its apex, manifestly from impact with
some bone it had encountered--probably a cheek-bone.  A closer scrutiny
revealed a big hole in rear of the skull just behind the right ear.

"`By George!' exclaimed Angus, who was bending over me, `there's been
foul play here.  That shot was fired at pretty close quarters.'

"I nodded, and at that instant my Masarwa, who had been searching about
near us, picked up and brought me a bunch of long red hair.

"`So help me God!'  I could not help exclaiming, `that's from Dirk
Starreberg's beard, for any money!  He has been murdered here--that's
certain.  If it was an accident, they would have buried him.  The
question is, who is the murderer?'

"We hunted about, but found no more traces, except the other velschoen
and the remains of a Dutchman's broad-brimmed hat.  We outspanned for
the night, and sat down to think it over and have a pipe while supper
was being got ready.

"`Angus,' I said, `I don't half like things.  There's some dark riddle
here.  The figure I saw yesterday afternoon was Dirk Starreberg's.  I
knew him well, and never could mistake him.  And, strangely enough, he
was heading, when I last saw him, for this very spot.  If I believed in
ghosts, which I don't, I should say I had seen Dirk's spook.  What do
you make of it all?  I'm beginning to think I'm dreaming, or going
dotty.  It beats me altogether.'

"`Well,' returned Angus, in his quaint way, `it's the most extraordinary
rum go I ever heard of.  We'd better trek on in the morning, first
thing, and see what else we can discover.  Those are Dirk's bones
undoubtedly; we must try and do something for the poor chap, though he
is dead.'

"I don't know what was wrong that night, but several times the oxen were
startled, and sprang to their feet; and the nags--fastened up to the
wagon-wheels--were desperately scared once or twice, and pulled at their
_riems_ as though they must break them; the dogs, too, barked and
howled, and behaved very strangely.  And yet no lions were near us.
Once or twice we looked out, but saw nothing.  All of us, masters and
boys, were uncomfortable--we could hardly explain why, and the men
undoubtedly knew nothing of what I had seen the day before.

"At dawn next morning we were not sorry to inspan and trek; and,
following the old wagon-spoor, we pushed on, determined if possible to
get to the bottom of the affair.  All that day and all the next we
toiled on, only outspanning once or twice during the daytime, and at
night, by water, to rest and refresh the oxen for a few hours.  At last,
an hour before sunset of the second day, Angus and I, who were riding
ahead of the wagon, spied suddenly among some camel-thorn trees the tent
of a wagon, to which we cantered.  Suddenly, as we reined up, the
fore-clap was cast aside, and a wild figure of a woman appeared, and
scrambled down from the wagon-box.  It was Vrouw Starreberg, but
terribly, sadly altered from the stout, if somewhat grim, good-wife I
had last seen a couple of years before.  Her dark stuff dress was torn
and cut about by the thorn-bushes; her erst fat, smooth face, broad
though it still was, was lined and haggard, and terribly fallen away;
but, above all, there was a rolling vacancy, a wildness, in her eye,
that made me fear at once for her reason.  Under one arm she clasped
tightly a big Bible, and never in the subsequent days that we were
together did she once relinquish it.  It seemed that some terrible
calamity had overturned her reason.

"`Whence come ye, George Kenstone?'  (she had known me well for years),
she cried in a harsh, high-pitched scream, very painful to listen to.
`Take me out of this desert, and back to my home.  I have been cast away
these six weeks able to move neither hand nor foot for freedom.  The man
I called husband is dead, and my servants have fled, and the oxen are
gone--the Lord knows where.'

"I scarce knew how to begin with her.

"`I'm sorry, Tant' Starreberg,' I said, `to find you in this plight.
I'm afraid there has been sad mischief, and your husband has been shot.
Is it not so?  We will help you gladly, of course, and early in the
morning, when the oxen will be rested, we will take you out of this
place.  I fear you have suffered much.  But how came poor Dirk by his
end?  Was it the boys?'

"At the mention of Dirk her whole expression changed; her eyes filled
with a terrible light.  In her best days Vrouw Starreberg was a
hard-featured, ugly woman.  Now she looked almost fiendish.

"`_Poor_ Dirk?' she shrieked with a horrible scorn.  `_Poor_ Dirk?  No,
I am not afraid to own it!  The man you call Dirk Starreberg--he was no
more husband of mine--died by my hand.  I shot him; yes, dead I shot
him, as he sat by his fire.  And why?  Because he lied and was
unfaithful.  Because he forsook me for that mop-headed, blue-eyed,
pink-faced doll--Alletta Veeland.  And when at last I had discovered
all--he talked over-much in his sleep, the traitor!--and taxed him with
it, here in this very veldt, he laughed me to scorn, and told me he was
tired of my black face and my sour ways, and gloried in his evil love.
Ja! he taunted me that I was old and barren--I that had made a man of
him, and brought him gold, and flocks, and herds, and set him up.  And
so I shot him, as I say.  I could endure it no longer; and the servants,
having trekked to this place with me, fled, and the oxen wandered, and I
am alone, the Lord help me!'  At the next instant the poor, overwrought
creature fell in a swoon upon the sand.

"Well, it was all very horrible; although even now we hardly knew what
to believe.  But we brought her to, gave her some brandy, and put her
into her wagon to rest.  And later on I took her some soup and bread,
and made her eat it.  She was exhausted now, and told me in a low voice
that she had lived on meal and water for weeks past.  Presently we
turned in, and all was quiet.

"It was, I suppose, some little time after midnight that Angus and I
were roused by a loud voice beyond the camp-fire, which lay between the
other wagon and our own.  We listened; it was the vrouw herself.
Hastily we got down from the kartel and went towards her.  She was
beyond the fire, and her figure was well-nigh lost in the gloom of
night.  We could just see her white _kopje_, and an arm waving
frantically.  It was a terrible and uncanny scene.  There stood the
woman, screaming in wild and excited tones at something beyond--what we
could not see, and shivered even to imagine.  `Yes,' she cried, `you
come here to frighten me, Dirk Starreberg.  I feared you not in life; I
fear you not in death.  I slew you, and I would slay you again.  But I
know why you walk thus through the veldt, and come seeking to drive me
mad, night after night.  To-morrow--now that I can trek--I will come and
bury your bones, and you may rest quiet if you can.  Trouble me no more,
I say--begone!'

"Angus and I could stand it no longer, sick with horror though we were.

"`Come back to your wagon, Vrouw Starreberg,' I called out `You are
dreaming.  Go to rest again!'

"Still glaring in front of her, the woman stepped back till she had met
our advance.  I am bound to say that I looked, and Angus looked, with
terrified eyes, but saw nothing of what she saw or thought she saw.  We
took the poor mad creature's arms.  She was trembling and wet--literally
bathed in perspiration.  What the tension must have been if this sort of
thing had been going on sight after night, I shuddered even to think of.
We took her to her wagon and gave her a strong dose of brandy and
water, and presently she fell into heavy sleep.  Then Angus and I got
down our karosses, rekindled a roaring fire, and sat smoking by the
blaze for the rest of that sight.  Scared as I was, I believe I dozed
once or twice, and Angus always swears, to this day, that he once saw
the figure of Dirk Starreberg pass within the firelight fifty yards
away.  He woke me, but it had gone.  The cattle were uneasy and
disturbed again, and our Kaffirs, who had heard the vrouw talking, as
they said, at a spook, lay huddled together under our wagon.  It was
uncanny, devilish uncanny, I can tell you, that intangible horror about
the camp.

"Well, the rest of my story is short.  Vrouw Starreberg was moving
before dawn, and insisted that we must trek back to the old camp and
bury the skeleton.  We--fearing more horrors--said it could not be done,
and that we should at once quit the bush and strike directly for the
road.  She then utterly refused to leave her wagon unless we did as she
asked.  We seriously thought of taking her by force, but she was a
strong, powerful woman, her mind was already unhinged, and we feared the
consequences of a struggle.  And so, very reluctantly, we agreed to
humour her and give her her wish.  It was a ghastly business; we only
prayed to get it quickly over.

"At earliest streak of daylight we were in-spanned, and all day
travelled steadily back towards the scene of Dirk's tragical ending.
That night, strange to say, nothing happened to disturb us; everything
passed quietly.  We trekked again all next day, and halted for the night
some three miles short of `the skeleton outspan,' as we called it.  Our
reason for this was that we hoped the burial might be quietly
accomplished in the bright sunshine of next morning, and the woman got
well away, before nightfall, on the homeward journey.  Vrouw Starreberg,
I noticed, was restless and excited, but she made no objection.  Again,
I noticed that she still carried her Bible tightly clasped under the
left arm.  The vrouw lay in our wagon; Angus and I sleeping by the fire
again.  We were dog-tired, and slept soundly until roused, just as
daylight broke, by our wagon-driver, a Griqua named Albrecht.  The man
was looking very strangely.  `Baas,' he said, `the vrouw is not there,'
(pointing to the wagon); `she went in the night.  I heard her
whispering, and I looked from where I was lying, and there she was,
beyond the firelight, following a man--a Dutchman, I think--or a spook,
I don't know which, towards the murderer's outspan (_de mordenaar's
outspan to_).  I was frightened, Baas, and I dared not move.  There is
her spoor; but the man's spoor I cannot see.'

"We sprang to our feet and went straight to the wagon; the fore-clap was
pulled aside; the kartel was empty.  Yes, she had gone; and our hearts
were sick with a nameless fear.  Taking Albrecht with us, we saddled up
at once, and spoored the vrouw along the track towards the old outspan.
And there, surely enough, we found her, stone-dead by the side of the
skeleton.

"There was no mark upon her, but in her face was the most awful look of
horror and of fright that I ever saw upon the countenance of the dead.
I believe she had died of sheer terror, and of nothing else.  What had
happened in those silent, terrible night hours--by what ghastly agency
she had been dragged to the scene of the tragedy; how the end had
actually come, God only knows.

"We were but too anxious to get away from this dreadful place after such
events.  We buried the body and skeleton together, and trekked out as
fast as the oxen could travel, never stopping till we had struck the
road and reached Scio Pans.

"That, gentlemen, is my solitary experience of spooks.  I never want to
have another.  I was a scoffer before; I am a believer now.  And if you
told me that in the bush I speak of there were now standing ready for
me, as a free gift, two buck-wagons loaded up with ivory--why, I should
decline the offer.

"Never would I be induced to enter that veldt again!"



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE PROFESSOR'S BUTTERFLY.

Quite the most remarkable feature of an April meeting of the
Entomological Society in 1880 something was the production, by Professor
Parchell, F.Z.S., F.L.S., one of the oldest and most enthusiastic
members of the Society, of a new and remarkable species of _Achraea_
hitherto quite unknown to science.  The Professor was radiant and
suffused with happiness.  He had long been an ardent collector in
England and Europe; but only recently had he turned his footsteps to the
far-off lands south of the equator.  It had been the dream of his life.
And now, having lately resigned his chair at Cambridge, at the age of
sixty, at his first essay in Cape Colony, a region fairly well-known to
entomologists, he had gratified his heart's desire, and discovered a
species.

The new butterfly, which, it appeared, from a paper read by the
Professor, had been found in some numbers, but within a very limited
area--a mere speck of country--was shown in a carefully constructed
case.  There were sixteen specimens; and it was settled that the
butterfly was to be known to science as _Achraea Parchelli_, thus
perpetuating the Professor and his discovery to the ages yet unborn.
The one particularity which marked the insect out from among its fellows
was very striking.  Upon the upper side of the hind-wings, right in the
centre, there appeared a complete triangular space of silver, evenly
bordered by circular black markings.  This peculiarity, which was shared
by male and female alike, was very beautiful and very marked; and the
enthusiastic collectors gathered at the Society's meeting were, as the
box of specimens was passed from hand to hand, all delighted with the
new treasure.  As for the Professor himself, never, except perhaps in
that supreme moment when he had discovered within his net this new
wonder, had he experienced such a glow of rapture and of triumph.

Amongst the Fellows of the Society met this evening sat Horace Maybold,
a good-looking young man of six-and-twenty, who, having some private
means, and an unquenchable thirst for the collection of butterflies,
spent most of his time in going to and fro upon the earth in search of
rare specie, Horace had travelled in many lands, and had made a good
many discoveries well-known to his brethren; and quite recently he had
turned his attention to the _Achraeinae_, the very family in which
Professor Parchell had made his mark.  The new butterfly interested him
a good deal.  Naturally he at once burned to possess it in his own
collection, and, after the meeting broke up, he approached the Professor
and sounded him on the subject.  In his paper read to the Society that
gentleman had rather vaguely, described the habitat of the new species
as "in the Eastern Province of Cape Colony, in a small and compact area
within fifty miles of the east bank of the Sunday's River."  But it
appeared very quickly that the Professor for the present was unwilling
to part with any of his specimens--even for an adequate consideration--
or to impart the exact locality in which the species was to be found.

Horace had rather reckoned upon this, but he was none the less a little
chagrined at the old gentleman's closeness.

"No, my dear sir," had replied the Professor to his inquiries, "I can't
part with any of my specimens, except to the Natural History Museum, to
which I intend to present a pair.  As for the precise habitat, I
intend--ahem!--for the present to reserve that secret to myself.  It
is a pardonable piece of selfishness--or shall I term it
self-preservation?--you, as a collector, must admit I intend to renew my
acquaintance with the spot towards the beginning of next winter--that is
the summer of the Cape.  When I have collected more specimens, I may
publish my secret to the world--hardly before."

Horace looked keenly at the face of the clean, pink and white old
gentleman before him.  There was no compromise in the set of the firm
lips, or the blue eyes beaming pleasantly from behind the gold-rimmed
spectacles; and so, with a polite sentence or two on his lips, but with
some vexation at his heart, Horace Maybold turned away and went down to
his club.

During the rest of that summer Horace was pretty much occupied, yet his
memory never relaxed its grip of the Professor and his new butterfly.
He had upon his writing-table the coloured plate from a scientific
magazine, whereon was depicted that rare species; and as he refreshed
his memory with it now and again, he determined more than ever to
possess himself of specimens of the original.  As far as possible he
kept a sharp eye on the Professor's movements until the middle of
September, when, happening to return to town from a few days' shooting,
he ran across the old gentleman in Piccadilly.

"Well, Professor," said Horace, genially, "how goes the world with you?
I suppose you will be leaving England for the Cape again presently?"

"Yes," returned the old gentleman, who seemed in excellent spirits; "I
expect to be sailing early in October.  I want to have a fortnight or
more in Cape Town at the Museum there.  After that I propose proceeding
to my old hunting-ground of last year."

"Where you discovered the new _Achraea_?" interposed Horace.

"Exactly," rejoined the old gentleman.

"I quite envy you, Professor," went on Horace.  "I am in two minds about
visiting South Africa myself this winter.  The Orange River country
hasn't been half ransacked yet, or Kaffraria either, for that matter.  I
haven't settled my plans; but I may have a turn at one or the other."

Now Kaffraria lies not very far to the east of the Professor's own
collecting-ground, that sacred spot which held his great secret yet
inviolate.  The old gentleman's face changed perceptibly; a stiffer line
or two appeared about his mouth; he looked with some suspicion into
Horace's eyes, and said, rather shortly: "Ah, well!  I am told the
Orange River is an excellent and untried region.  But, entomologically,
South Africa upon the whole _is_ poor.  My visits there are mainly for
health and change.  But I must be getting on; I have much to do.
Good-bye, Mr Maybold--good-bye!"

The Professor passed on down St James's Street, and Horace sauntered
along Piccadilly with a smile upon his face.  The old gentleman had
imparted something of his movements.  Should he follow them up?  Yes; he
must have that _Achraea Parchelli_ somehow.  He _would_ follow to the
Eastern Province in November.  It might be a trifle like poaching; but,
after all, the world is not a butterfly preserve for the one or two
lucky ones.  It lies open to every entomologist.  And the old man had
been so confoundedly close and secret.  It would serve him right to
discover his sacred treasure and make plain his mystery.

After watching the weekly passenger list in _South Africa_ for some
time; Horace Maybold noted with interest that Professor Parchell had
sailed for Cape Town by a Donald Currie steamer in the first week of
October.  That fact ascertained, he at once secured a berth in a deck
cabin of the _Norham Castle_ for the first week in November.  The chase
had begun, and already Horace felt a keen and amusing sense of
adventure--adventure in little--springing within him.

After Madeira, when all had found their sea-legs, and the warm weather
and smooth ocean appeared, things became very pleasant.  Horace was not
a man who quickly became intimate or much attached to people; but,
almost insensibly, upon this voyage he found himself developing a strong
friendship, almost an intimacy, with two ladies: one, Mrs Stacer, a
pleasant, comely, middle-aged woman, perhaps nearer fifty than forty;
the other, Miss Vanning, young, good-looking, and extremely attractive.
The two ladies, who were connected, if not relations, were travelling to
Port Elizabeth to stay with friends in that part of the colony--where,
exactly, was never quite made clear.  Horace found them refined,
well-bred, charming women, having many things in common with him; and
the trio in a day or two's time got on swimmingly together.

By the time the line was reached, the vision of Rose Vanning, with her
fair, wavy brown hair, good grey eyes, fresh complexion, and open, yet
slightly restrained manner, was for ever before the mental ken of Horace
May bold.  Here, indeed, he told himself, was the typical English girl
he had so often set before his mind; fresh, tallish, full of health,
alert, vigorous in mind and body, yet a thorough and a perfect woman.
On many a warm tropical evening, as they sat together on deck, while the
big ship drove her way through the oil-like ocean, sending shoals of
flying-fish scudding to right and left of her, the two chatted together,
and day by day their intimacy quickened.  It was clear to Horace, and it
began, too, to dawn upon Mrs Stacer, that Rose Vanning found a more
than ordinary pleasure in his presence.  By the time they were within a
day of Cape Town, Horace had more than half made up his mind.  He had
gently opened the trenches with Mrs Stacer, who had met him almost
half-way, and had obtained permission to call upon them in London--at a
house north of Hyde Park, where they were living.  At present they knew
so little of him and his people, that he felt it would be unfair to push
matters further.  But he had mentioned Mrs Stacer's invitation to Rose
Vanning.

"I hope, Miss Vanning," he said, "you won't quite have forgotten me when
I come to see you--let me see--about next May.  It's a very long way
off, isn't it?  And people and things change so quickly in these times."
He looked a little anxiously at the girl as he spoke; what he saw
reassured him a good deal.

"If you haven't forgotten us, Mr Maybold," she said, a pretty flush
rising as she spoke, "I'm quite sure we shall remember and be glad to
see you.  We've had such good times together, and I hope you'll come and
see us soon.  We shall be home in April at latest, and we shall have, no
doubt, heaps of adventures to compare."

At Cape Town, Horace, after many inquiries, had half settled upon a
journey along the Orange River.  He had more than one reason for this.
Perhaps Rose Vanning's influence had sharpened his moral sense; who
knows?  At any rate, he had begun to think it was playing it rather low
down upon the Professor, to follow him up and poach his preserves.  He
could do the Orange River this season, and wait another year for the
_Achraea Parchelli_; by that time the old gentleman would probably have
had his fill, and would not mind imparting the secret, if properly
approached.  And so the Orange River was decided upon, and in three or
four days he was to start.

Upon the following evening, however, something happened to alter these
plans.  Half an hour before dinner, as he was sitting on the pleasant
_stoep_ (veranda) of the International Hotel, enjoying a cigarette, a
man whose face he seemed to know came up to him and instantly claimed
acquaintance.  "You remember me, surely, Maybold?" he said.  "I was at
Marlborough with you--in the same form for three terms."

Of course Horace remembered him; and they sat at dinner together and had
a long yarn far into the night.

The upshot of this meeting was that nothing would satisfy John
Marley--"Johnny," he was always called--but Horace should go round by
sea with him to Port Elizabeth, and stop a few weeks at his farm, some
little way up-country from that place.  When he was tired of that, he
could go on by rail from Cradock, and complete his programme on the
Orange River.

"If you want butterflies, my boy," said Johnny in his hearty way, "you
shall have lots at my place--tons of them after the rains; and we'll
have some rattling good shooting as well.  You can't be always running
about after `bugs,' you know."

So, next day but one, Horace, little loth, was haled by his friend down
to the docks again, and thence round to Port Elizabeth by steamer.  From
Port Elizabeth they proceeded, partly by rail partly by Cape cart and
horses, in a north-easterly direction, until at length, after the best
part of a day's journey through some wild and most beautiful scenery,
they drove up late in the evening to a long, low, comfortable farmhouse,
shaded by a big verandah, where they were met and welcomed by Marley's
wife and three sturdy children.  After allowing his friend a day's rest,
to unpack his kit and get out his gunnery and collecting-boxes, Johnny
plunged him into a vortex of sport and hard work.  A fortnight had
vanished ere Horace could cry off.  He had enjoyed it all immensely; but
he really must get on with the butterflies, especially if he meant to go
north to the Orange River.

Marley pretended to grumble a little at his friend's desertion of
buck-shooting for butterfly-collecting; but he quickly placed at his
disposal a sharp Hottentot boy, Jacobus by name, who knew every nook and
corner of that vast countryside, and, barring a little laziness, natural
to Hottentot blood, proved a perfect treasure to the entomologist.  The
weather was perfection.  Some fine showers had fallen, vegetation had
suddenly started into life, and the flowers were everywhere ablaze.  The
bush was in its glory.

Amid all this regeneration of nature, butterflies and insects were
extremely abundant.  Horace had a great time of it, and day after day
added largely to his collection.  One morning, flitting about here and
there, he noticed a butterfly that seemed new to him.  He quickly had a
specimen within his net, and, to his intense satisfaction, found it as
he had suspected, a new species.  It belonged to the genus _Eurema_,
which contains but few species, and somewhat resembled _Eurema
schaeneia_ (Trimen), a handsome dark-brown and yellow butterfly, with
tailed hind-wings.  But Horace's new capture was widely different, in
this respect: the whole of the under surface of the wings was suffused
with a strong roseate pink, which mingled here and there with the brown,
sometimes darker, sometimes lighter in its hue.

Here was a thrilling discovery--a discovery which, as Horace laughingly
said to himself, would make old Parchell "sit up" at their Society's
meeting next spring.  Horace captured eight more specimens--the
butterfly was not too plentiful--and then made for home in an ecstasy of
delight.

A few days after this memorable event he set off with Jacobus for a
farmhouse thirty miles away, to the owner of which--an English
Afrikander--Marley had given him an introduction.  As they passed near
the kloof where the new butterfly had been discovered, which lay about
half-way, Horace off-saddled for an hour, and picked up half a dozen
more specimens of the new _Eurema_.  These he placed with the utmost
care in his collecting-box.  At noon they saddled up and rode on again.
Towards three o'clock they emerged from the hills upon a shallow, open,
grassy valley, girt about by bush and mountain scenery.  This small
valley was ablaze with flowers, and butterflies were very abundant.
Getting Jacobus to lead his horse quietly after him, Horace wandered
hither and thither among the grass and flowers, every now and again
sweeping up some butterfly that took his fancy.  Suddenly, as he opened
his net to secure a new capture, he uttered an exclamation of intense
surprise.  "By all that's entomological!" he cried, looking up with a
comical expression at the stolid and uninterested Hottentot boy, "I've
done it, I've done it!  I've hit upon the old Professor's new
butterfly!"

No man could well be more pleased with himself than Horace Maybold at
that moment.  In ten minutes he had within his box seven or eight more
specimens, for the butterfly--the wonderful, the undiscoverable _Achraea
Parchelli_--seemed to be fairly plentiful.

"How far are we off Mr Gunton's place now, Jacobus?" asked Horace.

"Nie, var, nie, Baas," (Not so far, master), replied the boy in his
Dutch _patois_.  "'Bout one mile, I tink.  See, dar kom another Baas!"

Horace shaded his eyes and looked.  About one hundred and fifty yards
off there appeared above the tall grass a curious figure, remarkable for
a huge white helmet, loose light coat, and pink face and blue
spectacles.  A green butterfly net was borne upon the figure's shoulder.
Horace knew in a moment whose was that quaint figure.  He gave a soft
whistle to himself.  It was the Professor.

The old gentleman came straight on, and, presently, seeing, within fifty
yards, strange people before him, walked up.  He stood face to face with
Horace Maybold, amazed, aghast, and finally very angry.

"Good-morning, Professor," said that young man.  "I'm afraid I've
stumbled by a sheer accident on your hunting-ground.  I am staying with
an old schoolfellow thirty miles away, and rode in this direction.  I
had no idea you were here."

The Professor was a sight to behold.  Red as an enraged turkey-cock,
streaming with perspiration--for it was a hot afternoon--almost
speechless with indignation, he at last blurted into tongue: "So, sir,
this is what you have been doing--stealing a march upon me; following me
up secretly; defrauding me of the prizes of my own labour and research.
I could not have believed it of any member of the Society.  The thing is
more than unhandsome.  It is monstrous! an utterly monstrous
proceeding!"

Horace attempted to explain matters again.  It was useless; he might as
well have argued with a buffalo bull at that moment.

"Mr Maybold," retorted the Professor, "the coincidence of your staying
in the very locality in which my discovery was made, coupled with the
fact that you endeavoured, at the last meeting of the Entomological
Society, to extract from me the habitat of this new species, is quite
too impossible.  I have nothing more to say, for the present."  And the
irate old gentleman passed on.

Horace felt excessively vexed.  Yet he had done no wrong.  Perhaps when
the old gentleman had come to his senses he would listen to reason.

Jacobus now led the way to the farmhouse.  It lay only a mile away, and
they presently rode up towards the _stoep_.  Two ladies were sitting
under the shade of the ample thatched veranda--one was painting, the
other reading.  Horace could scarcely believe his eyes as he approached.
These were his two fellow-passengers of the _Norham Castle_, Mrs
Stacer and Rose Vanning, the latter looking, if possible, more charming
than ever.  The ladies recognised him in their turn, and rose with a
little flutter.  Horace jumped from his horse and shook hands with some
warmth.

"Who on earth," he said, "could have expected to meet you in these
wilds?  I _am_ astonished--and delighted," he added, with a glance at
Rose.

Explanations ensued.  It seemed that the ladies were the sister and
step-daughter of the Professor, who was a widower.  They had been
engaged by him in a mild conspiracy not to reveal his whereabouts, so
fearful was he of his precious butterfly's habitat being made known to
the world; and so, all through the voyage, no mention had been made even
of his name.  It was his particular whim and request, and here was the
mystery at an end.  The Professor had moved from the farmhouse in which
he had lodged the year before, and had secured quarters in Mr Gunton's
roomy, comfortable ranch, where the ladies had joined him.

