Diamond Dyke, by George Manville Fenn.
A most authentic-seeming book about the difficulties a pair of young Britons faced when they went to South Africa, and set up an ostrich farm in the dry and largely empty veldt. They had a married couple of the locals to help them, and of these the man wasn't much use. They also had a most sagacious dog, who figures largely in the story. One of the enemies they had to face was lions.
One day they found they needed more stores, so young Dyke, barely sixteen years of age, has to go on a six or seven day journey to the farm of the nearest honest storekeeper, a fat old German, seventy years of age. On the way back there is a serious delay due to a flash flood which took several days to clear. But when they get back they find that the older brother is seriously ill of an African fever. The local people had been sure he would die, and were preparing to move in and take what stock there was. But young Dyke nurses his brother back to health. A little later the old German turns up at the farm, and makes a discovery which would change the fortunes of the brothers for ever.
A very gripping story in the best Fenn style, very hard to put down. It makes an excellent audiobook, of about seven hours' duration.
DIAMOND DYKE, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
QUERY BAD SHILLINGS?
The lad addressed did not turn his head, but walked straight on, with the dwarf karroo bushes crackling and snapping under his feet, while at each call he gave an angry kick out, sending the dry red sand flying.
He was making for the kopje or head of bald granite which rose high out of the level plain—where, save in patches, there was hardly a tree to be seen—for amongst these piled-up masses of glittering stone, lay deep moist crevices in which were shade and trickling water, the great blessings of a dry and thirsty desert.
"Hi! Do you hear, Dyke?" came again, shouted by a big athletic-looking young man, in flannels and a broad-brimmed Panama hat, and he gave his thick brown beard an angry tug as he spoke.
"Oh yes, I hear," muttered the lad; "I can hear you, old Joe. He's got away again, and I shan't come. A stupid-headed, vicious, long-legged beast, that's what he is."
"Hi!" roared the young man, as he stood in front of an ugly corrugated iron shed, dignified by the name of house, from which the white-wash, laid thickly over the grey zinc galvanising to ward off the rays of the blinding Afric sun, had peeled away here and there in patches.
Some attempts had been made to take off the square, desolate ugliness of the building by planting a patch of garden surrounded by posts and wire; but they were not very successful, for, as a rule, things would not grow for want of water.
Vandyke Emson—the Dyke shouted at—had been the gardener, and so long as he toiled hard, fetching water from the granite kopje springs, a quarter of a mile away, and tended the roots he put in the virgin soil, they rushed up out of the ground; but, as he reasonably said, he couldn't do everything, and if he omitted to play Aquarius for twenty-four hours, there were the plants that looked so flourishing yesterday shrivelled to nothing. He had planted creepers to run all over the sides and roof, but the sun made the corrugated iron red hot— the boy's exaggerated figure of speech, but so hot that you could not keep your hand upon the roof or wall—and the creepers found the temperature too much for their constitution, and they rapidly turned to hay. Then he trained up tomatoes, which grew at express speed so long as they were watered, formed splendid fruit, were left to themselves a couple of days, and then followed suit with the creepers. Joseph Emson smiled behind his great beard, and said they were a success because the tomatoes were cooked ready for use; but Dyke said it was another failure, because they were just as good raw, and he did not like to eat his fruit as vegetables cooked in a frying-pan covered with white-wash.
Still all was not bare, for a patch of great sunflowers found moisture enough for their roots somewhere far below, and sent up their great pithy stalks close to the house door, spread their rough leaves, and imitated the sun's disk in their broad, round, yellow flowers. There was an ugly euphorbia too, with its thorny, almost leafless branches and brilliant scarlet flowers; while grotesque and hideous-looking, with its great, flat, oblong, biscuit-shaped patches of juicy leaf, studded with great thorns, a prickly pear or opuntia reared itself against the end gable, warranted to stop every one who approached.
"It's no good," Dyke once said; "the place is a nasty old desert, and I hate it, and I wish I'd never come. There's only six letters in Africa, and half of them spell fry."
"And that's bad grammar and bad spelling," said his half-brother; "and you're a discontented young cub."
"And you're another," said Dyke sourly. "Well, haven't we been fried or grilled ever since we've been out here? and don't you say yourself that it's all a failure, and that you've made a big mistake?"
"Yes, sometimes, when I'm very hot and tired, Dicky, my lad. We've failed so far; but, look here, my brave and beautiful British boy."
"Look here, Joe; I wish you wouldn't be so jolly fond of chaffing and teasing me," said Dyke angrily.
"Poor old fellow, then! Was um hot and tired and thirsty, then?" cried his half-brother mockingly. "Take it coolly, Dicky."
"Don't call me Dicky," cried the boy passionately, as he kicked out both legs.
"Vandyke Emson, Esquire, ostrich-farmer, then," said the other.
"Ostrich-farmer!" cried Dyke, in a tone full of disgust. "Ugh! I'm sick of the silly-looking, lanky goblins. I wish their heads were buried in the sand, and their bodies too."
"With their legs sticking straight up to make fences, eh, old man?" said Joseph Emson, smiling behind his beard—a smile that would have been all lost, if it had not been for a pleasant wrinkle or two about his frank blue eyes.
"Well, they would be some good then," said Dyke, a little more amiably. "These wire fences are always breaking down and going off spang, and twisting round your legs. Oh, I do wish I was back at home."
"Amongst the rain and clouds and fog, so that you could be always playing cricket in summer, and football in winter, and skating when there was ice."
"Don't you sneer at the fog, Joe," retorted Dyke. "I wish I could see a good thick one now."
"So that you could say, 'Ah, you should see the veldt where the sun shines brightly for weeks together.'"
"Sun shines!" cried Dyke. "Here, look at my face and hands."
"Yes; they're burnt of good Russia leather colour, like mine, Dyke. Well, what do you say? Shall we pack the wagon, give it up, and trek slowly back to Cape Town?"
"Yes, I'm ready!" cried the boy eagerly.
"Get out, you confounded young fibber! I know you better than that."
"No, you don't," said Dyke sulkily.
"Yes, I do, Dicky. I know you better than you know yourself. You're not of that breed, my boy. You've got too much of the old dad's Berserker blood in your veins. Oh, come, now: withdraw all that! British boys don't look back when they've taken hold of the plough handles."
"Bother the plough handles!"
"By all means, boy; but, I say, that isn't English, Dyke. Where would our country's greatness have been if her sons had been ready to sing that coward's song?"
"Now you're beginning to preach again, Joe," said the boy sulkily.
"Then say 'Thank you,' my lad. Isn't it a fine thing for you to have a brother with you, and then, when there isn't a church for hundreds of miles—a brother who can preach to you?"
"No; because I know what you're going to say—that we ought to go on and fight it out."
"That's it, Dicky. Didn't some one say that the beauty of a British soldier was that he never knew when he was beaten?"
"I'm not a soldier, and I am beaten," cried Dyke sourly.
"Not you. I know you better. Why, if I said 'Yes; let's give it up,' and packed up all we cared to take, and got the wagon loaded to-night, you'd repent in the morning when we were ready to start, and say, 'Let's have another try.'"
"Well, perhaps I might say—"
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Joseph Emson; "what a young humbug you are, Dicky. Fancy you going back with me to the old dad, and us saying, 'Here we are, back again, like two bad shillings, father. We've spent all our money, and we're a pair of failures.'"
"Well, but it is so hot and tiresome, and the ostriches are such horribly stupid beasts, and—"
"We're both very tired, and disappointed, and thirsty, and—"
"I am, you mean," said Dyke. "Nothing ever seems to worry you."
"Hah! I know you, Dicky, better than you know me. I feel as keenly as you do, boy. No: we will not give up. We haven't given the ostriches a fair trial yet."
"Oh, haven't we!"
"No; not half. I know we've had terribly bad luck just lately. We did begin well."
"No: it has all been a dreary muddle, and I'm sick of it."
"Yes, you often are of a night, Dyke; but after a night's rest you are ready enough to go on again in a right spirit. No, my lad, we'll never say die."
"Who wants to! I want to have a try at something else. Let's go and hunt and get lion and leopard skins, and fill the wagon, and bring them back and sell them."
"Plenty of people are doing that, Dicky."
"Well then, let's go after ivory; shoot elephants, and bring back a load to sell. It's worth lots of money."
"Plenty of people are doing that too, boy."
"Oh, you won't try, Joe, and that's what makes me so wild."
"You mean, I won't set a seed to-day and dig it up to-morrow to see why it hasn't come up."
"That's what you always say," said Dyke grumpily.
"Yes, because we came out here with so many hundred pounds, Dicky, to try an experiment—to make an ostrich-farm."
"And we've failed."
"Oh dear, no, my lad. We've spent all our money—invested it here in a wagon and oxen and house."
"House! Ha, ha, ha! What a house!"
"Not handsome, certainly, Dicky."
"Dicky! There you go again."
"Yes, there I go again. And in our enclosures and pens, and horses and guns and ammunition, and in paying our men. So we can't afford to give up if we wanted to."
"But see what a desolate place it is!"
"Big, vast, level, and wild, but the very spot for our purpose."
"And not a neighbour near."
"To quarrel with? No, not one. No, Dyke, we mustn't give it up; and some day you'll say I'm right."
"Never," cried the boy emphatically.
"Never's a long day, Dyke.—Look here, lad, I'm going to tell you an old story."
"Thankye," said Dyke sullenly. "I know—about Bruce and the spider."
"Wrong, old fellow, this time. Another author's story that you don't know."
"Bother the old stories!" cried the boy.
The big manly fellow laughed good-humouredly.
"Poor old Dyke! he has got it badly this time. What is it—prickly heat or home-sickness, or what?"
"Everything. I'm as miserable as mizzer," cried Dick. "Oh, this desert is dreary."
"Not it, Dyke; it's wild and grand. You are tired and disappointed. Some days must be dark and dreary, boy. Come, Dyke, pluck! pluck! pluck!"
"I haven't got any; sun's dried it all out of me."
"Has it?" said his brother, laughing. "I don't believe it. No, Dicky, we can't go home and sneak in at the back door with our tails between our legs, like two beaten hounds. There are those at home who would sorrow for us, and yet feel that they despised us. We came out here to win, and win we will, if our perseverance will do it."
"Well, haven't we tried, and hasn't everything failed?"
"No, boy," cried the young man excitedly. "Look here: my story is of a party of American loafers down by a river. Come, I never told you that."
"No," said Dyke, raising his brown face from where he rested it upon his arm.
"That's better. Then you can be interested still."
