Part 6 out of 6
Alexander and the Major were now neck and neck, close to each other, at
full speed, when of a sudden the Major's horse stumbled, and fell upon
an ostrich, which was sitting on her nest; Alexander's horse also
stumbled and followed after the Major; and there they were, horses and
riders, all rolling together among the ostrich-eggs; while the ostrich
gained her legs, and ran off as fast as the giraffe.
As soon as they had got on their legs again, and caught the bridles of
their horses, they looked round, but could not distinguish the giraffe,
which was out of sight among the mimosa-trees; while Omrah was very busy
picking up their rifles, and laughing in a very disrespectful manner.
The Major and Alexander soon joined in the laugh. No bones were broken,
and the horses had received no injury. All they had to do was to return
to the caravan looking very foolish.
"Your first essay in giraffe-hunting has been very successful," said
Swinton, laughing, as they came up to him.
"Yes, we both threw very pretty summersets, did we not?" said Alexander.
"However, we have got some ostrich-eggs for supper, and that is better
than nothing. It will soon be dark, so we had better encamp for the
night, had we not?"
"I was about to propose it," said Swinton.
"Did you ever hunt the giraffe, Swinton?" inquired Alexander, as they
were making their supper on roasted ostrich-eggs; each of them holding
one between his knees, and dipping out with a large spoon.
"Never," replied Swinton; "I have often seen them in Namaqua-land, but
never killed one. I remember, however, a circumstance connected with the
giraffe, which would have been incredible to me, if I had not seen the
remains of the lion. You are well aware how long and strong are the
thorns of the mimosa (or kamel-tree, as the Dutch call it, from the
giraffe browsing upon it), and how the boughs of these trees lie like an
umbrella, close upon one another. A native chief informed me that he
witnessed a lion attacking a giraffe. The lion always springs at the
head or neck, and seizes the animal by that part, riding him, as it
were. The giraffe sets off at full speed with its enemy, and is so
powerful as often to get rid of him; for I have seen giraffes killed
which had the marks of the lion's teeth and claws upon them. In this
instance the lion made a spring, but the giraffe at that very moment
turning sharp round, the lion missed his aim, and by the blow it
received was tossed in the air, so that he fell upon the boughs of the
mimosa on his back. The boughs were not only compact enough to bear his
weight, but the thorns that pierced through his body were so strong as
to hold the enormous animal where he lay. He could not disengage
himself; and they pointed out to me the skeleton on the boughs of the
tree, as a corroboration of the truth of the story."
"It does really approach to the marvelous," observed the Major; "but, as
you say, seeing is believing. I trust that we shall be more fortunate
"I have gained a piece of information from Swanevelt," said Swinton,
"which makes me very anxious that we should leave this as soon as
possible; which is, that the Matabili king had no idea that we had
Griquas in our company, and still less that we were to come into his
country with only the Griquas as attendants. You are not perhaps aware
that Moselekatsee is the deadly enemy of the Griquas, with whom he has
had several severe conflicts, and that we are not very safe on that
"Why did not the Griquas say so?" replied Alexander.
"Because they do not care for the Matabili, and I presume are glad to
come into the country, that they may know something of it, in case of
their making an attack upon it. Depend upon it, as soon as the king
hears of it, we shall be looked upon as spies, and he may send a party
to cut us off."
"Have you said any thing to the Griquas?"
"Yes, and they laughed, and said that they should not care if we went
right up to the principal town, where Moselekatsee resides."
"Well, they are bold enough, and so far are good traveling companions;
but we certainly did not come here to fight," observed the Major. "But
does the Matabili with us know that they are Griquas?"
"He did not; he supposed that they were Cape people whom we had brought
with us; but he has found it out by the Hottentots, I suppose. Swanevelt
says, that the very first body of Matabili that we fell in with, he sent
a runner off immediately, I presume to give the information. I think,
therefore, that the sooner we can get away the better."
"Well, I agree with you, Swinton," replied Alexander.
"We will try for the giraffe to-morrow, and when the Major has had the
satisfaction of killing one, we will retrace our steps, for should we be
attacked, it will be impossible to defend ourselves long against
numbers. So now to bed."
They rose early the next morning, and, leaving the wagon where it was,
again proceeded on horseback in search of giraffes. They rode at a slow
pace for four or five miles, before they could discover any. At last a
herd of them were seen standing together browsing on the leaves of the
mimosa. They made a long circuit to turn them, and drive them toward the
camp, and in this they succeeded. The animals set off at their usual
rapid pace, but did not keep it up long, as there were several not full
grown among them, which could not get over the ground so fast as the
large male of the preceding day. After a chase of three miles, they
found that the animals' speed was rapidly decreasing, and they were
coming up with them. When within a hundred yards, Alexander fired and
wounded a female which was in the rear. The Major pushed on with the
dogs after a large male, and it stopped at bay under a mimosa, kicking
most furiously at the dogs. The Major leveled his rifle, and brought the
animal down with his first shot. It rose again, however, and for a
hundred yards went away at a fast pace; but it again fell, to rise no
more. The female which Alexander had wounded received another shot, and
was then also prostrated."
"I have killed a _giraffe_," said the Major, standing by the side of the
one he had killed. "It has been a long way to travel, and there have
been some dangers to encounter for the sake of performing this feat; but
we have all our follies, and are eager in pursuit of just as great
trifles through life; so that in this I am not perhaps more foolish than
the rest of mankind. I have obtained my wishes--I have killed a giraffe;
and now I don't care how soon we go back again."
"Nor do I," replied Alexander; "for I can say with you, when we arrive
in England, I too have killed a giraffe; so you will not be able to
boast over me. By Swinton's account if we stay here much longer, we
shall have to kill Matabili, which I am not anxious to do; therefore, I
now say with you, I don't care how soon we go back to the Cape."
As they were not more than two miles from the wagon, they rode back, and
sent the Griquas to bring in the flesh of the animals; Swinton not
caring for the skins, as he had already procured some in Namaqua-land,
and the weight of them would be so very great for the wagon. On their
return, they had some conversation with the Griquas, who candidly
acknowledged that it was very likely that the Matabili king would
attempt to cut them off, although they appeared not at all afraid of his
making the attempt. They, however, readily consented to return the next
morning. That night, a messenger arrived to the Matabili chief who was
escorting them. What was the communication of course our travelers could
not tell; but their suspicions were confirmed by the behavior of the
man. When he found that, on the following morning, they yoked the oxen
and retraced their steps, he begged them not to go, but to advance into
the interior of the country, where they would find plenty of game; told
them that the king would be very angry if they left so soon; and if he
did not see them, his heart would be very sad. But our travelers had
made up their mind, and traveled back during the whole of that day. The
Matabili dispatched the messenger who had come to him, and who again set
off at all speed; at night he urged our travelers not to go back, saying
that the king would be very angry with him. But as the Griquas were now
equally convinced that treachery was intended, they paid no attention
to the Matabili chief, and continued their route, shooting elands by the
way for their sustenance. Late in the evening of the third day they
found themselves on the borders of the Val river. It was still two hours
before dark, and as the Matabili pressed them to encamp where they were,
they were satisfied that they had better not, and therefore they forded
the river, and rejoined the caravan, under charge of Bremen, just as
night closed in.
The Griquas said, that from the Matabili wishing them to remain on the
other side of the river, they were persuaded that a force would arrive
during that night or the following morning, and that it would be
necessary to be on the look-out; although probably the enemy would not
venture to attack them without further orders, now that they were no
longer in Moselekatsee's dominions. Every preparation was therefore
made: the Griquas and Hottentots were all supplied with ammunition, and
mustered with their guns in their hands. The wagons were arranged, the
fires lighted, and four men were posted as sentinels round the
encampment. What added still more to their suspicions was, that, about
an hour after dark, the Matabili chief was not to be found.
"My opinion is," said the Major, "that we ought to steal a march upon
them. Our oxen are in excellent condition, and may travel till to-morrow
evening without feeling it. Let us yoke and be off at once, now that it
is dark. The moon will rise about two o'clock in the morning, but before
that the wagons will be twelve or fifteen miles off. Alexander and I,
with Bremen, will remain here with our horses and wait till the moon
rises, to see if we can discover any thing: and we can easily join the
wagons by daybreak. We will keep the fires up, to allow them to suppose
that we are still encamped, that they may not pursue."