Horace, who had inwardly chafed at this unexpected turn, had now to
explain his awkward rencontre with the Professor.  To his great relief,
Mrs Stacer and Rose took it much more philosophically than he could
have hoped; indeed, they seemed rather amused than otherwise.

"But," said Horace with a rueful face, "the Professor's in a frantic
rage with me.  You don't quite realise that he absolutely discredits my
story, and believes I have been playing the spy all along.  And upon the
top of all this I have a letter to Mr Gunton, and must sleep here
somehow for the night.  There's no other accommodation within twenty
miles.  Why, when the Professor comes back and finds me here, he'll go
out of his mind!"

Here Mrs Stacer, good woman that she was, volunteered to put matters
straight, for the night at all events.  She at once saw Mr Gunton, and
explained the _impasse_ to him; and Horace was comfortably installed,
away from the Professor's room, in the farmer's own quarters.

"Leave my brother to me," said Mrs Stacer, as she left Horace.  "I
daresay matters will come right."

At ten o'clock Mrs Stacer came to the door.  Mr Gunton rose and went
out as she entered.  "H'sh!" she said with mock-mystery as she addressed
Horace.  "I think," she went on, with a comical little smile, "the
Professor begins to think he has done you an injustice.  He is amazed at
our knowing you, and we have attacked him all the evening, and he is
visibly relenting."

"Mrs Stacer," said Horace warmly, "I can't thank you sufficiently.
I've had an inspiration since I saw you.  I, too, have discovered, not
far from here, a rather good new butterfly--a species hitherto unknown.
Can't I make amends, by sharing my discovery with the Professor?  I've
got specimens here in my box, and there are plenty in a kloof fifteen
miles away."

"Why, of course," answered Mrs Stacer.  "It's the very thing.  Your new
butterfly will turn the scale I'll go and tell my brother you have a
matter of importance to communicate, and wish to make further
explanations.  Wait a moment."

In three minutes she returned.  "I think it will be all right," she
whispered.  "Go and see him.  Straight through the passage you will find
a door open, on the right.  I'll wait here."

Horace went forward and came to the half-open door.  The Professor, who
had changed his loose, yellow, alpaca coat for a black one of the same
material, sat by a reading-lamp.  He wore now his gold-rimmed
spectacles, in lieu of the blue "goggles."  He looked clean, and pink,
and comfortable, though a trifle severe--the passion of the afternoon
had vanished from his face.  Horace spoke the first word.  "I have again
to reiterate Professor, how vexed I am to have disturbed your
collecting-ground.  I had not the smallest intention of doing it.
Indeed, my plans lay farther north.  It was the pure accident of meeting
my old school-friend, Marley, that led me here.  In order to convince
you of my sincere regret, I have here a new butterfly--evidently a
scarce and unknown _Eurema_--which I discovered a few days since, near
here.  My discovery is at your service.  Here is the butterfly.  I trust
you will consider it some slight set-off for the vexation I have
unwittingly given you."

At sight of the butterfly, which Horace took from his box, the
Professor's eyes gleamed with interest.  He took the insect, looked at
it very carefully, then returned it.

"Mr Maybold," he said, rising and holding out his hand, "I believe I
did you an injustice this afternoon.  I lost my temper, and I regret it.
I understand from my sister and daughter that they are acquainted with
you, and that they were fully aware of your original intention to travel
to the Orange River.  Your offer of the new butterfly, which is, as you
observe, a new and rare species, is very handsome, and I cry quits.  I
trust I may have the pleasure of seeing you to-morrow at breakfast, and
accompanying you to the habitat of your very interesting and remarkable
discovery."

Before breakfast next morning there was a very pleasant and even tender
meeting between Horace Maybold and Rose Vanning; and, when Mrs Stacer
joined them, there was a merry laugh over the adventures of yesterday.

After breakfast--they all sat down together, the Professor in his most
genial mood--Horace and the old gentleman at once set off for the kloof
where the new _Eurema_ was discovered.  They returned late in the
evening; the Professor had captured a number of specimens, and although
fatigued, was triumphantly happy.  Horace stayed a week with them after
this, with the natural result that at the end of that time he and Rose
Vanning were engaged, with the Professor's entire consent.  The new
butterfly--which, partly out of compliment to Rose, partly from its own
peculiar colouring, was unanimously christened _Eurema Rosa_--was
exhibited by Horace and the Professor jointly and with great _eclat_ at
an early meeting of the Entomological Society.

Horace and Rose's marriage is a very happy one.  And, as they both
laughingly agree--for the old gentleman often reminds them of the fact--
they may thank the Professor's butterfly (the famous _Achraea
Parchelli_) for the lucky chance that first threw them together.



CHAPTER FIVE.

A BOER PASTORAL.

It is dim early morning, and upon the vast plains of Great Bushmanland,
in the far north-west of Cape Colony, the air blows fresh and chill,
though the land is Africa, and the time summer.  At 4:15 precisely the
bright morning star shoots above the horizon, and rises steadily upward
in a straight, rocket-like ascent.

Now a ruddy colouring tinges the pale grey of the eastern sky, to be
followed by broad rays in delicate blues and greens that strike boldly
for the zenith.  The changes of dawn in Africa are swift and very
subtle.  Presently these colours fade, and a pale, subdued light rests
upon the earth; the air is full of a clear but cold brightness.  Soon
follows the full red-orange, that so gorgeously paints the eastern
horizon, and closely foreruns the sun; and then suddenly the huge
burning disc itself is thrust upon the sky-line, and it is, in South
African parlance, "sun up."

The plains here stretch in illimitable expanse to the horizon.  Far to
the west is a range of mountain, forty good miles away, which, in the
clear morning air, stands out as sharply as if but a dozen miles
distant.  You may see the dark lines and patches of the time-worn seams
and krantzes that scar its sides.  This translucency of atmosphere is
very common in Southern Africa.

The rains have lately fallen, and everywhere around the dry plains have
started at the breath of moisture into a splendid, if short-lived,
beauty.  Miles upon miles of flats, all glowing and ablaze with purple
and a rich, flame-like red, are spread around.  The wonderful
_Composites_ are in flower, and the barren, desert-like flats are for a
few brief weeks transformed into a carpet of the noblest colouring and
pattern.  Look closely, and you may see the bleached and blackened limbs
of former growths of low shrub, which stand amid the gallant blaze--
gaunt reminders of the transitory existence of African flower life.

Near at hand lies a vlei, a shallow temporary lake recruited by the
recent rains.  At the end of this vlei, farthest removed from the group
of wagons outspanned there, is gathered at this early hour a notable
display of bird life.  Duck, geese, widgeon, and teal are there,
cackling and crying in a joyous plenty.  Stints and sandpipers whirl
hither and thither, and graceful black-and-white avocets, with their
singular, upturned, slender bills, and long, red-legged stilt-plovers,
haunt the shallows.  Upon the plain some small birds have been afoot
some time.  You may see and hear the lively, inquisitive Jan
Fredric thrush, with his pleasing song, and his curious
note--"Jan-fredric-dric-dric-fredric."  He is racing swiftly hither and
thither through the shrub and flowers, bustling for his food supply.
There, too, are the thick-billed lark, the Sabota lark, with its clear,
ringing call, and a few other--but not many--small birds.  Aloft an
eagle is already on the move, and a hawk or two, no doubt meditating
descent upon some of the wildfowl on the vlei.  Out upon the plains,
half a mile distant from the wagons, are to be seen a knot or two of
graceful springbok busily feeding in the choice herbage.  But now there
is a stir at the wagons yonder.  For half an hour past "Ruyter," a
little wizened Hottentot, has been busy blowing up the embers of the
half-dead fire, and making coffee for the _baas_ and _meisje_.

From the biggest of the wagons descends a vast, uncouth figure--that of
Klaas Stuurmann, the Trek-Boer.  Almost at the same moment the
_achter-klap_ (flap) at the hinder part of the wagon is thrown back, and
the figure of a young woman, rather dishevelled--for, like her father,
she has been manifestly sleeping in her day-clothes (night-clothes they
have none)--descends.  The two approach the fire, greet one another in
stolid, almost mute fashion--the father kissing impassively the girl's
proffered cheek--and then, standing, they drink the coffee handed to
them by the little Hottentot man, and eat a few mouthfuls of bread.
Watch them well, these two figures; they are the representatives of a
type slowly disappearing from the Cape Colony--the race of Trek-Boers,
nomads, who for generations have had no home but their wagons, and who
live (more often than not from absolute choice) the free vagrant life of
the veldt, with their flocks and herds around them.

The man, Klaas Stuurmann, is a Boer of loose, ungainly frame.  He stands
six feet one; is about fifty-two years of age; has a broad, deeply
tanned face, in which are planted two watery-blue eyes; a shock of
hay-coloured hair; and a long beard of the same uninteresting hue.  He
wears _veldt-broeks_ (field-trousers) of soft home-tanned skin.  He is
about the last Dutchman in Cape Colony to use these old-world garments;
but his father and grandfather wore such clothes, and they are good
enough for him.  He has no socks or stockings, and a pair of rude,
home-made, hide _velschoens_ cover his feet.  He has a flannel shirt to
his back, and over that a short jacket of much-worn corduroy.  Upon his
head is the usual tall-crowned, broad-brimmed, felt hat, which carries a
hideous band of broad, rusty crape in memory of his deceased wife.  The
man's face is dirty, to be sure; but, besides the dirt, there is a dull,
vacant, unthinking look, rather painful to see.  It is the look of one
bred through dull, listless generations of men, self-banished from their
own kind, whose only interests have been in sheep and goats and trek
oxen, their only excitement an occasional hunt, or a scrimmage with
Bushmen in time gone by.  Such a listless and vacant look you may see
even now in some of the more remote _dals_ of Norway, among the poorer
of the peasant-farmer folk.  It is the look of men who gaze always
without a spark of interest upon the silent face of nature around them,
and who for generations have seldom exchanged an idea with their
fellows.

For 150 years Klaas Stuurmann and his ancestors have led the wandering
life of the Trek-Boer, knowing no hearth but the pleasant camp-fire, no
roof but the glaring blue of the unchanging African sky and the tents of
their wagons, no floor but the wild veldt.  Many among the more settled
Dutch farmers wonder how these uneasy nomads, with their shiftless ways
and habits of unrest, first came to pursue such an existence.  In the
present instance it happened much in this wise: Klaas Stuurmann's
great-great-grandfather, a restless spirit, farming near the old
settlement at Cape Town, became, like many others, tired of the petty
and exasperating restrictions of the then Batavian governor.  And so he
trekked in search of fresh pastures, beyond the reach of taxes and
monopolies.  He was a sportsman, and the land opening before him
disclosed the most wonderful and redundant fauna the world has ever
seen.  Still carrying his flocks and family with him, the Boer wandered
from veldt to veldt, always in a country virgin to the hunter, and
teeming with the noblest game.

Year after year went by, his family grew up around him--how, he himself
would have been puzzled to explain--and still the open-air,
hand-to-mouth existence pleased him, the splendid liberty, and the free,
unfettered chase in that vast, crowded, game preserve.  At the beginning
he sometimes cast his eye here and there in search of a farm, but
somehow no _plants_ suited him.  He wandered ever farther in search of
his ideal, and finally the _veldt_ life had so bitten into him that he
preferred to live and die in it.  If he wanted powder and lead, some
coffee and sugar, or a piece of stuff for his wife's and daughters'
gowns, or a new _roer_ (gun) for his growing lads, he had but to trek
with a load of ivory and feathers to "Kaapstad" (Cape Town), and get
what he desired.  For the rest, the earth and her plenty sufficed to
him.  And so the years rolled on.  The old Karel Stuurmann died, and was
buried near a fountain on the wild karroo, and his sons and daughters
became Trek-Boers, or the wives of Trek-Boers, after him.  For many a
year all went well: the game was still there to pursue; the land was
lonely, yet pleasant; and the _verdoemed uitlander_ [accursed foreigner]
was as yet unknown.  But presently came the British, and after them
percussion-guns, and later the deadly breech-loader.  The game began to
vanish, the country became more settled, and, except for the remote
wildernesses of the north-west, the Cape Colony was no longer the
Trek-Boer's paradise.  Slavery was abolished, and even the native
servants, the Hottentots and Kaffirs--nay, even the captive Bushboys,
mere baboons the Boers called them, torn young from their slaughtered
parents--could no longer be treated quite as of yore.  Many of these
Trek-Boers joined the emigrant farmers, and passed beyond the Orange and
the Vaal Rivers.  Some of them helped to found the Orange Free State and
Transvaal Republics; some of them still pursued the old wandering life,
and, as elephant-hunters, dared the unknown wilds and the dangers of the
remote regions towards the Zambesi.  But still a leaven of them clung to
the old Cape Colony.  The life became ever more sombre and less
alluring.  The great game had gone; only the springboks and smaller
antelopes remained to remind them of the teeming plenty of the brave
days of smooth-bores and flint-locks.  These Trek-Boers of the colony
sank lower in the social scale; they had to depend only on their scant
flocks and herds; their more settled and richer neighbours learned to
look upon them with dislike and even hate, for the reason that they
often, by means of their flocks and herds, carried disease--scab and
lung-sickness, and red-water--from one farm to another.  And so in these
latter days the Trek-Boer of the Cape Colony is looked upon as little
better than the gipsy of Europe.  Many of them are miserably poor; their
flocks are reduced and deteriorated from disease and in-and-in breeding;
their wagons are battered and dilapidated; they themselves look degraded
and sunken and miserable.  Some of them burn ashes from certain of the
karroo bushes, and sell them to the settled farmers to make soap with.
Some collect salt from the pans, and with a few springbok skins earn a
trifle to eke out their wretchedness.  Some few, like the Stuurmanns,
still have decent wagons and fair flocks.  But in the Cape Colony they
are a declining race, and twenty or thirty years more will see the last
of them.  Yet even the poorest of them still retain their pure European
blood, still lord it over their miserable native servants, and at
times--perhaps thrice in the year--still trek to the nearest village for
_Nachtmaal_ (communion).  And still the great Bible, more often than not
two hundred years old, is carried in the wagon-chest and cherished.  For
these Trek-Boers of Cape Colony, the unpeopled solitudes of
Bushmanland--that is, the northern portion of the divisions of Little
Namaqualand, Calvinia, Fraserburg, and Carnarvon, bordering on the
Orange River--are still a last stronghold.  Here, after the rains, they
can range freely with their flocks and pursue the trekking springboks,
and live the old wild life.  Elsewhere, if they halt for the night on
the farm of another, they must pay for the privilege, and a goat or
sheep or two have to be handed over in exchange for pasture and right of
water.

I have hinted at the darker aspect of the latter-day life of the
Trek-Boers of Cape Colony.  Let us glance at the more pleasant part of
it.

Their coffee finished, Klaas Stuurmann moves to the temporary kraals, a
hundred yards away, where his flocks are confined for the night.  There
are two kraals--one for the sheep, one for goats--and they are simply
made of bush and branches of the acacia and wait-a-bit thorns, fashioned
into a light ring-fencing, just sufficient to keep the flocks within and
prowling hyaenas and jackals without.  Already the native herd-boys are
there waiting for their charges; and the hungry kraal-denizens, knowing
their breakfast-hour is nigh, bleat loudly for the near freedom of the
veldt.  The tall Dutchman now plants himself by the entrance of the
sheep-kraal, from which a herdsman drags away the thorns.  Forth flock
the impatient sheep, and as their stream issues through the narrow exit,
Klaas Stuurmann numbers them head by head.  As a rule the Boer is a bad
hand at figures; but in the necessary ancient custom of counting flocks
night and morning, he can reckon with as much skill as any man.
Practice makes perfect, and so Klaas Stuurmann finds no difficulty in
taking his fleecy census, fast as the sheep pass forth.

The sheep--600 of them--are checked and found in order, and the same
process is gone through at the other kraal, whence, to the number of
800, the goats go forth, in the ancient African fashion of five thousand
years, to pasture in the wild.  The warm air, full of the rich, aromatic
scent of the veldt vegetation, now springing in its prime, comes
alluringly into the nostrils of these nomadic flocks, and soon they are
scattered upon the plain feeding vigorously, their silent, patient
herd-boys tending them for the hot, livelong day.

What do these dusky herd-boys think of, day after day, as they follow
their flocks?  Heaven knows!  As well ask the bird and beast of the
great plains what are their thoughts!  Sometimes in the days of the
Pharaohs there sprang a great warrior or statesman from the
brown-skinned herdsmen and hunters of the far Land of Cush; nay, Egypt
herself was ruled not seldom during these remote ages by almost pure
Ethiopian blood.  But nowadays there be no black Hampdens, or yellow
Miltons, still less, possible Pharaohs, from among the lazy Kaffirs and
poor besotted Hottentots of the Cape Colony.

Refilling his pipe from colonial tobacco, carried loose in his
jacket-pocket, and relighting it, the big Boer moves massively back to
his wagon, near which his daughter is busily engaged in a wash at the
welcome vlei.  There are three other wagons outspanned by the pool: one
of them belongs to the Boer's two sons; one of them is inhabited by yet
another Trek-Boer, whose vrouw is engaged in the same task of washing,
and whose children--five of them--young, merry rascals, are playing in
the strong sunlight upon the edge of the water.

Their voices sound pleasantly upon the sweet, warm air, and recall, even
to Klaas Stuurmann's unimpressive mind, the younger days of his own
children and his now dead wife.  The recollection brings an unwonted
tenderness to his rugged soul, and as the noisy imps, busy at their
games of wagon-and-oxen, play and clamour about him, he goes to his
wagon, opens his sugar-bag, fills a _kommetje_ [A small common
earthenware basin, universally used by the Boers instead of a tea or
coffee cup] with the dark-brown treacly stuff, and calls the tanned and
ragged little company about him.  Jan, Katrina, Hendrik, Gert, Jacobina,
and the tiny, toddling Jacie, all receive their morsel of the
sweet-stuff--not without some awe and wonderment, for the grim, burly
Boer man seldom unbends so far.

The oxen are feeding quietly round the vlei; the Boer's eye follows them
with contentment, for water and the rich veldt have brought fat and
sleekness to their great frames.  His daughter's toilet catches his eye,
and he watches the girl with an air of grave and secret pleasure, for
she is the last survivor of three girl children, and by no means an
ill-looking maiden in a Dutchman's eye.  Ruyter, the Hottentot, has
brought an iron bucket from the wagon, and at the margin of the vlei he
fills it with water for the _meisje_, who already has soap, a towel, and
a comb.  Taking off her sun-bonnet, she washes her face and hands, then,
unfettering her stout plait of fair brown hair, she leans forward, and
using the calm surface of the water as a mirror, combs out the somewhat
tangled locks.  Again the brown hair is coiled into a neat plait, drawn
tightly from her temples, and her toilet is complete.  As she ties on
her sun-bonnet again the Boer comes up, pats her broad back, and looks
admiringly at the now refreshened face.  Two hundred years of South
Africa have little altered the old Batavian type.  The eyes are blue,
but of small brilliancy, the cheeks too broad and flat for English
taste, and the young figure is already stiff, waistless, and heavy.  Yet
in this far-off back-country women folk are scarce, and in much request,
and already, at eighteen, Anna Stuurmann has found a mate.  Next to her
brothers' wagon there stands the wagon of her betrothed--Rodolf
Klopper--who is just now away in the grass plains a little to the north,
shooting springboks with the younger Stuurmanns.  This wagon is newly
repaired, smart, and gaily painted, and is destined in another month or
two, after the flocks have been well recruited in the Bushmanland
Trek-veldt, to become the home of the Boer maiden.  The combined
families are to trek to Calvinia village, where the marriage will take
place, and thenceforth Anna becomes mistress of her own man and wagon.

His daughter's modest toilet complete, the big Boer dips a corner of the
not over-clean towel in water, runs it carelessly over brow, cheeks,
eyes, and mouth, dips his hands, and the trick is done.  The proximity
of cleanliness to godliness is no axiom of the Cape Dutch farmer, still
less of the roaming Trek-Boer.  A dry, parched land, and lack of water,
have doubtless had a good deal to do with this trait.

At eleven o'clock, sitting in the shade of the sail suspended between
two wagons, father and daughter partake, after a long grace, of the
usual meal--pieces of mutton, swimming in sheep's-tail fat, boiled rice,
coarse bread, and the eternal coffee, which, however, is just now,
thanks to the sweet herbage, plenteously tempered by a supply of _bokke
melk_ (goat's milk).  Again the big Dutchman lights his pipe, and
presently, yielding to the heat and the effects of his meal, falls to
sleep, sitting on the sand with his back against the wagon-wheel--a
moving picture of pastoral listlessness, or, if you please, pastoral
sloth.  The hot day wears on.  At three o'clock Anna mounts to the
wagon-box, and, shading her eyes from the intense glare, scans the hot
plain, now dancing and shimmering with mirage.  The flocks have turned
for home--she can hear the far-off tinkle of their bells, borne drowsily
upon the warm air; but it is not the flocks she searches for.  In
another half-hour she looks forth again.  This time, far in the north,
she picks out from the shimmer and tremble of the atmosphere a tiny
cloud of dust.  That is what she is expecting, and she now gives orders
to the Hottentot and another boy to tend the fire, get the pot and pan
in order, and fill the great kettle.

In a while you may catch the steady trample of galloping hoofs, and
presently three Boers--the girl's brothers and her betrothed--each
guiding a led horse, canter up to the wagons.  Following at their heels
is a Hottentot after-rider, also with a spare horse heavy laden.  The
men are hot, dusty, and sweat-stained.  Ever since yesterday morning
they have been away in the grass veldt, following a trek of springboks,
and their display of venison and jaded nags prove that they have hunted
hard, successfully, and far.  Seventy miles have they ridden; a dozen
springbok have they brought in; and, greatest luck of all, the flesh,
skin, and horns of a great cow gemsbok decorate the led horse of Rodolf
Klopper.  The gemsbok (_Oryx capensis_), one of the noblest of
antelopes, is rare indeed in Cape Colony nowadays, even upon the verge
of the Orange River, and Anna's betrothed is proportionately elate.  The
gemsbok is protected, too, under heavy penalties, in the Cape Colony;
but what boots this to the wandering Trek-Boer in these wild solitudes,
where the echo of laws can scarce be heard, and gamekeepers are not?

At five o'clock the party are gathered beneath the wagon-sail, feasting
merrily, and with some noise and laughter, on titbits of venison: the
rest of the meat meanwhile being salted, to be dried for _billtong_ on
the morrow.  As they sit at meat, the hunting scenes are re-enacted for
the benefit of Anna and her father, and, in particular, Rodolf's
desperate chase of the gemsbok.  Meanwhile, as the sun nears the horizon
after his day's tramp, the flocks, bringing with them a cloud of red
dust, come in for the night.  First, they drink deeply and long at the
vlei, which now reflects upon its glassy surface the ruddy glories of
the sunset.  Then the tired creatures are kraaled, their masters rising
to count them as they file in.

Darkness falls swiftly; the huge vault of sky assumes its deep indigo
hue of night; the stars spring forth in glittering array; there is a
wonderful and refreshing coolness in the air; the cry of one or two
night birds may be heard--the dikkop and kiewitje plovers--and the
distant wail of a prowling jackal.

The Boer and his sons now move their squat wagon-chairs nearer to the
warm blaze of the camp-fire; they smoke vigorously, and occasionally
cast stolidly a sentence at one another.  Anna and her heavy lover
stroll a little beyond the firelight by the edge of the vlei; their
voices intermingle curiously with the clang of water-fowl--duck, geese,
widgeon, and teal--from the other end of the pool.  Theirs is the old,
old story, told perhaps in a rougher and less romantic fashion than in
Europe; yet is its refrain as earnest and its aftermath at least as
kindly as in northern lands.  The South African Boer makes a true and
constant husband, and a good father--some people say he is a trifle too
uxorious.

At eight o'clock the day is done.  The party separates for the night,
after a longish melancholic prayer and a chapter of the great Bible from
Stuurmann.  Anna goes to her kartel-bed at the end of the big wagon,
lets down the _achter-klap_, takes off her shoes and sun-bonnet, loosens
a button or two at the throat of her gown, pulls her blanket and
sheepskin kaross well over her sturdy frame, and is almost instantly
asleep.  Her father snores loudly from the forepart of the wagon; the
whole camp (including the native "boys" huddled beneath the wagons) is
hushed; while all around broods the wonderful silence of night on the
plains of Bushmanland.



CHAPTER SIX.

PIET VAN STADEN'S WIFE.

It was the year 1877.  For months past the wagons of the Trek-Boers had
been standing idly outspanned on the banks of the Crocodile River, [The
Limpopo River is known universally in South Africa as the Crocodile]
waiting for the word to move north-westward and plunge into the unknown
and dreadful deserts that lay between the trekkers and the far-off land
they sought.  Scattered among the great trees and bushes that margined
the noble river, the white wagon-tents of these strange people might be
discerned dotting the landscape for the space of a mile and a half and
more.  Here were gathered the wildest, toughest, and most daring spirits
of the Transvaal.  Elephant-hunters, who longed for new and virgin lands
in which to procure that ivory for which they had risked their lives so
often; broken farmers, upon whom the vicissitudes of the African
pastoralists' existence had fallen heavily; and sour Doppers, whose grim
religious views reminded one of the savage tenets of the Israelites of
old, and who now looked eagerly across the desert for a new land of
Canaan.

With these men, living in wagons and tents, were their wives and
children, and such furniture and worldly gear as they could carry with
them.  Around them, scattered over the veldt for miles, grazed the oxen,
horses, sheep, and goats that should accompany the trek.  Pigs and
poultry littered the encampment, and were to be seen near every wagon.
All the people--elephant-hunters, malcontents, broken men, and Doppers--
were animated by one and the same sentiment.  They were sick of the
Transvaal.  There had been too much fighting--and badly managed
fighting--with Sekukuni and other Kaffirs; too many commandos; taxes,
those hateful creations of civilisation, were increasing, and were
actually being enforced; President Burgers had been too go-ahead, too
_hoogmoedag_ (high and mighty); the seasons had been bad; and the
English--those hateful English--were slowly finding their way to the
north.  And so the great Promised Land trek--a trek talked of for years
past--was at last gathered together.

