Part 1 out of 5
Time, they say, must the best of us capture,
And travel and battle and gems and gold
No more can kindle the ancient rapture,
For even the youngest of hearts grows old.
But in you, I think, the boy is not over;
So take this medley of ways and wars
As the gift of a friend and a fellow-lover
Of the fairest country under the stars.
i. The Man on the Kirkcaple Shore
ii. Furth! Fortune!
iv. My Journey to the Winter-Veld
v. Mr Wardlaw Has a Premonition
vi. The Drums Beat at Sunset
vii. Captain Arcoll Tells a Tale
viii. I Fall in Again with the Reverend John Laputa
ix. The Store at Umvelos'
x. I Go Treasure-Hunting
xi. The Cave of the Rooirand
xii. Captain Arcoll Sends a Message
xiii. The Drift of the Letaba
xiv. I Carry the Collar of Prester John
xv. Morning in the Berg
xvi. Inanda's Kraal
xvii. A Deal and Its Consequences
xviii. How a Man May Sometimes Put His Trust in a Horse
xix. Arcoll's Shepherding
xx. My Last Sight of the Reverend John Laputa
xxi. I Climb the Crags a Second Time
xxii. A Great Peril and a Great Salvation
xxiii. My Uncle's Gift Is Many Times Multiplied
THE MAN ON THE KIRKCAPLE SHORE
I mind as if it were yesterday my first sight of the man. Little
I knew at the time how big the moment was with destiny, or
how often that face seen in the fitful moonlight would haunt
my sleep and disturb my waking hours. But I mind yet the
cold grue of terror I got from it, a terror which was surely
more than the due of a few truant lads breaking the Sabbath
with their play.
The town of Kirkcaple, of which and its adjacent parish of
Portincross my father was the minister, lies on a hillside above
the little bay of Caple, and looks squarely out on the North
Sea. Round the horns of land which enclose the bay the coast
shows on either side a battlement of stark red cliffs through
which a burn or two makes a pass to the water's edge. The bay
itself is ringed with fine clean sands, where we lads of the
burgh school loved to bathe in the warm weather. But on
long holidays the sport was to go farther afield among the
cliffs; for there there were many deep caves and pools, where
podleys might be caught with the line, and hid treasures
sought for at the expense of the skin of the knees and the
buttons of the trousers. Many a long Saturday I have passed
in a crinkle of the cliffs, having lit a fire of driftwood, and
made believe that I was a smuggler or a Jacobite new landed
from France. There was a band of us in Kirkcaple, lads of my
own age, including Archie Leslie, the son of my father's
session-clerk, and Tam Dyke, the provost's nephew. We
were sealed to silence by the blood oath, and we bore each the
name of some historic pirate or sailorman. I was Paul Jones,
Tam was Captain Kidd, and Archie, need I say it, was Morgan
himself. Our tryst was a cave where a little water called the
Dyve Burn had cut its way through the cliffs to the sea. There
we forgathered in the summer evenings and of a Saturday
afternoon in winter, and told mighty tales of our prowess and
flattered our silly hearts. But the sober truth is that our deeds
were of the humblest, and a dozen of fish or a handful of
apples was all our booty, and our greatest exploit a fight with
the roughs at the Dyve tan-work.
My father's spring Communion fell on the last Sabbath of
April, and on the particular Sabbath of which I speak the
weather was mild and bright for the time of year. I had been
surfeited with the Thursday's and Saturday's services, and the
two long diets of worship on the Sabbath were hard for a lad
of twelve to bear with the spring in his bones and the sun
slanting through the gallery window. There still remained the
service on the Sabbath evening - a doleful prospect, for the
Rev. Mr Murdoch of Kilchristie, noted for the length of his
discourses, had exchanged pulpits with my father. So my mind
was ripe for the proposal of Archie Leslie, on our way home to
tea, that by a little skill we might give the kirk the slip. At our
Communion the pews were emptied of their regular occupants
and the congregation seated itself as it pleased. The manse seat
was full of the Kirkcaple relations of Mr Murdoch, who had
been invited there by my mother to hear him, and it was not
hard to obtain permission to sit with Archie and Tam Dyke in
the cock-loft in the gallery. Word was sent to Tam, and so it
happened that three abandoned lads duly passed the plate
and took their seats in the cock-loft. But when the bell had
done jowing, and we heard by the sounds of their feet that
the elders had gone in to the kirk, we slipped down the stairs
and out of the side door. We were through the churchyard in a
twinkling, and hot-foot on the road to the Dyve Burn.
It was the fashion of the genteel in Kirkcaple to put their
boys into what were known as Eton suits - long trousers, cut-
away jackets, and chimney-pot hats. I had been one of the
earliest victims, and well I remember how I fled home from
the Sabbath school with the snowballs of the town roughs
rattling off my chimney-pot. Archie had followed, his family
being in all things imitators of mine. We were now clothed in
this wearisome garb, so our first care was to secrete safely our
hats in a marked spot under some whin bushes on the links.
Tam was free from the bondage of fashion, and wore his
ordinary best knickerbockers. From inside his jacket he
unfolded his special treasure, which was to light us on our
expedition - an evil-smelling old tin lantern with a shutter.
Tam was of the Free Kirk persuasion, and as his Communion
fell on a different day from ours, he was spared the
bondage of church attendance from which Archie and I had
revolted. But notable events had happened that day in his
church. A black man, the Rev. John Something-or-other, had
been preaching. Tam was full of the portent. 'A nagger,' he
said, 'a great black chap as big as your father, Archie.' He
seemed to have banged the bookboard with some effect, and
had kept Tam, for once in his life, awake. He had preached
about the heathen in Africa, and how a black man was as good
as a white man in the sight of God, and he had forecast a day
when the negroes would have something to teach the British in
the way of civilization. So at any rate ran the account of Tam
Dyke, who did not share the preacher's views. 'It's all
nonsense, Davie. The Bible says that the children of Ham were
to be our servants. If I were the minister I wouldn't let a
nigger into the pulpit. I wouldn't let him farther than the
Night fell as we came to the broomy spaces of the links, and
ere we had breasted the slope of the neck which separates
Kirkcaple Bay from the cliffs it was as dark as an April evening
with a full moon can be. Tam would have had it darker. He
got out his lantern, and after a prodigious waste of matches
kindled the candle-end inside, turned the dark shutter, and
trotted happily on. We had no need of his lighting till the Dyve
Burn was reached and the path began to descend steeply
through the rift in the crags.
It was here we found that some one had gone before us.
Archie was great in those days at tracking, his ambition
running in Indian paths. He would walk always with his head
bent and his eyes on the ground, whereby he several times
found lost coins and once a trinket dropped by the provost's
wife. At the edge of the burn, where the path turns downward,
there is a patch of shingle washed up by some spate. Archie
was on his knees in a second. 'Lads,' he cried, 'there's spoor
here;' and then after some nosing, 'it's a man's track, going
downward, a big man with flat feet. It's fresh, too, for it
crosses the damp bit of gravel, and the water has scarcely filled
the holes yet.'
We did not dare to question Archie's woodcraft, but it
puzzled us who the stranger could be. In summer weather you
might find a party of picnickers here, attracted by the fine hard
sands at the burn mouth. But at this time of night and season
of the year there was no call for any one to be trespassing on
our preserves. No fishermen came this way, the lobster-pots
being all to the east, and the stark headland of the Red Neb
made the road to them by the water's edge difficult. The tan-
work lads used to come now and then for a swim, but you
would not find a tan-work lad bathing on a chill April night.
Yet there was no question where our precursor had gone. He
was making for the shore. Tam unshuttered his lantern, and
the steps went clearly down the corkscrew path. 'Maybe he is
after our cave. We'd better go cannily.'
The glim was dowsed - the words were Archie's - and in
the best contraband manner we stole down the gully. The
business had suddenly taken an eerie turn, and I think in our
hearts we were all a little afraid. But Tam had a lantern, and it
would never do to turn back from an adventure which had all
the appearance of being the true sort. Half way down there is
a scrog of wood, dwarf alders and hawthorn, which makes an
arch over the path. I, for one, was glad when we got through
this with no worse mishap than a stumble from Tam which
caused the lantern door to fly open and the candle to go out.
We did not stop to relight it, but scrambled down the screes
till we came to the long slabs of reddish rock which abutted on
the beach. We could not see the track, so we gave up the
business of scouts, and dropped quietly over the big boulder
and into the crinkle of cliff which we called our cave.
There was nobody there, so we relit the lantern and examined
our properties. Two or three fishing-rods for the burn,
much damaged by weather; some sea-lines on a dry shelf of
rock; a couple of wooden boxes; a pile of driftwood for fires,
and a heap of quartz in which we thought we had found veins
of gold - such was the modest furnishing of our den. To this I
must add some broken clay pipes, with which we made believe
to imitate our elders, smoking a foul mixture of coltsfoot leaves
and brown paper. The band was in session, so following our
ritual we sent out a picket. Tam was deputed to go round the
edge of the cliff from which the shore was visible, and report
if the coast was clear.
He returned in three minutes, his eyes round with amazement
in the lantern light. 'There's a fire on the sands,' he
repeated, 'and a man beside it.'
Here was news indeed. Without a word we made for the
open, Archie first, and Tam, who had seized and shuttered his
lantern, coming last. We crawled to the edge of the cliff and
peered round, and there sure enough, on the hard bit of sand
which the tide had left by the burn mouth, was a twinkle of
light and a dark figure.
The moon was rising, and besides there was that curious
sheen from the sea which you will often notice in spring. The
glow was maybe a hundred yards distant, a little spark of fire I
could have put in my cap, and, from its crackling and smoke,
composed of dry seaweed and half-green branches from the
burnside thickets. A man's figure stood near it, and as we
looked it moved round and round the fire in circles which first
of all widened and then contracted.
