This indeed seemed the only way of conveying Stanley.
"But suppose I go on, and bring up Massa David," said Timbo. "Dat is de best t'ing."
I agreed with him. Having washed Stanley's wounds, and bound them up as well as I was able, with Timbo's assistance, we placed him in the litter; while Natty mounted my horse, I agreeing to walk by his side. The blacks having caught the horses, Timbo set off, leading Stanley's steed, in order that David might ride back on it to his brother's assistance. We then proceeded at a somewhat slower pace than before, the bearers finding a great difference between my strongly-built cousin and poor young Natty. As may be supposed, we kept a very strict watch at night, lest we might be visited by another lion. Stanley did his utmost to keep up his spirits; but from the fearful laceration he had suffered, his nervous system was greatly shaken, and he often relapsed into a state almost of unconsciousness. Natty, however, with the air and exercise, recovered his strength, and every day looked better. I was very thankful when, towards the end of the next day, I caught sight of two objects moving over the plain towards us. Gradually, as they approached, I made out two horsemen, and in a little time David and Timbo galloped up to our camp. Timbo's anxiety about his master had probably made him describe the wound as worse than it was, and David was in a state of great agitation when he arrived. He, however, after examining his brother's hurts, expressed a hope that they would soon get well, and complimented me greatly on the way I had treated him. Still, I was very glad that David had arrived; for, in consequence of the constant state of stupor into which Stanley had fallen, I began to feel very anxious about him.
We continued to travel on at a very slow pace, as Stanley could not bear any shaking. Three days more therefore passed away before we came in sight of the camp.
I had never before seen my cousin Kate so much out of spirits, and it was not till two or three days after our arrival, when Stanley was found to be progressing favourably, that she was at all herself again. To me, however, she was always kind and gentle.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
HUNTING ADVENTURES—JOURNEY ACROSS THE DESERT.
In spite of Mr Donald Fraser's expostulations, Senhor Silva would not consent to break up the camp till Stanley was in a fit state to travel. The honest trader, however, had no cause to complain, for he was driving a brisk trade, not only with our friends from Kabomba, but with the people of a number of neighbouring villages. Some he visited in a light cart, which accompanied the waggons, and a considerable number came to us. We had not forgotten the elephant's tusks, which Timbo had hid, and as soon as he believed his master was out of danger, he set off with one of the horses to bring them into camp. The elephant itself had long since disappeared, its skeleton alone whitened the prairie; but the tusks were safe, and were safely bestowed in the waggon, in part payment of our debt.
One morning our oxen, which were feeding near, suddenly started off in every direction, leaping, twisting, and turning about, and cutting the most ridiculous capers. They looked as if they had been seized with Saint-Vitus's-dance. On running towards them I discovered that a large flock of birds were clinging to their backs—three or four on each animal. Having my gun in my hand, I shot one, when I found that it was the same bird which I had seen on the back of the rhinoceros. Senhor Silva, who arrived laughing heartily at the commotion among our animals, told me that the bird is called the Buphaga Africana. Its object in thus taking possession of the backs of the cattle is for the purpose of feeding on the ticks with which they are covered. They have particularly long claws and elastic tails, which enable them thus to cling to the hide, and to search every part of the beast, in spite of its efforts to get rid of them. When animals are accustomed to these birds they appear rather grateful for the visitation; but Mr Fraser's oxen had apparently never experienced a similar visitation, and were therefore considerably astonished at being thus unceremoniously assailed. By degrees, however, when they found that they could not throw them off, and that nothing very terrible happened, the oxen remained quiet, and were probably much more comfortable from being delivered from their parasitic pests.
The necessity of supplying our camp with meat compelled us frequently to go out shooting. We greatly missed, on these occasions, Stanley's unerring rifle. Our party generally consisted of Senhor Silva, Timbo, and myself; but sometimes Mr Fraser took Senhor Silva's place; and he was, I must say, the best shot of the party. We had been unsuccessful, however, on several occasions, and though there was no famine in the camp, we had very little meat fit to eat; while our black attendants were beginning to grumble greatly at being placed on short commons. This made us more than ever anxious to get some game. We had scoured the country towards the south for some distance, and falling in with no animals, we were induced to proceed further off than usual. The country over which we were passing was a fine undulating plain. Now and then there were dips of sufficient depth to conceal us from each other, for we rode apart in order to cover a wider extent of ground. My companions were not in sight. I had reached a slight elevation, when I saw in the distance a herd of large animals. At first I took them for buffaloes; but their movements soon convinced me that they were of the antelope species. The wind fortunately came from them, and I determined, without waiting for my friends, to endeavour to bring one of them down. I galloped on, till, to my delight, I saw before me an immense herd of the large eland, as they are called, or, more properly speaking, "cana." In stature they are equal to a good-sized horse. Their horns are long and spiral. The form of the creatures before me was massive, their tails terminating in tufts. I had never possessed much of the spirit of a hunter; but the necessity of obtaining food made me as eager as any professional hunter could be to bring down one of the fine animals. I put spurs to my horse, and galloped on, getting my rifle ready in the meantime to fire immediately I could obtain a fair shot. The creatures for some time did not see me, and not till I was close upon them did they take the alarm. Near me was a fine large buck. I had seldom fired from horseback; but my animal was steady, and I determined to make the attempt. I took aim, and, greatly to my satisfaction, struck the creature near the shoulder, and over he went. Seeing that he was utterly disabled, I dismounted from my horse, and gave him a merciful thrust, which deprived him of life. Immediately reloading, I again leaped on my horse's back, and made chase after the herd, which had now got to some distance. However, I found that I was coming up fast with them, and in a short time another fat animal lay rolling on the turf.
Wishing for the assistance of my companions in cutting up my prize, I rode to the nearest height in the hope of seeing them. I cast my eyes round in every direction. They were nowhere visible. I began to fear that they had gone in a different direction. I shouted with all my might, thinking that one or the other of them might be concealed in some hollow, and that my voice might reach them. I could only carry a part of the elands. After waiting awhile, I rode back to where I had killed the last. Already several birds of prey were hovering about. I scared them off, however, by my shouts; and then passing the bridle of my horse round my arm, I began in a very unscientific way to dismember the noble beast I had killed. I did not like the employment; at the same time, it was necessary to secure the meat. I had been for some time thus employed, when I heard the sound of wings close above me, and looking up, saw, with a feeling of no small alarm, a flight of kites hovering near my head. My horse, too, not liking their appearance, started back; and not without reason, for they might quickly have torn out his eyes with their powerful beaks and claws. I shouted, and waved and clapped my hands. They retired to a short distance, but only to come on again with renewed fierceness, seizing pieces of the meat and flying off with them. I determined, however, not to be defeated; and standing by the body of the eland, struck out right and left with my knife. Some literally fell back on the ground, spreading out their wings and talons and opening their beaks to defend themselves. My determined onslaught on them, however, compelled the first batch to beat a retreat; but another immediately took their place, pouncing down as the others had done on the carcass. I knocked over two or three, and the second party retreated, a third, strange to say, immediately afterwards coming on to the attack; but they had become so wary that I was unable to reach them. Still, as they kept about me, I expected every moment that they would assail my head, and I could not help feeling how fearful would be my position if they did so. At last I determined to try the effect of my rifle, which I had not loaded after my last shot—a neglect which might have proved extremely disastrous had any savage beast appeared. I loaded with shot. In consequence of my shouts and cries, and repeated blows made at the birds, they retired once more to a short distance. The next time they approached I fired into their midst, and a couple fell to the ground, and others were wounded. Still the army kept their ground. Seeing the effects of the first shot, I loaded again, and as they came hovering close to me, I fired once more, with the same success. Greatly to my satisfaction, on discovering that they could not obtain their feast without greater loss than it was worth, the whole army flew off, not appearing to stop while they remained in sight.
Thus being rid of my unwelcome visitors, I returned to my occupation; remembering, however, first to reload my rifle with ball, lest a hyena, panther, or lion might scent the dead eland and come to banquet off it. I had some leathern straps with me for the purpose of securing any animal I might kill, and with these I fastened to my saddle as much meat as my horse could carry. I was sorry to leave any part behind, knowing how much it was wanted in the camp. I now turned the horse's head towards the camp, intending to pass by the eland I had shot. As I approached, I saw some objects moving over the ground towards it. At that distance I could not tell what they were. They might be lions or panthers. If lions, I might probably have to do battle for my prize. I could not help thinking, too, of the way Stanley had been handled. It was not impossible that they would attack me, and get me and my horse, and the meat into the bargain. Knowing that on such occasions boldness is always the best policy, I rode forward, and in a short time distinguished three spotted hyenas stealing up towards the body of the eland. I determined to prevent them having their feast, or spoil it if I could not. So eager were they to seize their prize that they did not notice me. As they drew nearer they hastened their pace, and then made a dash at the carcass. At that moment, putting spurs to my horse, I dashed on towards them shouting and shrieking. They received me with loud snarls, appearing in no way disposed to take their departure. Not till I got close up to them did they retreat, snarling and grinning horribly at me. The scent of the meat had undoubtedly sharpened their appetites, and they certainly looked capable of making a spring and trying to carry away some of the joints. On this I charged them, and they retreated still further off.
