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´╗┐Title: Lodges in the Wilderness
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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Lodges in the Wilderness
By William Charles Scully
Published by Herbert Jenkins Limited, London.
This edition dated 1915.

Lodges in the Wilderness, by William Charles Scully.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
LODGES IN THE WILDERNESS, BY WILLIAM CHARLES SCULLY.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE BUSHMANLAND DESERT--ITS NATURE AND EXTENT--DESERT TRAVELLING--THE
"TOA."

The world moves rapidly and with increasing momentum.  Even regions
remote from those communities which the stress of increasing population
and the curse of unleisured industrialism send spinning "down the
ringing grooves of change," are often so disturbed or overwhelmed by the
overflow of what threatens to be an almost worldwide current of morbid
energy, that within a strangely short period their character is apt
completely to alter and their individuality to become utterly destroyed.

I do not know how the Great Bushmanland Desert has fared in this
respect--not having visited it for several years--but if some unlikely
combination of circumstances were to take me once more to Aroegas or
Koisabies,--to the tiny spring of living water that trickles from the
depths and lies like a precious jewel hidden in the dark, narrow cavern
at Inkruip,--or to where the flaming, red-belted cone of Bantom Berg
glares over the dragon-folds of the dune-devil sprawling at its feet, I
should go in fear of finding empty sardine-tins and broken bottles lying
among the fragments of prehistoric pottery and flint implements which
were but recently the only traces of man to be found in those abodes of
solitude.

The Bushmanland Desert is but little-known.  A few nomads--some of
European and some of mixed descent--hang on its fringe.  Here and there
ephemeral mat-house villages, whose dwellers are dependent on the sparse
and uncertain bounty of the sky, will, perhaps, be found for a season.
But when the greedy sun has reclaimed the last drop of moisture from
shallow "pan" or sand-choked rock-saucer, the mat-houses are folded up
and, like the Arabs, these dwellers steal silently away from the
blighting visage of the Thirst King.  But the greater portion of
Bushmanland may be ranked among the most complete solitudes of the
earth.  The lion, the rhinoceros, and, in fact, most of the larger
indigenous fauna have disappeared from it--with the autochthonous pygmy
human inhabitants; nevertheless it is a region full of varied and
distinctive interest.  The landscape consists either of vast plains,
mirage-haunted and as level as the sea,--arid mountain ranges--usually
mere piles of naked rock, or immense sand-dunes, massed and convoluted.
The latter often change their form and occasionally their location under
stress of the violent winds which sweep down from the torrid north.

The tract is an extensive one, probably upwards of 50,000 square miles
lie within its limits.  It is bounded on the north by the Gariep or
Orange River--but as that flows and eddies at the bottom of a tremendous
gorge which is cut off from the plains by a lofty, stark range of
mountains,--coal-black in colour for their greater extent and glowing
hot throughout the long, cloudless day, the traveller seldom sees it.
The western boundary is the Atlantic Ocean; the eastern an imaginary
line drawn approximately south from the Great Aughrabies Falls to the
Kat Kop Range.  If we bisect this line with another drawn due east from
the coast to the Lange Berg, we shall get a sufficiently recognisable
boundary on the south.  From the tract so defined must be deducted the
small area surrounding the Copper Mines, and a narrow strip of mountain
land running parallel with, and about sixty miles from the coast.  This
strip is sparsely inhabited by European farmers.

The occasional traversing of this vast tract lay within the scope of my
official duties.  My invariable travelling companion was Field Cornet
Andries Esterhuizen (of whom more anon) and a small retinue of police,
drivers, and after-riders.  We never escaped hardship; the sun scorched
fiercely and the sand over which we tramped was often hot enough to cook
an egg in.  Water, excepting the supply we carried with us, was as a
rule unobtainable; consequently we had to eschew washing completely.  We
often had to travel by night so as to spare the oxen, and as the
water-casks usually almost filled the wagon, we then had to tramp,
vainly longing for sleep, through long, weary hours, from sunset to
sunrise.  And after the sun had arisen the heat, as a rule, made sleep
impossible.

It was to the more inaccessible--and therefore comparatively inviolate--
expanses of this wilderness that I was always tempted to penetrate.
Therein were to be found a scanty flora and a fauna--each unusual and
distinctive,--composed of hardy organisms, which an apprenticeship from
days unthinkably ancient had habituated to their most difficult
conditions of existence.  If, somewhere near the margin of the great
central plain, we happened to cross the track of a vagrant thunderstorm,
we would see myriads of delicately-petalled blossoms miraculously
surviving, like the Faithful Rulers of Babylon in the Fiery Furnace.  On
the flank of some flaming sand-dune we would find the tulip-like blooms
of the Gethyllis flourishing in leafless splendour.  Their corollas were
of crystalline white splashed with vivid crimson; deep in each goblet
lay the clustered anthers,--a convoluted mass of glowing gold.  Is this
flower a grail, bearing beauty too ineffable to die, through an arid
aeon from one cycle of fertility to another?

Sometimes our course led over tracts of sand--sand so light and powdery
that the foot sank into it ankle-deep at every step.  Occasionally we
crossed high, abrupt ridges of black or chocolate-hued rock, separated
from each other by gorges so deep that except at noontide, no sunbeam
penetrated them.  But usually our course lay across plains, infinite in
extent.  In the Summer season such were covered with heavy-headed shocks
of "toa" grass,--yellow or light green in hue, according to the more or
less scanty rainfall.  But in Winter all the waving plumes crumbled
away, leaving the bases of the tussocks as black as pitch.  Where the
hills and the plains met, stood groves of immense dragon aloes--some
cumbered with nests of the sociable grossbeak--each as large as a
hayrick.

The lordly oryx crossed our path; the ungainly hartebeest lumbered away
to windward at a pace which made pursuit hopeless; the gazelles of the
desert fled before us like thistledown borne on an eddying wind.  The
roofs of many a city of desert mice sank beneath our footsteps and the
horned adder hissed defiance at our caravan from his home at the
tussock's base.  We crossed the zig-zag track made by the yellow cobra
when prowling in the darkness.  The plumed ostrich scudded away at our
approach, the great bustard of the Kalihari spread his powerful wings
and flew forth heavily until he almost crossed the horizon, and the
"kapok vogeltje," no bigger than a wren, twittered at us from his seat
of cunning on the outside of the simulated snowball which is his nest.

We did not fear the poisoned arrows of the Bushmen, for that strange
race which formerly occupied the scenes of our wanderings had long since
disappeared from the face of the earth.  Within the wide bounds of that
tract to which the Bushman gave his name, there existed but two
individuals of his race,--an old, withered, toothless man, and a bent
and ancient crone.  These wraiths, who subsisted on roots, reptiles and
insects, still haunted the mountains near Dabienoras, and levied a kind
of toll on the very occasional traveller.  This took the form of a
trifling contribution of tobacco and sugar.



CHAPTER TWO.

ANDRIES ESTERHUIZEN--SILVERFONTEIN--THE KOEKER-BOOM--GAMOEP--
SAND-GROUSE--OUR HORSES--KANXAS--NIGHT IN THE DESERT--DAWN--HEAT--THE
MIRAGE--BANTOM BERG--THE DUNE-MONSTER--THE FLIGHT OF THE OXEN.

Andries Esterhuizen had lived all his life on the fringe of Bushmanland.
His farm, Silverfontein, which lay a little more than twenty miles from
the Ookiep Mines, had been for many years the principal jumping-off
place for expeditions to the desert.  Andries was a Field Cornet,--an
office which empowered him to arrest offenders against the law.  He was
a typical Boer of the better class.  Large-boned and tall, his increased
bulk had for several years prevented his doing that which his soud loved
above all else,--riding down a herd of oryx.  His blue, laughing eyes
shone from a ruddy face.  His brown beard was streaked with grey.  His
great fist could have felled an ox; the tempest of his laughter was like
the neighing of war-steeds.

Andries sent his ox-wagon to fetch my guns and baggage.  Next day I
followed in a cart drawn by four strong horses, for heavy stretches of
sand had to be crossed before reaching Silverfontein.

On arrival there I met with a hearty welcome.  The wagon stood, fully
packed, before the farm-house door.  The heaviest and most important
item of the load was three casks of water, for we were about to enter
and encamp in the deadly dune-veld where Thirst is a king who has
reigned supreme since the world was young.  We meant to storm his strong
city and occupy it for a season,--well knowing, however, that we should
soon have to retire, leaving his ancient realm unconquered and
unspoiled.  As we did not mean to be luxurious, our commissariat list
only included coffee, sugar, salt and "Boer-biscuits" (a kind of coarse
but exceedingly palatable rusk).  Of these Mrs Esterhuizen had
manufactured enough to fill three immense linen sacks.  For meat we
should have to depend upon our guns.

The country surrounding Silverfontein was wild and rugged.  Long, dyked
ridges, foam-tipped with snow-white quartzite rocks, stretched away to
infinity, north and south; here and there a naked granite finger pointed
to the cloudless sky.  On the western side these ridges seemed to break
like waves against the enormous bronze-hued bastions of the
Kamiesbergen; on the eastward they sank by degrees into the ocean-like
expanse of the desert.

Huddled in irregular patches where the dykes sprang from the red sand
were the "koekerboome" ("quiver-trees,"--so called because the Bushmen
used pithed sections of the boughs as receptacles for their arrows.)
These were gigantic aloes of archaic form and immense age.  As a rule
their height was from fifteen to twenty feet.  Their ungainly trunks
were cone-shaped, groined and heavily buttressed.  The rosette-crowned
ends of their dichotomous branches collectively formed a more or less
irregular oval.  But at one spot, as we crossed the line where the hills
ended and the plains began, we noticed some with smooth, slender, white
boles rising to a height of nearly sixty feet,--each crowned with a
single cup-like whorl of leaves.

Gamoep, where the last water was to be found, lay on the actual edge of
the level desert some distance to the south-east of Silverfontein.  To
reach it involved a long day's trek, for the route was through soft
sand.  At Gamoep was a permanent spring,--the water of which, although
fit for animals, was not quite suitable for human consumption.
Alongside the pool which the spring feeds we decided to rest for
twenty-four hours, for the oxen had a heavy strain to undergo and we
felt it necessary to cover as much as possible of the first part of our
journey during the cool hours of night.

We slept soundly after our long tramp.  Next morning, as the sun began
to soar, sand-grouse in flocks of almost incredible numbers came
sweeping in from the desert.  The wearied birds alighted a few hundred
yards from the pool, and there rested for about ten minutes.  Then they
arose, swooped down to the edge of the pool for a hurried sip, and sped
back whence they came.  We shot sufficient of these for our immediate
needs.

Late in the afternoon, when the sting had gone out of the sunshine, we
drove the oxen to the pool and let them drink their fill.  We had
brought two horses--my old hunting-horse, "Prince," and another
"Swaitland," renamed "Bucephalus," for Hendrick, my after-rider.  But
the horses had to remain for the present at Gamoep, in charge of
Danster, one of our Hottentots.  Piet Noona, another Hottentot, and his
nephew,--a lad of about twelve years of age, were also left behind for
the purpose of taking charge of the oxen when they returned, maddened
with thirst, after being released from the yoke at the camping-place
under Bantom Berg and the Great Dune, which was our objective.

Shortly before sundown we inspanned and made a start, shaping our course
north-east.  Soon we had crossed the last rocky ridge,--the boundary
separating the hilly country from the plains.  The latter were covered
with the shock-bearing tussocks of "toa,"--waving plumes at that time
bleached to a light-yellow by the ardours of the summer sun.  We passed
the head of the Kanxas Gorge,--a miniature canyon whose rocky,
perpendicular sides contained caves which had been until a comparatively
recent date occupied by Bushmen.  The walls of these caves shew records
of their former inhabitants in the form of black-pigmented script.  This
consists mainly of groups of short, parallel lines crossed at various
angles by lines similar.  But neither here nor in any of the haunts of
the now-vanished Bushmen I have visited in the north-western areas of
the Cape Province, have I seen paintings of men and animals such as are
to be found in other parts of South Africa.  A spring had existed at
Kanxas within the memory of living Trek-Boers.  Of this no vestige then
remained.  Herein lies an additional item of evidence pointing to the
ominous conclusion that South Africa is slowly but surely drying up.

Night fell; the primrose-yellow of the "toa" faded to ghostly white; not
a breath of wind stirred.  Excepting the creak, creak, of the straining
yokes not a sound was audible.  Day faded from the sky and the cupola of
stars seemed to descend around us like a curtain.  We walked apart and
communed with our individual selves.  When by night one enters the door
of the desert speech seems banal and incongruous.

At about midnight we outspanned.  The oxen were, however, kept tied to
the yokes; we meant to take but an hour's rest.  The patient cattle laid
themselves down at once; an occasional long-drawn sigh being the only
evidence of their existence.  Anon the flame of our candle-bush fire
ascended into the windless air,--straight as a column.  Coffee was soon
ready and biscuits distributed.  After we had eaten and drunk, pipes
were lit.  Then we threw ourselves prone on the sand and gazed, wrapt,
into the glittering folds of the star-curtain.

How unutterably still it was; how ineffably peaceful.  The spell of
silence still sealed our lips.  The world of men--with its fierce and
futile struggles, its crowded and ever-changing illusions, seemed but a
dream.  Could it be that in other regions of that earth, which there
seemed so austere, so sinless and so ordered, men were struggling in
warren-like cities?  For that night, however, the desert was the only
reality; there we seemed to have attained Nirvana.

The hour of rest soon came to an end; once more the oxen were yoked and
our wagon lumbered on.  There was no longer a track to guide us; our
wheels drew a double-furrow through soil that had never groaned to the
share of a plough forged by mortal hands,--that will never yield a crop
sown by man.  There were no dangers to dread but snakes; no obstacles to
avoid--except an occasional tract, ten to fifteen yards in diameter,
which had been undermined by desert mice.  Through the crust of such a
tract the wagon would have sunk to the axles; accordingly a Hottentot
was detailed to walk a few yards ahead and give notice of the fact
should a mouse-city lie in our course.  We steered neither by the
compass nor the stars, not yet by any landmark.  It was the instinct of
Andries and his desert-bred servants,--that "sense of direction"
possessed by men whose perceptions have not been destroyed by
civilisation,--which enabled them to steer us, straight as an arrow,
towards an unseen objective we should only reach two days later.

A pallid gleam shot through the eastern sky; the stars grew faint; over
the blue firmament stole, as it were, a sheen of pearl.  Soon the rising
moon touched the horizon's rim; as we gazed she soared above it.  By the
first touch of her level beam-wand, fairy-land was created; the plains,
sombre since daylight had departed, became ivory-white to eastward;
across their immensity extended a broad strip of silver.  This was due
to the sheen of the new moonlight on the dew-wet plumes arising from the
"toa" tussocks.

As night wore slowly on the deep sand became a weariness.  Sleep grew
importunate; her fingers pressed down our eyelids and the folds of her
trailing robe entangled our lead-shod feet.  The moon, after her first
majestic soar above the horizon, seemed to climb slower and more slowly
towards the zenith.  It would have been a luxury to fall prone on the
velvet-soft sand and sink at once into dreamless oblivion.

But this might not be; our plan of campaign had been cunningly devised
and had to be strictly adhered to.  We were about to contend with an
enemy who gave no quarter.  The fiat of Andries had gone forth; we were
to travel on without pause until sunrise.  Then we might sleep if the
sun permitted.

At length the seemingly interminable night ended: "the phantom of false
morning," which so often had mocked us, gave place to dawn--virginal and
splendid.  Then day came on rapid feet.  Just as the sun cleared the rim
of the earth the wagon halted, and at once the yokes fell from the necks
of the tired oxen.  Within a few minutes we lay fast asleep beneath a
hastily-constructed sun-screen.

Scarcely more than an hour had elapsed before the heat awoke us and we
sprang to our feet with hardly a trace of fatigue.  The strong sunshine
seemed to sting us to vigour; it was aether rather than air that we
breathed.  Around us lay infinite expanses, glowing and quivering,--
radiating fervour against fervour into the moveless atmosphere.  Before
us and to our right and left the horizon was unbroken.  Behind us could
still be faintly traced the contour of the hilly country from which we
had yesterday emerged.

The oxen, after feeding a little, wandered about--attempting from time
to time to escape homeward.  They dreaded this plunge into the waterless
waste.  They instinctively anticipated the heavy sufferings to which
they were doomed.  So far they were not painfully thirsty; cattle bred
on the borders of the desert in their search for pasturage often go
voluntarily waterless for forty-eight hours at a stretch.  Even in
summer they do not feel this much of an inconvenience.  Late in the
afternoon the team was driven up and once more inspanned.  Again we
pressed forward on our course.

The heat was still intense; we knew it would last until sundown.  The
primrose-tinted carpet of the desert seemed to have turned to flame.
Before us some mocking genius of the sky painted mirage-pictures.  Blue
seas gemmed with verdant islands, rocky beaches from which sprang groves
of lofty trees,--mountain ranges clothed with boskage and suggesting
cool streams in their valleys--enticed us onward.  Now and then the
pictures grew distorted; occasionally they became inverted in the
twinkling of an eye.  Then the mountains stood poised upon their summits
and the trees hung downward.  Perhaps the operator of the magic lantern
which projected these phantasms on the sky-screen was the vizier of the
Thirst King--striving to lure the unwary to a terrible doom.

Although the heat was so intense, we were not badly distressed by it.
The thrill of the unaccustomed exhilarated us; each breath we drew was
as a draught of new wine.  Interesting and unusual incidents befel.
Ever and anon a troop of ostriches sped over the plains, their white
plumes outstretched and thrilling.  On the right, arising from the
hollow of an undulation upwards of a mile away, could be seen a small
thicket of "black sticks."  Irregularly grouped and standing at various
angles they shewed clear and distinct through the miraculously
transparent air.  "Gemsbokke," said Andries, laconically.  The bodies of
the oryx were out of sight; nothing was visible but their long and
almost straight horns.  Soon the earth-tremor betrayed us, and the
thicket of "black sticks" became agitated.  It broke up, scattered and
reformed in smaller thickets.  Then a herd of about fifty oryx swung at
a gallop out of the hollow and sped up the wind, leaving a long trail of
dust to mark its course.

Night fell again; again the star-curtain descended.  At about ten
o'clock we once more outspanned.  There was not a breath of wind.  The
desert was vocal with unfamiliar sounds.  The weird cries of the jackal
were borne from afar across the plains; the clucking lizards put out
their heads and conversed from burrow to burrow; the plaintive notes of
the night-flying grouse fell from the sky like a rain of echoes.  Under
the protecting wing of darkness the solitude became populous and vocal
with strange tongues.

We inspanned after an hour's rest.  The longest and most wearying effort
of our pilgrimage had now to be undertaken; our journey's end had to be
reached before the yokes again were loosened.  The night seemed endless;
we were spent from the long travail.  The yearning for sleep became
acutely painful.  We swayed and staggered as we followed the creaking
wagon.

Dawn broke at length, but we were too weary, too undone to enjoy its
loveliness.  As the light grew we became aware of an abrupt eminence of
granite on our left front; it arose, in the form of a steep cone, from a
monstrous, agglomerated mass of copper-tinted, shapeless hummocks.  This
was Bantom Berg,--the "Belted Mountain,"--its red-cinctured bulk bathed
in the first sunbeams, its feet entangled in the illimitable coils of
the dune-tract.  The latter at once seized and held the attention.

When day had fully dissipated the faint haze of morning we endeavoured
to appraise the contours of this gross, amorphous entity,--for the
concept that it was one and indivisible had gradually but irresistibly
formed.  It grew more and more enormous; more gross and inimical.
Irregular and convoluted ridges arose from it here and there; it
appeared to be absolutely bare of vegetation.  In the centre was piled a
humped, bulging mass; out of this Bantom Berg lifted its clean-cut cone
of granite,--a soaring sphynx still waiting for the carver's chisel.
Here and there columns of dust--slender beneath but widely dilating
above at an enormous height, stalked slowly over the body of the prone
monster, marking each the path of a miniature whirlwind.  As we drew
near, the face of the dune-tract once more became indefinite and
complicated; for a time the eye could not follow nor appraise its
details.  But suddenly the thing explained itself; from the central
mass, the prostrate carcase of the obscene creature, a number of
league-long tentacles, consisting of sand-dunes, extended.  These were
thick at the base, but they tapered away to nothingness.  Like a
crouching spider or a half-huddled cuttle-fish the monstrosity
sprawled,--its talon-tentacles seeming to gather in the plains--to
infest them like a malignant cancer.

The character of the country we were traversing had changed; again the
ground was hard beneath our feet; angular fragments of limestone were
strewn over its surface.  It was as though the dune-devil had collected
and assimilated the surface sand so that its loathly limbs might
develop.  Inexpressibly sinister was this creature,--this mysterious,
insatiable intruder from the desolate northern wastes.  It seemed to be
endowed with some low-graded form of rudimentary life; otherwise it was
hard to account for the definite and arbitrary variations in the scheme
of its southward advance.  For the tentacles did not all extend in the
same direction; occasionally one curved in its course and developed
against the prevailing wind.  The dune-monster was the slow-pacing steed
of the Thirst King; it was his throne, his host and his strong city; it
was the abhorrent body of which he was the resistless and implacable
soul!

Our camping-place lay within the curve of one of the tentacles; it was
expedient from the stand-point of the hunter to have the mounded sand
between us and the plains--thus affording concealment.  The sun was high
when the yokes dropped once more.  The unhappy oxen, now very thirsty,
wandered about emitting low moans of distress.  Their fundamental
instincts told them that no water was near; their inherited faith in the
wisdom and power of man had, however, given them the thought that relief
might be provided.  Suddenly, however, primordial instinct gained
ascendency; their minds were made up.  They paced, lowing, to the trail;
then advanced along it at a trot.  Soon the trot altered to a wild
gallop.  To-morrow, before noon, they would charge down on Gamoep--and
woe to man or beast obstructing their course.  Red-eyed, and with
blackened tongues extended from roaring, tortured throats, they would
fling themselves into the pool and drink their fill.  At Gamoep they
would remain for four restful days; then they would be brought back to
our camp by Piet Noona and his nephew.

So at length we were within the dominions of the Thirst King--our
gauntlet thrown down at the gates of his wrath; we were almost within
the grasp of his awful hand.  The last link with the world inhabited by
men snapped when the hapless oxen disappeared over the rim of the
desert.  Like a water-logged ship in a tideless sea--like a derelict
among the Sargossa weeds,--the wagon stood in the solitude and silence,
with the cloudless sky above and the sun-scorched earth beneath--with
the dune-fiend watching us from his lair.  It was almost an insult to
the landscape--this wood-and-canvas construction of man, hauled jolting
and groaning across the pathless desert by tamed and tortured beasts.
It was a disfigurement on the face of Solitude,--an incorporate insult
flung like a guage against the ramparts of one of Nature's most
jealously guarded fortresses.

Under the shadow of the wagon-sail we slept throughout the day; the sun
was down before we awoke.  Once more night put on the garment of life.
It was a desert-dweller who wrote that the heavens declared the glory of
God; the first astrologer must have had his home in the wilderness.
Over the desert the stars, unfolding a glory not revealed elsewhere,
descend like a swarm of bees and seem to busy themselves with destiny.

Whispers of ghostly voices close at hand,--faint and far-off cries,--
flutters of spectral wings--pulsed through the darkness.  In the desert,
the brighter the firmament at night, the more intensely darkness seems
to brood over the earth,--the more insistent becomes the idea that one
is surrounded by living beings, unhuman and unimaginable.

Hark! a sound of sinister import; involuntarily one sprang to grasp the
rifle standing against the wagon-wheel.  But an instant's reflection
brought reassurance; it was but the booming of an ostrich far out on the
plains that had conjured up scenes of other days,--when questing lions
prowled around camp fires, now long since quenched.  The most
experienced ear can hardly distinguish the distant voice of a lion from
that of an ostrich.  Here, however, we might rest unscathed by beasts of
prey; the only possible danger was from cobras and horned adders which,
being unable to sustain the heat of the earth's surface by day, remain
underground and emerge by night to practise their respective trades.

Sleep, sudden and imperative, would not be denied; we had the arrears of
two wakeful nights to pay.  Dune, desert and star,--past, present and
future--what were they?  Where were they?  Whither was the awakening
night-wind bearing us?



CHAPTER THREE.

THE SEARCH FOR MEAT--DEATH OF THE ORYX--THE FLANK OF THE DUNE--
OUTWITTING A JACKAL--HENDRICK, MY GUARDIAN--THIRST--THE DISTANT RAIN--
TYPHON--THE SOUTHERN SIMOOM.

Daybreak found us sitting close to the candle-bush fire, for the air of
morning was chill.  Soon the kettle boiled and coffee was prepared.
Meat was badly needed; we had eaten the last of the sand-grouse on the
previous day, and a diet of unrelieved rusks is apt to pall.  So we
decided that I was to take my rifle and, accompanied by Hendrick, go
forth in search of something to shoot.

Hendrick and I shaped our course along the western flank of the
dune-tentacle close to which we were camped, meaning to cross it near
its point of emergence from the main dune.  On reaching a suitable spot
we climbed to the top, a height of some twenty feet vertically, and
carefully scanned the plain on the eastern side.  The light was yet
faint and, as we were facing the east, otherwise unfavourable.  While we
lay prone a jackal shambled up the steep slope of loose sand and met us,
face to face.  The creature regarded us with quaint bewilderment for a
second, and then scampered back with a yelp of dismay.

So far as we could ascertain the plain before us was empty of game.
Gloom, intensified by contrast with the developing pageant of morning,
still lurked among the shrubs and tussocks.  In front, some six hundred
yards away, lay another dune-tentacle.  This did not, however, extend in
quite the same direction as the one we occupied, its course being a few
degrees more to the southward for the greater length, while the
extremity curved slightly back towards us.  The intervening space was
soon crossed.  Once more we clambered up through loose sand that flowed
at a touch; then we lay prone on the flat top, searching with expectant
eyes the new expanse revealed.

The light had now improved; a limitless plain opened to south and east.
Northward, the wind-scourged side of the main dune extended like a
sea-worn cliff.  The faint, diaphanous suspicion of haze incidental to
newborn day, which lay film-wise over the yet-unawakened desert, did not
interfere with our vision.

A twenty-foot elevation gives the eye an immense range.  Game was now in
sight; five separate groups of ostriches could be located.  These were
miles apart,--their units varying in number from five to twenty, or
thereabouts.  Away in the dim distance southward some large animals were
visible; they moved slowly westward.  These were almost certainly oryx.
About six hundred yards off, straight before us, was a small herd of
springbuck; they were busily grazing, moving to the right as they
grazed.  This circumstance, combined with the fact that the oryx were
moving in the same direction, indicated that out on the plains there was
an air-current from westward; consequently there was some likelihood of
the day being fairly cool.

The springbuck were too far away to fire at; probabilities would have
been too much in favour of a miss.  On foot in the desert, missing one's
shot meant that one's chances of obtaining meat were practically at an
end for the day.  So there was nothing for it but to wait.  Perhaps a
paauw (bustard) might feed up to within range.  We had seen many paauws
on the wing the previous day.

What most surprised us was the number of jackals.  Several of these
sneaking marauders were visible, loping here and there.  One approached
the springbuck; a ram put down his head and charged straight at the
intruder.  The latter fled, yelping dolorously.  The buck, his head
still lowered, pursued, and gained easily upon the fugitive who, hard
pressed, doubled over and over again on his devious course.  At length
the jackal took refuge in a burrow, and the buck trotted back to join
his mates, who had apparently taken no notice of the incident.

Hendrick touched me slightly on the shoulder, and uttered a slow
"s-s-t."  I glanced to the left; my heart leaped almost to my throat.
There, pacing towards us at a leisurely stroll, was a lordly oryx bull.
He was about eight hundred yards off; evidently he had been lying down
with his horns concealed behind one or other of the bushes that here and
there studded the plain.  Most likely he was a rogue; an old bull turned
out of the herd on account of his bad temper,--or possibly a leader
deposed by a rival.  However that might have been, he represented meat--
a commodity we were badly in need of.  Ever and anon the oryx halted and
gazed anxiously along the flank of the dune; then he resumed his
advance, pacing steadily on a course which should have brought him to
within about two hundred yards of our ambush.

Nearer and nearer the bull approached; he seemed to be suspicious, for
his muzzle was held high and his large ears moved backward and forward.
Probably our camp had tainted the air for miles in every direction.
"Tshok-tshok" uttered a paauw which we now noticed for the first time.
The bird was sauntering on a zig-zag course and occasionally pecking
among the shrubs just beneath us.  Its approach was from the right; thus
it was advancing towards the oryx.  The moment was a critical one;
should the paauw have taken alarm and flown, the oryx would undoubtedly
have galloped straight out towards the plains as fast as his strong legs
could carry him.  If, on the other hand, the paauw passed and remained
unaware of our presence, the oryx would have inferred that the coast in
our direction was clear, and accordingly have come unsuspiciously within
easy range.  So we lay as still as mummies, Hendrick and I,--almost
afraid to breathe.

