Imágenes de páginas


But, despite drawbacks and effort Smeer kept up his indiscomforts, the trek had pros- terminable cheering and threat. pered exceedingly. No officious ening in the Volapuk of the field - cornet had intruded his span that is understood by unwelcome person, and not a every trek ox from Cape soul suspected the secret of the Agulhas to the Zambesi. neatly - painted timbers that Little wonder that the moment occupied so little room in the the last ox had been released waggon, yet formed a burden from the span the old man whose magnitude the unfor- threw down his whip and tunate oxen know too well. crawled under the waggon. Old Smeer proved through- Like the animals, he could out an expert transport sleep at will, but, unlike them, rider, knowing and doing his at unbroken length. His comdifficult work in a manner panions had little of his society that excited the profoundest during the outspan. When admiration of Wilmot, to whom awake he spoke little, except to it came as a revelation that the the Kafirs, cooked his own food, driving of a span of oxen was and never by any chance manian art of wondrous complexity. fested the slightest curiosity as Never for a minute could the to the objective of the journey. vigilance of the driver be re- Wilmot remarked on this, and laxed. The brake demanded asked Hartley how he thought as much care as the tiller of a the old man would behave when sailing-boat, and Smeer's hand he found, as he must, sooner or was fifty times in the hour later, that he had been assisttightening or loosening the ing in the perpetration of a sorow to check the waggon as crime held in especial detestait rushed down an incline, or tion by his race. ease it over a boulder that “Let's wait till he finde out,” would have wrecked anything was Hartley's reply. save a South African waggon. Only once did the old man When not at the brake, Smeer fail at his work. One day, was wielding the huge whip towards the end of an easy that cracked and whistled in trek, he turned to answer a the air with a sweep as deft question addressed to him by and clean as that of the rod Hartley, riding behind. That and line in the hand of a moment the waggon took a practised thrower of the fly, plunge into a hollow, and beand its biting lash would take fore Smeer could screw up the a delicate strip of skin out of brake the increasing momentum the hide of an ox thirty feet had gained the mastery. The away, and within an inch of waggon overran the two afterthe spot aimed at. Yet amid oxen or wheelers, dragging the this expenditure of ceaseless poor brutes over the fortunately smooth ground, then as he could traverse afoot. He crashed into a projecting missed the companionship of boulder that smashed the near Hartley terribly the first day, front wheel into matchwood. but on the next Golosh modestly

The three men gazed at each proposed an excursion to a not other, speechless in the face of too distant valley where some a calamity so terrific. Hartley good fishing was to be had. was the first to recover.

The mission-school training had “This means a week's out- not eradicated the innate inspan, while we hunt the country stinct for the life of the veld. for a farmer who has a spare The Kafir knew much of wheel. Where is the nearest veld - craft, and the observant farm, Johannes ?

Wilmot learned much from Johannes honestly confessed him, for their environment ignorance, and with the mad- supplied ample material. Game dening disregard for time that abounded, from the graceful is part of Boer religion, coolly springbok and lordly though proposed to ride back till he fast-disappearing koodoo, with met Van Enter, who, knowing its horns like billiard-cues, to the country, might be able to the liliputian of the buck tell them where to look for species, the beautiful little help. In the absence of a more peattie, no bigger than a toy. practical suggestion this was terrier and quite as sprightly adopted, and at sun-up next and alert. The pool that promorning the old man set off vided the fish was also the cheerily on what might prove home of an ugly though harma fifty-mile ride, his sole susten- less six-foot iguana, of whom ance for the two days' journey fearsome stories are told by the & strip of biltong that hung Boers. At the instigation of from his ancient saddle, and Golosh, Wilmot watched for looked part of it.

hours in hopes of catching a “There will be nothing for glimpse of that apocryphal us to do for a week except eat python which has swallowed up our stores," said Hartley at several spans of oxen in various breakfast; “so I'll ride ahead parts of South Africa since the and look at the track, and day, thirty years ago, when he may be go on to 'Mpfeu’s kraal was discovered by a truthful to arrange for Kafirs to carry and oprecht Burgher at Wonin the gear in the event of our derfontein finishing the four getting no wheel.”

survivors of a flock of sheep. Half an hour later he was The python did not materialise, away, and Wilmot sat, a soli- but a ten-foot black mamba tary white man in a region appeared as substitute, and virgin and silent as any in ruthlessly upset all travellers' South Africa.

tales of his ferocity in the There was no other horse, presence of man by scuttling therefore his excursions were to cover at lightning speed. perforce limited to such areas Golosh, like most christianised

Kafirs, had a keen perception out of the big timber on the of what interested white men waggon. Wilmot suppressed recently “out," and needed his consternation, and at the very little encouragement to first opportunity examined the exercise it. He had accom- gear. The end of one of the panied the author of 'Ten Days laager timbers had warped, in South Africa' on his ad- through exposure to the sun, ventures, and had earned im- and loosened the nails that held mortality by an appreciative the two parts. The shock that and honourable mention in that had smashed the wheel had also authoritative work, for which strained and split the boards he had supplied much of the that masqueraded as solid timmaterial. He knew, he said, bers, and a dozen cartridges where lions, crocodiles, hippo- had fallen out, while others potami, and elephants were to were sufficiently exposed to rebe found, all conveniently near veal the nature of the lining of their outspan. He was a the head gear. veritable Jamrach, prepared Wilmot was in a fever of to supply any wild animal the anxiety to know whether Smeer credulous traveller might fanoy, had penetrated their secret, but but the non-appearance of the he dared not excite the curiosity creatures at last excited Wil- of Golosh by asking questions. mot's suspicions, and he ex. He contrived an excuse for pressed them in suitable sending him and the other language.

Kafirs away from the waggon, Golosh was equal to the while he hastily repaired the emergency. “ All these ani- damage and covered it with a mals are here,” said he, “but heavy packing-case. The dismost Englishmen are hard to covery scared and worried him. make believe. I never tell Baas He mounted guard over the Hartley of these things, for he waggon all day, and lay awake believes so little that he would half the night, fearing that the make me go and find them, and secret would be probed by the you know Boers won't let Kafirs Kafirs while he slept. Once he carry guns, so why should I go ventured to ask Golosh if he into danger?

had found any more cartridges, “But if these things are in but if the boy suspected anythe land, why should Baas thing his manner did not beHartley not believe you?” Wil- tray him. Wilmot tried to mot asked.

persuade himself that the secret “Because he says he knows was intact, but the damage Christian Kafirs."

was so glaringly apparent that Wilmot did not pursue the he found it difficult to believe subject.

the naturally inquisitive and One morning Golosh made keen-eyed Kafirs had not dea disconcerting discovery. He tected it. Golosh's silence on brought a handful of cartridges, the matter was also terribly explaining that they had fallen suspicious, for a Kafir will talk for an hour over trifles less ing Kafir, whom he introduced important, and exhaust his as Bulalie, head induna to vocabulary and his cunning in 'Mpfeu. Smeer treated the an attempt to prove that he induna with the unconcealed had nothing to do with the brusquerie and masterfulness accident.

that the Boer displays towards The time passed with deadly all Kafirs, whether chiefs or slowness, now that Wilmot kitchen - boys, and accepted dared not leave the vicinity of Hartley's half-truthful explanthe waggon. He had nothing ation of his presence with to read, so in sheer desperation marked disapproval. he inspanned Golosh as tutor, “I have the wheel; we want and tried to learn a few Kafir no strange Kafirs to help us," words and phrases. But the he said curtly. ever-present anxiety obtruded Hartley inquired where the itself to the exclusion of aught wheel was. else, and Golosh marvelled at “It doesn't come till you the dulness of his pupil, and and I have had an indaba" one day expressed himself in (serious talk). terms that would have ensured Hartley looked puzzled, and him a vigorous thrashing had Wilmot's heart beat fast, for Baas Hartley heard him. Smeer had spoken in English,

“I don't think white men and with a marked emphasis are as clever as natives in some that satisfied him the secret things," said he. “I speak was out. well and good the English, the “Give me a minute before Hollands, the Taal, the Basuto, you talk to him,” he whispered, some Griqua, and the Zulu, but and walked away, Hartley you Englishmen speak only following. When out of earyour own tongue, and speak shot Wilmot, in a few words, Zulu like children.”

told of the matter of the cartJohannes Smeer returned ridges and his suspicions. the fourth day after his de- Hartley was silent for a time, parture. He seemed concerned then his habitual promptitude at the absence of Hartley, but asserted itself. beyond a curt intimation that “Then he knows, and is the wheel was coming had going to blackmail us. He little to say about his mission, doesn't leave this place if he taking refuge in his unfamili- plays monkey. I'll hear what arity with English. Wilmot he has to say. Keep cool and watched him closely, and stand by me,” he whispered, thought he hovered at the and walked up to Smeer. back of the waggon much “Well, what about the more than was necessary for wheel?” he asked in English. an examination of a broken “Come where we can talk wheel at the other end. Two and I'll tell you,” the old man days later Hartley returned, answered in the Taal. bringing with him a fine-look- “No, speak English. My

partner must hear what you And do I not know that these have to say.”

Kafir chiefs have many? You Smeer, disregarding the see, I have thought this thing warning, went on in the Taal. out very hard and strong, Mr

“You are doing a wicked Hartley.” thing, Hartley, and you are. “Well, come to business ; going to bring trouble on me, an what do you want to make oprecht Burgher of the State.” it right with your friends?”

“Don't preach, tell me what “Mr Hartley, you know I you know and what you want. want money that I may do I suppose you want more no more transport riding and money?”

marry Clarie.” Smeer seemed surprised at “How much?” the fearless, almost threatening “I want £500, and you must tone.

promise to make Clarie want “Yes, I ought to have more to marry me.” money, I am doing a wrong Hartley laughed. thing.”

“You must be a fool, Johannes, “How?

or you would know that no man “You are taking cartridges can make a woman change her to the Magatese Kafirs.” mind when it is a matter of

“Suppose I am, how are you liking or disliking." going to stop me ?”

“Ach, but you are slim with “Ach, Mr Hartley, you think women. She will do what you because I am an Afrikander tell her.” that I am not slim. I have Hartley lit up his pipe and told my friends, those who are bungled it. letting me have the wheel, and “Look here, Johannes, I'll if I am not back with them make a bargain with you. You to-morrow to tell them all is say you want money to marry right they are coming to catch Clarie. I can give you that, you. You cannot get away, but I cannot give you the so you must give me what I woman if she refuses, but, as

you say, I have good ways “What do you want?” with her. Now, Clarie does Hartley asked, after a suc- not like you, but you can do cessful struggle to resist his much to alter that?” natural impulse to knock the “How ? Tell me how, Mr old man down.

Hartley?" the old man asked “It is this, Mr Hartley, I eagerly. know you are going to get “You must take your Bible diamonds for these cartridges." oath that you will make it

“How do you know that?” right with your friends and

“Did you not tell Clarie and help me through; then I will Coos Piet that you are after give you £500, and tell Clario diamonds, and do I not know that you are truly an oprecht that there are no diamonds Burgher, because you keep your north of the Vaal River, just word and do not lead the blind as there is no gold south of it? into a pitfall.”

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »