The guide went over to them while we waited, afraid to move lest the noise of our boots on the stones should betray us. After looking round for a bit he pointed to a spot on the bank where he had found the fresh spoor of the tiger, and picking up something there to show to us he came back to our side. It was a little fragment of whitish skin with white hairs on it. There was no doubt about it then: we were on the fresh spoor of the tiger where it had stopped to drink at the pool and probably to lick the scratches made by the trap; and leaving the bed of the stream it had gone through the thick undergrowth up towards the krans. We were not more than a hundred yards from the krans then, and the track taken by the tiger was not at all an inviting one. It was at first merely a narrow tunnel in the undergrowth up the steep hillside, through which we crept in single file with the two dogs a few yards in front; they moved on in the same silent deliberate way, so intent and strung up that they started slightly and instantly looked up in front at the least sound. As the ascent became steeper and more rocky, the undergrowth thinned and we were able to spread out into line once more, threading our way through several roughly-parallel game tracks or natural openings and stooping low to watch the dogs and take our cue from them. We were about fifteen yards from the precipitous face of the krans, and had just worked round a huge boulder into a space fairly free of bush but cumbered with many big rocks and loose stones, when the dogs stopped and stood quivering and bristling all over, moving their heads slowly about with noses well raised and sniffing persistently. There was something now that interested them more than the spoor: they winded the tiger itself, but could not tell where. No one stirred: we stood watching the dogs and snatching glances right and left among the boulders and their a shady creeper-hidden caves and recesses, and as we stood thus, grouped together in breathless silence, an electrifying snarling roar came from the krans above and the spotted body of the tiger shot like a streak out of the black mouth of a cave and across our front into the bush; there was a series of crashing bounds, as though a stone rolled from the mountain were leaping through the jungle; and then absolute silence. We explored the den; but there was nothing of interest in it--no remains of food, no old bones, or other signs of cubs. It seemed to be the retreat of a male tiger--secluded, quiet, and cool. The opening was not visible from any distance, a split-off slab of rock partly hiding it; but when we stood upon the rock platform we found that almost the whole of the horse-shoe bay in the Berg into which we had descended was visible, and it was with a "Wow!" of surprise and mortification that the kraal boys found they could see the kraal itself and their goats and cattle grazing on the slopes and in the valley below. Tigers do not take their kill to their dens unless there are young cubs to be fed; as a rule they feed where they kill, or as near to it as safety permits, and when they have fed their fill they carry off the remainder of the carcase and hide it. Lions, hyenas, and others leave what they cannot eat and return to it for their next feed; but tigers are more provident and more cunning, and--being able to climb trees-- they are very much more difficult to follow or waylay by means of their kill. They are not big fellows, rarely exceeding seven feet from nose to tip of tail and 130 pounds in weight; but they are extraordinarily active and strong, and it is difficult to believe until one has seen the proof of it that they are able to climb the bare trunk of a tree carrying a kill much bigger and heavier than themselves, and hang it safely wedged in some hidden fork out of reach of any other animal. I have repeatedly seen the remains of their victims in the forks of trees; once it was part of a pig, but on the other occasions the remains were of horned animals; the pig was balanced in the fork; the others were hooked in by the heads and horns. A well-known hunter once told me an experience of his illustrating the strength and habits of tigers. He had shot a young giraffe and carried off as much as he could put on his horse, and hid the rest; but when he returned next morning it had disappeared, and the spoor of a full-grown tiger told him why. He followed the drag mark up to the foot of a big tree and found the remains of the carcase, fully 300 pounds in weight, in a fork more than twenty feet from the ground. He left it there as a bait and returned again the following morning on the chance of a shot; but the meat had once more been removed and on following up the spoor he found what was left hidden in another tree some two hundred yards away. It would have been waste of time to follow our tiger--he would be on the watch and on the move for hours; so we gave it up at once, and struck across the spurs for another part of the big arena where pig and bushbuck were known to feed in the mornings. It was slow and difficult work, as the bush was very dense and the ground rough. The place was riddled with game tracks, and we saw spoor of koodoo and eland several times, and tracks innumerable of wild pig, rietbuck, bushbuck, and duiker. But there was more than spoor: a dozen times we heard the crash of startled animals through the reeds or bush only a few yards away without being able to see a thing. We had nearly reached the kloof we were aiming for when we had the good luck to get a bushbuck in a very unexpected way. We had worked our way out of a particularly dense patch of bush and brambles into a corner of the woods and were resting on the mossy ground in the shade of the big trees when the sound of clattering stones a good way off made us start up again and grab our rifles; and presently we saw, outlined against the band of light which marked the edge of the timber, a buck charging down towards us. Three of us fired together, and the buck rolled over within a few yards of where we stood.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
No one had doubted Jess's courage, even when we saw her come back alone: we knew there was something wrong, but in spite of every care and effort we could not find out what it was, and poor old Jess went through the night in suffering, making no sound, but moving from place to place weary and restless, giving long tired quivering sighs, and pawing at her mouth from time to time. In the morning light we again looked her all over carefully, and especially opened her mouth and examined that and her nostrils, but could find nothing to show what was wrong. The puzzle was solved by accident: Ted was sitting on the ground when she came up to him, looking wistfully into his face again with one of the mute appeals for help. "What is it, Jess, old girl?" he said, and reaching out, he caught her head in both hands and drew her towards him; but with a sharp exclamation he instantly let go again, pricked by something, and a drop of blood oozed from one finger-tip. Under Jess's right ear there was a hard sharp point just showing through the skin: we all felt it, and when the skin was forced back we saw it was the tip of a porcupine quill. There was no pulling it out or moving it, however, nor could we for a long time find where it had entered. At last Ted noticed what looked like a tiny narrow strip of bark adhering to the outside of her lower lip, and this turned out to be the broken end of the quill, snapped off close to the flesh; not even the end of the quill was visible--only the little strip that had peeled off in the breaking. Poor old Jess! We had no very grand appliances for surgery, and had to slit her lip down with an ordinary skinning knife. Ted held her between his knees and gripped her head with both hands, while one of us pulled with steel pliers on the broken quill until it came out. The quill had pierced her lower lip, entered the gums beside the front teeth, run all along the jaw and through the flesh behind, coming out just below the ear. It was over seven inches long. She struggled a little under the rough treatment, and there was a protesting whimper when we tugged; but she did not let out one cry under all the pain. We knew then that Jess had done her share in the fight, and guessed that it was she who in her reckless charge had rolled the porcupine over and given Jock his chance. The doctoring of Jess had delayed us considerably, and while we were still busy at it the old chief came up to say that his scouts had returned and reported that there was no tiger to be seen, but that they thought the trap had been sprung. They had not liked to go close up, preferring to observe the spot from a tree some way off. The first question was what to do with Jess. We had no collar or chain, of course, and nothing would induce her to stay behind once Ted started; she would have bitten through ropes and reims in a few minutes, and no kaffir would have faced the job of watching over and checking her. Finally we put her into one of the reed and mud huts, closing the entrance with some raw hides weighted with heavy stones; and off we went. We found the trap sprung and the bait untouched. The spoor was a tiger's, right enough, and we saw where it had circled suspiciously all round before finally entering the little fenced approach which we had built to shepherd it on to the trap. There each footprint was clear, and it appeared that instead of cautiously creeping right up to the bait and stepping on the setting-plate, it had made a pounce at the bait from about ten feet away, releasing the trap by knocking the spring or by touching the plate with the barrel of its body. The tiger had