The crisis passed.  The paauw was soon well beyond us, and the bull,
accelerating his pace slightly, advanced to his doom.  O! you of the
swift feet, the tireless thews and the long, sharp horns that even the
hungry lion dreaded,--you had run your last course, you had fought your
last fight; the sands of your lordly life were running low!

The great oryx bull was now only about two hundred and fifty yards off.
Something startled him; a whiff of tainted air stung his sensitive
nostrils.  He stood half-facing us, his right shoulder exposed.  My
rifle, a long Martini, had been trained on him for some seconds,
awaiting a favourable opportunity.  "Crack"--and the bull fell huddled
on his left haunch.  He sprang up, but floundered pitifully.  Hendrick
and I were now over the dune and running towards him.  As we approached,
his struggles ceased; he no longer attempted to escape.  He was standing
on three legs, for his right shoulder had been smashed and the limb
dangled loosely.

The bull was an awe-inspiring sight.  Every separate one of the
wire-like hairs on his neck, shoulders and hump stood erect and
quivering.  His wide nostrils shewed blood-red in their depths; his eyes
blazed with agony and wrath; he swayed his forty-inch-long horns
menacingly from side to side, as though to test their poise.

The brave brute was evidently co-ordinating his maimed but still
formidable strength for a charge at his enemy.  "Schiet, Baas--anders
kom hij" ("Shoot, Sir--or he will come") yelled Hendrick.  I had the
bull carefully covered, and as he swayed forward in the first impulse of
attack, my bullet struck him in the middle of the neck and crashed
through the vertebral column.  Then the strong, tense form collapsed and
sank impotently to earth.

He was a noble beast,--this creature whose life I had wasted.  Why had I
done it?  Because I wanted meat; because I followed the law of my being
in obeying the hunters' instinct,--almost the deepest and strongest in
man.  The answer was, of course, not quite a good one; I felt it could
not be supported on ethical grounds.  But conventional ethics belonged,
after all, to an environment I no longer inhabited.  Where I then lived
and moved and had my being, the unmoral standards of primeval man
prevailed.

A shout from the top of the dune.  It was from Andries and the others
who, on hearing the first shot, hurried over to see what my fortune had
been.  We returned in triumph to the wagon, carrying the liver of the
slain oryx.  This would be roasted on the embers for breakfast.
Hendrick and his assistants would see to it that the rest of the meat,
the head and the skin were removed and properly treated.  Very soon the
carcase had been dismembered and carried piecemeal to the camp.  After
the skin had been stretched out and spalked down to dry on the hot sand,
we cut up and slightly salted the meat, preparatory to its being packed
together and rolled in sacking.  Next day it would be hung out on lines
to dry into "bultong."  The head was a beauty; the horns measured 41.5
inches.  That night the jackals from far and near would pick up the
scent and prowl, yonking and yowling, about the camp.  The less cowardly
among them would steal up--almost to our very hearth.  Consequently we
should have to avoid leaving unprotected anything capable of being
chewed.  The jackal is the Autolycus of the desert.

In the afternoon I explored the south-western flank of the main dune.
So light was the sand that in parts I sank almost knee-deep.  Jackals
were to be seen everywhere; one wondered how such a number could manage
to eke out a livelihood in so barren a locality.  From one hollow,--a
cup-shaped depression scooped out by some recent wind-eddy, seventeen of
these animals emerged.  They were too far away to fire at, for I had
left my rifle in camp and brought a shotgun.  There was no other sign of
animal life.

Fold upon fold--utterly, unspeakably arid--the flank of the main dune
sinuated away towards the north-west.  On turning towards the north the
abomination of desolation grew more abominable at every step, so I
altered my course to the left and descended the steep side of the
red-hot dust-heap.  Soon I found myself on the edge of a plain lying
between two dune-tentacles which were about a mile apart.  In more or
less the centre of this plain was a small patch of low scrub, and
towards the latter a single jackal was loping.  He was of the "silver"
variety; consequently his pelt was of value.  I felt I wanted that pelt.
The only good jackal is a dead jackal.  I had no qualms of conscience
about taking this creature's life.

My slinking friend whose opulent coat of silver-striped fur I coveted,
reached the little patch of scrub and crouched down in it.  But the
bushes were so low and sparse that I could distinctly see his erect,
pointed ears.  Now,--I meant to have some amusement out of that
marauder, that prowling scoundrel who butchered young fawns and
plundered the nests of birds.  So I lit my pipe and strolled,--not
towards the patch of scrub; that would have been far too obvious a thing
to do,--but as though I meant to pass it by some distance to the right.
I did pass it, but immediately afterwards inclined my course slightly to
the left, proceeding in a curve.  The curve became a spiral; I walked
round and round the patch of scrub, gradually edging nearer.

To look towards the jackal would have been to give myself away
absolutely.  My game was to pretend to be unaware that such a thing as a
jackal existed in Bushmanland.  However, out of the tail of my left eye
I could just see the pointed ears still erect; it was clear that the
owner of those ears was following my movements with careful but
perplexed attention.  Was it possible that that villain, with all his
cunning, could have really believed that I was taking just an ordinary
stroll?  The fact was,--he found himself face to face with a wholly
unprecedented situation.

Of course I recognised that all my trouble might be for nothing; that
the jackal perhaps was sitting at the side of a convenient burrow, ready
to drop out of sight at my first suspicious gesture.  But, on the other
hand, were no burrow available, my cunning friend's moments were drawing
to a tragic close,--his last springbuck fawn had been devoured, his last
smashing of ostrich-eggs perpetrated.

I was now within sixty yards of the jackal; still there was no movement
on his part,--except that of the pointed ears which followed the
following eyes.  The distance decreased as the spiral drew in; the
Lachesis-web was being spun fine; Atropos stood ready with her shears.
Fifty--forty yards--now he must be very uneasy indeed.  There was
evidently no burrow available; otherwise he would long since have
disappeared into it.  He had never seen anyone manoeuvre like this; how
he wished he had bolted when I first altered my course.  Thirty--twenty
yards;--that was more than he could stand.  He hurled himself forth--
only to fall, riddled by a charge of buck-shot.

Hendrick came running across the flat, his face beaming with delight.
There would be joy in the camp that night, for jackal-flesh is the
Hottentots' favourite delicacy.

Try as I might, I never--in the course of my various Bushmanland trips--
had been able to shake Hendrick off, for my friend Andries had issued
strict injunctions that he was never to lose my spoor.  So whenever I
left camp, Hendrick made careful note of the direction I had taken and,
after an interval, followed me.  No notice was taken of the protests I
made against this, as a rule, wholly unnecessary precaution, for Andries
had a strong arm and a sjambok for use when his servants disobeyed him.
Westward of Gamoep, Andries as a rule did what I told him to, but in the
desert he was an autocrat, and a severe one.  I believe that in
Bushmanland he would have sjamboked me had there been no other way of
enforcing his will.

Andries distrusted my desert craft, making no allowance for that "sense
of direction" which strenuous wanderings of early years in waste places
had developed in me.  However, hunting in the desert was undoubtedly
fraught with danger.  Under certain atmospheric conditions, if one had
suddenly to put forth exertion sufficient to induce perspiration, the
pores refused to close, and moisture was drawn out of the system at such
a rate that to drink presently or die was the alternative.

The Bushmanland desert has taken a heavy toll of thirst-victims.  Close
to Agenhuis I was shewn a little bush under which a strong young
fellow--the son of a man I knew well,--laid himself down and perished
miserably within a mile of his camp.  The people at Agenhuis saw him
coming on, walking slowly.  He turned out of the track and sank under a
bush; those who watched him thought he had paused to take a rest.
Wondering why he delayed so long, his friends strolled over to where he
lay.  The man was dead.  His tongue was blackened and shrunk; his lips
and eyelids cracked and caked with clotted blood.  This is only one of
the many dismal instances of people perishing of thirst within short
distances of their camps.

The day died gloriously.  Far away to eastward a thunderstorm trailed
down from the north, its bastions and buttresses snow-white or
ebon-black--according as to whether the sunlight touched them or not.
When the last level beams smote through the banked masses of vapour, a
glory of rose, purple and gold transfigured the soaring turrets.  That
night the firmament was clearer than ever; the satellites of Jupiter
could actually be seen with the naked eye.  The eastern horizon was lit
by Aurora-like lightning,--soft, lambent and incessant.  Eastern
Bushmanland must have been drenched.  Even as I watched, the springbuck,
scattered over the western desert, had no doubt read the signal aright
and begun their hundred-mile flitting towards the regions blest with
rain.  Already the Trek-Boers at Namies and Naramoep would be busy
pulling down their mat-houses and packing their wagons for the trek
eastward.  The barometer shewed a heavy fall; this indicated unsettled
weather,--probably a strong wind from the north.

Mute, ominous and black loomed the dune-devil.  Who and what was he,
that unspeakable entity?  Was he not Typhon, Lord of Evil and Autocrat
of Desert Places--that monstrous deity who was cast forth from the
councils of the Egyptian gods on account of his unspeakable iniquities?
Yes,--it was Typhon and none other; he wandered south in search of a
kingdom to usurp, and found it there.  But the rain-god, whose throne is
the distant Drakensberg, stretched forth his silver sword, the Gariep,
and ham-strung the intruder.  Otherwise the Kalihari might now be
stretching forth a hand to grasp l'Agulhas, and all the African
southland be a waste.

That embodied malignity, crouched and huddled beneath the sumptuous
stars--what unspeakable outrage was his bestial and inchoate rudiment of
a mind devising?  Perhaps that day he had sent a message bidding his
hag-handmaid, the north wind, come and help him to destroy us,
intruders.  There was menace in the air.  The temperature had hardly
fallen,--as it almost invariably did at night.

At daybreak the atmosphere was tense, oppressive and phenomenally lucid.
Often the desert dawn is followed by a faint semi-opacity; an opaline
suggestion of vapourised moisture,--the diaphanous veil of evaporated
dew.  But on the previous night no dew had fallen.  Heaven had withheld
that gracious, healing touch with which it sometimes assuaged the scorch
inflicted by the ruthless sun on the patient wilderness.

The plains lay hushed as though in anticipation of sinister happenings.
Soon the east grew suddenly splendid; shafts of faint gold and delicate
rose spread from the horizon half-way to the zenith.  These were the
wheel-spokes of the still-hidden chariot of the sun-god.  The flanks of
Typhon, the huddled shoulders between which his head was sunk, took on
the hue of glowing bronze.  The Belted Mountain shone like a bale-fire.

The sun arose; his first beams smote like the lash of a whip.  In the
twinkling of an eye the glamour of morning had shrunk and shrivelled,--
fallen to the dust and left no more trace than would a broken bubble.
The world was now a tortured plain on which the redoubled wrath of the
sky was poured forth.  Typhon seemed to stir in his sleep,--to expand
and palpitate.  The reason of his baleful and unbridled power was at
hand.  That day he would be omnipotent and unquestioned Lord of the
Desert.

A faint, hushing breath, less felt than heard, touched us and passed on
over the shuddering plain.  Its course was from the north; it left
increasing heat on its track.  Another, not so faint, but definitely
audible,--tangible as flame.  It was indeed the breath of Typhon,--the
suspiration of his awakening fury.  A fringe as of erect russet hair
plumed his hunched shoulders.  Here and there immense tufts, like those
of a waving, quivering mane, were hurled aloft; they fell back in the
form of cataracts.  Then--like the sudden smoke of a volcano, his
loosened locks streamed forth on the tempest.  Typhon was awake and had
arisen in his blighting wrath.

His breath had not yet reached us, but it was very near.  His voice was
a penetrating, sibillant hiss, with a moaning undertone--the utterance
of fury rendered inarticulate by its own intensity.  Now the sand-spouts
which had been flung upwards, rained on us in fine, almost impalpable
dust, that scorched where it fell.  It filled the air we strove to
breathe; it blinded and baffled us as we vainly sought for shelter.

Then darkness settled down and the moaning undertone swelled to a roar.
We crouched within the wagon, the tilt of which rocked and strained.
The air we gaspingly breathed had a horrible, acrid taste.

Now and then a compensating current of air streamed back under the wing
of the tempest that overwhelmed us, and afforded relief for a space.  It
was only during such intervals that we could venture to lift our eyes;
it was then we saw that the red-maned tentacles around us were alive and
writhing, and we knew that on the morrow their location and contours
would be different from what they were that morning.

It was late in the afternoon when Typhon's rage subsided and we emerged
from our ravaged wagon, which stood half-buried in sand.  The tentacle
near us had stretched out a feeler and grasped it to the axles.  It took
several hours of hard digging before we were able to liberate the wheels
enough to admit of the wagon being drawn out and taken to a spot which
was free from drifted sand.

Yes, the monster had moved; his shoulders were hunched at a different
curve; his long flank had taken on strange bends and bulges.  But he was
once more prone after his terrific but impotent uprising.  Typhon slept.



CHAPTER FOUR.

A WALK IN THE DARKNESS--DREAMS OF A MORNING--THE SCHERM--THE SLAYING OF
THE OSTRICH.

Arched, sore, gritty and with overstrung nerves I sought my bed early,
hoping that sleep would come soon and obliterate the effects of that day
of turmoil.  I meant to shoot an ostrich on the morrow.  To make this
practicable I should have to rise at 2 a.m., for it was essential that I
should reach a locality at least six miles away before daybreak.

But the fiery breath,--the tawny, tossing mane of Typhon seemed still to
envelop me; his moaning hiss yet filled my ears.  I felt as if I had
stood face to face with one of the Lords of Hell.  The reek of Tophet
was still in my nostrils.  Midnight had passed before sleep came.

When Hendrick wakened me I felt as though I had hardly lost
consciousness.  It was the specified hour.  Hendrick could no more read
the face of a clock than he could decipher a logarithm, but he knew what
it was we were going to attempt, and that if our adventure were to have
any chance of success, we should set about it without delay.

Before waking me, Hendrick had brewed the coffee, so after hurriedly
emptying a pannikin and adding a few rusks to the contents of my
haversack, I seized a rifle and made a start.  My course lay due south,
my objective being the vicinity in which the troops of ostriches had
been visible on the previous morning.  It had been arranged that
Hendrick was to start an hour later and make a wide detour to the right,
for the purpose of stampeding any birds he could manage to get to the
westward of.  It was trusted that such birds might run towards the spot
where I intended to lie concealed.

The sky was clear as a crystal lens, for the copious dew had caught all
dust particles which were left suspended in the atmosphere after
yesterday's outburst, and carried them back to earth.  The waning moon
had just arisen; fantastic shadows were cast by every shrub and tussock.
The air was cool--almost cold; not a breath stirred.  Every few yards I
stumbled over irregular heaps of soft sand, varying in height, in size
and in contour.  These were fragments of the ravaged locks of Typhon--
locks torn out in his fury of yesterday and flung far and wide over the
desert.

How still it was; how void my environment of the details of ordinary
experience.  It was like a ramble through dreamland.  The whirring
wheels of Time seemed to have become dislocated; each as it were turning
reversed on its axis--no two moving at the same speed.  It seemed as
though the mill of which sequence is a product had fallen out of gear,
for yesterday joined hands with a day of twenty years old, while the
intervening myriads of days flew forth into the void like chaff from a
winnower.

Space seemed to have taken on additional dimensions,--the impossible to
have become actual without an effort.  Faces glimmered up through the
mists that hung over the dimming pathway of the past--through the steam
of long-shed tears--through the ghastly coffin-lid and the horrible six
feet of clay.  They smiled for an instant, and vanished.  Winds that had
slept for years arose laden with the laughter from lips whose warm red
faded with dawns long overblown.  Surely I must have strayed into some
pallid Hades such as the ancients fabled of,--some zone where shadows
only were real and real things appeared as shadows.

Mechanically I strode on, avoiding without conscious volition the shrubs
and tussocks.  As the moon ascended the shadows shortened and became
less grotesque.  Fancied resemblances to and suggestions of things
outside my own experience, but of which my mind had formed concepts that
had become familiar, switched thought on to other tracks; the pendulum
swung from the subjective to the objective.  Imagination built up the
tiny, lithe, agile forms of that race we exterminated and whose barren
territory we annexed, but neither occupied nor made use of.  I could
almost hear the sandalled, pattering feet of the aboriginal dwellers of
these plains,--those kings of the waste whose sceptre was the poisoned
dart.  The Bushmen were in many respects a wonderful people.  They
obeyed no chief; they had no political organisation whatsoever; each
family governed itself independently.  Yet they had their fixed
customs,--their general traditional code of proprieties.  They had
knowledge of the properties of plants which no others possessed; they
had a highly-developed dramatic art.  As limners they excelled, and a
keen sense of humour is evinced in many of their paintings.  Not alone
was this sense of humour keen, but it must have been very much akin to
our own.

How many hot human hearts have searched for a clue to the nature of that
Power which energises as much through evil as through good,--which could
foster the development of a numerous people under painful and inexorable
laws until it harmonised with its rigorous environment,--that could
implant in its units the capacity for love, heroism and faithfulness--
and then ordain or sanction its obliteration,--an obliteration so
absolute that, with the exception of one aged and senile pair, and a few
delineations on sheltered rocks, of animals that shared its doom, this
people has not left a trace behind.  Literally, not a trace; hardly so
much evidence that it ever existed as afforded in the case of an extinct
sub-species of diatoms, the imprint of whose forms may be found on the
fractured face of a chalk-cliff.

Musing thus, I suddenly became aware that day was at hand, for the
pallid moonlight grew paler and the thrill of approaching dawn pulsated
through the firmament.  If all my trouble were not to be thrown away, I
should at once select a spot suitable for my ambush.  But first I had to
look out for a certain shallow-rooted shrub of globular form which grew
in patches here and there throughout the desert.  A few such shrubs had
to be pulled out of the ground and piled in the form of a low, circular
fence enclosing a space about six feet in diameter.  This is the
"scherm" or screen so often used by those who hunt in the desert.
Within it the hunter lies prone, fully concealed from any approaching
quarry.

I was in luck, for I had reached an almost imperceptible rise; a long
oval, the highest part of which was not more than thirty inches above
the general level of the plain.  But those inches were of incalculable
value for my purpose, for they extended by miles the scope of my vision
in every direction and, should game have been afoot, enabled me to
prepare for the one and only shot.  A single shot each day is the utmost
that the hunter on foot in the desert ever expects.

In the vicinity of the rise shrubs were fairly plentiful, so I plucked
out a sufficient number of suitable size and drew them carefully to the
spot I had selected for my lair.  This was just to westward of an
unusually high shrub, a "taaibosch" which, after the sun should have
arisen, would afford temporary shade for my head.  But day came on
apace; no time was to be lost.

Within a few minutes my scherm was complete, and I extended prone within
it.  After consideration I ventured to light my pipe.  There was no
wind; even had there been the ostrich has no sense of smell,--and on
that day I was not looking for buck.  Even had an oryx approached and
sniffed at me, I would have let him go scathless.  An ostrich, and a
super-excellent one at that, was what I wanted.  No breeding bird with
plumes discoloured through contact with the sand, but a young, lusty,
unmarried male with peerless adornment of foam-white plumes,--the
crowning result of a long period of selection,--developed by
unrestricted Nature for the all-wise end of making him comely in the
eyes of the female of his species.

It was now day, although the sun was not yet visible.  I was in my
shirt-sleeves, having left my jacket at the camp.  The faint wind of
morning was chill, the dew-soaked ground dank and cold.  I longed for
the sun to rise, albeit well knowing that after it had risen my
discomfort from heat would be intense, and that I would look back to the
hour of the dew and the dawn with vain regret.

Cautiously and very slowly I lifted my head until my eyes could search
the plain in the direction from which Hendrick was operating.  But I
hardly expected to see him yet.  Void, cold, passionless and austere the
still-sleeping desert stretched to the sky-line.  The dominant note of
its colour-scheme was creamy yellow, with but a hint of sage-green,--for
the plumy shocks of the "toa" far outnumbered the sparsely-scattered
shrubs.  A glance at Bantom Berg and Typhon shewed them to be touched by
the first sunbeams.  The shoulder of the dune-monster shone as though a
radiant hand were laid upon it.  The hand stole tenderly down the side
and flank, revealing unsuspected scars.  It was as though the morning
were caressing the loathly creature,--trying to heal with pitying touch
his self-inflicted scars of yesterday.  In the limitless expanse of
desert Typhon and his granite prisoner stood isolated,--the only
prominence, and the ungainly bulk of Typhon made manifest the immensity
of the kingdom he had usurped and the illimitable extent, of the
territory towards which his carking hands outstretched.

The sun was now up and the resulting warmth was a physical delight.  But
I could not avoid lugubrious anticipation of what all too soon was
coming,--that fierce ardour which would cause the sand to grow red-hot
and make my couch, then so comfortable, a bed of torment.  Why should
this anticipation have almost destroyed my physical pleasure? why should
mind and body thus have been set at variance with each other as the
sense of grateful warmth penetrated my shivering limbs?  It is this kind
of thing that places man at a disadvantage as compared with other
animals, who live in the immediately existing time.  No matter how fair
the flowers or how rich the fruits of the present may be, a menacing
hand stretches back from the future and touches these with blight.  When
the Apostle of the Gentiles wrote that he died daily, he merely cried
out under the lash of that curse of foreknowledge which is at once man's
glory and his doom.  And the farther the eyes of man pierce into the
future, the more terrible will be the things revealed.

A yelp; then many yelps,--faint, but clear as a tinkling bell.  They
came from the side opposite the one from which I expected the game to be
driven.  Cautiously I sank back, wormed myself round and looked over the
edge of the scherm in the direction from which the sound came.  A
jackal, of course,--but why was he yelping?  The reason was quickly
apparent.  About seven hundred yards away stood two ostrich hens.
Running hither and thither, in hot pursuit of the jackal, was the cock
bird.  Autolycus was hard pressed; it was only by constant and cunning
doubling and twisting that he was able to escape the sledgehammer
kicks,--any one of which, had it got home, would have broken his back or
ripped out his entrails.  The chase trended in my direction; as the
pursued and the pursuer approached I had an excellent view of it.  At
length the prowler reached his burrow and hurled himself incontinently
in, his brush describing a frantic arc as he disappeared.  The ostrich,
fuming with disappointed wrath and flicking his wings alternately over
his back, to work off his indignation, stalked with stately gait back to
his wives.

Evidently this was a breeding trio, and the nest was not far from where
the hens were standing.  No doubt what happened was this: the birds
arose from the nest for the purpose of allowing the eggs to cool.  Then
the jackal, who had made his burrow in the vicinity as soon as the nest
had been established, attempted to play off his old, well known, but
often effective trick.  This consists in stealing up to the nest in an
unguarded moment, pawing out one of the eggs to the top of the circular
mound by which they are surrounded, and then butting it with his nose
hard down oft the others.  If the contents of an egg thus broken were
fresh, the jackal would lap it up; if the chicken should already have
been formed, so much the better for the thief.

These birds did not interest me that day; they and their nest formed a
domestic menage which should not be interfered with,--except of course,
by jackals and their confederates, the blackguardly white crows that
carry small, heavy stones high into the air, and drop them on the eggs.
An ostrich nursery in the desert requires much careful management and
must be a source of constant anxiety.

I will not say that I had begun to regret my adventure; nevertheless the
sunshine had waxed fiercely hot.  My head was still within the small and
decreasing patch of shadow cast by the taaibosch, but my back--and more
especially my shoulders--suffered badly.  I wished Hendrick would hurry.
That game; was afoot was almost certain; otherwise he would long since
have appeared.  My trusty scout evidently had seen the advisability of
making a detour wider than the one originally proposed.  He was no doubt
exercising every wile of his comprehensive veld-craft towards getting me
a shot.  His work was more arduous than mine; nevertheless I wished I
could have changed places with him if only for a few minutes.

When I realised that my back was getting really overdone I turned over
and exposed in turn each side, and eventually the front of my body, to
the sun.  Then I felt overdone all round.  Moreover the vestige of
shadow in which my head cowered--that cast by the sparse top of the
taaibosch, through which the sunlight leaked freely--grew more and more
scanty.  Oh!  I breathed, for a return of that blessed coolness of
morning which my frame, softened by years of a semi-sedentary life, had
been unable to sustain without discomfort.  Oh! for the gentle, healing
hand of the dew, which I so ungratefully contemned.  If these desert
plants can feel and think, how they must long for the night,--for the
miracle of cool moisture which, perhaps, a beneficent planet distils in
some grove-garden of the asteroids and seals up in the crystal vats of
some celestial tavern known only to its sister spheres and the moon.

Surely there is some hostel of mercy in whose cool cellars the precious
vintage lies hidden from the rapacity of the cruel sun,--held in
readiness to be poured out from the etherial beakers of the firmament on
the tortured tongues of the leaves and grass-blades, when the tyrant of
the skies departs for a season.

My physical condition had become acutely serious on account of the
increasing heat and the more nearly vertical vantage of the sun's
arrows.  The actual, immediate pain was bad enough,--but how about
consequences.  Saint Lawrence no doubt ascended to Paradise from his
gridiron, but I should have to toil on foot over miles of desert after
arising from mine.  Even if I thereafter soaked myself in olive oil,
days of blistered misery might have been in store for me.  Oh! for a
cloud or for Hendrick.  If he only had arrived within sight I might have
vacated my couch of anguish without forfeiting his respect or my own.
The loss of expected sport became unimportant.  Ostrich shooting in the
desert from a scherm was far more than my fancy had painted it.

Hist!  What was that?  It was not a sound; hardly was it a tremor.  It
was rather a thrill not perceptible to any one sense; something
apprehended by the nameless perceptions of the noumenon-area lying deep
beneath the phenomena of sensation.  I risked sunstroke by discarding my
hat; then I slowly lifted my head until I could look over the edge of
the scherm.  At what I saw misery hid her face; mind once more assumed
command of body.

The plain to the south-west was dotted with moving ostriches.  Singly,
in twos, in threes, in tens--they were speeding north-eastward over the
desert; some on my right, some to the left.  Ever and anon one or other
of the groups halted and its members stood at gaze.  The ostrich cannot
keep on the move continuously for any length of time on a hot day.  If
forced to attempt doing so, death from heat-apoplexy would inevitably
result.  One troop, far in advance of all the others, seemed to be
approaching me, but it swerved and passed to the left.  It contained
eleven birds, most of them young and immature; a few were full-grown
hens and one was a very large cock bird.  However, his plumes were
sand-stained, so it is evident he had been dislodged from a nest.

Far and near there must have been nearly a hundred birds in sight.  No
doubt some favourite food was plentiful in the vicinity from which they
had been stampeded; possibly a swarm of locusts might have there hatched
out.  Now the birds were beginning to scud past between me and the camp,
as though following a trail known to them.  But they were too far off to
fire at.  Could it be that after all I was not to have a shot.

Another troop swerved to a course calculated to bring them fairly close
to the scherm; there were eight birds in it.  They paused and stood at
gaze for a short interval, about a mile away.  Then they resumed their
flight along a course which would, if they held it, bring them to within
less than three hundred yards of me, on my right.

On they pressed with even, steady stride.  Two were young but full-grown
cocks with snow-white, sumptuous plumes.  Cautiously I laid my rifle
over the edge of the scherm and adjusted the sight to two hundred yards.
The steel barrel scorched my fingers.  Would the birds stand,--that was
the question of importance.  A running shot is always uncertain.

They halted when some two hundred and fifty yards away.  Of the two
gallant cocks one was manifestly superior; my bead was on him.  I pulled
the trigger; there was a tremendous report and the recoil nearly stunned
me.  My shot had missed.  The birds sped away, at right angles to their
original course.  They became confused and ran hither and thither, for
the near whiz of the bullet had alarmed them nearly as much as the
distant detonation.  But soon the bird I had fired at was speeding
straight away from me.  Within ten seconds I fired again, and he fell.
The explanation of my having missed the first and easier shot is simple:
I had foolishly allowed the cartridge to lie for a long time in the
sun-heated chamber of the rifle; consequently the powder (one of the
then new, smokeless varieties) had become too energetic.  There was no
violent recoil from the second shot.

I sprang from the scherm and ran to my quarry.  There he lay, breast
downward, his long neck bent and his head concealed under the black,
bulky body.  The wings were expanded, with the snowy plumes outspread,
fanlike, on each side.  The bird was stone dead, for the bullet struck
the base of the spinal column and shattered it throughout the whole
length.  No swifter death could have been devised.

Carefully, one by one, I plucked out the lovely plumes.  They were
surely the fairest and purest ornaments ever devised by that influence
which men, when the world was young, personified and worshipped as the
Goddess of Love,--the noblest concrete expression of that principle
which strives to draw sex relations to the higher planes of beauty.  And
here had I, a decadent human, typical of a neuropathic age, destroyed
this exquisite embodied achievement for the purpose of reversing
Nature's plan.  For I should transfer to the female, to my own
woman-kind, adornments developed naturally on the male for the
enhancement of his own proper beauty.  The female ostrich, in her robe
of tender, greyish brown, is attractive enough to her prospective mate
without artificial aid.  Were she to hang a wisp of human hair about her
graceful, undulating neck, she would rightly be regarded as a freak.

Schopenhauer was right,--among human beings as among other animals the
male is essentially more beautiful than the female; it is the
sex-disturbance which confuses our canons.  If it were otherwise women
would not find it necessary to ransack mineral, vegetable and animal
nature for the purpose of enhancing their attractiveness.

My plucking came to an end.  The long, foamy whites,--the short, glossy
blacks whose hue was deeper than that of the raven's wing,--were tied
into bundles with twine from my compendious haversack.  There lay the
huddled, ruined, mangled body; there grinned the already dry and
blackened blood-clot defacing the desert's visage.  Rifled of its
garment of harmonious and appropriate beauty, smitten and smashed into
an object of grisly horror,--this piteous sacrifice to woman's callous
vanity and the heartless cruelty of her mate seemed to make the
wilderness as foul as the altar of Cain.

With an effort I passed from the stand-point of a somewhat inconsequent
and inconsistent Jekyll to that of a primeval Hyde.  From my flask, the
contents of which had been carefully preserved intact up to the present,
I poured out a libation to the manes of the departed ostrich.  Might his
freed spirit find refuge in some Elysian wilderness unvexed of prowlers
who call chemistry and machinery to the aid of their own physical
deficiencies, and slay because slaughter stimulates their debilitated
pulses.

Far, far away to the south-west I saw faithful Hendrick approaching.  I
would not wait for him; he was too distant.  My paramount need just then
was shade--even if such could only be found under the tilt of a wagon
where the thermometer probably stood at 112 Fahrenheit.  Hendrick's
needs were elementary; he would be delighted with the meat and the
inferior black feathers which I had not thought it worth while to pluck.
With the latter Hendrick and his kindred would adorn their disreputable
hats.  But their actions would be less opposed to Nature's plan than
mine, for it was the men who would go sombrely gay, not their
woman-kind.

The tramp back to camp was long and wearisome.  Could it be that I
strode along the same course whereon a few short hours ago I had paced
hand in hand with gentle dreams?  There,--on that dusty, gasping
sun-scorched flat?  Could it be that the stars and the soothing dew lay
beyond that expanse of flaming sky, and that the laggard night, with
healing on her dusky wings, would draw them down once more?

That day Danster was on his way from Gamoep with the horses.  That
afternoon Piet Noona and his imp-like nephew would hurry the oxen over
the desert towards our camp; they should arrive the following night.  On
the next day we intended to break camp and trek back westward.  The
return journey would not be so arduous for the cattle; we should have
used up the greater part of the water, and the load would be
correspondingly lighter.

The horses arrived soon after sundown,--old "Prince" with his deep
chest, his powerful quarters, and his broad, shoeless, almost spatulate
feet.  The other horse, "Bucephalus," was a big, raw-boned black
stallion which Andries had in training.  Hendrick was, so far, the only
one able to ride him.

Night once more--with the recurrent miracle of the dew-fall and the
stars.  Typhon slept.  Of what was he dreaming?  Of the far-off day when
the overflowing measure of his infamy caused the decree of his
banishment to be pronounced,--of the lands he ravaged and blighted on
his southward course,--of his enemy, the rain-god, who smote him with
the river-sword and thus crippled him for ever?

But man also must sleep--and on the morrow I had to journey to the
Kanya-veld.



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE KANYA--THE SPELL OF THE DESERT--MY HORSE--THE TERROR OF NOON--
EXECUTION OF A MARAUDER.

Another glorious morning; the air was like cooled, sparkling wine.  I
knew, both by the taste and the direction of the wind, that the day
would be as mild as it ever was in the desert at that season of the
year.  Through the faint dew-haze a hint of invitation--with a tender,
enigmatic suggestion of a smile, shone out of the east.  That was the
day set apart for my journey to the Kanya-veld, the fringe of which lay
about ten miles distant, beyond Typhon's eastern flank.

This is a region which lies solitary in the very heart of solitude.
"Kanya," in the Hottentot tongue, means "round stone," and the
Kanya-veld is thickly paved with such stones.  They measure, as a rule,
from four to eight inches in diameter, and they lie packed so closely
that they nearly touch each other.  They are buried to the extent of
about two-thirds of their bulk in hard, red soil.  Between them a
scanty, hard-bitten, salamander-like vegetation strikes root.  The
Kanya-veld is hardly, if at all, higher than the rest of the desert.  As
to what the geological explanation of this strange phenomenon may be, I
have no idea whatever.

No one knew the extent of the Kanya-veld, for that part of the desert
had not then been surveyed, nor even roughly charted.  Before reaching
the main Kanya-tract one crossed narrow strips of the closely-packed
spheres; these lay outside it, after the manner of reefs surrounding a
coral island.

My journey of that day was to me the most important event of the
excursion,--yet it had no definite object beyond the assuagement of that
hunger for a realisation of the ultimate expression of solitude which
sometimes gnaws at my soul.  It was of what I was then to realise that I
dreamt through night hours spent alone on a certain rocky hillside, when
the east wind, with the scent of the desert on its wings and the music
of the waste in its lightest whisper, streamed between me and the stars.
But why try to explain the inexplicable?  You who have not felt a like
longing would never understand; you who have, will know without a word.

Prince stood ready girthed.  Swartland--renamed "Bucephalus," the black
stallion with the big head and the vicious, white-rimmed eye--was
recalcitrant and resented the approach of Hendrick with the saddle.  But
I had decided to ride on; Hendrick was not to follow until the
afternoon.  I threatened that faithful follower with grievous penalties
if so much as a silhouette of himself and his ugly steed shewed on my
sky-line until after the sun had passed the zenith.

For we meant to be alone that day, Prince and I; to feel that we had got
close enough to the heart of Solitude to hear its beats,--to try and
capture in our ears, dulled by so-called civilisation, some syllables of
that lore with which the desert's murmuring undertone is so rich, but
which only the great of soul can fully understand.  The cast of the
desert's message is epic rather than lyrical.  The cloud-mantled
mountain and the green valley,--the forest, the stream and the foaming
sea teach the poet his sweeter songs.  But it is the Prophet of God, the
law-giver and the warrior who listen for and learn their stern messages
from the tongues of the arid wilderness.

The difference between the desert and the fertile tract is that between
the ascetic and the full-fed man.  The desert appeals to the intellect;
the verdant, rain-nurtured valley to the emotions.  The variance is as
that between percipience and sensation.  The stimulation with which a
healthy organism responds to rigorous conditions expresses itself in an
increased efficiency that is usually invincible.  Thus it is that from
the physically unfruitful desert all really great ideas have sprung.
The wilderness has ever been the rich storehouse of spiritual things.
Man gains corporeal, moral and intellectual power in the arid waste, and
loses them in the land of corn and wine.  Dearth is the parent and the
tutor of thought, the desert is the harvest-field of wisdom.  Solitude
is the fruitful mother of noble resolve,--the kind nurse of the spirit.

I wished my horse had another, a more suitable name.  "Prince" smacked
of the stable--the brougham.  He should have been called by some term
expressive of steadfast endurance, of faithfulness,--of excellent skill
as a pursuer of the oryx.  That elderly bay gelding with the spatulate
feet was an ideal desert mount.  It was in the course of a long chase
after oryx that one appreciated him to the full.  I had more than once
ridden him at a gallop for ten miles without a check; then, after a roll
in the sand, he was apparently as fresh as ever.

One of the dangers of a desert chase lay in the mouse-city, in which on
getting entangled an ordinary horse was apt to check so suddenly in his
course that he rolled head-over-heels and crushed his rider.  But Prince
had quite an original method of meeting the difficulty: he spread his
legs out in some extraordinary way, sank down until his belly almost
touched the ground, and floundered through.  The strange thing was that
he did not seem to break his stride.  There was no jerk; the rider was
in no way incommoded.  I would have given a great deal for a side view
of the performance; it must have resembled somewhat the progress of an
heraldic griffin rampaging horizontally instead of vertically.

Where the surface was suitable, neither too hard nor too soft, we
cantered slowly along,--careless as the wind that gently agitated the
shocks of "toa."  Game was at times in sight, but very far off.  Three
hartebeest sped away over the sky-line, their forms looming immense and
grotesque just as the mirage seized them.  I wondered what they looked
like when thrown on the sky-screen and seen from a distance of fifty to
a hundred miles.  Oryx spoor, but not very fresh, abounded.

There were no ostriches visible.  Those that on the previous day
stampeded eastward had no doubt gone back during the night to the
locality in which Hendrick had found them.  A few springbuck were
occasionally to be seen, but they were exceedingly wild.  One would have
had to manoeuvre to get within a thousand yards of them.  Now and then a
paauw flew up,--a forerunner of that immense migration which would take
place a few weeks later.  Then the whole paauw-population of the
Kalihari would cross the Orange River and move over the plains by an
oblique route towards the coast.  They would return over the same course
after they had nested and hatched out their young.

I had brought my rifle,--more from force of habit than anything else,
for I was not anxious to shoot.  I was content to gaze on the
enthralling, impassive face with which the world there defied the
arrogant sun; to admire that quality in it which I most lacked,--its
steadfastness.  I wanted to breathe the desert's breath, to drink of its
life,--to do it homage and to love it--not for any fleeting beauty, but
because my unsteadfast soul found it loveable and strong.

I had been on foot for some time.  Prince, with the reins fastened short
about his neck to prevent them trailing, followed like a faithful dog.
Should I pause for what he considered too long an interval, he pushed me
gently forward with his nose.  He, too, wanted to explore--to wander on
listlessly whither the spirit of solitude beckoned.

At length we reached the first strip of Kanya.  It was hardly six feet
wide,--that even, regular pavement of ironstone spheres laid down by the
hand of Nature in furtherance of some aeon-old phase of
world-development.  Were those spheres forged in some volcano-furnace or
turned in the lathe of the rolling waves in days when the temples of
Atlantis gleamed white over the ocean that is its tomb and that bears
its name?  Were they slowly ground in the mill-vortex of some mighty
river that bore away the drainage of a boundless humid tract, where now
a rain-cloud is almost as rare as a comet?

Straight ahead, a little more than a mile away, the continuous
Kanya-veld shewed like a darker wrinkle on the desert's brown face, for
we were now out of the region of "toa."  The stony strips grew wider as
I advanced, and the intervening spaces narrower and narrower until they
disappeared altogether.

Here Prince and I parted company for a while; I dared not risk the
possibility of injury to those faithful feet that had carried me so
swiftly and so far.  Even proceeding at a walking pace in the Kanya,
unless every step were carefully picked, involved a risk of sprain to
ankle or fetlock.  So I removed the saddle and tied my companion to a
bush--not because I feared his straying, but for the reason that it was
otherwise impossible to prevent his following me.

It was far hotter there among the Kanya than outside, for the dark-hued
stones absorbed heat and radiated it fiercely.  The desert's visage had
taken on a sinister, forbidding expression; almost as though it resented
intrusion--as though it had surrounded some shrine of secret horror with
flame-hot, laming obstacles.

The only vegetation consisted of a few low, gnarled, bitter-looking
shrubs.  What an apprenticeship to inimical conditions these eremites of
the vegetable world must have undergone to enable them to save their
scanty leaves alive,--rooted, as they were, in a pinch of brick-like
soil lying in narrow spaces between glowing spheres of stone, and
lacking rain, as they did, for periods of years at a stretch.  Their
strength must have been as much greater than that of the oak as the
oak's is greater than that of a willow sapling.  Did these shrubs ever
flower, I wondered.  Perhaps, once in a thousand years, a miracle was
wrought on them as it was on Aaron's rod.  Only one could I identify--
even so far as the genus went.  It was a kind of Rhus; the dark-green,
reticulated, trifid leaf--naked and deeply veined above and covered with
down beneath,--was quite typical.

For what unspeakable cosmic sin was that titanic and seemingly eternal
punishment inflicted,--that withdrawal of living water from a region
built up and, no doubt, filled with abounding organic fecundity by the
craft of its strong, creative hand?  Did multitudes of those fearsome
monsters of the prehistoric sea, which there swayed beneath the moon,
gasp out their lives on that sun-blasted tract when the great cataclysm
befel?  Did a livid network of their colossal bones lie there for
unthinkable ages until the slow attrition of wind and changing
temperature transmuted them into that dust which vainly tried to scale
the immutable heavens in the car of the sand-spout?  Did the unanealed
spirits of those long-dead creatures still people that haunted solitude
which made day more terrifying than midnight?  Were the landscapes of
the mirage simulacra of those bounding an inland sea in which the dragon
and the kraken lived and multiplied?  Was the thrilling fear, which read
menace in my own shadow, akin to that "terror of noon" which gripped the
heartstrings of the shepherd of Mount-Ida,--when he knew, by the
rustling of the brake that Pan was near?

I hastened away--back to where the desert wore a friendlier face,--to
where old Prince was executing a kind of solemn dance before the
"taaibosch" to which he was tethered,--lifting his feet constantly, one
at a time, in a vain attempt to cool them.  He welcomed me with a whinny
of relief.  Perhaps the spirits of the Kanya had been filling him, too,
with indefinable dread.  So the saddle was replaced, and I resumed my
pilgrimage on foot, the old horse pacing stolidly after me.

We trended southward, for I wanted to get away from the Kanya; I began
to hate it--almost as I hated Typhon.  Yet I should not have hated
either, for if it had not been for these two, the oryx, one of the
desert's noblest denizens,--the aristocrat of its depleted mammal
population--would long since have been exterminated.  The Kanya is to
the oryx a strong city of refuge from pursuit, and he draws his scanty
but sufficient supply of moisture from the dunes coiled about Typhon's
flanks.  This seeming paradox is explained by the circumstance that a
certain plant, the root of which somewhat resembles an exaggerated
turnip and is heavily charged with moisture, grows in the dune-veld.
This root the oryx scents out, and digs from out the sand with his
strong, sharp, heavy hoofs.

The Kanya stones, which stop a galloping horse as effectively as would a
barbed wire fence, are no obstacle to the oryx, for the divisions of his
hoof expand widely and are connected by a strong membrane of muscle.
They stretch apart when he treads on a stone, the membrane lying over
the latter like a supporting spring.  Yet, strangely enough, I once saw
an oryx break its leg in passing over a narrow strip of Kanya.  This
occurred many miles from where I was that day; on the southern fringe of
the Kanya-tract, in fact.

It happened in this wise.  One morning Hendrick and I rode ahead of the
wagon.  Five oryx emerged from a depression and stood at gaze about six
hundred yards away.  I fired at the largest bull; he lurched half-way
round, sinking partly on his haunches.  But he at once sprang up and
fled like the wind, completely distancing the other four.  I followed,
putting old Prince on his mettle from the start, for the Kanya was only
about five miles away, and the wounded oryx was making straight for it.

The speed of the wounded animal slackened; not to any great extent, but
enough to permit of the others slowly overtaking and then drawing ahead
of him.  When he reached the edge of the Kanya-tract I was about to give
up the pursuit in despair, when the animal swayed in a peculiar way and
then stood still, so I rode up and finished him.  Then I found that the
bone of his left fetlock had been freshly broken.  My first bullet had,
without touching the bone, passed through his right hind leg just where
the great muscles of the haunch harden and thin down into sinew.  The
stroke of the heavy, leaden missile must have caused a severe mechanical
shock.  This, under stress of the gallop, evidently translated itself
into stiffness, which occasioned leaning with undue heaviness on the
sound leg.  The oryx was crossing a strip of Kanya not more than twelve
feet wide when the accident happened.  Probably no similar occurrence
has ever been witnessed by man.

My guardian-centaur, Hendrick-cum-Bucephalus, appeared on the
north-western horizon.  Yes,--it was time to turn back, for the sun had
long since passed the zenith.  Hendrick, as usual, looked supercilious
when he found I had shot nothing.  It would have been useless to have
attempted to explain that Prince and I had come out that day only to
talk secrets with the desert.  Hendrick was too little removed from the
natural man to be capable of understanding such a thing.  He was an
interesting creature, this Hendrick.  A dash of Bushman blood in his
veins had made him taciturn; the pure-bred Hottentot is almost
invariably loquacious.  But I found Hendrick an ideal companion.  He,
too,--without being aware of it, loved the desert for its own sake.  But
he delighted in seeing me make a good shot, and was almost pathetically
puzzled on the occasions when I refrained from slaughter.

Hendrick did not on that day find it necessary to follow my sinuous
spoor, but came straight towards where he knew I most probably would be.
On his way he found an ostrich nest, with the inevitable jackal in its
vicinity.  He had chased the marauder away, but the parent birds fled
too,--and in all probability Autolycus had, even before Hendrick found
me, returned to the nest with nefarious intent.  There was decidedly
danger, for the birds, having fled after being disturbed, would not
return before night.  Well,--I determined to call on that jackal and, if
possible, add him to the category of the righteous of his species.

We soon found the nest.  Yes, as I expected, the robber had been at
work.  He must, in fact, have retired and concealed himself when he saw
us approaching, for the evidences of his crime were quite fresh.  No
doubt he was peering at us from some cover close at hand while we were
examining the results of his turpitude.  Two eggs had been broken; their
freshly-spilt contents were soaking into the sand.

We circled round, seeking for Autolycus' spoor.  How I wished I had
brought a shotgun instead of a rifle.  Ha! there was the thief; he
sprang from the shadow of a large tussock and ran diagonally away, his
brush pointed contemptuously straight at us.  What was his objective?  I
saw it--a heap of ejected sand about two hundred yards off, which he was
heading straight for, evidently masked his burrow.  I sat down, adjusted
the sight of my rifle and drew the bead on the heap of sand.

When he reached the threshold of his refuge the jackal did exactly what
a long experience of the habits of his obnoxious tribe had led me to
expect,--that is to say he sank his hindquarters into the burrow and
then turned to look back, as though in derision,--his head, chest and
forelegs being exposed.  Crack,--and he fell back and disappeared.  But
I knew well enough that the bullet had fetched him; I heard its "klop"
distinctly.

Hendrick hurried to the jackal's burrow; I returned to the nest.  The
broken shells had to be removed and the spilt yolks sanded over;
otherwise the birds would most probably have abandoned the clutch.
There were three and twenty undamaged eggs remaining.  Having put things
as straight as possible, I rejoined Hendrick.

The jackal had disappeared into his burrow, but a big gout of blood just
inside the entrance told an unambiguous tale.  Hendrick wormed his way
into the strait and narrow cavern as far as he thought he safely could;
he emerged empty-handed, but with traces of blood on his clothing.
However, Hendrick was not the Hottentot to forego a feast of
jackal-flesh without a further effort, so he uncoiled a reim from the
head-stall of Bucephalus, tied one end of it round his feet and gave me
the other to hold; then he re-entered the dark portal and passed out of
sight.  Just afterwards I heard, as though from the bowels of the earth,
a muffled shout.  I hauled strenuously at the reim and Hendrick emerged,
the dead jackal in his arms.  In that cobra-haunted country I would not
have attempted Hendrick's feat for a jackal-skinful of gold.

After this useful piece of police-work we rode back to camp at an easy
pace.  Bucephalus always grew cantankerous at the smell of blood, so the
mortal remnants of Autolycus had to be tied behind my saddle,--a
circumstance which occasioned a good deal of chaff on the part of
Andries.

That night I spread out my large-scale map of South Africa on boards
which I had brought for the purpose.  It was my wont to fill in roughly
any physical data which I was able to determine.  The air was so still
that the flame of a lit match hardly flickered.  The vicinity of the
wagon was as bright as day, for we had built an enormous fire.  The
flame of the candle-bush shone as clear as the electric arc, and arose
in a tall pyramid.  Our shooting was at an end, so we did not mind our
presence being advertised throughout the desert.  The oxen had returned
from Gamoep.  All preparations for a start before dawn on the morrow had
been made.

After finishing my amateur map-making, I roughly measured with a pair of
compasses the distance we had travelled from the vicinity of the Copper
Mines.  Thus I found that if we were to travel only four times as far,
altering our course a little to the northward, we would reach
Johannesburg.  A change, indeed.  How great would have been the contrast
between Bushmanland, the abode of immemorial silence and solitude, and
what was probably the most intensely active (in a mechanical sense)
environment on earth.  And yet, but a few short years before, when I
first crossed it, the Rand lay as lonely as Bantom Berg.  But now I
could almost hear the ten-thousand-fold thudding of the stamps,--the
thunderous explosions vexing the bowels of the earth--the din of the
strenuous, diversified throng in the streets.

They say that men soon wear themselves out in the city of gold and sin;
that the gravestones there are mostly those of the young.  What is to be
the effect of this burning fever-spot on our body-politic, of this--to
change the metaphor--roaring maelstrom-mill into the hopper of which so
large a proportion of the youth of our country is flung?

But in the nights that are coming,--when the rock-python pursues the
coney along the shattered pediments of the "Corner House," the
unchanging desert will lie, still void under the abiding scrutiny of the
stars.  Bushmanland can never alter.

The fire dimmed and died.  One by one my companions sank into slumber.
The horses were resting,--except unquiet Bucephalus, who stamped and
whinnied at intervals.  The oxen lay tethered to their yokes.  Ever and
anon one of them uttered the deep, pathetic bovine sigh,--that
suspiration which seems to express perplexed resignation to the selfish
dominance of man,--to that hopeless slavery which is the doom of the
once-lordly bovine race.

I seized my kaross and climbed the steep side of the nearest
dune-tentacle.  Then I laboured along its soft, sinuous surface towards
the gross, inert body of Typhon, until far beyond the reach of
camp-sounds.  In the yielding sand I made a lair.  In this I laid me
down--apparently the only waking thing in Bushmanland, for most utter
silence reigned.  Probably the soaring flames of our camp fire had
frightened away even the jackals and the night-jars from a wide
surrounding area.  The stars seemed to sink earthward; so brightly did
they glow in the vault of liquid purple that the face of the desert was
masked in impenetrable gloom.  That night the lips of the wilderness had
no message audible to human sense.

Typhon slept--coiled about the feet of his granite prisoner, whose bulk
loomed menacingly against the wheeling galaxies.  Did he, the belted
captive, sleep, or did he, haply, share vigil with the one solitary,
futile human soul which, maimed from the stress of days and deeds,
claimed with him brotherhood through pain and unrest.  But slumber
seemed to brood over the desert like a dove and a far-off voice to
whisper across the shrouded plain: "Warte, nur--balde Ruhest du auch."



CHAPTER SIX.

HOMEWARD BOUND--FACES AROUND THE FIRE--THE BUSHMEN--PIET NOONA AND THE
SNAKE--THE LOVE OF THE DESERT--MY PREHISTORIC UNCLE AND AUNT--SCRUPLES--
THE HUNTER'S INSTINCT.

The ocean-plain to the south of Typhon and the camp we had broken up, is
probably the loneliest among the less frequented parts of Bushmanland.
No Trek Boer ever ventures there with his stock; the hunter pauses on
its undefined margin--well knowing that should he pursue the
disappearing herd of oryx much farther, he and his horse would
inevitably perish of thirst.  For even on the rare occasions when rain
falls on this tract no water is conserved on its surface.  Those
sand-choked, saucer-shaped depressions of the exposed bedrock found in
other parts of the desert, in which rain-water sometimes lodges, do not
there exist.

The only people who ever visited the area in which we sojourned were
half-breed hunters.  These had developed abnormal thirst-resisting
powers.  They usually occupied a tract some hundred miles farther south,
and were incorrigible poachers of ostriches.  By means of a flying
squadron of boys mounted on tough ponies, these half-breeds used to
round up herds, comprising birds of all ages, and mercilessly slaughter
them all on the edge of the Kanya-tract.

We outspanned after a trek of about three hours.  That night we intended
to take things easy,--at least I meant to try and persuade Andries to
consent to our so doing.  The wagon was lightly laden, owing to our
having consumed most of the water,--the heat had not been excessive
since the oxen started from Gamoep; therefore they were not
over-thirsty.  In fairly cool weather cattle bred on the borders of the
desert often voluntarily refrain from drinking water for several days at
a time.  We were homeward bound after a prosperous voyage.  Supper was
being got ready; Andries was busy preparing gemsbok soup, in which to
soak our rusks.  The candle-bush fire flared aloft.  Our pipes were
alight and the peace of the desert filled us with content.

Hendrick and Danster had skinned the second jackal which, in
anticipation of the arrival of Piet Noona and his nephew with the
cattle, I had insisted should be reserved for that night's supper,--for
on the night previous we had trekked without a halt.  The flesh of
Autolycus was soon roasting on the embers; all our Hottentots were
smacking their lips in anticipation of a feast.

I formally presented both jackal skins to Piet Noona's nephew,--but
under an undertaking that they were not to be sold or otherwise
alienated.  The skin of the first jackal was too thoroughly riddled with
buck-shot to be of much use to me; that of the second was badly torn by
the bullet.  They were to be brayed, mended, and donned by the recipient
with as little delay as possible.

This gift might have been described as an offering on the altar of
decency.  I was not inclined to prudery, but Piet Noona's nephew was
beginning to grow up, and his sumptuary condition was shocking.  In fact
his only available garment was a tattered fragment of sheepskin,--a
fragment so scanty that it would have barely sufficed to cover the
opening of a porcupine's burrow.  Even then it could not have been
guaranteed to keep out the draught.  The jackal skins were not large,
but compared with the sheepskin fragment they would have been as an
overcoat to a child's pinafore.  I explained how they were to be worn:
one in front and one in the rear.  The coverings of the hind paws were
to be joined, skin to skin, in such a way that the combined result would
hang from the wearer's shoulders, and the brushes were to be wound about
his neck when the weather was chilly.  Piet Noona's nephew would thus be
reasonably protected, fore and aft, both from Mrs Grundy and the
weather.  Crowned with a chaplet of Ghanna leaves and with his
knob-kerrie for thyrsus, he might have easily passed for a youthful but
disreputable Dionysus.

As we drew out towards the borders of the desert the fingers of silence
seemed to press less heavily on our lips.  Supper over, we laid
ourselves on the soft sand and conversed.  But at first our conversation
was low-toned and very serious.  The imminence of infinity abashed us;
it was as though earth and air were full of ears bent to catch every
word we uttered.  I do not think anyone,--even the most feather-brained,
could be garrulous in the desert.

The flames lit up the surrounding faces,--the ruddy, rugged countenance
of Andries, with its blue, laughing eyes and cropped beard streaked with
grey.  The visage of Piet Noona was like that of an old baboon; his
nephew's resembled that of a young monkey.  Danster's physiognomy
indicated a mixture of various strains; the result was quite
insignificant.

The Mongolian features of Hendrick were distinctive and very
interesting.  What was it that his appearance suggested; not exactly the
Chinaman, for his expression was not at all impassive; one could always
read his mood by it.  His eyes were slightly oblique, his cheekbones
high, his head was as round as a Kanya stone.  With remarkable muscular
development of the chest and shoulders, heavily hipped and very slightly
bandy-legged,--for long I was puzzled to discover what is was that
Hendrick reminded me of.  He loved a horse and rode like a Centaur--or
the man-part thereof.  Then I knew: it was a Hun that I was seeking
for,--one of the locusts of that Asiatic horde which swept over Europe
from the north-eastern steppes.  I think that Attila, the Eraser of
Nations, who swayed the world from his saddle-throne, must have looked
somewhat like my scout.  The most plausible theory as to the origin of
the Hottentot race is that its progenitors migrated hither from Asia.
Even van Riebeek noticed the resemblance between the aborigines of the
Cape and the Chinese.  Yes, I was almost certain that Hendrick was a
Hun,--or rather that the tribe he was mainly descended from and the Huns
were twigs from the same bough of the great human tree.

Hendrick, to be appreciated, should have been seen on the back of an
unrestrained or a vicious horse; it was then that he became a
personality.  He rode as gracefully bare-back as with a saddle.  I could
picture him galloping away from some sacked and smoking town--not on
raw-boned Bucephalus, but on some thickset, shaggy, steppe-bred mount.
Hanging limply across his tense, gripping thighs was a milk-white,
gently-nurtured Ildico maiden.  Her wide blue eyes were stony with
horror,--her golden hair dabbled in the sweat of the horse's heaving
flank.  She was bound and pinioned with shreds torn from her robe of
lawn.  The other Huns were loaded with sacks of church plate, with
weapons and with merchandise.  But Hendrick looked on the face of this
maiden, the daughter of what, but a few short hours before, had been a
proud and noble house,--and desired her alone.  But I think and hope she
died of terror before the bivouac was reached.  Hendrick was a tame,
kindly, obedient hunting-scout, but I am sure that the fierce,
conquering Hun lay sleeping within him.

