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Diamond DykeByGeorge Manville Fenn
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The Lone Farm on the Veldt - Story of South African Adventure
George Manville Fenn
Illustrator: W. Boucher
Chapter One. Query Bad Shillings?
Chapter Two. Dyke rouses up.
Chapter Three. An Ostrich Race.
Chapter Four. Another Failure?
Chapter Five. Big Birdnesting.
Chapter Six. Lions at Home.
Chapter Seven. Life on the Veldt.
Chapter Eight. The Desert Herds.
Chapter Nine. A Queer Predicament.
Chapter Ten. The Hunter hunted.
Chapter Eleven. Being Stalked.
Chapter Twelve. Dyke is aggrieved.
Chapter Thirteen. Jack behaves himself.
Chapter Fourteen. A Resting-Place.
Chapter Fifteen. Oom Morgenstern’s Sermon.
Chapter Sixteen. A Dead Check.
Chapter Seventeen. Out of Patience.
Chapter Eighteen. A Test of Manhood.
Chapter Nineteen. Sterling Coin.
Chapter Twenty. A Sore Strait.
Chapter Twenty One. Dyke sets his Teeth.
Chapter Twenty Two. A Bit of Nature.
Chapter Twenty Three. Daylight.
Chapter Twenty Four. Black Shadows.
Chapter Twenty Five. Duke’s Find.
Chapter Twenty Six. The Night Attack.
Chapter Twenty Seven. Oom startles his Friends.
Chapter Twenty Eight. The Change that came.
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.”
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.
“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.
Dyke gave his whip a whish through the air.
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.
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