Page images

forms glide past the hunter, and, with a snort of terror or a growl of anger, move away to the distance, scarce liking to let alone so apparently defenceless a creature as man seems to be, yet awed by a certain presence which the brute creation never thoroughly overcome.

Tiny creeping animals again crackle the crisp leaves as they scamper about in their fastnesses among the bushes, and sniff the scent of the strange intruder ; whilst the noiseless flapping of wings attracts for an instant the hunter's sight as some ghost-like moving night-bird flies around him, and examines the strange being that has intruded into its domain.

Suddenly the sound of a struggle startles the hunter, and a cry of distress from a stricken creature is audible, whilst frightened animals rush hither and thither for a time, and then again relapse into their former indifference. A lion, perhaps, has captured its evening prey from amongst a grazing herd; or a leopard has struck down the antelope that it has been cautiously watching and stalking during the past half-hour. And then again a silence so still, so unbroken, follows the past turmoil, that the desert wanderer fancies he can hear the thin, fleecy clouds moving above him, or the long-absent but deeply-loved voice of one who should be near him. Amidst all the danger, all the novelty of the scene, however, exhausted nature usually exerts her sway, and the hyena's laugh or leopard's cry ceases to be heard, whilst the traveller passes into the unconsciousness of sleep, and dreams probably of scenes the very opposite of those

[blocks in formation]

amidst which he then is, and awakes, scarcely knowing which is the reality-the dream of old, well-known scenes, amidst which the greater part of his life has been passed, or the wild, unusual events transpiring around him.

To men of adventure such as Hans and his companions, a night in the desert was not unusual, and they experienced but few of the sensations which a more. civilized man undoubtedly would feel; yet to these hunters there was something awe-inspiring in the calm stillness of the night, broken only by the shrieks and cries of night wanderers among the wild animals, or the snorts of terror from their horses as these sounds met their ears.

It was past midnight when Hans commenced his watch, and was the only one of the five who was awake. The sisters were sheltered from the dew by a blanket supported by two or three sticks, and arranged so as to form a kind of tent. The two Dutchmen were lying beneath some bushes with merely the blanket over them that served during the day to protect their horses' backs from a badly-stuffed saddle.

Although Hans believed that any attack from an enemy was unlikely, yet, being a man who knew the value of guarding against every possible, not every likely danger only, he placed himself within a few yards of Katrine and her sister, and there listened attentively to every sound that broke the silence of the night.

When darkness spreads her mantle over the earth it is by sound alone that an enemy can be discovered; for


enemy, what is it? Oh, for my far-seer! the rascally Matabili have that, and won't know how to use it.'

'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.

lost if the others go in the same way.'

We are

'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

Matabili, who seemed to continue their journey in the same direction they were pursuing when first observed. The horses were kept concealed behind the densest bushes, whilst Hans watched the enemy, who was more than a mile distant from him. The warrior, however, trained in the desert observes facts which would escape the attention of the civilized, or halfcivilized man, and notices and attaches a meaning to trifling circumstances quite beyond the perception of the other. Just as the Matabili were within the shortest distance at which their path would bring them near the white fugitives, some vultures, attracted probably by the horses of the Dutchmen, halted in their steady flight, and commenced circling overhead. Hans observed this at once, and knew the danger of the circumstance.

'The Matabili will see this and will become suspicious,' Hans exclaimed; they are not men to overlook the vultures' signal.'

Scarcely had he spoken before the Matabili halted and stood gazing at the bushes amidst which the party were crouching. A very short examination seemed to satisfy them, for, dividing into two parties, they started at a run towards the ravine, beating their shields and muttering a low-toned song.

'We had better ride for it,' said Hans; 'we might kill half their number, but the remainder would finish us. Come, Katie, mount the schimmel horse; we will have a gallop.'

The two girls were soon mounted, and though they

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »