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´╗┐Title: Between Sun and Sand - A Tale of an African Desert
Author: Scully, W. C. (William Charles), 1855-1943
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.

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Between Sun and Sand
A Tale of an African Desert
By William Charles Scully
Published by Methuen and Co, London.
This edition dated 1898.

Between Sun and Sand, by William Charles Scully.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
BETWEEN SUN AND SAND, BY WILLIAM CHARLES SCULLY.



PREFACE.

Lest the account given in this book of the "trekking" springbucks should
be considered an exaggeration, it may be mentioned that in 1892, when
the author held the appointments of Civil Commissioner for Namaqualand
and Special Magistrate for the Northern Border of the Cape Colony, he
was obliged to issue a hundred stand of Government arms to the Boers for
the purpose of driving back the game which threatened to overrun those
parts of Namaqualand where ground is cultivated.  As it was, there was
some difficulty in repelling the invasion.

The term "Bushman," strictly speaking, only applies to the diminutive
former inhabitants of the Desert, who are now practically extinct to the
south of the Orange River.  The Trek-Boer, however, usually calls every
Hottentot of low stature a Bushman.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE LAND OF THE TREK-BOER.

Immediately to the south of the great Orange River for three hundred
arid miles of its course before it sinks through the thirsty sands, or
spooms in resistless torrent into the Atlantic Ocean, lies a region of
which little is known, in which dwell people unlike any others in South
Africa, or possibly in the world.

This region is known as Bushmanland--the name having reference to its
former inhabitants who, proving themselves "unfit," were abolished from
the face of the earth.  Bushmanland is at present intermittently
inhabited by a nomadic population of Europeans of Dutch descent, who are
known as "Trek-Boers."  To "trek" means, literally, to "pull," but its
colloquial significance is--to move about from place to place.

The Trek-Boers are, so to say, poor relations of the sturdy Dutchmen who
have done so much towards reclaiming South Africa from savagery.  The
conditions under which they live are not favourable to moral or physical
improvement.

These people are dwellers in tents and beehive-shaped structures known
as "mat-houses," a form of architecture adopted from the Hottentots.
The latter are constructed of large mats made of rushes strung upon
strands of bark or other vegetable fibre, and are stretched over wattles
stuck by the larger end into the ground in a circle, the diameter of
which may vary from fifteen to twenty-five feet, and which have the thin
ends drawn down over each other until a dome is formed.  Such structures
are lighter and more portable than the lodges of the North American
Indians--in fact one may easily be erected and pulled down within five
minutes.  Strange to say they are almost completely water-tight.

A wagon and a couple of tents or mat-houses constitutes the camp and
castle of the Trek-Boer.  He has never known anything else in the shape
of a dwelling; it satisfies all his architectural aspirations, it
fulfils his ideal of comfort in a tenement, and he harbours contempt for
any structure which cannot be moved about to suit the convenience or
caprice of its owner.

The Trek-Boer owns no land.  He wanders with his flocks and herds over
the vast, unsurveyed tract which is all the world to him, following the
uncertain courses of thunderstorms which happen to have been deflected
from their ordinary beat and strayed across the desert.  The rain from
these intermittently fills the shallow, cup-like depressions in the
underlying rock with water.  Such depressions are invariably choked with
sand, but by digging at certain known spots a scanty supply of water may
sometimes be obtained.

The Trek-Boer occasionally becomes rich in flocks and herds, but every
eight or ten years the inevitable drought occurs.  Then his stock dies
off from thirst and starvation, and he has to begin the world again, a
poor man.

The Trek-Boer is a being _sui generis_.  He is usually ignorant to a
degree unknown among men called civilised.  He is untruthful,
prejudiced, superstitious, cunning, lazy, and dirty.  On the other hand
he is extremely hospitable.  Simple as a child in many things, and as
trusting where his confidence has once been given, he cannot be known
without being loved, for all his peculiarities.  The desert life, which
has filled the Arab with poetry and a sense of the higher mysteries, has
sapped the last remnant of idealism from the Trek-Boer's nature, and
left him without an aspiration or a dream.  The usual lack of fresh meat
and the absence of green vegetables as an item in his diet, has reacted
upon his physique and made him listless and slouching in gait and
deportment, as well as anaemic and prone to disease.  This is especially
true of his womankind, who, besides being extremely short-lived have, as
a rule, lost nearly all pretensions to beauty of face or form.

Bushmanland might be described as a desert, the aridity of which is
tempered by occasional thunderstorms.  Its bounds begin immediately to
the eastward of the rugged mountain chain which runs parallel with the
coast-line, about eighty miles inland, and it stretches on for hundreds
of miles until merged with the central Karoo plains.  These also form
its indefinite boundary to the southward.  It is, for the most part,
almost absolutely level.  To the northward, however, a chain of
mountains, occasionally very lofty, arises.  For stern, uncompromising
aridity, for stark, grotesque, naked horror, these mountains stand
probably unsurpassed on the face of the globe.  Composed of deep brown
granite, with here and there immense veins, or patches many miles in
extent, of jet-black, shining ironstone, they absorb the torrid sunshine
all day, becoming almost red-hot in the process.  At night this heat is
radiated rapidly at high sunlight power, until the furnace of midnight
becomes like an ice-house at dawn.

The only vegetation to be found among these mountains is a species of
deadly Euphorbia--formerly much used by the Bushmen in poisoning their
arrows--and a few stunted shrubs which are rooted deep down in the
crannies, and which put forth a little timid foliage in the cooler
season.  The only animals are "klipspringers"--antelopes very like the
chamois in form and habit; leopards which prey upon these; badgers, wild
cats, jackals of several kinds, an occasional hyaena, desert mice,
snakes, gorgeously hued lizards and fierce tarantulas.  A few large
brown hawks hover above the gloomy gorges and wake weird and depressing
echoes with their shrill screams.

To the north of this almost impenetrable region the great "Gariep"--the
"Yellow River" of the Hottentots--now called the "Orange" in honour of a
former Stadtholder of the Netherlands, has carved out a gorge for its
devious course, thousands of feet in depth.  Allowing for its many and
abrupt windings, this gorge, from the point at which the river hurtles
into it over an obstinate stratum of rock at what is known as the
Augrabies Falls, must be over four hundred miles in length.  The greater
part of this gorge is unexplored, being totally inaccessible.

Like the Nile, the Orange River drains an immense area of fertile
country which is subject to heavy summer rains.  It flows down in a
raging, brimming flood, which is charged with rich alluvium, during
several months of the year.  Unlike the Nile, it has carved for itself a
deep and narrow channel, through which it hurls its fertilising load
with resistless momentum into the ocean which needs it not.  Under
different circumstances its valley might have been the cradle of another
civilisation, and another Sphinx, of Hottentot or Bantu physiognomy,
might have stood, gazing through forgotten centuries, across the waste
of Bushmanland.

No more dreary prospect can be imagined than that afforded by
Bushmanland in its normal condition of drought.  After rain, however, it
turns for a few short weeks into a smiling garden.  This is especially
the case around the northern and western margins where, among the rocky
kopjes forming the fringe of the plain, gorgeous flowers cover the
ground with vivid patches of colour, and climb and trail over the grey
stones.  This combination always suggests to the traveller a skull
crowned with flowers.  The stark rocks, blasted by aeons of burning
sunshine, are always in evidence, and the wanton luxuriance of the
garlands seem to mock at and accentuate their death-like rigour.

The grass with which the greater part of the plain is covered grows in
thick shocks some thirty inches in height, from raised tussocks about
six feet apart.  In dry weather the fibre of the grass crumbles away in
dust and the tussock turns black.  After rain, however, the new blades
shoot out with marvellous rapidity, and the Desert becomes a sea of
waving plumes, which are tinted a beautifully delicate green.  Between
the tussocks spring up flowers of marvellous colour, scent, and form.
It has been libellously affirmed that the flowers of the Desert have no
scent.  It is true that in the hot, midday glare all are more or less
scentless, but in the early morning or when the afternoon cools the
heliophilas, the pelargoniums, the many species of lily, and others too
numerous to particularise, often make the Desert a veritable "scented
garden."

The great plain is almost absolutely treeless.  Only in one or two
localities are a few acacias found.  These are of very large size.  They
are called "Camel-thorns," for the reason that the camelopard was fond
of browsing upon their foliage.  Amongst the branches are often found
the enormous nests of the sociable grosbeaks, sometimes ten feet in
diameter.  These nests are veritable cities--inhabited by countless
numbers of birds.  Woe betide the exhausted hunter who seeks the
deceitful shade of these trees, for the ground beneath is full of the
dreaded "sampans," which bury themselves in the flesh and cause serious
injury.

In the fringe of kopjes grow immense aloes (_Aloe dichotoma_--probably
closely allied botanically to the almost extinct "Dragon Tree" of
Teneriffe).  These sometimes reach a height of sixty feet, and may
measure twenty feet around their ridged and gnarled trunks.  This tree
is locally known as the "koekerboom," or "quiver-tree," a reminiscence
of the fact that the Bushmen used to remove the fibrous wood from a
section of a bough and utilise the cylinder of tough bark as a quiver
for their poisoned arrows.  The koekerbooms are believed to be of
immense age; the oldest Trek-Boers will point to small trees growing
close to their favourite camping-places, and tell you that they have not
sensibly increased in size in upwards of half a century.  Their
appearance is extremely belated and archaic.

Running through Bushmanland from north-east to south-west is a curved
ridge which is known as the "Jacht Bult," or "hunt-ridge," from the
plentifulness of game upon it.  This ridge rises so gradually from each
side that its very existence is not apparent except for a few minutes at
morning and evening--and then only if one happens to be on the top of
it.  Here occurs a curious phenomenon; for, just as the sun is touching
the western horizon, if one looks eastward he will be startled at seeing
half of the immense plain shrouded in almost complete darkness.  The
illusion is due to the western plain being flooded with sunlight whilst
from the other the sunlight is suddenly and completely cut off.  When
the sun sinks the illusion vanishes and the eastern plain appears to be
no darker than the western.  At sunrise these conditions are, of course,
reversed.

This region is the home of the "springbuck," which still survives in
countless myriads.  After a large "trek," as the annual migration of
these animals across the Desert is called, has taken place, the wake of
the host looks like an irregularly-ploughed field.  Every vestige of
vegetation is beaten out by the small, sharp, strong hoofs.  It seems at
such times as if all the springbucks in the Desert were suddenly smitten
by a mad desire to collect and dash towards a certain point.

The springbucks as a rule live without drinking.  Sometimes, however--
perhaps once in ten years--they develop a raging thirst, and rush madly
forward until they find water.  It is not many years ago since millions
of them crossed the mountain range and made for the sea.  They dashed
into the waves, drank the salt water, and died.  Their bodies lay in one
continuous pile along the shore for over thirty miles, and the stench
drove the Trek-Boers who were camped near the coast far inland.

The oryx, or, as it is called in South Africa, the "gemsbok," is still
to be found in considerable numbers in the vicinity of the great and
almost inaccessible sand-dunes which encroach into the desert at several
points along its northwestern margin.  The gemsbok manages to live
without drinking water, finding a substitute in a large, succulent root
which grows in the driest parts of the dunes, and which the animal digs
up from deep in the sand with its hoofs.  A few hartebeests are also to
be found.  Immense wild bustards, or, as they are called, "paauws," come
over from the Kalihari Desert in large flocks.  From the same place the
desert grouse, which strongly resembles the sand-grouse of Central Asia,
throng over in countless myriads.  These collect around the open
water-places every morning when the sun begins to sting.  One dip of
water they must have.  If the sportsman is hard-hearted enough to remain
close to the water-hole, they circle round and round uttering their
plaintive cry in a myriad-voiced chorus of strange twitterings.  Should
the day be hot and no other water obtainable in the neighbourhood--as is
often the case--they will drink at one's very feet.  From their cry the
colloquial name of "kalkivain" is derived.

In hot weather one may trace the zigzag spoor of many a yellow cobra
across the sands.  By day these creatures remain underground among the
mouse-burrows--for they could not live upon the scorching sand--but at
night they wander far and near.  The horned adder--identical in species
with the "worm of old Nile" with which Cleopatra eased herself of her
burthen of life--abounds at the roots of the small shrubs and
grass-tussocks, where it burrows into the sand to escape the heat, or
when hibernating.

Above all, however, Bushmanland is the home of the wild ostrich.  Here,
in spite of the number of their enemies, human or other, these noble
birds are still to be found in considerable numbers.  Their booming note
heard at night across the waste strongly suggests the distant roar of a
hungry lion.  When one thinks of the number and ingenuity of the
ostrich's enemies one wonders that any still exist.  Around every nest
that one finds are sure to be several jackals and white crows.  The
jackal rolls the eggs about by butting them with his nose, and thus
dashes, them against each other until they break; the white crow carries
stones up into the air and drops them from a height among the eggs,
smashing them and befouling the nest with what it is unable to gorge of
the contents of the shell; the prowling Hottentot, or half-breed, will
follow for days on the spoor until he finds the nest and rifles it.

This region was once the favourite haunt of the Bushman, and long after
that unhappy race had disappeared from other parts it here maintained
itself.  At every water-place may still be seen the polished grooves in
the rocks wherein they sharpened their arrows and bone skinning-knives;
fragments of their rude pottery lie thickly strewn around.  Mixed with
the latter may be found, sometimes in considerable quantities, the
broken weapons of stone which belonged to a still older race, and which,
perhaps, was driven from the face of the land by the Bushmen, as we have
driven the latter, and as we ourselves may be driven by some race
developing a "fitness" superior to our own.

These water-places would thus seem to be of immense antiquity, and the
inference suggests that the climatic conditions of this end of the
African continent have not changed appreciably for ages.

The names of a few of these places in the Bushman tongue still survive.
Some are very suggestive, and indicate that the Bushman was not totally
devoid of sentiment.  The following are specimens of local Bushman
topography: "Place of Bleeding," "Withered Flower," "Eggshell Cheeks,"
"Reed-Possessor," "Take-away-from-me-what-I-have-gained,"
"Place-where-you-may-dig-out-a-little-pot-of-water."

The Bushman used poisoned arrows.  He obtained the poison usually from
three distinct sources, namely, the poison gland of the puffadder, the
black tarantula, and the deadly euphorbia which grows in the river
gorge.  These he mixed in a paste and smeared upon the sides of his
arrow blade.  This poison is extremely deadly in its effects, but it
works far more rapidly in the system of a ruminating animal than in that
of a man.  The Bushman could also, however, run game down by sheer
fleetness of foot--running until blown and then handing the chase over
to another hunter who had posted himself upon the course which, by
instinct, he had known the animal would most likely take.

The ostrich was the Bushman's favourite and most profitable quarry.
Dressed in the plumes of a former victim he would stalk into the midst
of a troop and lay its members low one by one.  When he found a nest he
would pierce the ends of each egg and blow out the contents.  Then,
after carefully washing out the shell, he would fill it with water and
close up each aperture with a wooden peg.  The shell would be buried
deep in the sand against contingencies of drought.  By some secret sign
the members of each clan would know the exact spots where water had thus
been buried by their friends, and thus often avoid death by thirst when
travelling or hunting.

The Bushman was the true Ishmaelite; he was bound to be eliminated.  As
a matter of fact there is no room for a Bushman and any one else in any
given area, no matter how large.

In the region described the Bushmen have left no record in the shape of
paintings on the rocks, which are so common in other parts.  This may
perhaps be accounted for by the porous nature of many of the low
krantzes in which the caves they occupied are situated.  It may be,
however, that the plants from which their pigments were obtained do not
grow in this arid region.

When rain has fallen freely, as it occasionally does, the Trek-Boers
flock into Bushmanland from its fringe, upon which they are always
hanging.  A few weeks of dry weather, however, suffices to dry up the
moisture from the shallow, sand-clogged basins, and the country once
more becomes a solitude.

For some natures this region possesses a deep and abiding charm.  The
fresh, crisp air of early morning; the peace which sinks like a
benediction upon the wearied earth when the scorching sun has fallen
from the sky, and the sand gives off its heat in rapid radiation; the
sense of immensity made manifest in the wide, wide plains by day, and in
the almost supernaturally bright skies at night; the booming of the
ostriches, the bellowing of the rutting springbucks; the queer, snarling
yelp of the jackals and the "tshok-tshok" of the paauw as it shakes out
its plumes to the rising sun--and who can define the vivid delight which
these have brought?  Who that has ever been fortunate enough to
experience it can recall without a quickening pulse the mad gallop for
miles across the plains after a herd of gemsbok, or the fierce rapture
of meeting the noble brute at bay, and slaying the only animal of the
antelope tribe that has heart enough to face a lion?

It is among the dwellers of this region that the scene of the following
tale is laid.  These people have but few ideas, and a vocabulary of
little more than three hundred words to express these ideas in.  The
Bible is the only book they ever read, and of that they do not
understand more than half the sense.  In all essentials, however, they
are of the same mould as other men.  They live and love, hate and die,
in very much the same manner as do other human creatures.  It is in the
incidentals that the reader may find some difference between these
people and the dwellers in more fortunate climes.



CHAPTER TWO.

THE PATRIARCH OF NAMIES.

There was only one camp at Namies [pronounced "Namees"], for all the
wells but one had run dry.  It was somewhat early in summer, and as yet
no thunderstorms had visited the immediate neighbourhood.  The camp
consisted of a wagon with a fore-and-aft canvas hood, or, as it is
called in South Africa, a "tent."  On either side of it stood,
respectively, a mat-house and a square tent.  The particular Trek-Boer
who was the owner of this establishment was a somewhat distinguished
specimen of his class.  Old Schalk Hattingh had, like his father before
him, lived his life upon the fringes of the Bushmanland Desert.  Tall
and corpulent, with a long, silvery-white beard, he spent his days
sitting in a big, cushionless, wooden chair.  This chair would,
according to the weather, be placed either just inside or just outside
the mat-house.  His legs had become too weak to sustain his large body,
so he was only able to walk with the assistance of a long, strong Stick,
which never was out of the reach of his hand.  In the coldest weather he
wore no warmer clothing than a shirt of unbleached calico--always open
at the throat, and thus revealing a large area of red skin--a cheap and
very thin corduroy coat, a pair of breeches, much too short for him, of
tanned sheepskin, and a jackal-skin cap.  These clothes he invariably
slept in; in fact, the tradition as to when he had last taken them off
had been long since lost.  On his extremely large feet he wore
"veldschoens" of his own make.  Socks he would have looked upon as a
criminal luxury; pocket-handkerchiefs he had never used in the whole
course of his life.  Winter and summer he sat, drinking weak coffee all
day long, smoking strong tobacco at intervals, and continually
expectorating in all directions.

Namies was his headquarters, and had been so for nearly forty years.
His well was the best there.  Even that, however, ran dry during the
early part of summer about once in three years, and he would then shift
his camp to some more fortunate spot.  But he was always the last to
leave and the first to return.  No one ever dreamt of camping upon Old
Schalk's favourite spot or taking possession of his well, yet to these
he had no special right which could be legally enforced.

Old Schalk was a well-known character, and was looked upon as a
patriarch and an oracle by the Trek-Boers for hundreds of miles around.
He had been a famous man in his day, and could tell interesting,
semi-veracious anecdotes of adventures with Bushmen, lions, and other
things--predatory or preyed upon.  He had never seen a village in his
life, excepting the adventitious assemblages of the Trek-Boers.  He was
known to be a hard man at a bargain, and extremely avaricious;
nevertheless he was poor.  A few years previous to the period at which
this tale opens he had been rich in flocks and herds.  Then came the
inevitably recurring drought, this time one of exceptional severity.
The sheep and goats became thinner and thinner, until they were too weak
to go abroad and seek for pasturage.  They lay on the sand all day long,
eyeing piteously the troughs to which their diminishing dole of water
was lifted from the well by the creaking derrick.  At last the maddened
cattle flung themselves down the well, and their ruined owners were
hardly able to drag themselves to the arid banks of the Orange River
down the sand-choked gorge at Pella.  Here was at least water to drink.

Old Schalk, like most of his neighbours, found himself a poor man.
Since the famine he had managed to get a little stock together again,
but he was in debt to several Jew hawkers, and had some difficulty in
keeping his head above water.

He held the appointment under Government of Assistant Field Cornet.  It
was his duty in this capacity to report all crimes to the Special
Magistrate, to arrest criminals, and to hold inquests in cases of deaths
by violence in regard to which there was no suspicion of foul play.
This office gave him a certain position among the Trek-Boers and added
considerably to his influence.

Old Schalk's wife was only a few years younger than himself, but, as is
especially the case with Boer women, she looked much older.  His special
grievance against Providence was that Mrs Hattingh had lived so long,
and thus kept him out of the enjoyment of the charms of younger women.

"There is my brother Gert," he would say in moments of confidence, and
without considering whether his wife were present or not, "he has now
married his third wife; Willem only the other day lost his second; Jan,
who is fifteen years younger than I, buried his first wife only five
months ago and is going to marry a fine young girl at the next
Nachtmaal--and here I am still sitting with my old `Bogh',"--a word
which may be freely translated as "frump."

From Old Schalk's point of view he undoubtedly had a grievance, for one
rarely meets an old Boer--and more especially a Trek-Boer--who has not
been married several times.

Mrs Hattingh never appeared to be hurt by such outbursts against
unpropitious Fate.  She had no intention of dying just yet; sentiment
was to her unknown, and she had always taken life philosophically.

"Ja," she would sometimes rejoin, "it is true that I am an old `Bogh,'
but there's not a woman in Bushmanland who can sew karosses as well as
I; and if it had not been for the money you got from the Jews for those
I made from the skins of the sheep that died in the drought, you would
not have any stock to-day."

"Ja; that is true," Old Schalk would grudgingly admit.

"And you would be a fine one to follow a young wife about and keep her
in order; with those legs you could not walk the length of the
trek-chain."

Old Schalk always resented any reference to his unserviceable legs, so
his wife usually had the last word at these discussions.

The junior members of the Hattingh family consisted of two
granddaughters and a grand-niece.  The sons and daughters of the camp
had married and were scattered over the fringe of the Desert.  The three
girls were orphans.  The two granddaughters were tall, listless-looking
girls, with dark hair and eyes, and that transparent and unhealthy
complexion which sometimes gives a fugacious beauty and is often found
in young women whose diet does not embrace a sufficiency of green
vegetable food.  Their chests were hollow, their shoulders drooped, and
they looked incapable of taking much interest in anything.  Their ages
were respectively, eighteen and nineteen; their names--Maria and
Petronella.

Their cousin, Susannah, was a girl of a different type.  She was small
of stature, well built, and had a keen and alert look.  Her features
were strongly marked, her eyes and hair were black, and the redness of
her lips was rendered more striking by the pallor of the rest of her
face.  Her movements were distinguished by an energy which was in
striking contrast to the listlessness of the other girls.  She suggested
a well-favoured squirrel among a family of moles.  Her features had a
strongly Jewish cast.  Although not much admired by the young Boers with
whom she came in contact--probably because she did not reach their
standard of stoutness--she would have been in other surroundings
considered a very pretty girl.  There was some mystery in connection
with her parentage which gave rise to whisperings among the women.  It
was, however, certain that she was the daughter of one of Old Schalk's
nieces.

The spot known as Namies is marked by a few stony, irregular kopjes
which lie like a small archipelago in the ocean-like waste of the
Bushmanland Desert, not far from its northern margin.  The highest of
these kopjes is less than four hundred feet above the general level of
the plains; a circle two miles in circumference would enclose them all.
They are formed of piles of granite boulders, between which grow a few
hardy shrubs and koekerbooms.



CHAPTER THREE.

MAX.

Max Steinmetz stood in the doorway of the little iron shanty at Namies,
which was built near the foot of a kopje about three hundred yards from
the Hattingh camp.  Above his head was a signboard bearing the legend:
"Nathan Steinmetz, Allegemene Handelaar."  [General dealer.]  He looked
out over the wide, wide Desert and watched the smoke-like courses of the
violent gusts against which a thunderstorm was labouring from the
north-east.  The unsavoury odour of half-dried hides assailed his
nostrils; the ramshackle iron roof rattled to the blasts over his head.
The season was February, and the tortured plains glowed with absorbed
heat like Milton's burning marl.

Over the intermittent moaning and howling of the wind could be heard, at
intervals, the mutterings of thunder.  The Desert now became a roaring
blast-furnace, fanned by the sand-laden gusts which raged fiercer and
ever fiercer.  Max closed the door and barred it from the inside.  A few
gouts of rain began to thud on the roof.  Then a jagged shaft of
lightning shot from the zenith, shattered itself into coruscating
splinters against some tempest-packed sheaf of air, and seemed to fill
the universe with a blinding blaze.  At the same instant the winds were
stunned by a crash so awful that the solid earth reeled from the shock.
Then came the rain in dense, white, lashing waves, and in a few moments
the wide plain became a hissing sea.

The storm-cloud rolled away as quickly as it had come, leaving only a
few torn wisps of fleecy cloud to mark its wake.  Through these the
purified sky seemed to open in vaults of azure that pierced the
infinite.  For a short time the sun flooded the plain with gold and
rubies; then it sank, and the cool, quickening evening died in peaceful
splendour in the transfigured west.

The storm over, Max opened the door and stepped outside.  His first
glance was towards the Hattingh camp.  Then he brought a chair and a
book out of the shop and sat down where, pretending to read, he could
look over the top of the page in the same direction.  Soon afterwards
Susannah came out of the mat-house and superintended the lighting of a
fire by the Hottentot maid in the kitchen-scherm, the bushes of which,
scattered by the storm, had been rearranged.  She had discarded her
cappie, and her luxuriant black hair was blown about by the moist
breeze.  She gave one hurried glance towards the shop and then stood
with her back towards it.  Max saw this and, in his inexperience, felt
saddened.

Max had a face which, had Raphael seen it through the bars of the Ghetto
gate at Rome, would have made him take pains to secure the young Jew as
a model.  It was one of those faces which one only--and that but very
rarely--sees in the youth of Israel.  Its shape was a pure oval.  The
skin was a clear olive, and the eyes were large, dark, and melting.  His
jet-black hair clustered over a broad, low forehead, and his full, red
lips were arched like the bow of the Sun-God.  As yet the stress of
trade had not awakened the ancestral greed which would one day dominate
his blood and modify his physiognomy.  Small in stature and of perfect
symmetry, he did not give one the idea of possessing either strength or
activity; in feet he looked like a languorous human exotic who had
strayed from the canvas of some "Old Master" whose brush was dedicated
to physical beauty.  His age was twenty-one, but he looked several years
younger.

Max was a clerk at a very small salary in the employ of his brother
Nathan.  The business was a paying one, but the carrying of it on
involved extremely hard work.  Nathan spent most of his time in moving
about from camp to camp among the Trek-Boers and the half-breeds who
dwelt among the saltpans in the central and southern portions of the
Desert.  He travelled with a small, strong cart, which was drawn by six
hardy but debilitated-looking donkeys.  His practice was to leave Namies
with a load of hucksters' merchandise and to return, generally about two
months afterwards, with a quantity of ostrich feathers.  The Desert
abounded in wild ostriches which, although protected by law, were
ruthlessly hunted down for the sake of their feathers.  There was, of
course, a certain risk of discovery involved, and this would have been
followed by heavy penalties, but Nathan was prepared to take this risk
for the sake of the large profits which he made.  The feathers of the
wild ostrich fetch a much higher price than those of the domesticated
bird.  In many of the waste places of South Africa the protecting law is
often but a name.  Nathan knew that the risk of his being convicted was
very small.  Just now he was absent upon a trip, but his return was
daily expected.  In the meantime Max had charge of the store.

Nathan and Max were orphans, and had been brought up by an uncle--a
pawnbroker of the East End of London.  Their parents were German Jews
who had settled in England.  They had no brothers or sisters.  Eight
years previously the uncle had given Nathan a hundred pounds and sent
him to the Cape to seek his fortune.  Four years afterwards Max
followed.  In the meantime Nathan had made a little money as a "smouse,"
or hawker.  With Max's assistance he was able to extend his operations
considerably.  For the first two years the younger brother had worked
without any salary; then, at the instance of the uncle, who made
particular inquiries upon the point, Max was given a small stipend.



CHAPTER FOUR.

SPRING'S IDYLL.

The next day was a dream of delight.  The evaporation from the sand
counteracted the heat of the sun, and the pungent air was full of
germinating energy.  Cool, gentle breezes awoke now and then, wandered
vaguely to and fro, and then laid themselves down to rest, rising anon
to play in a circle of mimic whirlwinds.  Old Schalk sat in the doorway
of the mat-house with his feet in the sun and the large Bible open upon
his knees.  The combination of Old Schalk and an open Bible meant either
that he was in extremely good humour and felt at peace with all mankind
and in general harmony with his environment--or else the direct reverse.
In the former case he would usually have the volume open at the Song of
Solomon; in the latter, at the 109th Psalm.  To-day he prayed, although
he knew it not, for his heart was lifted up in involuntary thankfulness
and appreciation of the feast which was so lavishly spread around him.
His happiness was even beyond the terms of his favourite Psalms, which
he knew off by heart--even the numbers of the great lyric poets of
Israel seemed to fall short of the music which Nature was making upon
his worn heart-strings.

Mrs Hattingh was sitting boiling soap inside the kitchen-scherm, her
failing eyes rendered more than usually red and rheumy by the steam
arising from the acrid lye.  She, too, felt the benign influences with
which the Desert was rich; the labour she was engaged in was not as
irksome as usual.  As she broke the bushes into the soap-pot she might
have been a rapt sorceress brewing a love-philtre, or a priestess
sacrificing at the shrine of the God of Cleanliness.

Maria and Petronella were sitting on the wagon-box crooning a weird song
in a minor key.  They felt sleepy and happy, for Mother Nature had a
word for them too.  It was a word very softly spoken, and in a language
which they did not yet fully understand, but it made them dream vague,
sweet dreams.  Susannah heard the voice, and, low as it was spoken, it
awoke her and she hearkened to it.  She, too, failed to understand the
words, but the cadences were sweet and seemed to be full of an infinite
promise.

Nature, in her spring guise, has to do her work in the Desert, when she
does it at all, in a hurry.  There the seasons do not follow the regular
course.  At the end of her summer revel in other southern lands she
sometimes suddenly bethinks her that away to the northward she has been
for long neglectful of her duties, so she flies to the arid plains,
where perhaps the very traces of her footprints have been long since
forgotten.  Then with a sudden dower of riches she tries to make amends
for her forgetfulness; she tarries for a few sweet, pregnant hours, and
the ardours and burgeonings of a season are consummated in one delicious
day.

Susannah felt the rapid sap of sudden springtime rise in a sweet storm
to her heart and to her brain.  It seemed to her as though she had
wings, and she longed to fly out over the infinite waste and beyond the
blue, mysterious haze in which it merged with the horizon in a sapphire
ring.  The highest of the little group of kopjes stood just at the back
of the camp, and her senses bounded at the thought of climbing quickly
to the summit and thus getting so much nearer the sky.  A tall
koekerboom which stood on the very top quivered in the wind, and every
cluster of leaves at the ends of its dichotomous branches seemed to
beckon to her to come.

She climbed into the wagon, opened the camphor-wood box in which she
kept her limited wardrobe, and selected her best dress.  This was a
cheap print, delicately flowered, and of soft hues.  It thus afforded a
pleasing contrast to the gaudy and crudely coloured habiliments of her
cousins.  After she had put it on one might have seen that the dress
fitted her neat figure like a new glove.  Her ample hair she rolled into
a knot, but, after a moment's consideration, she uncoiled it again and
shook it back over her shoulders.  Then she put on a "cappie" made of
print of the same pattern as her frock.  A cheap necklet of coral
completed her toilet.  She clasped this hurriedly about her throat as
she sprang to the ground from the back of the wagon.  She panted with
desire to get away to the high peak where the solitary koekerboom, which
had defied the sun for centuries, stood beckoning to her, and any delay
was a pain.  She sped away among the aromatic shrubs that clustered
among the impassive granite rocks on the side of the kopje, and the
brown stones she trod on seemed to be as buoyant as the air that filled
her veins with ecstasy.  In a few minutes she had gained the top of the
kopje, when she sank down in pleasant exhaustion at the foot of the
hoar-ancient koekerboom.

As she ascended the kopje the breeze freshened, and the stiff, awkward
branches of the archaic tree seemed to be seized with excitement
unfitting its age and experience; it beckoned violently, and until Max,
who was standing at the door of the shop, saw not alone its signal, but
the flutter of the delicately flowered print dress which at that moment
was rippling against its gnarled knees.

Max hurriedly locked the shop and sped up the side of the kopje towards
the antiquated tree, which now seemed to have fallen asleep, so still it
was.  Schalk Hattingh's was the only camp then at Namies, and as Nathan
had given strict injunctions that the Hattinghs were to have no more
credit, nothing was to be lost in respect of their custom.  Max would,
he told himself, be able to descry any approaching customers from the
top of the kopje.

Susannah heard the nearing footstep.  She had now taken off her cappie,
and was lying back between two of the shapeless roots which were
continuations of flanking buttresses thrown out by the tree towards the
north-east, from whence the storms had been trying to uproot it--
probably ever since the days when the galleys of Pharaoh passed down the
Red Sea and returned to Egypt through the Pillars of Hercules.  The girl
arose into a sitting posture and turned towards the boy a face flushed
with exercise and eyes liquid with delight.  Max put out his hand in
mute greeting, and she clasped it silently.  Then he threw himself on
the ground at her feet.