"And also to keep off the lions," observed Alexander, "which are not
enemies to be despised."
"I think it is a very good plan; but why not have more men with you? We
have plenty of horses, and so have the Griquas."
"Well then, let us talk to the Griquas."
The Griquas approved of the plan; and, having their own horses, six of
them agreed to remain with Alexander and the Major, and Swanevelt and
two more of the Hottentots were also mounted to remain; which made a
force of twelve men, well mounted and well armed. The remainder of the
caravan yoked the oxen to the wagons, and, under the direction of
Swinton, set off in a southerly direction, across the desert, instead of
going by the banks of the Val River, as before.
This had been arranged previously to any expected attack from the
Matabili, as it would considerably shorten the distance on returning,
although they knew that they would find much difficulty in procuring
water for a few days. After the caravan had departed, it was found that
Omrah had helped himself to a horse and a gun, and had remained in the
camp; but as he was always useful, his so doing was passed over without
notice. In half an hour the wagons were out of sight, and the noise of
their wheels was no longer to be heard.
They fastened their horses in the center of the fires, and sat down by
them till the moon rose, when they directed their eyes to the opposite
bank of the river; but for some time nothing was discovered to confirm
their suspicions. When the moon was about an hour high, they perceived a
body of men coming, down toward the banks, and the moon shone upon their
shields, which were white. As soon as they arrived at the bank of the
river, they all sat down, without making any noise. Shortly afterward,
another body with dark-colored shields, made their appearance, who came
down and joined the first.
"We were not wrong in our suspicions, at all events," said the Major; "I
should say that there are not less than a thousand men in these two
parties which have already appeared. Now, what shall we do? Shall we
remain here, or shall we be off, and join the wagons?"
"I really can hardly decide which would be the best," replied Alexander;
"let us have a consultation with Bremen and the Griquas."
"If we were to go away now," said Bremen, "the fires would soon be out,
and they might suspect something, and come over to reconnoiter. When
they found that we were gone, they would perhaps follow us, and overtake
the wagons; but if we remain here, and keep the fires up till daybreak,
the wagons will have gained so much more distance."
The Griquas were of the same opinion; and it was decided that they would
remain there till daybreak, and then set off.
"But," said Alexander, "shall we leave this before they can see us, or
allow them to see us?"
The Griquas said, that it would be better that the enemy should see
them, as then they would know that the fires had been kept up to deceive
them, and that the wagons were probably a long way off.
This having been agreed upon, a careful watch was kept upon the enemy
during the remainder of the night. Although the moon had discovered the
approach of the Matabili to the party, the spot where the camp had been
pitched was in the shade, so that from the opposite side of the river
only the fires could be distinguished. A little before dawn, some one
was heard approaching, and they were all prepared to fire, when they
discovered that it was Omrah, who, unknown to them, had crawled down to
the banks of the river to reconnoiter the enemy.
Omrah, who was out of breath with running, stated that some of the
Matabili were crossing the river, and that six had landed on this side,
before he came up to give the information. He pointed to a clump of
trees, about three hundred yards off, and said that they had gone up in
that direction, and were probably there by that time.
"Then we had better saddle and mount," said the Major, "and ride away
gently to the wood on this side of the camp. We shall then be able to
watch their motions without being seen."
This advice was good, and approved by all. They led out their horses
without noise, and as soon as they had done so, they went back, and
threw more fuel on the fires. They then retreated to the wood, which was
about the same distance from the camp, on the other side, as the clump
of trees where the Matabili were secreted.
They had hardly concealed themselves, before the Matabili in the clump,
surprised at not seeing the awnings of the wagons, and suspecting that
they had been deceived, came out from their ambuscade; first crawling on
all-fours, and as they arrived at the camp, and found only fires
burning, rising up one after another. After remaining about a minute in
consultation, two of the party were sent back to the river to
communicate this intelligence to the main body, while the others
searched about in every direction. Alexander, with the Major and their
party, remained where they were, as it was their intention to cross
through the wood, until they came to the open ground, about a quarter of
a mile to the southward, and then show themselves to the enemy, before
they went to join the wagons.
In a few minutes it was daylight, and they now perceived that the whole
body of the Matabili were crossing the river.
"They intend to pursue us, then," said Alexander.
Omrah now pointed to the side of the river, in the direction which the
wagons had traveled when they came up by its banks, saying, "When go
away--ride that way first--same track wagon go that way back--same way
"The boy is right," said the Major; "when we start from the wood, we
will keep by the riverside, in the track by which the wagons came; and
when we are concealed from them by the hills or trees, we will then
start off to the southward after the wagons."
"I see," replied Alexander; "they will probably take the marks of the
wagon-wheels coming here, for those of the wagons going away, and will
follow them; presuming, as we go that way, that our wagons have gone
also. But here they come up the banks; it is time for us to be off."
"Quite time," said the Major; "so now let us show ourselves, and then
trust to our heels."
The Matabili force was now within four hundred yards of the camp. It
was broad daylight; and, with their white and red shields and short
spears in their hands, they presented a very formidable appearance.
There was no time to be lost, so the party rode out of the end of the
wood nearest the river, and, as soon as they made their appearance, were
received by a yell from the warriors, who dashed forward in the
direction where they stood. The Major had directed that no one should
fire, as he and Alexander did not wish that any blood should be shed
unnecessarily. They therefore waved their hands, and turning their
horses' heads galloped off by the banks of the river, keeping in the
tracks made by the wagons when they came up.
As soon as they galloped a quarter of a mile, they pulled up, and turned
their horses' heads to reconnoiter. They perceived that the Matabili
force was pursuing them at the utmost speed: but as they had no
horsemen, that speed was of course insufficient to overtake the
well-mounted party in advance. As soon as they were near, our party
again galloped off and left them behind. Thus they continued for four or
five miles, the Matabili force pursuing them, or rather following the
tracks of the wagons, when they observed a belt of trees before them
about a mile off; this the Major considered as a good screen to enable
them to alter their course without being perceived by the enemy. They
therefore galloped forward, and as soon as they were hidden by the
trees, turned off in a direction by which they made certain to fall in
with the track which the wagons had made on their departure during the
They had ridden about two miles, still concealed in the wood, when they
had the satisfaction of perceiving the Matabili force still following at
a rapid pace the tracks of the wagons on the riverside. Having watched
them for half an hour, as they now considered that all was safe, they
again continued their course, so as to fall in with the wagons.
"I think we are clear of them now," said the Major; "they have evidently
fallen into the trap proposed by that clever little fellow, Omrah."
"He is a very intelligent boy," observed Alexander, "and, traveling in
this country, worth his weight in gold."
"I wish Swinton would make him over to me," said the Major; "but,
Alexander, do you observe what a change there is already in the
"I do indeed," replied Alexander; "and all ahead of us it appears to be
still more sterile and bare."
"Yes, when you leave the rivers, you leave vegetation of all kinds
almost. There is no regular rainy season at all here, Swinton says; we
may expect occasional torrents of rain during three months, but they are
now very uncertain; the mountains attract the greater portion of the
rain, and sometimes there will not be a shower on the plains for the
"How far shall we have to travel before we fall in with water again?"
"Swinton says there may be water in a river about sixty miles from where
we started last night; if not, we shall have to proceed about thirty
miles further, to the Gykoup or Vet River. After that we shall have to
depend for many days upon the water we may find in the holes, which, as
the season is now coming on, may probably be filled by the rain."
Alexander and his party rode for seven or eight miles before they fell
in with the tracks of the caravan; they then pulled up their jaded
horses, and proceeded at a more leisurely pace, so that it was not till
late in the evening that they discovered the wagons at some distance,
having passed the dry bed of Salt River ahead of them. During the whole
day their horses had had neither food nor water, and the animals were
much exhausted when they came up with the wagons. The oxen also were
fatigued with so long a journey, having made nearly fifty miles since
they started the evening before.