"One needs something to interest one in this miserable, dried-up desert," cried the boy.
"Miserable, dried-up desert!" said his brother, speaking in a low deep voice, as he gazed right away through the transparent air at the glorious colours where the sun sank in a canopy of amber and gold. "No, Dicky, it has its beauties, in spite of all you say."
"Oh Joe!" cried the boy, "what a tiresome old chap you are. Didn't you say you were going to tell me a story about some Americans down by a river? Oh, how I should like to get to a mill-race and have a bathe. Do go on."
"Ah! to be sure. Well, I only want you to take notice of one part of it. The rest is brag."
"Then it's a moral story," cried Dyke, in a disappointed tone.
"Yes, if you like; but it may be fresh to you."
"'Tain't about ostriches, is it?"
"No.—They were throwing stones."
"Yes, from a wharf, to see who could throw farthest, and one man, who was looking on, sneered at them, and began to boast about how far he could throw. They laughed at him, and one of them made himself very objectionable and insulting, with the result that the boasting man said, if it came to the point, he could throw the other fellow right across the river. Of course there was a roar of laughter at this, and one chap bet a dollar that he could not."
"And of course he couldn't," said Dyke, who forgot his prickly heat and irritation. "But you said it was all brag. Well?"
"The boastful fellow, as soon as the wager was laid, seized the other by the waistband, heaved him up, and pitched him off the wharf into the river, amidst roars of laughter, which were kept up as the man came drenched out of the river, and asked to be paid.
"'Oh no,' said the other; 'I didn't say I'd do it the first time. But I kin dew it, and I will dew it, if I try till to-morrow morning;' and catching hold of the wet man, he heaved him up again, and threw him by a tremendous effort nearly a couple of yards out into the river. Down he went out of sight in the deep water, and out he scrambled again, hardly able to speak, when he was seized once more.
"'Third time never fails,' cried the fellow; but the other had had enough of it, and owned he was beaten."
"But it was by an artful trick," cried Dyke.
"Of course it was, boy; but what I want you to notice was the spirit of the thing, though it was only bragging; I kin dew it, and I will dew it, if I try till to-morrow morning. We kin dew it, and we will dew it, Dyke, even if we have to try till to-morrow morning— to-morrow-come-never-morning."
"Oh!" groaned Dyke, sinking back upon the sand; "I am so hot and dry."
DYKE ROUSES UP.
That was months before the opening of our story, when Dyke was making his way in disgust toward the moist shade of the kopje, where, deep down from cracks of the granite rock, the spring gurgled out.
Only a part ran for a few yards, and then disappeared in the sand, without once reaching to where the sun blazed down.
Joe Emson shouted once more, but Dyke would not turn his head.
"Let him follow me if he wants me," muttered the boy. "He isn't half so hot as I am."
Hot or not hot, the big fellow took off his broad Panama hat, gave his head a vicious rub, replaced it, and turned to shout again. "Jack! Ahoy, Jack!"
There was no reply to this, for Kaffir Jack lay behind the house in a very hot place, fast asleep upon the sand, with his dark skin glistening in the sunshine, the pigment within keeping off the blistering sunburn which would have followed had the skin been white.
"I shall have to go after him," muttered Joe Emson; and, casting off the feeling of languor which had impelled him to call others instead of acting himself, he braced himself up, left the scorching iron house behind, and trotted after Dyke, scaring a group of stupid-looking young ostriches into a run behind the wire fence.
He knew where he would find his half-brother, and there he was, lying upon his breast, with a cushion of green mossy growth beneath him, a huge hanging rock overhead casting a broad shade, and the water gurgling cool and clear so close that he had but to stretch out his hand to scoop it up and drink from the palm.
Outside there was the scorching, blinding sunshine, however, and among the rocks all looked black, and seemed rather cool.
"Oh, you lazy young sybarite!" cried Joe Emson, as he came up. "You always know the best places. Why didn't you answer me?"
"What's the good of answering?" cried Dyke. "I can't help old Goblin getting away again. He will go, and nothing will stop him."
"But something shall stop him," said Joe. "I'll have an iron bar driven into the ground, and tether him with a rope."
"No good," said Dyke drowsily: "he'd eat the rope and swallow the bar."
"Then I'll tether him with a piece of chain."
"He'd roll it up and swallow it.—I say Joe, I feel sure he had that curb chain and the two buckles we missed."
"Nonsense! Come, get up, and help drive him in."
"I'm too tired, and it isn't nonsense. He's always on the lookout for bits of iron and broken crockery. I took a hammer and a cracked willow-pattern plate one day, and broke it up in bits and fed him with them. He ate them all."
"Well, of course: birds do pick up stones and things to fill their gizzards."
"And that's just how I feel," said Dyke.
"As if my gizzard was filled with sharp bits of stone, and it makes me irritable and cross."
"And lazy. Come: jump up."
"I can't, Joe. I said last time I'd never go after the goblin again, and I won't."
"Yes, you will; you'll come and help me drive him in."
"No: let him go."
"Nonsense! He's the best cock bird I've got."
"Then the others must be bad ones," grumbled Dyke.
"Get up, sir!" cried Joe, stirring the boy with his toe.
"Shan't. I don't mind your kicking."
"Get up, or I'll duck you in the spring."
"Wouldn't be such a coward, because you're big and strong. Hit one of your own size."
"I declare I will," cried Joe, bending down and seizing the boy by the arm and waistband.
"All right, do: it will be deliriously cool."
Joe Emson rose up and took hold of his big beard.
"Don't leave me everything to do, Dyke, old boy," he said appealingly. "I wouldn't lose that great ostrich for any money."
Dyke muttered something about hating the old ostrich, but did not stir.
"All right. I'll go alone," said Joe; and he turned away and walked swiftly back.
But before he had gone a dozen yards Dyke had sprung up and overtaken him.
"I'll come, Joe," he said; "but that old cock does make me so wild. I know he understands, and he does it on purpose to tease me. I wish you'd shoot him."
"Can't afford the luxury, little un," said Joe, clapping his brother on the shoulder. "Let's make our pile first."
"Then the goblin will live for ever," sighed the boy, "for we shall never make any piles.—Where is he?"
Joe shaded his eyes and looked right across the barren veldt, where the glare of the sun produced a hazy, shimmering effect.
"There he is!"
"Don't see anything."
"Yes, you can. Your eyes are sharper than mine. There, just to the left of that rock."
"What!—that one like a young kopje?"
"Yes, just to the left."
"What!—that speck? Oh! that can't be it."
"Yes, it is; and if you had the glass, you could tell directly."
"But it's so far, and oh dear, how hot it is!"
"It will be cooler riding."
"No, it won't," grumbled Dyke; "there'll be hot horses under you, then."
"Yes, but cool air rushing by you. Come, old lad, don't sham idleness."
"It isn't sham," said Dyke. "I don't think I used to be idle, but this hot sun has stewed all the spirit out of me."
Joe said nothing, but led the way round to the back of the long low house, to where a high thick hedge of thorns shut in a lean-to shed thatched with mealie leaves and stalks; these, the dry remains of a load of Indian corn, being laid on heavily, so as to form a good shelter for the horses, haltered to a rough manger beneath.
As Dyke approached, he raised a metal whistle which hung from his neck by a leather thong, and blew loudly. A low whinny answered the call, and a big, raw-boned, powerful horse and a handsome, well-bred cob were unhaltered, to turn and stand patiently enough to be bridled and saddled, afterwards following out their masters like dogs.
And now as they passed the end of the stable, all the languor and lassitude passed away from Dyke on the instant. For he now caught sight of their Kaffir servant lying fast asleep just beneath the eaves of the corrugated iron roof.
The sand hushed the horses' hoofs, and the Kaffir slept on, with the flies buzzing about his half-open mouth, as if they mistook the thick red lips for the petals of some huge flower.
"I'm not going to stand that," said the boy.
"What are you going to do?"
"You'll see," whispered Dyke. "If I'm to be toiling after goblins, he's not going to sleep there like a black pig. Go on a little way and look back."
Joe Emson smiled in a heavy, good-humoured way, as he took the bridle his brother handed to him, and the smile developed into a silent laugh, as he saw the boy's energy over a bit of mischief.
For Dyke actually ran back to the stable, brought out a bucket of water, stood counting the furrows of the iron roofing, and then carried the pail round to the other side and set it down.
His next movement was to fetch a roughly made step-ladder, count the furrows on his side, then place the ladder carefully, and at such a slope that it lay flat on the roof, so that, steadily preserving his balance, he walked up with the bucket of water from round to round till he could see across the ridge to where his brother stood with the horses a hundred yards away, watching over the big nag's mane, and grasping now what was to happen.
Dyke knelt down now behind the ridge, to which the top of the ladder just reached, and had calculated his distance so well, that upon tilting the bucket a little, some water trickled down two of the furrows of an iron sheet, and began to drip from the eaves upon the Kaffir's nude chest.
There was no movement, so a little more water was poured, and this brought forth a pig-like grunt, as if of satisfaction.
More water—more grunts.
More water, and a shuffling movement.
More water, and an angry gasp; the Kaffir raised his head, looked up at the sky, the dripping eaves—looked round, and settled down to sleep.
All this was invisible to Dyke, but he could tell by the sounds that his shower was having effect; and as soon as the man ceased to move, the boy sent down a third of the bucketful.
This produced a sharp ejaculation, and the man sprang up into a sitting position, and looking angrily round, saw that Emson was standing far away with the horses, and that no one else was near. His next glance was at the cloudless sky, and the dripping eaves, to which a few bright drops still hung and ceased to fall.
Only a rare shower, the man seemed to think; and, muttering to himself, he shuffled a little into a dry spot to lie down yawning, when rush came the rest of the water, deluging him this time, and making him jump up and burst into a torrent of objurgations against the sky in his own tongue, shaking both his fists the while, till, bang, clatter, crash! the bucket came rattling down, and he turned and ran out toward where Emson stood looking on.
Dyke descended quickly, and making a circuit, he ran round, and then appeared slowly from the end of a fence fifty yards from the house, walking quietly across to join his brother.
As he drew near, the Kaffir was gesticulating and talking away in broken English, mingled with more words of his own tongue; and when Dyke joined them and took the rein of his little cob, the man turned excitedly to him.
"What's the matter, Jack?"
The Kaffir looked at him suspiciously for a moment or two, but Dyke mounted and returned the gaze in the most unruffled manner.
"Big rain—big wet rain—big water—big bucket—all wet, wet," cried the Kaffir.
"Make the mealies grow," said Dyke coolly.