There is not a watering place in the Bushmanland desert which has not
some tragic story connected with it,--some reminiscence of a lonely
thirst-death, some tale having for its motif the shedding of blood--
usually by treachery.  But death, accidental or designed, was always the
theme.  Not many miles from where we were camped that night one of the
earlier Wesleyan missionaries travelling from Warmbad to the half-breed
settlement on the Kamiesbergen had been shot to death with poisoned
arrows.  This happened early in the nineteenth century.  The murderer
was executed some time afterwards at Silverfontein.

The first white man who crossed this tract did a venturesome thing.  For
although at that time the Bushmen had already been considerably thinned
out by the Hottentots and half-breeds, many of them still lurked in the
less accessible parts.  From time to time they emerged, singly or in
small parties, and wreaked a wild and often quite inconsequent revenge.

Their mode of attacking travellers was to steal up at night among the
tussocks and discharge a flight of poisoned arrows at point-blank range,
among those surrounding the camp fire.  They would then immediately
decamp and scatter in the darkness.  Hours afterwards they might repeat
the attack.  If the travellers were deep in the desert the repetition
would perhaps be delayed until the following night, for the Bushmen took
no avoidable risks.  Usually the oxen or horses forming the span would
also be slain.  One can imagine the plight of a party of travellers
under such circumstances: half of them dead or dying in agony, the
survivors cowering in a wagon as hopelessly tethered to a lonely spot in
a trackless waste as a wrecked ship is chained to the reef that gores
her side.  They would have been ringed round with drought and famine;
close prisoners in a solitude only mitigated by the unseen presence of
implacable foes, the stroke of whose dart was as silent and deadly as
that of the snake.

Yet these Bushmen had sufficient justification for all the terrible
reprisals they perpetrated.  They were the original dwellers of the
soil; the Hottentots came, dispossessed them of their best water-places
and slaughtered them without mercy.  When they migrated eastward they
met the Kaffirs, who proved a more formidable and quite as pitiless a
foe.  In the storming of the Bushmen's strongholds their women and
children were speared or flung into the flames.  They retired to the
most remote wastes,--to the sheer, black-chasmed fastnesses of the
Malutis, where snow lies thick for months at a time,--to torrid,
waterless deserts.  But in every retreat, no matter how remote, their
foes sought them out.  They invariably made a desperate resistance, and
sold their lives dearly.

But the duel was between ferocity organised and ferocity deranged, so
the former was bound to prevail.  It was a struggle of the clan against
a number of units which had no permanent cohesion; whose combinations
were fitful and occasional.  There is no god but strength visible on the
checker-board of history.  When the mighty is put down from his seat it
is not the humble and meek who is exalted, but one whose strength, being
of a more subtle order, is perhaps not at first recognised as such--one
whose cloak of humility may cover armour of proved temper.  The strength
of the Bushmen, perfected through long ages of experience, was
all-potent against his one-time only adversary, the animal.  But when
used against man, the intruder who had fought for his existence with
other men and learnt in the process the utility of combination, it
failed.  The Bushman contended under one tremendous disability: he had
no tribal organisation,--the family was the independent unit.

Piet Noona's nephew, having had the duty of collecting fuel assigned to
him, carried a considerable store of bushes to the vicinity of the fire
and there heaped them together.  With the exception of the "toa," most
of the vegetation of the desert is globular in form, and, being usually
rooted in more or less soft sand, is easily pulled out.  Andries reached
over and seized a bush-globe; one that was rather denser and larger than
usual.  This he flung on the fire.  Out of it glided, hissing, a snake--
a horned adder.  The reptile was quickly despatched.  But upon seeing it
Piet Noona sprang into the air to a height of about four feet; then he
fled away into the darkness, bounding sideways as he ran and shrieking.
He had gone quite mad for the time being.  This always happened when he
found himself in close proximity to a snake, and the madness invariably
manifested itself in the same way.  Years ago Piet had been bitten by a
puff adder and narrowly escaped with his life.  Ever since the sight of
a snake at close quarters has incontinently thrown his brain out of
gear.  How far occasional bouts of brandy-drinking at the Copper Mines
has been responsible for this peculiarity, I cannot say.

Some months previously I had played--to a great extent unwittingly--a
cruel trick on him.  I had heard of Piet's being afraid of snakes, but
had no idea that his dread of them was so intense.  One day when he was
saddling Prince I laid a recently-killed snake across the saddle.  The
creature was practically dead, but was still squirming slightly--as
snakes are apt to do for a considerable time after they have been
rendered harmless, no matter how badly they may have been mangled.

Piet's head, as he tightened the girth, was under the uplifted
saddle-flap.  When he dropped the latter and found the snake close to
his face he sprang into the air and fled, bounding sideways and every
now and then striking his thigh diagonally with the palm of his right
hand.  It was a most peculiar and uncanny manifestation.  I did not see
Piet for three days afterwards.  Then he emerged from the veld, red-eyed
and starving, but once more in his (comparatively) right mind.  That
night, as his cries grew fainter in the distance, we concluded that we
should see no more of him during the trip.

Once more our caravan was silently moving over the trackless waste.  The
desert was now in one of her moods of tenderness,--the air full of soft
and subtle scent that was sweeter than myrrh--more grateful than wafts
from a garden of spices.  A feeling of sadness gripped my heartstrings;
I was leaving the mistress I loved--the mistress beneath whose stern,
arid, monotonous day-mask I could discern the fair symmetry, the soft
and delicately-tinted curves of perfect and eternal youth.  How often
had I breathlessly watched those features quicken and grow mobile as the
defacing sun departed.  It was then that the breath of her mouth sought
mine; then that her eyes shone softly as the evening star.  But it was
at full night, when the great dome above us was unvexed by the least
trace of day, that the desert's inhabiting soul came forth and
transfigured the littleness of my cribbed and cabined spirit.

Sometimes for a season she smiled as though she relented, but the smile
was not for me.  At dawn, when Zephyr and Aurora couched at the hem of
her robe, she let me lean against the softness of her bosom.  At night
she lulled me to sleep and crooned into my ear dream-songs that were
great and strong with wisdom gleaned from the most ancient seasons.  But
when day returned she flung me to the lions of the sun.  Should they
have mangled me to death the mistress of my worship would not have
cared.  She was too strong to feel compassion, too lofty to be moved by
grief or touched by any regret.  My beloved was not mine, tho' I was
wholly hers, and the lilies at her breast were petalled with consuming
flame.  "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon,
clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?"  It was the desert.

Spinoza's aphorism:--"Those who love God truly must not expect that God
will love them in return," roots deep in human experience.  The loftiest
love is that which gets not nor expects requital.  I used to believe
that this desert I love hated me.  But I thought so no longer.  It was
not hate nor any other emotion that she felt; she was filled with the
divine attribute of infinite indifference.

I am subjectively certain that some ancestor of mine with prognathous
jaw, flat forehead and enormous thews, paddled over the sea that once
filled these plains and roamed over the far-separated hill-tracks.  I
often saw him,--usually where the stark mountain range,--which in those
old days was covered with verdure,--arises like a rampart from the
northern limit of the plains.  I have watched him crouching behind a
rock with a sling in his hairy hand and a stone-axe slung to his girdle
of twisted thongs,--his fierce eyes bent on a herd of Aurochs (or
whatever the local contemporary equivalent of those beasts may have
been) straying down to the entrance of a certain valley.  There he had
constructed, and skilfully concealed, a staked pit.  The mountains at
Agenhuis and the high kopjes at Gaams and Namies were then islands, and
he used to paddle from one to the other in a canoe made of Aurochs' hide
stretched over boughs.  In the gorge that splits Agenhuis Mountain he
waged mighty and victorious war with such dragons of the prime as
attempted to lair therein,--for Agenhuis was one of his favourite
sojourning places, and in the days when he flourished, dragons had not
yet disappeared from earth.

In view of the undoubted scientific foundation upon which the germ-plasm
theory rests, there is no limit to be set to atavistic memory.  I am
quite persuaded that this ancestor of mine actually existed; as a matter
of fact I have over and over again seen him on the hunting trail,
attending to the all-important business of filling his larder.  I have
watched him as he set forth in the early morning, empty and wrathful,
and as he returned towards evening--still empty but laden with
extraordinary spoil of antediluvian meat, and whooping an extempore
triumphal chant.

He would fling the meat down at the mouth of his cave, and bellow for
the attendance of his by-no-means gentle mate.  She, with the fear of
the stone-axe before her prehistoric eyes, would at once conceal the
prehistoric baby in a corner, and with almost feverish energy busy
herself with rudimentary cooking.  A big fire would be already alight,--
the embers containing stones in red-hot readiness for dropping into a
pot-shaped depression in the cave's floor, half-full of water.  Into
this the meat and the stones would be flung together, but in the
meantime a tit-bit had been lightly and hurriedly broiled, cleaned of
ashes, and held out to the hunter on the end of a long stick, in a
propitiatory way.  After this had been snatched and swallowed to the
accompaniment of savage growls, the cook seemed to be more at her ease.
All this time the baby kept as still as a mouse.  Prehistoric babies did
not cry when papa was about, and hungry.  In the exceptional cases where
they did, it only happened once.

I trust my claim to such ancient lineage may not be put down to
snobbery.  One always suspects those who dwell unduly on the deeds of
their ancestors.  But my justification is this:--a germ charged with an
epitome of that creature's stormy life has come down to me through the
generations.  It remained dormant until it met in my brain some solvent
which disintegrated its shell and thus set the sleeper free.  Garrulous
after its long imprisonment the germ has told the story over and over
again to all the grey molecules of my cortex.  For some time most of
these have known it off by heart.

Accordingly this ancestor--or perhaps for the sake of convenience I
might term him my (many times removed) uncle--and I have been for some
time shouting to each other across the ages, until we have attained to
almost an intimacy.  I have, in fact, by this means, acquired many
prehistoric forms of thought.  As may be imagined this has somewhat
confused my ethical canons.  Much of what I have learnt is difficult to
translate into terms of modern speech.

I often long with all my soul to be prehistoric in certain matters, but
the prim hand of convention--otherwise the unimaginative policeman--
holds me back.  However, some of my uncle's views are still more or less
widely held.  He was, for instance, what in modern speech would be
called a strong Conservative; that is abundantly clear from many of his
peculiarities.  But in his day Imperialism had not yet been born; there
was so far no urgent necessity to provide for the younger sons of the
aristocracy.  In fact there was still room in the world for everybody,
and as cultivation had not yet been invented, there was no such thing as
private ownership of land.  Moreover, the pressure of over-population
was never really felt until cannibalism went out of fashion, and that
happened only quite recently.

My uncle was, of course, an aristocrat,--his three-fold patent of
nobility being founded on his muscular strength, his skill in wielding
weapons and his unique talent for concentrating all the faculties of his
prehistoric mind on what I, his degenerate nephew, would call the main
chance.

My aunt--there were several of them, of course, but you may take your
choice, they were all of the same type--was an extremely practical
woman.  But she was not a Suffragette--or if she was she carefully
concealed the circumstance.  She was quite devoid of any kind of
sentiment.  In the matter of personal adornment, she affected the
jewellery of the period; this consisted of the scalps and ears of my
husband's deceased enemies--more or less dessicated--and the teeth of
the same persons, bored through and strung on thin thongs.  Her wardrobe
was not extensive; in fact she never owned more than one garment at a
time, and that she only used in cold weather.  My uncle's hunting
provided the material, so he had neither dressmakers' nor milliners'
bills to meet.

My aunt was fiercely fond of her children so long as they depended upon
her for food and protection.  Afterwards she rather disliked them than
otherwise.  If one of them after reaching adolescence met her
accidentally when she took her walks abroad, that one would utter a howl
of dismay as loud as though he had met an angry odontosaurus, and flee,
leaping from side to side to avoid the slung stones.  For my aunt also
carried a sling; she found it far more useful than a reticule.

How Nietsche would have delighted in this family; what a joy it would be
to Mr Bernard Shaw.  I can imagine my uncle dining with President
Roosevelt,--but it would hardly have done to invite Booker Washington to
meet him.

About two hours after midnight I coerced Andries into being merciful and
calling a halt, for I felt that I must sleep or die.  It was only when I
had thrown myself prone on the sand and told Hendrick to picket the
horses close by, that Andries relented.  There was really no object in
pushing on at such rapid rate; by making an early start we could easily
reach Gamoep shortly after noon on the morrow.

Both Danster and Piet Noona reported the presence of springbuck in this
vicinity.  Mrs Esterhuizen would be disappointed and contemptuous if we
returned without meat other than the half-dried oryx-flesh.  When, I
again asked myself, would repentance for the crimes I committed in
slaying those beautiful desert creatures become final and practical,
instead of intermittent?  Saint Augustine once put up a prayer for the
grace of continence, but added a rider to the effect that he did not
desire it to be granted immediately.  This somewhat suggested my state
of mind.  But I meant some day to lay down my rifle finally--perhaps
after a particularly good bag or an unusually skilful shot.  Afterwards
I should never kill another animal--unless in self-defence or because I
badly lacked meat.  However, in the meantime, like Saint Augustine, I
knew I should continue certain practices which my conscience
reprehended.  The hunter's instinct is the one most deeply rooted in the
mind of man; it is among those tendencies which persist after the
conditions which called them forth have disappeared--even from memory.
It is the true basis of that original sin over which the theologians
fumble, for in the absence of other available game men hunt each other.

But I had, incontinently, to sleep.  And hey--for a gallop over the
plains in the morning.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

THE SPRINGBUCK DRIVE--THE BUSHMAN CAVES--RETURN TO GAMOEP.

Morning,--and the cool west wind, laden with refreshment, hastened over
the desert's rim to where I lay, still on the border-land of sleep.  The
sweeping garments of the air-spirit were fragrant with the ichor of the
sea on whose breast it had slept.  Its sandals whispered through the
swaying tussocks, its tresses trailed over the bending plumes of the
"toa" shocks.  It gently tried to draw me back to the mistress I loved
and longed for, but was deserting because she would have slain me had I
lingered at her unpitying feet.

At sunrise I gazed around for one ecstatic moment and again sank to
sleep--to a zone too deep for dreams to haunt.  The long trampings of
the previous two nights had made further slumber an almost absolute
necessity.  Andries might go hang; I would not move.

The grateful aroma of coffee wakened me.  I decided to breakfast in bed;
that is without emerging from my kaross.  Andries determined to go on
with the wagon.  Hendrick and the horses were to remain with me; also
Piet Noona's nephew who would, later, trot on and overtake the wagon
with my kaross and pannikin.  After another hour's sleep the sun became
insupportable, for the wind had somewhat died down, so I ordered my
faithful Hun to saddle up.  He had already located a herd of springbuck.
It had been settled that we were to try and drive these near enough to
the track to afford Andries some shooting.  No one but Hendrick had seen
the game; he said they were too far off--away, ahead,--on the left-hand
side of the track,--for us to see.  Andries was to lie in ambush at a
certain knoll, while the wagon went on to Kanxas,--there to be
outspanned.

Hendrick's powers of vision were phenomenal; when objects at a distance
were in question, no one dreamt of disputing his verdict.  His eyes were
equal, if not superior to the best prismatic binoculars ever turned out
by Dollond or Zeiss, and Nature had apparently corrected them for
chromatic and all other aberrations.

The western hills could now be distinctly seen; we might even recognise
the contours of the ridge beyond the northern end of which Gamoep lay.
Soon we should pass from the kingdom of ancient silence to where the
squalid tents of nomadic men were temporarily pitched,--to where the
fat-tailed sheep crowded, with anxious eyes, around the creaking derrick
and the scanty trough.  But to us, intruders as we were, the desert had
still to pay tribute.

We started, Hendrick and I, riding quietly forth on a course a little to
the east of south, for we had a wide detour to make.  I knew the
vicinity well; it was, literally speaking, a part of the desert, but I
found it hard to acknowledge it as such, for the reason that the western
hills were in sight.  These seemed to link us with the conventional
world.

We passed over a tract studded with small, dense patches of low scrub;
it looked like a miniature archipelago in the boundless ocean of "toa."
Here brown "duiker" antelopes were numerous.  So far as I knew this was
the only part of Bushmanland where such were to be found.  As we rode on
the little creatures sprang out, right and left, from the patches of
cover and bounded gracefully away.

Far to the south-west the herd of springbuck was now clearly visible.
Most of them were quietly grazing in the mild sunshine.  Now and then a
few detached themselves from the main body and, one behind the other,
bounded away for a few hundred yards on a course curved like the blade
of a scimitar--"pronking" with the sheer joy of unspoilt life.  After
such an excursion they would rejoin the others and go on feeding.  And I
had come to...  But if I had let Jekyll climb to my crupper Andries
would have got no shooting.  The herd was a small one; it did not number
more than about six hundred.  It was curious that these bucks had not
joined in the general migration eastward towards where the lightning had
flashed its message of rain a few nights previously.

The springbucks had not seen us as yet, for we were still about two
miles distant from them.  The eyes of these animals seem to be
specialised to a definite range as the ear is tuned to a certain gamut
of sound.  I will endeavour to explain what is meant by this.  They do
not seem to notice anything at a greater distance than about fifteen
hundred yards.  Conversely, should you be lying in ambush and the bucks
come to within fifty yards of you, they would evince far less alarm if
you shewed yourself than on seeing you at a distance of from two to
three hundred yards.

This can easily be accounted for.  The springbuck has always spent its
life in an environment of menace, but as conditions change the nature of
the menace changes with them.  Formerly the danger-zone for these
creatures was that from which the lion, the leopard or the wild dog
could spring; it was only surprise at close quarters that the springbuck
had to guard against.  Given a few seconds' notice of the approach of an
enemy, this creature's unsurpassed fleetness enabled it to laugh at
danger.  This laughter is still expressed in the manner in which a small
herd of springbuck will circle round and round a pursuing dog that is
not especially swift--as porpoises sometimes circle around a moving
ship.

We know from accounts left by the very old hunters that in early days,
when the killing range of a bullet was little more than a hundred yards,
springbuck would graze with apparent unconcern until approached to
within about that distance.  But with the disappearance of the larger
carnivora before firearms, and the increase in the range of the rifle, a
wider danger-zone has been created, while the danger of an enemy at
close quarters has practically disappeared.  The width of the
danger-zone has gone on increasing with the longer range of the rifle.

Wild animals are quick to learn and to unlearn--which is not quite the
same as to forget.  Thus the springbuck has ceased to dread the
springing enemy, the creature of teeth and claws that used to lie in
ambush; in fact he never contemplates the contingency of any enemy at
close quarters, and on the rare occasions when he meets one, the
experience appears to fill him with surprise rather than alarm.

The distance between us and the herd had decreased to a little over two
thousand yards, so I detached Hendrick and instructed him to alter his
course to the left and endeavour to edge round the still unsuspecting
animals.  The object was to stampede the herd so that it would pass me
on my right and head towards where Andries lay in ambush.  Bucephalus
and Hendrick loomed immense and black against the background of yellow
shocks, but they were apparently unobserved by the game, for the latter
still grazed and "pronked" about as though they had the whole desert to
themselves,--as though no entangling web were being drawn about them.

Hendrick had reached the limit of his arc; then the springbuck marked
him and evidently realised that there was danger.  Apprehension touched
them; a quiver ran through the herd; they lifted their heads and gazed;
they moved to and fro.  So far it was not fear that they felt; for they
knew their own fleetness and had trust in it.  Then, suddenly, terror
seemed to strike them like a blast, for as dead leaves are caught by a
wind-eddy and whirled in a spiral, these imponderable-seeming, ethereal
desert creatures swerved over an area resembling in form the sweep of a
fan, and then streamed forth like a handful of white rose-petals before
a gale.

Why is it, I wonder, that during the forenoon springbuck in the desert
appear to be white?  For this is literally the case; these animals
seemed to be as white as snow, as imponderable as thistledown.  The
fawn-tint of their necks and flanks, the broad, brown patches on their
sides, the black, lyre-formed horns,--all were drowned in the milky foam
of the dorsal manes.  These were expanded laterally to their fullest
extent; each long silvery hair stood erect and quivering.

The creatures' heads were depressed almost to the level of their feet.
With backs deeply arched they bounded over the face of the desert like
so many alabaster discs--mingling, separating and re-combining in a
tracery of flying arabesques.  They had adopted the attitude and
movement usual to their kind in moments of sudden terror or delight.
Surely their flight was the highest expression of grace revealed by
animated nature in motion.  It was a soundless melody; a symphony for
the eye.

The torrent was streaming to my right, straight for Andries.  Hendrick
thundered behind,--a black Centaur-monstrosity.  How terrible he must
have appeared to the fugitives.  I wished Hendrick then would trend to
_his_ right, for if the springbuck had swerved towards Kanxas and caught
sight of the wagon, they would have doubled on their tracks and made for
the depths of the desert.  My object was to hold them on the course they
were following for as long as possible.  Ha! they must have sighted the
wagon, for they wheeled to their right and attempted to escape past me,
about three thousand yards on my side of where Andries lay waiting for
his shot.  The terror of death was upon them; their manes were down--
hidden in the constricted dorsal tract.  The eye could hardly follow the
movement of their limbs; distance died beneath the lightning of their
feet.

The reins fell upon my horse's neck, I pressed my spurless heels to his
sides; he knew what was required of him.  We dashed forward to cut the
herd off.  While we had to cover a thousand yards the springbuck had to
cover nearly two--yet it was clear that they must win the race.  When
the springbuck runs his best the speed he attains is almost incredible.
There remained but one thing to be done.

After having altered my course so as to reach some slightly higher
ground, I rolled from the saddle on to the soft sand and began firing--
not at the bucks, but so that my bullets would strike some twenty or
thirty yards in front of the leaders of the herd.  Bullet after bullet
scarred the ground, sending up spouts of red sand--now here, now there.
The herd faltered in bewilderment, whirled round in a half-circle to the
left, and headed straight for the ambush.

A distant shot--another; several in rapid succession.  It was the rifle
of Andries speaking.  It was Man taking toll of Nature, imposing his
age-long tribute of blood and pain.  It was Death eliminating Beauty
become obsolete.  It was like Autumn shedding the petals of a flower
that had lived its allotted day.

The hunted creatures, in their dismay, completed the circle of frantic
effort; they sped back to the spot where they had been disturbed.  They
passed it; they grew smaller and smaller until they melted into the
infinite mystery of the desert.

Three bucks had fallen to Andries' rifle.  I dismounted, and we piled
the carcases on Prince's patient back.  Bucephalus, as usual, grew
frantic on being brought within smelling-distance of the slain game.
Then we strolled to where the wagon was waiting for us, at a spot some
three miles away, close to the head of the Kanxas Gorge.  There we dined
sumptuously on roasted springbuck liver,--one of the best of desert
delicacies.

Once more I explored the gorge--that deserted city which once teemed
with human life.  It was narrow, it was neither long nor deep; a mere
scar it was on the desert's flank.  The greatest depth was not more than
fifty feet; it was possibly a mile long and the width varied.  The sides
contained caves, on the walls of which could still be seen traces of
fires lit long, long ago.  And there, thickly traced on the ledges was
the mysterious, black-pigmented script--the groups of short, diagonal
lines crossing each other at various angles.  What did they indicate;
was nothing to be read from them even by those who deciphered the graven
edict, five-and-twenty centuries old, of Mesha the Sheepmaster?

Why was it that one did not find at Kanxas pictures of the eland, the
oryx and the rhinoceros; why were there no perspectiveless battle-pieces
depicting the successful defence of some cave-stronghold, with the
baffled invaders being hurled down precipices?  Such pictures are found
distributed over vast areas of South Eastern Africa; it seemed
remarkable that none exist, so far as I am aware, in Bushmanland.

Perhaps the plants from which the necessary pigments had to be extracted
do not grow on that side of South Africa.  But, deep in the Orange River
gorge is a continuous strip of rich and varied woodland, in which most
of the South African forest flora is represented.  Moreover, on the
islands which gem the river's course near its mouth are to be found
myriads of eastern plants, the progeny of seeds carried down by the
annual flood from far-off Basutoland and its environs,--and it is
precisely in that vicinity that Bushman paintings are most plentiful.
The thing remains a puzzle.

And the strange, highly-evolved dramatic art of that vanished race,--a
drama in which human beings took the parts of animals,--how often had it
not found expression there in days of bygone plenty; days when the
baskets of dried-locust cakes crowded every ledge and the children went
pot-bellied and sleek.

There was the stage; there the auditorium; yonder the ledge along which,
no doubt, the actors made their exits and their entrances.  Was the
audience a critical one; did it generously applaud a nervous new actor
of evident talent; did it hurl stones, at one who bungled his part or
tried to make up in pretentiousness what he lacked in ability?  Did the
author of a successful play advance to the proscenium and enjoy the
tribute of plaudits paid to a successful playwright?

I fancy there must have been a chorus; possibly a semi-chorus as well.
Thespis and Aeschylus probably adopted those obvious aids to rudimentary
drama from the shepherd,--who is first-cousin to the savage.  And the
more one sees of various savages, belong they to Bushmanland or to the
Bowery, the more astonishing is the kinship revealed between them.  I
could find no box-office--no gallery from which the gods could have
jibed.  The auditorium must have been all pit.

And what dramas of real life must have been enacted in that rocky
valley; what rudimentary idylls had not the moon looked upon as her
slanting beams searched slowly down among the rocks on summer nights.
There men and women loved; there jealousy, cruel as the grave, had
brooded.  There vengeance had stalked abroad and taken toll for Fate.
Finally, from there--after an age-long struggle--Death had evicted Life.
It was, after all, only appropriate that the Kanxas fountain should
have ceased to flow.

How often had not some old lion--some gaunt, lonely brute with blunted
teeth and claws worn to the quick, crouched among those rocks, bent on
spoil of the cave-men?  During how many nights of livid fear must not
the horrible purring of the man-eater, as he quested up the gorge, have
sunk to the deadlier horror of silence.  For then every member of the
little community would have known that the prowler had at length
selected a dwelling from which presently to drag a shrieking victim.

And later, the arch-enemy, the more cruel spoiler, man.  Man--the
spoiler to-day,--to-morrow the spoiled.  The European revenged the
Bushman on the Hottentot; who would revenge the Hottentot on the
European?  "For that which hath been is, and that which will be hath
been, and there is no new thing."  The thought made "a goblin of the
sun."  "O stars that sway our fate; O orbs that should be very wise, for
you have circled the heavens and regarded the earth from the most
ancient days,--you who, impassively, have seen an endless succession of
civilisations arise, decline and die,--when, and at whose hand, will our
nemesis come?"

A spirit of laziness had overcome us all.  Andries lay fast asleep under
the wagon; his large frame was loosened, his placid, handsome,
weather-beaten face relaxed.  He would have looked just as he did then,
had he been dead, for his days had been days of quietness and all his
pathways peaceful.  Yet in that man's deliberate arteries flowed the
blood of those who withstood Alva in the Netherlands, and of others who
abandoned France, with all that seemed to make life worth the living,
rather than bend the knee at the shrine of a false god.  I wondered
whether that large-boned, contented, easy-going farmer were capable of
standing on the ramparts of another Leyden and, from hunger-bitten,
indomitable lips roaring heroic and vitriolic defiance at a
seemingly-unconquerable foe.  Would he have abandoned honour, riches,
comfort, roof-tree and friends for the sake of conscience,--that
discipliner whose whip-lash does not, unfortunately, bite as severely as
it once was wont to do?  I wondered, and in wondering breathed one of
those wishes which are the essence of prayer, that he might never be put
to the test.

The afternoon was young.  I decided to stroll on, ahead.  I found
Danster and Piet Noona's nephew just above the krantz--preventing, with
some difficulty, the oxen from stampeding to Gamoep, which was now only
about ten miles distant.  I sent them back to the wagon with
instructions to do the thing my heart had failed of,--to waken a human
being from that highest condition of well-being--perfect sleep.  But it
was now time to inspan; for the first time since they had last drunk the
oxen were really suffering from thirst.  They, too, had their rights.
Andries, moreover, was one of those fortunate beings who could slumber
at will.

So I again strolled on.  I left the track and climbed to the top of the
Koeberg, the hill from which the big beacon--that farthest outpost of
the trigonometrical survey on this side--springs like a startled finger.
This was one of the actual portals of the desert.  I was now, alas!
once more within sight of the dwellings of men.  Several tents had been
pitched, and quite a number of mat-houses set up at Gamoep since we had
left it, a little more than a week previously.

I turned eastward and cast mournful eyes back over the sun-bathed
immensity from which I had emerged, and from the deepest depths of which
sounded a call that I knew would for ever echo in my soul.  What a
strange regret it was that tugged at my aching heartstrings...

