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‘They will not be anxious to try that again,' said Hans. 'I wonder what their next plan of attack will be. They can't burn us out, for these solid old rocks are fire-proof; neither are they likely to starve us out. As long as they have no fire-arms we are tolerably certain to be able to defeat them, and to prevent them from ascending this place; so I am curious to know what they will try to do next.'
For fully two hours the Matabili were quiet, no sound indicating that they were near.
'Do you think it possible they have decided to leave us?' inquired Victor.
No, they will not leave us, you may be certain; they will try to starve us out rather, and that reminds me that we may as well eat. We may be busy again before long.'
Without any loss of appetite from their late excitement, the two men ate heartily, and were soon again ready for a fresh attack.
Something fresh is going to take place,' exclaimed Victor; they are coming again. What have they there? It is two Bushmen prisoners. Now, Hans, there is danger for us.
See you what they will do ?' “The rascals -- yes, they have made the Bushmen understand that unless they shoot us with their poisoned arrows they will be themselves assagied. Now we must shoot straight for our lives, indeed. Down, Victor, under cover,' shouted Hans, and both men dropped behind their barricade just before two poisoned arrows flew over them, and struck the rock behind.
The Poisoned Arrows.
'The Schelms are behind trees, Victor. We shall find it hard to get a shot at them. We must watch and wait for our chance. We must shoot the Bushmen, for no Matabili can handle their weapons. Let us kill them, and we shall have escaped our most threatening danger.'
The thorough Bushman of Africa is the most formidably armed man amongst the aborigines. The Amakosa or Kaffir tribes on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony have for their national weapon the light throwing assagy. This is a spear about six feet in length, an iron head about one-third or one-fourth the length being inserted into a wooden handle. An expert Kaffir will throw one of these assagies with precision about eighty yards, and with sufficient force to penetrate a man's body at that distance.
The Zulu Kaffir and the Matabili use the heavier assagy, which is not so much suited for throwing, but is more fitted for close quarters, and is mainly used as a weapon for stabbing. Both this and the lighter assagy of the Amakosa are far less deadly than is the tiny arrow of the Bushman. The Bushman's arrow is about two feet long, the haft is made of reed, the end of the arrow is made either of hard wood or bone. This end is merely inserted into the hollow reed, and can be taken out and reversed if required, so that a Bushman places the poisoned end of his assagy in a reed-sheath as it were, until it is required for use, when he reverses it, and thus keeps the poison fresh.
The poison itself is said to be a combination of animal,
vegetable, and mineral poison. The animal is procured from poisonous snakes, many species of which are common in the country inhabited by Bushmen, among these the cobra, puff-adder, ring-hals, &c., being numerous. The vegetable is obtained from roots known to the Bushmen, and of species of the cactus. The mineral is supposed to be some preparation of copper, which the Bushmen find in the country; but about this composition there seems considerable uncertainty.
An animal, though little more than scratched with a Bushman's arrow, is almost sure to die, rarely surviving more than one or two hours. The Bushman is a most accurate shot, and can discharge his arrows with such speed, that he will often have three arrows in the air at the same time, the third being discharged before the first has struck the ground.
Knowing the accuracy of the Bushmen's aim, and the deadly nature of the poison they used, Hans and Victor fully comprehended the danger they now encountered. The Bushman is as active as a baboon; and could these men have been trusted, they would have been ordered to ascend the rocks above the Dutchmen and shoot them from that position ; but the Matabili dare not trust them: they had captured these two men, and now showed them that they must shoot the Dutchmen or be assagied themselves; thus the two tiny Bushmen used all their skill and watchfulness in order to save their own lives. The Bushmen finding that the Dutchmen kept under cover and gave no chance for a shot, requested to be allowed
Arrows and Guns.
to ascend the rock and thus get a shot at their targets. The Matabili, however, would not trust them to do this, as they feared they might go over to their enemies, when once away from the range of their spears; so they directed them to watch their chance of a shot, and if the white men showed even a hand above the rocks, this hand was to be at once struck with an arrow.
Both parties were now watching to obtain a chance of a shot at the other : the white men shifted their position, so as not to give the Bushmen a chance of firing even at the rocks near where they were concealed; and the Bushmen dodged from tree to tree, in order to try to obtain a shot at some part of the Dutchmen.
'I will try what sort of a shot I can make with a Bushman's bow and arrow,' said Hans; 'I know a fellow is behind that tree stem, so I will try and hit that with one of the arrows of the bow we have.'
* Don't expose an arm, though, Hans,' said Victor; 'for it is death even to be scratched by one of their arrows.'
'I will be careful,' replied Hans, as he fitted an arrow to the bowstring, and crouching below the rocks they had piled up as a breastwork, drew the bow and discharged the arrow.
The little reed flew on, and fell at the side of the tree near which one of the Bushmen was crouching. The little man saw the arrow fall, though he knew not who had discharged it, and, with an eagerness to possess himself of the weapon which quite overcame his caution, he sprang from behind the tree and grasped the arrow which he at once saw amidst the dry leaves and grass.
Victor, who was watching the result of this, saw the act of the Bushman, and instantly lowering his gun, he discharged a bullet at him. True to its direction, the bullet struck the Bushman on the shoulder, and passing through his arm, rendered him incapable of again using his bow. The wounded man had not much compassion from his captors; for the Matabili, seeing he could no longer be of service of them, and having a natural hatred of Bushmen, instantly despatched him with their spears, intimating to the remaining Bushman that unless he succeeded in shooting the white men, he would soon meet the same fate as his companion.
Scarcely had the two men taken their eyes off the tree behind which the Bushman had been killed, when Katrine's voice and words caused them to look on the plain to the eastward of their position.
‘Hans, Hans !' she called, 'look what is coming : there are more Matabili. Are there not two hundred more at least coming to help those who are now here? What can we do?'
Hans and Victor looked towards the east, and there saw a large body of Matabili coming rapidly over the plains, and evidently directed, by some guide, towards their present position.
• They will be too many for us, Victor, I am afraid ; what are we to do now, I wonder ?'
"Keep down, Hans! keep down !' said Victor; see what is in
hat!' Hans instinctively crouched behind the breastwork,