cry even when wounded, and only rarely during the breeding

rain and cloudlibrary2023-12-07 12:07:17 27 78

In about an hour's time the ground descended steeply, and I saw before me the shining reaches of a river. I had the chief features of the countryside clear in my mind, both from old porings over maps, and from Arcoll's instructions. This stream must be the Little Letaba, and I must cross it if I would get to the mountains. I remembered that Majinje's kraal stood on its left bank, and higher up in its valley in the Berg 'Mpefu lived. At all costs the kraals must be avoided. Once across it I must make for the Letsitela, another tributary of the Great Letaba, and by keeping the far bank of that stream I should cross the mountains to the place on the plateau of the Wood Bush which Arcoll had told me would be his headquarters.

cry even when wounded, and only rarely during the breeding

It is easy to talk about crossing a river, and looking to-day at the slender streak on the map I am amazed that so small a thing should have given me such ugly tremors. Yet I have rarely faced a job I liked so little. The stream ran yellow and sluggish under the clear moon. On the near side a thick growth of bush clothed the bank, but on the far side I made out a swamp with tall bulrushes. The distance across was no more than fifty yards, but I would have swum a mile more readily in deep water. The place stank of crocodiles. There was no ripple to break the oily flow except where a derelict branch swayed with the current. Something in the stillness, the eerie light on the water, and the rotting smell of the swamp made that stream seem unhallowed and deadly.

cry even when wounded, and only rarely during the breeding

I sat down and considered the matter. Crocodiles had always terrified me more than any created thing, and to be dragged by iron jaws to death in that hideous stream seemed to me the most awful of endings. Yet cross it I must if I were to get rid of my human enemies. I remembered a story of an escaped prisoner during the war who had only the Komati River between him and safety. But he dared not enter it, and was recaptured by a Boer commando. I was determined that such cowardice should not be laid to my charge. If I was to die, I would at least have given myself every chance of life. So I braced myself as best I could, and looked for a place to enter.

cry even when wounded, and only rarely during the breeding

The veld-craft I had mastered had taught me a few things. One was that wild animals drink at night, and that they have regular drinking places. I thought that the likeliest place for crocodiles was at or around such spots, and, therefore, I resolved to take the water away from a drinking place. I went up the bank, noting where the narrow bush-paths emerged on the water-side. I scared away several little buck, and once the violent commotion in the bush showed that I had frightened some bigger animal, perhaps a hartebeest. Still following the bank I came to a reach where the undergrowth was unbroken and the water looked deeper.

Suddenly - I fear I must use this adverb often, for all the happenings on that night were sudden - I saw a biggish animal break through the reeds on the far side. It entered the water and, whether wading or swimming I could not see, came out a little distance. Then some sense must have told it of my presence, for it turned and with a grunt made its way back.

I saw that it was a big wart-hog, and began to think. Pig, unlike other beasts, drink not at night, but in the daytime. The hog had, therefore, not come to drink, but to swim across. Now, I argued, he would choose a safe place, for the wart-hog, hideous though he is, is a wise beast. What was safe for him would, therefore, in all likelihood be safe for me.

With this hope to comfort me I prepared to enter. My first care was the jewels, so, feeling them precarious in my shirt, I twined the collar round my neck and clasped it. The snake- clasp was no flimsy device of modern jewellery, and I had no fear but that it would hold. I held the pistol between my teeth, and with a prayer to God slipped into the muddy waters.

I swam in the wild way of a beginner who fears cramp. The current was light and the water moderately warm, but I seemed to go very slowly, and I was cold with apprehension. In the middle it suddenly shallowed, and my breast came against a mudshoal. I thought it was a crocodile, and in my confusion the pistol dropped from my mouth and disappeared.



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