A Rip Van Winkle Of The Kalahari
by Frederick Cornell
A RIP VAN WINKLE OF THE KALAHARI AND OTHER TALES OF SOUTH-WEST
FREDERICK CARRUTHERS CORNELL
CAPETOWN: T. MASKEW MILLER LONDON: T. FISHER UNWIN, LTD.
A RIP VAN WINKLE
OF THE KALAHARI
CHAPTER II. DEAD
MEN IN THE DUNES
CHAPTER III. THE
CHAPTER IV. THE
PANS AND THE
CHAPTER V. I
CHAPTER VI. THE
SLEEP AND THE
CHAPTER VII. THE
PATH OF SKULLS,
AND THE SNAKE
THE SALTING OF
“THE DRINK OF
THE WATERS OF
MOST of these stories were written on the veldt; at odd times, in
out- of-the-way prospecting camps, in the wilds of the Kalahari Desert,
or of that equally little-known borderland between Klein Namaqualand,
and Gordonia, Cape Colony, and what was at that time known as German
South- West Africa.
Four of them appeared a few years back in The State an illustrated
magazine now unhappily defunct; the others, though written about the
same time, have never been published.
And now, time and circumstances have combined to bring the scene in
which they are laid most prominently before the public.
Through the dangerous and difficult barrier of the desert sandbelt
that extends all along the coast, General Botha and his formidable
columns forced their way to Windhuk; from the remote lower reaches of
the Orange River other troops steadily and relentlessly pushed north;
and even to the east the well-nigh unexplored dunes of the southern
Kalahari proved no safeguard to the Germans, for Union forces invaded
them even there: and all eyes in South Africa are to-day turned towards
this new addition to the Union and the Empire.
Whilst imagination has naturally played the chief part in these
tales, the descriptions given of certain parts of this little-known
region are accurate, and by no means overdrawn; at the same time,
though they treat principally of the dangerous and waterless desert, it
must be borne in mind that although the sand dunes form one of
Damaraland's most striking features, yet it is by no means altogether
the barren, scorching dust-heap it is popularly believed to be.
For once the sand region bordering the coast is traversed, and the
higher plateau begins, vegetation and water become more abundant, the
climate is magnificent, and cattle, sheep and goats thrive; whilst in
the north much of which remains practically unexplored there is much
fruitful and well-watered country teeming with game, and akin to
Rhodesia, awaiting the settler.
Mining and stock-raising are the two great possibilities in this new
country, where water conditions are never likely to allow of extensive
agriculture being carried out successfully.
But above all mining! For much of the country and especially the
north is very highly mineralized. Copper abounds; tin and gold have
been found and there can be but little doubt that the former will
eventually be located in abundance and, above all, the diamond fields
of the south-west coastal belt have since their discovery in 1908 added
enormously both to the value of the country and to its attractiveness.
To refer again to these tales; the description of Rip Van Winkle's
ride through the desert, the sand-storm, the huge salt pans, and
indeed most of the earlier incidents, have been but common-place
experiences of my own in the wastes of the southern Kalahari, slightly
altered for the purposes of the story. Even the poison flowers exist
there and no Bushman will sleep among them, beautiful as they are. And
lest the huge diamond in the head of the Snake in the same story be
considered an impossibility, let it be borne in mind that the Cullinan
(enormous as it was) was but the fragment of a monster that must have
been every whit as big as the one I describe. The cataclysm is also a
possibility; for although rain falls but seldom in the desert, there
are occasional thunderstorms of extraordinary violence, and I have seen
wide stretches of the Kalahari near the dry bed of the extinct Molopo
River (long since choked, and part of the desert) converted into a
broad deep lake, after a cloudburst lasting but an hour or so, which
drowned hundreds of head of cattle.
The incident in Dick Sydney, of the fracas in the bar where the
Germans were toasting to The Day, was not written after war was
declared, but one night in Luderitzbucht full three years ago, after
hearing that toast drunk publicly in the manner described, and after
witnessing a very similar ending to it! And that particular story was
refused by the then editor of The State, as being too anti-German! Well
times have indeed changed!
And lest a prospective Dick Sydney should think that the picture
of that individual picking up a thousand carats of diamonds in an hour
or so is far-fetched, let me assure him that the first discoverers of
the Pomona fields, south of Luderitzbucht, did literally fill their
pockets with the precious stones in that space of time: and that other
fields as rich may well await discovery will be denied by few who know
Ex Africa semper aliquid novo never was saying truer! and
Damaraland, under the British flag, and with scope given to individual
enterprise, may well provide still another striking example of that old
FREDERICK C. CORNELL.
Cape Town, 1915.
A RIP VAN WINKLE OF THE KALAHARI
The manner of my meeting with him was strange in the extreme, and a
fitting prelude to the wild and fantastic story he told me.
I had been trading and elephant shooting in Portuguese territory in
Southern Angola; and hearing from my boys that ivory was plentiful in
German territory, farther south, I had crossed the Kunene River into
Amboland; and here, sure enough, I found elephants and ivory galore. So
good, indeed, was both sport and trade in this country of the Ovampos
that by the time I reached Etosha Pau my trade goods had vanished,
and my wagon was heavily laden with fine tusks. So far had I penetrated
into German territory that I decided to make my way south-west towards
Walfisch Bay instead of returning to Portuguese territory. But I knew I
must rest my cattle well before attempting it, for it would mean an
arduous trek; I had no guide, and there were no roads; for at the time
I speak of, the Germans had done but little to open up the northern
part of their territory; and indeed even to the present day much of it
still remains unexplored.
It is a wild and beautiful country, for the greater part
well-wooded, and teeming with game; though towards the east it becomes
drier and sandier until there stretches before the traveler nothing but
the endless dunes of the unknown Kalahari desert.
Untraversed, unexplored, and mysterious, this land of The Great
Thirst had always held a great fascination for me; its outlying dunes
began but a few miles east of my camp, and from an isolated granite
kopje near their border I had often gazed across the apparently
limitless sea of sand: stretching as far as the eye could reach to
where the dancing shimmer of the mirage linked sand and sky on the far
It was along the edge of these dunes that I one day followed a
wounded eland so far that dusk overtook me a long distance from my
wagon. My water-bottle was full, there was abundance of dry wood for a
fire, and I was just debating whether I would try and get back to the
wagon, or camp where I was, when my horse solved the question for me by
shying violently at something, and throwing me clean out of the saddle.
My head must have struck a stone, for I was stunned, and for a time
I knew no more.
When I came to myself it was dark, but a bright fire was burning
near me, a blanket covered me, and I was lying upon something soft.
Evidently some one was caring for me, and I concluded that my boys had
found me though I had given them strict instructions not to leave the
Jantje! Kambala! I called, but there was no answer, and I tried to
rise. But my hurt had apparently been a severe one, for my head spun
round, the fire danced before my eyes, and I again lost consciousness.
When next I awoke the fire was still burning, and a figure was
seated beside it: a figure that the leaping flames rendered monstrous
and distorted. The back was towards me, but at the slight rustle I made
upon my bed of dry leaves in awakening, the figure turned in my
direction, and I caught a momentary glimpse of the face. Firelight
plays strange tricks sometimes, but the momentary flicker showed me a
countenance so grotesque that I must have made an involuntary movement
of surprise, for with a short laugh the unknown man rose and came
towards me, saying as he did so, Don't be scared even the devil isn't
as black as he's painted! And, whoever he was, the way in which he
tended to my throbbing head, advising me not to talk, but to rest and
sleep, soon soothed my shaken nerves, and I slept again till broad
I could hear the low murmur of voices, and sitting up, I saw that
Jantje and Kambala had put in an appearance and were talking in an
unknown tongue to my friend of the night beforea white manbut
surely the strangest-looking being I had ever beheld.
First of all he was a hunchback, and his body was twisted and
distorted to a remarkable degree yet in spite of his curved shoulders
he was of more than average height, and of a breadth incredible. But
his face! who can describe it? Seamed and scarred in deep gashes, as
though by some hideous torture, the nose broken and flattened almost
upon the cheek, there remained but little human about the awful
countenance except the eyes. But these, as I found later, were of a
beauty and expressiveness to make one forget their terrible setting.
Large, pellucid, of a bright hazel, there was something magnetic in
their straight and honest gaze; and I can well believe that before he
met with his awful disfigurement their owner must have been a man of
As I moved, he came towards me, holding out his hand as he did so,
and a fine, warm-hearted grip he gave me.
Better, eh? he said. No don't get up; you've had an ugly smack,
and must take care of yourself for a bit. And I'm afraid, he
continued, as he sat down beside me, that I was the cause of your
accident for your horse shied at me, and you came near breaking your
Shied at you? I queried, in surprise for there was scarce cover
for a cat just where I had been thrown but where were you, then I
never saw you?
No, but I saw you, he replied grimly, and having been the cause
of your downfall, I could do no less than look after you till your boys
Thus strangely began an acquaintance that lasted only all too short
a time, but that was full of interest for me; for I found my new friend
to be a remarkable man in more ways than in appearance. His knowledge
of the region we were in was wonderful, the few natives we met treated
him with every sign of respect and fear, and he seemed equally
conversant with their language, as with that of my own boys, Jantje the
Hottentot, and Kambala the Herero.
The habits of the game, the properties of each bush and shrub, each
game-path and water-hole, he knew them all, and had something
interesting to say about all of them; and the few days of our
companionship were pleasant in the extreme.
I never knew his name, and had it not been that chance came to my
aid, I should probably never have heard his strange history. But it so
happened that a few days after our first meeting, a buffalo, with the
finest horns I had ever seen, got up within twenty yards of us; and in
my eagerness to secure his wonderful head, I shot badly, and only
succeeded in wounding him slightly. His terrific charge was a thing to
Straight at us he came, wild with rage, and my new friend's horse,
gored and screaming, went down before him in a flash. The rider was
thrown, and to my horror, before I could control my own frightened
animal sufficiently to enable me to shoot, the bull was upon the fallen
man, goring and trampling upon him in an awful manner. Leaping from my
horse, I put bullet after bullet through the big bull's head, and at
length he lurched forward, dead, upon the mangled body of his victim.
We had some difficulty in extricating the man, and never expected to
find him alive, but though badly crushed and torn he still breathed,
and naturally I did all I could to save his life.
That night he was delirious, and it was then that I had evidence of
the almost superhuman strength with which he was endowed. Time after
time he tore himself from the combined strength of my two sturdy boys,
and always he raved of diamonds, and of a never-ending search for
something, or some one, in the desert.
His hurts were sufficient to have killed half a dozen men, and I
never expected him to live; but two days later he was able to tell the
natives, in their own tongue, of certain herbs which they prepared
under his direction, and in a week he was about again.
His cure was nothing short of miraculous in my eyes at least but he
made light of his own share in the matter, and was all gratitude for
the little I had been able to do to atone for the result of my bad
shooting. And one night, by the camp fire, and with very little
preamble, he told me the following strange story, which I have set down
as nearly as possible in his own words.
A RIP VAN WINKLE OF THE KALAHARI
CHAPTER I THE BLUE DIAMOND
Diamonds first brought me to this countrya small glass phial full
of them in the hands of an old sailor who had been shipwrecked on the
South-west African coast, somewhere in the vicinity of Cape Cross, and
who had spent many months wandering with the Bushmen who found him,
before he eventually worked his way back safely to Walfisch Bay. Here
one of the rare whalers, that occasionally called at that little-known
spot, eventually picked him up, and he at length got back to Liverpool,
with nothing but his tiny packet of little bright stones to show for
all his months of hardship among the Bushmen.
The ignorant whalers had laughed at his assertion that the little
crystals were of any value; as at that time diamonds were undreamed of
in South Africafor all this was long, long ago.
Chance threw me in the old man's way, and a small service I was able
to render him led to his showing me the stones. He had been in Brazil
and had seen rough diamonds there; and I too, who had also dug in the
fields of Minhas Geraes, saw at once that he was right; they were
I had money, but I wanted more; for there was a girl for whom I had
sworn to make a fortune, and who in turn had sworn to wait for me, poor
girl! She little knew how long that wait would be, or the kind of wreck
that would return to her at last. And even as I poured the little
glittering cascade of diamonds that old Anderson had found from one
hand to the other, my mind was made up.
Anderson, I said, come out with me to Africa again, man; we can
make ourselves rich men! Of course, there must be more where these came
More! said the hard-bitten old seaman, who was as brown and
withered as the Bushmen he had lived amongst so long; More, is it?
Why, sir, there's bushels of them in a valley as I knows of out there;
so many that I couldn't believe myself that they was diamonds, so I
only brought a few! But there they can stay for me. No more Bushmen for
me, thank 'ee; they'd put a poisoned arrow through me if ever they saw
me again. But if you want to go, well and good; I'll tell you where to
find the diamonds!
And the upshot was that I sailed for the Cape a week later, and a
few months afterwards I landed at Walfisch Bay, from whence I intended
trekking north in search of the Golconda old Anderson had described to
At that time, with the exception of a few traders, hunters, and
missionaries near the coast, the country was uninhabited by white men;
moreover, it was in a state of turmoil. From the north-east, a powerful
Bantu race the Damaras, or Ovaherero as they term themselves had been
gradually spreading over the land south and west, and had just come in
contact with the Namaquas, a Hottentot race who had come from the
south. The result had been a series of bloody native wars, in which
neither race could for long claim decided advantage. Meanwhile the
aboriginal Bushmen of the country had been almost exterminated,
scattered tribes of them only remaining in the most inaccessible parts
of the country. It was towards these wild people that my path lay, and
the few settlers I met warned me that my trip was likely to be a
And you have nothing to gain! they pointed out, these Bushmen
have no cattle, no ivory, nothing! They are but vermin, and a poisoned
arrow is all you are likely to get from them. But, secure in my
knowledge of the riches awaiting me, I was not to be deterred; and
there came a day when my wagon, loaded with a goodly stock of trade
goods, trekked from the sands of Walfisch Bay towards the then unknown
country lying to the north. Rain had fallen and I found the trek by no
means as difficult as I had expected, for I had good native guides, and
for a time all went well. But gradually the long sandy stretches were
left behind, and the country became extremely difficult. On all sides
rose vast table-topped mountains with almost perpendicular sides, and
the wide valleys between them gradually narrowed till they became
nothing but deep, narrow, precipitous gorges, impassable for a wagon.
Deep we penetrated into this tangle of mountains, endeavoring in vain
to find a way through in the direction I believed the valley to lie,
and at length it became evident that to proceed farther with the wagon
was out of the question. Here, therefore, in a well-wooded kloof, with
an abundance of water, I made my central camp; and from it I proceeded
to explore the country farther north. By this time the wild Bushmen,
who had hitherto fled at our approach, had gained confidence, and came
freely to the camp, and I had guides in plenty. For a time their
extraordinary click language was utterly beyond my comprehension, but
at length I learnt enough of it to make them understand what I wished
But search as I would I could never find the spotvalley after
valley they took me to, krantz after krantz, and kloof after kloof, I
scrambled through and searched, but all in vain. Mineral wealth I found
everywhere, copper and tin in abundance, and in one deep valley rich
nuggets of gold, but still the diamonds evaded me. Nor did I ever find
them, though I am sure that Anderson's tale was true, and that
somewhere in those mountains lie diamonds galore. It may be that they
are now buried deep in the sand; for at times the wind blows with
incredible force; and in the terrific sandstorms, huge dunes are lifted
and swept across the country; and it may well be that the deep valley
of his day is now filled to the level of its walls.
Sick and disheartened I determined at last to offer a big reward to
any of the guides who should bring in a diamond to me; and calling them
all together, I made them understand as much; at the same time showing
one of the little diamonds that Anderson had given me. A trade musket,
with powder and shot, was to be the reward; and as this was a prize
beyond the dreams of these poor Bushmen there was a general exodus from
the camp in search of the bright stones. From their excited
exclamations when I showed them the diamond, I gathered that they had
all seen such stones, and I cheered myself with the hope that at last I
should be rewarded for all my hardships. But, alas! They brought in
bright stones truly bright stones in abundance but quartz crystals
chiefly; bright, clear, and sparkling, but of course utterly valueless;
and though I sent them out again and again, they brought nothing in of
Amongst my boys, who had followed me from Walfisch Bay, was one
Inyati, who was much attached to me, and who had become a sort of
body-servant to me. He was a fine upstanding chap who held himself
absolutely aloof from the Griquas and Hottentots that formed the bulk
of my paid followers, and to whose oblique eyes, and pepper-corn wool,
his expressive orbs and shock of crinkled hair formed an agreeable
contrast. As for the Bushmen, Inyati treated them, and looked upon
them, absolutely as dogs. He was a good game spoorer, and I had taught
him to shoot; and so intelligent was he, that I had taken a great
interest in him, and had learnt to talk to him in his own tongue a
sonorous, expressive language entirely different to the peculiar
click of the local natives.
I knew that his dearest wish was to possess a gun of his own, and
fully expected that he too would wish to join in the search that might
lead to his gaining one; but, though he had examined the stones I had
shown far more intently than any of them, he made no effort to leave
the camp. Day after day he attended to my simple wants, spending all
his spare time in polishing my weapons, a work he absolutely loved, and
crooning interminable songs in a low monotone.
One day, when the Bushmen had again trooped off on their fruitless
search, I called Inyati; and told him to make certain preparations, as,
should they again bring in nothing, I would strike camp and return to
Walfisch Bay. And then I asked him, out of curiosity, why he had not
tried to earn the gun.
Master, said he, scraping away at the hollow shin-bone of a buck
that served him as a pipe, as a broad hint that his tobacco was
finished; I know not the land of these dogs of Bushmen. If it were in
my own land now! But that is far away!
I laughed, for by his manner of saying it, he conveyed the
impression that there he could pick up diamonds under every bush.
Dogs they may be, Inyati, I answered him, but they are dogs with
keen eyes; and yet they cannot find the stones I seek, and that I know,
too, are not far away! He stood, nodding gravely at my words, and
still fidgeting with his bone pipe; a splendid figure of a man, nude
except for his leopard-skin loin-cloth, his skin clear and glossy, of a
golden-brown for he was no darker than, but entirely different from,
the yellow Hottentots.
Master, said he; what magic will my master make with the little
bright stones, should he find them?
No magic, Inyati, said I, but in my country, across the great
water, these things are worth many muskets, cattle aye, and even
That may be, my master, he replied, but magic they are; and hide
themselves when dogs such as these Bushmen search for them. Still,
master, we will wait and see what they bring to-night; though well I
know that they will come back with empty hands as empty as is this my
I could not help laughing at the way in which he had brought the
subject of his finished tobacco to my notice, and in a fit of unwonted
generosity I not only gave him a span of tobacco, but also a cheap pipe
from my trade goods.
Poor chap, it was the first he had ever had, for his shin-bone had
served him hitherto, and his delight was unmistakable. An hour later I
saw him still at his everlasting polishing, and with the new pipe in
full blast; and now he was crooning not only its praises, but my own.
Half his improvised song was unintelligible to me, but I understood
enough to learn that when the dogs of Bushmen had failed, he, Inyati
The Snake would lead me to a land where there were magic stones in
abundance, and by means of which, I gathered, we should both obtain
I laughed at the poor chap's foolish bombast, as I thought it; but I
have often wondered since whether the gift of that cheap pipe did not,
after all, alter the whole of my life.
For that evening, sure enough, the Bushmen again returned
empty-handed, and acting on my former resolve, I called my own
followers together, and told them to make ready to return to Walfisch
Bay. Later, as I sat in my tent writing up my diary by the light of a
feeble candle, and with the gloomiest of thoughts for company, I heard
Inyati's voice outside. Master, he said, in a low tone but little
above a whisper, the dogs are full of meat, and sleeping; and there is
that which I would show thee.
Without feeling much interest in what he might have got I bade him
enter, and he stood before me in the dim light of my tallow candle.
Fumbling in his leopard skin, he drew forth a little tortoiseshell,
such as the Hottentot women use for holding the hare's foot, ochre,
buchu leaves, and other mysteries of their toilet. I had often seen him
with it, and had chaffed him about carrying it before, and he evidently
anticipated something of the kind again.
Nay, master, he said, before I could speak, true, as thou sayest,
it is a woman's box, and a woman gave it me. But the box is naught;
this is what I would show my master.
He shook something from the little box into the palm of his hand,
clenched it, and with a dramatic gesture thrust it close to the dim
light, and threw his fingers wide.
There, glittering in the yellow palm, flashing and scintillating
with every movement, and looking as though the light it gathered and
reflected really burnt in its liquid depths, lay the most marvelous
diamond I had ever beheld!
The size of a small walnut, flawless, blue-tinted, and of wondrous
luster and beauty, its many facets were as brilliantly polished as
though fresh from the hands of the cutter, though it was a rough
stone, untouched except by nature.
I was too stunned to speak, or do anything but clutch it, and gloat
over it, and mutter Where? where?
CHAPTER II. DEAD MEN IN THE DUNES
I don't know how long I gazed in fascination at the wonderful stone,
but at length a low chuckle from Inyati brought me back to reality. He
stood looking at me, with a whimsical smile on his face.
Magic, said he, magic, my master! Did I not say there was magic
in these 'bright stones'? And who shall say it is not so? Has not my
master for a whole moon been lifeless and sad, until he looked even as
the old cow that died of lung-sick but yesterday? And has not the very
sight of the magic stone again brought fire to his eye, till he is
again even as the young bull that killed two of those Bushmen dogs also
but yesterday? Who shall say it is not magic?
Inyati, I stammered, coming back to my senses, and ignoring his
extremely doubtful compliments, speak, man; where did you get this?
In my own land, master; a far land, many moons' trek from here, and
where there are many. But few dare touch them except indeed the devil-men and they are not men at all, but devils! Though I feared them
little even then . . . and now, now that I have a gun (for surely my
master will give me the little gun that speaks many times for this
magic stone?) I fear them not at all! And we will go back and get many
more if my master so wishes and I will see again the woman who gave me
the stone as a talisman long years ago!
Give him the little gun that speaks many times the Winchester for
a diamond worth a king's ransom?
Inyati, I said, though I was sorely tempted, the gun is thine;
not indeed for the stone, for that I will not take from thee, and it is
worth more than all the guns and cattle I possess. But for the gun,
guide thou me to this land of thine, that I may find these stones thou
That will I do readily, master, he answered, and, in truth, I am
well content to keep the stone, for the sake of the woman who gave it
me. And there are many more! And did I not say truthfully that the
stones were magic? See now, my master, the very sight of one has made
my master give me the desire of my heart the little gun that speaks
I gave him the Winchester there and then, and never did I see a
human being so delighted.
Late into the night we sat and talked, and planned, whilst the
Bushmen sat round their camp fire, and clucked and chattered in their
queer- sounding speech, gorging themselves to repletion on the offal of
an eland I had shot the previous day.
I learnt that Inyati's country lay far to the north-east, across the
dreaded waterless stretches of the unknown Kalahari. He had fled from
it years ago, his life forfeit to the priests or devil-men as he
called them for some cause that he did not explain, or that my limited
knowledge of his language did not permit of my understanding. The
stones were plentiful, that he assured me of again and again, but they
were sacred, or tabooed, and no one was allowed to handle them but the
priests of whom he spoke.
He had always wanted to return, but had always Feared, but now with
his little gun I believe Inyati would cheerfully have faced a
thousand priests, or for the matter of that a thousand warriors. Danger
there would be, but what was that to him and his master?
He could find his way back, though the journey would be long and
difficult; and now was the only season in which it could be undertaken;
the season when the wild melon made it possible to traverse the
waterless wastes of the Great Thirst Land.
I did not hesitate a moment, in fact no wink of sleep had I that
night, but lay tossing and turning, longing for daylight to come that I
might inspan and commence my long trek.
It came at last, my preparations for striking camp were soon made,
and sending off my crowd of Bushmen camp-followers with a small present
of tobacco, I turned my back to the sea and began my long journey to
Out of the long defiles and valleys we threaded our way into the
open country, past the huge flat-topped mountains of Ombokoro, the
fastness of the Berg Damaras, thence following the dry river-bed of the
Om- Mafako north-east to the confines of the Omaheke desert that great
north-western outlier of the true Kalahari not far, indeed, from this
very spot! So far the trek had been slow and tedious, but without
untoward incident. We were well armed, and those natives who did not
avoid us were only too eager to bring in food, or show us water in
return for our trade goods.
But, as the broken, bushy country gave way to the sand, water became
scarcer and scarcer, until it could only be obtained in small
quantities by digging deep in the bone-dry bed of the parched-up river.
At length it became evident that we could take the wagon and oxen no
farther; and so, at some Bushmen water-pits, at the every edge of the
desert, where toa grass and other fodder was still plentiful, I
decided to leave both vehicle and beasts in charge of my Hottentot and
Griqua followers, and attempt the desert journey on horseback, and
accompanied only by Inyati. Indeed there was no other course; for the
few pans that might contain water on the route we should have to
follow, were far between, and, as the season was late, even they might
well be dry. T'samma, therefore, the wild melon that serves for food
and water for both man and beast in these desert stretches, would be
our only resource; but even in this respect the lateness of the season
was a source of anxiety, for, as you doubtless know, when once it is
over-ripe the t'samma is useless.
Two riding and two pack horses were all therefore that we dare take;
on the latter we loaded food, ammunition, spare arms and trade goods;
and with our skin water-bags filled, one evening when the moon was
nearly at its full, we bade goodbye to our little band, and struck due
east across the desert.
Our plan was to hold in that direction as long as t'samma was
abundant; and should it fail, to attempt to reach one of the pans
Inyati had discovered in his flight across the desert years before, and
which the strange instinct of locality common to all natives of these
wastes would probably enable him to find again.
All night long we rode slowly and steadily through the dunes which
were here favorable to our course; for their long parallel lines ran
like the waves of the sea, almost due east and west, as far as the eye
could reach, and we were able to ride in the aars or narrow valleys
between them and make good progress.
So far vegetation of a sort was still abundant, tufted toa grass,
sorrel, and other succulent plants offered juicy fodder for the horses,
and I began to think that this much-dreaded desert was a desert but in
name, and that our task was to be a light one. With dawn we off-saddled. From the summit of a high dune I looked round in all
directions, and as far as the eye could reach could see nothing but the
endless monotony of wave after wave of dunes, treeless, and apparently
almost devoid of vegetation, for the little there was, was confined to
the deep hollows between. A short distance away a fair-sized bush
offered a modicum of shade, and here we rested for the day for we had
planned to travel only in the cool of the night as long as the moon
served. And here Inyati showed me how to make water from the young
green t'samma, taking those the size of an orange only, and roasting
them in the ashes, and thus turning their pulp into a clear liquid like
water. Seldom though did we trouble to do this, eating the insipid
cucumber-like fruit as we found it, but though refreshing and capable
of supporting life, the longing for water is always present in the
And thus, trekking by night, and resting by day as much as the
terrific heat would allow, we worked our tedious way into the heart of
the desert; and now the magnitude of the task before me was becoming
more fully apparent every day. For, toil as our willing beasts would,
it was obvious that each long night's exhausting trek barely carried us
ten miles forward as the crow flies. The dunes were each day becoming
higher, till they were veritable mountains of sand, the patches of
t'samma became less and less frequent, and it was evident that at any
time they might fail altogether. All this time we saw no sign of human
life, not even a solitary spoor upon the tell-tale sand. Animal life,
however, there was in abundance, and we had no need to leave our path
to shoot as much game as we required.
At times, on cresting the brow of a dune, we would come close upon a
herd of gemsbok in the long aar beneath us; magnificent animals,
whose long, straight, saber-like horns are feared even by the lion.
Fearless of man, the whole troop would stand as one, gazing straight at
us, immovable as statues, until we were within a few yards of them;
then their leader, usually a magnificent bull, with horns of well on to
four feet, would give a toss of his head and a stamp of his foot, and
away the whole troop would fly; wheeling, trotting, halting and turning
to gaze at us again, in such perfect unison, that they reminded one
irresistibly of a well-drilled troop of cavalry.
Or a flock of ostriches would career across our path, their huge
strides covering the ground at an incredible pace; queer-looking
hartebeest were also plentiful, and duiker, steenbok, and smaller fry
Of lions we saw but little, though their spoors were abundant, and
occasionally we heard them at night; the spoors of leopards were
everywhere but these wily animals are seldom seen unless hunted for and
often a pack of the dreaded wild hunting-dogs would stream across our
path in pursuit of its quarry.
For strangely enough all of these animals appear to be absolutely
independent of water, and some of them notably the gemsbok, apparently
There came a day when we entered an entirely different region,
though still the sand stretched in all directions. But now the dunes
were no longer either uniform in height or parallel as they had been,
but tossed and tumbled in all directions in the utmost confusion; and
here also t'samma, and in fact all vegetation, ceased. We reached this
region of awful desolation a little after sunrise one morning, coming
upon it abruptly from the edge of a dune whose hollow held the usual
vegetation in plenty.
With my field-glasses I scanned the bare and barren waste before us
in all directions, but no sign of life or vegetation broke the monotony
of its awful desolation. I looked at Inyati, peering from under his
palm in the same direction, and he answered my unspoken question.
Yes, master, we must cross it. It runs for many days' journey north
and south, and we cannot go round. I crossed it when I came, but
farther south; and I found a little t'samma then. And yet I nearly
That day the heat was very great, and here there were no bushes to
give us a particle of shade. A few stunted gar-boomen there were, and
the horses ate eagerly of the long bunches of bean-like fruit hanging
from them; but their thin, withered foliage was no protection against
the terrific power of the sun. Then Inyati showed me a Bushman trick;
for, burrowing in the side of the dune, he soon made a considerable
hollow, and breaking down the brittle gar bushes he roofed it over,
throwing a whole pile of other bushes on top till it was light-proof
enough to at least break some of the sun's glare.
And into this we crawled, and stewed till evening brought us some
Meanwhile we had discussed our chances of getting across.
Three days, at least, my master, it will take the horses; and if we
find no t'samma they will die. It is drier than when I crossed. But if
we go not east, but turn somewhat to the south, there is a pan. It is
two days only but who knows if there is water there? Still, mayhap,
that is the better path. That night we had to wait late before
trekking, as the moon was waning, and in the hideous jumble of dunes
before us, we feared to trust solely to the stars. We were glad to rest
too, and let our horses rest and take their fill of the last t'samma
they were likely to get.
I lay smoking in the dark, waiting for the moon to rise, and
listening to the crunch, crunch of the horses still steadily feeding,
when a low call from Inyati made me spring to my feet, He had climbed
to the top of the highest dune, and at his second call I ploughed my
way up through the loose sand till I stood beside him. He was pointing
away to the south-east.
A fire, master, he said; there are men there; that must be our
way, for there must there be t'samma, or water!
Sure enough a tiny fire was flickering far away, and apparently on
the far horizon, though it is almost impossible to judge of the
distance of a fire by night.
At any rate, it certainly seemed better for us to try to make our
way to it, and without waiting longer for the moon we saddled up and
started our floundering way across the labyrinth of dunes in its
All night long we followed the faint gleam, which faded and vanished
as morning found us, well-nigh exhausted, in the midst of the
wilderness of bare sand.
But, though I could see nothing, Inyati's keen eyes made out a thin
wreath of smoke from a prominent dune still some distance away; and in
spite of our fatigue we struggled on, till, with the sun glaring down
full upon us, we stood on the flank of the huge slope of sand. Near its
crest, a few dry and blackened stumps and withered bushes showed where
a little vegetation had once existed, and from near them rose the
smoke. There was, however, no sign of life; and not a sound broke the
awful silence of the desert, as we breasted the rise. Then a vulture
flapped lazily up in front of us, and another and another and a tiger-wolf (hyena) lurched its gorged and ungainly carcass down the farther
The fire was alive, but those that had built and lit it were dead .
. . of thirst.
They lay there, all that the vultures had left, a fearsome sight;
and their swollen and protruding tongues told the tale as plainly as
though they had spoken. Yellow bodies, emaciated, but the bodies of
what had once been a splendidly proportioned man and woman no Bushmen
They are of my folk, said Inyati gravely, as he stooped to examine
them, mayhap they too have fled from the priests? . . And they have
crossed the desert the way we would go and are dead of thirst!
CHAPTER III. THE SAND-STORM
We scraped a hasty grave in the sand for the poor remains, and stood
gazing silently across the dunes in the direction that the fresh spoors
showed the two poor creatures had come from; stood there regardless of
our fatigue, and of the blazing heat, of everything in fact but the
grim tragedy before us, and the terrible significance it bore for us,
who would follow the same path.
We must rest, and eat, at length said Inyati, so too must the
horses, or they may die before there is need.
We stripped the loads from the poor brutes, and divided the bags of
t'samma we had piled upon them, and soon they were munching away
contentedly, whilst we rigged up some sort of shelter and lay and
panted till the evening.
Then, and then only, did we discuss what we were next to do.
Master, at length said Inyati, think, and think well. To go back is
still easy, to go forward may well be that we die even as these two
The desert is drier than when I struggled through it, more dead
than alive, by the path these people came by and that way it would be
madness to try! South, we might find another path, but it will be a
longer one and . . . my master can still return. And the stone that my
master can take and I will go on and bring him more, if he will but
return to the camp and there await me. . . . And if I come not in two
moons, I shall be dead. . . .
He held out the blue diamond as he spoke; but the offer, genuine as
it undoubtedly was, acted as a taunt to me, and I bade him sternly put
back the stone, and talk not to me of returning.
Thou sayest that the desert is but beginning, I told him. Am I
then a weakling, to run back like a whipped hound, at the sight of a
dead man? Nay, I will return with the stones I seek, or not at all!
Inyati nodded his head sagely as he sucked at his cherished pipe.
Aye! Aye! he said softly. Said I not that the stones were magic?
Sad, even as a sick cow, was my master, till I showed him the stone,
and now he is even again as a young bull!
If he had meant to stir me from the apathy that the desert had
brought upon me, he certainly succeeded, for his complimentary
comparison of me to a sick cow again set me laughing! It was the first
time I had laughed for days, and it did me good.
Yes, we must go south, said Inyati, but not far. Only half a
march, and then we will turn again east. Thus shall we find the pans.
That night we did not wait for the moon, but saddled our still jaded
nags before it was well dark, and walking most of the way to rest them,
we set our faces towards the Southern Cross. Half way through the night
we halted, and resting for a while, again pushed on, but this time due
east. Dawn found us eagerly looking round for a change in the landscape
if a featureless chaos of tumbled sand is worthy of such a name? but I,
at any rate, could see nothing.
Not so Inyati; his eyes were better than my field-glasses.
Look, master! he said, as the sun rose, there, and there, and
there! little low clouds, just rising from those three places and they
won't last long! They are pans, master, and it is mist that rises from
them. There is moisture there may be water there.
And food for the horses? I asked him; for our poor brutes were in
an awful state, and we had nothing to give them.
That may well be, he said, not on the pans, but near them. And,
master, we must struggle on, and find out; for they cannot fast another
day, and trek another night, without either food or drink.
The rising sun rapidly dispersed the little clouds that Inyati had
pointed out, but we kept on in their direction, though the sand was now
burning hot and the poor animals were suffering frightfully.
