not well,— hay un gato encerrado aqui (there is a cat

rain and cloudmusic2023-12-07 13:02:02 3 36

It was the signal for moving, for in the east a thin pale line of gold was beginning to show over the trees. The bonds at my knees and ankles were cut, and I was bundled on to the back of a horse. Then my feet were strapped firmly below its belly. The bridle of my beast was tied to 'Mwanga's, so that there was little chance of escape even if I had been unshackled.

not well,— hay un gato encerrado aqui (there is a cat

My thoughts were very gloomy. So far all had happened as I planned, but I seemed to have lost my nerve, and I could not believe in my rescue at the Letaba, while I thought of Inanda's Kraal with sheer horror. Last night I had looked into the heart of darkness, and the sight had terrified me. What part should I play in the great purification? Most likely that of the Biblical scapegoat. But the dolour of my mind was surpassed by the discomfort of my body. I was broken with pains and weariness, and I had a desperate headache. Also, before we had gone a mile, I began to think that I should split in two. The paces of my beast were uneven, to say the best of it, and the bump- bump was like being on the rack. I remembered that the saints of the Covenant used to journey to prison this way, especially the great Mr Peden, and I wondered how they liked it. When I hear of a man doing a brave deed, I always want to discover whether at the time he was well and comfortable in body. That, I am certain, is the biggest ingredient in courage, and those who plan and execute great deeds in bodily weakness have my homage as truly heroic. For myself, I had not the spirit of a chicken as I jogged along at 'Mwanga's side. I wished he would begin to insult me, if only to distract my mind, but he kept obstinately silent. He was sulky, and I think rather afraid of me.

not well,— hay un gato encerrado aqui (there is a cat

As the sun got up I could see something of the host around me. I am no hand at guessing numbers, but I should put the fighting men I saw at not less than twenty thousand. Every man of them was on this side his prime, and all were armed with good rifles and bandoliers. There were none of your old roers* and decrepit Enfields, which I had seen signs of in Kaffir kraals. These guns were new, serviceable Mausers, and the men who bore them looked as if they knew how to handle them. There must have been long months of training behind this show, and I marvelled at the man who had organized it. I saw no field-guns, and the little transport they had was evidently for food only. We did not travel in ranks like an orthodox column. About a third of the force was mounted, and this formed the centre. On each wing the infantry straggled

not well,— hay un gato encerrado aqui (there is a cat

far afield, but there was method in their disorder, for in the bush close ranks would have been impossible. At any rate we kept wonderfully well together, and when we mounted a knoll the whole army seemed to move in one piece. I was well in the rear of the centre column, but from the crest of a slope I sometimes got a view in front. I could see nothing of Laputa, who was probably with the van, but in the very heart of the force I saw the old priest of the Snake, with his treasure carried in the kind of litter which the Portuguese call a machila, between rows of guards. A white man rode beside him, whom I judged to be Henriques. Laputa trusted this fellow, and I wondered why. I had not forgotten the look on his face while he had stared at the rubies in the cave. I had a notion that the Portugoose might be an unsuspected ally of mine, though for blackguard reasons. *Boer elephant guns.


About ten o'clock, as far as I could judge by the sun, we passed Umvelos', and took the right bank of the Labongo. There was nothing in the store to loot, but it was overrun by Kaffirs, who carried off the benches for firewood. It gave me an odd feeling to see the remains of the meal at which I had entertained Laputa in the hands of a dozen warriors. I thought of the long sunny days when I had sat by my nachtmaal while the Dutch farmers rode in to trade. Now these men were all dead, and I was on my way to the same bourne.

Soon the blue line of the Berg rose in the west, and through the corner of my eye, as I rode, I could see the gap of the Klein Labongo. I wondered if Arcoll and his men were up there watching us. About this time I began to be so wretched in body that I ceased to think of the future. I had had no food for seventeen hours, and I was dropping from lack of sleep. The ache of my bones was so great that I found myself crying like a baby. What between pain and weakness and nervous exhaustion, I was almost at the end of my tether, and should have fainted dead away if a halt had not been called. But about midday, after we had crossed the track from Blaauwildebeestefontein to the Portuguese frontier, we came to the broad, shallow drift of the Klein Labongo. It is the way of the Kaffirs to rest at noon, and on the other side of the drift we encamped. I remember the smell of hot earth and clean water as my horse scrambled up the bank. Then came the smell of wood-smoke as fires were lit. It seemed an age after we stopped before my feet were loosed and I was allowed to fall over on the ground. I lay like a log where I fell, and was asleep in ten seconds. I awoke two hours later much refreshed, and with a raging hunger. My ankles and knees had been tied again, but the sleep had taken the worst stiffness out of my joints. The natives were squatting in groups round their fires, but no one came near me. I satisfied myself by straining at my bonds that this solitude gave no chance of escape. I wanted food, and I shouted on 'Mwanga, but he never came. Then I rolled over into the shadow of a wacht-en-beetje bush to get out of the glare.

I saw a Kaffir on the other side of the bush who seemed to be grinning at me. Slowly he moved round to my side, and stood regarding me with interest.

'For God's sake get me some food,' I said.



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