The wind had here died down.  The morrow would be torrid,--perhaps with
a tornado from the north.  As the last skirts of the sea-cooled breeze
trailed away into the infinite east, their track was marked by a line of
towering sand-spouts.  So gently did these move across the plains that
it seemed as though they stood like a row of lofty columns sustaining
the temple-dome of the sky.  Yet a careful eye might detect their
rhythmic and concerted movement.  What was the stately measure they were
treading,--to what sphere-music did their gliding feet keep time?

And then, O desert--O steadfast face that I loved--I had to bid you
farewell.  These eyes would gaze upon you again, but the day was swiftly
coming when I should have to take leave of you for ever.  But if when
the body dies the spirit still lives, this soul which was nourished by
your hand until it grew to a stature sufficient to enable it to realise
its own littleness, will return and merge itself in your immensity.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE SUMMER CLOUDS--NEWS OF RAIN--START FOR PELLA--THE VEDIC HYMNS--
DIGGING FOR WATER--ARRIVAL AT PELLA--TERRIBLE HEAT--THE TRIBE--AQUINAS
IN THE WILDERNESS--THE MISSION--THE RIVER GORGE--THE TARANTULA INVASION.

That mountain tract stretching like a back-bone through Namaqualand,
parallel with the coast upon which the Atlantic ceaselessly thunders, is
the region which catches the sparse, south-western winter rains,--but
which in summer is the abode of drought.  On the in-lying Bushmanland
plains the winters are quite arid; it is only in summer, when occasional
thunderstorms stray down from the north-east, that the level desert gets
rain.

In a season when the Storm Gods go forth mightily to war on the aether
seas, and the capricious heavens are bountiful, it is a striking
experience to climb, on a torrid afternoon, some peak jutting from the
eastern margin of the mountain tract, and from there to watch the
ordered procession of the thunder-ships as they sweep down from their
far-off port of assembly.  Like great battle-craft, black beneath and
equipped with dreadful artillery,--their dazzling decks heaped and laden
with ocean-gleaned merchandise of crudded white,--they charge menacingly
across the illimitable plains as though to overwhelm the granite ranges.
But each stately vessel barely touches some outlying buttress; then the
aery hull swerves and changes its course due south, bearing its most
precious freight to more fortunate regions.  It is as though some
immense, invisible fender were being lowered from the sky to guard the
range from the shock of impact.

There came good news from Bushmanland; thunderstorm after thunder-storm
had trailed over the plains, each marking its path with verdure and
filling every rock-depression with water.  The drought had broken, so my
long-postponed trip to Pella, that remote outpost of French-Roman
Catholicism, could be undertaken.  Pella lies where the iron mountains,
like a leash of black panthers, spring from the northern margin of the
plains,--and then sink to their lair in that great gorge through whose
depths the Orange River swirls and eddies with its drainage of a million
hills.

We were to travel with horses along a route I had special reasons for
wishing to take, but which, had the drought still prevailed, we would
not have dared to traverse.  But under the existing circumstances it
would never be necessary to travel more than twenty miles without
finding a spot where a water-pit might be dug.

So Andries brought his spring-wagon in to the Copper Mines and we made
busy preparations for a start.  Our wagon-team numbered eight, four
belonging to Andries and four to me.  Old Prince pulled as a wheeler; my
two young chestnuts as leaders.  Besides the wagon we had another
vehicle,--a strange, springless, nondescript contraption knocked
together by Andries out of the remains of an old horse-wagon which he
had broken up.  It had low, strong wheels set very wide apart, with a
rough framework of yellow-wood boards superimposed.  There was no seat,
but a box-like rim of woodwork edged the frame.  To this vehicle four
half-trained horses were yoked.  It was intended to be used in pursuing
springbuck over the plains.  Hendrick was to be the driver; his task
would not be an easy one.  Andries owned a mob of over sixty horses, the
greater number of which had been taught but the merest rudiments of
service.

We reached the outer periphery of the hills late in the afternoon, and
camped on the margin of the pale-green ocean of feathery "toa."
Far-off, to eastward, we marked the rose-litten turrets of a
thunder-cloud.  When the sun went down these were illuminated by
incessant lightnings, symbols of destruction heralding the advent of the
only giver of life-rain.

I had formerly been accustomed to bring books to Bushmanland, but, with
one exception, I did so no longer.  The exception was Ludwig's
translation of the Vedic Hymns.  The open Volume of the desert, so
insistent to be read, was sufficient; nevertheless those large,
primordial utterances of the Vedas seemed appropriate whenever one was
brought into contact with unspoilt Nature in her vaster aspects.
Although they originated under conditions very dissimilar to the local
ones, the Vedic Hymns are tuned to the desert's pitch.  In India, as in
Bushmanland, rain is the paramount necessity.  When the rain-gods forget
Bushmanland a few thousand fat-tailed sheep may perish; a hundred
families may have to retire from its margins and live for a season by
digging wild tubers among the granite hills, or by robbing the ants of
their underground store of "toa" seed.  But if a similar thing happen in
India, perhaps ten millions of human beings die a horrible death.

In the desert,--away from man and everything that suggested him, the
Hebrew Scriptures seemed to be too overloaded with ethics, too exigent
towards enlisting the services of the deity on the side of tribe against
tribe.  But the Vedic Hymnist was a worshipper who imposed no conditions
upon his gods.  He had passionately realised the fundamental fact that
his own continued existence, as well as that of all organic life,
depended upon the beneficient fury of the sky, so he offered awed and
unconditioned adoration to Indra, Agni and the "golden-breasted" Storm
Gods through a symbolism of sincere and homely dignity.  Submissive, he
accepted death or life, the thunder-bolt or the Soma-flower,--the
drought that slew its millions or the rain that brought a bounteous
harvest.

We started at break of day.  Although rain had fallen, we felt it
necessary to plan our course carefully, for water was only to be found
in the sand-covered rock-depressions--and these, albeit more than
ordinarily frequent in that section of the desert over which our route
lay, were nevertheless few and far between.  The weather was hot;
therefore the horses, unlike oxen, had to drink at least once a day.
Even where it existed, water could only be obtained by digging to a
depth of from five to eight feet; then it had to be scooped up in
pannikins after having trickled in from the sides and collected at the
bottom of the pit.  Thus, even under favourable conditions, it took
about two hours' hard work to provide sufficient water to quench the
thirst of twelve animals.

With cocked ears and anxious looks the horses would crowd to where the
smell of wet sand told them that relief was near; it became necessary to
keep them off with a whip.  Once I narrowly escaped being badly hurt
owing to a mule flinging itself into a pit in which I was digging for
water.

We decided not to delay on our forward journey; therefore the various
herds of game seen in the distance were not interfered with.  We
intended, after finishing our business at Pella, to seek out some
temporary oasis favourably situated, pitch our camp there and spend a
few days shooting in the vicinity.

On the forenoon of the fourth day,--a day of terrible heat, we sighted
the mission buildings of Pella in the far distance.  These stood on a
limestone ridge in a crescent-shaped bend of that stark range of
mountains on the northern side of which the Orange River has carved its
tremendous earth-scar.  Here the colour of the mountains changed; they
were no longer jet-black as I had found those a hundred miles to
westward, but a deep chocolate brown.  From Pella ran a steep ravine
which cleft the range almost to its base.  Down this a crooked track led
to the river, which was said to be about nine miles away.

It seemed as though we should never reach the mission; the trek over
red-hot sand through which angular chunks of limestone were thickly
distributed, seemed interminable in the fierce heat.  But at length the
journey ended, and the panting horses were released for their sand-bath,
preliminary to a much-needed drink.  The half-dozen low houses of the
mission, built of unburnt brick and livid-grey in colour, lay huddled
around the unfinished walls of what was intended to eventually be a
church.  That bare, sun-scourged, glaring ridge which had been selected
as the site for the institution lacked every attribute tempting to man--
save one: and that the all-essential,--water.  For thither, to the midst
of a howling desolation, Nature, in one of her moods of whimsical
paradox, had enticed from the depths a spring of living crystal.
Through torrid day and frosty night,--through short, adventitious rainy
season and long, inevitable period of aridity which filled man and brute
with dismay,--"ohne hast, ohne rast" the gentle fountain welled out,
cold and clear.  It seemed as though some spirit whose dwelling was deep
in a zone untroubled by the moods of the changeful sky stretched forth a
pitiful hand to touch the scarred forehead of the waste with comfort and
with healing.

The heat in the wagon had been a burthen and almost a misery, yet I was
able to sustain it while we were in motion.  But the stillness of the
atmosphere and the glare from the limestone surrounding the mission,
made one desperate.  Shade--coolness--where were they to be found?  Even
mere darkness would have been a relief.  I sought refuge under a
verandah, but got no assuagement.  I longed for some corner into which
to creep--for somewhere to hide, if only from the blistering light.
Father Simon, the Director of the Mission, kindly vacated his house and
placed it at my disposal.  The building contained but one room.

I entered and closed the door.  For a few seconds the darkness brought a
sense of easement, but the closeness, the thick stagnation of the air,
made me gasp.  And the heat was nearly as bad as it was outside.  How
was that?  I put my hand to one of the clod-like bricks of which the
walls were built.  It was quite uncomfortably hot to the touch; the
force of the sun had penetrated it.

Something approaching despair seized me; it was then nearly noon--could
I live through another six hours of such torture?  I began to speculate
as to what were the initial symptoms of heat-apoplexy.  The labouring
blood thundered in my ears; I felt perilously near delirium.  It was as
though one were being suffocated in the cellar of a burning house.  I
stripped off my clothes and grovelled naked on the clay floor, seeking
relief in cobwebby corners.  In the gloom I caught sight of a bucket of
water.  I tore a sheet from the bed, soaked it and wrapped it around me.
In all my life I had never felt in such physical extremity.  However,
lying on the ground wrapped in the wet sheet brought a measure of
relief.  But the miseries of that day will never be forgotten.

At length the sun went down--sank in golden ruin among the fang-like
peaks of the umber-tinted western mountains.  Soon the quivering earth
flung off its Nessus-garment and a delicious interval followed.  But
shortly after nightfall the chilliness of the air became so
uncomfortable that I overhauled my belongings in the wagon, seeking a
warmer coat.  Father Simon, with a smile, produced his thermometer; the
mercury stood at 86 Fahrenheit.  I learned that five hours previously it
had reached 119 in the shade.

Next day brought practically no diminution of temperature; but somehow I
seemed to have acquired resisting power.  The fear of possible collapse,
even of death, which came upon me the previous day, had gone.  Perhaps
the fatigues of the long journey--more especially the heavy digging in
the water-pits--may have lowered my vitality.  Presently we had another
severe ordeal to undergo, for we decided to make our way down the gorge
and spend a night on the bank of the river.  It seemed as though it
would be like descending to the Gehenna-pit.

But first to bend an examining eye upon that strange community of men
and women,--those adventurers from the Old World to a world immeasurably
older and less changeful.  So far as I could gather, the personnel
consisted of three priests, four lay-brothers and five nuns.  It was to
those women that my pity went out; they were so pallid, so
debilitated,--so incongruous with their surroundings.  As they flitted
silently about, busied with hospitable service towards the guests, their
hands looked like faded leaves.  How the conventual habit, albeit the
material had been lightened to accord with local conditions, must have
weighed them down.  The low-roofed, livid-grey brick building in which
they lived must have got heated through and through as Father Simon's
dwelling did.  One of those nuns had, so I was told, lost her reason and
was shortly to be removed.  Their lot must have been one of continuous
martyrdom.

Father Simon was suave in manner; I could judge him to be shrewd and
clear-headed; evidently he was a man of affairs.  His pallor was
apparently congenital; it by no means suggested physical weakness.
Salamander-like, he had habituated himself to the torrid climate.  Like
an Arab chief he ruled his clan of about two hundred subjects.  This was
as mixed a lot of human beings as one would find anywhere--even in South
Africa, that land of varied human blends.  Among them were pure-bred
Europeans,--some bearing names held in honour from Cape Town to
Pretoria.  Others were frankly black,--and there were all intermediate
shades.

Just then the mat-houses of the tribe were pitched at one of the
outlying water-places; I did not learn how far off, for distance is an
unimportant detail in the desert.  But it was some place where a
thunderstorm had recently burst and, therefore, where pasturage existed.
The wealth of the community consisted of fat-tailed sheep, horses,
goats and a few cattle.  The Pella lands were held by the Mission on
ownership tenure; consequently the Superintendent was an autocrat.  A
community of that kind was as little fitted to govern itself as a
reformatory would have been.  The territory over which Father Simon held
sway contained all the water-places which were to be found in that
corner of the desert.  The water in some of these was permanent, the
severest drought occasioning no diminution in its flow.  It was this
circumstance, more than anything else, which rendered the autocracy
effective.

Acceptance of the forms of the Roman Catholic ritual was the only
condition of membership; faith appeared to be taken on trust.  It was
told me that when Bushmanland happened to be blest with a few
consecutive good seasons, scruples on points of dogma became prevalent
and the tribe thinned out.  But when the inevitable drought recurred,
the doubters repented, returned to the forgiving bosom of Mother Church
and recommenced, with more or less fervour, the practice of their
religious duties.  I was shewn one patriarch who, with his numerous
family, had three times fallen from grace and had as often been received
back as an erring but repentant sheep.

Besides Father Simon and the nuns I met only two members of the
community who interested me.  One was an elderly, thickset priest with a
dense, brown beard.  I found him sitting, in a dingy hut, at a
packing-case table.  He was smoking an extremely black pipe and reading
at an early 17th Century folio of Thomas Aquinas.  His person was
generally unclean; his coarse, stumpy hands were sickening to look upon.

The reading was clearly a pretence; from the appearance of the volume I
should say it had not been previously opened for a very long time.  I
felt instinctively that Father Simon, too, knew this, for he addressed a
few sentences in French to the reader,--speaking in a low, even, firm
voice.  At once the folio was closed and put back on a cobwebby shelf.

The episode interested me; I sympathised with that priest.  In spite of
his unsavoury physical condition my heart went out to him.  His life
must have been appallingly empty, for he had not, like Father Simon, the
saving grace of responsibility and the opportunity of expressing his
individuality in administrative work.  He was nothing but a more or less
superfluous cog in the wheel of a cranky machine driven by a despotic
hand.  The Adam within him cried out for an opportunity of attracting
the attention of the only visitor from the outside world he was likely
to see for the next six months.  I found that little trifle of deception
very human--very pitiful.  I wonder did he, after all, read his Aquinas
at times; perhaps he did.  But I fear his development would rather have
been in the direction of the "dumb ox" than towards the angels.  Poor,
lonely, unwashed human creature.

The only way to save one's soul alive in the desert is to wrestle with
and overcome difficulties--as Jacob wrestled with the angel, and all the
cobwebs ever spun by all the Schoolmen would not give so much strength
to the human spirit as a gallop of ten miles over the plains, among the
whispering shocks of the "toa."  That this was the case was evinced by a
young lay-brother with whom I was able to converse in Dutch.  He, of
peasant origin and with quite a lot of fire glowing through his clay,
found scope for his abounding energies in looking after the stock
belonging to the Mission and generally carrying on the outside
administrative work.  It was he who shepherded the tribe from one
water-place to another; it was he who took venturesome journeys across
wide stretches of desert for the purpose of reporting as to the
condition of the pasturage surrounding the far-outlying oases.

This man was brown and muscular; his eye was steady and masterful--
because his life was spent in action, not in futile dreaming.  If he
should have looked upon one of the daughters of the desert and found her
fair, I would not have given much for his vocation.  I sincerely hoped
he might do so.  The daughters of the desert are not, as a rule,
comely--but, after all, beauty is relative.  I imply nothing
discreditable; this man had taken no irrevocable vow of celibacy.

The Pella Mission was engaged in the hopeless task of endeavouring to
make oil and water mix--or rather, to change the metaphor--to graft an
archaic but vigorous and highly-specialised organism upon a rudimentary
one of thin blood and low vitality.  A creed rooted in and nourished by
the most ancient human traditions could not possibly develop among
people who possessed no traditions and had not enough positive original
sin in them to make their asthenic souls worth the saving.

On this desert tract where men are blown to and fro by the fiery breath
of recurrent drought, they should be left to sink in the sand or swim in
the aether,--to develop body and soul of a tenacious fibre, or else to
be eliminated by the adverse conditions under which they exist.  Subject
to tuition, kept erect by outside support, they must presently stagnate
and ultimately perish.  From my point of view their preservation was not
nearly so important as that of the herd of oryx I was endeavouring to
protect from its legioned enemies in central Bushmanland.

But the case of the Pella tribe was hopeless.  Could these people have
gone to war, had the desert they inhabited been ten times as wide and
had its bounds contained tribes that raided one another, and thus made
valour-cum-skill-in-arms the alternative to extinction, they might have
developed positive virtues and vices.  They might even have lifted their
eyes to the stars and uttered songs of love and death.

The blistering sun of noon was almost over our heads when we started on
our pilgrimage to the river.  A crooked pathway choked with sand, into
which one's feet sank deep at every step, led down the wedge-formed
cleft between the towering mountains.  We found the course fatiguing in
the descent; what would it be when we came to retrace our steps?  As we
proceeded the gorge bent to the right and the glowing cliffs closed in.

At length the stupendous mountain range on the other side of the river
again sprang into view.  Soon we caught a glimpse of the rich-green
forest strip which fringed, on either side, the wide course of the
stream.  There at least we would find shade.  The heat had become
frightful; it was as though one breathed flame.

We reached the river bank.  The great torrent of a few weeks back had
shrunk to a network of rivulets which swirled and eddied among the rocks
and islanded sand-banks with a soothing murmur.  The trees just there
had been much thinned out; in places the undergrowth had completely
disappeared,--eaten away by the stock which was sent thither in seasons
of exceptional drought.  A recent freshet had carpeted the shaded ground
with soft, white sand.  A dip in the tepid water refreshed one; the
gentle, lapping wavelets whispered of coolness to come.  But the river,
so gentle that day, could at times arise like a wrathful Titan.  In a
high cliff-crevice hung a large tree-trunk flung up and wedged there
during some recent flood.

Who could paint the terrific desolation of that home of chaos,--the
towering peaks, the jutting ledges, the Cyclopean, bulging
protuberances?  That amphitheatre was surely the haunt of some
ferocious, inimical Nature-spirit--brother to Death and a hater of Life.
Yet life flourished even here, for the river, like a mother holding her
children with tender clasp, led westward her progeny of trees over
strait and perilous pathways.  But the feet of the brood dared not stray
from the hem of her garment.

The sun sank; as the glare was withdrawn each salient detail of the
Titanic arena grew clearer and more definite against the background of
darkening blue.  Then shadow gathered all into her fold, and it was upon
a pit whose black sides threatened to fall in and crush us, that the
stars of the zenith looked down.

It was deep in the night, but the heat still raged, for the sides of the
glowing rock-pit in which we lay continued to radiate what energy they
had absorbed while the sun still smote on them.  We had emerged from
among the trees and built a large fire of drift-wood on a sandbank,--our
object being to obtain illumination.  It was quite necessary to have a
bright light; from many of the logs poisonous centipedes, and an
occasional scorpion, were emerging.  But even comparatively close to the
fire we could feel no increase of heat.  My gun stood against a stone
some distance away.  I picked the weapon up, but involuntarily dropped
it, for the barrel almost scorched my hand.  And this at nearly
midnight!

But what were those creatures darting here and there; anon rushing
towards us over the livid surface of the sand?  Horror.  They were
tarantulas,--red, hairy creatures, larger than mice.  Within a few
seconds there were hundreds of them circling around the fire with almost
incredible swiftness.  The firelight had attracted them from the
cliff-chasms which yawned around us.

This was too much for flesh and blood to endure, so I beat a retreat to
the river and waded out until I reached a flat rock.  This proved to be
uncomfortably hot, but the soles of my boots were thick, and I could
every now and then cool them in the water.  However, a few yards away
lay a small island of sand, and on this I took refuge.  From my retreat
I could see the fire and its environs.  I did not think Africa contained
so many tarantulas as were then visible.  They had the fire to
themselves, for every member of the party had fled.

The air still felt as though one were in a closed room.  But the murmur
of the river became audible to an increasing degree on the western side,
and soon a hot breath of air struck us.  After a fitful succession of
puffs a continuous wind set in,--a steady current, momentarily growing
cooler.  This was the sea-breeze stealing up the river gorge from the
far-off Atlantic, rolling the mass of heated air before it and cooling
the piled rocks,--helping them to fling off the yoke of torment put upon
them by the cruel, arrogant sun.  Soon the temperature began to fall
rapidly, so I waded back, made a wide detour so as to avoid the
tarantula-infested area, and fetched my kaross from where it lay among
the trees.  I then returned to my sand-islet and there sank into blessed
sleep with the tepid water murmuring within a few feet of my weary head.

I awoke soon after 3 a.m.  The wind had turned perishingly cold,--so
cold that I decided to retire from my exposed situation and seek for
some spot more or less sheltered from the streaming air-current.  So I
once more waded back through the tepid water and sought a refuge among
the trees.  The fire was still alight; I had to pass it.  Not a single
tarantula was visible; no doubt they had retired to their lairs among
the rocks on account of the fall in the temperature.  Yet I do not
suppose the latter was below 80 Fahrenheit; the susceptibility of one's
skin is relative; my discomfort was due to the sudden change.  I wished
I had not left my thermometer at the wagon; it would have been
interesting to take a reading at midnight.

Once more I fell asleep, with the tree-trunks groaning around me, as the
boughs swayed in the ever-freshening gale.



CHAPTER NINE.

MORNING IN THE GORGE--DEPARTURE FROM PELLA--JOURNEY TO BRABIES--
PROTECTION OF THE ORYX--ITS PECULIARITIES--ANTELOPES OF THE DESERT AND
THE FOREST--CAMPING AT BRABIES.

Daybreak,--and the chill sea-wind was still surging up the gorge.  It
was delightful; nevertheless, even among the sheltering trees, a fire
was very comforting.  The pageant of growing day was a wonder and a
delight.  The upper tiers of that titanic rock-city became glorious
"under the opening eyelids of the morn."  They were refulgent with
hitherto unsuspected beauty.  Those acre-large splashes of vermilion,
blue and amber-brown must have been due to lichen.  It was strange that
on the previous evening we had not noticed these.  Perhaps they paled
under the flames of day and only revived when the cool, moist sea-wind
bathed them.

After a hurried dip in the still-tepid water, followed by breakfast, we
started on our journey back to Pella.  The wind sank momentarily, but
the air was still deliciously cool, for the bow of the sun-archer could
not yet be depressed enough to send its searching arrows into the depths
of the cleft through which our course lay.  Soon the sea-wind folded its
wings; not a breath stirred.  From their eyries in the towering rock
bastions the brown eagles swooped down as though to rend us, uttering
wild and menacing cries.

The relentless sunbeams searched ever lower upon the western face of the
chasm.  From the crannies gorgeous-hued lizards crept forth to bask.
Their lovely colours--vivid crimson or deep, gentian blue seemed
incongruous with their ungainly form and ferocious expression.  Here and
there rock-rabbits darted from ledge to ledge.  Crossing our sandy
pathway we occasionally noticed the spoor of a leopard, a badger or a
snake.  For such creatures night is the season of activity; by day they
could choose the climate best suited to them,--among the deep, dark
cavern-clefts with which this tumbled chaos is honeycombed.

We were now beyond the area of shade; no longer did the cliff protect
us.  For an hour we laboured up the widening gorge, over the yielding
sand,--in the glaring, unmitigated sunshine.  It was with a grateful
sense of relief that we reached Pella, somewhat breathless, but none the
worse for our adventure.

The teams were soon inspanned, so after thanking Father Simon and the
nuns for their kind entertainment, and paying a farewell visit to the
student of Aquinas in his dingy hut, we made a start for Brabies,--"the
place of the withered flower," as the Bushmen named it.  At Brabies it
was that we had decided to pitch our hunting camp, for we heard good
reports as to the water in the vley there.  No one, so far as we knew,
had been there lately, but a heavy thunderstorm had been observed to
pass over the vicinity of Brabies about a week previously.  Our
objective was about thirty miles away.  There was a slight improvement
in the weather.  The cool spell of the distant sea, owing to last
night's wind, still lay upon the grateful desert.

We pushed on steadily but could not travel fast, for the sand was heavy
and the angular limestone fragments lay thick upon our course.  However,
we reached our destination just as the sun was going down.  Brabies had
no rock-saucer; its water was held in a vley, or shallow depression with
a hard clay bottom.  This vley was several hundred yards in
circumference.  It lay on an almost imperceptible rise; nevertheless
this circumstance enabled anyone camping on its margin to gain a view
over an immense area of desert.  Usually, we had been told, at least one
heavy thunderstorm broke over Brabies early in each season, and then the
vley held water for about three weeks.

With the exception of a few small troops of ostriches, immensely far
off, no game was in sight.  However, a long, low ridge--rising so
slightly above the general level that the eye had difficulty in
recognising it as an elevation at all--lay to the northward, some six
miles away.  We knew that the tract just on the other side of that ridge
was one of the favourite feeding-grounds of the oryx.  And it was oryx
and nothing else that we were just then interested in.  Judging by the
amount of spoor, some of it quite fresh, our game could not be very far
off.

This more or less central area of Bushmanland,--a tract from ten to
twelve hundred square miles in extent--was practically the last refuge
of the oryx south of the Orange River.  It is almost absolutely flat,--
except on its northern and eastern margins, where the dunes intrude for
an inconsiderable distance over its bounds.  The tract is quite arid,
but occasionally, in perhaps half-a-dozen spots, the underground
rock-saucers hold water for from three to five weeks.  So far as I had
been able to ascertain, Brabies and one other, but nameless, vley were
the only places in the whole enormous northern section of the desert
where water ever lay on the surface.  Brabies, as has been stated,
usually contained water once, at least, during each season, but the
other vley sometimes remained dry for years at a stretch.  As might be
imagined, the region was of no economic value.

Owing to the circumstance that a measure of informal police protection
had been afforded to the vicinity of Brabies during the previous two
years, practically all the oryx in the desert had there congregated.  I
estimated their number at about twelve hundred.  There was no reason why
those animals should not have increased and multiplied.  Andries was a
Field Cornet,--an office combining the functions of a constable with
those of a justice of the peace.  I had appointed him Warden of the
Desert Marches and Chief Protector of the Oryx and the Ostrich.  Between
us, we managed to protect these animals more or less effectively.
But--"thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn."

The oryx evinces several interesting peculiarities.  I have mentioned in
a previous chapter the remarkable formation of its foot,--the membrane
connecting the wide-spreading toes, which enables it to gallop scathless
over the Kanya stones which cripple all other animals.  Another
abnormality is shewn in the way the hair lies.  If one wished to stroke
the back of an oryx one would have to do so from back to front, as the
hair slopes in a reverse direction as compared with all other antelopes.
The oryx fawn is born with horns about four inches long, but the points
are capped with a plug-like mass of horny substance.  This falls off
when the animal is about three weeks old.

An oryx fawn, until it has reached the age of from three to four months,
is a most extraordinary object.  Its neck, chest and flanks are covered
with long hair, vivid red in hue.  It has a shaggy red mane and a big,
black, muzzle; its ears are of enormous size.  The first time I saw
these creatures I almost mistook them for lions.  Three of them stood up
suddenly at a distance of about sixty yards and gazed at me.  My horse
was terrified to such an extent that he became unmanageable.  It was
only with difficulty that Andries was able to persuade me as to the true
nature of the animals.

The male and female oryx are identical in the matter of marking and are
of approximately the same height, but the male is the heavier in build.
The horns of the female are longer and straighter than those of the
male, but are not so thick.

Occasionally, in the cool season of the year, one used dogs in hunting
the oryx.  But unless a dog had been specially trained to the business,
it was speedily killed.  Under ordinary circumstances a dog most
effectively attacks an animal behind or on the flank, but the oryx,
without breaking his stride, can give a lightning-quick sweep with his
formidable horns and impale anything within four feet of his heels or on
either side.  The dog that knows its business runs in front of the oryx,
for the latter cannot depress his head sufficiently forward to make the
horns effective against anything before it which is low on the ground.
A trained dog can thus easily bring an oryx to bay, and hold him engaged
until the hunter comes to close quarters.

Here may be noted a contrast between the habits of the larger desert
antelopes and of those antelopes which live in the forest.  In the
desert it is the males which head the flight, leaving the females and
the weaklings to fend for themselves.  But in the forest the male covers
the retreat of his family and is always the last to flee.  There is
probably some connexion between the foregoing rule and the circumstance
that the female of the antelope of the desert,--the oryx, the hartebeest
and the blesbuck--is horned more or less as the male is, whereas the
females of the forest dwellers,--the bushbuck, the koodoo and the
impala--are hornless.