Now a few scattered bushes and tufts of bone-dry toa grass began
to show in the hollows between the dunes, and at length, on breasting
an unusually high one a veritable mountain of sand, three or four
hundred feet in height a new and marvelous scene stretched before me.
Abruptly from the foot of the steep dune-slope stretched a vast,
glittering expanse of the purest white; to all appearance a snow-covered lake, spotless and dazzling in the brilliant sunshine. It was
almost a perfect circle in shape and several miles in diameter, and on
all sides it was hemmed in by gigantic dunes.
Salt, master! said Inyati. I have seen such places before, but,
wow! this is a big one! And this is not the pan I seek. No good to us,
master; but is it not strange? Yonder in my land this salt is a
precious thing; for a basketful, one can obtain a fat cow, for a
sackful, two or more young wives! Here is salt enough to buy many
wives, master; but none to gather it or for that matter, no wives to
buy! . . . But water, master, is what we seek, and not salt water or
t'samma. . . . We must cross, master; there on the other side I see
thick bush in the dunes, there may be t'samma there, and the way across
is easy. Come!
He led the way down the steep slope, dragging his jaded animals
after him. At the edge, where sand ended and salt began, lay many
bones, bleached and white almost as the salt itself, and amongst them
were the bones of men. Snorting and afraid, the animals stepped
gingerly on the smooth, snow-like surface, which yielded but an inch or
two to their tread, and was pleasantly cool to their hooves, parched
and cracking from their long trek in the burning sand. Beneath the
white surface was a moist black mud, and the liquid brine oozed quickly
into the horses' footprints. Used as we were to the glare of the sun on
the burning sand, here it was literally blinding, and long before we
reached the farther side we were groping and stumbling like blind men.
It was much wider, too, than it had first appeared, and we were utterly
exhausted when at long length we reached the dunes again, and to our
joy found bush, and a few t'samma, most of them old and hard, but still
enough green ones to provide a scanty meal for the suffering animals. A
respite it was, but a respite only, and well we knew that we must push
on or return at once. Our water bags still held enough to keep us alive
a day or two, but we must find water or t'samma for the horses soon, or
it was evident they could not last. We threw ourselves down on the
burning sand, with a blanket stretched over a tiny bush affording scant
shade for our heads, and in spite of the roasting heat I slept the
sleep of utter exhaustion.
I awoke to find Inyati afoot, and intent on adjusting the blanket to
shade my face from the setting sun. I got up, aching and throbbing in
every part of my body, and parched with a thirst that the lukewarm and
already vile-tasting water from our skin bags did little to alleviate.
Master, said Inyati, looking at me with concern, take thou of the
bitter powder (quinine); and sleep again. Before morning I will come
back. For I must seek the pan I know of, where water may be found. This
cursed salt pan I did not see when I crossed before: the pan I know is
one of the others we saw the clouds rise from; which I know not? So I
seek the nearest, and if water is there, by moonrise I will be here
again. If not, and I must seek the farther one, then when the sun
stands a span high I will be back. Nay, better that I should go alone;
rest, master, and let the horses rest too, for if I find not the water,
our path will be a hard one!
He shouldered his Winchester, and strode off, all my arguments
failing to persuade him to take a drop of our little remaining store of
water. I watched him striding away through the dunes till he was lost
to sight, then I turned to and made a fire and some food; for I felt
weak and ill and my head was burning. Then I looked to the horses,
hobbling them short in case they should stray though, poor brutes, they
were too worn out to be likely to do anything of the kind. Then I
gathered all the dry stumps and bush I could find, and made a fire, for
lion and leopard spoor were very plentiful: moreover, a fire would help
Inyati to find his way back. Later, as night fell, I lay down and tried
to sleep; but exhausted as I was I could not rest. My thoughts were
with Inyati. Would he find the pan and water? And if not, what would
happen? The horses would scarce be able to struggle back to the nearest
t'samma we had left, and in any case, to go back, beaten! No, if Inyati
gave any hope at all, I would push on as long as life lasted.
So I lay and mused by the flickering fire, listening for the
occasional yelp of a jackal, or the horrible laughter of a hyena.
Sleep I could not; the horses too were restless, snorting and
fidgeting as they bunched close together, only a yard or two from where
I wondered if lions were prowling near, but could hear or see
nothing. The air was hot and stifling, and there was none of the
pleasant coolness usual to even these summer nights in the desert, and
on climbing to the crest of the dune to look vainly towards where
Inyati must be wandering, I saw that the sky in that direction was
heavy with clouds; and even as I looked, flash after flash of lightning
rent their heavy pall.
Thank God! was my first thought, there will be rain there, and if
the pans lie there, we shall find water.
I stood and watched for some time, and saw that the storm was
traveling towards me, but it was still far distant, and I returned to
the fire and again tried to sleep, for the moon would not rise for
several hours, and Inyati had said he could not be back before then.
And this time I slept, a heavy sleep full of distorted dreams.
At length I awoke with a start, just as a gust of wind caught the
fire and scattered the embers in all directions. Another and another
followed, each more violent than the preceding one, then came a
terrific blast that whirled the blanket I had been lying on away into
the night: the last firebrand was snatched up as though by an unseen
hand, and borne high over the dune, and before I had time to realize
what was happening I was fighting for my life in the howling darkness
of a terrific sandstorm. The wind was demoniacal; it apparently blew
from all quarters at once, in short, sharp, incessant gusts, lifting
and whirling away everything that came in its path, shifting the loose
sand in such masses, and hurling it with such force that to stand still
would have meant being buried. Luckily the scanty vegetation where we
had rested had somewhat bound the sand, but in a few minutes of the
awful struggle I realized that unless I could reach some firmer spot I
must be overwhelmed. A momentary lull showed me the horses half buried,
and apparently too stupefied to do more than stand passively awaiting
The salt pan! That was my only chance: there, at least, the very
ground would not dissolve beneath my feet, as it was doing here! And I
must make for it at once, for the whirling cataclysm of sand was again
closing upon me. Seizing the horses I cut their hobbles, and throwing
one of the packs across the nearest I coaxed and dragged him from the
sand. I had my rifle, and I had no time for anything else, but made off
in the direction of the pan, barely fifty yards away; but so terrible
was now the force of the wind that I was hard put to it to reach it,
and thankful indeed was I when a brief lull showed me the wide expanse
of white spreading dimly before me in the murk.
Even here the ever-recurring whirlwinds bore huge volumes of sand
eddying across the pan, and at times I feared I should be choked and
overwhelmed, but as I gradually neared the centre the air grew clearer,
and I knew that for the time, at least, I was safe.
The horses had struggled out after their leader, and stood trembling
near me; luckily I had left them saddled and bridled in anticipation of
an early start, but the other pack was lying there in the dunes. And
thus I awaited the abatement of the storm, a prey to the most awful
Inyati! There in the distant dunes if the storm had caught him in
their midst he must be dead, overwhelmed and buried in the chaos of
sand! Or had he been able to gain one of the pans first; and would the
abatement of the storm see him return to me?
Hour after hour I waited, and still it raged; the time for moonrise
was long since past, though no gleam of its waning light could break
through the whirling pall around me. Moonrise! That had been the time
Inyati had hoped to return by, should he find water in the first pan;
but where was he now, battling for his life among the dunes, or dead
At length day dawned; and with the light the storm ceased as
suddenly as it had begun, though still huge clouds of dust hung all
around, through which the rising sun gleamed red and ray-less, as
through a thick fog.
Soon not a breath of wind remained, and the dust rapidly settling,
disclosed the tossed and distorted wilderness through which the storm
At no great distance from me, and, as I judged, in the direction of
the spot at which the storm had overtaken me, a gigantic dune lay piled
high above the others. This was some of the devilish work of the past
night, for it had not been there yesterday!
There appeared no likelihood of a return of the storm; and, full of
anxiety and distress, I made my way to this newly-formed dune, which
apparently covered the exact spot of our camp of overnight; but now no
vestige of bush remained in sight anywhere: it was all buried fathoms
deep in sand. And gone too were many of our belongings, for with the
exception of the one pack-saddle, to which one of the water-skins was
providentially made fast, I had had no time to pick up anything; and
now the half of our precious water, and much of our stores and
ammunition, were covered by the thousands of tons of the gigantic dune.
Search as I could, in all directions, I could find no trace of them,
they had gone irretrievably; and gaze as I could from the highest point
of the new dune I could see no sign of life, and the sad conviction was
forced upon me that Inyati had perished, and that I was alone.
CHAPTER IV. THE PANS AND THE POISON
By this time the sun was high in the heavens, and I realized that if
I would make a bid for life I must do it soon. Buffeted and almost
choked with the battle of the past night, I was parched with thirst,
and had perforce to encroach upon the scanty store left to me a bare
quart at the outside; barely sufficient to keep life in me another day
in the terrible heat. The horses, too, were suffering and would
scarcely last that time, and I was now faced with the terrible problem
as to whether I should attempt to return or to penetrate farther into
the desert. To return would be difficult, for the storm had passed that
way and all our spoors would be obliterated; moreover, we had gone out
of our path so far when following the fire that I was by no means
certain as to the absolute direction. Moreover, a glance that way
showed me heavy, dun- colored clouds on the far horizon: there the
storm was raging still, and I shuddered to think of what my fate might
be in the loose bare dunes we had passed through with such difficulty.
Besides, though Inyati's awful fate appeared but too certain, I felt
impelled to follow the direction he had gone for there might, after
all, be a faint hope that he had lived through the storm. But this
alternative was a terrible one, for even if water had existed in the
pans for which he was searching, it was all too probable that the storm
would have filled up every pit with sand, and to penetrate so far would
make return impossible. However, I could not remain where I was and die
without a struggle; so, dividing the load as well as possible among the
almost exhausted animals, I again entered the maze of dunes and struck
due east, full of forebodings as to my own possible fate, and of sorrow
for that of poor Inyati. For hours I stumbled through the bewildering
mass of broken and barren dunes, finding no trace of vegetation, and
full of apprehension lest the wind should rise before I reached the
pan; in which case I was doomed. At long length, and when the afternoon
was well advanced, a flat dark space showed between two dunes some
distance ahead, and an hour later I stood upon the pan. No salt pan
this time, but a flat, circular floor of dry mud, hard and entirely
free from the surrounding sand. Here and there a few stunted bushes
grew, and in the centre of the circle which was about a mile across
stood a huge herd of gemsbok. They made off at a canter as I rode
wearily across to the depression in the centre where I hoped to find
water. But the shallow, hoof-trampled hollow was bone-dry; there was no
sign of Inyati either, and my heart sank as I realized that my struggle
had been in vain. Anyway, here I must rest and eat, and drink a little
of my tiny stock of water, and on the morrow make my last struggle on
foot, for it was evident that the horses could go no further, and were
dying of thirst. I threw off their light loads, and they stood with
drooping heads and ears, the picture of dejection. A mouthful of water
was all I dare drink, and there remained less than a pint in the
water-skin. Almost stupefied, exhausted, and despondent, I lay down
beside a tiny bush, at whose dry twigs the famished horses were now
trying to nibble, and sank into a state of half sleep, half stupor.
The sound of a shot aroused me from my lethargy had I been dreaming?
No there it was again; and now across the pan came streaming back the
herd of gemsbok, and after them ran and stumbled a nude black figure,
that now and again paused to single out an animal and shoot.
Inyati! Inyati! Thank God! I cried out, for it could be no other;
and as fast as my aching limbs allowed I hastened towards him. Now he
was down beside one of the fallen animals, and his knife was at work;
and now I realized why he had picked his victims, and had shot so many.
It was not food he wanted, but drink, and he had shot only the cows,
whose udders were full of rich sweet milk. It was time, too, that he
drank, for he could not speak, and his cracked and swollen lips and
blood-shot eyes told a tale of awful suffering.
Soon, however, he was able to talk. The storm, master, he said;
near was I to being buried alive and I thought thee dead! Yet, could I
not return before, for I have found no water. The other pan is dry
also, but now I have seen from far off a spot where water is, and so I
hastened back to find my master. It is far, but we shall win through.
Caught by the storm between the two pans he had been hours staggering
through the raging chaos, and had reached the pan only after the sun
had risen and the storm had ceased to find it without a vestige of
Casting about in the dunes, he had searched for t'samma without
avail, and filled with anxiety for me had been torn between a desire to
return at once, and the absolute necessity of finding water. Hurrying
from one prominent dune to another he had scanned the desert in all
directions, and had even found one or two more pans, but again
waterless. One, however, showed that it had held water recently for it
was still moist, and there he had found a flock of the tiny Namaqua
partridge, so plentiful in certain parts of the desert. These little
birds are swift of flight, and fly long distances in search of water;
and Inyati, as they rose in a cloud from their old drinking place, had
marked the direction of their flight. North-east they went, and his
keen eyes had followed them till they were no longer visible, and as he
watched he saw many other flocks, and all flying in the same direction.
There is the water, thought Inyati, and he had toiled on in their
wake, but the way was far, and it was hours before, from a high dune,
he had seen a large pan in the distance, to which all the birds were
converging. A big pan, master, he said, with thick bush and big
trees an oasis or perhaps who knows? a river bed. And frantic with
thirst as he was, he had not gone on, but turned back hoping to find me
My heart leapt with joy at the news, for with the knowledge that
water awaited us we could struggle on but the horses? Inyati shook his
head as he examined them. That one will die before morning, said he,
but maybe we can save the others, though they cannot carry us. We must
eat, drink, and sleep, for the way is long and we are weak. And now,
master, if all the tobacco is not there under the big dune with the
other packs, I will smoke, for I have missed my tobacco sadly.
How he enjoyed himself, this lighthearted philosopher of the desert!
Long steaks of tender gemsbok he cut and grilled on the wood ashes of
the tiny fire, treating in a like manner the juicy udders after he had
squeezed out most of the milk. The water he would not touch, but his
appetite seemed unappeasable; steak after steak disappeared and still
he carved and cooked, smoking between whiles, and singing some never-ending song of all the fine wives he would buy, and what he would do to
certain priests, if he got his little gun safe to his own country.
His cheery presence, and the reliance I placed in him cheered me
enormously, and I realized that I, too, was hungry. And so we ate, and
smoked, and slept, till nearly midnight; and then, keeping the Southern
Cross low down on the horizon on our right, we once more entered the
The horse that Inyati had referred to was obviously dying, and a
merciful bullet put an end to the poor brute's sufferings. The others
trudged wearily after us, making but slow progress, but doing better
than I had conceived possible of animals that had not eaten or drank
for thirty-six hours. But morning found them dead beat; they stood
stock still as the sun rose, and neither coaxing nor flogging could get
the poor brutes a step farther. According to Inyati's reckoning we were
still four hours from the water, and it was obvious that once we left
them we could never hope to save them, for we could never bring back
enough water to keep them alive.
There is but one thing, said Inyati, as he slipped their loads
off. Water we cannot bring them, nor would it be in time, for once the
sun is hot they will die. But stay here, and I will search for a
certain thing. Nay, master, he continued, for I had made a gesture of
dissent; this time I go not far. But here I see rain has fallen of
late, and though there is no t'samma, there may be another thing that
will save the horses.
Then I will seek it with you, Inyati, I said, for I was determined
not to lose sight of him again.
Better rest, master, he urged, there will be no more sandstorms.
And there is still far to go.
But go I would, and so we left the poor horses standing in a forlorn
little group, gazing with sad lack-luster eyes at the masters who had
brought them to such a plight. Inyati took with him a canvas bag that
had been used as a saddlecloth, and I wondered what he hoped to find to
fill it, for there was no vestige of vegetation to be seen, except some
tiny seeds just sprouting here and there in the hollows between the
I could see no other evidence of the rain that Inyati spoke of, but
soon, in a deeper depression than usual, we found signs that water had
recently accumulated there, though the spot was now as dry as the
surrounding dunes. But here Inyati, who had been keenly examining the
ground, uttered a grunt of satisfaction, and pointed to a spot close to
his feet. There was no trace of a plant, but a slight swelling, as it
were, of the soil, which showed, too, some small cracks as though
something was trying to burst its way to the surface.
Cameel-brod, said he, and kneeling down he commenced scooping away
the sand with his hands, and from a few inches below the surface he
soon drew a whitish tuber the size of a large turnip. It was full of
thin watery juice, acrid and sharp to the taste, but as I afterwards
found, extremely acceptable to the horses.
Soon we had the bag nearly full, and cutting them up on our
waterproof ground-sheet, we quickly had a quantity of watery pulp, at
which the animals nuzzled greedily, and which revived them to a
remarkable extent almost at once; so much so indeed, that we had very
little difficulty in hurrying them forward again. The last drop of
water had long since gone, and I was now consumed with thirst, and sick
with misgiving as to what might be found at the pan Inyati had seen.
Now we could see it, and, as yesterday, the flocks of partridges were
all flying in that direction. How I envied them their wings, and how I
grudged them the precious water they would be drinking! At length,
footsore, weary, with eyes scorched by the blinding glare of the sun on
the bare sand, and with lips cracked and tongues swollen with thirst,
we staggered out of the dunes into a wide pan covered with bush and
sprinkled with big trees huge cameel-doorn of thick verdant foliage,
which gave the whole expanse a park-like appearance. They were full of
gay-plumaged birds, butterflies were flitting everywhere, here and
there were fine stretches of thick grass, in fact, after all we had
suffered in the furnace of shade-less sand behind us, the place was a
veritable paradise. And at length, where the trees were thickest, we
espied tall green reeds growing thickly, and a few minutes later our
fears were at an end, for here was water in plenty.
It was thick and muddy, and fouled by wild animals, whose spoors
showed thick all around it; but to us it was absolute nectar, and it
needed all Inyati's persuasion to prevent me from drinking to excess
and probably dying on the spot.
We had to control the horses too, and let them drink but little at a
time, or they too would probably have drank till they dropped dead in
In this pleasant oasis we stayed for three days, resting,
recuperating, and living on the fat of the land. Game there was in
abundance, so much so, indeed, that they were a cause of anxiety, for
the water in the vlei was decreasing rapidly from the number of animals
that drank there nightly, and it was obvious that it would not last for
very long unless rain fell. Signs were not wanting that the season had
been exceptionally dry, for the vlei had at one time been of large
extent, and now nothing but the one small pool remained. At it also
drank myriads of partridges, the air being literally thick with the
huge swarms of them that came in the early morning and again at night,
so tame and fearless that they scarcely troubled to get out of our way,
and we kept our pot going by simply knocking them over with a stick.
We soon explored the pan or oasis which was almost circular in shape
and about a mile in diameter, and completely encircled by dunes; most
of them as barren and forbidding as those we had already passed
through, though to the south there was a certain amount of vegetation.
This, however, was useless to us, as our way was east or north-east,
and in this direction all Inyati's reconnoitering failed to discover
anything but bare dunes, as far as the eye could reach.
Pleasant as the shade and greenery of the oasis was, it was evident
that our stay could not be a lengthy one; moreover, lions were
increasingly numerous, and for the first time in our trip began to
cause us serious anxiety. So bold were they that fires had to be lit at
nightfall and kept going all night; and their roars made sleep
The nights were now dark and moonless, and on the third of our stay
the lions were exceptionally troublesome. We could see little beyond
the light of the fires, but roars and growls came from all quarters,
and there were evidences that a large herd of some kind of buck was
passing through the oasis, and these the lions were attacking.
Inyati was nervous and uneasy, not, as he explained, on account of
the lions, his little gun would see to them, but as to what was
happening at the water-hole, from which we had removed our camp some
distance on account of the lions.
Gemsbok, master, a big herd of them, that is what it is, he said,
as we listened to the terrific roars in the direction of the water.
They seek not water, for they seldom drink, but if it comes in their
way they may do so; moreover, they will be likely to trample the pool
into mud to cool their hooves. Luckily our water-skin is full, and the
horses have drunk well; but I fear what the morning will show.
All night we could hear the buck moving about and passing through
there must have been thousands of them. All night, too, the roaring
continued, culminating shortly before daybreak with the most terrific
uproar in the direction of the pool it was possible to imagine.
There the lions seemed to be making a combined attack, and judging
by the sounds they were also fighting among themselves. As soon as it
was daylight we hurried anxiously in that direction, keeping our rifles
ready, although, as a rule, lions are little to be feared by daylight,
unless disturbed at their meal. They were even more numerous than we
had imagined, for huge dun-colored forms slunk off in all directions
through the bush as we neared the water. Water! did I say? There was
no water now, for Inyati's fears had been well-founded. The little pool
had been trampled into black mud by countless gemsbok, and the various
half-eaten carcasses strewn about showed that the lions had taken heavy
toll of them.
Not without cost to themselves, however; for there in the centre of
what had been the pool lay a huge lion, dead, transfixed and impaled
upon the long, sharp, straight horns of the magnificent gemsbok bull,
that lay, with broken neck, almost hidden beneath the lion's formidable
Wow! said Inyati; I have heard of the like before. He was a
strong bull, that old one, and held his horns straight to meet the
lion's spring. And, as I feared, master, the water is gone.
It was obvious that nothing could be done with the black mud before
us, for where it still remained moist it was full of blood and filth;
and a decision thus forced upon us, we but waited till the power of the
sun had somewhat abated before striking once more into the desert, due
east. Our horses were rested and refreshed, and we pushed on throughout
the night, till just before dawn we stumbled through a small patch of
t'samma, and immediately decided to give our horses the benefit of
them. Unfortunately, daylight showed the patch to be but a tiny one,
where an arbitrary shower had fallen at the right season, and it barely
sufficed for the day.
And so for days we pushed on incessantly, often going many miles out
of our course to visit one of the many pans we now came across
frequently, but failing in every case to find enough water to even
replenish our water-skin. T'samma we found occasionally, sufficient, at
any rate, to keep us and our animals alive, but barely; and the
horrible anxiety of constant fear of a death by thirst had began to
tell upon me badly. Not so Inyati, who, thirsty or satisfied, was
always cheerful, always optimistic that we should eventually find a way
through to his country of many diamonds and many wives! Many a weary
trek that had landed us waterless and still further involved in the
vast wilderness of dunes, had seen me sink despondent on the sand,
caring but little whether I ever tried to struggle farther; to be
roused from my lethargy by the cheery whimsicalities of this Micawber
of the desert.
He would bring out the blue diamond and pretend to consult it as an
oracle, and it would always promise him wonderful things! Sometimes for
game was now scarce it would be a fat buck for breakfast; sometimes a
vast plain of t'samma, or a big pool of water; and his prophecies
always ended in unlimited diamonds and unlimited wives! And cheered by
this nonsense, I would shake off the fit of despondency, and struggle
on; though as time went on I often thought of Van der Decken, the
Flying Dutchman, and his endless effort to weather the Cape of
For our endless zigzagging in search of the wherewithal to live,
though it had brought us to the very heart of the vast desert, had
taken us far from the true direction of what we were in search of, nor
could all our efforts find us a way through.
The moon was with us now again, and we trekked at night, seldom
riding, but plodding doggedly through the endless succession of dunes,
with the spiritless horses strung out behind us. Their hooves were
splayed to an enormous size through this incessant trekking through the
sand; yet, though broken and enfeebled, they had become more inured to
the conditions, and the few t'samma, or tubers dug from the sand for
them, sufficed to keep them alive.
I had ceased to take account of the time, but there came a day when
we came upon a tract where rain had fallen in abundance some time
before. For from an absolutely barren dune, we suddenly looked down
upon a thick garden of beautiful flowers; tall, and like a slender
foxglove in appearance, they filled the wide hollows between the dunes
in all directions. They were of endless variety in color, white, mauve,
and an endless gamut of pinks, down to the deepest purple; and a more
beautiful sight it would be impossible to imagine. But thickly as they
grew for mile after mile, there was nothing else, no t'samma or any
other refreshing plant or fruit, and the hungry horses would not look
at them. I noticed, too, that Inyati seemed none too pleased at finding
this gorgeous garden, and climbed dune after dune to peer in all
directions as the sun rose on the morning we found it.
We must cross it quickly, or go round, he said, as I stood beside
him on the top of a high dune. It is a poison flower, and makes one
sleep and to sleep among it is to die. But I see no way round! Far on
the horizon we could see the clouds rising from a pan in the right
We must go on, said Inyati, and cross this belt of poison flower
by day, when it will harm us but little; to be among it after sundown
is to sleep and to sleep among it is to die.
I had heard of this poison flower before, but had never heard of its
being found in such abundance as to be a danger to life. It looked too
beautiful to be harmful, and its perfume was but faint. But Inyati knew
it well, and I could see that he was anxious, as after a short rest we
trekked on through the never-ending stretches of gorgeous coloring,
through them, as through a cornfield. And soon I found that even now in
the glaring sunshine when they were considered innocuous, their perfume
had a peculiar effect upon me, and long before we had half crossed to
the pan I was seized with an overpowering desire to sleep. I nodded as
I stumbled along nothing seemed to matter why should we worry to go
farther, why not lie down and rest, and sleep?
I must have stumbled and fallen, drugged with the insidious poison
of the faint perfume, for I came to myself lying upon the ground among
the flowers, and with Inyati shaking me violently and shouting in my
ear. I was drunk with sleep, and it was with the utmost difficulty that
he induced me to mount the only horse still capable of carrying me. We
were parched with thirst, and our plight was perhaps worse than it had
ever been, for all around stretched the fatal flowers, and it might
well be that we could not clear them before night fell, and their
poison became overpowering in its strength. On the horse, my head
cleared somewhat, probably because I was higher from the ground, where
the perfume hung heavily, although I could not rid myself of the
drowsiness. At midday we were forced to halt for a rest forced, too, to
take it in the glaring sun, on the top of a bare dune, for we dare not
even cover ourselves with a bundle of the plants for fear of the
poison. An hour or two we sat and grilled, and then forced ourselves
onward once more, for the pan was still distant, and we feared we
should not reach it before dark which would mean we would never reach
it at all! But struggle as we would, we could make but little progress,
and it was with mortal fear that I beheld the sun sink, and saw from a
high dune that there was fully a mile of thick flowers between us and
the pan, where dark bush and big trees showed plainly, and where the
flowers ended abruptly.
Let us stay here, I urged Inyati, surely we are safe here on the
top of the dune? for we were fully fifty feet above the sea of
No, master, no! he answered emphatically; if it were twice the
height we should die before the night is out. Push through we must,
even if we leave all our pack here and return for it tomorrow; and the
horses must come too, or we shall lose them. Nothing could live here
through the night. Hastily, as he spoke, he threw off the horses'
already light loads, leaving everything but his beloved little gun on
the top of the dune, and dragging the halter of the leading beast, he
started down the slope. Instantly on entering the dense growth I felt
the effect of the scent, which was now, although the sun had barely
disappeared, ten times stronger than it had been in the sunlight. No
faint sweetness now, but an overpowering scent similar to that of the
well-known moon-lilies but infinitely stronger, and stupefying to a
degree. Before fifty yards were traversed my head was spinning, and I
was staggering like a drunken man. I remember Inyati half dragging me
on to the horse again and feeling him lashing me to girth and saddle,
remember his hoarse shouts to the horse and myself becoming fainter,
remember dimly that the sjambok he flogged the horse with fell
frequently across my back and legs, but nothing could keep me from the
overwhelming desire to sleep And then all was a blank.
CHAPTER V. I LOSE INYATI
Water! Delicious cold water, being dashed in my face and trickling
down my parched throat, brought me again to my senses. I lay, sore and
bruised and with throbbing head and limbs, beside some tall reeds,
between which water glittered in the light of the rising moon.
Inyati bent over me and he uttered an exclamation of joy as I opened
Master! master! I thought thee dead, he cried, and surely would I
then have died too! Right sorely did I beat thee, master, there among
the devil flowers, to keep thee from the sleep that kills; but there
was no one to beat me, and I had but strength and sense to tie myself
too upon my horse before I too slept. And surely my sjambok must have
helped them against the poison flowers, for they came right through,
having smelt the water maybe; and brought us here to its very side,
where I awoke to find them drinking. But the other is there in the
dunes he will sleep well, that one; and die.
And die he did; for the next day, refreshed and fearing the flowers
little in the day time, we went back to the dune where we had left our
packs. It was barely a mile, and about half way we found the third
The pan was but a small one, and the delicious water of the night
proved to be but a few gallons of stagnant liquid full of animalculae;
but there was grass for the horses, and to our joy we found that the
flower belt did not extend beyond where we had emerged from it. Bare
dunes spread again beyond, but even these were welcome, after our
experience of the devil flowers, as Inyati called them. Buck was
plentiful, and for a day or two we ate, drank, and slept to our heart's
content, gathering all the strength we could for our next attempt.
Inyati was full of confidence for the future, confident that we should
never have difficulties to encounter equal to those we had surmounted,
and that the diamonds and wives would soon be at our disposal.
North, master! almost due north now and we shall find pans on the
way with water! My magic stone has told me that and it makes no
mistakes! And to-morrow we start again; for the water will last but a
few days moreover, we have been long on the path.
Poor Inyati! the bravest, cheeriest comrade black or white that I
have ever had; little did I dream when he spoke thus that he would
never live to see the morrow!
That evening, as we sat smoking by the fire, we noticed that the two
horses were extremely nervous, pricking their ears and snorting as they
cropped the dry grasses a few yards away from us.
Leopards, suggested Inyati, there are many spoors here, but no
But scarcely had he spoken when the booming roar of a lion came from
the direction of the pool; to be immediately answered by another, and
another; until it was evident that the pan had been invaded by a
numerous troop of them. We both started to our feet with the same
thought in our minds. If they were hungry they might probably attack
the horses! It was still light, but no time was to be lost; so hastily
cutting down a number of the stunted thorn bushes with which the pan
abounded, we proceeded to build a scherm in which to pass the night.
We enclosed a space about fifteen yards square, and into this we
brought the horses, together with enough wood to keep a fire burning
all night; and as the hedge was seven or eight feet in height, and of
impenetrable thorn, we felt but little anxiety as to the presence of
the lions. As night fell, however, their roars became louder and
nearer, and by mid-night there were at least a dozen of them pacing
round our scherm, and barely kept at a distance by the frequent fire-brands we threw over the fragile protection. Occasionally the huge
beasts fought amongst themselves, and the snarling, growling
pandemonium would become more deafening; then this diversion would
cease, and the whole troop would continue their pacing round our fence,
sniffing and snorting at us through the thorn bushes and making us feel
as one can imagine a mouse feels when caught in a trap, and with a
hungry cat peering through the bars at him. Time after time we scared
them away by throwing fire-brands among them, but always they returned,
and to our dismay, long before morning we realized that our stock of
firewood would not nearly last till daylight.
We had refrained from shooting, as it was impossible to see the
brutes through our scherm; but as the fire got lower, and they became
more daring, we sent a few shots among them, and the hellish hubbub
that ensued showed that some of them were hit. But this proved
disastrous, for a wounded animal, in its death struggles near the
fence, came in contact with the bushes and almost tore down our only
protection before a few more bullets finished it. There came a lull for
a short time after this, and we were congratulating ourselves that
morning would soon be dawning, when the lions would slink away, or when
the light would enable us to finish them when without the least warning
a huge form leapt clean over the hedge and landed in the centre of the
scherm, scattering the few remaining embers in all directions.
A second spring, and before either of us could shoot, the lion had
pounced upon Inyati, and had him down upon the ground beneath him,
shaking the poor fellow like a terrier shakes a rat. Mad with rage I
sent bullet after bullet into the brute's head and body till the click
of the hammer of my Winchester showed the magazine was empty, and the
lion rolled over dead, with Inyati still in its mighty grip, and to all
appearance dead also.
Then I must have gone berserk mad. I remember cramming the magazine
full again, and throwing aside the bush that blocked the entrance, I
stepped out among the lions.
I can never understand why I was not killed instantly; but not a
lion reached me, and at close range I fired shot after shot in the
bright moonlight, and lion after lion fell, till but two were left; and
as morning dawned these slunk away, leaving me alone with my dead.
Then I came back to the scherm, my mad fit of rage over, and nothing
but grief, and a sorrow too deep for words to express, left in my
heart. The huge lion lay right across the poor boy's body, still
gripping his crushed shoulder in its mighty jaws; but now I saw that in
spite of his terrible injuries Inyati was not dead, though he was dying
even as I came back to him. Strong as I was, no strength of mine could
have freed him from the grip of those terrible jaws, and as I struggled
to do so, his beseeching glance stopped me. I knelt down beside him.
Finished, master! finished, he whispered, yet we have made a good
fight and you, master, will win. Straight north now! Bury the little
gun with me, master. It may serve me who knows? And take thou the blue
stone, and this my armlet, it may help . . . master, master, I go. . .
And with his eyes fixed upon me, he died; that brave heart, that had
served me so well.
I was stupefied with the blow that had fallen upon me, and lay for
an hour or more as one stunned.
Once or twice the craven thought came upon me to use a bullet to end
it all, and once I actually lifted my revolver to my head; but dead
Inyati's last whisper seemed again to sound in my ear had I made a
good fight, to end it like a coward?
And so I lay in the shade of a tree, and sleep, the blessed healer,
came to me and saved my reason. For when I awoke, although my heart was
heavy, my brain was clear, and I knew what lay before me, and no longer
shirked the task.
The lion's head I hewed from its body, for I could not tear its huge
jaws asunder to release Inyati, and there I buried victim and victor
And so, I was alone, in the heart of the desert, with return an
I struck north, as Inyati had told me, due north; in spite of the
fact that in that direction the dunes were of the worst; and for a day,
and half a night, I wayfared, striving in sheer physical suffering to
drown the sorrow of losing Inyati. God knows what I went through, or
the poor horses that I drove ruthlessly forward; moreover, the fever
that was already burning in my veins may have rendered me delirious?
Certain it is that this part, and many a day afterwards, is but a
confused dream to me. A dream of suffering, of incessant wandering from
pan to pan; here a few mouthfuls of stagnant water, and there a few
t'samma still keeping myself and the horses alive. For days the
wandering must have been purely mechanical: but one day I came to
myself just as the sun was setting. I felt weak and exhausted but
perfectly sane. I was parched, and my water-skin was gone, probably
thrown away in a fit of frenzy or despair I could not remember.
The horses, mere wrecks of what they had been, were munching the
last of a small patch of t'samma; and I was barely in time to rescue a
couple of still eatable ones, to moisten my parched tongue.
I had no idea how long I had been lying there unconscious, but the
idea of pushing north had now become an obsession with me, and I
staggered to the highest dune to look around me. I was still in a
wilderness of dunes, but I noticed that what little vegetation there
was, was new and strange to me; indeed, except for the t'samma there
was scarce a bush or plant I could recognize.
It was evident that I had traveled far in my delirium, and my heart
bounded, as I made out, away to the north, a kopje of rugged rocks
rising from the dunes. Here, apparently, then, I was at length reaching
the confines of this wilderness of sand, for these were the first rocks
that I had seen since we entered the desert it seemed a lifetime back!