"Make mealie grow!" cried the man. Then a change came over him. The look of doubt and wonder became one of certainty, and his face expanded into a broad grin which displayed all his white teeth. "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!" he cried, pointing to a couple of wet patches on the leg of the boy's trousers; "you make rain—Massa Dyky make rain. Wet, wet. Ah-ah-ah-ah!"
"You come along and help drive the ostrich," said Dyke, setting his cob to canter; and, followed by the Kaffir at a quick trot, which soon dried up his moisture, they went over the heated red sand toward where the speck in the distance had been pointed out as the object they sought.
AN OSTRICH RACE.
"I say, Joe, you are right," said Dyke now, with animation. "'Tisn't half so hot riding."
"Of course not. One begins to get moist, and the sun and air bring a feeling of coolness. It's only the making a start. Now then, shall I try to cut him off?"
"No, no!" cried Dyke excitedly; "I'll do it. I'll make the brute run. You follow up."
"Right!" said Emson; "that is, unless he tracks my way."
"Oh, he won't do that," said Dyke, with a merry laugh, and in his animation the boy seemed to be quite transformed.
It was a good long ride to where the ostrich they sought to bring back to its pen could be seen stalking about, looking about as big as a guinea-fowl, but gradually growing taller and taller to its pursuers as they rode on. After a time it ceased picking about and ran first in one direction and then in another, as if undecided which line of country to take before leading its pursuers a wild race out and across the veldt.
By this time it looked fully four feet high; soon after it was fully five, as it stood up with its neck stretched out, and its weak, large-eyed, flat head turned to them with a malicious expression.
The trio now separated, the horsemen riding more and more apart as they advanced, till they were each a couple of hundred yards from the Kaffir, who suddenly uttered a warning cry, to indicate that the great bird was beginning to run off straight away.
"All right, Jack, I see," cried Dyke; and pressing his cob's sides he went off at a gallop, not, however, in pursuit of the bird, which ran right forward, with its head turned to watch its pursuers all the time.
Dyke's tactics, the result of experience, were of quite another kind. He turned his cob's head, and went off like the wind at right angles to the course the ostrich was taking, and the effect was instantaneous. There was all the open veldt, or plain, spreading out for hundreds of miles before the bird, and it had only to dart off and leave the swiftest horse far behind. But its would-be cunning nature suggested to it that its enemy had laid a deep scheme to cut it off, and instead of going straight away, it turned on the instant to spin along in the same direction as that taken by the boy, and get right across him.
"Ah, you silly, muddled-brained, flat-headed idiot!" yelled Dyke, as he raced along over the plain, his steed sending the red sand flying at every spurn of its hoofs as it stretched itself out. "I'll be there first, and cut him off. You can't do it—you can't do it. Ah-h-h-h!"
This last shout, ending in a rattle of the tongue, seemed to stimulate the little cob to make fresh efforts; and laughing merrily to himself in the exhilaration of the race, Dyke had only to keep slightly drawing his left rein, to make the ostrich curve more and more round towards him, till he had actually deluded the bird into taking the exact direction he wished—namely, right for the pens from which it had escaped.
On sped the cob, running over the sand like a greyhound, and on rushed the ostrich, its long legs going with a half-invisible twinkling effect like that produced by the spokes of a rapidly revolving wheel; its wings were half-extended, its plumage ruffled, and its long neck stretched out, with its flattened head slightly turned in the direction of the rider.
And so they rode on and on, till the low range of buildings in front became nearer, the yellow sunflower disks grew bigger, and the sun glared from the white house. Still the bird saw nothing of this, but continued to run in its curve, trying to pass its pursuer, till all at once it woke to the fact that there was a long range of wire fence before it, over which were bobbing about the heads of Joe Emson's flock of its fellows, and there it was with the fence in front, and the two horsemen and Kaffir behind.
Then there was a change of tactics.
Dyke, who was hundreds of yards in front of his companions, knew what was coming, and gave his short-handled rhinoceros-hide whip a whish through the air, and then cracked it loudly, while a chorus of discordant cries arose from the pens.
"Give up, you ugly old rascal, or I'll twist this round your long neck," cried Dyke; and a great chorus arose from the pens, as if the tame birds within the wire fence were imploring the great truant to be good, and come home.
But nothing was further from the great bird's thoughts. It could easily now have darted away, but it felt that it was driven to bay, and began to show fight in the most vicious fashion, snapping its flat beak, hissing, snorting, rattling its plumage, and undulating its long neck, as it danced about, till it looked like a boa constrictor which had partially developed into a bird.
Then it dashed at its pursuer, snapping at him in its rushes. But the bill was not the thing to mind; a few lashes with the whip were enough to ward off its attack. The danger to be avoided came from those tremendous legs, which could deliver kicks hard enough to break a man's bones.
Three times over did the great bird strike at Dyke, as it was driven down to the pen with lash after lash of the whip, which wrapped round the neck, as the head rose fully eight feet above the ground. Then came another stroke which took effect, not upon Dyke's leg, but upon the horse's flank, just behind the stirrup, in spite of the clever little animal's bounds to avoid the kicks.
What followed was instantaneous. The horse whirled round, snorting with pain, and struck out at his enemy, sending out its heels with such violence and effect, that they came in contact with one of the ostrich's shanks, and the next moment the giant bird came to the ground, a heap of feathers, from which the long neck kept darting, and one leg delivering heavy blows.
"Why, Dyke, boy, you've done it now," cried Joe Emson, cantering close up, his horse snorting as the ostrich struck at him with its snake-like head.
"Yes, you had better have left me where I was by the spring," said the boy disconsolately. "I hated the old wretch, but I didn't want to hurt him."
"I know, my lad, I know," said Emson. "I'm not blaming you, but it does seem a pity. What bad luck I do have with these birds, to be sure.—Lie still, you savage; you can't get up!"
This to the bird, which, after striking at him two or three times, made a desperate effort to rise, fluttering and beating with its wings, and hopping a little, but trailing its broken leg as it made for the pen, within which were all its friends.
"Yes, you had better have stayed at home, old fellow," said Dyke, apostrophising the unhappy bird; "then you wouldn't have got into this state.—I say, Joe, couldn't we set its leg? It would soon grow together again."
"If he were one of the quiet old hens, I'd say yes; but it would be impossible. Directly we went near, there would be a kick or a peck."
"I'll try," said Dyke; and going gently toward where the bird lay crouched in a heap, he spoke softly to it, as he had been accustomed to speak to the others when going to feed them. But his advance was the signal for the bird to draw back its head, its eyes flashing angrily, while it emitted a fierce roaring sound that was like that of some savage, cat-like beast. It struck out with beak and wings, and made desperate efforts to rise.
"Stop!" cried Emson sharply.
"I'm not afraid," cried Dyke. "I'll get hold of his neck, and try and hold him."
"I know," said his brother; "but the poor creature will knock itself to pieces."
"But so it will if you leave it quiet," cried Dyke; and then, sharply: "Ah! you cowardly brutes, let him alone."
This was to some half-a-dozen cock birds in the pen, which, possibly in remembrance of the many times they had been thrashed and driven about the pen by their injured king, seized the opportunity of his downfall to thrust out their long necks and begin striking at him savagely, seizing him by the feathers, and dragging them out, till he shuffled beyond their reach.
"His fate's sealed if he is put with the rest; that's very evident," said Emson.
"Killum!" said the Kaffir, nodding his head.
"Let's shut him up in the stable," said Dyke, "and tie him down while we set his leg."
"It would mean such a desperate struggle that the poor bird would never get over it; and if it did, it would mope and die. Better put it out of its misery."
Just then a big rough dog came out of the house, where it had been having a long sleep through the hot part of the day, and after giving Dyke a friendly wag of the tail, walked slowly toward the injured ostrich.
That was enough to make the bird draw back its head and strike at the dog, which avoided the blow, and growling fiercely, prepared to resent the attack.
"Come away, Duke," cried Dyke. "To heel, sir."
The dog growled and seemed to protest, but went obediently behind his younger master.
"I had better shoot the bird, Dyke," said Emson.
"No, no; don't. Let's have a try to save it. Perhaps when it finds that we want to do it good, it will lie quiet."
"No," said Emson; "it will take it as meant for war."
"Well, let's try," said Dyke.—"Here, Breezy: stable."
The cob walked slowly away toward its shed, and the other horse followed, while Dyke hurriedly fetched a couple of pieces of rope, formed of twisted antelope skin.
"What do you propose doing?" said Emson.
"All run in together, and tie his neck to one wing; then he'll be helpless, and we can tie his thighs together. You can set the leg then."
"Well, I'll try," said Emson. "Wait till I've cut a couple of pieces of wood for splints. What can I get?"
"Bit of box-lid," replied Dyke; and in a few minutes Emson returned, bearing in addition a flat roll of stout webbing, such as is used by upholsterers, and by the poor emigrants to lace together across a frame, and form the beds upon which they stretch their weary bones at night.
"I think I can set it, and secure it," said Emson.
"Why, of course you can."
"Yes, but as soon as it's done, the poor brute will kick it off. Now then, how about tying him?"
"Rush him," said Dyke laconically. "Come along, Jack, and help."
But the Kaffir shook his head rapidly.
"Why, hullo! You won't back out, Jack?"
"No. Him kick, bite: no good."
"Never you mind that," cried Dyke. "You rush in with us, and hold his head, while we take his legs and wings. Do you understand?"
"No," said the Kaffir, shaking his head. "Killum—killum!" and he made a gesture as if striking with a club.
"Not going to kill," cried Dyke. "You rush in and hold the head. Do you understand?"
"No," said the Kaffir.
"He won't," cried Emson. "We shall have to do it ourselves, Dyke. Make a noose and lasso the brute's head. Then when I run in to seize the leg, you drag the neck tight down to the wing, and hold it there."
Dyke nodded, made a noose at the end of his hide rope, and advanced gently toward the ostrich, which struck at him, but only to dart its head through the loop; and this was drawn tight.
"Now, Joe, ready?" cried the boy, as the dog set up a furious barking, and joined in the rush that was made by the brothers, who succeeded in pinning down the bird. Emson holding the legs, while avoiding a buffet from the uppermost wing, Dyke slipped the rope round the bone, dragged down the head, and after a furious struggle, the bird lay still.
"Think you can manage now?" panted Dyke, who was hot from exertion.
"Yes; I'll tie his legs together, after setting the broken one. It's the only chance for him."
"Yes; it's all right," cried Dyke; "he's getting weaker, and giving in."