The horses had been watered, fed and picketed; we had eaten our supper
and finished our pipes.  I took my kaross and wandered away for a few
hundred yards so as to be alone and undisturbed by snoring men or
snorting horses.  The only possible cause of anxiety was in respect of
snakes.  We killed a large yellow cobra just at dusk.  The spoor of the
cobra,--the hooded yellow death,--could be seen among the tussocks in
every direction.  The previous year one of my men had had a horse killed
by a snake close to where the wagon then stood; the skeleton of the
animal was still in evidence.

In the vicinity of the Brabies vley the sand was rather firmer than in
most other parts of the desert; consequently cities of the desert mice
abounded.  Where mice were plentiful, so were snakes; they seemed to
live together underground on the best of terms.  In summer it was only
at night that the snakes emerged and wandered abroad.  However, cobras
or no cobras, I intended to camp by myself.

And then--once more the unutterable peace, the sumptuous palace of the
night,--the purple curtains of infinity excluding all that made for
discord,--the music of the whispering tongues that filled the void.  How
the limitless, made manifest in the throbbing universe of stars,
responds to the infinite which the most insignificant human soul
contains.  These are the transcendent wonders which the mighty Kant
bracketed together.

An utterance of Shakespeare--embodying one of those cosmic imaginings
only he or Goethe could have expressed, came to my mind--"the prophetic
soul of the wide world dreaming on things to come."  If there be a
spirit proper to our globe--a thinking and informing spirit--surely the
desert should be its habitation.  If such ever dwelt where men
congregate, it does so no longer, for men have no longer leisure to
think; they spend their strength in continuous futile labour, the fruits
of which are ashes and dust.  Leisure, opportunity to collate experience
and appraise its results,--surely that is necessary to balanced
thought,--towards being able to see things in their true proportions.
But so-called progress has killed leisure.

Where, to-day, is the voice of Truth to be heard?  Not in the frantic
and contradictory shoutings of the forum or the market place, nor in the
groans of those doomed to unrequited and unleisured toil,--but I think
that an attentive ear may sometimes hear her voice whispering in the
wilderness.  And this I know: that when a spent and wounded soul steals
out and sinks humbly at the feet of Solitude, some kind and bountiful
hand holds out to it the cup of Peace,--and often the pearl of Wisdom is
dissolved in that cup for the spirit's refreshment.



CHAPTER TEN.

THE ORYX HUNT--TERRIBLE THIRST--PREHISTORIC WEAPONS.

Soon after daybreak we saddled up.  That day our hunting was to be
northward, for thither all the oryx spoor trended.  Andries, Hendrick
and I rode off together.  We had to pass the western end of the long,
low ridge noted on the previous evening.  Hendrick, just before we
started, declared that he saw some "black sticks" protruding near the
ridge's eastern extremity.  This was difficult to credit when one took
the distance into consideration, yet we could not help admitting that
the Hun had never yet misled us.  So we proceeded on the reasonable
assumption that his eyes had not on this occasion played him false.

Assuming the oryx to be where Hendrick affirmed he had seen their horns,
we had to endeavour to give the animals our wind from the proper
distance.  In hunting the oryx one has to follow a method opposite to
that followed in the case of all other game.  If one got their wind,
failure was a foregone conclusion, for the oryx cannot run down the
wind.  To keep up the necessary supply of oxygenated blood to his mighty
muscles he must run--his wide nostrils expanded like funnels--against
the air-current.  Should he attempt to run down the wind he would
smother when hard pressed.  This both he and the hunter know, so the
great art in the noble sport of oryx-hunting lies in manoeuvring so as
to prevent the game from taking the only course on which his powers will
have full play.

The day promised to be hot; when the Kalihari wind blows in summer there
is no possibility of cool weather in the desert.  We advanced at a
walking pace, for the strength of our horses had to be conserved against
that long pursuit which, in hunting the oryx, is almost inevitable.  The
heat grew greater every moment.  The morning was at seven; what would
the sunshine be like at noon?

We reached the western limit of the ridge,--where the gentle slope
merged itself almost imperceptibly into the plain.  This was the
juncture at which to exercise caution; one false move then, and our day
would have been wasted.  We dismounted and stole cautiously to our
right--Hendrick and I,--Andries remaining with the horses.  A low
"s-s-s-t" from Hendrick, and we dropped in our tracks to the ground.
The keen-eyed Hun had again discerned the tips of the "black sticks"
over the rim of the earth-curve.  We crept back to Andries and the
horses, held a council of war and finally decided upon our strategy.

Andries was heavily built; almost corpulent.  This to him was a matter
of great grief.  His mount was strong, but no horse that ever was foaled
could, with sixteen stone on its back, run down a herd of oryx.

Hendrick and I, accordingly, were to do the riding.  The game was still
several miles away, on our left front as we turned and faced the camp,
but it nevertheless was necessary that we should make another wide sweep
so as to get further to windward.  So we rode off northward, leaving
Andries behind.  He decided to remain where he was, it being an even
chance as to whether the herd, after it had started, would break past
him or to the north-eastward.  In any event its course would not be more
than 45 degrees on either side of the point from which the wind was
blowing.  Andries, moreover, had an almost uncanny knack of forecasting
the movements of wild animals.

Hendrick and I had got to within about three miles of the herd, and well
to windward, when it sighted us.  It was a fairly large one,--numbering
about eighty head.  Until the oryx started running we would continue to
ride diagonally away from them, edging slightly to our right and
proceeding at a walking pace.  But I kept my head turned far enough over
my right shoulder to enable me to keep one careful eye on the herd,
which stood at gaze, every head pointing northward against the wind.

Our plans had been carefully laid.  When the herd started running, as it
now soon would, Hendrick, on his fierce black stallion, was to ride due
east at full gallop, so as to cut clean across its course.  My own
actions would be governed by the behaviour of the game.  I was anxious,
if possible, to secure Andries a shot.  At length the herd started and
Hendrick, tense with desire, loosened his reins and thundered away.  The
course of the flight was, as we expected, a little to the east of north.
It is remarkable how experience teaches one to anticipate what game
will do when disturbed.  I edged to my right at a moderate canter.  Old
Prince tried to break into a gallop, but the time for that was not yet.

The herd inclined its course still more to the eastward, but Hendrick
had too much of a start for that to matter; he had, so far, the hunt
completely in hand.  Should the oryx have adhered to the course they
started on, they would soon have been in a dilemma: that of having to
choose between passing Hendrick at close quarters and running down the
wind.  So the inevitable alteration in their course was now only a
matter of seconds.  Ha! they swerved; they were now heading for the
opening between Andries, whom, being behind the end of the ridge, they
could not see, and myself.  This was precisely what we had been
manoeuvring for.

I let Prince out and galloped towards the advancing herd, pressing it
gently away from the wind.  Were I to have pressed the oryx too hard,
they would have again swerved to their right and rushed for the opening
between Hendrick and me.  This would have suited me, personally, well
enough, but would have spoilt Andries' chance.  On they came--the
full-grown bulls, about thirty of them--leading in a close phalanx.
Then came the cows; behind these the fawns.  I trended slightly to my
right and gave Prince a looser rein.  I had the herd fully in hand at
about five hundred yards; I was easily holding their wind and could have
closed with them whenever I liked.  But, disregarding Andries'
oft-repeated advice, I yielded to temptation.  After gaining another
hundred yards I rolled from my horse and opened fire.  It seemed
impossible to miss such a mark, but my first wind had gone and the
second had not yet taken its place.  My bullets went all over the veld,
every shot missed.

As I remounted, with shame and sorrow in my heart, I heard a shot from
the other side of the herd; it was followed by a thud.  Then a bull
turned out of the press; it faltered, staggered and fell.  Once more I
let Prince out at his best gallop, keeping his nose on the flank of the
phalanx.  I had, through my foolish impatience, largely lost my
advantage; now my only chance of a favourable shot was to ride for all I
was worth, strenuously pressing the leaders of the herd away from the
wind.

The herd was then about nine hundred yards away.  All I could do was to
continue the pressure, so as to defer the now inevitable stern chase for
as long as possible.  I was just barely holding my own, but that was
good enough for the current stage.  The oryx did not as yet venture to
turn up wind; they well knew that an attempt to do so would have enabled
me to close with them by putting on a spurt.

Prince knew his work and had settled down to that steady, tireless
stride I knew and loved so well, and which he could easily keep up for
ten miles without a rest.  The wind sang as we cleft it, rushing through
the swaying "toa."  The desert lay before us as level as the sea.  A few
springbucks, waifs from some trekking herd, stood at gaze as we swept
by.  They knew quite well what my objective was and accordingly were not
alarmed.  Paauws arose here and there on heavy wings; the flight of one
startled all others in sight.  Ostriches scudded away in various
directions.  The desert was awake; word of the presence of man,--of the
arch-enemy on the war-path--had been borne to its farthest bounds.

The course of the herd was a segment of the periphery of a wide circle;
my course was also a curve, but an elliptical one,--for it continually
impinged on the leaders so as to continue pressing them away from the
wind for every possible yard.  But it was clear that very soon the oryx
would be able to attain the course which was the object of their swift
endeavour; this was rendered inevitable from the moment of my stupid
blunder in dismounting too soon and thus throwing away my rare
advantage.  At length they had it; I could press them no longer.  Now
the flight is almost dead against the wind; now the trumpet-like
nostrils are opened wide against the streaming current of air.  This
seems to stimulate the fugitives, for the distance between us has
perceptibly increased.

Prince, unbidden, swerved to the right course and we followed hard on
the heels of the flying game.  It was at length a stern chase.  A word
to my faithful horse and his stride quickened.  Soon it was clear that
we were gaining.  Herein was an illustration of how the instinct of
animals, usually so true, may occasionally mislead them.  These
creatures, in the hour of danger blindly surrendering to the gregarious
idea ingrained through the experience of ages, crowded so hard on each
other that they got half-smothered in their own dust.  Hence it is far
more easy to ride down a large herd of oryx than a small one.  When it
is a case of a single animal, or even of two or three, a stern chase is
almost hopeless, no matter how swift one's mount.

I was gaining rapidly; I overhauled the fawns and immature animals and
pressed through, passing some of them within a few yards.  One I had to
turn out of my way by leaning forward from the saddle and prodding it
with the muzzle of my rifle.  Those young things followed after me, bent
only on overtaking their elders; apparently oblivious of the
circumstance that I was their enemy.  I overtook the crowd of cows; it
opened out and scattered on either hand.  I was now riding in a cloud of
dust, the phalanx of bulls being only about a hundred and fifty yards
ahead; the animals could be but dimly discerned through the dust-cloud.
I had to gain another hundred yards without attempting to dismount; not
again would I yield to impatience.

The hundred yards were soon gained; Prince shewed signs of flagging, so
I had to look out for a soft place whereon I could roll from the saddle
without hurting myself.  My second wind had come; I was as steady as a
rock, but eyes, throat and nostrils were smarting from the acrid,
pungent dust.  I dropped the reins on Prince's neck; he shortened his
stride and I rolled from his back on my right-hand side.  I could just
see the bulls, but the dust was so thick that it was impossible to pick
an animal, so I fired into the brown of the moving mass.  My bullet
thudded hard; that was enough,--I would not fire again.

The herd of oryx sped on; I remounted and followed at a slow canter.
Yes,--there was my quarry,--a bull turned out of the press and faltered
in his course.  I rode towards him; he still cantered but his gait was
laboured.  He stood, turned and faced me.

He was a noble brute,--a leader among the oryx people.  Still as a
statue he stood, defying his enemy.  His wire-like hair was erect and
quivering; his red, trumpet-formed nostrils seemed to exude defiance;
his shoulders and flanks were heavily banded with streaks of foam.  In
spite of the long chase he did not appear to pant.

I dismounted when within about sixty yards and advanced towards the
doomed and stricken creature.  Now it behoved me to be wary, for had the
bull charged and my shot failed to disable him, my death would
inevitably have resulted.  So I took careful aim at a spot just above
where his neck emerged from his chest, and fired.  The bull sank to the
ground in a huddled heap.

I now became aware for the first time that I was suffering from raging
thirst.  To my dismay I found that the small flask of weak whiskey and
water I had slung to the side of my saddle had got smashed in the course
of the gallop.  Away--in the far distance--I saw Hendrick approaching at
a walk.

I disembowelled the oryx and covered the carcase with bushes so as to
conceal it from the vultures.  Among the bushes I burnt a few charges of
gunpowder; this would serve to keep off the jackals--at all events for a
few hours.  Then I mounted and rode slowly towards the wagon.  Hendrick
altered his course and joined me, en route.  Black Bucephalus looked
piebald as he approached, so flaked was he with dried sweat.

The wagon was about twelve miles from where the oryx had fallen.  It
took us over three hours--hours of intense physical anguish--to travel
those miles.  My mouth was so parched that the saliva had ceased to
exude, my lips were cracked and bleeding.  For a considerable portion of
the time spent on that dolorous journey I was on the verge of delirium.
Hendrick also suffered, but in a somewhat less degree, for his fibre was
tougher than mine.  When about half-way to the wagon he asked my
permission to ride apart, stating as his reason that he could not bear
the sight of my torment.  Brabies and the white tilt of the wagon seemed
to recede before us.  I then realised clearly how people might die on
the threshold of relief.  For untold gold I would not undergo another
such experience.

But the journey came to an end at length, and the long drink which
followed was unspeakably delicious.  Soon the wagon was emptied of its
contents and, with a team of eight fresh horses, despatched to fetch in
the game.  It was nightfall when the wagon returned with its heavy
load,--the carcases of two large oryx bulls.

The morrow we spent at Brabies for the purpose of giving the horses a
rest.  We occupied ourselves in the prosaic process of cutting up and
salting the oryx meat.  On the following day we would start for home.
The water of the vley was rapidly drying up under the fierce heat; in
another week there would not be a drop left.

There were several features of interest connected with the vley.  The
water had shrunk to a series of small puddles.  Swimming about in every
one of these were large numbers of tiny organisms, each with a single,
immense eye.  These creatures belonged to a species of "Apus,"--a genus
of one of the crustacean sub-families.  On a trip undertaken during the
previous year I had found an Apus of another species in a vley less than
thirty miles from Brabies,--a vley which probably does not contain water
more than once in five years.  This development of separate species in
localities so close to each other, suggested that local conditions had
not materially changed for a very long period.  No vley was found to
contain more than a single variety.  These quaint creatures swim through
their little hour of fully developed life and, when the drying up of the
water kills them, the eggs they contain are freed.  Then these are blown
hither and thither among the dust of the desert until another
adventitious shower fills the vley in which they were generated, and
some chance wind-gust carries a few of them into the water.  The
indefinite preservation of the life-germ on the occasionally almost
red-hot surface of the desert is little short of miraculous.

Yes,--the Brabies vley must have existed under approximately similar
conditions from an immensely remote antiquity.  It is probable that in
comparatively recent times rain was more plentiful in Bushmanland (as
there is reason to believe it was generally throughout South Africa),
than it now is.  For there were evidences that Brabies was once a centre
of population.  Pottery, obviously of Bushman manufacture, abounded.  If
one broke a fragment, the charred fibres of the woven grass-blades on
which the clay design had been formed, could be clearly seen.  In the
low, stone ledges surrounding the vley were to be seen grooves evidently
caused by the sharpening of weapons.  Some of these grooves were very
deep, and as the Bushmen's arrow-heads were made of bone, the scores
must have been the result of sharpening by many generations.  A few of
them looked as fresh as if they had been used the previous day.

A careful search discovered stone implements of various types,--
palaeolithic as well as neolithic.  These suggested a receding
succession of prehistoric peoples to days unthinkably remote.  Some of
the weapons were very peculiar,--they were either spear-heads or
arrow-heads.  But they seemed too small for the former and too large for
the latter.  If they were spear-heads they must have been used by
pygmies; if arrow-heads by giants.

As there were apparently no springbucks worth the hunting on that side
of the desert, we decided to return home at once.  We thus had
no opportunity of testing the qualities of the fearsome
hunting-chariot-contraption constructed by Andries.  I was not
altogether sorry; my bones ached in anticipation of our probable
experiences in it,--behind the half-broken team.

Each morning when the sun first grew hot, the vley was invaded by
countless myriads of desert grouse.  Of these we shot some hundreds,
which we salted down for home consumption.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

THE RICHTERSVELD--KUBOOS--THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD REDIVIVUS--
GOLD-SEEKING--THE RAAD--MORBID SENSIBILITY--START FOR EL DORADO.

Just before the Orange River, wearied from its long travail, slides into
the Atlantic, it bends in a sickle-shaped curve.  Its course for the
previous three hundred miles has been through the tremendous and almost
inaccessible gorge into whose depths it hurled itself at the Augrabies
Falls.

The incidence of those aggregates of men which pass, like the
individual, through the successive stages of youth, maturity and decay,
and which we are accustomed to term civilisations, is as much a question
of geology as of geography.  Accadia and Egypt grew great and stained
many pages of the record we term history by virtue of the circumstance
that the Euphrates and the Nile, after leaving the mountains that gave
them birth, flowed respectively through low, level countries which they
enriched with precious alluvium.  The Orange River was, however, sped
oceanwards over a vast plateau of hard-grained rock, several thousand
feet above sea-level.  Into this the stream has been slowly biting, and
the alluvium--that meat upon which material civilisation is nourished,
was hurled through the channel and flung wastefully into the maw of the
all-consuming waves.  Under different physiographical circumstances
another Alexandria might have arisen where to-day the flamingo nests
among the misty dunes at the Orange River's mouth, "and another Sphinx,
of Hottentot or Bantu physiognomy, might have stood, gazing through
forgotten centuries, across the waste of Bushmanland."  [_Between Sun
and Sand_.]

The tract lying within the sickle-bend is called the Richtersveld.
Little is known of this tract or of its inhabitants.  Half a century ago
prospecting for copper ore was carried on in the vicinity.  Indications
of the metal abounded, but no payable deposit was discovered.

I decided to organise an expedition to the Richtersveld.  There were
several reasons for doing this.  One was a complaint which had been made
to the Attorney General of the Cape Colony respecting the alleged
flogging of a man under orders of the missionary at Kuboos, which is
still haunted by the ghost of an institution established by the London
Missionary Society in years long gone by.  Another was a reported
discovery of gold.  This, as a matter of fact was my ostensible excuse
for starting at the time I did.  Third and last was my own keen desire
to explore a little-known tract and make the acquaintance of its human
and other inhabitants.

The Richtersveld, according to report, was extremely mountainous and was
said to contain only some two hundred people of Koranna-Bushman and
Hottentot descent.  So remote and isolated was this region that its
dwellers were tacitly permitted to govern themselves.  They had a "raad"
or council of elders which, under presidency of the missionary, settled
all disputes and generally administered justice,--informal, but none the
less just on that account.  The language spoken by the Richtersvelders
is an almost extinct Hottentot dialect, full of clicks, gutterals and
phonetic excursions impossible to the average European tongue.  Only a
few of the people had even the merest smattering of Dutch.

That excursion involved more difficulties than any other I had
undertaken.  There was, it is true, not more than a bare hundred miles
of desert to cross, but the only definite information we had been able
to gain as to the route was to the effect that it led through a tract
practically waterless and extremely difficult to traverse.  Moreover, it
was reported to be absolutely uninhabited.  One thing was quite clear,--
we should have to travel with oxen; horses would have been useless under
the conditions as described.

Andries arrived bringing--not the comfortable, tilted, spring-wagon,--
but the strong, heavy, tentless "buck" wagon, with a team of sixteen
picked oxen.  He seemed uneasy as to our prospects, for the coast desert
had a bad reputation and we were about to plunge into a wilderness with
the conditions of which he was unfamiliar.  The map was produced, but
Andries rather despises maps.  This one shewed little beyond "gaps" and
"unhabitable downs."  But it indicated, roughly, our obvious route.  We
would travel alongside the copper-trolley-line as far as Anenous, which
lay at the foot of the mountain range and thus on the inner margin of
the coast desert,--which is little, if at all, above the level of the
sea.  From Anenous we had to trend to the north-west, past Tarabies,
Lekkersing and the northern trigonometrical beacon.  Thence via Hell
Gate to Kuboos, where the wagon would have to remain.  Any further
journeyings would apparently have to be undertaken on foot.  Possibly,
however, we might be able to obtain pack-oxen.

Judging by the map, the course looked obvious and easy, but we knew that
the surface of the coast desert was composed of deep, soft sand, into
which the wheels of the heavy wagon would sink deeply, and that through
the sandy tract the northern range of mountains sent out spines or dykes
of rock, many miles in length.  These, we were told, often took the form
of abrupt ridges extremely difficult to negotiate with any vehicle, no
matter how strongly built.

The officials of the Cape Copper Company at Anenous (which was the
jumping-off place for our hundred-mile sand-swim) knew nothing of the
country two miles on either side of the trolley-line.  All they were
definite about was that no one had ever been known to arrive at Anenous
from the northward or north-westward.

Such Hottentots as we were able to consult all declared that it was only
under very exceptional circumstances that water was to be found between
the trolley-line and the Orange River.

Andries' feelings must have resembled those of a seaman ordered to
navigate his ship through an uncharted archipelago.  Owing to our
absolute lack of local knowledge we should be constrained to do all our
travelling by day, and this meant severe suffering for the cattle.  In
the old days of prospecting for copper ore, all communication with the
Richtersveld was effected by a route along the actual sea-shore from
Port Nolloth to the Orange River's mouth and thence inland along the
river bank to the sickle-bend.

We started from Anenous very early in the morning.  On the previous day
we had kept the oxen without water, so that almost to the moment of
commencing the journey they might be very thirsty, and accordingly drink
their fill.  We at once plunged into the waste of sand; this proved to
be so heavy that we were unable to travel at a higher rate than two
miles an hour.  The country was quite different from the Bushmanland
plains; there was no "toa," but succulent plants of great variety were
plentiful.  One Mesembryanthemum had the dimensions of a large cabbage.
In spite of its succulence the oxen would not eat of this vegetation.

The climate, also, was different from that of the Bushmanland plains;
the heat was not so great, but what there was of it proved exhausting.
A haze brooded over the earth; through it the north-western mountain
range loomed gigantic and mysterious.  There were no roads,--unless a
wide-meshed network of half-obliterated tracks--probably old
game-paths--could be described as such.  One strange peculiarity of the
coastal desert is the extraordinary persistence of spoor and other
markings on the surface of the ground.  Near Walfish Bay the clear
tracks of elephants may still be seen,--and there has not been an
elephant in the vicinity for upwards of half a century.

After desperate efforts we reached Kuboos on the afternoon of the fourth
day.  I never thought it possible that a wagon could travel where ours
did.  We ploughed through calamitous expanses of sand, we floundered
through dusty dongas.  We bumped and clattered over high, steep-sided
ramparts of rock.  But the skill of Andries as a driver, the endurance
of the oxen and the strength of the wagon brought us safely through.

The quaint little collection of ramshackle buildings forming the missing
station, was perched on a ledge just below where the more or less
gradual descent of the T'Oums Mountain falls steeply into the gorge, at
the bottom of which the dry bed of the Anys River lies.  In the centre
stood, skeleton-like, the inevitable unfinished church, its narrow
gables uplifted like clamorous hands to heaven in an apparently vain
appeal for funds.

The groaning, bumping wagon came to a halt before a low cottage built of
sun-dried bricks and thatched with reeds.  From it emerged a figure
startling in its incongruity.  This was a tall, elderly, erect man
dressed in black broad-cloth, with a bell-topper and a very voluminous
white choker.  He was coloured; that was quite evident, but the stately
dignity of his stride as he advanced, and the courtly grace of his
demeanour when he greeted us, could not have been improved upon by a
Chesterfield.  Self-confidence and a complete ease of manner were
apparent in every word, in every graceful gesture.  He spoke in High
Dutch, before which my homely "taal" faltered, abashed.  I should say
his age was nearer seventy than sixty.  This was the Reverend Mr Hein,
Resident Missionary of Kuboos and Dictator of the Richtersveld.

Feeling somewhat subdued, we followed Mr Hein to his dwelling, where he
ushered us through the lowly portal.  The room we entered was small and
poorly furnished, but scrupulously clean.  The thong-bottomed sofa and
chairs were evidently home-made; although rough in point of workmanship
they were strong and comfortable.  The walls were garnished with
illuminated Bible texts and portraits of the Royal Family.  The floor
was of clay; the thatch of the roof could be seen through a gridiron of
rafters.

Mr Hein took the head of the table and played the host to perfection.
We had evidently been expected,--but how information as to our projected
visit could have reached Kuboos, was more than I could fathom.  However,
we sat at the hospitable board and regaled ourselves with excellent
coffee, rye bread and honey.  The members of the family,--two fairly
young men and two middle-aged damsels,--joined us.  Mrs Hein was, alas,
no more.  She had died under a weight of years, so we were informed, a
few months previously.  The sons and daughters were darker in hue than
their father.  They were obviously ill at ease before us, strangers.

The host kept the conversational ball rolling without an effort.
Andries was pathetically puzzled; the situation had got beyond him.  He
was as prejudiced on the Colour Question as are most colonists; in the
abstract he hated the idea of sitting at table with coloured people.
But on this occasion he felt himself to be completely outclassed in the
items of manners and culture; consequently he became acutely
embarrassed.  However, he appreciated the coffee (he told me afterwards
that his own wife, who had a wide reputation as a coffee-maker, could
not have made it better) and the bread and honey were delicious.

Of whom was it that Mr Hein reminded me?  His personality set some
familiar chord vibrating.  Was it--yes, it was--Parson Primrose; it was
he and none other.  I tried to extend the parallel.  Either of the sons
might, at a pitch, have passed for Moses.  George?  Well,--hardly.
Olivia and Sophia?--Oh, well--hm--that was another matter.  But at all
events there was the dear old Vicar, reincarnated under a yellow skin,
in that citadel of loneliness that had a hundred-mile fosse of desert
sand and a rampart of all-but-impassible mountains,--that most remote
corner of the habitable world.  Chamisso was right:--

"Alle menschen sind einander gleich."

Next morning I met the "Raad," and we discussed the matter of the
flogging.  That Raad was a quaint assemblage; surely the most peculiar
parliament on earth.  It was composed of elderly men, all of a more or
less monkeylike physiognomy.  Mr Hein took the chair and filled it with
the utmost dignity.  The members were restrained in manner, temperate in
discussion and logical in all they said.  Their delivery was pleasing,
the rules of debate were strictly observed.  Several of the speeches
were made in Dutch; those given in the Hottentot tongue were interpreted
into Dutch for my benefit.

The individual who had received the flogging was present.  He was a
young married man with a weak chin, a shifty eye and a voluble tongue.
His face possessed a certain measure of meretricious good-looks,
evidently he was a lady-killer; one of the cheaper varieties of that
species.  He, an officer of the church, had committed an offence against
the moral law.  The partner in his guilt was present, looking
sufficiently woe-begone.  She did not possess the fatal gift of
beauty,--at all events according to Caucasian standards.  The injured
spouse, attired in a goatskin robe, was present and wept softly at
intervals throughout the proceedings.  She was distinctly less uncomely
than the erring sister.

The Raad had dealt with the case and sentenced the culprit, who had
admitted his guilt, to receive three dozen with a "strop," which were
immediately and energetically inflicted.  The punishment, although
illegal, had been richly deserved.  I considered that the Raad had acted
with propriety,--but it was necessary to be guarded in what I said.  If
the principle involved had been given formal official sanction, it might
have been logically applied to more serious cases,--those, for instance,
in which capital punishment would have been due.  If, at some future
time, the Vicar under my implied authority had erected a gallows and
engaged the services of a Lord High Executioner, it would have been
awkward, to say the least of it.

Accordingly I temporised.  Lothario of the shifty eye was informed that
his case would be duly considered at head-quarters.  So it would,--by
the moths inhabiting the pigeonholes of the Record Office in Cape Town.
Nevertheless I should have to deal cunningly with this episode so as to
avoid raising a humanitarian howl.  However, I meant, so far as I could
to support the authority of the Raad.  The result of discrediting that
would have been to loosen the bonds of the moral law,--to hand the
Richtersveld over to be exploited by the violent and lawless.  This Raad
interested me extremely; it was so wise and so conscientious.  The
Colonial Parliament might really have learnt quite a lot of useful
things from it.

We are a curious people.  The solicitude we are apt to evince for the
posterior of a blackguard is really marvellous--considering how little
we have for the victims of an industrial system under which hundreds of
thousands of men, women and children are leading lives of the most
degrading slavery.  We see, with complacency, whole generations growing
stunted and vacant-eyed under stress of their bitter lot; we know--or
should know, for we have been told it often enough--that one of the
pillars in the edifice of our commercial prosperity is the sweated woman
in the garret,--old, haggard and hopeless at thirty.  She stitches or
pastes for fourteen hours a day in the blind, numbing effort to keep her
blighted soul in her stunted body, and we complacently draw the
dividends her long-drawn torture helps to swell.  But we forget it is
that woman's grandchildren who may have to defend ours from the Huns.

