Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jock Of The Bushveld by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick ( Chapter 18) ( Page 5 ) Snowball and Tsetse

Snarleyow was with us--I had left Jock at the waggons fearing that we would get into fly country on the Umbelusi--and the bank was too high and too steep for him; he huddled up against it half supported by reeds, and whined plaintively. To our relief Snowball faced the jump quite readily; indeed, the old sinner did it with much less effort and splash than the bigger Tsetse. But then came an extremely unpleasant spell.  Snowball got a scare,
because Hall in his anxiety to get me out rushed up to him on the warty side to get the reins off; and the old ruffian waltzed around, dragging Hall through the thorns, while Snarleyow and I waited in the water for help.
At that moment I had a poorer opinion of Snowball and Snarley than at any other I can remember.  I wished Snarley dead twenty times in twenty
seconds.  Crocodiles love dogs; and it seemed to me a million to one that a pair of green eyes and a black snout must slide out of the water any moment, drawn to us by those advertising whines!  And the worst of it was, I was outside Snarley with my white legs gleaming in the open water, while his cringing form was tucked away half hidden by the reeds. What an age it seemed!  How each reed shaken by the river breeze caught the eye, giving me goose-flesh and sending waves of cold shudders creeping over me!  How the cold smooth touch of a reed stem against my leg made me want to jump and to get out with one huge plunge as the
horses had done!  And even when I had passed the struggling yowling Snarley up, the few remaining seconds seemed painfully long.  Hall had to lie flat and reach his furthest to grip my hand; and I nearly pulled him in, scrambling up that bank like a chased cat up a tree.

When one comes to think it out, the bank must have been nine feet high. It was mighty unpleasant; but it taught us what a horse can do when he puts, his back into it!

Jock Of The Bushveld by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick ( Chapter 18 )( Page 4 ) Snowball and Tsetse

Tsetse, who in the ordinary way regarded the spur as part of the accepted discipline, promptly resented it when there seemed to him to be sufficient reason; and when Hall, astonished at Tsetse's unexpected obstinacy, gave him both heels, the old horse considerately swung round away from the river, and with a couple of neatly executed bucks shot his encumbered rider off the raised pack, yards away on to the soft grass-- water-bottle, rifle, bandolier and man landing in a lovely tangle. I then put old Snowball at it, fully expecting trouble; but the old soldier was quite at home; he walked quietly to the edge, sat down comfortably, and slid into the water--launching himself with scarce a ripple just like an old hippo.  That gave us the explanation of Tsetse's tantrum: the water came up to the seat of my saddle and walking was only just possible.  I stopped at once, waiting for Tsetse to follow; and Hall, prepared for another refusal, sat back and again used his spurs. No doubt Tsetse, once he knew the depth, was quite satisfied and meant to go in quietly, and the prick of the spur must have been unexpected, for he gave a plunge forward, landing with his fore feet in deep water and hind quarters still on the bank, and Hall shot out overhead, landing
half across old Snowball's back.  There was a moment of ludicrous but agonised suspense!  Hall's legs were firmly gripping Tsetse behind the ears while he sprawled on his stomach on Snowball's crupper, with the reins still in one hand and the rifle in the other.  Doubled up with suppressed laughter I grabbed a fist full of shirt and held on, every moment expecting Tsetse to hoist his head or pull back and complete the disaster, while Hall was spluttering out directions, entreaties and imprecations; but good old Tsetse never moved, and Hall handing me the rifle managed to swarm backwards on to Tsetse's withers and scramble on
to the pack again. Then, saddle-deep in the river--duckings and crocodiles forgotten--we
sat looking at each other and laughed till we ached. The river was about three hundred yards wide there with a good sandy bottom and of uniform depth, but, to our disappointment, we found that the other bank which had appeared to slope gently to the water edge was in fact a sheer wall standing up several feet above the river level.
The beautiful slope which we had seen consisted of water grass and reed tops; the bank itself was of firm moist clay; and the river bottom close under it was soft mud.  We tried a little way up and down, but found deeper water, more mud and reeds, and no break in the bank; there was not even a lagavaan slide, a game path, or a drinking-place.  There seemed to be nothing for it but to go back again and try somewhere else. Hall was `bad to beat' when he started on anything--he did not know how to give in; but when he looked at the bank and said, "We'll have a shot at this," I thought at first he was joking.  Later, to my remark that
"no horse ever born would face that," he answered that "any way we could try: it would be just as good as hunting for more places of the same sort!" I do not know the height of the bank, as we were not thinking of records at that time, but there are certain facts which enable one to guess fairly closely. Tsetse was ranged up beside the bank, and Hall standing in the saddle threw his rifle and bandolier up and scrambled out himself.  I then loosened Tsetse's girths from my seat on Snowball, and handed up the packed saddle--Hall lying down on the bank to take it from me; and we did the same with Snowball's load, including my own clothes, for, as it was already sundown, a ducking was not desirable, I loosened one side of Tsetse's reins, and after attaching one of mine in order to give the necessary length to them threw the end up to Hall, and he cut and handed me a long supple rod for a whip to stir Tsetse to his best endeavours. The water there was rather more than half saddle-flap high; I know that because it just left me a good expanse of hind quarters to aim at when the moment came. "Now!" yelled Hall, "Up, Tsetse!  Up!"; and whack went the stick! Tsetse reared up, right on end; he could not reach the top but struck his fore feet into the moist bank near the top, and with a mighty plunge that soused Snowball and me, went out.  The tug on the leading rein, on which Hall had thrown all his weight when Tsetse used it to lever
himself up, had jerked Hall flat on his face; but he was up in a minute, and releasing Tsetse threw back the rein to get Snowball to face it while the example was fresh. Then for the first time we thought of the crocodiles--and the river was full of them!  But Snowball without some one behind him with a stick would never face that jump, and there was nothing for it but to fire some scaring shots, and slip into the water and get the job over as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jock Of The Bushveld by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick ( Chapter 18 )( Page 3 )Snowball and Tsetse

To the credit of Snowball stand certain things, however, and it is but justice to say that, when once in the ranks, he played his part well; and it is due to him to say that during one hard season a camp of waggons with their complement of men had to be kept in meat, and it was Snowball who carried--for short and long distances, through dry rough country, at all times of day and night, hot, thirsty and tired, and without a breakdown or a day's sickness--a bag that totalled many thousands of pounds in weight, and the man who made the bag.
"That wall-eyed brute of yours" was launched at me in bitterness of spirit on many occasions when Snowball led the normally well-behaved ones astray; and it is curious to note how strength of character or clear purpose will establish leadership among animals, as among men. Rooiland the restless, when dissatisfied with the grass or in want of
water, would cast about up wind for a few minutes and then with his hot eyeballs staring and nostrils well distended choose his line, going resolutely along and only pausing from time to time to give a low moan for signal and allow the straggling string of unquestioning followers to catch up.  When Rooiland had `trek fever' there was no rest for herd boys.  So too with old Snowball: he led the well-behaved astray and they followed him blindly.  Had Snowball been a schoolboy, a wise headmaster would have expelled him--for the general good and discipline of the school.
On one long horseback journey through Swaziland to the coast, where few white men and no horses had yet been seen, we learned to know Snowball
and Tsetse well, and found out what a horse can do when put to it.  It was a curious experience on that trip to see whole villages flee in terror at the first sight of the new strange animals--one brown and one white: in some places not even the grown men would approach, but too proud to show fear, they stood their ground, their bronze faces blanching visibly and setting hard as we rode up; the women fled with half-stifled cries of alarm; and once, when we came unexpectedly upon a party of naked urchins playing on the banks of a stream, the whole pack set off full cry for the water and, jumping in like a school of alarmed frogs, disappeared.  Infinitely amused by the stampede we rode up to see what had become of them, but the silence was absolute, and for a while they seemed to have vanished altogether; then a tell-tale ripple gave the clue, and under the banks among the ferns and exposed roots we picked out little black faces half submerged and pairs of frightened eyes staring at us from all sides.  They were not to be reassured, either: the only effect produced by our laughing comments and friendly overtures being that the head which deemed itself pointedly addressed would disappear completely and remain so long out of sight as to make us feel quite smothery and criminally responsible. It is in the rivers that a man feels the importance of a good horse with a stout heart, and his dependence on it.  There were no roads, and not even known tracks, there; and when we reached the Black Umbelusi we
picked a place where there was little current and apparently an easy way out on the opposite side.  It was much deeper than it looked; however, we were prepared, and thirty yards of swimming did not trouble us; yet it certainly was a surprise to us when the horses swam right up to the other bank without finding bottom and, turning aside, began to swim up stream.  Looking down into the clear depths we saw that there was a sheer wall of rock to within a few inches of the surface.  Now, a horse with a man on his back swims low--only the head and half the neck showing above water--and by what instinct or means the horses realised the position I do not know, but, with little hesitation and apparently of one accord, they got back a yard or two from the ledge and, raising first one fore foot and then the other, literally climbed out--exactly as a man or a dog does out of a swimming bath--hoisting their riders out with them without apparent difficulty.  That was something which we had
not thought possible, and to satisfy ourselves we dismounted and tried the depth; but the ten foot reeds failed to reach bottom.
When it came to crossing the Crocodile River we chose the widest spot in the hope that it would be shallow and free of rocks.  We fired some
shots into the river to scare the crocodiles, and started to cross; but to our surprise Tsetse, the strong-nerved and reliable, who always had the post of honour in front, absolutely refused to enter.
The water of the Crocodile is at its best of amber clearness and we
could not see bottom, but the sloping grassy bank promised well enough and no hint reached us of what the horses knew quite well.  All we had was on our horses--food, blankets, billy, rifles and ammunition.  We were off on a long trip and, to vary or supplement the game diet,
carried a small packet of tea, a little sugar, flour, and salt, and some beads with which to trade for native fowls and thick milk; the guns had to do the rest.  Thus there were certain things we could not afford to wet, and these we used to wrap up in a mackintosh and carry high when it came to swimming, but this crossing looked so easy that it seemed sufficient to raise the packs instead of carrying part of them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Jock Of The Bushveld by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick ( Chapter 18 )( Page 2 ) Snowball and Tsetse