The sight was so unexpected, so beyond the beat of our
experience, that we were all a little scared. What could this
strange being want with a fire at half-past eight of an April
Sabbath night on the Dyve Burn sands? We discussed the
thing in whispers behind a boulder, but none of us had any
solution. 'Belike he's come ashore in a boat,' said Archie. 'He's
maybe a foreigner.' But I pointed out that, from the tracks
which Archie himself had found, the man must have come
overland down the cliffs. Tam was clear he was a madman,
and was for withdrawing promptly from the whole business.
But some spell kept our feet tied there in that silent world of
sand and moon and sea. I remember looking back and seeing
the solemn, frowning faces of the cliffs, and feeling somehow
shut in with this unknown being in a strange union. What kind
of errand had brought this interloper into our territory? For a
wonder I was less afraid than curious. I wanted to get to the
heart of the matter, and to discover what the man was up to
with his fire and his circles.
The same thought must have been in Archie's head, for he
dropped on his belly and began to crawl softly seawards. I
followed, and Tam, with sundry complaints, crept after my
heels. Between the cliffs and the fire lay some sixty yards of
debris and boulders above the level of all but the high spring
tides. Beyond lay a string of seaweedy pools and then the hard
sands of the burnfoot. There was excellent cover among the
big stones, and apart from the distance and the dim light, the
man by the fire was too preoccupied in his task to keep much
look-out towards the land. I remember thinking he had chosen
his place well, for save from the sea he could not be seen. The
cliffs are so undercut that unless a watcher on the coast were
on their extreme edge he would not see the burnfoot sands.
Archie, the skilled tracker, was the one who all but betrayed
us. His knee slipped on the seaweed, and he rolled off a
boulder, bringing down with him a clatter of small stones. We
lay as still as mice, in terror lest the man should have heard the
noise and have come to look for the cause. By-and-by when I
ventured to raise my head above a flat-topped stone I saw that
he was undisturbed. The fire still burned, and he was pacing
On the edge of the pools was an outcrop of red sandstone
much fissured by the sea. Here was an excellent vantage-
ground, and all three of us curled behind it, with our eyes just
over the edge. The man was not twenty yards off, and I could
see clearly what manner of fellow he was. For one thing he was
huge of size, or so he seemed to me in the half-light. He wore
nothing but a shirt and trousers, and I could hear by the flap
of his feet on the sand that he was barefoot.
Suddenly Tam Dyke gave a gasp of astonishment. 'Gosh,
it's the black minister!' he said.
It was indeed a black man, as we saw when the moon came
out of a cloud. His head was on his breast, and he walked
round the fire with measured, regular steps. At intervals he
would stop and raise both hands to the sky, and bend his
body in the direction of the moon. But he never uttered a word.
'It's magic,' said Archie. 'He's going to raise Satan. We must
bide here and see what happens, for he'll grip us if we try to
go back. The moon's ower high.'
The procession continued as if to some slow music. I had
been in no fear of the adventure back there by our cave; but
now that I saw the thing from close at hand, my courage began
to ebb. There was something desperately uncanny about this
great negro, who had shed his clerical garments, and was now
practising some strange magic alone by the sea. I had no doubt
it was the black art, for there was that in the air and the scene
which spelled the unlawful. As we watched, the circles
stopped, and the man threw something on the fire. A thick
smoke rose of which we could feel the aromatic scent, and
when it was gone the flame burned with a silvery blueness like
moonlight. Still no sound came from the minister, but he took
something from his belt, and began to make odd markings in
the sand between the inner circle and the fire. As he turned, the
moon gleamed on the implement, and we saw it was a great knife.
We were now scared in real earnest. Here were we, three boys,
at night in a lonely place a few yards from a savage with a knife.
The adventure was far past my liking, and even the intrepid
Archie was having qualms, if I could judge from his set face.
As for Tam, his teeth were chattering like a threshing-mill.
Suddenly I felt something soft and warm on the rock at my
right hand. I felt again, and, lo! it was the man's clothes.
There were his boots and socks, his minister's coat and his
This made the predicament worse, for if we waited till he
finished his rites we should for certain be found by him. At
the same time, to return over the boulders in the bright
moonlight seemed an equally sure way to discovery. I whispered
to Archie, who was for waiting a little longer. 'Something
may turn up,' he said. It was always his way.
I do not know what would have turned up, for we had no
chance of testing it. The situation had proved too much for
the nerves of Tam Dyke. As the man turned towards us in his
bowings and bendings, Tam suddenly sprang to his feet and
shouted at him a piece of schoolboy rudeness then fashionable
'Wha called ye partan-face, my bonny man?' Then, clutching
his lantern, he ran for dear life, while Archie and I raced
at his heels. As I turned I had a glimpse of a huge figure, knife
in hand, bounding towards us.
Though I only saw it in the turn of a head, the face stamped
itself indelibly upon my mind. It was black, black as ebony,
but it was different from the ordinary negro. There were no
thick lips and flat nostrils; rather, if I could trust my eyes, the
nose was high-bridged, and the lines of the mouth sharp and
firm. But it was distorted into an expression of such a devilish
fury and amazement that my heart became like water.
We had a start, as I have said, of some twenty or thirty
yards. Among the boulders we were not at a great disadvantage,
for a boy can flit quickly over them, while a grown man
must pick his way. Archie, as ever, kept his wits the best of us.
'Make straight for the burn,' he shouted in a hoarse whisper;
we'll beat him on the slope.'
We passed the boulders and slithered over the outcrop of
red rock and the patches of sea-pink till we reached the
channel of the Dyve water, which flows gently among pebbles
after leaving the gully. Here for the first time I looked back
and saw nothing. I stopped involuntarily, and that halt was
nearly my undoing. For our pursuer had reached the burn
before us, but lower down, and was coming up its bank to cut
At most times I am a notable coward, and in these days I
was still more of one, owing to a quick and easily-heated
imagination. But now I think I did a brave thing, though more
by instinct than resolution. Archie was running first, and had
already splashed through the burn; Tam came next, just about
to cross, and the black man was almost at his elbow. Another
second and Tam would have been in his clutches had I not
yelled out a warning and made straight up the bank of the
burn. Tam fell into the pool - I could hear his spluttering
cry - but he got across; for I heard Archie call to him, and the
two vanished into the thicket which clothes all the left bank of
the gully. The pursuer, seeing me on his own side of the water,
followed straight on; and before I knew it had become a race
between the two of us.
I was hideously frightened, but not without hope, for the
screes and shelves of this right side of the gully were known to
me from many a day's exploring. I was light on my feet and
uncommonly sound in wind, being by far the best long-
distance runner in Kirkcaple. If I could only keep my lead till
I reached a certain corner I knew of, I could outwit my enemy;
for it was possible from that place to make a detour behind a
waterfall and get into a secret path of ours among the bushes.
I flew up the steep screes, not daring to look round; but at the
top, where the rocks begin, I had a glimpse of my pursuer.
The man could run. Heavy in build though he was he was not
six yards behind me, and I could see the white of his eyes and
the red of his gums. I saw something else - a glint of white
metal in his hand. He still had his knife.
Fear sent me up the rocks like a seagull, and I scrambled
and leaped, making for the corner I knew of. Something told
me that the pursuit was slackening, and for a moment I halted
to look round. A second time a halt was nearly the end of me.
A great stone flew through the air, and took the cliff an inch
from my head, half-blinding me with splinters. And now I
began to get angry. I pulled myself into cover, skirted a rock
till I came to my corner, and looked back for the enemy. There
he was scrambling by the way I had come, and making a
prodigious clatter among the stones. I picked up a loose bit of
rock and hurled it with all my force in his direction. It broke
before it reached him, but a considerable lump, to my joy,
took him full in the face. Then my terrors revived. I slipped
behind the waterfall and was soon in the thicket, and toiling
towards the top.
I think this last bit was the worst in the race, for my strength
was failing, and I seemed to hear those horrid steps at my
heels. My heart was in my mouth as, careless of my best
clothes, I tore through the hawthorn bushes. Then I struck
the path and, to my relief, came on Archie and Tam, who
were running slowly in desperate anxiety about my fate. We
then took hands and soon reached the top of the gully.
For a second we looked back. The pursuit had ceased, and
far down the burn we could hear the sounds as of some one
going back to the sands.
'Your face is bleeding, Davie. Did he get near enough to hit
you?' Archie asked.
'He hit me with a stone. But I gave him better. He's got a
bleeding nose to remember this night by.'
We did not dare take the road by the links, but made for
the nearest human habitation. This was a farm about half a
mile inland, and when we reached it we lay down by the stack-
yard gate and panted.
'I've lost my lantern,' said Tam. 'The big black brute! See if
I don't tell my father.'
'Ye'll do nothing of the kind,' said Archie fiercely. 'He knows
nothing about us and can't do us any harm. But if the story
got out and he found out who we were, he'd murder the lot of US.'
He made us swear secrecy, which we were willing enough to
do, seeing very clearly the sense in his argument. Then we
struck the highroad and trotted back at our best pace to
Kirkcaple, fear of our families gradually ousting fear of pursuit.
In our excitement Archie and I forgot about our Sabbath
hats, reposing quietly below a whin bush on the links.
We were not destined to escape without detection. As ill
luck would have it, Mr Murdoch had been taken ill with the
stomach-ache after the second psalm, and the congregation
had been abruptly dispersed. My mother had waited for me at
the church door, and, seeing no signs of her son, had searched
the gallery. Then the truth came out, and, had I been only for
a mild walk on the links, retribution would have overtaken my
truantry. But to add to this I arrived home with a scratched
face, no hat, and several rents in my best trousers. I was well
cuffed and sent to bed, with the promise of full-dress chastisement
when my father should come home in the morning.
My father arrived before breakfast next day, and I was duly
and soundly whipped. I set out for school with aching bones
to add to the usual depression of Monday morning. At the
corner of the Nethergate I fell in with Archie, who was staring
at a trap carrying two men which was coming down the street.
