Page:Lake Ngami.djvu/253

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245
EXTRAORDINARY SPECTACLE—NARROW ESCAPE.

The bay presented at this time a most extraordinary spectacle, the whole being covered with one mass of dead fish. We could only account for so unusual a sight by supposing that an epidemic had occurred among them, more especially as it did not appear to be confined to one or two species of the finny tribe, but to all which are indigenous to the coast, the gigantic shark not excepted. In some of the more sheltered spots the fish lay so deep that I remember on one occasion to have had some difficulty in forcing my way through in a small Mackintosh punt.

As may well be expected, the effluvium arising from such a mass of decomposed matter was offensive and sickening. Whether all the fish died, or the stench drove the survivors away, I am unable to decide; but certain it is that hardly a fish was left in the Bay. On our first arrival we captured large quantities by means of a small seine-net, but now all our attempts proved futile.

An incident occurred to me one day which might have been attended with fatal consequences. A cutter had lately arrived from the Cape, the object of the captain being to harpoon the "humpback" whale, which at this season of the year abounds in the vicinity of Walfisch Bay. I had paid a visit to the craft in the punt mentioned. On my return it came on to blow hard from the land. In calm weather the punt could be managed with great ease; but, on account of her flat bottom and light construction, it was impossible to make head against a stiff breeze. When within a stone's throw of the shore she became unmanageable, and for the space of fully one hour all my efforts to propel her were unavailing. At last, finding my strength failing, I made one more desperate effort, and, having fortunately succeeded in getting her into shallow water, I leaped over the side and ultimately brought her to a place of safety. My arms were quite paralyzed, and for a while I was unable to lift them from my sides. Had the struggle lasted another minute, noth-