Against all this, however, it is only fair to admit that there were times when for days, and even weeks, at a stretch he would behave admirably, giving no more trouble than Jock did.  Moreover he had qualities which were not to be despised.  He was as sound as a bell, very clever on his feet, never lost his condition, and, although not fast, could last for ever at his own pace. Experience taught me to take no chances with Snowball.  After a hard day
he was apt to think that `enough was as good as a feast,' and then trouble might be expected.  But there was really no safe rule with him; he seemed to have moods--to `get out of bed on the wrong side'--on certain days and, for no reason in the world, behave with a calculated hostility that was simply maddening.
Hunting horses live almost entirely by grazing, as it is seldom possible to carry any grain or other foods for them and never possible to carry enough; and salted horses have therefore a particular value in that they can be turned out to graze at night or in the morning and evening dews when animals not immunised will contract horse-sickness; thus they feed during the hours when hunting is not possible and keep their condition when an unsalted horse would fall away from sheer want of food. According to their training, disposition, and knowledge of good and evil, horses are differently treated when `offsaddled'; some may be trusted without even a halter, and can be caught and saddled when and where required; others are knee-haltered; others are hobbled by a strap coupling either both fore feet, or one fore and one hind foot, with
enough slack to allow walking, but not enough for the greater reach of a ntrot or gallop; whilst some incorrigibles are both knee-haltered and hobbled; and in this gallery Snowball figured upon occasion--a mournful and injured innocent, if appearances went for anything!

It was not, as a rule, at the outspan, where many hands were available, that Snowball gave trouble, but out hunting when I was alone or with only one companion.  A trained shooting horse should stop as soon as his rider lays hand on mane to dismount, and should remain where he is left for any length of time until his master returns; some horses require the
reins to be dropped over their heads to remind them of their duty but many can safely be left to themselves and will be found grazing quietly where left.
Snowball knew well what to do, but he pleased himself about doing it; sometimes he would stand; sometimes move off a little way, and keep moving--just out of reach--holding his head well on one side so that he
should not tread on the trailing reins or the long weighted reimpje which was attached to his bit for the purpose of hindering and catching him; sometimes, with a troop of buck moving on ahead or perhaps a wounded one to follow, this old sinner would rightabout-face and simply walk off--only a few yards separating us--with his ears laid back, his  tail tucked down ominously, and occasional little liftings of his hind quarters to let me know what to expect--and his right eye on me all the while; and, if I ran to head him off, he would break into a trot and leave me a little worse off than before; and sometimes, in familiar country, he would make straight away for the waggons without more ado.
It is demoralising in the extreme to be expecting a jerk when in the act of aiming--and Snowball, who cared no more for shooting than a deaf gunner, would plunge like a two-year-old when he was play-acting--and it is little better, while creeping forward for a shot, to hear your horse strolling off behind and realise that you will have to hunt for him and perhaps walk many miles back to camp without means of carrying anything you may shoot.  The result of experience was that I had to choose between two alternatives: either to hook him up to a tree or bush each time or hobble him with his reins, and so lose many good chances of quick shots when coming unexpectedly on game; or to slip an arm through the reins and take chance of being plucked off my aim or jerked violently backwards as I fired.  But it was at the `offsaddles' on long
journeys across country or during the rest in a day's hunt that trouble was most to be feared, and although hobbling is dangerous in a country so full of holes, stumps, and all sorts of grass-hidden obstacles, there were times when consideration for Snowball seemed mighty like pure foolishness, and it would have been no grief to me if he had broken his neck!