Yes,--a fatal habit of acquiescing in demoralising conditions permits us
to look on at, without attempting to prevent, the slow, relentless
murder of a race.  But the blackguard's back--that is something sacred;
the mere idea of its being defiled by the richly deserved lash fills us
with horror.  The divine force of indignation which is in the heart of
every man,--a holy thing when used for the right purpose--is thus
wasted, dissipated--fired off at a straw dummy held aloft, as it were,
by Commercialism for the purpose of drawing our attention from its own
foul works.

And if we came to honestly examine our own feelings on the subject we
should find that it was not so much the blackguard who was in question
as our own morbid sensibility.  We--that is the ones who live on the
labour of others,--the small minority who, feasting on the deck of the
ship of western civilisation which is being steered straight for the
abyss--have sunk into what Schiller called "_der weichlichen Schoss der
Verfeinerung_" our hyperaesthesia has grown so morbid that every stripe
we see administered raises a weal on ourselves.  This is a condition
perilously near that in which the contemplation of suffering becomes the
sole channel of pleasure, for morbid sensibility and cruelty have
usually hobnobbed at the same inn.  It is the healthy man who does not
shrink from either enduring or inflicting necessary pain.

The Raad was dissolved--dismissed with my blessing which, however, I
felt constrained to express in more or less guarded terms.  I regarded
that body with deep and sincere admiration.  It might be of incalculable
benefit to the British Empire if the speakers of the respective
parliaments of the self-governing Colonies, led by the speaker of the
House of Commons, were to visit the Richtersveld and sit on that arid
hillside listening to the Raad's deliberations.  I should be prepared
personally to conduct the tour.

With the Vicar's kind assistance I proceeded with the necessary
preparations for my gold-seeking adventure.  He lent me some carpenter's
tools, and I soon altered a small gin-case I had brought into a very
fair imitation of a gold-digger's cradle.  The next step was to hire two
pack-oxen and secure the services of a few labourers.  On the following
morning we would start for the supposed El Dorado.  In the meantime I
again called on my interesting friend the Vicar, drank some more of his
excellent coffee, and, after contributing according to my means towards
the building fund of the unfinished church, bade my host a cordial
farewell.

It was a quaint caravan which next morning scarped the north-eastern
shoulder of the T'Oums Mountain, in search of El Dorado.  The guide--a
little, wizened creature, certainly more than half Bushman--and I, led
the procession.  Next came the pack-oxen, conducted by their respective
owners, but generally under Hendrick's charge.  The loads were
miscellaneous in character, but not heavy.  They comprised my bedding,
provisions, delving tools and receptacles for such reptiles, insects and
plants as we might find it worth while to collect.  From the top of one
load the handle of the cradle pointed towards heaven--or rather it would
have had it not swayed so much from the gait of the ox.  I wished for a
small flag to attach to it.  Next came a mixed crowd, about twenty in
number.  These were mere camp followers, but they insisted on
accompanying me.  They included men, women and children.  Among the
latter were two ape-like babies, slung on their mothers' backs.
Andries, for the time, had remained behind with the wagon.

The track was unexpectedly good; much better in fact than the one over
which we had travelled before reaching Kuboos.  To the left, in the
direction of the Orange River, the scenery was comparatively tame,--that
is to say it looked as though one might pass over the country without
inevitably breaking one's neck.  But to the right lay chaos, confused
and titanic.  The strata were completely inverted--in some instances
almost turned upside down.  But the general suggestion was as though
several miles of the earth's surface-crust had been placed on end.  The
soft layers had disappeared; the hard remained standing.  Alternate deep
chasms and jutting, mountainous buttresses of rock were the consequence.

That sickle-bend must have been the result of a tremendous cosmic
upheaval--an earth-throe which flung aside like a wisp the from thirty
to forty miles of double mountains bounding the then-steep river gorge.
A good deal of the former surface of the bend had disappeared.  Then the
river, no longer a captive in adamant bonds (as it still is farther
inland) doubtless took advantage of the unstable conditions brought
about by the cataclysm, laid hands on the shattered earth-ribs and
hurled them, piecemeal, from its path.  So that there, although the
mountains were even loftier than those farther to the eastward, they did
not press upon the river as though trying to strangle it.

So far as I could make out El Dorado was about twenty miles from Kuboos.
As we proceeded the track improved.  The guide now calmly informed me
that we had passed the worst of it.  Therefore all the trouble and
expense of hiring the pack-oxen and their owners was unnecessary.  Here
evaporated another illusion; these people had developed business
instincts; the serpent of guile had found its way even to the
Richtersveld paradise.  I scribbled a note asking Andries to follow on
our spoor with the wagon.  This note I sent back by one of the camp
followers.

It was fairly late in the afternoon when we reached our destination.
The guide pointed out to me the exact spot where the nugget was alleged
to have been picked up.  It was on the side of a little gully which
scarred the terraced bank of the dry T'Cuidabees River.  The bedrock was
of soft shale; it almost protruded from the surface, so sparse was the
covering soil.  There was no such thing as "wash" in the ordinary sense,
but merely earth to the depth of a few inches, with which a good many
angular quartz pebbles were mixed.  I had once found gold, in an almost
exactly similar formation, at a spot in the north-eastern Transvaal.

But how to test the ground; that was the question.  My principal object
in sending for the wagon was the conveyance of a few loads of gravel to
the nearest water,--wherever that might be.  In the meantime I set a
party of my followers to work loosening the soil and picking out the
stones.  By the time darkness set in we had as much "wash" ready as we
would be able to deal with.

The Trek-Boers used to say that rain always followed me to Bushmanland.
It had apparently followed me to the Richtersveld, for as we sat at the
camp fire a menacing black cloud climbed into and filled the northern
sky over the mountains of Great Namaqualand; every few seconds it was
illuminated by fantastic lightning explosions.  As the cloud drew nearer
the thunder began to speak.  Soon a black fog rolled down on us and a
veritable thunderstorm set in.  For upwards of an hour the rain fell
heavily.  We got wet through, but I was much consoled in the discomfort
by information from the Hottentots to the effect that there was a deep
hole some few hundred yards down the river-course, which held water for
several days after the rare occasions upon which rain fell.  Soon the
storm had passed away, so we built up a huge fire and got our clothes
more or less dried.  Then to sleep.

In the morning the cradle was conveyed down the valley to where the
water was supposed to be.  Sure enough, the hole was as described; we
found it full to the brim of muddy water.  Although only a few feet in
width it was deep.  Probably it held four hundred gallons.  Work was
started at once,--all my followers, male as well as female, carrying
down the loosened gravel in their skin garments which, to my
embarrassment, they discarded (as clothing) for the occasion.  The
cradle stood at the side of the pool, so that the water, after it had
passed through the sieve and over the trays, could run back.  One of the
men lifted the water in a bucket and poured it slowly into the top of
the cradle, while I rocked.  After running through the equivalent of a
few barrow-loads I removed the top tray and examined what lay behind the
lip.  Yes, veritably--there were a few tiny specks of gold.

This was what gold-diggers call "a pay prospect," for the gold was rough
and not water-worn.  It was quite evident that this gold had never been
under the influence of water at all, but had lain _in situ_ where the
decomposing matrix had deposited it.  I kept the cradle going until the
water in the pool had the consistency of pea-soup; then I perforce
stopped.  The result was a nice little "prospect" of some seven or eight
pennyweights.  This was distinctly a payable proposition--or rather it
would have been had permanent water existed in the vicinity.

Andries arrived with the wagon at about midday; he was much impressed by
the find.  Then we began an examination of the surrounding country,
taking small quantities of "wash" here and there from likely-looking
spots.  These were sent back to the water-hole with instructions that
the various lots were to be kept separate.  When the liquid had cleared
a little I recommenced cradling.  However, except in one instance, I did
not find a single "colour."  The exception was in respect of a parcel of
"wash" taken from the margin of the dry bed of the river.  This was
found to contain a small speck,--one most likely washed down from the
terrace where we had worked in the first instance.  However, the
existence of a practically payable gold-field in that vicinity was
inconceivable, in view of the almost unmitigated aridity.

The country had the appearance of being highly mineralised; quartz reefs
ran like white threads in every direction.  Copper-carbonate stains were
to be seen on many of the rock-ledges and I was able to trace a narrow
vein of galena for a considerable distance.  A systematic examination of
the geological formation of that region would have been of great
interest.

There was little or no animal life, and what little existed did not add
to one's comfort.  While the sun was shining existence was made a
burthen by a blue fly which continually fed on one; it was about the
size of a horse-fly.  The bite, not felt at the time, was followed by a
flow of blood and afterwards caused considerable irritation.  We killed
several poisonous snakes.  The only antelopes we saw were klipspringers,
but they were too far off to shoot, and our time was too limited to
admit of our pursuing them.

Mr Hein had told me that there was a small troop of zebras to be found
high up on the T'Oums Mountain.  The mountain zebra is the wariest
animal alive; it never lies down, but sleeps in a standing posture, with
the muzzle resting on a stone.

I spent another day prospecting in the vicinity but could find no more
gold.  When, in the evening, we were sitting at the camp fire, an idea
struck me.  I then determined to take some food, a kaross, the guns and
the collecting plant, and pay a flying visit to the area contained
within the sickle-bend.  With Hendrick and a couple of bearers I should
be able to cover twenty miles a day.  My plan was to strike north-east
across the veld until I reached the river; then to follow, so far as
possible, the course of the latter down to Arris, beyond Kuboos.
Andries was to take the wagon back to Kuboos and thence to Arris, where
he would wait for me.  My journey, if I put my best foot forward, should
not consume more than three days, and it would take Andries fully two by
the more direct route.

I could but ill afford the time, but really all that was involved was
the loss of one day.  In all probability I should never have another
opportunity of exploring the Richtersveld.

Andries grumbled at first, but eventually gave in.  I reminded him that
he might fill in his day of waiting by taking a walk from Arris to the
mouth of the Orange River.  An inspection of our stores shewed that we
were still fairly well off.  So Hendrick was sent to the scherms of our
followers to call for volunteers--men who knew the country well--who
would act as guides as well as carry our baggage.

My only regret was that I should lose the opportunity of bidding
farewell to my excellent friend the Vicar.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

EXPEDITION TO THE RIVER--FLORA AND FAUNA--THE PNEUMORAS--ABNORMAL
SPRINGBUCK--THE SEA-FOG--WILD HORSES--FAUNA AND BIMINI.

In the grey dawn I arose and resumed preparations for the expedition.
When, after breakfast, I sent word to the scherms that I wished the
guides to report themselves for duty, I was both flattered and
embarrassed to find that every man, woman and child of my camp following
was not only willing, but apparently determined to join my colours.  The
previous day had seen a considerable increase to the contingent, which
now included two members of the Raad.  The number was alarming; nearly
twenty-five per cent, of the estimated population of the Richtersveld
must have been in the vicinity of the camp.  The fame of my liberality
had gone forth; I had distributed some tobacco among the adults and with
a few dates had gladdened the hearts of the children.  But I could not
afford to bestow largesse upon the crowd which at my call eagerly stood
forth.

It was a strange gathering.  The people reminded me of gnomes, so ugly
were they--and their personal uncleanliness I fear corresponded with
their looks.  Yet I found them lovable, because they were natural,
ingenuous and unspoilt.  There was not a pair of breeches nor a
petticoat among the lot; men and women were dressed either in brayed
skins or ancient gunny-bags.  The children were hardly dressed at all.

I think it was the feeling that I was honoured and appreciated far above
my deserts by those people that caused me to like them so much.  They
looked upon me as a powerful and beneficent being of fabulous
resources,--just because I had treated them with common fairness and
given away a few pounds of cheap tobacco and some handfuls of dates.

One thing was clear: my influence was increasing; every hour fresh
arrivals testified to the growth of my fame.  I felt almost sure I could
organise a successful revolution in the Richtersveld, attack Kuboos and
sack it, depose Mr Hein, and reign in his stead.  However, I at once
put the temptation behind me.  I had eaten the Vicar's honey and drunk
his coffee; therefore, I would not rob him of his crown and kingdom.
Besides,--who knew but that when my supply of tobacco and dates ran out,
my popularity might not wane?

The immediate question as to who was to accompany me was a delicate one.
Hendrick, of course, was chief of my staff.  I only required two
others, but ten--of whom four were women--clamoured insistently for
enlistment, declaring that Hendrick had, the previous night, contracted
with them individually and collectively for the intended trip.  I
explained the inadequacy of my reserve of food; I laid stress on the
local scarcity of game.  I was informed that at that time of year
"veld-kost," the uncultivated produce of Nature's vegetable garden, was
plentiful, and that monkeys abounded in the river forest.  In despair I
called up the two members of the Raad and begged of them to arbitrate.
These men were diplomatists; they were accustomed to dealing with
important questions.

A violent disputation followed; in the course of it the clicks of the
Hottentot tongue flew about like fire-crackers.  Eventually a most
preposterous award was given.  Five Richtersvelders--three men and two
women--were to be enrolled as my corps of guides.  One of the women was
old; she might have passed for a revised edition of the Witch of Endor.
However, she looked wiry.  The other was young--not more than thirty.
Was she married?  Yes.  Where was her husband?  There he sat, with
downcast visage, among the rejected.  Then I would not take her.  The
lady was neither well-favoured nor savoury; nevertheless I had my
character to consider, and the punishment locally prescribed for the
abduction of a married woman--even with her husband's consent--might
have been three dozen with a strop.

But the members of the Raad had selected her.  She threw the tanned skin
over her head and wailed.  Beauty in distress prevailed; but her husband
also had to be included in the contingent.  The two ladies had names,
but such were difficult to remember and almost impossible to pronounce,
so I decided to substitute for them, respectively, Fauna and Flora.  The
special work of these insistent females was to be the collection of
natural history specimens.

Very early that morning I sent some of the children out to look for
reptiles, insects and miscellaneous small deer.  It was principally
beetles and lizards they brought back.  None were very rare.  _Julodis
Gariepina_, a beetle somewhat resembling a green and yellow
bottle-brush, I was glad to add to my stock for distribution.  Of this
there were a number of specimens.  But one of the boys had brought three
examples of an Orthopterous insect,--a _pneumora_, which was new to me.
The _pneumora_ is a large, green, bladder-like creature, whose whole
body has been converted into a musical instrument; there is, in fact, a
complete key-board on each flank.  Using its trochanter as a plectrum,
this insect makes weird music, which can be heard at a considerable
distance.  The youngster who had brought these quaint creatures
received, in addition to the ordinary currency of dates, a special
reward of three pence.  The nearest shop where these could be spent was
at Port Nolloth, upwards of a hundred miles away.  This reckless
liberality on my part was fraught with seriously embarrassing
consequences.  The _pneumora_ is colloquially known as the "ghoonya."

At length we made a start.  Andries was so amused at the details of my
caravan that he almost became apoplectic.  I felt sure that the regard
my old friend had for me was often mitigated by doubts as to my sanity.
The outlook of Andries was limited; however, he possessed the saving
grace of a sense of humour.

Our course lay along the western side of the long, diminishing spur
which almost connects the T'Oums range with the river, its
compass-bearing being north-east by north.  Fauna, the elder of the two
ladies, was ordered to devote her attention to collecting zoological
specimens.  She was given a strong metal receptacle half filled with
methylated spirits in which corrosive sublimate had been dissolved.  In
this she had to souse her trove of lizards, scorpions, centipedes and
such snakes as were not too large.  She also carried a cyanide bottle in
which to immolate beetles and other insects.  Flora was entrusted with a
portfolio and directed to gather botanical specimens.  She wandered far
afield, gleaning the arid pastures.  Fauna begged hard for permission to
accompany her, but this I sternly refused.  I was positive that--in
spite of my solemn warnings on the subject--as soon as these women had
got out of sight they would have drunk the poisoned spirit.  If this had
happened, the Raad might have hanged me.  I realised what a dangerous
precedent I had established in tacitly approving of the punishment
inflicted on Lothario.  Whilst Fauna carried that tank, she should not
stir from my side.

We passed over some broken country and then reached a more or less level
plateau, which seemed to extend almost to the river.  Anon we crossed
the ancient bed of what had once been a tributary river.  It was as dry
as the Bone-Valley of Ezekiel.  Yet undoubtedly water had flowed
therein, continuously, and that not so very long before.  The course was
full of deep, water-rounded drift.  It was this kind of thing that
brought home to one the circumstance that a great change in the
direction of aridity must have taken place in South Africa within a
comparatively short period.  It was clear that not long previously this
valley had carried a constantly-flowing stream,--one that took its
source from the great T'Oums range.  The latter, not more than ten miles
away, was now arid as a heap of cinders.

As we approached the river the naked and enormous ramparts of the Great
Namaqualand Mountains came more and more into evidence.  They seemed to
spring sheer from the narrow strip of forest at the water side.  From a
distance the upper strata appeared to be of black basalt.  The purple
mystery which so richly filled their vast chasms was a feast to the eye.

In the middle of the afternoon we reached the river.  It was at
half-flood.  In the mass, the water looked muddy, but one could see the
bottom of a pannikin filled with it, and the taste was delicious.  The
lovely, dark-green fringe of forest--generally continuous on both sides,
but occasionally adorning one only--was soothing to gaze on.  We rested
for a while, and then took our course along the left-hand curve of the
sickle-bend,--thus trending more to the north-westward.  The way was
extremely rough.  When it was practicable to keep close to the river
bank we made good progress, but now and then were obliged to recede for
the purpose of avoiding rocky bluffs.  Then our experiences were
purgatorial, for we had to plunge into and climb out of a succession of
deep, sand-choked clefts.  On the southern bank of the river there was
comparatively little forest.

Just about sundown we reached a wide terrace of stone below a cliff, and
close to the water's edge, so we decided to camp there for the night.
The only game we had seen was a covey of pheasants; of these I managed
to bag three.  I also shot two monkeys in the forest.  I felt like a
murderer in consequence,--but my followers had to be fed.  They had had
little or no opportunity of gathering "veld-kost."

I examined the collections of Flora and Fauna and carefully took
possession of the tank of poisoned spirit.  The spoil did not amount to
very much.  The most interesting item was a locust--very like those
which occasionally over-run the Cape Colony, and do such enormous
damage.  It was, however, clearly a separate species, being larger and
lighter in colour than the much-dreaded migratory insect.

Soon after we halted three boys approached along our trail, each
carrying something with great care.  They drew near, and with an air of
conscious virtue, deposited their offerings at my feet.

One had brought a small, elongated, circular basket made of rushes, with
the top carefully closed.  I opened this and found it full of green,
bladdery ghoonyas.  There were dozens and dozens of them, squirming and
crawling over one another.  The next boy carried a rusty, battered
nail-keg.  This, likewise, contained ghoonyas.  The third boy had
denuded himself of his goatskin and tied a bunch in it, big enough to
hold a moderate plum-pudding.  This, too, was full of ghoonyas--green
and bladdery, alive and squirming.  The situation had got beyond me;
words could not express my over-wrought feelings.

The _pneumoras_--several hundred of them--impatient after their long
confinement and irritated at having been shaken about on the journey,
climbed out of their respective prisons and began crawling about over
the face of the rock, endeavouring to escape.  The three boys, aided by
Flora and Fauna, shepherded them back with twigs plucked for the
occasion.  I searched the remotest fastnesses of memory for a precedent
to guide me, but could find none.  Hendrick and the others looked on
gravely.  Had anyone laughed, murder would most likely have been
committed.  By my direction the shepherding operations were suspended
and the ghoonyas fully restored to liberty.

Obviously, something had to be done.  So as soon as my feelings were
sufficiently under control I called up the interpreter and made a
speech.  I declared with emphasis that I did not want these ghoonyas;
that I had been anxious to secure only a few specimens--half-a-dozen at
most, but that I really and truly did not require or desire any more.
However (and here is where I made a blunder) as that lot of insects had
been collected on my behalf in good faith, I would reward the collectors
to the extent of three pence each, plus a few dates.  The gifts were
joyfully accepted and the boys departed.

My enjoyment of the evening was largely spoilt by tarantulas.  Hundreds
of these, attracted by the light of the fire, came out from among the
rocks and ran fearlessly among us.  However, I managed to relish my
supper of roast pheasant; while my followers indulged in a
semi-cannibalistic repast of barbecued monkey.  Then I lit my pipe, took
my kaross and sought for a suitable couch some distance away.  After
lying down I felt something crawling on my neck; I sprang up, imagining
it to be a tarantula, but it turned out to be only a ghoonya.

Dawn broke deliciously.  The chanting falcons swooped from their
cliff-eyries, and filled the morning with wild music.  A swim in the
swirling current would be a joy.  I gave Hendrick my clothes in a bundle
and sent him with them along the bank to a rocky point about a quarter
of a mile down stream.  I entered the water, swimming carefully while
near the bank, for fear of snags.  The current carried me luxuriously
away.  I emerged at the spot where my clothes were, and returned to camp
for breakfast.  All hands were foraging for "veld-kost" among the
kopjes.  Soon they returned, laden with strange vegetable spoil.

The previous day had been unusually cool, but that morning opened with a
breath from the Kalihari,--the definite and unalterable promise of
severe heat.  This would last until the sea-breeze reached us, late in
the afternoon.  We marched along the river bank, admiring the towering
bluffs that glowed in the sunshine and then allowing our eyes to sink
down and drink refreshment from the delicious greenery of the forest.
We were now well round the eastern section of the bend, and were
travelling almost due west.  More pheasants and monkeys fell to my gun.
An army on the march must levy tribute on the territory it passes
through.

The character of the country somewhat changed as the river curved
southward.  On the northern side of the river the mountains were not
quite so high; on the southern, they now sprang steeply from the river
bed.  Here and there, under the overhanging edges of the higher
terraces, we noticed caves.  A murmur stole up the gorge and waxed as we
advanced.  It came from the steep and tortuous foaming rapids where the
mighty chasm remade itself for a space.  Here the river was as though
flung like a ringlet among the menacing ranges.

But in view of the fact that we had not been able to make quite as much
headway as I had anticipated, I regretfully felt constrained to leave
the vicinity of the river for a time and take a course across some very
rough country behind the south-western bluffs.  We could not get from
the guides an assurance of being able to make our way down through the
tortuous gorge.

We soon reached a large, broken plateau, on which several small flocks
of goats were grazing.  Later, we found some scherms occupied by human
beings.  These rudimentary dwellings consisted of a few bushes piled,
crescent-wise, against the wind.  A rush mat, its position being altered
with the changing hours, afforded shelter from the sun.  Rain falls so
seldom that it is not taken into account in the architecture of the
Richtersveld.  The dwellers in these scherms were of the same
ill-favoured type as my guides.  They were filled with curiosity as to
the object of my expedition.  But curiosity paled in the joy of
receiving a little tobacco.  And I found I could still spare a few dates
for the children.

In one of the scherms was a newly-born baby, a girl.  It weirdly
resembled a hairless, light-yellow monkey.  I made the mother very happy
by presenting her with a shilling and my only pocket-handkerchief,--a
red bandana.  The shilling judiciously invested at compound interest,
might provide the youngster with a dowry.

After a long, monotonous and extremely hot walk, we got beyond the
convoluted gorge and once more began to descend towards the river.  We
now had a view of the level coast desert--or would have had if the
landscape had not been to a great extent shrouded in fog.  The river had
widened and apparently become deeper.  After its plunge into the abyss
at Aughrabies, its struggle for many hundred miles through the depths of
the black, torrid gorge,--it advanced with silent, stately, deliberate
stride to rejoin the ocean--the mother that gave it birth.

The landscape ahead had completely altered its character.  On the
northern side of the river it was still mountainous, but the mountains
had receded somewhat, and they rapidly decreased in height to the
westward.  On the southern side the mountain range came to an abrupt
ending.  Rounded hillocks emerged here and there from the plain which,
as it approached the coast, was carpeted with patches of white,
slowly-drifting fog.  This made the detail difficult to appraise.

We descended the flank of the last really high mountain, intending to
rest just below the lordly gate of the immense labyrinth from which we
had emerged,--from the threshold of which the mist-shrouded plains
extend to the Atlantic.  For when the hot winds of the desert stream
over the cold antarctic current that washes this coast, they draw up
moisture which is blown back landward in the form of vapour.  Herein
lies the explanation of the circumstance that the coast desert is
occasionally, for months at a time, densely shrouded in mist.

There--before the mountain gate--where the wearied water glided away in
thankful silence from the last of the thunderous rapids that vexed its
course,--was one of the favourite resorts of the only remaining school
of sea-cows on that side of Africa, south of the tropical line.  Of all
the myriad hosts of wonderful wild creatures that until lately populated
these desert plains and mountains, only this one school of hippopotami
and a few hundred springbuck survive.  I could hardly hope to find the
sea-cows--at all events while daylight lasted; it would suffice if at
night I might listen to their snorting and blowing--to the rustling in
the reed-brakes as the huge creatures emerged from the water in search
of food.  These sounds would bring back memories of days long past--of
adventures in other pastures of South Africa's rich and varied
wonderland.

Before the sun had set we camped in a sandy hollow, a few hundred yards
from the river's bank.  There were no rocks in the immediate vicinity so
we hoped to escape the usual plague of tarantulas.  After a long,
luxurious swim in the placid river, I returned to examine the
collections of Flora and Fauna.  The latter had been permitted to wander
afield that day.  The number of centipedes, scorpions and miscellaneous
reptiles which had been soused in the poisoned spirit was so great that
I no longer feared her attempting to sample it as a beverage.  The
harvest was more rich and interesting than usual.  Flora had found a
gorgeous stapelia with a more than ordinarily atrocious smell, and Fauna
had captured a beetle infested with a most extraordinary parasite; also
a small, speckled toad--a novelty, I thought--and a scorpion which, when
stretched out, measured eight and a half inches.  Well done, Fauna!

Hendrick had roasted a pheasant to a turn.  I was savagely hungry; just
as I was about to begin eating I noticed some people approaching along
our trail.  These comprised a man, two women and several children.  I
was filled with foreboding.  The strangers approached, each carrying
something with carefulness.  They set offerings before me.  These
consisted of ghoonyas, and nothing else.

What did these people take me for; did they suppose I lived on a ghoonya
diet--that I fed my caravan on ghoonya soup?  Was I to have the
extinction of an innocent species of orthoptera on my already burthened
conscience; or would the result of all this be the adoption of the
ghoonya as the totem of the Richtersveld Tribe?  Those unlucky
threepenny pieces,--my unfortunate enthusiasm over the first specimens--
these seemed to have set the whole of the local population on the
hunting trail for ghoonyas.  Anger gave way to despair.  I spoke a few
words of appeal to Hendrick, seized my fragrant pheasant and hurriedly
made for the open veld.  When I returned, half an hour later, the
ghoonyas and the strangers had disappeared.  I never enquired as to how
Hendrick had disposed of them.

After darkness had fallen I took my kaross and strolled down to the
water's edge.  There I spent some peaceful, contemplative hours waiting
for the sea-cows which, however, did not come.  Then, with a contented
heart I welcomed the touch of the wing of sleep upon my eyelids, and
turned over to compose my tired thews for recuperative repose against
the fatigues of the morrow.

Just before dawn I woke up cold and very damp.  A thick fog had rolled
in with the westerly breeze.  My kaross was soaked through.  So dense
was the vapour that I had to wait, shivering, until it was broad
daylight before attempting to find my way back to the camp.  Even then I
had to bend down and trace, step by step, my spoor of the previous
night.

Hendrick, who brought no blanket, cowered miserably over a few
inadequate embers.  He was wet through.  The fuel collected when we
camped had been all consumed.  The candle-bush--that boon to travellers
in Bushmanland--does not grow in the coast desert.  I roused up the
guides and ordered them out for fatigue duty in the form of collecting
firewood.  They attempted to shift the responsibility to Flora and
Fauna, but I sternly repudiated this.  The men, one and all, had to turn
out.  Flora was young; she could accompany them, but the venerable Fauna
might, if she so desired, stay behind and keep the fading embers alive.
I assigned to her a duty--she had to become a fog-horn for the occasion.
She was ordered to shout at intervals and continuously bang one of our
two tin pannikins on our only tin plate.  This would prevent any members
of the scattered contingent getting lost.  So dense was the fog that
objects were invisible at the distance of a yard.

Soon we had a roaring fire.  As we would reach Arris that afternoon, I
used up all the remaining coffee in a general treat.  Hendrick's
pannikin was the only one available for use in the distribution of the
precious fluid, so after regaling Fauna first and then Flora, the four
men drew lots to determine who was to drink next.  The last man claimed
the grounds as his perquisite.  His claim was disputed, but after
carefully weighing the circumstances, I decided in his favour.

Soon the wind dropped and the mist thinned out.  We made a start and,
after walking for about an hour, reached a camp.  It comprised an
ancient wagon of the wooden-axle type, a mat-house and a small
goat-kraal full of stock.  The establishment belonged to the most
well-to-do man in the Richtersveld.  He was pointed out to me as such
sitting among the members of the Raad.  I then noticed that he wore a
good pair of breeches and an air of prosperity.  This man was the local
representative of Capital.  He was the possessor of a pony--a creature
hardly as big as a middling-sized donkey.