Some of these Boers, the Doppers, and they who had lived farthest from
the rude semi-civilisation of that day, were possessed with the wildest
beliefs.  They imagined that Egypt lay just across the Zambesi River,
not so very far to the north; they were convinced that they were setting
forth to a land somewhere in the dim north-west, beyond Lake N'gami,
where ranged snow-clad mountains beneath which sheltered a veldt rich in
water, in cattle, and in corn and pasture lands, where the great game
wandered just as plentifully as they had wandered in the Transvaal and
Free State forty years before, when their fathers had crossed the Orange
River and possessed the soil.  Seventy wagons and more now stood beside
the Crocodile, whose owners, heartily weary of the delays that had taken
place, now anxiously awaited the return of two deputies sent to Khama,
Chief of Bamangwato, through whose country they first had to pass.

One afternoon about this time a great wagon lumbered in to swell the
already unwieldy proportions of the trek, and outspanned under a big
tree.  Word went slowly round the camp that Piet Van Staden, from
Zoutpansberg, with his wife and child, had come in.  Piet's arrival in
itself would have created no great stir, for Piet was a very average
type of Transvaal Boer--big, not ill-looking, heavy and inert, and with
very little to say for himself--but Piet's wife was no ordinary person.
She was a woman of striking beauty, far surpassing the dull ruck of
South African Dutch vrouws, and possessed, moreover, of so much
originality and determination of character as to have scandalised more
than once her sober-minded countrywomen.

The men of Zoutpansberg swore by her.  Had she not taken a rifle and
ridden out time after time with her husband into the low veldt towards
Delagoa Bay, and shot with her own hand giraffe and buffalo--ay, and
even the mighty elephant itself?  Rumour had it that on more than one
occasion Hendrika Van Staden had hardened her husband's heart at close
quarters with a troop of half-mad elephants; and it was certain that she
herself had, as they said, a "heart of steel," and feared neither lion
nor elephant nor fierce Kaffir.

Hendrika was a busy, active woman; and the oxen were no sooner
outspanned than she got out her poultry from the bed of the wagon,
extricated a table and some wagon-chairs, set one of the native boys to
light the fire and prepare for the evening meal, and then, taking her
six-year-old son, little Barend, set out to call upon one or two
neighbours and inspect the camp.  Barend, who inherited his mother's
good looks, her yellow hair, and deep blue eyes and clear complexion,
was a fine, sturdy little fellow, and, clad in his short coat and loose
trousers of soft mouse-coloured moleskin, a flannel shirt, and wide felt
hat, looked a typical little Dutchman, a small counterpart, even to the
clothes he wore, of his sturdy father.  The two set off together, Barend
flicking his little hide whip as he walked, and chattering to his mother
with keen excitement as the various camps and outspans came into view.
While his mother was engaged in conversation with some friends from her
own district, the little fellow suddenly caught sight of his father
walking to the next group of wagons, and toddled hastily after him.

In half an hour Hendrika had finished her gossip and extracted as much
news as could be gleaned.  She had not yet been down to the water; and,
as the sun was declining and she wished to set eyes on the long-sought
Crocodile before dark, she turned to the left hand, and, following a
cattle-path, quickly found herself on the margin of the great river.
Just at this point there was a bend or hook, and the stream, now at its
low winter level, ran deep and swiftly only near the farther bank,
leaving a broad spit of sand exposed upon the hither shore.  A little
higher to the left the stream again broadened into a great reach of
shining water, now painted with a warm and ruddy hue by the glow of
sunset.  To the right, down the course of the river, a beautiful island,
laden with trees and a wealth of bush and greenery, and fringed with
tall yellow reeds, met the eye.  Everywhere great forest trees abounded.
Yellow-billed hornbills flew hither and thither among the acacias;
gem-like bee-eaters flashed among the reeds; gaudy parrots, clad in blue
and green and yellow, darted with shrill whistle overhead; and
pearl-drab plantain-eaters uttered their loud, human-like cries at the
advent of the solitary figure.  Francolins down for their evening drink
were calling to one another in scores, and doves cooed softly among the
branches.  It was a beautiful picture; but Hendrika cared little for the
aesthetic aspect, the glamour of the hour, the glowing mantle of sunset.
Her heart warmed, it is true, at the sight of the noble river, flowing
with strength and volume even at this season of winter, and amid a
parched country.  But hers was the true, practical Dutch mind: she
appreciated the scene only for the assurance it gave her of illimitable
watering power for flocks and herds.  Two hundred yards beyond, a troop
of oxen came down to drink.  A Dutchman was with them, and Hendrika bent
her steps that way to learn whose the cattle were.  The man's back was
turned, and it was not till she was within thirty yards that he heard
her approach and faced her.  There was a start of recognition and
hesitation on either side, and then the man, a tall, good-looking Boer,
furnished with a big straw-coloured beard and moustache, and dressed
with rather more care than the average Transvaal farmer, came forward,
and the pair shook hands in the impassive Dutch fashion.  The Boer first
spoke.

"And so, Vrouw Van Staden, you have come to join the trek.  I scarcely
looked to see you and your husband here.  I had thought you were well
settled on your farm in Zoutpansberg."

"No; we are tired of that country.  Our farm was good enough, and the
winter veldt in the low country near at hand; but there is too much
fever, and the Kaffirs are very troublesome; and as the President for
years has been fighting Sekukuni, we have no strength ourselves for
commandos in our own country.  Cattle-stealing is worse than it has been
for years.  And so we thought we would join the trek and try a new
country, where the game is more plentiful, and one is not to be pinched
up on a farm of three thousand morgen."  [A _morgen_ is rather more than
two acres.  The usual Boer farm averages three thousand _morgen_, more
than six thousand acres.]

The woman spoke stiffly, and her face had assumed a touch of pride as
she answered.  But she went on: "I think it is rather I who should ask
why Schalk Oosthuysen, with all his wealth, has left Marico, the garden
of the Transvaal, as men call it."

The man had gazed long and fixedly as Hendrika spoke.  His eyes seemed
to have softened, and a very visible pleasure was in them.  And, indeed,
Hendrika Van Staden was worth looking at.  Clad though she was in a
plain gown of rough brown material, bought at some up-country store and
fashioned by herself, the admirable curves of her straight, well-rounded
figure could not be concealed.  Few Boer women can boast a figure.  Here
was a waist whose trim outlines would have done no disgrace to a
well-set-up English girl.  Matron though she was, the tall, shapely
woman stood like a straight sapling upon the firm yellow sand.  The
broad chest and shoulders supported erect upon a strong and shapely neck
a beautiful head.  And the face?  Well, most people would have agreed
with Schalk Oosthuysen, whose eyes gazed with unconcealable admiration
into Hendrika's.  The parting sunlight lent a wonderful charm to the
oval face and the fair, clear complexion, so unlike the muddy skin of
most Boer women.  The soft rosy cheeks--just touched with a suspicion of
African tan,--the white forehead, straight nose and proud lips, and the
dark blue eyes, all set in a frame of golden yellow hair, every strand
of it now glorified by the loving sun-rays, which the great sun-bonnet
(_kapje_) ill-concealed--all went to complete a picture of feminine
beauty that few Transvaalers--certainly not Schalk Oosthuysen--could
resist.

Hendrika had, like most Dutch girls, married young; and now, mother
though she was of a child more than six years old, was in the very pride
and summer of her rich beauty.

Oosthuysen, without moving his gaze, spoke again.

"No one should know better than you, Hendrika, why I am leaving Marico
and going to tempt fortune in the unknown veldt.  How can I rest?  Ever
since I saw you, ever since the sunny years of our childhood, I have
thought of you, dreamed of you.  I can never marry now, unless--well,
unless you should ever become free again, which is not likely before we
are old people.  It was you, Hendrika, that broke my happiness and
disturbed my lot.  Allemaghte!  I am sorry almost that you have joined
this trek."

"Schalk, you have no right to speak like that.  You know it was not my
fault that I could not become your wife.  My father had his reasons--
good reasons, as I suppose; and I have a good husband, and am contented.
Never speak of these things again; they are past and done with.  Our
ways are different, and it is better that we should see as little of one
another as possible."

She spoke almost with excitement, and her hands, folded, as all good
Dutch women fold them, beneath her black apron, to protect them from the
strong African sun, had become disengaged, and lent themselves with a
slight gesture of impatience to enforce her words.

She turned away, saying as she went, "Good-night, Meneer Oosthuysen,"
and took the path to her wagon.

"Good-night, and the Lord bless you, Hendrika," replied the Boer, as he
moved towards his oxen.

Two mornings later the Boer envoys returned from interviewing Khama.
They brought word that the chief was willing to allow passage for the
whole trek across his country, but that he strongly advised them to
proceed in small bands at a time, or the scant waters of the thirst-land
between him and the Lake River would fail them.  If the whole seventy or
eighty wagons attempted to cross in a body, they would find barely
sufficient water to supply half a dozen spans of oxen at a time, and
disaster must ensue.  This was Khama's advice; he had, as he sent word,
no present quarrel with the Boers, and would help them through his
country; but he urged them, if they wished to pass safely across the
desert, to weigh well his words, and trek in parties of twos and threes.

There was much consultation over this message.  Some few hunters, who
knew the chief and had made the trek, were strongly for taking his
advice; but against these few men there was strong and fierce
opposition.  All the ignorant, the obstinate, and the self-opinionated--
and they formed the majority--held that no Kaffir's word was to be
trusted.  Who was this Khama but a natural foe of the Transvaal?  No
doubt he wished them to travel in families of twos and threes, that he
might the better attack their wagons and cut them up piecemeal.

After several days of hot discussion, it was finally decided that all
should move together, and that the trek should begin with the following
week, by which time the scattered flocks and herds would be collected.

It was a month after the beginning of the trek that Piet Van Staden and
his wife and child found themselves in the middle of the thirst-land,
between the waters of Kanne and Inkouane--that is to say, in about the
worst bit of the Kalahari--in heavy sand, under a broiling sun, and
without one single drop of water for their oxen, in a stretch of three
days' and three nights' continuous travel.

There were wagons in front of them and wagons behind them; they were
about the middle of the expedition.  At the distance of two days and two
nights from Kanne, and a whole day and night from Inkouane, their oxen
could go no farther; they had had no drink at the wretched pits of
Kanne, where water oozes through the sand at the rate of about half a
bucket an hour; three of them lay dead in their yokes already--the rest
were foundered and could trek no more.  The poor brutes lowed piteously
and incessantly; they came frantically round the wagon, smelling at the
nearly empty water-barrel, and licking the iron tires of the wheels to
give relief to their parched tongues.  There was only one thing to be
done.

"Hendrika," said her husband, "I must take two of the boys and go on
with the oxen.  We shall reach Inkouane (it was now afternoon) early
to-morrow morning.  I will take a _vatje_, [A little vat or hand-barrel,
holding about two gallons, usually slung by an iron handle under the
wagon] fill it, and ride back as fast as possible.  You have enough
water to last till evening to-morrow.  They say there is plenty at
Inkouane; I shall be here to-morrow evening again, having watered the
horse; and the oxen should be in by next morning.  I hate leaving you
and the child, but what else can be done?"

"Nothing else can be done better, Piet," answered his wife
energetically.  "Get the oxen up and go on at once.  Don't lose a
moment; and, mind, be back here not later than sundown to-morrow.
Barend is tired and feverish already, and I shall have trouble to make
the water last till then.  Go at once, and the Heer God be with you."

Hendrika's blue eyes were full of hope and courage; she could trust her
husband, and he would, no doubt, be back by nightfall of next day.

Taking two of their three native servants with him, and leaving Andries,
a little Hottentot, behind with his mistress, with the strictest
injunctions to have but one drink between that time and his return, Piet
Van Staden kissed his wife and child, thrashed up the foundered oxen,
and set forth as fast as he could get them along.

It was a dreary waste of country that Hendrika and her boy were left
in--one of the most forbidding parts of the wild, forbidding desert
between Khama's and the Lake River.  Hot and sandy and flat it was; a
low growth of parched Mopani trees sprang here and there, whose odd
butterfly-like leaves, now shrivelled and scorched to a brown sapless
condition by months of drought, bore eloquent testimony to the nature of
this terrible "thirst-land."

At evening, when the sun had set, and the air became a trifle cooler,
Hendrika prepared a scanty meal.  She boiled half a kettleful of very
weak coffee, made some slops for Barend, ate some bread and meat
herself, drank a bare half _kommetje_ of coffee, parched though she was,
gave the Hottentot his rations, and then, bidding Andries to keep up a
good fire, she put her little son to bed on the kartel, and, lying by
his side, presently hushed him off to sleep.  A little after she herself
fell asleep also.  Towards the small hours Barend was up and wide awake,
hot and feverish, and clamouring, poor little soul, for something to
quench his thirst with.  Hendrika lit a lantern, got out of the wagon,
procured the rest of the coffee, which, mixed with a little condensed
milk, she had left to cool, and brought the beakerful that remained to
her boy.  The little fellow, with trembling hands, took the beaker and
eagerly emptied it at two draughts.  His mother had not the heart to
stop him, and he lay down and went to sleep again.

Dawn came round, and the sun sprang up all ruddy, as if but too eager to
send his scorching beams upon the shadeless veldt.  When Hendrika, after
heavy dreamful slumber, cast back the wagon-clap and looked forth,
behold, a hundred yards from her was outspanned another wagon, which had
evidently arrived during the night and which she quickly discovered
belonged to no other than Schalk Oosthuysen.  Andries the Hottentot
coming up soon after, informed her that Baas Oosthuysen's oxen had been
outspanned and sent on to Inkouane about four that morning, being able
to trek no farther, and that the Baas himself, who had lost a quantity
of stock already, was asleep in his wagon.  It was very vexing, Hendrika
thought.  Here was the very man of all others she wished to avoid,
outspanned close beside her; neither of them could move backward or
forward, and a long day, perhaps even more, had to be got through
somehow in this unpleasant proximity.  About noon, Oosthuysen, having
finished his sleep, emerged from his wagon and looked about him.  He had
evidently heard from his servants whose was the wagon near, but he
appeared disinclined to trouble the occupants.  For so much Hendrika
secretly thanked him.  The burning sun moved slowly across the heaven,
and, as the fierce rays shifted, so Hendrika and her child moved into
the meagre shade given by the great wagon.  The sun at this season was
north of the line, and never quite overhead.  But it was terribly hot,
and the scant water was all but finished now.  Hendrika had but just
moistened her lips, and Andries had had a bare quarter of a pint; all
the rest had been reserved for poor feverish little Barend, who
evidently had had a touch of the sun on the preceding day's trek, and
was very ill.

Sometimes Hendrika's glance turned swiftly towards the other wagon; and
there was debate and anxiety in it, and a compression of the firm red
lips, as if a struggle were waking in her mind.  Oosthuysen rose and
shouldered his rifle once during the day, and wandered into the bush,
presumably to look for a chance eland or giraffe; but nothing came of
it, no shot was heard, and before sundown he had returned, and flung
himself into his wagon-chair, in which he sat moodily smoking.

Towards evening Hendrika's eyes and ears were fastened intently upon the
road from Inkouane.  Surely her husband must soon arrive!  There was
water there, and he would hasten back, knowing the struggle with thirst
his dear ones were fighting through.  Yes, undoubtedly he must be here
soon.  But hour after hour slipped by; the red sun sank, the night came,
the stars sprang forth in their armies, and presently the moon rose as
fresh and serene and gracious as though she had never seen one hour of
suffering upon the tired earth.  All was still upon the veldt.  There
was not even the occasional deep breathing of the oxen as they lay by
the trek chain, for the oxen were far away, all but the three dead
beasts which lay near, and had already become offensive.

At eight o'clock, Hendrika, who had been nursing little Barend by the
fire since dark, gave him--for he was now clamourous again--the last
kommetjeful of weak coffee.  She had nothing better to give the child;
the water was none too sweet, and was better boiled and made into coffee
than drunk alone.  After this Barend was put to bed on the wagon-kartel,
and the sheepskin kaross thrown lightly over him.

Again Hendrika got down from the wagon and stood by the fire.  There had
been a bitter struggle agitating her bosom for hours past, and now the
time was come.  She must smother her stiff Dutch pride, and go as a
suppliant to Schalk Oosthuysen and beg for a little water for her child.
Her own thirst, heightened by the oven-like heat and the long day of
waiting and anxiety, was intense, and Andries, the Hottentot--faithful
and uncomplaining though he was--was in like plight.  These things were
as nothing; their sufferings could be borne for another day and night;
but Barend, her beautiful, sunny little Barend, with his now flushed
cheeks and feverish skin and hoarse voice--he must be saved pain at all
cost.  Her mind was made up.  She looked across to the fire by the other
wagon.  There sat Schalk sullenly, his figure bulking against the blaze,
smoking his big pipe as usual.

Hendrika walked steadily across and up to the firelight.  Only the Boer
sat there; his servants were already asleep under the wagon.  Schalk
turned in his chair and looked up at his visitor as she approached.  It
was not a pleasant face to-night.  The man was evidently in a sullen,
obstinate fit of temper at the general outlook, and his aspect was
discouraging enough.  Hendrika broke the silence.

"Meneer Oosthuysen," she said, rather hurriedly for her, "I have come to
beg some water.  My boy is sick and feverish, and my _vatje_ is empty.
I have not a drop of water left.  I expected my husband back this
evening with a fresh supply; he has not arrived, and there are no signs
of him.  You can help me, can you not?"

A curious expression flitted over the impassive countenance of the Boer:
it passed like a fleeting shadow, but the firelight just caught it.

"Hendrika Van Staden, why should you come to me now?" he said.  "All was
over between us, you said; and I wanted to see your face no more.  I
have scarcely enough water for myself and my men for another day.  My
oxen may not be back, the Lord knows when!  In these times one must look
after oneself.  Your husband will be back by morning, no doubt, and your
boy can wait till then.  No, I cannot help you.  Allemaghte! why should
I, indeed?  All my troubles come from you.  You have treated me scurvily
in the past; my turn has come now!"

The last few days of suffering and disaster--for he had already lost
heavily among his cattle--seemed to have changed the man's nature.  All
his evil impulses had come uppermost.

Hendrika argued, pleaded, threatened, cast away her pride and implored
Oosthuysen, by all the memories of their youth together, to help her,
even with a beaker or two of water.  But all of no avail.  The Boer sat
grim, obstinate, ferocious, and would not be moved.

In despair she sought her wagon again.  A terrible night followed.
Barend was awake long before the light with raging thirst in his throat.
The mother bathed his hands and brow with vinegar, moistened his lips
with it, did all she could to soothe and comfort him: it was of slight
avail.  The fever increased; the poor sufferer's cries for water were
incessant.  What Hendrika went through during that dreadful night no pen
can tell.  The desert was a hell; the stars above mocked her; the moon
gleamed in contemptuous serenity; the airs whispering through the bush
passed idly by, tittering their light gossip one to another.  Where was
God, that He could let her child suffer so?  Surely, surely, all the
Predikants and the Doppers and the rest of them were wrong!  There could
be no God, and the Bible was a lie!  Sometimes, when Barend fell asleep
for a few minutes, she prayed and wrestled with her agony, and fifty
times sprang up thinking she heard her husband's approach.

At dawn Oosthuysen was stirring, and got down from his kartel.  Hendrika
had been watching like a hawk for this.  She hurried swiftly across, and
in rapid sentences told him of her child's danger.  She fell on her
knees before him--this proud, beautiful, strong woman, whose boast had
been that she could have had every Boer of the Transvaal at her feet--
and begged him in a flood of tears to give her some water and save her
child.  At this moment, even after these scores of hours of fatigue and
thirst and bitter suffering, and under the grey morning light, the woman
looked very beautiful, worn and dishevelled though she was.  Her _kapje_
was off, and her golden hair, unfettered by the usual tight Dutch cap,
crowned her with a strange glory.

The Boer was visibly moved.

"Hendrika," he whispered hoarsely, "I love you still.  Yes, I love you
more than ever.  I will give you all the water I have.  Allemaghte!
Yes, I'll foot it without water to Inkouane if you will leave your
husband and come away with me.  We can trek far to the north and make a
home of our own.  Come, Hendrika!  After we reach Inkouane, your husband
will be behind for his cattle, and we can get away; and if you like,
bring the boy too.  There is the water," pointing under his wagon,
"nearly a vatjeful; you shall have it all.  Think well of what I say.
We have been happy before, and can be happy again."

Hendrika sprang to her feet with flashing eyes.

"You must be mad," she said, with fierce scorn, "to dream of such a
thing!  Can you think so ill of me?  No, _schelm_, scoundrel that you
are, you know you cannot!  Is this your final answer.  Do you still
refuse me water?"

"I do," he returned; "_unless_..."

She turned away with a fierce, hopeless gesture, and left him.

How Hendrika Van Staden passed the next eight hours she could never
satisfactorily describe, even to herself.  Slowly the hot day came up,
and slowly passed upon leaden wings.  Andries was sent out to scour the
bush for any bulbs or roots that might contain moisture.  But, alas!
just in this locality none such could be found.  Meanwhile, Barend
rapidly grew worse; the fever pressed more hardly upon him, the thirst
became more intolerable; convulsions were succeeded by coma.  It seemed
that the end was near.  The water-bearers from Inkouane still tarried;
every moment became more distracting, more agonising, for the wretched
mother.

Suddenly a terrible thought flashed through her brain, and no sooner was
it conceived than her mind was made up.  She went softly to her wagon,
took down her husband's Martini-Henry carbine from the hooks on which it
reposed, drew it from its lion-skin cover, and pulled two cartridges
from a bandolier; one she pushed into the breech of the carbine, the
other she thrust into her bosom, and then, carrying the gun behind her,
she walked straight across to Oosthuysen's camp.  The Boer happened to
be sitting in the shade at the back of the wagon, and heard nothing of
her approach till her voice rang sharply through the hot air.

"Meneer Oosthuysen, I want you!"

Schalk sprang up with alacrity.  No doubt, he thought to himself, he had
conquered.  His vile offer was to be accepted.  There was a strange set
look in the woman's beautiful eyes as he faced her.  Her head was thrown
back in the way he knew so well of yore, her white throat was displayed,
her arms were behind her back.  A little defiant, perhaps, in her
yielding, but still she was to be his.  Never, he thought, had she
looked more noble.

"Schalk," she said, in her firm, clear voice, "I must have that water."

"Well," he replied, "it is yours.  You know my terms."

"Almighty God!" she gasped; "then you _will_ have it!  See here, this
gun is loaded.  If you hand me half your water, I'll forgive all your
brutality; if not, I'll shoot you dead.  Choose, and in one instant!"

The Boer evidently imagined it was a mere case of "bluff," and he grew
angry.

"I tell you," he cried, "you shall have not one drop of water unless you
swear to leave your husband and come with me!  Those are my last words."

"Your last indeed!" echoed Hendrika, in a deep, low voice.  Her carbine
went up.  The Boer made one dash to disarm her, and in the same instant
her forefinger pressed the trigger and a bullet crashed through
Oosthuysen's brain.  He fell forward and lay there in the sand without
another motion, stone-dead.

Scarcely noticing the body, Hendrika went straight to the water _vatje_
for which she had done this terrible act.  She lifted it from the hook,
and, exerting all her strength, carried it across to her wagon.  Then,
procuring brandy, she mingled water with it, and with a teaspoon poured
some of the mixture between the parched lips of her half-lifeless child.
In ten minutes there were signs of returning consciousness, and
presently Barend opened his eyes.  Her child was saved, and the woman's
heart, spite of the deadly horror that was upon her, echoed faint
thanks.  She had saved her boy, but at what a price!  In half an hour
Barend was so much better that she was able to leave him dozing quietly,
and once more she betook herself to Oosthuysen's camp.  The Boer's
Kaffirs had returned, and were standing over the dead body, talking and
gesticulating in an excited way.  Hendrika walked straight up to them,
and, first picking up her carbine, said in a firm voice, "Yes, the Baas
is dead.  He refused me water, and I shot him.  It was my child's life
or his.  You had better go on to Inkouane and tell his friends to send
back for the wagon."

The natives, awed by her manner and the words she spoke, slunk away,
and, picking up their blankets and assegais and a little store of water,
struck into the bush, glad to be quit of this terrible woman.

As soon as they had departed, all Hendrika's stock of firmness vanished.
She had been overwrought these forty-eight hours past.  Now the tension
had become too great.  She knelt beside the dead body of Oosthuysen and
wept in an agony of remorse, pity, and tenderness.

Why had she slain this man, with whom for years she had been associated
in childhood?  She remembered, ah! so well, their pleasant homes in
Marico, the fertile valleys, the fair uplands, and the pleasant treks
four times a year to _Nachtmaal_ (communion) at Zeerust.  Her tears
flowed afresh.  Presently she became calmer, climbed into Oosthuysen's
wagon, and took down a blanket, which she placed reverently, almost
tenderly, over the dead body.

At that instant the dulled crack of a rifle-shot came from the direction
of the Inkouane road!  Another!  Alas!  Hendrika knew what they meant.
Her husband was approaching, water was at hand, help near.  Now the full
horror of her position smote upon her and froze her blood.  All this
terrible crime might have been avoided if but those shots had been heard
one short hour ago.  Her heart stood still, and she fell forward in a
deathlike swoon beside the body of the man she had slain.

When Piet Van Staden rode up five minutes later and found his wife lying
in a dead faint beside the yet warm corpse of Schalk Oosthuysen, even
his dull Dutch nature was stirred and harrowed.  What in God's name
could it all mean?

Presently, with the aid of brandy and water, Hendrika came to herself,
and was able to tell her terrible story.  It was a great shock to her
husband; but he had a strong faith in his wife's character, and he
understood well enough that only the direst straits and the prospect of
the almost instant death of their child could have induced her to take
the blood of a fellow-creature upon her hands.

They buried Oosthuysen's body that evening, and covered the grave with
thorns, and set a strong _scherm_ of thorns about it to keep off the
wild beasts.  During the night their oxen came in, and they trekked next
day, with doubt and trepidation in their hearts, for Inkouane, where
dreadful scenes were enacting.  The pits had been meanwhile choked up
with dead oxen, which had been cut out piecemeal; and now, the scant
mess of foul blood and fouler water being exhausted, men, women, and
children were enduring agonies of thirst.  Men in such case were not
likely to be hard judges: their one thought was for their own safety.
Piet and his wife, therefore, having reported the full circumstances of
Oosthuysen's tragic death to the Boer leaders, were bidden to betake
themselves away and never trouble the expedition again.  Glad enough
they were to escape thus lightly: blood for blood is usually the cry of
people in a state of semi-civilisation such as these Trek-Boers.

