Lake Ngami/Chapter 28

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Arrival at Walfisch Bay.—Atrocities of the Namaquas.—Mr. Hahn.—His Philanthropy.—Author departs for Richterfeldt.—Shoots a Lion.—Lions unusually numerous.—Piet's Performances with Lions.—The Lion a Church-goer.—Barmen.—Eikhams.—Kamapyu's mad Doings and Consequences thereof.—Kamapyu is wounded by other Shafts than Cupid's.—Author visits Cornelius; here he meets Amral and a party of Griqua Elephant-hunters.—Reach Rehoboth.—Tan's Mountain.—Copper Ore.—Jonathan Afrika.—A Lion sups on a Goat.—A Lion besieges the Cattle.

We had an excellent run to Walfisch Bay, and reached it on the 23d of the month in which we left the Cape. In the afternoon I landed the horses, but very nearly lost the best. The halter having slipped off his head, he was making straight for the sea, and was well-nigh exhausted before we could again secure him. The same night I rode over to Scheppmansdorf, but the darkness was so profound that I was unable to see the track or hold any course. It was by the merest accident that I stumbled upon the house, to the great surprise of my old friends, the Bam family, whom I found well, but not so comfortably lodged as when I saw them last, the Kuisip having swept away their dwelling-house and outbuildings.

From the worthy missionary I learned much both to please and grieve me. The Namaquas had, as usual, been pillaging the Damaras, and were dealing death and desolation around them. It was no longer considered safe even for white men to remain. Indeed, the Namaquas had already attacked Richterfeldt. Early one morning a horde of these marauders suddenly appeared, and carried off all the cattle belonging to the people of the station. Not satisfied with this, they fired several shots into the dwelling-house, though, fortunately, without effect. Mrs. Rath and children were laid up by "eye-sickness," and Mr. Schöneberg, who had arrived the day previously, and who was in a very weak state from the effects of a recent severe illness, was almost frightened out of his senses by the sudden and unexpected onset.

On Mr. Rath walking up to the barbarians to remonstrate with them on their brutal conduct, they seized and flogged him most severely. A Damara who was at his side they shot dead. In consequence of this attack, Messrs. Rath and Schöneberg were daily expected to leave their stations, and to remove to Mr. Bam's place.

On the other hand, I heard that a party of Bechuanas had been visiting Jonker Afrikaner, and it was supposed they had crossed the Kalahari desert. This was gratifying intelligence, because, if these natives had been able to pass through such dreaded regions, I might also humbly hope to do the same.

On my return to the Bay I found almost all my goods, and those of my friend, Mr. Reid, safely landed, and, with the assistance of Mr. Bam's oxen, every thing was quickly transferred to the station. This was scarcely effected when the Rev. Messrs. Kleinschmidt and Hahn arrived from the Cape. The latter had been on his road to Europe to pay a visit to his family, and make some arrangements respecting the education of his children. But his heart bled for the wretched condition of this benighted land, and, at immense sacrifice, he returned with a view of endeavoring once more to bring about a reconciliation between the Namaquas and the Damaras.

Next to the love and worship which we owe to our Creator must be ranked the love of our own species. This Divine doctrine recalls those beautiful lines by Leigh Hunt:

"Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
'What writest thou?' The vision raised its head,
And, with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, 'The names of those who love the Lord.'
'And is mine one?' said Abou. 'Nay, not so,'
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low.
But cheerly still; and said, 'I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow-men.'
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had bless'd,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest."

All Mr. Hahn's exertions and painstakings, however, were in vain. Jonker was inexorable. He flatly told him there was no occasion for missionaries, since they themselves were quite capable of managing the affairs of the country. This proved the death-blow to the Damara mission; for, though Messrs. Schöneberg and Rath continued their labors for some time afterward, they were finally compelled to desist.

On leaving Great Namaqua-land the preceding year, I placed two teams of wagon-oxen under the charge of my friend, William Zwartbooi, to be kept ready for emergences. I now lost no time in sending people to fetch them down; but the distance was great, and I could not expect them for several weeks to come. Through my interference, Mr. Bam kindly furnished Mr. Reid with a sufficiency of trained oxen for his own conveyance at a very moderate cost, which enabled him to start for the interior with scarcely any delay.

While waiting for my own cattle, I busied myself with arranging my baggage, sketching plans for the future, eating naras, and now and then mounting my steed to chase the ostrich.

On the 9th of February Mr. Rath arrived, and, seeing my dilemma, kindly proposed to place some of his oxen at my disposal as far as Barmen. I gratefully accepted the disinterested offer, and having obtained a few more oxen from the Namaqua chief Jacob, at Scheppmansdorf, I prepared to commence my journey with one of the wagons, leaving the other to follow as soon as my cattle arrived. Rehoboth having been appointed as the place of rendezvous, I started.