These two had for some time attracted each other.  On Max's side the
attraction had lately begun to ripen into something very like love.  But
of this as yet he was unaware.  To-day the universe seemed to breathe of
music, the boughs of the old tree and the granite rocks were as the
strings of a sounding harp, touched by the wind as a plectrum.

Spring, in a graciously capricious moment, resolved to crown her holiday
with an idyll.  Max arose and held out his hand to the girl.  She took
it, and he drew her gently to her feet.  They wandered on together with
scanty, broken speech and averted eyes, through lately arid nooks and
hollows made sweet and full of the promise of verdure by yesterday's
rain.  The faint-green spear-points of strange vegetation were already
piercing the brown earth; quaint beetles crawled out from under the
stones and beat their soft "tok-tok-tok" on the ground, signalling to
prospective mates; lizards of a deeper and more vivid blue than anything
else in Nature's storehouse, sunned themselves on the rocks, panting
with enjoyment.

They came to a flowering mass of gethyllis--that strange plant the
curled leaves of which wind out their spirals in winter to catch the
dewdrops and conduct them down their tube-like channels to the
deep-underground bulb, which waits until the fiercest sun of summer
shines before it sends up its lovely, tulip-like cup of snowy white or
vivid crimson.  The luscious scent filled the air and caused a faint,
delicious intoxication.  They bent over the blossoms and began gathering
them.  In doing this their hands met by accident and they started apart
suddenly, thrilling with unknown confusion.

Their faltering speech died away altogether, and they more than ever
avoided each other's gaze.  After retracing their steps for a short
distance they again paused.  The vague horizon seemed to become of
absorbing interest.  Each felt to blame for the abashment of the other,
and both seemed to drink of a cup of humiliation.  The old tree waved
sympathetically over them its topmost branches, in which the wind seemed
to waken a sigh.

Careless Nature, to bring them together, sacrificed a life.  She sent a
message down through a cleft in the rock against which Susannah was
dejectedly leaning, and called from the depths where it had long been
sleeping a poisonous red centipede.  The creature crawled down over the
girl's shoulder and endeavoured to enter her sleeve at the wrist.  Then
Max saw it.  He sprang forward in a spasm of terror, brushed the
centipede aside with his hand; not, however, before it had given him a
venomous nip.  In an instant he had crushed the life out of the creature
with his foot; then, with an exclamation of pain, he turned towards the
girl.  His hand was already beginning to swell.  Susannah tore a piece
off the curtain of her cappie and began to bind up the injury.  As she
did so she came so close that she leant slightly against Max.  Then the
opportunity triumphed over the pain--he passed his arm around her, drew
her to him, and kissed her on the quivering lips.

The centipede and its sting were soon forgotten.  Nature held them,
embraced and embracing, for a blissful eternity; they saw the face of
happiness smiling in the rosy gloom under Love's wing.

The koekerboom became wrapped in a whirlwind of excitement, its gaunt
boughs swayed until they clashed, and the sap rose in its slowly beating
heart until the yellow buds which a few of its less mature twigs had put
forth tentatively, as though half ashamed of such frivolity, burst open
and sent forth a faint shower of pollen, which fell like a spangling of
gold-dust upon Susannah's hair.

As they paced away, hand in hand, a small army of fierce desert ants
were dragging away the still writhing body of the centipede to their
underground storehouse.  Nature, so very lavish in large matters, is
extremely economical in trifles.



CHAPTER FIVE.

GERT GEMSBOK.

Gert Gemsbok prowled along the bank of the Orange River and bent an
attentive eye upon the brimming flood.  The great stream, swollen by the
summer rains in far-off Basutoland, sped roaring down the rapids just
above the Augrabies Falls, over which it would plunge into that
mysterious, unexplored gorge through which its secret way lay for some
four hundred miles to the Atlantic Ocean.  Brown with the gleanings of
tens of thousands of square miles of loamy hill and dale swept by
furious thunderstorms, clogged with the detritus gathered from flooded
flat and spate-ravaged kloof, foul with the rubbish from many a distant
mining camp on the banks of its tributary, the Vaal, the torrent swept
irresistibly on with a growling roar, the might of which could not be
realised without receding for some distance from the bank.  Then it
would be felt that the air was filled with continuous thunder and that
the very earth shuddered with the throbbings of this mighty artery, as
the body of a man quivers after unwonted effort.

Flotsam and jetsam abounded in every cranny of the bank and on the
down-stream side of every point and headland.  Strange objects might be
here and there seen--broken packing-cases, dead cattle, sheep, and
goats, pumpkins, skins, and old rags.  In every bay of still water lay
an unsavoury jumble.  Gert examined the swollen carcases one by one in
the almost vain hope of finding one not too decomposed to eat.

Walking upstream he crossed a promontory covered with scrub.  Behind
this lay an inlet in the bank which was filled by a slow swirl generated
by a rapid immediately above.  He paused and cast his eye over the
different objects which were slowly circling round and round.  One of
these soon riveted his attention: it was a rough wooden framework
superimposed upon a strong raft, on which was stretched the body of a
man dressed in European clothing.  Gert walked round the bend of the
inlet until he reached a convenient spot on its opposite face.  His
practised eye recognised this as the place where the object of his
scrutiny would most probably ground or come close enough to the bank to
be caught hold of, if necessary.  Having reached the spot in question,
he sat down on a willow stump and waited.  The wooden raft with its
gruesome burden kept for some time circling slowly round and round the
pool, but Gert noticed that at each revolution it seemed to sweep in a
little nearer the bank.  He began to note the details.  The body was
that of a very tall man with a full, red beard.  He was dressed in a
grey flannel shirt, which being slightly open at the throat, revealed a
brawny chest covered with russet hair.  The nether limbs were clad in
moleskin trousers and strong, thick-soled boots such as miners often
wear.  The feet and arms were securely bound to the sides of the
framework.

At length the raft caught against a submerged stump.  To this it hung
for a moment; then it heeled over and swayed itself loose, and the
current washed it slowly against the bank, where it grounded at the
watcher's feet.

The body was horrible to look upon; the eyes were sunken out of sight or
had decomposed away--the flesh was livid.  The wrists were cut by the
cords that bound them, showing that the man had been bound living upon
the raft.  Into the flesh of his forehead the letter "V," about an inch
in length, had been cut.  Gert waded into the water up to his waist and
paused close to the horrible object.  His feet were sore from constant
wanderings over the stony mountains, and he coveted the dead man's
boots.  Conquering his repugnance, he drew his knife and severed the
laces.  Then he pulled the boots off and flung them high on the bank
behind him.  After pausing for a few seconds he searched the trouser
pockets, but found that they contained nothing.  As he did this he
averted his eyes from the dead face.  His search over, he waded along
the shore towards the outside limit of the inlet, where the current was
strong, drawing the raft after him.  Launched forward with his full
strength, the raft was caught by the current and swirled out into the
mid-stream, where it passed from view into the confused mass of
wave-tossed rubbish.

Gert then climbed up the bank and returned to where he had flung the
boots.  Upon examining these he found that the layers of leather forming
the sole of one were gaping widely at the side.  He tried to press the
layers together, but found that he could not do so owing to the presence
of some object which had evidently been inserted between them.  He
pulled this out and found it to be a piece of rag in which was wrapped a
diamond as large as a hazel-nut.  Searching farther, he found that in
each boot holes had been scooped out in the thick mass of leather above
the outer layer, and diamonds inserted.  He found six altogether--three
in each boot.  The stones were pure white, and of that peculiar
crystallisation which characterises the gems found on the banks of the
Vaal River, as distinguished from those found in what are known as the
"dry diggings."

Gert looked at the shining gems as they lay upon his hand and marvelled
exceedingly.  He knew right well that the stones were diamonds, for he
had worked for a year in the Kimberley mine.  He also knew that the law
forbade him to have such things in his possession, and that if caught
with them he would be liable to severe punishment.  Yet here, he
thought, was the means of attaining riches; surely there must be some
way of turning to account the prize which he had honestly obtained?
With a spasm of exultant dread he slipped the stones into his skin
wallet.  Then he placed a heavy pebble into each of the boots and flung
them as far as he could into the stream.  He sat in thought for a few
moments; then he retraced his steps, down-stream, to a spot where had
been deposited the only half-decomposed carcase of a goat which he had
raked out of the flood.  This he shouldered and carried up the rocky
gorge in which the cave was situated, in which he dwelt with his mother
and his wife.

By this time the wooden raft with its dread enigma had been whirled down
the rapids and dashed to pieces over the Augrabies Falls.  What dread
tragedy had resulted in the voyage of this ark with its single gruesome
passenger upon the bosom of the brown flood through the scorched
Desert--what terrible act of crime or retribution had sent this sign to
be revealed for an instant to the startled ken of a prowling savage,
will probably never be explained until all mysteries are unlocked!

Gert Gemsbok, the Koranna Hottentot, was a remarkable man.  In the
rebellion of the Griqua and Koranna Clans, which broke out upon the
northern border of the Cape Colony in 1879, he had taken a prominent
part.  Captured with arms in his hands and identified as having led a
certain band of rebels which was concerned in some serious depredations,
he was sentenced by the Special Court to a severe flogging and a long
term of imprisonment.  He served the first part of his sentence at the
Breakwater Convict Station, Cape Town, but was afterwards transferred to
one of the Diamond Mining Compounds at Kimberley.  Upon his discharge he
took service as a labourer at the mines, with the view of making
sufficient money to enable him to return half-way across the continent
to the Desert which he loved, and somewhere within the indefinite bounds
of which he hoped to find traces of his family.  He attained his object;
he found his old mother and his wife living close to Namies in
Bushmanland, in great misery from want, and suffering from incurable
disease.  His two children were dead.  The two women were unwholesome
and in every way unpleasant to look upon, besides being almost helpless,
but Gert, no less than they, was happy in the reunion.

Having still a few pounds left from his earnings at the diamond fields,
he bought a few articles of clothing for the two women from a wandering
hawker.  Then the problem as to how they were to exist loomed up.  Gert
could easily get work among the Trek-Boers, as a shepherd, but how was
he to support the two helpless women out of his earnings, which only
amounted to eight fat-tailed sheep per annum?  The thing was almost
impossible, but he succeeded in doing it.

Soon, however, he again fell upon evil days.  This time he suffered for
righteousness' sake.  The Hottentots are, probably, the most untruthful
race under the sun, but this Hottentot invariably made a point of
telling the truth, and misfortune fell upon him in consequence.  A
certain Trek-Boer named Willem Bester was charged with a serious crime
before the Special Magistrate for the Northern Border.  Gert,
unfortunately for himself, had been a witness to the act, and was,
accordingly, called upon to give evidence.  Instead of sensibly lying,
and thus exonerating the accused, who was related to his master, poor
Gert injudiciously told the truth.  As a result Bester was convicted and
sentenced to a long term of imprisonment.  The consequences were
disastrous to the veracious exception to the rule of his race.  He was
dismissed from his employment and turned adrift.  He tried to obtain
service everywhere, but found that he was boycotted--driven away with
contumely from every Trek-Boer's camp at which he applied.

So the three miserable beings wandered about the Desert from water-place
to water-place, digging for "veld-kost"--the generic name by which the
many species of edible bulbs, leaves, and tubers with which the fringe
of the Desert abounds, are known.  In the short and adventitious spring,
when the leaves appearing through the sand indicated the proper spots to
dig at, life was comparatively easy, but after the northern winds had
scorched away the herbage it was only by a bitter struggle that body and
soul could be kept together.  Each year, when the Orange River came down
in flood, the three wretched creatures would occupy a cave close to its
southern bank just above the Augrabies Falls.  Here, especially when the
rains had been very heavy in the Orange Free State or the upper reaches
of the Vaal River, they used to reap a rich harvest of garbage.

Six years of this life had passed prior to the finding of the mysterious
corpse and the diamonds.

The cave was an oval chamber in the sheer granite wall in which the
flank of a mighty mountain ended.  The floor was of dry sand, and there
was no drip from the smoke-stained roof to cause inconvenience.  Here it
was cool in the hottest weather, and when the cold eastern winds
shrieked in arid wrath down the black gorges, the three waifs lay snug
and warm.  The furniture of the cave consisted of a few miserable skins,
two or three earthern pots of native make, a bow and a quiverful of
poisoned arrows, and a few blunted iron spikes, the latter being used in
the root-digging operations.  A musical instrument, which will hereafter
be described, completes the inventory.

Gert was an old man.  His limbs were half-crippled by rheumatism, and
his sight had begun to weaken.  The Hottentots are a thin-skinned race,
and flogging is to them a very terrible punishment.  Gert had never
fully recovered from his experience of the lash.  Had his physical
vigour been greater he might have been able to kill game from time to
time, especially when the trek-bucks crossed the Desert.  As things
were, his hunting never yielded him more than a few snakes and lizards
and an occasional jackal.  On very rare occasions he managed to get a
shot at a klipspringer antelope; only, however, after lying in wait for
hours at a time in a red-hot rock-cleft, on the faint chance of the
bucks being startled in one of the hollows and running past him on their
way to the next.  But these waitings were usually unsuccessful and he
could not afford to lose the time which they took up.

Gert Gemsbok reached the cave with his unsavoury burthen.  This he flung
down on the ground outside, for its stench would have made the air of
the cave unbearable.  It was bad enough to have to eat such stuff
without breathing it as well.  Having skinned the leg of the carcase he
cut up some of the meat and put it into one of the pots.  From a crevice
in the wall he took out a handful of strong-smelling herbs; these he
broke up and added to the stew with the object of deadening the
effluvium.

After supper he related his adventure to the two women.  The mother was
half in her dotage, and had almost reverted to the animal in the course
of the years of misery which she had lived through.  The wife became
wild with excitement at the idea of once more having money and being
able to purchase longed-for luxuries.  She tried to persuade Gert to
start at once on a journey across the Desert to Kenhardt for the purpose
of realising his property and obtaining coffee, sugar, and tobacco.  The
memory of these things, none of which had been tasted for years,
continually tantalised her.  Gert, however, mindful of former
experiences, had no intention of placing himself within the power of the
law again.

The old woman had originally come from Great Namaqualand; she belonged
to the Bondleswartz Clan.  She was continually urging her son to remove
to the land of her birth; but this he could never be persuaded to do.
He always clung to the hope of being able to remove to some civilised
locality where coffee and tobacco would be obtainable.

One mitigation of all this misery existed.  This Hottentot was an
artist, carrying in his heart a spark of that quality which we call
genius, and which might be called the flower that bears the pollen which
fertilises the human mind, and without which the soul of man would not
exist, nor would his understanding have sought for aught beyond the
satisfaction of his material senses.  Gert Gemsbok was a musician.  His
instrument was of a kind which is in more or less common use among the
Hottentots, and which is known as a "ramkee."  The ramkee is very like a
banjo rudely constructed.  In the hands of a skilful player its tones
may be pleasing to the ear.  One peculiarity of the performance is that
a great deal of the fingering--if one may use the term--is done with the
chin.  There are usually four strings, but some instruments contain as
many as seven.

In Gert Gemsbok's ramkee the drum was made from a cross section of an
ebony log, which had been hollowed out with infinite labour until only a
thin cylinder of hard, sonorous wood was left.  Across this was
stretched the skin of an antelope, and inside were several layers of
gum--this for the sake of enriching the tone.  The bridge was the
breast-bone of a wild goose; the strings were made of the sinews of a
number of wild animals, selected after a long series of experiments as
to their respective suitability to the different parts of the gamut.

The elder woman was almost totally deaf, and the younger too much
preoccupied by her physical ailments to pay much heed to the music.  The
musician, however, required no audience to enable him to reap the
fullest enjoyment from the exercise of his art.  He loved music for its
proper sake, and under its influence could soar away above his sordid
surroundings into a heaven of his own creation.

His favourite air was one which ran somewhat as follows.  Upon it he
would improvise and invent fantastic arabesques and ingenious
variations:--

The old woman became more and more feeble, until at length she seemed to
lose every faculty except an appetite for certain kinds of food.  She
lay for weeks without speaking.  One night she surprised the others by
complaining, in a very distinct voice, of feeling cold.  Gert stirred up
the embers and threw a few twigs upon them.  Soon after this she said--

"Now I am going over the river."

Next morning they found she was dead.

Gert walled up the mouth of the cave with the heaviest stones he could
move, leaving the body inside.  Then he and his wife departed.  He made
up his mind to attempt once more to obtain employment.  Perhaps after
six years his crime of truth-telling might have been forgotten or
condoned.  He now had an object in life--the realisation of the property
which Fate had thrown in his way.  He would first return to Namies,
which was a place of congregating for Trek-Boers.  Possibly he might be
able to get employment there.  Even if unsuccessful, however, there was
still veld-kost to be had, and there were only two mouths to feed now.
Alone, he might easily have made his way to other parts and disposed of
the diamonds--even a tithe of their value would have made him a rich
man--but his wife could only hobble a couple of miles a day at the very
most.  He could, of course, have left her to starve, but the thought of
doing this never so much as crossed his mind.

So Gert Gemsbok, as stout-hearted as any paladian who ever carried a
lance to the Holy Land, packed up his bundle of worn, dirty skins, and
tied the pots on the top of it with some withes of twisted bark.  He hid
his bow and arrows in a dry crevice against the possibility of future
needs--they would have been regarded, and rightly so, as the Mark of the
Beast among the Trek-Boers.  Then, with his ramkee slung under his arm
and his miserable old wife hobbling upon cranky legs behind him--
blinking in the sunlight to which she had been long unaccustomed--he
struck boldly back to renew the battle of life among the men who had
driven him forth to herd with the wild beasts.

His six diamonds, wrapped in a dirty rag, were sewn in a row along the
bottom of his skin wallet.



CHAPTER SIX.

TOO GENERAL TO BE SPECIFIED.

When Susannah reached the camp with the afterglow of her lover's kisses
still upon her lips, she found that dinner was over.  There was a new
look upon her face and a light in her eye, which were not lost on any
member of the family.  She took a rusk from the cupboard and then went
to the scherm for a cup of coffee which Katryn, the Hottentot
servant-girl, had saved for her.  Katryn had seen Max follow Susannah to
the kopje, and, as she noticed the new look upon the girl's face, had
drawn her own conclusions.  After pouring out the coffee she shot an
extremely sly glance at Susannah's face and then turned away, her
shoulders shaking with laughter.

Old Schalk turned to his wife, who was sitting beside him in the
mat-house, hemming an apron--

"Wife, did you see how strange she looked?  I wonder what she and the
Jew have been doing on the kopje?"

"Let us call her and ask.  Susannah!"

"Yes, aunt."

"Where have you been that you did not come to dinner?"

"At the koekerboom on the top of the kopje, aunt."

"Who was with you?"

"Max, aunt."

"What happened to make you look so strange?"

In the most self-possessed manner possible Susannah replied--

"He told me he loved me, and I promised to marry him."

Old Schalk and his wife both gasped; then the old man broke out--

"You promised to marry _him_--a Jew--one of those who denied the Lord
Jesus and crucified Him?"

"I am sure Max did not do that; for one thing, he was not born at the
time."

"Don't tell me!  If he did not do it himself his forefathers did, and
the Lord laid a curse on the Jews."

"Who ever heard of such a thing as marrying a Jew?" broke in Mrs
Hattingh.  "I am sure the minister would refuse you the sacrament if you
were to do it."

"I love him, and I will marry no one else," replied Susannah composedly.

"It is not even as if he were rich," continued Mrs Hattingh; "but he
has nothing--he is only a servant.  The shop belongs to his brother."

Maria and Petronella, were just on the other side of the mat-house wall,
listening to all that was said, and giggling and making signs to each
other.  Old Schalk bethought him of his overdue account at the shop, and
wondered how this unexpected development would affect his relations with
Nathan, with whom he could not afford to quarrel.  But Max was often, as
at present, in charge of the business; he also had to be considered.
The old Boer came to the conclusion that his safest course was to ignore
the whole affair, at all events for the present, until after Nathan's
return.

"The idea of her wanting to marry a little boy like that!  A nice joke,
indeed!  When Nathan comes back he will soon put him right."

"And to think of her looking at a fellow of his size when a fine man
like Jan Roster, who has plenty of stock and a farm of his own, just
wants but a little encouragement to make him have the banns put up for
the next Nachtmaal."

Susannah turned away indignantly and left the mat-house.  Jan Roster was
a young farmer who owned land on the opposite fringe on the Desert, many
arid miles from Namies.  His business, the peculiar methods of which
will be explained later on, sometimes brought him to northern
Bushmanland.  Recently he had cast looks of tenderness at Susannah.
This, however, was not much of a distinction; he was known to be very
anxious indeed to get married--in fact, he had proposed to nearly every
good-looking girl within two hundred miles of his farm.  In spite of his
flourishing circumstances, his bulky build, and his not specially
ill-favoured appearance, no girl could ever be got to take him
seriously.  He had spent a few months at a college at Stellenbosch, and
thus received what, by courtesy, was termed an education.  Theology was
his speciality, and could he have conveniently combined the ministry
with farming as carried on upon his peculiar lines, he would undoubtedly
have attempted to enter the Church.  As things were, he was in the
habit, when on his rounds, of preaching to the Trek-Boers and
half-breeds.  It was understood that he was ambitious of entering
Parliament eventually, and that he looked upon sermons as a preparation
for debating in the senate of his country.

"Is it true that you are going to marry the little Jew?" asked Maria, as
Susannah left the mat-house.

Susannah passed on indignantly without deigning an answer.  She was not
going to stand having her lover referred to in such slighting terms.

It was past eight o'clock when the waning moon looked over the eastern
rim of the Desert.  Max was sitting on a packing-case outside the shop,
trying to make up his mind as to whether he ought to walk over to the
camp and see Susannah or not.  His heart said "Go," but his reason said
"Stay."  He instinctively divined that there would be opposition to any
connection between himself and Susannah on the part of the Hattinghs.
He wondered whether Susannah had told about what had happened.  It
seemed to him impossible that such a thing could be kept concealed--the
clucking lizards which came out of their sand-burrows after the sun had
gone down, and the green pneumoras squeaking on the bushes, seemed to be
discussing nothing else--to be proclaiming their opinion of the
occurrence far and wide.  When the moon arose Susannah happened to be
watching it as well.  Perhaps he saw her face reflected on the gleaming,
pearly surface.  Max arose from his seat and walked over to the Hattingh
camp.

He went straight to Susannah and took her shyly outstretched hand.  She
returned his ardent pressure slightly, and a spasm of bliss went through
him.  Then he turned and greeted the others with nervous effusiveness,
but his advances were very coolly received.  No one volunteered a remark
for some little time.  The silence became oppressive; it was broken by
Old Schalk, in evident pursuance of a conversation which Max's visit had
interrupted.  He addressed the visitor--

"What is the real belief of the Jews and the Roman Catholics about
Christ?"

"I--I don't exactly know," replied Max hesitatingly; "I was very young
when I left home."

"But you know well enough," said Mrs Hattingh.  "Jan Roster told us all
about it in his last sermon: Pontius Pilate and the soldiers were Roman
Catholics, and--and--"

"Well, wife, we are waiting."

"Ach, Schalk, you heard the sermon as well as I.  At all events the Jews
and the Roman Catholics between them crucified the Lord."

"I know that as well as you do, woman; but what I asked about was their
belief.  Oom Dantje van Rooyen says that he heard from the minister that
the Jews and the Roman Catholics do not believe quite the same thing."

"Oh! what should I know about that?  But surely" (turning to Max) "you
can tell us about your faith?"

Poor Max did not know what to say.  Nathan had, over and over again,
impressed upon him that, although there was certainly no truth in any
religion whatever, he must be sure to keep all the Jewish feasts and
observances--with the exception of fasts, which he was to pretend to
keep--all the days of his life.  He had heard other Jews discussing
ritual and religion in the same strain.  He wished heartily that he knew
the details of Susannah's faith, so that he might believe what she
believed.  He replied, lamely enough--

"You must ask my brother about these things."

"Another thing I should like to know," said Old Schalk; "that is, why
they eat children in the synagogues?"

It was strange to hear this echo of one of the lying cries of the
Judenhetze in this remote corner of an African Desert.

"You must wait and ask my brother," repeated Max.

"Yes; they are a wicked lot in their religion," continued Old Schalk.
"Fancy a religion that forbids one to eat pork and teaches you to eat
children--not their own children, oh no, but Christian children that
they steal in the streets of the big towns, and then fatten up for the
Passover!"

"But, uncle, I don't think they do so any more," said Susannah, moved by
the pain in Max's face.  "It was long ago that they used to do that."

"What does a girl like you know about such things?  Did we not read
about it in the book which Uncle Sarel lent us, and didn't Jan Roster
say it was quite true, and that they caught the Jews doing it in Russia
the other day?  Why, even Max cannot say it isn't true."

"I--I never heard of it," faltered Max.

"Never heard of it?" said Mrs Hattingh in low but indignant tones.
"What a dreadful thing to be so ignorant of one's own religion!"

Max went home slightly consoled in his humiliation by another gentle
pressure from the hand of Susannah at parting.  But some of the bloom
had already been rubbed off the blossom which had unfolded in such
radiant fairness only a few hours before.  He could see that Susannah's
secret had been surprised from her, and that opposition and danger
loomed ahead.  He anticipated that Nathan would make his life a burthen,
would torture him with coarse allusions and unpleasant jokes.  This he
was prepared for, and the prospect was a sickening one.  The future was
heavily clouded, and behind the clouds visible he foreboded others.  But
"the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."  His love was sure, and
he knew it to be returned.  Sleep knit up the ravelled fabric of his
happiness, and memories of the new bliss he had tasted haunted his
dreams.

The next morning brought trouble.  Shortly after breakfast Max saw, to
his dismay, three members of the Hattingh family labouring heavily
across the sand towards the shop.  Mrs Hattingh was in the centre--she
leant heavily on the arms of her granddaughters.  As the three entered
the shop, the two girls looked at Max with an expression of
indescribable slyness.  Max groaned in spirit; Nathan had given him
strict injunctions that on no account whatever were any members of the
Hattingh family to get any more credit.  He knew instinctively that this
was what they had now come to ask for.

Mrs Hattingh sat down heavily upon a packing-case, panting from the
exertions of her walk.  Maria and Petronella lifted the flap of the
counter quite unceremoniously and walked in.  Then they began to pull
down the goods from the shelves and examine them.  Mrs Hattingh
beckoned to Max to come to her.  In a low tone and with meaning looks
she told him that she wanted to buy some material for a dress for
Susannah.  Max knew this to be a lie, but he did not dare to show his
knowledge.  She eventually selected enough material for two dresses;
but, from the number of yards ordered, Max could see that his attachment
was being used for the purpose of providing the two large specimens of
young womanhood present with frocks which they badly needed.  Other
articles were selected by the girls, who kept darting meaning looks at
him and uttering whispered hints about their cousin.  When they left,
carrying several large parcels, the Hattingh account had been increased
on the _debit_ side by upwards of two pounds sterling, and the fact
pressed like an indigestion upon the already laden breast of poor Max.

Within a few days the Trek-Boers began to flock into Namies.  Pasturage
was now plentiful, and the gregarious instinct, which is present to a
certain extent even in a Trek-Boer, prompted them to draw together.  A
week after the rain there were fully a dozen camps grouped around that
of Old Schalk.

A good deal of flirting of a sort went on among the young men and
maidens.  Music nightly startled the coneys until they scuttled away
among the rocks of the kopje, for "Oom Schulpad" turned up from no one
knew where with his old fiddle, and played reels and polkas which made
the feet of the young people itch to be dancing.

Oom Schulpad was an elderly and deformed man who owned a
disreputable-looking cart and three small donkeys, by means of which he
used to make extremely long journeys through the Desert, which he knew
as well as he knew his instrument.  In many places where another would
have died of thirst, Oom Schulpad could find water.  Music and hunting
were his two passions, and he loved his rifle as much as his fiddle.
Sometimes he would penetrate deep into the dunes, and return with a load
of gemsbok bultong.  He was a thorough vagrant by disposition, and
hardly ever settled down at one spot for more than a fortnight at a
time.  His music made him a _persona grata_ at all the camps, so he
simply passed from one to another--always a welcome guest.

Being very clever and versatile as a mechanic, he could mend harness,
repair a gun, make veldschoens, or replace a broken spoke in the wheel
of a wagon.  His name, which means "Uncle Tortoise," was given him on
account of the shape of his back.  He had a real talent as well as a
passionate love for music.  His tongue was an extremely bitter one, and
he was accordingly feared by those whom he disliked.  He had never
married.  He said that he hated women; nevertheless he was usually to be
found, when not away hunting, in the company of young girls.  These, as
a rule, liked and trusted him.

It was with the advent of the Trek-Boers that the real troubles of poor
Max began.  The relations between himself and Susannah formed the
standing joke at Namies for weeks.  Every day the shop would be filled
with idle young men and women whose only purpose was to joke at the
expense of the unhappy lover.  Many of these jokes were coarse, and made
Max burn with shame.  He often longed for muscle so that he might
revenge his wrongs.  Sometimes the supposed prospective domestic
arrangements of the young couple with reference to the extremely limited
accommodation at the back of the shop would be discussed in realistic
and distressing detail.  Attached to the shop was a little room about
twelve feet square, which formed a lean-to.  This, with the shop and a
small room at the back which was used as a store for hides, formed the
whole extent of the premises.  The back room was occupied by the
brothers jointly as a sleeping chamber.  Their meals were cooked by a
Hottentot boy behind a bush, and were eaten upon the counter.

Susannah also had her troubles, but she did not suffer nearly as much as
Max, for she had an extremely bitter tongue, and in the game of chaff
was more than a match for any one who attacked her.

These two thus underwent a discipline which stood them in good stead
afterwards.  In the course of a couple of weeks they became more or less
callous, and were it not for the dread of Nathan's return, which
oppressed him like a nightmare, Max would have been happy enough.  But
Nathan was now a fortnight overdue, and was daily expected to arrive.

On the afternoon of the second Sunday after the meeting at the foot of
the koekerboom on the top of the kopje, Max suddenly made up his mind
and did what was for him a very heroic deed.  He put on his best
clothes, went boldly over to the Hattingh camp, at which there was a
large miscellaneous gathering.  He walked around the circle and shook
hands with every one present.  Then he took his seat next to Susannah,
who blushed with pleasure at her lover's daring.  She had been rather
hurt at the way in which he had kept aloof from her, and his
vulnerability to the banter which she despised had annoyed her.

After a few minutes the company was electrified mildly by seeing these
two walk off together.  This time they did not make for the kopje, but
strolled across the flats, where a few springbucks were playing about
unconcernedly as though they knew it was Sunday.

Old Schalk snorted violently, and began to mutter questions at his wife.
She--her conscience gripping her over the credit which, by virtue of
her tacit approval of his addresses towards her niece she had induced
Max to give--whispered audibly--

"Ach! what does it matter?  Let the children alone."

The conversation soon glided back to the channel in which it had been
flowing when the interruption came.  A certain stranger--a man who was
travelling through Bushmanland for the purpose of buying cattle for the
Cape Town market--was discussing astronomy with Old Schalk, who was a
strong supporter of the geocentric theory.  The cattle-dealer was not by
any means well up in his subject; as a matter of fact, he was simply
retailing certain notions which he had picked up in a crude state from a
young relative of his who had been to a college, and which he had not
been able properly to digest.  Nevertheless he stoutly maintained his
thesis.

"Ach! what?" said Old Schalk.  "These star-peerers, what do they know?
Are their eyes better than mine?  Can they shoot springbucks better than
I can?  Don't I see that the sun gets up every morning _there_" (he
pointed to the east), "and don't I see every evening that it goes down
_there_?"

He shook the long stick towards the west, as though threatening an
astronomer with the consequences of his folly.

"Ja, Oom; but you see it's this way--"

"Ach! don't tell me about your this way and that way.  You find me a
star-peerer who knows his Bible or has better eyes than I have, and I'll
listen to him.  Doesn't the Bible say that Joshua told the sun to stand
still?  Doesn't the Prophet Isaiah say that the Lord stretched the sky
over the earth like a tent?  These star-peerers are all rogues and
Romanist heathens."

"But, Oom," said the cattle-dealer, who was, as it were, blowing the
fuse of a torpedo which he had in reserve, "how is it that these
star-peerers are able to tell long before the times when the sun and the
moon will be darkened?"

"How are they able to tell?  Why, they find it out from the almanack, of
course."  The only almanack with which the Trek-Boer is acquainted is
one issued by the Dutch Reformed Church.  This document is adorned with
the Signs of the Zodiac, and is heavily garnished with Scripture texts.
It is believed by certain classes of the Boers that the almanack is
annually deduced from the Bible by a committee of Church ministers.

The cattle-dealer, blown up--to change the old metaphor--by his own
torpedo, had to own himself vanquished.  Old Schalk's reputation for
wisdom rose higher than ever, and a deadly blow was dealt to the
heliocentric theory in Bushmanland.