And so, like Hagar of old, the Van Stadens passed out into the
wilderness, and won their way with much toil and suffering to the
Okavango River, beyond Lake N'gami.  But Hendrika never shook off her
trouble, or the feeling that unwittingly she had wrecked her husband's
life and doomed themselves to a weary banishment.  Day by day she grew
paler and more listless; her old fire and spirits had left her and could
not be recalled, and, by the time they reached the marshes of the
Okavango, she was utterly unfit to cope with the deadly fever of that
unhealthy land.

At last, thin and worn and weak, the merest shadow of the once proud
Transvaal beauty, she could travel no longer.  They outspanned under a
big Motjeerie tree, and there, tended by her husband and the still
faithful Hottentot, Andries, and with Barend's hand in hers, she passed
from life into the unknown.

Hendrika Van Staden sleeps, as sleeps many another stout and heroic.
Dutchwoman who has yielded up her soul in Africa, in the dim wilderness,
beneath the great Motjeerie tree, amid whose spreading oak-like leafage
the wild doves of the forest coo soft requiem.  In the still solitudes
around wander free and undisturbed the great game of the veldt she loved
so well.  And at night to the fountain near her grave come the tall
giraffe, the mighty elephant, the painted zebra, the sinuous tawny lion,
the tiny steinbok, and many another head of game, to quench their
thirst.

What fitter resting-place could be hers?  And if, indeed, Hendrika erred
in the supreme trial of her life, what mother, what true woman, would
have done otherwise?  Who shall judge her? who cast a stone?



CHAPTER SEVEN.

A LEGEND OF PRINCE MAURICE.

It was Christmas-time at the Cape, when many a man and woman of British
blood, jaded by the sun and drought of an up-country life, flocks down
to the sea.  Cape Town and her charming suburbs were crowded; and the
pleasant watering-places of Muizenberg and Kalk Bay were thronged with
folk dying once more to set eyes on the blue ocean, to inhale the fresh
breezes, and to remind themselves of their own sea-girt origin.  From
every corner of South Africa--from the old Colony, the Free State, the
Transvaal, from far Bechuanaland--they had come.  You might see
sun-scorched wanderers from the far interior, hunters, explorers,
prospectors, and pioneers.  Some had come to restore broken health; some
to taste again the sweets of civilisation, to spend hard-won money; or,
perchance, an enthusiast might be seen who had been attracted south a
thousand miles and more by the week's cricket tournament on the Western
Province ground at Newlands.

Cape Town was at her best and bravest.  Adderley Street was as crowded
as Bond Street in June; and upon every hand were to be seen and heard
pleasant faces, cheery voices, and the hearty greetings of friends long
severed by time and distance.

On the evening of the 23rd December, a young man sat in his pleasant
bedroom in the _annexe_ of the International Hotel, which lies rather
out of the heat of the town on the lower slopes of Table Mountain.  It
was an hour before dinner, and the young man sat in his shirt-sleeves
before the open window, idly smoking a pipe, and feasting his eyes on
the glorious view that lay before him.

Jack Compton had just come down from two years' travel and sport in the
far interior; you might tell that by his lean, sun-tanned face and
deeply embrowned arms, and by the collection of curios--bird-skins,
photographs, horns, heads, assegais, and other articles that littered
the room--and, after a rough time of it, was now enjoying to the full
the ease and relaxation of life at the Cape.  It was a noble prospect
that lay spread before him--none nobler in the world.  Cape Town, with
its white houses and dark-green foliage, contrasted strongly in the near
foreground with the peerless blue and the sweeping contours of Table
Bay.  Out at the entrance to the bay, Robben Island swam dimly into the
far Atlantic.  Across the bay, the eye was first smitten by the blinding
dazzle of the beach of white sand below Blaauwberg.  Then rose chain
upon chain of glorious mountain scenery, the jagged sierras of
Stellenbosch and the far line of Hottentots Holland melting in blues and
purples upon the horizon.  Under the setting sun the crests of these
distant sierras were rapidly becoming rose-tinted, and the warm browns
and purples glorified a thousandfold.  Never, thought Jack Compton, as
he pulled contentedly at his pipe, had he beheld a more enchanting
scene.

At that instant his door was flung open, and a tall, sunburnt, keen-eyed
man of thirty entered the room.

"Hallo, Jack, you old buffer!" he exclaimed, "what are you up to,
sitting here brooding like a pelican at a salt pan?  I've been looking
for you.  I've been chatting for the last two hours with a most
interesting Johnnie just come round from Walfisch Bay.  He's been
trading and hunting in a new veldt far inland to the north-east, and
he's had some extraordinary times.  The country he's been in is,
seemingly, quite unknown to Europeans; the game's as thick as sheep in a
fold; and he's had the most wonderful shooting.  But there's one
adventure, which he'll tell us more about after dinner, which has hit my
fancy amazingly.  As far as I can make out, Cressey--that's the name of
the man--has discovered some extraordinary link with the past--a Kaffir
woman, chief of some native tribe, with good white blood in her veins.
Cressey has got some of her belongings, and has promised to show them to
us later on."

"But," put in Jack Compton, "what sort of a man is this Cressey?  Can
you depend upon what he says?  There are some champion liars in this
country, and any amount of improbable yarns floating from one ear to
another.  The Afrikander is the most credulous person in the world, and
there's something in the climate which quickly infects the Britisher--
witness yourself.  I suppose gold and diamonds are primarily responsible
for it all, and the old-fashioned Boer, who's the most marvel-swallowing
creature of the nineteenth century."

"That's all right, old chap," laughingly replied Tim Bracewell.  "I
won't say any more at present.  You shall judge for yourself.  In my
opinion this man Cressey isn't one of your natural-born Ananiases.  He
gives one the impression of being perfectly straightforward.  He's a
quiet, unassuming sort of man, rather hard to draw than otherwise.  By
the bye, we mustn't talk too loud--he's got a bedroom somewhere in this
building."

Half an hour later the two friends were lounging about the _stoep_ of
the International, waiting the summons to dinner, when a quiet-looking
man in blue serge came up the steps.  Tim Bracewell stepped forward and
met him, and introduced him to Compton.  The new comer was a well-set-up
man of middle height.  He had fair brown hair, a short beard, and a pair
of keen, steady, blue-grey eyes.

After dinner, which the three men partook of at a table together, they
came out to the _stoep_ again, and fixed themselves in a snug corner for
coffee and cigars.  They had exchanged a good deal of their experiences
together at the dinner-table, and Tim Bracewell now called upon Cressey
to give them the promised history of his main adventure.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Well," said Cressey, "it's a queer yarn, and I don't know what you'll
say to it.  You're the first I've told it to; and let me ask you not to
talk about it outside.  I don't want to be bothered by papers and
interviewers and all the rest of it.  I shall report my story to the
Colonial Secretary for what it's worth, and then I've done all I intend
to.  I started from Walfisch Bay with two wagons, loaded up with
trading-gear, just eighteen months ago.  I intended to hunt a bit, and I
had five good ponies with me.  I had also in my outfit three very good
native `boys'--one especially, `April,' a most useful chap; he was a
'Mangwato, a capital fellow at languages, and understood Zulu and Dutch,
and one or two Zambesi dialects.  He was a good driver, cook, and
hunter--one of the best all-round natives I ever came across.

"Well, I trekked through Damaraland and Ovampoland up to the Cunene
River.  I hadn't much trouble with the Ovampo, as I knew their chiefs
and headmen.  But they're a rum lot, and you've got to watch it in their
country.  I did pretty well, and sent down a decent troop of cattle
taken in barter to a place I've got in Damaraland.

"After several months, I left the Cunene, and worked up for a new bit of
country hitherto unexplored.  I crossed the Okavango somewhere up
towards its sources, and then found myself in the wild country of the
Mukassakwere Bushmen.  Here there was plenty of game, and I had some
grand sport.  The Bushmen were mad for meat and tobacco, and were only
too eager--once they had found out my killing powers--to show me game.
I had a glorious time among elephant rhinoceros, `camel' (giraffe), and
all the big antelopes.  Elands were running in big troops, almost as
tame as Alderney cows, and we lived like fighting cocks.  I got a fine
lot of ivory in this country; and then, taking some of the best of the
Bushmen with me, pushed still farther north by east.

"One afternoon, after a long, troublesome trek through some heavy
bush-country, in which we had been all hard at work cutting a path for
the wagons, we emerged pretty thankfully into clear country again.
Before us lay spread a vast open grassy plain, dotted here and there
with troops of game.  Beyond the plain, some thirty miles distant, there
stood in purple splendour against the clear horizon a majestic mountain
chain, its peaks just now tinted a tender rose by the setting sun.  We
all stood for a while gazing, open-mouthed, at the glorious scene before
us, and then camped for the night.  Round my servants' camp-fire I
noticed a good deal of animated conversation going on.  Two Bushmen in
particular were full of chatter and gesticulation.  Their curious
clicking speech came fast and thick, and they pointed often in the
direction of the mountains in our front.

"After a time I called April to my fireside and interrogated him.  He
informed me that the Bushmen were speaking of a kraal of natives settled
behind the mountain chain; that these natives were governed by a
wonderful white-skinned woman; that they were quarrelsome and
treacherous; and that we might have trouble with them.  Having learned
thus much, I tumbled into my wagon, pulled up the sheepskin kaross, and
fell asleep.

"Early next morning I was up making ready for a longish ride.  I was
mighty curious to see this native village that the Bushmen spoke of, and
especially the white-skinned chieftainess; at the same time I determined
to prepare for any eventuality.  I sent the wagons, after breakfast,
back upon our spoor again, directing my men to camp in a strong place
between some hills, more than a day's journey back.  Here there was good
water; the camp could be rendered pretty impregnable by the help of a
_scherm_ of thorn-bushes; and, with my horses, I and my attendant could
easily retreat thither in case of trouble.  I now selected my two best
ponies, and, taking April with me, and the two Bushmen to act as guides,
we set off for the mountain.  My man and I were each armed with a good
double rifle, and had plenty of ammunition, water-bottles, and some
_billtong_ (sun-dried meat), biscuits, coffee, and a kettle; and, as I
knew there were no horses among the natives in these regions, I had
little fear of escape, if escape became necessary.

"We rode all that day across the big plain.  It was a perfect treat to
see the game on every side of us.  There were rhinoceroses, elands,
hartebeests, Burchell's zebras, blue wildebeests, and tsesseby.  They
were excessively tame, and often came close up and stared at us.  We
fired no shot, however, but rode quietly on, occasionally diverging a
little to avoid some sour-looking black rhinoceros, which stood,
threatening and suspicious, directly in our path.  We camped that night
in a little grove of thorn trees just beneath the mountain.

"At earliest dawn of the next day we were up and away.  The Bushmen led
us to a kloof or gorge in the mountain chain, the only approach to the
kraal we sought.  We rode for two hours up a slight ascent over a very
rough, rocky path; and then, suddenly turning an angle of the
mountain-wall, we came in full view of the native town.  A broad grassy
valley, perhaps seven miles square, lay before us.  This plain was
dotted with circular native huts, built very much after the Bechuana
fashion, and neatly thatched.  Herds of cattle, goats, and native sheep
were pasturing here and there, or lying beneath the shade of the acacias
scattered about the plain.  The town stood in an excellent position.
The mountain chain upon the one hand, and a broad and deep river,
flowing south-east, upon the other, served as sure defences against any
sudden attack from without.

"Beyond the river, eastward, a vast sweep of broad plain, belted with
dark-green ribands of bush and forest, stretched in interminable expanse
to the hot horizon.

"Descending to the valley, we were not long in reaching a collection of
huts, where we were pulled up short by a score of gesticulating natives,
armed with huge bows and arrows, and spears.  We had some trouble with
these people; but after various messages and a halt of an hour or so, we
were told to follow two headmen to the Queen's residence.

"Mounting our horses--a proceeding which roused the most lively interest
among the crowd, which by this time had gathered round us--April and I
followed our guides, the Bushmen walking alongside.  Passing numerous
groups of well-built, well-tended huts, we were at last brought to the
Queen's _kotla_, a large circular enclosure, fenced by a tall stockade,
in which was set the hut of the great lady I sought.  A messenger soon
brought permission, and we rode into the enclosure.

"In a couple of rapid glances I took in the whole scene.  In front of a
large, roomy, carefully thatched, circular hut were gathered some thirty
headmen of various ages, all standing, and all armed with long spears,
battle-axes, or bows and arrows.  In the centre of this knot of dark
Africans sat the chieftainess, a very fair-skinned woman, undoubtedly.
Behind her stood two black female attendants, furnished with long
fly-whisks, with which they occasionally guarded their mistress from the
annoyances of insects.  I rode up boldly to within ten yards of this
group, and dismounted, as did my man April.  Handing my horse to April,
I took off my broad-brimmed hat, made my politest bow to the Queen's
grace, and then, calling Naras the Bushman, motioned him to stand
forward and interpret Naras waited expectantly on the Queen, and, while
she addressed him, I had leisure to examine her closely and very
curiously.  Mapana--that was her name--for a woman of native blood, was
astonishingly fair.  I can best liken her colouring to that of a fair
octoroon.  Her beauty amazed me.  I have been in the West Indies, where,
especially among the French islands, are to be seen some of the most
beautiful coloured women in the world.  Mapana's beauty and grace
reminded me in the strongest manner of some of these French octoroons.
Her hair was soft and wavy--not harsh, like a pure African's--and curled
naturally upon her well-shaped head.  Her features were good and
regular; her mouth bewitching; her dark eyes tender, kindly, and
marvellously beautiful.  There was an air of refinement and grace about
her, which strangely puzzled me.  She wore a necklet of bright gold
coins about her neck, and thick ivory bangles upon her shapely arms.  A
little cloak of antelope skin just covered her shoulders, but concealed
not at all her perfect shape and bust.  A short kilt or petticoat of
dressed antelope skin, and neat sandals of giraffe hide, completed her
costume.  It is hard to judge the age of Africans.  I guessed Mapana's
years at one or two and twenty.  She sat there in an attitude of easy,
natural grace, her pretty hands just covering a sword, apparently of
European make, which lay across her lap.  I think I never set eyes on a
more perfectly captivating creature.  I am not as a rule at all
impressionable, but, as Mapana spoke, my downfall was complete--I fell
in love with her at once.

"Mapana had one of those rare voices which, almost more than mere beauty
alone, seem created to enslave mankind.  I once, years ago, on a trip
home to England, heard Sarah Bernhardt.  The tones of her silvery voice
came nearer to Mapana's than any I ever heard.

"How so fair a woman came to be heading a barbarous tribe here in this
outlandish corner of Africa, and whence she took her European descent,
puzzled me intensely.  I was determined somehow to hunt out the mystery.
I had noticed, when we first encountered Mapana's tribesmen at the foot
of the mountains, that much of their speech resembled the Sechuana and
Basuto tongues, with which I am well acquainted.  The languages of the
various Bantu tribes have strong affinities.  I noticed many words even
resembling Zulu and Amakosa among these people, who, by the way, called
themselves Umfanzi.  The difference of idiom and intonation at first
bothered me; in a little while, however, as Mapana questioned and
cross-questioned the Bushmen, I began pretty clearly to understand her.
I spoke in a low tone to April; he too comprehended her speech.  I now
ventured to address her myself.  I spoke slowly and distinctly; and,
after a little, she began to understand much of what I said, as, too,
did her headmen and counsellors.  I explained that I was a subject of a
great white Queen, dwelling far across some mighty waters; that I had
heard of another white Queen, and had travelled far to pay her my
respects, and to enter upon terms of goodwill and friendship with her
and her tribe.

"My words seemed to give satisfaction.  Mapana spoke in an aside with
some of the older men about her, and then addressed me.  She told me
that she was of white descent herself--at a remote distance of time--
that the blood had always been cherished in her tribe, and that she and
her counsellors were glad to receive me.  She directed me to be lodged
in a new hut just outside her _kotla_, and intimated that she would be
pleased to receive me later in the day.  Meanwhile food and water, and
whatever else we required, should be placed at my disposal.  A guard of
a couple of armed men was told off to keep away intrusive or too curious
tribespeople from our quarters.

"We killed a sheep, and enjoyed a square meal; after which I went,
surrounded by a concourse of interested natives, to a stream close by,
where I had a good wash, combed out my hair and beard, and made myself
presentable for the next interview with the fascinating Mapana.  For the
rest of the afternoon we sat resting, and luxuriated in a quiet smoke.

"At about four o'clock a young headman came with a message that Mapana
wished to see me again.  He seemed by no means pleased with his errand,
and preceded me with a very unprepossessing scowl upon his face.  The
Queen was now only attended by a few of her women.  I sat down near her;
my conductor stood leaning upon his assegai.

"`Seleni,' said Mapana, looking at him, `I wish to speak with the white
man alone; you can leave me.'

"`Queen,' answered the young man, not too civilly, I thought, `this man
is a stranger.  Who knows his heart?  He may cherish mischief.  I stay
to guard the Queen from danger.'

"Mapana flushed a little.  It was pretty to see the colour run under the
clear brunette of her skin.  `There is no danger,' she said, with some
asperity.  `Go, till I call for you.'

"Making an obeisance, Seleni, much against his will, stalked out of the
_kotla_.

"Mapana turned to me.  `Seleni is a kinsman of mine,' she said, `and he
presumes upon it.'

"I had noticed that this young man, and one or two others among the
headmen, were slightly paler in colour than the rest of the tribe, and I
told Mapana so.

"`Yes,' she returned.  `Seleni is descended from the white man from whom
I descend, but by a baser branch.  My forefathers come directly from the
white man who settled among the Umfanzi long ago, and married the
chief's daughter.  That white man--Morinza, we call him--became ruler
over the tribe, taught us many things, and left the family of chiefs to
which I belong.  I have sent for you,'--here she inquired my name, which
I told her--`to look upon the things which I have here.  They were
Morinza's, and they have always been cherished in my family.'

"Here she took the circlet of coins from her neck and handed it to me.
She had also for my inspection the sword I have spoken of, and an
old-fashioned book, very handsomely bound in red leather, curiously gilt
and stamped.  This book she took from a covering of soft hide, in which
it was carefully wrapped.

"I was intensely interested, and first examined the gold coins composing
the necklet.  There were seven in all, four large and three smaller.  I
recognised at once the head of Charles the First, and made out without
difficulty that the coins were twenty-shilling and ten-shilling pieces
of that king's reign.  I next took up the sword.  The scabbard had once
been handsome in leather and metal, but was now worn and battered.  The
sword itself, a straight, narrowish rapier, was a very beautiful one.
It was in excellent condition and finely engraved.  On the centre of the
blade were these words in old-fashioned lettering:--"

"Rupertus Mauritio Suo Bredae, 1638."

Latin for: "From Rupert to his Maurice.  Before Breda, 1638."

"Now in the mind of every schoolboy," (said Cressey, pausing in his
narrative) "the names Rupert and Maurice always run together.  They were
nephews of Charles the First, sons of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, and
they are well-known in English history.  Since I came to Cape Town, I
have been to the library, and I find that Prince Maurice served his
first or second campaign in 1638 with the Prince of Orange at the siege
of Breda.  Prince Rupert was there, learning the trade of war at the
same time.  The meaning of the inscription on that sword--which I have,
and will show you presently--is to my mind perfectly clear.

"Well, to get on with my yarn.  As I sat in Mapana's kraal with the
sword in my hands, I began to wonder whether I was in a dream.  Was it
possible that the beautiful brunette before me, chieftain of a tribe of
outlandish Kaffirs, came of such stock as this?  The idea seemed too
wildly improbable.  Yet, if her tale and the evidence before me meant
anything, it meant that this sword, these gold coins, had once belonged
to Maurice of the Rhine.  I took the book in my hand and turned over its
yellow pages.  What I saw there yet more electrified me, and stimulated
yet further my imagination.  The book was an old French work on hawking,
entitled, _La Fauconnerie; par Charles d'Esperon; Paris_: 1605.  On the
fly-leaf was written, in an antique yet clear hand:--"

"Mauritio P. D.D. Mater Amantissima, Elizabetha R. 1635."

Translated, this would run: "To Maurice, Prince, a gift from his most
loving mother, Elizabeth, Queen, 1635."

"There was no earthly reason to suppose that the inscription upon that
old fly-leaf lied.  That book then had once belonged to Prince Maurice;
had once been the loving gift to him of the unlucky, beautiful
Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, his mother.  It seemed so strange, so
tragic, to find here these relics of the old Stuart blood; to see before
me perhaps even a descendant of that ill-starred line; that my mind, as
I gazed from the old book to Mapana, from Mapana's soft eyes to the book
again, ran in a flood of strangely mingled emotions.  I asked Mapana
again to tell me how these things had come into her family.

"She reiterated that her father and grandfather had always told her that
these were the things of Morinza (was not this name, I asked myself, an
African corruption of Moritz or Maurice?), the white man, their
ancestor.  That he had them with him when he encountered the tribe.
That in those days the Umfanzi lived much farther to the west (she
indicated the direction with her hand), not far from a great water
(probably the South Atlantic); that other things of his had also
formerly belonged to them, but had almost all been lost in wars and
wanderings.

"Now I have been always fond of history, and, as a youngster, the story
of the Stuarts had a deep interest for me.  I had a clear recollection
in my mind that Prince Maurice had been lost at sea some time during the
Commonwealth or Cromwell's Protectorate, while on a privateering or
filibustering expedition.  Was it not possible, I asked myself, that he
had been wrecked off the African coast, or even marooned by a
discontented crew?  I find, by the way, on coming down-country, that
Maurice was actually off the west coast of Africa in 1652, the year of
his supposed death.  He is believed by some to have been lost in a storm
off the West Indies, but the circumstance of his death seems to be very
much shrouded in mystery.  There is nothing clear about it.

"I told Mapana that I knew something of the origin of these relics.
That their owner had once been a warrior in my country; and that I
should like to take them home, and have them identified, if possible.
That for her own sake this ought to be done.

"She looked very wistfully at me, but shook her head, and told one of
her girls to put the sword and book back in her hut.  The necklet she
put on again.  By this time it was dark, and we sat by a blazing fire of
wood.

"Mapana now asked me to sup with her.  I was not loth, of course; and,
having still some coffee, sugar, and a tin of condensed milk in my
saddlebags, I had them and the kettle brought round.  I boiled some
water, and treated my charming barbarian to her first cup of coffee.
She was delighted, and drank two beakers of it with the greatest
enjoyment.  Then nothing would do but I must give her my teaspoon.  It
was an old worn silver one, as it happened.  She looked so merry, so
good-humoured, so fascinating, there by the cheery firelight, that I
felt inclined to deny her nothing.

"`But,' I said, `you must give me something in return.'

"She looked reflectively for a moment, then sent a girl to her hut.  The
girl returned with two more of the gold coins I have mentioned.  They
were strung close together on fine sinew, and were used, as Mapana
showed me, as a fillet or decoration for the head.  We made the exchange
amid much merriment and some chaff, and I think were mutually content.
I certainly had the best of the deal.  Mapana, at my suggestion, used
the spoon with her milk and porridge, which she had previously eaten by
means of a kind of flat spoon--and her pretty fingers.  I don't know
what possessed me--perhaps it was the caressing touch of her hand, which
had been once or twice laid upon mine while begging for the spoon--but,
before saying good-night and going to my hut, I asked Mapana if she
would like to be saluted in the fashion of my country.  She assented
with a smile.  I stooped towards her, placed my hands upon her
shoulders, and kissed her upon the cheek and lips.  Never was caress
more sweet!  I don't think Mapana thought so badly of it either; there
was no sign of displeasure in her dark eyes.  Her maidens were rather
startled, and ejaculated some very astonished `ous'; but they were very
discreet.

"Before I quitted her, I asked Mapana to lend me the old book on
Falconry.  I wanted to examine it more closely.  On my promising to
deliver it to her again, she sent for it, and placed it in my hands.  I
went back to my hut, put the book into my saddle-bag till morning, and
quickly fell into a sound slumber.

"I saw little of Mapana till next evening.  She was bathing with her
women at a lagoon in the morning.  Then a council of headmen was held,
chiefly to discuss my visit; this lasted some hours.  I wandered quietly
about the village, escorted by two tribesmen; saw that the horses were
well fed and cared for, looked at our rifles, and waited rather
impatiently for another audience with Mapana.  During the afternoon the
Bushmen left the town.  They had soon tired of its attractions, and
yearned to be in the veldt again.

"It was not till nightfall that Mapana sent for me.  I supped with her
again by the fire in front of her hut, and again we had coffee and much
laughter together.  She was in curious spirits; sometimes rippling over
with fun and a sort of naive coquetry; at others, looking serious and
thoughtful, and even, as I thought, a little askance at me.  I lighted
my pipe and began to smoke.  Presently she sat herself a little nearer
to me and spoke.

"`My headmen,' she said, `want to know if you have come to stay long
among us, Kareesa,' (so she pronounced my name); `I could not tell them
this morning.  What does Kareesa say?  I tire of ruling these people
alone.  I want a man to help me.  Seleni hopes to become that man; but
Seleni--well, I love not Seleni over-much.  Why should not Kareesa join
his lot with mine and share my power?'  Mapana looked more beautiful
than ever, I thought, at that moment; she was very serious, and her dark
eyes were turned almost beseechingly to mine.  Half barbarian though she
was, I never could forget that white blood ran strong within her; and in
mere looks alone there was enough to tempt many a better man than I, who
was already more than half in love with her.

"I knew not what to say, but was about to stumble into some sort of
speech.  She leaned yet nearer, and placed a hand gently upon my arm.
At that instant a sharp whistle, which I knew to be April's, and April's
only, smote my ears.  I half turned round.  As I did so, an arrow grazed
the breast of my flannel shirt and drove deep into the left bosom of
Mapana.  She uttered a little choking cry, and fell into my arms, a
dying woman.  I could not let her go in her last agony, poor soul; yet I
knew there was deadly danger about me even as I supported her.  Those
moments were like some vile and terrible dream.  In a second or two
another arrow transfixed the fleshy part of my upper arm.  Almost at the
same instant the report of a rifle rang out; there was a cry, and a
fall, and I knew Mapana was avenged--by April.

"Next came April's voice: `Baas, Baas, are you there?  Come quickly.'

