« PreviousContinue »
The party moved on over the soft ground rapidly and quietly; the horses, seeming to recognize their masters, followed them without hesitation, and scarcely required to be touched by the rear follower. As they neared the kraal past which they had to walk, they heard sounds of loud talking and occasional singing, so that the slight noise of the horses' feet they trusted would not be heard.
A Matabili at all times, however, is watchful, and more particularly in time of war. Just as the three men with their charge were opposite the kraal the singing and talking suddenly ceased, and some half-dozen men came out of their huts, and called out, 'Who is there ?'.
'Taking the horses by the chief's orders,' replied Hans, in Matabili.
Resting his hand on Katrine's arm, he whispered, 'Not a move, Katrine, we must escape by boldness; any hurry now, and we may fail.'
Katrine was a girl who had lived amidst events which the denizen of civilization is unacquainted with : she had witnessed many rough scenes, was accustomed to hear tales of dangers and risks, and was thus seasoned, as it were, to a life of adventures. Just as the most delicately nurtured English girl will travel by an express train without any very great fear the very day after some fearful accident may have happened on the railway by which she is a passenger, so did Katrine trust that all might turn out well in spite of the apparent dangers around. Still when she found that the approach of her party had been heard by the men of this kraal, and
heard them speaking to Hans, she feared another scene of bloodshed would soon be enacted, such as that to which she had been a witness when she was first captured by the Matabili and her father slaughtered. Her trembling arm indicated to Hans her fears, but his whispered encouragement gave her strength and hope.
The moment, however, was critical, and had not Hans' answer been confident and distinct, he might have had to fight for his life under circumstances where he could not well escape; for it would have been almost certain death to have attempted to ride at speed on a night as dark as that on which they were escaping. Fortunately the men were not curious; and most Kaffirs having a dislike to move about much at night, in consequence of snakes, centipedes, and scorpions, on which their naked feet might tread, they waited inside their kraal until the party had passed, and the sound of their footsteps was heard no more.
'We are safe so far,' whispered Hans, 'thank God! Can you tell me, Katrine, where this path leads to?'
'It leads down to the stream about a mile on, and then is lost in the plain beyond. It has been used for driving the cattle to and from water, and also for hunting, there being many "wilde" on the plain beyond.'
'If, then, we can cross the river, we may consider ourselves safe,' remarked Hans; for we can then put you on the horses, and can ride all night. Our spoor cannot be followed by night, and twelve hours' start
ought to enable us to reach our people before we are overtaken.'
'But there are hundreds of the Matabili out on war,' said Katrine, and we may fall in with some of them.'
'Ah! and I have lost my far-seer,' said Hans. That is a loss. But we had better not talk; let us listen and think; we may then be less liable to a surprise.'
The party reached the stream of which Katrine had spoken, and crossed it in safety, and found before them an apparently smooth, undulating plain. After journeying over this about half an hour, the moon rose, she being some days past the full. By her light, and by the aid of the stars as guides, Hans pursued a course which led nearly in the direction of his countrymen's settlements; but as these were distant fully three days' journey, even riding at the best speed, and as the party had no provisions, there seemed much to be overcome before a place of safety could be reached.
The Prisoners are free-The Pursuit-The Horses sick-The Ride for Life-The Concealment.
HE morning following that on which Hans and his companions had escaped, broke with all
the splendour of an African day. The dew had fallen heavily during the night, and thus the first rays of the sun produced a mist which hung like steam over the valleys; but this soon clearing away, left the atmosphere clear and transparent; so that distance could not be measured by atmosphere, as in our misty climate, but a far-off range of mountains seemed within a short ride of the observers, whereas it was distant at least fifty miles. This clearness had a great advantage for Hans' party, as it rendered surprise less likely than if a dense fog or cloudy weather had prevailed.
No sooner did the slightest sign of daylight appear, than Hans, by the aid of some loose powder and a piece of rag, with a flint and steel lighted a fire, and commenced preparations for a breakfast. Victor and Bernhard, like the others of the party, had merely
lain down under the shelter of some bushes to obtain a few hours' rest; but all had gone supperless to bed, if bed it could be termed. But in such a climate a night passed in the open country was not a very great hardship, even to young girls like Katrine and her sister. That very unromantic feeling, hunger, was however demanding attention; and when Victor and Bernhard, suddenly awaking at the sound of Hans' flint and steel, started up and observed daylight beginning to dawn, and Hans making a fire, they, with an air of surprise, said,
'You have fire, Hans, but where is the food?'
'I did not like to fire a gun, lest I might disturb the country, and let some strange Matabili know we were hereabouts; so I have procured breakfast with a Matabili's assagy.'
'What have you?' eagerly asked the hungry hunters. 'A young vleck vark and a porcupine,' replied Hans. 'The porcupine I found out on the plains, and speared him before he got to his hole. The pig I saw run into quietly over it with my
a jackall's hole, so I waited assagy till it came out to peep where I had gone. I stabbed it in the neck, and held it down till I killed it with my assagy. So we shall not starve yet, Victor; and the girls can eat pork, if they object to porcupine.' 'Ah! Hans,' said Victor, though I am an old hunter, I know I should starve in the desert where you would keep fat and sleek.'
It was a strange breakfast, that which took place on