evidently been nipped, but the body was too big for the teeth to close on, and no doubt the spring it gave on feeling the grip underneath set it free with nothing worse than a bad scraping and a tremendous fright. There was plenty of hair and some skin on the teeth of the trap, but very little blood there, and none at all to be found round about. That was almost the worst result we could have had: the tiger was not crippled, nor was it wounded enough to enable us to track it, but must have been so thoroughly alarmed that it would certainly be extremely nervous and suspicious of everything now, and would probably avoid the neighbourhood for some time to come. The trap was clearly of no further use, but after coming so far for the tiger we were not disposed to give up the hunt without another effort. The natives told us it was quite useless to follow it up as it was a real `schelm,' and by that time would be miles away in some inaccessible krans. We determined however to go on, and if we failed to get a trace of the tiger, to put in the day hunting bushbuck or wild pig, both of which were fairly plentiful. We had not gone more than a few hundred yards when an exclamation from one of the boys made us look round, and we saw Jess on the opposite slope coming along full speed after us with her nose to the trail. She had scratched and bitten her way through the reed and mud wall of the hut, scared the wits out of a couple of boys who had tried to head her off, and raced away after us with a pack of kaffir mongrels yelping unnoticed at her heels. She really did not seem much the worse for her wounds, and was--for her--quite demonstrative in her delight at finding us again. In any case there was nothing to be done but to let her come, and we went on once more beating up towards the lair in the black krans with the two dogs in the lead. The guides led us down into the bed of one of the mountain streams, and following this up we were soon in the woods where the big trees meeting overhead made it dark and cool. It was difficult in that light to see anything clearly at first, and the considerable undergrowth of shrub and creepers and the boulders shed from the Berg added to the difficulty and made progress slow. We moved along as much as possible abreast, five or six yards apart, but were often driven by obstacles into the bed of the stream for short distances in order to make headway at all, and although there did not seem to be much chance of finding the tiger at home, we crept along cautiously and noiselessly, talking--when we had to--only in whispers. We were bunched together, preparing to crawl along a rock overhanging a little pool, when the boy in front made a sign and pointed with his assegai to the dogs. They had crossed the stream and were walking—very slowly and abreast--near the water's edge. The rawest of beginners would have needed no explanation. The two stood for a few seconds sniffing at a particular spot and then both together looked steadily upstream: there was another pause and they moved very slowly and carefully forward a yard or so and sniffed again with their noses almost touching. As they did this the hair on their backs and shoulders began to rise until, as they reached the head of the pool, they were bristling like hedgehogs and giving little purring growls.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
The following afternoon we set off with our guns and blankets, a little food for two days, and the tiger-trap; and by nightfall we had reached the foot of the Berg by paths and ways which you might think only a baboon could follow. It was moonlight, and we moved along through the heavily-timbered kloofs in single file behind the shadowy figure of the shrivelled old chief. His years seemed no handicap to him, as with long easy soft-footed strides he went on hour after hour. The air was delightfully cool and sweet with the fresh smells of the woods; the damp carpet of moss and dead leaves dulled the sound of our more blundering steps; now and again through the thick canopy of evergreens we caught glimpses of the moon, and in odd places the light threw stumps or rocks into quaint relief or turned some tall bare trunk into a ghostly sentinel of the forest. We had crossed the last of the many mountain streams and reached open ground when the old chief stopped, and pointing to the face of a high krans--black and threatening in the shadow, as it seemed to overhang us--said that somewhere up there was a cave which was the tiger's home, and it was from this safe refuge that he raided the countryside. The kraal was not far off. From the top of the spur we could look round, as from the pit of some vast coliseum, and see the huge wall of the Berg towering up above and half enclosing us, the whole arena roofed over by the star-spattered sky. The brilliant moonlight picked out every ridge and hill, deepening the velvet black of the shadowed valleys, and on the rise before us there was the twinkling light of a small fire, and the sound of voices came to us, borne on the still night air, so clearly that words picked out here and there were repeated by our boys with grunting comments and chuckles of amusement. We started on again down an easy slope passing through some bush, and at the bottom came on level ground thinly covered with big shady trees and scattered undergrowth. As we walked briskly through the flecked and dappled light and shade, we were startled by the sudden and furious rush of Jess and Jock off the path and away into the scrub on the left; and immediately after there was a grunting noise, a crashing and scrambling, and then one sharp clear yelp of pain from one of the dogs. The old chief ran back behind us, shouting "Ingwa, ingwa!" (Tiger, tiger). We slipped our rifles round and stood facing front, unable to see anything and not knowing what to expect. There were sounds of some sort in the bush--something like a faint scratching, and something like smothered sobbing grunts, but so indistinct as to be more ominous and disquieting than absolute silence. "He has killed the dogs," the old chief said, in a low voice. But as he said it there was a rustle in front, and something came out towards us. The guns were up and levelled, instantly, but dropped again when we saw it was a dog; and Jess came back limping badly and stopping every few paces to shake her head and rub her mouth against her fore-paws. She was in great pain and breathed out faint barely-audible whines from time to time. We waited for minutes, but Jock did not appear; and as the curious sounds still came from the bush we moved forward in open order, very slowly and with infinite caution. As we got closer, scouting each bush and open space, the sounds grew clearer, and suddenly it came to me that it was the noise of a body being dragged and the grunting breathing of a dog. I called sharply to Jock and the sound stopped; and taking a few paces forward then, I saw him in a moonlit space turning round and round on the pivot of his hind legs and swinging or dragging something much bigger than himself. Jim gave a yell and shot past me, plunging his assegai into the object and shouting "Porcupine, porcupine," at the top of his voice. We were all round it in a couple of seconds, but I think the porcupine was as good as dead even before Jim had stabbed it. Jock was still holding on grimly, tugging with all his might and always with the same movement of swinging it round him, or, of himself circling round it--perhaps that is the fairer description, for the porcupine was much the heavier. He had it by the throat where the flesh is bare of quills, and had kept himself out of reach of the terrible spikes by pulling away all the time, just as he had done with the duiker and other buck to avoid their hind feet. This encounter with the porcupine gave us a better chance of getting the tiger than we ever expected--too good a chance to be neglected; so we cut the animal up and used the worthless parts to bait the big tiger-trap, having first dragged them across the veld for a good distance each way to leave a blood spoor which would lead the tiger up to the trap. This, with the quantity of blood spread about in the fight, lying right in the track of his usual prowling ought to attract his attention, we thought; and we fastened the trap to a big tree, making an avenue of bushes up to the bait so that he would have to walk right over the trap hidden under the dead leaves, in order to get at the bait. We hoped that, if it failed to hold, it would at least wound him badly enough to enable us to follow him up in the morning. In the bright light of the fire that night, as Jock lay beside me having his share of the porcupine steaks, I noticed something curious about his chest, and on looking closer found the whole of his white `shirt front' speckled with dots of blood; he had been pricked in dozens of places, and it was clear that it had been no walk-over for him; he must have had a pretty rough handling before he got the porcupine on the swing. He was none the worse, however, and was the picture of contentment as he lay beside me in the ring facing the fire. But Jess was a puzzle. From the time that she had come hobbling back to us, carrying her one foot in the air and stopping to rub her mouth on her paws, we had been trying to find out what was the matter. The foot trouble was clear enough, for there was a quill fifteen inches long and as stiff and thick as a lead pencil still piercing the ball of her foot, with the needle-like point sticking out between her toes. Fortunately it had not been driven far through and the hole was small, so that once it was drawn and the foot bandaged she got along fairly well. It was not the foot that was troubling her; all through the evening she kept repeating the movement of her head, either rubbing it on her front legs or wiping her muzzle with the paws, much as a cat does when washing its face. She would not touch food and could not lie still for five minutes; and we could do nothing to help her.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
There is a certain courtesy and a good deal of formality observed amongthe natives which is appreciated by but few of the white men who come in contact with them. One reason for this failure in appreciation is that native courtesy is in its method and expression sometimes just the reverse of what we consider proper; and if actions which seem suggestive of disrespect were judged from the native's standpoint, and according to his code, there would be no misunderstanding. The old man, passing and ignoring the group of boys, came towards us as we sat in the shade for the midday rest, and slowly came to a stand a few yards off, leaning on his long flint-lock quietly taking stock of us each in turn, and waiting for us to inspect him. Then, after three or four minutes of this, he proceeded to salute us separately with "Sakubona, Umlungu!" delivered with measured deliberation at intervals of about a quarter of a minute, each salutation being accompanied by the customary upward movement of the head--their respectful equivalent of our nod or bow. When he had done the round, his two attendants took their turns, and when this was over, and another long pause had served to mark his respect, he drew back a few paces to a spot about half-way between us and where the kaffirs sat, and, tucking his loin skins comfortably under him, squatted down. Ten minutes more elapsed before he allowed his eyes to wander absently round towards the boys and finally to settle on them for a repetition of the performance that we had been favoured with. But in this case it was they who led off with the "Sakubona, Umganaam!" which he acknowledged with the raising of the head and a soft murmur of contented recognition, "A-he." Once more there was silence for a spell, while he waited to be questioned in the customary manner and to give an account of himself, before it would be courteous or proper to introduce the subject of his visit. It was Jim's voice that broke the silence--clear and imperative, as usual, but not uncivil. It always was Jim who cut in, as those do who are naturally impatient of delays and formalities. "Velapi, Umganaam?" (Where do you come from, friend?) he asked, putting the question which is recognised as courteously providing the stranger with an opening to give an account of himself; and he is expected and required to do so to their satisfaction before he in turn can ask all about them, their occupations, homes, destination and master, and his occupation, purpose and possessions. The talk went round in low exchanges until at last the old man moved closer and joined the circle; and then the other voices dropped out, only to be heard once in a while in some brief question or that briefest of all comments--the kaffir click and "Ow!" It may mean anything, according to the tone, but it was clearly sympathetic on that occasion. The old man's voice went on monotonously in a low-pitched impassive tone; but the boys hung intent on every word to the end. Then one or two questions, briefly answered in the same tone of detached philosophic indifference, brought their talk to a close. The old fellow tapped his carved wood snuff-box with the carefully-preserved long yellowish nail of one forefinger, and pouring some snuff into the palm of his hand, drew it into each nostril in turn with long luxurious sniffs; and then, resting his arms on his knees, he relapsed into complete silence. We called the boys to start work again, and they came away, as is their custom, without a word or look towards the man whose story had held them for the last half-hour. Nor did he speak or stir, but sat on unmoved, a picture of stoical indifference. But who can say if it be indifference or fatalism or the most astute diplomacy? Among white men opinions differ: I put it down as fatalism. We asked no questions, for we knew it was no accident that had brought the old man our way: he wanted something, and we would learn soon enough what it was. So we waited. As we gathered round the fallen tree to finish the cleaning and slip it down to the track Jim remarked irrelevantly that tigers were `schelms,' and it was his conviction that there were a great many in the kloofs round about. At intervals during the next hour or so he dropped other scraps about tigers and their ways, and how to get at them and what good sport it was, winding up with a short account of how two seasons back an English `Capitaine' had been killed by one only a few miles away. Jim was no diplomatist: he had tiger on the brain, and showed it; so when I asked him bluntly what the old man had been talking about, the whole story came out. There was a tiger--it was of course the biggest ever seen--which had been preying on the old chief's kraal for the last six months: dogs, goats and kaffir sheep innumerable had disappeared, even fowls were not despised; and only two days ago the climax had been reached when, in the cool of the afternoon and in defiance of the yelling herd boy, it had slipped into the herd at the drinking-place and carried off a calf--a heifer-calf too! The old man was poor: the tiger had nearly ruined him; and he had come up to see if we, "who were great hunters," would come down and kill the thief, or at least lend him a tiger-trap, as he could not afford to buy one. In the evening when we returned to camp we found the old fellow there, and heard the story told with the same patient resignation or stoical indifference with which he had told it to the boys; and, if there was something inscrutable in the smoky eyes that might have hidden a more calculating spirit, it did not trouble us--the tiger was what we wanted; the chance seemed good enough; and we decided to go. Tigers--as they are almost invariably called, but properly, leopards--were plentiful enough and were often to be heard at night in the kloofs below; but they are extremely wary animals and in the inhabited parts rarely move about by day; however, the marauding habits and the audacity of this fellow were full of promise.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
To see them side by side was enough: every line in his golden brindled coat had its counterpart in her dull markings; his jaw was hers, with a difference, every whit as determined but without the savage look; his eyes were hers--brown to black as the moods changed--yet not fretful and cross, but serenely observant, when quiet, and black, hot and angry, like hers, when roused--yet without the look of relentless cruelty; his ears were hers--and yet how different, not shifting, flickering and ever on the move, nor flattened back with the look of most uncertain temper, but sure in their movements and faithful reflectors of more sober moods and more balanced temper, and so often cocked--one full and one half-- with a look of genuinely friendly interest which, when he put his head on one side, seemed to change in a curiously comical way into an expression of quiet amusement. The work kept us close to camp and we gave no thought to shooting; yet Jess and Jock had some good sport together. We gave them courses for breathers after Oribi in the open, but these fleetest of little antelopes left them out of sight in very few minutes. Bushbuck too were plentiful enough, but so wily in keeping to the dark woods and deep kloofs that unless we organised a drive the only chance one got was to stalk them in the early morning as they fed on the fringes of the bush. I often wondered how the dogs would have fared with those desperate fighters that have injured and killed more dogs and more men than any other buck, save perhaps the Sable. Once they caught an ant-bear in the open, and there was a rough-and-tumble; we had no weapons--not even sticks--with us, and the dogs had it all to themselves. The clumsy creature could do nothing with them; his powerful digging claws looked dangerous, but the dogs never gave him a chance; he tried hard to reach his hole, but they caught him as he somersaulted to dodge them, and, one in front and one behind, worried the life out of him. Once they killed a tiger-cat. We heard the rush and the row, and scrambled down through the tangled woods as fast as we could, but they fought on, tumbling and rolling downhill before us, and when we came up to them it was all over and they were tugging and tearing at the lifeless black and white body, Jess at the throat and Jock at the stomach. The cat was as big as either of them and armed with most formidable claws, which it had used to some purpose, for both dogs were torn and bleeding freely in several places. Still they thoroughly enjoyed it and searched the place afresh every time we passed it, as regularly as a boy looks about where he once picked up a sixpence. Then the dainty little klipspringers led them many a crazy dance along the crags and ledges of the mountain face, jumping from rock to rock with the utmost ease and certainty and looking down with calm curiosity at the clumsy scrambling dogs as they vainly tried to follow. The dassies too--watchful, silent and rubber-footed--played hide-and-seek with them in the cracks and crevices; but the dogs had no chance there. Often there were races after baboons. There were thousands of them along the Berg, but except when a few were found in the open, we always called the dogs in. Among a troop of baboons the best of dogs would have no show at all. Ugly, savage and treacherous as they are, they have at least one quality which compels admiration--they stand by each other. If one is attacked or wounded the others will often turn back and help, and they will literally tear a dog to pieces. Even against one full-grown male a dog has little or no chance; for they are very powerful, quick as lightning, and fierce fighters. Their enormous jaws and teeth outmatch a dog's, and with four `hands' to help them the advantage is altogether too great. Their method of fighting is to hold the dog with all four feet and tear pieces out of him with their teeth. We knew the danger well, for there was a fighting baboon at a wayside place not far from us--a savage brute, owned by a still greater savage. It was kept chained up to a pole with its house on the top of the pole; and what the owner considered to be a good joke was to entice dogs up, either to attack the baboon or at least to come sniffing about within reach of it, and then see them worried to death. The excuse was always the same: "Your dog attacked the baboon. I can't help it." Sometimes the dogs were rescued by their owners; but many were killed. To its native cunning this brute added all the tricks that experience had taught, sometimes hiding up in its box to induce the dog to come sniffing close up; sometimes grubbing in the sand for food, pretending not to see the intruder until he was well within reach; sometimes running back in feigned alarm to draw him on. Once it got a grip the baboon threw itself on its side or back and, with all four feet holding the dog off, tore lumps out of the helpless animal. A plucky dog that would try to make a fight of it had no chance; the only hope was to get away, if possible. Not every baboon is a fighter like this, but in almost every troop there will be at least one terrible old fellow, and the biggest, strongest and fiercest always dominate and lead the others; and their hostility and audacity are such that they will loiter behind the retreating troop and face a man on foot or on horseback, slowly and reluctantly giving way, or sometimes moving along abreast, a hostile escort, giving loud roars of defiance and hoarse challenges as though ready on the least provocation or excuse to charge. It is not a pleasant position for an unarmed man, as at the first move or call from the leader the whole troop would come charging down again. It is not actual danger that impresses one, but the uncanny effect of the short defiant roars, the savage half-human look of the repulsive creatures, their still more human methods of facial expression and threatening attitudes, their tactics in encircling their object and using cover to approach and peer out cautiously from behind it, and their evident co-operation and obedience to the leader's directions and example. One day while at work in the woods there came to us a grizzled worn-looking old kaffir, whose head ring of polished black wax attested his dignity as a kehla. He carried an old musket and was attended by two youngsters armed with throwing-sticks and a hunting assegai each. He appeared to be a `somebody' in a small way, and we knew at a glance that he had not come for nothing.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
There is a spot on the edge of the Berg which we made our summer quarters. When September came round and the sun swung higher in the steely blue, blazing down more pitilessly than ever; when the little creeks were running dry and the water-holes became saucers of cracked mud; when the whole country smelt of fine impalpable dust; it was a relief to quit the Bushveld, and even the hunting was given up almost without regret. On the Berg the air was clear and bracing, as well it might be five to seven thousand feet above the sea. The long green sweeps of undulating country were broken by deep gorges where the mountain streams had cut their way through the uptilted outer edge of the big plateau and tumbled in countless waterfalls into the Bushveld below; and behind the rolling downs again stood the remnants of the upper formation--the last tough fragments of those rocks which the miners believed originally held the gold--worn and washed away, inch by inch and ounce by ounce ever since the Deluge. These broken parapets stood up like ruins of giant castles with every layer in their formation visible across their rugged time-worn fronts--lines, in places a few yards only and in others a mile or more in length, laid one upon another as true as any spirit level could set them--and a wealth of colouring over all that, day by day, one thought more wonderful in variety and blend. Grey and black and yellow, white and red and brown, were there; yet all harmonising, all shaded by growths of shrub and creeper, by festoons of moss or brilliant lichen, all weather-stained and softened, all toned, as time and nature do it, to make straight lines and many colours blend into the picturesque. Paradise Camp perched on the very edge of the Berg. Behind us rolled green slopes to the feet of the higher peaks, and in front of us lay the Bushveld. From the broken battlements of the Berg we looked down three thousand feet, and eastward to the sea a hundred and fifty miles away, across the vast panorama. Black densely-timbered kloofs broke the edge of the plateau into a long series of projecting turrets, in some places cutting far in, deep crevices into which the bigger waterfalls plunged and were lost. But the top of the Berg itself was bare of trees: the breeze blew cool and fresh for ever there; the waters trickled and splashed in every little break or tumbled with steady roar down the greater gorges; deep pools, fringed with masses of ferns, smooth as mirrors or flecked with dancing sunlight, were set like brilliants in the silver chain of each little stream; and rocks and pebbles, wonderful in their colours, were magnified and glorified into polished gems by the sparkling water. But Nature has her moods, and it was not always thus at Paradise Camp. When the cold mist-rains, like wet grey fogs, swept over us and for a week blotted out creation, it was neither pleasant nor safe to grope along the edge of the Berg, in search of strayed cattle--wet and cold, unable to see, and checked from time to time by a keener straighter gust that leapt up over the unseen precipice a few yards off. And there was still another mood when the summer rains set in and the storms burst over us, and the lightning stabbed viciously in all directions, and the crackling crash of the thunder seemed as if the very Berg itself must be split and shattered. Then the rivers rose; the roar of waters was all around us; and Paradise Camp was isolated from the rest by floods which no man would lightly face. Paradise Camp stood on the edge of the kloof where the nearest timber grew; Tumbling Waters, where stood the thousand grey sandstone sentinels of strange fantastic shapes, was a couple of miles away facing Black Bluff, the highest point of all, and The Camel, The Wolf, The Sitting Hen and scores more, rough casts in rock by Nature's hand, stood there. Close below us was the Bathing Pool, with its twenty feet of purest water, its three rock-ledge `springboards,' and its banks of moss and canopies of tree-ferns. Further down the stream spread in a thousand pools and rapids over a mile of black bedrock and then poured in one broad sheet over Graskop Falls. And still further down were the Mac Mac Falls, three hundred feet straight drop into the rock-strewn gorge, where the straight walls were draped with staghorn moss, like countless folds of delicate green lace, bespangled by the spray. We were felling and slipping timber for the goldfields then, and it was in these surroundings that the work was done. It was a Sunday morning, and I was lying on my back on a sack-stretcher taking it easy, when Jock gave a growl and trotted out. Presently I heard voices in the next hut and wondered who the visitors were—too lazily content to get up and see; then a cold nose was poked against my cheek and I looked round to see Jess's little eyes and flickering ears within a few inches of my face. For the moment she did not look cross, but as if a faint smile of welcome were flitting across a soured face; then she trotted back to the other hut where Ted was patting Jock and trying to trace a likeness to The Rat. It was a long time since mother and son had been together, and if the difference between them was remarkable, the likeness seemed to me more striking still. Jock had grown up by himself and made himself; he was so different from other dogs that I had forgotten how much he owed to good old Jess; but now that they were once more side by side everything he did and had done recalled the likeness and yet showed the difference between them. Many times as we moved about the camp or worked in the woods they walked or stood together, sometimes sniffing along some spoor and sometimes waiting and watching for us to come up--handsome son and ugly mother. Ugly she might be, with her little fretful hostile eyes and her uncertain ever-moving ears, and silent sour and cross; but stubborn fidelity and reckless courage were hers too; and all the good Jock had in him came from Jess.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
For those who had eyes to see the book lay open: there, as elsewhere; there, as always. Jock, with his courage, fidelity and concentration, held the secrets of success! Jim--dissolute, turbulent and savage-- could yield a lesson too; not a warning only, sometimes a crude but clear example! The work itself was full of test and teaching; the hard abstemious life had its daily lessons in patience and resource, driven home by every variety of means and incident on that unkindly road. And the dumb cattle--in their plodding toil, in their sufferings from drought and over-work, and in their strength and weakness--taught and tested too. There is little food for self-content when all that is best and worst comes out; but there is much food for thought. There was a day at Kruger's Post when everything seemed small beside the figure of one black front ox, who held his ground when all others failed. The waggon had sunk to the bed-plank in gluey turf, and, although the whole load had been taken off, three spans linked together failed to move it. For eight hours that day we tried to dig and pull it out, but forty-four oxen on that soft greasy flat toiled in vain. The long string of bullocks, desperate from failure and bewilderment, swayed in the middle from side to side to seek escape from the flying whips; the unyielding waggon held them at one end, and the front oxen, with their straining fore feet scoring the slippery surface as they were dragged backwards, strove to hold them true at the other. Seven times that day we changed, trying to find a mate who would stand with Zwaartland; but he wore them all down. He broke their hearts and stood it out alone! I looked at the ground afterwards: it was grooved in long parallel lines where the swaying spans had pulled him backwards, with his four feet clawing the ground in the effort to hold them true; but he had never once turned or wavered. And there was a day at Sand River, when we saw a different picture. The waggons were empty, yet as we came up out of the stony drift, Bantom the sulky hung lazily back, dragging on his yoke and throwing the span out of line. Jim curled the big whip round him, without any good effect, and when the span stopped for a breather in the deep narrow road, he lay down and refused to budge. There was no reason in the world for it except the animal's obstinate sulky temper. When the whip—the giraffe-hide thong, doubled into a heavy loop--produced no effect, the boys took the yoke off to see if freedom would tempt the animal to rise! It did. At the first touch of the whip Bantom jumped up and charged them; and then, seeing that there was nothing at all the matter, the boys inspanned him and made a fresh start--not touching him again for fear of another fit of sulks; but at the first call on the team, down he went again. Many are the stories of cruelty to oxen, and I had never understood how human beings could be so fiendishly cruel as to do some of the things that one heard of, such as stabbing, smothering and burning cattle; nor under what circumstances or for what reasons such acts of brutality could be perpetrated; but what I saw that day threw some light on these questions, and, more than anything else, it showed the length to which sulkiness and obstinacy will go, and made me wonder whether the explanation was to be sought in endurance of pain through temper or in sheer incapacity to feel pain at all. This is no defence of such things; it is a bare recital of what took place--the only scene I can recall of what would be regarded as wanton cruelty to oxen; and to that extent it is an explanation, and nothing more! Much greater and real cruelty I have seen done by work and punishment; but it was due to ignorance, impatience, or--on rare occasions--uncontrollable temper; it did not look deliberate and wanton. There were two considerations here which governed the whole case. The first was that as long as the ox lay there it was impossible to move the waggon, and there was no way for the others to pass it; the second, that the ox was free, strong and perfectly well, and all he had to do was to get up and walk. The drivers from the other waggons came up to lend a hand and clear the way so that they might get on; sometimes three were at it together with their double whips; and, before they could be stopped, sticks and stones were used to hammer the animal on the head and horns, along the spine, on the hocks and shins, and wherever he was supposed to have feeling; then he was tied by the horns to the trek-chain, so that the span would drag him bodily; but not once did he make the smallest effort to rise. The road was merely a gutter scoured out by the floods and it was not possible either to drag the animal up the steep sides or to leave him and go on--the waggon would have had to pass over him. And all this time he was outspanned and free to go; but would not stir. Then they did the kaffir trick--doubled the tail and bit it: very few bullocks will stand that, but Bantom never winced. Then they took their clasp knives and used them as spurs--not stabbing to do real injury, but pricking enough to draw blood in the fleshy parts, where it would be most felt: he twitched to the pricks--but nothing more. Then they made a fire close behind him, and as the wood blazed up, the heat seemed unendurable; the smell of singed hair was strong, and the flames, not a foot away, seemed to roast the flesh, and one of the drivers took a brand and pressed the glowing red coal against the inside of the hams; but, beyond a vicious kick at the fire, there was no result. Then they tried to suffocate him, gripping the mouth and nostrils so that he could not breathe; but, when the limit of endurance was reached and even the spectators tightened up with a sense of suffocation, a savage shake of the head always freed it--the brute was too strong for them. Then they raised the head with reims, and with the nose held high poured water down the nostrils, at the same time keeping the mouth firmly closed; but he blew the water all over them and shook himself free again. For the better part of an hour the struggle went on, but there was not the least sign of yielding on Bantom's part, and the string of waiting waggons grew longer, and many others, white men and black, gathered round watching, helping or suggesting. At last some one brought a bucket of water, and into this Bantom's muzzle was thrust as far as it would go, and reims passed through the ears of the bucket were slipped round his horns so that he could not shake himself free at will. We stood back and watched the animal's sides for signs of breathing. For an incredible time he held out; but at last with a sudden plunge he was up; a bubbling muffled bellow came from the bucket; the boys let go the reims; and the terrified animal ridding himself of the bucket after a frantic struggle, stood with legs apart and eyeballs starting from the sockets, shaking like a reed. But nothing that had happened revealed the vicious ingrained obstinacy of the animal's nature so clearly as the last act in the struggle: it stood passive, and apparently beaten, while the boys inspanned it again. But at the first call to the team to start, and without a touch to provoke its temper again, it dropped down once more. Not one of all those looking on would have believed it possible; but there it was! In the most deliberate manner the challenge was again flung down, and the whole fight begun afresh. We felt really desperate: one could think of nothing but to repeat the bucket trick; for it was the only one that had succeeded at all. The bucket had been flung aside on the stones as the ox freed itself, and one of the boys picked it up to fetch more water. But no more was needed: the rattle of the bucket brought Bantom to his feet with a terrified jump, and flinging his whole weight into the yoke, he gave the waggon a heave that started the whole span, and they went out at a run. The drivers had not even picked up their whips: the only incentive applied was the bucket, which the boy--grasping the position at once-- rattled vigorously behind Bantom, doubling his frantic eagerness to get away, amid shouts of encouragement and laughter from the watching group. The trials and lessons of the work came in various shapes and at every turn; and there were many trials where the lesson was not easy to read. It would have taken a good man to handle Bantom, at any time--even in the beginning; but, full-grown, and confirmed in his evil ways, only the butcher could make anything out of him. And only the butcher did!
Monday, May 7, 2012
Every class has its world; each one's world--however small--is a whole world, and therefore a big world; for the little things are magnified and seem big, which is much the same thing: Crusoe's island was a world to him and he got as much satisfaction out of it as Alexander or Napoleon--probably a great deal more. The little world is less complicated than the big, but the factors do not vary; and so it may be that the simpler the calling, the more clearly apparent are the working of principles and the relations of cause and effect. It was so with us. To you, as a beginner, there surely comes a day when things get out of hand and your span, which was a good one when you bought it, goes wrong: the load is not too heavy; the hill not too steep; the work is not beyond them for they have done it all before; but now no power on earth, it seems, will make them face the pull. Some jib and pull back; some bellow and thrust across; some stand out or swerve under the chain; some turn tail to front, half choked by the twisted strops, the worn-out front oxen turn and charge downhill; and all are half frantic with excitement, bewilderment or terror. The constant shouting, the battle with refractory animals, the work with the whip, and the hopeless chaos and failure, have just about done you up; and then some one--who knows-- comes along, and, because you block the way where he would pass and he can see what is wrong, offers to give a hand. Dropping his whip he moves the front oxen to where the foothold is best and a straight pull is possible; then walks up and down the team a couple of times talking to the oxen and getting them into