It was the Free Church minister - he had married a rich wife
and kept a horse - driving the preacher of yesterday to the
railway station. Archie and I were in behind a doorpost in a
twinkling, so that we could see in safety the last of our enemy.
He was dressed in minister's clothes, with a heavy fur-coat and
a brand new yellow-leather Gladstone bag. He was talking
loudly as he passed, and the Free Church minister seemed to
be listening attentively. I heard his deep voice saying something
about the 'work of God in this place.' But what I noticed
specially - and the sight made me forget my aching hinder
parts - was that he had a swollen eye, and two strips of
sticking-plaster on his cheek.
In this plain story of mine there will be so many wild doings
ere the end is reached, that I beg my reader's assent to a
prosaic digression. I will tell briefly the things which happened
between my sight of the man on the Kirkcaple sands and my
voyage to Africa.
I continued for three years at the burgh school, where my
progress was less notable in my studies than in my sports. One
by one I saw my companions pass out of idle boyhood and be
set to professions. Tam Dyke on two occasions ran off to sea
in the Dutch schooners which used to load with coal in our
port; and finally his father gave him his will, and he was
apprenticed to the merchant service. Archie Leslie, who was a
year my elder, was destined for the law, so he left Kirkcaple
for an Edinburgh office, where he was also to take out classes
at the college. I remained on at school till I sat alone by myself
in the highest class - a position of little dignity and deep
loneliness. I had grown a tall, square-set lad, and my prowess
at Rugby football was renowned beyond the parishes of
Kirkcaple and Portincross. To my father I fear I was a
disappointment. He had hoped for something in his son more
bookish and sedentary, more like his gentle, studious self.
On one thing I was determined: I should follow a learned
profession. The fear of being sent to an office, like so many of
my schoolfellows, inspired me to the little progress I ever
made in my studies. I chose the ministry, not, I fear, out of
any reverence for the sacred calling, but because my father had
followed it before me. Accordingly I was sent at the age of
sixteen for a year's finishing at the High School of Edinburgh,
and the following winter began my Arts course at the
If Fate had been kinder to me, I think I might have become
a scholar. At any rate I was just acquiring a taste for
philosophy and the dead languages when my father died suddenly
of a paralytic shock, and I had to set about earning a living.
My mother was left badly off, for my poor father had never
been able to save much from his modest stipend. When all
things were settled, it turned out that she might reckon on an
income of about fifty pounds a year. This was not enough to
live on, however modest the household, and certainly not
enough to pay for the colleging of a son. At this point an uncle
of hers stepped forward with a proposal. He was a well-to-do
bachelor, alone in the world, and he invited my mother to live
with him and take care of his house. For myself he proposed a
post in some mercantile concern, for he had much influence in
the circles of commerce. There was nothing for it but to accept
gratefully. We sold our few household goods, and moved to his
gloomy house in Dundas Street. A few days later he announced
at dinner that he had found for me a chance which might lead
to better things.
'You see, Davie,' he explained, 'you don't know the rudiments
of business life. There's no house in the country that
would take you in except as a common clerk, and you would
never earn much more than a hundred pounds a year all your
days. If you want to better your future you must go abroad,
where white men are at a premium. By the mercy of Providence
I met yesterday an old friend, Thomas Mackenzie, who
was seeing his lawyer about an estate he is bidding for. He is
the head of one of the biggest trading and shipping concerns
in the world - Mackenzie, Mure, and Oldmeadows - you may
have heard the name. Among other things he has half the
stores in South Africa, where they sell everything from Bibles
to fish-hooks. Apparently they like men from home to manage
the stores, and to make a long story short, when I put your
case to him, he promised you a place. I had a wire from him
this morning confirming the offer. You are to be assistant
storekeeper at -' (my uncle fumbled in his pocket, and then
read from the yellow slip) 'at Blaauwildebeestefontein. There's
a mouthful for you.'
In this homely way I first heard of a place which was to be
the theatre of so many strange doings.
'It's a fine chance for you,' my uncle continued. 'You'll only
be assistant at first, but when you have learned your job you'll
have a store of your own. Mackenzie's people will pay you
three hundred pounds a year, and when you get a store you'll
get a percentage on sales. It lies with you to open up new trade
among the natives. I hear that Blaauw - something or other, is
in the far north of the Transvaal, and I see from the map that
it is in a wild, hilly country. You may find gold or diamonds
up there, and come back and buy Portincross House.' My
uncle rubbed his hands and smiled cheerily.
Truth to tell I was both pleased and sad. If a learned
profession was denied me I vastly preferred a veld store to an
Edinburgh office stool. Had I not been still under the shadow
of my father's death I might have welcomed the chance of new
lands and new folk. As it was, I felt the loneliness of an exile.
That afternoon I walked on the Braid Hills, and when I saw in
the clear spring sunlight the coast of Fife, and remembered
Kirkcaple and my boyish days, I could have found it in me to
sit down and cry.
A fortnight later I sailed. My mother bade me a tearful
farewell, and my uncle, besides buying me an outfit and paying
my passage money, gave me a present of twenty sovereigns.
'You'll not be your mother's son, Davie,' were his last words,
'if you don't come home with it multiplied by a thousand.' I
thought at the time that I would give more than twenty
thousand pounds to be allowed to bide on the windy shores of Forth.
I sailed from Southampton by an intermediate steamer, and
went steerage to save expense. Happily my acute homesickness
was soon forgotten in another kind of malady. It blew half a
gale before we were out of the Channel, and by the time we
had rounded Ushant it was as dirty weather as ever I hope to
see. I lay mortal sick in my bunk, unable to bear the thought
of food, and too feeble to lift my head. I wished I had never
left home, but so acute was my sickness that if some one had
there and then offered me a passage back or an immediate
landing on shore I should have chosen the latter.
It was not till we got into the fair-weather seas around
Madeira that I recovered enough to sit on deck and observe
my fellow-passengers. There were some fifty of us in the
steerage, mostly wives and children going to join relations,
with a few emigrant artisans and farmers. I early found a
friend in a little man with a yellow beard and spectacles, who
sat down beside me and remarked on the weather in a strong
Scotch accent. He turned out to be a Mr Wardlaw from
Aberdeen, who was going out to be a schoolmaster. He was a
man of good education, who had taken a university degree,
and had taught for some years as an under-master in a school
in his native town. But the east winds had damaged his lungs,
and he had been glad to take the chance of a poorly paid
country school in the veld. When I asked him where he was
going I was amazed to be told, 'Blaauwildebeestefontein.'
Mr Wardlaw was a pleasant little man, with a sharp tongue
but a cheerful temper. He laboured all day at primers of the
Dutch and Kaffir languages, but in the evening after supper
he would walk with me on the after-deck and discuss the
future. Like me, he knew nothing of the land he was going to,
but he was insatiably curious, and he affected me with his
interest. 'This place, Blaauwildebeestefontein,' he used to say,
'is among the Zoutpansberg mountains, and as far as I can
see, not above ninety miles from the railroad. It looks from the
map a well-watered country, and the Agent-General in London
told me it was healthy or I wouldn't have taken the job. It
seems we'll be in the heart of native reserves up there, for
here's a list of chiefs - 'Mpefu, Sikitola, Majinje, Magata; and
there are no white men living to the east of us because of the
fever. The name means the "spring of the blue wildebeeste,"
whatever fearsome animal that may be. It sounds like a place
for adventure, Mr Crawfurd. You'll exploit the pockets of the
black men and I'll see what I can do with their minds.'
There was another steerage passenger whom I could not
help observing because of my dislike of his appearance. He,
too, was a little man, by name Henriques, and in looks the
most atrocious villain I have ever clapped eyes on. He had a
face the colour of French mustard - a sort of dirty green - and
bloodshot, beady eyes with the whites all yellowed with fever.
He had waxed moustaches, and a curious, furtive way of
walking and looking about him. We of the steerage were
careless in our dress, but he was always clad in immaculate
white linen, with pointed, yellow shoes to match his
complexion. He spoke to no one, but smoked long cheroots all day
in the stern of the ship, and studied a greasy pocket-book.
Once I tripped over him in the dark, and he turned on me
with a snarl and an oath. I was short enough with him in
return, and he looked as if he could knife me.
'I'll wager that fellow has been a slave-driver in his time,' I
told Mr Wardlaw, who said, 'God pity his slaves, then.'
And now I come to the incident which made the rest of the
voyage pass all too soon for me, and foreshadowed the strange
events which were to come. It was the day after we crossed the
Line, and the first-class passengers were having deck sports. A
tug-of-war had been arranged between the three classes, and a
half-dozen of the heaviest fellows in the steerage, myself
included, were invited to join. It was a blazing hot afternoon,
but on the saloon deck there were awnings and a cool wind
blowing from the bows. The first-class beat the second easily, and
after a tremendous struggle beat the steerage also. Then they
regaled us with iced-drinks and cigars to celebrate the victory.
I was standing at the edge of the crowd of spectators, when
my eye caught a figure which seemed to have little interest in
our games. A large man in clerical clothes was sitting on a
deck-chair reading a book. There was nothing novel about the
stranger, and I cannot explain the impulse which made me
wish to see his face. I moved a few steps up the deck, and then
I saw that his skin was black. I went a little farther, and
suddenly he raised his eyes from his book and looked round.
It was the face of the man who had terrified me years ago on
the Kirkcaple shore.
I spent the rest of the day in a brown study. It was clear to
me that some destiny had prearranged this meeting. Here was
this man travelling prosperously as a first-class passenger with
all the appurtenances of respectability. I alone had seen him
invoking strange gods in the moonlight, I alone knew of the
devilry in his heart, and I could not but believe that some day
or other there might be virtue in that knowledge.
The second engineer and I had made friends, so I got him
to consult the purser's list for the name of my acquaintance.