My course, as on former occasions, lay by Tincas, Onanis, and Tjobis, places well known to the reader. I saw a good deal of game, but was too much pressed for time to stop and shoot. Until we reached Richterfeldt, little or nothing of interest occurred. William and Bonfield, in rambling about the hills one day, stumbled upon a lion, and it being the first time they had ever seen the dreaded beast in his native state, they became almost petrified with fear.

I also had an opportunity of shooting one of these animals. While one day pursuing some gemsboks, a lion unexpectedly sprang out of a bush within forty or fifty paces of me. The brute's sudden appearance somewhat startled me, but I had so often been balked in my attempts to get a shot at lions that I only hesitated for a moment. Accordingly, the lion having turned round to look at me, I took a deliberate aim at his forehead and fired, and, as good luck would have it, with deadly effect. Indeed, so accurate was my aim that it almost split his skull in two, and, as a matter of course, killed him on the spot.

My prize proved a full-grown male, but his hide was so much worn and torn that I did not deem it worth the trouble of preservation.

Lions had been unusually numerous and daring during the year. Mr. Rath's wagon-driver, Piet, a mighty Nimrod, and his two foster-sons, had killed upward of twenty in the course of a few months. And many and wonderful were their escapes from these animals.

One night the old man was awakened by a peculiar noise outside his door, which was constructed so as to shut in two parts. The lower division was closed, but the upper was left open on account of the oppressive state of the atmosphere. Quietly taking up his gun, Piet stole softly to the door, expecting to meet with a hyæna, as he knew that one of these beasts was in the habit of harassing the goat-kids, which, for better security, he had kraaled against the wall of the house. His amazement, however, was great when, instead of a hyæna, a lion stood before him. Without losing his presence of mind, he poked the muzzle of his piece against the animal's head and blew out its brains.

Again: Riding along one morning in a very weak state, having just recovered from a severe fever, a lion suddenly rushed at him. The ox became frightened, and threw the old man. One of his feet was caught in the stirrup; but, fortunately, the "veld" shoe slipped off. "I know," said the veteran hunter, "I was thrown, and that I got on my legs again, but in what manner is quite a mystery to me this day. I called, as loud as my feeble voice permitted, to my people to bring a gun, the lion always getting nearer and nearer, until he stood within arm's length. I once or twice tried to pull out my pistol or my sword-knife, which, as you know, I usually carry about with me, but in my anxiety I missed them. My jacket was lying just in front of me on the ground, but the brute had one of his paws on it. I felt desperate, however, and, pulling it forcibly away, struck the lion on the head, when he grinned and growled terribly, and I expected every moment he would tear me to pieces. At this juncture, my Damara, who fortunately had heard my cries of distress, came running up with my gun. Taking the piece from the man, I fired at the lion, who had retreated a few paces, where he sat quietly looking at me. I don't know whether I hit him, for what with the sudden fright, and my weak constitution, I felt very unsteady. Be that as it may, it had, at all events, the effect of scaring him away, for at the report of the gun he instantly betook himself to cover."

On another occasion, when the missionary wagon was on its road to Walfisch Bay, a lion sprang unexpectedly into the midst of the sleeping party, which was bivouacking, at the time, on the banks of the Kubakop River. One of Piet's sons, who was present, picked up his gun from the ground; but, in order to prevent the dew from injuring it, he had wrapped his waistcoat round the lock, and in the hurry he was unable to disengage the garment. Finding, however, that the lion was just about to lay hold of him, he held out the piece and fired at random, but fortunately with deadly effect.

Once a lion found his way into the church at Richterfeldt! The alarm being given, the Damaras, assegai in hand, rushed to the spot, and, seizing him by the tail and ears, dragged him bodily out of the sacred edifice. The poor brute was actually dying from starvation, and offered but a very feeble resistance. I saw his skin.

At Barmen I was obliged to leave Mr. Rath's cattle; but, by the assistance of Mr. Hahn's wagon-driver, who, on reasonable terms, lent me half a dozen first-rate oxen, I was able to prosecute my journey. On arriving at Eikhams I met my friend Reid, who had been very successful in the disposal of his stock in trade. I saw Jonker; but, though he was civil and obliging, the constant forfeiture of his word had disgusted me, and I felt compelled to treat him with great coolness and reserve.