The country was now stony and sterile; a little vegetation was to be
found here and there, but not sufficient to meet the wants of the
animals, and water there was none. During the day but little game had
been seen,--few zebras and ostriches only; all other varieties had
disappeared. There was of course no wood to light the fires round the
encampment: a sufficiency for cooking their victuals had been thrown
into the wagons, and two sheep were killed to supply a supper for so
numerous a party. But the absence of game also denoted the absence of
lions, and they were not disturbed during the night. In the morning the
Griquas parted company with them, on the plea that their oxen and horses
were in too poor a condition to pass over the desert, and that they must
make a direct course for the Val River and return by its banks.
Our travelers gave them a good supply of ammunition, the only thing that
they wished for, and the Griquas, yoking their oxen to the crazy old
wagon, set off in a westerly direction.
The route of the caravan was now directed more to the south-west, and
they passed over an uninterrupted plain strewed with small
land-tortoises, and covered with a profusion of the gayest flowers.
About noon, after a sultry journey of nine hours, they fortunately
arrived at a bog, in which they found a pool of most fetid water, which
nothing but necessity could have compelled either them or the exhausted
animals to drink. Near this pool in the desert they found several wild
animals, and they obtained three gnoos for a supply of provision; the
little wood that they had in the wagon for fuel was all used up in
cooking their supper.
A heavy dew fell during the night, and in the morning, before the sun
rose, they were enveloped in a thick fog. As the fog dispersed, they
perceived herds of quaggas in all directions, but at a great distance.
They again yoked the oxen and proceeded on their journey; the country
was now covered with herbage and flowers of every hue, and looked like a
"How strange that the ground should be covered with flowers where there
is no rain or water to be found," observed Alexander.
"It is the heavy dews of the night which support them," said Swinton,
"and perhaps the occasional rains which fall."
A line of trees to the southward told them that they were now
approaching an unnamed river, and the tired oxen quickened their pace;
but on their arrival they found that the bed of the river was dry, and
not even a drop of water was to be found in the pools. The poor animals,
which had been unyoked, snuffed and smelt at the wet, damp earth, and
licked it with their tongues, but could obtain no relief. The water
which they had had in the casks for their own drinking was now, all
gone; and there were no hopes of obtaining any till they arrived at the
Vet River, at least twenty-five to thirty miles distant. Two of the oxen
lay down to rise no more, the countenances of the Hottentots were
dejected and sullen, and our travelers felt that their situation was
While they were still searching and digging for water, the sky became
overcast, thunder and lightning were seen and heard in the distance, and
the clouds came rolling in volumes toward them. Hope was now in every
face; they already anticipated the copious showers which were to
succeed; their eyes ever fixed upon the coming storm; even the cattle
appeared to be conscious that relief was at hand. All the day the clouds
continued to gather, and the lightning to gleam. Night closed in, but
the rain had not yet fallen; the wind rose up, and in less than an hour
all the clouds had passed away, the stars shone out brightly, and they
were left in a state of suffering and disappointment.
As our travelers were sitting together, each occupied with his own
melancholy thoughts, after the dispersion of the clouds and the
anticipated relief, the Major said--
"It is useless our remaining here; we must all perish if we do not
proceed, and it would be better for us to yoke and travel by night; the
animals will bear the journey better, and the people will not be so
inclined to brood over their misfortunes when on the march as when thus
huddled together here, and communicating their lamentations to
dishearten each other. It is now nine o'clock; let us yoke and push on
as far as we can."
"I agree with you, Major," said Alexander; "what do you say, Swinton?"
"I am convinced that it will be the best plan, so let us rouse up the
people at once. There is the roar of a lion at some distance, and we
have no fires to scare them off."
"The creaking of the wagon-wheels will be better than nothing," replied
The Hottentots were roused, and the orders given to yoke: the poor
fellows were all sound asleep; for a Hottentot, when he hungers or
thirsts, seeks refuge from all his miseries in sleep. The oxen were
yoked, and they proceeded; but hardly had they gone a mile, when the
roar of three or four lions, close upon them, caused such alarm to the
horses and the oxen which were not yoked that they started off in full
gallop in a northerly direction.
Alexander, the Major, and Omrah, who were the best mounted, immediately
set off in pursuit of them, desiring Swinton to proceed with the
caravan, and they would drive on the cattle and join him. They galloped
off as well as the horses could gallop, and perceived the stray horses
and oxen still at full speed, as if they were chased by the lions. They
followed in the direction, but it was now so dark that they were guided
only by the clatter of their hoofs and their shoes in the distance; and
after a chase of four or five miles they had lost all vestiges of them,
and pulled up their panting steeds.
"We may as well go back again," said Alexander; "the animals must have
made a circuit."
"I suppose so," said the Major; "but my horse trembles so, that I had
better dismount for a little while, that he may recover himself; indeed,
so had you too and Omrah, for the animals are completely worn out."
"The clouds are rising again," said Alexander; "I trust that we may not
be disappointed a second time."
"Yes, and there is lightning again in the horizon--may the Almighty help
us in our distress," exclaimed the Major.
The horses, exhausted from want of water, continued to pant so
fearfully, that it was nearly half an hour before they ventured to
mount, that they might return to the caravan. In the meantime the
heavens had become wholly obscured by the clouds, and there was every
prospect of a heavy shower; at last a few drops did fall.
"Thank God!" exclaimed Alexander, as he lifted his face up to the
heavens, to feel the drops as they fell. "Now let us return."
They mounted their horses and set off, but the stars were no longer
visible to guide them, and they proceeded on at a slow pace, uncertain
whether they were right or wrong. This they cared little about; their
thoughts were upon the coming rain, which they so anxiously awaited. For
more than three hours they were tantalized by the lightning flashing and
the thunder pealing, every moment expecting the flood-gate of the
heavens to be opened; but, as before, they were doomed to
disappointment. Before the morning dawned the clouds had again
retreated; and when the sky was clear, they found by the stars that
their horses' heads were turned to the northward and eastward.
They altered their course in silence, for they were worn out and
despondent; they suffered dreadfully from thirst, and it was pitiable to
see the tongues of the poor horses hanging out of their mouths. Day
dawned, and there were no signs of the caravan. A thick vapor was rising
from every quarter, and they hoped that when it cleared up they would be
more fortunate; but no, there was the same monotonous landscape, the
same carpet of flowers without perfume. The sun was now three hours
high, and the heat was intense; their tongues clove to the roofs of
their mouths, while still they went on over flowery meads; but neither
forest nor pool, nor any trees which might denote the bed of the river,
caught their earnest gaze.
"This is dreadful," said Alexander, at last, speaking with difficulty.
"We are lost, that is certain," said the Major; "but we must trust in
"Yes, we may now say, Lord help us, or we perish," replied Alexander.
At this moment, little Omrah, who had been behind, rode up to them, and
offered them one of the Hottentots' pipes, which he had lighted saying,
"Smoke,--not feel so bad." Alexander took it, and after a few whiffs
found that it had the effect or producing a little saliva, and he handed
it to the Major, who did the same, and felt immediate relief.
They continued to walk their horses in a southerly direction; but the
heat was now so great, that it became almost insufferable, and at last
the horses stood still. They dismounted and drove their horses slowly
before them over the glowing plain; and now the mirage deluded and
tantalized them in the strangest manner. At one time Alexander pointed
with delight (for he could not speak) to what he imagined to be the
wagons; they pushed on, and found that it was a solitary quagga,
magnified thus by the mirage. Sometimes they thought that they saw lakes
of water in the distance, and hastened on to them; and then they fancied
they were close to rivers and islands, covered with luxuriant foliage,
but still were doomed to disappointment; as all was the result of the
highly-rarefied air, and the refraction of the sun's rays on the sultry
plain. What would they have given for a bush even to afford them any
shelter from the noonday sun, for the crowns of their heads appeared as
if covered with live coal, and their minds began to wander. The poor
horses moved at the slowest pace, and only when driven on by Omrah, who
appeared to suffer much less than his masters. Every now and then he
handed to them the pipe, but at last even that had no longer any relief.
Speech had been for some hours totally lost. Gradually the sun sunk down
to the horizon, and as his scorching rays became less intense they to a
certain degree recovered their wandering senses.
