which refuses all payment, but yet is so kindly offered

rain and cloudtheory2023-12-07 11:11:59 2315 29

By-and-by I began to feel the lack of company, for Wardlaw was so full of his books that he was of little use as a companion. So I resolved to acquire a dog, and bought one from a prospector, who was stony-broke and would have sold his soul for a drink. It was an enormous Boer hunting-dog, a mongrel in whose blood ran mastiff and bulldog and foxhound, and Heaven knows what beside. In colour it was a kind of brindled red, and the hair on its back grew against the lie of the rest of its coat. Some one had told me, or I may have read it, that a back like this meant that a dog would face anything mortal, even to a charging lion, and it was this feature which first caught my fancy. The price I paid was ten shillings and a pair of boots, which I got at cost price from stock, and the owner departed with injunctions to me to beware of the brute's temper. Colin - for so I named him - began his career with me by taking the seat out of my breeches and frightening Mr Wardlaw into a tree. It took me a stubborn battle of a fortnight to break his vice, and my left arm to-day bears witness to the struggle. After that he became a second shadow, and woe betide the man who had dared to raise his hand to Colin's master. Japp declared that the dog was a devil, and Colin repaid the compliment with a hearty dislike.

which refuses all payment, but yet is so kindly offered

With Colin, I now took to spending some of my ample leisure in exploring the fastnesses of the Berg. I had brought out a shot-gun of my own, and I borrowed a cheap Mauser sporting rifle from the store. I had been born with a good eye and a steady hand, and very soon I became a fair shot with a gun and, I believe, a really fine shot with the rifle. The sides of the Berg were full of quail and partridge and bush pheasant, and on the grassy plateau there was abundance of a bird not unlike our own blackcock, which the Dutch called korhaan. But the great sport was to stalk bush-buck in the thickets, which is a game in which the hunter is at small advantage. I have been knocked down by a wounded bush-buck ram, and but for Colin might have been badly damaged. Once, in a kloof not far from the Letaba, I killed a fine leopard, bringing him down with a single shot from a rocky shelf almost on the top of Colin. His skin lies by my fireside as I write this tale. But it was during the days I could spare for an expedition into the plains that I proved the great qualities of my dog. There we had nobler game to follow - wildebeest and hartebeest, impala, and now and then a koodoo. At first I was a complete duffer, and shamed myself in Colin's eyes. But by-and-by I learned something of veld-craft: I learned how to follow spoor, how to allow for the wind, and stalk under cover. Then, when a shot had crippled the beast, Colin was on its track like a flash to pull it down. The dog had the nose of a retriever, the speed of a greyhound, and the strength of a bull-terrier. I blessed the day when the wandering prospector had passed the store.

which refuses all payment, but yet is so kindly offered

Colin slept at night at the foot of my bed, and it was he who led me to make an important discovery. For I now became aware that I was being subjected to constant espionage. It may have been going on from the start, but it was not till my third month at Blaauwildebeestefontein that I found it out. One night I was going to bed, when suddenly the bristles rose on the dog's back and he barked uneasily at the window. I had been standing in the shadow, and as I stepped to the window to look out I saw a black face disappear below the palisade of the backyard. The incident was trifling, but it put me on my guard. The next night I looked, but saw nothing. The third night I looked, and caught a glimpse of a face almost pressed to the pane. Thereafter I put up the shutters after dark, and shifted my bed to a part of the room out of line with the window.

which refuses all payment, but yet is so kindly offered

It was the same out of doors. I would suddenly be conscious, as I walked on the road, that I was being watched. If I made as if to walk into the roadside bush there would be a faint rustling, which told that the watcher had retired. The stalking was brilliantly done, for I never caught a glimpse of one of the stalkers. Wherever I went - on the road, on the meadows of the plateau, or on the rugged sides of the Berg - it was the same. I had silent followers, who betrayed themselves now and then by the crackling of a branch, and eyes were always looking at me which I could not see. Only when I went down to the plains did the espionage cease. This thing annoyed Colin desperately, and his walks abroad were one continuous growl. Once, in spite of my efforts, he dashed into the thicket, and a squeal of pain followed. He had got somebody by the leg, and there was blood on the grass.

Since I came to Blaauwildebeestefontein I had forgotten the mystery I had set out to track in the excitement of a new life and my sordid contest with Japp. But now this espionage brought back my old preoccupation. I was being watched because some person or persons thought that I was dangerous. My suspicions fastened on Japp, but I soon gave up that clue. It was my presence in the store that was a danger to him, not my wanderings about the countryside. It might be that he had engineered the espionage so as to drive me out of the place in sheer annoyance; but I flattered myself that Mr Japp knew me too well to imagine that such a game was likely to succeed.

The mischief was that I could not make out who the trackers were. I had visited all the surrounding locations, and was on good enough terms with all the chiefs. There was 'Mpefu, a dingy old fellow who had spent a good deal of his life in a Boer gaol before the war. There was a mission station at his place, and his people seemed to me to be well behaved and prosperous. Majinje was a chieftainess, a little girl whom nobody was allowed to see. Her location was a miserable affair, and her tribe was yearly shrinking in numbers. Then there was Magata farther north among the mountains. He had no quarrel with me, for he used to give me a meal when I went out hunting in that direction; and once he turned out a hundred of his young men, and I had a great battue of wild dogs. Sikitola, the biggest of all, lived some distance out in the flats. I knew less about him; but if his men were the trackers, they must have spent most of their days a weary way from their kraal. The Kaffirs in the huts at Blaauwildebeestefontein were mostly Christians, and quiet, decent fellows, who farmed their little gardens, and certainly preferred me to Japp. I thought at one time of riding into Pietersdorp to consult the Native Commissioner. But I discovered that the old man, who knew the country, was gone, and that his successor was a young fellow from Rhodesia, who knew nothing about anything. Besides, the natives round Blaauwildebeestefontein were well conducted, and received few official visitations. Now and then a couple of Zulu policemen passed in pursuit of some minor malefactor, and the collector came for the hut-tax; but we gave the Government little work, and they did not trouble their heads about us.

As I have said, the clues I had brought out with me to Blaauwildebeestefontein began to occupy my mind again; and the more I thought of the business the keener I grew. I used to amuse myself with setting out my various bits of knowledge. There was first of all the Rev. John Laputa, his doings on the Kirkcaple shore, his talk with Henriques about Blaauwildebeestefontein, and his strange behaviour at Durban. Then there was what Colles had told me about the place being queer, how nobody would stay long either in the store or the schoolhouse. Then there was my talk with Aitken at Lourenco Marques, and his story of a great wizard in the neighbourhood to whom all Kaffirs made pilgrimages, and the suspicion of a diamond pipe. Last and most important, there was this perpetual spying on myself. It was as clear as daylight that the place held some secret, and I wondered if old Japp knew. I was fool enough one day to ask him about diamonds. He met me with contemptuous laughter. 'There's your ignorant Britisher,' he cried. 'If you had ever been to Kimberley you would know the look of a diamond country. You're as likely to find diamonds here as ocean pearls. But go out and scrape in the spruit if you like; you'll maybe find some garnets.'

I made cautious inquiries, too, chiefly through Mr Wardlaw, who was becoming a great expert at Kaffir, about the existence of Aitken's wizard, but he could get no news. The most he found out was that there was a good cure for fever among Sikitola's men, and that Majinje, if she pleased, could bring rain.



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