place, using his hand to prod them up without frightening them, until he has the sixteen standing as true as soldiers on parade--their excitement calmed, their confidence won, and their attention given to him. Then, one word of encouragement and one clear call to start, and the sixteen lean forward like one, the wagon lifts and heaves, and out it goes with a rattle and rush. It looks magical in its simplicity; but no lecturer is needed to explain the magic, and if honest with yourself you will turn it over that night, and with a sense of vague discomfort it will all become clear. You may be tempted, under cover of darkness, to find a translation for `watch it' and `stick to it!' more befitting your dignity and aspirations: `observation and reasoning,' `patience and purpose,' will seem better; but probably you will not say so to any one else, for fear of being laughed at. And when the new-found knowledge has risen like yeast, and is ready to froth over in advice to others, certain things will be brought home to you with simple directness: that, sufficient unto the yeast is the loaf it has to make; that, there is only one person who has got to learn from you--yourself; and that, it is better to be still, for if you keep your knowledge to yourself you keep your ignorance from others. A marked span brands the driver. The scored bullock may be a rogue or may be a sulky obstinate brute; but the chances are he is either badly trained or overworked, and the whip only makes matters worse; the beginner cannot judge, and the oxen suffer. Indeed, the beginner may well fail in the task, for there are many and great differences in the temperaments and characters of oxen, just as there are in other animals or in human beings. Once in Mashonaland, when lions broke into a kraal and killed and ate two donkeys out of a mixed lot, the mules were found next day twenty miles away; some of the oxen ran for several miles, and some stopped within a few hundred yards; two men who had been roused by the uproar saw in the moonlight one old bullock stroll out through the gap in the kraal and stop to scratch his back with his horn; and three others were contentedly dozing within ten yards of the half-eaten donkeys when we went to the kraal in the early morning and found out what had happened. There are no two alike! You find them nervous and lethargic, timid and bold, independent and sociable, exceptional and ordinary, willing and sulky, restless and content, staunch and faint-hearted--just like human beings. I can remember some of them now far better than many of the men known then and since:--Achmoed and Bakir, the big after-oxen who carried the disselboom contentedly through the trek and were spared all other work to save them for emergencies; who, at a word, heaved together-- their great backs bent like bows and their giant strength thrown in to hoist the waggon from the deepest hole and up the steepest hill; who were the standby in the worst descents, lying back on their haunches to hold the waggon up when brakes could do no more; and inseparables always--even when outspanned the two old comrades walked together. There was little Zole, contented, sociable and short of wind, looking like a fat boy on a hot day, always in distress. There was Bantom, the big red ox with the white band, lazy and selfish, with an enduring evil obstinacy that was simply incredible. There was Rooiland, the light red, with yellow eyeballs and topped horns, a fierce, wild, unapproachable, unappeasable creature, restless and impatient, always straining to start, always moaning fretfully when delayed, nervous as a young thoroughbred, aloof and unfriendly to man and beast, ever ready to stab or kick even those who handled him daily, wild as a buck, but untouched by whip and uncalled by name; who would work with a straining, tearing impatience that there was no checking, ever ready to outpace the rest, and at the outspan standing out alone, hollow-flanked and panting, eyes and nostrils wide with fierceness and distress, yet always ready to start again--a miracle of intense vitality! And then there was old Zwaartland, the coal-black front ox, and the best of all: the sober steadfast leader of the span, who knew his work by heart and answered with quickened pace to any call of his name; swinging wide at every curve to avoid cutting corners; easing up, yet leading free, at every steep descent, so as neither to rush the incline nor entangle the span; holding his ground, steady as a rock when the big pull came, heedless of how the team swayed and strained--steadfast even when his mate gave in. He stood out from all the rest; the massive horns--like one huge spiral pin passed through his head, eight feet from tip to tip--balancing with easy swing; the clean limbs and small neat feet moving with the quick precision of a buck's tread; and the large grave eyes so soft and clear and deep!
The track he took was merely the scorings made by skidding wagons coming down the mountain; it was so steep and rough there that a pull of ten yards between the spells for breath was all one could hope for; and many were thankful to have done much less. At the second pause, as they were passing us, one of his oxen turned, leaning inwards against the chain, and looked back. Old Charlie remarked quietly, "I thought he would chuck it; only bought him last week. He's got no heart." He walked along the span up to the shirking animal, which continued to glare back at him in a frightened way, and touched it behind with the butt of his long whip-stick to bring it up to the yoke. The ox started forward into place with a jerk, but eased back again slightly as Charlie went back to his place near the after-oxen. Once more the span went on and the shirker got a smart reminder as Charlie gave the call to start, and he warmed it up well as a lesson while they pulled. At the next stop it lay back worse than before. Not one driver in a hundred would have done then what he did: they would have tried other courses first. Charlie dropped his whip quietly and outspanned the ox and its mate, saying to me as I gave him a hand: "When I strike a rotter, I chuck him out before he spoils the others!" in another ten minutes he and his stalwarts had left us behind. Old Charlie knew his oxen--each one of them, their characters and what they could do. I think he loved them too; at any rate, it was his care for them that day--handling them himself instead of leaving it to his boys--that killed him. Other men had other methods. Some are by nature brutal; others, only undiscerning or impatient. Most of them sooner or later realise that they are only harming themselves by ill-treating their own cattle; and that is one--but only the meanest--reason why the white man learns to drive better than the native, who seldom owns the span he drives; the better and bigger reasons belong to the qualities of race and the effects of civilisation. But, with all this, experience is as essential as ever; a beginner has no balanced judgment, and that explains something that I heard an old transport-rider say in the earliest days-- something which I did not understand then, and heard with resentment and a boy's uppish scorn. "The Lord help the beginner's boys and bullocks: starts by pettin', and ends by killin'. Too clever to learn; too young to own up; swearin' and sloggin' all the time; and never sets down to _think_ until the boys are gone and the bullocks done!" I felt hot all over, but had learned enough to keep quiet; besides, the hit was not meant for me, although the tip, I believe, was: the hit was at some one else who had just left us--one who had been given a start before he had gained experience and, naturally, was then busy making a mess of things himself and laying down the law for others. It was when the offender had gone that the old transport-rider took up the general question and finished his observations with a proverb which I had not heard before--perhaps invented it: "Yah!" he said, rising and stretching himself, "there's no rule for a young fool." I did not quite know what he meant, and it seemed safer not to inquire. The driving of bullocks is not an exalted occupation: it is a very humble calling indeed; yet, if one is able to learn, there are things worth learning in that useful school. But it is not good to stay at school all one's life. Brains and character tell there as everywhere; experience only gives them scope; it is not a substitute. The men themselves would not tell you so; they never trouble themselves with introspections and analyses, and if you asked one of them the secret of success, he might tell you "Commonsense and hard work," or curtly give you the maxims `Watch it,' and `Stick to it'--which to him express the whole creed, and to you, I suppose, convey nothing. Among themselves, when the prime topics of loads, rates, grass, water and disease have been disposed of, there is as much interest in talking about their own and each other's oxen as there is in babies at a mothers' meeting. Spans are compared; individual oxen discussed in minute detail; and the reputations of `front oxen,' in pairs or singly, are canvassed as earnestly as the importance of the subject warrants--for, "The front oxen are half the span," they say. The simple fact is that they `talk shop,' and when you hear them discussing the characters and qualities of each individual animal you may be tempted to smile in a superior way, but it will not eventually escape you that they think and observe, and that they study their animals and reason out what to do to make the most of them; and when they preach patience, consistency and purpose, it is the fruit of much experience, and nothing more than what the best of them practise.