"Seems like it," said his brother sarcastically, for as the boy spoke, the great bird began to beat with its wings with terrific violence, keeping it up for fully five minutes, and giving the pair a hard task to hold it down, while the Kaffir looked on calmly enough, and the dog kept on charging in, as if eager to seize one of the legs, and hold it still.
"Well, there then, he is giving in now," panted Dyke, who had been compelled to put forth all his strength to keep from being thrown off by the violent buffeting of the bird's wings. "Look sharp, and get it done."
Dyke got one hand at liberty now to wipe the feather-down from his face, where the perspiration made it adhere, and as he looked up, he could not refrain from laughing aloud at the row of comical flat heads peering over the wire fence, where the ostriches in the pen were gathered together to look on.
"Yes," said Emson gravely; "he is giving in now, poor brute. He'll never hunt the young cocks round the enclosure again."
"And they know it, too," cried Dyke. "Look at them wagging their silly old heads and trying to look cunning.—But hullo why don't you go on?"
"Can't you see?" said Emson. "The horse's hoofs must have struck him in the side as well. The poor old goblin is dead."
Dyke leaped to his feet in dismay, and stared sceptically from his brother to the bird, and back again and again.
It was true enough: the great bird, which so short a time ago was seeming to spin with such wonderful speed across the veldt that its legs were nearly invisible, now lay on its side, with the stilt-like members perfectly still, one being stretched out to its full length, the other in a peculiar double angle, through the broken bone making a fresh joint.
"Oh, the poor old goblin!" said the boy, hurriedly unloosening the rein which held down its head. "I didn't choke it, did I? No: look, the loop was quite big."
"No; the ribs are crushed in," said Emson, feeling beneath the beautiful plumage. "Another loss, Dyke. We shall find out all his good qualities now."
"Breezy kick and killum," said the Kaffir sententiously. "Bird kick, horse kick; killum—shouldn't kick."
"Here, you go back to your kraal, and set up for a wise man of the south," cried Dyke pettishly. "How long did it take you to find out all that?" "Yes, killum dead," said the Kaffir, nodding. "Bosh!" cried Dyke, turning impatiently away. "Well, we must make the best of it," said Emson then. "His feathers will be worth something, for they are in fine condition. Let's get them off at once."
The heat of the sun was forgotten, and so was Dyke's want of energy, for he set to work manfully, helping his brother to cut off the abundant plumes, tying them up in loose bundles with the quill ends level, that they might dry, and carefully carrying them into the room used for storing feathers, eggs, and such curiosities as were collected from time to time; Dyke having displayed a hobby for bringing home stones, crystals, birds' eggs, and any attractive piece of ore, that he found during his travels. These were ranged in an old case, standing upright against the corrugated iron wall, where, a few boardings nailed across for shelves, the boy had an extremely rough but useful cabinet, the lid of the case forming the door when attached by a pair of leather hinges tacked on with wire nails.
"There," said Emson, when the last plumes had been removed; "what do you say to having the skin off? It will make a mat."
Dyke nodded, and the Kaffir now helping, the bird's tough skin was stripped off, and laid, feathers downward, on the roof to dry.
"Jackals can't reach it there, can they?" said Emson.
"No, I think not. Leopard might come and pull it down."
"Yes: don't let Duke be out of a night; there has been one hanging about lately.—But what are you going to do?"
"Dissect him," said Dyke, who was on his knees with his sharp sheath-knife in his hand.
"Nonsense! Leave it now."
"I want to see the poor old goblin's gizzard, and open it. I know he has got knives and all sorts of things inside."
"Then you may look," said Emson. "I'm going to feed the horses and have a wash; they haven't been unsaddled yet."
He went to the thorn-fence and disappeared, while, hot and tired now, Dyke made short work of opening the great bird, and dragging out the gizzard, which he opened as a cook does that of a fowl, and exclaimed aloud at the contents:
"Here, Jack, fetch me some water in the tin;" and while the "boy" was gone, Dyke scraped out on to the sand quite a heap of pieces of flinty stone, rough crystals, and some pieces of iron, rusty nails, and a good-sized piece of hoop.
"I must have a look at you afterwards," said the boy, as he picked out some forty or fifty of the dingy-looking rough crystals, gave them a rub over and over in the dry sand upon which he knelt, to dry them, and then thrust them—a good handful—into his pocket.
"Do for the collection," he said to himself with a laugh. "Label: crystals of quartz, discovered in a goblin's gizzard by Vandyke Emson, Esquire, F.A.S., Kopfontein, South Africa."
"Yes, I do 'wanterwater,'" cried Dyke, turning sharply on the Kaffir, who had returned. "I want to wash my hands. Look at 'em, Jack!"
"Narcy!" said the man, making a grimace.
"Hold hard, though; let's have a drink first," cried the boy. "It looks clean;" and raising the tin, he took a deep draught before using the vessel for a good wash, taking a handful of sand in the place of soap.
"Find the knife?" said Emson, coming back from the stable.
"No, but look here," cried Dyke, pointing to the great piece of hoop-iron. "Fancy a bird swallowing that."
"Iron is good for birds, I suppose," said Emson quietly.—"Here, Jack, drag that bird right away off; remember, a good way. Mind, I don't want the jackals too close to-night."
The Kaffir nodded, seized the bird's legs as if they were the shafts of a cart or handles of a wheelbarrow.
The load was heavy, though, and he shook his head, with reason, for such a bird weighed three hundred pounds, and it spoke well for its leg muscles that it could go at the rate of forty or fifty miles an hour.
"Too big," grumbled Jack; so Dyke seized one of the legs, and together they walked away with the dead bird, dragging it quite a quarter of a mile out beyond the ostrich-pens, ready for the jackals to come and play scavenger. After which Dyke returned to his brother, and they went in to where Tanta Sal, Jack's wife, had prepared a substantial meal.
"You're a dissatisfied young dog, Dyke," cried Joe Emson good-humouredly, as he smiled down from his high horse at his brother; "always grumbling."
"I'm not," cried Dyke indignantly.
"You are, boy. Just as if any one could be low-spirited when he is young and strong, out in this wide free place on such a lovely morning."
"It's all right enough now," replied Dyke, "because it's early and cool; but it is so horribly lonely."
"Lonely! Why, I'm always with you," cried Emson—"the best of company. Then you've Jack and Tanta Sal, and Duke, and Breezy, and all the ostriches for pets, and the oxen; while, if you want more company, there's old Oom Schlagen out one way, and old Morgenstern out the other."
"Ugh! Stupid old Boers!" cried Dyke.
"Well, they're civil to you, and that's more than Oom Schlagen is to me. It's because you have got that Dutch name. I say, father meant you to be a painter, I'll be bound, and here you are, an ostrich-farmer."
"Oh yes, and we're going to be very rich when the birds are all dead."
"And they seem as if they meant to die, all of them," said Emson sadly, as he rode along by his brother, each with his rifle across his saddle-bow. "I don't seem to have got hold of the right way of managing them, Dyke: we must follow nature more by watching the habits of the wild ones. I have tried so hard, too."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Dyke merrily. "Who's grumbling now!"
"That's better, and more like yourself, old fellow," said Emson, smiling down pleasantly. "That's more like the light-hearted chap who promised to stick to and help me like a brother should. You hurt me, Dyke, when you turn so low-spirited and sulky. I've plenty of troubles, though I say little, over my venture here; and when I see you so down, it worries me more than I can say."
They rode on over the open veldt that glorious morning in silence for some minutes, and Dyke looked down at his horse's mane.
"It makes me feel that I have done wrong in bringing a bright, happy lad away from home and his studies to this wild solitary place. I ought to have known better, and that it was not natural for a boy like you to feel the hard stern determination to get on that I, ten years older, possessed. I ought to have known that, as soon as the novelty had passed away, you would begin to long for change. Father did warn me, but I said to him: 'I'm a man, and he's only a boy; but we've been together so much, and always been companions, Dyke and I can't help getting on together.'"
"And we can't," cried the boy in a husky voice. "Don't, please don't, Joe, old chap; I can't bear it. I've been a beast."
"Oh, come, come," cried Emson, leaning over to clap him on the shoulder; "I didn't mean to upset you like that."
"But I'm glad you have," cried Dyke in half-suffocated tones. "I know well enough I have been a beast to you, Joe, and the more quiet and patient you've been with me, the worse I've got, till I quite hate myself."
"Oh no, not so bad as that."
"Yes," cried Dyke excitedly, "it's been worse; and all the while you've been the dear, good old chap to me; just the same as it always was when I was little, and grew tired and cross when we were out, and you took me up on your back and carried me miles and miles home."
"Why, of course I did," said Emson, smiling.
"There's no of course in it. I was always petty and disagreeable, and ready to impose on your good-nature; but you never had an unkind word for me."
"Well, you were such a little one, and I was always so big."
"I can see it all, Joe, and it's made me miserable many a time; but the kinder you've been, the worse it has made me. You and father always spoiled and petted me."
"Not we. Only kind to you, because we liked you. I say, Dyke, what games we used to have! You see, I never had a brother till you came. There, it's all right. Now then for a canter."
"Not yet," said Dyke. "I feel as if I could talk to you this morning."
"But you have talked, and it's all over now; so come along."
"No," cried Dyke firmly, and he caught his brother's rein.
"I say, old chap, are you the boss here, or am I?"
"I am, this morning," said the boy, looking up in his brother's big manly face. "I want you to listen to me."
"Well, go ahead then, and let's get it over."
"It's been like this, Joe. I've got in a bad way of thinking lately. It's all been so disappointing, and no matter what one did, nothing came right."
"Yes, that's true enough, old chap," said Emson, rather drearily; "and we have tried precious hard."
"You have, Joe, and I've been a regular sulky, disappointed sort of brute."
"Coat been a bit rough, Dyke, old chap, eh? Out of sorts."
"I suppose in my head; but, Joe, I am sorry—I can't say it as I should like to, but I—I will try now."
"Just as if I didn't know. We've been chums so long, old man, ever since you first took to me when I was a big stupid fellow, all legs like a colt, and as ugly, and you were a pretty little golden-haired chap, always wanting to stick your soft chubby little fist in my big paw. There, it's all right. Old times again, old un, and we're going to do it yet, eh?"
"And you'll forgive me, Joe?" said Dyke earnestly.
"Forgive you?" cried Emson, looking at his brother with his big pleasant manly face all in wrinkles. "Get along with you! What is there to forgive?"
"I will try now and help you, Joe; I will, indeed."