Before leaving Eikhams, an accident occurred that might have ended seriously. A half-cast native lad, whom Eyebrecht had placed at my disposal, was the occasion of it. Though a shrewd youth, he was cursed with a passionate temper. The Namaquas had been teasing him for some time, when, suddenly unfolding his clasp-knife, he threatened to stab the nearest man, but was quickly deprived of the deadly instrument. His blood was up, however, and, seeing my rifle standing against the wall of the old church, he made a rush for it, and was about to discharge the contents into one of his tormentors, when, throwing myself hurriedly between the contending parties, I fortunately prevented the catastrophe. Being now convinced that a storm was brewing, I quickly pushed the boy through the door of the building, and placed myself resolutely at the entrance.

Notwithstanding the Namaquas would not hesitate to shoot any of their slaves for the smallest offense, they consider such an act on the part of one of the subjected race against his master to be of so atrocious a character that they would undoubtedly have torn the lad to pieces had I not been present. As it was, they rose to a man, and swore they would have his life. The boy, on his part, instead of betraying any symptoms of fear, was foaming with rage, and, had I permitted it, would unhesitatingly have attacked the whole party.

Finding that I was determined to foil them of their victim, they turned their ire on me. I quietly told them that the lad was in my employ, and that, if they left him alone, I would duly investigate the matter, and, should I find him guilty, would punish him severely; but, if they chose to take the law into their own hands, they must look to the consequences, for they should only pass to the youth over my body. This somewhat cooled their rage, and, after much parleying, the matter was finally and peaceably settled.

Many a time since has the same boy, by the violence of his temper, placed me and himself in the most critical positions, and I often marveled that he was not killed. At last he received a severe lesson. Having one day coquetted with some Kalahari women, the indignant husband or parent sent him off with two poisoned arrows, one of which pierced his nose, and the other transfixed his arm. For a short time he suffered agonies, but escaped with his life.

Excepting his passionate temper, he was an excellent fellow—honest, willing, obliging, industrious, enduring, but, above all, an inimitable "tracker." Indeed, in this respect he surpassed the Bushmen. Many a weary mile have I trodden under his able guidance, and many a wild beast have I laid low by his assistance. His sight was also remarkable. I rather pride myself on my experience as a woodsman, and usually proved a match for the natives; but this youth beat me hollow. My men called him Kamapyu—a most appropriate name, since it signified hot water. I was at last compelled to part with him, which I did with considerable reluctance. I rewarded his services, which had proved invaluable to me, by a variety of things, besides sufficient cattle to buy him half a dozen wives, an acquisition which, next to carnivorous food, is the greatest bliss of a savage.

After my departure from Jonker's I directed my steps toward Cornelius. On taking leave of this chief the previous year, I promised forthwith to return with a supply of goods, provided he and his people behaved themselves satisfactorily. In order to save time, I dispatched a messenger to acquaint him with my approach, as also to request him to call his tribe together, and urge them to bring such cattle as they desired to dispose of. My wish was attended to; for, on arriving at the werft, I found about two hundred head of cattle waiting for me, which, after some little bargaining, I secured in the course of two days. I had the misfortune, however, to lose a small portion of this number, which broke through the kraal in the night, and were never again heard of. I strongly suspect they were stolen by the original owners. I had also the mishap to get my telescope spoiled. Being probably smitten by the lustre of the metal, the mischievous Namaqua lads extracted the object-glass, which could be of no earthly use to them except as an ornament.

About this time two of my horses died of the "horse-sickness." One still remained, and, though a remarkably fleet animal, was so shy as to be useless as a hunter. He was the same that ran away with me at Cape-Town. The natives offered to buy him at a great price, but I had made up my mind that, rather than go without him, I would run the risk of losing him by the fearful distemper in question. However, he lived to see the Lake, where I finally disposed of him.

Some days after my arrival at Cornelius's werft, my old friend Amral made his appearance. He was accompanied by a party of Griquas,[1] from whom I learned much to interest me.

In the hope of meeting with elephants, they had crossed the Kalahari direct from their own country, but had suffered great privations; for, though from all appearances water must have been abundant in the rainy season, the desert was fearfully dry when they passed through it. They had occasionally been as much as nine consecutive days without a drop of water, but sustained their own lives and those of their quadrupeds by sucking and eating the wild gourd, which fortunately covered the waste in great abundance. To lessen the bitterness of the juice, they first cooked or roasted the fruit.

The party, which consisted of no less than forty-seven wagons, had penetrated to within a few days of the Lake Ngami, but not finding elephants, they retraced their steps. A certain portion of the country they had visited was infested by the "tsetse," by whose poisonous bites they had lost some of the cattle and horses. The "horse-sickness" also prevailed.

I engaged as Bechuana interpreter one of the Griquas, who had visited the lake by the ordinary route (viâ Kuruman). He spoke of the inhabitants as civil and hospitable, but warned me against the Dutch farmers, should I fall in with any. I was well aware of their troublesome disposition, but, of course, made due allowance for the exaggerations of an individual belonging to a nation who are sworn enemies to the Boers. The Griquas supposed that Ngami might be reached in nine days from Tunobis (the farthest point to the eastward reached by Mr. Galton about a year and a half ago), and said that two or three fountains existed on the road.