At night they sat down by the side of the horses, and, worn out with
fatigue and exhaustion, fell into a troubled sleep; a sleep which, if it
relieved their worn-out frames, condemned them to the same tantalizing
feelings as had been created by the mirage during the day. They dreamed
that they were in the bowers of paradise, hearing heavenly music;
passing from crystal stream to stream, slaking their thirst at each,
and reclining on couches of verdant green. Every thing that was
delightful appeared to them in their dreams; they were in the abodes of
bliss, and thus did they remain for an hour or two, when they were
wakened up by the roar of a lion, which reminded them that they were
without food or water in the desert.
They awoke speechless with thirst, their eyes inflamed, and their whole
bodies burning like a coal, and the awful roar of the lion still
reverberated along the ground. They started on their legs, and found
Omrah close to them, holding the bridles of the horses, which were
attempting to escape. They were still confused, when they were fully
restored to their waking senses by a second roar of the lion still
nearer to them; and by the imperfect light of the stars they could now
distinguish the beast at about one hundred yards' distance. Omrah put
the bridles of their two horses in their hands, and motioned them to go
on in the direction opposite to where the lion was. They did so without
reflection, mechanically obeying the directions of the man-child, and
not perceiving that Omrah did not follow them. They had advanced about
one hundred yards with the terrified animals, when another loud roar was
followed up by the shriek of the other horse, announcing that he had
become a victim to the savage animal. They both started, and dropping
the reins of their horses, hastened with their rifles to the help of
Omrah, of whose absence they now for the first time were aware; but they
were met half-way by the boy, who contrived to say with difficulty,
"Lion want horse, not little Bushman." They waited a few seconds, but
the cries of the poor animal, and the crushing and cracking of its
bones, were too painful to hear; and they hastened on and rejoined the
other horses, which appeared paralyzed with fear, and had remained
They again led their horses on for an hour, when they arrived at a small
pile of rocks; there they again lay down, for they were quite exhausted
and careless of life. Not even the roar of a lion would have aroused
them now, or if it had roused them they would have waited for the
animal to come and put an end to their misery. But another and a softer
noise attracted the quick ear of Omrah, and he pushed Alexander, and put
his finger up to induce him to listen.
Having listened a little longer, Omrah made signs to Alexander and the
Major to follow him. The noise which Omrah had heard was the croaking of
a frog, which denoted water at hand, and the sniffing of the horses
confirmed him in his supposition. Omrah led the way through the rocks,
descending lower and lower; and ever and anon listening to the noise of
the animal, till he perceived the stars of heaven above reflected in a
small pool, which he pointed out to Alexander and the Major. Down they
dropped to earth and drank, and as soon as their thirst was satisfied
they rose, and pushed Omrah forward to make him drink also; and as the
boy who had saved their lives was drinking, they kneeled down and
prayed--not loud, for they had not yet recovered their speech; but if
ever grateful prayers were offered up to the Almighty throne, they were
by our two travelers, as they kneeled by the side of this small pool.
They rose and hastened to their horses, and led them down to the water,
when the poor animals filled themselves almost to bursting, walked away,
and returned to drink more. They also repeated their draught several
times, and then lay down, and would have fallen asleep by the side of
the pool had not Omrah, who could now speak freely, said, "No, no; lion
come here for water; up the rock again and sleep there--I bring horses."
This good advice was followed, and when they had gained the summit of
the rising ground they again lay down and slept till daylight.
When they awoke, they found themselves much refreshed, but they now
felt--what they had not done during their extreme suffering from
thirst--the craving pangs of hunger. Omrah was fast asleep, and the
horses picking among the herbage, about two hundred yards off.
"We have much to thank God for," said Alexander to the Major.
"We have indeed, and, next to divine aid, we have to thank that poor
boy. We have been as children in his hands, and we are indebted to him
and his resources for our lives this night. I could not speak yesterday,
nor could you; but his courage in remaining with the horse as an
offering to the lion I shall not forget."
"He is a child of the desert," replied Alexander; "he has been brought
up among lions, and where there is scarcity of water, and he has most
wonderfully guided us in our path; but we are still in the desert, and
have lost our companions. What must we do? Shall we attempt to regain
the caravan, or push off to the westward, to fall in with the river
"We will talk of this an hour hence," replied the Major; "let us now go
down to the pool, and as soon as I have had a drink I will try if I can
not kill something for a meal. My hunger is now almost as great as was
"And mine too, so I will go with you; but we must be careful how we
approach the water, as we may fall in with some animal to make a meal
"Or with a lion, ready to make a meal of us," replied the Major; "so in
either instance we must approach it cautiously."
As they walked to the pool, they discovered the head of an antelope just
above a rock. The Major fired, and the animal fell. The report of the
rifle was answered by a roar; three lions bounded away from the rock,
and went at a quick canter over the plain.
"Both our suppositions have proved correct," observed Alexander, as they
walked up to where the antelope lay dead; "but how are we to cook the
"Any dry stuff will serve for a fire, if we can only get enough, and a
very little cooking will serve us just now. Here comes Omrah. Let us
carry the game up to where we slept last night, as soon as we have had a
They went to the pool, and were surprised to behold the filthy puddle
which had appeared to them so like nectar the night before. They were
not sufficiently thirsty to overcome their disgust, and they turned away
Omrah now began collecting dried grass, and herbs, and lichen from the
rocks, and had soon a sufficiency to make a small fire; they struck a
light, and cutting off steaks from the antelope, were in a short time
very busy at the repast. When their hunger was appeased, they found that
their thirst was renewed, and they went down to the pool, and shutting
their eyes drank plentifully. Omrah cooked as much of the meat as the
small fire would permit, that they might not want for the next
twenty-four hours; and the horses being again led to the water to drink,
they mounted, and proceeded to the southward, followed by Omrah on foot.
Another day was passed in searching for the caravan without success. No
water was to be found. The heat was dreadful; and at night they threw
themselves down on the ground, careless of life; and had it not been
sinful they would have prayed for death. The next morning they arose in
a state of dreadful suffering; they could not speak, but they made
signs, and resolved once more to attempt to join the caravan.
They proceeded during the whole of the forenoon in the direction by
which they hoped to discover the tracks of the wagons. The heat was
overpowering, and they felt all the agony of the day before. At last the
horses could proceed no further; they both lay down, and our travelers
had little hopes of their ever rising again. The scorching of the sun's
rays was so dreadful, that they thrust their heads into some empty
ant-hills to keep off the heat, and there they lay in as forlorn and
hopeless a state as the horses. Speak they could not; their parched
tongues rattled like boards against the roofs of their mouths; their
lips were swollen and bloated, and their eyes inflamed and starting from
the sockets. As Alexander afterward said to Swinton, he then recollected
the thoughts which had risen in his mind on his departure from the
English shore, and the surmise whether he might not leave his bones
bleaching in the desert; and Alexander now believed that such was to be
the case, and he prayed mentally and prepared for death. The Major was
fully possessed of the same idea; but as they lay at some yards'
distance, with their heads buried in the ant-hills, they could not
communicate with each other even by signs. At last they fell into a
state of stupor and lost all recollection. But an Almighty Providence
watched over them, and during their state of insensibility the clouds
again rose and covered the firmament, and this time they did not rise in
mockery; for, before the day was closed, torrents descended from them
and deluged the whole plain.
Omrah, who had held up better than his masters, crawled out of the
ant-hill into which he had crept; and as soon as the rain descended, he
contrived to pull the heads of the Major and Alexander, who still
remained senseless, from out of the ant-hills, and to turn their
blackened and swollen faces to the sky. As their clothes became
saturated with the rain and the water poured into their mouths, they
gradually revived, and at last were completely restored. The wind now
rose and blew fresh, and before morning they were shivering with cold,
and when they attempted to get up found their limbs were cramped.
Soon after daylight the rain ceased, and they were glad to bask in the
then cheering rays of the sun, which had nearly destroyed them on the
day before. The horses had recovered their legs and were feeding close
to them; and the flesh of the antelope, which had been untasted, was now
greedily devoured. Most devoutly did they return thanks for their
preservation, and the hopes which were now held out to them of
ultimately regaining the colony; for they had abandoned all hopes of
reaching the caravan, as they considered the risk of crossing the desert
too great. They made up their minds to push for the Val River as fast as
they could, and proceed back by its banks.