The lovers strolled away over the sandy plain, which was now covered
with a rich carpet of variously hued flowers.  Gorgeous gazanias of the
tint of the richest mahogany, and with the base of each petal eyed like
a peacock's tail; blue, sweet-scented heliophilas, purple and crimson
mesembryanthemums, and lovely variegated pelargoniums brushed their feet
at every step.  They said little to one another, and that little could
interest none but themselves.  Both were ignorant and illiterate to a
degree; their range of ideas was more limited than it is easy to
describe, or even to realise; but their hearts were young and full of
vague, sweet, unutterable thoughts.  The springbucks--the advance
detachment of a large "trek"--were scattered, singly or in small groups,
over the illimitable plain.  They sheered off, feeding tamely, to either
side.  The meerkats scuttled back to their low, burrow-pierced mounds,
where they sat erect on a tripod, formed by hind legs and tail, ready to
dart underground.  The striped-faced gemsbuck-mice dashed wildly into
their burrows in terror, and then out again in uncontrollable curiosity.

As they walked homeward in the short gloaming Max asked Susannah if she
would always be true, even if her people were against him and his
brother drove him away.  The girl looked straight into his eyes and
answered "Yes," in a clear, low tone.  Max, believing her, saw Hope
shining through the clouds of uncertainty that filled the future, and
was happy.

When they reached the camp the short Desert twilight had nearly faded
and the eastern stars were burning brightly.  The gathering had
dispersed, and Old Schalk, sitting smoking in his chair before the
mat-house, was the only person visible.

"Well," he said, "what is this they tell me about you and my niece?"

"I want to marry her, Uncle; I am very fond of her."

"Marry her?  You will have to become a Christian before you marry _my_
niece?"

This was meant sarcastically.  No Boer believes in the possibility of a
Jew becoming a Christian.

"Yes, Uncle, I'll do that at once."

"Hear him, now.  He thinks a Jew can become a Christian as easily as a
man can change his shirt.  Did you ever hear of a jackal turning into a
tame dog in a day?"  Max flushed hotly but made no reply.  "I never
heard of such a thing in all my life," continued the old Boer.  "It is
not even as if you were rich and had a shop of your own; but you are
only a poor little boy without anything.  Look here, I do not want your
brother Nathan to think that I have had anything to do with this
foolishness."

Just then a diminutive Hottentot approached from behind the camp,
saluted Old Schalk, and squatted down on the ground close by upon his
hams.  The man was clad in a few ragged skins and looked weak and
emaciated.

"Well, schepsel, where do you come from?"

"Out of the veld, Baas."

"And where are you going to?"

"I have come to the Baas."

"For what?"

"I have come to the Baas to look for work."

"Ja, and what is your name?"

"I am old Gert Gemsbok, Baas."

"What!  Are you the vagabond Bushman who got Willem Bester into the
tronk?"

"I am he, Baas."

"And you come to ask me to give you work?"

"I only told the truth, Baas."

"Ach, what does a Bushman know about truth?"

"If I did a sin when I spoke the truth, Baas, I have had my punishment:
for six long years I have lived like a badger in a hole.  I am a human
being, Baas; let me come back and live among other human beings."

"No, no, schepsel; not a Boer in Bushmanland will give you work.  Willem
Bester died in the tronk.  No, no!"

"I have a sickly old wife, Baas, and she cannot live any longer on the
veld-kost.  Give me work, Baas, and I will serve you faithfully."

"No, no, schepsel; go back and live with the badgers."

Max heard and wondered.  His awakening soul was shocked at the
unreasoning cruelty of the old Boer's conduct.  The Hottentot had arisen
slowly and feebly from the ground and was walking away; the young Jew
followed and soon overtook him.  Max had been bartering fat-tailed sheep
for goods with some of his customers and he wanted a herd.  He told Gert
Gemsbok to follow him to the shop.

That night the old Hottentot told his tale, or most of it, to Max.  They
sat up in the shop until late, Gemsbok happy in the enjoyment of a
pipeful of good tobacco.  He had lacked the means of smoking ever since
he had been driven into banishment.  The suffering which this
deprivation must have entailed can only be realised by those who know
the Hottentot's dependence upon his pipe.

Max burned with wrath at what he heard; his ingenuous soul revolted at
the tale of injustice and stupid cruelty.  By instinct he could tell
that the old man's story was ingenuous and, so far as it went,
unreserved.  He called to mind that Old Schalk had not attempted to deny
Gemsbok's plea that the evidence given by him against Willem Bester was
true.

Max engaged Gemsbok at a salary of eight shillings per month, with
rations for himself.  This was a fair rate of remuneration for
Bushmanland.  The work which the old Hottentot had to do was to look
after the flock of three hundred fat-tailed sheep which Max had recently
acquired, to herd them all day in the Desert, and to haul water for them
with a derrick out of the well when he drove them home every night.
Gemsbok knew that he could every day gather enough veld-kost to
supplement his ration and make it suffice for his wife as well as for
himself.  He had left her under a bush a few miles away.  Before
daylight next morning he was well on his course to fetch her, with hope
and gladness filling his heart.

The Gemsbok _menage_ was established in a cleft of the kopje-side about
fifty yards behind the store.  The habitation consisted of a movable
screen of loose bushes about two feet high and shaped like a crescent.
This was shifted from one side to another of the fireplace as the wind
changed.  A vagrant dog which Gert had found far out in the Desert,
half-famished for want of water, was added to the strength of the
establishment, and became the devoted slave of its rescuer.

The old couple now tasted happiness probably far greater than any they
had previously experienced.  Max was kind to them.  Presents of old
sacks and a few articles of cast-off clothing, fragments of food from
his scanty table, an occasional pinch of tobacco,--such things filled
the hearts of these belated creatures with deep joy and thankfulness.  A
pot of salve for the old woman's legs was provided, and the result was
satisfactory.

Max found Gert a most intelligent and entertaining companion, and
mentally far in advance of any of the inhabitants of the Desert whom he
had met.  The old man's experiences had been varied and his life full of
the tragic, and he seemed not to have forgotten anything he had ever
seen or heard in the course of his long struggles against adverse Fate.

The ramkee was much in evidence.  Oom Schulpad, with a true artist's
generous appreciation of the art of a fellow craftsman, often brought
his violin to the shop at night.  There the two musicians would contend,
like two troubadours, in a kind of tournament of song.  Sometimes they
would play duets, and it was then that Gemsbok proved his skill, for he
accompanied without difficulty any air played upon the violin after he
had heard it once.  He would sit and listen attentively whilst Oom
Schulpad played it slowly over.  Then the notes of the ramkee would
second the more civilised instrument as truly as if the music lay
printed before the player and he could read it.

On the night when this occurred for the first time, after Gemsbok had
returned to his scherm, Oom Schulpad sat silently on the counter for a
few minutes.  Then, as he took his departure he said, in a musing tone--

"Ja, he knows more music than I, that old Bushman."

As Gemsbok's poor old wife was entirely helpless, it was he who fetched,
wood and water and attended to all the domestic duties.  The old woman
slept most of the day, but at night the cheerful firelight from the
scherm lit up the kopjes long after the last of the Boers lay snoring.
Then the old couple would sit, toasting themselves at the cheerful
blaze, and chatting happily together, except when some lively tune from
the ramkee startled the ancient silence of the Desert.

One of the Boers camped nearest the shop was a man named Koos Bester,
cousin of the Willem Bester who had died in prison after being sentenced
upon old Gemsbok's evidence.  Koos was a very big, sallow, dark-haired
man with a scraggy fringe of coarse, black beard around his chin, and
eyes of a very peculiar shade of light grey.  His usual mien was
melancholy, his strength was prodigious, his hands and feet were of
enormous size and looked as if they belonged to some one else.

Koos Bester was a man who seldom either spoke or smiled; nevertheless he
could hardly be called morose.  He was by no means a bad fellow in his
way, and was devotedly attached to his comely wife and his three small
children.  His father-in-law, a very old man, lived with him.  The
Besters usually camped at a water-place on the other side of the dunes.
As, however, no rain had fallen in that vicinity for some time, they
moved over to Namies, meaning to return to the spot they had come to
regard as their home as soon as circumstances permitted.

Koos had been much attached to his cousin Willem and had felt the
latter's imprisonment and death very keenly.  He hated the sight of Gert
Gemsbok, who continually reminded him of Willem's fate; the very fact of
knowing that the old Hottentot was in the neighbourhood was sufficient
to make him miserable.  One day he asked Max to dismiss Gemsbok, but Max
indignantly refused.

The scherm was in full view of the Besters' camp, and the sight of the
cheerful camp-fire with the old couple sitting next to it was a nightly
affront.  Then the ramkee got upon Koos' nerves to such an extent that
he became very unhappy indeed.  Gert's tune, with its endless
variations, became absolutely hateful to the melancholy Boer.  One day,
in the course of a discussion on the subject, Koos had the bad taste to
insult Oom Schulpad by a reference to his physical defects.  The old
fiddler had spoken in terms of admiration of the Hottentot's skill as a
musician, and Koos lost his temper.  Oom Schulpad said nothing at the
time, but he scored up a grudge against Koos.  Whenever Oom Schulpad
felt that he owed another anything in this way, he took a pride in
devising means to pay the debt.

At length Koos found that he could stand the ramkee no longer, so he
shifted his camp to the other side of the kopjes, where the tune could
not reach his disgusted ears.  A few days afterwards a thunderstorm
passed over the eastern fringe of the dunes, and he returned to his
favourite camping-place.  But Gert Gemsbok's air haunted him for weeks
with deadly persistency.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

HOW JAN ROSTER WAS TWICE INTERRUPTED.

One day four sleek mules drawing a light buggy came trotting along the
sandy road from the southward to Namies.  In the vehicle were sitting
Jan Roster and his half-breed servant, Piet Noona.  They came from that
part of Bushmanland in which no European can dwell, on account of the
extreme brackishness of the water--from an area the only inhabitants of
which are a few dozen families of half-breeds, who live by poaching wild
ostriches in defiance of the law.  These people are very like human
red-herrings in appearance--probably from the amount of salt which they
constantly imbibe.

The right of occupation of the district had been leased by Roster from
Government, and he, in turn, sublet his rights to the half-breeds.  The
rent was paid in ostrich feathers; these the landlord collected himself,
and took over at his own price.

The unique method practised by these people in hunting the ostrich may
be worth describing shortly.  The ostrich runs probably swifter than any
other description of game.  It has, however, one peculiarity--if kept
moving, even with comparative slowness, for more than a couple of hours
on a hot day, it gets heat-apoplexy, and suddenly dies.  The manner of
its dying under these circumstances is peculiar.  It drops in its
tracks, rolls over three times upon the sand, turns on its back and
expires, with legs extended vertically.

The half-breeds sent out boys mounted on ponies, sometimes for a
distance of seventy or eighty miles, into the Desert.  These start in
two parties, each taking a different direction.  After reaching ground
where, from the spoor, it can be seen that ostriches abound, the two
parties converge towards each other, leaving, at intervals, individuals
stationary at certain points.  A chain, the links of which are several
miles long, is thus formed around a large space, into the centre of
which all the ostriches which it contains are gradually coaxed.  As soon
as the cordon is complete, the birds are started at a run towards the
saltpans, where the camps of the half-breeds are.  As the horses of the
hunters actually engaged in chasing become exhausted, their places are
taken by others waiting along the wide-apart lines, between which the
hapless birds are being driven.  After a time the birds begin to drop,
one by one.  The hunters who made the running at the beginning, and who
now come slowly along on the spoor of the chase, pick the carcases up,
one by one.  Then the feathers are carefully plucked out and tied in
bundles, whilst the meat is cut from the bones and hung across the
saddles of the weary horses.

Jan Roster's buggy was of unusual make.  It had a skeleton frame, and,
where the well ought to have been under the seat, was fitted an ample
tin case, which could be easily unshipped.  The reason of this was well
known to every Trek-Boer in Bushmanland.  The box was the receptacle of
the feathers collected as rent from the half-breeds, and, in the rare
event of Jan's meeting a policeman or the Special Magistrate upon his
rounds, it could be slipped off and buried in the sand.  Once he had
reached home with his collections Jan felt himself quite safe.  He
farmed tame ostriches himself, and the possession of the feathers could
always be accounted for as being the result of legitimate pluckings.

Jan's tin box was full of feathers as he drove up to Namies, but this
fact did not cause him the least embarrassment.  He pulled up within a
few yards of Old Schalk's camp, and, while Piet Noona was outspanning
the mules, he untied the tin box and carried it at once into the
mat-house.  From the way in which he did this, it could be seen that he
had evidently done the same kind of thing before.  He knew that he ran
no risk of being betrayed--"Hawks dinna pyke out hawks' een."

It was Saturday afternoon when Jan arrived; he was soon sitting in the
mat-house drinking coffee, munching Boer biscuit, and glancing tenderly
at Susannah from time to time.  Maria and Petronella sat on the big bed
giggling, whispering together, and nudging one another.  Mrs Hattingh,
exhausted by the heat, was sitting near the door fanning her perspiring
face with her cappie.

Susannah's countenance shone with a new light which made it very good to
look upon.  Ever since her engagement she had become much neater and
more tasteful in her dress.  In this respect she had always been in
strong contrast to her cousins, who, in spite of their taste for
pronounced colours, were utter slatterns.  To-day they were dressed out
in finery of a distressing type.  Maria wore a new light-pink cashmere
dress, a purple-flowered cappie, and around her neck a dark-blue
handkerchief.  Petronella's frock was light blue, her kerchief was
scarlet, and her cappie was of the same kind as her sister's.  Both
sisters wore white cotton stockings and new veldschoens--the latter just
finished for the occasion by Oom Schulpad.  The dresses were made of the
material which had been obtained upon Mrs Hattingh's fraudulent
representations to the effect that it was required for Susannah.

There was a reason for all this splendour of attire.  Maria and
Petronella had just made a double conquest, and the double-conquered
were immediately expected to call.  These were two young men who had
recently come to Namies on a courting expedition, from eastern
Bushmanland.  They came, saw, and succumbed, all within the space of a
week.  They had not yet declared themselves, but were expected to do so
that afternoon.  These two hunted in a couple; one never came without
the other, and they did not feel the slightest embarrassment in making
love ardently in each other's immediate neighbourhood.

It was about the middle of the afternoon when the expected swains
arrived.  Both were tall, loose-jointed young men.  They had been to the
shop and there purchased suits of "reach-me-downs" of distressing
texture, pattern, and cut, as well as flabby-rimmed "smasher" hats.
They had rather vacant faces, with good-natured expressions.
Christoffel (commonly called "Stoffel") van Lell, Maria's admirer, wore
a tweed coat, which was much too small for him, and the sleeves of which
severally revealed half a foot of red, bony wrist.  His trousers were of
brown corduroy of the most fragrant quality.  Willem Henrico, the
willing slave of Petronella's charms, wore a suit of Bedford cord, the
jacket of which was double-breasted and adorned with white delft buttons
as large as cheese-plates.  New veldschoens and cheap, glittering spurs
adorned their extensive feet.  Spurs serve as a sort of trade-flag in
courting on the high plains; a young man with a new pair is known to be
in search of a wife.

A walk was proposed.  This Mrs Hattingh agreed to with the proviso that
the road over the plains was taken and strictly adhered to, and that the
couples kept close together.  The young men wanted to wander among the
kopjes, and the girls seemed to approve of that route.  Mrs Hattingh,
however, was inexorable.  When she emphatically repeated her injunction
about keeping close together, Maria said, deprecatingly: "Ach, Ou' Ma,"
[Ou' Ma, grandmother] and pouted.  Susannah flatly refused to go,
although Jan's request that she should do so was ostentatiously seconded
by Mrs Hattingh.  Jan, accordingly, decided to remain at the camp, so
the other couples started by themselves.

Mrs Hattingh soon afterwards stood up and waddled to the scherm,
leaving Jan and Susannah alone together.  Old Schalk was sitting in his
chair on the other side of the wagon, in the shade.

Jan became very nervous.  After a few minutes he got up hesitatingly,
and moved his chair close to the little cross-legged stool on which
Susannah was sitting.  He cleared his throat several times before he
could force himself to speak.  Susannah was pale, but quite
unembarrassed.  She regarded her unwelcome admirer with eyes that had a
wicked snap in them, and he became demoralised under her disdain.

In vain did he speak of his house, his flocks, his horses, and the
places he had seen--not to mention the important people with whom he was
on terms of intimacy.  None of these things moved Susannah.  Her hands
were closed into two shapely little fists--so tightly that there was not
a vestige of blood to be seen in the knuckles.  Jan ought to have
noticed her hands, and taken warning accordingly, but he rushed blindly
upon his fate.

"Susannah," he said, beseechingly, "I have come a long way to see you."

"So?  Was that why you brought the tin box?"

He floundered; in spite of the practice he had had, proposing was
difficult.  Besides, Susannah's last remark was not calculated to set
him at his ease.

"Are you not glad to see me, Susannah?"

"Why should I be?"

"Well, I--you see--I wanted to tell you about my new house."

"What have I to do with houses?  I live in a mat-house."

"But wouldn't you like to live in a big house with rooms, and a stoep,
and a harmonium inside, and furniture brought all the way from
Clanwilliam?"

Susannah's thoughts wandered.  In a dreamy tone she replied--

"I don't know; perhaps I might."

Jan took this for a sign of yielding.  He bent over and passed his arm
around the girl's waist.

Susannah's dreaming was over.  She sprang up and, in the act of doing
so, swung round and dealt Jan a swinging blow on the ear with her small,
but firm and nervous fist.  Jan felt as if the thunders of the
Apocalypse had discharged themselves over his left shoulder.  He put his
hand up to the side of his head to ascertain whether his ear was still
there or had been burnt off.  Susannah had hurt her hand so much that
the tears started in her eyes.  However, she managed to escape from the
mat-house without showing her distress.

Jan, very much crestfallen and with a bad singing in the left side of
his head, strolled away among the other camps.  He could see, far out on
the plains, the two double dots which indicated the respective pairs of
lovers, and the spectacle made him sigh with envy.  As the violent pain
in his ear calmed down to a sensation more like that of being gently
roasted, he began to make excuses for Susannah.  Perhaps, he thought, he
had been too precipitate.  At all events he would go back to tea, Mrs
Hattingh having invited him to do so.

When Jan returned at dusk he found van Lell and Henrico sitting on the
big cartel bed in the mat-house--the nuptial couch of Old Schalk--with
their arms around the waists of their respective charmers.  On each of
the four faces was an expression of fatuous bliss.  The lovers took not
the least notice of Old Schalk or Mrs Hattingh, or, for the matter of
that, of Jan himself.

At table the lovers did not allow their affections to prevent their all
making excellent suppers.  The expected proposals had been duly made
that afternoon.  During the meal each of the affianced maidens passed
little tit-bits into her lover's mouth with her own fair fingers from
time to time.  These were munched with expressions of rapture by the
recipients.  Susannah was still indignant, and glanced at Jan from time
to time in a manner that made him lose his appetite.  The pain in her
hand had lasted longer than that in Jan's ear; of course she blamed him
exclusively for the hurt.

After supper another walk was proposed, but this was uncompromisingly
vetoed by Mrs Hattingh.  Max came in later, and, as usual, sat down as
far from every one as possible.  Jan wondered at the black looks which
the visitor got from the old couple.  By and by, however, Susannah
brought her little stool close to where Max was sitting, and then a
glimmering of the true state of affairs came to Jan.  The pain seemed to
come back to his ear with renewed intensity.  Ere long he found he could
stand the strain no longer, so he said, "Goodnight," and rose to depart.
In response to a question from Old Schalk, he said that he would hold a
religious service on the following day.

Next morning at about ten o'clock there was a considerable gathering of
Boers at the Hattingh camp.  Stout, frowsy "tantas" and portly "ooms"
strolled up with dignity or waddled laboriously through the sand.
Gaudily arrayed maidens followed with their attendant swains.  A general
requisition for stools and benches, had been made, and these were
arranged in a semicircle in front of the wagon.  The children of the
congregation sat on the ground where sheepskins had been stretched at
the feet of the elders.  Old Schalk's chair was placed apart,
immediately below the wagon-box, in a position from which he could note
the effect of the exhortations on the faces of the others.  The service
began with a psalm sung after the fashion followed in the Scotch kirks
of a century ago--very slowly, and much through the nose.  Old Schalk
followed with a prayer, which might be described as so much denunciation
of people in general, clothed in the phraseology of the Prophet
Jeremiah, when the utterer of the Lamentations was most exercised over
the sins of Israel.  There was a rumour afloat to the effect that the
Government was about to tax the Trek-Boers to some slight extent, in
proportion to the number of stock they depastured in Bushmanland, so Old
Schalk was the mouthpiece of the general indignation.

The prayer over, Jan Roster mounted the wagon-box and began his sermon.
His text was a wide one--it embraced the whole of the Ten Commandments.
In an unctuous and impassioned manner he fulminated against all sorts
and conditions of transgressors.  Some of the Commandments he slurred
over--others he expounded at great length.  When he reached the fourth
he glanced menacingly at Max, who stood outside the circle, opposite
where Susannah was sitting.  The breaking of the Sabbath was, according
to Jan, the root of all evil.  He called upon the legislators of the
land to impose the heaviest penalties for all contraventions of the
Divine ordinance on the subject.  He spoke in the most opprobrious terms
of the Jews, who, out of the wickedness of their unregenerate hearts,
desecrated this most holy day, and kept Saturday as a day of devotion in
its stead.  He, Jan, was a sinner, but among all the faults which his
conscience laid to his charge, Sabbath-breaking was not to be found.
No, he had always kept holy the Lord's day--never travelled on it--never
attended to worldly concerns between midnight on Saturday and the
morning of Monday.

Just then an interruption came.  Piet Noona, Jan's driver and
confidential servant, forced his way along the side of the wagon until
he reached the front wheel, just over which Jan was holding forth from
the wagon-box.

"Baas, Baas!" said he, in an agitated whisper.  Jan glanced down with
displeasure in his eye, frowned, shook his head, and proceeded to the
discussion of the fifth commandment Piet, however, was not to be put
off.  He caught hold of the leg of Jan's trousers between his finger and
thumb, and began to tug at it.

"Baas, Baas!" said he again, in a tone almost of agony.

"Go away--wait until I have finished," said Jan, in an irritated
whisper.

"Baas, Baas!" reiterated Piet, in a whisper which could be heard by all
the congregation, "die Magistrate zijn wa' kom aan."  ["The Magistrate's
wagon is approaching."]

Jan reeled and staggered as if he had received a blow.  Then he bent
down towards the agitated Piet and whispered hysterically the word
"Inspan!"

Piet darted off.  From the curt and summary way in which Jan dealt with
the remaining Commandments one might have thought that they were of
comparatively little importance.  He brought the service to a close in
almost indecent haste, and then dived from the wagon-box behind the
canvas curtain, in front of which he had been holding forth.  From there
he rushed to the mat-house, whence he emerged in an incredibly short
space of time, carrying the box of feathers.  This he ran with to the
buggy.  He shoved it under the seat, and over it he draped a sheepskin
kaross with ostentatious carelessness.  In a few minutes the astonished
congregation, which had scattered into interested groups, was
scandalised at seeing Jan Roster, the strict Sabbatarian, disappear in a
dusty cloud on the road which led southward through the Desert.

However, Jan had got safely away with his tin box and its incriminating
contents, and there was not the slightest fear of any of the Boers
giving information to the authorities on the subject.

The Spedai Magistrate's wagon brought the Namies mail from Kenhardt.
The mail consisted of three letters--two of which were for Max--and a
few circular advertisements from enterprising promoters of patent
medicines.

Max's letters filled him with joy.  One was from his brother Nathan,
saying he had made so successful a trip--having secured a large quantity
of feathers of the very best quality--that he had decided to visit Cape
Town for the purpose of disposing of his spoils and buying a fresh stock
of "negotie," or trading truck.  Consequently he did not intend
returning for about another six weeks.

Nathan gave minute directions upon many points connected with the
management of the business--more especially with reference to the giving
of credit to the Boers, who, as he knew, would soon be collecting at
Namies in considerable numbers.  The Hattingh account was, if possible,
to be closed at once; in no case was any more credit to be given in that
direction.  Max sighed with deep relief.  After the daily dread of
Nathan's arrival which had overshadowed him for so many weary weeks,
this long respite seemed like a prospective eternity.

The other letter bore a foreign post-mark.  It was from a notary in
Hamburg, informing him that an uncle, of whose very name he had but a
faint recollection, had recently died and left him a legacy of about 150
pounds.  It seemed a fortune.  Why, with that sum he could open a store
for himself, as large as the one he was managing on a pittance for
another.  What a relief it was to find himself independent of Nathan--to
realise that there was now some prospect of his being able to make a
home for Susannah.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE TREK-BOKKEN.

The great annual "trek" of springbucks began, and Namies fell into a
state of ferment.  For about a week small droves of bucks had been seen
passing to the westward.  One morning clouds of dust were noticed
arising into a windless sky about ten miles away to the south.  By this
it was known that the "trek" had really begun, and that the drove of
game was passing unusually far to the northward.  Within an hour after
sunrise the Wagons were emptied of their contents, whilst every male of
European descent above the age of ten was furbishing up a gun.

All sorts and conditions of firearms were to be seen, from the
flint-lock of three-quarters of a century ago to the modern Martini and
Express.

Breakfast over, the wagons, drawn by teams of oxen which had been
standing in the yoke since early morning, moved off towards different
points on the trek-line.  No horses were taken; a waterless country was
now to be entered, and a horse becomes useless in hot weather after a
day and a half without water.  On the other hand, an ox can endure
thirst for a week without becoming incapable of work.

Each wagon carried a couple of small kegs of water, a pillow-case full
of Boer biscuits, a small bag of ground coffee, and a kettle.  The more
luxuriously inclined among the hunters took with them karosses, made of
the skins of fat-tailed sheep, to lie under at night.  The majority,
however, took nothing whatever in the way of bedding.

As the wagons cleared the circle of low kopjes it could be seen that the
trek was an unusually large one.  As far as the eye could range from
north-east to south-west the horizon was obscured by rising clouds of
dust.  Here and there in the immense vista, a particularly dense cloud
could be seen ascending slowly.  This indicated a locality where a mob
of more than average compactness was pressing westward, impelled by the
strange trek instinct.

Old Schalk was a keen sportsman--as that term is understood among the
Trek-Boers.  In fact the "trek-bokken" were the only things he ever got
very excited about.  Sitting in his chair--which had been tied in the
wagon--and accompanied by a youth whom he had provided with an old gun
and some ammunition, and who had agreed to give up half of what he shot
in payment, he was drawn towards the trek as fast as a fresh span of
oxen could go with the almost empty wagon.  Besides his gun Old Schalk
took two large "slacht eizers," or iron traps--cruel things with toothed
iron jaws that would smash the leg of a horse.

As the wagons approached the immense drove the dust began to die down,
for the tired bucks had paused for their regular rest during the heat of
the day.  Far away could be seen dense white masses, between which
light-coloured dots were thickly sprinkled.

The springbuck is pure white on the belly and flanks, and has a mane of
long, white, hair extending from the root of the tail to the shoulders.
This mane is usually concealed to a great extent by the fawn-coloured
ridges of hair between which it lies.  It can, however, be erected at
will to about five inches in height, and extended to about six inches in
breadth.  The sides of the animal are a light fawn colour, upon which
lies a horizontal stripe of dark brown about two and a half inches in
width and extending from the shoulder to the flank.  The horns, shaped
like the classic lyre, are about eight inches in length, and are ringed
to within a couples of inches of the tip.  The animal stands about two
feet nine inches in height at the shoulder, and weighs about ninety
pounds when fully grown.

Seen at a distance, or when the sun is shining against them, the
springbucks appear to be white all over.  It is in the early morning, or
when running away from or in circles around a bewildered dog--deceived
into the idea that it is about to succeed in catching the lissom
quarry--that the springbucks are seen at their best, and in their most
characteristic attitudes and movements.  Then the spine becomes arched
until the nose almost touches the ground, the mane of long, stiff, white
hair expands laterally, whilst every fibre stands erect and apart.  As
the animal careers along with the appearance of a bounding disc, its
feet are drawn together and it sways, like a skater, first to one side
and then to the other--some times to an angle of thirty degrees from the
vertical.

There is something inexpressibly sad about the fate of these hapless
creatures.  Beautiful as anything that breathes, destructive as locusts,
they are preyed upon by man and brute in the illimitable wilderness--
even as the great shoals of fish are preyed upon by their enemies in the
illimitable ocean.  The unbounded Desert spaces, apparently meant for
their inheritance, hold for them no sanctuary; the hyaena and the jackal
hang and batten on the skirts of their helpless host; the vultures wheel
above its rear and tear the eyes out of the less vigorous which lag
behind.  Sportsman and pot-hunter, Boer, half-breed and Bushman, beast
of the burrow and bird of the air, slaughter their myriads; but still
the mighty mass assembles every year and surges across the Desert like a
tempest in its travail of torture.  Why should all this loveliness and
symmetry have been created in such lavish prodigality only to be
extinguished by a slow process of agony and violent death?

For if there be any design anywhere in Nature's so-called "Plan," the
Desert was meant to be the inheritance of these animals.  They were
developed under its conditions, its sparse and tardy products are for
them all-sufficing; they were in harmony with their ungracious
environment until man came to disturb the balance.  The semi-civilised
human beings who are superseding the springbucks are, physically, and,
_pari passu_ mentally, deteriorating under the conditions subject to
which the latter flourished.

Within a measurable time the lyre-shaped horns strewn thickly over the
veld will be the sole remaining sign of a vanished race, for the
springbuck will inevitably become extinct in Bushmanland, as the bison
has become extinct in the North American prairies.

The "trek" is due to the instinct which impels the does to drop their
young somewhere upon the eastern fringe of the Desert, which extends,
north and south, for several hundred miles.  This fringe is the limit of
the western rains.  These fall between April and September, when the
Desert is at its driest, and bring out the green herbage necessary for
the new-born fawns.

As the area over which the bucks range becomes more and more
circumscribed, the trek, although the number of bucks is rapidly
diminishing, becomes more and more destructive, owing to its greater
concentration.  The fawning season over, the herd melts slowly and flows
gradually westward, until some night distant flashes of lightning on the
cloudless horizon indicate where--perhaps hundreds of miles away--the
first thunderstorm of the season is labouring down from where its bolts
were forged in the far, tropical north.  Next morning not a single buck
will be visible--all will have vanished like ghosts, making for the
distant track of the rain.

The wagons were drawn for some little distance into the course of the
drove, and halted a few miles apart.  Then the oxen were unyoked and
driven back towards Namies.

Immediately there began a great and ruthless slaughter.  Whilst trekking
the bucks are very easy to shoot; in fact, if the trek be a large one
there is no sport involved in killing them, for they press blindly on,
only sheering off slightly to avoid an enemy.  They become bewildered in
strange surroundings; their only impulse is to surge forward in a
flood-tide of destruction and beauty.

From right and left could be heard the dropping shots--some far away and
some near--each the death-knell of one of the loveliest of created
things.  The Boers had crept out for some distance from the wagons, and
each had taken up what he considered a favourable position.  Here he
cleared a circular space about ten feet in diameter by pulling the
karoo-bushes, roots and all, out of the sand.  The bushes were then
piled around the space cleared until a low, inconspicuous fence, about
nine inches in height, was formed, the root-ends of the bushes lying
inwards.

Behind this fence the hunter lay prone, peering over it now and then to
mark the approach of the game, which wandered aimlessly about, singly or
in small groups.  Whenever a buck approached to within a few yards of
the scherm, the occupant, with unerring aim, would send a bullet through
some vital part, and the animal would fall, its companions scattering,
often only to get within range of another scherm.  The karoo-bushes grow
to a height of about a foot; consequently the dead bucks were usually
concealed from view.  If one lay unduly revealed, the hunter would creep
out and strew a few bushes over it, thus hiding it effectually.

At evening the Hottentot servants drove in the oxen, inspanned them to
the wagons, and drove out to the various scherms for the purpose of
bringing back the game to the different camping-places.  The carcases
were then split down in front and laid open in the cool night air.

Old Schalk, on account of his weak legs, was conveyed by wagon right to
the spot where he decided to establish his scherm; then the wagon moved
back for a couple of miles and the oxen were outspanned.  He laid
himself down comfortably in his scherm, where he kept a Hottentot boy to
attend him.  Under his large body was a sheepskin kaross, for he
believed in doing his shooting, like everything else, comfortably.  The
two terrible traps were brought into requisition.  By means of the
united exertions of Old Schalk and the Hottentot the springs were forced
back and the frightful jaws laid open.  Then the traps were carried out
and carefully set, one on each side, and half buried in the loose sand.
They were placed each about a hundred yards away from the scherm, and a
troop of bucks would sometimes pass over one or other of the intervening
spaces.  Under ordinary circumstances no buck would tread upon so
unusual looking an object.  At a shot, however, the frightened creatures
would spring into the air in different directions, and in the confusion
one would perhaps alight on the engine.  Then the horrible jaws would
snap, and the poor animal, held by the sinews of a shattered limb, would
roll over and over on the sand, bellowing in agony.

At nightfall the herd suddenly began to move on once more, in obedience
to some mysteriously communicated impulse.  All night long the muffled
thunder of their hoofs could be heard, whilst clouds of dust hung
motionless in the dew-damp air.  Now and then the faint shock of a
distant gun discharge could be distinguished above the sound of the
trampling.  In their mad career some of the larger and more consolidated
troops would rush to within a few yards of a wagon before they became
aware of its presence.  Then the mass would open out slightly and flow
onwards in a divided stream, which, however, would reunite a few yards
farther on.  On occasions such as this the Boers or their Hottentot
servants would shoot into the dense multitude, sometimes killing or
wounding three or four bucks at one shot.

Old Schalk now set a trap at each side of the wagon, and the Hottentots
had to get up several times in the night to cut the throats of the
captured animals and reset the engines.

Early in the morning the wagons were sent back to Namies loaded with the
slaughtered game.  Late in the afternoon they returned empty, to go back
again on the following morning with a fresh load.

For three days and nights the trek was at its height; then no more dense
troops were to be seen.  For a week or more, however, plenty of
profitable shooting could be had at the stragglers.

At Namies the Boer women and children were busy cutting up the carcases
and converting the meat into "bultong."  From each haunch the bone was
removed, whilst the meat which lay thick along the back where the ribs
join the spine was cut out in long strips.  All the meat was then
slightly sprinkled with salt and left to lie in heaps for twenty-four
hours.  After this it was hung for a few days upon lines slung between
the ribs of the mat-houses and the laths of the wagon-tents.  Then, if
the sun did not shine too fiercely, it would be hung out in the open.

After a few weeks of such treatment the "bultong" is fit for use, and if
stored in a dry place may be kept for an indefinite time.  This
substance forms the staple animal food of the Trek-Boer for the greater
part of the year.

The skins were pegged out on the ground to dry; then they were stowed
away in heaps, afterwards to be "brayed" soft, sewn into mats, and
bartered to the Jew hawkers.



CHAPTER NINE.

THE LAST OF THE "OLD WOMAN."

Max had no taste for slaughter.  The hunter's instinct, which makes so
many otherwise humane men cruel, was not in him.  He therefore felt it
no privation that he was unable to leave the shop and join the hunters
as he had done in previous years when the trek had taken place.  On the
other hand he felt with satisfaction that he could now see more of
Susannah, her uncle being out of the way, and he made the most of his
opportunities in this respect.

Max was rapidly developing from a boy into a man, and many of the little
traits specially characteristic of modern Israel began to show
themselves in him.  Of Old Schalk he stood in awe; the brutal directness
of the way in which the old Boer uttered all his thoughts frightened
him.  Mrs Hattingh, however, had ceased to impress him since the day
she had obtained the dresses for her granddaughters fraudulently and on
the strength of his attachment to Susannah.  Max felt that he held her
at a moral disadvantage, and she tacitly acquiesced in this.

Max spent every evening while Old Schalk was away at his sweetheart's
side.  He told her of his legacy, and around this nucleus they began to
weave plans for the future.  Max had saved a little money out of the
small salary which his brother allowed him.  He thought seriously of
leaving Nathan's service as soon as the latter returned, and setting up
on his own account as a hawker.

His first notion was to buy some stock and set up as a Trek-Boer, but
Susannah put a decided veto upon this proposal.  The prospect of being
married to a man who spent most of his life in wandering about with a
cart and four donkeys was almost equally unattractive.  The latter
alternative might, however, lead to something better eventually.
Susannah was in no hurry; she told her lover plainly that although she
was prepared to wait indefinitely for him she would not marry until he
could give her a proper home.

Late one night, after Max had returned home to the shop, he heard a
knock at the door.  He found Gert Gemsbok standing before the threshold.
The old Hottentot stepped in, and, as usual, sat down on the floor.

"Baas Max, I want to tell you a secret."

"Yes; what is it?"

"Baas Max, when I was living down on the bank of the river I one day
picked something up."

"Yes; what was it?"

"You have been kind to me and I can trust you.  Here is what I picked
up."

Gemsbok handed over to Max the smallest of the six diamonds.  He had,
after careful consideration, determined to trust his master so far, with
the view of realising part at least of his valuables.

Max took the stone and looked carefully at it.  He knew well enough that
it was a rough diamond; as a child in Cape Town he had often seen
illicitly obtained stones of this kind handed round among the Jews who
frequented the lodging-house where he stayed for a short time upon his
arrival in the colony.  The gem weighed about eight carats; it was of
good water and perfect shape.

"I found it," continued Gemsbok, "hidden in a boot which came down in
the flood, just above the Augrabies Falls.  I know, for I have worked at
the diamond fields, that I should be sent back to the tronk if that
stone were found on me, so I thought you might sell it and give me half
the money.  If you will do this it will satisfy me."

Max considered for a while, and then decided that this was a matter for
his brother to deal with.  He knew well enough that the possession of
diamonds which could not be satisfactorily accounted for was a criminal
offence severely punishable.  The law was to Max a thing very dreadful.
He had never seen its manifestations, but he had heard of Willem Bester
and others who had broken the law and suffered grievously in
consequence.  Nathan, however, as was proved in his ostrich-feather
dealings, held the law in sovereign contempt.  Nathan was the man to
deal with a matter such as this; Max would have none of it.  In the
meantime, however, he agreed to keep the stone in the small iron safe
and to advance Gemsbok some coffee, sugar, and tobacco, for the
delectation of himself and his "Old Woman," as the latter always called
her, upon its security.

But the "Old Woman" had no long enjoyment of the luxuries, for two days
later, when Gemsbok came in from the veld with his flock, he found that
she was dead.  She had passed away in her sleep.  Gemsbok expressed
himself to Max as being glad that the poor old creature had breathed her
last.  She had, he said, suffered so much of late, and now she would
never feel pain or privation any more.  He dug a hole in a sandy gully
behind one of the smaller kopjes and there the poor, unlovely corpse was
laid.  In spite of her physical sufferings the quaint old creature had
spent a very happy time at Namies.  She had enjoyed a sufficiency of
fairly wholesome food, besides the occasional trifles in the way of
coffee, sugar, and tobacco which Max's bounty supplied her with.  These
had afforded her the keenest and, perhaps, the only enjoyment she was
capable of feeling.

Gemsbok, in spite of his repeated declarations that he was glad the "Old
Woman" was gone, did not appear to be happy.  No matter how bright the
fire of candle-bushes, the scherm was lonely at night--even an old woman
so broken down by rheumatism and poverty of blood that she could not use
her limbs and was hardly capable of carrying her food to her mouth, was
better than no human companion at all.

Gemsbok had now no companion but his dog, which was an animal as
friendless as its master.  All day long alone in the veld, under the
changeless Desert sky; all night long alone in the scherm, under the
unregarding stars.  Man is a gregarious animal, and the burthen of one's
own presence galls as only those burthens do which carry as dead weight
the broken shackles of one of Nature's disregarded laws.

Sleep was difficult to get.  It had been usual for the old couple to
remain awake talking half the night through.  Lying awake alone proved
to be a very different thing.  He moved his scherm to another spot; that
did not improve matters, so he moved it back again.  He no longer
enjoyed his coffee or tobacco.  The average man almost invariably gets
to love anything totally dependent on him--no matter how unlovely it may
be.  Some loves are not recognised in anything like their fulness until
the removal of the thing loved leaves a void which can never be filled.

A Hottentot is naturally among the most sociable of beings; Gert Gemsbok
was no exception to the rule of his race in this respect.  He had,
however, made no friends among his own race at Namies.  He could not
visit the scherms of the other Hottentots; all were in the service of
Trek-Boers, and the boycott against him was strict.  As a protest
against Max's unheard-of conduct in keeping such a man in his service,
all the Boers had given strict injunctions to their servants to have
nothing to do with the informer against Willem Bester.  Besides, Gemsbok
was; morally and intellectually, far in advance of all with whom he
might, under other circumstances, have associated.  Aristotle's aphorism
as to the effect of solitude upon man is very true, and Gert Gemsbok had
not become a beast in his exile.

Max noticed that now the old man never lost an opportunity of being near
him.  In the evenings, whenever Max happened to be in the shop, Gemsbok
would come in, sit on the floor, and tell of his experiences.  He thus
told the true story of his life in detached fragments.  And what a tale
it was! what a lurid record of long-drawn, strenuous suffering made
bearable, at first by the memory and afterwards by the companionship of
a kindred mate!  One night the old man told Max that he did not expect
to live long; he felt his time had nearly come and he had no wish to
prolong an existence which was now more than ever a weariness.

He did not, he said, care much whether he obtained any of the proceeds
of the sale of the diamond or not; he had no desire now except to get
enough food for himself and an occasional bite for his dog.  The "Old
Woman" was gone, and the sooner he too went the better.

His music now was all in a minor key; no more reels and jigs that made
one long to caper.  The old, stock melody ran through all he played,
making it like an endless, barbaric fugue--weird and melancholy.  His
nocturnal performances sometimes made the dog leap out of the scherm and
howl despairingly at the stars.  In accompanying Oom Schulpad his hand
seemed to have lost his cunning.  The old fiddler would, however, sit
for long periods, astonished and uncannily fascinated by the eerie tones
scattered by the saddened strings of the ramkee.



CHAPTER TEN.

NATHAN THE TEMPTER.

One evening just after sunset Nathan arrived, driving a team of six
smart mules before a brand-new cart.  He had bought the turn-out at
Clanwilliam on his return journey from Cape Town.  He was accompanied by
Koos Bester, at whose camp he had called in passing.

Nathan had entered into a contract to supply a firm of butchers in Cape
Town with slaughter oxen; Bester, who owned a lot of cattle which were
running, half-wild, in Bushmanland, agreed to sell him a certain number
upon terms very advantageous to the purchaser.

Nathan was as unlike Max as it is possible for one brother to be unlike
another.  He was a low-sized, knock-kneed man of a fair complexion which
burnt to a fiery red on the least exposure.  His features were of the
lowest Hebrew type--his lips were full and shapeless, his nose large and
prominent, his eyes small and colourless, but exceedingly bright and
glittering.

Since Max had awakened from boyhood to manhood he had come to hate this
brother of his, to whom money was the only god worth worshipping, and
who sneered at every impulse or aspiration that did not have gain for
its object.

Next morning poor Max had a bad time of it.  The books were examined,
and when the debit entry against the Hattinghs came to light and Max was
unable to give any satisfactory explanation as to why he had disregarded
his instructions in allowing this account to be increased, Nathan
treated him to the grossest abuse.  However, things were found to be in
a satisfactory condition on the whole; in fact Nathan could find nothing
but this one item to find fault with.  All day long he kept recurring to
this one blot upon a good record, until at length Max became extremely
angry and said that if Nathan would only stop talking about it he would
pay the value of the articles sold out of his own salary.  At this
Nathan looked at him with a searching glint in his eye, but said nothing
further on the subject.

In the afternoon Nathan went for a stroll among the camps, in the course
of which he learned two things, namely, Max's relations with Susannah,
and the fact that old Gert Gemsbok, the Hottentot, who had been placed
under the ban for giving evidence against a Boer, was in his service.
Nathan returned to the shop, filled with sardonic fury.  Max at once saw
that the hour he had been dreading for months had come.

"Well," said Nathan, after he had regarded his brother for a few seconds
with an evil smile, "going to get married, eh?"

"Yes--what of that?"  Max felt his courage rising; he no longer dreaded
the thing before him.

"You, a Jew, and the child of Jews, to talk of marrying a Christian slut
who was born under a bush and reared by stinking Boers in a mat-house?"

"If I am a Jew it is more than you are; you often said that you didn't
believe in God."

"What has God got to do with it?  A Jew is a Jew, God or no God, and a
Christian is of no use except to make money out of.  Nice idea, a chap
like you thinking of getting married.  Going to reside in this
fashionable suburban villa, or do you mean to build a mansion for
yourself?"

"Well, I sha'n't live here or anywhere else near you!"

Nathan blinked in astonishment; it was something quite unheard of, Max
taking such a tone.  The fear that inevitably strikes at the heart of
the bully whenever even the weakest resists him, bridled his tongue for
a minute; then he resumed--

"Well, you can take your Boer slut and breed babies under a koekerboom
whenever you feel inclined, so far as I care; but if you want to stay on
with me you will have to give up this rot."

"I do not want to stay another day with you," replied Max, in a quiet
voice.  "I want to have done with you as soon as I can, and then I shall
not care if I never see you again."

Nathan, for the first time in his life, began to feel a glimmering of
respect for his brother.  However, it would not do to let Max see that
this was the case.  He began to expound upon the text of his other
grievance--

"That old nigger you have hired; you must clear him out at once."

"You are master; if you want to get rid of him you had better give him
notice.  He is hired by the month."

"Yes, as soon as I can get another herd I will give your old pal notice
with a sjambok.  I'm not going to have my trade with the Boers spoilt by
keeping on a damned old nigger-informer like that."

"I've got something belonging to him here," said Max, producing the
diamond.  "He picked it up on the bank of the river.  He wants you to
sell it and give him half the price."

Nathan took the stone and glanced at it.  Then he gave a short whistle
expressive of surprise and walked over to the window, in the light from
which he examined the stone carefully.  This done he slipped it into his
trouser pocket and turned again to Max--

"No, my boy; that's a little too thin.  Stones like this are not picked
up in Bushmanland.  This here diamond has been stolen from Kimberley,
and I mean to keep it until I can restore it to its rightful owner.
See?"

Here he winked.  Max looked at him with deep scorn.  Nathan left the
shop and walked to a short distance, whistling a lively tune.  Then he
stood and critically regarded the sunset, with his hands in his pockets.

Soon afterwards old Gemsbok drove up the flock of sheep to where they
always lay at night, on the side of the kopje behind the shop.  Nathan
called to him, and he came.

"Well, you're a nice sort of a scarecrow to come here spinning yarns
about picking up diamonds in Bushmanland.  I've a good mind to send you
to the magistrate for having a stolen diamond in your possession."

"The diamond is not a stolen one, Baas."

"A likely story.  I suppose you'll tell me next that you've never been
to Kimberley, eh?"

"I have been to Kimberley, Baas."

"I thought so.  Perhaps you'll tell me next that you've never been in
the tronk, either, eh?"

"I have been in the tronk, Baas."

"Well, well; if that ain't wonderful guessing I'm a Dutchman.  Beg your
pardon, I'm sure"--here he grinned ironically at Max, who had just come
out of the shop.  "Let's try again.  It might also be possible that your
back has been tickled by the `cat,' and that you didn't laugh, neither?"

"My back has felt the `cat,' Baas."

"Ex-tra-ordinary!  Why, I'm as good at pulling out facts as a corkscrew
at opening bottles"--here he turned and winked at Max, who felt himself
tingling with disgust.  "Now look here, Mister Nigger-informer--who has
been to the diamond fields, also in the tronk, to say nothing of other
places, and whose back has been tickled by the `cat' until you didn't
laugh--I'm just going to stick to this here shining gem until I find the
rightful owner.  Of course, if you're not satisfied you can go and
complain to the magistrate next time he comes round.  See?"

"I see, Baas."

As Gert went to his scherm Nathan turned and winked to Max again.  The
latter walked away with rage and shame seething in him.  Nathan went
into the little back room and threw himself on the bed.  He lay there
and chuckled over the prize he had so easily acquired.  "Why," he
thought, "it must be worth at least fifty pounds."  Well, at last his
luck was properly booming.  First, the big haul of feathers safely
disposed of; next the cattle contract and the arrangement he had made
with Koos Bester, under which Koos had to do all the work and he,
Nathan, had only to pocket the profits; now this diamond.  He began to
calculate: at this rate he would be a rich man in a few years.  Then he
would go away and enjoy himself, would steep himself to the lips in
vice, as he had often longed with the full strength of his weasel's soul
to be able to afford to do.

A knock on the iron front of the door startled him from his dream.

"Come round here, whoever you are--especially if you have petticoats
on!" he shouted.

Then the tread of a heavy man drew near, and Koos Bester entered the
room.

"Well, Koos, my son, how do you feel this fine evening?"

"Fresh, thank you."

"Well, I don't know when I ever felt so happy.  I don't know why I
should" (here he thought he had been possibly injudicious in revealing
his blissful condition to Koos) "after all the money I've been losing
lately, and after the price I'm going to pay you for these cattle; but
somehow I do."

Koos lit his pipe and smoked in silence.  The Trek-Boer is seldom
lively; in fact he is usually silent whenever he can possibly avoid
speaking.

"Koos, have you heard that the old nigger who got Willem into that mess
is here working for me, hired by my brother?"

"Ja, I heard so."

"Of course, I will give him the sack as soon as ever I can get another
boy."

"Ja, I am glad to hear that."

"Koos, why don't you get him on the quiet and give him a good licking?"

"Ja, I should like to do that if you will not mind."

"Mind!  No; I'll be only jolly glad if you will do it.  But take him on
the quiet, give him his dressing when there's no one about.  Whatever
you do, don't trust my brother; he makes quite a pal of him."

"Good, I'll make a plan.  But when are we to start?"

"Let's see--this is Tuesday; supposing we get away on Friday.  Say
Friday morning at daylight."

"It'll be no use starting so early; we cannot get to my camp, round by
Puffadder, in a day.  It will be time enough to start after breakfast."

"But why do you want to go all that way round?  Can't we go through the
dunes?"

"No! you won't catch me going through the dunes this weather with mules.
I have four horses that could do it; I wouldn't take them there now for
five pounds."

"All right, Koos; we'll go round by Puffadder and start after breakfast
on Friday."

The vast group of sand-dunes beyond which Koos Bester lived lies like a
red-hot spider across the north-eastern section of the Desert, with the
legs extending principally towards the south and south-west.

Rather, perhaps, is it like a menacing hand stretched forth by the giant
Kalihari--that waterless waste of loose sand which extends northward
indefinitely from just across the Orange River--to seize the southern
extremity of the African Continent in a fiery grip.  The river gorge cut
the hand off at the wrist, else the eternal dribble might, in course of
time, have overwhelmed all the western districts of the Cape Colony.

The dunes are, as a rule, only from ten to twenty feet in height, except
in the central area where they are piled high about an abrupt,
strange-looking hill which has a stratum of red stone encircling it like
a belt.  This hill is called "Bantom Berg," which means "belted
mountain."  The many mile-long fingers straggle over the Desert,
gradually encroaching.

No one ever enters the dunes twice, except in case of the most urgent
necessity.  At every step the traveller sinks to below the ankles in the
fine, light, scorching sand.  It is sometimes practicable to cross the
dune-tract in a light vehicle, if the weather happens to be cool and
one's horses are in good condition.  But crossing them is, however,
never safe, for there is no water to be had within their repulsive
bounds.  The bones of many a lost wanderer lie there, covered by the
sand streaming over the flat dune-top, under the lea of which he may
have crept in the vain hope of getting shelter from the flame-hot wind
from the north.  In such a case the body would be buried deep, beyond
the reach even of the jackals, in a very short time.  If ever uncovered
it would be found converted into a black, shrunken mummy, for the
intense dryness of the sand is such that a body buried in it never
decomposes; the moisture is rapidly drained out of it until nothing is
left but a parchment bag of bones.

Max gave Nathan a month's notice of leaving next day.  As, however, he
had drawn his salary by the quarter, Nathan insisted on three months'
notice being given.  In this Max had to acquiesce, but he did so with a
very bad grace.

Up to Friday morning Koos Bester had no opportunity of carrying out his
intention of giving Gert Gemsbok a thrashing on the quiet.  By Thursday
night he had quite given up the idea.  His slow mind had gradually come
to recognise that he had better leave the old Hottentot alone--this in
spite of Nathan's daily promptings on the subject.  The old man looked
so frail and bent.  Some unrecognised remnant of chivalry in the Boer's
nature made him dimly see that for a man of his strength to attack one
who would be as a child in his hands would be base and cowardly.  But
Willem, whom he had loved as more than a brother, had been done to death
by this baboon-like creature.  Then for a few minutes the face of Koos
would darken with the desire for revenge.  He began to long for the time
of departure, so as to be away from the temptation to do the deed that
he loathed and longed for the doing of at the same time.

Friday morning came, and after breakfast Nathan and Koos departed from
Namies in the cart drawn by the six smart mules.  The road led around
the kopjes to the westward, so the cart was out of sight of the camps a
few minutes after the start.

The distance to Koos Bester's camp would take two short days to
accomplish, but could not possibly be accomplished in one.  The dunes
were avoided on this route by passing over the point where the red-hot
hand had been amputated and the stump frayed away by the winds of
centuries.  After travelling a mile or so they passed over some ground
where a lot of shallow gullies, which carried off the occasional
thunderstorm drainage from the kopjes, intersected each other.  A flock
of sheep could be seen grazing a few hundred yards to the right of the
road, amongst the gullies.  Between them and the road could be seen the
figure of a man sitting on a doubled-down tussock of "twa" grass.

Koos felt the blood rise to his brain, but he averted his eyes from the
figure and sucked violently at his pipe.  Nathan pulled at the reins,
and the mules came to a standstill.  Just then the man arose from the
tussock and disappeared over the edge of one of the gullies.

"Koos, my son, there's your chance."

"Never mind; I'll let the old vagabond alone to-day.  I haven't got a
sjambok with me, and that whip of yours wouldn't hurt him enough.  Drive
on."

"Rot! man alive; let's have some sport.  Give him a taste of those
pretty little feet of yours.  Go on, I'll see fair play."

Koos alighted from the cart and began adjusting a part of the harness
which had got out of gear.  Then he walked back and put his foot on the
step preparatory to climbing in.

"What! ain't you going to give it to him?  Well, you most likely won't
have another chance; I've told Max to give him the sack as soon as ever
he can get another boy, so he'll likely be gone by the time we return."

Koos stood with his foot resting on the step, still undecided.

"Never mind," he said, "I'll let him alone to-day."

"And poor Willem, who died in the tronk all through that chap.  Koos,
I'm ashamed of you; be a man and give him what for."

Koos no longer hesitated.  The reference to Willem turned the scale; his
good angel soared away from his side for ever.  The blood arose in his
veins until his face and neck became purple.  He uttered a curse and
walked off, at first with hesitation still apparent in his movements.
He was now eager to go, but his legs seemed reluctant to carry him.  To
harden his purpose he began to think of Willem's case; of how he had
sworn to be revenged; of how a Boer, a man of his own blood, had been
sent to herd with blacks at a convict station, and had there died
miserably, all through the "thing" before him.  At length his very bile
seemed to stir with black rage, and he strode on with his hands and feet
tingling for vengeance.

Gert Gemsbok watched over the edge of the gully the approach of Koos,
and guessed the purpose of the Boer.  Then he dropped back into the
hollow behind him and ran down it as hard as he could in the hope of
reaching some ground which he might tread on without leaving a spoor.
He had caught up the little dog so that it should not betray him by
following.

He might have escaped from Koos were it not that the cart stood on
higher ground, and thus Nathan caught sight of his crouching form
passing over an exposed spot.  The Jew yelled to Koos that he was to
trend to the left, and then indicated a small bush close to which he had
caught sight of the fugitive.  Koos, now thoroughly roused and thirsting
madly for vengeance, started off at a run towards the bush Nathan had
pointed out.  In a few moments he nearly ran over the old Hottentot, who
was hiding under an overhanging bank.

The sorry deed did not take long to accomplish.  With his powerful hand
Koos seized Gemsbok by the skinny arm and hurled him to the bottom of
the gully.  Not a word was spoken on either side.  The old Hottentot was
like a paper doll in the hands of the heavy, muscular Boer, and he fell
with a thud upon the soft sand.  Then Koos, beside himself with mad
anger, leaped upon him like a tiger, stamped upon the shrunken body with
his heavy feet, and kicked it until his toes, badly protected by the
thin and supple-soled veldschoens, began to hurt him severely.

The pain brought Koos partly to himself.  Casting one look upon the
motionless, huddled body, he climbed out of the gully and began walking
quickly back towards the cart.  He found, however, that the great toe of
his right foot caused him excruciating pain, so he could only limp
slowly over the broken ground.

"Hello, Koos; did the old man show fight and knock you about?  What's up
with your little hind paw?  Why, you look as white as a blooming sheet."

Koos climbed into the cart and Nathan drove on.  There was something in
the expression of the Boer's face which taught the Jew that it would not
be safe to take any liberties just then.

After a few minutes Nathan found that he could sustain his curiosity no
longer--

"Come along, old man," he said coaxingly; "tell us all about it."

Koos did not reply.  He was in great pain, and was wondering what the
effect of the particular kick which hurt him so had been on the man whom
he kicked.  His toe began to press against the upper-leather, and he
felt that it was dislocated.

The still, huddled figure lying in the sand at the bottom of the gully
was as if photographed on the retina--it was literally so vividly before
his mental vision that physical vision seemed to be suspended.  And the
pain in his toe!  He longed to take off the veldschoen and ease the
pressure, to examine the injury, regarding which he was consumed with a
deadly curiosity, but he hated to attract Nathan's attention.

He moved the foot slightly and the agony almost made him shriek aloud.
A spasm of frantic terror gripped him by the heart-strings until he
nearly swooned.  Why, the man _must_ be dead.  He thought of his own
bulk, of his strength, and of how passionately and recklessly he had
leaped and stamped upon the nearly passive body.  The details of what
had happened had seemed lost to him for a time; in all but the merest
and flimsiest general outline he had forgotten what had occurred between
his gripping Gemsbok by the arm and his changing his walk into a hobble
as he returned to the cart.  Now, under some strange psychological
sympathetic ink the smallest details appeared in pitiless distinctness,
and stood out before his shuddering soul in lurid relief.

A wild rage against the man next to him, who had incited him to the
deed--without whose fell, artful suggestion and encouragement his
conscience would now have been clear--surged up in him.  He felt, for a
few minutes, as black an anger against Nathan as he had felt when he
gripped the man he thought had wronged him, and dashed him down.

The day was hot and windless.  He glanced up and saw the red-belted cone
of Bantom Berg towering up amid the dunes.  The cone was clear, and the
waves of rarefied air quivered along the tops of the sand mounds like
living flames, until they flashed into a lovely mirage away to the
south, where the Desert line was unbroken.

He looked straight ahead and drew a deep sigh of relief, for red wisps
of sand were tossing into the air, lashed by the fury of the first gusts
of one of those fearful wind-storms from the north which were so common
at that season.  Soon the Desert would be tortured by moaning tempests,
and then his footprints would be blotted out in the twinkling of an eye.
A feeling of relief and subsequent elation swept through his mind.  He
was all right now; he had only been afraid of his spoor being found.  He
felt quite safe.  They might, of course, suspect him; that did not
matter, for Nathan, he knew, would never give information against him.
Why, Nathan was almost an accomplice.  The thought of his companion's
knowledge of what he had done seemed to bring vague suggestions of
disquiet in its trail; nevertheless his mind was able to poise itself
still for a while on the dizzy pinnacle of elation to which it had swung
out of the depths, impelled by a strange momentum.  The Hottentot was
dead--that was certain to him now.  He seemed to be able to weigh and
measure the force of every individual one of the kicks he had given, and
the result of this sum in mental arithmetic was--death.

Nathan stole another glance at his companion's face and saw that it was
now less terrible to look upon.  His curiosity had become a positive
pain.  He felt he must venture to ask again for details.

"Come along, Koos," he coaxed; "tell us all about it."

"There's not much to tell.  I just gave him a few thumps and left him."

"Why on earth didn't you bring him to the top of the bank and operate
there?  I didn't see any of the fun."

Here the Jew touched his companion's foot accidentally.  Koos shrieked
with anguish and uttered a horrible curse.  Nathan seemed very much
astonished.  He riveted his gaze on the foot.

"Why, Koos, there's blood on your veldschoen.  Did you cut your foot?"

Koos could stand the pain no longer.  He lifted his foot upon his left
knee and began to untie the reimpje with which the veldschoen was tied.
Nathan stopped the mules.

When the veldschoen was removed the great toe was found to be
dislocated.  It had turned from its usual direction and was pointing
backward, owing to the strain on the tendon.  The whole front part of
the foot was turning purple.

"My eye!" said Nathan, "you must have given it to him precious hot.
Why, you've unlatched your blooming big toe.  That ain't your blood,
neither.  My eye!  And I didn't see it happening.  Just like my luck!"

Koos felt sick with pain.  He wrapped his jacket around the injured foot
and leant back.  The sand-storm swept down in fury.  Nathan relieved his
feelings by fluent cursings.  To Koos the fiery wind with its burthen of
stinging sand was more grateful than the zephyrs of a springtime dawn.

"Ain't it lucky we didn't take the road through the dunes?" shouted
Nathan during a slight comparative cessation of the wind.

Koos did not reply.  He was wishing with the full strength of his
tortured soul that they had taken the dune route, whatever its dangers
might have been, in preference to the one which had led him to the scene
of his crime.

They reached the water-place which is known by the name of "Puffadder,"
and there saw the mat-houses of several Trek-Boer camps.  By agreement
it was stated that Koos had injured his foot by hitting it, when
running, against a stone.  An old woman who was skilled in herbal
remedies and rough surgery made him lie down on his back upon the
ground.  Then she tied a thin reim around the dislocated toe and got two
of her sons to haul at it.  The toe slipped back into its socket, but
Koos fainted from the pain.  When he came to himself the evil face of
Nathan was peering into his.  He closed his eyes to shut out the sight
of that which he had now come to hate as he had never hated anything
before.

"Well, old man," said Nathan, "it strikes me you must have smashed that
blooming stone you ran your foot against into splinters."

After the mules had been watered and had taken a roll in the sand
another start was made.  The old woman had boiled down some dried herbs
in a tin pannikin and tied rags soaked in the decoction around the
injured toe.  This treatment relieved the pain considerably.  When they
inspanned and made another start the wind had completely ceased, the
sunlight had lost its sting, and the stillness of infinite peace seemed
to brood like a bright-plumaged dove over the Desert.  There was no
sound but the faint creak-creak of the harness as the mules trotted
along over the soft sand.  Nathan made several attempts to elicit
further particulars as to what Koos had done to the old Hottentot, but
his companion remained obstinately silent, and he felt instinctively
that it would not be safe for him to pursue the subject farther just
then.

The sun was nearly down when they reached Koos Bester's camp on the
following day.  In the interval the mind of the unhappy Boer had
perpetually oscillated between two poles--that of remorse, terror, and
despair on the one hand, and that of unreasoning elation on the other.
But he would not speak of the thing which had happened.  Sometimes he
persuaded himself that the old Hottentot was surely dead; anon he
reasoned that the proverbial physical toughness of the race to which the
man belonged would enable him to recover.  But the limp, passive,
huddled form, prone on the sand at the bottom of the gully, haunted him
with deadly persistence, and his detestation of the Jew who had
persuaded him against his will to do the deed grew in intensity.

The collecting of the cattle, which ranged over a couple of thousand
square miles of Desert, occupied several days.  Nathan made himself as
agreeable as possible to Mrs Bester and the children, who, however,
cordially and instinctively disliked him.  Koos turned upon him from
time to time a slow gaze in which smouldering hatred seemed to lurk.
This was especially noticeable when the Jew, as he often did, began
paying Mrs Bester extravagant compliments.

Koos' foot became much better under the treatment recommended by the old
woman who had assisted him at Puffadder.  She had given him a supply of
her medicinal herbs, and of these infusions were made, the application
of which was followed by the best results.

Koos had repeated to his wife and her father the story as to his having
injured his foot by hitting it against a stone.  The father-in-law
caused some embarrassment by questioning him closely as to the details
of the accident.  The answers were not very consistently given, and when
the discrepancies were commented on Koos lost his temper.  Nathan was
present at this scene and keenly enjoyed it.

After the cattle had been collected and the number purchased by Nathan
selected and marked, the latter took his departure.  In returning to
Namies he followed the course he had come by.  When nearly home he
glanced regretfully in the direction of the broken gullies, thinking of
the piece of sport he had missed, on the details of which Koos Bester
had been so strangely reticent.

Next morning Koos inspanned his cart just after daybreak.  He could no
longer endure the suspense of waiting for information as to the result
of his violence.  He drove a team of rough ponies, the equals of which
for endurance could hardly have been found in Bushmanland.  He travelled
in a light cart which had no hood.  As the day seemed to promise
coolness he decided to venture on taking the road through the dunes.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

THE BROKEN RAMKEE.

About half an hour after the departure of Nathan and Koos Bester from
Namies Max was surprised to see Gert Gemsbok's dog running back from the
veld with every appearance of terror.  It rushed straight to the scherm,
and there stood panting and with air erect along its back.  Its ears
were cocked and its tail tucked under, as it gazed back in the direction
whence it came, sniffing the time with wide, dilated nostrils.  This
struck Max as extremely strange and eerie.  He knew the habits of this
dog; never since Gemsbok had rescued it had the animal left the side of
its master.

Oom Schulpad happened to come to the shop shortly afterwards, and Max
mentioned the circumstance to him.  Together they walked up the side of
the kopje to the scherm.  The dog was so preoccupied by whatever was the
cause of its agitation that it appeared unaware of their approach until
they got quite close to it.  Then the animal crept in under the fence of
bushes and lay there whining.

"That dog has had a fright," said Oom Schulpad.  "I have sometimes seen
dogs like that, and it was always after they had seen something bad
happen.  See, now, if something has not happened to the old Bushman."