Jock Of The Bushveld by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick ( Chapter 18 )( Page 1 ) Snowball and Tsetse

Snowball was an `old soldier'--I say it with all respect!  He had been through the wars; that is to say, he had seen the ups and downs of life and had learnt the equine equivalent of "God helps those who help themselves."  For Snowball was a horse. Tsetse was also an old soldier, but he was what you might call a gentleman old soldier, with a sense of duty; and in his case the discipline and honour of his calling were not garments for occasion but part of himself.  Snowball was no gentleman: he was selfish and unscrupulous, a confirmed shirker, often absent without leave, and upon occasions a rank deserter--for which last he once narrowly escaped being shot. Tsetse belonged to my friend Hall; but Snowball was mine!  What I know about him was learnt with mortification of the spirit and flesh; and what he could not teach in that way was `over the head' of the most indurated old dodger that ever lived. Tsetse had his peculiarities and prejudices: like many old soldiers he was a stickler for etiquette and did not like departures from habit and routine; for instance, he would not under any circumstances permit mounting on the wrong side--a most preposterous stand for an old salted shooting horse to take, and the cause of much inconvenience at times. On the mountains it often happened that the path was too narrow and the slope too steep to permit one to mount on the left side, whereas the sharp rise of the ground made it very easy on the right.  But Tsetse made no allowance for this, and if the attempt were made he would stand quite still until the rider was off the ground but not yet in the saddle, and then buck continuously until the offender shot overhead and went skidding down the slope.  To one encumbered with a rifle in hand, and a kettle or perhaps a couple of legs of buck slung on the saddle, Tsetse's protest was usually irresistible. Snowball had no unpractical prejudices: he objected to work--that was all.  He was a pure white horse, goodness knows how old, with enormously long teeth; every vestige of grey or other tinge had faded out of him, and his eyes had an aged and resigned look: one warmed to him at sight as a "dear old pet of a Dobbin!" who ought to be passing his last years grazing contentedly in a meadow and giving bareback rides to little children.  The reproach of his venerable look nearly put me off taking him--it seemed such a shame to make the dear old fellow work; but I hardened my heart and, feeling rather a brute, bought him because he was `salted' and would live in the Bushveld: beside that, all other considerations were trivial.  Of course he was said to be a shooting horse, and he certainly took no notice of a gun fired under his nose or from his back--which was all the test I could apply at the time; and then his legs were quite sound; his feet were excellent; he had lost no teeth yet; and he was in tip top condition.  What more could one want? "He looks rather a fool of a horse!"  I had remarked dubiously to Joey the Smith, who was `willin' to let him go,' and I can recall now the peculiar glint in Joey's eye and the way he sort of steadied himself with a little cough before he answered feelingly: "He's no fool, sonny!  You won't want to get a cleverer horse as long as you live!"  And no more I did--as we used to say!  Snowball had one disfigurement, consisting of a large black swelling as big as a small orange behind his left eye, which must have annoyed him greatly; it could easily have been removed, and many suggestions were made on the subject but all of them were firmly declined.  Without that lump I should have had no chance against him: it was the weak spot in his defence: it was the only cover under which it was possible to stalk him when he made one of his determined attempts to dodge or desert; for he could see nothing that came up behind him on the left side without turning his head completely round; hence one part of the country was always hidden from him, and of course it was from this quarter that we invariably made our approaches to attack. So well did Snowball realise this that when the old villain intended giving trouble he would start off with his head swung away to the right, and when far enough away to graze in security--a hundred yards or so was enough--would turn right about and face towards the waggons or camp, or wherever the danger-quarter was; then, keeping us well in view, he would either graze off sideways, or from time to time walk briskly off to occupy a new place, with the right eye swung round on us like a search-light.