He was down as the Rev. John Laputa, and his destination
The next day being Sunday, who should appear to address
us steerage passengers but the black minister. He was introduced
by the captain himself, a notably pious man, who spoke
of the labours of his brother in the dark places of heathendom.
Some of us were hurt in our pride in being made the target of
a black man's oratory. Especially Mr Henriques, whose skin
spoke of the tar-brush, protested with oaths against the insult.
Finally he sat down on a coil of rope, and spat scornfully in
the vicinity of the preacher.
For myself I was intensely curious, and not a little
impressed. The man's face was as commanding as his figure,
and his voice was the most wonderful thing that ever came out
of human mouth. It was full and rich, and gentle, with the
tones of a great organ. He had none of the squat and
preposterous negro lineaments, but a hawk nose like an Arab,
dark flashing eyes, and a cruel and resolute mouth. He was
black as my hat, but for the rest he might have sat for a figure
of a Crusader. I do not know what the sermon was about,
though others told me that it was excellent. All the time I
watched him, and kept saying to myself, 'You hunted me up
the Dyve Burn, but I bashed your face for you.' Indeed, I
thought I could see faint scars on his cheek.
The following night I had toothache, and could not sleep. It
was too hot to breathe under cover, so I got up, lit a pipe, and
walked on the after-deck to ease the pain. The air was very
still, save for the whish of water from the screws and the steady
beat of the engines. Above, a great yellow moon looked down
on me, and a host of pale stars.
The moonlight set me remembering the old affair of the
Dyve Burn, and my mind began to run on the Rev. John
Laputa. It pleased me to think that I was on the track of some
mystery of which I alone had the clue. I promised myself to
search out the antecedents of the minister when I got to
Durban, for I had a married cousin there, who might know
something of his doings. Then, as I passed by the companion-
way to the lower deck, I heard voices, and peeping over the
rail, I saw two men sitting in the shadow just beyond the hatch
of the hold.
I thought they might be two of the sailors seeking coolness
on the open deck, when something in the figure of one of them
made me look again. The next second I had slipped back and stolen
across the after-deck to a point just above them. For the two were
the black minister and that ugly yellow villain, Henriques.
I had no scruples about eavesdropping, but I could make
nothing of their talk. They spoke low, and in some tongue
which may have been Kaffir or Portuguese, but was in any
case unknown to me. I lay, cramped and eager, for many
minutes, and was just getting sick of it when a familiar name
caught my ear. Henriques said something in which I caught
the word 'Blaauwildebeestefontein.' I listened intently, and
there could be no mistake. The minister repeated the name,
and for the next few minutes it recurred often in their talk. I
went back stealthily to bed, having something to make me
forget my aching tooth. First of all, Laputa and Henriques
were allies. Second, the place I was bound for had something
to do with their schemes.
I said nothing to Mr Wardlaw, but spent the next week in
the assiduous toil of the amateur detective. I procured some
maps and books from my friend, the second engineer, and read
all I could about Blaauwildebeestefontein. Not that there was
much to learn; but I remember I had quite a thrill when I
discovered from the chart of the ship's run one day that we
were in the same latitude as that uncouthly-named spot. I
found out nothing, however, about Henriques or the Rev.
John Laputa. The Portuguese still smoked in the stern, and
thumbed his greasy notebook; the minister sat in his deck-
chair, and read heavy volumes from the ship's library. Though
I watched every night, I never found them again together.
At Cape Town Henriques went ashore and did not return.
The minister did not budge from the ship the three days we
lay in port, and, indeed, it seemed to me that he kept his
cabin. At any rate I did not see his great figure on deck till we
were tossing in the choppy seas round Cape Agulhas. Sea-
sickness again attacked me, and with short lulls during our
stoppages at Port Elizabeth and East London, I lay wretchedly
in my bunk till we sighted the bluffs of Durban harbour.
Here it was necessary for me to change my ship, for in the
interests of economy I was going by sea to Delagoa Bay, and
thence by the cheap railway journey into the Transvaal. I
sought out my cousin, who lived in a fine house on the Berea,
and found a comfortable lodging for the three days of my stay
there. I made inquiries about Mr Laputa, but could hear
nothing. There was no native minister of that name, said my
cousin, who was a great authority on all native questions. I
described the man, but got no further light. No one had seen
or heard of such a being, 'unless,' said my cousin, 'he is one of
those American Ethiopian rascals.'
My second task was to see the Durban manager of the firm
which I had undertaken to serve. He was a certain Mr Colles,
a big fat man, who welcomed me in his shirt-sleeves, with a
cigar in his mouth. He received me pleasantly, and took me
home to dinner with him.
'Mr Mackenzie has written about you,' he said. 'I'll be quite frank
with you, Mr Crawfurd. The firm is not exactly satisfied about the
way business has been going lately at Blaauwildebeestefontein.
There's a grand country up there, and a grand opportunity for
the man who can take it. Japp, who is in charge, is an old man
now and past his best, but he has been long with the firm, and
we don't want to hurt his feelings. When he goes, which must be
pretty soon, you'll have a good chance of the place, if you show
yourself an active young fellow.'
He told me a great deal more about Blaauwildebeestefontein,
principally trading details. Incidentally he let drop that Mr
Japp had had several assistants in the last few years. I asked
him why they had left, and he hesitated.
'It's a lonely place, and they didn't like the life. You see,
there are few white men near, and young fellows want society.
They complained, and were moved on. But the firm didn't
think the more of them.'
I told him I had come out with the new schoolmaster.
'Yes,' he said reflectively, 'the school. That's been vacant
pretty often lately. What sort of fellow is this Wardlaw? Will
he stay, I wonder?'
'From all accounts,' I said, 'Blaauwildebeestefontein does
not seem popular.'
'It isn't. That's why we've got you out from home. The
colonial-born doesn't find it fit in with his idea of comfort. He
wants society, and he doesn't like too many natives. There's
nothing up there but natives and a few back-veld Dutchmen
with native blood in them. You fellows from home are less set
on an easy life, or you wouldn't be here.'
There was something in Mr Colles's tone which made me
risk another question.
'What's the matter with the place? There must be more
wrong with it than loneliness to make everybody clear out. I
have taken on this job, and I mean to stick to it, so you needn't
be afraid to tell me.'
The manager looked at me sharply. 'That's the way to talk,
my lad. You look as if you had a stiff back, so I'll be frank with
you. There is something about the place. It gives the ordinary
man the jumps. What it is, I don't know, and the men who
come back don't know themselves. I want you to find out for
me. You'll be doing the firm an enormous service if you can
get on the track of it. It may be the natives, or it may be the
takhaars, or it may be something else. Only old Japp can
stick it out, and he's too old and doddering to care about
moving. I want you to keep your eyes skinned, and write
privately to me if you want any help. You're not out here for
your health, I can see, and here's a chance for you to get your
foot on the ladder.
'Remember, I'm your friend,' he said to me again at the
garden gate. 'Take my advice and lie very low. Don't talk,
don't meddle with drink, learn all you can of the native jabber,
but don't let on you understand a word. You're sure to get on
the track of something. Good-bye, my boy,' and he waved a
fat hand to me.
That night I embarked on a cargo-boat which was going
round the coast to Delagoa Bay. It is a small world - at least
for us far-wandering Scots. For who should I find when I got
on board but my old friend Tam Dyke, who was second mate
on the vessel? We wrung each other's hands, and I answered,
as best I could, his questions about Kirkcaple. I had supper
with him in the cabin, and went on deck to see the moorings cast.
Suddenly there was a bustle on the quay, and a big man
with a handbag forced his way up the gangway. The men who
were getting ready to cast off tried to stop him, but he elbowed
his way forward, declaring he must see the captain. Tam went
up to him and asked civilly if he had a passage taken. He
admitted he had not, but said he would make it right in two
minutes with the captain himself. The Rev. John Laputa, for
some reason of his own, was leaving Durban with more haste
than he had entered it.
I do not know what passed with the captain, but the minister
got his passage right enough, and Tam was even turned out of his
cabin to make room for him. This annoyed my friend intensely.
'That black brute must be made of money, for he paid
through the nose for this, or I'm a Dutchman. My old man
doesn't take to his black brethren any more than I do. Hang it
all, what are we coming to, when we're turning into a blooming
cargo boat for niggers?'
I had all too little of Tam's good company, for on the
afternoon of the second day we reached the little town of
Lourenco Marques. This was my final landing in Africa, and I
mind how eagerly I looked at the low, green shores and the
bush-covered slopes of the mainland. We were landed from
boats while the ship lay out in the bay, and Tam came ashore
with me to spend the evening. By this time I had lost every
remnant of homesickness. I had got a job before me which
promised better things than colleging at Edinburgh, and I was
as keen to get up country now as I had been loth to leave
England. My mind being full of mysteries, I scanned every
Portuguese loafer on the quay as if he had been a spy, and
when Tam and I had had a bottle of Collates in a cafe I felt
that at last I had got to foreign parts and a new world.
Tam took me to supper with a friend of his, a Scot by the
name of Aitken, who was landing-agent for some big mining
house on the Rand. He hailed from Fife and gave me a hearty
welcome, for he had heard my father preach in his young days.
Aitken was a strong, broad-shouldered fellow who had been a
sergeant in the Gordons, and during the war he had done
secret-service work in Delagoa. He had hunted, too, and traded
up and down Mozambique, and knew every dialect of the
Kaffirs. He asked me where I was bound for, and when I told
him there was the same look in his eyes as I had seen with the
'You're going to a rum place, Mr Crawfurd,' he said.
'So I'm told. Do you know anything about it? You're not
the first who has looked queer when I've spoken the name.'
'I've never been there,' he said, 'though I've been pretty
near it from the Portuguese side. That's the funny thing about
Blaauwildebeestefontein. Everybody has heard of it, and
nobody knows it.'
'I wish you would tell me what you have heard.'