Max returned to the shop.  After dinner, as no customers were about, he
started out to search for Gert Gemsbok.  He went up to the scherm and
caught the dog.  At first the animal snapped and snarled when he
approached it.  Max had, however, taken some pieces of meat with him,
and these he held out in propitiation.  Thus mollified, the dog allowed
itself to be caught and a reim tied around its neck.

The Desert was a whirling hell of blinding and scorching sand-clouds.
Max staggered on along the course which he had seen Gemsbok take that
morning with his flock.  The dog at first showed the most violent
disinclination to follow, and had to be dragged along struggling and
biting at the reim.

During a lull in the wind Max saw that the sheep were scattered about in
groups far distant from each other; some were sheltering themselves
among the stones on the side of the kopje and others were far out on the
plain.  He took his course towards the farthest group of sheep that he
could distinguish.  The dog now became very much excited; every now and
then it would tug at the reim and try to bound forward in a certain
direction.  Then it would recoil in terror and endeavour to bolt back.

Max worked his way onward across the gullies in the direction indicated
by the dog's alarmed gaze.  At length he reached the edge of a gully, on
the opposite side of which was an overhanging bank.  Huddled under this,
as though to get shelter from the wind, he recognised the motionless
form of Gert Gemsbok.

Lying about in the sand, and partly covered by its drift, was the
ramkee, shattered into fragments.  Gemsbok was lying half on his face,
with his head leaning forward on his arm.  Max bent over, and as soon as
he ascertained that his old friend was faintly breathing, spoke his
name.  Gemsbok tried to lift his head, but failed in the attempt.  Then
Max gently passed his arm around the bruised body, and drew it back
until the head rested on his shoulder.

The poor old man opened his eyes.  They were dull and glazed.  Then he
moaned heavily and went off into a faint.  Max noticed that the head was
swollen on one side, and that a small trickle of blood came from the
mouth.  The wind had almost ceased, so Max drew Gert's limp body
tenderly down the loose sandbank and laid him on his back.  After a few
seconds he returned to consciousness, and the eyelids again lifted--very
slowly this time.

In a broken gasp he uttered the word "Water!"

Max sprang up, meaning to run back to Namies and fetch a drink, but
Gemsbok motioned to him to come close.  Max bent over him again.

"Baas Max... leave... the water... it is... too late...  I die for...
the old sin...  In my bag... sewn up... there is something...  They are
yours...  I came honestly... by them..."

Then the head fell back, and with a low moan of pain Gert Gemsbok drew
his last breath--an obscure martyr in the cause of Truth, at whose
deserted shrine in the Desert he had worshipped to his own despite.

Max tried to revive him, but soon found that his attempts were useless.
The dog sat on the bank at the edge of the gully, giving vent to
long-drawn howls.

Max stood and looked at the body through a mist of blinding tears.  Then
he gathered up the fragments of the instrument which had been the only
solace of the man lying dead before him through years of misery, and
laid them reverently at the side of the corpse.  He closed the lids of
the dim and tired eyes and tied up the fallen jaw with his
pocket-handkerchief.  In doing this his hand came in contact with the
reim by which the skin bag was slung over the dead man's shoulder.  This
reminded him of the words with which Gemsbok had gasped out his life.
He drew the bag softly away and began to examine its contents.

He found a pipe, a tinder box, tobacco, some dried roots, and a few
strings for the ramkee in course of preparation out of sinew; nothing
else.  Then he discovered that the bottom of the bag had been sewn up
from corner to corner, and that some hard bodies were secured under the
sewn portion.  He ripped open the stitches and the five diamonds rolled
into his hand.

Max gazed in astonishment at the stones for a few seconds and then
slipped them into his pocket.  He felt dazed by all he had experienced.
He sat down to collect his scattered thoughts.  He looked once more upon
the dead face.  The diamonds were at once forgotten, and he burst into
passionate sobs.  The weight of all the wickedness of the world seemed
to press upon him, and a sense of the futility of good darkened his
soul.

He climbed out of the gully and hastened back to Namies.  In a few
moments all the men there were on their way to the spot where Gert
Gemsbok lay as if enjoying a peace in death such as he had never known
when living.

It was Old Schalk's duty as Assistant Field Cornet to hold an inquest,
and, if there were discovered the slightest sign of foul play, to send
immediately a report on the subject to the magistrate.

The body was stripped, and was found to be horribly bruised and swollen.
The Assistant Field Cornet at once gave it as his opinion that the
deceased had come to his death through being thrown from a horse.

"It is well known," said he, "that these Bushmen are in the habit of
catching the Boers' horses in the veld and riding their tails off."

"But," broke in Max, "this man never interfered with anybody's--"

"Young man," said Old Schalk with severity, "when you have lived as long
in Bushmanland, and seen as many dead Bushmen as I have seen, you'll
perhaps be entitled to give an opinion."

"But," said Max excitedly, "the man told me just before he died that--"

"Young man," interrupted Old Schalk, who had made a shrewd guess as to
the perpetrator of the deed, and felt that his duty to the Trek-Boers of
Bushmanland forbade him to permit indiscreet revelations, "are you the
Field Cornet or am I?  What does it matter what he told you--who ever
knew a Bushman tell the truth?  It is well known that Oom Dantje van
Rooyen has a very vicious horse, which only last year threw a man to the
ground and then kicked and bit him.  That very horse is running in this
veld at present--I saw it myself only yesterday.  I am quite sure that
nothing but the horse did this.  The case is quite clear."

A buzz of approval on the part of the Boers followed this verdict.  Here
was a dead Bushman whose body showed lesions and appearances such as
might be caused by equestrian misadventure.  Grazing somewhere in the
neighbourhood was a horse which had been known to kick and bite a man
after it had thrown him.  Of course the case was perfectly clear.

Max looked around the ring of faces and saw nothing but amusement at his
warmth of expression, mingled with slyness, depicted upon them.  There
was no pity for the sufferings which the man must have endured before he
died--no horror that such a deed had been perpetrated by one with whom
they were on terms of intimacy upon a sentient human being, was
suggested.  He felt an arm slipped within his.  Looking round he saw the
inscrutable visage of Oom Schulpad close beside him.

"Come, children, let us go and drink some coffee," said Old Schalk as he
led the way, assisted by a stalwart Boer, to the cart which had conveyed
him from his camp to the nearest available point.

As the others followed in small groups Oom Schulpad heard one young Boer
say to another--

"Got, kerel, maar Koos hat die ou' Boschmann lekker geskop."

[God, old fellow, but Koos kicked the old Bushman nicely.]

Oom Schulpad gave a sardonic grin which might have been expressive of
anything, from rapture to nausea, and turned back to where Max was
sitting fuming with indignation and grief.  He laid a sympathetic hand
upon the boy's shoulder and bent his rough face, which now bore a kindly
expression, over him.

"Never mind, child," he said, "the poor old schepsel is not going to
suffer any more pain.  Who knows but he may be with the old woman now,
and she, perhaps, may have got a new pair of legs."

"But the man has been murdered," replied Max hotly, "and he wants to
screen the murderer--"

"Shush, shush.  Young tongues gallop into dangerous places.  What good
can you do by making a disturbance?  You won't bring the old Bushman to
life again, and it would be a bad thing for him if you could.  Besides,
a man must never try to set the world right all by himself."

"But he wouldn't hear what I had to say.  I shall let the Government
know what sort of a Field Cornet he is."

"And get nothing for your pains except the hatred of every one about
here.  What does the Government care?  It only wants not to be troubled
about things.  When you are as old as I am you will not be put out by
anything done by people like Old Schalk."

"I shall send a letter off at once to the magistrate and ask him to come
here and see for himself."

"No, I think you had better do nothing of the kind.  If you did, the
magistrate and the doctor would perhaps arrive in three weeks from now
and when they came what would they be able to find out from the body?
Besides, in that case it would probably turn out that some one had seen
him riding Oom Dantje's horse, or had even seen him thrown and trampled
on.  No, you had better do nothing at all but just bury the old Bushman.
I liked him because he knew more music than I did.  Come, I will help
you to bury him.  We'll dig his grave next to where the old woman lies--
among the kopjes.  I'll inspan my donkeys and we'll draw him up in the
cart."

Max and Oom Schulpad wended back to Namies, and, with a couple of spades
which they took out of the shop, soon dug a grave in the sluit at the
back of the little kopje.  It was easy ground to work, and, in spite of
his deformity, Oom Schulpad was a first-rate hand at digging.  In a
little more than half an hour the grave was ready, and then Oom Schulpad
harnessed his donkeys to the little cart and drove down to fetch the
body.

Max had brought some clean, white linen from the shop, and in this they
wrapped the earthly remains of Gert Gemsbok, the lonely, martyred votary
at Truth's neglected shrine.  The fragments of the ramkee were
reverently tied together by the old fiddler, who was honest artist
enough to acknowledge a superior when he met him.  He laid the shattered
instrument where the stiffened hand might press upon the slackened
strings until both turned to dust.

The full moon lifted her sweet face over the rim of the world, and,
under the spell of her smile, the Desert took on beauty of a weird and
unearthly kind.  The plumy heads of the grass became pendant with
dew-diamonds; every tussock was transformed into a fairy-forest lit by
sparkling lamps.  The ice-plants glinted so brightly that they seemed to
merge together a few yards from the observer's feet, and from there to
form a shining pathway to the moon.

The strange funeral _cortege_ wended up between the camps of Namies.
Oom Schulpad walked at the side, holding the reins; Max, with bent head,
followed close behind the body.

So they laid Gert Gemsbok in the sand, next to his "Old Woman" and with
his broken ramkee at his side.  If what some tell us about a future life
be true, that ramkee will surely be recreated in the celestial
equivalents of the rarest earthly instruments of music--if not something
as valuable and more sonorous.

Old Schalk was sitting in the moonlight at the door of his mat-house
talking to a few cronies when the funeral passed.  A silence fell upon
all when they saw what it was that the patient donkeys were hauling up
the hill through the heavy sand.  Just after the vehicle had passed out
of sight around the flank of one of the kopjes Old Schalk broke the
silence.  He turned to one of his companions and said--"I never yet knew
a man who could play the fiddle well who was not a little mad."

"Ja," replied the other, "I have often heard that such is the case."



CHAPTER TWELVE.

THE BONDAGE OF KOOS BESTER.

Max's mourning for his old friend was deep and sincere.  The heart of
the young man, from its first awakening, recoiled from the sordidness of
most of those with whom he had come in daily contact, and clave to the
best within its reach--this by virtue of its natural intuitions.  For a
time it seemed as though a blank had been created which could never be
filled.  The evenings spent in the shop when Oom Schulpad and Gemsbok
had contended like a couple of troubadours--the weird tales of his
experiences during the six years of his banishment from the tents of
men, which the old waif had related with such tragic and truthful
pathos--his devotion to his miserable old wife, that decayed relic of
womanhood, which was as tender as ever his love could have been for the
companion of his early years--all these dwelt in the mind of Max and
tinged it with what he deemed would be an abiding sadness.

On the other hand the acquisition of the five diamonds had materially
improved his prospects.  He hid them in a safe place and determined not
to mention the fact of their existence to any one but Susannah.  They
were stones of very pure water, averaging about ten carats each in
weight.  Max knew that they must be very valuable, but he was unable to
guess their worth.  He made up his mind that he would have to take them
to Europe and realise them there.

Even Oom Schulpad seemed to be depressed by the old Hottentot's fate.
When he now came to see Max of an evening he did not bring his violin.
The two would just sit and smoke in silence, each well aware of what was
filling the thoughts of the other.  To Max it seemed as if the ghost of
the slain man haunted the room on these occasions, asking why his only
friends had not taken vengeance upon his slayer.

Oom Schulpad did not believe very much in anything outside the circle of
his experiences--certainly not in ghosts.  He had attained to a
philosophy which might be summed up in a phrase--"Never interfere in
anything that does not directly concern you."  His stock formula into
which the foregoing principle had crystallised was--"No man should ever
rub resin on any but his own bow."

"But," he continued one night after reiterating this phrase several
times, "I mean to scratch Koos Bester's nose with a certain piece of
resin which I have in my pocket.  He had no business to put his big
hands upon any man who could make music like that, Bushman or no
Bushman."

Max pricked up his ears and looked at the old fiddler with a question in
his eyes.

"I know Koos," continued Oom Schulpad, "and if he does not bark his
shins as well as his nose against the lump of resin which I will put in
his path--well, I'm no fiddler and the Bushman knew no music.  He said
my back was like a springbuck's when it `pronks,' did he, and that my
mouth was as poisonous as a sand-adder's?  Also he broke the ramkee--to
say nothing of killing the old Bushman."

"What do you intend to do to him?" queried Max.

"I'll tell you that when he comes back, my child.  It will be all right,
don't fear.  You shall, perhaps, help me.  I know Koos well.  When he
was quite a big boy he used to be afraid of being alone in the dark.
I'll make him dance a new step to the old Bushman's music.  Ja, he knew
more music than I, that old Bushman."

Three days elapsed after the tragedy before Max visited the Hattingh
camp.  He found Old Schalk looking extremely sulky.  Max, however, had
ceased to take much heed of people or their moods.  He no longer dreaded
Old Schalk.  As in the case of Mrs Hattingh, he now felt he had him at
a moral disadvantage.  His recent experiences had tended to give Max
considerable self-confidence.

He found Susannah alone in the mat-house, and asked her to go with him
for a walk.  As they passed out it seemed as though the old man sitting
in the chair meant to stop them.  He bent forward with an angry
expression, removed the pipe from his mouth, and opened his lips as if
to speak.  Max, however, looked him steadily in the face, so he
remembered his account at the shop--it seemed as though Nathan meant to
stay away indefinitely--and Old Schalk's sack of coffee was running very
low indeed.  At the same instant he thought of the inquest--the menace
which he seemed to read in Max's face might perhaps have reference to
that judicial triumph.  Whilst these considerations were working through
his mind the lovers passed him and he made no protest.  They climbed the
big kopje and again sat at the foot of the large koekerboom.

Max poured out his sorrow and indignation in a flood.  Susannah had been
told simply that Gert Gemsbok had met his death through an accident in
connection with a horse.  She had seen the strange funeral and wondered
thereat.  Now Max's account of the old Hottentot's life, which she had
never heard before, and of his cruel and mysterious death, moved the
girl to deep sympathy.

A horrible suspicion had haunted Max from the first--he could not avoid
connecting his brother with the murder, for such he was convinced had
occurred.  Nathan had taken his departure with Koos Bester just before
the deed was done; it was inconceivable that he could be ignorant of the
crime.  Max believed him to be fully capable of participating in the
commission of any evil.

When Susannah questioned him as to whom he suspected, Max tried hard to
avoid replying.  When he could no longer do this he told the girl all
his thoughts and then bent his head on her knee and wept bitter tears.
It was the shame of being related to a creature such as Nathan which
struck him to the heart.  A hatred of his surroundings, and more
especially of his brother, had been born in him.  He made up his mind to
leave his brother's service at once, come what might.

"Susannah, I can stay here no longer; will you come away with me?"

The girl did not reply.  She sat thinking of what the consequences of
such a step would be.  Her utter inexperience of life was strongly
qualified by natural caution, as well as by that instinct of
self-preservation which clothes most women like an armour of proof.

"I feel I can stay here no longer," he continued.  "Leaving out Oom
Schulpad and yourself, I hate and despise every one here.  Will you come
away with me?"

"I will go with you when you marry me, Max."

"How can I marry you when you are only nineteen and your uncle will not
give his consent?"

"I will wait for you.  Go away, and you will find me here when you come
back--if there is any water left in the well."

"I do not want to go away without you, and I feel I cannot endure to
stay.  Why are you afraid to trust me?"

"I am not afraid to trust you, but--while you were talking at first I
was thinking.  I thought to myself that we could not get away and that
there was no place for us to go to."

"You can leave all that to me--"

"No, no, it cannot be.  If you want to marry me, Max, you must make up
your mind never to live in any place but Bushmanland--"

"What! live all our lives at Namies?"

"No, not at Namies.  Bushmanland is large; there are many camps and many
water-places in it.  You know that I am only a poor Boer girl and that I
could not live among those women whose pictures you showed me in the
fashion books and who never speak anything but English; you would be
ashamed of me and I should want to come back to live among the people I
know."

Max, after the manner of lovers, assured her that he never could, under
any possible circumstances, be ashamed of her.  She continued in the
same strain as formerly--

"I once saw some girls who went past our camp in a wagon, when we dwelt
on the other side of the Desert, far away to the eastward, and I felt
like a Bushwoman beside them when I noticed their clothes and heard them
talk.  No, Max, I will never go to any place where you would be able to
compare me with women such as those."

Max assured her that she could easily challenge comparison with any girl
in South Africa for physical advantages.  Her colour heightened with
pleasure at his compliments, but she was not to be moved from her
resolution.

"Max, I shall never live in any place outside Bushmanland, so you had
better make up your mind to that.  Besides, you will have to wait for me
until I am old enough to marry without my uncle's consent.  Bushmanland
is long and wide, but when a girl is talked about for doing what you
want me to do, the tongues of the women are heard, louder than thunder,
from one side of it to the other.  If I were to do this thing the people
of the only land I can live in would look upon me as being no better
than a Hottentot girl at the Copper Mines."

Max felt, instinctively, that the girl was right.  He made no further
attempt to move her, but he reconsidered his decision about leaving
Namies at once.  At all events he would wait for Nathan's return.  As
the lovers walked back to the camp, they said few words to each other.

Nathan returned late in the afternoon of the next day.  The brothers met
outside the shop.  Nathan greeted Max with cheerfulness, as though he
wished to ignore what had last passed between them.  Max looked him
straight in the eyes without acknowledging his salute.

"Hello," said Nathan, "got the hump, eh?"

Max went into the shop; Nathan followed him after outspanning the
horses.  In the meantime the flock of sheep had been driven home by a
strange herd.  Nathan burned with curiosity to know what had transpired.
He walked up to Max and addressed him again--

"Where's your old chum?  I see you've got a new nigger."

Max gave him a contemptuous glance and then went on with what he had
been doing, without replying to the question.

"Are you deaf?"

"I'm not deaf; neither am I blind."

"Then why the devil don't you answer me?  Where's the old nigger?"

"Mightn't he be lying dead in a sluit where you and Koos Bester left him
last week?"

"Look here, none of your blasted conundrums.  I didn't pull you out of a
Whitechapel gutter and bring you here to get lip from you."

Max went on with his occupation of tidying the goods upon the shelves,
without making any reply.  Nathan, furious, strode round the counter and
gripped him by the arm.  Max turned and gazed steadily into his eyes.

"You bastard Christian dog, if you don't answer my question I'll make
pork sausages of you!"

Max seized Nathan by the throat and flung him backwards.  The latter's
foot caught against the corner of a box and he fell sprawling under the
counter.  As he picked himself up Max strode towards him.  Nathan
recoiled in alarm; he had not expected such treatment from the shy,
silent, diffident lad whom he had been in the habit of cuffing and
cursing at whenever he felt in a bad temper and wanted to relieve his
feelings.

"Where is he?" shouted Max in a voice strident with rage.  "He is where
you will never be--in an honest man's grave.  He lived long enough to
let me know that you and Koos Bester are murderers.  I only regret that
he did not let me know enough to hang you both."

Nathan quailed; he wondered how much Gemsbok had told.  Then he cast up
the column of possibilities in his mind.  No, he was all right.  There
might be suspicion, but there could be no proof that he had been
accessory to the crime.  However, it would be just as well not to
provoke Max any further at present.  He walked out of the shop and Max
closed the door behind him.

The Desert twilight was quickly fading.  Nathan wished to be alone, so
he strolled past the camps without calling at any of them, and then back
along the road he had just previously travelled.

After he had passed the last camp by about a hundred yards he sat down
on a stone.  He was sunk in the deepest thought.  An idea had struck him
just after Max's outburst and had taken root, branched and burgeoned
until it seemed to be a tree full of flowers which promised rich fruit.
The muffled thud of tired horses' feet on the sandy road leading from
the dunes broke in upon his reverie.  He lifted his head from where it
had been sunk upon his breast and chuckled with unclean mirth.

"Well, I think I'm in jam _this_ time," soliloquised he; "whole blooming
coppers of it."

When he returned home Max was not on the premises.  The shop was locked,
but the little room at the back where Nathan slept was open.  Of late
Max had taken to sleeping on the counter in the shop.

Nathan lit a candle and began to undress.  The elation of his mind was
evinced upon his face.  He went to bed and softly whistled the tune of a
music-hall song as he lay back on the pillow with his hands clasped at
the back of his head.  He felt extremely happy.  His luck was in--this
last development, over which he had been chuckling so, proved that
conclusively.

Again the sound which he had heard when sitting on the stone broke in on
his waking dreams, the slow tramp, tramp, tramp of the feet of tired
horses, muffled by the soft sand.  This time the sound came from much
nearer than before.  Then he heard the creaking of the vehicle and the
wisch-wisch of the ploughing wheels.  Then the sound ceased.  A few
moments later he heard a stealthy step approaching the door; just
afterwards came a light tap.

"Who is there?" he called out.

"Open the door quickly.  It is I, Koos."

Nathan sprang out of bed and drew back the bolt.  Koos at once stepped
into the room and glanced furtively around.  His face looked drawn and
haggard and his eyes were bloodshot.

"Are you alone?" he asked, in a husky voice.

"Yes, I am alone.  But be careful, I don't know where Max is."

Koos bent forward until his dry lips almost touched Nathan's ear, and
whispered--

"What has happened?  Tell me quickly."

Nathan drew back slightly and let the ghost of a mocking smile flit over
his features.

"Oh, I got home all right, thanks.  But what brings you here?"

The Boer leant forward across the table and grasped the Jew's wizened
shoulder in his enormous hand.  Nathan shuddered convulsively under the
pressure; he thought his bones were being crushed.  The eyes of Koos
seemed to shoot forth dusky flames.

"Tell me quickly," he said.

"All right," said Nathan, trying hard to wrench himself free, and
feeling, at the same time, that it might be dangerous to take liberties
with the man before him, "I'll tell you, unless you break my blooming
back first of all.  You kicked a little too hard, Koos; the old nigger
is dead."

The visage of Koos became frightful.  He gasped for breath and a low
gurgle came from his throat.  He sat silent for a few moments with his
eyes fixed upon Nathan's in a burning stare.  Then he said in a
strained, hoarse voice--

"Tell me more.  Tell me all about it."

"That's all I know about it myself."

Koos arose slowly from his seat and stretched his hands out towards
Nathan, who, seeing murder in his eye, retreated into the corner.

"Stop, Koos!" he almost screamed.  "So help me God, I know nothing more
about it than what I've told you.  I only came home just before you
did."

Koos sank back into the chair and covered his face with his hands.
After a few minutes he arose and staggered out of the room.  He went to
where his tired horses were still standing in the harness, outspanned
them, and after tying the front legs of each together with a reim,
turned them out to graze.  Then he wrapped himself in his kaross, for
the night air was chilly, and laid himself down under the cart.

He could not sleep.  It seemed to him as if he had never slept, as if
the axis upon which the hollow globe of stars turned was laid through
his brain, as if there were no such thing as sleep in the whole wide
world.  The sky was clear and limpid, as only the sky which leans over
and seems to love the Desert can be.  The sweet, piercing smell of the
dew-wet sand came to him and brought memories of nights spent on the
hunting-field, when the pungent scent, the very breath and essence of
the quick earth, had seemed to renew his spent strength, after the
fatigues of the chase.  But then he had not stained his hands with
blood.

But the awful silence.  Would nothing break it?  It seemed to press upon
and crush him like something ponderable and tangible.  He lifted his
fist and smote lightly the bottom of the cart just over his head.  The
sound seemed to split his brain like an axe.  Then the returning wave of
silence surged around him, and under its impact he seemed to sink as
into a quicksand.

At length, a sound.  Far away on the waste he heard the long-drawn
nasal, melancholy howl of a jackal.  Before the weird cry came to an end
it was taken up by others at a greater distance, and then repeated on
and on like the challenges of crowing cocks in the dawning.

A gush of gratitude came from his darkened heart; he felt that he almost
loved the prowling brutes that had drawn his soul out of the quagmire of
silence in which it had been sunk.  He seemed to feel a kind of
fellowship and sympathy with the jackals.  He wondered why this was.
Then he remembered--

The waning moon had been making paler the western stars, but he had not
noticed it.  The straining of his sound-sense had left no room for that
of sight to come into play.  Now the spell of silence was broken, and
the sense of sight began to assert itself.

His eyes had been closed for some little time.  When he opened them the
Desert was flooded with a gentle haze of diaphanous pearl.  This made
the Namies kopjes look like a group of enchanted islands floating in an
unearthly sea.  The scene was almost too beautiful for mortal eyes.

As the moon soared higher and higher the stones and bushes, which at a
few paces' distance could not be separated from their shortening
shadows, took on strange and ever-changing shapes.  God!  What was that
a few yards from him?  Surely they cannot have brought the body up from
the gully and left it exposed upon the kopje-side?  Yes, there it lay,
huddled and horrible.

He must go and look at it--examine it--even if the doing of this killed
him or drove him mad.  He arose to a crouching position and passed
slowly across the intervening space of a few yards with hesitating
steps.  He bent his horror-distorted face over a stone half hid in
tufted pelargonium.

Day came near.  The glamour and mystery receded from the Desert,
gathered into a wave and broke against the splendid gates of dawn.  A
short and troubled sleep fell upon the wretched man under the cart, and
perhaps saved him for the time being from insanity.  He awoke to find
the flaming sun high in the brazen sky, and the camp at his feet astir
with life.

In the full light of day Koos Bester could hardly realise that he had
been a prey to the horrors of the damned during the long hours of the
previous night.  His terrors had vanished with the distorting moonlight.
What did it matter, after all?  It was true that Nathan could put the
rope around his neck with a word, but he easily persuaded himself the
word would never be spoken.  His conscience was still sore, but not
agonisingly so, now in the daylight.  A Bushman was, after all, only a
Bushman, and the mind of the Boer always draws an important distinction
between a "mens" and a "schepsel."

He felt hungry, so he strolled down through the camps on the look-out
for a breakfast.  He did not want to eat with Nathan again if he could
possibly avoid doing so.  He knew that he must expect to have to run the
gauntlet of covert allusion and innuendo.  He knew that suspicion of
having done the deed--the memory of which hung around his neck like a
millstone--had already marked him, in the estimation of some, at least,
as a sort of minor Cain.  This, however, he was prepared for, and he
could meet the prospect with calmness.  He was now high at the dizzy
extreme of hopeful confidence, resting for the instant's pause before
the return swing of the pendulum to which he was bound, like Ixion to
the wheel, should whirl him back towards the ledges of anguish where the
vultures of remorse were perched, waiting to tear anew at his vitals.

He was consumed by an apprehensive curiosity which burnt him like a
fever.  He longed to hear all about the finding of the body, or--
horrible thought!--had the man been still alive when found?  No, that
was impossible; his reason told him from the heights of reassurance, had
such been the case he would have been apprehended long before this.

As he walked furtively along, still limping slightly from the effects of
the dislocated toe, he glanced hurriedly from side to side from under
his bent brows.  He fancied he was being watched from every mat-house.
Yes, he was.  In the gloom of every doorway he could see the dim faces
of women and children turned in his direction.  Even thus, he imagined,
must the Lord have set a mark upon Cain, that all mankind might know
him.  It seemed as though by some subtle means every one throughout the
scattered camps had simultaneously become aware of his presence.  Just
before descending the hill from where his cart stood outspanned he had
heard laughter and the shrill voices of children at play.  Now all was
mute in an awful, accusing hush.  The sudden silence reminded him of
what he had suffered during the night, before the jackals claimed
fellowship with him, and passed the word of his initiation into their
brotherhood across the listening Desert.  He felt that the brand of
Cain, which none may describe but which none may fail to recognise, was
upon him.

Old Schalk was sitting before his tent, smoking.  Koos made an effort,
and, turning abruptly in his course, walked up and greeted him.  Old
Schalk returned the salutation with more than ordinary friendliness, and
then offered a chair and the inevitable cup of coffee.  These were
gratefully accepted.  The old Boer called to Susannah to bring the
coffee.  She was in the wagon and was thus unaware of the identity of
the visitor.  When she came from the scherm with the cup she coloured
angrily and her eye flashed.  She passed the visitor the cup, but did
not offer her hand in greeting.  Koos winced.  Among the Boers such an
omission can only be construed as a deliberate insult.

Old Schalk was in great form.  From the first glance at the face of his
visitor he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the slayer of Gert
Gemsbok was before him.  His previous suspicions were so strong that
little room for any doubt had existed in his mind.  Here, however, was
proof, writ large for all to read.  Old Schalk was extremely tolerant
where the killing of Bushmen was concerned, and it distressed him
genuinely to see Koos take a comparative trifle so much to heart.  Old
Schalk fell into the error of ascribing _all_ of Koos' distress to mere
fright, so he determined to try and put him at his ease.  Koos had been
watched carefully since his arrival, and Old Schalk knew it was probable
that he was seeking information as to what had transpired since the
commission of the deed.

"Did you hear of the accident the other day?" the old man asked, without
looking at the man he addressed.

"Ja--that is--I heard something--"

"I have often said that an accident would come from letting that horse
of Oom Dantje's run where he can be caught and ridden by the Bushmen."

"What did Oom Dantje's horse do?" said Koos, breathlessly.

Old Schalk shot a glance at him out of the corner of one eye, and looked
puzzled.  It was evident that Koos had not even heard of the verdict.

"Well, no one saw the horse do it, you know; but from the way that old
Bushman was knocked about, I think--myself--that it must have been Oom
Dantje's horse.  I reported so to the magistrate."

Koos set down the empty utensils upon the ground.  The cup rattled like
castanets upon the saucer.  A sense of blissful peace seemed to descend
upon him like a dove with healing wings.  It was the revulsion of
feeling which made him tremble.

"Yes," continued old Schalk, "that young Jew, Max, wanted to talk some
nonsense about what the old Bushman had told him before he died, but I
wouldn't listen.  It's all right, Koos--you needn't look like that."

The dove had changed, in the twinkling of an eye, into a vulture; its
beak was imbedded in his heart-strings.  This was the contingency he had
dismissed as being impossible--the man's having been found alive.  He
must find out what the dying Hottentot had said, or else go mad.  He
arose, shook hurriedly the moist hand of his host with his own burning
one, and then limped painfully back towards the shop.

Oom Schulpad had watched Koos carefully ever since he arose from his
feverish sleep under the cart.  The old fiddler was staying, just then,
with some people who had camped on the site formerly occupied by Koos;
he was sitting in the mat-house with his fiddle on his knee, when Koos
came limping up the sandy slope.  Then the tones of the air which
Gemsbok so often had played upon the ramkee were slowly wailed out from
the strings in a minor key.  Koos stiffened as though he had received an
electric shock, and stood stock still for an instant.  Then he resumed
his limping towards the shop.

Both Nathan and Max were in the iron building; the former writing at the
empty packing-case which served as a desk, and the latter engaged in
bartering wild-cat skins from some strange Hottentots from Great
Namaqualand.  One of the strangers carried a ramkee slung upon his back.
This was not a very unusual circumstance, but to Koos it was an item
full of horrible significance.

The barter was soon over.  Max leaped across the counter and passed out
through the door, cutting Koos dead.  Nathan came forward, greeted him
with hilarity, and then took his stand in the doorway.

The look of hunted terror in the man's face would have moved his
bitterest foe to pity.  He sat down helplessly on an empty packing-case
which was lying where it had been flung, just outside the door, and
looked at Nathan with haggard eyes.  Nathan had ceased from his
letter-writing and come to the doorway, because he did not care to be
alone inside with Koos, after his last night's experience of being
gripped.  He stood in the doorway, whistling, and with his hands in his
pockets.  Then, after a pause--

"Well, Koos, old man, you look chippy to-day.  What's up, eh?"

Koos stood up and again laid his hand on Nathan's shoulder.  Nathan,
however, had been prepared for this, so he slipped like an eel from
under the huge hand that threatened to crush him, darted away to a
distance of a few yards, and then wheeled round facing Koos, who was
limping heavily after him with murder in his eye.  He determined to risk
something.  He had planned out moves for the game he had to play.  Here,
in the full light of day and within sight of the whole of Namies, was
the place to begin the struggle.

"Look here, Koos Bester," he said in a low tone, "if you think you are
going to paw me about as you would a blasted Bushman, you are very much
mistaken.  Understand me now, once and for all--if ever you lay that
leg-o'-mutton hand of yours on me again, I'll--I'll--Well, I won't say
exactly what I'll do, but you can just look out for yourself--mind
that."

Koos at once collapsed into abjectness.  Nathan pursued his advantage--

"One would think it was _I_ that had booted a blooming nigger to death.
Where do you think you'd be if I were to split, eh?"

Here he attempted a somewhat conventional representation of the legal
tragedy which follows the donning of the black cap by a certain high
judicial functionary.  In it his tongue, the whites of his eyes, his
left hand, and the butt of his ear played conspicuous parts.  Koos
gasped and murmured unintelligibly.  Nathan resumed--

"Now, look here, I'm not going to split--this is, if you are a good boy
and do as you're told, and keep your paws to yourself.  See?"  Koos made
a dismal attempt to smile, as though he regarded this as a pleasantry.
He was now completely cowed, and would have set his neck under the foot
of the man before him had he been told to do so.