I saw that unless I could find my friends, we should have no prospect of saving any of the meat. I therefore looked round again, and thinking that the sound of my rifle might attract them, I fired it at the nearest brute. Over the animal fell, and his companions scampered off to avoid a similar fate. As there was no object in delaying longer, I once more directed my horse's head towards the camp. Not till I had got to some distance did I catch sight of Donald Fraser and Timbo. They instantly galloped back, in the hope of being in time to secure the venison, and I proceeded at a slow pace, which the heavy weight my horse carried made necessary. I was still at some little distance when they overtook me, saying they had been too late. A number of birds and beasts of prey had set on the carcass, and devoured the greater portion. However, the supply I brought was doubly welcome. As it would only afford enough food for a day's consumption, we agreed to set out again immediately, in the hope of falling in with another herd of elands. The importance of obtaining food was very great. Mr Fraser's attendants were already grumbling at their short allowance, and he was afraid that they would desert him, and leave us to make our way alone. He also was glad of an excuse for moving southward. We had been out a considerable part of the day without being able to get up to any herd, though we saw one or two in the distance. I was talking to my companions, when, looking up, I saw before us what seemed like a dark cloud moving through the air at no great distance above the earth.
"What can that be?" I exclaimed, pointing it out to Mr Fraser.
"I will tell you presently," he said. "I fear it bodes us no good!"
The cloud, as I may call it, now seemed to rise higher in the air, in the same compact body as it at first appeared. Then it suddenly sank and dispersed into smaller portions. Now again it united, again to spread and to rise, very much with the appearance of huge columns of sand whirled up by the wind. On it came towards us.
"I will tell you what it is now," said Mr Fraser. "That is a flight of locusts. Woe betide the spot they select as a resting-place!"
As he spoke it appeared as if a heavy snow-storm had begun, for the locusts, as they alighted on the ground, looked exactly like huge snow-flakes. Several thousands might have fallen round us; still the whole mass seemed in no way diminished, and on they flew, the noise of their wings sounding like that produced by a gale of wind whistling through the rigging of a ship at anchor. On and on we rode, but still the mighty mass of winged insects advanced. Far as the eye could reach, they appeared hovering in the air. We pushed on for some miles, hoping to get beyond them; but the same dark cloud appeared before us. Not an animal was to be seen. We turned to the left and galloped on, but still could not get clear of the mighty column.
"There will be small chance of our meeting with any game to-day, I suspect," observed Donald, pulling up and looking round him. "It will fare hard, too, with our poor cattle, I am thinking, for these hungry creatures will make sad havoc in the camp if they pitch on it, and the surrounding country too."
Still, I urged that by pushing on we might fall in with a herd of deer, one or more of which would pay us for our long ride, and supply our larder with the much-needed flesh. We rode forward, hoping yet to fall in with some game. Still we were as unsuccessful as at first. We had gone some distance, when we came upon masses of creatures of a reddish colour with dark markings. In some places they covered the ground in layers two or three inches thick. Mr Fraser told me they were the larvae of the locusts, which the Dutch people at the Cape call voet-gangers—literally, foot-goers. Some were seen hopping among the grass, devouring it with extraordinary rapidity.
"What do you think, Mr Crawford, of the fruit on those bushes?" said Donald to me, pointing to some shrubs, from which hung what I took to be clusters of magnificent fruit.
Hiding forward, I plucked some. My astonishment was great to find that they were merely the larva; of the locusts hanging to the boughs. So thickly did they cover the branches, that they literally bowed them down to the ground. He told me that these creatures are especially dreaded by the colonists, as it is impossible to stop their progress, and they eat up every green thing in their way. They cross rivers or pools; for though the leaders are drowned, the others pass over the bridge thus formed by their bodies. Even fires, which are sometimes lighted in the hope of stopping their progress, are put out by the countless masses which crawl over them.
It was dark before we reached the camp. We rode together, keeping a sharp look-out, in case we might have been followed by any prowling inhabitant of the wilds. As we drew near the camp, a bright blaze appeared from one side to the other, and I could not help being alarmed at the thought that the waggon and tents, surrounded by dry grass, might have caught fire. Mr Fraser, however, quickly calmed my fears.
"Our people, I suspect, are having a feast," he observed. "It is an ill wind that blows no one good; and if the locusts have eaten up the cattle's fodder, our people are engaged in eating up the locusts."
On entering the camp, we found all the blacks busily employed round the large fires which they had lighted. They were scraping together vast quantities of locusts which, passing through the flames, had scorched their wings, and fallen helplessly to the ground. Even Senhor Silva, and David, and the boys, were engaged in the work. In a short time they had collected enormous heaps of the insects, when the blacks began to roast and eat them as if they were the most delicate morsels. If they would support existence, there was no fear of our starving. I was tempted to taste some, but cannot say that I found them very palatable. As soon as the fires had burned low, the blacks set to work to dry the locusts in the hot ashes. Then obtaining some large flat stones from the river, they ground a number between them into powder, which they stowed away in all the receptacles capable of holding it.
Next morning, by daybreak, the neighbourhood of the camp was beset by numberless birds, among which I distinguished storks and kites, and soon perceived that they were employed in gobbling up the locusts. The most numerous, however, were small birds about the size of swallows. Mr Fraser told me this was a species of thrush which constantly follows the locusts, and is said even to build its nest and rear its young in their midst. He called it by its Dutch name—Springhaan oogel. David said he knew it as the locust bird. We shot a number; and though we were not tempted to feed on locusts, we had no objection to breakfast off the result of our sport. The fires had partly saved the camp itself; fortunately so, for the locusts will not only eat grass, but every animal produce which comes in their way. Leathern thongs, even boots, shoes, and bags, have been destroyed by them. I saw a number also feeding on their own companions, which we had trampled on as we passed through them. No sooner had the warm rays of the sun been cast across the plain, than, with a loud whirring sound, the locusts rose in the air. Notwithstanding the number which had been destroyed, the mass appeared in no way diminished in size. Onwards they flew to their unknown destination; but what a scene of desolation met our eyes across the country on which they had rested! For miles, as Donald had feared, not a blade of grass was to be seen. As far as the eye could reach, where the evening before the ground had been green and smiling, it now looked brown and parched up, as if a fierce fire had passed over it.
"If we cannot move from here, we must just make up our minds to remain for ever," observed Donald, "for without food—and not a particle of grass do I see in any direction—the poor cattle will soon be starved to death. We must see Senhor Silva and your cousin David, and hear what they say."
Soon afterwards we were joined by David, and in reply to Mr Fraser's remarks, he said he hoped that Stanley was sufficiently recovered to bear the fatigue of travelling in the waggon. I undertook to arrange a bed slung from the roof, by which any jolting might be avoided. Calling Jack Handspike to my assistance, we soon contrived a comfortable cot for my cousin.
Meantime every arrangement was made for starting. The oxen were harnessed to the huge machine; Kate and Bella took their seats by the side of their brother. The word was given to move on. The Hottentot drivers smacked their huge whips, and the lumbering waggon was put in motion. Natty and Leo had greatly recovered; but that they might not be fatigued, room was also made for them inside. Donald and Senhor Silva mounted their horses, and David and I agreed to take one between us. When he rode, I was to walk, or mount an ox. The rest of the party proceeded on foot, or on the oxen. Far as the eye could reach, nothing but brown earth and leafless shrubs and trees could be seen; the ravaging hordes of locusts had cleared off every particle of verdure from the ground. North and south, east and west, the country had become a barren wilderness. The prospect for our poor oxen was a melancholy one. We could only push on therefore as fast as they could travel, in the hope of speedily getting beyond the ravaged country. Our friend Donald looked very grave. All day long we travelled on. The cattle began to show signs of thirst. We ourselves were also suffering from want of water, as we were afraid of exhausting the small supply we had brought in our bottles. At length some rocks appeared ahead, near which Donald told us was a pool. The cattle seemed to be aware of it, and eagerly moved on; but as we got near, no bright gleam, such as gladdens the sight of the thirsty traveller, played on the spot. On arriving at it, a mass of locusts and their larvae were alone visible, completely filling the space where the water should have been.
Our men immediately set to work, and literally dug them out and threw them in masses on the shore. We ourselves could not have drunk a drop. The pool seemed filled with a thick, muddy, and putrid liquid. The cattle, however, when let loose, rushed down to it and drank eagerly, though I was afraid it would produce disease among them. Poor creatures! if there was nourishment in it, it was the only food they got; for that night we had to camp without water for ourselves or fodder for them.
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
CROSSING THE DESERT.
Many days had passed by, during which the usual incidents of African travel had occurred; but I need not stop to describe them, except to say that Mr Fraser had been successful in killing several elephants, which he did for the sake of their tusks, and also in purchasing a large quantity of ivory from the natives who visited our camp to trade, or inhabited the villages near which we passed. Thus he had no reason to complain of the long journey he had made to rescue us, although we were not the less inclined to be grateful to him.
The country ravaged by the locusts had been passed at last, but not till our cattle were almost starved, and we and they had suffered greatly from want of water. The dried and pounded locusts had assisted to support our people, but we were now greatly in want of provisions. Stanley had borne the journey remarkably well, and was rapidly recovering from the hurts inflicted upon him by the lion; while Leo and Natty were completely themselves again. Stanley was very anxious once more to mount his horse and to assist in hunting, in order to supply the camp with food; but of this David would not hear, and declared that it would be equivalent to fratricide if he allowed it. Donald, Timbo, and I, and sometimes Senhor Silva, therefore scoured the country in every direction in search of game. Donald and I were riding on ahead one day, when he observed on a bush a fly somewhat smaller than the common blue-bottle fly—so annoying to the butcher—but with rather longer wings. Begging me to hold his horse, he jumped off and caught it. Instantly leaping into his saddle, he told me to turn and ride for my life, with an expression of consternation in his countenance which made me fancy that he had suddenly gone out of his mind. However, as we rode on he explained that the fly which he held in his fingers was the tsetse fly (David called it the Glossina morsitans), and that it was more dangerous to cattle and horses than all the lions and snakes in the country. Fortunately our horses had not been bitten by it. He told me that had such been the case their death would have been certain. It attacks, however, only domesticated animals, for wild beasts range over the country infested by it with impunity; while human beings are scarcely more annoyed by it than they are by flea-bites. It is confined to certain localities, and is never known to shift its haunts. He told me that it was found generally in the bush or among reeds. Though the insect is small, yet the poison it contains is of so virulent a nature that its bite is as deadly to horses and oxen as that of the most venomous serpent. Donald said he had ample reason to be afraid of it, for on one occasion, not believing in its power to injure him, he had attempted to pass through a district infested by it, when he lost all his oxen and horses, and very nearly his own life and that of his companions. They were in a wild and uninhabited district, and were barely able to secure provisions and water sufficient to support themselves, till they could obtain assistance. He said that four or five flies were sufficient to kill a full-grown ox. The animal, however, does not die so rapidly as when bitten by a snake. Sometimes, indeed, it exists for some weeks or months afterwards, gradually losing its strength, and perishing ultimately of exhaustion. Frequently, however, oxen die, especially should rain fall, soon after they are bitten. In the case of one of his horses which had been bitten, the head and body swelled, its eyes became so swollen that it could not see, and it was painful to hear it neighing for its companions, who stood close to it while feeding. A remarkable feature with regard to the poison of the tsetse is that calves, and other young sucking animals, are safe so long as they suck; but it has been remarked that dogs though reared on milk die if bitten, while a dog which was reared on the meat of game accompanied his master when hunting in the districts infested by the fly without suffering.
We had now entered a far more desolate-looking country than any we had yet passed through. Vast sandy plains extended round us, broken here and there by clumps of low bushes or coarse long grass, with occasional patches of more nutritious verdure, from which our oxen plucked their scanty meals. Still, occasionally, herds of deer passed us in the distance, but they were so wary that we could not approach them. The open nature of the country made stalking in the ordinary way impossible. Every night, however, Donald, accompanied by Timbo, spent two or three hours, and sometimes longer, in lying in ambush, hoping to get a shot at a passing animal, but their success had hitherto not been sufficient to supply us with as much meat as we required. Water too was very scarce. We had been travelling slowly all day, when our cattle began to move on with greater rapidity than before, evidently believing that water was near. Donald was riding ahead, looking about him, when suddenly he and his horse disappeared. I was at no great distance behind him, and before I could pull up I was very nearly following. I found that he had slid down into a large sand-well, some twenty feet in diameter at the top, and upwards of twelve feet in depth. As soon as he was extricated from the pit, the men were called with spades to clear it out. However, after digging some time, no water flowed into it, though the bottom became thoroughly moist. We fortunately had some long reeds with us. These were sunk into the sand, and immediately water began to rise. We quickly got enough to quench the thirst of the people, but we had to wait some time before a supply could be procured for the cattle. As soon as water had been given to the horses, Timbo set out in search of game. We were as unfortunate as we had usually been of late. Perhaps this might have arisen from our want of skill. Donald was an inferior hunter to Stanley, and had he been well, we should have met with more success. Timbo was riding near me, when I found him eagerly examining the sand on one side. Without saying a word he jumped from his horse, and began scraping away. Presently he produced a huge egg, then another, and another.
"Dere!" he exclaimed; "we no want food now. See, here are anoder dozen! Dey eggs of ostrich!"
I looked into the nest, and saw that the eggs were arranged with their ends uppermost, to occupy, I concluded, as small a space as possible.
"But, Timbo," I said, "do you think they are fresh, for otherwise I fear they would be of little use?"
"Oh yes," he said; "de hen-ostrich only just laid dem. See! see! dere she is, too, watching us!"
At that moment a loud roar saluted my ears. Instantly unslinging my rifle, I prepared to fire, believing that a lion was about to attack us, so similar was the voice to that of the king of beasts in a rage; but on looking round I could see no lion, but instead I caught sight, in the distance, of a huge long-necked bird, which I knew must be an ostrich, evidently observing with anxiety the visit we were paying to her nest. She had gone away, Timbo said, to feed, or otherwise we should probably have found her sitting, as the flamingoes do, with her legs astraddle above it. The poor bird did not attempt to fly, and accordingly gave us time to secure the eggs in a way which we hoped would prevent their being broken. Donald had by this time come up, and telling Timbo to take charge of the eggs, started with me in chase of the ostrich. As we approached the bird, under the idea perhaps of leading us from her eggs, or alarmed, more probably, she set off at full speed. It seemed hopeless, however, to me that we should ever catch her. Away she flew, at first with small strides, increasing every instant, and extending her wings like sails. Her feet scarcely seemed to touch the ground, and yet we could see huge stones thrown up behind her, flying into the air. "On, lad! on!" shouted Donald. "We will weary her out this hot day. She will slacken her pace soon, and we may turn her maybe towards Timbo, if we do not run her down." Instead of pursuing directly in the wake of the bird, he turned on one side and I on the other; and at length she began, as he had expected, to slacken her tremendous speed. We were now moving up on parallel lines at some distance from her. At length we got ahead, when the bird, wheeling round, started back towards her nest. "Hurrah!" shouted Donald, "she is ours now!" Again we followed the mighty bird, never for a moment allowing her to stop. It seemed a question whether she or our horses would have to give in first. At length a patch of the candelabra-shaped tree euphorbia appeared in sight, and the hard-pressed ostrich darted towards it, endeavouring, it seemed, to force her way through. Pressing on, we were soon close to her, when Donald, raising his rifle, fired, and the bird fell over. I was galloping up, when he called to me. "Stand back! You might as well get near a dying lion! A kick from one of her feet would break your horse's leg, and kill you, if you got within her reach." In a few minutes the bird ceased to move, and jumping from our horses we approached. The ostrich must have been nearly eight feet in height, the feathers being of an ashy brown colour, slightly fringed with white. And now, for the first time, I saw those magnificent large plumes of beautiful white feathers which form the wings and tail of the bird. These the trader immediately began to pluck out with the greatest care, and having done so, secured them to our backs, where they were likely to be free from injury. He called me to assist him in hoisting the body up on his horse. It must have weighed upwards of two hundred pounds, no slight addition to the burden his tired steed had to bear.
On reaching Timbo we found that he had discovered another nest of eggs. With these I loaded myself, and well satisfied with our prizes we returned to the camp. "No starve now, Massa Andrew!" said Timbo, as he gave an affectionate glance at the huge eggs. As we rode up David and the two boys saluted us with shouts of laughter, at the extraordinary appearance we cut with the ostrich feathers sticking above our shoulders. Donald, I found, claimed them as his own property, and I did not wish to dispute the point, though I should have liked to have presented one to Kate and Bella. I could only hope to capture another bird without assistance. As soon as we had deposited our burdens, Timbo set to work to prepare the eggs. His process was a simple one. First, having made a hole at the end of the egg, he introduced into it salt, pepper, flour, and one or two other ingredients. He then shook the egg thoroughly, so as to mix what he had put in, as well as the white and yolk. He then placed the eggs he had thus prepared in the hot ashes, where they were soon perfectly baked. Meantime the other blacks, having skinned the bird, had cut it up, and began to roast it. We all quickly assembled round our usual supper-table—a cloth spread under an awning which projected a short distance from the waggon. The ostrich egg-omelets were pronounced excellent. Although it is said that the ostrich egg, prepared in the way I have described, is equal to that of two dozen common fowl eggs, Mr Donald Fraser managed to eat a couple; while I found no difficulty in swallowing the greater part of one of them. David, Kate, and Bella, however, expressed themselves perfectly satisfied with a single one divided among them.
As we were seated at our supper, various anecdotes were told of the ostrich. Donald said he had seen the Bushmen stalk them much in the same way that we had seen the blacks further north stalk the buffalo. The Bushman stuffs the head and neck of the ostrich, into which he introduces a stick, forming a sort of mantle for his shoulders with the feathers, so as greatly to resemble the bird. As his legs are black and the ostrich's white, he paints his legs with white, and taking his bow and arrow in his hand, sets off for the chase. It is extraordinary how admirably he mimics the ostrich—now stops, as if to feed, then turns his head as if keeping a look-out for enemies. Now he walks along slowly, then trots, just as the ostrich does, till he gets within bow-shot. With seldom erring aim he then pulls his bow. Instead of following the bird he has struck, however, when the others run away, he runs also. Should any wary old bird suspect that all is not right, and come towards him, he endeavours to escape; but if the bird approaches him, to avoid a stroke of its claws, or a blow from its wing, he sometimes throws off his disguise, which he leaves on the ground, and runs away to a distance to be prepared to pull his bow. He generally uses poisoned arrows, dipped in the milky juice of the tree euphorbia. A slight wound from his weapon quickly brings the ostrich to the ground. Formerly, he told us, it was supposed that the ostrich left its eggs to be hatched in the sand by the heat of the sun, as cold-blooded reptiles are known to do, but this is not the case. The hen-ostrich sits upon her eggs with great care, and as soon as the young are hatched, provides them with nourishment; and as broken eggs are generally found outside the nest, it is supposed that she keeps a certain number unhatched, that she may feed the young birds on them. She generally hatches about a dozen eggs; but the Hottentots play her a trick to induce her to lay a larger number. As soon as they find out a nest, they watch till the bird has left it to go in search of food, and then scrape out with a long stick two or three at a time. On returning and finding the number she expected deficient, she lays enough to supply their place, and thus goes on from day to day, till she has laid upwards of forty in the season. Timbo asserted that not only does man wage war against the ostrich, but that a white vulture is particularly fond of her eggs. As his beak is not sufficiently strong to break the shell, he seizes a large stone between his talons, and soaring with it high into the air, gets over the nest; he then lets it drop upon the eggs, seldom failing to break a sufficient number to afford himself a repast. The young ostriches, when they emerge from the nest, are about the size of pullets. They are quickly able to follow the mother, who supplies them for a considerable time with food. Their colour is a kind of pepper and salt, resembling the gravel and sand of the plain over which they roam; so that it is with the greatest difficulty they can be seen by the hunter, even when close to them. They are clothed with a kind of prickly stubble, which is neither down nor feathers, and which probably defends them from the coarse vegetation and gravel which covers the region where they exist. The Romans called the ostrich the Struthio camelus, in consequence of its resemblance in many respects to the camel of the desert. The ostrich, like the camel, is able, from the formation of its interior, to exist for a long time without water, feeding on the stunted and dried herbage of the desert. Its foot is formed curiously, like that of the camel; and it has also excrescences on its breast, on which it leans whilst sleeping. To complete the likeness, it has the same muscular neck, which rises high above the plain, and enables it to perceive the approach of an enemy, while its body is out of sight.