"Of course you will, old chap," cried Joe, a little huskily too; "and if you and I can't win yet, in spite of the hot sun and the disease and the wicked ways of those jolly old stilt-stalkers, nobody can."
"Yes, we will win, Joe," cried Dyke enthusiastically.
"That's your sort!" cried Emson. "We'll have a good long try, and if the ostriches don't pay, we'll hunt, as, I know, we've got plenty of room out here: we'll have an elephant farm instead, and grow ivory, and have a big warehouse for making potted elephant to send and sell at home for a breakfast appetiser. Who's going to give up, eh? Now, then, what about this canter? The horses want a breather—they're getting fidgety. I say, feel better now, old chap, don't you?"
Dyke pinched his lips together and nodded shortly.
"So do I.—Here! What's that?"
He checked his horse, and pointed far away in the distance.
"Ostrich!" cried Dyke.
"Yes, I saw her rise and start off! My word! how she is going. I can see the spot where she got up, and must keep my eyes on it. There's a nest there, for a pound. That means luck this morning. Come along steady. Lucky I brought the net. Why, Dyke, old chap, the tide's going to turn, and we shall do it yet."
"But the goblin's dead."
"Good job, too. There's as good ostriches in the desert as ever came out, though they are fowl instead of fish. It's my belief we shall snatch out of that nest a better game-cock bird than ever the goblin was, and without his temper. Come along."
Dyke felt glad of the incident occurring when it did, for his mind was in a peculiar state just then. His feelings were mingled. He felt relieved and satisfied by having shifted something off his mind, but at the same time there would come a sense of false shame, and a fancy that he had behaved childishly, when it was as brave and manly a speech—that confession—as ever came from his lips.
All the same, on they rode. And now the sky looked brighter; there seemed to be an elasticity in the air. Breezy had never carried Dyke so well before, and a sensation came over him, making him feel that he must shout and sing and slacken his rein, and gallop as hard as the cob could go.
"Yohoy there! steady, lad," cried Emson; "not so fast, or I shall lose the spot. It's hard work, little un, keeping your eye on anything, with the horse pitching you up and down."
Hard work, indeed, for there was no tree, bush, or hillock out in the direction they were taking, and by which the young Englishman could mark down the spot where he imagined the nest to be.
So Dyke slackened speed, and with his heart throbbing in a pleasantly exhilarated fashion, he rode steadily on beside his brother, feeling as if the big fellow were the boy once more whom as a child he used to tease and be chased playfully in return. Emson's way of speaking, too, enhanced the feeling.
"I say, little un," he cried, "what a game if there's no nest after all. You won't be disappointed, will you?"
"Of course not."
"'Member me climbing the big elm at the bottom of the home-close to get the mag's nest?"
"To be sure I do."
"Didn't think we two would ever go bird's-nesting in Africa then, did we?"
"No; but do you think there is a nest out yonder, Joe?"
"I do," cried Emson, "I've seen several hen birds about the last few days; but I never could make out which way they came or went. I've been on the lookout, too, for one rising from the ground."
"But is this a likely place for a nest?"
"Well, isn't it? I should say it's the very spot. Now, just look: here we are in an open plain, where a bird can squat down in the sand and look around for twenty miles—if she can see so far—in every direction, and see danger coming, whether it's a man, a lion, or a jackal, and shuffle off her nest, and make tracks long before whatever it is gets near enough to make out where she rose. Of course I don't know whether we shall find the nest, if there is one. It's hard enough to find a lark's or a partridge's nest at home in an open field of forty or fifty acres; so of course, big though the nest is, and the bird, it's a deal harder, out in a field hundreds of miles square, eh?"
"Of course it is."
"'Scuse my not looking round at you when I'm speaking, old chap; but if I take my eye off the spot, I shall never find it again."
"I say, don't be so jolly particular, Joe," cried Dyke, laughing.
"Why not? It's just what you and I ought to be," said the big fellow with simple earnestness. "We're out here in a savage land, but we don't want to grow into savages, nor yet to be as blunt and gruff as two bears. I'm not going to forget that the dear old governor at home is a gentleman, even if his sons do rough it out here."
"Till they're regular ruffians, Joe.—I say: see the nest?"
"Oh no; it's a mile away yet."
"Then there isn't one. You couldn't have seen it at all that distance."
"I never said I could see the nest, did I? It was enough for me that I've seen the birds about, and that I caught sight of that one making off this morning. We call them stupid, and they are in some things; but they're precious cunning in others."
"But if they were only feeding?"
"Why, then, there's no nest. But I say breeding, and not feeding; and that's rhyme if you take it in time, as the old woman said."
"But you talked about hen birds. Then there may be more than one nest?"
"Not here. Why, you know how a lot of them lay in the same nest."
"At home, shut up in pens, but not on the veldt."
"Why, of course they do, and 'tis their nature to, like the bears and lions in Dr Watts. You don't know everything quite yet, old chap. If you took the glass, and came and lay out here for two or three days and nights, and always supposing the birds didn't see you—because if they did they'd be deserting the nest and go somewhere else—you'd see first one hen come to lay and then another, perhaps six of them; and when they'd packed the nest as full as it would hold, with the sand banked up round the eggs to keep them tight in their places with the points downwards, so as to be close, you'd see hen after hen come and take her turn, sitting all day, while the cock bird comes at nights and takes his turn, because he's bigger and stronger, and better able to pitch into the prowling jackals."
"How did you know all this, Joe?"
"Partly observation, partly from what I've heard Jack say," replied Emson modestly. "Everything comes in useful. I daresay you won't repent saving up all those odds and ends of stones and shells and eggs you've got at home."
"Why, I often thought you'd feel they were a nuisance, Joe. I did see you laugh at them more than once."
"Smile, old man, smile—that's all. I like it. You might grow a regular museum out of small beginnings like that."
"Then we ought to have stuffed the goblin," cried Dyke merrily.
"Oh, come, no; that wouldn't do. Our tin house isn't the British Museum; but I would go on collecting bits of ore and things. You may find something worth having one of these days, besides picking up a lot of knowledge. I'd put that piece of old iron the ostrich swallowed along with the rest."
"Yes; but now let's have all eyes, and no tongues, old chap. We are getting near where that bird got up off the nest."
"If there was one."
"If there was one," assented Emson. "Now then: think you're mushrooming out in the old field at home, and see if you can't find the nest. Move off now a couple of hundred yards, and keep your eyes open."
Dyke followed out his brother's advice, and for the next hour they rode over the ground here and there, to and fro, and across and across, scanning the sandy depressions, till Emson suddenly drew rein, and shouted to Dyke, who was a quarter of a mile away.
Dyke sent his cob off at a gallop and joined him.
"Found it?" he cried excitedly.
"No, old fellow. It's a failure this time. Man wants sharp eyes to get the better of an ostrich. I made sure we should get it, but we're done. We've been over the ground times enough, and it's of no use."
"What! give up?" cried Dyke merrily. "Didn't say we'd find it the first time, but I mean to have that nest, if I try till to-morrow morning."
"Well done, little un," shouted Emson, laughing. "That's the right spirit, and I should like to have had the eggs; it would have started us on again. But I'm afraid we shall be wasting time, for we've lost count now of the position where I saw the bird rise, and in this great waste we may wander farther and farther away."
"But we can tell by the hoof-marks where we've been."
"Yes; and we've pretty well examined the ground. I tell you what, we'll bring the glass this evening, and lie down watching till dark. We may see a bird come to the nest, and then we'll mark down the place, and one shall stop back, while the other rides forward, and number one can telegraph which way to go with his arms."
"I am disappointed," said Dyke, looking round about him over the level plain.
"So am I, old chap, but we won't be damped. It's only putting it off.— What are you looking at?"
"That," said Dyke; and, kicking his nag's sides, he went off at a canter for a couple of hundred yards, and then sent up a joyous shout.
"Why, he has found it!" cried Emson; and galloping up, there sat Dyke, flushed and happy, beside a depression in the sand, evidently scraped out, and with the sand banked round to keep the eggs in their places. There they all were, thirty-nine in number, neatly arranged with their points downward, while outside were several more, and on Dyke bending down, he found that they were all of a comfortable temperature; those lying outside being cold, and apparently freshly laid.
"Well, you have eyes, old chap!" cried Emson, slapping his brother on the shoulder, and then proceeding to loosen a coarsely meshed net from behind his saddle. "Bravo, Dyke! I told you the tide had turned. We'll get these home at once and put them under one of our hens. Shouldn't wonder if we get a nice little lot of chicks from these."
"If we can get them home without breaking."
"Oh, we'll do that," cried Emson, dismounting and spreading out the net upon the sand before they began carefully removing the spoil of the nest—that is to say, the eggs, which evidently contained chicks.
This done, the net was folded over and tied here and there so as to form a long bag, the ends fastened securely; and each taking an end, they mounted, and swinging between them the huge bag, which now weighed nearly a hundredweight, started for home. They left the new-laid eggs to be fetched that evening, or next morning, leaving them just as they were spread, looking clean and fresh, about the outside of the nest, much to Dyke's regret.
"Why, we could manage them too," he said.
"We might, but if we did we should have mixed them up with the others, which would be a pity; for if we put them under a bird, they would only be addled, whereas if we keep them separate, they will be good either to set under another hen, or to eat. They will not hurt there."
Dyke said no more, but held on tightly to the end of the net, helping his brother to keep their horses a sufficient distance apart, so that the egg purse might keep well off the ground, and not be shaken too much by the horses' gentle pace.
"Wonder what the young birds think of their ride," said Dyke merrily. "We shall have one of them chipping an egg presently, and poking out his head to see what's the matter, and why things are getting so cold."
"Cold, in this scorching sun!" said Emson; "why it would hatch them out. Hold tight."
"Right it is!" cried Dyke in seafaring style. "I say, what a smash it would be if I let go!"
"Ah, it would," said Emson; "but you won't. Cry stop when you're tired, and we'll change hands.—Steady, boy!" he continued to his horse, which seemed disposed to increase its speed, and they jogged gently along again.
"I always used to read that the ostriches did lay their eggs in the sand and leave them for the sun to hatch."
"There is some truth in it," said Emson; "but the old writers didn't get to the bottom of it. The sun would hatch them if it kept on shining, but the cold nights would chill the eggs and undo all the day's work. It's of a night that the birds sit closest.—Like to change now?"
"Yes: they are getting heavy for one's wrist," said Dyke; and the great purse was lowered to the ground, the eggs clicking together as if made of china. Then the brothers changed places and hands; raised the net; the horses hung apart again, and the slow journey was resumed.