I enquired about game.  Yes, there were springbuck in the vicinity--not
more than two or three miles from the camp, and not far from out of our
course to Arris.  They were said to be comparatively tame.  Probably
they had acquired a contempt for the Richtersveld guns, which, I
fancied, were of an antiquated type.

I hired the pony for the day.  My principal reason for doing this was to
save my boots, which were rapidly wearing out.  Flora, Fauna and Flora's
husband were loaded up with the baggage and sent on to Arris.  Hendrick,
the three remaining guides, the Capitalist owner of the pony and I went
to look for the springbuck.

Our course lay south-west.  The fog had receded but not disappeared; it
hung more or less thickly over the plains before us.  But it lifted and
fell in a most peculiar way; slow undulations, and graceful, deliberate
eddies played along its indefinite fringe.  Soon we noticed game spoor.
Yes,--the Capitalist was right.  But how large the spoor was; it
suggested blesbuck rather than springbuck.

What was that looming through the fog-fringe?  It looked almost as large
as a cow.  But the brown stripe and the lyre-formed horns shewed up
clearly every now and then; the creature was indubitably a springbuck.
It was not more than two hundred yards away.  I supposed it was the
changing drift of vapour that distorted and magnified the animal.
However, I fired and it fell.

When we approached the struggling creature I gazed upon it with
astonishment; it was so immense.  Why, it must have been nearly twice as
large as the springbuck of the desert.  I asked the Capitalist if this
were not an extraordinary specimen.  No, he said, all the bucks in the
vicinity were about as large.  Then I recalled having read in Francis
Galton's book that he shot a springbuck weighing a hundred and sixty
pounds near Walfish Bay.  These Richtersveld bucks,--so the Capitalist
informed me, do not trek.  They must belong to a distinct sub-species,--
the range of which is restricted to the Coast Desert.

As we wandered on towards Arris, the fog-curtain kept ascending and
again settling down.  But it did not lift to any great extent; one could
never see farther than from three to four hundred yards ahead.  I shot
three more bucks; all were of the same type.  One young animal, with
horns not more than a hands-breadth long, which I shot by mistake when
the fog was more than usually thick, was larger than the ordinary buck
of the inland desert.  I presented one of the four bucks to the
Capitalist; he hid it among some bushes, intending to pick it up as he
returned from Arris with the pony.  The other three carcases we took on
with us.  I meant to cut one up and divide it among the guides.  It
would not have done to have left the carcase to be dismembered on the
return journey; these people were so jealous of each other that a fight
would surely have resulted.

We reached Arris late in the afternoon.  I learnt that some people had
been there with ghoonyas, but Fauna so terrified them with a description
of my wrath on the occasion of the last gatherers turning up, that they
fled.  To prevent misunderstanding it had better be explained that Arris
is not a city--not even a hamlet.  It is merely a place where, in
specially favourable seasons, a few of the Richtersvelders sojourn with
their goats.  The locality is usually known by another name; one that is
more realistic than refined.

Andries had rather chafed under the delay.  Not knowing that springbuck
were to be found in the vicinity he undertook the suggested expedition
to the mouth of the Orange River, but turned back on account of the
dense fog.  However, he saw what I should dearly love to have seen: a
troop of those wild horses which roam over that section of the desert.

He had been walking along the river shore about ten miles from here when
the fog partially lifted.  Within about two hundred yards of him he saw
eight shaggy horses with long, flowing manes and tails.  They at once
plunged into the water and swam out to the celebrated islands--that
forest-covered archipelago which there enriches the river's widened
course.  I much regretted having missed that sight.  Descended as they
are from tame animals which escaped from man's control, these horses are
as wild as the oryx.  They have so far evaded capture by invariably
taking to the water when pursued, and seeking refuge in the extensive
island labyrinth.  Long may they continue to do so.

The hour had now arrived for disbanding my corps of guides.  I think I
may truthfully say that we parted with genuine mutual esteem.  The
carcase of one of the springbuck had been dismembered and divided by lot
among the faithful six.  Pay had been distributed; likewise tobacco.  I
delivered a valedictory address.

With evident reluctance these people picked up their portions of meat
and prepared to depart.  Fauna apparently desired to communicate with me
privately; she stood apart and gazed with appeal in her eyes.  I went to
her; she asked in a low, nervous voice--speaking in much-broken Dutch--
if I would not send her some of the medicine made from the reptiles and
insects which had been collected.

At length I caught the drift of her meaning: she thought I was about to
prepare from these ingredients some philtre that would bring back
vanished youth.  Truly, the mind of man is one when the crust of
convention is pierced.  This poor old creature, like Ponce de Leon,
dreamt of Bimini and longed for a return of the thrilling ecstasies of
life's morning.  It cut me to the heart to have to shatter the fabric of
her dream.

We decided to start for home on the following morning.  I was sorry not
to be able to visit the Orange River mouth and its flamingo-haunted
dunes--the Vigita Magna of the old geographers.  Strange, that I should
again have had to miss it when only a few miles away.  But I was really
pressed for time; other duties insistently called me hundreds of miles
thence.  Nevertheless, had it not been for the fog, I would have
expended another day.  But the fog towards the coast was denser than
ever, and there did not appear to be any reasonable likelihood of its
clearing.  So I would forego the barren privilege of being able to say
that I had actually visited Vigita Magna.

Our homeward course lay more to the westward, for we travelled along the
coast until close to Port Nolloth.  We found fresh water at various
spots, trickling out of sand hummocks in the immediate vicinity of the
sea.  We had a comparatively easy journey, for there were no steep,
rocky ridges to cross.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

KAMIEBIES--THE BLOSSOMING WILDERNESS--THE OSTRICH POACHERS--HAIL
STORMS--THE SPRINGBUCK BEHIND THE DUNE--HOW ANDRIES FOUND ME.

Reliable information reached me to the effect that the Half-Breed
ostrich poachers had again been at their nefarious work.  So we decided,
Andries and I, to make a swoop upon the camp which these people had
established in southern Bushmanland.  This camp was in the vicinity of
some wells, the water of which was brackish to such an extent that only
men or animals who had gradually accustomed themselves to its flavour
and properties, could consume it.  Thus the gang of poachers had for a
long time been able to defy us.  After rain, however, the water grew
somewhat less brackish.  On the rare occasions when rain fell heavily,
the proportion of brack decreased so much that the water became, for a
few weeks, more or less fit for ordinary consumption.

The reason was a phenomenal one; the rains had set in a month before
their usual time throughout the western desert and the mountain tract.
It was then the end of March, and rain had been falling, off and on, for
the previous fortnight.  Rarely, indeed, did the drought break before
the middle of April.

There was also news of the springbucks.  The great migration was not due
to take place for months, but word had reached Andries to the effect
that in the desert somewhere to the east of Kamiebies a moderately large
herd had been seen.  If the news were true, that herd must have been the
first wave of an early-coming tide.  Thus we might be able to settle
accounts with the poachers and provide our year's supply of "bultong" in
the course of one expedition.

The annual migration of springbucks across the desert is, I am positive,
an institution of immemorial antiquity.  The reason for it is obvious.
The fawns are born in winter, and it is necessary that at the time the
does should have green food to eat.  But Bushmanland, excepting its
extreme western fringe, is far drier in winter than in summer.  In
winter the feathery plumes of the "toa" crumble away to dust and the
stumps of the tussocks turn jet-black.  Then the plains become
unmitigated desert.

Winter is the season during which rain falls among the mountains lying
between Bushmanland and the coast desert.  Then for a few short weeks
the mountain range covers itself with verdure and flowers.  Therefore
the trek.  However, of late years the mountain tract has been largely
taken up by farmers, so the springbuck, as a rule, invade only its
eastern margin.  The western fringe of the plains usually get a slight
sprinkling from the mountain rains.  The exception happens when the
trek, instead of being distributed over a wide extent, concentrates.
Then the springbuck, in their myriads, over-run hundreds of square miles
of the mountain tract, and clear the face of the country of vegetation
as completely as would a swarm of locusts.

The term "springbuck" is not a satisfying one for this ethereal
creature--this most lovely and graceful of the animals whose home is in
the desert.  The name is too obvious; why not call it what it really is,
a "gazelle?"  But the early Dutch inhabitants of South Africa not alone
lacked imagination, but shewed positive ineptitude in the names they
bestowed on the various wild animals.  Take for instance the term
"gemsbok," as applied to the oryx; what could be more inappropriate?
"Gemsbok" means "Chamois"--and we have in South Africa an antelope which
is a chamois to all intents and purposes, but which is called a
"klipspringer."  Again,--the tall, heavy, sober-tinted desert bustard is
called the "paauw," a word which means "peacock."  However, these names
are so firmly fixed in the South African vocabulary that any endeavour
to change them would be a hopeless task.

We trekked south-east from Silverfontein in the spring-wagon, behind a
team of eight spanking horses.  We slept at Kamiebies, which is an
uncertain water-place a few miles over the edge of the desert and a
short day's journey south of Gamoep.  During the day we rested; in the
night we had to make a dash of some forty miles for our objective.  We
meant to take the poachers by surprise,--to drop on them just at
daybreak, as though from the clouds.  So in the mean time I lazed
through the long, delicious day.

The rains had not alone been earlier and heavier than usual, but they
had fallen throughout an unusually extensive area.  The mountain tract
was ablaze with flowers; even Bushmanland stirred in its aeon-old sleep,
for the skirts of the last rain-cloud had trailed well over its borders,
and the latent life of the waste had leaped, responsive, to the surface.
Now a whole flora that had slept for years in tubers and dry stalks
sent forth blossoms in million-fold rivalry to attract the replete,
drowsy insects.

Here, from a dense, thorny, involuted mass of gnarled, shapeless stems
that must have been many centuries old, arose the delicate, fairy-like
petals of a scented pelargonium.  The corolla was snow-white, except for
a minute, sagittate marking of bright cerise on the lower lip.  If you
had examined ten thousand of these flowers you would not have found one
in which that little mark varied to the extent of the ten-thousandth
part of an inch.  The thought of which that blossom was the
manifestation--the afterthought of which the tiny cerise arrowhead was
the expression--dwelt down in the unlovely labyrinth of the monstrous
stems, and had been adhered to with steady persistence through
successions of long arid-year periods.  It was whispered to the
silk-winged seed from which that hoary patriarch had birth,--perhaps
when Alaric was thundering at the gates of Rome.  And it would be as
unerringly transmitted to blossoms making sweet the breeze in days when
men will hold this generation to be as remote as we hold the dwellers of
the Solutre Cavern.

There swayed a slender heliophila--the modest sunlover who, in the
course of age-long, patient vigils, had drawn down and ensnared the hue
of the desert sky in her petals.  Far and near the plain was starred
with beauty.  The small, inornate, thirst-land butterflies had ventured
out from the hills; they flitted to and fro, lazy and listless.  They
sported with Amaryllis in the sunshine and then tried to flirt
shamelessly with Iris, the shy maiden on the nodding, hair-like stem--
who veiled her visage in sober brown by day, but revealed it, white and
eager to the stars whilst she made the wings of the night-wind faint
with perfume.

An oval shrub attracted one's attention--not through its beauty, but
because it was an object startling and bizarre.  It looked as though
covered with rags of various tints.  This was that criminal among
vegetables--the Roridula.  A close inspection almost filled one with
horror; the plant was like a shambles.  The leaves resembled toothed
traps; in most of them insects were tightly gripped.  After these had
been sucked dry,--drained of blood and of every vestige of bodily
juices, the leaves opened, dropped the mangled and dessicated frames to
the ground and cynically opened their fell jaws for more victims.
Undeterred by the litter of corpses that cumbered the surrounding
ground, other insects crowded in to taste of the viscid juice which the
leaves exuded.  This was the bait tempting to their doom moths,
butterflies, beetles and other minor fauna.  Here was Capitalism playing
on the greed and credulity of the crowd,--gorging on the life-blood of
its hapless dupes,--flourishing and waxing strong amid the ruin of its
countless victims.

My eye was caught by a quivering twig; on it was a chameleon.  The
reptile was nearly nine inches long.  His colour was brown, of a shade
exactly the same as that of the twig.  He moved forward with slow,
hesitating steps; he paced like an amateur on the tight-rope, as though
afraid of falling.  His swivel eye-cases, each with a tiny,
diamond-bright speck in the centre, moved about independently of each
other.  One was focussed on a little green insect waving its antennae on
a leaf six inches in front of him; the other was carefully trained
backwards over his left shoulder at me.  Flick--and his tongue shot out
and in so rapidly that the eye could hardly follow its motion.  But the
insect was no longer on the leaf, and the chameleon was munching
something with solemn enjoyment.  When night fell he would climb to the
top of a strong, dry twig, roll and tuck himself into the shape of a
pear, with his head in the centre of the bulge.  Then he would change
his hue to white and open his mouth, which was bright orange internally.
The night-flying lepidoptera would take him for a white, yellow-centred
flower, and pop in, seeking nectar.  But they would not pop out again.

And the greatest wonder of all,--I bent down to examine a gazania; its
inch-long golden rays expanded like a wheel of perfect symmetry.  Just
where the ray bent over the edge of the green, fleshy cup in which the
myriad florets were nested, was a small, dark spot.  I brought a simple
magnifying glass to bear on this,--and what did I see?  A labyrinthine
crater of many-coloured fire opened.  Curve melted and mingled into
reluctant curve, zone into rainbow zone, until the plummet of vision was
lost in the radiant abyss.  I lifted the flower gently; its texture was
thinner than the thinnest paper; beneath it was the desert sand.  It had
hardly any material thickness, yet infinity lay in its depths.  I sought
for a gazania of another species and found its petals eyed like the
peacock's tail.  Yet another,--it shewed the rose-ardours of dawn
contending with the purple of a sea on whose surface night still
brooded.  Every species had its own colour-scheme--its maze of splendour
more intricate than the labyrinth of King Minos.

Old Mr Von Schlicht of Klipfontein--who had spent most of his life in
Namaqualand, had recently been endeavouring to recall for me details of
the desert journeys of Ecklon and Drege, who did so much for South
African botany.  I ascertained that Ecklon visited Kamiebies.  How his
heart must have leaped when his eyes first gathered in the winter glory
of those mountains.  When he afterwards stood, begging his bread at the
corner of the Heerengracht, Cape Town,--did he ever recall that scene?
Strange world of men that so often lets its noblest, after lives of
heroic toil for the highest and most unselfish ends, die in the gutter--
if it does not more mercifully slay them--and pays tribute of corn, wine
and oil, of jewels and fine raiment, to the company-monger or other
chartered robber adroit enough to squeeze through the meshes of the law.

We inspanned at sunset, and plunged straight into the desert, travelling
slightly to the south of east.  Our objective was lower Pof Adder--which
must not be confounded with the northern Pof Adder beyond Namies.  We
were out of the region of "toa"; the plain was covered with small
shrub,--half of which were soft and succulent and the others hard and
thorny.  There were no intermediate kinds; the desert is a region of
extremes.

In spite of the jolting I managed to get a few hours' sleep.  We
outspanned for an hour at midnight and made coffee.  Now we had some
heavy sand-tracts to cross,--with jolty stretches lying between them.
But we reached the camp of the half-breeds just at dawn, as had been
intended.

They were caught--if not exactly red-handed, yet with ample proof of
their guilt.  In the mat-houses of the suspected men we found boxes and
bags packed full of feathers.  These were of all kinds--from the long
white plumes and the short blacks of the male bird, to the browns of the
hens and chicks.  The culprits pleaded guilty; retributive justice was
forthwith satisfied at the wagon-wheel.

The camp was quite a large one; I should say it contained over sixty
souls, men, women and children included.  These people were all of the
same colour, light-yellow; they even seemed to shew signs of
type-inception.  Lean, sinewy and tough, they were not beautiful either
in form or feature.  In neither sex did the sallow skin give any hint of
blood beneath.  However, anaemic as they were, whatever fluid circulated
in their arteries must have been of good quality, for their capacity for
physical endurance was considerable.

It was the eyes of those half-breeds that were most distinctive.  These
were dusky and deep, with an expression--not exactly furtive; rather
expressive of haunting apprehension.  This was hardly to be wondered at,
for they had ceaselessly to watch for every change in the desert's
pitiless visage--to note each alteration in the moods of earth and sky.
Their lives were spent in answering a succession of riddles propounded
by the terrible sphinx between whose taloned paws they existed as
playthings.

Their dwellings--ordinary mat-houses and ramshackle wagons--as well as
the furniture thereof, indicated that they must have become habituated
to extremes of heat and cold.  They were cleanly in their persons; this
I knew through having vaccinated them all,--from the patriarch to the
youngest baby.  Small-pox at the time was reported to be raging among
the Bondleswartz Tribe, just beyond the Orange River.

But these people can never develop a type that will persist; the desert
they inhabit is too small.  Besides, their sons and daughters are
continually being enticed away to regions with a kinder soil and a less
severe climate.  There they further complicate the South African race
question.  This question will not be confined to South Africa; it will
soon be one of worldwide import, and one that is not necessarily to be
answered in favour of the Caucasian, whose birth-rate statistics read
like Mene Tekel.  I am often inclined to think it would have been better
in the long run had Charles Martel lost the Battle of Tours.  In that
case there would at all events have been no colour question.

But those deep, dusky eyes haunted me.  They were as enigmatic as the
only landscape over which they ranged.  If one could only have stripped
the scales from them, what wonders might they not have seen?
Incalculable potencies might have been in their depths.  Others,
desert-bred, have caught glimpses of eternal verities which prompted
them to utter words that became the hinges of history.  However, up to
the present, there is no sign of a prophet arising in Bushmanland with a
message for a land that sorely needs it.

The half-breeds had heard of the springbuck; a few days previously the
latter were credibly reported to be somewhere about thirty miles to the
northward, near Kat Vley.  And we were assured of the almost incredible
fact that Kat Vley contained water.  That was certainly an _annus
mirabilis_ in the desert.

At midday we took our departure, making for the vicinity where the
springbuck were said to be.  In the afternoon dense clouds rolled up
from the south-westward and a deluge of hail struck us.  Within the
memory of men no similar thing had happened in Bushmanland.  Andries and
I were comfortable enough in the wagon; Hendrick and Piet Noona fixed a
sail to the windward wheels and lit a big candle-bush fire to leeward.
After travelling about twenty miles we had camped for the night, for the
hail-clouds had been rolling up at intervals of about half an hour, and
there appeared to be no likelihood of the weather clearing.  The poor
horses,--they were in for a time of misery!

Morning broke with drifting clouds and a high wind from the south-west.
We inspanned and altered our course slightly to the westward.  The hail
showers had been so heavy that all spoor was obliterated; accordingly we
could not tell whether game was about or not.  The day was bitterly
cold; over and over again the hail showers recurred.  Several times we
got so perished that we halted and lit fires of candle-bush just to thaw
our hands at.  Night fell with a slight improvement in the weather; the
wind dropped and only a thin drizzle was falling.  We camped again and
gave the horses a liberal feed of corn.  They did not appear to suffer
much from the cold.  Such weather was the very last thing one could have
expected.  But surely the sky would be clear on the morrow.

Again a cloudy morning, but the clouds were high and there was no rain.
At last we saw signs of game, for we crossed the spoor of several small
troops of springbuck; these had apparently been making in the direction
of Kamiebies.  Later we found more spoor--that of a really considerable
herd making due westward.

The desert here was not quite so flat as usual; the brown expanse
undulated in long, low ridges running parallel to our course.  These
were often several miles apart and in the spaces between, narrow
sand-dunes, flat-topped and steep, extended indefinitely, east and west.
At about three in the afternoon we again struck spoor.  It was
apparently that of the large herd whose track we had crossed a few hours
previously.  Now it led north-east, straight over the dune about a mile
away on our right--the dune parallel to which we had been travelling for
upwards of an hour.  The spoor was quite fresh; it could not have been
more than half an hour since the herd had passed.

We halted and outspanned.  After the horses had indulged in a roll
Andries and I saddled up.  We rode on the spoor; soon this led us almost
due north, straight to the dune, which it crossed at right angles.  The
herd had evidently been stampeded; it was clear they had been at a run
when they passed.  Their hoofs had struck deep into the wet soil and
there was a distinct series of wide gaps in the dune where the crossing
had been effected.  We dismounted and clambered up the steep sand-slope.
We looked carefully over, being heedful not to reveal ourselves.  The
plain before us lay empty, but about a mile to the right the herd of
springbuck were visible.  It was evidently one of the flying patrols of
the great migratory army and apparently numbered from eight to nine
thousand head.

We remounted and cantered along close to the base of the dune until we
were abreast of the centre of the herd--only the dune separating us from
it.  Here Andries remained, while I rode on for about half a mile
further.  This brought me to a spot just ahead of the foremost of the
game.  It had been agreed that when I reached this spot Andries would
cross the dune and open his attack.  As soon as the herd was on the
move, I would begin mine.

I dismounted, tied old Prince to a shrub, climbed the dune and laid
myself flat on the top.  Just to my left were the springbuck, grazing
quietly and utterly unsuspicious of danger.  They appeared to be all
rams.  This we expected, for most of the rams congregate in separate
herds in the trek season.  Some were grazing within less than two
hundred yards of me.

When Andries' rifle spoke a thrill ran through the multitude.  Looking
to the left I saw the bucks beginning to stream in my direction, but the
impulse had not yet been communicated to those at my end of the herd.
Rythmically the impetus of flight developed towards me.  Now all were on
the move.  I fired and a buck rolled over.  Then I descended from the
dune and ran forward into the plain.

The herd was now streaming past me from the direction in which the knell
of Andries' regular bombardment sounded.  The dense stream bent in its
course before my advance, and for a few minutes took the form of a
crescent at a distance of about four hundred yards.  It was as though I
were firing at a wall.  Once I got my range nearly every bullet thudded.
Soon the last of the stream flowed past, but its course for several
hundred yards was marked by prone white and fawn forms.

Andries was busy collecting his dead at a spot about eight hundred yards
away.  I re-crossed the dune and led Prince over it at a flounder.  Soon
Andries came cantering up, his hands and arms red with the blood of the
slain.  He had killed eight bucks.  I had had better chances and a
longer innings, so my bag was larger, but I did not as yet know to what
extent.

The sun was now almost down; my spoil was scattered over a large area.
It was decided that I should gather up my dead, load the carcases upon
Prince and convey them to where Andries had piled his.  He started off
to fetch the wagon.  The team would now number only six, but the wagon
was light, for the horses had consumed most of the grain.  I loaded up
three carcases and deposited them on the heap formed by those of
Andries.  Another load of three I also fetched.  But night was rapidly
falling so I could only negotiate one more load.  This time I piled up
four.  When I reached the carcases depot there was little or no light.
However, as long as it was possible to see what I was doing, I collected
candle-bushes.  The result, however, was lamentably meagre.

The wagon was only about four miles away--as the crow flies.  But
unfortunately the wagon was not a crow--and goodness only knew how far
westward that wretched dune extended.  However, even if it reached to
Gamoep Andries would have to keep on its southern flank until he rounded
the extremity.  I began to feel miserably cold, for I had no jacket.  To
complete my misery the sky again clouded over and a thin rain commenced
to fall.

I tied old Prince to a bush and removed his saddle.  But means of the
latter I should, at all events, be able to protect my neck and shoulders
from the wet.  Then I sat on the ground among the carcases and piled
them around me; only my head emerged from the mass.  The whole lot,
numbering eighteen, were requisitioned for this unusual service.  The
water trickled in but the dead bucks still retained some heat and for a
time I was fairly comfortable.

But as the hours passed the carcases grew cold and colder; my misery
became acute.  The night was pitch black.  I had enough candle-bush to
make a flare for about half-an-hour, but prudence prompted me to delay
this operation so as to give Andries time to get round the extremity of
the dune--wherever that might be.  I fired my rifle occasionally, but
the wind was blowing steadily and Andries' course was down to windward.

At length, after a seemingly interminable period of wretchedness, I lit
my candle-bush flares one by one.  They blazed brightly and gave out a
certain amount of grateful heat, but soon they came to an end, and I
stole back to my sepulchre among the now stone-cold carcases.

The steady rain trickled down; I was by this time wet through.  I
wondered as to whether I would be able to endure the misery until
morning.  I had quite made up my mind that Andries would not be able to
find me.  The night was too black; there were no hills nor other salient
landmarks to guide him to the spot.  Looking to westward before we
started I could see that the dune was full of forks and branches in that
direction.  I tried to comfort myself with anticipation of the enormous
candle-bush fire I would make as soon as day broke, and the breakfast of
broiled springbuck liver I would consume.  My matches were safe in a
waterproof pouch.  How leaden-footed is time when one is miserable!

An earth-tremor; a telephone-message thrilling along the earth's
sensitive surface--telling of hoofs and wheels in rythmic motion.  Had
the miracle happened?  Yes,--the wagon rolled up and my martyrdom was at
an end.  _Deo gratias_!

But how did Andries manage it?  He heard no shot, he saw none of my
flares.  He could not tell me; as a matter of fact he, himself, did not
know.  His feat could only be explained through some theory of
unconscious cerebration.  Andries was elderly, stout and somewhat
lethargic, he had never read any book but the Bible, and of that there
was quite a lot he did not understand.  But the trackless desert was to
him as familiar as my study was to me, and he had been able to pilot his
wagon-ship straight to that spot--through the inky darkness--with as
little uncertainty as though the sun had been shining.  The experience
of a lifetime would not have taught me to perform that marvel which
Andries did quite as a matter of course.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

L'ENVOI.

My eyes have gazed their last upon the face of the desert.  Although I
love her still,--although the memory of her burning ardour, her splendid
indifference and her wealth of illusive charm is my abiding and most
valued possession, we shall meet no more.  She is not a mistress to be
lightly courted.  As Brunhild slew Siegfried so would the Desert
inevitably slay one who remained her lover after desire had outlasted
strength.  Her lioness-like caresses are not for those whose blood slows
down as it nears the ocean of eternal silence--even as the force and
fury of the Gariep sink to tranquillity when the mighty stream nears the
Atlantic--and extinction.

Good-bye, Andries,--best of comrades.  I have not told of all our
adventures--of how we pursued the springbuck at full gallop across the
trackless plains in your springless, home-made rattletrap, behind four
wild, half-trained horses,--until we were black and blue.  I have not
told of how we were lured by men who desired our death to a spot sixty
miles deep in the waste, and of how we had to struggle back again in the
burning heat because we found the promised water to be brine, and the
edges of the pools containing it thickly caked with salt.  I have not
told of your consistent unselfishness in giving me the best chances in
the matter of shooting, nor of how generously you placed the riches of
your desert lore at my disposal.

The world for us is not the same as it was--even a few years ago, for at
our time of life a very few years make a considerable difference where
physical endurance is concerned.  Although on the verge of middle life
we could still, in the days I have told of, gallop ten miles at a
stretch and hold a rifle straight at the end of the race--we could
endure thirst, hunger and fatigue without wilting.

In the matter of shooting I am, perhaps, like the reformed rake who
coined virtue out of inability further to sin.  Nevertheless, I could no
longer take pleasure in slaughtering the few of Nature's lovely wild
creatures that survive our cruelly scientific machines of precision.  It
is true my eyesight is not quite what it was.  To what extent this
circumstance should be reckoned as a factor towards my abstention, I
will not attempt to say.

We shall soon be old, you and I; in fact it is almost stretching a point
to call ourselves still only middle-aged.  We are just a couple of
ineffective veterans who can only draw comfort from the bank of our
experiences.  _Aber "wir haben geloebt und geliebet_."

Good-bye, Hendrick.  No more will your keen and faithful eyes hold my
vagrant spoor over sand and kanya.  No more shall I see your
bullet-shaped, pepper-corned head with its oblique eyes and gleaming
teeth arising unexpectedly from among the tussocks.  For all I know you
may have saved me from a dreadful death.  I can recall at least one
occasion on which I was positively sure you were wrong in your idea as
to the direction in which the camp lay,--yet the event proved you to be
right.  Had I then been alone, my bones might now be lying white in the
heart of Bushmanland.

And you, Typhon,--I suppose you have awakened to wrath--that your
hunched shoulders have heaved many times since that day on which my awed
eyes beheld your russet mane flung streaming southward on the tempest,--
I suppose your impotent tentacles still strive to gather up the plains
into their blighting grip.

Sometimes, when the firmament is very clear and the fingers of the wind
stray gently through the tresses of the night, I lift my eyes to the
familiar stars and realise that again the sky has gathered the throbbing
desert to its breast and covered Bushmanland with the folds of its
purple mantle.  It is then I unlock my storehouse of dreams and live
once more through vanished days of strenuous effort and nights of
wonderful mystery.

The End.





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