We had already witnessed the care which a hen-ostrich takes of her nest, and Donald told us that one day he was riding along, when he came near a bird evidently sitting. She remained quiet till he advanced, when instantly she sprang up and rushed towards him, hissing violently. When he turned round, she retreated a dozen paces or so; but directly he rode on she again rushed after him, endeavouring by her hisses to frighten him off.
"Did you kill her, Mr Fraser, after her exhibition of maternal affection?"
"I did," was the answer; "and got her feathers and her eggs, and I and my people ate her up afterwards. Necessity has no law, I know; and if a trader in these regions were to give way to sentiment, he might have to go back with an empty waggon."
The ostrich has, properly speaking, only the rudiments of wings, which are utterly unable to lift it off the ground. It is, however, those magnificent white plumes in the tail and wings which assist it to run at the rapid rate I have described. Both male and female possess these white plumes. The body of the male differs from that of the female. It is of a deep glossy black, among which a few whitish feathers are mingled, but only visible when the plumage is ruffled.
While we were still talking about the ostrich, Leo started up, exclaiming, "See! see! there is one just outside the camp. Run for your gun, Andrew. You may get a shot at it."
There, sure enough, was an object moving slowly towards us, apparently utterly fearless of the fire. Now it began to run exactly as the ostrich does. Now it stopped and bent its head as if to feed. Presently it stretched out its neck, and a loud roar, which sounded very like that of a lion, burst from its throat.
"Do not fire, Mr Crawford," exclaimed Donald; "for if you do, you will be apt to hit a friend;" and he and Stanley burst into a loud laugh, echoed by Timbo and some of the black boys near us, and directly afterwards the seeming ostrich came trotting merrily into the camp. Some of Donald's servants had been amusing themselves in forming such a disguise as I have already described, with the hope of catching a bird or more by means of it on the following day.
While the waggon proceeded onwards the next morning, our friend Donald again set out, accompanied this time by Chickango, to assist him in carrying home any game he might procure. They were to proceed on a line parallel with the caravan, while we ranged at a further distance. We went some little way together. We were about to separate, when, standing up, I caught sight of what I took to be the head of an ostrich in the distance, and we rode towards it. We had not got far when Donald exclaimed, "There is another! I hope there may be a family of them!" Directly afterwards we saw the female bird scampering away, and the male following at some little distance.
"I see no young birds," I observed. "I think you must have been mistaken."
"They are there, though, notwithstanding," observed my companion. "I know it by the way they run. Depend upon it, they would be going twice as fast as that if they were alone."
Putting our horses to their utmost speed, we at length nearly overtook the ostriches; and then I saw a number of little brown duckling-looking birds following at the heels of the female ostrich. Greatly to my surprise, the male ostrich at this moment stopped short, and then wheeling round, darted off on one side. As we were anxious to obtain the young as well as the mother, we continued our pursuit of her. On this he once more put on his utmost speed; but instead of going in a straight line, kept wheeling round and round us, using every effort to attract our attention. Instead of increasing, he decreased his circles, till he got within twenty yards of me, when, to my surprise, over he fell on the ground, and began to struggle desperately, and I thought he would easily be our prize. I therefore dashed forward; but quick as lightning he was on his legs again, running off in an opposite direction to that which the hen had taken. "You follow him, and I will go after the other," exclaimed Donald, perhaps thinking, from some remarks that I had made, that I should not have the heart to knock over the mother and her young brood. I had ridden some way in chase of the male ostrich, when a bird appeared in the distance, towards which he immediately directed his course, fancying, perhaps, that it was his own hen and her young ones. He was a long way ahead of me, and I had lost all hope of overtaking him, for my horse was already beginning to pant with exertion, when the report of a rifle came from the direction where I saw the other bird, and immediately my chase rolled over on the sand, the stranger rushing towards him, while three black heads appeared from some low rocks a little way beyond. Poor fellow! He deserved a better fate! The stranger bird turned out to be one of Donald's Hottentots, who, with his companions, had been fortunately in the right direction to intercept him. I insisted on appropriating the tail of the bird, asserting that the Hottentots would not have killed him had I not chased him up to them.
My horse being by this time well tired, we set off to overtake the waggon. Late in the day Donald arrived with the hen-ostrich over his saddle, his back and head ornamented with the feathers, and half a dozen young birds hanging from the crupper.
"Well, he does cut a curious figure!" exclaimed Leo, who saw Donald approaching. "If I had seen him for the first time, I should have taken him to be a fledged centaur—a mixture of man, quadruped, and bird."
Donald was inclined to claim the feathers I had appropriated; but Senhor Silva coming to my support, it was agreed that they were mine by right of conquest; and I had the satisfaction of presenting them to my fair cousins—the first trophies of the chase which I had deemed worthy of their acceptance.
We obtained, during the following days, a further supply of ostrich eggs, which, with the birds we had killed, gave us as much food as we required. We found it, when moving forward, very necessary to be careful not to deviate from the right course. Frequently over the country where there were no tracks, and often no landmarks, this was very difficult. Often it was a long day's journey from one fountain or pool to the next spot where water could be procured, and we knew well that without the necessary supply we and our cattle would suffer severely, even if we did not lose them altogether, in which case we should be involved in their destruction. Though I much enjoyed my gallops over the country, I was very thankful when Stanley was once more able to mount his horse; and I had, in consequence, generally to proceed on the back of one of the riding oxen, with Natty or Leo behind me. We were now able to carry far more water than usual. I should have said that the ostrich eggs were never broken. Their contents were extracted through a hole in one end, and were carefully surrounded by a basket-work of reeds, thus forming complete, and tolerably strong, bottles. At each fountain we came to they were re-filled.
"We have a long day's journey before us," observed Mr Fraser one morning as we were inspanning, as the colonists call yoking, the oxen to the waggon; "and I wish I was sure that we should find water at the end of it. We have not enough left for the oxen, as we must keep all we have for the horses and ourselves."
He looked graver than usual, and not without reason. The heat was very great, and we had a wide extent of country before us, the soil consisting of light-coloured soft sand, which appeared incapable of producing any green thing for the support of animals. Pass it, however, we must, as it extended right across our path to the south, far away to the east, from the very coast of the Atlantic. Notwithstanding this, our party were in good spirits, from feeling that we were now making steady progress towards home.
"We have encountered so many dangers, and escaped them, that we should not mistrust the willingness of the kind hand of Providence to protect us to the end of our journey," observed Kate.
Her calm confidence gave us all courage, and we resolved not to allow any anticipation of evil to oppress us. Kate had never relaxed in her resolution to instruct Bella under all difficulties, and the greater part of the day they sat in the waggon with their books before them, or their work in their hands, labouring away as diligently as they would have done in their home in the colony. Leo and Natty were far more idle, though they occasionally took their seats near the young ladies, and either read to them, or listened to their reading. The Bible was their chief book, and happily its stores are inexhaustible. The other works they had read over and over again, till they declared that they could no longer look at them with patience. The heat was so great, that we were compelled to camp during the middle of the day, finding that we could make more progress by travelling early in the morning and again in the evening.
We had travelled on since daylight, when a group of trees, which are found here and there even on the desert, gladdened our eyes. We unyoked our weary oxen beneath them, and sought such shelter as their branches would afford; but not a drop or sign of water was to be seen round them. It seemed surprising how they could exist in that arid spot. Fires were lighted to cook the remnant of our provisions, though they also had fallen very short. We were seated at our meal, when Stanley started up, exclaiming, "We must have some of those fellows! Who will come with me?" He pointed eastward—the quarter whence the wind blew—and there I saw, moving slowly over the plain, and cropping the scanty herbage as they went, a large herd of antelopes.
"I will," I said, "if I can have a horse."
"You shall have mine," said Senhor Silva.
"I must go with you!" exclaimed Donald Fraser, gulping down the largest part of the contents of an ostrich egg.
Donald having giving directions for the caravan to move on, and appointed their halting—place, we mounted our horses, intending to meet it there at night, and galloped off towards the herd. I imitated my companions' attitude of leaning down, so as to conceal my head as much as possible, that we might get near without alarming the herd, keeping to leeward. Some time passed before they were aware of our approach.
"They are hartbeests," said Donald, "and will give us a good chase; but we may get within shot of them at last."
There was no shelter which would enable us to stalk them, and we therefore had to trust to their not taking alarm at the appearance of our horses. We rode on and on, and every instant I expected to see them start off, and scamper away fleet as the wind. They were noble-looking animals, with large horns rising on a line with their foreheads, and then bending curiously backwards. We rode on till we got within a hundred yards of them, when a wary old buck caught sight of us, and, suspicious of evil, gave the alarm to his companions.
"On, boys, on!" cried Donald, who had been watching for their expected start to put his horse at full speed. On we dashed, the hartbeests going away directly from the camp. They kept close together, somewhat impeding each other. They were now thoroughly alarmed, and away they went at a speed which it at first appeared would make it utterly impossible for us to come up with them. Not so, however, thought Stanley and Donald Fraser. Our horses seemed to enter into our wishes, and exerted themselves to the utmost. On kept the herd, throwing the dust up behind them, which rose in the air like clouds of smoke. After an hour's flight they began to slacken their speed, while our horses, urged on by our spurs, redoubled theirs. At last we got within a hundred yards of the hard-pressed herd. Stanley quickly threw himself from his horse, and firing, a fine buck flew up into the air; and the next moment, parting from the main body of the herd, darted off to the right; while Donald, aiming at another animal, brought it to the ground. I fired directly afterwards; but so excited had I become by the chase and ride, that I suspect my bullet flew over the heads of the animals.
"Mount and ride after that fellow, Andrew!" exclaimed Stanley, pointing to the hartbeest he had wounded.
I did as he directed me, while he and Donald Fraser, throwing themselves on their horses, again made chase after the herd. The wounded animal fled away by itself, and though evidently, by the flow of blood from its side, severely hurt, it yet continued springing forward at a rapid rate. Determined not to let it go, I urged on my horse in pursuit. At length, greatly to my satisfaction, for my horse was nearly done up, over the hartbeest rolled; and, springing from my saddle, I put an end to its sufferings. When I looked round, neither the herd nor my companions were to be seen. A long chase in that hot sun had made me very thirsty, and not a drop of water had I with me. I was hungry too, for I had only just begun my breakfast; though, if content to eat raw meat, I had the means of satisfying my appetite. The animal was so heavy that I could not lift it on my horse; and yet I did not like to leave it to be devoured by hyenas and jackals, or other beasts of prey, which it would, I knew, inevitably be very shortly, should I go away. I therefore waited and waited, hoping to see my companions return. I thought I remembered pretty accurately the direction I had come; but the clump of trees was but a small object to guide me over that extensive plain, on which, too, I knew that similar clumps existed. At length, not seeing my friends, I decided to load my horse with a portion of the antelope, and to try and find my way back to the camp. I had, as I mentioned, suffered greatly from thirst before, but it did not equal the pain I was now enduring. Not only did my mouth and throat feel dried up, but my whole stomach; and faint and hungry as I was, though I had an abundance of food with me, and might have collected grass and twigs enough to cook a portion, yet I could not swallow a particle. I felt growing weaker and weaker, and my head became so dizzy and my eyes so dim that I could not distinguish objects clearly before me. I began to fear that I had received a sunstroke, for the heat was greater than any I had yet experienced. I knew the fatal effects which might follow. Still, I managed to stick to my horse and ride on.
I had gone a considerable distance, and was trying to discover the wished-for clump of trees, when my eyes fell on a glittering pool of water, some way off to the left. I had not forgotten my experience when before wandering in search of water; but I was convinced that I could not be mistaken. By its side I saw several clumps of trees, and could even distinguish their reflection on the calm surface of the lake. The spectacle revived my spirits, and I urged on my horse, hoping soon to quench my thirst, and put an end to the suffering I was enduring. He too seemed equally eager to reach the lake. I was surprised that Donald had not known of it, as he certainly would have moved there instead of pushing on to the well, where he had doubts of finding water. I confess that had any one told me that what I saw before me was not water, I should have trusted my own senses rather than his assertion, and still gone on towards it. Bitter, therefore, was my disappointment, when in a short time I found myself standing on the margin of what I took to be a lake, but which was merely a dry basin incrusted with saline particles, which gave it, with the assistance of the existing mirage, thus exactly the appearance of water. I turned away, suffering even more than before from the fearful thirst which oppressed me. Still, I had been aroused, and I hoped to be able to return to the camp before being quite overcome. After going some distance, however, my spirits again sank, and I could scarcely sit my horse. In another moment I believe I should have fallen, when I saw a plant trailing along the ground, with large leaves, and among them a large melon-like fruit. Yes, there before me was a water-melon! I threw myself from my horse, and eagerly taking out my knife, cut a huge slice. Oh! how deliciously cool and refreshing it was! I let the juice trickle over my throat and down my mouth. I felt that I could never eat enough of it; it seemed to cool me even far more rapidly than water would have done. I did not forget my poor steed. He put down his head towards the fruit, part of which lay on the ground; and he seemed to relish it quite as much as I did. Having eaten my fill of the melon, I felt greatly relieved. My horse, too, had leisure to devour as much as he would. After riding on a little distance, I saw another fruit of the same appearance. I felt an inclination for a further supply; for when once the throat has become so dry as mine was, the sensation of thirst very quickly returns. I cut a slice, but the first mouthful I took made me throw it from me. It was perfectly bitter; so bitter, that even had I not tasted the previous one. I do not think I could have eaten it. My horse also, after licking it, refused to eat it. I tried another; that was equally bitter. I cut a third and a fourth; they had the same unpleasant taste. My horse also refused to touch them. I began to fancy that I had discovered the only sweet one. Still I persevered, and soon came upon another which was as delicious as the first. Three or four others were of the same character. My horse eagerly devoured them. Though loaded with meat, I could not refrain from adding several water-melons to my burden; and, thoroughly revived, set off in good spirits towards the camp.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
ASSAILED BY FOES, BUT RESCUED BY FRIENDS—CONCLUSION.
I rode on and on, but still saw no signs of the camp. Had it not been for the water-melons, I must inevitably have perished. Darkness came down over the dreary waste, making it appear still more desolate. I trusted that my steed would find his way to the camp, for I could no longer direct him with any degree of certainty. The stars shone brightly overhead; yet, as I did not know the exact bearings of the camp, they would only enable me to keep a direct line, and that might lead me far on one side or the other. Still, I should be prevented from going round in a circle, as travellers who have lost their way are apt to do, to find themselves after many hours at the spot from which they started. Every now and then I stood up in my stirrups, looking out eagerly for the camp-fire. Not a glimmer of light could I see. Dangers beset me also, I knew—old sand-wells and pitfalls might be in my path. Lions also, attracted by the smell of the meat I carried, might follow and seize me. I kept my rifle and hunting-knife ready for immediate use, while I cast an anxious look round me, every moment trying to pierce the gloom, lest some beast of prey might be stealthily approaching. It was a trying time. It would have been worse had I been suffering as before from thirst. At last I began to fear that I must have passed the camp altogether. I determined to halt, and was looking about for a bush or some rock or slight elevation under which I might form my camp, when I found my horse's fore-feet sinking into the ground. I had great difficulty in keeping my seat; but immediately rearing up, he sprang forward. The effort was vain, however, for his feet alighted only on treacherous ground, and down he sank into a large cavity. I made an attempt to spring off his back, but the ground gave way, and I found myself sinking down with him several feet below the surface. He kicked and plunged, and very nearly struck me. I managed, however, once more to get upon his back; and in a short time, finding that his efforts to get out were hopeless, he remained quiet. I had fallen into one of the holes I had dreaded. Even if I could get out myself, there was no chance of extricating my horse, and I should have to find my way to the camp on foot. The loss, too, of the horse would be a serious matter. I was as likely also to be attacked by a lion or hyena as I should have been on the level ground; for though the wild beast, if he got in, might not be able to get out again, I should nevertheless become his prey. The poor horse could with difficulty stand, and every now and then tried to change his uncomfortable position. To relieve him, I got off and stood as well as I was able, keeping my rifle ready for immediate use.
Time went slowly by. Though tired and even drowsy, I could not have gone to sleep, even had I wished it, in my uncomfortable position. I could see the stars overhead; but how deep down I was I could not well judge. It was a depth, I feared, from which I should have great difficulty, even in daylight, in scrambling out. Now and then, indeed, the dread came over me that I should be unable to do so; for the sides were of such soft sand that when I attempted to climb up it gave way below my feet, while there was sand alone at which I could grasp. I passed my time in devising plans for getting out; but I could not help acknowledging that the best of them were not likely to succeed. I might scrape the sand down, and thus, filling up the hollow, gradually rise to the surface; but there was danger of the mass above my head sliding down and overwhelming me.
These unpleasant reflections were presenting themselves to my mind, when I saw, against the sky, a huge head projecting over the edge. I could not be mistaken. It was that of a lion. In another instant he might spring down upon me. My only hope of escape was to fire immediately, and drive him off. Even then I dreaded that he might topple over when shot, and destroy me in his dying struggles. I raised my rifle and fired. A fearful roar was the answer to the sound of my piece. Scarcely daring to look up, I began loading again as rapidly as I could; for even then I feared that the monster would spring down. Roar succeeded roar. It seemed to me that it was echoed far and near by other lions. I waited for some time, but still no creature appeared. I began to hope that my shot had driven them away.