He came close up to Nathan, cleared his throat, and whispered hoarsely--

"What did he tell your brother?"

"That's just what I don't know.  My brother and I have had a blooming
diplomatic difference; don't speak, you know.  He actually appears to
think that I've had a hand in this business;--as if your feet were not
big enough to do your own kicking."

Koos gave a gasp of relief.  His mind had become almost unnaturally
alert under the strain upon it.  If Max thought as Nathan said, it was
clear that he knew nothing definite.

The unhappy man became conscious of the fact that he had not eaten since
early on the previous day.  A sudden hunger seized him; he felt like a
wolf.  He begged of Nathan to give him food.  Nathan led the way into
the shop, and there produced a loaf of bread, and some bultong which he
took out of a sack under the counter.  Koos seized greedily upon the
food and ate with avidity.  Nathan watched him narrowly.  When he had
finished eating Koos arose and left the shop.  Max had just previously
come in, so Nathan went out after Koos.  He still felt a stiffness in
his shoulder from the effects of last night's gripping.  He shrugged it
purposely until he felt a severe twinge.  The pain was like salt for the
feast of his revenge against the strong man who had hurt and insulted
him.

"Well, old man, had a good feed?"

"Yes, I ate well."

"Yes, you seemed to enjoy your grub.  I say, Koos, I've been thinking
things over a bit, and I find I'll want a few more of those cattle of
yours.  What do you say to my taking another fifty head?"

Koos looked up.  His alert senses had detected something unusual in the
tone of Nathan's voice.  Nathan had distinctly said that he did not
require any more cattle.

"I'm thinking of taking another trip to Cape Town, and I thought you
might just drive another lot down as far as Clanwilliam for me.  What do
you say?"

"Yes, you can have the cattle, but I cannot leave home just now; you
will have to take them over at my camp."

"Well, old man--to oblige a friend, you know.  I think you will be able,
at all events, to send them on for me, eh?"

Nathan looked at Koos with such an amount of sinister meaning that the
miserable Boer was filled with a vague sense of fresh dismay.  Nathan
continued--

"Look here, old man, I'll tell you what we'll do: we'll just drive down
to your place to-morrow--across the dunes, you know--then we'll pick out
the cattle and arrange about how you will send them down."

"But how can we cross the dunes?  Your mules will never pull the cart
through?"

"Quite right, old man; and that's why you are to drive me down in your
own trap.  You told me that you crossed the dunes as you came up, so you
might as well go back the same way.  See?"

"But how are you to get back here if you do not take your own cart?"

Nathan dug Koos playfully in the ribs, and then linked his skinny arm
with the Boer's large limb.

"Well, how stupid of me not to have thought of that.  Let's see--how can
I get back, eh?  Oh, I've just thought of a splendid plan: you'll drive
me back too."

Koos gave a sidelong glance of such bitter hatred at the stunted figure
at his side that, had Nathan seen it, he surely would have recognised
the danger of the course he was pursuing.  But Nathan supposed that the
giant was quite cowed, that this Samson was completely shorn of his
locks.  In his preoccupation he forgot about the Pillars of Gaza.

His thoughts were far away.  He was evolving complicated schemes,
planning vast undertakings, which he meant to effect by means of this
rough instrument, whose strength might be guided by his puny hand.  He
had reasoned it out--his theory as to the proper management of this
tamed monster, and had come to the conclusion that curb, whip, and spur
should be used upon him unsparingly, until he was thoroughly broken to
harness.

Koos did not speak for a while.  Then he said in a strained voice--

"If I take my horses again through the dunes this weather, they will be
quite knocked up.  You had better bring your own trap and mules, and we
will go round the other way."

Nathan stood still, and his companion faced him.  Then he repeated the
pantomime in which his tongue, the whites of his eyes, and the butt of
his ear were so suggestively in evidence.  The face of Koos turned to
the colour of ashes, and he trembled as though he had a fit of ague.
Nathan again dug him playfully in the ribs.

"It's all right, old man, you need not get yourself into a state.  I'm
fond of you, Koos; I really am--in fact I wouldn't hurt you for the
world.  Besides, I'm very fond of your wife.  Ain't she a pretty woman,
eh?  I say, Koos, did you ever see a man hanged?"

The Boer shook like an aspen through every fibre of his immense frame.
His breath came in husky gasps.

"It's all right, old man," continued Nathan, "it's only my fun.  We'll
start to-morrow morning before it gets too hot, eh?  Your horses will do
it right enough.  If the weather is very hot I'll get you to drive me
back the other way.  I'm not going to ask you to take me to Clanwilliam
this time.  I'm always willing to oblige a friend--ain't I, now?"

Just as night was falling Oom Schulpad went for a walk to the other side
of the group of kopjes.  It was dark when he returned, carrying a large
armful of candle-bushes, which he had collected during the day and
hidden in a safe place.  He took these--not to the scherm belonging to
the camp at which he was a guest, but to the deserted scherm formerly
occupied by Gert Gemsbok.  The scattered bushes of the scherm fence he
rearranged, not against the wind but on the side facing the shop.  He
piled the candle-bushes upon the cold hearth and then stole quietly
away.

Later, when the lights began to go out in the camps, he stepped quietly
out of the mat-house, in which he was in the habit of sleeping, with his
fiddle under his arm, and went softly up the hillside.  When he reached
the deserted scherm he laid himself down behind the rearranged fence,
lit his pipe, and waited.

Koos Bester had no supper.  After he had parted from Nathan he went and
sat upon a rock a short distance from where his cart was standing.  His
horses were hobbled close by on the side of the kopje.  He wanted their
companionship during the interminable hours of the coming darkness.

His terrors of the supernatural had, for the moment, burnt themselves
out.  It was the sense of being subject to the ruthless bondage of
Nathan which, just now, maddened him.  He did not expect to sleep, but
he thought he might be able to rest, wrapped in the regal quiet of the
night.

When all was still, when the very last glimmer of light had disappeared
from the camps, Koos arose and returned to his cart.  He wrapped himself
in his blanket and lay down between the wheels.  His brain seemed to
become a little cooler; the dulness of utter fatigue benumbed his
faculties and mitigated his tribulation.  He felt the gracious touch of
the wing of Sleep across his eyelids.  Surely God was taking pity on
him--

A strange flicker of light rose and fell.  What could it possibly mean?
It came from the hillside above the shop.  He must get up and see what
it meant.  Horror! a bright blaze was rising and falling in the scherm
of the man he had slain.  Yet, he tried to reason to himself, what
nonsense to think that there was anything ghostly about the
circumstance.  No doubt some wandering--

His hair stood upon end and he shrieked aloud.  From the scherm arose
the notes of the air he knew so well.  Struck from the strings, the
pizzicato tones of the deadly tune seemed to run through his body until
every nerve vibrated with the hateful sound.  He rushed across the
intervening space and beat with his fists against the iron door of
Nathan's bedroom, until the whole building thundered.

Nathan sprang out of bed in deadly fear.

"Who is that, and what is the matter?" he called.

"Open, quick!  It is I, Koos.  Open, open!"

Nathan drew back the bolt and Koos sprang into the room, panting.

"I have seen his ghost--it is there in the scherm."

"Rot, Koos.  Go to bed."

"It is there; go and see for yourself."

Nathan had no fear whatever of the supernatural.  He slipped on a pair
of shoes and came outside, followed by the trembling Boer.  All was in
darkness; not the faintest glimmer of light could be seen in the
neighbourhood of the scherm, not a sound broke the stillness of the
night.

"Why, you must have the `rats,' Koos.  Go to bed."

Koos begged humbly to be allowed to lie down on the floor in Nathan's
room until morning.  Nathan grumbled a bit, but at last consented to
grant his request.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

"WHOSO DIGGETH A PIT..."

Next morning, just as day was breaking, Nathan and Koos Bester took
their departure from Namies.  Koos had not slept at all during the
previous night.  His face looked pinched and haggard, his hands trembled
so that he was hardly capable of buckling the straps of the harness.

The morning was as pellucid as a dew-drop and the dunes looked
preternaturally clear and distinct, the hollows being filled with
amber-tinted shadow.  The track lay like a narrow, coiling ribbon over
the waste of plumy grass.  The weird form of Bantom Berg arose gradually
before the travellers like a warning finger, indicating the vast
death-trap of which it is the centre, when, as the sun appeared above
the horizon, its shafts smote suddenly as though a furnace-door had been
suddenly opened.  A short, hushing breath, as it were a gasp of
apprehension of the fiery terrors of the day, seemed to pass westward
over the Desert.

They reached a place called "Inkruip," and here it was decided to
outspan and rest the team.  The name is a literal translation into Dutch
of a word in the Bushman tongue which means "creep in."  A small stone
kopje stands here, and in its side is a narrow passage through which an
ordinary-sized man may just manage to force himself.  A small chamber is
then reached, and from this another passage leads.  Into this one can
only pass upon hands and knees.  It rapidly gets narrower, and at length
dips suddenly at an angle of about forty-five degrees for some ten feet.
At the bottom is a little hollow, in which is always to be found a few
pannikinfuls of beautifully clear, fresh water, which is icy cold.  It
takes, however, two people to obtain water at Inkruip, for the man who
descends the sloping shaft cannot get out again unless he is assisted by
some one who pulls him back by means of a reim tied round his feet.

The rocks on the western side of the little kopje still afforded a
slight protection from the blazing sunlight.  The two men crept close
against a low, perpendicular ledge of rock, over which the rays of the
terrible sun were slowly encroaching.  The sand was so hot that the
horses were unable to stand still, so they moved uneasily about in the
vain hope of easing their scorching feet.

"My, but ain't it just sultry!" said Nathan.  He had managed to squeeze
his small body into a wedge of shade too small to accommodate the bulk
of the Boer, who was largely exposed to the sun-glare.

Koos murmured an unintelligible reply.  Nathan, in spite of the heat,
felt in good form; he was determined to converse.

"My, but ain't it funny that a big, strong chap like you should have to
do just as I tell you, eh?"

Nathan could not see his companion's face, so he went on garrulously--

"I'll tell you what I mean to do; I'm just going to have a jolly rest
down at your camp for two or three days.  You can go down to Gamoep and
collect the stock; I'll stay behind and cheer up the missus, eh?"

Koos bit his lip till the blood came.  His face, still averted from
Nathan, turned almost purple; the veins of his temples appeared as
though they would burst.  Nathan went on--"You must excuse me, old man;
I'm not a married man myself, and, what's more, I don't know that I ever
will be, but I've often thought that a married man should keep no
secrets from his wife.  Don't you agree with me, eh?"  Koos still
maintained silence.  "Well, silence gives consent, as the copybooks say,
so I suppose you agree with me.  That being so, and without for a moment
wishing to say anything that might lead your thoughts back in an
unpleasant direction--and I'm sure you'll see that it's only out of
friendship that I ask it--which is: Did you tell your wife about that
little spree the other day?"

"No," replied Koos hoarsely.

"Well, I think you've made a mistake in not doing so, and you must let
me persuade you to tell your wife all about it as soon as we get to your
camp.  If you like you may put off telling her until the morning, but
you'd better get it over, as the man said when he jumped on the back of
the alligator."

"Why should I tell my wife?"

"Several reasons.  One is that if she were to hear about the thing from
any one else she would think you didn't trust her, don't you know.
Another is that I have reason to suspect your wife doesn't like me quite
as well as I like her, and I want her to know what a friend I've been to
you all through this business.  See?"

In the brain of Koos something seemed to snap.  The tension at once
ceased, and he breathed freely.  Strange lights flickered before his
eyes, and his ears were filled with extraordinary sounds.  He seemed to
live through hours of rather pleasant delirium in the course of a few
seconds.  The voice of Nathan recalled him to a sense of his
surroundings.  Then the lights and sounds were suddenly swept away, and
the idea which had been born in the turmoil stood forth adult in
terrible and ravishing nakedness.  His thirsty soul drank deep at the
cup of an awful hope, and the dunes seemed to blossom into a red-hot,
infernal garden.

"Look here, old chap," continued the Jew, plucking at his companion's
sleeve to emphasise what he said.  "No nonsense, mind; you've got to
tell your wife all about it.  See?"

"I'll tell her."

"Yes; and tell her, too, that she's got to make me jolly comfortable
while you're away; and, in fact, to do every blessed thing I tell her.
See?"

"Yes; I'll tell her all that."

"Now that's the way I like to hear you talk--nice and friendly, you
know.  I can see we're going to be good friends right enough.  I'll not
be hard on you, Koos; and if you do all I want you to, we'll both be
quite happy.  See?"

Koos replied in an even, cheerful voice that he would do all he possibly
could to meet Nathan's wishes in everything.  Nathan said--quite
voluntarily--that if the weather continued hot he would not insist on
being driven back through the dunes; he would submit to the
inconvenience of a two-days' journey round by Puffadder instead.  Koos
expressed himself as being appropriately grateful for this evidence of
consideration.

Cordiality being thus restored, the two chatted in the friendliest
manner.  In fact one would have thought that the mutually satisfactory
relations of a week previously had never been interrupted.

When the time came to make another start, Nathan asked Koos to excuse
him from getting up and helping to inspan, so Koos went around the kopje
to where the cart stood and laid out the harness ready to be placed upon
the horses.

Koos carried back to the cart from the kopje the little keg of water
which had been placed in the shade.  No one ever dreams of entering
Bushmanland without at least one of such kegs.  He had taken some pains
to persuade Nathan against drinking more than a mere sip.  Nathan, being
accustomed to travelling in the Desert, knew that this was good advice,
however hard to follow; that one should never touch water if one can
avoid it whilst exposed to the rays of a hot sun.  Nathan was extremely
proud of the self-command which he evinced in following the advice, for
he was very thirsty indeed and would have given a lot for a deep drink
of something cool.

But Koos did a very curious thing after he had laid the harness out; he
scraped a hole in the red-hot sand with his foot, and into this he
poured every drop of the contents of the little keg.  He need not have
taken the trouble to scrape the hole, for the thirsty sand drank up the
water as quickly as if it had been poured into space over the edge of
the car of a balloon.  However, there is nothing like being systematic
when one has important work in hand.  He stowed away the empty keg under
the seat of the cart, and then went to fetch the horses.

These poor animals were standing, only a few hundred yards away, perched
like so many goats upon a low ledge of light-coloured stone.  This was
more bearable to their feet than the red, scorching sand.  The docile,
well-trained brutes stood still until Koos went up and caught them.  He
laughed so heartily that the tears streamed down his cheeks, and he was
hardly able to untie the hobble-knots from the forelegs of the youngest
horse, which, being given to roaming, it was always necessary to secure.
He led the horses back to the cart, and in a few minutes they stood in
the traces uneasily shifting their feet from time to time, and looking
round impatiently for the signal to start.  Koos called to Nathan, who
came forward and took his place, with many groanings, upon the hard,
unprotected seat of the vehicle.

A start was made.  Nathan seemed to fry in the heat.  There was no
longer a track, for whenever the wind blew the ever-shifting sand would
have obliterated the trail of an army in an hour.  Koos, however, knew
every turn and changing fold in the limbs of the dune-monster, and took
advantage of each depression, enabling him to force through one after
another of the interminable series of tentacle-like ridges at its most
vulnerable point.

The heat was indescribable.  The horses broke into a lather of sweat at
every ascent.  This at once dried into adhesive flakes of white paste
whenever the course led downhill.  Nathan suffered increasing agonies
from thirst, but he still listened to the persuasions of his companion
against drinking whilst in the hot sunlight, and thus relaxing his pores
until every drop of moisture drained out of his body.  He accordingly,
with increased admiration for his own powers of endurance, determined to
hold out to the last extremity.  From his manner it might have been
supposed that this exercise of obvious discretion for his own advantage
was really a something which Koos ought to have been extremely grateful
for.

Twenty torrid miles of the dune-ground had to be travelled; on a day
such as this, better fifty in the open Desert.  After they had covered
about eight miles, Nathan found his thirst absolutely intolerable, so he
made Koos stop the cart and get the keg out from under the seat.

"Allemagtig!" exclaimed Koos, "the keg is empty!"

"Empty!" shrieked Nathan in agony.  "Then I'll die of thirst.  Look
here, you damned murdering hound; I'll make you swing for this."

Koos replied to the effect that he was very sorry; he supposed the cork
must have sprung out from the jolting.  Nathan's moods alternated
between the whimperingly pathetic and the impotently furious; his words,
between blasphemous revilings and minor-keyed entreaties.  Koos did his
best to comfort him, promising water within two hours at the most.

The course now led up a deep and narrow passage between two branches
which were rooted in the main dune almost at the same point, and which
ran parallel for several miles.  One of these had to be crossed close to
its point of origin at a spot where it curved slightly, and where the
winds had blown a shallow gap.  This locality was like the innermost
circle of hell.  As the horses bravely struggled up to the gap through
the scorching sand, into which they sank above their fetlocks, Koos
leaped out of the cart so as to ease the strain, and asked Nathan to do
the same.  Nathan, however, plaintively declined, saying that he could
not walk ten yards in the sand.

They reached the top of the ascent, and Koos stopped the horses for the
purpose of giving them a blow.  Then he climbed into the cart and took
his seat beside his suffering companion.  After they had rested for a
couple of minutes, Nathan said, in tones of husky despair--

"Go on, Koos, for God's sake!  I'm dying of thirst!"

Koos gathered the reins up preparatory to making a start.  Then he asked
Nathan to stand up for a moment so that he might adjust the seat.
Nathan, groaning, leant forward and crouched with his hands on the
splash-board.  Koos seized him between his huge hands, lifted him high
with a wrench, and flung him down the side of the dune.

The reins he had gripped between his knees, the whip stood ready at his
hand.  In a moment the team, refreshed by the short pause, were dragging
the cart down the side of the dune at a floundering gallop.

After going for about two hundred yards Koos hauled the horses back
almost upon their haunches, and the cart suddenly stopped.  He looked
round; Nathan was stumbling slowly down the sandy slope, falling every
few yards.  Koos allowed him to come to within about fifty yards of the
cart, and then he urged the horses into a walk.  Nathan made a desperate
effort and broke into a staggering run, which somewhat decreased the
distance.  Koos then whipped the horses into a trot, and he heard behind
him a hoarse and stifled cry as of a wild beast in agony.  After a few
minutes he again pulled the team into a walk and looked back.  A
motionless figure lay huddled with its face upon the sand.

Koos uttered a wild laugh, frightful to hear, and urged the horses
forward at a mad gallop.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THE NACHTMAAL, AND AFTER.

A few days after the departure of Nathan and Koos Bester the great
annual event, the visit of the pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church to
Namies, took place.

The Reverend Nicholas Joubert, who resided at Garies, two hundred miles
as the crow flies, across the Desert, made a tour through Bushmanland
every autumn.  He travelled in his own comfortably appointed
spring-wagon, teams of horses for which were provided by the more
well-to-do among the Trek-Boers, as relays along a prescribed course.

The Trek-Boers congregated at the different water-places to meet the
pastor.  Services would be held, catechisings instituted, confirmations,
marriages, and christenings solemnised.

Namies, if the summer rains happen to have been copious, is the great
assembling-place for the Trek-Boers of Northern Bushmanland; in fact,
several dozen camps may be seen grouped around the kopjes on these
occasions, and the pastor has known what it is to preach there to
several hundred souls.

There is little that is distinctive about these meetings.  Enthusiasm is
not an element in them, for the Boer, and more especially the Trek-Boer,
takes his religion, like everything else, quietly and without passion or
excitement.  The sermons are mainly theological, the prayers are
extremely long, the Old Testament is more in evidence than the New, the
singing of the psalms and hymns is nasal, and extremely trying to any
one with a musical ear.

This species of religious gathering is known as the "Nachtmaal," which
is the Dutch equivalent for the Lord's Supper.  In the more civilised
districts the Boers gather from far and near around the different
church-buildings four times annually.  In Bushmanland, however, no
church-buildings exist, so the pastor gathers his wandering sheep
together once in every year, usually in autumn, but of course the time
must be determined by the rains.  They are thus kept in touch with the
formal observances of their professed religion.

It is a strange and motley gathering which one sees under the awning of
"buck-sails," as the canvas overalls of the wagons are called, stretched
over poles.  Probably the assemblage contains a larger proportion of
unattractive female countenances than one would find in any other
collection of Caucasians.  Here and there, however, one may notice a
strangely beautiful face shining like a fresh lily between withered
cabbages.  Among the faces of the men one notices many diverse types.
Some show a rugged nobility that would ensure their owners a fair
livelihood in any city where art is followed.  The most salient
characteristic of both men and women is the listlessness of attitude as
well as of expression.

All were wondering at Nathan's absence; for obvious reasons he always
made a point of being present at the Nachtmaal.  This is the great time
for squaring off accounts, for bartering piles of hides, jackal-skins,
and karosses, the latter made by the deft fingers of the Boer women from
the skins of the fat-tailed sheep, as well as from those of wild
animals.  Nathan had left no instructions; he had even taken the keys of
the little iron safe in which the promissory notes, "good-fors," and
acknowledgments of debt which the Boers had signed from time to time to
cover their accounts, were kept.  Such transactions involved a ruinous
rate of interest for the accommodation granted, and were generally made
payable at Nachtmaal-time.  Max knew that Nathan had an unusually large
number of these on hand.  On several grounds Nathan's absence was
absolutely unaccountable.

As the Trek-Boers assembled from far and near Max had a busy time of it.
It seemed to be a _sine qua non_ among the Boers that each individual
should have at least one new article noticeable in his or her attire at
the Nachtmaal.  It was customary for Max to nail down the flap of the
counter at Nachtmaal-time, so as to prevent the women, many of whom are
incorrigible pilferers, from crowding round beneath the shelves and
"snapping up unconsidered trifles."

Sunday passed with its almost interminable services, and on Monday Maria
and Petronella were united in marriage to their respective swains.  The
weddings were only two among some dozen or so.  These were, however, the
most notable--one would hardly use the term "fashionable."

The brides were attired in white muslin frocks and pale green sashes.  A
single wreath of orange-blossoms was divided between them.  The
bridegrooms levied contributions on several friends for the black
broadcloth attire in which they were wed.  Black broadcloth, largely
irrespective of fit, represents the Boer ideal of the perfection of male
garb.

In the evening something remotely approaching a jollification was held
at the Hattingh camp.  Next to Old Schalk's wagon stood another, which
had been borrowed for the occasion, and between the tent-frames of these
vehicles some of the buck-sails, which had formed the roof of the
extemporised church of the previous day, were stretched.  In the space
thus covered in the company sat whilst innumerable cups of coffee were
handed round.  Mynheer, the minister, came and remained for about half
an hour.  After he had taken his departure for his wagon, which was
outspanned on the other side of the kopjes, Oom Schulpad produced his
violin and struck up a lively polka.

Dancing was, of course, out of the question under the awning on account
of the sand.  In the large mat-house and in the tent, however, the
floors had been hardened by use.  The contents of these edifices were
soon removed and piled outside, and a few couples forthwith began
dancing.  Each respective bride and bridegroom danced exclusively one
with the other, and the couples who stood up at first remained, as a
rule, partners for the whole evening.

At the conclusion of each dance the couples in possession of the limited
spaces came outside and seated themselves under the awning, thus making
room for another relay.  The only lights came from a few dip candles,
and the dust kicked up from loose floors hung about in thick clouds.
Dancing was carried on in a silent, business-like manner, each lady
holding her partner with interlocked fingers behind his neck, whilst he
passed his arms around her substantial body just below the armpits, and
clasped his hands behind her back.

Susannah refused to dance; she and Max sat together just outside the
awning, listening to the music.  Oom Schulpad sat playing between the
mat-house and the tent, so that the polkas could be heard equally well
in both.

Old Schalk sat in his chair under the awning and talked oracularly to an
attentive circle.  His wife, fatigued from the exertions of the day, had
collapsed on a stool in the scherm, from which she continually dispensed
coffee, with the assistance of the Hottentot maids.

"I wonder where Koos Bester is," said Oom Dantje van Rooyen; "I never
knew him miss a Nachtmaal before."

"I passed his camp on Thursday," said a Boer from the eastward, "and his
wife told me that he was lying sick in the mat-house."

"Did she say what was the matter with him?" asked Old Schalk.

"Yes; she said it was pains in his head, and that he could not sleep and
would not eat or speak.  Did you hear that he killed two of his horses
when going through the dunes after he left here?  They died just after
he reached home."

"No, I didn't hear that.  Was Nathan at the camp?"

"No, I heard nothing of Nathan."

"That is strange; he and Koos left here last Friday week."

"How can that be, then?  My son Diedrik met Koos driving home from the
dunes on Friday evening, and he was alone."

Old Schalk smoked in silence for a few moments; then he called to Max,
who came in immediately.

"Max, have you heard when Nathan is coming back?"

"No, Oom, I have heard nothing of him since he left here with Koos
Bester."

"That was on Friday week, eh?"

"Ja, Oom."

Old Schalk smoked for a long time in silence; Max rejoined Susannah
outside.  One by one the male guests arose from their seats and left the
awning.  Outside they collected in two or three groups and conversed in
whispers.  Diederik, the young Boer who had been referred to in the
conversation with Oom Dantje van Rooyen, was called from the mat-house,
where he was dancing.

Diederik repeated his story.  He had, undoubtedly, seen Koos Bester
driving alone from the direction of the dunes on the evening of the day
upon which Koos and Nathan left Namies.  Although not spoken of, it was
well known that Koos Bester had killed Gert Gemsbok, and every one had
noticed the strangeness of Koos' manner ever since.

A shadow of apprehension seemed to have fallen on the company.  Men
glanced up in silence and read in each other's eyes their own ominous
thoughts.  Max noticed the change which had come over the others, and
inquired as to the reason.  Old Schalk sent again for him, and quietly
told him the facts as they stood, and left him to draw his own
deductions.

At midnight the newly married couples were escorted to their respective
wagons, which were standing within a short distance of each other, by a
party of young men and maidens.  After some uncouth romping and
unrefined jokes the escort returned to the Hattingh camp.  Contrary to
usage the party broke up at once, the different families returning to
their respective camps, silent, or whispering to each other the
forebodings which they felt.

Afterwards a few of the Boers met as a sort of informal council to
discuss the situation and decide as to what was best to be done under
the circumstances.  The meeting took place at the Hattingh camp, and Max
was present.  It was settled that a party of six men should start at
once for Inkruip.  After resting there until daylight they would take on
the spoor of the cart through the dunes.  The dune route being the
shortest cut to Koos Bester's camp, there was no necessity for sending a
party round by the road.

Of course the most urgently necessary thing to do was to interrogate
Koos himself.  The wind had not blown with any degree of violence since
the date of the departure of the missing man, so there would be no
difficulty in finding and following the spoor.

During the discussion several very suspicious circumstances came to
light.  These were all more or less trifles, but, under the
circumstances, they became significant.  One had noticed Koos walking by
himself, muttering, and with hands convulsively clenched.  Another had
seen him look at Nathan with a terrible expression.  Then the killing of
the horses.  It was well known that Nathan had been in Koos' company
when Gert Gemsbok had been killed.  Over and over again the young man
who had passed Koos on his way from the dunes was interrogated and
cross-examined, but his story could not be shaken.  Every one felt
satisfied that a tragedy had taken place, and was eager to clear up the
mystery.

Within an hour the party, under the leadership of Oom Dantje van
Rooyen--who rode the identical horse that was supposed to have killed
Gert Gemsbok--had started.  Inkruip was reached shortly before dawn.
Here a halt was made.  The most slender man was made to go down the
inclined shaft for the purpose of filling the water-bottles.  At the
first glimmer of dawn the saddles were again placed upon the horses.

The spoor of the cart lay as clearly defined as if it had only been made
on the previous day.  It is a peculiarity of the Desert sand that if the
wind has not happened to blow hard it retains a spoor distinctly for
weeks, or even months.

Shortly after starting it was found that the ordinary course through the
dunes had been departed from; the spoor trended away to the left,
towards Bantom Berg, and led through a tract which, according to the
patriarch of the party, had never been crossed by a vehicle before.

"Allemachtig!" said Oom Dantje, as he ploughed through sand which nearly
reached his horse's knees, "no wonder he killed two of his team!"

More and more the spoor trended towards Bantom Berg.  The day was cool,
a light breeze blowing from the south, so neither men nor horses were
much distressed.  Suddenly the spoor curved towards a gap in the
right-hand dune.  In climbing to this the men, with one accord,
dismounted from their horses.  When they reached the middle of the gap
they stood still to recover breath.

"Look there," said Oom Dantje, pointing to a couple of jackals slinking
off into a small patch of scrub about two hundred yards ahead.

"Yes, and there are the ears of another sticking out over that tuft,"
said one of the men.

They moved slowly on.  As they did so they saw several more jackals.
These trotted or slunk away to right and left.  Oom Dantje reined in his
horse and raised his hand as a sign to the others to pause.  Then he
pointed to what appeared to be fragments of torn clothing scattered
about on the sand at each side of the track.  They rode a little nearer,
but again paused--with one accord this time, for under the surrounding
bushes, whither they had been dragged by the jackals, they saw the
scattered bones of a human body.

There was no doubt as to the identity of the remains.  The different
articles of clothing were well known as having belonged to Nathan.
Every fragment was carefully gathered up and placed in a sack which one
of the men had been using as a saddlecloth.  A pocket-book containing
papers, a bunch of keys and a silver watch, were also found.  These were
carefully placed in a saddle-bag.

The gruesome bundle was tied across the saddle upon one of the horses,
and the cavalcade started back for Namies, the men dismounting by turns
to give a lift to the man who had lent his horse for the purpose of
carrying the remains.  It was nearly midnight when they reached Namies.

Old Schalk at once woke to sense of his duty as Assistant Field Cornet.
Within half an hour a mounted messenger was on his way to the Special
Magistrate with a quaintly scrawled report of the case.

Max was sent for.  He stood over the sack which contained the mortal
remains of his brother with a very white, scared face.  He was filled
with horror, but felt no grief.  The dead man had earned his brother's
hatred and contempt.  Max did not pretend for a moment that he felt any
sorrow.  He could not but feel that the fate which had befallen one whom
he instinctively knew was responsible to a great extent for a foul
murder committed on an innocent fellow-creature was largely deserved.

Within a quarter of an hour almost every inhabitant of Namies was at the
Hattingh camp.  Old Schalk sat on his chair and propounded oracularly
his views upon the occurrence to all and sundry.  A fire was lit--
kettles, pannikins, and other requisites were fetched from the
surrounding camps, and a sort of coffee-parliament held session until
long after sunrise.

The sack containing the horror had not been opened, pending the arrival
of the Special Magistrate; it was hung in the fork of a high koekerboom
about fifty yards away.  Towards this tree which bore such terrible
fruit furtive and frightened glances were shot from time to time.  The
children, who had crept out and joined the elders, cowered in terror
against the latter's legs whilst the darkness lasted.  After daylight
had come, curiosity got the better of fright, and they crept out and
took up positions in small groups around the koekerboom, but at a
respectful distance.  For hours they silently gazed, wide-eyed and
fascinated, at the Thing which hung in its fork, lifted thereto by its
own act when a sentient being, even as Haman of old was hung upon the
high gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

"WHOSO BREAKETH A FENCE..."

The night had just fallen when Koos Bester arrived at his camp after
leaving Nathan, his persecutor, to his dreadful fate in the burning
dunes.  Koos arrived in the wildest state of excitement and the highest
of spirits.  His team was in a miserable condition; the poor horses just
staggered away for a few yards when outspanned and then sank exhausted
on the ground.  The Hottentot servants attempted to make them get up and
walk slowly about so as to cool gradually before drinking.  With some
difficulty the leaders were got upon their legs.  The wheelers, however,
could not be induced by either blows or persuasion to arise; about an
hour afterwards it was found that they were dead.

Mrs Bester was very uneasy; she felt that something was wrong.  Koos
drank quantities of water but could not be induced to eat.  After a
while he flung himself upon the bed and fell at once into a deep sleep
which lasted until noon of the following day.  Then he became violently
ill.  At his wife's earnest solicitation he had eaten a little food upon
awakening, but this he was unable to keep upon his stomach.  Then he lay
on the bed for a couple of days, during which he hardly spoke.

All the other Boers had trekked away to the Nachtmaal at Namies, so,
with the exception of her old and feeble father and the Hottentot
servants, Mrs Bester had no one to turn to for assistance or advice.

One night Koos began muttering to himself; from this time he seemed to
be quite bereft of his understanding.  He sometimes ate food that was
placed before him with avidity.  Six days and nights passed in this
manner.  He appeared to suffer acute pain in his head and to be
continually thirsty.  At length he again slept deeply.  Mrs Bester had
taken the children out of the mat-house and was staying with them in the
wagon for the purpose of keeping them quiet.  In the middle of the night
she stole quietly out and went on tiptoe to the mat-house door.  She
listened carefully, but there was no sound of breathing.  Then she
softly struck a match and looked in under the door-flap.  The bed was
empty.  She called up the servants and a search was made, but no trace
of her husband could be found.

Koos Bester awoke just before midnight and sat up in bed.  He could not
remember where he was or what had happened.  He got up and groped about;
then he realised that he was at home, in his own mat-house.  Then the
past came back to him, bit by bit, and the wretched man realised that he
had stained his soul with a double murder.  He would be hanged, that was
now certain; he would give himself up and get the thing over as soon as
possible.  To get it over quickly was all he was very anxious about.