'Well, the natives are queer up thereaways. There's some
kind of a holy place which every Kaffir from Algoa Bay to the
Zambesi and away beyond knows about. When I've been
hunting in the bush-veld I've often met strings of Kaffirs from
hundreds of miles distant, and they've all been going or coming
from Blaauwildebeestefontein. It's like Mecca to the Mohammedans,
a place they go to on pilgrimage. I've heard of an old
man up there who is believed to be two hundred years old.
Anyway, there's some sort of great witch or wizard living in
Aitken smoked in silence for a time; then he said, 'I'll tell
you another thing. I believe there's a diamond mine. I've often
meant to go up and look for it.'
Tam and I pressed him to explain, which he did slowly after
'Did you ever hear of I.D.B. - illicit diamond broking?' he
asked me. 'Well, it's notorious that the Kaffirs on the diamond
fields get away with a fair number of stones, and they are
bought by Jew and Portuguese traders. It's against the law to
deal in them, and when I was in the intelligence here we used
to have a lot of trouble with the vermin. But I discovered that
most of the stones came from natives in one part of the
country - more or less round Blaauwildebeestefontein - and I
see no reason to think that they had all been stolen from
Kimberley or the Premier. Indeed some of the stones I got
hold of were quite different from any I had seen in South
Africa before. I shouldn't wonder if the Kaffirs in the
Zoutpansberg had struck some rich pipe, and had the sense to keep
quiet about it. Maybe some day I'll take a run up to see you
and look into the matter.'
After this the talk turned on other topics till Tam, still
nursing his grievance, asked a question on his own account.
'Did you ever come across a great big native parson called
Laputa? He came on board as we were leaving Durban, and I
had to turn out of my cabin for him.' Tam described him
accurately but vindictively, and added that 'he was sure he was
up to no good.'
Aitken shook his head. 'No, I don't know the man. You say
he landed here? Well, I'll keep a look-out for him. Big native
parsons are not so common.'
Then I asked about Henriques, of whom Tam knew nothing.
I described his face, his clothes, and his habits. Aitken
'Tut, my man, most of the subjects of his Majesty the King
of Portugal would answer to that description. If he's a rascal,
as you think, you may be certain he's in the I.D.B. business,
and if I'm right about Blaauwildebeestefontein you'll likely
have news of him there some time or other. Drop me a line if
he comes, and I'll get on to his record.'
I saw Tam off in the boat with a fairly satisfied mind. I was
going to a place with a secret, and I meant to find it out. The
natives round Blaauwildebeestefontein were queer, and
diamonds were suspected somewhere in the neighbourhood.
Henriques had something to do with the place, and so had the
Rev. John Laputa, about whom I knew one strange thing. So
did Tam by the way, but he had not identified his former
pursuer, and I had told him nothing. I was leaving two men
behind me, Colles at Durban and Aitken at Lourenco Marques,
who would help me if trouble came. Things were shaping
well for some kind of adventure.
The talk with Aitken had given Tam an inkling of my
thoughts. His last words to me were an appeal to let him know
if there was any fun going.
'I can see you're in for a queer job. Promise to let me hear
from you if there's going to be a row, and I'll come up country,
though I should have to desert the service. Send us a letter to
the agents at Durban in case we should be in port. You haven't
forgotten the Dyve Burn, Davie?'
The Pilgrim's Progress had been the Sabbath reading of my
boyhood, and as I came in sight of Blaauwildebeestefontein a
passage ran in my head. It was that which tells how Christian
and Hopeful, after many perils of the way, came to the
Delectable Mountains, from which they had a prospect of
Canaan. After many dusty miles by rail, and a weariful
journey in a Cape-cart through arid plains and dry and stony
gorges, I had come suddenly into a haven of green. The Spring
of the Blue Wildebeeste was a clear rushing mountain torrent,
which swirled over blue rocks into deep fern-fringed pools. All
around was a tableland of lush grass with marigolds and arum
lilies instead of daisies and buttercups. Thickets of tall trees
dotted the hill slopes and patched the meadows as if some
landscape-gardener had been at work on them. Beyond, the glen
fell steeply to the plains, which ran out in a faint haze to the
horizon. To north and south I marked the sweep of the Berg, now
rising high to a rocky peak and now stretching in a level rampart
of blue. On the very edge of the plateau where the road dipped
for the descent stood the shanties of Blaauwildebeestefontein.
The fresh hill air had exhilarated my mind,
and the aromatic scent of the evening gave the last touch of
intoxication. Whatever serpent might lurk in it, it was a
veritable Eden I had come to.
Blaauwildebeestefontein had no more than two buildings of
civilized shape; the store, which stood on the left side of the
river, and the schoolhouse opposite. For the rest, there were
some twenty native huts, higher up the slope, of the type
which the Dutch call rondavels. The schoolhouse had a pretty
garden, but the store stood bare in a patch of dust with a few
outhouses and sheds beside it. Round the door lay a few old
ploughs and empty barrels, and beneath a solitary blue gum
was a wooden bench with a rough table. Native children played
in the dust, and an old Kaffir squatted by the wall.
My few belongings were soon lifted from the Cape-cart, and
I entered the shop. It was the ordinary pattern of up-country
store - a bar in one corner with an array of bottles, and all
round the walls tins of canned food and the odds and ends of
trade. The place was empty, and a cloud of flies buzzed over
the sugar cask.
Two doors opened at the back, and I chose the one to the
right. I found myself in a kind of kitchen with a bed in one
corner, and a litter of dirty plates on the table. On the bed lay
a man, snoring heavily. I went close to him, and found an old
fellow with a bald head, clothed only in a shirt and trousers.
His face was red and swollen, and his breath came in heavy
grunts. A smell of bad whisky hung over everything. I had no
doubt that this was Mr Peter Japp, my senior in the store. One
reason for the indifferent trade at Blaauwildebeestefontein was
very clear to me: the storekeeper was a sot.
I went back to the shop and tried the other door. It was a
bedroom too, but clean and pleasant. A little native girl -
Zeeta, I found they called her - was busy tidying it up, and
when I entered she dropped me a curtsy. 'This is your room,
Baas,' she said in very good English in reply to my question.
The child had been well trained somewhere, for there was a
cracked dish full of oleander blossom on the drawers'-head,
and the pillow-slips on the bed were as clean as I could wish.
She brought me water to wash, and a cup of strong tea, while
I carried my baggage indoors and paid the driver of the cart.
Then, having cleaned myself and lit a pipe, I walked across
the road to see Mr Wardlaw.
I found the schoolmaster sitting under his own fig-tree
reading one of his Kaffir primers. Having come direct by rail
from Cape Town, he had been a week in the place, and ranked
as the second oldest white resident.
'Yon's a bonny chief you've got, Davie,' were his first words.
'For three days he's been as fou as the Baltic.'
I cannot pretend that the misdeeds of Mr Japp greatly
annoyed me. I had the reversion of his job, and if he chose to
play the fool it was all in my interest. But the schoolmaster
was depressed at the prospect of such company. 'Besides you
and me, he's the only white man in the place. It's a poor look-
out on the social side.'
The school, it appeared, was the merest farce. There were
only five white children, belonging to Dutch farmers in the
mountains. The native side was more flourishing, but the
mission schools at the locations got most of the native children
in the neighbourhood. Mr Wardlaw's educational zeal ran
high. He talked of establishing a workshop and teaching
carpentry and blacksmith's work, of which he knew nothing.
He rhapsodized over the intelligence of his pupils and
bemoaned his inadequate gift of tongues. 'You and I, Davie,'
he said, 'must sit down and grind at the business. It is to the
interest of both of us. The Dutch is easy enough. It's a sort of
kitchen dialect you can learn in a fortnight. But these native
languages are a stiff job. Sesuto is the chief hereabouts, and
I'm told once you've got that it's easy to get the Zulu. Then
there's the thing the Shangaans speak - Baronga, I think they
call it. I've got a Christian Kaffir living up in one of the huts
who comes every morning to talk to me for an hour. You'd
better join me.'
I promised, and in the sweet-smelling dust crossed the road
to the store. Japp was still sleeping, so I got a bowl of mealie
porridge from Zeeta and went to bed.
Japp was sober next morning and made me some kind of
apology. He had chronic lumbago, he said, and 'to go on the bust'
now and then was the best cure for it. Then he proceeded to
initiate me into my duties in a tone of exaggerated friendliness.
'I took a fancy to you the first time I clapped eyes on
you,' he said. 'You and me will be good friends, Crawfurd, I
can see that. You're a spirited young fellow, and you'll stand
no nonsense. The Dutch about here are a slim lot, and the
Kaffirs are slimmer. Trust no man, that's my motto. The firm
know that, and I've had their confidence for forty years.'
The first day or two things went well enough. There was no
doubt that, properly handled, a fine trade could be done in
Blaauwildebeestefontein. The countryside was crawling with
natives, and great strings used to come through from Shangaan
territory on the way to the Rand mines. Besides, there was
business to be done with the Dutch farmers, especially with
the tobacco, which I foresaw could be worked up into a
profitable export. There was no lack of money either, and we
had to give very little credit, though it was often asked for. I
flung myself into the work, and in a few weeks had been all
round the farms and locations. At first Japp praised my energy,
for it left him plenty of leisure to sit indoors and drink. But
soon he grew suspicious, for he must have seen that I was in a
fair way to oust him altogether. He was very anxious to know
if I had seen Colles in Durban, and what the manager had
said. 'I have letters,' he told me a hundred times, 'from Mr
Mackenzie himself praising me up to the skies. The firm
couldn't get along without old Peter Japp, I can tell you.' I
had no wish to quarrel with the old man, so I listened politely
to all he said. But this did not propitiate him, and I soon found
him so jealous as to be a nuisance. He was Colonial-born and
was always airing the fact. He rejoiced in my rawness, and
when I made a blunder would crow over it for hours. 'It's no
good, Mr Crawfurd; you new chums from England may think
yourselves mighty clever, but we men from the Old Colony
can get ahead of you every time. In fifty years you'll maybe
learn a little about the country, but we know all about it before
we start.' He roared with laughter at my way of tying a
voorslag, and he made merry (no doubt with reason) on my
management of a horse. I kept my temper pretty well, but I
own there were moments when I came near to kicking Mr Japp.