Once more I began to suffer from thirst; and cutting up a water-melon, I took part of it myself, and gave a portion to my poor steed, who showed his gratitude by licking my hand. I waited for some time, wishing for the return of day. Except when my horse made a movement, not a sound for many minutes together reached me. Then the distant roar of a lion might be heard, or the barks of hyenas or jackals. Suddenly I heard the sound of feet, as if a troop of antelopes was passing by. I hoped that they might not inadvertently tumble in on me. To scare them away I began to shout. I kept on, raising my voice to the utmost. To my surprise a shout came in return.
"Hillo! Where are you?"
I recognised Stanley's voice. I soon let him know. Presently I saw his head and Donald's projecting over the pit.
"A bad job for the horse, though we may soon get you out. But you must be almost dead of thirst, lad, as we pretty nearly are," observed Donald.
I told them of the water-melons I had found, and that I still had some remaining.
"Then hand them up, lad! hand them up!" cried Donald. "We shall have more strength to haul you up afterwards."
While he was speaking, he let down the tether-ropes. I fastened the water-melons to them.
"You will excuse us, Andrew," said Stanley, "if we satisfy our thirst before getting you up. You know from experience what it is."
Not waiting for my reply, their heads were in the melons, I suspected, before many seconds had passed. They did not keep me waiting long; but the next time the rope came down I fastened the meat to it. This was hauled up, Donald uttering exclamations of satisfaction at seeing it. By the aid of the rope I very quickly scrambled out; and as I did so I felt thankful that assistance had come, for from the depth of the hole and the nature of the sides I saw that I should not have got out without assistance. They had come upon the remains of the hartbeest, but had not discovered any water-melons, and their horses were, therefore, scarcely able to proceed. Even the small supply of the watery fruit we were able to give the poor animals greatly relieved them.
The next question was, how to get my horse up. I volunteered to descend again. With the aid of the tethers and all the straps we could muster, we managed to get a rope of sufficient length round his shoulders, so as to leave his limbs free, that he might help himself as much as possible. We then shuffled down the sand, making him leap up on it as it fell; and at length, by hard work, once more we got him on level ground.
My horse was heavily laden, but my friends remarked that could they have exchanged some of the meat for water-melons they would gladly have done so. We, however, could discover none on the ground over which we passed. Fortunately they knew the bearings of the camp, and at length its fires appeared in sight. I was surprised to find in reality how short a time I had been in the pit; for I supposed I had passed the greater part of the night there.
We found our friends bitterly disappointed at having discovered no water, as they had expected, at their halting-place. Every one was complaining,—even Kate and Bella; for even the supply intended for the young ladies had been exhausted. My tidings of the water-melons was joyfully received; and it was arranged that a party should set out with oxen and baskets at daylight. I lay down, as did Stanley and Donald, to obtain a little sleep. I was to lead the party, as I fancied I knew the direction where I had found the juicy fruit. When Senhor Silva heard the account I gave, he expressed a hope that we should find not only an abundance of melons, but a root which he called Jeroshua, which grows in the desert, and is of an excessively juicy nature.
While the waggons proceeded on southward, Senhor Silva and I scoured the plain in one direction, keeping sight of the oxen with the panniers, that we might summon them directly we discovered what we were in search of. Before going far, we saw the ground turned up as if some animal had been digging with its horns. Near it was a small plant, the stalk about the thickness of a crow's quill. It had apparently been broken off, and the root to which it had been attached had been consumed. Not far off, however, we saw several similar plants; and Igubo—who accompanied us with a spade—and the other blacks, who were not far off, were directed to dig. They had got down a little more than a foot, when a large tuber, twice the size of the ordinary turnip, was discovered; and the rind being removed, we found it to consist of a mass of cellular tissue, filled with fluid like the root I have mentioned. We eagerly put it to our mouths, and found it deliciously cool. The poor oxen, as soon as it was given to them, ate it eagerly. We loaded one with the roots, and sent it on to overtake the caravan.
Senhor Silva said there was another root, of a similar nature, in other parts of the desert, called the mokuri. The tubers are far larger. It is a herbaceous creeper. The stem, rising out of the ground, sends out its branches horizontally to a distance of a yard or more on either side. They deposit underground a number of tubers, much larger than the first I have mentioned. The natives, when seeking them, strike the ground with a stone, and discover by the difference of sound when one is beneath the spot.
In half an hour, great was our delight to see the ground covered in all directions with the water-melons of which we were in search. Igubo and his sons, who had never before seen any, instantly set upon them. They spat out the first, with wry faces. They had seized upon a bitter one. The other blacks, more cautious, ran along, cutting a small piece off with their knives, tasting each in succession, leaving the bitter and only cutting the sweet.
As we had not more than a load for one buffalo, we pushed on further, hoping to find a larger supply. After going a few yards, I saw Donald, who was in front, standing up in his stirrups. On getting up with him, he pointed ahead, when we saw in the distance what looked like a number of black mounds.
"A troop of elephants!" he exclaimed. "But it will be no easy matter to get near enough for a shot in this open plain."
Riding on a little further, the elephants came more closely in sight; and near them were a number of rhinoceroses. It was soon evident that they were busily employed; and Senhor Silva said he had no doubt that they were eating the water-melons, a number of which probably grew there.
Eager as Donald was to obtain the tusks, we declined assisting him in so dangerous an undertaking. Turning southward to return to the caravan, we shortly afterwards caught sight of three lions, and a whole troop of hyenas and jackals, apparently quenching their thirst with the same juicy fruit. Scarcely had we lost sight of them, when several herds of antelopes appeared, scattered widely over the plain. They also were evidently feeding on the melons. We fortunately, however, fell in with a small patch of the fruit which had not yet been attacked, and were thus able to load our oxen. Continuing our course across the desert, we supported ourselves entirely by the watery fruit I have described.
We were pushing towards a village near a fountain, where Donald expected to find an ample supply of water. He and I were riding ahead. At length some circular, beehive-looking huts appeared in sight, with a few people moving about in front of them. The men were armed with spear and buckler, and wore the usual waist-cloth in front, and ornaments on their heads and arms. Several, when they saw us, came forward, and began to shake their spears and vociferate loudly. Before we could understand their meaning, they were joined by a tall oldish-looking man, who seemed to be their chief. After he had made a long harangue, Donald answered him; but I saw by his gestures and those of his followers that no satisfactory arrangement had been arrived at. Donald began to lose temper.
"The fellows guess the strait we are in, and refuse to give or sell us water," he exclaimed, "unless I deliver to them six of my best oxen, four muskets, and I do not know how many articles besides. I have told them I will do nothing of the sort; and we shall soon see that they will come down in their demands. They know the country we have come through, and probably think we are harder up for water than is the case."
The chief waited to see if we would accede to his demands; and Donald replied that as we could do very well without water they would get nothing, whereas we would have paid them liberally for what we took. Saying this, we turned round our horses and rode off. We had not got far when several arrows came whistling after us. Fortunately none struck us or our horses, for if they had, as they probably were poisoned, the result would have been serious. As we turned our heads for an instant, we saw a large number of people collecting from numerous huts scattered about in all directions. "We hastened back to the caravan to prepare for defence; for the natives, it seemed, were too likely to attack us. Stanley at once proposed encamping and erecting a stockade, within which we might defend ourselves."
"Oh yes!" exclaimed Leo, "we could easily drive them off, as we should have done the natives of the north."
"But," observed Natty, "suppose they besiege us, what are we to do for water?"
"You are right, Natty," said Stanley. "It would be better generalship to pass their village and try to gain another fountain further on."
This, indeed, was our only secure course; for though our own blacks would certainly have fought well, Donald could not depend on his followers, who, he said, had shown the white feather on more than one occasion.
We therefore, instead of camping, as we had proposed, turned somewhat to the east, so as to leave the inhospitable village on our left hand, hoping to get a considerable distance to the south of it before daybreak. The country was tolerably level, and the moon was high enough to give us sufficient light to find our way. It was the first night we had attempted to travel without stopping, but it was absolutely necessary to do so to carry out our object. A battle with the natives was on every account to be avoided. Stanley and I rode as scouts on either hand, while Donald kept ahead to explore the way. We hoped thus to avoid being taken by surprise. We could see numerous animals moving around us. Once a vast herd of elephants hove in sight, another time one of buffaloes, while antelopes of various species bounded off as we came near. We could hear occasionally the muttering sound of lions and the cry of hyenas. Several, indeed, followed us, but as they did not approach, we refrained from firing at them, lest the sound of our rifles might betray our position, Timbo and Chickango brought up the rear on oxen, with directions only to fire in the case of any large body of natives being seen following, or should a wild beast threaten to attack them. Thus we travelled on hour after hour. We halted only once, to give the oxen some water-melons or leroshua roots, and to take a little food and water-melon ourselves, I found that Kate and Bella had become very anxious, because one of the Hottentot boys, who spoke a little English, had been telling them all sorts of stories of the ferocity of the natives, and of the way they had attacked travellers and carried off their oxen. Donald, on hearing this, soundly rated the lad, assuring the ladies that, as he had never been in that part of the country before, he could know nothing of the matter.
