« PreviousContinue »
Breakfast in the Desert.
the mountain-spur, between the five white people on the morning in question. It is seldom that lovers pass through such scenes as those in which were Hans and Katrine. Artificial life is now so much more general than is natural life, that few people are aware how very false is much that surrounds them. A well-bred English lady would probably imagine that she would rather starve than make a meal off a porcupine, when no plate or fork enabled her to eat, as some would term it, 'like a Christian.' It is surprising, however, how soon we learn to dispense with these ornaments of the feast, as we may term them. The writer of this tale cannot recall to mind any more enjoyable feasts, though flavoured with the best of wines and the most intellectual society, and amidst scenes of richness or splendour, than some repasts eaten amidst the dense bush of an African forest, with no other companion than the one black follower whose duty it was to spoor or carry the game, and where the cooking was simply toasting on a ramrod over the campfire some of the steaks from the buck which an hour previously was roaming freely in the forest. That unrivalled sauce, ‘hunger,' gave an additional flavour to the venison, whilst the most robust health and the purest air supplied the want of many of those addenda which are considered necessities in civilized dining-rooms.
Thus the breakfast of porcupine and wild pig, though no bread or salt were added, no tea or sugar, and nothing but a draught of pure water from a tiny mountain stream near, was relished by those who with a brie
but refreshing sleep had passed the night under the cloudless
of heaven. Hans had selected the halting-place for the night under some trees on a spur of a range of mountains which skirted the plains, so that as the morning dawned he might be able to see around, and thus possibly discover if any parties of the enemy were out in search of him. He found none, however, and therefore immediately breakfast was finished, the horses were mounted, and the party continued their journey, changing their direction now to the westward, in order to ride towards the district in which they believed their friends would be most likely to be found.
The sun had nearly attained his meridian altitude before Hans decided to halt, to off-saddle the horses, and to refresh the party, by partaking of the remainder of his morning's captures. The place that he had selected for the halt was a slightly wooded ravine, amidst the rocks of which a clear stream ran over a grassy or pebbly bed, behind him was a range of rocky hills, the summit of which was crowned by huge masses of rock, looking from the distance like vast slabs placed by giant strength in their present position. Before them was an undulating plain, on which detached clumps of bushes and trees were scattered; tiny mountain-born streams flowed in various parts of this plain, and could be seen like silver threads winding about amongst trees, shrubs, and ferns, until two or three joining together formed a fair-sized river. On these plains herds of antelope were grazing,
and seemed undisturbed by any enemy; ostriches were stalking here and there, whilst the grim circling vulture was wheeling in the air, watching for carrion on which to feast.
"This is a beautiful district,' exclaimed Hans, as he examined the various attractive features of the scene ; is too good for a black savage to own. What more could a man wish for than what he finds here? There is water in abundance, plenty of grass for his cattle and horses, a soil that would yield if the seed were merely thrown down, game in abundance, and a climate as good as any in Africa. I have heard, but can scarcely believe, that in England there are men, strong men, who pass their whole lives in crowded places, in a country too where the sun is rarely seen, and all for the sake of getting more money than they want for their necessities, but which they thus slave for in order to make a show in the way of ornaments. Can you believe, Victor, that such men know what life really is ?'
'It is strange, Hans, at least to us who know how to live by hunting, and whose cattle increase rapidly, if left to themselves; but perhaps these men you speak of would not be happy unless they were thus slaving all their lives. We are not all alike, Hans, and few men know how to love nature.'
'If we live to get back to our friends, Victor, I will marry Katrine, and join the first party that treks for a new station, whenever that may be. See those springbok, Victor, by the tall acacias there, they scent an
enemy, what is it? Oh, for my far-seer ! the rascally Matabili have that, and won't know how to
No need of a telescope, Hans,' said Bernhard, who had joined the other two; "there is the cause for the springbok running away. Those are Matabili coming over the plain, and we had better be prepared for a gallop, for if they see us we shall have to try what four legs can do against two.'
'I don't believe they would openly attack us, for there are not more than forty men,' replied Hans, and thirteen to one is scarcely enough odds to tempt them. They will follow us though, undoubtedly, and will endeavour to surprise us. We had better saddle up and be ready for a start at once.'
Katrine,' said Hans, are you ready to go on? there are enemies on the plains below, and we had better ride forward.'
“Yes, I am ready, Hans, but are the horses fit?' replied Katrine ; "they seem very tired.'
Hans walked towards the horses, and for nearly a minute watched them closely, particularly a well-bred hardy chestnut that had been ridden by Katrine. This horse was standing with its head low, but did not feed, though the grass was in plenty close to its mouth.
* Victor,' said Hans at length, 'come here.'
Victor came to Hans, who, pointing at the chestnut said, 'Look !'
Victor for an instant examined the animal, and then
The Horse Sickness.
with an exclamation said, 'It is the sickness. We are lost if the others go in the same way.'
'They will go for certain,' replied Hans, “and so we had better ride whilst we can. That chestnut will be dead in an hour. We must leave him here, and push on with the others.'
The sickness to which Victor referred is the dreaded pest of every South African traveller : the cattle disease which lately in England has carried off whole herds, is not dissimilar to the so-called sickness which affects South African horses and cattle.
A horse may appear quite well in the morning, and even when ridden indicate no signs of illness ; perhaps about mid-day he may appear slightly dull and lazy, and in the evening be dead. No remedy has yet been found to be effective against this sickness, and thus every traveller bargains to lose a large percentage of horses and oxen on every trip that he makes into strange districts; for it seems that horses seasoned in one district take the disease in another, and thus the traveller has to test the constitution of the animal that carries him by passing through various portions of country, many of which are what may be termed infected. In the far desert the loss of cattle and horses is a disaster beyond remedy, and often causes the ruin of the hunter, or, as in the present case, entails a great risk of life.
Almost concealed, even from close observation, amidst the dense bush of the ravine, Hans' party believed they had escaped being seen by the ever-watchful