The truth is he was a disgusting old ruffian. His character
was shown by his treatment of Zeeta. The poor child slaved all
day and did two men's work in keeping the household going.
She was an orphan from a mission station, and in Japp's
opinion a creature without rights. Hence he never spoke to her
except with a curse, and used to cuff her thin shoulders till my
blood boiled. One day things became too much for my temper.
Zeeta had spilled half a glass of Japp's whisky while tidying up
the room. He picked up a sjambok, and proceeded to beat her
unmercifully till her cries brought me on the scene. I tore the
whip from his hands, seized him by the scruff and flung him
on a heap of potato sacks, where he lay pouring out abuse and
shaking with rage. Then I spoke my mind. I told him that if
anything of the sort happened again I would report it at once
to Mr Colles at Durban. I added that before making my report
I would beat him within an inch of his degraded life. After a
time he apologized, but I could see that thenceforth he
regarded me with deadly hatred.
There was another thing I noticed about Mr Japp. He might
brag about his knowledge of how to deal with natives, but to
my mind his methods were a disgrace to a white man. Zeeta
came in for oaths and blows, but there were other Kaffirs
whom he treated with a sort of cringing friendliness. A big
black fellow would swagger into the shop, and be received by
Japp as if he were his long-lost brother. The two would
collogue for hours; and though at first I did not understand
the tongue, I could see that it was the white man who fawned
and the black man who bullied. Once when japp was away one
of these fellows came into the store as if it belonged to him,
but he went out quicker than he entered. Japp complained
afterwards of my behaviour. ''Mwanga is a good friend of
mine,' he said, 'and brings us a lot of business. I'll thank you
to be civil to him the next time.' I replied very shortly that
'Mwanga or anybody else who did not mend his manners
would feel the weight of my boot.
The thing went on, and I am not sure that he did not give
the Kaffirs drink on the sly. At any rate, I have seen some very
drunk natives on the road between the locations and
Blaauwildebeestefontein, and some of them I recognized as Japp's
friends. I discussed the matter with Mr Wardlaw, who said, 'I
believe the old villain has got some sort of black secret, and the
natives know it, and have got a pull on him.' And I was
inclined to think he was right.
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.
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.
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.
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
The upshot of it all was that, after much brooding, I wrote
a letter to Mr Colles, and, to make sure of its going, gave it to
a missionary to post in Pietersdorp. I told him frankly what
Aitken had said, and I also told him about the espionage. I
said nothing about old Japp, for, beast as he was, I did not
want him at his age to be without a livelihood.
MY JOURNEY TO THE WINTER-VELD
A reply came from Colles, addressed not to me but to Japp.
It seemed that the old fellow had once suggested the establishment
of a branch store at a place out in the plains called
Umvelos', and the firm was now prepared to take up the
scheme. Japp was in high good humour, and showed me the
letter. Not a word was said of what I had written about, only
the bare details about starting the branch. I was to get a couple
of masons, load up two wagons with bricks and timber, and go
down to Umvelos' and see the store built. The stocking of it
and the appointment of a storekeeper would be matter for
further correspondence. Japp was delighted, for, besides getting
rid of me for several weeks, it showed that his advice was
respected by his superiors. He went about bragging that the
firm could not get on without him, and was inclined to be
more insolent to me than usual in his new self-esteem. He also
got royally drunk over the head of it.
I confess I was hurt by the manager's silence on what
seemed to me more vital matters. But I soon reflected that if
he wrote at all he would write direct to me, and I eagerly
watched for the post-runner. No letter came, however, and I
was soon too busy with preparations to look for one. I got the
bricks and timber from Pietersdorp, and hired two Dutch
masons to run the job. The place was not very far from
Sikitola's kraal, so there would be no difficulty about native
helpers. Having my eyes open for trade, I resolved to kill two
birds with one stone. It was the fashion among the old-
fashioned farmers on the high-veld to drive the cattle down
into the bush-veld - which they call the winter-veld - for
winter pasture. There is no fear of red-water about that
season, and the grass of the plains is rich and thick compared
with the uplands. I discovered that some big droves were
passing on a certain day, and that the owners and their families
were travelling with them in wagons. Accordingly I had a light
naachtmaal fitted up as a sort of travelling store, and with
my two wagons full of building material joined the caravan. I
hoped to do good trade in selling little luxuries to the farmers
on the road and at Umvelos'.
It was a clear cold morning when we started down the Berg.
At first my hands were full with the job of getting my heavy
wagons down the awesome precipice which did duty as a
highway. We locked the wheels with chains, and tied great logs
of wood behind to act as brakes. Happily my drivers knew
their business, but one of the Boer wagons got a wheel over
the edge, and it was all that ten men could do to get it
After that the road was easier, winding down the side of a
slowly opening glen. I rode beside the wagons, and so heavenly
was the weather that I was content with my own thoughts.
The sky was clear blue, the air warm, yet with a wintry tonic
in it, and a thousand aromatic scents came out of the thickets.
The pied birds called 'Kaffir queens' fluttered across the path.
Below, the Klein Labongo churned and foamed in a hundred
cascades. Its waters were no more the clear grey of the 'Blue
Wildebeeste's Spring,' but growing muddy with its approach
to the richer soil of the plains.
Oxen travel slow, and we outspanned that night half a day's
march short of Umvelos'. I spent the hour before sunset
lounging and smoking with the Dutch farmers. At first they
had been silent and suspicious of a newcomer, but by this time
I talked their taal fluently, and we were soon on good terms.
I recall a discussion arising about a black thing in a tree about
five hundred yards away. I thought it was an aasvogel, but
another thought it was a baboon. Whereupon the oldest of the
party, a farmer called Coetzee, whipped up his rifle and,
apparently without sighting, fired. A dark object fell out of the
branch, and when we reached it we found it a baviaan* sure
enough, shot through the head. 'Which side are you on in the
next war?' the old man asked me, and, laughing, I told
After supper, the ingredients of which came largely from my
naachtmaal, we sat smoking and talking round the fire, the
women and children being snug in the covered wagons. The
Boers were honest companionable fellows, and when I had
made a bowl of toddy in the Scotch fashion to keep out the
evening chill, we all became excellent friends. They asked me
how I got on with Japp. Old Coetzee saved me the trouble of
answering, for he broke in with Skellum! Skellum!* I asked
him his objection to the storekeeper, but he would say nothing
beyond that he was too thick with the natives. I fancy at some
time Mr Japp had sold him a bad plough.
We spoke of hunting, and I heard long tales of exploits -
away on the Limpopo, in Mashonaland, on the Sabi and in the
Lebombo. Then we verged on politics, and I listened to
violent denunciations of the new land tax. These were old
residenters, I reflected, and I might learn perhaps something
of value. So very carefully I repeated a tale I said I had heard
at Durban of a great wizard somewhere in the Berg, and asked
if any one knew of it. They shook their heads. The natives had
given up witchcraft and big medicine, they said, and were
more afraid of a parson or a policeman than any witch-doctor.
Then they were starting on reminiscences, when old Coetzee,
who was deaf, broke in and asked to have my question repeated.
'Yes,' he said, 'I know. It is in the Rooirand. There is a
devil dwells there.'
I could get no more out of him beyond the fact that there
was certainly a great devil there. His grandfather and father
had seen it, and he himself had heard it roaring when he had
gone there as a boy to hunt. He would explain no further, and
went to bed.
Next morning, close to Sikitola's kraal, I bade the farmers
good-bye, after telling them that there would be a store in my
wagon for three weeks at Umvelos' if they wanted supplies.
We then struck more to the north towards our destination. As
soon as they had gone I had out my map and searched it for
the name old Coetzee had mentioned. It was a very bad map,
for there had been no surveying east of the Berg, and most of
the names were mere guesses. But I found the word 'Rooirand'
marking an eastern continuation of the northern wall, and
probably set down from some hunter's report. I had better
explain here the chief features of the country, for they bulk
largely in my story. The Berg runs north and south, and from
it run the chief streams which water the plain. They are,
beginning from the south, the Olifants, the Groot Letaba, the
Letsitela, the Klein Letaba, and the Klein Labongo, on which
stands Blaauwildebeestefontein. But the greatest river of the
plain, into which the others ultimately flow, is the Groot
Labongo, which appears full-born from some subterranean
source close to the place called Umvelos'. North from
Blaauwildebeestefontein the Berg runs for some twenty miles, and
then makes a sharp turn eastward, becoming, according to my
map, the Rooirand.
I pored over these details, and was particularly curious about
the Great Labongo. It seemed to me unlikely that a spring in
the bush could produce so great a river, and I decided that its
source must lie in the mountains to the north. As well as I
could guess, the Rooirand, the nearest part of the Berg, was
about thirty miles distant. Old Coetzee had said that there was
a devil in the place, but I thought that if it were explored the
first thing found would be a fine stream of water.
We got to Umvelos' after midday, and outspanned for our
three weeks' work. I set the Dutchmen to unload and clear the
ground for foundations, while I went off to Sikitola to ask for
labourers. I got a dozen lusty blacks, and soon we had a
business-like encampment, and the work went on merrily. It
was rough architecture and rougher masonry. All we aimed at
was a two-roomed shop with a kind of outhouse for stores. I
was architect, and watched the marking out of the foundations
and the first few feet of the walls. Sikitola's people proved
themselves good helpers, and most of the building was left to
them, while the Dutchmen worked at the carpentry. Bricks
ran short before we got very far, and we had to set to brick-
making on the bank of the Labongo, and finish off the walls
with green bricks, which gave the place a queer piebald look.
