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The Outspan Tales of South Africa   By: (1862-1931)

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The Outspan Tales of South Africa By Sir Percy Fitzpatrick Published by William Heinemann, London. This edition dated 1897.

The Outspan, by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.



" There is no art in the Telling that can equal the consummate art of the Happening !"

It was a remark dropped by a forgotten someone in a prospector's hut one night, years and years ago, when we had exhausted snakes and hunting, lucky strikes and escapes, and had got away into coincidences. One of the party had been telling us an experience of his. He was introduced on the day he arrived to a man well known on the fields. It seemed quite impossible that they could have met before, for they compared dates and places for ten years back, and yet both were puzzled by the hazy suggestion of having seen the other before, and, in our friend's case, of something more definite. His remark to the other was:

"I can't help feeling that I saw you once in a devil of a fright somewhere or dreamt it, I suppose!"

But this first feeling faded quickly away, and was utterly forgotten by both. Later on they shared a hut near Rimer's Creek, and afterwards, when houses came into vogue, they lived for several years together, while the first impression was lying buried, but not dead.

One day, in the process of swapping yarns, the other man was telling of the "narrowest escape he ever had" and all due to such a simple little mistake. A ticket collector took the tickets at the wrong end of a footbridge. Instead of collecting them as the passengers from the train went on to the bridge, he took them as they were going off . The result was that the crowd of excursionists was too great for the little bridge, and it slipped between the abutments, carrying some two hundred people into the river below, the narrator being one of them. It was then that the dormant idea stirred and awoke jumped into life and our friend put up his hands as he had done fifteen years before, when the little bridge in Bath dropped, and gasped out:

"My God! you were the other chap that hung on to the broken rail! That's where we met!"

That was what prompted the forgotten one to say after we had lapsed into silence:

"There's no art in the Telling that can equal the consummate art of the Happening!"

And I only recall the remark because it must be my apology for telling plain truth just as it happened.

When a man has spent some years of his life the years of young manhood they generally are in the veld, in the waggon, or tent, or Bush, it is an almost invariable rule that something which you can't define germinates in him and never entirely dies until he does. When this thing this instinct, feeling, craving, call it what you will awakens, as it periodically does, it becomes a madness, and they call it trek fever, and then, as an old friend used to say, "You must trek or burst!" There are many stories based on trek fever, but this is not one of them; and if you were to ask those who know them, or, better still, get hold of any of the old hands, hard headed, commonplace, unromantic specimens though they might be, who have lived in the veld if you gave them time to let it slip out unawares you would find that every man jack of them would have something to say about the camp fire. I do believe that the fascination within the fascination is the camp fire in veld life, with its pleasant yarn swapping, and its long, pregnant, thoughtful silences, no less enjoyable. The least loquacious individual in the world will be tempted to unfold a tale within the circle of a camp fire's light.

Everything is so quietly, unobtrusively sociable, and subjects are not too numerous in the veld, so that when a man has something apropos or interesting to tell, he commands an appreciative audience... Continue reading book >>

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