They had two horses, and Omrah could ride behind one of them, when he
was tired; they had guns and ammunition, and although they were fully
aware of the dangers to which they would be exposed, they thought
lightly of them after what they had suffered. They now mounted their
horses, and proceeded at a slow pace toward the westward, for the poor
animals were still very weak. At sunset they had traveled about ten
miles, and looked out for a spot to pass the night. Wood to light fires
they had none, but they hoped, if their horses were not taken away by
the lions, to reach a branch of the river by the following evening.
There was now no want of water, as they repeatedly passed by small
pools, which, for a day or two at least, would not be evaporated by the
heat of the sun. But they knew that by that time, if no more rain fell,
they would have again to undergo the former terrible privations, and
therefore resolved upon continuing their course toward the river as
their safest plan, now that they had lost the caravan.
As they were seated on a rising ground which they had chosen for their
night's rest, and occasionally firing off their rifles to drive away the
lions which were heard prowling about; all of a sudden Omrah cried out,
and pointed to the northward; our travelers turned and perceived a
rocket ascending the firmament, and at last breaking out into a group of
"It is the caravan," exclaimed the Major; "Swinton has remembered that I
put some rockets into my wagon."
"We must have passed it," said Alexander, springing on his feet. "God be
praised for all his mercies."
"Amen," replied the Major devoutly.
Omrah ran after the horses, which were feeding close to them, for their
instinctive fear of the lions made them keep as close as possible to
their masters. They were soon mounted, with Omrah behind the Major, and
set off at all the speed that they could obtain from the animals. After
an interval another rocket was seen, and by its light they discovered
that they were not a mile from the wagons. The horses appeared to be
sensible of this, and went off at a quicker pace; and in a few minutes
they had rushed in among the cattle, and Alexander and the Major were
received into the arms of Swinton, and surrounded by the Hottentots, who
were loud in their congratulations at their return.
As soon as Alexander and the Major had made known their perils and
sufferings to Swinton, the latter informed them that about three hours
after they had left the caravan in pursuit of the cattle, the animals
had returned, that of course, he had fully expected them to follow.
Finding that they did not arrive, he had decided upon remaining where
he was, at all events, for another day; but that the cattle were by that
time so exhausted, that it was with difficulty they were moved, and he
could not proceed with them more than ten miles, when they lay down in
their yokes. Thirteen had died, and the others must have shared their
fate, if it had not been for the providential rain, which had restored
Swinton stated that he had been in a great state of alarm for them, and
that he had almost satisfied himself that they had perished, although he
had used every means that he could think of. When he fired the rockets
off, he had scarcely a hope of thus bringing them back to the caravan.
"However," observed Swinton, "it shows that we should never despair, and
never leave a chance untried, even in the most desperate circumstances.
You are back again, and I thank the Almighty for it with all my heart
and all my soul and all my strength, most fervently and most sincerely.
I have been very, very miserable, I can assure you, my dear fellows. The
idea of returning to the Cape without you was dreadful. Indeed, I never
would have left the country until I had found you, or had some clew to
"Our preservation has indeed been miraculous," replied the Major; "I
never thought to have raised my head out of the ant-hill again."
"Nor I," replied Alexander; "and next to the Almighty, we certainly owe
our lives to little Omrah. There is nothing that I would not do for that
boy, if you will only give him over to my care."
"Or mine, Swinton," replied the Major.
"Depend upon it," replied Swinton, "I will do all for him that ought to
be done; I owe him a debt of gratitude for preserving my friends, and
will not forget to repay it."
"Well then, you must allow us to help him as well," replied the Major.
"How far are we now from the Modder River?"
"About forty miles, I should think, and we had better push on as fast as
we, can; for although the river will contain water, the pools in the
desert between us and the river will soon be dried up. The cattle,
however, are still very weak, and, as I have stated, we have lost all
our relays. But you must long to have a good night's rest, so go to your
wagons, and we will watch and keep off the wild beasts. We have been
obliged to fire our guns all night long since your absence, and have
burned one of the spare poles of the wagons to cook our victuals."
Every thing is comparative. When our travelers first took up their
night's lodgings in the wagons they found their resting-places hard,
after sleeping in comfortable beds at Cape Town; but now, after having
passed their nights in the wild desert, their mattresses in the wagons
were a luxury that was fully appreciated. Returning thanks to Heaven for
their preservation, Alexander and the Major slept soundly till morning,
notwithstanding that the latter was often half roused by the
importunities of Begum, who appeared delighted at the return of her
At daylight the oxen were yoked, and they proceeded on their journey.
There was no want of game; indeed they were so plentiful, that they shot
them from the caravan as they passed. At night they had made twenty-five
miles, and before they had unyoked, a deluge of rain again fell, and
they passed a very uncomfortable night, as it was very cold, and they
could light no fires, from want of fuel. Any thing, however, was better
than the want of water; and early in the morning they again yoked their
oxen, and, after a hard day's toil, were rejoiced to perceive at a
distance the trees which lined the banks of the Modder River. The sight
was hailed with joy by the Hottentots, who shouted aloud; for they
considered their dangers and difficulties to be over, now that they were
approaching to the boundaries of the colony.
As the cattle required some repose, after the sufferings they had gone
through, our travelers resolved to remain a few days on the banks of the
Modder River. The pasturage was fine and the game abundant. Gnoos and
springboks were to be seen in every direction, and quaggas, bonteboks,
and several other varieties of antelopes, were in profusion over the now
undulating country. Neither were our travelers sorry to have some repose
for themselves, although every mile that they drew nearer to the Cape
made them more anxious to return.
As usual, the caravan was halted on a rising ground, at some distance
from the river, to avoid the wild beasts, which during the day were
concealed, and during the night prowled on its banks, to spring upon the
animals which came down for water. As there was now plenty of wood, the
fires were again lighted at night, and the oxen driven in and tied up.
During the day, the animals reveled on the luxurious pasture, and in a
week had become quite sleek and in good condition.
Every day our travelers went out to hunt for a supply of provisions, and
never returned without more than was sufficient. Swinton was anxious to
possess one or two more specimens of the oryx, or gemsbok. This
antelope, we have before observed, from having very straight horns,
which at a distance appear as one, has given rise to the fabulous animal
the unicorn, which is now one of the supporters of the royal arms. It is
a very formidable animal; being the one that our travelers found with
its horns pierced through the lion which had attacked it. The horses
being now fresh and in good heart, Alexander and the Major went in
pursuit of this animal very often, but without success, as the chase was
continually interrupted by the herds of ostriches and other game which
fell in their way.
One morning, having discovered with the telescope that three of these
gemsbok were some miles distant on a rising ground, they set off,
accompanied by a portion of the Hottentots on foot, who were desired to
go round, so as to drive the animals toward the camp. Bremen and Big
Adam were of the party, and they had made a circuit of three or four
miles, so as to get on the other side of the game, which now darted down
from the high ground, and, descending on the plain, stopped for a while
looking at their pursuers, while the horsemen advanced toward them in
the opposite direction. A shot from Alexander at last brought one of
these splendid animals to the ground, while the others fled off to a
distance, so as to give no hopes of again coming up with them; and the
party on foot, as well as the horsemen, now proceeded to the spot where
the gemsbok lay dead.
As Swinton wanted the animal for a specimen, it was placed on the back
of the horse which Omrah rode as usual, and one of the Hottentots went
off with it to the camp, which was not more than three miles distant.
They were debating whether they should make an attempt to get near to
the other gemsbok, which were still in sight at a distance, or try for
some other game, when they perceived three lions not far from them on a
rising ground; and suddenly the horses, from which they had dismounted
to give them time to recover their wind, broke loose from the Hottentots
who held the bridles, and galloped away toward the camp. The cause of
the panic was now evident, for a very large male lion had detached
himself from the other two, and was advancing slowly toward the party.
As soon as they perceived the approach of the lion, which they had not
at first, they all seized their guns; but being wholly unprepared for
such a sudden attack, there was a great deal of confusion; the Major
crying out, "Let no one fire till I tell him," only produced more alarm
among the Hottentots, all of whom, except Bremen, appeared to be at
their wits' ends. When within fifty yards, the lion made one or two
bounds, and in a moment was among them all, before they could bring
their guns to their shoulders; the retreat was general in every
direction, and not a shot was fired.
All, however, did not escape; Big Adam had started back, and coming with
all his force against Omrah, who was standing behind him, had fallen
over the boy, and they were both flat on their backs, when the lion
made his spring. The lion was standing up, looking proudly at his flying
enemies, when Big Adam, who was close to him, attempted to rise and gain
his feet; but perceiving this, the animal, with a blow of its fore-paw,
laid him prostrate again, set its foot upon his breast, and in this
attitude again looked proudly round him, as if confident of his
Omrah, who had sense enough to lie still, had yet his eyes sufficiently
opened to see what was going on; and as the lion appeared to be looking
at the scattered party, in a direction away from him, Omrah made one or
two turns over, so as to get further off, hoping that he might escape
unperceived. The lion, however, heard the rustling, and turning round
growled at him, and Omrah remained still again. As Big Adam's feet were
turned toward Omrah, the lion now took up his position, deliberately
lying down at full length upon Big Adam's body, with his hind-quarters
upon the Hottentot's face, so that he not only secured his prisoner, but
watched Omrah, who lay about three yards from him.
In the mean time the anxiety of the other party may be imagined; they
considered that Big Adam and Omrah must be sacrificed. It was proposed
to fire with good aim, so as, if possible, to bring the animal's
attention and indignation upon themselves; but Swinton cried out not to
fire on any account. "The animal is not hungry or even angry," said
Swinton. "If let alone, he will probably walk away without doing them
injury. At all events, our firing will be the signal for their
The advice of Swinton was considered good, especially as it was backed
by that of Bremen, who also said that the lion was not hungry, and that,
by the way in which he, moved his tail, he was evidently more inclined
to play than any thing else.
But in the mean time the pressure of the lion, whose weight was
enormous, was not only more than Big Adam could bear, but the
hind-quarters of the animal being over his face prevented him from
breathing; and at last he was compelled to struggle to get his head
clear. The consequence of his struggling was a severe bite on the leg,
inflicted on poor Adam; not, however, in a furious manner; for the lion
merely caught at him as a cat would at a mouse, to prevent its escape,
or because it was not quite dead. However, Big Adam had so far
disengaged his head that he could now breathe; and as the party kept
crying out to him to lie still, he continued so to do, although nearly
suffocated with the enormous weight of the animal.
Omrah, who had remained still during all this time, perceiving that the
lion was licking the blood which flowed from the wound in Big Adam's
leg, thought that he might as well try another roll over, and being on
his back, he turned over on his face away from the lion. Thereupon the
lion rose from off Big Adam, walked up to Omrah, and, to the horror of
our travelers, took up the boy by his waistcloth, and, carrying him like
a small bundle in his mouth, went back to Big Adam, and laying Omrah
close down to the Hottentot's head, again took up his position on his
body; now, however, with his paws upon the Hottentot's breast, so that
he might keep Omrah in view before him. Little Omrah had sense enough
not to move during the time that the lion carried him, or after he was
The change in the position of the lion occasioned our travelers and the
party to walk round, so as to be able to watch the countenance of the
animal, as every thing depended upon the temper he might be in. The
Major and Alexander became very impatient, and were for advancing to the
attack, but Swinton persuaded them not to do so until the last moment.
The lion now put its fore-paw upon the Hottentot's mouth, and again
stopped his breath; this occasioned another struggle on the part of Big
Adam, which was followed by the animal seizing him by the arm and biting
him severely; but in so doing the lion removed its paw, and the man
could breathe again. The taste of blood appeared pleasant to the lion,
for it continued biting the arm, descending from the shoulder to the
hand, and as the blood flowed from the wounds on its paws, the lion
licked it off. Again and again it licked its paw clean, and then, with
its glaring eyes fixed intently upon the Hottentot's face, it smelt him
first on one side and then on the other, and appeared only to be waiting
for a return of appetite to commence a deliberate meal upon the poor
In the mean time our travelers were standing about seventy yards
distant, waiting for the signal to attack, when Bremen observed to
"He won't wait much longer, sir; the blood has given him an appetite. We
must now drive him away, or they will both be killed."
"I think so too," replied Swinton; "let us first try if we can disturb
him without making him angry; that will be the best way. We must go back
out of springing distance, and then all shout together, and keep
hallooing at him."
This advice was followed; they retreated a hundred yards, and then all
shouted at once, and after that the Hottentots hallooed and bawled to
the lion. This had the effect intended: the lion rose from the bodies
and advanced toward the party, who stood still hallooing at him, but not
attempting to irritate him by presenting their guns. The lion looked
steadfastly at them for some time, and then turned away. After
retreating a few steps, it turned back to face them; the whole party
continued on the same spot, neither advancing so as to irritate him, nor
retreating so as to let the animal suppose that they were afraid of him.
When the lion had continued for a few minutes this course of retreating
and advancing, he turned right round, and went away at a hand canter,
and our travelers immediately hastened to the spot where Big Adam and
Omrah were still lying.
Omrah, who was not at all hurt, instantly jumped on his legs, and, if he
had been afraid, appeared to have quite recovered his courage, as he cut
all manner of capers, and laughed immoderately; but Big Adam was greatly
exhausted and could not move, as much from the immense pressure of the
lion's enormous body, as from the blood that he had lost by the wounds
which he had received. On examination, the bite in his leg was found to
be much the most serious, as the bone was injured; the wounds on his arm
were all flesh-wounds, and although very painful, were not dangerous.
He was at present unable to speak, and was carried by his comrades to
the camp. Our travelers followed the Hottentots, as they all had enough
of hunting for that day. As soon as they arrived, Big Adam's wounds were
dressed by Swinton, and the poor fellow was accommodated with a bed,
made up for him in the baggage-wagon. They remained two days more on the
banks of the Modder River, and then they forded it and continued their
On the second day they perceived some small human figures on the summit
of a hill at some distance, which the Hottentots declared to be Bushmen,
of which people there were numerous hordes in this part of the country.
An attempt was made to open a communication with them, but in vain, as
when any of the party advanced on horseback toward them, the Bushmen
made a precipitate retreat. As they were now in the neighborhood of
these plunderers, every care was taken of the cattle, which were tied up
before dark to prevent their being stolen.
On the following day they very unexpectedly fell in with a party of nine
of the Bushmen, who were very busy devouring a quagga, which they had
killed. They replied to questions put to them with much fear and
trembling, and, having been presented with some tobacco, they made a
precipitate retreat. On that night the fires of the Bushmen were to be
seen on several of the surrounding hills. They continued their course on
the following day, when they fell in with about twenty women of the race
we have just mentioned, who approached the caravan without fear,
requesting tobacco and food; the former was given to them in small
quantities, and a shot from the Major's rifle soon procured them the
latter. They were now without water again, and had no chance of
procuring any, except from the pools, until they arrived at the Nu
Gariep, or Black River, which they had crossed when they came out from
the Caffre Land.
Having traveled till dark, they halted under a hill, and were soon
afterward joined by a party of Bushwomen, who continued with them in
spite of all their attempts to get rid of them. They were very small in
person, well made, and the young were rather pretty in their features,
but their ornaments were enough to disgust any one but a Hottentot; for
they were smeared with grease and red ocher, and were adorned with the
entrails of animals as necklaces. The Hottentots, however, appeared to
think this very delightful, and were pleased with their company, and as
the women showed them a pool of water, where the oxen could drink, it
was not considered advisable to drive them away. But Swinton observed,
that it would be necessary to keep a very sharp lookout, as the women
were invariably sent by the Bushmen as spies, that they might watch the
opportunity for stealing cattle.
They now resumed their former plan; starting at a very early hour, and
traveling till afternoon, when the cattle were allowed several hours to
feed, and were then tied up for the night to the wagons. Indeed the
lions were now not so numerous as they had been, and they had more to
fear from the Bushmen and the hyenas, which were very plentiful.