On the 17th of March I found myself at Rehoboth, having, in little more than a month, with borrowed oxen, passed over several hundred miles of country, and obtained by barter about three hundred head of cattle. I felt rather proud of the performance. My other wagons, which I had ordered to take the Kuisip route, had not yet arrived. I felt disappointed, and was unable to account for the delay, since want of oxen could not have been the cause, the missionaries having kindly and promptly sent me more than one team. Indeed, Onesimus had started with upward of forty well-trained beasts several weeks previously to my reaching the station, and I began to fear that some evil had befallen them.

While abiding their forthcoming, I busied myself in mapping the country and exploring the neighborhood. Close to the station rose some conspicuous masses of granite (on Mr. Galton's map erroneously termed limestone), interspersed with large quantities of glittering quartz. From the highest peak I obtained a fine and extensive view of the surrounding country. The beautiful table-mountain of Tans, visible from many points, stood out in bold relief against the western horizon. In a clear atmosphere it may be distinguished at an immense distance. Thus it can be discerned at Onanis, from the top of "Wit-water" range, at Rehoboth, and even considerably to the south on the Fish River.

Sir James Alexander, in his journey to Walfisch Bay from the Orange River, climbed Tans Mountain, and considered its elevation to be about 4000 feet, but he does not say whether above the plain or the level of the sea. Be that as it may, however, I do not think either estimation correct. Mr. Vollmer, who once, with great labor, crossed the table of Tans in his own wagon, informed me that its western aspect, or the side facing the Kuisip, is very steep and high, but the eastern slope is gradual, and not a great deal elevated above the plain.

The rocks all about Rehoboth are strongly impregnated with copper, and specimens of the ore of a very productive quality (forty to ninety per cent.) are occasionally found. I presented Mr. Reid with several pieces, giving him permission to use them as he thought fit. I advised him, however, to get them analyzed by Mr. Schmieterleuv, whom I knew to be a straightforward man; but he preferred to subject them to his own friend, Dr. G——. After about a year's absence I met Mr. Reid again, and on asking him what advantage he had derived from the copper I gave to him, he replied, "None whatever. Dr. G—— declared the specimens were worthless." Yet not long afterward he went into partnership with a certain merchant on the strength of these identical specimens. So much for friendship!

Captain Zwartbooi's people had started off to Damara-land under pretext of looking out for fountains, but the sequel proved it was solely with a view of stealing cattle. The example set them by Jonker, Cornelius, and others, was too strong to be longer withstood.

One evening Jonathan Afrika presented himself at the station. I had already, at Barmen, seen this man, who was of Bechuana extraction, but had been brought up among civilized people. A shrewder fellow I never came across. He bore an excellent character throughout the country. When he first arrived he accompanied Mr. M——, the trader, in whose service he suffered much privation.

Jonathan, who soon afterward entered into my service, was a man of great courage and an excellent marksman. He had shared many a hunting exploit with his friend Hans, and had made numerous lions bite the dust.

On one occasion, Jonathan was riding leisurely along, when suddenly, a short distance in advance of him, a fine lion rushed out of the bushes. Throwing himself quickly off the ox, he gave chase to the beast, calling out loudly, "Nay, stop a little. To-day we must, indeed, talk with each other." Whether the lion thought he could not escape, or that he considered his dignity concerned, I shall not presume to say; but, at all events, he stopped to look at his pursuer. No sooner, however, had he turned his head, than a well-directed ball entered one of his eyes, and laid him low in an instant.

After waiting at Rehoboth for about a week, I had the satisfaction to see my men and wagon arrive in safety. The cause of the delay had been the nature of the road, the greater part of which consisted of a succession of sand-ridges, as bad as those at Scheppmansdorf. The oxen were good, and more than sufficient to do the work; but, from want of yokes, they could only make use of twelve at a time.

The men had also been much plagued by lions. One fine moonlight night, just as they had unyoked at the base of a small sand-hill, one of these animals appeared immediately above. After having eyed them for a moment, he dashed in among the goats, and, before the men could get their guns in order, he was out of harm's way with one of the quadrupeds.

At another time, a lion made a rush at the cattle when at pasture, who fled precipitately into a defile, where, not finding an outlet, they faced about and confronted their fierce antagonist. The beast evidently dreaded the forest of bristling horns; for, after having paced to and fro at the entrance of the pass the best part of the night, keeping cattle and men in great tribulation by his savage growls, he slunk off toward morning.

  1. Descendants of Dutch farmers and Hottentot women, and hence also called Bastards.