After a short rest we again pushed on. The sun at length rose above the dry plain, shedding a brilliant glow of crimson over the whole eastern horizon, and lighting up the summits of the bare rocks, and clumps of trees here and there, with a red tinge. I could not help dreading, with the prospect of a burning day before us, that water might not be found. At length we arrived at one of the sand-wells I have before described. We eagerly rushed into it, and sank our reeds, in the hope of obtaining water. It came, but at a slow rate, which promised but a scanty supply for our thirsty cattle, even though we might obtain enough for our own wants. The blacks quenched their thirst by sucking narrow reeds, which they ran into the sand. Donald, after examining it, gave orders to them to dig, in the hope of obtaining a larger quantity. The result of the operation was satisfactory, and we accordingly resolved to encamp there for a day or two, till our cattle had obtained enough water to last them till we could get across the desert. There was an abundance of grass, growing in tufts, and a small group of trees near us, which would afford us shade and firewood. Stanley also hoped to kill some game. The poor cattle had to wait, though, till our horses had the water they required.
Leo and Natty had been amusing themselves outside the camp. "Here; see what we have got!" cried Leo, returning after they had wandered to a short distance. "Hillo!" he exclaimed, turning round as I went out to meet them. "Why, it was a long creature just now; and see, it has turned into a ball; and a big ball it is!"
The ball of which Leo spoke was covered with large black scales, somewhat the size and shape of the husk of the artichoke, which overlapped each other in a very curious and beautiful manner. David quickly solved the mystery of the scaly ball. Being allowed to remain quiet for a few minutes, it unrolled itself, when it was seen to possess a head and a broad tail, likewise covered with scales. He pronounced it to be one of the manides or scaly ant-eaters—a rare animal, and seldom seen. It had a long extensile tongue, furnished with a glutinous mucous for securing its insect food. It was entirely destitute of teeth, so that it was evident it must suck in the creatures it caught, and swallow them whole.
David said that the manides are very inoffensive animals; that they live solely on ants and termites. They burrow to a great depth in the ground. For this, as also for extracting their food from ant-hills and decayed wood, we found that the creature's feet were armed with powerful claws, which it could double up when walking.
"We are getting into a thorny district," observed Donald, who had joined us, "very different to the thornless one we have passed through. What do you think of this?" he observed, stooping down and picking up a round disc with a sharp thorn in the centre. "Suppose this was to run into a poor animal's foot; it would take him months to get it out, even if he did not become lame for life."
Soon after we camped Donald started off on a hunt by himself. He had not been gone long when we saw him returning from the north, with a gemsbok, or oryx, as I have before called it, across his saddle. Considering the weight he carried, he came pressing on at a rapid rate. He was not a man much given to exhibiting his feelings, but I saw that something was the matter.
"Quick, lads!" he exclaimed. "We must get ready to defend our camp without loss of time. I thought as I rode along that I would just take a look at our inhospitable friends, and see what they were about. When I had got halfway between this and their village, I caught sight of a large number of them stealing along across the plain. I think they must have seen me, or perhaps they took me for a cameleopard or ostrich; for I only showed for a moment behind an ant-hill, then quickly again got under cover to reconnoitre them. There are some two or three hundred fellows at least, and by the way they were marching I am very certain that they intend to attack us. I had just shot this oryx, and I had no wish to leave it for them, or I might have been here sooner; but there is time to get ready, if we are sharp about it."
Stanley, on hearing this, was in his element. He immediately ordered out all hands to cut down the smaller trees from the group I spoke of, to form palisades. The waggons and carts were placed on one side, while palisades were fixed all round, and strong cross-beams secured to them. This done, we set to work to throw up an embankment, which, with the light sand, was easily accomplished, the upright posts keeping it in its place. We thus, in a wonderfully short time, had a little fortress which might have stood a siege against men armed with muskets. As we hoped our expected assailants had no firearms among them, we felt no apprehension as to the result. The chief danger was that they might try to starve us out, which there was a possibility of their doing should they persevere in surrounding us. We were working away till long after dark by the light of our fires. Scouts were sent out, but came back after some time stating that they could see nothing of the enemy. At length Stanley expressed his belief that Donald had been mistaken; at which our friend bristled up. No, he was certain he had seen an army of blacks; probably, however, when they caught sight of him, they might have thought better of the matter.
"But perhaps they were merely on a hunting expedition," said David, "or collecting water-melons."
"They were keeping too close together for hunting; and as they were following in our track, they would have found neither water-melons nor water-roots," answered Donald. "Do not be too sure that they will not come yet. These people, as I fancy you have experienced, like to take their enemies by surprise; and they will not come on in broad daylight with tom-toms and shouts, depend on that. It would be well that those who have the morning watch should keep a bright look-out, or we may be attacked when we least expect it."
Donald's advice was not thrown away on me. I had just relieved Stanley, who had taken what would at sea be called the middle watch, Jack and Timbo being my companions. The night was perfectly still. I could hear the low muttering of lions in the far distance, with an occasional roar as some other creature approached to dispute their prey with them. Now and then the trumpeting of elephants reached me, probably on their way to some distant fountain, or in search of roots or water-melons. I thought it was almost impossible that any enemies could approach without being discovered. Still, I had been too well accustomed to discipline at sea not to keep as bright a look-out as I should have done had I known they were near. I was standing with Timbo on the north side of the fort, when he asked me to let him go out to a little distance.
"If dey come, dey come soon; and we no see dem till dey close to de wall," he whispered.
Trusting to his judgment, I willingly let him do as he proposed. He accordingly slipped over the palisade on one side, and I could barely distinguish him as he crept along over the ground towards the north. He was soon lost to sight. Jack and I kept anxiously looking out for his return. I felt little alarm about the natives, but I was afraid that some prowling beast might attack him. I must have waited half an hour or more, when I distinguished a long object crawling along on the ground. In the gloom I could not make out whether it was Timbo, or a panther perhaps, or a huge snake, so noiselessly and stealthily did it approach. It made, however, for the side of the fort, and in a short time Timbo came up to me, having been admitted by Jack through the sally-port in the rear.
"Dey come!" he whispered. "Dey no see me, dough. Dey t'ink dey find us all asleep. I go call de captain and de rest, and de black fellows; and we all get ready, and lie down and snore loud; and den, when de enemy come, we jump up wid loud shout, and dey run away."
Timbo's plan of action was simple, and I hoped might prove effective; so I begged him to carry it out. In a few seconds all our party, crawling out from their huts, or from beneath the waggon or lean-tos, assembled noiselessly, and took up their station at the palisades, kneeling down so as not to be seen by those approaching. Thus we all remained ready for the attack. Some time passed away, and no enemy appeared; and I could not help suspecting that Timbo might by some means have been mistaken. He, however, was positive that he had seen the enemy, and was rather indignant at my supposing that he could have been deceived. We kept watching on every side, not knowing on which the blacks, if they really were coming, might make their attack. At length I saw an object moving along the ground, exactly as Timbo had approached the fort; then another and another appeared. I found that Timbo had seen them too, and immediately he managed to give the information to our companions, when, somewhat to my amusement, a loud chorus of snores ascended from all parts of the camp. "Dat good," he whispered to me; "dey t'ink we all sleepy. Now, see!"
As he spoke, we could distinguish several black figures crawling on the ground close up to the fort. They stopped and listened, then rising to their feet, ran back to their companions, who yet, we supposed, remained concealed in the neighbouring bushes and long grass. Fearing, probably, that the snoring garrison might awake, the whole array of blacks now advanced, crouching down close to the ground, and had we not been watching for them, they might easily have got close up without being discovered. They advanced in a semicircle, closing gradually in on the fort. We lay still as death. The dogs, I should have said, had been muzzled, and stowed away under the waggon, where they remained quiet. Closer and closer the blacks advanced. "Dey t'ink dey climb over and we not know," whispered Timbo. "Now, see!"
We let the blacks get close to the palisades. They were touching them, expecting without difficulty to climb over, when at a word from Stanley up we all started, firing directly in their faces. The result was even more satisfactory than we could have anticipated, for in an instant the front ranks rushed away, knocking down those behind them in their terror, when the whole army instantly took to flight. The two boys gave vent to loud hurrahs, which were taken up by the rest of our party, when Kate and Bella, who had not been told of what was likely to take place, came rushing out of their tent to inquire what had occurred. We soon found, however, that we were not to gain so easy a victory as we had hoped. The blacks, recovering from their fright, and not acquainted with the effects our firearms were able to produce at a distance, once more assembled, and advanced bravely to the attack. We were consequently compelled to give them a volley, but except from the rifles of two or three of our best shots, very few of our bullets took effect. Seeing that we were not to be taken by surprise, the enemy again retired. We were in hopes that they had gone off altogether. To ascertain whether this was the case, Timbo volunteered once more to go out. He soon returned, saying that they had only retired under shelter, and from the sounds he had heard, he suspected that they proposed making another attack. We waited anxiously till daybreak. On looking out, we saw numerous blacks moving among the bushes. Then a large body appeared, apparently assembling to hold a consultation. After a time they separated, dividing into several small bodies. These marched forward, and posted themselves at equal distances round the camp. It was now clear that, having failed in their expectation of taking us by surprise, they had resolved on starving us out. Fortunately they could not interfere with our water, or they would have done so; indeed, they might possibly not have been aware of the supply we were gradually obtaining from the well.
The day passed away, but our pertinacious enemies made no signs of moving. Of course they kept us on the alert all night, not knowing at what moment they might again attack us. On the second day things began to look serious; for though we had water, provisions were growing scarce. Donald began to talk of cutting our way through the enemy; but as they could assail us at their pleasure as we marched along, this would have been a dangerous proceeding.
"It must be done," he said at last; "if we remain here another day we shall starve, and it is better to run the risk of fighting than to do that."