"I cried out: `All right; I'm coming;' and then looked into my poor lost
Mapana's face again.  She had given a shiver or two, a last struggle,
and was now dead in my arms.  I laid her quietly upon the earth and
kissed her brow.  She had in her hands, poor thing, as she often had,
the old sword.  Her grip upon the scabbard was so strong that I could
not easily loosen it.  I drew the blade quickly from the sheath, and
with one last look at her as she lay, still wonderfully beautiful even
in death, I left Mapana.

"Meanwhile, the whole town was in a frightful uproar.  Poor Mapana's
women were shrieking in her hut.  Men's voices were yelling excitedly in
different directions.  War-drums were beating already.

"I rushed to the _kotla_ entrance.  April was there with the two horses,
saddled and bridled, and our rifles both loaded.  First, I made him
break and draw the arrow from my arm.  He pointed to the body of Seleni,
whom he had shot dead just as he fired his second arrow at me.  We
jumped into our saddles and galloped straight for the river.  It was our
only chance.  By great good luck we reached the banks safely, swam our
horses across, and chanced the crocodiles.  Once on the other side, we
cantered steadily, all through the night, due south.  At early morning
we swam the river again, much against the grain, and then, after an
hour's rest in thick bush, steadily continued our flight, now more to
the eastward.  To cut a long story short, by dint of nursing our nags,
we made good our escape, reached the wagons in safety, and trekked hard
till we had put a hundred and fifty miles between us and Umfanziland.

"Whether the Umfanzis followed us or not, I don't know.  Quite possibly,
the death of Mapana, and the consequent turmoil, so bothered them that
they never did.  Thanks to my idea of keeping our nags always saddled
and bridled, and to April's bravery and smartness, we escaped with our
lives.

"Poor dead Mapana!  I shall never cease to mourn her as a good, and
true, and most bewitching woman.  I admired her beauty and her kindly
heart.  May she rest in peace!

"Well," ended Cressey, "that's my yarn.  It's a curious one, isn't it?
If you are as dry as I am, you must want a whisky and seltzer.  After
that, if you'll come to my bedroom, I'll show you the relics--the two
coins, the sword, and the book--I brought from Umfanziland."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Touching these same relics, which have proved undoubtedly to have once
belonged to Prince Maurice of the Rhine, they now adorn the collection
of a great personage, and are greatly treasured.

As for the descent of poor Mapana--whether she and her forefathers truly
sprang, as she claimed, from Prince Maurice himself--that is a mystery
dead with her dead self, never to be clearly explained on this side the
dark portals.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE TAPINYANI CONCESSION.

At the hour of noon the straggling main street of Vryburg, the village
capital of British Bechuanaland, lay bare and shadeless beneath the
merciless glare of a February sun.  The few straggling saplings in front
of the corrugated-iron shanty known as the Criterion Hotel, and a
forlorn blue gum-tree here and there in other parts of the place, served
but to accentuate the utter nakedness and lack of shade.
Notwithstanding the sun's fierce assault, the air was crisp and nimble,
for the plains here lie high--nearly four thousand feet above sea-level.
There had been recent rain, and the sea of grass stretching everywhere
beyond the village had now assumed a garb of fresh green in lieu of the
wearisome pall of pale yellow which for months had masked the red soil.
Two Boer horses stood with drooping heads tarrying patiently for their
masters, now shopping inside a store on either side of the broad street;
and a span of oxen lying and standing on the left hand, waiting for a
load to the wagon behind them, were the only indications of life in the
centre of the Bechuanaland capital.  Beyond and behind these, however,
north and south, the two hotels--canteens one might rather call them--at
either end of the street showed, by noisy laughter and a gentle flow of
humanity, that there the place was alive, and, as was its wont,
cheerful.

The click of billiard balls from either inn gave further tone to the
somewhat scant air of civilisation.

Lounging in a corner of the Criterion bar were two men equipped in veldt
dress of cord breeches and coats, pigskin gaiters, brown boots, spurs,
flannel shirts, and broad-brimmed felt hats.  They were youngish men--
both on the better side of thirty--and looked bronzed, full of health,
and hard as nails.  Both had come out to the country with Methuen's
Horse, and, after serving in Warren's expedition, had drifted into the
Bechuanaland Border Police, from which they had some time since retired.
The elder, darker and taller, Hume Wheler, after a fairly successful
public school and university career, and a short and briefless period at
the Bar, had found the active and open-air life of the South African
interior far more to his liking than two years of weary expectancy in
gloomy chambers.  In reality a man of action, the languid and somewhat
cynical air which he affected in times of quiet greatly belied him.  His
friend, Joe Granton, shorter and more strongly knit than his fellow,
wore habitually a far more cheerful aspect.  His broad, bright
countenance, clear blue eyes, fair hair and moustache, and transparent
openness, combined to render him quickly welcome wherever he appeared.
Joe had migrated to South Africa after five years' experience of a City
office.  London-bred though he was, his yearnings were irresistibly
athletic; and, after mastering the early troubles of horsemanship, he
had settled down to veldt life, with its roughs and tumbles, with a zest
that never faded.

These two men had been fast friends for years, and were now engaged in
an enterprise which, although nominally enwrapped in some air of
mystery, was a pretty open secret in Vryburg.  The rage for
concession-hunting was just now in full blast throughout South Africa.
The two comrades, in partnership with two or three other
Bechuanalanders, were just on the eve of an expedition into the far
recesses of the Kalahari Desert, with the object of securing a
concession from a native chief over a vast tract of country in that
waterless and unknown wilderness.

As the two adventurers smoked their pipes and now and again refreshed
themselves from long tumblers of whisky and soda, their eyes wandered
with some impatience towards the open doorway.  Their expectancy was at
length rewarded.  A short, strong figure of a man, middle-aged,
brown-bearded, grey-eyed, appeared in the sun blaze outside, and entered
the cool shade of the canteen.  Tom Lane, the third and most important
member of the expedition, was a well-known character in the far
interior.  Hunter, trader, cattle-dealer, border-fighter, Tom's
experience of the country was unique.  Tough as steel, a wonderful
veldt-man, none knew the dim and untravelled recesses of the Kalahari as
did he.  He had penetrated twice before to the kraal of Tapinyani, the
Bakalahari chief whose concession they were now hoping to obtain, and
the prime weight and direction of the trek thus fell naturally upon his
broad and reliable shoulders.

"Well, Tom!" exclaimed Hume Wheler, waking a little from his languor,
"here you are at last.  Have you fixed up the drivers and men?  What'll
you drink--whisky and soda, or beer?"

"Thanks!  I'll have a bottle of beer," responded Lane cheerfully.
"Well, I've had a lot of trouble, but I've got all the `boys' in, and
we'll start to-night about twelve, as soon as the moon's up.  I see
you've got all your kits on the wagon, and the stores in.  The last of
the mealies for the nags came down just as I left Klaas will see them
stowed.  The tent I've fastened on to the buck-rail.  By the bye,
Manning wants us all to sup at his house this evening before saying
good-bye.  He's got the concession papers fixed up by the lawyers for
Tapinyani to sign, if the old buster _will_ sign; and Miss Manning
particularly hopes you'll both come."

"That's all right, Tom," rejoined Joe Granton.  "We'll turn up at seven
o'clock.  Miss Manning said something about it yesterday when I met her.
I've got to write some letters after lunch; but you fellows will find
me, if you want me, in my bedroom all the afternoon.  Well, here's
success to the Tapinyani concession!  Santeit! and another thousand a
year to us all!"

The three men smiled mutually, clinked their glasses, and drank deep
draughts to their undertaking.

That evening the three were gathered at the house of Mr Manning,
another member of the concession syndicate, who lived at the top of the
town.  It was nearly ten o'clock, the last of the business had been
discussed, the concession documents handed over, and Kate Manning, the
only daughter of the house, was singing some English songs.  Now Kate
was a very charming, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl, who, although she
lived with her father in this remote frontier town, had been educated in
Europe, had a very charming manner, and was in no mind to suffer herself
to rust dully through existence like some Boer _meisje_.  She took the
keenest interest in the expedition, and had known the active members of
it for some years past--since she was a child, in fact.  There was a
friendly rivalry between Wheler and Granton in securing her commands and
favours; but hitherto the girl, though she liked these two pleasant,
well-set-up fellows well enough, had shown no decided preference for
either.  Even within the secret recesses of her own heart the balance
stood very evenly.  Hume Wheler was handsome, refined, a capital talker;
Joe Granton's perennial cheerfulness and unselfish and transparent
character counted for much.

The dark-eyed girl, as she finished her song, suddenly turned round upon
her audience, and exclaimed, "Oh! before you gentlemen start, there's
one little commission I had almost forgotten.  You know, Mr Wheler, you
brought some wildebeests' tails down from 'Mangwato when you were last
up-country.  Well, they make excellent fly-whisks; but I want something
even bigger.  There are plenty of giraffe where you're going, I hear.  I
want, above all things, a big bull giraffe's tail.  It will make a
splendid whisk for Piet when he stands behind the chairs at dinner in
hot weather.  Now, Mr Granton, now, Mr Wheler, whichever of you first
captures and brings me home that treasure shall--shall earn my undying
gratitude."

"By all means, Miss Kate," answered Wheler gaily.  "I haven't yet shot a
`camel'--never had the luck to come across one.  But you may consider
the tail yours; it shall be laid gratefully at your feet."

"Yes," chimed in Joe Granton, in a much more serious manner.  "You shall
have the tail, if I have to ride a `camel' right through to Damaraland
to secure it."

"Don't you trust to Joe," laughingly interrupted Wheler; "he can't hit a
haystack, much less a `camel' going full split.  _I'll_ bring in the
tail, and secure that inestimable treasure, Miss Manning's undying
gratitude."

"I'm not sure that I shall not have to trust to my old friend Mr Lane,
after all," returned the handsome girl merrily.  "I know _he_ can kill
`camel,' at any rate.  However, you have my best wishes in your first
hunt.  And, Mr Granton, please don't forget the blue jay feathers [the
`roller' is usually called `blue jay' by colonists].  I want them
badly."

The conversation now took another turn.

"I forgot to tell you, Tom," said Mr Manning, addressing Lane,
"Puff-adder Brown's about again.  What's he up to just now, think you?
No good, I'll bet.  Kate was out for a ride in the veldt this morning
before breakfast, and met him as she came home by the Mafeking Road.
The infernal rascal had the impudence to speak to her too, and ask after
me in a sneering way.  He owes me one over that cattle-running job five
years ago, when I wiped his eye, and saved old Van Zyl's oxen for him."

"Puff-adder Brown, eh!" answered Tom Lane, with a lift of the eyebrows.
"Where can he have sprang from, and what's he after?  I wonder he has
the cheek to show his face in Vryburg.  I thought he was away in
Waterberg somewhere."

"I can enlighten you," broke in Joe Granton.  "I heard this afternoon.
Puff-adder Brown has an extra light wagon outspanned with fourteen good
oxen at Jackal's Pan.  He rode into the town late last night to see a
pal, and there's something or other in the wind.  What that is, I don't
know.  It can't be cattle-lifting nowadays; those Stellaland luxuries
are over.  Perhaps it's a new trading trip.  Waterberg's played out, I
fancy, and the Dutchmen don't much fancy Puff-adder."

Puff-adder Brown, it may be remarked, was a notorious border character,
who, as trader, cattle-stealer, horse-lifter, freebooter, and general
ruffian, was well-known.  In the Bechuana troubles some years before the
man had served as volunteer alternately on either side, sometimes
throwing in his lot with the Dutch, at others siding with the natives.
In either case, cattle and land plunder had been his prime object.  In
the quieter times following the British occupation he seldom showed much
in Vryburg or Mafeking, judging rightly that his presence was
objectionable to most decent men.  The man was strong and unscrupulous,
a bully, and violent where he dared; and his nickname, "Puff-adder," had
been bestowed upon him from a curious swelling of the neck observable in
him in moments of anger.

In half an hour more the last good-byes were said, the farewell
stirrup-cups partaken of; the horses were at the door.  The three
adventurers rode forth into the broad moonlight, and were soon at the
outspan, where their wagon stood ready.  A little later the oxen were in
their yokes, and the trek began.

For the next month the expedition moved steadily north-west into the
Kalahari, trekking with infinite toil from one scant pit of water to
another.  During the first week, small temporary pans of water left by
the rains had saved a good deal of hardship; but after that time it was
only with the greatest difficulty that a sufficient supply for the oxen
and horses could be hit upon in each three or four days of travel.  The
country, too, was not an easy one.  Sometimes they laboured amid heavy
calcareous sand, through thick forests of mopani, where the axe had to
be constantly at work to make a passage.  At others thorny bush
obstinately barred the way.  Anon they moved across great dazzling
plains of long grass, now turning once more to a blinding yellow beneath
the too ardent sun.  The pleasant groves of dark-green giraffe-acacia,
masking a reddish, sandy soil, offered welcome relief now and again; but
even here a road had sometimes to be cut, and the toil was long and
exhausting.

One evening, just at sundown, at the end of a month, the wagon reached
the remains of a shallow pool of rain-water, much fouled by game, and
rapidly vanishing by evaporation.  The oxen had trekked almost
incessantly for two days and nights, and were gaunt and wild with
thirst.  The noisome mixture of mud and water stank abominably, but the
two barrels were empty, and had to be recruited against the journey
ahead of them.  These filled, the oxen and horses were allowed to drink
moderately, leaving a bare supply for the morning before they should
move forward again.

Hume Wheler and Joe Granton had come in with the wagon.  Lane had ridden
forward forty-eight hours since with a Bushman picked up at the last
water, with the object of finding a desert fountain far distant in the
wilderness, where the next supply of water was to be obtained.  Upon the
strength of this fountain hinged the safety of the expedition in the
last trek of nearly a week--waterless except for this supply--before
Tapinyani's kraal should be reached.

After a poor supper of tough, tinned "bully beef"--they had had no time
to shoot game--and a mere sip at the poisonous and well-nigh undrinkable
coffee, brewed from the foul water of the pool, Hume Wheler lay by the
fire smoking in moody contemplation.  The day had been desperately hot,
and the work very hard, and even now, as night with her train of stars
stepped forth upon the heaven, the air was close and still.  Joe Granton
had climbed up to the wagon for more tobacco.  His cheerful nature was
little downcast, even by the trials and worries of the past days; and
now, as he filled his pipe, some pleasant remembrance passed through his
brain, and in a mellow voice he sang:--

  "How ardent I seized it, with hands that were glowing,
      And quick to the white-pebbled bottom it fell;
  Then soon with the emblem of truth overflowing,
      And dripping with coolness it rose from the well.
  The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket,
  The moss-covered bucket that hangs in the well."

As the notes died slowly away upon the still air, Wheler looked up from
the fire, and said in a sharp voice, "What in God's name, Joe, possesses
you to sing about moss-grown wells and cool English water, and that sort
of thing?  It's bad enough to be enduring the tortures of the damned in
this cursed desert, with a thirst on one big enough to drain Windermere,
without being reminded of such things.  Don't, old man; don't!"

"All right, old chap," cheerily answered Granton.  "I'll drop the
`Moss-covered Bucket' and its unpleasant suggestions.  I'll get out my
banjo and come down."  Extricating the banjo, he descended, and sat at
his friend's side.  They sat smoking by the firelight, exchanging but
few words, while Joe twanged softly at his strings.

In half an hour Stephan, the Hottentot driver, came over from the other
fire, where the native servants sat.

"I tink, Sieur," he said, "that Baas Lane will soon be here.  I hear
something just now."

Surely enough, in three minutes Tom Lane's whistle was heard, and,
directly after, a Bushman walking by his side, he rode his nearly
foundered horse into the strong firelight.

After exchanging greetings, he directed a boy to give the horse some
water.  "He's about cooked, poor beast," he said.  "I don't think he'd
have stood up another six hours.  Got any coffee?"

They handed him a beakerful.  He drank it down with a wry face.

"That's pretty bad," he remarked; "but it might be worse.  I'll have
another.  I've touched no drink for eighteen hours, and it was blazing
hot to-day.  I've got bad news, boys, and I'm afraid we're in a tight
place."

"Why, what devil's hole are we in now?" queried Wheler.  "I thought we
were about through the last of our troubles."

"I'm afraid not, Hume," replied Lane.  "That infernal scoundrel
Puff-adder Brown has been ahead of us.  Somehow I half suspected some
game of the kind.  I got it all from a Bakalahari near the water in
front.  Brown, it seems, with his light wagon, trekked across from Kanya
by way of Lubli Pits, and has just pipped us.  To make matters secure,
he has poisoned the water-pit I've just come from with euphorbia
branches.  I and my nag had a narrow squeak.  We were just going to
drink last evening when we got there, when this Bushman here--a decent
Masarwa he is, too--stopped me, and pointed out the euphorbia.  Then I
discovered the murderous trick this scoundrel has played us.  If he had
poisoned the lot of us, I suppose he would have cared not a tinker's
curse; and, in this desert, who would have been the wiser?  The
water-pit stands in a stony bit of country, and there happen to be a lot
of euphorbia growing about, so his job was an easy one.  However, we'll
be even with him yet.  He's not far in front, and we may spoil his
little game, if we have luck and stick to the ship."

By the camp-fire that evening the plan of operations was settled.
Nearly six days of absolutely waterless travel, if the wagons could by
any possibility be dragged, lay between the trekkers and Tapinyani's
kraal.  No oxen could pull the wagon waterless over such a journey.  It
was decided, therefore, after finally watering the animals next morning,
to trek steadily for two days, unyoke the oxen, leave the wagon standing
in the desert in charge of two of the native boys (to whom would be left
a barrel of water, enough, with care, to last them nearly a week), and
drive on the oxen as rapidly as possible to Tapinyani's.  Without the
encumbrance of the wagon, the last part of the journey might be
accomplished in two days, or rather less.  Watered, rested, and
refreshed at Tapinyani's kraal, the oxen could then be driven back to
fetch in the wagon.  This part of the undertaking was to be entrusted to
Stephan, the Hottentot driver.  Stephan had been picked for the
expedition as a thoroughly reliable native, and having traversed the
Kalahari before, he would be equal to the emergency.  Meanwhile, the
three white men, riding their freshest horses, and leading their spare
ones, were to push forward, after watering the nags at earliest dawn, in
the confident hope of reaching Tapinyani's kraal in a forced march of
thirty-six hours.

At four o'clock upon the second afternoon following this camp-fire
council, the three Englishmen rode and led their tired and battered
horses into the outskirts of Tapinyani's kraal, that singular native
village, planted by the only considerable permanent water in the immense
waste of the Central Kalahari.  Tom Lane knew the place, and they passed
straight through the straggling collection of beehive-like, circular,
grass-thatched huts, until they reached the large _kotla_, or enclosure,
in the centre of the town, where Tapinyani's own residence stood.
Skirting the tall fence of posts and brushwood, they passed by an open
entrance into the smooth enclosure of red sand, and then, as they reined
in their nags, a curious, and to them intensely interesting scene met
their gaze.

Just in front of the chief's hut was gathered a collection of natives,
some nearly naked--save for the middle patch of hide common to Kalahari
folk--others clothed about the shoulders in cloaks or karosses of skin--
pelts of the hartebeest, and other animals.  In the centre of his
headmen and councillors--for such they were--seated on a low wagon-chair
of rude make, the gift of some wandering trader, was Tapinyani himself,
a spare, middle-aged native of Bechuana type, clad in a handsome kaross
of the red African lynx.  In his hands Tapinyani held a sheet of large
foolscap paper, concerning which he seemed to be closely questioning the
tall white man standing at his side.  This white man, a huge,
broad-shouldered, heavily-built person, somewhat fleshy of figure,
notable for his florid face and huge black beard, was none other than
Puff-adder Brown himself.  Bulking in size and stature far above the
slim-built Bakalahari people around him, the man stood there in his
flannel shirt-sleeves, his great black sunburnt arms bared to the
blazing sunshine and crossed upon his chest, his heavy face shadowed by
a huge broad-brimmed felt hat, easily dominating the simple assemblage
of desert folk.  Near to his elbow, in trade clothes, stood his
wagon-driver, a dissipated-looking Basuto.

"By George! we're just in time," said Lane, as he dismounted with
alacrity from his horse, and turned the bridle rein over its head.
"Come on, you fellows!"

His companions needed no second word to dismount, and in another second
or two they were marching side by side with Lane across the _kotla_ to
Tapinyani.  Each man carried a sporting rifle, into which, in view of
emergency, a cartridge had already been thrust.  They were quickly
across the forty paces of red sand, and now stood before the astonished
group.

"Greeting!  Tapinyani," said Lane, speaking in Sechuana to the chief, as
he moved up near to him.  "I hope all is well with you and your people.
What do you do here with this man," indicating Brown, "and what is the
paper you have in your hands?"

The Chief explained that the paper was a grant of a piece of land which
the trader wanted for the purpose of running cattle on.

"How much land?" asked Lane.

"Enough to feed two hundred head of cattle and some goats," replied the
chief.

"And how much are you to receive for this?"

"Six guns, ammunition, and some brandy," was the answer.  "I am glad you
have come," pursued Tapinyani; "I know you well, and you can advise me
in this matter."

He handed the paper to Lane, who, holding up his hand to check a protest
on Puff-adder Brown's part, ran his eye rapidly over the document.

"Just as I thought," remarked Lane, addressing Tapinyani.  "By this
paper, if you sign it, you hand over practically the whole of your
country, its timber, and any minerals there may be in it, to this man.
The thing's an impudent fraud, and I advise you to have nothing to do
with it."  He spoke still in Sechuana, so that all the natives standing
round understood him well.  Puff-adder Brown, too, who was well versed
in native dialects, perfectly comprehended his words.

Under the changed aspect of affairs, the man had seemed half irresolute.
He had not expected this sudden appearance after the precautions he had
taken, especially at the poisoned pool.  But while Lane and the chief
had rapidly exchanged words, his gorge had been steadily rising, his
face took on a deeper and a darker red, and the great veins of his huge
neck swelled in an extraordinary way.  Well had he been christened
Puff-adder Brown.

"Wait a bit, chief," he blurted out in the native tongue.  "These men
are liars, every one of them.  Don't believe them, the swines!  There is
nothing in that paper you need be afraid to sign.  Why, they are after a
concession of land themselves."

"Tapinyani," rejoined Lane, "let me tell you something more about this
man.  He is a liar and a scamp, and worse.  He cheated your friend, the
chief Secheli, years ago.  He fought against Mankoroane, and stole a lot
of his cattle, and would have stolen his country if the English had not
interfered.  Take the word of an old friend, and have nothing to do with
that paper."

Puff-adder Brown made a motion as if to strike at the speaker, but
Tapinyani just at this instant opening his mouth to speak, he stayed his
hand.

"I will not sign the paper to-day," said the chief.  "I will think the
matter over again.  I will speak with my headmen, and we can meet again
to-morrow."

Puff-adder Brown's face was ablaze with passion.  He saw that his plans
were now utterly wrecked, and he glared round upon the assembly as if
seeking some object upon which to vent his rage.  Probably Lane would
have felt his first attack; but, as it happened, Joe Granton, his
countenance spread in a broad grin of delight, stood nearest.  Upon the
instant the enraged man raised his arm, and dealt Joe a heavy
back-handed blow in the mouth.

But it so happened that in Joe, Puff-adder Brown had attacked the most
doughty opponent just now to be found near the tropic of Capricorn.
Cockney though he was, Joe was a well-trained athlete, strong as a
horse, and in hard condition.  During his five years' career in the City
he had been a great boxer; for two years he had been middle-weight
amateur champion; he had forgotten nothing of his smartness; and now,
with that blow tingling in every nerve of his body, and the blood
trickling from his nether lip, he turned instantly upon the big trader.
Almost before the man knew it he had received Joe's vicious doubled fist
upon his right eye with a drive that sent stars and comets whirling
before his vision.  It was to be a fight, and the two men now faced each
other and sparred for an opening.

"Keep back! keep back!" cried Lane.

The astonished Bakalahari people spread out, or rather retreated, into a
wide circle, and the battle began.

Now, despite that ugly knock over the eye, Puff-adder Brown rather
fancied himself in this affair of fists.  He was big and bulky, and
three good inches taller than his opponent; he could deal a
sledge-hammer stroke now and again, such as had seldom failed to knock
out quarrelsome Boer adversaries, and he was very mad.

He went for Joe Granton, therefore, with some alacrity, and lashed out
heavily with his long arms and enormous fists.  But whether in parrying,
at long bowls, or at half-arm fighting, Joe was altogether too good for
his adversary.  Time after time he planted his blows with those ominous
dull thuds upon the trader's fleshy face; now and again he drove into
the big man's ribs with strokes that made him wince again.  In the
second bout, it is true, Joe was badly floored by a slinging round-arm
drive; but he was quickly on his legs again, and, after a little
sparring for wind, none the worse.  Few of the Puff-adder's infuriated
hits, indeed, touched the mark.  In seven minutes the big freebooter was
a sight to behold.  Blood streamed from his nose; his eyes were heavily
visited; bumps and cuts showed freely upon his streaming countenance;
his wind was going.

"Now, old chap," whispered Hume Wheler to his friend, during a short
pause for breath by the combatants, "you've done magnificently.  You've
got him on toast!  Go in and win.  It's all up with the Puff-adder!"

There was only one more round.  Brown was a beaten man, his muscles and
wind were gone, and he had been severely punished.  He at once closed.
In some heavy, half-arm fighting, Joe, still quite fresh, put in some
telling work.  His fists rattled upon his opponent's face and about his
ribs.  Finally, getting in a terrible rib-binder, he deprived his man of
what little breath remained to him.  The man staggered forward with his
head down.  Joe delivered one last terrible upper cut, and six feet of
battered flesh lay in the dust at his feet, senseless, bleeding, and
hopelessly defeated.

Meanwhile the natives had been looking on upon a contest the like of
which they had never before seen.  Their "ughs!" and ejaculations
indicated pretty correctly their astonishment.  Chief Tapinyani seemed
rather pleased than otherwise.  For a mild Bakalahari he was a bit of a
fighting man himself--with his native weapons.  Under Lane's directions
Puff-adder Brown was carried to his own wagon, and there revived with
cold water, washed, and put to rights.  After he had, by aid of strong
applications of brandy and water somewhat recovered his shattered
senses, Lane gave him a little sound advice.  He warned him to clear out
of the place by next day.  He told him that after the vile poisoning
incident at the fountain--an attempt which might very well have murdered
a whole expedition--any return to British Bechuanaland would result in
his instant arrest.  And he finally gave him to understand that any act
of treachery or revenge would be carefully watched and instantly
repelled by force.  His advice was taken to heart.  During the night the
discomfited filibuster trekked from the place, and took himself off to a
part of the distant interior, where, to broken and dangerous scoundrels,
a career is still open.