"Gently!" cried Dyke before they had gone very far. "If you hang away so hard, I shall be dragged out of the saddle."
The tension was relaxed, and they went on again riding by slow degrees back to Kopfontein, which they finally reached with their heavy and fragile load intact.
Dyke was hungry enough, but they neither ate nor rested till their eggs were borne into one of the pens where three hens and their husband had a nest which contained only ten eggs, and these were known to be addled, for the time was long past for hatching; and upon the brothers approaching the nest, there was a great deal of hissing and cackling, the cock bird beginning to roar like a lion, and stalking menacingly round the net, which he kept on inspecting curiously.
"Be on the lookout for a kick," said Emson, as the net was lowered.
"Oh, he won't kick me—will you, old chap?" cried Dyke, giving the large bird a playful poke, which had the effect of sending him off remonstrating angrily, as if he resented such liberties being taken with his ribs. For he turned when he reached the fence, and stood fluttering his short wings, clucking, and making threatening gestures with his head.
The hen bird sitting was much more amenable to their approach, for, after a little persuasion, she rose in a very stately way, blinked her rather human-looking, eye-lashed optics, and stalked to the other wives to stand with them, hissing and cackling a little, while the bad eggs were removed and the fresh thirty-nine were put in their place, Emson arranging them as regularly as he could in accordance with the bird's habits.
But as Dyke handed them to him one by one, they had hard work to get them in on account of the impatience displayed by the wives, two of which displayed a great eagerness to have first sit upon the nestful, and needing to be kept off until all were ready.
Then began a severe quarrel, and a good deal of pecking before the youngest and strongest succeeded in mounting upon the nest, shuffling the eggs about so as to get them more in accordance with her own idea of the fitness of things, and then, when all were in order, she settled down with her plumage regularly covering up the eggs, while the other birds now looked on.
"Do you double up your perambulators?" said Dyke mockingly. "Yes, madam, I see you do; but pray don't put a toe through either of the shells."
The hen uttered a strangely soft clucking kind of noise, as if in reply, and there was a peculiar look of satisfaction about the huge tame creature as she covered the gigantic clutch.
"So they are," said Dyke—"something like eggs, aren't they?—I say, look at the others," he continued, as they stalked off to go apparently to discuss the new arrivals with the cock bird over at the other side of the enclosure.
"There," said Emson, "you can have these addled eggs cleaned out, Dyke, and we'll make chunking cups of them. When shall we fetch the other lot? This evening?"
"If you like."
"No; we'll leave it till to-morrow, and give the nags a rest."
LIONS AT HOME.
Fortune smiled her brightest upon Joseph Emson when they first came up the country, travelling for months in their wagon, till Kopfontein, with its never-failing spring in the granite chasm, was settled upon as being a capital place to carry out the idea of the ostrich-farm. Then the rough house was run up, and in course of time pens and other enclosures made, and by very slow degrees stocked with the gigantic birds, principally by help of Kaffir servants; Jack showing himself to be very clever in finding nests of eggs, but afterwards proving lazy and indifferent, excusing himself on the plea that "Baas got all eggs. No more. All gone."
It seemed to be a capital idea, and promised plenty of success, for at first the feathers they obtained from the Kaffirs sold well, making capital prices when sent down to Cape Town. Then the supply from the native hunters began to fail; and when at last the young farmers had plumes to sell of their own raising, prices had gone down terribly, and Emson saw plainly enough that he was losing by his venture.
Then he began to lose his birds by accident, by the destructive propensities of the goblin and a vicious old hen or two; and lastly, some kind of epidemic, which they dubbed ostrich chicken-pox, carried the young birds off wholesale.
Then Dyke began to be damped, and grew dull, and soon his brother became low-spirited too, and for a whole year matters had gone on from bad to worse; Emson often asking himself whether it was not time to make a fresh start, but always coming to the same frame of mind that it was too soon to be beaten yet, and keeping a firm upper lip in the presence of his brother.
The morning after the finding of the ostrich's nest, they started again, taking the net, and keeping a keen lookout in the hope of discovering another.
"There's no reason why we should not," said Emson. "I've been too easy with Jack; he has not disturbed the birds around for months."
"I think we can find the nest again," said Dyke.
"Why not? We'll find it by the footmarks, if we cannot any other way. But I think I can ride straight to it."
They kept a sharp lookout, but no ostrich sprang up in the distance and sped away like the wind. About six miles from home, though, something else was seen lying right out on the plain, to which Dyke pointed.
"A bird?" cried Emson. "Yes, I see it. No; a beast. Why, Dyke, old chap, there are two of them. What shall we do? Creep in and try a shot, or let them go off?"
"I should try a shot," said the boy excitedly. "Why, one is a big-maned fellow."
"Then perhaps we had better let them alone."
"What! to come and pull down one of the oxen. No: let's have a shot at them."
"Very well," said Emson quietly; "but see that you have a couple of bullets in your rifle. Make sure."
He set the example by opening the breech of his piece, and carefully examining the cartridges before replacing them.
"All right," he cried. "Now, look here, Dyke. Be ready and smart, if the brutes turn upon us to charge. Sit fast, and give Breezy his head then. No lion would overtake him. Only you must be prepared for a sharp wheel round, for if the brutes come on with a roar, your cob will spin about like a teetotum."
But no satisfactory shot was obtained, for when they were about a quarter of a mile away, a big, dark-maned lion rose to his feet, stood staring at them for nearly a minute, and then started off at a canter, closely followed by its companion.
Dyke looked sharply round at his brother, as if to say, "Come on!" but Emson shook his head.
"Not to-day, old chap," he cried. "We're too busy. It would mean, too, a long gallop, tiring our horses before we could get a shot, and then we should not be in good condition for aiming."
"Oh, but, Joe, I daresay that is the wretch that killed the white ox, and he is hanging about after another."
"To be sure: I forgot that," cried Emson excitedly. "Come on. But steady: we can't lose sight of them, so let's canter, and follow till they stand at bay or sneak into the bushes."
That was more to Dyke's taste, and side by side they followed the two lions, as the great tawny-looking beasts cantered over the plain, their heads down, tails drooping, and looking, as Dyke said, wonderfully like a couple of great cats sneaking off after being found out stealing cream.
There was no need to be silent, and Dyke kept on shouting remarks to his brother as they cantered on over the dry bush and sand.
"I don't think much of lions, after all, Joe," he said; "they're not half kings of beasts like you see in pictures and read of in books."
"You haven't seen one in a rage, old fellow," said Emson good-humouredly.
"I don't believe they'd be anything much if they were," said Dyke contemptuously. "They always seem to me to be creeping and sneaking about like a cat after a mouse. Now look at those great strong things going off like that, as soon as they see us, instead of roaring at us and driving us away."
"Smell powder, perhaps, and are afraid of the guns."
"Well, but if they did, that isn't being brave as a lion, Joe. Why, when they killed the white ox, there were four of them, and they did it in the dark. I don't believe when you shot that the bullet went near either of the brutes."
"No, but we scared them off."
"They killed the poor old bullock first, though."
"Well, didn't that give you a good idea of a lion's strength; the poor beast's neck was broken."
"Let's show them to-day that we are stronger, and break their necks," said Dyke. "Look out: they're gone." For the two great beasts suddenly plunged into a patch of broken ground, where great blocks of granite stood up from among the bushes, and sheltered them with larger growth.
It was the only hiding-place in sight, and for this the lions had made, and now disappeared.
"We shan't get a shot at them now, old chap," cried Emson; "they lie as snug as rats among those bushes. We want old Duke here."
"Oh, don't give up," cried Dyke. "I know that place well; it's where I found the aardvark, and the bushes are quite open. I am sure we can see them."
"Well, as you're so set on it, we'll try; but mind this, no riding in— nothing rash, you know."
"Oh, I'll take care," cried Dyke. "I shan't get hurt. You only have to ride right at them, and they'll run."
"I don't know so much about that, old cocksure; but mind this, horses are horses, and I don't want you to get Breezy clawed."
"And I don't want to get him clawed—do I, old merry legs?" cried the boy, bending forward to pat his nag's neck. "Sooner get scratched myself, wouldn't I, eh?"
The little horse tossed up its head and shook its mane, and then taking his master's caress and words to mean a call upon him for fresh effort, he dashed off, and had to be checked.
"Steady, steady, Dyke, boy," cried Emson; "do you hear?"
"Please sir, it wasn't me," replied the boy merrily. "It was him."
"No nonsense!" cried Emson sternly. "Steady! This is not play."
Dyke glanced once at his brother's face as he rode up, and saw that it looked hard, earnest, and firm.
"All right, Joe," he said quietly; "I will mind."
The next minute they had cantered gently up to the patch, which was only about an acre in extent, and the bushes so thin and scattered that they could see nearly across where the lions had entered.
But there was no sign of the cunning beasts.
"Look here, Joe; you ride round that way, and I'll go this; then we are sure to see them."
"Capital plan," said Emson sarcastically. "Bravo, general! weaken your forces by one-half, and then if I see them I can't fire for fear of hitting you, and you can't fire for fear of hitting me. Try again, clever one."
"Oh, all right, you try," said Dyke, in an offended tone.
"Ride round with me, then, either five yards in front or five behind. Will you go first?"
"No, you go," said Dyke distantly.
"Come along, then. Keep a sharp lookout, and if you get a good chance at the shoulder—fire. Not without."
"Very well," said Dyke shortly, "but you see if they don't sneak out and gallop away on the other side."
"They won't leave cover if they can help it," said Emson; and his words proved true, for as they rode slowly round with finger on trigger, scanning the openings, the cunning brutes glided in and out among the great boulders, and crawled through the bushes, so that not a glimpse of them could be obtained.
"There!" cried Dyke, after they had ridden round twice. "I knew it. While we were talking on one side, they've crept out on the other and gone off! They're miles away now."
"Exactly!" said Emson; "and that's why the horses are so uneasy. I say, little un, you don't get on so fast as I should like with your hunting knowledge. Look at Breezy."
Dyke glanced at his cob, and the little horse showed plainly enough by its movements that whatever might be its master's opinion, it was feeling convinced that the lions were pretty close at hand.
"Well, what shall we do—ride through?"
"No," said Emson decidedly, "that would be inviting a charge. I'm afraid we must separate, or we shall never got a shot. As we ride round one side, they creep along on the other."
"Did you see them?"
"No, but look there."
Dyke looked where his brother pointed, and saw plainly marked in the soft sand the footprints of the lions.
"Well, let's separate, then," said the boy eagerly. "I'll mind and not shoot your way, if you'll take care not to hit me."
"Very good: we'll try, then; but be careful not to fire unless you get a good sure chance. Look here; this will be the best plan. One of us must sit fast here while the other rides round."
"But the one who stops will get the best chance, for the game will be driven towards him. Who's to stop?"
Emson thrust his hand into his pocket, and drew it out again clenched.
"Something or nothing?" he cried.
"Nothing," said Dyke sharply.
"Nothing. Right. Your chance," said Emson.
"Then I'll stay here?"
"Very well then; be ready. I shall ride ahead, and the lions will sneak round till they find you are here, and then they'll either go right across, or break cover and gallop off. There's every chance for a shot. Right forward in the shoulder, mind."
"Won't charge me, will they?"
"Not unless they're wounded," replied Emson.—"Ready?"
Emson rode slowly off, and as he went he kept on crying "Here!" at every half-dozen yards or so, giving his brother a good idea of his position and that of the lions too.
Meanwhile Dyke, with his heart beginning to beat heavily, sat facing in the other direction, both barrels of his rifled piece cocked and pointed forward, nostrils distended like those of his horse, and, also like the animal, with every sense on the alert.
"Here—here—here," came from beyond him, and gradually working more and more to the left, while Dyke felt a great deal more respect for the prowess and daring of lions than he did half an hour before.
The stillness, broken only by his brother's recurring cry, repeated with such regularity, seemed awful, and the deep low sigh uttered by Breezy sounded quite startling; but there was nothing else—no sound of the powerful cats coming cautiously round, winding in and out among the rocks and bushes, and not a twig was stirred.
"Here—here—here," kept coming, and Dyke sat gripping the saddle tightly with his knees, feeling a curious quiver pass into him from the horse's excited nerves, as the swift little beast stood gazing before it at the ragged shrubs, ready to spring away on the slightest sign of danger. The rein lay upon its neck, and its ears were cocked right forward, while Dyke's double barrel was held ready to fire to right or left of those warning ears at the first chance.
There was the clump on the boy's left, the open ground of the veldt on his right, and the sun glancing down and making the leaves of the trees hot; but still there was nothing but the regular "Here—here—here," uttered in Emson's deep bass.
"They're gone," said Dyke to himself, with a peculiar sense of relief, which made his breath come more freely. "They would have been here by now. I'll shout to Joe."
But he did not. For at that moment there was the faintest of faint rustles about a dozen yards in front. One of the thin bushes grew gradually darker, and Dyke had a glimpse of a patch of rough hair raised above the leaves. Then Breezy started violently, and in an instant two lions started up.
"How!—Haugh!" was roared out. The maneless lion bounded out of the bushes, and went away over the sand in a series of tremendous leaps, while the companion, a huge beast with darkly-tipped mane, leaped as if to follow, but stopped and faced the boy, with head erect and tail lashing from side to side, while the horse stood paralysed with fear, its legs far apart, as if to bear the coming charge, and every nerve and muscle on the quiver.
Dyke sat motionless during those brief moments, knowing that he ought to fire, but feeling as if he were suffering from nightmare, till the majestic beast before him gave vent to a tremendous roar, turned, and bounded away.
Then Dyke's power of action came back. Quick as a flash, his piece was to his shoulder, and he fired; but the lion bounded onward, hidden for the time by the smoke; yet as it cleared away, the boy had another clear view of the beast end on, and fired once more.
At this there was a savage snarl; the lion made a bound sidewise, and then swung round as if to charge back at its assailant, when Breezy tore off at full speed, but had not gone fifty yards before another shot rang out, and Dyke looked round to see his brother dismounted and kneeling on the sand, while the lion was trailing itself along with its hind-quarters paralysed.
In another minute Emson had remounted and ridden up to the dangerous beast; there was another report from close quarters, and the lion rolled over and straightened itself out.
"Dead?" cried Dyke excitedly, as he mastered Breezy's objections, and rode up.
"Yes; he'll kill no more of our oxen, old chap," cried his brother. "Well done, little un! You stopped him splendidly. That last shot of yours brought him up for me to finish."
"Think I hit him, then?"
"Think?" said Emson, laughing. "You can easily prove it. Your bullet must have hit him end on. Mine were on his left flank."
"He is dead, isn't he?" said Dyke dubious.
"As dead as he can well be," said Emson, dismounting, and throwing his rein over his horse's head. "Yes; here we are. Your bullet caught him half-way up the back here; one of mine hit him in the side, and here's the other right through the left shoulder-blade. That means finis. But that shot of yours regularly paralysed him behind. Your lion, little un, and that skin will do for your museum. It's a beauty."
"But you killed him," said the boy modestly.
"Put him out of his misery, that's all. He is a splendid fellow, though. But he won't run away now, little un.—Let's get on."
"But his skin?" said Dyke eagerly.
"Too hard a job now, Dyke, under this sun. We'll come over this evening with Jack, and strip that off. Now for the eggs."
LIFE ON THE VELDT.
The task of finding the emptied ostrich nest proved harder than they expected; but their ride across the barren plain was made interesting by the sight of a herd of gnus and a couple of the beautiful black antelope, with their long, gracefully curved, sharp horns. Just before reaching the nest, too, they had the rather unusual sight, in their part, of half-a-dozen giraffes, which went off in their awkward, lumbering trot toward the north.
At last, though, the nest was reached, the scattered eggs gathered into the net, and heedless of these chinking together a little, as they hung between them, they cantered on.
"Won't do them any good shaking them up so, will it?" said Dyke.
"I've given up all idea of setting these," said Emson. "I should say it would be very doubtful whether they would hatch, and we want a little change in the way of feeding, old fellow. We'll see which are addled, and which are not."
Tanta Sal was at the door as they rode up, and her face expanded largely, especially about the eyes and mouth, at the sight of the eggs.
"I say, look at Tant," said Dyke merrily. "Did you ever see such a face?"
"Never," replied Emson quietly. "She's not beautiful from our point of view."
"Tastes differ, old chap," said Emson. "No doubt Jack thought her very nice-looking. English people admire small mouths and little waists. It is very evident that the Kaffirs do not; and I don't see why a small mouth should be more beautiful than a large one."
"And there isn't so much of it," cried Dyke.
"Certainly not, and it is not so useful. No: Tant is not handsome, but she can cook, and I don't believe that Venus could have fetched water from the spring in two buckets half so well."
"Don't suppose she could, or made fires either," said Dyke, laughing.
"Very good, then, little un. Tant is quite good-looking enough for us.—Hi! there, old girl, take these and keep them cool. Cook one for dinner."
The woman nodded, took the net, swung it over her back, and the next minute the creamy-white eggs were seen reposing on the dark skin.
After seeing to the horses, Dyke made some remark to his brother about wanting his corn too, and he went quietly round to the back, where Tant was busy over the fire, preparing one of the eggs by cooking it au naturel, not boiling in a saucepan, but making the thick shell itself do duty for one.
She looked up and showed her teeth as Dyke came in sight, and then went on with her work, which was that of stirring the egg, whose treatment was very simple. She had chipped a little hole in one end, big enough to admit a stick, and had placed the other end deep down in the glowing dry cake ashes, squatting down on her heels on one side of the fire, while Jack sat in a similar position on the other, watching his wife as she kept on stirring the egg with the piece of wood.
"Oh there you are, Jack," said Dyke; "we've shot a big lion."
"Yes. You're coming with us to skin it this evening?"
The Kaffir shook his head, and then lowered it upon one hand, making a piteous grimace.
"Jack sick, bad," he said.
"Jack no sick bad," cried Tanta, leaping up angrily.
As she spoke, she raised one broad black foot, and gave her husband a sharp thrust in the ribs, with the result that he rolled over and then jumped up furiously to retaliate.
"Ah, would you!" cried Dyke; and the dog, which had followed him, began to growl. "Yes, you hit her, and I'll set Duke at you," cried Dyke. "Can't you see he's ashamed?"
Jack growled fiercely, and his wife reseated herself upon her heels, and went on stirring the egg again, laughing merrily the while.
"No sick bad," she said; and then wanting to say something more, she rattled off a series of words, all oom and click, for Jack's benefit, the Kaffir listening the while.
The egg was soon after declared to be done, and formed a very satisfactory omelette-like addition to the hard biltong and mealie cake which formed the ostrich-farmers' dinner.
"I'd a deal rather we'd shot an antelope, Joe," said Dyke, as he ground away at the biltong, that popular South African delicacy, formed by cutting fresh meat into long strips, and drying them in the sun before the flesh has time to go bad—a capital plan in a torrid country, where decomposition is rapid and salt none too plentiful; but it has its drawbacks, and is best suited to the taste of those who appreciate the chewing of leather with a superlatively high flavour of game.
"Yes, it is time we had some fresh meat, old chap," said Emson good-humouredly. "After that slice of luck with the birds, we'll try for some guinea-fowl or a springbok in the morning."
"I wish we had a river nearer where we could fish," said Dyke, as he worked away at the dried meat.
"Yes, it would be handy, if we could catch any fish; but we usen't to get a great many—not enough to live on—in the old days at home."
"Not often," said Dyke. "I say, it is tough."
"Well, yes. A well-beaten-out piece would not make a bad shoe sole, little un. But about that fishing? It would take a great many of those sticklebacks you always would fish for with a worm to make a dish."
"Well, they used to bite, and that's more than your carp would, Joe. Why, you only used to catch about one a month."
"But, then, look at the size. One did make a dish."
"Yes, of only head and bones. Ugh! I'd rather eat biltong."
Emson laughed good-humouredly.
"Well," he said, "we can't go fishing without we make a hundred miles' journey, so we can't get fish. How would a lion steak eat?"
"Worse than a cut out of the poor old goblin's breast. But, I say, are we to go and skin that old savage to-night?"
"I'll go with Jack, and do it, if you're tired."
"That you won't," cried Dyke. "But, I say, Jack's bad sick he says."
"Yes, I suppose so. He generally is now, when we want him to work. We've spoiled Master Jack by feeding him too well; and if it wasn't for Tanta Sal, Master Jack would have to go upon his travels. That woman's a treasure, little un. She's a capital cook; and what a wonderful thing it is that it comes so natural to a woman, whether she's white or black, to like washing shirts. Do you know, I believe that Tanta Sal would take to starching and ironing if she had a chance. Have any more?"
"No: done," said Dyke, wiping his knife carefully, and returning it to the sheath he wore in his belt.
"Then let's go and have a look at the chickens. Why, the other day I felt as if I could open all the pens and say to the birds, 'There, be off with you, for you're no good.'"