But where were his wife and children?  Some faint flickering memories of
what had occurred during his delirium came back to him, and he arrived
at a true inference regarding their absence.  He was glad.  It was
terrible to be alone, but the dread of meeting his wife and telling
her--as he felt he inevitably must when next he saw her--of what he had
done, kept him from calling her.  He felt quite sure that she and the
children were in the wagon, close at hand.

The darkness was full of terrible and menacing shapes; huddled figures
crouched all over the floor.  The far, faint yowl of a jackal sounded
from the direction of the dunes; it reminded him of Nathan's hoarse,
despairing scream when he realised that he was abandoned to die of
thirst.  The mat-house, with its population of mysterious shadows and
huddled shapes, became intolerable.  Better the sense of freedom outside
under the accusing stars, where a man can get away from the thing that
seems to crawl to his feet as though to clasp his knees.  He lifted the
door-flap and stepped out into the night.

The Hottentot servants had inhabited a scherm about fifty yards to the
rear of the camp.  Hottentots often sit up more than half the night,
chatting, laughing, and dancing.  Mrs Bester, for the sake of keeping
the neighbourhood quiet, had told the servants to move their scherm
farther away.  They had, accordingly, taken their belongings to the
other side of a little knoll about two hundred yards away, on the
right-hand side of the camp.  Here they might hold their nocturnal
jollifications to their hearts' content without disturbing anybody or
anything except the meerkats in the adjacent burrows.

A wandering stranger from Great Namaqualand had arrived during the
course of the evening.  This man had a ramkee upon which he performed
with skill.  A few months previously he had visited Namies, and had one
night listened to Gert Gemsbok playing his favourite tune.  Being struck
with admiration of the melody, he had picked it up.  He was now
popularising it among the dwellers of the Desert, for he played it at
every scherm he visited.

Coffee had been made of burnt rye, a sheep had died on the previous day;
thus the scherm contained the materials for a feast.  The company had
been dancing to a series of inspiriting reels, but were now resting a
space from their laborious leapings and gruntings.  The stranger was
playing Gert Gemsbok's tune as an interlude to the reels.  A bright fire
of candle-bushes was burning.  All but the ramkee player were lying down
resting behind the scherm fence.

When Koos Bester stepped out of the mat-house he at once experienced a
sense of relief.  His head was bare and the cool breeze which wandered
over the Desert refreshed his brain.  The stars could, he found, pity as
well as accuse; the night seemed to take compassion on his misery.  He
looked round to the back of the camp in the direction of where the
scherm of the servants had been, and was relieved to see no light.  He
wanted to be free--even of the suggestion of the presence of another
human being--until he had rearranged his distorted faculties.  The sandy
road led past the camp; he turned to the right and paced slowly along
it, with bent head.

He stopped short, for a sound of horribly familiar music reached his
ear; then he started and gasped, for the glow of a fire smote his eyes,
coming from behind the little knoll.  Being to windward of the knoll, he
could not exactly distinguish what tune was being played.  He knew that
the instrument was a ramkee--that, in itself, was sufficiently horrible.
A cold hand seemed to steal into his breast and gradually close upon
his stricken heart.  He stood rigidly still and tried to catch the tune
exactly.  He strained every nerve with this end, but the breeze
freshened slightly, and only an indefinite tinkle reached him.  In the
midst of his reeling consciousness only one idea stood firm--he must go
closer and determine who the player was and what the tune that was being
played.  He pressed his hands convulsively to his ears and stepped,
crouching, towards the knoll.

He reached the knoll and cautiously raised his head till he was able to
see over its top.  The musician was sitting with his back towards the
watcher, and just inside the scherm.  Against the diffused glow of the
embers--for the flame had died down--the outline of his head and
shoulders stood clear and black.  To the mind of Koos came the certain
conviction that he was looking at the ghost of the man he had murdered.
With a supreme effort of despairing will he tore his shielding hands
away from his ears, and the unmistakable tones of the dead man's music
crashed like thunder into his brain.

Then Koos Bester's madness returned upon him, and he fled away
noiselessly across the Desert sands in the direction of the dunes.

It was long before he paused, for the fever in his brain prevented him
from feeling fatigue.  At length, as he was running over the roofs of a
city of Desert mice, the ground gave way beneath his foot and he fell.
The shock rendered him almost senseless.  After a few minutes he sat up,
pressed his hands to his temples, and began to grope in the haunted
spaces of his darkened intellect for some clue to guide him.

He looked around.  The dew-washed air of the Desert night was clear as
crystal, the pulsing stars were domed over him sumptuously.  He dug his
hot hands into the cooling sand and lifted his faced to meet the soft,
refreshing breeze.

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

The Hottentots at the scherm had evidently thrown another armful of
candle-bush upon the embers, for a bright flame shot up and momentarily
increased in volume.  Koos gazed at it, fascinated.  As the fire grew
brighter he thought it was rushing toward him with terrific speed.  The
flames had been sent from hell to consume him quick.  Like Abiram, God
had doomed him for his crimes to go down alive into the pit.  He sprang
to his feet with a terrible cry, and again fled onwards in the direction
of the dunes.

When he again paused he was wading in the heavy sand on the flank of the
main dune.  He had ascended slightly and thus could overlook a large
area of the Desert.  The cold breath which circles around the world as
the precursor of the dawn was stealing over the plains.  The rain had
fallen recently upon this side of the Desert, and many of the Boers had
sent their stock, in charge of herds, to graze on the track of the
shower.  The scantily clad Hottentots awoke to the chill, so they began
to light fires.  Here and there, at immense distances apart, he could
see the sudden leapings of the flames from the easily kindled
candle-bushes.  To the demented brain of the fugitive it appeared as if
the whole Desert were full of fiends seeking him with torches, far and
near.  Where the Milky Way dipped to the horizon the thronging stars
seemed each a torch lit at the nether flame, and borne by a searching
demon.  In among the sinuous dunes he might escape.  If he could but
reach Inkruip he might creep down the water-shaft and hide.  They would
never think of looking for him there.  In the icy water he might cool
his scorched brain.

He stumbled on, crossing dune after dune and ploughing through the sand
as with the strength of a giant.  In one of the hollows he came to a
clump of low bush.  Into this he crept for hiding.  He lay prone,
completely covered, and looking out through a narrow opening.  The
morning star tipped the back of the dune he had last crossed and
thrilled through the clear atmosphere with almost super-stellar
brilliance.  Koos took this for the torch of a tracking fiend, and again
rushed forward with a scream of agonised dismay.  His only possible
refuge now was under the ground at Inkruip.

The sun arose and scorched his bare head.  He was now almost
unconscious; he simply pressed forward in obedience to a blind, animal
instinct--a sort of momentum generated by the terror which had passed
away with the darkness.

It was an awful day, not a breath of wind could be felt, but the sun
smote down from a pitiless heaven in all the fulness of its torrid
might.  Koos pressed blindly up the side of a steep, high dune--his
breath coming in husky, choking gasps.  Then something seemed to explode
in his head with the sound like that of a cannon, and he fell upon his
face in the sand.

He had one blinding flash of consciousness, during the continuance of
which he seemed again to live through all his lifetime and see anew
everything he had ever seen.  The minutest trifles of former experience
became distinctly apparent, as the smallest details of a landscape show
up when lightning flashes near and vividly on a dark night.  Then came
the darkness which men call death.

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

As soon as ever day broke the spoor of the missing man was found and
followed.  Mrs Bester, assisted by her old father, inspanned four
horses in the cart and drove on behind the trackers.  When she reached
the dunes she found that the horses could take the cart no farther, so
she outspanned the team and tied the legs of each animal together to
prevent it from straying.

She sat through weary hours in the broiling heat.  Early in the
afternoon one of the Hottentots returned with word that her husband's
dead body had been found.  The horses were at once inspanned, and the
cart taken by a roundabout course to the vicinity of where it was lying.
It was late at night when she arrived at the camp, with the corpse of
her husband tied, stiff and stark, on the seat beside her.

Next day two constables came with a warrant for Koos Bester's arrest,
but he had gone before a higher tribunal than that of the Special
Magistrate.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

A CONVERSION, A WEDDING, AND SEVERAL OTHER THINGS.

Max, being heir to his brother's estate, was now well off.  Old Schalk,
mindful of his account as standing in the books at the shop, felt
obliged to be civil.  Max was, and felt himself to be, master of the
situation.

No longer the shy, diffident dreamer of a few months back, Max developed
a keenness and aptitude for business which came as an unpleasant
revelation to those who tried to get on his blind side.  In fact Max had
no blind side--he seemed to have eyes all round his head.

He soon satisfied himself of one thing, namely, that a business such as
his, unless the legitimate gains were supplemented by the profits of the
illicit trade in wild ostrich feathers, would not pay at Namies.  Not
seeing his way towards following Nathan's dangerous methods, he
determined to wind up the business as it stood, and reopen in some spot
in Southern Bushmanland were the farmers were in better circumstances,
and where communication with more civilised parts was neither so
difficult nor so uncertain.  However, he kept these conclusions strictly
to himself.

There was one drawer in the little iron safe of which Nathan had always
kept the key.  Upon opening this he found, to his astonishment,
documents which showed that there was a balance to his credit in one of
the Cape Town banks of over a thousand pounds, and that the stock, which
was worth several hundreds more, was fully paid for.  He was a rich man.
The diamonds were worth a considerable amount--but these he would have
to keep until he could go to Europe before he could realise them.

Amid the flux and reformation of his character his love for Susannah
never changed.  It was probably owing to this that he did not, under his
recent experiences, lose all faith in human nature.  He now felt that he
was in such a position that he could marry whenever he wanted to.  As a
measure of policy he allowed, at this juncture, the Hattinghs to have a
little more credit, and the quality of the coffee dispensed so lavishly
by Mrs Hattingh from the scherm--to all comers--improved very much in
consequence.  He made up his mind that as soon as Susannah became his
wife he would write off the whole of the Hattingh account as a bad debt,
and afterwards take care that no further credit was given in that
quarter.

"I will marry you as soon as ever you like," said Susannah to him one
day; "but you must first become a Christian; then I know Uncle will not
refuse."

Max had not the slightest objection to doing this.  He had left his
people when but a child, and had thus never acquired that pride of race
which so distinguishes the average Jew, and which often causes him to
cleave passionately to the observances of that religion which still
keeps Israel a separate people, even after all faith in dogma may have
perished.

Max had come in contact with no Jews except Nathan and others of his
class.  These had earned the young man's unmitigated contempt.  As to
Christianity--he looked upon its profession as a mere matter of
convenience.  The only Christians whom he knew were very sincere in
their faith, and would have looked upon any one harbouring the slightest
religious doubt as being worse than heathen Bushmen, yet their religion
did not appear to have the slightest effect upon their conduct.  The
case of poor old Gert Gemsbok had set Max thinking deeply upon these
matters, and the conclusions he arrived at were only negative ones.

The mind of Max, from utter want of culture, was probably not well
fitted to deal with the higher problems.  Had it been so he might easily
have seen that the so-called Christians who inhabited Bushmanland were
really far more like Jews than the worshippers in any modern synagogue
on Saturday, for they looked upon themselves as the Almighty's chosen
people, and felt that the heathen had been given to them as their
inheritance, even as the Hittites, the Hivites, and other unhappy tribes
had been given for spoiling unto the followers of Moses.  In this
essential of all Christianity worth the name the love of one's kind,
irrespective of colour or class, the Boer certainly fails.  On the other
hand, his attitude towards the inferior race is almost exactly that of
the Old Testament Jew, with, however, one important reservation--he does
not look upon it as a sacred duty to destroy them, nor does he do so
unless he considers that they have provoked destruction by refusing to
obey his behests.

Max possessed a useful native faculty for arranging evidence, digesting
it, and deciding impartially thereon.  He brought this faculty to bear
upon the question of religion, with the result that he made up his mind
that the two religions he had had some experience of were equally true
and equally false.  Certainly he had very little evidence, one way or
another, to go upon.  His surroundings, rather than he, were responsible
for this.  Probably, moreover, the religious sense was absent from his
organisation.  His natural impulses were good, he had no ideals or
aspirations.  He looked upon most of the people with whom he came in
contact with a kind of mild contempt.  He saw clearly in them weaknesses
of which he himself was free.  Thus, without being in any way conceited,
he felt instinctively that he was superior to the generality of those he
met.

Life with Susannah appeared good to him, and he would not let the faint
and mainly instinctive scruples which he felt about professing a
religion he did not believe in, stand in the way of the realisation of
his happiness.  So he borrowed a Catechism of the Dutch Reformed Church
from Old Schalk and began to read up towards his conversion.

He found that without any further explanations he had come to be looked
upon as Susannah's accepted lover.  It was, of course, assumed that he
was to be baptised and received as a Church member as soon as possible.

By collusion with Mrs Hattingh he managed so that some feminine
habiliments of very superior quality, which came with his last
consignment of goods from Cape Town, were purchased for Susannah.  Her
lover had, accordingly, the pleasure of at length seeing Susannah
dressed in a manner which did something like justice to her beauty.

Max caused two commodious mat-houses to be put up at the back of the
shop, on the site of poor old Gemsbok's scherm.  These he furnished
simply but comfortably.

In the course of a few months the Reverend Nicholas Joubert received a
call at Garies from a young Jew, who stated that he had abjured the
errors of Judaism and wished to embrace the Christian faith.  Although
his face seemed familiar, Mr Joubert did not at first recognise the
convert.  However, he eventually recalled--or said that he recalled--
having seen him at Namies.  As the convert stated that the services held
by Mr Joubert were the only Christian ones he had ever been present at,
the minister naturally enough attributed this remarkable conversion to
the efficacy of his own personal ministrations, and was favourably
disposed to the neophyte accordingly--especially as the latter answered
all questions put to him most discreetly and knew his Catechism so well.
No obstacles intervening, the preliminary steps towards Church
membership were at once taken, and Max returned without delay to Namies.

He took back with him some books, with the contents of which he had to
make himself familiar.  Before leaving he made an arrangement of terms
in which the minister, for a consideration, agreed to make his next
visit to Bushmanland at a much earlier date than usual, and to solemnise
a certain confirmation and a wedding--the confirmed party being the
bridegroom--on the same day.

This programme was carried out.  Max and Susannah were married.  There
were very few Boers in the vicinity of Namies just then, so the wedding
was an extremely quiet affair.  The short honeymoon was spent in Old
Schalk's wagon (lent for the occasion) at Agenhuis, a water-place about
forty miles away.  In the midst of his raptures Max found time to effect
a favourable deal in fat-tailed sheep, which were just then very much in
demand by the travelling agents of the Cape Town butchers.

Very soon after his marriage Max began to make arrangements for winding
up his business.  He had heard of a spot on the southern margin of the
Desert where rains fell with comparative regularity, and where a
profitable trade might be done in salt from the neighbouring "pans."
Here he determined to establish a business.  Old Schalk did not like the
idea of his leaving Namies, but Susannah raised no objection whatever to
his doing so.

It is not many years since all this happened.  To-day, at a certain
place where there is a well which affords a copious supply of very pure
water, in the northern part of the Calvinia Division, there stands a
small but comfortable house built of red brick.  Over the front door is
a signboard bearing the legend: "Max Steinmetz, Allegemene Handelaar en
Produkten Kooper."  ["General Dealer and Produce Buyer."]  Behind the
counter you may see Max, and sometimes Susannah.  Playing about outside,
whenever the weather is cool enough, may be noticed several small,
dark-eyed children of remarkable beauty.  Max has changed in appearance
more than Susannah.  The sedentary life and close application to
business has made his shoulders stoop somewhat and given deepening lines
to his face.  He is still handsome, but, somehow, one feels that Raphael
would no longer have cared to paint his portrait.

Susannah is as pretty as ever, and has acquired a touch of refinement
which was wanting before.  On the other hand, her features have a
suspicion of dawning sharpness which they lacked in the old days at
Namies.

Max has prospered.  The moral trade in salt gives smaller profits than
did the immoral trade in wild ostrich feathers, but it is safe, and
there is no heavy legal penalty hanging like a Damocles sword over the
head of the trader.  The business now supports a clerk--a young
Englishman of good education but indifferent lungs, and who was ordered
a karoo climate by the doctors.

It is the rule of the Steinmetz household that nothing but the English
language shall be spoken--unless when there happen to be Dutch guests
present.  Susannah is thus rapidly acquiring a knowledge of her
husband's mother-tongue.  To this end Max encourages her to read English
books, and he corrects, in private, the faults of her speech.

Max still has the diamonds in his safe.  He means some day to take them
to England.  If, however, his business continues to prosper at the same
rate as during the past few years, there is at least a chance of his not
disposing of them.  It may be--for Max has a sound instinctive knowledge
of human nature--that he will have them cut and made into a necklace,
and that he may attempt to bribe Susannah with this to reconsider her
decision never to leave her beloved Bushmanland.  Max knows that
Susannah has an extremely pretty neck; what is more, she knows it too--
moreover, he knows that she knows it.

If Susannah's command of the English language improves, it is quite
possible that the effect of the necklet may be all that Max desires.

_Bultong_.--Dried meat.

_Cartel_.--A framework of wood, filled in with laced thongs.  It is
usually slung in the tent of a wagon, but is occasionally fixed upon
forked sticks driven into the ground, and used as a bedstead.

_Kaross_.--A rug made of brayed skins.

_Kloof_.--A valley with steep sides.

_Koekerboom_.--A large arboreal aloe (_Aloe dichotoma_).

_Kopje_.--An abrupt hillock.

_Mat-house_.--A structure made of mats stretched over laths.

_Meerkat_.--A weasel-like ichneumon.

_Mens_.--A person.

_Nachtmaal_.--The celebration of the Lord's Supper.

_Oom_.--Uncle.

_Ou' ma_.--Grandmother.

_Pronk_.--The springbucks are said to "pronk" when they bound along with
arched back and erected mane.

_Ramkee_.--A musical instrument resembling a banjo, which is in use
among the Hottentots.

_Reim_.--A thong.

_Sampau_.--A creature resembling a tick, which is extremely poisonous.

_Schepsel_.--Creature, usually meant in a derogatory sense.

_Scherm_.--A low screen of bushes.

_Tanta_.--Aunt.

_Trek_.--(verb) To pull.  The term is used to describe anything moving
from place to place.

_Tronk_.--A prison.

_Veld_.--The open, uncultivated country.

_Feld-kost_.--Tubers, bulbs, of wild plants, suitable as food.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

NOQUALA'S CATTLE--A TRAGEDY OF THE RINDERPEST.

A KAFFIR AT HOME.

It was about eleven o'clock of a winter's morning in 1897 when Noquala
stood before his hut and watched his cattle being driven in for milking.
A noble, dun-coloured bull, in whose lowing the amatory and the defiant
were about equally mingled, led the herd through the narrow gateway of
the kraal, in which ample enclosure he stood, pawing the dusty manure
over his shoulders and flanks.  From a smaller enclosure a few yards
away to the right came a chorus of agonised appeals for milk from the
waiting calves.  The herd of cattle numbered rather more than a hundred,
and it could be seen by the most unprofessional eye that in quality its
members were far superior to the usual run of cattle that one sees at
the ordinary native kraal.  The majority were dun-coloured.

Noquala was a jovial-looking Hlubi of about fifty years of age, stoutly
built, and with a shrewd, lively eye.  His hair and beard were markedly
tinged with grey.  His only clothing was a red blanket loosely drooped
around his middle, leaving his trunk and his strong shoulders bare.  On
his right arm, above the elbow, he wore a thick ring of ivory; otherwise
he wore no ornament whatever.

Makalipa, Noquala's wife, was sitting in the sun at the side of the hut,
lazily engaged in making a mat out of rushes.  She addressed her husband
by name once or twice, but he, being absorbed in the contemplation of
his herd of cattle, which was the thing he most loved in the world--his
children not excepted--took no notice whatever of her.

"You, you--I wonder you do not sleep in the kraal; I wonder you do not
eat grass," she said, in an audible soliloquy.  "If I loved cattle like
you do I would tie a pair of horns on my head and go on all fours.  You
are more of a bull than a man, and ought to be married to a cow."

The cattle were all in by this time, and the youngest of the calves, a
glossy-black little beast, was conducted to the kraal by a naked lad,
about ten years of age.  The little animal strained at the leash like a
hound, and plunged forward with its tail twisting violently, roaring
lustily the while.  Others followed, and then the milking began.
Noquala turned to his wife--

"What were you saying, old money-buryer?"

Makalipa was a large, spare, angular woman, whose years were probably
ten less in number than those of her husband.  She was dressed in a
clean white skirt and a very short bodice.  As the garments did not
meet, a zone of black skin was strongly visible between the respective
upper and nether edges.  Over her head was folded, in the characteristic
native fashion, a coiffure of red Turkey twill.  She paused in her
occupation of mat-making, letting her hands rest upon her knees, and
regarded her husband with a half-angry expression.

"Have you forgotten that your son, your eldest son, Elijah, will arrive
this evening, and that you promised to kill a goat so that he might have
a bit of meat to eat after his long walk?"

"If you did not love your mats more than I love my cattle you would know
that the best goat of my flock is now hanging in the store-hut."

"Hau!  You killed it secretly, so that I might not get the skin to sell
at the shop, eh?"

"Did you want the money to bury, or the meat for your son--your _eldest_
son?"

Noquala walked away without giving his wife time to reply.  She at once
arose from her work and strode over to the store-hut, whence she emerged
soon afterwards, carrying a quantity of meat, which she began to prepare
for cooking.

Noquala, although a heathen, was not a polygamist--a fact, for a man of
his wealth, deserving of note.  Makalipa was a Christian.  When he
married her, twenty-two years previously, Noquala promised never to take
another wife.  To every one's (including, probably, Makalipa's)
surprise, he never even suggested breaking his promise.

Noquala was certainly the richest man in his district.  The herd of
cattle which he kept at his own kraal only represented about half of his
wealth.  Far and wide his stock was distributed--let out to be farmed on
shares, under the custom called "ngqoma," in terms of which cattle are
assigned by the owner to some one who looks after them, milks them, and
receives as reward a small share of the increase.  Sometimes stock let
out under this system is handed down from generation to generation.
Even at the present day lawsuits are instituted for the recovery of
cattle, the progenitors of which were assigned in the days of Tshaka.
Native law recognises no prescription.

Some there were who smiled meaningly when the persistent faithfulness of
Noquala to Makalipa was spoken of, and it was hinted that the rigours of
his monogamy were somewhat mitigated by certain relationships which he
had contracted at kraals where the whole wealth was held under his
"ngqoma."  Be this as it may, Makalipa seemed quite contented with her
lot.  She was her husband's only "wife," and that was enough for her.

Noquala was really a very liberal man, and was deservedly popular, so it
was not by grasping and overreaching his fellows that he became wealthy.
His success could only be attributed to sheer good fortune.  His kraal
was situated in a warm, fertile nook of one of the foot-ranges to the
Drakensberg, and cattle throve there passing well.  He inherited a fair
amount of stock from his father, and this herd became a fountain of the
only kind of wealth which the native values.  His principle for many
years had been to weed out the inferior animals, and substitute for them
any superior cattle obtainable.  If a young man paying "lobola" [The
cattle given in payment for a wife] had a very good cow, he knew that by
taking it to Noquala's kraal he could exchange it for two oxen of fair
quality.  As "lobola" cattle are estimated by number and not by
individual value, the gain to the young man is, of course, obvious.

Goats and sheep he also had, but these he did not much regard.  In fact,
if it had not been for his wife he would not have had any small stock at
all, except a few goats for slaughtering.

Makalipa was intensely frugal, if not miserly, by nature--and was well
known to have a considerable store of money put by.  She kept her wealth
wrapped up in rags, and buried in various places.  She had thus been
amassing money by little and little for over twenty years.  She claimed
as her perquisite the proceeds of every skin of the respective beasts
that were slaughtered or that died; and she earned a great deal by
making and selling mats.  The first and only time she ever drew any of
her savings was when she put her son Elijah to school at Blythswood.  It
was her dream that Elijah should be a minister, and his own ambitions
seconded hers.  He was now a man of twenty-one, and had made good
progress with his studies.  At the point where this story opens he was
expected back for his holidays.  The school had broken up two days
previously, and he was due to arrive within a few hours.

Noquala did not oppose actively his son's becoming educated.  He would
have preferred him to have followed the calling of a peasant, such as he
himself was.  The second son, an astute youth named Zingelagahle, was
more after his father's heart.  He did not care about book-learning, and
was quite content to look after the cattle, knowing that the largest
share of them would eventually fall to him.

The educated young native is almost invariably a prig, and cannot help
showing his uncivilised relations that he feels himself to be far
superior to them.  As a rule this superiority is assumed by both
parties; thus not much friction results.

Elijah, to do him bare justice, was perfectly sincere in his faith and
in what he believed to be his vocation for the ministry.  He thus felt
himself to be far superior to all the others at his paternal kraal.  His
mother, of course, was a Christian--nominally, at least, but for years
past she had taken little interest in anything but her son's education
and her money-making.  She did not even belong to any church.  Once,
when it was decided by the local Christians to erect a chapel, Noquala
had been applied to for a subscription, and he had referred the
applicant to his wife, stating that she had money whereas he had none.
This was a literal fact.  One of his peculiarities was never to own any
money.  Whenever taxes had to be paid or purchases had to be made,
Noquala would sell to the nearest trader just sufficient sheep for the
purpose, and immediately make a point of spending the last penny thus
realised.

When Makalipa was applied to she had just paid her son's half-yearly
fees at the seminary, and she flatly refused to contribute a sixpence
towards the new building.  This caused remonstrance, which was followed
by recrimination.  The matter ended by Makalipa withdrawing from
connection with local religious enterprise.  Representatives of the
rival churches made advances towards this erring sheep with the heavy
fleece, but without any result.  Religion meant spending money, and so
long, at all events, as she was paying her son's fees at the seminary
she felt she was doing enough and to spare for the Kingdom of Heaven.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

ELIJAH.

It was late in the afternoon when Elijah arrived, somewhat tired from
his long walk.  He was a spare, loosely built youth with heavy features
and a gloomy expression of countenance.  His mother greeted him with
much tenderness, and his father tried to be genial.  But conversation
between this father and son was extremely difficult.  The involuntary
mutual foundation of feeling was contempt, and the superstructure of
conventional tolerance which formed their plane of communication was not
conducive to geniality.  They had thus got into the habit of having as
little to say to each other as possible, and Noquala usually felt it
necessary to start on one of his rounds of inspection of his "ngqoma"
cattle within a few days of his son's return for the holidays.

On the present occasion the cordiality which usually was maintained
between the mother and son as soon as the father's back was turned was
somewhat impaired.  There was a strong restraint on the son's side,
which the mother found it hard to combat.  When, however, Elijah had
been at home for a week the cause was made clear in the following
conversation:--"Mother," said Elijah, after an awkward interval, "when
were you at church last?"

Makalipa flashed her keen eyes upon her son's gloomy face for an instant
before she answered--

"You know quite well how it is that I do not go to church."

"Yes, mother, but I want you to go.  Think what people must say about
me, a man who wants to be a minister, and who has a mother who, although
she is a Christian, does not go to church."

"Elijah, my son, I do not go to church, it is true, but I can read my
Bible, and I don't remember the chapter in which it teaches that a son
should instruct the mother who bore him.  Of course, when you are a
minister it will be different.  Then I will go and hear you preach.  So
you had better make haste and have a church of your own if you want to
save my soul."

Elijah walked away without replying.  The day was warm, so he went and
threw himself down upon his mat in the big hut in which his father and
mother also slept.  His mother, remorseful of having snubbed him,
brought him some food a short time afterwards, but he refused to eat and
said that he only wanted to sleep.  Makalipa put this down to the
sulks--a complaint to which Elijah had been subject to from earliest
childhood--so she set the food aside and went down to the fields to
superintend the harvesting of the grain.

When she returned the sun was down.  Elijah was still lying on his mat,
apparently asleep.  His mother tried to arouse him, but he at once
relapsed into a doze, after just murmuring that he had a bad headache.
So Makalipa, after placing some food next to him, retired to bed and
slept soundly until dawn.

When Makalipa arose she noticed that Elijah was still asleep.
Something, however, in his breathing struck her as being strange.
Later, when she attempted to rouse him, she found that his mind was
wandering and that he was in a burning fever.

It was a severe attack of enteric fever that had struck Elijah down.  A
week went by, but he became worse and worse.  Noquala was still away and
Makalipa became more and more alarmed.  At length she made up her mind
to call in a European doctor, so she dug up some money and sent
Zingelagahle in with it to the Magistracy, with a message asking the
District Surgeon to come and visit her son.

The District Surgeon was one who had no sympathy with and therefore did
not command the confidence of the natives.  Not making due allowance for
the limitations of the native mind, and its consequent inability to
grasp the importance of attention to detail in illness, he honestly
thought that in serious cases his advice, as well as the medicines he
supplied, were of little avail, and he usually said so when occasion
offered.

It was a long ride from the Magistracy to Noquala's kraal, and when the
District Surgeon arrived the sun had nearly sunk.  He meant to obtain a
night's lodging at a mission station a few miles away, but he was not
sure of his road and was very much afraid of being benighted.  Thus he
was in a great hurry to get his work over and then proceed on his
journey.

Elijah had just reached the crisis of his disease when the doctor
arrived.  The patient was lying with nothing between him and the cold,
hard floor of the hut but a rush-mat and a thin cotton blanket.  He
appeared to be almost at the last gasp.  The doctor examined him, took
his temperature, and asked as to what description of nourishment the
patient had been getting.  The reply he received filled him with wrath
and disgust.  He felt that he could do nothing, and he said so.
Makalipa heard with a sinking heart that her son's hours were numbered,
and that it was extremely unlikely that he would live until another sun
arose.  Then the doctor mounted his horse and rode away without
administering any medicine, and Makalipa sat on the ground next to her
son, with her heart filled with darkness, awaiting the end.

The doctor was hardly out of sight when Noquala, who had been sent for
several days before, returned.  He was somewhat shocked at hearing what
the doctor had said, but a native never gives up hope of recovery so
long as there is life in the patient.  Touching Makalipa on the shoulder
he beckoned to her to follow him and stepped out of the hut.

"Your European doctor has said Elijah must die, but I have seen people
get better even after they have looked like that.  Let us send for
'Ndakana and see what he can do."

Makalipa nodded; then she went back to the bedside of her son.

Deep down in the mind of every human being is an elementary belief in
the supernatural, and when brought face to face with some terrible,
incalculable danger this is apt to rise to the surface.  If this be true
of those who have centuries of civilisation behind them, how much more
so is it in the case of those who are only struggling to emerge from
barbarism?  The agitated mind of Makalipa grasped greedily at the
possibility which her husband's words suggested.

'Ndakana was a native "gqira," or doctor, who had made for himself a
considerable reputation locally.  His kraal was not more than a couple
of miles distant.  Thus, within an hour of being sent for, he was at the
bedside of the sufferer.

The first step in his treatment was the causing of an ox to be
slaughtered.  The blood of this animal was sprinkled over the hut,
inside and outside, the patient coming in for a share.  Then with a
sharpened stick he made small incisions at different parts of Elijah's
body and limbs, and into these he rubbed some powder which he took from
the horn of an antelope.  After this he danced, violently but silently,
around the hut, coming in every now and then, in a state of copious
perspiration, to inquire as to how the patient was.

Soon after this Elijah was reported to be a little better.  He had asked
for and drunk a little sweet milk.  Then 'Ndakana went home, saying that
he had driven away the evil spirits, and that if the patient were kept
on a milk diet for a week he would surely recover.  The "gqira's" words
came true.  Elijah improved rapidly, and before the week was over began
to complain bitterly at being allowed nothing but milk to stay his
biting hunger.  'Ndakana was made happy by a fee which took the form of
two of Noquala's best cattle.

Elijah was by no means grateful for the means which had been undertaken
towards his recovery.  That he, a Christian and a candidate for the
ministry, should have been practised upon by a magician--one of a class
which formed the greatest obstacle to the spread, of Christianity among
the people--was a bitter reflection.  Having been more or less
unconscious throughout his illness, he did not know how bad he had been,
and was thus firmly convinced that he would have recovered without
'Ndakana's assistance.

The mother, however, thought differently.  She remembered the sinking of
the heart with which she had heard the European doctor condemn her son
to death, and how the patient had immediately taken a change for the
better when 'Ndakana's treatment once commenced.  Thus arose another
cause of estrangement between mother and son.

Elijah was still weak when he decided to return to the seminary, not
wishing to lose the opening of the session.  His father lent him a horse
for the occasion, and sent Zingelagahle on foot after him to bring the
animal back.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

THE TEMPTER.

An ominous whisper sounded over the land.  Far to the north, it was
said, a new and terrible disease had broken out among cattle.  The herds
of Khama, the Christian chief of the Bamangwato, had, so it was said,
been swept utterly away.  Like a wayward wind, it was reported, the
disease swept hither and thither, leaving nothing but bleaching
skeletons to mark its track.  Even the wild game of the forest and the
plain went down before the might of the plague.  When British
Bechuanaland was swept and the pestilence reached the herds of the
Basuto, it was felt that the danger was indeed at the door of every
owner of cattle in South Africa.