During the next few days the wagon and oxen were got safely to the town,
and some progress was made in preliminary negotiations for a concession
to Lane and his party.  Finally, at the close of a week, after the
endless discussion and argument so dear to the native African, Tapinyani
set his royal mark, duly attested and approved by the headmen and elders
of his tribe, to a grant of 300,000 acres of pastoral land--part of that
huge and unexplored tract of country over which he hunted and nominally
held sway.  The considerations for this grant were a yearly payment of
100 pounds, a dozen Martini-Henry rifles with suitable ammunition, a
"salted" horse worth 90 pounds, six bottles of French brandy, a suit of
store clothes, a case of Eau de Cologne, and a quantity of beads and
trinkets.  These terms may, to the uninitiated mind, seem not highly
advantageous to the native side; yet, measured by the considerations in
other and far vaster South African concessions in recent years, and
remembering that the land granted was at present waterless, remote, and
almost totally unexplored, they were fair and equitable.

This business settled, Tapinyani now turned his thoughts to the trial of
his new horse and rifles.  He had once possessed an old broken-down nag,
bought from a swindling Namaqua Hottentot, and he knew a little of guns
and gunnery.  But he was unskilled in the use of either.  His people
badly wanted giraffe hides for making sandals and for barter; the
animals were plentiful in the open forests a day or two north of the
town; they must have a big hunt forthwith.

Accordingly, the horses having, meanwhile, under the influence of Kaffir
corn, plenty of water, and a good rest, recovered some of their lost
condition, a day or two later the hunting party sallied forth.  Keen
Masarwa Bushmen, half famished and dying for a gorge of flesh, trotted
before the horsemen as spoorers; while well in the rear a cloud of
Tapinyani's people hovered in the like hope of meat and hides.  For a
whole day the party rode northward into the desert; they found no
giraffe, but spoor was plentiful, and they camped by a tiny limestone
fountain with high hopes for the morrow.  At earliest streak of dawn
they were up and preparing for the chase.  Tapinyani was stiff and sore
from unaccustomed horse exercise, yet he had plenty of pluck, and, clad
in his canary-yellow, brand-new, store suit of cords, climbed gaily to
the saddle.

In an hour they were on fresh spoor of "camel"; a troop had fed quite
recently through the giraffe-acacia groves; and the whispering Bushmen
began to run hot upon the trail.  Just as the great red disk of sun shot
up clear above the rim of earth, they emerged upon a broad expanse of
plain, yellow with long waving grass.  Save for an odd camel-thorn tree
here and there, it was open for some three miles, until checked again by
a dark-green belt of forest.  Half a mile away in their front, slouching
leisurely across the flat with giant strides, moved a troop of nine tall
giraffe--a huge dark-coloured old bull, towering above the rest, four or
five big cows, and some two-year-old calves.  Well might the hearts of
the two younger Englishmen beat faster, and their palates grow dry and
parched.  Neither had seen giraffes in the wild state before, and here
at last was a towering old bull, whose tail, if it could but be secured,
would amply satisfy Kate Manning's commands.  Hume Wheler meant killing
that giraffe, more, probably, from a feeling of natural rivalry than
anything else.  Joe Granton had at heart a much deeper interest in the
chase.  He was in truth in very serious earnest about Kate Manning; the
coveted trophy might mean all the world for him.

The four men set their horses going at a sharp gallop, and had run two
hundred yards before the tall game had spied them.  Here, unluckily,
Tapinyani's horse put its foot in a hole, came down with a crash, and
sent its rider flying yards upon the veldt.  His loaded rifle, carried,
native fashion, at full cock, exploded, and the startled giraffes
glancing round saw danger, and instantly broke into their ludicrous
rolling gallop.  Up and down their long necks flailed the air, in
strange machine-like unison with their gait; quickly they were in full
flight, going great guns for the shelter of the forest ahead of them.
Now the three Englishmen rammed in spurs, set their teeth, and raced
their nags at their hardest.  To kill "camel" there is only one method.
You must run up to them (if you can) at top speed in the first two or
three miles of chase, else they will outstay you and escape.  Force the
giraffe beyond his pace, and he is yours.

But in this instance the dappled giants had too long a start.  The
ponies were not at their best, and the forest sanctuary lay now only two
miles beyond the quarry.  Ride as they would, the hunters could not make
up their lee-way in the distance.  Once in the woodlands the giraffes
would have much the best of it.  The two clouds of dust raised by
pursued and pursuers rose thick upon the clear morning air, and steadily
neared the forest fringe.  Now the giraffe are only two hundred yards
from their sanctuary, the lighter cows, running ahead, rather less.  The
horsemen are still nearly three hundred yards in rear of the nearest of
the troop.  "Jump off, lads, and shoot!" roars Tom Lane, as he reins up
his nag suddenly, springs off, and puts up his rifle.  The other two men
instantly follow his example.  Two barrels are fired by Lane, but the
distance is great, that desperate gallop has made him shaky, and his
bullets go wide.

Hume Wheler, quicker down from his horse than his friend, fires next at
the old bull, lagging last; he, too, misses clean, and shoves another
cartridge into his single sporting Martini.  But now even the old bull
is close upon the forest, into whose depths the rest of the troop are
disappearing, and he, too, is within easy hail of safety.  Before Hume
can fire again, Joe Granton has put up his sight for 350 yards and aimed
full; he draws a deep breath, pulls trigger, and in the next instant the
great dark chestnut bull falls prone to the earth, and lies there very
still.  Never again shall he stalk the pleasant Kalahari forests never
again stretch upward that slender neck to pluck the young acacia
leafage!

"My God, Joe! you've killed him," gasped Hume Wheler.

"Bravo!" chimed in Tom Lane, wiping his brow; "whether you fluked him or
not, it was a wonderful shot.  You've got Kate Manning's tail right
enough."

Now Joe, it must be frankly admitted, was not a good shot; either of his
friends could give him points in the ordinary way.  Here was an
extraordinary stroke of luck!  Speechless with delight, flushed of face,
and streaming with sweat, his eyes still fixed upon the piece of grass
where the bull had gone down, he mounted his horse and galloped up.  The
others followed in more leisurely fashion.  Joe was quickly by the side
of the great dappled giraffe.  Taking off and waving his hat, he turned
his face to his friends and gave a loud hurrah.  Then, first whipping
out his hunting-knife and cutting off the long tail by the root, he sat
himself down upon the dead beast's shoulder to await their coming.  At
that instant a strange resurrection happened.  Whether roused to life
again by the sharp severing of its tail, or by a last desperate stirring
of nature, the giraffe--not yet dead after all--rose suddenly from its
prone position, and, with Joe clinging in utter bewilderment to its long
neck, staggered to its stilt-like legs.  For another instant the great
creature beat the air in its real death-agony, staggered, staggered
again, and then, with a crash that shook the earth, fell truly dead.  In
that terrible fall Joe Granton was hurled upon his head, and, as his
comrades rode anxiously up, lay there apparently as void of life as his
gigantic quarry.  In his hand he still clutched desperately the tail
upon which he had so firmly set his mind.

From the shock of that fall Joe Granton sustained heavy concussion of
the brain, and had to be carried with much care and difficulty back to
Tapinyani's town.  Hume Wheler, with infinite solicitude and care,
superintended this operation, while Lane stayed out another two days in
the veldt and shot three giraffe for the chief and his people.  Hume
Wheler himself had the satisfaction of bringing down his first and a
good many more "camels" at a subsequent period.

A fortnight's careful nursing at Tapinyani's restored Joe Granton to
something like his normal health.  In due time the expedition returned,
after a tedious and even dangerous trek, to Vryburg.

Whether it was, in truth, the coveted giraffe's tail that settled the
business; whether it was the dangerous accident Joe had suffered in her
behalf; or whether Kate Manning had not for some time before had a
tender corner in her heart for Joe Granton, is scarcely of consequence.
Certain it is that, not long after the presentation of the precious
trophy, a question that Joe put to Kate was answered in a way that made
him extravagantly happy.

The members of the Tapinyani syndicate sold their concession very well
during a boom in the South African market, and Joe Granton's share
enabled him to set up cattle ranching in handsome fashion.  He and his
wife live very happily on a large farm given to them as a portion by Mr
Manning.  Here they have made a very charming home of their own.  The
great black switch tail of the bull giraffe hangs on the dining-room
wall, plain evidence of the curious romance in which it had been
involved.

Hume Wheler, who, with Tom Lane, occasionally drops in upon them during
his periodical trips from the interior, often chaffs his old friends
upon that celebrated trophy.  "Ah!  Mrs Joe," he says, on one of these
occasions, as he takes one of her two youngsters on his knee and looks
up at the tail.  "Your husband captured you by a magnificent accident.
There never was a bigger fluke in this world than when the old fraud
knocked over that big `camel.'"



CHAPTER NINE.

VROUW VAN VUUREN'S FRENCHMAN.

It was not until the second time I stayed with him that old Cornelis Van
Vuuren began to open his heart, and to pour fitfully into my ears, from
the rich storehouse of his memory, many a strange tale of veldt life.  I
had been fortunate enough to render some little service to a son of the
Van Vuurens, far up in the hunting veldt; and these kindly, if somewhat
uncouth, South African Dutch folk do not lightly forget such matters.
When I passed through the Orange Free State on my way to Natal, in the
year 1880, I stayed for a night at the Van Vuurens' farm.  The good
people received me with the greatest hospitality, and Cornelis pressed
me to stay longer.  I was unable to do so at that time; but later, on my
way up-country, I outspanned at Nooitgedacht, and stayed several nights.

That name, Nooitgedacht (never give in), bestowed years ago upon the
farm, well indicates the strong and stubborn character of old Cornelis
Van Vuuren, its owner.  There were some springboks and blesboks running
on the place--remnants of those mighty herds of game which formerly
blackened the Free State plains.

During the daytime I shot a few head of buck--I wanted some blesbok
heads as specimens--and at evening, after supper, as we sat out beneath
the warm starlight, Cornelis would open up, and yarn to me in a way
that, until you know him well, the Boer seldom manifests to the
_rooinek_ [Literally, Red-neck--a Boer name for Englishmen].

What experiences the old man had had!  In his youth he had been a great
hunter, and had followed the elephants far into the interior before
Gordon Cumming's time.  In those days ivory was plentiful throughout the
north of the Transvaal.  Many and many a rich load of tusks had Cornelis
brought down-country.  One of the first to penetrate into the Sabi River
country and Gazaland, he had reaped a rich reward.  So well had he done,
that by 1863 he had practically retired from the hunting veldt, having
amassed enough money and cattle to settle down on one of the best farms
in the Free State.  Here, at the time I knew him, he was living in a
roomy, comfortable farmhouse--one of the best Dutch homesteads I have
entered.  Groves of fruit trees flourished round about; the well-tilled
"lands" grew enough grain for a pastoral farmer's needs; upon the 10,000
acre run large herds of cattle, sheep, goats, and horses flourished.
Most of the children had grown up, and been duly married off long since.
Only Franz Van Vuuren, the youngest son, whom I had met up-country, now
lived with his parents.

By the second evening, as we sat at supper, old Cornelis and I had
become fast friends.  The old man knew from his son that I had shot
pretty successfully in Mashonaland; and, in the old Dutch fashion, his
simple soul went out at once to a hunter--especially to one who had done
Franz a kindly turn.  It was a warm evening in November.  Vrouw Van
Vuuren--a broad-faced, white-haired, portly old dame, still keen-eyed,
brisk and sharp with her native servants--sat at the head of the table,
endued with a clean print gown and her best black silk apron in honour
of my coming.  In front of her stood the great coffee urn.  Her
capacious feet, enveloped in soft _velschoens_, rested, spite of the
warmth of the African evening, upon one of those curious chafing
stools--a footstool filled with hot embers--so common in Boer houses.
Franz sat at one side of the table, I at the other.  Old Cornelis was at
the top.  I see him now in memory as he stood reverently pouring forth
one of those long Dutch prayers, without which no good Boer will begin
his meal.  He was a magnificent old fellow, far better looking than the
average run of Free State or Transvaal Boers.  Cornelis Van Vuuren stood
a good six feet in his _velschoens_, and, although now seventy years of
age, was still erect and strong as an ancient oak.  His thick masses of
white hair--not too well trimmed--and his snowy beard well set off his
strong, massive features.  And the old man's bright blue eye--merry,
alert, and penetrating--showed that the fire of life still burned strong
within that great old frame.  Well might he be called by his fellows,
"Sterk Cornelis" (strong Cornelis).  I had often heard of the old man's
reputation far up in the interior--of his clear courage and unflagging
resource; for Cornelis had been in many a tight place, whether in
hunting or in native wars.  Few men, even among the great English
hunters, had been more reliable at need, whether facing an infuriated
bull elephant, or standing up to a wounded and snarling lion--two of the
most dangerous foes, I take it, that a man may expect to confront in
Africa.

As we sat at the evening meal, the pretty Cape swallows, in their
handsome livery of blue-black and rufous, flitted in and out of the
chamber, through door or open window, hawking incessantly at the plague
of flies, or sitting sometimes upon the top of the open door, cheeping
their brief, cheerful song.  As in many Boer houses, the Van Vuurens had
fitted up, for cleanliness' sake, directly under the swallows' nests,
which were fastened between the central roof timber and the reed thatch,
immediately over the table, a broad, square, flat piece of wood.  Thus
the swallows never trouble the farmer; and, in return for a kindly
toleration, the pretty, tame creatures do their best to rid the
homesteads of those plagues of flies which are found at most cattle
kraals near a Dutchman's house.  Sometimes I have seen the little,
confiding creatures, as old Cornelis sat outside upon the _stoep_, with
legs comfortably outstretched, stoop for an instant upon his shoe, and,
like lightning, pick off some fly that had rested there.

I had long spoken Boer Dutch, and our conversation therefore flowed
smoothly and merrily enough.  Old Cornelis was in high spirits, and, in
response to my queries, told several anecdotes of his early life in the
far wilderness.  He had been one of the "Voor-Trekkers," quitting the
Cape Colony in 1836, and passing beyond the Orange River to found a new
home, and to seek fresh hunting-grounds beyond the reach of a British
government.  His young wife had fared forth with him, and for twenty
years and more had shared his life of pioneer and hunter, with all its
dangers, its roughs and tumbles, its wild pleasures, and its fierce
occasional excitements.  In the distant interior, in the big wagon, or
in some temporary hartebeest house of reeds and clay, had the family of
this sturdy pair been reared around them.

Presently, as he filled his great pipe, and pushed his coffee cup away,
some amusing reminiscence flitted across the old Boer's brain.  A broad
smile overspread his face, as he said to me, nodding mischievously at
his wife, "_Kerel_ (my boy), you have never by chance heard the story of
the vrouw there and her Frenchman?  It used to be pretty well-known in
the veldt years ago."

"No," I answered, "I never heard the tale.  What is it?"

"Almighty!" he returned.  "It's a good story, though an old one.  I
never think of it without laughing, though it happened forty years ago!
I must tell it to him, vrouw; what say you?"

And then, as the merry recollection rose firmer before the old man's
mind, his broad palm smote his great thigh with a smack that resounded
through the room, and he burst into a fit of laughing--so hearty and so
long, that the tears started into his blue eyes.

But Vrouw Van Vuuren looked meanwhile straight in front of her, with a
rather grim look upon her strong old face.

"Cornelis Van Vuuren," she said, after a little pause, looking now very
hard at her husband, "that is an old and a foolish story that has been
told far too many times already.  I will not have it told in my house.
If you wish to repeat tales that are better dead and buried, you must go
outside."

Cornelis looked at his wife.  One glance, and a long experience--nearly
fifty years of married life--told him plainly enough that the vrouw was
in earnest.

"That is all right, Anna, my dear," he said simply.  "I won't tease you
with an old joke.  Come, my friend [to me], we will smoke our pipes
outside."

We sat ourselves down upon the broad _stoep_ (veranda) which ran round
the house, and smoked our pipes.  Franz had gone to the sheep-kraals to
see that all was well for the night.  The sun had just set, and the
western heavens and horizon were still aflame with colour.  A strange,
mellow, refracted light filled the upper air, and threw the flat grass
plains, stretching everywhere around, into strong relief.  Far out upon
these grassy flats, some half a mile away, grazed a troop of springbok,
their shining white and cinnamon coats flecking the plain brilliantly.
The mingled bleat of sheep and goats and the low of neat cattle came not
unpleasantly from the kraals behind the dwelling.  I saw that the old
man's eye was resting upon the springboks, now grazing so peacefully
upon the plain.  Presently he took his pipe from his mouth, shook his
head regretfully, and said, "'Tis a pity the _wilde_ (game) are going so
fast.  I never could have believed it.  When I first trekked through
this country, in 1837, the land was darkened with wild animals.
Almighty! they ran in millions.  Quagga, Bonte quagga, black wildebeest,
elands, hartebeest, ostrich, springboks, blesboks.  Ach!  _Kerel_!  (my
boy) I tell you I have passed across these plains through a herd of
_trek-bokken_ (migrating springboks) three or four miles broad, and
extending as far as a man's eye could reach.  All day we passed through
that _trek-bokken_.  I shall never forget it, never.  We shot scores of
buck, till we were tired; but we were chiefly anxious to get past the
springboks, which had eaten off every blade of grass for miles upon
miles, so that our oxen and horses looked like being starved.  And now,
almost all gone, all gone!"

"But," I said, "although you Afrikanders have pretty well cleaned out
the Free State and Transvaal, there is still a good deal of game beyond.
Along the Sabi River, for instance!"

"Yes, yes," said the old fellow, "that's right enough; but even there
the heavy game's going.  Why, how many elephants does a man now get in a
season's hunt?  Eight or ten, perhaps,--if he is a good man,--and thinks
himself lucky.  Why, _Kerel_, when I first hunted along the Crocodile, I
shot sixty elephants to my own _roer_ (gun) in five months.  That was
something like a game country,--elephants and rhinoceros as common as
goats in a kraal."

"Was that the season you met the Frenchman?"  I inquired, with a smile.

"No, no," briskly responded Cornelis, with a sly look towards the room
where the vrouw still sat.  "Not that season, nor the next.  But you
would like to hear the yarn, and it always make me laugh to tell it.
Laughter is good.  I was always a merry one, and that, thank the Heer
God, is the reason I have got so well through my troubles.  Your
sour-faced fellow is no good for the long trek through life.

"Well, well!  It was a funny business that of the good vrouw there and
the little Frenchman.  It happened in this way.  In the third year after
we had got into the Transvaal, about two years after we had driven
Moselikatse and his _verdomde_ (infernal) Matabele rascals beyond the
Crocodile, I was shooting elephants up in the north.  The vrouw was with
me, and the children,--we had three young children then,--and we had
made a big _scherm_ (camp) some way south of the Crocodile, a few miles
out of reach of the `fly,' [Tse-tse fly] which, I can tell you, was in
those days a terrible pest.

"The first time I met Pierre Cellois--`Klein Pierre' we used to call
him--I was about a day east of our camp, shooting water-buck for
_velschoens_.  We had worn out our foot-gear, and wanted fresh supplies
of skin.  Never shall I forget the little Frenchman's appearance.  He
was tricked out in a big slouch hat smothered with great white ostrich
feathers--enough to frighten half the game of the country away.  Then he
had a bright blue jacket with gilt buttons, a pink flannel shirt, a red
silk sash round his waist--something like what your officers wore across
their shoulders at Boom Plaats, when we fought Sir Harry Smith--white
breeches, and long, shiny, black English hunting-boots.  In his sash he
had stuck a long knife and a pair of pistols.  At his side he wore a
wonderful powder-horn, decked with silver, and over his back a brown
leather bag, smothered with steel mountings, the flash of which you
might see a mile off.  He carried a good English rifle.  His Hottentot
boy, besides a fowling-piece, carried a green net and a lot of boxes.
The little Frenchman collected butterflies and bird-skins, and he never
went abroad without his full paraphernalia.  I have seen some funny
sights in the veldt, but never have I seen such a figure of a sportsman
as Pierre Cellois.

"Well, the little Frenchman, it seems, had come up to the Transvaal to
shoot game and to collect specimens for a museum.  He had read a book by
your English army officer, Captain Harris, who was up in the country
just before we turned out Moselikatse and his Matabele.  Though he was
an Englishman, Harris was a right good sportsman.  I saw him in our
laager in 1837, and his wagons were crammed with horns and skins and
ivory.  Cellois had Harris's book with him, a great book--I saw it
afterwards on Gordon Cumming's wagon in Bamangwato--full of capital
coloured pictures of game.  Little Cellois used to rave over that book,
and fling his arms about, and slap his rifle, and altogether send me
nearly dying with laughter.  But, bless you, Pierre was no sportsman; I
could see that at once with half an eye.  He had the best of rifles,
powder-horns, knives, pistols, everything else--but he hadn't the pluck,
without which a man in the veldt in those days might surely turn his
wagons and go home.  I have seen him peppering away at a rhinoceros at a
hundred and a hundred and fifty yards--teasing the great beast, and
tickling its hide, and making it mad, but doing nothing more.

"Well, we hunted together during the afternoon of the day I met him, and
I shot a big white rhinoceros bull--about the easiest beast a man could
shoot.  The Frenchman hadn't seen a rhinoceros shot before, and he
nearly went out of his mind.  He danced about, cried out with joy, and
then rushing up to me, put his arms round my neck and kissed me--yes,
kissed me, the little fool!  Pah!  I couldn't stand that, and I gave him
a bit of a push, and sent him over on his back.  He picked himself up
and seemed rather angry, but we became good friends afterwards.  Next
day we came across elephants, and I shot three good bulls, and a cow
with long teeth.  I was finishing off the last bull, when Pierre
Cellois, who had kept very much in the background so far, came up and
fired his piece two or three times into the beast, which was now at a
stand, just about dying.  Then it fell, and the little fellow climbed up
on to its back, screaming and waving his arms, took off his hat and
cried out something about `La France.'  Laugh!  I nearly split my sides
with laughing at that little jackanapes fellow dancing about up there on
the big elephant."

And the old man, as he recalled that absurd scene of forty years agone,
laughed in his hearty, massive way so heartily that I, too, was impelled
to join him.

"Well," went on Cornelis, "that evening Cellois' wagon came on to the
spot where the elephants lay, and the little Frenchman wrote home a long
letter to his wife.  He had picked up Dutch at Cape Town, and he told me
in his excitable way how he had headed his letter.  He wrote: `From the
camp upon the Crocodile River, upon the day we slew four elephants.'  I
laughed, and didn't say much; but I thought the little man a bit of a
liar, considering that _I_ had shot the elephants, and that _he_ had
done no more than fire two or three bullets into a bull which was
already as good as dead.  However, bless you, I didn't much mind, and I
reckoned it would please his vrouw at home.  These Frenchmen, I
understand, _are_ rather queer in their ways compared to us Boers, or
even to you English folk.

"A day or two after, having chopped out the tusks, we trekked back to my
camp, and the little Frenchman met my vrouw.  I can tell you she didn't
much appreciate him, in spite of his fine clothes and his prancing ways.
If he was highly dressed before, he was a thousandfold more gay now.
In the evenings, after coming into camp, he would deck himself up in all
sorts of finery--silk waistcoats covered with flowers, white shirts with
frills--frills, I tell you--collars, blue neckerchiefs, and I can't tell
what.  Then he was for ever paying my wife compliments, which she hated.
The vrouw then was, I can tell you, a very handsome young woman, and
although she wore but simple clothes, and her big _kapje_ (sun-bonnet),
it was very plain that he admired her strongly.  But then, where a woman
was concerned little Pierre was a perfect fool.  Why, I have heard him
paying compliments and talking nonsense to his Hottentot driver's wife,
_Kaitje_--such trash as that!

"What my wife couldn't stand was the habit the little fellow had of
holding her hand when they met, and sometimes even of kissing it.
Almighty! that sent her mad.  I could see the angry flush rise to her
cheeks and neck, and at last one day she snatched her hand from his and
slapped his face pretty smartly.

"Not long after, we were outspanned together on the Crocodile River, in
a clear place where there was no tse-tse fly for some miles.  It was a
pleasant camp, and we stood there some time.  Here the Frenchman
collected birds and butterflies, and I was often away shooting game.
One day the little Frenchman was fishing from a high spit of sand below
the banks.  He had, it seems, waded into the water a little to get his
line further out, and a young crocodile, about five feet long, made a
grab at him, and caught him by the leg.  The reptile was not big enough
and strong enough to pull the little fellow in, and a pretty tussle the
two had.  The vrouw, who was on the wagon close by, hearing some
dreadful cries for help, snatched up a gun and ran down.  There she saw
the crocodile and the Frenchman pulling and hauling and kicking on the
spit of sand.  She at once let off the gun close into the beast's side.
It was my big elephant _roer_, carrying four balls to the pound.  It
made a great hole in the crocodile's side, so that it quitted its hold,
turned over belly upwards, and lay there dead in the shallows.  Well, a
pretty fuss Cellois made about this affair.  He wasn't much hurt; he had
his high boots on, and the crocodile had only given him a few pinches in
the calf and side of the leg.  He was all right again in a day or two.
But he pestered the vrouw nearly to death with his speeches and
grimaces, called her his angel, his deliverer, and what not.  I was away
a good deal just then, and being a veldt-man, and knowing my wife, and
not wasting much thought upon the little Frenchman, except when he
amused me in camp, I took little heed of what was passing, so to speak,
beneath my nose.  It seems then that the foolish fellow began to make
love to my wife after the crocodile episode.  At last, two or three
evenings after, when Pierre had gone to his wagon for the night, the
vrouw said to me,--

"`Cornelis, you are a fool.  This little jackanapes of a Frenchman is
making love to me, and you see nothing and do nothing.  If you don't
tell him to pack up and trek to-morrow, I shall.  I will put up with it
no longer.'

"`Wait till to-morrow night, Anna,' I said.  `I am riding at dawn
to-morrow after zwart-wit-pens (sable antelope).  I will see to the
matter when I come in.  I am sorry this little French ape has been
teasing you.'