The kopje was in the right direction too, for Inyati had said keep
north and by reaching it I should at least be able to spy out the
I lost no time in saddling up, finding that I had still a small
amount of biltong and plenty of ammunition left. Nearly all night I
trekked through barren dunes, but these were now small and easy to
traverse compared to the mountains of sand I had already passed
through, and when I lay down for an hour before dawn I felt sure
daylight would show me to be near the kopje. Such was the case, for I
found myself barely a mile from it, and soon had reached its bare and
boulder-strewn base. It was perhaps three hundred feet high, of bare
granite boulders heaped one on the other, with big cavities between
them, and all so rounded and smooth that I had great difficulty in
climbing it, but at length I stood on the huge boulder poised on the
summit. And from it, to my joy, I saw glimmering away on the far
northern horizon a wide stretch of water. I rubbed my eyes and peered
again and again, for often the false mirage had raised my hopes to a
frantic pitch by its glittering deception. But this was water, and I
could scarce refrain from setting forth immediately in its direction,
yet, knowing the exhausted state of the horses I feared to do so, and
seeking a hollow under a gigantic boulder I lay through the heat of
that long scorching day, parched and longing for the water I had seen,
dreaming of it when I dozed, and gloating over it when awake. How I
would revel in it; could I ever be satisfied again to do aught but
drink, and drink, and lay and soak my sun-scorched body in it, and
Impatient as I was, the day seemed intolerably long, but at length
the sun was sufficiently low to allow of the horses trekking again,
although the poor beasts' plight was pitiful. Again I trekked through
the better part of the night, due north, and with no fear of missing
the water, for it was a wide sheet that the kopje had shown me almost a
lake it appeared to be.
Towards morning the horses were so exhausted that I could scarcely
urge them forward, and I myself but stumbled doggedly on, kept alive
solely by the knowledge that soon now I should drink.
And now, thank God, I could see the water faintly reflecting the
light in the east, and just as the sun rose I stumbled clear of the
dunes. Before me stretched a wide sheet of water, several miles in
length, the shores barren and destitute of vegetation, and without a
sign of bird or animal life. My heart mis-gave me, as I noticed how
silent, dead, and forbidding the place was: noticed, too, that the
horses made no attempt to reach the water they were dying for, but
stood dejected and spirit-less where I had let go of their bridles. A
few staggering strides and my awful doubt was confirmed. For the water
was as salt as brine!
And now for a time I gave way to absolute despair. I was exhausted,
and tortured by thirst, my lips cracked and swollen, my tongue like
leather; and I felt that when the sun reached its full power I must
perish in the horrible agony and madness of a death from thirst unless
indeed my revolver saved me the last torture! Sorely was I tempted, as
I lay there by the brink of the salt lake, where I had thrown myself
down in the agony of my disappointment.
But, thank God, I kept my sanity, and even in that terrible plight
Hope again crept into my heart.
T'samma! There might be t'samma there to the right where the dunes
were higher, and the sand redder, certainly a little dark vegetation
appeared to show in the hollows.
And so I staggered to my feet again, and leaving the horses I made
my panting, laborious way across to the dunes I had marked, on the
eastern shore of the lake. They were about half a mile away, and it
seemed as though I should never reach them, but at length I entered the
hollow between two of them, and found a few stunted bushes covered with
red berries the size of cherries, and the like of which I had never
seen before. I hesitated to eat them, for many of the desert berries
are poisonous, and almost all are bitter and acrid, but I could see no
t'samma, and so I bit one, hesitatingly at first, but as the sharp,
delicious flavor penetrated my scorched palate, ravenously.
Cool, full of juice, and of a flavor something like a black-currant,
they tasted to me the most delicious morsel that had ever passed my
lips, and all thoughts of their being poison left me, as I plucked and
ate them greedily. Most grateful they were, and soon I felt a new
being, though some poisonous properties they must have contained, for
within a few minutes I felt a rush of blood to my head, a buzzing in my
ears, and was soon staggering as though drunk. I ate no more then, and
in a short time the effects passed off, and wonderfully refreshed and
invigorated, I made my way back to the horses; who, the image of
despair, stood where I had left them.
I literally dragged them to the little bushes, which to my delight
they ate greedily; fruit, foliage, and even the bare twigs. So, again I
was respited; but I knew it to be only a respite, for the bushes were
few, and I could find no sign of others or of t'samma.
And so for days I wandered, finding a few of the berries here and
there, often half maddened and stupefied by them, my head awhirl too
with fever, alternately hoping and despairing, my sense of direction
almost gone, striving, whenever possible, to work north in my lucid
moments, but finding often by crossing my own spoor that I had been
wandering in a vain circle.
Then one afternoon, as I lay in a sort of semi-stupor beneath one of
the bushes that had yielded me a fair number of berries, a sharp gust
of wind aroused me, and looking around me I saw, whirling across the
bare dunes towards me, a huge cloud of thick opaque dust, gathering up
the loose sand as it sped, whirling high in the air and blotting out
the whole sky with its dense volume, snatching up, carrying away, and
burying deep again, all that came in its path. It was a sandstorm, and
I was in its path, here amongst the loose dunes, where escape seemed
impossible. I must fly or be buried! The horses, snorting with fear,
would have bolted had I not caught them quickly; and tired as they
were, they needed no urging on from the destroying monster that sped
relentlessly after them. The dunes were here low and open, and the red
berries on which the horses had lived of late, seemed to have maddened
and stimulated them, for they seemed to fly on the very wings of the
wind. Right before the storm they sped, the first advance gusts eddying
around us, the sky overhead already thick with the flying sand.
And now, maddened with fever, intoxicated with the strange
stimulation of the berries I too had been eating, I no longer fled in
fear, but in its place came a wild exhilaration, and I shouted aloud as
I flogged the panting horses to further efforts.
Now, to my disordered brain, the sandstorm was a legion of pursuing
fiends, that snatched at me from every gust and eddy; now, too, they
were gaining on us, and I shrieked and fought with the imaginary demons
as, in spite of the speed of the horses, the storm gained on us and
enveloped us more and more at every stride. And so for an eternity I
seemed to fly, now hemmed in with blinding sand, seeing nothing,
knowing nothing but an overpowering desire to escape from the clutching
fiends around, tortured with thirst maddened, screaming. Dark now, as
at midnight, except when a flash of forked lightning burst through the
driving chaos; now I had burst free again, as the storm veered in
another direction, yet still it threatened me and still I galloped on.
Then a snort of fright from the horses, a wild plunge forward that
almost threw me from the saddle, a sense of falling, a stunning crash
that seemed to me to be the bursting asunder of the world's very
foundations and then a merciful oblivion.
CHAPTER VI. THE CRATER THE PLEASANT
BERRIES SLEEP AND THE AWAKENING
I awoke to the tortures of the damned, crushed, broken and in
agonizing pain, and with the aasvogels tearing at my face. Pinned to
the earth as by some great weight, my hands were fortunately still
free; and my revolver still in its holster; and a few shots sent the
lewd, cowardly birds flapping away. The blood was streaming from my
face, and again and again I fainted with sheer agony; moreover the
fierce midday sun beat down intolerably full in my eyes, for I lay on
my back and could move nothing but my arms. But gradually the sun
passed, a cool shadow fell across me, and although I believed I was
hurt unto death and indeed longed for death to end my agony some
modicum of relief must have come with the shade, and with it strength
and the desire to live. Moreover, it was borne upon me that from
somewhere near me came the sound of running, gurgling water;
tantalizing and maddening me in my pain and agony. I was lying on a
slope with my head lower than my limbs, and all I could see was the sky
above me; do all I could, I could not lift myself, and could not see
what pinned my lower limbs to the sand.
But, maddened more, I believe, by thirst and hearing water running,
than by the actual agony of my hurt, I at length began to work at the
sand on either side of me with my hands, scratching it away until I had
altered my position enough to enable me to turn somewhat, and raise
myself a little on one elbow.
Then I found it was my dead horses that pinned me down, for both of
them lay crushed and broken partly above me; and looking upwards I saw
that a sheer cliff of smooth rock towered straight above me, from which
the horses had evidently fallen.
I could hear the water plainer now, and though I swooned once or
twice from agony, I gradually worked my limbs clear of the incubus
pressing on them, and tried to stand up. But this I could not do, some
injury to my spine preventing me, and it was as a beast, on all fours,
that I at length made shift to crawl in search of the water I was dying
for. Each yard I crawled was agony to me, but at last I came to a
rock-encircled pool in which lay water clear and deep, and into which a
tiny stream splashed and gurgled from an overhanging cliff. Sweet and
pure the water was, and in great abundance. I peered into its dark
depths and could see the white sand glimmering at the bottom, full ten
or twelve feet below me as I judged.
I crawled to it, and I drank as I had never drank before; and I
bathed my tortured face and limbs; finding that, miraculously, none
were broken, though I was bruised and aching in every bone, and to
stand erect was quite beyond me.
So I drank, and slept, and drank again, and later found strength and
appetite sufficient to crawl back to where the dead horses lay, and to
search among the scattered contents of my pack for some biltong, and
the wherewithal to dress my wounds.
And thus for days I lived, and nursed myself gradually back to a
measure of my former strength; dragging myself painfully from the water
to the shadow of the rocks to sleep, feeling little anxiety as to where
I was or what was to happen to me. I had water in plenty and food
sufficient for the present, and after the awful experiences of the
desert my one desire was to rest and sleep.
But with returning health came curiosity; and although I was still
bent and could not walk upright, I managed to move about and to find
out something of this strange prison into which I had been hurled in my
frantic flight before the sandstorm.
Apparently I was in the hollow cup of an extinct crater, for on all
sides towered perpendicular cliffs of dark granite-like rock, so smooth
and unbroken for the most part that a baboon would scarce have found
foothold upon them indeed, in many places they actually overhung.
Almost circular, and about a quarter of a mile in diameter, the floor
of this place was to a great extent covered in verdure, broken here and
there with rocks, and except where I had fallen there was but little
How I had escaped being smashed to pieces was inexplicable, for the
sheer wall of rock that penned me in was, I judged, at least five
hundred feet in height, and the horses' bones now picked clean by the
aasvogels had been smashed by the terrible fall. A short examination of
my little domain showed me that although escape from it was apparently
hopeless especially in my maimed condition there was no need for me to
starve, and indeed my prison was a very pleasant one. There were wild
fruits in abundance, many of them unknown to me, but prominent among
them the red, luscious, intoxicating berries that had saved my life in
the desert; and these I now ate greedily, finding them much riper than
when I had first tasted them, and their effect much more potent. They
intoxicated me, perhaps maddened me, and dulled my intellect for the
time; but they gave respite to my pain-racked frame, and gave me sleep.
Sometimes for days I would give myself up to them, eating nothing else,
and lying in a pleasant, dreamy stupor by the deep pool, staring into
the dark, clear depths where the white sand glimmered so white.
At times I roused myself sufficiently to search for other food, of
which there was plenty. Partridges and other fowl swarmed at the water,
and were easily killed or trapped, and there was plenty of t'samma
growing quite close to the spot where I had fallen.
These, since I had now an abundance of water, I did not attempt to
eat; taking only the pips from the ripe ones, drying them in the sun,
and pounding them between two stones, as I had often seen the Bushmen
do. From the coarse meal thus obtained I made little cakes, roasting
them on hot stones or the embers of my fire. Matches I had none, but my
burning glass served me just as well, for every day the sun shone;
indeed seldom did a cloud cross the sky, and whatever storms may have
raged outside nothing but the gentlest breeze ever reached the deep
hollow that held me a willing prisoner. Willing? Well, at least
apathetic; for all hope, all ambition, all interest in life had left
me. I had forgotten the reason of my quest, forgotten the girl who had
sent me on it, forgotten that I was once an erect and vigorous man with
other interests than to crawl round for berries like an ape, and lie
all day and sleep when once hunger was appeased. And thus I led an
invertebrate, purposeless existence. I had warmth, food, and water, and
the berries that gave me pleasant dreams, and I wanted nothing more. I
took no note of the passing of time weeks, months God knows? even
years! may have passed nay must have passed as in a dream, and I might
well have died there beside the long-bleached skeletons of my horses,
but that one day chance or fate led me back to the path of reason. I
had been sleeping off the effects of the berries, and lay, beneath the
shade of a rock close to the pool, idly tossing about the tiny pebbles
of the little patch of shingle close to its brink playing with them as
a child might. And suddenly a glint on the corner of one of these
little stones arrested my wandering attention; there was something
familiar about it, something that stirred memories in my sluggish
brain. What was it? I groped in vain for some clue. The pebble worried
me, and I made a peevish gesture to throw it away. No! Whatever it was,
I must not do that, rather wash it, wash it. Yes! that was what we used
to do. But where was the batea, for now by some strange freak I was
back in Brazil, and must have my batea. We washed our gravel for
diamonds in that wooden prospecting pandiamonds?
My mind was stirring troubling me now, and with a trembling hand I
thrust the pebble into a handful of others and worked them between my
palms in the water. Yes, there it was, a good stone of ten carats
slightly encrusted with oxidea good find. And I? Where was I?
I stood gazing alternately at the stone, and at my surroundings: the
pool, the circle of towering cliffs that hemmed me in, and gradually
the flood-gates of my clouded memory broke loose and I remembered all.
The girl in England, old Anderson, Inyati, and the blue diamond; my
ride and fall; all these came back to me almost in a flash, stunning
and amazing me; but for long the incidents of my life here in the
hollow were vague and misty. The berries! Surely they had been the
cause of my lethargy, and even as I thought of them the desire for them
came upon me. But for the first time I fought it, for in my reawakened
brain other desires were now surging.
Diamonds! Inyati had told me there were plenty in his land; had Fate
with a cruel irony led me into this land of wealth only to maim me and
keep me a lonely prisoner here in this pit till I died!
All this flashed through my mind as I stood and gazed at the stone;
then, righting my inclination for the berries, I plunged into the pool,
and found new strength and resolution in its refreshing coolness. Then
I searched eagerly amongst the other pebbles and found three more
diamonds, all fine big stones; yet not to be compared with the blue
stone Inyati had given me. Where was it? My pack had been scattered by
that terrific fall, but now I remembered the diamond had been sewn
securely into the cartridge belt I had always worn. It must be here now
with my clothes.
For now I realized that I was naked as a savage clothed but in the
long tangled hair on head and chin scarred, blistered and burnt till I
looked like a wild man, as I had indeed become.
And then I remembered my face, the vultures! and looking into the
clear waters of the pool, I saw, for the first time with sane eyes, my
terrible disfigurement, and cried aloud in anguish as I saw what manner
of man I had become, and realized that even if I could escape life was
for me a closed book. Scarred, grotesque, and horrible; what future was
there for me among my fellow beings . . . even though I could return to
them? Again I was sorely tempted to seek the berries that would give me
oblivion from all this agony of regret; but I struggled, and as night
came I slept a natural, refreshing sleep, and awoke with a new-born
hope and determination strong in me. I would not die here as a wild
beast; somehow I would scale the cliffs and escape, or die in the
attempt a better death than to perish like a rat in a trap without a
struggle for liberty.
My head was clearer now than it had been for I know not how long,
and I could reason. And Inyati's diamond was my first thought. I could
find but little trace of my pack; the white bones of my horses were
half buried in sand; a rusty tin here and a few shreds of clothing
there being all that I could find near them. My rifle I found; or
rather the remnants of it, for it had been broken to pieces in the
fall, and no trace of the stock remained. At length in a crevice near
the pool I found my revolver with a number of cartridges, my hunting
knife, and a few odds and ends of clothing, all in a canvas haversack
that still remained strong and sound, and at the bottom my belt and the
diamond tied up with Inyati's bracelet. But the leather belt had
perished to a remarkable degree; it was hard, black, cracked and
twisted, and broke at my first touch; and I found too upon searching
for the saddles that nothing remained of them but some dried fragments.
I realized then that months must have passed since my fall; but even
then I had no conception of the terrible truth! Cheered by the
discovery of the blue diamond, I now determined to look closely for
others in the vicinity of the pool, but days of laborious searching
brought no reward except that the work helped more and more to clear my
foggy brain and bring me back to full sanity. I felt convinced that
diamonds were there, not far off, however, and one day as I vainly
sorted over the gravel where I had found the others, the solution came
to me. In the pool, in the white sand that shone so at the bottom,
there I should find them! It was deep and narrow, this pool, and a
difficult task even for a good diver; and I determined to wait till
midday, when the sun shone full on the bottom. When the time came I
plunged in, and a rapid stroke or two took me to the bottom.
The water was clear as crystal; and now I could see clearly why it
had looked so white and sparkled so when seen through the rippling
Stretched upon the white sand lay the chalk-white skeleton of a man,
the grinning mouth and sightless eyes staring up at me in a hideous
travesty of mirth; and all around between the outstretched bones lay
diamonds, diamonds innumerable: big, bright, sparkling beauties by the
handful, wealth incredible to be had for the picking up, with no
guardian other than these bare bones of a long dead man.
The shock of coming face to face with this grim memento mori here
in the depths of the pool was too much even for my desire for the
diamonds, and I struck frantically for the surface, clambering out in
wild, senseless, unreasoning fear, and not even pausing till I was well
away from the vicinity of this spot, which had been my favorite resting
place for so long. And that night I tried in vain to sleep, my brain
whirling with wild surmises, as to how the long-dead man had found his
way into the crater. Was there a path after all, or had he used a rope
to let himself down in search of the diamonds, only to meet his death
in some manner where they lay thickest?
Or had he, perchance, passed years in the trap, vainly endeavoring
to find a way out, pacing day after day round the ring of encircling
cliffs, until at last, in utter despair, he had thrown himself into the
pool to end it all, and to leave his bones there watching the treasure
he could not take with him?
Each time I closed my eyes the mocking, grinning skeleton seemed to
be again before me, and it was not till early morning that I could
rest. But with the day my fears vanished; indeed what was there to
fear, for how could these few poor bones harm me?
Still, I could not bring myself to dive into the pool again, but set
about devising some other means of getting the diamonds. An empty
gourd, cut into the shape of a bowl, and lashed to a stick, solved the
difficulty, and with this primitive dredge I brought up diamonds
sufficient for a king's ransom; so many indeed that long before night
even I was satisfied. Large lustrous stones they were, of splendid
water, and several of them were blue, though none were as fine as the
one Inyati had given me. ...
So here was wealth far beyond my wildest dreams, and if I could but
escape then, even disfigured as I was, life might still hold pleasures
Even if the girl who had sent me to this turned away in horror from
my hideous disfigurements, there was much that money could bring
travel, adventure, sport, a thousand things and, at any rate, the
companionship of rational beings, for which I now craved as I had
craved for water in the desert. For God knows how long I had seen no
human being no living creature indeed but a few birds and I had almost
forgotten the sound of a human voice. Sunk in apathy I had become
almost as a beast, but the sight of the diamonds had aroused me, and I
recalled how poor Inyati had called them magic stones. Magic indeed,
for they had saved my reason.
And with the sight of all this wealth the desire to escape grew
stronger, and with it grew a hatred of my hitherto pleasant prison
until the thought of remaining in it became intolerable to me. That
very evening I began a minute examination of my prison walls; but it
was not till several days had passed that I at length discovered a
route where here a crack, there a tiny ledge, and again a small
projection, offered a precarious chance of foot or hand-hold, and
where, if anywhere at all, a human being might essay the terrible climb
to the desert above, with a remote chance of success. My mind made up
on this point, I made what preparation I could for the climb, and for
the desert beyond it. My water bottle was still sound, and little as it
held it must suffice. For food I killed a number of the partridges and
roasted them, cutting away their plump breasts from the bone, for I
realized that in the terrible climb before me every ounce would tell;
my knife, revolver, and a few cartridges I made a belt for by plaiting
the strong coarse grass that grew near the water, and of the same
material I made a hat, for I remembered, only too well, that I should
find no shade in the desert should I succeed in my desperate attempt.
Shoes I had none, but this did not trouble me, for my feet were
hardened to the consistency of leather. The diamonds I made into a
bundle with some shreds of clothing, and stowed them in the canvas
haversack, except for Inyati's and a few other blue ones which I
luckily put in my pocket.
All these belongings I conveyed one evening to the foot of the cliff
up which I intended attempting to climb, sleeping at the spot so as to
be ready and fresh for a start at daybreak. I feared little as to my
strength, for in spite of my injuries I was now stronger than I had
ever been; but what I did fear was vertigo. From a child I had always
had a horror of looking down from a great height, feeling an almost
irresistible desire to throw myself down whenever I did so, and I
feared that as I neared the top this would happen and I should be
dashed again to the floor of the crater.
But better that and death than this endless captivity; and I did not
shrink from my formidable undertaking. At early dawn I drank deep from
the gushing water that I was leaving, and fastening on my load I began
to climb. For a time all went well, though of necessity my progress was
but slow, and the sun was full overhead when I halted for a rest on a
small ledge about half way up. Here for the first time since I started
I could lie at full length without having to hold on, and I needed the
rest, for the strain had been terrific, and I feared that the worst
part of the climb was still to come.
So far, I had resisted all inclination to look down, but shortly
after leaving the ledge I was compelled to do so. I had been following
a crack running diagonally up from it, and which from below had
appeared to connect with another ledge favorable to me, but to my
consternation I found that this was not the case, ten or twelve feet of
absolutely smooth and vertical rock cutting me off from my coveted path
to freedom. I was flattened against the wall, my heels overhanging the
abyss, clutching with one hand a projection above me, and feeling with
my other for a new grip; but the rock was as smooth as polished marble,
and it was evident that I must work back to the ledge I had rested on
and try for a new route. And to do this I had of necessity to look
down. As I did so the deadly vertigo I feared so much came over me, and
it was well that I had good hand and foothold, or I should certainly
have fallen. As it was I clung helpless, sick, and giddy, with closed
eyes for some time, and it was only by the strongest effort of my will
that I could force myself to again open them, and work my way gradually
back to the little ledge. There I threw myself down, panting and deadly
sick, the whole world seeming to spin round me; and there I lay for
some time inert and helpless, before I could brace myself sufficiently
for a further effort. At length I roused myself and started up again in
another direction, towards where I could see a few stunted bushes
growing, and here to my joy I found a wider ledge than the last,
leading steeply upwards. It came to an end, however, far below the
cliff top; moreover, at this part the top actually overhung me, and it
was evident I must attempt to work my way farther round before climbing
higher. To add to my anxiety I noticed now that evening was fast
approaching and I realized that I had but little daylight left to me,
and should darkness find me still clinging like a fly to the face of
the cliff my fate was certain. I was almost exhausted, and my heart
sank as I searched in vain for a way up. The distance was not great
now, a bare fifty feet separating me from the topmost pinnacle, but
though I walked along the bottom of this barrier for some distance it
still presented the same insurmountable difficulties.
And the sun had set, and dusk was already falling, when half frantic
with fear, I at length made out a crevice which appeared to offer a
possible means of saving my life. It ran diagonally across the rock at
a steep angle upwards, going out of my sight around a big buttress that
overhung me, and I could not tell whether it reached to the actual top
or not. But it was my only chance, and with my heart in my mouth I made
my way towards it. I could just reach it, and setting my teeth and
summoning all my courage, I gripped it fast and made my way gradually
upward. For a few yards my feet found a little foothold to help me, but
soon I was dangling over the awful abyss. I dare not think of what lay
below me, but with set teeth, and muscles cracking with the strain, I
edged gradually along till I rounded the buttress face, and here within
ten feet of the summit I found scanty foothold again. Here I stood
quivering and exhausted till I had regained my breath, and then in the
fast waning light I examined the few feet of rock that still stood
between me and freedom. Barely two feet above my outstretched hand was
the pinnacle that formed the edge of the cliff, but how was I to reach
it? To spring from my precarious foothold was impossible, and not the
slightest hold could I find for my fingers anywhere to draw myself up.
Night was now upon me, to return to the ledge was out of the question,
and I knew that I could not cling for long where I was, but that long
before daylight came again I must fall into the awful abyss that yawned
beneath me. God! to die like this after all my struggle, to die within
a few inches of freedom. Had I but a rope! And with the thought came
inspiration. The sling of the haversack! It was of stout, strong
canvas, and might hold could I but throw the loop over the pinnacle. It
was a poor chance but my only one. Hastily slipping it off I held the
bag in my right hand, and clutching my only handhold with the left, I
attempted to throw the loop over the sharp point above me. Again and
again I missed, and it was in an agony of despair, when, at last, it
fell clear over the point and held. I hauled at it with all the
strength of my free arm and it held firm. But would it hold my weight?
This I could not test, but I must perforce stake all upon the chance,
for there was no other chance. Should a strand of the canvas give, down
I must go hurtling to my death. There was no other way, and with an
inarticulate prayer I gripped the strap fast with my other hand and
swung myself upwards. A second later although in my agony it seemed an
eternity and my hand clutched the pinnacle itself; a wild convulsive
scramble and I was up safe . . . and free . . at last! And even as I
dragged myself into freedom, the haversack, loosened from its hold,
fell with all its precious contents into the black depths below!
CHAPTER VII. THE COUNTRY OF CRATERS,
THE PATH OF SKULLS, AND THE SNAKE
Filled, as I could but be, with thankfulness at my escape from
captivity and from an awful death, I did not realize for a time what
the loss of the diamonds meant to me; indeed I was too exhausted by my
terrific struggle to do more than crawl a few yards away from the
brink, throw myself down in the sand and sink into the sleep of utter
But with my awakening the bitter truth was borne upon me in a flash.
All my struggle had then been in vain. I had won my freedom but had
lost all that would make life bearable. Even if I could win back
through the desert, what had I now to compensate me for the horrible
disfigurement that would make me shunned and despised a leper amongst
Bitterly did I regret my pleasant prison down below surely it would
have been better to stay there in peace till I died, as fate had
apparently decreed; and if I could have done so I would certainly have
returned. But to return was impossible, and I must make up my mind to
struggle through the desert or die where I was. Moreover, in the midst
of my bitter reflections there came the comforting recollection that I
had still the blue diamonds that I had kept apart and put in my pocket.
Eagerly I felt for them yes! they were safe, and in themselves they
must be worth a fortune!
My spirits rose with a bound again; why should I dream of giving in?
I was strong and hard, and if I could win through, the diamonds would
surely enable me to fit out an expedition and return; and with ropes
the descent into the crater would be easy.
Rested by the cool of the night I felt little the worse for my
climb, and was all eagerness for dawn to break that I might see what
manner of country I was in, for I had been half demented when my
terrible ride from the pursuing sandstorm had brought me into it.
At last daylight came, and I saw that although in the midst of a
wide sandy plain, there were no dunes; scattered bushes grew here and
there, and dotted about in the distance were a number of bare granite
rocks. The crater I had climbed from went sheer down at my feet so
abruptly indeed, and with so little to denote its presence, that within
a few yards of its brink nothing whatever could be seen of it.
I looked once more into its depths, to where the pool lay dark in
the still dim light of dawn, and from it my eyes followed the course
that I had taken in my climb, and I marveled that I had ever reached
the top. And a great thankfulness rose in my heart and drowned the
unworthy regret that I had felt at the loss of the diamonds.
And with a last long look at my late prison, I turned and made my
way towards a prominent pile of rocks in the distance, from which I
hoped to be able to see more of my surroundings. My waterbottle was
nearly empty already, and the old haunting dread of thirst was
beginning to fill my mind, but soon this fear left me, for within a
mile I found t'samma flourishing, and at the first pile of rocks a
little spring of water.
Cheered and encouraged I made good progress in spite of the now
blazing sun, and soon I reached the pile of rocks. And to my
astonishment I found that they formed part of the margin of a crater
almost identical with the one from which I had escaped; deep and
inaccessible, and with a mass of vegetation filling the bottom.
This discovery gave me food for thought. It had never entered my
head that the queer place of my imprisonment had been one of many, and
I had thought that once I could reach even a friendly native tribe
where some kind of rope was obtainable I could locate the crater again
and secure the bag of diamonds. But I had already stumbled upon another
crater, and maybe there were many? And this indeed I found to be the
case, for they became more numerous as I proceeded, until the whole
country was pitted with them. They were of all sizes and depths, some
mere pits of fifty feet in diameter or less, some huge gulfs a mile or
more across, and so deep that it was difficult to distinguish what was
at the bottom. Invariably their walls were sheer and I could explore
none of them, but in nearly all I saw the gleam of water.
So numerous were they, as I penetrated farther into this strange
country, that I was forced to make wide detours in my endeavor to avoid
them, and so bewildering did this labyrinth of huge pits at last become
that I became hopelessly lost among them, and at times thought that I
should never break clear of them again. Day after day I wandered about
this vast and apparently level plain, finding every short distance a
huge yawning gulf at my feet, forced to try new routes, and constantly
being pulled up by similar obstacles. And all this time I saw no sign
of life, not even a spoor in the sand to show that mankind had ever
trod there. There was no animal life even; a few birds, and a few
snakes, nothing more indeed so deserted and dead was this weird land
that it appeared unreal, and often I imagined that by some strange
chance I had been transported to some other and long-dead planet, so
little was this maze of craters like Mother Earth.
I had food and water enough, and as the moon now gave plenty of
light I walked only at night, resting in the shadow of the rocks by
One night I had made better progress than usual, having walked for
some hours without having to deviate from my path, and was beginning to
hope that I had escaped from the labyrinth, when suddenly, at my very
feet, there yawned the usual abyss, but this time so huge that I could
scarce make out the farther cliffs, though the moon was full and it was
almost as light as day. It would mean a long and weary detour, and my
heart sank as I thought of it; then leapt as it had not leapt since the
day I found the diamond by the pool in the crater. For there in the
misty depths, far away towards the farther cliffs, twinkled a fire!
A fire! Yes; and I had seen no fire except of my own kindling since
the night that Inyati had died . . . months months surely it must have
been years ago? . . .
Here at last must be human beings: savages maybe, but still flesh
and blood like myself; and if they were in the crater there must be a
That night I walked as I had never walked before, following the
brink of the chasm, and scarcely taking my eyes from the tiny flame
that meant so much to me. A way out, a way back to civilization, to
life among beings like myself, all this it would mean to me, even if I
found but savages by the fire for they could put me in the right path .
. . and it never occurred to me to fear them.
Now as the broad moon rose higher I could see into the crater's
depths, and this, besides being more vast, was not as the others I had
seen. Its floor appeared to be quite level, and looked to be of pure
white sand; but everywhere it sparkled in the bright moonlight.
I was near the fire now, though far above it, and now I could see
there was a path, a broad white path, down a steep slope, it must be
broad to show so plainly, for I was still a mile or more away!
In my eagerness I forgot my fatigue, and hastened panting towards
this first blessed sign of man's handiwork that I had seen for so long.
Here it was at last; a broad white road, running straight as an
arrow away across the sands in the one direction and leading down into
the pit on the other a road paved apparently with round white stones
all of one size.
Something in their appearance struck me: a loose one lay beside the
path, and I stooped to examine it.
It was a skull a human skull, the whole road was paved with them as
far as the eye could reach, there were thousands upon thousands myriads
And as I realized what they were, fear seized me, and I turned away
from this terrible pathway.
At last I threw myself down in the black shadow of some rocks, still
trembling and agitated, and tried to compose myself to think. What
manner of men were these I had found at last, and who watched there
below by the fire: what race was this that thus made grim mockery of
At length I overcame my fears sufficiently to return not to the path
but to the edge of the crater at some distance from it, and peering
down could see that the fire was still burning, and here, hiding as
best I could, I waited till morning. Daylight showed me no sign of life
however, though still the pale flame flickered, and I could now make
out that it burnt before a sort of building which seemed to be of white
polished stone. Till well after broad daylight I lay and watched, but
nothing stirred; and I determined that I would go down and see what
manner of fire was this that burnt day and night without tending.
The skulls did not look as ghastly in sunlight as they had done in
the pale light of the moon. I could see too that this path was ancient,
and nowhere could I find traces of its being used. As I had seen the
night before, it led straight across the desert, and in the distance in
that direction I could now see faint blue mountains. So there was an
end to this land of desolation after all, and I determined that after I
had seen what was below, I would follow that road! The slope went down
steeply and here the path was roughly stepped; as it led deeper, too,
the slope narrowed, until at the bottom the entrance to the crater lay
through a natural gateway of rock that rose high on either hand and
almost shut out the light. Through it the strange path led, and here in
the gloom the horror of this awful place again came upon me and I could
scarce bring myself to enter the narrow defile. I remember clutching my
revolver as I went forward at last: remember thinking too that it could
avail me nothing, for here was no live being to fear, here was naught
but the dead. . The utter silence and loneliness even after my months
of silence and loneliness seemed to weigh upon me like a heavy burden,
and when a bat came fluttering by me in the gloom I uttered a hoarse
cry of alarm. But the distance was but short, and soon I stood safe in
the daylight again, and on the floor of the crater. And now I could see
that the white floor I had thought was sand was also strewn with bones,
of animals principally, though men's skeletons also lay thick on every
side. Bones of the elephant principally; for among them lay huge tusks
in quantities, tusks the like of which I had never seen, except in
pictures of the giant mammoth of prehistoric ages, tusks the girth of a
man in size. Piled in all directions they lay, the whole vast floor was
indeed a stupendous charnel house. And among the white sand and bones
diamonds lay thick as pebbles on a beach.
Across this floor ran the path now a raised causeway some feet above
the level of the sand and about five hundred yards from where I stood
the fire burnt in front of a building in the shape of a pyramid. Still
no sign of life could I see and I made my way towards it. As I did so
the sun's rays broke over the edge of the cliff above, and fell full
upon the top of the pyramid, and another flame seemed to shoot from it,
and remained there flashing brilliantly.
I was close to the fire now, and saw that it was no hand-fed flame,
but a column that rose from an orifice in the rock, and burnt fiercely
with a low roaring noise, and a strong mephitic odor. Probably it was
some kind of natural gas; at any rate there was no one near it and
nothing to fear from it. The pyramid behind it was made of ivory,
thousands of tons of magnificent tusks going to make up its forty feet
of height, and up it, in steps, ran the path, for the pyramid was the
culmination of this road of dead. I climbed up and reached the apex, a
platform some twenty feet square, above which something still towered,
crowned by a flashing light.
Its brilliance dazzled me, and it was only by shading my eyes with
my palm that I could discern what the object was that bore it.
Then, directly beneath the bright glare I gradually made out a
gigantic face, glaring down upon me, a face carved with such wondrous
art that, monstrous as it was, it appeared to live, and to be endowed
with such awful malevolence that for a moment I shrank back in dismay.
It was the face of a woman, but the body that it crowned was that of a
snake, and was coiled round an ivory pillar rising from the platform.
Marvelously fashioned of bronze, the face, with bared serpent fangs,
bent down as though to strike: and set in a strangely fashioned diadem
above the brows was a gigantic diamond, as large as a man's head, and
of such blinding luster that it was impossible to look closely at it as
well try to gaze full at the midday sun.
It was an idol, undoubtedly; a Moloch waiting for a sacrifice; and
as my fascinated eyes at length left the face of terror, and passed
down the coiled body and ivory pillar, I saw that the sacrifice was
already there. For at the base lay a dead man, and his blood was
scarcely dry upon the altar.
He was fast bound with hide thongs to stanchions cut in the rock a
man almost as white as myself, with long, straight black hair, and
clothed in clean white flowing robes. His face was horribly disfigured,
seared and burnt as though by red-hot irons, and his features quite
indistinguishable. Apparently, then, he had been tortured, before being
stabbed to the heart by the strangely fashioned knife of bronze that
lay beside him.