We had at length obtained a sufficient supply of water for the cattle, and had we been unmolested, we might now with confidence proceed on to the next fountain, after which Donald hoped to find each day a sufficient supply of water. Stanley however proposed, instead of risking an attack while moving on, to sally out with horse and foot and drive the enemy away. He, with Senhor Silva and Donald, were to form the cavalry, and I was to lead a party of infantry, consisting of Jack, Chickango, Igubo and his two sons, and four of Donald's Hottentots.
"We must go too, then!" exclaimed Leo, when he heard the proposal.
"No," answered Stanley. "I have no doubt of your bravery, but you will show it better by remaining to assist David and Timbo in garrisoning the fort." After some hesitation Donald agreed to this plan.
At length, as evening drew on, the blacks appeared in greater numbers than before. Instead of allowing them to approach, however, we opened a warm fire upon them, when even at a considerable distance. This seemed to astonish them, as probably they were not aware that our bullets would reach so far, and once more they retreated under cover. Scarcely had they gone, when Donald gave us the unsatisfactory information that one meal alone remained for the party in the camp.
"Then, my friends," said Stanley, "let us lose no time in making our retreat. We may get to a long distance before the blacks discover that we have left the fort; and if they follow us, we must turn round and drive them off."
The necessity of moving was so obvious, that no time was lost in preparing to start. The waggons were laden, the oxen yoked. The usual fires were lighted, to deceive the enemy. Then in perfect silence we quitted the camp, Stanley and I bringing up the rear, and Timbo and Jack and four other men, well-armed, on foot. We moved on slowly; for neither we, our horses, nor cattle were capable of much exertion. Every now and then Stanley halted and faced round to ascertain whether we were pursued; but some hours passed by, and we began to hope that the enemy had retreated before we commenced our march, or had not ventured to follow us. We knew well, however, that if the blacks did pursue us, they would come on stealthily, so that we should have but a short time to prepare for their reception. Leo and Natty were persuaded to remain in the waggon with their guns loaded, ready to do battle for Kate and Bella; while Donald had put arms into the hands of the most trustworthy of his men, who promised to fight bravely should we be attacked. However, he confessed that he had no confidence in their valour. After riding for some time at a distance from the waggon we once more joined them, hoping that we should be able to proceed without molestation.
I was very thankful when the sun rose; and though his beams were likely to be somewhat hot, they greatly cheered our spirits. I was on the point, at Stanley's request, of riding on to ask Donald Fraser when he proposed to camp, when, looking round, I saw away to the north, on the summit of an elevation we had passed over, a dark line moving towards us. I pointed it out to Stanley.
"It is the blacks! There can be no doubt about that," he answered. "We must be prepared for them. I did not suppose they would have ventured so far in pursuit."
"I say, Andrew, we must drive these fellows off, and have done with them," said Leo. "You will see how Natty and I will fight!"
I was sure from his determined look that he would be as good as his word, and that Natty would not be less courageous, though he made no remark. Stanley had given orders that not a shot was to be fired till he issued the word of command. We were standing in expectation of receiving it, when Timbo shouted out, "See! see! some horsemen come dis way!" We looked towards the west—the direction in which he pointed— where, under a cloud of dust, a herd of buffaloes were seen scampering across the plain, with several horsemen in close pursuit. On they came directly towards our black enemies, who did not perceive them till they were within a distance of four or five hundred yards. The herd of buffaloes dashed madly forward into the very midst of the blacks, whom they scattered in every direction. Numbers were knocked over. The rest, taken by surprise, attempted to escape by flight. Instantly Stanley threw himself upon his horse and galloped forward, shouting to the hunters. The buffaloes meantime continued their charge wherever they saw the negroes assembled, and in a few minutes swept half round the circle, raising the siege in the most effectual manner. Stanley's shouts soon attracted the attention of the hunters. A few words from him explained the state of affairs, and together they charged towards the remainder of the black army, who had hitherto stood their ground. The latter, without even stopping to draw their bows, took to flight towards the north, still followed, in the most extraordinary manner, by the buffaloes, who rushed in and out among them, urged on by the shouts and cries of the hunters in the rear. In a few minutes not a black was to be seen, except those who had been knocked over by the infuriated animals. All this time the only shots fired had been at the buffaloes, three of whom lay dead on the ground. At length the herd, after pursuing the blacks for a considerable distance, turned off to the east, leaving us possessors of the field.
As we were hurrying out to welcome the strangers, we saw Stanley warmly shaking hands with them, when what was my surprise as they rode up to recognise the Messrs. Rowley and Terence O'Brien!
"We will tell you all about it," said the latter, as we warmly shook hands. "But don't you know him?" and he pointed to the fourth horseman.
I could scarcely believe my eyes, when my friend, the worthy first mate of the Osprey—whom I thought had long been numbered with the dead— jumped off his steed and took me by the hand.
"I have not a very long yarn to spin," he said, "though it is a somewhat wonderful one. When I was washed off the deck, I found near me a topmast, which had probably been carried away and cut adrift from some craft ahead of us. I clung on to it, and was picked up a day or two afterwards by a vessel which had to touch at Walfish Bay on her way to the Cape. Finding a party settled there on a whaling speculation, I agreed to remain. However, after some time, as few whales were to be caught, I determined to go on to the Cape. Just as I was about to sail, I received an invitation from a gentleman—Mr Ramsay—about to start into the interior on a hunting and trading expedition, to accompany him as an assistant. The life he proposed to lead was a new one to me; but I had had enough of salt water, and after a little consideration accepted it. Who should arrive directly afterwards but our friends here, who, after having been cast on shore and gone through all sorts of adventures as they travelled down the coast from the north, had at length reached Walfish Bay. But they will give you an account of themselves. Do not ask, though, about their poor sister," he whispered. "She is gone! Died soon after they landed; and that wretched fellow Kydd, he was washed off the raft in passing through the surf. These three young men alone remained, with scarce a rag on their backs, and not a sixpence in the world. They were therefore very glad to accept the offer made to them by my friend, to assist him in shooting elephants, and rhinoceroses, and other game. From what I have seen of them, they are better suited to that sort of work than the steady business of a colonist. We have now been out six months, and are on the point of turning westward; indeed, had the buffaloes not led us in this direction, we should not have come further to the east. The prospect of the desert is not over-inviting, and for my part, I have had enough of hunting. I have run a narrow chance of being killed a score of times by lions and elephants, not to speak of rhinoceroses and buffaloes, hyenas and snakes, and I do not know what other creatures. When my engagement is over, I have made up my mind not to accept another of the same sort, but to stick to the sea as long as I am fit for work, or till I can save enough to enable me to settle down in a snug cottage in old England."
After the hint I had received from my friend Gritton, I forebore to make too minute inquiries of the Rowleys as to their adventures. Terence O'Brien, however, gave me most of the particulars. They had undergone a fearful amount of suffering even before they were cast ashore, and a still greater amount afterwards. It is surprising, indeed, that poor Miss Rowley should have survived so long on the raft; and we all, indeed, had cause to be thankful that we had been preserved from similar sufferings.
As soon as part of the buffalo flesh had been divided among our half-famished party, and had been cooked and eaten, we inspanned and pushed on to join Mr Ramsay's caravan. Though there was little chance of our being pursued by the hostile natives, I was very thankful when at length the fires of his camp appeared in sight. Terence O'Brien had galloped on to announce our coming, and he now came up with loud whoops and cries, followed by most of his party, from whom we received the warmest welcome. We had still, however, a long journey before us; but the road was known, the fountains were within moderate distances of each other, and the natives were friendly. Mr Ramsay had been successful both in hunting and trading, and the large piles of huge elephant and hippopotamus tusks, lion and panther skins, and other articles, rather excited Donald Fraser's envy. "However," he observed to me, as he looked at his fellow-trader's well-filled waggons, "I have had the satisfaction of rescuing you and your friends, Mr Crawford, out of as dangerous a position as travellers in Africa can well be placed in, and I have no reason to complain of the liberality of your generous friend, Senhor Silva."
We at length reached Walfish Bay, where we found a vessel, the Flying Fish, just on the point of sailing for the Cape. The Rowleys and Terence O'Brien were, however, so enamoured of their hunting life, that they determined to start off into the wilds again on their own account. Our kind, noble-minded, and generous friend, Senhor Silva, here bade us good-bye, intending to wait for a vessel which was expected to call in on her way to Saint Paul de Loando. He shook my hand warmly.
"I am a widower, as you know, and I had a hope, I confess, which I must not speak of, for I see that it is vain," he said. "You will think of me, and so will your sweet cousin, I trust, sometimes; and I shall be truly glad to hear of your happiness."
We all embarked on board the Flying Fish, hoping at length, after all our adventures, to reach our destination in safety. I had made up my mind to settle on shore, and assist my cousins in cultivating their farm. Perhaps my cousin Kate had something to do with my resolution. At all events, when I proposed it she appeared very well pleased.
Leo, when he heard of it, exclaimed, "Oh, how delightful! because then, Andrew, you will not carry Natty away, as I was afraid you might have done; and he and I can manage to get on so capitally together. We have formed all sorts of plans already, and I only hope that you may marry Kate, and he, by-and-by, can marry Sheila; and then we shall all be brothers, 'and live happily together to the end of our days,' as the story books say."
Though our voyage was a pleasant one, I was very thankful when at length the lofty height of Table Mountain appeared ahead, covered with its table-cloth, and we dropped our anchor off Cape Town. We had still a long journey before us; but at length the anxiety which my uncle and aunt had been so long suffering on account of the non-appearance of their children was relieved by our safe arrival at their farm.