I was not much of a carpenter, and there were plenty of
builders without me, so I found a considerable amount of time
on my hands. At first I acted as shopkeeper in the naachtmaal,
but I soon cleared out my stores to the Dutch farmers and the
natives. I had thought of going back for more, and then it
occurred to me that I might profitably give some of my leisure
to the Rooirand. I could see the wall of the mountains quite
clear to the north, within an easy day's ride. So one morning I
packed enough food for a day or two, tied my sleeping-bag on
my saddle, and set off to explore, after appointing the elder of
the Dutchmen foreman of the job in my absence.
It was very hot jogging along the native path with the eternal
olive-green bush around me. Happily there was no fear of
losing the way, for the Rooirand stood very clear in front, and
slowly, as I advanced, I began to make out the details of the
cliffs. At luncheon-time, when I was about half-way, I sat
down with my Zeiss glass - my mother's farewell gift - to look
for the valley. But valley I saw none. The wall - reddish
purple it looked, and, I thought, of porphyry - was continuous
and unbroken. There were chimneys and fissures, but none
great enough to hold a river. The top was sheer cliff; then
came loose kranzes in tiers, like the seats in a gallery, and,
below, a dense thicket of trees. I raked the whole line for a
break, but there seemed none. 'It's a bad job for me,' I
thought, 'if there is no water, for I must pass the night there.'
The night was spent in a sheltered nook at the foot of the
rocks, but my horse and I went to bed without a drink. My
supper was some raisins and biscuits, for I did not dare to run
the risk of increasing my thirst. I had found a great bank of
debris sloping up to the kranzes, and thick wood clothing all
the slope. The grass seemed wonderfully fresh, but of water
there was no sign. There was not even the sandy channel of a
stream to dig in.
In the morning I had a difficult problem to face. Water I
must find at all costs, or I must go home. There was time
enough for me to get back without suffering much, but if so I
must give up my explorations. This I was determined not to
do. The more I looked at these red cliffs the more eager I was
to find out their secret. There must be water somewhere;
otherwise how account for the lushness of the vegetation?
My horse was a veld pony, so I set him loose to see what he
would do. He strayed back on the path to Umvelos'. This
looked bad, for it meant that he did not smell water along the
cliff front. If I was to find a stream it must be on the top, and
I must try a little mountaineering.
Then, taking my courage in both my hands, I decided. I
gave my pony a cut, and set him off on the homeward road. I
knew he was safe to get back in four or five hours, and in broad
day there was little fear of wild beasts attacking him. I had tied
my sleeping bag on to the saddle, and had with me but two
pocketfuls of food. I had also fastened on the saddle a letter to
my Dutch foreman, bidding him send a native with a spare
horse to fetch me by the evening. Then I started off to look
for a chimney.
A boyhood spent on the cliffs at Kirkcaple had made me a
bold cragsman, and the porphyry of the Rooirand clearly gave
excellent holds. But I walked many weary miles along the cliff-
foot before I found a feasible road. To begin with, it was no
light task to fight one's way through the dense undergrowth of
the lower slopes. Every kind of thorn-bush lay in wait for my
skin, creepers tripped me up, high trees shut out the light, and
I was in constant fear lest a black mamba might appear out of
the tangle. It grew very hot, and the screes above the thicket
were blistering to the touch. My tongue, too, stuck to the roof
of my mouth with thirst.
The first chimney I tried ran out on the face into
nothingness, and I had to make a dangerous descent. The second
was a deep gully, but so choked with rubble that after nearly
braining myself I desisted. Still going eastwards, I found a
sloping ledge which took me to a platform from which ran a
crack with a little tree growing in it. My glass showed me that
beyond this tree the crack broadened into a clearly defined
chimney which led to the top. If I can once reach that tree, I
thought, the battle is won.
The crack was only a few inches wide, large enough to let in
an arm and a foot, and it ran slantwise up a perpendicular
rock. I do not think I realized how bad it was till I had gone
too far to return. Then my foot jammed, and I paused for
breath with my legs and arms cramping rapidly. I remember
that I looked to the west, and saw through the sweat which
kept dropping into my eyes that about half a mile off a piece of
cliff which looked unbroken from the foot had a fold in it to
the right. The darkness of the fold showed me that it was a
deep, narrow gully. However, I had no time to think of this,
for I was fast in the middle of my confounded crack. With
immense labour I found a chockstone above my head, and
managed to force my foot free. The next few yards were not so
difficult, and then I stuck once more.
For the crack suddenly grew shallow as the cliff bulged out
above me. I had almost given up hope, when I saw that about
three feet above my head grew the tree. If I could reach it and
swing out I might hope to pull myself up to the ledge on which
it grew. I confess it needed all my courage, for I did not know
but that the tree might be loose, and that it and I might go
rattling down four hundred feet. It was my only hope,
however, so I set my teeth, and wriggling up a few inches,
made a grab at it. Thank God it held, and with a great effort I
pulled my shoulder over the ledge, and breathed freely.
My difficulties were not ended, but the worst was past. The
rest of the gully gave me good and safe climbing, and presently
a very limp and weary figure lay on the cliff-top. It took me
many minutes to get back my breath and to conquer the
faintness which seized me as soon as the need for exertion
When I scrambled to my feet and looked round, I saw a
wonderful prospect. It was a plateau like the high-veld, only
covered with bracken and little bushes like hazels. Three or
four miles off the ground rose, and a shallow vale opened. But
in the foreground, half a mile or so distant, a lake lay gleaming
in the sun.
I could scarcely believe my eyes as I ran towards it, and
doubts of a mirage haunted me. But it was no mirage, but a
real lake, perhaps three miles in circumference, with bracken-
fringed banks, a shore of white pebbles, and clear deep blue
water. I drank my fill, and then stripped and swam in the
blessed coolness. After that I ate some luncheon, and sunned
myself on a flat rock. 'I have discovered the source of the
Labongo,' I said to myself. 'I will write to the Royal
Geographical Society, and they will give me a medal.'
I walked round the lake to look for an outlet. A fine
mountain stream came in at the north end, and at the south
end, sure enough, a considerable river debauched. My exploring
zeal redoubled, and I followed its course in a delirium of
expectation. It was a noble stream, clear as crystal, and very
unlike the muddy tropical Labongo at Umvelos'. Suddenly,
about a quarter of a mile from the lake, the land seemed to
grow over it, and with a swirl and a hollow roar, it disappeared
into a mighty pot-hole. I walked a few steps on, and from
below my feet came the most uncanny rumbling and groaning.
Then I knew what old Coetzee's devil was that howled in
Had I continued my walk to the edge of the cliff, I might
have learned a secret which would have stood me in good stead
later. But the descent began to make me anxious, and I
retraced my steps to the top of the chimney whence I had
come. I was resolved that nothing would make me descend by
that awesome crack, so I kept on eastward along the top to
look for a better way. I found one about a mile farther on,
which, though far from easy, had no special risks save from
the appalling looseness of the debris. When I got down at
length, I found that it was near sunset. I went to the place I
had bidden my native look for me at, but, as I had feared,
there was no sign of him. So, making the best of a bad job, I
had supper and a pipe, and spent a very chilly night in a hole
among the boulders.
I got up at dawn stiff and cold, and ate a few raisins for
breakfast. There was no sign of horses, so I resolved to fill up
the time in looking for the fold of the cliff which, as I had seen
from the horrible crack of yesterday, contained a gully. It was
a difficult job, for to get the sidelong view of the cliff I had to
scramble through the undergrowth of the slopes again, and
even a certain way up the kranzes. At length I got my bearings,
and fixed the place by some tall trees in the bush. Then I
descended and walked westwards.
Suddenly, as I neared the place, I heard the strangest sound
coming from the rocks. It was a deep muffled groaning, so
eerie and unearthly that for the moment I stood and shivered.
Then I remembered my river of yesterday. It must be above
this place that it descended into the earth, and in the hush of
dawn the sound was naturally louder. No wonder old Coetzee had
been afraid of devils. It reminded me of the lines in Marmion -
'Diving as if condemned to lave
Some demon's subterranean cave,
Who, prisoned by enchanter's spell,
Shakes the dark rock with groan and yell.'
While I was standing awestruck at the sound, I observed a
figure moving towards the cliffs. I was well in cover, so I could
not have been noticed. It was a very old man, very tall, but
bowed in the shoulders, who was walking slowly with bent
head. He could not have been thirty yards from me, so I had a
clear view of his face. He was a native, but of a type I had
never seen before. A long white beard fell on his breast, and a
magnificent kaross of leopard skin covered his shoulders. His
face was seamed and lined and shrunken, so that he seemed as
old as Time itself.
Very carefully I crept after him, and found myself opposite
the fold where the gully was. There was a clear path through
the jungle, a path worn smooth by many feet. I followed it
through the undergrowth and over the screes till it turned
inside the fold of the gully. And then it stopped short. I was
in a deep cleft, but in front was a slab of sheer rock. Above,
the gully looked darker and deeper, but there was this great
slab to pass. I examined the sides, but they were sheer rock
with no openings.
Had I had my wits about me, I would have gone back and
followed the spoor, noting where it stopped. But the whole
thing looked black magic to me; my stomach was empty and
my enterprise small. Besides, there was the terrible moaning
of the imprisoned river in my ears. I am ashamed to confess it,
but I ran from that gully as if the devil and all his angels had
been following me. Indeed, I did not slacken till I had put a
good mile between me and those uncanny cliffs. After that I
set out to foot it back. If the horses would not come to me I
must go to them.
I walked twenty-five miles in a vile temper, enraged at my
Dutchmen, my natives, and everybody. The truth is, I had
been frightened, and my pride was sore about it. It grew very
hot, the sand rose and choked me, the mopani trees with their
dull green wearied me, the 'Kaffir queens' and jays and rollers
which flew about the path seemed to be there to mock me.