It is beyond me to describe the terror with which the sight of this
dead and mutilated victim inspired me. I had seen no human being for so
long: dead Inyati's face had been the last that I had gazed upon; then,
after long I had seen the skeleton in the pool the road of skulls and
now at last I gazed upon a human form again, it was again that of the
All around me was death, death everywhere, and I felt that unless I
escaped, and found human companionship soon, my mind would give way
beneath these horrors.
And I must quit this place of sacrifice at once, for the fiends who
had laid this victim there would probably give me but scant mercy were
I found there.
I examined the body again: it might well have been that of a South
European, so light was the skin; and now I noted that on one wrist was
a copper bracelet exactly similar to the one Inyati had given me, and
which I now wore on my own wrist. I compared them, and found them
identical, and now I noted that the rude attempt at a snake's head into
which their fastenings were fashioned, was undoubtedly an imitation of
the head of the idol above me.
This, then, doubtless was Inyati's land, and this one of the priests
he had spoken of. Mayhap he had killed one of them and taken his
bracelet before he fled for he had spoken of jealousy and of a woman
But of the idol, the road, the craters he had said nothing . . .
maybe he knew not himself?
True, he had feared the priests, till the little gun had become
his with it he would, doubtless, have faced all the priests living but
I, looking at the dead man and realizing something of the manner of his
death, was in deadly fear . . . my revolver would be but little use
against fiends who served their own priests thus!
I must fly from this place at once if indeed it were not already too
late! But gaze as I could, no sign of life showed anywhere; no sound
broke the silence except the low hissing murmur of the flame that burnt
everlasting incense to the shrine of horror before me.
And so, glancing from side to side in mortal terror, starting at the
sound of my own soft footsteps, and feeling that unseen eyes watched me
from all sides, I left the Snake and its victim, the pyramid and the
flame, and fled swiftly along the causeway, not even stooping to pick
up the diamonds that lay on all sides, intent only upon escape. I
reached the entrance, and passed through the narrow portals and
breasted the steep slope, and fearful and over-wrought, I gained the
open plain again.
Northward lay the path to the mountains: south the labyrinth of
craters I had left; westward mayhap I should find the dunes? And
pitiless as they were, I chose that path rather than follow the road of
skulls towards the country and the mercy of such fiends as these people
Soon I had left the crate far behind, and no trace of the road could
be seen when I glanced back, but I could not shake off a haunting fear
that now possessed me, that I was being watched. Eyes seemed to follow
me everywhere, each bush or rock seemed to hide a watcher, and again
and again I turned aside and searched, and looked fearfully over my
shoulder, but nothing could I see.
And so I walked till evening, seeing no trace of the human beings I
knew must be near, and at last, somewhat easier in mind, I threw myself
down to sleep.
And awakened to find myself seized and held as in a vice, to feel
thongs passed about me, and a hand passing over my forehead . . .
gently . . . gently . . . and then all consciousness faded away.
THE CATACLYSM THE PRIESTESS LOOK AND FORGET
Now gazing down full upon me as though in exultation was again the
awful face of the Snake, with its diadem the great, bright diamond. Its
glare hurt me, and I tried to move my head, but in vain. I was tied
And now I realized that this was no part of an awful dream, but that
I lay a hopeless victim in the place of the tortured man I had seen but
a day before.
And I knew that I was no longer alone, for though I could see
nothing but the grim idol, I could hear around me the murmur of many
tongues. Low, but vast in volume, it seemed as though thousands were
there below me, hushed and waiting for the consummation of the
sacrifice. At times the murmur rose to a mutter as of distant thunder,
then again it would be hushed almost into dead silence.
I could not speak or move. I could only lie inert and helpless,
filled with the agony of despair, with closed eyes awaiting the stroke,
and praying silently that it would come before the mutilation I had
seen on the other face.
Now came a single hoarse voice near me intoning words in a chant;
and then in response broke out the deep roar of a multitude of voices!
Higher and higher it rose until the air vibrated with its thunder, then
again it would die away, fainter and fainter till it was nothing but as
the sighing of wind through dead men's bones.
Again and again chant and response broke forth, and now too I could
distinguish much of its meaning, for the tongue was that of Inyati.
A song of supplication it seemed to me, a song for the Snake's wrath
to be appeased to accept the sacrifice offered it, and to send rain
upon their dried up fields.
Now it died utterly away, and sweat broke from me in agony as I
waited for I knew not what. I tried to make up my mind to die calmly,
to resign myself to the inevitable; but my period of liberty and my
new- found strength had brought back the old love of life that had
burned strong in me before my captivity, and my whole being cried out
passionately against this awful end.
Still there was silence, silence for a seeming eternity of waiting
for the sharp sting of death . . . and then another voice lifted as
though in invocation. Solemn, loud, clear and sonorous, the measured
accents rang forth, from close beside me; a voice of unearthly beauty
chanting a rhythmic sentence or two, repeated again and again. No
hoarse voice of a man this, but of a woman . . . a priestess . . .
calling down the fires of Baal to consume the sacrifice.
And, as if in response, came now the peal of heavy thunder.
I had been in terror of the knife before, but had lain silent and
with closed eyes awaiting the end, but as the terrible significance of
the song of invocation reached me, a hoarse cry of horror broke from my
parched throat, and I again tried in vain to struggle free. For now my
staring eyes confirmed the terrible thought that had come to me. The
sun would soon be exactly overhead, and when it was, its rays would
strike exactly through the huge diamond that crowned the Snake, and the
intolerable rays, thus concentrated as though by a mighty burning
glass, would fall full upon my eyes, torturing and searing me to the
semblance of what I had seen on the dead priest.
Screaming and writhing in an agony of apprehension, I lay helpless,
whilst the sun sped on, until its rim had almost reached the diamond.
But now came peal after peal of terrific thunder, and vivid lightning
that made even the sun look pale, and speeding across my field of
vision came also a huge black cloud thick and ominous, but to me a most
blessed sight a messenger of mercy a miracle! Swiftly it sped, but
would it be in time?
The sun had reached the diamond now, and shrink as I would I already
felt the roasting heat that beat upon the stone but a few inches from
my head. Surely it would reach me, my brain would crack . . . but now,
thank God! . . . the cloud had swept across, and for the moment I was
safe, at least from this terror.
And now, with the almost incessant roar of thunder came the rain a
few huge, stinging drops at first then a downpour such as I had never
seen. In incessant sheets it fell like a huge cataract, beating upon my
helpless face till I gasped for breath, as one half drowned; and soon
the roar of water falling upon water almost drowned the pealing
thunder. The shouts of joy that had hailed the first few drops were
soon changed to wild cries of alarm, and as still the deluge continued
as though the very flood-gates of heaven were opened, the screams of
the vast multitude joined the roar of water and the pealing of thunder
in one stupendous chorus. I could not see, but I could hear and realize
that an awful struggle was going on below me: there in that vast hollow
the unseen people would be trapped beyond hope, for into it the water
from the plains above would rush in one vast cataract. And still the
torrent beat down and the thunder pealed; and I, half mad with my
sufferings, yelled and shouted, in mockery of the screams of those who
would have immolated me, and who were now themselves perishing all
around me. At length the groans and screams of the dying multitude died
down to choking gasps, then even these ceased, but still the thunder
pealed, and the rain beat down upon my unprotected body till my
overwrought senses rebelled, and I sank into a swoon.
A voice the voice that I had heard in invocation came to me in my
disordered dreams calling me back. Its insistence troubled me, for I
was unwilling to return. But again and again it called, and I at length
came back reluctantly to reality.
Fear not, thy life is thine own again, said the grave, vibrant
accents in my ear, and I opened my eyes to find myself still lying upon
Gazing down upon me was a face that I shall never forget to my dying
day the face of a woman, whose skin of ivory whiteness accentuated the
unfathomable blackness of the most wonderful eyes I shall ever behold.
They seemed to pierce me through and through, and to search my very
soul, as I lay there and gazed back into them as a fascinated bird
gazes back into the eyes of the striking snake.
Power infinite there was in those commanding orbs, wisdom and
knowledge surpassing that of mere mankind infinite good or infinite
evil I know not which!
I shrank in mortal terror at their merciless scrutiny, but I could
neither close my eyes nor tear them away, until a hand was passed
across my brow, and the spell was broken.
Now a knife cut my bonds, and I was raised by a strong arm to a
How is it possible to describe the horror of the appalling scene
that met my shrinking eyes, as for the first time since I had been a
prisoner I was able to look upon my surroundings.
The blood-red sun was setting in a stormy sky, from which in the
distance the lightning still flickered, close beside me stood the tall
form of the priestess, and below, on the lower tiers of the pyramid,
were grouped about twenty men priests I judged them to be all robed in
white garments, all white men, of fierce and sinister aspect.
But it was not upon these that my eyes rested, but upon the grim and
awful holocaust that stretched in all directions below and beyond.
For the pyramid stood as an island in a sea of dead men: from its
base, to the mighty walls that encircled the vast floor of the crater,
it stretched in an unbroken sheet unbroken, that is, except for the
myriad drowned bodies from which the rapidly receding flood was fast
The glare from the crimson sunset turned it into a sea of blood, and
each moment the forms of the drowned multitude showed more and more
distinctly; clasping and clinging to each other in the awful
contortions of death, as they had struggled with each other in their
frantic fight against that awful cataclysm; heap upon heap, line after
line, thousands upon thousands of them a multitude a whole nation
overwhelmed and destroyed.
Not white men such as the priests, who alone had been saved upon the
pyramid, but brown men of Inyati's type, their bodies nude except for a
Stunned and dismayed at the fearful sight, I sat inert upon the
altar, and gazed upon the mighty hecatomb in utter forgetfulness of my
own awful position, till the priestess, who had awakened me, and who
also had stood in silent contemplation, turned and once more fixed her
glowing eyes upon me.
Look well, O stranger, look well upon these thy dead, she said in
a clear, ringing voice; upon these who would have sacrificed thee yet
who, dying, called upon thee, their bound sacrifice, to save them!
'Save us, Mighty One!' they supplicated, 'thou who art mightier than
the Snake save us!' . . . Poor fools they are dead all, all, are dead.
. . . And thou, thou helpless 'Mighty One' she mocked, art thou
content with this thy vengeance, or must we poor servants of the Snake
also die to appease thy wrath?
The look and tone of fierce mockery brought back to me all the fear
of hideous torture I had felt before, and I begged that they should
mercifully kill me and have done.
Nay, she replied, fear not that shall not be I have told thee thy
life is safe. Well do I know that thou art but a man, and no god, such
as these poor fools thought thee at the last but the Snake hath spared
thee, and thy life is sacred. Free shalt thou go, free and with an
abundance of the bright stones these dead people deemed sacred and the
lust of which brought thee, O stranger, unasked and unwelcome to this
our land. Life shall be thine and thou shalt be guided back to the land
from whence thou earnest; but thou shalt eat first of the fruit of
forgetfulness, and never shalt thou find again the path by which thou
earnest hither, or that other by which thou shalt return.
The solemn tone and promise allayed my fears somewhat; at least my
life was to be spared; but this talk of not finding the path again did
it mean that they would blind me?
Even as the thought entered my mind the mysterious being who held me
in her power answered it as though I had spoken it aloud.
Fear not, I say again, said she, neither thine eyes, nor a hair
of thy head shall be injured. Rather do I grant thee a precious boon,
such as many crave for in vain the boon of forgetfulness . . . yet not
of all! Stand upon thy feet, O stranger, and look well upon this lake
of the dead, then turn and look upon me these things thou shalt not
Weak and shaken by my awful experience, I tottered as I tried to
stand upright, and but for her supporting hand I should have fallen.
Aye thou art weak, said she again, but that which I will give will
bring back the strength to thy palsied limbs. . . . Look well, I say,
and forget not this!
Forget! How could I ever forget that awful scene the blood-red
water, the countless heaps of drowned men, the upturned faces of the
pale priests below me, their dark eyes fixed upon me with looks of
hatred and malevolence.
Aye, they would torture and sacrifice thee, said the strange being
who dominated them, and who held my life in her hands, and who again
answered my unspoken thought, but that may not be. . . . And now look
thou on me and forget not.
She stood proudly erect, her brow bound by a bronze snake the
miniature of the idol above, the diamond set in this strange coronet
outdone in splendor by the fires of her wondrous eyes. And now I saw
her not as a sphinx-like being of terror, but as a glorious woman, a
creature to be adored for her beauty alone, and the long stagnant blood
coursed through my veins as I gazed entranced, and for ever enthralled.
No thought of that woman who waited crossed my mind, nothing but mad
desire and adoration filled me for this creature of unearthly beauty;
and spirit, woman, devil, be she what she might, my one mad longing was
to gaze upon her, to worship her, to possess her for ever.
And as I gazed spellbound she spoke again.
Nay, I see thou wilt never forget, she smiled gravely, yet must
thou eat of the fruit that will bring forgetfulness of all other
She called to the priest in another tongue; and one came scowlingly,
bringing with him a small box of ebony. The priestess took something
from it, and again turned her piercing eyes upon my own, compelling,
commanding, dominating me, as she had done when I first opened my eyes.
I tried to speak to beg, to implore, that I might remain her slave, if
need be, but near her, but she had put a spell upon my tongue, and I
Slowly she held forth her hand, and in the palm I now saw a small
withered berry, black and shriveled, but in shape like the scarlet
berries I had eaten so often in the crater. Eat and forget! . . . Eat
and forget! the voice commanded; and now the eyes sought mine again
and fascinated and mastered me.
No! I would not eat. ... I would not go! and with all my strength I
opposed her will . . . this was poison surely ... I would not eat!
I seek not thy life rather would I save it, came the warning, as I
struggled against the domination, I have but to hold forth my hand to
these my servants, and they would tear thee limb from limb. See, then!
A gesture, and the crowd of frowning priests sprang up the steps and
swarmed round me; their fierce, vulpine faces aglow with terrible joy,
their long talon-like nails outstretched to rend me fearful horrifying!
At a word, and just as they had almost reached me, the priestess
stayed them; but now their hot breath beat close upon me, and in deadly
fear I stretched out my hand and took the berry. Eat eat, and be safe,
no harm shall come thee eat and forget eat and forget! and with the
clarion accents ringing in my ears, and with those unfathomable eyes
gazing steadily into my own, I crushed the berry between my teeth and
swallowed it. A strange, acrid taste, similar but vastly stronger than
the berries I had eaten before . . . a rush of blood to my head, a
tingling through all my veins, and then a blackness surging up and
hiding all, even blotting out the star-like eyes before me, till all,
all was black.
An endless dream of wanderings in thick pathless forests, an endless
search for something lost: an eternity of vague formless dreams.
Searching searching, and finding nothing: an infinite sorrow for
something I could never again find.
Eyes gleaming at me from the dark forest; a myriad eyes, coming and
going in the vague shadows, and a voice calling; something I could not
understand; and through all, the sorrow for something precious, lost
FORTY YEARS! THE AWAKENING
And then voices in my own tongue, low voices in the tongue I had
not heard for so long; and kind English faces coming and going beside
my bed, and mingling with my dreams.
And there came a time when I awoke to full sanity again, a time when
dreams no longer blended with reality.
I lay in a cool, green-shuttered room, and beside me sat a pleasant-faced man, dressed in white, who was looking at me intently, and who
nodded vigorously as I looked back at him.
Better, eh? he asked There, don't speak. I can see you are. Take
this, and go to sleep; you have had a bad time, and must get stronger
before you talk.
And strong I got rapidly, and in a few days he told me where I was,
and how I came there.
He was the British Consul at Loanda in Portuguese West Africa, and
one morning about two months before, some natives had brought me in to
him slung in a machilla.
They said they had been paid to bring me in, and that I was sick,
and before he had had time to question them closely they had
disappeared, without anyone finding out where they came from.
Sick and delirious, the Consul had been on the point of sending me
to the Portuguese hospital, when a few words in English caught his
attention, and feeling that he could not leave a fellow-countryman to
the mercy of strangers and foreigners in such a plight, he had seen me
through the stiff bout of brain fever in his own house.
As he told me all this, I decided to tell him all in return; for I
now remembered all that had happened up to the time I had swallowed the
berry; though after that it seemed nothing but a dream.
And first I asked him if the natives had brought anything with me.
Nothing whatever, he replied, except a small skin bag of stones!
He had not opened it, nor did I need to then, for the feel was
enough. And it had been no dream then the crater, the deluge, the
priestess, and the promise she gave me.
Quietly, and as briefly as I could, I told him my story. Half way
through it he stopped me. Look here, he said, you mustn't go on like
this. You are wandering again! and though I assured him I was not, he
felt my pulse and took my temperature. Then he let me go on again, and
though he looked puzzled and uneasy he listened till I was finished.
And then, looking at his pained and startled expression, I could see
that he believed I was lying or mad.
And then and then only I opened the bag. And the diamonds were there
enough to make a dozen men rich many more than the few blue ones I had
with me when I first escaped.
And never was a man more astounded than the Consul; again and again
he made me repeat my story, and at last, in considerable agitation, he
got up and walked to the window, where he stood looking out in silence
for some time.
Then he came back to the bed where I lay, and looked searchingly at
You are a young man, he said slowly; to all appearance you are a
young, strong man in spite of your scarred face and your bent spine,
you look a young man! Now how long were you there in that pit how long
do you think has passed since your terrible experience with the Snake?
It all seems like a dream, I answered him, and I cannot tell. But
I must have been several months in the crater perhaps a year. Since
then I cannot have wandered long.
Well, then, he questioned, what month and year was it that you
went to Walfisch Bay, and found Inyati?
In 1860, I said; I landed there in November, 1860. What is it
Good God, man, he exclaimed, you must be mistaken. Are you sure
it was 1860?
Sure, I repeated, November, 1860; and it was some time in the
following May that I lost Inyati May, 1861. Last year, was it?
Last year! Last year! he repeated as though dazed in fact I could
see that he was absolutely frightened. Why man, what you tell me is
incredible impossible! If it were true, you have slept for nearly forty
years. For it is now 1900.
And now it was my turn to be amazed, for truly what he had told me
was incredible . . . surely he must be mad himself!
But he went to the door and called the little Portuguese doctor, who
had also been kindness itself to me.
Aha, he said as he looked me over and felt my pulse, now you are
well and have sense again, eh? That is good, it is good that you are
strong very strong never have I see so strong a man never! And if you
have not been strong, you would die, for your head it was quite mad!
Look here, Doctor Santos, said the Consul, our friend has
forgotten a lot of what has happened to him, . . there is a long period
about which his mind is a blank months in fact years!
That can be if it is the fever, yes! he will remember again. But
his head have been hurt, it is to be seen, that too may make forget,
for months even a year!
Forty years? suggested the Consul tentatively.
Ah, you joke, my friend! replied Santos, that would not be
possible, he is surely not that age himself?
And laughing, as he thought, at the Consul's joke, the little man
gave me a few instructions that I did not even hear, and left us.
And the Consul, without a word, handed me a newspaper, and a glance
at it was enough to show that he at least had made no mistake, for it
was dated September, 1900.
And now I was like to go crazy again, with the shock and
bewilderment. Forty years! A lifetime lost. My friends would be dead,
or old, old people who had long forgotten me. Of what use would all
this wealth be to me an old and forgotten friendless man. Old! yes, I
must be an old, old man myself. And yet, now the fever had gone, I felt
strong and vigorous indeed, the doctor had said that I was
exceptionally strong and that I was not forty and the Consul too had
said I was a young, strong man!
Surely this was pure hallucination . . . but no! the paper was real
enough. And turning it over I saw that indeed I had slept a lifetime,
for although it was in my own tongue, all it referred to was absolutely
strange to me. New inventions, places I had never heard of, nations
even that were unknown to me; it was as though I read of a new world,
as, uncomprehending, I glanced through this first newspaper that I had
seen for forty years.
The Consul had sat watching me in silence. He saw my agitation, and
realized something of what I felt, for putting out his hand and
grasping mine he said, kindly: It must be a blow . . . friends all
dead, eh? Well, I'm your friend, anyhow . . . and you'll remember
later. Why, man, you must get that forty years out of your mind you are
surely younger than myself, and will be as strong as a bull in a week
or two. Try and sleep, my friend; you'll remember better to-morrow!
But well I knew that the memory of those lost years would never
return to me. Eat and forget forget! The words were ringing in my
ears even now, as though spoken but yesterday. I had but to close my
eyes and the scene of deluge and destruction, there beneath the Snake,
came as a vivid picture before them and the eyes and voice of the woman
that had bade me forget were with me always. Those burning eyes! They
blotted out every other vision even that of the woman that had waited.
God help me, I could not even remember the semblance of her face always
those eyes of flame came between us. And God help her! If she had
waited all these years she would be an old, old woman but forty years!
Surely she was dead!
When had it been, that awful sleep of mine that had blotted out
nearly half a century, and left me, an anachronism, an outcast a
young, strong man still, whilst my schoolmates must be old, toothless
gossips or long since dead and forgotten? It must have been in the
crater where I had fallen that all these years had passed!
The strange berries, mayhap they had robbed me of these years the
berries that stupefied me and gave me pleasant dreams.
What then had the priestess bidden me forget . . . the path? Yes,
the path; and truly my wanderings had been but as a confused dream, a
long weary search it had seemed, hopeless and endless, yet it could
have taken but a few months from that long total of years.
And the thought came to me that though I knew nothing of this way of
my return, yet the spell had not been perfect, for I forgot little of
that other path I had trod with Inyati, and after; and I could, and
For as my strength came back, and grew till it was the wonder of
all, so did my longing to return increase.
The eyes the voice that had bidden me go, now seemed to call for me
incessantly . . . all else was a weariness I must go back!
For long I fought it. I even went back to England with Gerard, my
good friend the Consul, who, if he still thought me mad, at least
respected my madness.
For he said nothing of my story to a soul, and he it was that
piloted me as a child through the new conditions of life that I found
on all sides in England; he helped me turn part of my diamonds into a
large fortune, he helped me at length and with reluctance, for he would
rather not have believed in the miracle of my long sleep to find proof
of all I had told him.
There came a day when we stood before the graves of my father and
mother, who had died years after I had left England died mourning me as
dead and from the lips of an old greybeard, who had been my schoolmate,
we heard how that scapegrace son of theirs had gone treasure-seeking
and had never returned all those years ago.
Poor old garrulous fool; he little knew that the deformed, but
strong and vigorous man that asked him of this companion of his youth
was that very scapegrace himself transformed, and with age held back
from him by a miracle.
And there came a day, too, when a sweet-voiced, silver-haired old
lady, with her grandchildren playing about her, told these two
strangers from Africa how her lover of long ago had gone there to win
her a fortune, and had never returned, and how she had waited ten long
years for him, till all hope of him had fled, before she married; and
how even now she held his memory in dear regard.
How astonished and delighted she had been at the blazing diamond I
had given her, in memory of that old adventurer, of whom we said we had
heard in far-off Africa; and how I feared as she looked in my eyes,
that she would know. For as she gazed tearfully at me, and stammered
her protests and thanks for she was poor, and it meant wealth to her I
saw her eyes widen as they looked into my own, and she stammered: You!
. . . who are you? . . . You have his very eyes, are you his son?
Almost was I tempted to tell her all, but the Consul's warning
glance stayed me; and why, indeed, should I change her sweet memory of
me as I had been, into the horror and dismay she must feel if she knew
And so I left her happy, and she blessed me as I went; blessed me as
a mother might do for indeed I was apparently young enough to be her
son and to her amongst all the women of my own land my disfigurements
were as nothing, for she was of those wise and sweet beings that see
deeper than the surface.
And then I came back, for I was as a lost man there in the rush and
worry of a civilization I knew nothing of moreover, never could I rest,
for the eyes of that other being were haunting me and calling me . . .
calling me. . . . Well she had known spirit, woman, witch, or what she
may have been that once I had looked in her eyes I might forget all
else, but her I should forget never.
And so I have sought for years . . . and I cannot find the path.
Again and again I have tried from all sides. West, where Inyati led
me, the dunes have altered; storm after storm has swept them till many
of the pans are filled and covered, and others laid bare; and from the
south it is the same.
Eastward I have tried in vain, for Khama's men are jealous guardians
of the desert border there, and twice I have been turned back, in spite
of my gold.
From the north and through it I must have found a path back I have
struggled long, and there fever has killed my men, and pathless forests
have kept me back.
There I left Gerard in a lonely grave; for after he knew that my
story had been true nothing could keep him from joining me. Life in
Loanda was far too tame, with such an adventure in hand. Hang the
diamonds, he had said, I've money enough for my simple needs. But
those berries they are what I want, for I am getting old, and would be
young again. And this woman you dream and rave of perhaps I would see
Poor friend, he lies there in the thick forest where the fever took
him he had not my strength.
And now I go again this time alone. I have searched these dunes till
but one path remains untried on that path I now travel. And this time I
shall not strive in vain, and again I shall look into those eyes that I
have worshipped so long.
And then? Who knows? I am no trembling fugitive now, but one who
fears not to measure strength with the immortals if needs be. ... If
she be that, I fear nothing . . . and I shall find the way. Seek not to
follow me, my friend of the wilderness . . . for I leave no spoor. . .
. This time I shall find the path.
It was nearly morning when he finished his weird tale; the waning
moon had risen, and threw a faint light over the limitless void of the
The fire was dying down, and I turned to replenish it; for lions
were numerous in the vicinity. And as I turned back, I saw this strange
acquaintance of mine for the last time. He stood about twenty yards
away, his arms outstretched towards the desert as though in
supplication; a motionless and striking figure in spite of his
I'm going to turn in, I called; but he neither moved nor answered,
and when I looked again he had gone.
He will be back directly, I thought, and curling myself up on my
blanket I fell asleep immediately.
All too soon my boys called me, and waking, I found that my guest
Which way? I asked Jantje.
Nie, baas; ek wiet nie, he said, shaking his head.
Kambala, said I, impatiently, to the other man; has the ou baas
Ee-wah t In-koos, he answered in the affirmative; but where I
know not. Ask thou, master, these Bushmen, they know!
There were two Bushmen in the camp, who had turned up but the day
before and I made Kambala bring the small, pot-bellied men to where I
sat. I knew their talk.
The baas with the scarred face, I said; whither went he?
No! no! they answered in their clicking tongue, we know not! Who
knows? Not we 'Khoi Khoian.'
Ye are no 'Khoi Khoian' (Hottentots, as Bushmen often like to style
themselves), but San (Bushmen), and of these parts. Therefore, answer
me where is he, that scarred one?
They squatted on their haunches before me, looking at me furtively
from their little slits of eyes, muttering to each other afraid.
Master, we fear, they said reluctantly. He is a great witch, that
'old one' we know him well. Often does he cross the dunes where even we
dare not go where no man goes!
Seek him, I ordered.
No! no! they said again, he leaves no spoor and we fear. It is
not well to follow that 'old one'!
And search as I could, no spoor did I find.
But what I did find, there on my blanket beside my pillow, was a
big, blue, uncut diamond, together with a scrap of paper bearing the
one word Farewell.
THE SALTING OF THE GREAT
THE SALTING OF THE GREAT NORTH-EASTERN FIELDS
To be broke to the world was by no means a new experience to Dick
Sydney, and as he sat on the sandy shore near Luderitzbucht and watched
the setting sun turn the broad ocean into molten gold, he was little
troubled by the fact that his last mark had been spent an hour or two
back for a very belated and necessary breakfast, and that he was now
absolutely penniless. Always an optimist, Dick easily outdid the
immortal Micawber in his faith in something turning up just when things
looked their blackest, and he had literally no thought for the morrow,
until his hand, mechanically groping in his pocket for the wherewithal
to fill his pipe, advised him of the fact that even his baccy was
This was serious, for Dick's old battered briar rarely left his
mouth; and whilst the odoriferous Boer equivalent for the divine weed
held out, food and drink were but minor considerations. But something
must be done now, so, knocking out the ashes from his last whiff, and
with one more futile grope in his capacious pocket, he stuck his empty
pipe in his mouth, rose, stretched himself, and, glancing once more at
the pageant of the western sky, turned back towards the contemptible
collection of tin shanties, drinking saloons, empty beer-bottles, and
Germans, known as Luderitzbucht.
A few months back, the discovery of diamonds had brought fame to
this wind-swept wilderness, and fame had been immediately followed by
the choicest collection of cosmopolitan scoundreldom that a mining
rush had ever been responsible for.
Now Dick Sydney, though a man of variegated experience and a bit of
a hard case, was still passing honest, and a gentleman; and he soon
found that he stood but little chance in Luderitzbucht. His modest
capital, which he had hoped to increase in this new Diamondopolis, had
vanished within a few weeks of his arrival, swallowed up by shares in
diamond-fields that existed only in the vivid imagination of the
swindling company-promoters or so-called prospectors, who infested
the place; and when his illusions of easily-made wealth had vanished
also, and he had tried to obtain a billet, he had failed utterly.
His knock-about experiences had included several spells of gold-prospecting and mining in California and other wild spots, and, being
as hard as nails, he was admirably suited to the life of a prospector,
and prospectors were being paid large salaries in those early days of
the diamond rush in German South-West Africa. But, unfortunately for
himself, Dick possessed a constitutional but at times embarrassing
prejudice against lying, and in his numerous applications about
prospecting jobs had made no secret of the fact that his prospecting
had never been for diamonds.
And as a result he had had to stand aside and see all sorts of
gentry taken on for the numerous expeditions that were constantly being
arranged: runaway seamen, cooks, stewards, and stokers from the ships,
gangers and navvies from the railways, ne'er-do-wells of all
descriptions, with but here and there an old river digger, or genuine
prospector to leaven the lump.
Added to his stubborn and uncompromising honesty, Dick possessed
another trait which severely handicapped him in this German-governed
dust-hole of creation, in that he was uncompromisingly British, and
took no pains to conceal the fact; and here in Luderitzbucht the
arrogance of the German officials, and the way in which they boasted of
Their Army, and Their Kaiser, and Their Beer, and Their Sauerkraut,
and, in short, of every product of their whole blamed Fatherland,
exasperated Dick to a degree. Though not very big, he was a bundle of
muscle and sinew, and already he had been fined heavily for making a
mess of one or two spread-eagled Teutons who had been unwise enough to
mistake his quiet manner for timidity.
Dick strolled back over the low-lying sand-dunes to the little
township, where lights were already twinkling in the stores and beer-halls; and, passing the largest of these, he suddenly realized that he
was thirsty, and, momentarily forgetting the state of his finance, he
turned into the bar for a bottle of beer. The brightly-lit room was
full of people, naturally mostly Germans, who, whilst imbibing vast
quantities of their national beverage, were singing, bragging and
swearing at the top of their voices, and after the manner of their
kind. At the farther end of the room a big corpulent swashbuckler was
holding forth loudly to a circle of admiring cronies; his peroration
was an introduction to a toast; that toast was To the Day!
Dick had heard it frequently of late; in fact, wherever Germans and
beer came together, that toast was being drank at the time.
The Day! . . . Dick, and every other Britisher knew what Day was
meant, and as a rule took but little notice of these fire-eating gas-bags; anyway, though he understood German, he spoke it but little. And
so he stood quietly imbibing his bottle of beer whilst Bombastus
Furiosis still held forth. His quiet attitude evidently misled the
orator, whose guttural German became mixed with quite enough English to
make his remarks perfectly understandable to the few Britishers amongst
Boasting and bragging, and with his discourse liberally garnished
with Donner-wetters, and such-like meteorological expressions dear to
the Teuton, this big chap let the world at large know what would happen
on the great Day; when the whole schwein-hund Englander nation
would, at long last, be knocked sky-high and to everlasting flinders by
the ineffable and invincible Army of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Dick got tired of the drunken man's blatant boasting, and finished
his beer with the intention of leaving the bar before he lost his
temper, but as he put down the empty mug he realized with consternation
that he had not the wherewithal to pay for the drink! He stood
embarrassed and irresolute. What could he say to excuse himself how
explain before this crowd of contemptuous Germans?
At that moment, however, something happened to put the matter out of
his mind entirely. The orator had gone one better, and was now
describing what various kinds of schwein-hunden all Britishers were,
and those in Luderitzbucht in particular, when suddenly a small man,
who had been sitting quietly in a corner of the room, left his seat,
and, walking up to the group, called out, 'Ere, you with the mouth!
Shut yer fat head abaht Englishmen or I'll make yer! I'm English. Wot
yer got to say abaht it?
A roar of laughter went up from the Germans, any of whom looked big
enough to eat the small man. Dick pushed nearer to the group. He knew
the chap nowhe was a little Cockney Jew, a bookmaker, horse-dealer,
and what not, scarcely the kind of chap to be expected to show pluck
and patriotism, yet these are often met with in the most unexpected
places. There he stood, opposite a German big enough to eat him and in
fluent Cockney he proceeded to tell that big man more about himself
than is good for any fat man to know.
Of course it could not last long. The jeering laughter changed to
threats and curses, and then suddenly the colossus made a terrific
round-arm all-embracing swipe at that small man, calculated to
obliterate him once for all. But he wasn't there when it arrived; and,
to Dick's joy and amazement, he saw the little Jew dodge in under the
stroke, and with a spring and a lightning blow on the point bring down
the big bully with a crash to the floor.
A boxer, by gad! yelled Dick, capering with excitement; bravo,
little 'un! But the small man's victory was only that of a moment. The
next the whole crowd had flung themselves upon him, and the miniature
champion of Rule Britannia was borne to the ground in the centre of a
whirl of legs, arms, chairs, bottles, and the other weapons usually
preferred by the German larrikin to bare fists.
Dick could stand no more, and the members of that Peace Conference
must have thought about that time that a cyclone had struck them.
It was no time for fancy boxing. Two men who faced Dick went down
like ninepins before a terrific left and right between wind and water;
a big Bavarian hero brandishing a beer-bottle collapsed with a sudden
and acute attack of knee-in-the-stomach; and a strong and handy chair
coming to Dick's hand in the nick of time and used as a flail, and with
strict impartiality, soon did the rest. Berserk with fight, and with
the plucky little Jew to help him, Dick cleared the bar till not a soul
but the frightened bar-keeper and themselves stood within the locked
doors. Outside they could hear the crowd yelling for the police.
Mein Gott, mein lieber Gott! Who will pay for all der smashes?
whimpered the bar-keeper, wringing his hands, and looking round at the
trail of the cyclone.
Tell the truth abaht that big fat 'ed starting the row to the
police, and I'll pay for the smash, said the little Jew. And while
we're waiting for the police let's have a drink, he continued. Here's
your health, guv'nor; blimey, but you're a bit useful in a scrap! By
this time the police were pounding at the door. My money my money!
again pleaded the bar-keeper.
Right-oh! said the Jew, putting his hand in his pocket. His face
changed; quickly and anxiously he searched for his pocket-book it was
gone! Whilst they had had him on the floor they had improved the
occasion; and his blank stare of dismay was mirrored on Dick's face as
the latter remembered that he too was penniless and owed for a drink!
Schwein-hunden! Thieves! Robbers! Dam-fools! yelled the
exasperated bar-keeper, unlocking the door for the police. That night
they slept in a German prison.
Sydney could not disguise from himself the fact that the situation
was rather serious. The escapade would probably mean a sentence of a
stiff bout of imprisonment, or a heavy fine, and, as he was penniless,
it would perforce have to be the former.
Hang that little Yiddisher! he growled, as he sucked at his empty
pipe; wish I'd let him get out of his trouble himself. No! I couldn't
have done that. He's a plucky little beggar, and I suppose he's as bad
off as myself now his pocket-book's gone. Still, I suppose something'll
His optimism was justified, for about ten o'clock the following
morning he was liberated without more ado, and outside the gaol he
found the little Hebrew who had been the cause of all the trouble.
I squared 'em, explained the little man, with a grin; sent a note
along to a pal of mine who knows the ropes, and he soon got us out.
Better come along and have some grub!
Look here, said Dick, I'd better let you know right away that I'm
Never mind, said the other; come along and feed, and then we'll
A good meal, and a good smoke after it, and the little Jew said
abruptly, Now then, Mr. Sydney, I've found out a bit about you this
morning, and if you want a job, I think I can get one for you. We want
a straight man for something that's on, and I think you'll do.
I'm game, said Dick, if it's a straight deal.
Straight as a die, replied Solstein or Solly, as he liked to be
called. Let's get along the beach, we can talk there!
Pacing along the sands, with no one to hear them but the sea-gulls,
and with his old briar again charged with some real God-fearing cake
tobacco, Sydney heard what it was that was required of him; and there
and then Solly's offer was accepted.
Two days later an expedition, outfitted regardless of expense in
Johannesburg, left Luderitzbucht to carry out a systematic testing of
certain distant diamond-fields recently discovered and acquired by a
local syndicate, and reported to be fabulously rich, so rich that an
extremely large company talked of acquiring them in turn, and those in
the know hinted at a huge flotation.
Money was therefore no object, and the party was both large and
well- equipped. It consisted of a diamond expert acting on behalf of
the Syndicate; another expert acting on behalf of the would-be
purchasers, and, incidentally, to watch the other chap; a financial
representative of either side to watch proceedings; two prospectors,
presumably to watch each other; a learned professor of geology to give
an unbiased report of the fields; and, lastly, Dick Sydney, ostensibly
in charge of the transport, but in reality to watch the whole caboodle
Striking north-east, the expedition almost immediately entered a
practically untraversed desert of barren sand-dunes, waterless, and
both difficult and dangerous to traverse; and their animals drank
nothing for the first two days. On the third, however, guided by the
discovering syndicate's prospector Grosman, and by two stunted little
Bushmen in his employ, they came to a deep water-hole, where the
precious fluid, though brak (alkaline) and stagnant, was still
plentiful and drinkable, and within working distance of which the
newly-discovered fields were located. Here the dunes were
interspersed with long narrow aars, covered with fine gravel and
loose stones, and here and there covered with scrubby vegetation.
Within a few days Sydney had to acknowledge that his first
conclusion that there was not a single honest man in the party besides
himself, was an unjust one, for the harmless and most necessary
professor of geology was a notable exception.
Absorbed in his science, he passed most of his time in his tent
poring over a microscope, taking very little heed, apparently, of what
was going on, and he was obviously without guile and likely to be
easily gulled by even the most transparent roguery. And that the others
were rogues Dick grew more and more convinced, and it would have been
hard to say which of the party he detested the more; Gilderman, the
suave Johannesburg expert, glib, well-dressed and fastidious; Jelder,
the syndicate's expert from the same locality, a rough-voiced,
domineering mining engineer; Zweiter and Spattboom, the financial
men; or Junes and Grosman, the two prospectors. On the whole, he
thought, were he a free agent, he would have picked a quarrel with each
and all of them for the sake of giving them individually a thrashing,
and in that case the immaculate Gilderman would have been his first
Each and all of them spoke English, and professed that nationality,
but Dick soon decided that, with the possible exception of Junes, what
wasn't German of the party was certainly Jew!
But still to all appearance everything was fair and above-board. The
prospectors would point out the most likely spots to try for diamonds,
the Ovampo boys would be set to work, and almost invariably they found
diamonds. Occasionally one or other of the experts would suggest a
different spot, and usually these sapient individuals would justify
their reputation by finding diamonds also in these spots.
The syndicate's expert was jubilant, the company's expert apparently
well satisfied, and the professor beamed upon the stones as they came
from the sieve, talked learnedly of their origin and the peculiarities
of the deposit they were found in, and passed a great deal of time in
abstruse calculations as to the probable yield of the fields, based
upon the rich finds they were making, and the genuineness of which he,
obviously, never doubted.
Sydney picked up several small stones himself. The experts were
always finding them, so were the financial agents; yet Dick, though for
a time he could find out nothing to confirm his opinion, was convinced
that the whole thing meant a gigantic swindle. A few words in French
between the experts which they did not expect the man in charge of the
transport to understand a word here, and a look there, strengthened
this conviction into certainty, but still he had no proof.
Now Dick had heard of, and suffered from, more than one case of
salting since he first came to Luderitzbucht, and the quantity of
illicit diamonds in the hands of unscrupulous people made such salting
a comparatively easy matter, but if it were being done in this case, it
was certainly being done very thoroughly and artistically and when?
The whole party moved from place to place practically together in
fact, they kept in sight of each other ostentatiously.
It must be done after dark, if at all, and Dick resolved to watch at
night, as soon as he came to that conclusion. That same night, from his
tiny patrol tent, he watched the lights go out one by one, until the
camp lay silent, and apparently every one was asleep. And as time
passed he was nodding himself, when suddenly a shadow stole silently
from the tent occupied by the two prospectors, crossed to the experts'
tent, and disappeared inside. Dick saw the momentary gleam of an
electric torch and heard the tinkle of a bunch of keys, then the form
reappeared, and, with a glance round, passed silently and rapidly out
of sight across the sand-dunes.
Dick followed, the pale light from a waning moon, occasionally
peeping from behind the clouds, making the pursuit an easy one.
After half an hour of rapid walking the man disappeared over a
gigantic dune that Dick had noticed in the distance the previous
evening, and which he had heard marked the position of the next field
to be examined.
More cautiously now, and keeping well away from the man's actual
spoor, Dick crept up the slope, and peered over the crest down the
The moon at that moment shone out clearly, and there, not fifty
yards away from him, Dick could see the figure of Grosman the
prospector. He was walking slowly up and down, now and then throwing
his arm out with the action of a sower, and the seeds he sowed sparkled
like dewdrops in the moonlight.
For he was sowing diamondssalting!
Salting! there was no doubt about it.
The prospector to whom the syndicate owning the fields had entrusted
the important task of locating the most likely spots on which to
demonstrate their richness, had with admirable forethought forestalled
that notoriously fickle jade Fortune and brought the diamonds along
himself, before the remainder of the testing party arrived. To-morrow
the whole caboodle of unbiased individuals, representing both his own
party and the enormously wealthy Jo'burg financiers who were
negotiating for the fields with a view to a big flotation, would come
along as per schedule, and would doubtless be greatly impressed by this
fresh proof of the fields' richness!
Dick lay flat on his face on the warm and accommodating sand-dune,
and watched Grosman for some time: he was prodigal with the diamonds,
and this was undoubtedly destined to be an exceptionally rich field.
The question is, reasoned Dick, how many of these swabs are in
this swindle. Let's see now, it's no good letting my angry passions run
away with me, and jumping on this chap as I'd like to do. I must reason
this out. The other prospector sleeps in the same tent sometimes
disagrees with this chap as to the best place to test. In that case
yes! they've always tried and found in both places. And they sleep in
the same tent. They're both in it. Same with the experts, both in the
same tent, and they keep the diamonds. That's what this swab went to
them to-night for. And Zweiter and Spattboom, well, no one could be
honest with faces like theirs. Blazes! They're all in it, and all this
elaborate business is just to artistically fool the old professorhe's
not part of the swindle, anyway.
That was it undoubtedly. The old professor, who, simple as a child
in many things, had yet a name famous the world over; he it was that
this precious crowd of scoundrels were deceiving so elaborately he it
was whose word of the genuineness of the finds would carry weight with
the financiers and when the time became ripe would rope in the
Well, he, Dick, would have to take a hand in it, but it would
require caution; moreover, Solly to whom he owed his job had told him
We don't want no experience, just you watch all of these blighters
and find out what their game is, and lie low that's all!
His diamond sowing finished, Grosman sat down, took off his
veldtschoens and knocked out the sand, loaded up his pipe, and with a
sigh of contentment which the pipeless and tobacco-loving Dick heard
and appreciated, turned back towards the camp.
Luckily Dick old hand on the plains of countries where it is not
considered healthy to be found on the home trail of a man one watches
at night had taken the precaution to crawl aside sufficiently to give
this Knave of diamonds a wide berth; and he lay inert and silent as
the dead till Grosman was well on his homeward journey, before
following him to a well-earned spell of sleep.
Following the usual routine, the next morning the two prospectors
rode ahead to locate the best spot for proving this fresh field, the
rest of the expedition following more leisurely. Dick had to confess
that they were most artistic in their methods. On arriving near the
high dune, where he had seen Grosman giving Fortune a friendly lead in
the small hours of the morning, Dick found to his astonishment that
they were being guided to quite a different spot at some distance from
the carefully prepared jeweller's shop. What the devil does this
mean? mused he, as he rode behind with the professor and the others.
He could not be mistaken about the spot, for the dune was too prominent
a landmark yet there were the two prospectors signaling to them from a
place at least half a mile away from the scene of his nocturnal
experience. Trotting across to them they found an argument in full
Gentlemen, said the other prospector a tall slab-sided individual
whose English was of a pronounced American flavor. I don't think this
kind of thing is fair! I'm here earning the company's dollars, and I'm
about tired of being yanked around to try spots that Grosman points
out. I guess I'm here to locate the pay-dirt as well as he is, that's
what the company pays me for, that's what I'm here for, to find out the
truth! No, sir not any I don't.
Junes, cried Gilderman, remember your position! I'm sure no one
ever expressed a doubt as to the syndicate's finds and I
But look-ee here, Mr. Gilderman, interrupted the prospector;
you've got to excuse me. I'm supposed to look into this thing myself,
besides it's for the blamed fool's own benefit. Any fool can see that
the deepest wash runs the other side of that dune, not this.
Rot, jerked out Grosman; well, if you want to go to your damned
old place, do so.
High words followed, the experts became partisans, every one was
dragged in except Dick and the Herr Professor, and the latter, flushed
and rattled and his glasses all awry, was at length appealed to in the
Ach, gentlemens, said he, beaming from one to the other, and
absolutely exuding good temper and conciliation; why quarrel on this
so-splendid an expedition, hein? Let us then return to the Herr
Prospector Junes' choice let us accede to this so good man's request,
Right, snorted Grosman; but if the damned place is no good don't
blame me and don't condemn the field. I can show you where there are
And so with many a sneer and jeer, and with an atmosphere of extreme
tension pervading the whole party, Junes was allowed to lead the way to
the spot of his choice. He went straight across the foot of the big
dune, and in a few minutes had amply justified himself, for there were
diamonds in abundance the diamonds his confederate Grosman had strewn
there the night before.
Now Solly's instructions to Dick to lie low, and say nothing, no
matter what he found out, had been explicit and insisted upon, and in
spite of his instinct to warn the professor, he might have been content
to lie low and go on watching till the trip was over, had it not been
for a certain small but excessively highly-charged black scorpion that
found its way into Dick's sleeping-bag that night; and more than making
up in cussedness what it lacked in size, gave him an exceedingly warm
time of it. One sting in particular, on a big vein in his leg, gave him
excruciating pain, and though he applied the universal veldt remedy of
nicotine from his pipe-bowl, the agony was so great and the swelling so
alarming that at length he hobbled off to the professor's tent to see
if that learned man could give him some relief. He found the old
gentleman sleeping soundly and had some difficulty in rousing him; but
that task accomplished, so assiduous was the professor in dressing the
sting, and such kindly interest did he display in both Dick and the
defunct scorpion, that Dick, who had always liked the old chap, almost
made up his mind to tell him all that he had seen and suspected. The
scorpion really settled the question for him, for the professor had
scarcely finished injecting Dick's leg than he turned his attention to
the dead reptile, at which he had already cast many curious glances as
it lay on his little camp-table beside his medicine chest. And now he
proceeded to examine it thoroughly, lighting a powerful acetylene lamp
for the purpose.
And scarcely had the strong rays fallen upon the black, wicked,
lobster-like little iniquity than the Herr Professor let off a regular
yell of delight and literally fell upon Dick's neck.
Ach, meine lieber! he exclaimed ecstatically. Aber this is most
wunderbahr! It is of the great fortune, good luck, what you call him?
That he sting you.
Good luck? said the surprised Sydney, feeling anything but
pleased; well, professor, it's the kind of luck that I can very well
do without. Why, the blamed little thing must have been about a
thousand volts strong. Sting! why it must have squirted about a pint of
forked lightning into me! Luck?
Of the greatest, said the scientist; of the most colossal. For it
is a discovery you have of him made he is new he is wonderful
You're wrong, professor, protested Dick with emphasis. He
discovered me. He may be new newly charged, anyway!
Of a variety entirely new, Herr Sydney, insisted the old professor
impressively; and much would I have given to have been in your place
to discover him.
You'd have been welcome, said Dick feelingly; but why?
It is my life-work, my stedenpferd, my 'hobby' you call it, hein?
This study of the arachnids, spiders, scorpions! Geology, you say?
True, that is my work, but this other is different, this I love!
Already have I four large volumes written upon the known varieties of
scorpion and now to have been but almost the discoverer of a new
variety, it is hard to have been so near. But at least I shall be the
first to describe, to classify, that honor you will grant me? It is
hard to have been so near!
Believe me, professor, it was a good deal harder to be just where I
was. But I see your point, and feel for you indeed I may say I'm
feeling it quite a lot even now. I'm mighty sorry the electric
gentleman with the red-hot trousers didn't sample you first as you say,
it's real hard he didn't. So do please take the fame and describe all
It took a lot of persuasion to make the scientist see it in the
light that Dick did, but after a while he consented to name the new
specimen after himself, and sat down to examine and gloat over his
But first he showed Dick some of his books, thick tomes full of
illustrations of most weird and undesirable-looking insects, spiders,
scorpions, and the like, and crammed with learned descriptions
bristling with Latin names; and he showed such an innocent delight in
his new acquisition that Dick's mind was made up. He did not like
Germans, but this old chap was so naive, so full of human-kindness, so
innocent and ignorant of all but his science that it would have been
infamous not to have warned him of what was happening. For Dick could
see plainly enough that if nothing were said this poor kind-hearted old
scientist would have to bear the blame when the gigantic swindle was at
length discovered, and the victimized public demanded a scapegoat.
He lifted the fly of the tent and looked out. There was no light in
any of the tents, and the sound of snoring came from them in chorus.
Farther away by the still flickering embers of the campfire could be
dimly seen a dozen or more recumbent forms, where the native boys
huddled. The waning moon was just rising, and except for the snores all
was quiet as only the desert can be; yet Dick, when he turned once more
towards the professor, stood with a warning finger on his lips, and
spoke but in a whisper. For he knew that he and the man he spoke to
were the only honest men in this lonely camp; and that the others would
not hesitate to put either himself or the professor out of the way if
once they suspected that their villainy was known, he never doubted.
Not that he was afraid; but here in the wilds, with six well-armed and
determined men against him, he saw the need for caution. The professor
he did not count not just then!
The old man still sat at his little camp-table, magnifying glass in
hand, and at Dick's low Hist, he turned a bland, inquiring gaze in
his direction. Dick came close to him, and with head half averted so
that he could listen for the slightest sound outside, he whispered his
story. Not a sound came either from the camp or from his listener till
his brief tale was ended.
They are all in it all rogues together, sir, he whispered in
conclusion; and it's part of a big swindle that people will blame you
And for the first time since he began his tale he looked the
professor full in the face. He started with amazement as he did so: for
now he saw not a benign, smiling old scientist, beaming good nature and
affability through his spectacles, but a stern-faced, iron-mouthed man,
whose jaw was set with grim inflexibility, and whose eyes seemed
actually to blaze with fury. The big veins stood out upon his temples,
and the hand that still held the magnifying glass was now clenched in a
grip of iron, that trembled, not from weakness, but from the violence
of his anger and emotion.
Dick saw the man with new eyes: this was no worn-out old scientist,
such as he had deemed him; but a man still strong and vigorous, in
spite of his three-score and ten years, a man in whom the hot blood of
passion could still work wonders. And the younger man realized that if
the strong hand were necessary in this affair, he would by no means
need to play it alone.
Gott im Himmel! he muttered hoarsely, as Dick finished. Diebstahl
und rauberei! . . . and through me! For I have been a fool, and I have
been also to blame. Look you, Herr Sydney, now can I see but too
clearly that I have neglected my work, and looked but little to the
fields themselves but to the diamonds and the gravel they brought with
them. Numskull! dummkopf! That I have been it is but now that I see
also how they have advantage taken of this hobby of mine. Each day they
have brought me spiders, and scorpions, and snakes to examine even now
I have almost a hundred specimens alive! And so they have thrown sand
in my eyes, and would have made a criminal of me even as they are
themselves. Schaendlich und verraetherisch schwein-hunden! But for you,
friend, they would have robbed me of my good name, and shamed me before
the world. But for you, friend!
As he spoke, still in a hoarse whisper, he rose and grasped Dick's
hand, and strong as the latter was he winced at the vigor of that iron
And now come! said he, simply, turning as though to leave the
Dick caught his arm. No! no! said he in a tense and eager whisper
what would you do?
Take them bind them disarm them . . . take them prisoners to
Luderitzbucht to pay for their knavery, muttered the old man savagely.
Six and with arms, you say! And what care I for six such schwein-hunden? And you, Herr Sydney, I know you are both strong and fearless?
Oh, nothing would suit me better than to smash up the whole outfit,
but what good would it do? urged Dick. It's their six words against
ours, or rather against mine, so far! And most of 'em are German, as
you know, and well in with the authorities in Luderitzbucht. And I'm
English, what hope will my word have against theirs there? Besides,
sir, the story as it stands will be all against yourself!
Donner-wetter, that is wahr! That will never do, said the old man
naively. What do you advise then?
Watch well, and either contrive to catch them yourself on some of
the remaining fields or say nothing till we are safely back in
Luderitzbucht, counseled Dick.
Never can I so long contain myself with these thieves. Think you
the company spoke of a flotation of 500,000, of half a million pounds,
that these hounds would have caused my name and my report to rob from
the public! Never can I contain myself long, but as you wish, friend, I
will try unless indeed some better plan offers.
Dick crept back quietly to his little patrol tent and tried to
sleep, but pain and excitement kept him wide-eyed; and he had scarcely
dropped off when his Hottentot driver awakened him to tell him that two
of the mules had broken their reins and cleared in the night,
apparently making their way back in a bee-line towards Luderitzbucht.
I have found their spoor, baas, he said; but they have gone far
and fast and it will need a horse to catch them.
Saddle mine, quickly, and I will go back myself, ordered Dick,
with a muttered blessing or two on the defaulters; and within a few
minutes he was cantering over the spoor of yesterday, along which the
mules had bolted. He soon found where they had left the trail, and in
the now clear light of dawn their spoors showed clearly in the soft
sand. At last he caught sight of them grazing on a small patch of
Bushman grass growing in the hollow between two dunes, and after a
considerable amount of trouble managed to secure them, and making them
fast to a convenient bush he climbed a big dune to have a look round
and try and mark out for himself a straight cut back to camp.
He recognized his whereabouts instantly, for scarcely five hundred
yards away rose the big dune that had been the scene of Grosman's
forethought two nights back. The sight of it brought back Dick's
Beastly swabs, he thought, why they never even take the trouble
to find out if there really are any diamonds in the blessed fields or
not? From what I've seen at Kolman's Kop, this place looks extremely
likely. I wonder whether, after all, they have been a bit too clever?
I'll have a look, anyway.
Between him and the dune where the bogus find had been made there
stretched a wide, flat space of comparatively firm ground a so-called
anp, or shallow vlei, in which at some time water had accumulated. Here
there was very little sand, its place being taken by a deposit of fine
loose grit, made up of a variety of tiny stones all about the size of a
The prevailing wind, blowing almost continually in the same
direction, had heaped up this grit in little wave-like ridges and Dick
knew that if there were diamonds there he would find them near the
crest of these little waves.
He went down on his hands and knees at once, and almost immediately
his eye caught the glitter of a diamond. And there was another and
another! And Dick, as he picked up stone after stone, realized that by
sheer luck he had stumbled upon far the richest deposit he had ever
seen or heard of and realized too that these clever scoundrels had
over-reached themselves. There had been no need of salting had they but
taken the trouble to search systematically they must have found this
spot, had they but walked a few hundred yards from the spot they had
salted last, this Tom Tiddler's Ground had awaited them!
Incredibly and incalculably rich it was; for Dick, in the hour or so
that he permitted himself the luxury of picking them up, well-nigh
filled his pockets with the glittering little gems, and yet he had
scarcely moved a yard from where he had picked up the first.
The power of the blazing sun, now beating down upon him from high in
the heavens, first admonished him of the fact that it was getting late,
and that he must get back to camp, or probably some one would be coming
to look for him.
And that would never do, said Dick to himself; no one must know
of this but the professor.
So, reluctantly leaving his newly-found bonanza, he tied up the
double- handful of diamonds in his old red handkerchief, thrust it in
the bosom of his khaki shirt, and securing the two errant mules he
struck across country to the camp.
He found that during his absence a farther field had been
successfully tested; and the meaning look the professor gave him when
the latter rode into camp with the returning party, and voiced his
satisfaction at the morning's find, left no doubt in Dick's mind but
that the old man had profited by his advice, and would yet fool the
would-be foolers! Itching as he was to impart the news of his splendid
discovery to the professor, he had no opportunity of seeing him alone
during the rest of the day; and he could only try to possess his soul
with patience till night fell and the others were asleep. But that
night the professor had a different plan in view.
Gentlemens, said the old man when supper was finished, and they
sat smoking by the fire; now that this so successful expedition
arrives at so near its conclusion, shall we not celebrate our good
fortune? To-day is not our find of diamonds more rich than of ever? Let
us drink then to our great good fortune, to the diamonds we have found,
and to those we hope again to find to-morrow! Come! He led the way to
his tent, and diving under his bed he hauled out a case of wine.
Strong, heady wine Dick found it, and the warning glance the old man
gave him as he filled his glass the second time, made him sip but
lightly of the potent liquor.
Not so the two experts, or the prospectors, or the other members of
the little coterie of scoundrels; who, safe in the assumption that they
had hoodwinked the professor thoroughly, drank deep and made merry like
men without a care. Bottle after bottle was opened, and soon one of the
experts began to snore; and it was the professor himself who broke up
the merry party by saying: Gentlemens; to-morrow have we a long day
and a long ride before us to test the other fields. And the Herr
Prospector Junes he must ride before us always, is it not? The test
places to locate together with his comrade. And this so good man see!
He sleeps already! Let us then to rest. But first fill again your
glasses and drink deep. To the diamonds we have found and to the
discovery you will make to-morrow!
Surely the wine was very potent, for Dick, thanks to the warning
glances of the professor, had drank but little, yet he could scarcely
keep awake; whilst Junes and Grosman were snoring like pigs, and could
scarcely be awakened sufficiently to enable them to stagger to their
tent. Dick barely managed to get to his own before sleep overcame him
too, and his last hazy thought was: That wine was drugged, the
professor must have got another plan!
Once, in the night, he had a dim notion that some one was trying to
waken him; that some one was it the professor? was shaking him and
whispering fiercely in his ear, Wake, man you must help me wake! But
it all seemed like part of a dream, and he was too overpoweringly
sleepy to be able to rouse and the remembrance of this only came long
But at last he did awake; his head was buzzing and Andreas the
Hottentot was shaking him. Baas, baas; wake up, he was saying; I
cannot wake the others! Allemachtag! How they sleep like dead men!
It was broad daylight; long past the hour when the prospectors
should have ridden on ahead to locate the fields. Their horses, ready
saddled, stood before their tent; and from it came the sound of
Dick walked over and shook the men; and at last they stumbled
shakily to their feet, and made their way to the experts' tent,
muttering something about instructions; but really, as Dick realized,
to get the wherewithal to salt the remaining claims.
Usually this proceeding was carried out long before daylight and
with no one to watch. Now, however, the whole camp was astir; the old
professor was washing in front of his tent in the tiny modicum of water
allowed him for the purpose, boys were hurrying here and there
preparing breakfast; and Dick smiled grimly as he noticed that as Junes
and Grosman entered the experts' tent they carefully closed the fly
He looked across at the professor, who had paused in his ablutions
to look in the direction of the tent, and now stood, a comical enough
looking object, his face covered in soap-suds, watching for the
reappearance of the prospectors.
Dick and he exchanged a glance of intelligence, and Dick took a step
towards the old man, intending to whisper to him the news of what he
had found the day before; but before he could do so there came a shout
from the tent, followed by a volley of oaths and ejaculations, the
sound of a scuffle, and out into the open burst the two prospectors,
locked together in a desperate struggle.
Hound, schwein-hund, robber! gasped Grosman, as, with his face
purple with rage and exertion he temporarily got the better of his long
and wiry opponent, and bore him back; scoundrel that you are you could
not play straight even with me! Where are the diamonds hound where have
you hidden them?
Yes, where are they? Own up, you thief! chorused the two experts,
who, pallid and debauched looking, now stood beside the two struggling
men: and Dick now noticed that Gilderman held the small strong box and
that it was open, and empty. The diamonds had gone!
The whole camp had now clustered round the fallen men, the professor
grotesque in his thickly lathered face, Dick intensely interested and
enjoying this fall-out among thieves, the experts and financial men
voluble and uneasy.
And still Grosman knelt upon his slighter opponent, and still he
gasped curses and questions; keeping so tight a grip upon Junes' throat
that his eyes were starting from his head and he could scarce breathe,
much less answer.
Here loosen him a bit! said Dick, grasping the big man by the
shoulder. Do you hear? You'll choke the man and how the blazes can he
answer you when you hold him like that? Now then what's the matter?
The diamonds are gone, said the glib Gilderman. We each have a
key on a chain round our necks. They were safe when we went to bed. The
box was locked then now it is open and the stones are gone.
He has them, the hound, said Grosman, we had arranged, schwein-hund, he yelled again, it was to have been to-morrow night and you
have stolen them from me; where have you buried them?
Come off it, said Dick savagely for Junes was again choking and
this time he twisted Grosman's arm till he freed the under man's
Now then, Junes what have you got to say?
Liar and thief himself, gasped the half-choked Junes, he has
taken them while I slept. We had planned . . . Oh! let me up, damn you,
and I'll tell them of your plan, you robbing, thieving swine, that
can't play straight even with your pal! Let me up, you German hog: let
me get a holt on you, and I'll show you. Let me up!
Let him up, said Dick, filled with keen enjoyment at seeing these
two unprincipled scoundrels mauling each other, and only regretting the
fact that the equally rascally onlookers did not take a hand; let him
up, man; give him fair play, and let's hear all about it.
And aided by the strong arm of the still soapy professor, he hauled
the furious Grosman off his prey.
And now comedy changed instantly to tragedy, for the panting Junes,
springing to his feet, drew his revolver and fired point-blank at his
late assailant. Grosman spun half round, his mouth opened in a ghastly
grin, and making two staggering steps, he fell to the ground, whilst
Junes, profiting by the confusion, sprang to his horse and vaulted into
Hands up, he shouted, covering the group with his revolver. I
shoot the first man who moves. Grosman, you dog, where are the stones?
The dying man partly raised himself, and fixed an awful gaze upon
his murderer. Murderer and thief! he gasped, you have them yourself.
I never woke till Sydney shook me!
Hell! . . . said Junes, I believe you now! There's more roguery
here than even I knew of! Hark you, Gilderman, and you other sharks and
keep your hands up. Professor, and you, Sydney listen! These other men
are thieves all; they've paid us to salt every patch they've tried, so
far! They brought over a thousand carats of diamonds stolen from
Kolman's Kop to do it with; I know who they bought them from! And
Grosman and I thought they deserved to be robbed, and we intended doing
so to-night. But one of these swine must have thought of the same game,
and hid the stones somewhere. Own up, you cowardly blighters which of
you has taken them where are they? Quick! . . . Keep your distance;
Sydney this ain't your trouble, and if you move again I'll put a bullet
through you, he continued; for Dick was edging near with an idea of
making a spring at the armed and desperate man, and you, professor,
help Grosman. ... I'm sorry I shot you now, Heinriech! Now then, I want
those diamonds quick, you Jo'burg sharps!
The four scared men raised their voices in a chorus of
protestations, in the middle of which Dick's eye caught sight of
something over Junes' shoulder that caused him to start involuntarily.
About half a mile away a small cloud of dust was rising. Something or
somebody was coming, and quickly too.
Slight as had been Dick's movement, Junes had noted it, and still
covering the group, he swung his horse round till he could glance in
the direction of the little cloud of dust, through which two horsemen
could now be seen; and the glitter of the sun on their rifles showed
them to be armed men, probably mounted police.
A bitter curse broke from Junes' pale lips. Police, by God! he
said; they're too near or I'd shoot all four of you whining swine.
Hell! and I've killed Grosman for nothing!
And furiously lashing his startled horse he spurred madly away,
striking savagely with his sjambok at the cowering quartette as he
A rifle, a rifle gasped the wounded man, now plainly dying, and
his ghastly face more awful by the look of terrible vindictiveness it
now wore shoot at the horse!
But before a rifle was forthcoming the two mounted police rode into
camp. They were bronzed, burly men, arrayed in a corduroy uniform, with
a wide felt hat bearing a large Imperial crown in gilt as a badge, and
were fully armed with Mauser rifles, revolver and light saber.
Donnerwetter! exclaimed the leader, a big sergeant, or
wachtmeister, as they cantered up. What is this, murder?
Murder and there goes the murderer! said the professor.
And is it you, Brandt? he exclaimed, as he looked into the
Brandt is my name it is true, said the wachtmeister gruffly, as he
peered at the soap-lathered countenance before him, but who are you? I
can see naught but soap. . . . Himmel, he shouted joyfully, as the
professor beamed back at him, I was blind. It is my dear and honored
Herr Professor from Munich! Now, Gott sie dank, I see you again after
all these years!
It is indeed I, Brandt, said the professor, but spur, man, spur,
and bring back that man we must talk later!
With a sharp word to the trooper, Brandt unslung his rifle and
spurred headlong after the fleeing horseman, now rapidly nearing the
shelter of the dunes.
Meanwhile, the professor and Dick turned their attention to the
dying man, whilst the others resumed the clamor of questions and
recriminations which the arrival of the police had interrupted.
Gilderman, his self-confidence almost restored by the approaching
death of one, and the flight of the other of his accusers, now tried to
brazen matters out.
Thrusting himself before Dick, who was helping dress the wound, he
bent down before Grosman and began loudly, so that all might hear. Now
then, Grosman, where are those diamonds? It is a most outrageous thing
that you have done, to rob your employers in this manner. And that
ridiculous lie of Junes' about salting! Come, man, tell me where the
diamonds are, and tell these people that Junes made up that yarn as you
know he did and I'll try to save you from the police. Come now own up
where are the stones?
You cannot save him from death and the Maker who will judge him,
said the professor sternly as he came from his tent with his medicine
chest. Man, think shame to pester the man so; men do not lie on their
deathbed; and as Gilderman did not move he swung him aside by the
collar as though he had been a child.
Gilderman uttered a furious exclamation. Absurd preposterous
professor, surely you are not mad enough to believe the story this
would-be thief has told?
Story? queried the professor, what story has he told? Junes, yes!
but this man, so far, has accused you of nothing!
Gilderman flushed with vexation at the false step he had made.
But the diamonds? he insisted, he confessed they had planned to
steal them. Make him tell you where they are?
Maybe the police will bring them back with Junes, said the
professor, going on with his work of dressing the wound. And if not,
you ask? Well, Herr Gilderman, what does it matter, a thousand carats
or so! The rich fields you found them on are still there; it took but a
few hours to find the stones, surely we can return to those so rich
fields and find again a thousand carats! Hein?
Gilderman answered nothing, but if looks could have killed the old
professor, who did not even look at him, and Dick, who grinned
maliciously full in his face, both of them would have preceded Grosman.
Just then a faint shot sounded in the direction of the pursuit. It
was followed by another and another . . . then a regular fusillade.
They are kneeling on the top of the first dune, called Jelder from
a little rise a few yards away. Now they are mounting again and coming
Then he's got away, said Dick, his horse was fresh and they
looked as though they had ridden far.
Curse him, may he roast in hell, whispered the dying man, but
what he said was true.
Hush, said the professor, do not try to talk now. Save your
breath, man, and tell your story only to the police. And remember I can
do but little for you your time is very short.
By this the police came cantering back into camp. We hit him, said
the wachtmeister. I saw him stagger in the saddle just as he got into
the big dunes. His horse was fresh and ours were fagged, it was useless
to follow farther. If he is badly hit we shall find him at the
waterhole, if not, he will run right into the arms of the patrol we
meet there. And now, what is all this about?
Gilderman took up the tale in voluble German, and it was now evident
that, shaken by the protestations of the dying man, and of his
murderer, he was now suspicious of Jelder, who had held a key to the
box in common with himself. He had been awakened by the outcry that the
prospectors made when they saw the empty box lying by the side of the
bed. His key he remarked pointedly was still fast round his neck
perhaps, he added significantly, Jelder had left his lying about
overnight? Jelder flushed angrily, and drawing his key out by the thin
gold chain that secured it beneath his vest, shook it in Gilderman's
face, when mutual recriminations began without undue loss of time.
The old professor's wine had done its work well in more ways than
Their colleagues, Zweiter and Spattboom, instantly took sides, and
so they wrangled and vociferated, what time the big German wachtmeister
made voluminous notes in a big pocket book.
During all this, the old professor said not a word, though there was
a grim twinkle in his eye as he noted the spread of the quarrel.
Aided by Dick, he had now finished attending to the dying man, whom
they had taken into the professor's tent, and who lay gasping
painfully, with the air whistling through the hole Junes' bullet had
made in his lungs. He whispered something hoarsely and painfully to the
Come, Herr wachtmeister, the latter called to the big sergeant,
the man has but little time, and would make a statement.
The sergeant came and knelt by the dying man. Where are the
diamonds, he asked, pencil in hand.
Nein, ich wissen nicht, gasped Grosman, stoop lower, and I will
tell all ... I know.
He lies, said Gilderman and Jelder together, crowding near to the
bed. Herr wachtmeister, why listen to him he lies!
Silence, stormed the wachtmeister fiercely, your time will come
to speak, stand back. And how know you if he lies before he speaks?
Back! And he forced them to do so, whilst in short, sobbing gasps, the
dying man told of the whole knavery: how they had been bribed to do the
actual salting, how each day Gilderman and Jelder had given them a
certain number of stones to strew in likely places, and find
ostentatiously in sight of the professor, how he and Junes had
conceived the idea of stealing the diamonds and burying them where they
could find them later, and how, when that morning they had overslept
and entered the tent late and seen the strong box lying there empty,
each had instantly suspected the other of stealing a march upon him.
But dying he, Grosman, swore he knew nothing of the stones nor did he
now believe that Junes did!
Those thieves, those men who first put temptation in our way, they
know, ask them, curse them! he concluded, whilst the sergeant
peremptorily demanded silence from the accused men, who were storming
angrily at the dying man's denunciation.
Brietmann, he called to his comrade, search all the tents
everything! I arrest you all, let no man move till a search has been
made. Now, he continued, rising from the dying man's side, and turning
on them, which of you has the diamonds?
Why should we steal them, why believe the tale of this thief who
owns he meant to steal them, why believe him against us? they
demanded, united again now, in their efforts to discredit Grosman.
One at a time, said the wachtmeister angrily, and silence, you
others. And he proceeded to catechize and badger them one by one,
filling page after page of his notebook with their replies.
Meanwhile Brietmann searched tent after tent; ransacking bags,
portmanteaux and boxes, shaking out clothing and blankets, and prying
into every conceivable article in a vain endeavor to find the stones;
whilst the indignant quartette under examination broke out again and
again in a storm of impotent wrath.
In the middle of this hubbub the professor's voice was heard for the
Hush! he commanded sternly, in the name of common humanity, hush!
at least for a minute. The man is dying.
Even as he spoke, Grosman, the death rattle in his throat, in a last
convulsive effort, raised himself on his elbow, and with a terrible
look on his face pointed an accusing finger at Gilderman and the group
round him, and with a last choking attempt at speech fell back dead.
Immediately Brietmann, who had finished his search in the other
tents, and stood looking on, addressed the wachtmeister:
There is nothing there, he said, and there remains but this the
Herr Professor's tent to search.
The wachtmeister turned apologetically to the professor:
The Herr Professor will permit? he asked.
And why this indignity, Brandt? demanded the professor sternly.
It is my duty, Herr Professor; in such cases I may not
discriminate, apologized Brandt, and it is but a matter of form.
So be it, search! and the offended professor turned again to the
dead man, ignoring the industrious Brietmann, who emptied bags,
unlocked boxes, peered into jars of chemicals, and generally upset the
scientist's most sacred possessions.
At length, in a dark corner of the tent, Brietmann came to a black
box secured with a big padlock.
Herr Professor, he called; this box. It is locked.
The professor simply grunted.
The key, Herr Professor, he persisted.
I advise you to leave that box alone, growled the owner.
It must be opened, nicht warum, wachtmeister? asked Brietmann of
Ja wohl, said the wachtmeister.
Again I advise you not, said the old man. Surely there is no
need; I do not wish it opened.
By now every one was looking at the professor with wonder or
suspicion, even Dick could not understand his reluctance to have the
Sehr gut, said he, as all eyes were turned on him, take the key!
and he flung it over to where Brietmann knelt by the box.
The policeman fumbled with the lock, threw back the lid, and
simultaneously gave vent to a terrific yell, as he flung himself
violently backwards. For from the open box rose the writhing forms of
half a dozen big cobras, their hoods flattened and arched, vicious and
ready to strike, whilst over one of the corners came gliding the broad
flattened head and bloated body of a huge puff-adder.
Within five seconds no one remained in the big tent but the dead man
and the professor, who, laughing softly, proceeded to collect his
straying pets; showing an utter disregard of any danger of being
bitten, accountable for by the fact that he had removed every fang from
the poisonous specimens long before.
Dick had been as lively as any one in making tracks, for he had a
horror of snakes, and as he burst from the tent his foot caught in a
guy-rope and down he went with the big wachtmeister sprawling on top of
him. Both scrambled up in quick time, for each of them imagined he had
snakes crawling all over him, but as Dick rose to his feet, out from
the bosom of his shirt fell the red handkerchief full of diamonds he
had found the day before, and as it fell out rolled a dozen or more of
the little brilliants and lay there flashing and sparkling in the sun-light.
Donner-wetter! yelled the wachtmeister, the diamonds! Here is the
thief! And instantly he seized Dick in a formidable grip.
Curses and execrations burst from the other men, who, wildly
excited, crowded round Dick and the diamonds threatening and exulting.
Thief! Scoundrel! Rascally mule-driver! Schwein-hund! they cried.
The handcuffs, Brietmann! Quick! shouted the sergeant, and Dick
realized instantly the seriousness of his position. He had had no
opportunity of telling the professor of the find he had made; and who
among these rogues each eager to fix the guilt on some one else and
discredit the tale both the dead man and Junes had told would believe
him if he told the story now?
The quantity of diamonds he had found about equaled the stolen
contents of the box, and things could scarcely look blacker for him. He
knew the law was likely to be severe with him, as a Britisher he would
probably get the extreme sentence. There was no one but the professor
to appeal to and, bitter thought, would even he believe him with all
this damning evidence against him? All this passed through his mind in
an instant, as he stood in amazement, too taken aback to speak, and
passively staring at the fallen diamonds.
Then the wachtmeister's grip tightened, as Brietmann hurried up,
making ready the handcuffs as he came.
I did not steal them! shouted Dick, finding his tongue at last. I
will explain. Professor! Professor! I did not steal them!
Lying rogue, said, or rather snarled Gilderman, thrusting his face
close to Dick's, and filled with the rage of a lately frightened man.
Filthy donkey-driver and thief you were too miserable and contemptible
for us even to suspect!
And secure in the fact that the wachtmeister held Dick, he struck
the latter across the face with his open hand.
Before he had time to draw back things happened.
Dick, blazing with fury at the indignity, wrenched himself free of
the wachtmeister, as though that big man had been a child, struck
Gilderman a terrific smash on the nose that flattened it and him
instantly, and seizing Jelder, who had tried to trip him, he threw that
unfortunate Israelite on the top of his colleague. But now the other
men flung themselves upon Dick simultaneously, and for a short but
crowded period a most memorable scrap took place in and round that
little prospecting camp.
Dick, as he afterwards expressed it, was all out in that brief but
brisk encounter, and fought with every limb and muscle he possessed.
Borne down by sheer numbers for a moment, he succeeded in twisting
Brietmann under him, and his knee, judiciously planted in the plump
policeman's embonpoint as they fell, with the weight of the other crowd
on top of them, drove all the wind out of that unfortunate man, who,
for a time, took no further interest in the proceedings.
Dick felt him gasp and subside, and at that very moment his hand
came in contact with the heavy steel handcuffs. Here was a weapon worth
having, and with such odds against him Dick had no hesitation in using
it, and swinging them round blindly at the arms clutching at him, he
felt them meet flesh and bone with a soul-satisfying crunch. A sharp
yelp followed, and Dick felt the scrum above him lighten, as Zweiter
retired from the fray, spitting blood and curses in a polyglot and
highly satisfactory manner.
But now the big wachtmeister, a powerful and athletic man, was less
cumbered by his would-be helpers, and getting a firm grip on Dick with
both arms he gradually forced him down on the unfortunate Brietmann,
whilst Spattboom, his one remaining helper, valiantly clung to Dick's
frantically kicking legs. With a last desperate effort the latter
twisted himself sufficiently to allow his free arm to again swing the
handcuffs, and this time they caught the wachtmeister neatly on the
nose, setting that organ bleeding profusely, and raising the big
Teuton's angry passions to a boiling-over point.
So far, to do him but justice, he had made no attempt to use his
revolver, but now, roused by the blow, and furious at the sight of his
own blood, he immediately released Dick and drew his weapon.
Dick heard the click of the hammer as he cocked it: heard too the
furious Schwein-hund Englander! I'll shoot you dead for that! saw the
muzzle thrust within a few inches of his head, and shut his eyes.
And as he did so the wachtmeister was hauled back by the shirt
collar with terrific force, and flung back on the sand with his neck
almost broken, whilst the bullet meant for Dick's brains sang over the
neighboring sand-dune. A vigorous kick sent Dick's remaining assailant
flying, and he scrambled to his feet to see the professor calmly taking
possession of the half-stunned wachtmeister's pistol.
Enough, he exclaimed, think shame, Brandt, to shoot an unarmed
man! That would be cowardly, and you are no coward! They taught you not
such unbillig spiel at the gymnasium at Munich.
Unarmed! spluttered the wachtmeister, he has the handcuffs and my
nose is smashed! Herr Professor, you must not stand between me and my
prisoner. With all respect, no! Brietmann, you schwein-hund! . . .
never have I seen such a dummkopf! . . . Secure him, I say!
Hold! roared the professor, touch him not till I hear what all
this is about. Besides, the man will kill you! Never have I seen a
better fighter or a better fight! And fair play he shall have. And
explain I saw not the beginning of all this, what has the Herr Sydney
Done, snarled Gilderman, sidling near, his face bruised and
discolored from Dick's first uppercut, done! why don't you see the
thieving hound has stolen the diamonds there they lay they fell from
his shirt, the dirty thief!
Apparently for the first time, the professor's glance fell upon the
red handkerchief with the diamonds, and he picked them up, and stood
balancing them in his hand and looking from Dick to Gilderman before he
Professor, began Dick, finding his tongue again; I am no thief
that you can bear witness. I
The professor interrupted him with a gesture.
So, said he slowly, and it was for this you attacked an unarmed
and innocent man?
Innocent, spluttered Jelder, this is too thick! There lie the
stones, who took them if he didn't?
I did, said the professor.
There was silence for a few seconds, except for a universal gasp of
wonder, which as far as Dick was concerned was mingled with relief and
For here was this wonderful old professor, who had already been a
surprise packet to Dick in several ways, weighing in with a most
finished and artistic lie, just in the nick of time to save him when
everything appeared lost!
You! cried Gilderman, as the professor stood, still holding
Brandt's revolver, and smiling blandly at the group of mauled and
discomfited scoundrels; You?
Yes! he thundered, his jaw setting sternly again. I, I, who you
thought to dupe. I, who have seen through your perfidious plan from the
first ('Oh, oh!' thought Dick, 'that's for the benefit of the police.')
I, who you would have made the scapegoat for your villainy at the cost
of my name and honor I took the stones.
Come, Herr wachtmeister, take your revolver and listen. There is no
need for further concealment. I drugged these men last night, and took
the stones foreseeing clearly that these scoundrels would quarrel when
the loss was discovered and they realized that they could salt no more
nor take back the lying 'proof' they relied upon for their scheme. And
it fell out as I had believed though I did not foresee that murder
would be done before I could prevent it. . . . And I gave them to the
Herr Sydney to guard for me for he was the only honest man among this
crowd of scoundrels and I am an old and feeble man!
The big wachtmeister rubbed his throttled throat feelingly, and
grunted dissent, whilst the accused and desperate quartette broke into
Deny it as you like, said the professor, Grosman swore it with
his dying breath, Junes swore it after he had shot him, Sydney saw the
salting with his own eyes.
The word of a murderer, a delirious man, and a thief against that
of four gentlemen! Gilderman exclaimed, bluffing desperately for the
benefit of the wachtmeister and Brietmann; who had pulled themselves
together, and stood looking with lowering brows from one to the other.
Gentlemen! Lieber Gott! Then gentlemen, if you still persist in
your innocence, it is but of the simplest thing for you to prove it.
The Herr wachtmeister will take us all back to Luderitzbucht, and on
the way, what is simpler than to again test the rich spots from which
you obtained so easily these thousand carats, hein? If you found these
there there will be others, nicht warum? And then I will say that I am
sorry! And meanwhile the wachtmeister can keep the stones. And I will
answer for this last 'theft' I, whose name is worth more than a
thousand such 'gentlemen' as these! And now, Herr wachtmeister or
rather shall I say my dear pupil of the old Muenchener days? I regret
that I have hurt your throat, but I am sure you would rather that, than
be guilty of shooting an innocent and unarmed man who, I am sure, was
first assaulted by these gentlemen.
Ja wohl, grumbled the wachtmeister; that is true, that coward
there struck him after I had seized his arms. Aber donner-wetter, Herr
Professor, why not have told me this there in the tent long ago? It
would have saved me a broken nose from this 'innocent, unarmed'
Englander of yours, and an almost broken neck from yourself! Tausend! I
remember that grip of yours in the gymnasium of old! Lieber Gott! but
the years have not weakened it. And with this devil incarnate of an
Englander to aid you, what had you to fear from six such as these? Why
did you not bundle the whole lot back and have them locked up?
They were all armed, and we were not, said the professor.
Then we will disarm them, said Brandt, and covering them with his
revolver he made Brietmann do so taking away the revolver that each man
carried, and taking not the slightest notice of their protests.
And now you are under arrest, he told them, and at any attempt to
escape you will be shot.
Then blowing a whistle, he summoned the camp boys who, in mortal
fear of the police, had obeyed their first order to remain with the
horses some distance away; and who would have seen the white men kill
each other till none were left, before daring to disobey that order and
told them harshly to bury Grosman, and prepare to strike camp and trek
Dick, who had stood as one in a dream, and let the professor do all
the talking, now shook himself together sufficiently to hand over the
handcuffs to Brietmann who only glared at him and apologized to Brandt
for the unlucky blow he had given him.
I bear no malice, friend Englander, said the wachtmeister, but
you have broken my nose. And some day I should like to meet you in
friendly ringen-spiel, I think I would pay you in full for that blow!
Nothing would suit me better, said Dick eagerly, for he regretted
the blow almost, but not quite, as much as the wachtmeister, and he was
a past master at wrestling. Whenever you like, Herr Brandt; shall we
try a fall now?
Himmel, no! said the big fellow, I have had plenty for one day if
you have not. We must postpone the pleasure.
Dick set about the business of striking camp, and for a time was
fully occupied. Meanwhile his mind was in a whirl. That the professor
had invented a plausible lie on the spur of the instant to save him,
was of course obvious; but it was apparently not all lie, for he had
certainly drugged the wine the previous evening!
But the stones, who had got them? He could have sworn that Junes had
told the truth as he rode away murderer though he was! And Grosman,
would a dying man lie?
He was itching to get near the professor alone, to tell him his own
story, possibly the old man believed him to be the thief although he
had lied to save him.
Altogether the whole thing was a puzzle. Meanwhile he went on with
his work. Tents were struck, packs made up, and pack animals laden, and
soon all that remained of the camp was the trestle, on which, covered
with a sheet, lay the still form of Grosman. The wachtmeister sang out
a brief order, two of the Hottentots rapidly shoveled out a shallow
grave in the sand, barely covering the murdered man. Dick stood by with
his hat off he had barely escaped a bullet himself but an hour before!
Poor beggar, he thought, shot and buried like a dog, and all
because these bigger scoundrels tempted him to run crooked. And he was
some woman's son, someone will mourn him. Buried like a dog!
But it was not so; for looking up he saw the professor, bareheaded,
standing beside the grave, prayer-book in hand; and he stood silent and
respectful whilst the old man read a short solemn prayer for the dead
in his native German.
Then mounting their horses they trotted after the already moving
cavalcade, leaving the forlorn little mound and the dead ashes of the
camp fire alone marking where their camp had stood.
The police officers rode ahead, the four conspirators, silent and
dejected, a short distance behind them, and Dick and the professor
brought up the rear. Gradually they fell farther behind, till well out
of earshot of the others, and Dick at last had the chance to tell the
story of how he found the stones.
Professor, he began, in low eager tones, I cannot thank you
enough for inventing that story to save me. But you must not think I am
a thief! These are not the stones from the box I did not steal them.
I know that, interrupted the professor, but where got you these?
This side the big dune where I first saw Grosman salting two days
ago. They lie there in thousands. I got these in an hour or so.
Now Gott sie Dank! said the professor joyfully. These rascals
then have too clever been, and the ground is in truth rich! Gott sie
Dank! Our trip has not been in vain. But neither the police nor these
knaves must know . . . and we must ride on quick. For I bade them test
the ground again where they salted and that is the first place, and
they must find nothing.
We are nearly there, said Dick, and it's risky. For where they
salted is barely 300 yards from where the stones lie thick. But we must
take them to where they picked their own up and they won't search far
they are too down at mouth for that. But, professor, where are the real
stones? Who stole them? Who has them?
Ach, that is the mystery, replied the professor, and spurred his
horse on before Dick could ask him any more.
An hour later they came to the big dune, the scene of Grosman's
salting, and here Dick, with mixed feelings, stood by whilst Gilderman
made his last attempt at bluff setting the boys to work with sieves,
whilst he and his colleagues searched all around the vicinity of that
last rich find, and, of course, finding nothing; whilst had he known
it, but a bare stone's throw or two away they were lying in abundance.
Dick could almost have found it in his heart to pity him, as the
despairing, cadaverous wretch at length gave up the hopeless search.
Late that evening, as they approached the first waterhole, the
wachtmeister pointed significantly to a saddled horse cropping quietly
near by, whilst as they got nearer the pits, five or six big vultures
flapped lazily away. I knew I hit him, said the wachtmeister
Junes, thought Dick; now if they find he really has the stones
what will happen then?
Junes it was: they found all that the vultures had left of him lying
there by the water, with a ghastly bullet-hole through back and
shoulder. The marvel was that he had lived to ride so far. But there
were no diamonds, and Dick was more mystified than ever. A few
pencilled words, scrawled on the leaf of a pocket-book, again telling
the tale of the salting and naming Gilderman as the chief conspirator,
lay pinned to the dead man's shirt, and the wachtmeister, as he read
it, called out grimly to them to come and look at another piece of
Reluctantly they came closer to the awful thing that had once been
Junes, whilst the police sergeant, long since inured to such sights all
too frequent in the desert read aloud the note, and asked them if they
still denied the testimony of the two dead men. Gilderman in vain
endeavoured to brazen it out, and the wachtmeister, changing his
tactics, forced him and the others to look close at what had been a
face, and identify it as that of Junes.
The terrible plan succeeded, for at the gruesome sight, the little
bravado left in them gave way entirely. Gilderman, physically sick,
staggered away a yard or two and fell in a faint, and Jelder,
whimpering like a child, broke down utterly. Gott in Himmel, he
cried, what a death! I can't stand any more of this! Yes, it is true
we were all in it, but the plan was Gilderman's.
Again the wachtmeister made notes; and in their efforts to stand in
as well as possible, each now tried to further implicate the other,
till the sergeant closed his book and roughly bade them be silent, and
keep their precious tale for the Richter in Windhuk, who would try
As they rode into Luderitzbucht a week later, one of the first men
that Dick saw was Solly, who in the excitement of the past few weeks he
had almost forgotten the existence of. But as he saw the little Jew,
who had stood by him before and who had been instrumental in getting
him his job, he remembered that Solly would expect a full account of
all that had happened, and the question was should he tell him of the
stones he had found, or only of the salting?
However, he had neither time nor opportunity to say anything then,
for encountering the little cavalcade just as the wachtmeister led it
up to the police station, he opened his little twinkling eyes wide at
the sight of the four dejected and most obvious prisoners, gave Dick a
wink which expressed volumes, and made off in a bee line towards the
telegraph station. There he sent a most innocent wire to a small retail
tobacconist in Kimberley a wire that apparently conveyed nothing more
than a complaint as to the quality of certain cigars that Solly had
received. Strangely enough, however, within an hour or two of its
receipt certain gentlemen vitally connected with diamonds and all
concerned in them knew that they had no reason to fear the great
North-Eastern diamond fields, as they had been salted.
Meanwhile the wachtmeister handed over Gilderman and Co. to the
officer in charge at the police station, where they were detained in
common with the diamondsDick's diamonds!
To the Herr Professor the officials were politeness itself, and
thanks to his good offices even Dick was treated with civility
Englishman though he was.
As they left the station they met the company's Luderitzbucht agent,
a most important gentleman, who was looking both flushed and perturbed.
It was evident that news travelled quickly in Luderitzbucht, for he had
already as his first words clearly proved heard of the arrests.
Herr Professor, he blurted out, what a calamity! Most
unfortunate. Gilderman and the others all arrested. Surely most
tactless! Could it not have been avoided? It might have been explained,
but to arrest them all! The company is as good as floated.
Not all, said the professor grimly, looking the excited agent up
and down. Not all, Herr Hauptmann, two are dead. We caught them
Salting, Herr Sydney here and myself, surely it was 'tactless' of them?
A calamity! Truly yes, for them! And, Herr Hauptmann, if the new
'company' has been floated without waiting for my report, so much the
worse for them.
The agent glared from the professor to Dick, as though he would have
liked to eat both of them, but he saw he had made a mistake, also saw
that the thousand shares Gilderman had promised him would never
materialize, and changed his tactics.
My dear Herr Professor, he said, of course you were right. I was
so upset for a moment that I did not quite know how to look at it, but
of course you are right. And the ground then is worthless, is it not
I would not go so far as to say that, said the professor,
cautiously; there has been no real test these rascals started their
salting at once. I leave immediately for Johannesburg to-night. I hear
there is a steamer leaving then and there I shall report thoroughly on
what has happened. Possibly the company will send up a more carefully
chosen expedition again, they have the option for another three months.
In that case, and if they wish me to return, the Herr Sydney here will
take charge of the prospecting.
The agent looked sourly at Dick. You know, professor, the company
like to engage their own prospectors, he demurred.
Yes, and I believe last time you recommended one of them, replied
the professor blandly. Last time the company made a colossal mistake,
prospectors, experts, representatives, all were rogues! Two lie dead
back there in the dunes and four lie in gaol! I want no more of that
kind. And, Herr Hauptmann, if I go, this man goes, if there is a man in
the country who can find diamonds there, it is he.
That's a fact, said Dick to himself, as he realized all the
professor was doing for him.
And now, Herr Hauptmann, continued the old man, as they reached
the agent's office, pay Sydney his cheque and double it, I will answer
to the company.
So Dick got his cheque, and his discharge, and making a straight
line for the bank he changed the former, without loss of time. He had
seen cheques stopped before, and trusted Hauptmann just about as much
as he had trusted the Gilderman outfit.
Then he went to the hotel, where the professor's belongings had been
dumped in the biggest room the building boasted.
Here the scientist called him in, and locking the door, sat down on
the bed and looked at him.
Young and strong, and honest, you should become rich in this
country, where honest men are so scarce, he said kindly. Herr Sydney,
or rather do I call you Dick, for you are young enough to be my son,
you heard what I told the agent? Well, I go to Johannesburg in a few
hours, but I shall come back, I am sure, though whether the company
sends me straight back, or whether they await the expiration of the
syndicate's lease, I cannot say, financiers do strange things, and who
knows what they will do?
But when I come, you go too, and there will be an opportunity for
you such as few men have. You will know for certain beforehand where
the stones lie rich, you can purchase shares as soon as flotation is
effected, knowing well they will become valuable, you can make your
But I have no money, said Dick, my cheque won't last long.
You see that box, asked the professor, pointing to a certain
black, padlocked trunk amongst his baggage.
I haven't forgotten it, said Dick feelingly.
Well, the wherewithal to pave your way to fortune lies in that.
Snakes! exclaimed Dick, with a lively recollection of the last
time that box had been opened.
The professor moved towards it. Dick moved towards the door.
Wait, man, wait! said the professor. But they are harmless.
Oh, yes! I know, said Dick, edging still nearer the door. Pretty
little things, some people call them, like that scorpion you raved
about, before! Here, I say, professor, play the game; I don't want
fortunes of that kind here, I'm off!
The door is locked, said the old man calmly; Wunderbahr! here is
a man I thought feared nothing, a fighter of the best, afraid of a few
Professor, pleaded Dick, as the old man bent over the padlock,
don't do it; I don't want any fortune. Oh, Lord! I shall have two
fits! Yow! Help! there he goes! and as the box opened Dick sprang on
to the bed.
Quite harmless, said the professor, as he flung back the lid; and
but how splendid, wunderschoen, hein? Three new specimens among them of
varieties quite unknown, and the fame will be mine. And the scorpion
you discovered, and so generously gave me! Ach, meine freund, now I can
indeed repay you for your so great generosity. See, then! And with a
dramatic gesture he plunged his hand down among the wriggling snakes,
and groping among them in a manner that made every hair on Dick's head
stand up till he felt like a porcupine, he drew forth a small bundle,
and tossed it on the bed.
Open it, he ordered. No! dummkopf! there are no snakes in it
Dick's fingers trembled as he undid the knots, he knew by the feel
what to expect.
Yes, there they were, the thousand carats of diamonds that had
caused two violent deaths and a heap of trouble already, a double
handful of beautiful little sparkling gems; the very facsimile of those
others that Dick had found and that now lay locked up and confiscated
at the police-station.
They are yours, said the professor. Whose, if not? Gilderman's or
those other scoundrels in gaol? The company's? It has no rights on the
fields yet! The Government's? It has those others you found in place of
these, and to attempt to explain now would bring complications, and
maybe, who knows, place us both in gaol!
Dick was tempted, but demurred.
You see, professor, he said reluctantly, these are not my stones.
It isn't as if they were the stones I really found!
The police will scarcely give you those, I repeat, answered the
other. Lieber Gott, man, say what you mean! I stole them, is that it?
Of course I did, as I had a perfect right to, to bring about what I
did, the confession of these knaves; and but that Brandt annoyed me
with his insistence to search my tent I should have told him then. As
it was, I let that fool Brietmann search, knowing that he would be
frightened when he opened the box. Ach, you brave men! And then, Dick,
Herr Sydney, if you wish? Well, Dick then, what would have happened to
you if they had found the diamonds you had? Just was I in time to make
up the tale I did when I saw you righting on the ground with the
wachtmeister's pistol at your head! Soh if you will, I stole them. Will
you not take them from me? They had yours in place of them; take them,
they are yours. And the one big director of the company in
Johannesburg, to whom I shall the truth tell, he will applaud what I
The professor's arguments were far from flawless, but Dick yielded;
for it had seemed more than hard to see the diamonds he had himself
found handed over to the police and after all, it did not seem right to
let a thousand carats of diamonds go begging for an owner!
And whatever qualms he had vanished at the delight of the old
professor, as he made up the parcel again and stowed it carefully away
in his pocket.
An hour later the professor went on board, and Dick beat up a few
friends, most of whom were dead broke, and proceeded to the Europatia
Hof, the leading hotel, where he ordered such a feast as made the
manager promptly ask for payment in advance.
Satisfied on that point, he proceeded to surpass himself, in so far
as the limited capabilities of Luderitzbucht were concerned, and that
night Dick and four other hungry men made up for lost time. The food
was good, and the champagne that washed it down excellent, and Dick, as
he bade the other men Good-night, and turned away from the hotel
towards his old diggings, felt at peace with all mankind. He had still
twenty pounds in his pocket, he had the professor's promise of leading
another trip to the north-east; and above all, he had a thousand carats
of diamonds tied tightly in a bundle made fast inside his shirt.
Fortune was smiling again, and full of happy dreams for the future
he sauntered down the pitch dark street towards his room, whistling,
and without a care. And as he reached the door something struck him
with a dull, heavy thud at the back of the head, and he fell like a log
on his own door-step.
When he came to himself it was still dark, and for a moment he could
scarce remember what had happened. Then it all came back to him in a
flash; he had been sandbagged. His money was gone to the last penny,
and so were the diamonds.
Faint and sick, he dragged himself into his room and bathed his
aching head; and now he saw, too, that all his belongings had been
ransacked. They waited for me, here, he thought, and he groaned in
bitterness of spirit as he realized that as far as the diamonds were
concerned it was useless to try and obtain redress legally, he had had
no right to their possession!
The professor had gone, there was no one he could turn to, yes,
there was Solly.
And as soon as it was light he went and found him of course still in
Ah, he said, I heard you was having a thick night, and you look
like it. Blued your cheque, I suppose?
Not all, said Dick, but it's gone! And he told him everything.
Blazes! exclaimed the little man, leaping from his bed and
beginning to dress in mad haste. You fathead, you've done a fine
thing. Why, you let me believe the fields were salted!
They were, said Dick, but the real stones were there all the
But, you loony, I should have known this at once! Why, I went
straight and wired to the people who must know these things; the people
who make or break all diamond ventures! My people!
The Johannesburg Company that sent the professor? asked Dick, in
Johannesburg, the professor! I don't think! said Solly with the
greatest scorn. No, the people that control diamonds are . . . a
little firm of tobacconists in Kimberley!
In a desolate and lonely spot near the wide expanse of mud-flats
which form the mouth of the Orange River there stands the roofless ruin
of an old farm-house. Its stone walls, of huge thickness, and the high
stone kraal with huge iron hinges only remaining where once swung a
formidable door, speak eloquently of the time when this remote part of
Klein Namaqualand, in common with the islands and lower reaches of the
Orange River, was infested with bands of Hottentot outlaws and robbers,
and when the daring white man who had ventured among them kept his
scant flocks and herds under lock and key, and guarded them with a
To the south, towards Port Nolloth, stretches seventy-odd miles of
desolate, waterless sand-scrub; eastward lie vast expanses of similarly
dreary, featureless, undulating scrub, beyond which rise the unknown
and mysterious mountains of the Richtersfeld and hundreds of miles of
uninhabited country; westward is the wide lonely ocean; and to the
north, across the Orange River, lie the dreaded sand-dunes of German
It was in the direction of the dunes, gleaming vague and
silver-white in the clear moonlight, that the eyes of the three white
men prospectors who had forgathered in this lonely spot were turned as
they sat, finishing their evening meal, beside a bright fire that lit
up the broken and roofless walls. They had met after months of lonely
wanderings: Sidney and Ransford amongst the mountains of the
Richtersfeld, Jason from long and arduous expeditions along the Great
Fish River and amongst the trackless sands across the river. The talk
had been of the dunes; of men lost and dying of thirst a few miles from
camp; of terrific storms that lifted the sand in huge masses, and
whirled it across the land, overwhelming all it encountered; of whole
dunes that were shifted by the wind, leaving gruesome things disclosed
in the hollows where once they had stood; of diamonds, danger and
Yes! said Jason, there's many a man been lost since the diamond
rush first started: gone away from camp and never turned up again died
of thirst most of them, of course, though I daresay the Bushmen
accounted for some. Sometimes the sand has overwhelmed them and buried
their bodies for ever. Sometimes after a big storm it gives up its dead
as the sea does. I've seen some queer things there myself. Once near
Easter Cliffs, after a terrific storm had shifted all the dunes, I came
across the bodies of a dozen white men, all together and mummified and
wonderfully preserved. God knows how they died and how long they'd been
But the weirdest thing that ever happened to me up there was when
Carfax disappeared. You remember Carfax? A tall, bony, powerful chap he
was, quiet and dour, and with a strong vein of superstition in him.
Anyhow, he was a good prospector and a reliable man, and when the rush
for the northern fields took place about two years ago. He was one of a
party of four of us who had been landed with a few kegs of water and
bare necessities on the waterless coast opposite Hollams Bird Island.
Here we searched in vain for diamonds, the dunes being exceptionally
difficult and the wind that came up every afternoon converting the
whole country into a whirling chaos that it was impossible to see in,
or work in next to impossible to exist in.
On the third evening, after an exceptionally strong gale had nearly
choked, blinded, and overwhelmed us, Carfax did not turn up in camp,
and though we searched all the following day we found no trace of him
not a vestige; for one of the worst things about the dunes is that when
the wind is blowing the spoor is filled up almost immediately with
drifting sand; though peculiarly enough a day or two later the spoor
will show again, when the light sand has again been blown out. He had
only a small water-bottle with him, the heat was like Hades itself, and
we all thought he was dead.
But on the second night of his absence I shall never forget it the
wind had gone down completely, and the long stretches of white dunes
lay clear and bright in the white moonlight. The other fellows lay
asleep on the sand, exhausted, for we had had a terrible day, but I
couldn't sleep I never can in bright moonlight.' And after tossing
around for some time I got up, lit a pipe, and walked over to the
water-barrel to get a drink. Poor Carfax was still in my mind, and I
stood thinking of him and gazing out in the direction in which he had
gone, straining my eyes in the forlorn hope of seeing something moving;
but the dead silver-white of the sand dunes was unbroken by a single
I stood thus for some time, and was turning once more towards the
others when a faint movement in the vague distance caught my eye. Yes!
something or some one was crossing the ridge of a big dune in my
direction! A jackal maybe! No, it was too big for that; the faint form
was certainly that of a man or were there two? I didn't wait longer,
but, running back and grabbing a water bottle, I started off at a run
towards whoever it was.
Moonlight is puzzling sometimes, and I could scarcely make out if
there was one figure or two: one seemed to follow the other at a little
distance. But as I got nearer I could see it was Carfax alone. 'Carfax!
Carfax!' I called out, 'thank God you're alive we'd given you up!' He
made no answer, but came on slowly and falteringly, turning repeatedly
as though to gaze behind. Now I saw that he was in the last stage of
exhaustion: his face was drawn and ghastly, and his cracked and swollen
lips were moving rapidly in broken, incoherent words; his sufferings
had plainly driven him out of his mind. He snatched at the water bottle
and drained it at a draught; then, clutching me by the arm, he pointed
back across the dunes.
'There! there! see! he follows me always, since I found the
diamonds! Look! look!'
As he pointed his face was ghastly with fear, and I too looked
back, expecting to see I knew not what. Was he followed, and by whom? I
had thought at first there had been one following; but no, there was
nothing to be seen. Who could be following him in this desolate place?
But still he clutched my arm, and gibbered, and pointed back, and now
my eyes were playing tricks again: surely there was a shadow! No, there
was nothing there no human being at any rate. Possibly it had been a
jackal. So, soothing him as best I could, I helped the poor demented
fellow back to camp, he with many a backward look of fear, and I myself
with an uncanny feeling that we were being followed.
Well, he was delirious for days; and when the cutter came back to
pick us up and take us to another spot farther up the coast he was too
ill to be moved, so we rigged up a bit of a tent and I was left to
nurse him till the boat returned again. It was a weird experience,
alone in that desolate spot with a madman for company; for though he
quieted down after the others had gone he still had the hallucination
of being followed and watched; and especially in the night, when I
wanted to sleep, he would seize me by the arm and point through the
tent door to the bright moonlight outside. 'There! there!' he would
mutter, 'don't you see him? look at his square-toed boots and brass
buckles. See how his ghastly dead eyes glare! Keep him from me, Jason;
keep him from me; he shall not have them back; he has been dead
hundreds of years; keep him from me they are mine!' And in my
overstrung, nervous state I could have sworn on one or two occasions
that I too saw such a figure.
He gradually got calmer and more himself, and then he told me a
strange tale of what had happened to him in the dunes.
He had been overtaken by a sandstorm many miles from the camp, and
had struggled on till absolutely exhausted, not daring to lie down to
rest lest the fast whirling sand should overwhelm him; and when late at
night the wind had fallen he was hopelessly and utterly lost, and had
thrown himself down in a sheltered spot deep hollowed out by the wind
between two gigantic dunes, and had at once fallen into the deep sleep
Then he had dreamed a startling and vivid dream that had seemed
half reality. He saw three men come down over the big dune to close
beside where he lay rough-looking men in a costume of long ago, with
cocked hats, broad breeches, and buckled shoes; and the moonlight shone
on the brass hilts of their cutlasses and pistols. They took no notice
of him, but, stooping, began to pick up the bright diamonds that Carfax
now saw covered the sand before them. Soon the bag they held was full
and a quarrel arose; for he saw two of the men draw their swords and
fight fiercely, whilst the other, a tall hawk-faced man, stood by and
watched, holding the bag. At length one fell, pierced through by the
other's broad blade; and as the victor stood over him the hawk-faced
man cut him down from behind, and stood, laughing horribly and holding
the bag of diamonds before their dying eyes. And as he laughed one of
them, with a last effort, drew a pistol from his belt and shot him
At the report the scene vanished, and Carfax awoke with a start.
The dream had been so vivid that the pistol-shot seemed still to be
ringing in his ears, and he sprang to his feet, scarcely knowing what
he should see. The air was clear of dust now, and the moon shone
brightly; and by its light he saw a few paces from him a prostrate form
partly covered in sand. He bent over it: it was the body of a man, a
man dressed in a strange old-world costume a dead man, dead hundreds of
years, and mummified and wonderfully preserved by the sands that had
covered him deep through the centuries, until the big gale of yesterday
had lifted the heavy pall. Huddled near by lay two other indistinct
forms; and Carfax, his dream still vividly before him, knew well what
Yes! there too lay the leather bag at his feet! And trembling with
excitement he knelt and plunged his hand into it, and drew out a
handful of big, dully gleaming diamonds. And as he gazed at the
treasure his wrist was clutched in an icy grasp, and turning in terror
he found the horrible eyes of the dead man glaring close into his own.
With a scream of horror he wrenched away his wrist, and, still
clutching the stones, fled madly across the dunes, pursued by the
fearful figure of the long-dead man. Stumbling, falling, on and on he
fled, till the moon paled and the stars faded and the bright sun rose
and gave the hunted man a gleam of courage; but his fearful glance
behind him still showed the grim figure of he who followed.
He could not tell what instinct had guided him back to camp; but
all through that awful day he had stumbled on through the roasting heat
of the dunes, till late at night when I had seen him and gone to meet
him as I described.
All this he told me that night in the tent, now and again starting
and glancing fearfully out and across the sands to point out the dread
watcher he believed hovered near him. I tried to soothe him, to laugh
away his fears, to tell him it was all a dream. And then? Well, he
fumbled in his shirt and drew forth a little package tied up in a rag,
and with many a fearful glance his trembling fingers undid it, and
there poured forth a little cascade of magnificent diamonds far finer
than anything I had ever seen before or since in German West: a fortune
in fact! I sat astounded, for I had not dreamed of this. Where they
came from there must be more a fortune for us all! Then I found my
tongue. 'Carfax, man,' I said, 'this is wonderful! Can you find your
way back? It will make us all rich.' He shuddered. 'No! no!' he said,
his hand pressed to his eyes as though to shut out a scene of horror;
'he is there! No, he cannot be; he is watching here for me he will
follow me always! Oh! Jason, don't leave me alone, old man; don't leave
me; we'll get away together when the boat comes! there's enough for us
both! don't leave me!'
After a time he sank into a troubled sleep; but to me sleep was now
out of the question. Where on earth had he found the diamonds? They, at
least, were real. Had he really found a spot where the terrific gale
had shifted the sand and laid bare a treasure and tragedy of long ago?
Such things might be. I had seen dead men in the dunes myself, and the
overwrought state of Carfax, due to his sufferings, would account for
the rest. If only he could find his way back when he came to his proper
Thus musing I paced up and down outside the tent in the bright
moonlight. Carfax was still sleeping, but uneasily, and muttering a lot
in his sleep. There across the dunes the diamonds must be there
somewhere. He had come from yonder towards the big dune. And almost
mechanically my footsteps wandered away from the tent towards where I
had met Carfax. Here was the spot, here was the place where he had half
scared me with his weird story of being followed, and where I had half
believed myself that I had seen the follower. Here, for the wind had
once more blown the sand from out the filled-in footprints, were our
spoors mine meeting his; here we turned back; but what was this? Whose
spoor was this, that followed upon our own, back towards where the tent
My hair rose on my head as I looked. The ghastly white moonlight
showed the other spoor quite plainly the print of a broad, square-toed,
Every man of us wore veldtschoens: there was not a heel among the
four of us, and as I marveled and superstitious fear crept upon me
there came scream after scream of terror from the direction of the
tent; and as I looked, Carfax, barefoot as he had slept, came flying
from the tent, his ghastly face contorted with horror, glancing behind
him as he ran, and holding out his arms as though to ward off a
Past me he flew, straight across the sand towards the dunes from
which he had lately come, his shrieks getting fainter and fainter as he
sped until they ceased, and the faint breeze that heralded the dawn
brought back the sound of mocking laughter.
Fear held possession of me, for something had passed me in pursuit
of the haunted man, and with terror gripping my faculties, I scarce
dared turn my eyes to where the fresh spoor of Carfax's naked feet
showed in the sand. Yes! It was there: a heavy, broad, square-toed
print following and treading over Carfax's own and showing the signs of
a mad pursuit.
Did I follow them? No! I'm not ashamed to say I did not at any rate
not then. Instead, I walked down to the shore, where the solemn
breakers offered some sort of companionship, and prayed for morning to
come and blot out the ghastly moon and all it had shown me, and save my
The sun came at last, and with it an awful hurricane that equaled
that of the previous week, and I was hard put to it to save our few
belongings from being swept away and from being myself overwhelmed. In
the evening came the calm, and with it the boat; and, thank God! I had
not to face the moonlight again alone.
Yes, we searched; but the storm had changed the whole aspect of the
dunes, and the spoors lay buried under many feet of sand, and well,
Carfax was never seen again!
Jason ended his narrative abruptly, and, rising, lit his pipe with
an ember from the dying fire and stood gazing across the river to where
the vague mysterious dunes of German West showed silver-white beyond
the farther bank. Good country to be out of! he said with a shiver.
Come, boys, you'd better turn in. I can't sleep when there's a moon.
The chance was too good to be missed. For days past the baboons had
been extremely troublesome killing and mutilating the pick of our milch
goats, which had strayed afield in search of food; tearing to pieces
the poor mongrel puppy that had been unwise enough to follow them; and
even ransacking our tent during the few hours we had left it without a
guard. The troop was a large one, and included some of the biggest
baboons I had ever seen; but though daring at times, they were
exceedingly wary, and amidst the labyrinth of broken country which at
the spot hemmed in the Orange River they had hitherto evaded our
attempts at retaliation. And now by sheer luck we had stumbled upon
them. Jason and I, following up some copper indications amongst the
mountain peaks, had turned an abrupt corner and found ourselves within
a hundred yards of their big leader a huge grey monster that stood
sentinel-wise upon a high rock watching us. The tiny black head of my
foresight showed plainly against the wide grey chest of the big brute;
I pressed the trigger; and the soft-nosed 303 sped true to the mark.
The long hairy arms were flung aloft in a gesture too human to be
pleasant, and with a spasmodic spring in the air the baboon fell head-long from the rock, whilst at the report the whole troop, with a chorus
of angry, sharp, staccato barks, fled round the shoulder of the
mountain and disappeared.
I hate shooting them, I said, turning to Jason for the first time
since we had sighted them; they're too human altogether, still Hullo,
Jason, what's the matter?
Jason's usually calm, inscrutable face was absolutely convulsed with
strong feeling: fear, hatred, loathing what was it? He started as
though from a dream.
God! How I hate them! he muttered hoarsely. It was not far from
He shouldered his rifle and turned back abruptly towards the camp. I
did not attempt to stop him; for though the staunchest friend and
comrade, he was of a peculiar disposition; and I knew that he would, if
he wanted to do so, tell me his story when the mood suited him. I
walked over to the fallen baboon, which lay dead, grim, and hideous,
with its chest shattered by my bullet and its formidable fangs bared in
a ghastly grin.
That night by the camp-fire, Jason, who had scarcely uttered a
syllable in the meanwhile, told me his weird story; but let him tell it
in his own words.
The first chapter of my story began twenty years ago. I had just
returned from a shooting and trading trip in Damaraland which had ended
in a stiff bout of fever, and was kicking my heels in Cape Town, when
one day I received a note from the Curator of the Museum asking me if I
would care to act as guide to two gentlemen who wished to follow up the
Orange River from its mouth and possibly proceed up the then almost
unknown Fish River into Damaraland. I did not care about going back,
for my recent trip had been a very rough one; but I was heartily sick
of Cape Town, and so I went round to the hotel where the two men were
staying, taking the note which the Curator had sent me. 'They don't
want to trade or prospect,' he had written me, 'the trip is simply for
scientific purposes. Hector Montrose is an ethnologist of wide repute,
and he wishes to study the race characteristics of the Hottentots and
Bushmen. He is a brilliant disciple of Darwin, too, and has spent a lot
of time and money on several trips to the interior of Borneo and other
remote spots in search of the so-called missing link; and he is, I
know, extremely anxious to get near some of those huge baboons that are
said to exist along the Orange River. His brother John is quite
different, and as long as he is with his brother and there's plenty to
shoot he's happy anywhere.'
I rather expected to meet a couple of old fossils, but to my
agreeable surprise I found John and Hector Montrose both younger men
than myself and I was under thirty then. Fine young fellows they were
too, nearly of an age, and as much alike as two peas. Of medium size,
well-knit, and muscular, they were exactly the type of man for a rough
trip such as that which we were soon planning. For all my scruples went
by the board within ten minutes of our first meeting, and I fell
absolutely under the spell and charm of their virile personalities.
Splendid chaps, both of them: I never met their like. I can see them
now as they sat listening to me. I discussed the trip, and described
the kind of country we should have to cover. Their dark, keen, eager
faces were so absolutely alike that, except when they laughed, I could
scarce tell which was which. Hector, the elder, had had the whole of
his front teeth so stopped and plated with gold dentistry that there
was but little ivory to be seen, and when he laughed this gave him a
strange and rather unpleasing appearance.
Within a week we were on the veld, and two months later were within
fifty miles of where we are sitting now farther up the Orange, where
the Great Fish River runs into the larger stream. It is a wild and
desolate spot to-day, and there are hippo still on the islands, but
twenty years back scarce a white man had ever seen it! We had followed
the Orange from its mouth in a leisurely, dawdling manner, spending a
few days, or perhaps a week, at those few spots where we found
Hottentots or Bushmen. The elder brother seemed to comprehend these
wild men by intuition, and the extraordinary 'click' language which I
had long since despaired of ever learning seemed to him the simplest
thing on earth. Day after day he conversed with them more and more,
until his mastery of both tongues was complete. The natives looked up
to him as a sort of god, and if he had allowed it would have worshipped
him. Hour after hour he would sit conversing with them and questioning
them, taking copious notes all the time and gathering from their
folklore, legends, traditions, and beliefs; and every day, as he became
more engrossed, his brother and I saw less of him. John and I had
plenty of sport, for the country teemed with game in those days; but
after a time, as Hector grew more and more engrossed in the natives,
until he rarely spoke to us, John became anxious, and at last spoke to
me. 'Look here, Jason,' he said one day when we were miles from camp
after klipbok for the pot, 'I don't like the way Hector's going at all!
He scarcely ever speaks now, and he's so queer when he does talk. He
wanders in his sleep a lot, and last night he kept on all night talking
the most abject nonsense about proving to the world that Darwin was
right in his theory of evolution. It's some yarn these infernal Bushmen
have told him, I suppose. I wish something would crop up to divert his
thoughts in another direction.'
Well, something happened only too soon. One day, in passing through
a narrow ravine, we came suddenly at close quarters with a troop of the
biggest baboons I have ever seen. They looked and grunted a few times
to each other, and made off in a leisurely manner, evidently in no
fear. They were the first we had seen, and Hector was all excitement.
He spoke rapidly to the two Bushmen who were with us, and then shouted
some clicking, unintelligible gibberish after the retreating animals.
At the call the whole troop halted, and their hoarse barks came back in
reply. Again Hector shouted, and once again the baboons voiced a
grunting mocking answer that John and I looked at each other in
amazement! 'Look at Klaas!' he whispered.
Klaas was a Hottentot who had been with the missionaries at
Bethany, and spoke English. He spoke the Bushman 'click' too, but
seldom had anything to do with the 'wild men,' as he called them. Now
he stood listening to Hector's shouts to the baboons, and as he
listened a look of the most abject terror came into his face, and he
stood livid and trembling, staring in the direction of the beasts.
Again Hector called; and then a shrill scream burst from the
Hottentot's lips: 'No! no!' he shrieked. 'He is calling them back!' he
gibbered, turning to us; 'they will tear us to pieces!!'
The Bushmen were cowering in fear too; and still Hector, heedless
of us all, called to the baboons; and their grunts came back in reply.
And now the brutes were turning back towards us, and a thrill of fear
came to me too, for there were at least a hundred of them, and a
combined attack would have made short work of us, notwithstanding our
Winchesters. I unslung mine; but John was before me a shot rang out,
and the big leader flung up its long arms and fell dead. The troop
halted, and then, before I could shoot, Hector sprang to where we knelt
aiming and ordered us imperiously and passionately to stop. 'You
fools!' he shrieked, 'you have spoiled all! How can I ever gain their
confidence, how can I ever learn their speech and gain the proof of all
that Darwin taught, if you murder them? Already from these Bushmen I
have learnt much, and can make these wild men [he used the native
expression quite naturally] understand, but much more is needed. Put up
your guns: they shall come back!' Whilst we paused irresolute the
baboons, picking up their fallen leader, made off across the mountain,
in silence and with never a response to Hector's calls.
From that time our leader's conduct became even stranger in fact he
was as a man obsessed. He rarely spoke to us, but spent his whole time
with the Bushmen, wandering away into the mountains and the thick
jungle bordering the river, refusing our company, and no longer even
carrying a rifle in a country at that time teeming with wild animals.
His sole desire was to come into contact with the baboons, but for some
days we saw nothing of them. He offered the Bushmen all sorts of
rewards if they could capture and bring in a young one, but they had
wild tales of raids by these strange beasts; of native women and
children carried off by them, and becoming wild like their captors. At
length, however, Hector's promises had effect: one evening the two
Bushmen returned to camp dragging between them a half-grown baboon. It
was surly, vicious, and so strong that they could scarce master it, but
within twenty-four hours Hector had the animal subject to his will, and
now the Bushmen were neglected for this strange new companion. That he
could make himself understood to it was perfectly obvious; and they
would wander away together, grunting and clicking all the time.
The heat all this time was terrific, and the thought often came to
me that possibly Hector had had a touch of sunstroke. Even his craze
for finding a proof of Darwin's theory could, I thought, scarcely
explain his half-mad conduct! He ate but little; his habits, once so
precise, became careless and in fact almost brutal; and his brother's
pained remonstrance with him only made matters worse. 'The Proof! the
Proof!' he would answer us, fiercely and angrily; 'I am getting nearer
to it every day. What matters what you think or care! But this one is
too young. I must have an old one. He will tell me!' John and I had
serious thoughts of taking him out of the wilderness by force; but
whilst we hesitated the end came.
One night, after a day of terrific heat, we were lying under a
thorn tree on the hot sand, and hoping for the rain that had been
threatening but would not fall. There was a moon; but its light was
fitful, and the dark thunder-clouds occasionally obscured it. Away over
the Tatas Berg Mountains the lightning was flickering, and John and I
lay watching it, and wishing the storm would break for us too. Suddenly
we heard the bark of a baboon from a peak near us. It was answered from
the other side, and soon a harsh chorus resounded on either hand. We
listened. They seemed to be narrowing in upon us. Klaas crept near us.
'Master,' he whispered in a frightened voice, 'they will kill us all or
worse!' We looked at each other in the gloom. It might well be, and we
had better be prepared. Without a word we rose and hurried to the tent,
and there made ready our rifles. Then the same thought came
simultaneously to us. Should we speak to Hector? He had of late used
the smaller tent, a short distance away from our own his companion, the
cursed baboon! We hurried towards it. It was empty. 'Hector! Hector!'
John called out, softly at first, then loudly, frantically. But no
answer came, except that now the mocking din of the baboons seemed to
jeer at us. They appeared to be gathered near us, all together. As we
ran towards the sound the moon burst through a rift in the clouds.
There ahead of us, stark naked, and running swiftly towards the
baboons, we saw the figure of Hector, his body gleaming white in the
moonbeams, and by his side the grey figure of his baboon companion.
We shouted, as over rocks and through scrub and thorns we ran and
scrambled, gaining upon the fugitive. When he was but fifty yards
ahead, he paused and turned, and the moonlight gleamed upon his gilded
teeth as he laughed at us in maniac mockery. Then, even as we sprang
towards him, a grey circle surged round him, and together they came
towards us. For a time we were hard set to beat them off. When our
Winchesters were empty a ring of dead lay around us, and then the moon
was blotted out and dense darkness fell as the thunderstorm burst over
us. Between the peals of thunder we could hear the hoarse barks of the
main troop getting farther and farther away, but to follow was
impossible. We expected to find the mangled body of Hector in the
morning. Daylight showed no trace of him, however, and though we spent
months searching the locality we never saw him again.
Jason stopped, and knocked his pipe out on his boot. I thought his
tale was finished. Horrible! horrible! I said. Little wonder you
hate baboons! What became of his brother?
Wait! said Jason, that is only the first chapter of my story.
John went back to England a morose, sad man. The incident had deeply
affected me also, and we had become the closest of friends. Old Klaas
came to Cape Town with us, and as we saw John waving to us from the
fast receding mailboat the Hottentot said something I never forgot.
'Master,' he said, 'his brother I do not think he is dead! Something
worse has happened to him: Klaas believes he is there in that strange
place the Hottentots have all heard of there in the Tatas Berg, in the
baboons' secret place.'
Well, ten more, fifteen years passed, and I often heard from John.
He had thrown up sport, and strangely enough had devoted himself
entirely to the same scientific research that had been his brother's
bane. Then his letters became fewer and fewer, and I heard nothing for
many months when one day he walked into my room in Cape Town. He had
just arrived from England, and after our first warm greeting he asked
me eagerly if I were free to accompany him again to the scene of our
awful experience. I was free enough, but reluctant. Why revive the
horrors of that awful night! But he persuaded me, and a month later we
were in the same region, and moreover had found old Klaas alive and
hearty. John had become proficient in the Bushman and Hottentot
tongues, as his brother had been; though where and how he had studied
them I never knew. Would he, too, I wondered, try to obtain the Proof,
as his poor mad brother had done? And when we first came in contact
with the baboons I watched him closely. But he betrayed no madness only
an intense interest in and hatred of them. Peculiarly enough, I thought
at the time, although he shot the smaller ones mercilessly I never saw
him shoot at the huge beasts we often saw watching us from the peaks.
He must have noticed me watching him, for one day he turned and looked
me full in the face, sadly and wistfully, as though reading my
thoughts: 'No, no, Jason; never fear, old friend; I shall never seek
the proof as Hector did. And yet, and yet, it is there!' I soon found
that all his inquiries among the natives tended in one direction: he
sought the whereabouts of the secret place of the baboons in which they
all believed. But none could tell him, till one day in the wild and
remote region between the Great Fish River and the Tatas Mountains we
came upon Jantje, an old Hottentot, who told us that he had seen the
place. He had been hunting for honey in the almost inaccessible
mountains of that wild spot, and had one day found himself in a narrow
gorge, looking down into what appeared to be a large crater. The sides
were precipitous except at one spot where a narrow and tortuous canon
made it possible to enter. And here, he assured us, was the stronghold
of the baboons. Huge ones bigger than men, he told us and hundreds of
them. And for a new gun and some powder and shot he would take us to
the place. But he would not enter!
Jantje got his gun; and three days later John, myself, and Klaas
stood upon a mountain-top and looked into the spot he had described. It
was at least five hundred feet deep, and perhaps a hundred yards across
the bottom, which was flat and sandy. Even as we first looked into the
place the baboons, several hundred strong, were surging through the
gorge of which Jantje had spoken, away towards their feeding-ground by
the Groot River. We watched them through our glasses. Many of them were
of a man's size, and they were not like the ordinary baboon.
John was all excitement. 'We will wait till they are clear away,
and then we'll go down,' he said. I warned him that there were sure to
be some left behind. But he was insistent. We were well armed, he
urged, and he could see none. He badly wanted to see the place, and at
last I consented. We each had a hundred rounds of ammunition, and if it
came to a fight the three of us Klaas was also well armed could almost
exterminate them. So, leaving the old man behind, we ventured down the
narrow cleft clinging, scrambling, and occasionally using the rope. At
length we stood in the open arena.
At the bottom there was nothing living to be seen. A trickling
stream issued from the rock on one side, and we drank before starting
to explore the place. We found a piece of tattered clothing, and paused
and looked at each other in dismay. There had been men there! But we
discovered nothing else of importance as we continued our circuit of
the crater. We had been engrossed in our investigations, however, and
when we had finished it became clear that we had started our descent
too late. The rapidly failing light showed us that the day was nearly
at an end. The baboons might return at any time, and to fight them in
the narrow ravine, without proper light, would be madness. Then came a
warning shot fired by Jantje on the height above: the beasts were
returning. To find some kind of hiding-place and lie there until the
morrow was our only hope of safety. Luckily we discovered a sort of
shallow cave that hid us well, with a huge boulder at the entrance that
would if need be form a barrier. The cave might be the sleeping-place
of one of the baboons; but it was our only chance, and we had barely
taken possession before the advance guard of the baboons came hooting
down the ravine and made for the drinking-place. Night was now falling
fast, and it was dark before the main troop entered the crater. We
could only dimly make out their forms, but their harsh barks were
continuous. They did not come near us, and we sat and watched, and
whispered to each other, and waited for the moon, which seemed long in
coming. At last its bright light struck full into the crater, and we
could see the baboons sitting together in a mass at the farther side.
But not for long; for as we waited there was a movement among the
animals, and two long files of them left the main body and came slowly
towards the part in which we lay hidden. Tense with apprehension we sat
and gazed, expecting that they would make a dash for us. They kept
steadily on, however: two long lines of huge beasts a few yards apart,
and between them a bigger one that walked almost erect. Within twenty
yards of our cave they formed into a circle, the big one in the centre.
He was as big as a man! Was he a man? But no, the clicking, grunting
sound that issued from his throat was that of a baboon, though of a
species different to the others. When the moonlight struck more fully
on the shaggy head and face, they looked almost human! How the fangs
glistened in the moonlight!
The gestures of this strange animal became more excited, and the
guttural speech if speech it was more passionate. I heard Klaas
muttering he was praying. 'God have mercy!' I heard him say, 'they know
we are here, they Oh! master, master, hold him, hold him!' But it was
too late: John, with a wild scream of 'Hector! Hector!' sprang from the
shelter of the cave, and, casting aside his rifle, ran straight at the
strange figure in the middle of the circle. Had he gone mad? Who could
save him now? Fast and furious Klaas's rifle and my own rang out, and
in the dense group of animals the execution was so terrible that in a
few minutes the bulk fled back to the farther end, and I ran to where
John lay crushed in the arms of the baboon leader. The vile beast had
its fangs fixed in his throat when I reached them. I fired a bullet
through its head, and released my poor dead friend; and as the
monster's shaggy head rolled back, and the moon's bright rays struck
upon its glistening teeth, I saw with horror that they were of gold!
Author's note: The principal incident in the first part of this
story, the shooting of the German soldier who found diamonds in German
South- West Africa before they were heard of in Luderitzbucht, actually
occurred, and the pocket-book containing the route to the oasis, now
known as Bush-man's Paradise, is still in existence. Names and
localities have been altered, naturally, and the second part of the
story is pure fiction.
Jim Halloran was bored to death. With a natural curiosity he had
drifted into Walfisch Bay, bitten as it were out of the huge expanse of
German South-West Africa, vaguely expecting something out of the
ordinary from such a queer locality. But he had found literally nothing
to do. A few white officials and storekeepers, too slack even to be
sick of their surroundings, and a few degraded families of Bushmen of
uninteresting habits and extremely filthy, constituted the inhabitants.
There was but little game in the small strip of British territory, and
Halloran had made one or two abortive attempts to arrange a shooting
and exploring trip into the German hinterland. Every one had warned him
of the extreme peril from the shifting sand-dunes. Moreover, the war
between the Germans and the Hereros was at its height, and the
lieutenant in charge of the small garrison at Swakopmund had cautioned
him not to venture beyond the limit of their patrols. There was no
steamer for ten days, so that it was a veritable godsend to him when
late one evening he received a message from the same friendly
lieutenant to the effect that if he cared, he was welcome to accompany
a patrol party which was to leave early the following morning in the
direction of the little-known Geiesib Mountains. He might bring his
rifle, as there was a chance of some buck.
Daylight found Halloran in the saddle on his way to the German
quarters. The patrol consisted of ten troopers in addition to his
friend the lieutenant, who explained that two of his men who had been
sent on patrol in that direction a few days previously had not
returned, and that he hoped to find traces of them. What do you think
has happened to them? Halloran asked. The German shrugged his
shoulders. A hundred things may have happened, he said the Hereros
or the Bushmen they may be under one of the shifting dunes or they are
lost and may be dying of thirst who knows?
The heat was terrific: the vibrant atmosphere over the red-hot sand
looked as though it had become molten, and the glare to the eye was
almost insufferable. There was not a breath of air stirring. Indeed, it
was due solely to this fact that the patrol had ventured to cross the
shifting dunes. Later, when the wind blew, it would be courting death
to attempt it.
A few hours' sharp trot brought them to the nearest spurs of the
mountain, where water had been found, by digging in the sand, bitter
brak, but still drinkable, and here they had hoped to have found the
lost troopers. But no trace of the missing men was to be seen. And over
a hasty lunch Haussmann, the lieutenant, expressed his fear that they
might never be found, but would go to swell the list of men who from
time to time had disappeared from their little garrison. In two
years, he said, I have lost nine men. First there were Schmidt,
Muller, and Brandhof, who were lost in the colossal and never-to-be-forgotten storm soon after I arrived; then my orderly Goertz went, and
with him another. Then Kramer yes but Kramer, that was different!
Halloran was curious. What happened to Kramer? he asked. And the
German told him a strange story. Kramer was a queer mountebank sort of
a chap who before conscription claimed him had been clown in a circus,
and his antics and gymnastic feats had made him very popular with his
fellow-troopers. He had been a good soldier too; and when he had become
separated from his fellow-trooper in a sandstorm a day or more south of
Swakopmund, and his companion had struggled through without him, no
effort had been spared in searching for the missing man. But to no
purpose; months passed and he had been almost forgotten. And then, to
every one's surprise, he had one day turned up, safe and sound, at the
camp. He was nearly naked, and bore traces of having lived like a
savage, and the lieutenant believed that he had become affected by his
privations and was slightly mad. At any rate, he had told a strange and
improbable story. Lost in the drifting sands, he had struggled on he
knew not whither until his horse dropped, then on foot, and, with all
sense of direction utterly lost, he had staggered on till tired nature
gave out and he sank to the ground in a dead faint. The storm must have
abated shortly after, for he woke to find himself nearly buried but
with the air clearer, and, somewhat refreshed, he had again moved on,
until, water gone and nearly dead, he had eventually staggered clear of
the sands and right into the arms of a number of Bushmen. For some
reason they had spared his life. Later his acrobatic feats had made him
even popular with them. His story went on to tell of a well-wooded
oasis where the Bushmen lived, with water and game in plenty.
All this is probably true, said the lieutenant, but his brain
must have been somewhat turned, for he declared that in this oasis the
Bushmen's children made playthings of big rough diamonds the size of
walnuts! Kramer had watched for an opportunity to escape, but when it
came he had had no chance of bringing away any of the stones, as the
Bushmen had a vague idea that the white men valued them highly and that
if they knew of their presence in the oasis their refuge would soon be
lost to them. He stuck to his tale, said the lieutenant, and his
great idea was that I should help him to go back with a strong
expedition as soon as his time of service expired, and he would make me
a rich man. Of course, he continued dogmatically, there are no
diamonds in this country, worse luck! so Kramer was laughed at by
everybody. He became madder than ever, sullen and morose. He thought
of nothing but his mad dream of diamonds. A few months previously his
discharge had come, and within a few days he had again disappeared into
the unknown. He had bought a mule, and had gone away laden with water-bags, laughed and jeered at by his late comrades. He had never been
heard of in the interval. But, said the lieutenant abruptly, we must
be off, as we must go on at least two or three hours further east, and
I should suggest, Mr. Halloran, that if you care to do so you could
stay here till our return. You are likely to get a shot here by the
Halloran agreed, and the patrol trotted away over the thick sand
that skirted the mountains eastward. The tale told by Haussmann had a
strange fascination for him. Himself something of a prospector, the
story of the diamonds did not appear so wild and improbable to him as
it did to the matter-of-fact Teuton. He had often wished for a chance
to prospect the slopes of these very mountains, which looked very
promising for gold but diamonds! Was it possible? Choosing a spot among
the rocks where he was somewhat sheltered from the sun and could
command a view of the little pool and its approaches, he sat down to
muse over the story and to await the chance of a possible shot. A
couple of hours passed. The stillness and intense heat combined to make
him drowsy, and he woke with a start to find he had been dreaming of
diamonds as big as tennis balls. Bad sportsman, he yawned. I shall
never get a shot this way, and, rubbing his eyes, he peered cautiously
round in search of game. Not a thing in sight in any direction. Stop!
was that a speck moving on a distant spur of the mountain? The
atmosphere was deceptive, but surely it was some animal approaching in
his direction. He had up till then forgotten his binoculars, but he was
now wide awake and, looking first to his rifle, he got out his glasses
and twisted them into focus upon the moving object in the distance. A
startled exclamation rose to his lips as the field-glasses covered the
moving spot; it was a man. Yes running, stumbling, crouching and at
times almost crawling the object which he saw was a white man, naked
except for a few rags. His desperate haste and the glances he threw
back continually showed that he was being pursued. Even as Halloran
gazed, figure after figure came running into view over the slope behind
the forlorn and desperate-looking fugitive blacks these, and by their
diminutive size he knew them for Bushmen. There were seven or eight of
them in sight. How many more were behind he could not of course guess,
nor did he stop to look, for every manly instinct in his body sent him
flying out of his shelter towards the hunted man. He must shoot quick,
for it was plain the Bushmen were gaining on their quarry. So, shouting
with all his might, Halloran ran forward. A couple of hundred yards'
sprint and they were within range. Down he went on one knee, and crack,
crack went the sporting Mauser. The vibration of the hot air was
sufficient excuse for bad shooting, and it was not until he had emptied
his magazine that he had the satisfaction of sending the leading
Bushman sprawling. But the others did not pause, and as Halloran thrust
another clip into the magazine and ran forward again, shouting and
using some very bad language in his excitement, he saw the leading
figure throw up his hands and fall forward upon his face. He had the
range better now, and was getting near. A second and a third Bushman
fell dead, but the others made no attempt to retreat, and appeared to
be rifling the body in frantic haste. Again Halloran paused, and sent a
bullet into the bunch. Now they were flying away, leaving four of their
number behind them. Shot after shot was sent after them till they were
out of range, beyond the ridge, by which time Halloran had reached the
fallen white man. There he lay, stone dead, with a Bushman's poisoned
arrow between his shoulders and his body already swollen and horrible
from the deadly poison. A white man without doubt, his feet bare and
bleeding from his awful flight, his few poor rags almost torn from his
body by the Bushmen. Though tanned almost black he had been a fair man,
and his blue eyes stared horribly. He was beyond all succour, whoever
he was, and Halloran turned savagely to the remnants of the murderous
band. They had paid dearly. Three were stone dead. A fourth lay dying
where Halloran had brought him down in his flight, and near him lay a
tattered pocketbook. Halloran picked this up. He knew what name he
should find in it before he glanced at the contents. Yes, there was the
name: Heinrich Kramer. It was the man who had gone back for the
diamonds. This, then, was why the Bushmen had followed and killed him
and rifled the body. Halloran searched also, but the natives had done
their work well. Nothing was to be found. However, as he turned to look
at the wounded Bushman, who was in his death-agony, there fell from the
stunted black fingers a pure and flawless diamond, lustrous and
dazzling in the burning sunshine, and so perfect that it might just
have left the hands of the cutter. . . . So it was true, after all!
Half an hour later the patrol came back at a gallop, having heard
the continuous firing. A few words explained all. It was Kramer right
enough. As it was useless following the Bushmen, poor Kramer was buried
and the patrol returned to Swakopmund, having found no trace of the men
for whom they had been searching. In the presence of the men Halloran
had not mentioned the pocketbook or diamond, but that night he told
Haussmann all. The pocket-book contained many details, and although
much was in cypher, the route taken by Kramer in reaching the oasis the
second time was clearly noted. And between them a plan was formed.
Six months later Halloran arrived in Cape Town, having spent the
interim in Europe, where he had made certain arrangements. He was met
by his friend (and partner in the venture) the lieutenant on three
months' sick leave and between them the expedition was organised which
was to make both their fortunes. From Europe, Halloran had shipped half
a dozen camels, and these ungainly beasts, in charge of two Arab
drivers, formed an important item in his scheme. A small tug was
chartered for three months, and a week after sailing from Cape Town the
party landed on a wild and desolate part of the coast a hundred and
fifty miles south of Walfisch Bay. The reason for choosing this spot
was that, according to the directions in the pocket-book, it appeared
clear that by striking inland due east from thereabouts they would
reach the oasis much quicker than by the actual route followed by
Kramer. But they knew it to be a waterless waste for at least four
days' journey how much more it was impossible to say hence the camels,
and hence also the numerous small barrels of water which formed an
equally important part of the tug's cargo. There were four white men in
the party Halloran, his younger brother Frank, Haussmann the German
lieutenant, and a friend of the latter named Haupt. From Swakopmund,
Haussmann had brought two Hottentots who could speak the extraordinary
Bushman click language. These, with the Arab camel-men, made the
actual number up to eight. Each was well armed, for Halloran, though he
hoped to get the diamonds without violence, had a notion that in an
extreme case a good deal could be done by eight determined men armed
with Mausers and with plenty of ammunition. The tug with its crew of
six men was to remain anchored in the little cove, keeping a sharp
look-out shorewards. Halloran had chosen his time well. The windy
season was at an end and there was no great probability of the much-dreaded sandstorms arising. The moon was nearly at its full and they
would thus be able to keep a sharp look-out at night, and travel if
they wished to. Five of the camels were laden with water casks, which
were to be buried at intervals along the route, accurate bearings of
each spot to be taken, and thus a safe line of retreat would be
provided should such prove necessary. Speed was unnecessary on the
outward journey, and the party walked, the sixth camel carrying their
stores, ammunition, and a large assortment of Manchester trading goods
likely to appeal to the aesthetic taste of the Bushmen. And so one
evening as the last flaming rays of the setting sun were being
vanquished by the soft moonlight, the venturesome party waved farewell
to the watchers on the little tug and started on their journey over the
seemingly illimitable sand-dunes. They trekked in single file and by
the aid of the stars and a compass easily kept their eastward course.
The murmur of the surf grew fainter and fainter until not a sound broke
the stillness, the soft footfall of the camels being inaudible even to
the men who led them. Halloran had enjoined silence for some reason,
and he stopped his brother irritably when that usually irrepressible
youth started to whistle feebly. With an occasional rest the expedition
made slow but certain headway during the night, halting for the day
when the rapidly brightening east warned them that old Sol would soon
have to be reckoned with. A barrel of water was buried in the sand, a
bamboo brought for the purpose being planted upright near the spot, and
after a hasty breakfast the tired men were soon asleep under a light
awning carried for the purpose; one man, however, being constantly on
watch. By noon the heat had become intolerable. Roasting in the sun
seemed preferable to stewing under the canvas, and by three o'clock the
party were on their way again. They rested at midnight, and rested
better. The fourth night found them still on the sand-dunes, and by
this time the weird journey was beginning to tell upon the white men.
The silence and mystery of the night, the vast expanse of sand shown so
vaguely in the moonlight, the soft-treading, grotesquely-shaped camels,
which seemed far less real and tangible than the black shadows thrown
by them across the sand, and by day the blinding glare of the sun
thrown back from the all-surrounding sand so fiercely that in spite of
their sun-goggles they were nearly blinded, combined to make them high-strung and irritable. On the fourth night it fell to young Frank
Halloran to take first watch. He had grumbled at it as unnecessary, for
so far they had seen no living creature not even a bird. But though he
grumbled he kept a sharp look-out, for he was conscious of a queer
uneasy feeling that someone or something was watching him in turn. The
moon was bright, but a slight haze seemed to hang over the sand, making
objects a short distance away look vague and indistinct. He could see
nothing, peer as he would into the soft, dim distance, but he could not
shake off the uneasy feeling. Time wore on, half his watch was over.
What was that? Surely something moving? His rifle came to his shoulder,
the report rang out, and his comrades were awake instantly. Nothing
could be found. His brother rated him for shooting at what was probably
a jackal, if, indeed, it had not been pure imagination. But daylight,
though it showed nothing to the white men, showed something to the
wonderfully trained eyes of the Hottentots. Bushman! said Gert, the
elder of the two. The spoor came from the east and led back in the same
direction. Halloran was quite elated. He took it for proof that they
were on the right track. . . .
All this can be gathered from the notes in Halloran's handwriting,
which are to be found in the pocket-book that had belonged to Kramer.
The book had had a strange fascination for him, and he had used it for
his own diary. Indeed, these short and sometimes disconnected sentences
are the only real record of the grim tragedy that followed.
The little caravan got through the sand-belt safely in six days, and
without further alarms from the Bushmen. Then came stony kopjes with
stunted bush, and here and there traces of game and lions. Water could
not be far off. On the tenth day they had found the oasis, and by
sending the Hottentots on ahead with presents they had met with no open
hostility from the Bushmen. There was plenty of water. Halloran seems
to have tried to get the diamonds by bartering goods for them, but for
some days the Bushmen had kept up the pretence that there were no
diamonds there. Then force was threatened and a demonstration made as
to what could be done with eight repeating rifles. Finally Halloran
seems to have laid violent hands on the chief and to have held him to
ransom against the production of the stones. But from this time the
pocket-book speaks best for itself.
August 13th. They have given in. Gert has taken the chief's
message, and they have brought us a skin-bag full of the stones. These
are diamonds right enough fine big stones of eight or nine carats,
nearly all the same size and we are rich men. The sight of them made us
greedy, and we told the chief they were not enough. He told us through
Gert that we had broken our word. Have we? Of course we did not tell
him for how many diamonds we would let him go. Besides, we will give
him all the trading goods in return. He said something to his wives
which even the Hottentots could not understand, but they came again
with a dozen very large diamonds, and we let him go.
I do not like the look of things. Every Bushman has disappeared. Do
they intend to attack us later? We shall water the camels as soon as it
is cool enough, fill our water-bags and start on our return journey.
Luckily we have buried water all the way back, we can travel lightly
What shall we do? They have poisoned the water-pools. One of the
Arabs, the younger Hottentot, and three of our camels are dead.
Lucidly, the poison was swift, and they fell dead before Gert and the
other camels could get to the pool. We must fly as best we may, our
nearest cask is only twelve hours away.
14th. We are resting the camels for a short spell about three hours
from the first cask. We have neglected the camels in our anxiety for
the diamonds. They have had no water for three days. We must give them
most of the first cask. It is awful work riding two on a camel, but we
can get through in four or five days, and then-
I am almost too stunned to write. We found the cask. We had not
thought of its being tampered with. My poor brother Frank drank the
first pannikin greedily, and fell dying at our feet as he drank. The
fiends had found the water and poisoned it. As the poor boy lay dying
in my arms the water ran unheeded into the sands. A camel sucked it up
eagerly. It is dead also. We must on again. Surely they cannot have
found the other casks.
17th. I am alone. The others are all dead all. We tried the water
in the other casks by giving some first to the camels. It had all been
poisoned. They are following us too, but too far off to shoot them.
Gert went mad and drank the water it was so bright and clear. Each time
we hoped they might not have found the next cask; but so far they have
found them all. There are three more. The young German turned back to
die fighting the black devils. We heard him shooting for a long time,
but he must be dead too. The Arab was missing in the night. He too had
gone back. . . . We have dragged on till within eighteen hours of the
coast, but I can go no further. When the lieutenant and I dug up the
last cask we cast lots as to who should try it. It fell to him. I
wished him to sip it only, but once his lips were wet I could not tear
him away. . . . He cursed me as he died. ... I have all the diamonds
now and would give them all for a drink of pure water. . . . Surely
they cannot have found the other casks. I will win through yet. It is
but six hours to the next cask.
Another cask but I dare not. It is bright and cool and clear; but
so were the others! And yet I am dying of thirst. I can go no further.
. . . They are creeping nearer. They know my rifle has gone, and I know
that if I do not drink they will shoot me as they did that other man
through the back with a poisoned arrow. But I will not wait for that.
This water looks so cool and clear, surely . . .
The diary ends abruptly, A week later the engineer and skipper of
the little tug, venturing across the sands in the hope of meeting the
party returning, found Halloran's body by the side of the water-cask.
Near by lay the fatal pocket-book. But the diamonds had gone.
THE DRINK OF THE DEAD
A LEGEND OF BUSHMANLAND
This tale was told me over a camp-fire in lonely Bushmanland.
A wild and desolate land it is, but little known except to the
occasional nomad trek-boer, who in the seasons when rain has made it
possible wanders from water-hole to water-hole with his scanty flocks
and herds; or to the mounted trooper on his long and lonely patrol; or
the even more infrequent prospector in his search for the mineral
wealth that abounds in the district, but which scarcity of water and
cost of transport have so far rendered useless. A land with a character
all its own of wide stretches of low grey bush, intermingled with the
vivid-green patches of luxuriant melkbosch, giving deceptive promise
of non-existent moisture; of level plains, gay with brilliant flowers,
from which long humped ranges of granite rise in serried lines.
A common necessity had drawn two of us white men to a distant and
isolated water-hole, which to our dismay we had found dry and empty.
Neither of us knew of other water within twelve hours' trek, our beasts
were tired, and it was a great relief when Karelse, my Hottentot
driver, declared he knew of good water only about four hours away. I
wondered I had never heard of it before, but Karelse, who knew every
inch of the country, was confident that though he had never been to the
spot we should find plenty of water there; and, sure enough, nightfall
brought us to the place, and there was water in abundance. Here we
shared coffee and biltong, and afterwards sat smoking and yarning by
the cheerful blaze of the dry fire-bush.
The night was wild and stormy, and a cold wind blew in sharp gusts
round the fantastic pile of rocks that rose abruptly from the small
deep pool of black-looking water, sending the sparks swirling upwards
and causing the flames to leap fiercely, whilst the flicker of the fire
shone on the glittering baviaan-spel of the rocks, and the black
shadows danced to the whistle of the wind.
Overhead the sky seemed charged with rain the heavy, hurrying clouds
lowered and trailed and seemed as though at any moment they might
launch a deluge upon the parched and yearning veldt; but the promise
was ever an empty one, for not a drop fell, and the rain-charged
phalanxes sped onward and ever onward, to shed their precious burthen
upon distant and more-favored fields. . . .
Jason I had met before. Like myself he was a prospector, and had
known many lands. He was a reserved, reliable man, who possessed a
habit of silence rare amongst men of our fraternity. Our talk had been
of Brazil, where we had both spent many years of our youth, and almost
unconsciously we had fallen into Portuguese a language we both spoke
It was then that the Other Man appeared. Suddenly, silently, and
alone he stepped from among the flickering shadows of the rocks, so
abruptly as to cause both Jason and I to start up with an exclamation.
By the uncertain light of the fire he appeared to be an elderly man of
medium size, swarthy, weather-beaten, and bearded to the eyes. He
strode to the fire, extended a limp, cold hand to Jason and I in turn
with an almost inaudible greeting, and crouched down by the dying
blaze, his dark eyes bent upon the glowing embers. Naturally expecting
him to be Dutch, both Jason and I had greeted him in the usual manner
by giving our own names in self-introduction. He had made no reply; but
though our hearth was but a campfire in a wild country, we felt that
whoever he was he was in a measure our guest, and therefore we made no
immediate attempt to find out who or what he was. Still he did not
speak. He put aside our proffered coffee, gently but without a word,
and sat glowering and gazing into the fire.
At last Jason spoke to him direct first in Dutch, and, getting no
reply, in English.
Come far? he queried.
There was no sign that the man had heard. Jason looked at me with a
lift of the eyebrow. Then I tried.
Farming? I asked.
Still no answer.
Man's dumb! grunted Jason.
But he was muttering now. Gradually his words became clearer, and to
our amazement he was speaking Portuguese!
Pesquisadores pesquisadores, he murmured, como nos outras dos
tempos antigos. (Prospectors searchers for wealth, like we others of
the olden days.) ... Searching for that which is not yours, but mine,
mine by every right. . . . But you will never find it or if you do your
bones will lie beside those others beneath the black water, where the
dead drink . . .!
His mutterings became again inarticulate. I looked at Jason. He sat
staring open-mouthed at our strange visitor. For my own part I confess
I was puzzled and somewhat startled. Jason's eyes left the stranger
abruptly, and met my own, and mutually and silently our lips framed the
word Mad! Yes, surely he must be mad, this strange man who spoke of
the ancient days in a tongue rarely heard in this part of Africa; but
what was he doing here, here, alone, in this desolate spot, full fifty
miles from human habitation.
And as we looked at each other in doubt and hesitation the stranger
began again to speak, first in broken, disconnected sentences. But
gradually the strange, far-away tone like that of a man talking in his
sleep became clearer and more connected, and soon Jason and I were
gazing at him as though spellbound, and drinking in every word of the
queer archaic-sounding Portuguese in which he told his weird story
fragment, delirium, wanderings of a madman, call it what you will.
... There were Bushmen, then wild dwarf men who shot with poisoned
arrows, and had seen no white man before . . . .
Alvaro Nunes had still five charges for his arquebus, and I as many
for my hand petronel. . . . When they heard the thunder of the powder
they cast aside their weapons and crawled to us on their knees, taking
us for gods. . . . And bearing in mind all that the shipwrecked
Castilian we had found at Cabo Tormentoso had told us of the mine of
precious stones, we hastened to propitiate them in every way. . . . The
gauds we had brought, gay beads, bright kerchiefs, and the like with
these we won our way to their goodwill. They hunted for us; of buck and
of wild game they brought us abundance; but though months passed we
were no nearer that which we sought the mine of bright stones such as
the Spanisher had shown us and the whereabouts of which these strange
black, dwarfish people alone knew. Never could we master their strange
tongue like to the creaking and rustling of dry bones upon a gibbet
more than the speech of humans and time and patience alone showed us a
way. Their man of magic held great power over them. He was of another
race, of our own stature, and with a yellow skin. He had another tongue
than these dwarf men of the bush, and this Alvaro and I learnt when his
suspicion of us gave way and he found that we wished not to alienate
the tribe from his authority. . . . For the Spanisher had said: 'Their
magician, because of his black magic, he alone hath the secret of the
mine of stones like unto those of Golconda.' . . . Little did we fear
his magic we who feared nothing in heaven or earth or in the waters
beneath Alvaro and I, old freebooters of the Spanish Main; but they
others Luiz Fonseca, Jose Albuquerque, and Antonio Mendez brave men,
but ignorant shipmen, they were fearful of the witch-doctor and his
Then when N'buqu, the witch, had heard all of the wonders of our
land across the great water, he would fain plot to come with us and see
all these wondrous things of which we spake. And cunningly Alvaro led
him on day by day until he was all impatient to leave this tribe of
dwarfs, who were not even his own kinsmen. Then when all was ripe he
told him that with us there were no wild lands full of buck for those
who cared to shoot them, that our wealth was in red gold and shining
stones! And at long last he showed the stone taken from the Spanisher
at the Cape of Storms. . . .
At night when the moon was full N'buqu took us to the black
water-pit lying deep and dark at the foot of the rocky hill. Ten
fathoms deep was it and full to the brim with icy water. Many times had
we drank from it, for though all around the land lay parched in the
torrid heat the black water-pit was always full to the brim. . . .
But what magic was this? Here was no water, but a yawning shaft
gaped black and dismal where the pool had been. The shipmen shrank back
in dismay. 'Here is magic!' they muttered fearfully, crossing
themselves. N'buqu laughed. He also had learnt something of our tongue,
and understood. 'No magic is here,' said he, ''tis but a spring from
yonder hill that fills this pool, and it needs but to turn the stream
aside and the water will all drain away. Later I will show!'
From a fire-stick he had brought he lit a torch of dry wood. By its
glare we saw that a hide ladder dangled from an overhanging rock into
the deep pit. Down it N'buqu led the way, followed by us all in turn
the shipmen with many muttered prayers and misgivings. . . . Slimy and
dank was the fearsome place, but the bottom was firm and rocky, and
from it there branched a cavern wide enough for us all to walk abreast.
Gently it led upward . . . and then we stood in a broader cavern, where
the light from the torch in every direction flashed back from a myriad
dazzling points: ceiling, walls, every rock protuberance, even the very
floor gleamed and scintillated till the whole place blazed as though on
fire. N'buqu thrust the torch into Alvaro's hand. 'Look!' he cried, and
smote with a spear he carried at the wall of the cavern. At the light
blow a handful of the flashing points fell to the floor. We picked them
up. They were the 'bright stones' of the Spanisher they were diamonds!
Here was wealth beyond conception wealth beside which the fabled
Golconda would be as nought, wealth untold for us all. But on the floor
among the flashing gems there lay many white bones the bones of dead
men. . . . Wealth, vast wealth for us all, and yet we quarreled there
as to the division of the stones, and as to how we were to get them
away. 'Get all we can at once and flee this very night!' urged the
shipmen. 'And die of thirst in the desert places!' said Alvaro for it
was the season of drought! 'Stay only until we can fill our water-skins,' they counseled. But Alvaro and myself we were wiser.
N'buqu his must be the plan. He knew the best paths back to the
Cape of Tempests, he knew the water-holes; we must be guided by his
counsel. And we forced them to listen. Yes, he had a plan. Three nights
hence we must flee. He would have water ready in skins. Meanwhile each
night he would divert the water, and we must descend and collect the
stones so that we should have enough for all. At night the tribe
believed that the spirits of the dead came to the black water to drink,
and always avoided the spot. . . . And by the light of the flickering
torch we broke down showers of the glittering stones from the soft blue
rock in which they were embedded till our pouches were full and the
torch had burned out. Then we stumbled and groped our way over slime
and bones till we came to the shaft, and one by one we climbed up and
out into the fair white moonlight. . . .
Fools! fools! The shipmen quarreled over the stones the first day.
Alvaro lent them dice and they gambled with each other for their new-found wealth. And as Alvaro wished, they quarreled; and Albuquerque and
Fonseca drew steel upon each other, and there in the sunshine stabbed
each other to death. 'The more for us,' said Alvaro, and we divided the
stones they fought for.
That night we four went again to the black water. Once more we
loaded our pouches and climbed out one by one. I the first, for I was
faint with the air of the cavern. Then came N'buqu. But Alvaro came
not, nor Mendez the shipman. Impatiently I shook the ladder: it was
near dawn. Then at length came Alvaro. He was ghastly in the moonlight.
And at the top he began to pull up the ladder he had climbed by. 'But
Mendez?' I muttered. He answered not, but still hauled the hide rope.
Then I seized him by the shoulder and looked in his face. There was
blood upon him. 'He struck me from behind,' he said; 'my vest of mail
saved me; he is dead. The more for us!' I liked not Alvaro's face, and
looked to my dagger lest to-morrow he should say 'The more for me.' . .
That third night Alvaro and I for the last time descended the black
shaft. Well watched we each the other. He had both dagger and arquebus,
and I my hand petronel and dagger too. N'buqu came not down with us,
feigning that he must prepare all things that we might flee as soon as
we had loaded our pouches for the last time. . . . There he left us in
the black shaft my life-long comrade and I; and by reason of the lust
of wealth that came upon me and because of the fear of that which I saw
in Alvaro's eye I struck him unawares as he knelt for the last gem.
Deep behind the neck my dagger drank his blood. His vest of mail did
not save him from me! ... And turning to flee hastily with all the
stones, I found the ladder drawn up and N'buqu laughing at me from
above. 'Ho! ho! white man, white wizard!' he called. 'Ye who would
show me the wondrous things of thine own land. How fares it with ye
now? Surely thou hast enough of the bright stones now thy dead
comrade's share and all he had taken; thou hast them all! Handle them,
gaze on them, eat of them, drink of them; for of a surety naught else
will there be for thee to eat and drink! Ho! ho! surely the black man's
magic is vain against the wisdom of the white!'
And thus he taunted me, whilst vainly I strove by means of my
dagger to cut footholds in the slimy walls of the shaft and thus climb
to freedom. But the holes crumbled as soon as my weight bore on them,
and after falling again and again I desisted in despair. . . . And ever
the yellow fiend above taunted me, and it was abundantly clear that he
had but feigned to fall in with our scheme the more fully to encompass
our destruction. . . . Dawn found me raving in terror of my coming fate
alone with the bodies of the friend whom I had slain and the shipman
who had been by him slain. Terror had helped to parch my tongue with
thirst, and both shaft and cavern, though moist, were drained too dry
to afford one mouthful of the precious fluid. Yet though longing for
water I knew well that when N'buqu should choose again to direct the
stream I should drown like any rat. The day passed. I heard the
frightened mutterings of the dwarf men as they crowded round the mouth
of the shaft seeking the black water that had vanished; but at my first
hoarse shout they fled, yelling in alarm. Day turned to night, and I
had become as one dead. The ghosts of dead Alvaro and Mendez and a
thousand others crowded round me, gibing, and mouthing, and seeking too
for the black water. Again day, and again night came and went. Still
the water I longed for and yet feared came not. I suffered the tortures
of the damned, and fain would I have scattered my throbbing brains with
that last charge of my hand petronel; but ever as I raised it dead
Alvaro caught my hand in an icy grip and I could not die. . . .
Then again I heard N'buqu, and with him certain men of the dwarfs
he ruled. And in their whistling, creaking tongue I heard him hold
forth: 'Lo! ye who doubted me, thus do I show my power. These other
white gods that came from afar, ye thought them stronger than I, yet
have I caused their utter destruction. But because of the little faith
ye had in me, and as a sign of my power and displeasure, have I also
caused the spirits that dwell in the black pool to take away the water
that is life to ye all!'
Then I heard them moaning and begging for the water, and the voice
of the witch-doctor ordering them to lie flat on their faces and look
not up whilst he forced the spirits to bring back that which they had
taken. Then he called to me in my own tongue loudly: 'Ho! thou white
god! eat thou thy fill of the bright stones; of water thou shalt soon
drink plenty!' And I knew that he would soon move that rock whereby the
water could be diverted back to the pit. But even as he gibed at me,
leaning over the brink, dead Alvaro's ice-cold hand guided my petronel
till it covered the black fiend's body, and the iron ball struck full
and true below his throat. Down at my feet hurtled the body, and at the
report I could hear the dwarfs shriek and fly away from the spot in
Not dead, but dying was he, for his magic was naught against the
weapons of the white man. Yet magic had he, and as he died so did he
curse me and cast over me a spell of terror: 'Thou shalt guard well thy
bright stones, oh, slayer of thy friend!' he shrieked. 'Water shalt
thou have, and yet shall never quench thine awful thirst; hunger shall
consume thee and thou shalt not eat; thou shalt long for death, yet
shalt thou not die!' And cursing thus he died; and his ghost joined the
band of weird watchers in the cavern of bright stones. . . .
And the tribe of dwarfs one by one died of thirst, for it was a
year of fearful heat, and they knew of no other water. Day by day they
came shrieking and praying to the spirits of the black shaft to give
them back the water. Day by day they flung living men into the pit as
sacrifice to join the spirits below, till all, all were dead. Yet could
I not die! . . .
Over their bleached bones the black water again runs. Below,
guarded by the dread watchers, lie the bright stones. Seek not the
spot, ye white men who speak the old tongue, lest ye too watch for
ever; for the place is accursed! . . .
The strange narration ended as it began, not abruptly, but in
Half fascinated, Jason and I had followed every word of the strange
archaic Portuguese. The rhythmic sentences seemed to have had an almost
hypnotic effect upon us, for neither of us afterwards remembered how
and when we fell asleep.
I was awakened by Karelse shaking me. It was just break of day. I
felt heavy, sleepy, and confused, and for a moment remembered nothing.
Coffee, baas, said the Hottentot; and as I sipped it I remembered.
I looked round. Jason was sleeping like a log. Our strange visitor had
gone. Where is the other baas? I inquired of Karelse. He stared at
me, and then looked over at Jason. No, no, I said impatiently, the
old baas that came in the night? Karelse's face was a study. He had
evidently seen no one, though the boy's fire had been not twenty yards
from our own. Had I dreamt the whole thing? I strode over and roused
Jason. He woke with a startled exclamation. His first words assured me
the old man had been there. Damn that mad chap, he said. His
horrible old yarn made me dream badly. Where is he? Karelse stared
from one to the other, his yellow face a queer ashen grey. He was
plainly frightened. Come, said I to Jason, let us go and have a
sluice: there is water in plenty. I led the way to the pool. It had
been too dark for us to see it properly when we had arrived the evening
before. We bent over the dark, clear water. Sheer and black the pit
went down, and it was plainly of great depth. And from the brink the
granite kopje rose abruptly. Jason and I looked at each other, then at
Karelse, I asked, have you ever been here before?
No, baas, he faltered; there is always plenty of good water here,
they say, but the place has a bad name and no one comes here. They say
it is haunted.
What do they call the place? I asked.
Dood Drenk, he said the Drink of the Dead!
THE WATERS OF ERONGO
North-East of Swakopmund, and somewhere where the line that runs the
copper ore down from Otari has a station called Omaruru, there stands a
mass of huge table-topped mountains. At the time of which I write they
were known as the Erongos, so named after a famous chief of the Gainin
Bushmen, who had made something of a stand there against the invading
Damaras that eventually ate up both him and his tribe.
Even in that land, where most mountains are table-topped, and where
the flat plateau above and the plain beneath represent geological
epochs that are divided by aeons of years, these Erongo Mountains are
remarkable; for they have never been climbed. From their base thick
vegetation can be seen crowning the inaccessible summit, and in several
places water flows in gushing cataracts down the steep cliffs that
frown upon the plain on every side.
This mountain had always had a great fascination for me; and once or
twice, in the old days, before the railway came, and when we used to
water our transport animals at these same streams, I attempted to climb
its steep sides, full of curiosity to see what the top might be like.
But I never got within a thousand feet of it, for the crowning
bastions are almost sheer, and would need a better cragsman than myself
Isolated, and rising straight from the plain to a height of about
3,000 feet, it formed a prominent landmark for those few traders or
prospectors who, in the old days, returned from their trips to the
north to Walfisch Bay by this route; and I was glad indeed to see its
huge bulk towering up one day more years ago than I care to remember
when trekking in from a long expedition in the Kaokoveld for it meant
that my long journey was nearly finished.
With my wagon I had as cook and roust-about an old Englishman named
Jim Blake, who had ran away from his ship at Walfisch Bay many years
before, and who had traversed the country in all directions, since
then, as few men had. In spite of the many years he had spent there,
and the fact that he spoke many of the native dialects well, his
Cockney accent was as pronounced as ever it could have been when he
first shipped at Limehouse; and he had, apparently, a wholesale
contempt for everything, and everybody, but himself.
As his employer, he tolerated me, and as he was invaluable in many
ways, I tolerated him in return, but he had one habit that always
annoyed me immensely. In season and out of season he would say: Yer
don't know heverythink if yer thinks yer does!; and I could never
break him of it.
Well, the evening that I speak of, we outspanned under the cliffs of
Erongo, and the oxen drank deep.
We had had a very successful trip, and I felt at peace with all
mankind, as I sat smoking, and watching the setting sun turn the tall
rocks from gold to crimson, and thence through a whole gamut of
purples, violets and mauves to the cold grey of twilight.
Pritty, 'aint it? said a voice at my elbow. It was old Blake. His
mahogany face shone with the effects of the first soap and water he had
been able to use for weeks, for we had been very short of water; and
even his arms showed the tattoo-marks that were usually hidden by the
grime inseparable to life in the desert.
Yes, I answered, it's beautiful, the most beautiful mountain I
know in Africa. I wonder what's on top? I've had a go at climbing it
myself several times but, of course, it can't be done. The Bushmen
couldn't, Erongo himself only had his werf half-way up when he fought
the Damaras. No one has ever climbed it!
You don't know heverythink if yer thinks yer does, sniffed old
Jim; you're wrong. I've bin up it meself!
Rubbish, Jim! I said; don't talk rot. How far have you been up,
anyway? As far as the bottom of the big fall, I suppose?
To the top and all over it, said old Jim. Oh, I knows yer don't
believe. But it's gospel. You don't know heverythink!
No, that's true, Jim, said I meekly, for I wanted his yarn. I
know you sailormen can climb better than I ever shall but how did you
do it? Ropes? Ladders? . . . How?
No, he answered slowly, turning his quid in his cheek, and
spitting with great precision at a blue-headed lizard that had emerged
from a crack in the rock and sat eyeing us. Got yer! he went on as
the small reptile retired in considerable discomfiture.
No, neether ladders nor ropes. If yer reely wants ter know, I were
Oh, you can chuckle, but so it were! Twenty year or more agone I
came here fust. There was four of us white men; me as cook, two
prospectors, and the perfesser.
He was a queer bloke, that perfesser, clever, too, but bless yer he
didn't know heverythink! I'd bin with him a long time, and he used ter
tell me more'n he tole the other fellers . . . a clever sort of chap .
. . but he didn't know heverythink. And he 'ad one great pecooliarity:
he was everlastingly afeard of getting old! He must ha' bin well over
fifty, but he used ter get himself up outrageous young: and when I
docked his shavingwater he cussed most wonderful!
'Cleanliness, and stric' observance of rules of life that is the
only way ter keep young, Blake,' he would say ter me.
Well, in them days, bein' young, I didn't see much in what he said,
and if I got a wash once a month I was werry well satisfied; and arter
a while this 'ere washing business of his got on my nerves. 'Cause, as
yer know, when water's been used fer a bath, yer can't werry well use
it fer anything but washing up, or biling pertaters, or sich like, and
he was the wastefullest man I ever had to cook for. Well, we comes up
here on our way to the Koaka Velt on some kind of scientific trip er
other I dunno, and it didn't matter as long as I was paid and the two
prospectors they brings in gold, and tin, and copper, and all sorts of
muck, and the perfesser was busy 'blow-piping' and 'classifying' and
what not, and every day he gets more 'centrick. Then he gets sick only
a bit of fever, but it laid him out bad for a time: and he couldn't
shave, and he couldn't bath, and that hurt him wuss'n the fever. We was
here, then; jist in this same camp. And when he got well enough to talk
again I took him his cawfee one morning, and sees him a-looking at
himself in a little glass: and he looked fair frightened! He'd got a
week's bristles on, and they was grey, o' course he weren't no chicken,
anyway! And he says to me pitiful like 'Blake, I surely don't look as
old as all that?'
'You've bin ill, perfesser,' I says, 'and it don't make a man look
younger. You'll be all right when you've had a bath there's plenty o'
Well, I could see 'e weren't satisfied, because he gives a bit of a
groan, and looks at hisself in the glass agin. But a day or two
arterwards he was well enough to get up, and when he sees Erongo for
the fust time, with the water a-pouring down that big fall, he
brightens up at once.
'Just the very place the very place. Who knows but it may be true?
Never to be old! . . . Never to be old!' I hears him a-saying, over and
over again; but nat'rally, I on'y thought he was a bit off his napper,
same as half these 'ere perfessers is, wot think they know heverythink!
Anyhow, as soon as ever he was able, oft he goes and bathes in the
stream, farther up, a goodish way from the camp, and a power o' good it
seemed to do him, for he comes back a-looking ten years younger. Next
day he sends the two prospectors out fer a long trip and then he calls
'Jim,' says he, ''ow do you think I look?'
'Look?' I says for I was fair mazed at the look of him, 'why ten
years younger than ever I seed yer!'
'Just so,' says 'e. . . . 'It's true then!'
'Wot's true,' I says.
'The water of life,' says he; 'I have searched for it fer years!'
'Take some quinine,' says I, 'and back yer goes to bed,' for I'd
seen fever patients that way afore.
'You don't know heverythink, Blake,' he says he 'ad a nasty way o'
using that there expression; 'it isn't fever it's joy. For if the
stream below has such an effect, wot will the source be like?'
Well, it wasn't much good taking notice of what he said, but
anyhow, next day 'e'd gone!
The boys said he'd gone upstream towards the big fall, and arter a
while I follered him. As you know, that there waterfall takes a lot of
reaching, but I gets there at last, and there he was a-sitting in the
stream. Lord, I 'ardly knew 'im, he looked so young and vigorous, and
full o' life. He wanted me to bathe, but I'd had a wash on'y a day or
two before, and I wouldn't. But, my word, he seemed to keep getting
younger; and as fer strength, why on our way back he jumped over rocks
like a klipbok I never seen the like! Next mornin' he'd gone agin, and
this time he stays away fer two days, and I gets scared. The
prospectors was away, and there was on'y me and the boys and I couldn't
get 'em to go far up Erongo, for they said it was full of devils.
P'raps they was right them there boys knows a lot though they don't
know heverythink! Third day I gets up early and goes right up the side
o' the stream, till I gets to the waterfall, but no sign did I find.
And I sits there a-pondering, till all of a sudden I 'ears a voice a-calling 'Jim!'
I turns round, and there 'e was at least I s'posed it was him! He
hadn't a stitch o' clothes on, and his skin shone like a babby's. Look
young? Why the only thing I knew about 'im was his voice! And he came
a-bounding over the rocks as if he was made of injy-rubber. And his
face was all a-shinin' it made me think o' pictures o' hangels to see
'Jim! Jim!' he sings out; half a-laughing and 'alf sobbing, 'it's
true! it's true! look at me I'm young agin! I'm immortal!'
'You're naked,' I says, 'and you ought to know better at your time
o' life and in this 'ere 'ot sun too!'
He laughs like a madman.
'Ye old fool,' he says (nice it was, and on'y yesterday he'd bin a
lot older than me!). 'Don't you see it's true? I've been to the top,
man, and bathed in the source there, and I'm immortal!'
'You're barmy,' I says, though I was a bit scared, for never have I
seen such a difference!
'Come with me to the top and bathe,' says he, 'and see fer
'Who's to take me?' I says. 'I ain't a bird!'
'I will!' he shouts; and before you could 'a' said 'Jack Robinson,'
he grabs 'old of me in a clove hitch!
I was strong and a bit useful in them days, but I was like a babby
in the arms of a giant, and he tucked me under one arm and 'eld me like
a parcel. And then well! I know yer don't believe it, but yer don't
know he very think. He jist went up the side of that there cliff like a
klip-springer, catching on to little points of rock, and a-springing
from place to place, as if I didn't weigh more'n a feather; with me
under his arm a-hollering blue murder, and a-lookin' down sick and
dizzy, and a-praying for him not to let me fall! Right up that there
cliff as you can see from here we went, and almost afore I knew what
had happened, I was on top. There was thick grass, and bush, and
flowers, and tall trees and fruit I'd never seen afore, and butterflies
everywhere, and he sat me down jist close to the brink, and there I sat
a-gasping. And then he laughed and what a laugh it was jist like a
trumpet ringing out, and he says again: 'Come and bathe, man, and be
immortal, like me!'
And then he hustles me off into the wood, flustered and frightened,
and a wondering when I should get down to terra-cotta agin. That there
mountain ain't flat on top, its cup-shaped, and it's only the rim you
can see from here; and there's trees and water everywhere, and birds a-singing, and flowers a-blooming and butterflies a-flitting, and if
there'd o'ny bin a nice little pub up there, like wot I knows of there
at 'ome in Lime'ouse, it would 'a' bin Parrydise and I'd 'a' stayed. We
sees no animals and no snakes, and we goes along the banks of the
stream, and at last we conies to a deep pool that bubbled and fizzed up
like soda water, all over.
'The Source!' he says; 'the Source!' an' you could ha' 'eard 'is
voice a mile off; 'the Water of Life! I bathed here this morning look
at me! Come, bathe, old fool, and be young, and a companion fer me, and
we'll stay here fer ever!'
'Course, I knew he must be barmy though 'ow he got me up that cliff
certainly is a mystery! Any'ow, I thought I'd better 'umour 'im a bit.
So I starts to undress; and then I pauses.
'Any beer here?' I asks.
'Beer, what do you want vile beer for, when there's necktie fit fer
the gords to drink?' says 'e.
'Baccy?' I asks agin knowin' he 'ated it.
'Phaw,' he says, 'your filthy smoke what need is there of it?'
'Wimmen!' I says, thinkin' that would be a clincher fer him.
'Yes,' he shouts; 'beautiful nymphs, spirits as immortal as
'I don't see 'em!' says I.
'They are in the water,' says he; 'beautiful water nymphs and wood
nymphs lurks there among the trees! Bathe, fool, and your eyes will be
That settled it. I'd got an argyment fer 'im now.
'Not me,' I says, putting my shirt on agin. 'No beer; no baccy; no
wimmen but a lot o' shameless huzzies a-hiding and a-waiting to watch a
feller bathe! Not me. I go back besides, I 'ad a bath on'y a few days
Well, 'e was that wild I thought 'e'd chuck me in, but I 'umored
and coaxed 'im for I had to get 'im to take me down again; and at last
'e did. How he did it I don't know, for when he took me up, like a kid,
I shut me eyes, and never opened 'em agin till he put me down at the
foot of the waterfall.
'Good-bye, fool,' he said; 'some day you'll be sorry!'
Well, we never seen 'im agin, and when I told the prospectors wot
I'd seen, they told me to put more water in my grog. And at last the
whole outfit went back and reported the perfesser lost or dead.
But I knows better: he's up there yet! Look! see that smoke on the
top? Well, who's a-goin' to make a fire on Erongo if it ain't 'im? You
don't know heverythink, if yer thinks yer does.
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