The last day of each trip in the Bush veld was always a day of trial and hard work for man and beast. The Berg stood up before us like an impassable barrier. Looked at from below the prospect was despairing-- from above, appalling. There was no road that the eye could follow. Here and there a broad furrowed streak of red soil straight down some steep grass-covered spur was visible: it looked like a mountain timber-slide or the scour of some tropical storm; and that was all one could see of it from below. For perhaps a week the towering bulwarks of the High veld were visible as we toiled along--at first only in occasional hazy glimpses, then daily clearer higher and grander, as the great barrier it was. After many hard treks through the broken foothills, with their rocky sideling slopes and boulder-strewn torrent beds, at last the Berg itself was reached. There, on a flat-topped terrace-like spur where the last outspan was, we took breath, halved our loads, double-spanned, and pulled ourselves together for the last big climb. From there the scoured red streaks stood out revealed as road tracks-- for, made road there was none; from there, lines of whitish rock and loose stones and big boulders, that one had taken for the beds of mountain torrents, stood revealed as bits of `road,' linking up some of the broken sections of the route; but even from there not nearly all the track was visible. The bumpy rumbling and heavy clattering of wagons on the rocky trail, the shouts of drivers and the crack of whips, mixed with confusing echoes from somewhere above, set one puzzling and searching higher still. Then in unexpected places here and there other waggons would be seen against the shadowy mountains, creeping up with infinite labour foot by foot, tacking at all sorts of angles, winding by undetected spur and slope and ridge towards the summit--the long spans of oxen and the bulky loads, dwarfed into miniature by the vast background, looking like snails upon a face of rock. To those who do not know, there is not much difference between spans of oxen; and the driving of them seems merely a matter of brute strength in arm and lung. One span looks like another; and the weird unearthly yells of the drivers, the cracks--like rifle-shots--of the long lashes, and the hum and thud of the more cruel doubled whip, seem to be all that is needed. But it is not so: heart and training in the cattle, skill and judgment in the driver, are needed there; for the Berg is a searching test of man and beast. Some, double-spanned and relieved of half their three-ton loads, will stick for a whole day where the pull is steepest, the road too narrow to swing the spans, and the curves too sharp to let the fifteen couples of bewildered and despairing oxen get a straight pull; whilst others will pass along slowly but steadily and without check, knowing what each beast will do and stand, when to urge and when to ease it, when and where to stop them for a blow, and how to get them all leaning to the yoke, ready and willing for the `heave together' that is essential for restarting a heavy load against such a hill. Patience, understanding, judgment, and decision: those are the qualities it calls for, and here again the white man justifies his claim to lead and rule; for, although they are as ten or twenty to one, there is not a native driver who can compare with the best of the white men. It was on the Berg that I first saw what a really first-class man can do. There were many waggons facing the pass that day; portions of loads, dumped off to ease the pull, dotted the roadside; tangles of disordered maddened spans blocked the way; and fragments of yokes, skeys, strops, and reims, and broken disselbooms, told the talOld Charlie Roberts came along with his two waggons. He was `old' with us--being nearly fifty; he was also stout and in poor health. We buried him at Pilgrim's Rest a week later: the cold, clear air on top of the Berg that night, when he brought the last load up, brought out the fever. It was his last trek. He walked slowly up past us, to "take a squint at things," as he put it, and see if it was possible to get past the stuck waggons; and a little later he started, making three loads of his two and going up with single spans of eighteen oxen each, because the other waggons, stuck in various places on the road, did not give him room to work double-spans. To us it seemed madness to attempt with eighteen oxen a harder task than we and others were essaying with thirty; we would have waited until the road ahead was clear. We were half-way up when we saw old Charlie coming along steadily and without any fuss at all. He had no second driver to help him; he did no shouting; he walked along heavily and with difficulty beside the span, playing the long whip lightly about as he gave the word to go or called quietly to individual oxen by name, but he did not touch them; and when he paused to `blow' them he leaned heavily on his whip-stick to rest himself. We were stopped by some break in the gear and were completely blocking the road when he caught up. Any one else would have waited: he pulled out into the rough sideling track on the slope below, to pass us. Even a good span with a good driver may well come to grief in trying to pass another that is stuck--for the sight and example are demoralising-- but old Charlie did not turn a hair; he went steadily on, giving a brisker call and touching up his oxen here and there with light flicks. They used to say he could kill a fly on a front ox or on the toe of his own boot with the voorslag of his big whip.e of trouble.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
But my chief anxiety was to end the wretched escapade as quickly as possible and get the Shangaans on their way again; so I sent Jim back to his place under the waggon, and told the cook-boy to give him the rest of my coffee and half a cup of sugar to provide him with something else to think of and to calm him down. After a wait of half an hour or so, a head appeared just over the rise, and then another and another, at irregular intervals and at various points: they were scouting very cautiously before venturing back again. I sat in the tent-waggon out of sight and kept quiet, hoping that in a few minutes they would gain confidence, collect their goods, and go their way again. Jim, lying flat under the waggon, was much lower than I was, and--continuing his gabble to the other boys--saw nothing. Unfortunately he looked round just as a scared face peered cautiously over the top of an ant-heap. The temptation was, I suppose, irresistible: he scrambled to his knees with a pretence of starting afresh and let out one ferocious yell that made my hair stand up; and in that second every head bobbed down and the field was deserted once more. If this went on there could be but one ending: the police would be appealed to, Jim arrested, and I should spend days hanging about the courts waiting for a trial from which the noble Jim would probably emerge with three months' hard labour; so I sallied out as my own herald of peace. But the position was more difficult than it looked: as soon as the Shangaans saw my head appearing over the rise, they scattered like chaff before the wind, and ran as if they would never stop. They evidently took me for the advance guard in a fresh attack, and from the way they ran seemed to suspect that Jim and Jock might be doing separate flanking movements to cut them off. I stood upon an ant-heap and waved and called, but each shout resulted in a fresh spurt and each movement only made them more suspicious. It seemed a hopeless case, and I gave it up. On the way back to the waggons, however, I thought of Sam--Sam, with his neatly patched European clothes, with the slouchy heavy-footed walk of a nigger in boots, with his slack lanky figure and serious timid face! Sam would surely be the right envoy; even the routed Shangaans would feel that there was nothing to fear there. But Sam was by no means anxious to earn laurels; he was clearly of the poet's view that "the paths of glory lead but to the grave;" and it was a poor-looking weak-kneed and much dejected scarecrow that dragged its way reluctantly out into the veld to hold parley with the routed enemy that day. At the first mention of Sam's name Jim had twitched round with a snort, but the humour of the situation tickled him when he saw the too obvious reluctance with which his rival received the honour conferred on him. Between rough gusts of laughter Jim rained on him crude ridicule and rude comments; and Sam slouched off with head bent, relieving his heart with occasional clicks and low murmurs of disgust. How far the new herald would have ventured, if he had not received most unexpected encouragement, is a matter for speculation. Jim's last shout was to advise him not to hide in an ant-bear hole; but, to Sam's relief, the Shangaans seemed to view him merely as a decoy, even more dangerous than I was; for, as no one else appeared, they had now no idea at all from which quarter the expected attack would come. They were widely scattered more than half a mile away when Sam came in sight; a brief pause followed in which they looked anxiously around, and then, after some aimless dashes about like a startled troop of buck, they seemed to find the line of flight and headed off in a long string down the valley towards the river. Now, no one had ever run away from Sam before, and the exhilarating sight so encouraged him that he marched boldly on after them. Goodness knows when, if ever, they would have stopped, if Sam had not met a couple of other natives whom the Shangaans had passed and induced them to turn back and reassure the fugitives. An hour later Sam came back in mild triumph, at the head of the Shangaan gang; and, `clothed in a little brief authority,' stood guard and superintended while they collected their scattered goods--all except the axe that caused the trouble. That they failed to find. The owner may have thought it wise to make no claim on me; Sam, if he remembered it, would have seen the Shangaans and all their belongings burned in a pile rather than raise so delicate a question with Jim; I had forgotten all about it--being anxious only to end the trouble and get the Shangaans off; and that villain Jim `lay low.' At the first outspan from Barberton next day I saw him carving his mark on the handle, nabashed, under my very nose. The next time Jim got drunk he added something to his opinion of Sam: "Sam no good: Sam leada Bible! Shangaan, Sam; Shangaan!"
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
One day a gang of about thirty of these Shangaans, each carrying his load of blankets, clothing, pots, billies and other valuables on his head, was coming along a footpath beside the road some twenty yards away from the waggons. Jock strolled out and sat himself down in the middle of the path; it was the way he did it and his air, utterly devoid of hostile or even serious purpose, that attracted my attention without rousing any doubts. The leader of the gang, however, was suspicious and shied off wide into the veld; he passed in a semicircle round Jock, a good ten yards away, and came safely back to the path again, and the dog with his nose in the air merely eyed him with a look of humorous interest and mild curiosity. The second kaffir made the loop shorter, and the third shorter still, as they found their alarm and suspicions unjustified; and so on, as each came along, the loop was lessened until they passed in safety almost brushing against Jock's nose. And still he never budged--never moved--except, as each boy approached, to look up at his face and, slowly turning his head, follow him round with his eyes until he re-entered the path. There was something extremely funny in the mechanical regularity with which his head swung round. It was so funny that not only the boys at the waggons noticed it and laughed; the unsuspecting Shangaans themselves shared the joke. When half a dozen had passed round in safety, comments followed by grunts of agreement or laughter ran along the line, and then, as each fresh boy passed and Jock's calm inspection was repeated, a regular chorus of guffaws and remarks broke out. The long heavy bundles on their heads made turning round a slow process, so that, except for the first half-dozen, they were content to enjoy what they saw in front and to know by the laughter from behind that the joke had been repeated all down the line. The last one walked calmly by; but as he did so there came one short muffled bark, "Whoop!" from Jock as he sprang out and nipped the unsuspecting Shangaan behind. The boy let out a yell that made the whole gang jump and clutch wildly at their toppling bundles, and Jock raced along the footpath, leaping, gurgling and snapping behind each one he came near, scattering them this way and that, in a romp of wild enjoyment. The shouts of the scared boys, the clatter of the tins as their bundles toppled down, the scrambling and scratching as they clawed the ground pretending to pick up stones or sticks to stop his rushes, and the ridiculous rout of the thirty Shangaans in every direction, abandoning their baggage and fleeing from the little red enemy only just visible in the grass as he hunted and harried them, were too much for my principles and far too much for my gravity. To be quite honest, I weakened badly, and from that day on preferred to look another way when Jock sallied out to inspect a gang of Shangaans. Between them, Jim and Jock had beaten me. But the weakening brought its own punishment and the joke was not far from making a tragedy. Many times while lying some way off in the shade of a tree or under another waggon I heard Jim, all unconscious of my presence, call in a low deep voice, almost a whisper, "Jock, Jock; kaffirs; Shangaans!" Jock's head was up in a moment, and a romp of some sort followed unless I intervened. Afterwards, when Jock was deaf, Jim used to reach out and pull his foot or throw a handful of sand or a bunch of grass to rouse him, and when Jock's head switched up Jim's big black fist pointing to their common enemy was quite enough. Jim had his faults, but getting others into mischief while keeping out of it himself was not one of them. If he egged Jock on, he was more than ready to stand by him, and on these occasions his first act was to jump for his sticks, which were always pretty handy, and lie in readiness to take a hand if any of the gang should use what he considered unfair means of defence, such as throwing stones and kerries or using assegais or knives; and Jim--the friend of Jock, the avoided enemy of all Shangaans, aching for an excuse to take a hand in the row himself--was not, I fear, a very impartial judge. There was a day outside Barberton which I remember well. We were to start that evening, and knowing that if Jim got into the town he might not be back and fit to work for days, I made him stay with the waggons. He lay there flat out under his waggon with his chin resting on his arms, staring steadily at the glistening corrugated iron roofs of the town, as morose and unapproachable as a surly old watch-dog. From the tent of my waggon I saw him raise his head, and following his glance, picked out a row of bundles against the sky-line. Presently a long string of about fifty time-expired mine-boys came in sight. Jim on his hands and knees scrambled over to where Jock lay asleep, and shook him; for this incident occurred after Jock had become deaf. "Shangaans, Jock; Shangaans! Kill them; kill, kill, kill!" said Jim in gusty ferocious whispers. It must have seemed as if Fate had kindly provided an outlet for the rebellious rage and the craving for a fight that were consuming him.
As Jock trotted out to head them off Jim reached up to the buck-rails and pulled down his bundle of sticks and lay down like a tiger on the spring. I had had a lot of trouble with Jim that day, and this annoyed me; but my angry call to stop was unavailing. Jim, pretending not to understand, made no attempt to stop Jock, but contented himself with calling to him to come back; and Jock, stone deaf, trotted evenly along with his head, neck, back, and tail, all level--an old trick of Jess's which generally meant trouble for some one. Slowing down as he neared the Shangaans he walked quietly on until he headed off the leader, and there he stood across the path. It was just the same as before: the boys, finding that he did nothing, merely stepped aside to avoid bumping against him. They were boys taking back their purchases to their kraals to dazzle the eyes of the ignorant with the wonders of civilisation-- gaudy blankets, collections of bright tin billies and mugs, tin plates, three-legged pots, clothing, hats, and even small tin trunks painted brilliant yellow, helped to make up their huge bundles. The last boy was wearing a pair of Royal Artillery trousers; and I have no doubt he regarded it ever afterwards as nothing less than a calamity that they were not safely stowed away in his bundle--for a kaffir would sacrifice his skin rather than his new pants any day. It was from the seat of these too ample bags that Jock took a good mouthful; and it was the boy's frantic jump, rather than Jock's tug, that made the piece come out. The sudden fright and the attempts to face about quickly caused several downfalls; the clatter of these spread the panic; and on top of it all came Jock's charge along the broken line, and the excited shouts of those who thought they were going to be worried to death. Jim had burst into great bellows of laughter and excited--but quite superfluous--shouts of encouragement to Jock, who could not have heard a trumpet at ten yards. But there came a very unexpected change. One big Shangaan had drawn from his bundle a brand new side-axe: I saw the bright steel head flash, as he held it menacingly aloft by the short handle and marched towards Jock. There was a scrambling bound from under the waggon, and Jim, with face distorted and grey with fury, rushed out. In his right hand he brandished a tough stout fighting stick; in his left I was horrified to see an assegai, and well I knew that, with the fighting fury on him, he would think nothing of using it. The Shangaan saw him coming, and stopped; then, still facing Jim, and with the axe raised and feinting repeatedly to throw it, he began to back away. Jim never paused for a second: he came straight on with wild leaps and blood-curdling yells in Zulu fighting fashion and ended with a bound that seemed to drop him right on top of the other. The stick came down with a whirr and a crash that crimped every nerve in my body; and the Shangaan dropped like a log. I had shouted myself hoarse at Jim, but he heard or heeded nothing; and seizing a stick from one of the other boys I was already on the way to stop him, but before I got near him he had wrenched the axe from the kicking boy and, without pause, gone headlong for the next Shangaan he saw. Then everything went wrong: the more I shouted and the harder I ran, the worse the row. The Shangaans seemed to think I had joined in and was directing operations against them: Jim seemed to be inspired to wilder madness by my shouts and gesticulations; and Jock--well, Jock at any rate had not the remotest doubt as to what he should do. When he saw me and Jim in full chase behind him, his plain duty was to go in for all he was worth; and he did it. It was half an hour before I got that mad savage back. He was as unmanageable as a runaway horse. He had walloped the majority of the fifty himself; he had broken his own two sticks and used up a number of theirs; on his forehead there was a small cut and a lump like half an orange; and on the back of his head another cut left by the sticks of the enemy when eight or ten had rallied once in a half-hearted attempt to stand against him. It was strange how Jim, even in that mood, yielded to the touch of one whom he regarded as his "Inkos." I could not have forced him back: in that maniac condition it would have needed a powerful combination indeed to bring him back against his will. He yielded to the light grip of my hand on his wrist and walked freely along with me; but a fiery bounding vitality possessed him, and with long springy strides he stepped out- looking excitedly about, turning to right and left or even right about, and stepping sideways or even backwards to keep pace with me--yet always yielding the imprisoned arm so as not to pull me about. And all the time there came from him a torrent of excited gabble in pure Zulu, too fast and too high-flown for me to follow, which was punctuated and paragraphed by bursting allusions to `dogs of Shangaans,' `axes,' `sticks,' and `Jock.' Near the waggons we passed over the `battlefield,' and a huge guffaw of laughter broke from Jim as we came on the abandoned impedimenta of the defeated enemy. Several of the bundles had burst open from the violence of the fall, and the odd collections of the natives were scattered about; others had merely shed the outside luggage of tin billies, beakers, pans, boots and hats. Jim looked on it all as the spoils of war, wanting to stop and gather in his loot there and then, and when I pressed on, he shouted to the other drivers to come out and collect the booty.