"Well, I rode off next day, and by the merest chance shot two
zwart-wit-pens quite early, and came into camp again at noon.  As I rode
up, I heard piercing shrieks and howls, and cries for mercy, which I
knew could come only from Klein Pierre.  Then I turned a corner of the
_scherm_ (camp fence), and saw at once what was up.  Almighty!  Although
I was startled and surprised, I could scarcely help laughing.  There was
Pierre Cellois, tied up to our wagon-wheel; all the native servants
standing round, and the vrouw, very red and angry, flogging away at the
fellow's back with a good _sjambok_ (whip) of sea-cow hide.

"I jumped off my horse, and ran up to the group.  `Anna!  Anna!'  I
cried, `what in the Heer God's name are you doing?'

"The vrouw, I can tell you, was mad with anger.  She turned upon me,
threw down the _sjambok_, and said, `If you hadn't been a fool,
Cornelis, with no more than half an eye, this need never have happened.
This little baboon fellow has insulted me grossly.  He came up to me,
put his arm round my waist, as I sat in my chair, and kissed me upon the
mouth.  And so I have had him tied up by the boys, and flogged him.  Now
do you finish with him.'

"Well, I was pretty angry--angry at being scolded before all the boys,
and angry at this little scoundrel's impudence, and so I picked up the
_sjambok_, and gave him half a dozen or so for myself.  Then I had him
untied, and let him go, and bade him inspan and trek at once before
worse happened.

"Almighty! how mad the fellow was.  He cried, he screamed, he wanted to
fight me with pistols.  But I just sat on my wagon-box, with my gun on
my knees, and bade him be off.  Well, he trekked in an hour--my boys
helped him to inspan the oxen--and we never saw him again.  I heard that
he went down to Mooi River Dorp (Potchefstrom) and lodged a complaint
with Martinus Wessels Pretorius, our commandant, and wanted
satisfaction, and threatened a war, and all sorts of things.  But, bless
you, old Pretorius knew a thing or two.  He got the true story from the
Frenchman's Hottentots, and just packed him off south of the Vaal River,
and he passed, as I heard, to the old colony, and so home to France.
That is the story of the vrouw's little Frenchman; the vrouw, yonder,
will tell you if it is true or no."

The old lady, as Cornelis finished speaking, stood just within the
doorway of the house, looking up into the star-spangled sky.  She turned
towards us; her grave old face, as she did so, lit up by the lamp-light
from within.  "_My Frenchman_!" she answered, with a look of strong
contempt.  "It is an old tale, that, which had better been left untold.
I hate the name of Frenchman.  I come of Huguenot blood myself, Meneer,"
she continued, addressing me, "my father was a Joubert.  The Huguenots,
I trust, were a very different people.  Sooner than think myself akin to
such a race as that little dressed-up _baviaan_ (baboon) my husband has
been telling you of, I would disown my own blood.  But, indeed, though
some of us have Huguenot names, we are all good Dutchmen in South Africa
nowadays.  You English and we, Meneer, are not always the best of
friends; but at least you are men, and not apes in clothes like Pierre
Cellois.  Come in now, and have a _soupje_ [A drink] before you go to
bed."

Pierre Cellois, as I happened to learn since, has long been dust.  He
became a shining light in his own country, wrote a book, and is still
referred to as "that great explorer and hunter."

Stout Cornelis Van Vuuren and his good vrouw, too, have lain for some
years in their quiet graves.  I sometimes wonder if they and the little
Frenchman have met and settled their differences in the silent land.



CHAPTER TEN.

THE GREAT SECRET.

  "And ever with unconquerable will,
  Bearing her burden, toward one distant star
  She moves in her desire; and though with pain
  She labour, and the goal she dreams be far,
  Proud is she in her passionate soul to know
  That from her tears, her very sorrows grow
  The joy, the hope, the peace of future men."

The speaker, as he finished these lines, recited half to himself, half
to his friend, in a dreamy monotone, gazed again into the dark night sky
above him, and fetched a deep breath--almost a sigh.

"Hullo, Bill!" remarked his friend by the camp-fire, in a brisk tone.
"Breaking out that way again, are you?  I haven't heard poetry from
you--of that sort--for weeks.  I suppose all the hunting and hard work
lately has knocked the stuffing out of you.  A day's rest, and you burst
into song again.  Who's your author?  I don't seem to know him.  Not
Tennyson, is it?"

"No, old chap," returned Bill, "it isn't.  It's a new man--Lawrence
Binyon--and he's got some mettle in him.  I think that image of his of
our poor old earth staggering along with her load to some far-off goal,
still, among all her tears and sorrows, buoyed with future hopes, is
magnificent.  Is it true, though?  Is there that great secret, and does
she know it?"

Bill Vincent and Ralph Jenner, the two men who sat by the pleasant
camp-fire in the far South African interior, were old friends, now
engaged on a hunting expedition towards the Okavango.

Nowadays you may find, scattered about that vast mysterious land, many
scores of well-educated gentlemen knocking about in the veldt, often
dressed in clothes and engaged in work that a British navvy would scorn,
yet, barring a slight access of strong language, born of the wilderness,
still gentlemen at heart, and capable of returning to civilisation
without loss or deterioration.  Here were two of them.  The burnt arms
of the two men, and their sun-tanned faces and chests and rough beards,
their thorn-tattered breeches, and scarred old pigskin gaiters, showed
plainly that they had been long afield.  And the numerous heads, horns,
and skins hanging in trees near, and bestowed about the wagon,
sufficiently indicated the main object of their trip.

Their big wagon stood near; beyond it, lying at their yokes, chewing
peacefully the cud, the great trek oxen rested.  Six hunting ponies were
carefully fastened to the wagon-wheels in full light of the camp-fires.
Thirty yards away from the two Englishmen, gathered round a still bigger
fire, were the native "boys," some still chattering, some fast asleep.
Round about, the camp was engirt with bush and thin forest of
giraffe-acacia.

As usual it was a glorious night.  Only those who have lain out month
after month in the vast silent veldt of the far interior can realise the
unspeakable majesty of the deep indigo void of the night heaven, sown
with a myriad flashing diamonds, that looms above the wanderer.  The
airs were soft and sweet; the night was absolutely perfect.  Almost
complete silence rested upon the wild.  Bill took a fresh ember from the
fire and relit his pipe.

"My boy," he went on, "with all the roughs and tumbles of this life--and
it's a glorious life while it lasts, and where the game's plentiful
there's none better in this world--one can't help thinking sometimes
what it all means and where it ends.  No man, I take it, can live with
Nature as we do, and look up at that sky,"--here Bill turned his gaze
upward, and with his short pipe indicated the glittering array of
stars,--"with its myriads of systems, and deny some great Power behind
it all.  And yet--and yet, in all these tens of thousands of years, with
all the millions upon millions of souls that have come and gone, we know
absolutely nothing of the hereafter.  That's what beats me.  No true or
certain message has ever yet come from the dead to tell us what happens
when the last plunge is made.  Chaldeans, Egyptians, Assyrians, Romans,
Greeks, Buddhists, Confucians, Hebrews, Christians, all have tried their
level best to get at the secret; none--no, not one--have solved it.
They all have their theories, of course.  I suppose they always will.
But to any real solution of the great secret, to the real truth, we are
no nearer than we were ten thousand years ago.  The wisest of them all
are dumb and mute, and, I suppose, always will be.  Look at the
Spiritualists.  What do they tell us?  A lot of piffling rubbish--
knockings, rappings, and contemptible nonsense of that sort--but of
serious truth, of what we want to know, not one little bit.

"Religions, and creeds, and beliefs never help us to pierce the big veil
yonder.  Ethics are all right enough; but even ethics can't solve that
immense mystery.  One can only long and wonder, and wonder and long
again.  Don't laugh, old chap.  I don't often inflict you with this sort
of thing; but out here in the desert, face to face with Nature, with
time to think, one can't help puzzling over this world-worn problem.
One finds so much wrong in what one hears in the world.  You know that
as well as I.  Why, look at the dream of universal peace--swords turned
into ploughshares, lions and lambs lying down together, and all that
sort of thing.  What rot it is!  One comes out here in the veldt and
looks at Nature, and one finds _everywhere_ the most ghastly war, and
murder, and suffering incessantly around one.  Birds, beasts, insects,
reptiles, fish--all hard at it.  You can never have peace in this world.
Battle, and murder, and sudden death will, I believe, last as long as
the earth lasts.  You may have epochs of civilisation and calm, but only
for a time.  Nature tells us that plainly, and you can't get away from
Nature."

"I'm not laughing, Bill," returned his comrade.  "Sometimes, but not
very often, I have the same thoughts.  Everybody, I suppose, has at
times.  Your puzzle has puzzled the world always, and always will.  And
the more one gets away from the din and struggle of the beastly towns,
the bigger seems the mystery of life and the beyond.  But it's no use
worrying about it.  The baby that dies every day somewhere in the world,
I suppose knows more than we shall ever do till the end comes.  After
all, one can only try and play the game, and do one's poor little best
according to one's lights and ethics."

"I suppose so," answered Bill.  "But it's a secret worth knowing, old
chap, isn't it?  It _must_ be, if one only knew."

The two friends sat smoking and talking for half an hour longer upon
different topics, mainly to do with hunting, and then climbed into the
wagon, tucked themselves beneath their karosses, and slept the
refreshing sleep of the veldt.

A fortnight later they were camped on a tributary stream north of the
Okavango.  They had left their wagon standing on the southern bank of
the big river, and the Bayeiye had ferried them across in their
dug-outs.  Here buffalo were in plenty--the vast reed-beds were full of
them--and they had already secured plenty of meat and some good heads.

It was early dawn, and they were drinking a cup of coffee by the remains
of the overnight camp-fire.  The sky was just paling in the east, and
already the world was astir in this remote wilderness.  The hippos were
blowing in the river a little below them; long flights of storks were
winding through the clear air; multitudes of duck, geese, and other
wildfowl were raising their clamour upon the waters.  Presently their
native hunter crept in from a tour of inspection.  "Sieur," he said, a
grin of pleasure upon his keen face, "there's a big troop of buffalo
down there by the water now.  They are not far from some bush, and you
can get a good shot before they make for the reeds again.  And there are
some big bulls among them--old fellows with horns so thick!"--spreading
out his arms with perhaps a trifle of exaggeration.

"That's all right, Cobus," responded Bill Vincent.  "We'll come along at
once.  How far are they off?"

"Less than a quarter of a mile, Sieur.  You can hear them a little way
on, trampling and splashing in the shallows.  They're feeding all round
there."

"Capital!" exclaimed Ralph, picking up his double eight-bore and looking
through the barrels.  "Here, you, Tatenyan, lay hold of that," handing
another native his second rifle.  "Be careful, you beggar; it's loaded."

Tatenyan grinned an immense grin, and took the rifle.

Accompanied by their two gun-bearers, the white men set off in high
spirits.  There was plenty of scattered cover between them and the
buffalo, principally thorn-bush, and the hunters picked their way as
noiselessly as possible, following the lead of Cobus.

A noble koodoo bull, carrying a magnificent pair of spiral horns, stared
at them for a second as they entered a grassy clearing, and then with
his three cows fled away before them.

But they were after heavier game even than the gallant koodoo, and he
went unscathed.

Now they are nearing the buffalo.  Beyond the fringe of bush which yet
masks them they can hear the great beasts grunting, wallowing,
splashing, nay, even hear them plucking the sweet grass that margins the
lagoon.  The wind, what there is of it, is right in their faces.  The
game here has scarcely ever yet been disturbed by gunners; they are safe
for sport.

Old hands though they are, they now steal breathlessly through the bush.
Cobus has resigned the lead, and the two friends stalk in with the
greatest care together.  At last they peer through a small opening.
What a scene lies before them!  A troop of at least three hundred mighty
buffalo, bulls, cows, and calves, some feeding, some drinking, some
rolling in the shallow lagoon, some playfully butting at one another.
All, utterly unconscious of impending danger, stand there within a
radius of two hundred yards; the nearest of them are within fifty.  A
more inspiring prospect hunter's eye never beheld.

Numbers of the weaver birds (_Bubalornis erythrorhyncus_), always found
associating with buffalo, are here, some picking busily at the parasites
on the great creatures' backs; others flitting hither and thither,
chattering noisily, intent on business or pleasure.  Even the sharp
weaver birds detect no enemy--much less their allies the buffaloes.  A
few white egrets, apparently as fearless of the great quadrupeds as the
buffalo birds, add beauty to the scene.  Some of these charming herons,
too, are perched upon the buffalo, their snowy plumes contrasting
sharply with the sombre hides of their gigantic friends.  Birds and
quadrupeds alike are all void of suspicion upon this bright, quiet
morning in the far African wilderness.

Having taken in with an eager glance or two this wonderful picture, the
two men and their gun-bearers crouch down behind the thick screen of
bush and wait.  It seems half an hour to them.  At length, in about five
minutes, two massive old bulls, grim, heavy-fronted, and carrying
immense horns, nearly devoid of hair, short in the legs, yet of
tremendous bulk, come feeding past within easy range.  The two men
glance at one another, and with a nod single out their victims.

On a sudden their heavy rifles roar out together.  One of the bulls
falls instantly to the shot; the other staggers, but plunges on.  There
is a terrific commotion among the herd.  The great beasts all gallop
left-handed, seeking an outlet in the ring of bush.  Through the lagoon
they splash, driving the water in masses of spray about them, and then
away they rave through grass and undergrowth, making the earth thunder
beneath them.  Bill, whose buffalo has for the moment escaped, selects a
fat cow, and with two bullets well planted brings her down.  The vast
troop has passed away, and they now emerge to inspect their quarry.

The dead buffaloes are fine specimens, and in high condition and,
leaving Tatenyan behind to begin the skinning and cutting-up process,
the two Englishmen now proceed together with Cobus to take up the
blood-spoor of the wounded bull and finish him off.  He carries a
magnificent pair of horns--a champion head--which Bill yearns to possess
himself of.

Cobus, with the marvellous skill of the native African hunter, quickly
separates the trail of the wounded beast from its scores of fellows, and
presently, as they enter the bush, bears suddenly to the left.  The
stricken brute has turned him aside from the battle, and the main body
of the troop have plunged right-handed through the bush to seek shelter
in the dense reed-beds not far away.

At first the blood-spoor, which is now easily followed, takes them
through fairly open bush, in which they can see about them without much
difficulty.  So far all is well.  A wounded buffalo is, as all hunters
know, the most dangerous and tricky beast in Africa, and in thickish
bush his pursuer must needs follow him yard by yard with his life in his
hand.  Presently the spoor takes them by a narrow game-path through
impenetrable thorny covert six or eight feet high.  Patches of bright
red blood show that the buffalo is bleeding freely, and from the lungs;
he cannot go far at this rate.  Cobus, who has led the way hitherto,
looks at the dark wall of bush on either hand, indicates the deep shade
thrown here and there, and the possibility of dangerous ambush at any
moment, and shakes his head.  He likes the job little enough, and he is
perfectly right.  To go on is to risk a violent death, and there is
little chance of escape from a charge in such confined quarters.  But to
many Englishmen the constant spice of clanger adds greatly to the charm
of sport in Africa.  Bill quietly pulls Cobus behind him, knits his
brow, and prepares to creep forward.  Ralph in his turn supersedes
Cobus, and dogs the heels of his friend.  It looks like a nasty
business, and he wishes them all well out of it; but he can't now go
back on his chum.

Breathlessly, cautiously, they pick their way down the narrow game-path.
The dense thicket shuts out every trace of the cool outer breeze; the
sun beats down hotly upon their heads; lightly clad though they are, the
sweat starts freely from their bodies.  Silently they move on.  They
turn an angle or two, pass safely some dark shadows in the bush-wall,
and then, without a fiftieth part of a second of warning, from a piece
of bush where you might swear a steinbok could not have hidden itself, a
great dark form comes charging forth, with eyes of fire, blood-dripping
nostrils, and head well up.

In an instant the revengeful beast has cleared the angle of bush where
it had lain silently biding its time, and is almost on top of Bill.
Bill fires one shot,--he has no time for more,--and then, to save
himself, springs as far to the left as possible.  In vain!  His bullet
glances harmlessly from the tremendous frontal horn of the buffalo
without stopping or even injuring the brute.  Another half instant and
the great grim beast has taken terrible revenge.

There is a single lightning-like sweep of the heavy head, a dull,
sickening thud, and Bill is sent crashing into the thorny thicket yards
away.

The buffalo stands in devilish wrath for a brief moment, a terrible
picture, meditating its next attack; its left chest is exposed.

Ralph instantly seizes his only hope of salvation and poor Bill's.  His
eight-bore rifle is at his shoulder, the loud report roars out, and the
bull staggers to earth, sore-stricken yet not vanquished.  Fiercely he
struggles for his feet again, the blood pouring from his mouth and
nostrils with the tremendous exertion.  In the next instant another
bullet, planted in the centre of his forehead, just below the rugged
mass of horn, ends his career, and he breathes out his last with that
fierce complaining bellow peculiar to the death-throe of his race.

Ralph and the native turn at once to Bill, lying senseless and bleeding,
deeply embedded in the frightful mass of thorny bush.  It is a tough
task even to extricate him; but after some minutes' hewing and hacking
with their hunting knives it is at last accomplished, and the victim is
laid tenderly on the smooth game-path.

Alas! his injuries are terrible.  Several ribs are displaced and smashed
on the right side; there is a deep jagged hole beneath; and the sharp
horn, driven with the mighty strength of an old buffalo bull, has
penetrated far into the lung.  So much is at once apparent, and it looks
sadly as if Bill's hours are numbered.

It is a shocking blow for Ralph.  Who could have dreamed that that
strong, active man, not yet at his prime, full of pluck, enterprise, and
a perennial cheeriness--but ten short minutes before cracking some
half-whispered joke to his friend and servant--could now be lying, a
battered, senseless rag of humanity, in his comrade's arms?

As well as they can, the two sound men bind up the gaping wound, and
stanch the bleeding, and then, between them, tenderly they carry the
still senseless hunter back to camp.

It was but a twenty minutes' journey, slowly as they progressed, yet to
Ralph it seemed long hours.

At last they laid the wounded man gently upon his blankets, beneath the
shade of the big thorn tree, washed and carefully bound up his dreadful
hurt, poured brandy between his poor bloodstained lips, and then--there
was nothing else to be done--awaited the event.  It was too far to
attempt to convey him across the river to the wagons; the slightest
movement greatly increased the bleeding from the mouth, and suffocation
seemed imminent.  Ralph sent Tatenyan across in a canoe for more brandy;
for the rest of that weary, hot African day he could only watch and
wait.

Bill lay senseless far into the afternoon, breathing out, as it seemed,
slowly and very painfully his remaining stock of life.  Towards sunset,
he opened his eyes feebly, looked about him, and whispered faintly to
Ralph, now bending over him with his eyes full of irrestrainable tears,
"Where's the bull?"

"He's dead, old chap.  I settled him after he struck you.  Don't talk
much; I'm afraid you're very badly hurt."

"Yes," went on Bill, "he's about finished me, I think.  I was an idiot
to follow him into that bush.  Cobus was right.  Well, I've paid dearly
for him.  Take his head home, old chap, and hang it up.  I don't think I
shall see this through; and when you look at the horns, you will think
of me, and the good days we had together in the veldt."

"Don't, don't, Bill," said Ralph.  "For God's sake don't talk like that.
Who knows?--we may pull you through yet.  Lie still, and don't talk,
there's a dear old chap."

"My head is clear now," whispered Bill, "and it mayn't last long.  My
affairs are all right at home.  If anything happens, see my lawyers.
Give my love to Laura (his sister) and Aunt Marion; tell them I thought
of them at the end.  I feel faint... give me some brandy."  Ralph poured
strong brandy and water into the sufferer's mouth, and he revived again.
"One more word, old chap," went on Bill.  "I know I am near the end.  I
feel it.  I shall soon know that great secret we spoke of.  _Remember
this_,"--he raised his left hand as he spoke, and feebly took hold of
Ralph's flannel shirt sleeve,--"If I can tell you hereafter, or let you
know, _I will.  Don't forget!  Don't forget_!  If I can...  It's dark,
isn't it? and I'm very sleepy.  Hold my hand, dear old Ralph...
Good-bye.  If I don't see you..."

Bill's head fell back a little; his eyes closed again; a little blood
trickled from his lips; his breathing came and went with yet more
effort.  Again Ralph administered more brandy to his dying friend.  It
was of little use.  Bill never rallied more.  In half an hour the end
had come, and Ralph, still holding his friend's hand within his own,
knew that Bill had entered the unknown land, and that he himself had
lost the best and bravest comrade that ever entered the hunting veldt.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ralph took his friend's body across the river next morning, and buried
it reverently beneath a big giraffe-acacia tree by the wagons, and set
up a wooden cross in that lone wilderness.  He took with him, too, the
great horns of the buffalo by which Bill had come to his untimely end.
Then slowly and painfully he made his way down-country, the saddest,
loneliest man in Africa, and presently reached England.

It is some years ago now, but Ralph has never forgotten that last scene
and Bill's impressive words.  Often, whether he be in the far
wilderness--to which he still periodically returns--or at home, in the
park, or at his club, or in his own sanctum, surrounded by many a goodly
spoil of the chase, he thinks of his comrade's last words, and sees
before him every incident of that dying sunset beyond the Okavango
River.

But of the Great Secret,--of that mystery which Bill so earnestly
desired to pierce,--Ralph has never yet heard.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

THE STORY OF JACOBA STEYN.

Jacoba Steyn lives with her brother Hans and his wife and numerous
family on a remote farm far up in Waterberg, to the north-west of the
Transvaal.  She is, although now well on in middle age, a spinster--a
rather remarkable circumstance among the women of the South African
Dutch.  For Jacoba is, as Dutch Afrikanders go, not uncomely, and few
Boer women of her looks and condition in life escape, or desire to
escape, from the joys and cares of matrimony.  You would never think, to
look at Jacoba Steyn nowadays, that there was much of romance or
sentiment in her nature.  She is now a stout spinster of forty-seven,
thick and square of figure, and, as she takes her _kapje_ off, you may
note the grey threads showing thick in her dull brown hair.  Yet Jacoba
cherishes within her broad breast a very real and very tender romance,
as all her relations and some few of her friends know.

Thirty years ago there came into the life of this staid, sober-minded
Boer woman a bright gleam of passion, which ever since has illumined her
quiet existence.  That romance will never fade from her heart.  Its
tender memory shapes and tinges almost every act of her working,
everyday life.  It softens those somewhat rude asperities of manner
which the average Boer housewife usually exhibits.  It gives that kindly
content which shines forth from the blue eyes and upon the homely
features of spinster Jacoba.  All the ragged, rough, and noisy crew of
children--there are nine of them--of her brother Hans call in Tant
Jacoba for the settlement of quarrels and the drying of tears.  Her
renown as a peacemaker has a far wider field than that of her somewhat
sharp-tongued sister-in-law, the mother of all this unruly brood.  Until
ten years ago many of the neighbouring Boers of Waterberg--bachelors and
widowers--still cherished the hope and belief that Jacoba Steyn was to
be induced into the bonds of matrimony.  Jacoba was still on the right
side of middle age; she was far from ill-looking in the eyes of a Dutch
farmer; a certain air of refinement, peculiar to herself, distinguished
her from all her fellows.  And she had flocks and herds of her own,
running upon her brother's veldt, as well as some good tobacco "lands,"
which yielded no mean profit each year.  The few cows and goats set
apart for Jacoba in her infancy, according to the ancient patriarchal
Boer plan, had increased and multiplied.  Jacoba Steyn's stock always
had luck, and throve handsomely; and so at the age of thirty-seven she
was still looked upon as an excellent match.  But Jacoba had throughout
her life steadily refused all offers of marriage.  It was very
exasperating to her family in her younger days, and a complete mystery
to the Boer men who knew little of her earlier life.  Gradually it
dawned upon the minds of these slow-witted Waterberg Dutchmen that in
real sober truth Jacoba Steyn was not to be won, that she was vowed to
spinsterhood, and that some unaccountable attachment of her girlish days
prevented her from ever accepting another man's attentions.

When she had reached the age of forty, her youngest brother, Hans, with
whom and whose family she had, since the death of her parents, always
lived, ceased to urge upon her to take a husband.  It was hopeless, and,
after all, Jacoba's cattle, goats, and savings would be a great help to
the children at some future time.  And so, at the age of forty-seven,
Jacoba had outlived the attentions of bucolic swains, and the strong and
even forcible recommendations of her own family, and was left to pursue
unmolested the tenor of her quiet existence.  She helped Lijsbet, her
brother Hans's wife, with her unwieldy family, performed more than her
share of the household duties, and wore always a look of quiet happiness
upon her broad, pleasant face.  Twice or thrice a year she trekked with
the family to _Nachtmaal_ (Communion) at Pretoria.  After all, Jacoba
was a woman, and even she, weaned though she was from the hopes and
fears and commoner frets of the world, could not find it in her heart to
deny herself the pleasure of a few days in the Boer capital, the sight
of shops and _winkels_ [stores] and English folk, the joys of attendance
in the Dutch Reformed Church, and some little intercourse with the
_predikant_ (pastor).  The _predikant_ knew something of Jacoba's
strange story; he was a man of some refinement and much sympathy; and it
did the quiet Dutchwoman good to have a talk with the minister she had
known so long.  Sometimes on the calm Sunday evenings up in Waterberg,
when the cattle and goats are kraaled for the night and the still veldt
lies golden beneath the kiss of sunset, when the bush _koorhaan_
[bustards] are playing their half-hour of strange aerial pranks and
evolutions yonder, just outside the dark fringe of bush, Jacoba wanders
from the low homestead and sits up above the Falala River, dreaming upon
an old, old tale.  That tale was once full of mingled memories--
bitter-sweet.  You may tell now, from the clear, tender look on the good
woman's face, that her thoughts are mainly pleasant ones.  Time and she
have healed, or nearly healed, her once bruised heart.  Jacoba's tale is
a simple one.  Yet it has its romantic side.  It is not widely known
even in Waterberg, and it may perhaps be worth the telling.