The next day fully proved the truth of this, for the oxen, having been
unyoked as usual to feed, about two o'clock in the afternoon, had been
led to a hollow of luxuriant pasture by the cattle-keepers, where they
could not be seen from the caravan, although they were not half a mile
off. Toward dusk, when it was time to drive them in and tie them up to
the wagons, it was found that the cattle-keepers, who had been in
company with the Bushwomen, had neglected their charge, and they were
not to be found.
The keepers came running in, stating that a lion had scared the cattle,
and that the animals had galloped off to a great distance. But Omrah,
who had gone to where the cattle had been feeding, returned to the camp
and told Swinton that it was not lions but Bushmen who had stolen them;
and, bringing the horses ready saddled to the Major and Alexander, said,
that if they did not follow them immediately, the cattle would be all
killed. It was also observed that the Bushwomen had all disappeared.
Swinton, who was well aware of the customs of the Bushmen, immediately
proposed that they should mount as many as they could, and go in chase,
as there was not an hour to be lost. In half an hour a party, consisting
of our three travelers, Bremen, Omrah, and three of the most trusty of
the Hottentots, who were all that they could mount, set off in the
direction which they knew must have been taken, so as to conceal the
cattle from the sight of those in the caravan; and it being a fine
moonlight night, the keen eyes of Omrah tracked them for more than five
miles, where they were at fault, as the traces of their hoofs were no
longer to be seen.
"What shall we do now?" said the Major.
"We must trust to Omrah," replied Swinton, "he knows the habits of his
people well, and they will not deceive him."
Omrah, who had been very busy kneeling on the ground, and striking a
light every now and then with a flint and steel, to ascertain the track
more distinctly, now came up and made them comprehend that the Bushmen
had turned back upon the very track they had gone upon, and that they
must return and find where they diverged from it again.
This created considerable delay, as they had to walk the horses back for
more than a mile, when they again found the footing of the cattle
diverging from the track to the southward and eastward, in the direction
of some hills.
They now made all the haste that they could, and proceeded so rapidly on
the track, that in about an hour they perceived the whole herd of oxen
driven up the side of a hill by a party of Bushmen. They put spurs to
their horses and galloped as fast as they could in pursuit, and soon
came up with them; when a discharge of rifles left three Bushmen on the
ground and put all the rest to flight. The cattle, which were much
frightened, were with some difficulty turned and driven back toward the
encampment. In the mean time the disappointed Bushmen had turned upon
those near, and were letting fly their arrows from the bushes where they
were concealed and continued thus to assail them until the party arrived
at the open plain. One of the Hottentots was wounded by an arrow in the
neck; but that was the only accident which occurred to any of the party,
and this was not known to our travelers until after their arrival at
the encampment, when it was almost daybreak; and then, tired with the
fatigues of the night, all were glad to obtain a few hours' rest.
When they rose the next morning, Swanevelt informed them that nine of
the oxen were so wounded with the poisoned arrows of the Bushmen, that
they could not live; and also, that Piets the Hottentot had been badly
wounded in the neck with one of the arrows. Swinton immediately ordered
the man to be brought to him, as he was well aware of the fatal effects
of a wound from a Bushman's arrow.
It appeared that Piets had pulled the arrow out of his neck, but that
some pieces of the barb had remained in the wound, and that these his
companions had been extracting with their knives, and the wound was very
much inflamed in consequence. Swinton immediately cut out as much of the
affected part as he could, applied ammonia to the wound, and gave him
laudanum to mitigate the pain, which was very acute; but the poor fellow
lay groaning during the whole of the day.
They now examined the wounded oxen, which were already so swollen with
the poison that there were no hopes of saving them, and they were
immediately put out of their pain. Several others were found slightly
hurt, but not so as to lose all hopes of their recovery; but this
unfortunate circumstance prevented them from continuing their journey
for two days; as the whole of the oxen had been much harassed and cut by
the Bushmen, although not wounded by poisoned arrows. During this delay,
the poor Hottentot became hourly worse; his head and throat were much
swollen, and he said that he felt the poison working within him.
After many hours of suffering, during which swellings appeared in
various parts of his body, the poor fellow breathed his last; and the
next day being Sunday, they remained as usual, and the body of the
unfortunate man was consigned to a grave. This event threw a cloud over
the whole caravan, and whenever any of the Bushwomen made their
appearance at a distance, and made signs that they wished to come into
the camp, an angry bullet was sent instantly over their heads, which
made them take to their heels.
On the Monday morning they again started with their reduced trains, for
now they had barely sufficient cattle to drag the wagons. Fortunately
they were but a few miles from the Nu Gariep, and they arrived at its
banks before evening. The next day they crossed it with difficulty,
putting all the oxen to two of the wagons and then returning for the
They were now once more in the colony, and their dangers and
difficulties were now to be considered over. It was not, however, till a
week afterward that they succeeded in crossing the Sweenberg and
arriving at Graff Reynet. At this beautiful spot they remained for a few
days, to make arrangements and to procure horses, that they might
proceed to Cape Town as fast as possible, leaving Bremen in charge of
the wagons, which he was to bring down to them as soon as he could. We
shall pass over the remainder of their journey on horseback, as there
was nothing remarkable to be related. Suffice it to say, that on the
11th of January, 1830, they arrived safe and sound at Cape Town, and
were warmly congratulated by Mr. Fairburn and their many friends, after
all the dangers and difficulties which they had encountered.
Alexander Wilmot again took possession of the apartments in Mr.
Fairburn's house, and was not sorry once more to find himself surrounded
by all the comforts and luxuries of civilization. He could scarcely
believe where he was when he woke up the first morning, and found that
he had slept the whole night without being disturbed by the roar of a
lion or the cries of the hyena and jackal: and after the habit to which
he had been so long accustomed, of eating his meals in the open air with
his plate on his knees, he could hardly reconcile himself for a few days
to a well laid-out table. The evenings were passed in narrating their
adventures to Mr. Fairburn, who was truly glad of the result of the
mission to Port Natal, as it would be so satisfactory to old Sir
Alexander was now most anxious to return to England, and resolved to
take his passage in the first ship which sailed after the arrival of the
wagon with his effects. In the mean time his mornings were chiefly
passed with Swinton and the Major, the latter of whom intended to go to
England by the same vessel as Alexander. In three weeks after their
return to the Cape, the four wagons arrived, and excited much curiosity,
as they were filled with every variety of the animal kingdom which was
indigenous to the country. Swinton's treasures were soon unloaded and
conveyed to his house, and our naturalist was as happy as an
enthusiastic person could be in the occupation that they gave him.
Alexander only selected a few things, among which were the skins of the
lion and lioness. As for the Major, he had had all his pleasure in the
destruction of the animals.
Bremen reported that all the Hottentots had behaved very well, and that
Big Adam had nearly recovered, and was able to limp about a little,
although it would be a long while before he would regain the perfect use
of his leg. Alexander now sent for them all, and paid them their wages,
with an extra sum as a gratuity for their good conduct. To Bremen and
Swanevelt, who had invariably conducted themselves faithfully, and who
had been the leading and most trustworthy men, he gave to each a wagon
and span of ten oxen as a present by which they might in future obtain
their livelihood, and the poor fellows considered themselves as rich as
the king of England. The other wagons and cattle of every description
were left with Swinton to be disposed of.
The Major pressed Swinton very hard to part with little Omrah, but
Swinton would not consent. The Major therefore presented Omrah with one
of his best rifles, and accouterments to correspond, as a mark of his
attachment; and Alexander desired that all the money which was realized
by the sale of the remaining wagons and other articles, as well as the
cattle and horses, should be put by for Omrah's benefit. As a keepsake,
Alexander gave the lad his telescope, with which he knew that would be
We may here as well observe, that, a few months after Alexander and the
Major left the Cape, Omrah, who had been placed at a school by Swinton,
was admitted into the church, and baptized by the name of Alexander
Henderson Omrah; Alexander and the Major being his sponsors by proxies.