The Cape Government selected natives of reputed skill as cattle doctors,
and sent them up to where the rinderpest was raging, so as to give them
an opportunity of testing their remedies where the appliances of the
profoundest science had failed.  Upon the return of these men to their
homes meetings of natives were called, and addresses embodying an
account of the observed ravages of the pest were made to them.  Thus the
native mind became familiarised with the danger, and familiarity bred
contempt.  Magistrates urged upon their people the extreme danger of
keeping all their wealth locked up in such a dangerously threatened item
as cattle, and tried to induce them to make use of the market which
existed at Johannesburg for the purpose of realising at all events a
portion of their stock; but all in vain.  "The `red-water' came," they
said; "we have had war, drought, lung-sickness, and other misfortunes.
We will, no doubt, lose many cattle, but with what remains we will again
get rich.  Of what use is money to us?"

Nearer and nearer came the plague; closer and closer were drawn in the
coils of that deadly chain, the links of which were flung over the
desolated earth in white heaps.  The demand for meat became greater and
greater at Johannesburg, and agents were sent down by the different
butchering firms to endeavour to purchase slaughter stock.  A few sheep
they managed to obtain, but no cattle.

Makalipa tried hard to persuade her husband to sell at all events some
of his "ngqoma" cattle, but not a single head would he dispose of.  A
local trader persuaded him of what was partly true, namely--that his
flock of sheep, which had increased considerably during the past few
years, and of which Makalipa was joint owner, was damaging the pasturage
which he required for his cattle.  It was, therefore, not difficult to
persuade Noquala to dispose of the sheep, which he did, much to
Makalipa's dissatisfaction.

The money remained in the trader's hands, Noquala fearing to bring it
home lest his wife should get hold of it.  He meant to give her her
share of it, but the largest portion he intended to reinvest in cattle
as soon as the rinderpest danger should be at an end.

A few days later Noquala had occasion to visit the shop of another
trader who lived some miles away.  This man had heard of the sheep
transaction and had laid his plans accordingly.

Soon after Noquala arrived a herd of cattle was driven up and shown to
him.  Among this herd were several most beautiful dun-coloured cows--dun
being a colour in cattle which Noquala was particularly partial to.
After hesitating for a few minutes he asked the trader whether the
cattle were for sale or not.  The trader, feigning reluctance, consented
to discuss the matter.  Eventually a bargain was struck.  The trader,
having ascertained how much of a balance lay to Noquala's credit at the
other shop, drew out an order for it in his own favour, to which
document Noquala affixed his mark in the presence of witnesses.  Then
Noquala drove home to his kraal the dun-coloured cows which, with
several other cattle slightly inferior, although of fairly good quality,
had now become his property.

Makalipa fell into a rage when she learnt what her husband had done.
The rinderpest danger was very imminent to her, and she felt, rightly,
that her husband had been guilty of stark madness in investing money in
more cattle.  She felt this the more keenly as the sheep had been
disposed of against her strongest wishes.

"And you have even spent that portion of the money which belonged to me
in buying beasts that will disappear like burning grass when the
sickness comes!" she said, almost in tears.

"Whatever is the good of money to you?" he replied.  "Cows have calves,
but the money you bury in the earth brings nothing forth."

"The money I bury in the earth will not get the rinderpest.  After the
sickness has swept over the land and your kraal has been emptied, my
money will still be there."

"Sickness--you are always talking about this sickness!  Has not the
sickness been here before, and is not my kraal still full?  What does a
woman know about things?"

"A woman knows more than you.  Wait; on the day when your kraal stands
empty my kraal will be full, and I will see you making clay oxen like a
little boy, and playing with them.  When your cattle all die you will go
mad, if you don't die with them."

The acquisition of the new lot brought more cattle to the kraal than the
enclosure could conveniently hold, so a number of the less valuable
animals were weeded out and given under "ngqoma" to a man in the Xalanga
district, to whom Noquala had long promised stock.  This man took away
five cows and five heifers to his kraal in one of the gloomy gorges of
the Drakensberg.

The rinderpest came closer and closer.  Its fell influence lay around
the territory in which Noquala lived like a crescent, or rather like the
Zulu battle-formation, which has been likened appropriately to the horns
of a charging bull.  But beyond a passing feeling of uneasiness when
some traveller related what he had witnessed of the ravages of the pest,
Noquala felt no fear.  Other plagues, which had been preceded by
alarming rumours, had come and gone.  He, like his fellows, had
suffered, although not to the same degree.  He gradually made up his
mind that he would, if the plague came, doubtless suffer again, but he
trusted to his luck and felt sure that all would come out right in the
end.

However, as the shower of rumours thickened, even Noquala began to feel
uneasy.  He had been told that the disease might suddenly appear,
mysteriously and without apparent infection from outside.  Once or
twice, when individuals of his herd fell sick of minor ailments, he
became distinctly alarmed.  Still the rumours thickened, and his nerves
began to suffer.  Nevertheless he scouted every suggestion towards
selling any of his cattle.

The younger children at the kraal were, as is usual with native
children, in the habit of making miniature cattle out of clay.  This is
the sole form of plastic decorative art which the Bantu practise, with
the exception of the moulding of grotesque faces on their pottery, which
the Hlubis and the Basuto sometimes indulge in.  The ox-moulding is of a
distinctly conventional type, all the artist's attention being
concentrated upon the head, horns and neck, which are often very well
executed.  The legs and body are usually rough and shapeless.  This form
of rudimentary art has probably been acquired from the Hottentots;
Hottentot children who have never been in contact with the Bantu mould
images of exactly the same type, and that type does not suggest the
cattle kept by the Bantu at the present day, but rather those which the
now nearly extinct Hottentots once owned in great numbers.

Noquala's mind often dwelt upon his wife's prophecy, and whenever he
noticed the clay toys he felt a twinge of guilty uneasiness.  He now
knew that he had been distinctly foolish in purchasing more cattle with
the proceeds of the sheep.  Nevertheless he still flatly refused to
sell.

Darker and ever darker grew the prospect.  What was it, this disease
which came like a ghost from nowhere, and slew like spears in pursuit of
a beaten and exhausted foe?  Lung-sickness and red-water men knew.
These thinned the herds out cruelly, sometimes, but a few were always
spared.  But this unknown scourge that swept through the land as a fire
sweeps over mountain and valley in the autumn, leaving utter desolation
behind it--what could it be?  Surely those who work spells of evil must
be at work, or else the "imishologu" [Spirits] must be wroth on account
of some great and grievous sin committed by the people.

'Ndakana, the "gqira," came into Noquala's mind.  He had shown his power
over evil spirits, and had driven death, vanquished, from the mat upon
which his son lay.  'Ndakana professed--an unusual circumstance--to be
able to heal cattle as well as men.  Noquala thought he would consult
with the "gqira" next time the latter came to the kraal.  Pride, and a
feeling that he could not bear to confess that the oft-vaunted faith in
his luck had weakened, would not allow of a message being sent.

Then it was reported that the Government had found out a cure for the
disease--that by injecting some mysterious and magical medicine into the
blood of beasts they were rendered proof against the pest.  All the same
the reports of whole herds dying out like drones before the doorway of a
bees' nest came over the Drakensberg from Basutoland.  The mind of
Noquala swayed hither and thither between the poles of confidence and
despair.

One day 'Ndakana appeared at the kraal, where some beer had been brewed.
The beer-drink did not degenerate into an orgie, as beer-drinks
frequently do.  The guests were hospitably entertained, three goats
having been slaughtered for their consumption.  Towards the end of the
day the "gqira" drew Noquala into conversation.

"Have you never thought of having your cattle doctored?" he asked.

Noquala admitted that such an idea had occurred to him.

"I suppose you have heard of this new medicine that the Government
claims to have found out," continued 'Ndakana, "and of how it has
sometimes cured and sometimes failed?"

"Yes, I have heard of it."

"Well, now, I will tell you the truth about the matter.  The Government
found out about herds that had been treated by our doctors, and then
they sent their own cattle doctors to administer medicine, so that they
might claim the credit."

Noquala looked incredulous.  He had had some experience of the frauds of
the native doctors; when the red-water had attacked his own herd, years
previously, the "gqira" he had called in promised certain cure, but the
promise had miserably failed.  Still, he had seen this man 'Ndakana
drive death away from the bedside of his son, and that after the
European doctor had confessed himself vanquished.

The sun was going down and 'Ndakana glanced keenly once or twice towards
the glowing west.  He strolled a few paces forward, leading his
companion by, as it were, a conversational leash.  When he stopped,
still talking, he faced the sunset and his companion had his back to it.
The "gqira's" glances, which had now become more rapid and frequent,
were still directed to the pyre of the dying day.

Suddenly he lifted his hand, and his voice became vehement.

"Noquala, man of many cattle, I know the secret and I will save your
herd from destruction if you will let me do so.  Do you demand a sign to
prove my power?"

"Show me a sign," replied Noquala, looking steadfastly into the
"gqira's" eyes.

"Behold it, then."

'Ndakana took a pace forward and brushed past his companion's shoulder,
at the same time flinging his hand forward with a sweep, and holding it,
quivering and extended to its full length, in the direction of the
sunset.

Noquala turned and looked.  There, rimmed with fire, floated a cloud in
the semblance of a bull stumbling forward upon one knee, in the attitude
of a buffalo that has received its death wound.  As he looked the gold
faded out and the cloud broke up into formless wreaths of mist.

The portent struck Noquala to the heart; its short duration added to the
illusion, for memory enhanced the value of every detail, and his
startled imagination clothed the picture with an exactness of outline
which it had never possessed.

"Doctor my cattle," he said huskily, "and you shall have great reward."

'Ndakana told his dupe that a necessary condition towards successful
doctoring was that every beast possessed by the latter, whether under
"ngqoma" or not, had to be brought down to the kraal by a certain date,
when the state of the moon would be propitious.  Noquala was now in a
condition of keen excitement, and was prepared to do whatever the
"gqira" might tell him.  These two, the duper and the dupe, sat and
talked over the matter far into the night.  Makalipa insisted upon being
admitted to their counsels.  She, having been much impressed by the cure
which she fully believed 'Ndakana to have effected in the case of her
son, had no objection to offer, except upon one point.  She thought it
ill-advised that the last lot of cattle--those given under "ngqoma" to
the man who dwelt in the Drakensberg gorge--should be brought down from
a spot so near the area in which the rinderpest was raging.

But 'Ndakana insisted on the assembling of all the cattle, without any
exception whatever, so she had to give in, although she did so with
secret misgivings.  He would, of course, give no indication whatever of
the form which his doctoring was to take; that would be quite contrary
to professional etiquette, and was not to be expected for a moment.

Next morning at day-dawn Noquala mounted a horse and rode around to the
different kraals where his stock was to be found, warning the custodians
that they were to produce every hoof and horn on the fifth day
following, on pain of the "ngqoma" contract being forthwith rescinded.
Zingelagahle was sent on a tough pony to the sun-forsaken gorge where
the recipient of the last "ngqoma" dwelt, and which was rather a long
day's ride distant, with a message to a similar effect.

In the meantime the "gqira" was busy making his preparations.  A few
miles away, in a shallow valley, were some extensive swamps which
harboured myriads of frogs.  Of the latter he collected several
hundreds, which he imprisoned in wicker baskets.  These he tightly
secured at the openings and then sunk in the swampy water.

It is customary with the natives to keep their stores of corn in large
circular excavations in the floor of the cattle enclosure.  Each
excavation has a narrow neck, just large enough to admit a boy of about
twelve years of age who, when it is necessary to extract corn from the
granary, is lowered down.  The narrow mouths of these pits are closed
with flat stones, and are some distance below the surface of the
enclosure.  Some such contain as many as half a dozen pits, the openings
to which can only be located by probing through the thick dung-crust
until the flat stones covering them are found.

The native doctor always keeps himself acquainted with details, no
matter how apparently unimportant, regarding his neighbours--their huts,
kraals, cattle, family matters, and, in fact, everything.  In the case
of rich and important men more attention is naturally bestowed.  When
called in professionally the "gqira" never likes to have to ask for any
information.  Divining is part of his trade, and it is thus very
effective to be able to tell the dwellers of a kraal about things which
they are firmly convinced nobody but themselves is aware of.

Now, as a matter of fact, 'Ndakana knew as much about Noquala's kraal
and everything in it as did the Germans, when they invaded France, of
the country before them.  However, on the present occasion he only had
occasion to use one of the many facts with which he was acquainted.  He
knew that one of the corn-pits in Noquala's kraal was empty, and he
decided to use that pit as the base of his magical operations.

Early on the third day the troop of cattle from the Drakensberg arrived.
They were in splendid condition and seemed to have improved under the
change of pasturage.  The enclosure formerly used for the sheep had been
well bushed up, and was now available as a supplementary cattle
enclosure.  By the evening of the fourth day the last drove of cattle
had arrived.

How Noquala feasted his eyes upon the great lowing herd!  How the rival
bulls, hearing each other lowing, dashed together with a shock as of
mountain meeting mountain, whilst the mild-eyed cows looked on,
supremely indifferent as to which should prove the victor.  The owner's
heart swelled with pride.  All these were his--his very own, and to do
what he liked with.  Surely none but the great chiefs of the past had
ever owned such a noble assemblage of cattle.

Many thoughts floated through the elated mind of Noquala on that June
evening as he strolled through the valley with his crowd of dependents
behind him at a respectful distance.  He tasted the sweets of amplified
possession, and drained the cup of enjoyment to the very dregs.  He
thought of how impossible it would have been for him, a common man, to
have owned so much wealth in the old days, when the chiefs reigned
supreme, and when a man who became too rich and powerful was smelt out
and tortured to death.  Then he thought of how lucky it was that,
through the agency of the potent 'Ndakana, he was enabled to ensure
these creatures that he loved and took such pride in, from harm.

At dusk the cattle were driven into the two ample enclosures, which they
just comfortably filled.  Some trouble was experienced in securing the
different bulls, of which there were five altogether.  However, these
were eventually caught and tied up with strong thongs, and then Noquala
and his guests retired to the big hut, where a feast of goat's flesh was
laid ready.

Not so 'Ndakana.  The "gqira" had more important work on hand than
feasting.  When night fell he hurried to the swamp where lay the baskets
with the imprisoned frogs.  These he now carried carefully in the
direction of Noquala's kraal.

After setting down the baskets in the bottom of a dried-up donga,
'Ndakana went to a spot hard by where, behind a fringe of bushes, he had
hidden away a large calabash full of water.  Lifting this carefully to
his shoulder, and carrying the two baskets with one hand, he made his
way to the cattle enclosure.  He did not want to be seen, but had he
been it would not have particularly mattered, for it would only have
been supposed that he was performing rites preliminary to the morrow's
doctoring.  However, he managed to reach the kraal and to enter it
without being seen by any one and without alarming the cattle.

The "gqira" knew approximately the situation of the empty pit, so he had
no difficulty in finding the flat covering stone by probing with the
iron spike which he had brought with him for the purpose.  Then he
carefully removed the dung and opened the pit.

After making sure that the pit was really empty, and therefore the right
one, 'Ndakana carefully poured into it the water from the calabash, and
then emptied the frogs from the respective baskets into the narrow
opening.  This done, he closed the pit again and replaced the flakes of
dung over the stone.  The upper layer was dry and dusty, so he had no
difficulty in obliterating the traces of his work.  Besides, he knew
that the cattle would tramp restlessly about the enclosure when it
became cold towards morning, and that their feet would leave no trace of
his presence visible.  Then he stole away and hid in a patch of forest
which grew at the head of the kloof in which Noquala's kraal is
situated, and about a mile distant from the huts.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

HOW THE CATTLE WERE DOCTORED.

Next morning the cattle were let out to graze, and again the enraptured
eye of Noquala drank in delight from the contemplation of his wealth.
About half an hour after sunrise the "gqira" was seen emerging with slow
and stately steps from the patch of bush in which he had spent the
night.  Pretending not to be aware of any one else's existence, he
walked straight to the cattle kraal.  As soon as he entered the gate he
began to stagger about wildly, and before he reached the middle he sank
to the ground, apparently in a violent fit.

The people crowded round and gazed at him with awe through the upright
poles forming the palisade.  The fit over, he lay as though in a swoon
for some considerable time, after which he sat up with a dazed
expression and began groping about the enclosure on his hands and knees.
When he reached the vicinity of the pit which he had opened during the
previous night, he again fell over and lay quite still.  By this time he
was completely naked, having thrown away his blanket in the course of
his progress.  In his hand was the iron spike, and with this he began to
dig wildly, scattering the flakes of dung far and wide.

When the stone was nearly uncovered, 'Ndakana sank back as though
exhausted, and feebly called for assistance.  Noquala and a number of
other men at once hurried in, and he signed to them to remove the
covering stone and thus open the pit.  This was soon done.

'Ndakana then said that a boy must be let down into the pit, declaring
that a great wonder would be revealed therein.  At this all the boys who
had been looking through the palisade fled away in different directions.
Two or three were soon caught and dragged back, howling, to the edge of
the opening.  Selecting the one whose size appeared to be most suitable,
the "gqira" ordered him to descend, but the boy yelled with redoubled
vigour and struggled violently to escape.  Then Noquala called out to
one of the women to bring a rod, and with this he thrashed the unhappy
youth unmercifully until the latter consented to do what was required of
him.  The boy, silent and wild-eyed with terror, was thereupon lowered
into the dark pit through the narrow mouth.

"What do you find there?" asked the "gqira."

"I am standing in water," called the boy, his voice sounding hollow from
the depths.

"Feel if there be any living thing."

"Au--there are snakes," yelled the boy, and his hands grasped the edges
of the opening as he tried to draw himself up.

"They are not snakes! they are frogs," replied 'Ndakana.

At the same time Noquala cut the boy's fingers sharply with the rod.
The wretched creature dropped back to the bottom of the pit with a
screech of mingled pain and terror.

A basket was passed down to him, and this he was directed to fill with
frogs.  This, when handed up, was emptied into a larger basket, and then
passed back.  After several basketfuls had been taken out, the unhappy
boy was assisted to come out of his prison, and the pit was closed up at
once.

'Ndakana then addressed the assembled crowd.  He told them that the
wonder he had revealed to them was a special grace vouchsafed by the
"imishologu" in response to his incantations, and that the frogs were to
be utilised in doctoring Noquala's cattle so as to render them proof
against the ravages of the dreaded disease.

A deep awe had fallen upon all.  They felt that they were in the
presence of a master wonder-worker.  Noquala was now sure that his
beloved cattle were safe, and his heart overflowed with gratitude to the
"gqira" and to the "imishologu" who had shown such favour.

The cattle were now driven up in lots of about fifty each.  When in the
enclosure they were caught separately and skilfully thrown.  An incision
was then made in the nose of each, as well as in a frog.  The reptile
was then held so that its flowing blood mingled with that of the beast.
As soon as this had been effected, the latter was loosened and turned
out of the enclosure.  A fresh cut was made in the frog for each beast
treated, but as soon as the reptile died or it was found that no more
blood would flow from it another frog was brought, the worn-out one
being carefully put away into a basket.  The frogs were thus believed to
have absorbed the latent disease.

By sundown all the cattle had been treated in this manner, and then the
dead frogs were thrown into a deep pit.  Red-hot coals were then thrown
upon them, and the pit was closed up, the earth being stamped firmly
down.

But the issues at stake were too great for the caprice of the
"imishologu" to be risked.  More ritual must be performed on the third
and fifth day, and in the meantime feasting had to take place.
Otherwise the "imishologu" might, as they had often been known to do,
change their shadowy, if powerful minds.

Thus, as the "gqira" pronounced it to be unsafe to remove the cattle
before the sixth day, the hearts of the company were lifted up with
great joy, for they knew that the exigencies of the occasion demanded
that unrestricted feasting should take place during the interval.

It was here that the astute 'Ndakana made his great mistake.  He should
have taken his reward, which would have been, under the circumstances, a
most liberal one, and removed with it to a distance.  But the greatest
men sometimes make mistakes, and 'Ndakana proved that he was no
exception to this general rule.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

THE DISEASE APPEARS.

The circumstance of 'Ndakana's having been so positive that the cattle
would not take the rinderpest might easily puzzle those unacquainted
with the methods of the native doctor, nevertheless it was quite
characteristic.  Although a colossal humbug, the "gqira," to a certain
extent, believes in his own powers.  As is the case in other walks of
life, he gets so into the habit of deceiving others that he ends by
deceiving himself.  Probably, however, in this case 'Ndakana may have
believed the reports which just about that time were current as to the
Cape Government having succeeded in staying the destroying course of the
disease by erecting a fence across the continent and keeping all animals
away from its vicinity.  Moreover the accidental resemblance to a bull
which the cloud had taken may easily have been regarded by 'Ndakana's
superstitious mind as a sign that the progress of the disease had been
stayed.  Superstition and fraud have in all ages gone hand in hand.

Again, it must be remembered that the reputation of a native doctor can
only be made by taking risks.  One lucky guess, one confident prophecy
which happens to be crowned with fulfilment by the capricious Fates, and
a "gqira" may be sent spinning dizzily along the road of success with
such a momentum that many subsequent minor failures are condoned.  Of
course, the day comes at length when the luckiest "gqira" makes a
mistake of such importance that he has to flee the neighbourhood and
ever afterwards hide his diminished head.  It is a well-known fact that
under the rule of the native chiefs the "gqira" seldom died a natural
death.

Three days of feasting took place at Noquala's kraal, the neighbours
from far and near being bidden to it.  Noquala was so pleased at his
cattle having been rendered safe from the threatened scourge that he did
not mind several of his fattest oxen being slaughtered for the occasion.
Just about sundown on the third day one of the herd-boys mentioned that
a certain heifer did not appear to be quite well.  Noquala heard the
news without uneasiness; it was seldom that one got such a large herd of
cattle together without some of them becoming afflicted with one or
other of the major or minor ills that bovine flesh is heir to.

However, Noquala left the feasters and, directed by the boy, walked down
the hillside to where the sick heifer was standing.  It turned out to be
one of the dun-coloured stock he had recently purchased out of the
proceeds of the sheep, and which had been brought down from the
Drakensberg.

The heifer certainly looked sick--very sick indeed.  Its coat was
staring; it was breathing heavily and groaning at intervals.  From its
nostrils was running a mass of thick, unclean, mucous discharge; water
copiously ran out of its eyes; its ears hung, not downwards, as is
usually the case with a sick beast, but backwards.

Noquala felt a shaft of sick dread transfix him.  He stood before the
poor animal, which was evidently suffering acute pain.  Its muzzle
retracted at each breath as one sees the nostrils of a human being
retract in severe cases of asthma.  The creature turned an appealing eye
upon him--a large, beautiful dark eye, to which agony had lent a strange
and pathetic intelligence.  Noquala's eyes grew moist, and a spasm
contracted his throat.  He suffered with the suffering of the thing that
he loved.

While he was regarding the sick heifer Noquala heard the sound of
approaching footsteps, so after hastily getting rid of any signs of
emotion, he turned to meet the comer.  This turned out to be a native
policeman, who, executing some message from the magistrate of the
district, had sniffed the feast from afar and turned aside to partake in
it.  After he had carefully examined the heifer the policeman returned
to where he had left his horse.  Then he informed the company that he
had suddenly remembered something which made it impossible for him to
spend the night, as he had already expressed his intention of doing,
with the feasters.  After this he rode away in the direction of the
Magistracy.

Next morning the Magistrate was awakened out of his slumbers by word
that a policeman wanted to see him upon important business.  The police
had been carefully warned to examine into and report upon suspicious
cases of bovine disease which might come under their notice.  At the
same time the superficial symptoms of rinderpest were explained to the
men so that they might better be able to diagnose cases of illness
coming under their personal notice.

In the present instance the symptoms reported by the constable suggested
rinderpest so exactly that the Magistrate immediately mounted his horse
and rode to Noquala's kraal so as personally to investigate matters.  He
was accompanied by four mounted constables for use in the event of the
worst contingency being realised.

Noquala, after contemplating the sufferings of the sick heifer, had no
stomach for the feast.  However, darkness had fallen, so nothing more
could be done until the following day.  At earliest dawn he was among
his cattle.  The dun-coloured heifer was evidently dying.  It was lying
down where he had left it on the previous night, with its head turned
back against its shoulder--an attitude which Noquala had never
previously noticed in the case of a sick beast.  Its extremities were
cold, its nostrils were inflamed.  The soft, suffering glance from the
mild brown eye beamed out through a ring of foul, caked mucus, and
struck a chill into the gazer's soul.

He went with hurried steps to the large cattle-fold.  Three other
animals struck him as looking seedy.  What he particularly noticed was
the peculiar backward droop of the ears and the copious running from the
eyes and nostrils.  He opened the gate and drove out the whole herd.
Then he called the boys and also the man from the Drakensberg, and had
the cattle which had come from there driven back into the enclosure.

The examination did not diminish his uneasiness.  Seven animals appeared
to be sick.  Every minute the symptoms appeared to increase with
horrible rapidity.  'Ndakana was sent for, and arrived drowsy with
repletion.  He made light of the affair, saying that the animals were
probably seedy from a change of pasturage--a thing which often happened
when cattle were brought down from the mountains to the low country.

The Drakensberg cattle were herded together during the day, by afternoon
they were all sick.  The heifer was still lingering in agony, but
evidently its hours were numbered.  Noquala wandered from one suffering
creature to another, his heart rent with their pangs and his soul
quaking with fear.

Just before sundown the Magistrate arrived and made an examination.
There was, he said, no doubt that the disease was the dreaded
rinderpest.  He drew a cordon around the valley in which Noquala's kraal
was situated, and put a chain of guards to see that no animal left the
infected area.

Noquala and 'Ndakana had a long and serious conversation, the result of
which was that the former's fears were somewhat stilled.  What did the
Magistrate know of cattle? asked the "gqira."  The beasts were all
right.  Those from the Drakensberg had apparently eaten of some
poisonous herb on the way down.  A few might die, but the others would
recover.  He--'Ndakana--would stake his reputation on the correctness of
his view.  In the meantime he would go to the bush and dig out some
roots which were an infallible remedy against the results of eating
poisonous bushes.

The infallible remedy was administered, but it had small, if any,
effect.  Next day the heifer was dead, and every one of the Drakensberg
cattle appeared to be doomed.  Then they began to die, one by one at
first; afterwards by twos and threes.  Some appeared to take a turn
towards recovery, only suddenly to succumb.  The "gqira" was voluble
over the effects of the poison.  He remembered just such a similar case
taking place in the Hlangweni country, where he had once lived.  None of
the other cattle showed signs of sickness as yet, so Noquala fully
accepted the poison-bush theory.

But it could be seen that the "gqira" was uneasy.  Every morning he
would turn out before any one else, and spend a long time among the
cattle.  Then, when the others rose from their slumbers, he would
triumphantly report that there was no sign of disease among any but the
Drakensberg herd.  One morning, however, he failed to make his
triumphant report; in fact, when the others arose, there was nothing of
the "gqira" to be seen.  One of the boys said that he had been entrusted
with a message from 'Ndakana to the effect that the latter had gone to a
more distant forest to get some roots of greater potency than any
obtainable close at hand.

Noquala went down to the kraal, and noticed that a number of cattle,
besides those of the Drakensberg herd, were showing signs of sickness.

From that morning the kraal of Noquala knew the presence of 'Ndakana the
"gqira" no more.

When the sun went down that day every member of the Drakensberg herd was
dead, and a number of other cattle were sick with symptoms similar to
those they had suffered from.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

THE TRAGEDY.

The agony of Noquala now entered into its acute stage.  The guards were
posted around the vale of pestilence and mourning in a pitiless ring.
Dozens of men were at work inside with pick and spade, digging pits for
the interment of the carcases.  Soon, however, the deaths became so many
that the diggers could not keep pace with them, so the carcases were
allowed to lie and rot in the sunshine.  Later, as the animals fell
sick, they were driven up towards the head of the valley, where the
stench of the dead poisoned their dying breath, and thus added another
pang to those the miserable creatures already suffered from.  This
cruelty was rendered necessary by the circumstances of the case.  It
was, above all, important to confine the infection within bounds, until
the surrounding herds had been inoculated.

Day by day, hour by hour, the mournful processions would wend, with the
slowness of a funeral, to this ghastly spot, where the swollen carcases
festered over the ground.  Sometimes a doomed brute being goaded along
would suddenly take fright at the stench, and, gathering a flicker of
strength from its dismay, rush frantically backwards, until it tumbled
in a heap to the ground.  Foul carrion-birds roosted upon every stump
and stone; others, gorged so that they could not fly, would hop ungainly
away when disturbed, and fall into a sick sleep when they stopped at a
few yards' distance.

The effluvium became so bad that it was found impossible to approach
this bovine Golgotha except when the wind was favourable.  When the
breeze blew down the valley towards the kraal, the dwellers would be
seized with violent sickness.

Noquala, who had become quite prostrated when he found that the pest had
attacked his main herd and that 'Ndakana had bolted, soon recovered his
self-command, and bore himself with pathetic dignity.  His hair and
beard became rapidly greyer; his face grew drawn and haggard; his eyes
took on the look of agony which he read, all day long, in the eyes of
the beasts he loved so well, and the sufferings of which seemed to be
mirrored in his consciousness.  Some few--about a tenth of the herd--as
yet showed no sign of infection.  The noble, dun-coloured bull still
stalked about majestically, breathing love and defiance in his low.
Well, thought Noquala, surely all his cattle would not die; he would be
left with a few with which to begin again with.  Just the dun-coloured
bull and a few cows.  It would be a joy once more to build up wealth.
No one ever heard of such a thing as that a multitude of cattle, such as
his, should die out of any disease.  Alas! no one with whom Noquala had
foregathered had ever heard an adequate account of the fell effects of
the rinderpest.

But day by day the agony deepened, until at length the time came when
the splendid herd of a couple of weeks back all had expired except a few
sick and staggering creatures, the superior vitality of which had
prolonged for them the agonies of inevitable death.  The dun-coloured
bull was one of the last to succumb, but he too vailed his lordly crest
and sank his deep voice to a pitch as pitiful as that of the
two-year-old heifer, his dying daughter, that lay moaning close to him.
The guards came to drive the last survivors to the dreadful spot at the
head of the valley, but Noquala seized his sticks and rushed at them so
fiercely that they fled from before his face.  Then Noquala mounted
guard over the last dying remnants of his matchless herd, and none dared
further to disturb their agonies.

The sun went down and the pitiless stars gazed impassively on the valley
of the shadow of death.  Noquala remained at his post.  Every now and
then would he pass from one to the other of the suffering creatures,
endeavouring distractedly to comfort them with words.  The night was
bitterly cold; a white frost thickly covered the grass and struck to the
marrow of the tortured limbs.  At the sharp pinch which came just before
dawn, tardy Death finished his work.  One by one, within a few fatal
minutes, the remainder of Noquala's cattle expired.  The dun-coloured
bull was the last to die.  He lingered until a pallid flicker filled the
east.  Then he started as if about to rise.  For an instant it seemed as
though he would succeed, for he lifted his gaunt trunk upon his front
legs, and swept a dazed and startled gaze from one to the other of the
carcases of his dead companions which lay around him.  But he could get
no farther; his hind quarters were paralysed.  He remained thus for a
few seconds, then, with a roar that seemed to shake the hills, he sank
back and died.

Noquala was found at daybreak sitting on the ground close to the carcase
of the bull.  His head lay forward upon his bent knees; his grey hair
was whitened by the frost.  He was so stiff from the cold that he was
unable to move, so had to be carried back to his hut, where they covered
him with blankets and gave him a draught of hot broth, which he drank
mechanically.  It was long before he regained normal warmth.

When next Noquala emerged from the hut into the sunlight he was a
cripple.  His lower limbs had become cramped and contracted, and it was
found impossible to straighten them.  His memory was asleep, and it is
not likely that it will ever waken.  One day, as he sat in the sunshine,
a little boy came up and began to play with some clay oxen, close to
him.  A bright smile at once lit up Noquala's face; he stretched forth
his hand, seized a couple of the images, and began to fondle them.

He is, apparently, quite happy.  Makalipa tends him devotedly, and helps
him to hobble back to the hearth when the sun goes down or a cold wind
springs up, first assisting him to gather up the clay oxen and place
them carefully in a fold of his blanket.  She has not the least
objection to digging up her hoards, as occasions arise, and spending the
money freely upon her husband's comfort.  Elijah is still at the
seminary, and has not yet heard of what has happened at his home.

The children of the neighbourhood take a pleasure in making clay oxen
for the one-time proud, masterful, and wealthy man who has become their
playmate and companion; they even make expeditions to distant valleys
for the purpose of obtaining various-hued ochres and earths, so as to
manufacture cattle of different colours.  Noquala has now quite a large
number of these toys.  His only trouble is when one breaks by accident,
but as they are strongly made and afterwards baked in an old ant-heap
which does duty for a kiln, this does not very often occur.  He seldom
speaks, except when he sees a stranger approaching.  Then he says, in a
high, thin voice, quite different to his former gruff, deep-chested
tones--

"Have you seen 'Ndakana?...  He is a great doctor...  He went to the
bush for roots...  I wonder why he does not come."

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

The End.





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