Jacoba Steyn's father was one of those sturdy emigrant Boers who crossed
the Vaal River towards 1837, defeated that terror of the north,
Moselikatse, and his fierce Matabele warriors, drove them beyond the
Limpopo, and took possession of the vast countries now known as the
Orange Free State and Transvaal.  Jan Steyn was, until the verge of old
age, one of those restless frontier-men who are never content to settle
down entirely to the pastoral life of the average Dutch farmer.  He was
a great hunter, and during the first ten years of his career beyond the
Vaal he found almost as much occupation as he needed within the
boundaries of the newly formed republic.  But after that time elephants
began to grow scarce within the Transvaal, and the ivory-hunters had to
push their way farther afield.  Moselikatse's country--which we now call
Matabeleland--was a sealed book for the Boers; the old Zulu lion seldom
allowed them to enter it, and then only on payment of an extortionate
tribute.  Some of the hunters gradually thrust their way through
Zoutpansberg eastward into the low countries (rich in game, but terribly
feverish and unhealthy), towards Delagoa Bay; others gained permission
from the Bamangwato chief, Sekhomi, and followed the ivory into the wild
deserts towards Lake N'gami and the Zambesi.  Among these last was to be
found Jan Steyn.  Jan had settled, after the final defeat of Moselikatse
and his hordes, in that magnificent district of the western Transvaal
now known as Marico.  He had had hard times during the war with the
Matabele, and had lost more than half his cattle.  However, he consoled
himself by selecting a 6,000 acre farm of rich and well-watered land,
which he appropriately christened "_Beter laat dan Nooit_," ("Better
late than never").  His friend Jan Viljoen, the famous elephant-hunter,
was his nearest neighbour.  Viljoen had named his farm "_Var Genoog_,"
("Far Enough"), not by any means a bad name for a trekking farmer who
had wandered in search of a home from the Knysna, on the extreme
southern littoral of Cape Colony, to the far Marico River.

Well, Jan Steyn built himself a house of Kaffir bricks, beaconed off his
farm, and settled down for a year or two to get things into shape.
After that time the wandering spirit overcame him again, and, leaving
his farm in charge of a near relation, he put his family into the big
tent-wagon and trekked away each season of African winter into the
hunting veldt.  Jan Viljoen and other neighbours followed the same plan.
Elephants were inordinately plentiful, tusks were magnificently heavy,
and a good trade in ivory could, in those days, be done with native
chiefs.  Jan Steyn's wife and family--six in all--always accompanied him
on these expeditions.  The tough _vrouw_ refused to be left behind, and
where she went the family went also.  So that from her earliest years
the little Jacoba remembered always the strange, wild life of the
hunting veldt, the voice of lions and hyaenas by night, the great
camp-fire, the return of the hunters laden with the hard-won spoils of
chase, the dark groups of Kaffirs carrying in the long gleaming tusks of
ivory.  Like her mother, Jacoba as she neared her teens, could load a
gun, and upon occasion, even knew how to discharge it.

By the year 1855, the Transvaal elephant-hunters were trekking very far
afield in search of ivory.  Livingstone's discovery of Lake N'gami in
1849 had opened up a new region, teeming with the great tusk-bearing
pachyderms, and a few Boer hunters began to filter gradually into the
deserts towards the Lake and the Chobe River.  Among these were Jan
Viljoen, Piet Jacobs, and Jan Steyn.  And so it happened that in 1859
the Steyn family for the fourth season had reached the south bank of the
Botletli, better known as the Lake River, which runs south-east from
Lake N'gami.

They had had a terrible struggle across the thirst-land lying between
Shoshong, the Bamangwato Stadt, and the Lake River.  More than once it
seemed that they must have left their wagons behind in the desert; but
they had somehow battled through, with the loss of three good trek oxen.

It was within an hour of sundown when they rose the little swelling of
the plain, just where you strike the river, and drew up their wagons by
the big thorn tree for the night N'gamiland hunters will know that tree;
it bears the initials of most of the wanderers who have passed that way.
Jacoba Steyn was but a girl of seventeen then, but she will never, to
her dying hour, forget the scene that lay before her.  Boer women are
not, as a rule, impressionable; they give little heed to the sights that
surround them, and have no eye for the picturesque.  But this evening,
of all others, will, for a particular reason, remain imprinted deep in
the tablets of Jacoba's remembrance.  Below the wagons lay the Lake
River, now somewhat shrunk within its low banks, and teeming with bird
life.  Just here the tall reeds had been burnt down, and there was a
clear view.  Flamingoes, ibises, coots, great gaudy geese, thousands of
wild-duck, widgeon, and teal thronged the shallows and darkened the
river surface.  Elegant jacanas flitted brilliantly upon trembling
islets of floating weed.  Noisy spur-winged plovers clamoured with sharp
metallic voices.  Aloft soared a great fishing-eagle or two.  And from
afar, following one another slowly and solemnly in even, single-file
procession, long lines of monstrous pelicans filled the sky.  Their
soft, melancholy whistling sounded clear, even amid the lowing of the
parched oxen, now frantic and well-nigh dead with thirst.  To the right
the vast reed-beds of the Komadau marsh filled the view for miles.  In
front, outlined clear against the flaming sunset, stood up here and
there a few tall palm trees, marking the course of the river.  Beyond
these the dry plains stretched to the north and west in illimitable
monotony.

Just beyond where the Steyns had outspanned was the wagon of another
traveller.  And as Jacoba Steyn stood, stretching herself a little after
the long wagon journey, and gazing about her, the owner of it walked up
from the river.  He was an Englishman, that was perfectly clear.  His
smart, erect carriage, short, neatly trimmed dark beard and moustache,
and the cut of his breeches, gaiters, and boots, at once proclaimed the
fact.  He looked to be about the middle height; he was strong and well
set up; an air of careless grace sat well upon him.  He had dark and
very handsome grey eyes, and a most pleasant smile, and his face,
throat, and bare arms were deeply tanned by the sun.  He wore a
broad-brimmed felt hat for head-gear, and his grey flannel shirt was
open at the throat, and had the sleeves rolled up.  On his shoulder
rested a double-barrelled shot-gun.  At his heels followed a pointer
dog, and a young native boy, the latter carrying several couple of duck
and geese.  As the stranger approached the wagons and doffed his hat,
something in Jacoba's heart told her that she had never seen so
completely good-looking a man.  She stared hard with all her eyes as the
Englishman advanced towards her.  As he drew near and held out his hand,
and said, in a clear, pleasant voice, "_Dag, juffrow_," Jacoba's eyes
fell beneath the steady gaze of his, and she whispered bashfully, as she
put her palm into his, "_Dag, meneer_."

That, as well as I can describe it, is the picture that even now, thirty
years after, is constantly before the mind's eye of Jacoba Steyn.

Captain Meredith had soon introduced himself to the Steyn family.  He
was heartily received; for the Transvaal Boers, even in those days, had
no grudge against individual Englishmen.  Their dislike was for the
British Government and British officialism, which, from their point of
view, had driven them to trek from the old colony.  While the oxen and
horses were being watered at the river, a bottle of the captain's brandy
was produced, and Dutch and Englishman pledged one another in _soupjis_
of right "French."

Meanwhile, the Steyns proceeded to unburden their wagons and prepare for
the night.  The sailcloth was spread between the two wagons; Jacoba's
fowls and chickens, and her cat Tina and the kittens were set loose.
The captain invited them all to his wagon to supper.  He had the flesh
of a fat cow eland all ready, and it would save much trouble to the
tired trekkers if they took their evening meal with him.  In an hour's
time they all sat down together, a jovial party, to sup by the light of
two blazing camp-fires.  The _Kaptein_, as the Steyns already called
Meredith, was an English officer spending his leave on a hunting trip.
It was his second expedition; he had been to the Lake two years before;
and he spoke Cape Dutch.  That was well for all parties; they could
converse freely; and as all were interested in the life of the hunting
veldt, there was plenty to talk about Meredith, too, had fought in the
Crimean war four years before; and although these homely Boer folk had
the vaguest ideas as to Russia and its whereabouts, they were interested
in hearing of fighting, especially of warfare and siege amid the deep
snows of the frozen North.  And so, after pipes and coffee, the
gathering separated, and Jacoba went to her _kartel_ bed and dreamt of
the alert, brisk _Engelschmann_ and his handsome face and grey eyes.

It was settled next day that the two parties should trek up the river
and hunt together for a time.  Meredith was not sorry to make this
arrangement.  He had left Natal with an English hunting friend.  A
severe attack of fever on the Crocodile River had, however, driven his
comrade south; and, after a lonely hunt in the country about the Great
Salt Pan, north of the Lake River, he was not disinclined to have the
companionship of white folk again, rough Boers though they were.  The
wagons stood for another two days at this outspan, while the Steyns'
oxen rested and refreshed themselves after their desperate trek across
the "thirst".  On the last evening, Meredith was down at the river with
his fishing-rod, catching "cat-fish," of which there were quantities.
The Steyns were busied about their wagons, preparing for the evening
meal; the men-folk were sitting here and there, some on the
_dissel-boom_, some on wagon-chairs, smoking contentedly.  Little Hans,
the youngest of the family, a sturdy imp of eight years, who had already
formed a strong attachment for the English captain, had run down towards
the water after his new acquaintance.  Suddenly Jacoba glanced in that
direction and uttered a choking cry.  The rest of the family, hearing
her exclamation, looked up, and were instantly horror-struck like
herself.  A hundred and fifty yards away, little Hans was standing close
to the edge of a dense mass of reed-bed.  Fifteen yards away from him
crouched a big yellow-maned lion, its tail twitching very softly from
side to side, its gaze fixed intently on the youngster's face.  Hans had
seen the brute, and stood spellbound.  Fifty paces away behind the boy
was Captain Meredith, who too had that instant caught sight of the lion,
and comprehended the whole terrible situation.  He was armed only with
his fishing-rod.  For one brief instant all the gazers at that terrible
picture were rivetted where they stood, frozen with apprehension.

Jan Steyn was the first to move.  He rose from his chair and plunged
silently into his wagon for a rifle.  But even he was not quick enough.
Meredith, defenceless though he was, had already made up his mind.
Flourishing his rod, and shouting objurgations on the lion at the top of
his voice, he ran swiftly straight in the brute's direction.  To the
utter surprise of all the watchers and the intense astonishment of
Meredith himself, the lion, after baring his teeth in a savage defiance,
suddenly changed his mind, turned tail, and disappeared like a yellow
flash into the tall reeds.  Meredith now picked up Hans, who, released
from the strain of apprehension, burst into tears upon his shoulder, and
carried him up to the camp.  Vrouw Steyn first took the lad from his
arms, pressed him to her breast, kissed him, and then, putting her arms
round the captain's neck, gave him two or three hearty kisses.  That was
the bravest thing, she said, she had ever heard of, much more seen, and
she and her family would never forget it as long as they lived.  Then
the stout old _vrouw_ resigned herself to a quiet flood of tears and
went about her work.  Jacoba came next.  The tears were already
streaming down her cheeks.  Hans was her favourite brother, and very
dear to her.  She came softly to Meredith, took his hand, modestly
kissed him on the right cheek, and thanked him again and again.  Jan
Steyn and his three big sons, ranging from fifteen to two-and-twenty,
one after another followed, thrust their big hands into the captain's,
and in their gruff Boer manner did their best to convey their hearty if,
somewhat uncouth, thanks.

After that episode the friendship between Boers and Englishman grew
apace.  The men hunted together as they moved slowly up the river, and
brought in many a head of game.  Once or twice they came up with
elephants on the south bank of the river and secured some good teeth,
and the _Kaptein_, or Hendrik, as they all now familiarly called him
(his name was Henry), proved that, besides being a brave man, he was a
first-rate hunter and shot--as good a man, the Steyn lads said, as their
own father, which was their highest form of praise.

It was amusing to notice the domestic reforms that the Englishman and
his ways introduced into the Boer family.  Instead of for ever stewing
lumps of game flesh in the big pot, or cooking dry _karbonadjes_ over
the embers, the captain persuaded the _vrouw_ to follow his own example,
and roast wild-duck or a joint of springbok in a Kaffir pot, with hot
embers below and on the lid.  Sometimes he persuaded her to cook
springbok chops and "fry" in an open frying-pan, as had he taught his
own native cook.  He presented her with one of his two frying-pans for
this purpose.  He even inducted the good-wife and Jacoba into the
mysteries of curry, and gave them a supply of powder which lasted them
for a year or two later.  In proof that these innovations were
acceptable, you may find them to this day, thanks to Jacoba's and Hans's
remembrance of the English captain, steadily practised in Hans's
household in Waterberg.  Even Hans's wife, obstinate Boer woman though
she is, has long since admitted their merits.  On the other hand,
Meredith had to acknowledge that he could not improve upon the Steyns'
coffee-making, which, performed though it was in an ordinary iron
kettle, was as good as could be.  Many an Englishman, however, has
discovered that fact.

As for Jacoba, she foregathered with Meredith as often as she had
opportunity.  It was a delightful thing for this simple, untaught Boer
maiden to hear news of that vast, dim outer world, and to gather some
little idea of modern civilisation.  For the Transvaal Boers, you must
understand, to this day, linger in their isolation at least a hundred
years behind the average European.  Sometimes, when the captain came
home early from hunting, Jacoba would walk with him to the river-side,
or to the spreading lagoons which were now everywhere forming upon the
flats, and watch him shoot wild-duck and geese, or some rare specimen or
curious bird.  Those were delightful times for the girl, as she and her
hero strolled home in the soft African twilight, with all the glamour of
evening about them.  For within the secret recesses of her maiden heart
she had long since set up the handsome Englishman as her hero.  Jacoba
at seventeen was a very comely girl; her complexion was fresh and
clear--a rare thing among Dutch Afrikanders.  She looked, as indeed she
was, always pleasant and good-tempered; her blue eyes were as clear and
honest as an African winter morning; from beneath her big sun-bonnet
(_kapje_) her plentiful fair hair fell in a single thick plait down her
back.  Her figure, it is true, was nothing to boast of; but then, in the
faraway veldt, who troubles about an inch or two at the waist?  Meredith
liked this frank, comely, modest South African maiden; even he, man of
the world though he was, could scarce help but feel a little flattered
at the manifest preference she showed for his society.  Then the child--
for, measured by the European standard, she was but a child--had so many
questions to ask him upon all sorts of subjects; and it really was a
pleasure to answer some of these naive, unsophisticated inquiries, and
to try and teach her something of the life and thoughts of Europe.  And
so it befell that Jacoba's heart insensibly slipped from her, and she
grew in her secret soul to love and almost to worship this fascinating
Englishman, who knew everything, and did everything--from shooting an
elephant to inspanning an ox--better even than her father and brothers,
and could teach her own mother how to cook.  She loved to watch him as
he saddled up in the early dawning and rode off across the plains, or
into the bush veldt, with her father and brothers in search of game.
How nimble was this Englishman, and how graceful!  With what an air he
sprang into his saddle, and sat his horse, and even carried his rifle!
And how fresh and trim and clean the man always looked!  I am afraid
Jacoba began secretly to contrast the captain with her own heavy,
untrimmed and not over-clean kindred--much to the detriment of the
latter.

In a little while the girl had come to look forward to Meredith's return
from hunting as the one great pleasure in the long day.  Sometimes, when
the men were in pursuit of elephants, and slept out on the spoor, it
seemed as if the slothful hours would never pass.  Her mother noticed
the change in Jacoba's demeanour, and would sometimes rate her for her
forgetfulness and absent ways.  "Jacoba," she would say, from her low
chair under the shady lee of the wagon, "your mind is always running on
that English `Kaptein.'  Wake up, child, and think what you are doing,
or I shall send him packing."

Yet it must be confessed that the big ponderous _vrouw_ was, in truth,
almost as taken with the stranger as her own child.  She liked, as every
one else in the camp liked, his pleasant, hearty ways, and the air of
novelty and briskness that his presence brought into the dull lives of
herself and her folk.  She liked his friendship for her child most of
all, stout anti-Briton though she was in the abstract.  It would be a
fine thing indeed, she whispered to herself, if the captain should ask
the girl in marriage, and set her up as a great lady.  Vrouw Steyn had
very faint ideas of what great ladies did, and how they comported
themselves; yet as a child she remembered seeing the wife of the
Governor of the Cape, and other official dames, at Graaff Reinet.  And
besides, she had once or twice seen old copies of the _Illustrated
London News_, from which she assisted her own misty and fantastic
glimmerings upon the subject.

It was curious to note in these days how particular Jacoba had grown
about her clothes and person.  It would be hard to say how she managed
it.  She had but two print gowns, and yet now she always appeared in a
spotless frock in the afternoons.  After all, even hunting Boers carry
soap, and in the hot sunshine and parching winds of South Africa you can
dry a print dress on a bush in a very little while.  The captain had
presented her, among other feminine treasures, with a brand-new pair of
nail-scissors, and her hands were now kept as daintily as a Cape Town
_meisje's_.  Even her brothers could scarcely help noticing the smart
ribbons that, especially on Sundays, decked her gown and hair.

It must be said on the captain's side that he behaved fairly well in a
somewhat difficult position.  He was an honourable man, and he had no
intention in the world of stealing this simple girl's affections.  He
was, in truth, much too keenly occupied in the wild pleasures of hunting
big game to think about her affections at all.  To him she was a mere
child, and as such he had grown to treat her.  It is true that it was a
pleasant thing to find, even in this faraway desert--tolerable in many
respects only for the game it held--a pretty fresh-eyed maid such as
Jacoba, Dutch and semi-civilised though she was.  Perhaps, if he had
reflected a little, his friendship for the girl might have been somewhat
less intimate.  He treated her, indeed, in a careless brotherly, or
perhaps, rather, cousinly way.  When he came home from the hunt, often
towards 3 o'clock, after a cup of coffee and a snack of food, he would
exchange his heavy gun for the fowling-piece, whistle for Juno, the
pointer, and stroll off arm-in-arm with Jacoba down to the river-side or
the nearest lagoon.  Sometimes little Hans would accompany them;
sometimes he was lazy and stayed behind.  It must be said that
insensibly the captain and Jacoba grew to prefer their expeditions
alone.  When Meredith had shot enough wildfowl and red-billed francolin,
he and Jacoba would stroll up to the camp-fire as the dusk fell.  I am
afraid, somehow, that the captain's arm often wandered to the maid's
waist; sometimes even he took a kiss quite unresistingly from Jacoba's
fresh lips and soft cheek.  It was thoughtless of him, which was perhaps
the worst that could be said.  For Jacoba those evening walks were full
of unfading joy; to this hour she cherishes every incident of them,
middle-aged woman though she is.

As the wagons moved up the river, elephants became more plentiful.  On
several occasions the hunters had crossed the water and followed the
great tusk-bearers into the jungles beyond.  They had had first-rate
sport, and secured some magnificent teeth.  One morning, at earliest
dawn, some Makobas punted their dug-out canoes across the river, and
reported that a good troop of elephants had drunk during the night.  For
a consideration they would take the hunters across.  All was now bustle
and excitement in the camp.  Jan Steyn and his two eldest sons and the
captain were soon equipped.  They swallowed a hasty breakfast, and then,
walking their horses down to the river, got into the boats and swam
their nags over behind them.  There was some risk from crocodiles, but
the feat was safely accomplished.  Then they took up the spoor in
earnest.  Some Masarwa bushmen tracked for them, and they rode at a
brisk pace upon the trail, hour after hour, until noon had come and the
sun lay midway in the sky between north-east and north-west.  At
half-past twelve they came suddenly upon the elephants in some
troublesome thorny bush.  There were eighteen in all, and some good
bulls among them.  Meredith quickly got to work and slew two magnificent
bulls, carrying long, even teeth, after a hot and most exciting chase.
He next tackled a big cow, furnished with a capital pair of tusks.
After a sharp gallop he got alongside and put a four-ounce ball, backed
with seven drachms of powder (those were the days of smooth-bores and
heavy charges), behind her shoulder.  But, stricken though she was, the
cow was by no means finished.  She turned short in her tracks, and,
spouting blood, came with a ferocious scream straight for her tormentor.

Meredith had instantly turned his horse and spurred for flight.  But, as
it happened, in a hundred yards he was met by an absolutely impassable
_cul-de-sac_ of thorn-bush.  Almost before horse and man knew where they
were, they were caught up and flung to earth.  The great cow drove her
left tusk deep into the off flank of the horse, and hurled the poor
brute and its rider away from her in one confused and bleeding mass.
Before she could halt and turn again, the impetus of her ferocious
charge took her thirty yards farther, right through that seemingly
impenetrable wall of bush.  It was her last effort.  The heavy bullet
had done its work.  Thrice she lifted her blood-dripping trunk as if for
air.  Then she swayed softly to and fro, and suddenly sank down upon
all-fours, as if kneeling, and so yielded up her fifty years of life.

Meredith himself was found by his native boy ten minutes afterwards in
but sorry plight.  He had fallen underneath his horse when the pair of
them had been hurled aside by the enraged cow, and the terrible impact
had not only rendered him senseless, but had broken his right forearm
and several ribs.  His horse lay across his body breathing its last,
with entrails protruding from a gaping wound in the flank.  The boy,
with the assistance of a Bushman, extricated his master and laid him
upon the earth.  In half an hour the Steyns came up.  They had slain
between them four elephants--a bull and three cows--and were well
content.  They now at once ascertained the Englishman's injuries.  He
lay still insensible.  They set his arm and bound it up in a pair of
rough splints, and then carried him to the river, across which the
Makobas again ferried them.  Arrived at last at the camp, Vrouw Steyn
and her daughter at once insisted that, for better nursing, the captain
should be placed under the tent-sail, between the two Dutch wagons.
There she and Jacoba tenderly laid him, bound up his ribs, washed the
blood from his face, and poured brandy and water between his lips.

For more than twenty-four hours Meredith lay in the long stupor produced
by concussion of the brain.  It was some way past the middle hours of
the second night that the first glimmering of reason came back to him.
He seemed to awake, as it were, in a fresh world.  His body and limbs
seemed curiously light; everything was strange.  It was not unpleasant
to lie thus, with eyes shut, awaiting new impressions.  Presently a pair
of soft lips kissed his brow and cheek, and he heard a woman's voice, in
a strange tongue, which yet he understood.  "My darling!" said the
voice, "my love! come back to me, come back to me.  Ah!  Heer God, bring
him back to his senses, and make him well and strong again.  Hendrik, my
Hendrik, I cannot bear to see you lie like this.  Come back to your
Jacoba, or I shall break my heart."  There was a little sob, and then
Meredith felt warm tears falling upon his face, and the lips pressed his
brow again, this time more passionately.  He could not move, much less
make answer to the strange appeal which, as if through the mists of a
dream, he now heard.  But he felt somehow that it was pleasant to rest
thus and to hear these things, to feel soft kisses and the tender caress
of a hand that now and again stroked his own, or smoothed his brow.

In a fortnight's time Meredith was slowly recovering.  His bones were
healing, his pulses beat a thought more firmly.  He knew now all about
that strange night, when his mind first wandered back into the chambers
of life again.  He knew that Jacoba loved him, and the thought troubled
him.  Had he been wise?  Had he done well to make so great a friend of
this simple Dutch child, to have her so much about with him?  Ought he
to have kissed her? to have wandered in the dusk with her, arm-in-arm,
or with his arm round her waist?  All these questions returned again and
again to his mind and sought answer.

One quiet morning, as he lay on the _kartel_ there under the tent-sail,
they two were alone in the camp.  The men were out hunting; Vrouw Steyn
and Hans were down at the river, washing; the native servants were
scattered.  Juno, the pointer, lay by her master's bedside, as she
always did; and, as Jacoba came in under the tent and sat down in the
wagon-chair, something in Juno's affectionate eyes, now turned from
Jacoba's face wistfully to her master's, seemed to ask a question.
Meredith returned Juno's look, and then spoke.

"Jacoba," he said, taking the girl's hand, "I want to tell you
something.  I ought to have told it you before, I am afraid.  If I had
known what I think I know now, I would have done so.  I shall be leaving
you very shortly--as soon as I am well enough to start.  I have to be
back in England before Christmas, because early next year I am going to
be married.  That is what I ought to have told you before.  Forgive me,
Jacoba; I never dreamt that our friendship was turning in another
direction.  I heard you say something the other night, just when my
senses were coming back, which makes me think that I have done wrong in
not telling you of all this before.  I have been selfish and unfair.
You must forgive me, Jacoba, and forget all about the past two months,
though, indeed, it will be hard for me to forget the pleasant days we
have had together.  Don't! don't cry, my dear; I am not worth it, and
you will forget it all soon enough."

Jacoba, seated in her low chair by the bedside, had buried her face in
Meredith's hand and her own as he neared the end of his speaking, and
was now sobbing heavily.  Presently she mastered herself, dried her
tears a little, and spoke.

"Perhaps, Hendrik," she said, "you ought to have told me.  But, indeed,
it would not have much mattered.  I loved you ever since I set eyes on
you the first evening we met.  And I should have loved you just the
same, even if you had told me that very evening that you were promised
to another.  Yet all the time we have been together--these weeks that
have gone so quickly--I knew, Hendrik, that indeed our ways lay
differently; that your world was a different world to mine; that I was
to you nothing but a child--a playmate.  Yet your friendship even has
been so sweet to me that never, never shall I forget these nine weeks
with you by the Lake River."  Once more the girl dried her tears.  Her
face was clearer now.  "But there," she went on, "that is enough about
myself.  Presently, when I can bear it, you must tell me all about your
wife that is to be, and your future.  We have lived together so much in
the happy present that I never cared to speak or even to think about
your leaving us."  There were voices heard approaching the wagons.
Jacoba kissed passionately Meredith's hand, which she still held within
hers, laid it gently by his side, and went to her _kartel_ at the end of
the big tent-wagon.

And so the Boer maiden's dream was ended.  Meredith quitted the camp and
trekked for the Cape a little later, after a friendly and even
affectionate farewell with the Steyn family.  A sad heart was Jacoba's
as the captain's wagon moved away south-eastward, and the last crack of
the great whip sounded through the hot morning air.  Sadder yet was it
when the captain, after kissing Vrouw Steyn and herself, climbed into
his saddle and rode away.  There were tears even in Meredith's eyes as
he departed.

And so Jacoba, with the tenacity of her race, has cherished that first
love of hers, and steadily refused all others in its place.  No Dutchman
can ever supplant that dear image which, long years ago, she set up
within her maiden heart.  The bright girl of seventeen has changed to
the middle-aged woman of forty-seven, yet that early love and its
memories have remained ever constant within her, and will go with her to
her grave.

The smart English captain of 1859 is now a grey but still handsome
veteran with a grown-up family of his own.  You may usually see him
sitting comfortably in an easy chair at the Naval and Military Club
towards afternoon.

Major-General Meredith has an excellent memory for the details of his
old stirring hunter's life.  I sometimes wonder if he recalls also that
other brief episode on the far-off Lake River.  I am inclined to think
he does.  But he can little imagine that for his sake Jacoba Steyn
remains a single woman to her last hour.





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