About half-way home I found a boy and two horses, and
roundly I cursed him. It seemed that my pony had returned
right enough, and the boy had been sent to fetch me. He had
got half-way before sunset the night before, and there he had
stayed. I discovered from him that he was scared to death, and
did not dare go any nearer the Rooirand. It was accursed, he
said, for it was an abode of devils, and only wizards went near
it. I was bound to admit to myself that I could not blame him.
At last I had got on the track of something certain about this
mysterious country, and all the way back I wondered if I
should have the courage to follow it up.
MR WARDLAW HAS A PREMONITION
A week later the building job was finished, I locked the door
of the new store, pocketed the key, and we set out for home.
Sikitola was entrusted with the general care of it, and I knew
him well enough to be sure that he would keep his people from
doing mischief. I left my empty wagons to follow at their
leisure and rode on, with the result that I arrived at
Blaauwildebeestefontein two days before I was looked for.
I stabled my horse, and went round to the back to see Colin.
(I had left him at home in case of fights with native dogs, for
he was an ill beast in a crowd.) I found him well and hearty,
for Zeeta had been looking after him. Then some whim seized
me to enter the store through my bedroom window. It was
open, and I crawled softly in to find the room fresh and clean
from Zeeta's care. The door was ajar, and, hearing voices, I
peeped into the shop.
Japp was sitting on the counter talking in a low voice to a big
native - the same 'Mwanga whom I had bundled out
unceremoniously. I noticed that the outer door giving on the
road was shut, a most unusual thing in the afternoon. Japp had
some small objects in his hand, and the two were evidently arguing
about a price. I had no intention at first of eavesdropping,
and was just about to push the door open, when
something in Japp's face arrested me. He was up to no good,
and I thought it my business to wait.
The low tones went on for a little, both men talking in
Kaffir, and then Japp lifted up one of the little objects between
finger and thumb. It was a small roundish stone about the size of
a bean, but even in that half light there was a dull lustre in it.
At that I shoved the door open and went in. Both men
started as if they had been shot. Japp went as white as his
mottled face permitted. 'What the -' he gasped, and he
dropped the thing he was holding.
I picked it up, and laid it on the counter. 'So,' I said,
'diamonds, Mr Japp. You have found the pipe I was looking
for. I congratulate you.'
My words gave the old ruffian his cue. 'Yes, yes,' he said, 'I
have, or rather my friend 'Mwanga has. He has just been
telling me about it.'
The Kaffir looked miserably uncomfortable. He shifted from
one leg to the other, casting longing glances at the closed door.
'I tink I go,' he said. 'Afterwards we will speak more.'
I told him I thought he had better go, and opened the door
for him. Then I bolted it again, and turned to Mr Japp.
'So that's your game,' I said. 'I thought there was something
funny about you, but I didn't know it was I.D.B. you were up to.'
He looked as if he could kill me. For five minutes he cursed
me with a perfection of phrase which I had thought beyond
him. It was no I.D.B., he declared, but a pipe which 'Mwanga
'In this kind of country?' I said, quoting his own words.
'Why, you might as well expect to find ocean pearls as
diamonds. But scrape in the spruit if you like; you'll maybe
find some garnets.'
He choked down his wrath, and tried a new tack. 'What will
you take to hold your tongue? I'll make you a rich man if you'll
come in with me.' And then he started with offers which
showed that he had been making a good thing out of the traffic.
I stalked over to him, and took him by the shoulder. 'You
old reprobate,' I roared, 'if you breathe such a proposal to me
again, I'll tie you up like a sack and carry you to Pietersdorp.'
At this he broke down and wept maudlin tears, disgusting
to witness. He said he was an old man who had always lived
honestly, and it would break his heart if his grey hairs were to
be disgraced. As he sat rocking himself with his hands over his
face, I saw his wicked little eyes peering through the slits of
his fingers to see what my next move would be.
'See here, Mr Japp,' I said, 'I'm not a police spy, and it's no
business of mine to inform against you. I'm willing to keep
you out of gaol, but it must be on my own conditions. The
first is that you resign this job and clear out. You will write to
Mr Colles a letter at my dictation, saying that you find the
work too much for you. The second is that for the time you
remain here the diamond business must utterly cease. If
'Mwanga or anybody like him comes inside the store, and if I
get the slightest hint that you're back at the trade, in you go to
Pietersdorp. I'm not going to have my name disgraced by
being associated with you. The third condition is that when
you leave this place you go clear away. If you come within
twenty miles of Blaauwildebeestefontein and I find you, I will
give you up.'
He groaned and writhed at my terms, but in the end
accepted them. He wrote the letter, and I posted it. I had no
pity for the old scamp, who had feathered his nest well. Small
wonder that the firm's business was not as good as it might be,
when Japp was giving most of his time to buying diamonds
from native thieves. The secret put him in the power of any
Kaffir who traded him a stone. No wonder he cringed to
ruffians like 'Mwanga.
The second thing I did was to shift my quarters. Mr
Wardlaw had a spare room which he had offered me before,
and now I accepted it. I wanted to be no more mixed up with
Japp than I could help, for I did not know what villainy he
might let me in for. Moreover, I carried Zeeta with me, being
ashamed to leave her at the mercy of the old bully. Japp went
up to the huts and hired a slattern to mind his house, and then
drank heavily for three days to console himself.
That night I sat smoking with Mr Wardlaw in his sitting-
room, where a welcome fire burned, for the nights on the Berg
were chilly. I remember the occasion well for the queer turn
the conversation took. Wardlaw, as I have said, had been
working like a slave at the Kaffir tongues. I talked a kind of
Zulu well enough to make myself understood, and I could
follow it when spoken; but he had real scholarship in the thing,
and knew all about the grammar and the different dialects.
Further, he had read a lot about native history, and was full of
the doings of Tchaka and Mosilikatse and Moshesh, and the
kings of old. Having little to do in the way of teaching, he had
made up for it by reading omnivorously. He used to borrow
books from the missionaries, and he must have spent half his
salary in buying new ones.
To-night as he sat and puffed in his armchair, he was full of
stories about a fellow called Monomotapa. It seems he was a
great black emperor whom the Portuguese discovered about
the sixteenth century. He lived to the north in Mashonaland,
and had a mountain full of gold. The Portuguese did not make
much of him, but they got his son and turned him into a priest.
I told Wardlaw that he was most likely only a petty chief,
whose exploits were magnified by distance, the same as the
caciques in Mexico. But the schoolmaster would not accept this.
'He must have been a big man, Davie. You know that the
old ruins in Rhodesia, called Zimbabwe, were long believed
to be Phoenician in origin. I have a book here which tells all
about them. But now it is believed that they were built by
natives. I maintain that the men who could erect piles like
that' - and he showed me a picture - 'were something more
than petty chiefs.'
Presently the object of this conversation appeared. Mr
Wardlaw thought that we were underrating the capacity of the
native. This opinion was natural enough in a schoolmaster,
but not in the precise form Wardlaw put it. It was not
his intelligence which he thought we underrated, but his
dangerousness. His reasons, shortly, were these: There were five
or six of them to every white man; they were all, roughly
speaking, of the same stock, with the same tribal beliefs; they
had only just ceased being a warrior race, with a powerful
military discipline; and, most important, they lived round the
rim of the high-veld plateau, and if they combined could cut
off the white man from the sea. I pointed out to him that it
would only be a matter of time before we opened the road
again. 'Ay,' he said, 'but think of what would happen before
then. Think of the lonely farms and the little dorps wiped out
of the map. It would be a second and bloodier Indian mutiny.
'I'm not saying it's likely,' he went on, 'but I maintain it's
possible. Supposing a second Tchaka turned up, who could
get the different tribes to work together. It wouldn't be so very
hard to smuggle in arms. Think of the long, unwatched coast
in Gazaland and Tongaland. If they got a leader with prestige
enough to organize a crusade against the white man, I don't
see what could prevent a rising.'
'We should get wind of it in time to crush it at the start,'
'I'm not so sure. They are cunning fellows, and have arts
that we know nothing about. You have heard of native
telepathy. They can send news over a thousand miles as quick
as the telegraph, and we have no means of tapping the wires.
If they ever combined they could keep it as secret as the grave.
My houseboy might be in the rising, and I would never suspect
it till one fine morning he cut my throat.'
'But they would never find a leader. If there was some exiled
prince of Tchaka's blood, who came back like Prince Charlie
to free his people, there might be danger; but their royalties
are fat men with top hats and old frock-coats, who live in
Wardlaw admitted this, but said that there might be other
kinds of leaders. He had been reading a lot about Ethiopianism,
which educated American negroes had been trying to
preach in South Africa. He did not see why a kind of bastard
Christianity should not be the motive of a rising. 'The Kaffir
finds it an easy job to mix up Christian emotion and pagan
practice. Look at Hayti and some of the performances in the
Then he shook the ashes out of his pipe and leaned forward
with a solemn face. 'I'll admit the truth to you, Davie. I'm
He looked so earnest and serious sitting there with his short-
sighted eyes peering at me that I could not help being impressed.
'Whatever is the matter?' I asked. 'Has anything happened?'
He shook his head. 'Nothing I can put a name to. But I have
a presentiment that some mischief is afoot in these hills. I feel
it in my bones.'
I confess I was startled by these words. You must remember
that I had never given a hint of my suspicions to Mr Wardlaw
beyond asking him if a wizard lived in the neighbourhood - a
question anybody might have put. But here was the schoolmaster
discovering for himself some mystery in Blaauwildebeestefontein.
I tried to get at his evidence, but it was very little. He
thought there were an awful lot of blacks about. 'The woods
are full of them,' he said. I gathered he did not imagine he was
being spied on, but merely felt that there were more natives
about than could be explained.
'There's another thing,' he said. 'The native bairns have all