"But now you're going to have another good try."
"Yes; and we must give them greater liberty, and try to let them live in a more natural way."
"And that means always hunting them and driving them back to the pens."
"We shan't mind that if they all turn out healthy," said Emson. "Come along."
"Wait till I call Tant," said Dyke; and he went out to the back to summon the Kaffir woman, who came in smiling, cleared away, and then proceeded to feed her lord; Duke, the dog, waiting for his turn, and not being forgotten.
It was like playing at keeping bantams in Brobdingnag, Dyke said, as they entered the pens pretty well provided with food for the birds, and going from enclosure to enclosure, armed each with a stout stick, necessitated by the manners and customs of their charge. For though it was plain sailing enough scattering out food for the young birds, which stalked about looking very solemn and stupid, the full-grown and elderly, especially the cocks, displayed a desire for more, to which "glutton" would be far too mild a term to apply; while the goblin's successor, as king of the farm, seemed to have become so puffed up with pride at his succession to the throne, that the stick had to be applied several times in response to his insatiable and aggressive demands.
But at last the feeding was done, the hens in attendance on the nest of eggs visited, where all seemed satisfactory, and then the horses were saddled, and Jack and Duke summoned.
The latter dashed up instantly; but Jack made no reply.
"Yes, he is spoiled," said Emson. "It has always seemed to be so much less trouble to saddle our own horses than to see that he did it properly; but we ought to have made him do it, little un."
"Of course we ought," said Dyke. "It isn't too late to begin now?"
"I'm afraid it is," said Emson.—"Here! Hi! Jack," he shouted; and the dog supplemented the cry by running toward the house, barking loudly, with the result that the Kaffir woman came out, saw at a glance what was wanted, and turned back.
The next minute there was a scuffling noise heard behind the place, accompanied by angry protesting voices, speaking loudly in the Kaffir tongue.
Then all at once Jack appeared, carrying three assegais, and holding himself up with a great deal of savage dignity; but as he approached he was struck on the back of the head by a bone. He turned back angrily, but ducked down to avoid a dry cake of fuel, and ended by running to avoid further missiles, with his dignity all gone, for Tanta Sal's grinning face peeped round the corner, and she shouted: "Jack bad sick, baas. All eat—seep."
"Yes; that's what's the matter, Jack," said Emson, shaking his head at him. "Now take hold of the horse's mane, and I'll give you a good digestive run."
There was no help for it. Jack seized the mane and trotted off beside the horse, while a derisive shout came from behind the house, and Tanta's grinning face re-appeared.
This was too much for Jack, who turned to shake his assegais at her: the movement was unpropitious, for he stumbled and fell, but gathered himself up, caught up to the horse, and trotted on again, keeping on in the most untiring way, till a flight of carrion birds was sighted, hovering about the granite boulders, and perching here and there, as if ready for the banquet to come.
Duke charged forward at this, and the birds scattered, but did not go far; while the dog's approach started half-a-dozen jackals from among the bushes to which they had retired, and they now began scurrying over the plain. "I wonder how they find out that there's anything dead, Joe," said Dyke; "we did not see a single jackal or bird this morning."
"Eyesight," said Emson quietly. "The vultures are sailing about on high, and one sees the dead animal; then other vultures see him making for it, and follow."
"And the jackals see the vultures, and follow too?"
"That seems to be the way, old fellow. Anyhow, they always manage to find out where there's anything to eat."
"I say, don't he look big?" said Dyke, as the carcass of the dead lion lay now well in sight.
"Yes; he's one of the finest I have seen. You ought to get the teeth out of his head, little un; they'd do to save up for your museum."
"I will," said Dyke.
The next minute they had dismounted, and were removing the horses' bridles to let them pick off the green shoots of the bushes. The rifles had been laid down, and Duke had gone snuffing about among the rocks, while Jack was proceeding to sharpen the edge of one of his assegais, when the dog suddenly gave tongue. There was a furious roar, the horses pressed up together, and from close at hand a lion, evidently the companion of that lying dead, sprang out and bounded away, soon placing itself out of shot.
"Ought to have been with us this morning," said Dyke, as he called back the dog.
"Couldn't have done better if we had had him," said Emson, quietly rolling up his sleeves, an example followed by the boy.
"Think that one will come back again?" was the next remark.
"Not while we are here," was Emson's reply; and then, as the evening was drawing on, he set to work helping Jack, who was cleverly running the point and edge of his assegai through the skin from the lion's chin to tail, and then inside each leg right down to the toes.
A busy time ensued, resulting in the heavy skin being removed uninjured, and rolled up and packed across Emson's horse.
"You'll have to leave the teeth till another day," said Emson, as the stars began to peep out faintly, and they trotted homeward; but before they had left the carcass a couple of hundred yards, a snapping, snarling, and howling made Duke stop short and look inquiringly up at his masters, as much as to say:
"Are you going to let them do that?" But at a word he followed on obediently, and the noise increased.
"Won't be much lion left by to-morrow morning, Joe," said Dyke.
"No, boy. Africa is well scavengered, what with the jackals, birds, and flies. But we'd better get that skin well under cover somewhere when we are back."
"Why? Think the jackals will follow, and try and drag it away?"
"No; I was feeling sure that the other lion would."
Emson was right, for Dyke was awakened that night by the alarm of the horses and oxen, who gave pretty good evidence of the huge cat's being near, but a couple of shots from Emson's gun rang out, and the animals settled down quietly once again, there being no further disturbance that night on the lonely farm.
THE DESERT HERDS.
"I tell you what, little un," said Emson some mornings later, "I'm going to start a crest and motto, and I'll take a doubled fist for the crest, and Nil desperandum for motto."
"And what good will that do you?" said Dyke, hammering away as he knelt on the sand with the lion's skull held between his knees.
"What good! Why, I shall always have my motto before me—'Never despair,' and the doubled fist to—"
"To show that you are always ready to punch Kaffir Jack's head," cried Dyke quickly; and bang went the hammer on the end of the cold chisel the boy held.
"No," said Emson, laughing—"to denote determination."
"'Inasmuch as to which?' as the Yankee said in his book.—Pincers, please. Here, what have you done with those pincers, Joe?"
"Haven't touched them. They're underneath you, stupid."
"Oh, ah! so they are," said Dyke; and picking them up, he took careful hold of one of the lion's tusks, after loosening it with the hammer and chisel, and dragged it out without having injured the enamel in the least.
The two sharply-pointed fangs had been extracted from the lower jaw, and Dyke was busily operating on the skull, which was, like the bones scattered here and there, picked quite clean, the work of the jackals and vultures having been finished off by the ants; and as Dyke held up the third tusk in triumph, his brother took the piece of curved ivory and turned it over in his hand, while Duke and the horses seemed to be interested spectators.
"Magnificent specimen of a canine tooth," said Emson thoughtfully.
"I know better than that. It can't be."
"Can't? But it is," replied Emson. "What do you mean?"
"Canine means dog, doesn't it? Dog's teeth can't grow in a big cat. It's a feline tooth."
"They can grow in human jaws—in yours, for instance. You have four canine teeth, as the naturalists call them; so why can't they grow in a lion's?"
"Because it's unnatural," said Dyke, beginning to chip away some of the jawbone from around the last tusk. "Canine teeth can grow in my jaws, because you said one day that I was a puppy."
"I say, don't, little un. You're growing too clever, and attempts at jokes like that don't seem to fit out here in this hungry desert. Mind what you are about, or you'll spoil the tooth."
"I'm minding; but what did you mean about your Nil desperandum?"
"That I'll never despair. When we've tried everything we can out here, and failed, we'll go back home and settle in London. Something always turns up, and you're so handy, that we'll start as dentists, and you shall extract all the teeth."
"All right, Joe. My word! this is a tight one. But people wouldn't have their teeth taken out with hammer and chisel."
"You could use laughing gas."
"They wouldn't laugh much, gas or no gas," cried Dyke, "if I got hold of their teeth with the pincers, like this. I say, this is a tough one. He never had toothache in this. You have a go: your muscles are stronger than mine."
"No; have another try."
"But it makes me so hot."
"Never mind. Remember my crest and motto—doubled fist for determination, and 'Never despair.'"
"Who's going to despair over a big tooth?" cried Dyke, holding on to the pincers with both hands, giving a good wrench, and tearing out the tusk. "That's got him. Phew! it was a job. I say, they'll look well as curiosities."
"Yes, they're a fine set," said Emson, taking out his little double glass, and beginning slowly to sweep the plain.
"See anything?" asked Dyke, as he rose to his feet, and put the hammer, chisel, and pincers in a leather case buckled behind his saddle, and washed his hands, drily, in sand.
"Oh, do see something! We must get a buck of some kind to take home with us."
"Yes, we ought to get something, or Jack will forsake us because we are starving him; and take away his wife. You'll have to cook then, little un."
"Won't matter, if there's nothing to cook," said Dyke sharply. "But, I say, Joe, you do think we are getting on better with the birds? Only two chicks have died since we took home those eggs."
"Only two," said Emson, rather bitterly. "That's one a week. Easily calculate how long we shall be in getting to the end of our stock."
"I say, what about your motto? Who's looking on the black side?"
"Guilty, my lord. Come along; jump up. We will have something or another to take back for a roast."
Dyke sprang upon his horse, the dog gave a joyful bark, and they cantered off, Dyke placing his rifle on his rein hand, while he rearranged the tusks in his pocket, to keep them from rattling.
"Which way are we going?" he said.
"Let's try west; we may perhaps see ostriches."
"Oh, don't talk about them," cried Dyke; "I do get so tired of the wretches. I say, that young cock number two showed fight at me this morning, and kicked. He just missed my leg."
"What? Oh, you must be careful, old chap. I can't afford to have your leg broken. But, I say, I had a look at the stores this morning before we started."
"I saw you, and wondered what you were doing."
"The mealie bag is nearly empty. One of us will have to take the wagon across to old Morgenstein's and buy stores."
"Why not both go? It would make a change."
"I'll tell you, little un. When we got back, half the birds would be dead, and the other half all over the veldt."
"Oh, bother those old ostriches! they're always in the way," cried Dyke. "All right, Joe; I'll stop and mind them, only don't be longer than you can help."
"I can't see how it can be done in less than ten days, old fellow," said Emson thoughtfully; "and if the old Boer is away, it may take a fortnight."
"All right; I won't mind," said Dyke with a sigh. "I'll take care of the place, and I'm going to try some new plans. There shan't be a single bird die. I say, oughtn't those young birds to be out by now?"