He turned out a very clever scholar, and remains with Swinton at this
moment. He has more than once accompanied him into the interior, and has
done much in reclaiming his countrymen, the bushmen, from their savage
way of life, and has been of great service to the missionaries as
interpreter of the Word to his heathen brethren.
About a fortnight after the return of the wagons to Cape Town, a free
trader cast anchor in Table Bay to take in water, and Alexander and the
Major secured a passage in her to England. Alexander parted with great
regret from Mr. Fairburn and Swinton, with whom he promised to
correspond, and they sailed with a fair wind for St. Helena, where they
remained for a few days, and took that opportunity of visiting the tomb
of Napoleon, the former emperor of the French. A seven weeks' passage
brought them into the Channel-and they once more beheld the white cliffs
Alexander's impatience to see his uncle, from whom he had found a letter
waiting for him on his return to the Cape, stating that he was in
tolerable health, induced him to leave the ship in a pilot-boat, and
land at Falmouth. Taking leave for a time of the Major, who preferred
going on to Portsmouth, Alexander traveled with all possible speed, and
on the second day arrived at his uncle's.
"Is my uncle quite well!" said Alexander, as he leaped out of the
chaise, to the old butler who was at the door.
"No sir, not quite well: he has been in bed for this last week, but
there is nothing serious the matter, I believe."
Alexander hastened up stairs and was once more in the arms of Sir
Charles Wilmot, who embraced him warmly, and then, exhausted with the
emotion, sank back on his pillow.
"Leave me for a little while, my dear boy, till I recover myself a
little," said Sir Charles. "I have no complaint, but I am very weak and
feeble. I will send for you very soon."
Alexander, who was himself much affected, was not sorry to withdraw for
a while, and sent the housekeeper, who attended his aged relative, into
the room. In about an hour a message arrived requesting that he would
return to his uncle.
"And now, my dear, kind boy, tell me every thing. I am indeed overjoyed
to see you back again; I have not had one line from you since you left
the Cape, and I really think that the worry and anxiety that I have felt
have been the cause of my taking to my bed. Now you are back I shall be
quite well again. Now tell me all, and I will not interrupt you."
Alexander sat down on the bed, and entered into a full detail of the
results of his expedition to Port Natal; reading over all the memoranda
which they had collected, and satisfactorily proving that the
descendants of the Europeans then existing could not by any possibility
be from those who had been lost in the _Grosvenor_ East Indiaman.
Sir Charles Wilmot listened in silence to all Alexander had to say, and
then, joining his hands above the bed-clothes, exclaimed, "Gracious
Lord, I thank Thee that this weight has been removed from my mind." He
then for some minutes prayed in silence, and when he had finished, he
requested Alexander to leave him till the evening.
The physician having called shortly after Alexander left his uncle,
Alexander requested his opinion as to Sir Charles's state of health. The
former replied--"He has but one complaint, my dear sir, which all the
remedies in the world are not very likely to remove: it is the natural
decay of nature, arising from old age, I do not consider that he is in
any immediate danger of dissolution. I think it very likely that he may
never rise from his bed again; but, at the same time, he may remain
bedridden for months. He sinks very gradually, for he has had naturally
a very strong constitution, I believe the anxiety of his mind, arising
from your absence, and the blame he laid on himself for having allowed
you to undertake your expedition, have worn him more than any thing
else; but now that you have returned, I have no doubt, after the first
excitement is over, that he will rally. Still man is born to die, Mr.
Wilmot, and your uncle has already lived beyond the three-score years
and ten allotted to the average age of man. Depend upon it, every thing
shall be done which can protract a life so dear to you."
Alexander thanked the physician, and the latter then went up stairs to
Sir Charles. On his return, he informed Alexander that Sir Charles's
pulse was stronger, but something must be allowed for the excitement
which he had undergone.
When Alexander saw his uncle in the evening, the latter again thanked
him for having undertaken the expedition, and having brought back such
"I am much your debtor, my dear boy," said he; "and if it is any
satisfaction to you (which I am sure it must be from your kind heart) to
know that you have smoothed the death-bed of one who loves you, you have
your reward. I feel quite strong now; and if it will not be too much
trouble, I should like you to give me a narrative of the whole
expedition; not all at once, but a little now and then. You shall begin
now, and mind you enter into every little detail,--every thing will
Alexander commenced his narrative, as his uncle requested, stating to
him how they were fitted out; the names of all the people; describing
Swinton and the Major, and giving a much closer narrative of what passed
than we have done in these pages. After an hour or so, during which
Alexander had not got so far in his narrative as to have quitted the
Cape for Algoa Bay, he left off, that he might not weary his uncle, and
wished him good-night.
For many weeks did the narrative, and the conversation produced by it,
serve to amuse and interest the old gentleman, who still remained in his
bed. But long before it was finished, Major Henderson had arrived at
the hall, and had been introduced to Sir Charles, who was much pleased
with him, and requested him to remain as long as he found it agreeable.
The Major, at Alexander's request, had the lion and lioness set up in
Leadbeater's best style, and the case had now arrived at the hall, and
was brought up into Sir Charles's room, that he might have some idea of
the animals with which they had had to contend; and there it remained,
for the old gentleman would not allow it to be taken away.
"I must send out a present to that little Omrah," said Sir Charles, one
morning, as he was conversing with the Major; "what shall it be?"
"Well, sir, I hardly know; but I think the best present for him would be
"Then, Major, order one of the best gold watches that can be made, when
you go to town, and send it out to him; and, Major,--I am sorry to give
you that trouble, but I am an old bedridden man, and that must be my
excuse,--take the keys from the dressing-table, and open the small
drawer of that cabinet, and you will find two morocco cases in it, which
I will thank you to bring to me."
The Major did so, and Sir Charles, raising himself on his pillow, opened
the cases, which contained each a massive ring, in which was set a
diamond of great value.
"These two rings were presented me by Eastern princes, Major, at the
time that I was resident in their country. There is little difference in
their value, but you would find it difficult to match the stones, even
in England. I will shut the cases up again, and now that I have shut
them up in my hands, take one out for me. Thank you, Major; that one is
a present from me to our friend Swinton, and you must send it out to him
with the watch for the Bush-boy. The other, Major, I hope you will not
refuse to accept as a testimony of my gratitude to you, for having
accompanied my dear boy on his expedition."
Sir Charles put the other case into the Major's hands.
"I certainly will not refuse any thing as a remembrance from you, Sir
Charles," replied the Major; "I accept your splendid present with many
thanks, and so will Swinton, I am certain; but he will be more pleased
with the kind attention than he will be with its great value; and I
trust you will believe me when I add that such is also my own feeling."
"I only hope you may have both as much pleasure in receiving as I have
in giving them," replied Sir Charles; "so put them in your pocket and
say no more about them. There is Alexander coming up, I know his tread;
I hope you do not mean to desert him now that the shooting season is
coming on; he will be very lonely, poor fellow, without you."
"I have good news, my dear uncle," said Alexander, as he entered;
"Swinton is coming home; I have a letter from him, and he will be here,
he trusts, a fortnight after his letter."
"I shall be most happy to shake hands with him," said Sir Charles. "Pray
write for him to come down immediately he arrives."
Three weeks after this announcement Swinton made his appearance, and we
hardly need say was most warmly welcomed. Omrah he would not bring with
him, as he wished him to continue his education; but the Major declared
that he had left the boy because he was afraid of his being taken from
him. Our travelers were thus all reunited, and they agreed among
themselves that it was quite as comfortable at the hall as it was at the
Bechuana country; and that if the sporting was not quite so exciting, at
all events it was not quite so dangerous.
Swinton and the Major remained with Alexander till the opening of the
next year, and then they both left at the same time, and sailed in the
same ship; the Major to rejoin his regiment in India, Swinton to his
favorite locality in Africa, to obtain some more specimens in natural
As the physician had declared, Sir Charles never rose from his bed
again; but he sunk so gradually that it was almost imperceptible, and it
was not until the summer of that year that he slept with his fathers,
dying without pain, and in perfect possession of his senses.
Alexander now came into possession of the estates and title, and
certainly he entered upon them without any reproach as to his conduct
toward his uncle, who died blessing him. And now my tale is ended, and I
wish my young readers farewell.