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A Secret of the Lebombo   By: (1855-1914)

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A Secret of the Lebombo, by Bertram Mitford.

A SECRET OF THE LEBOMBO, BY BERTRAM MITFORD.

CHAPTER ONE.

THE SHEEP STEALERS.

The sun flamed down from a cloudless sky upon the green and gold of the wide valley, hot and sensuous in the early afternoon. The joyous piping of sheeny spreeuws mingled with the crowing of cock koorhans concealed amid the grass, or noisily taking to flight to fuss up half a dozen others in the process. Mingled, too, with all this, came the swirl of the red, turgid river, whose high banked, willow fringed bed cut a dark contrasting line through the lighter hue of the prevailing bush. From his perch a white necked crow was debating in his mind as to whether a certain diminutive tortoise crawling among the stones was worth the trouble of cracking and eating, or not.

Wyvern moved stealthily forward, step by step, his pulses tingling with excitement. Then parting some boughs which came in the way he peered down into the donga which lay beneath. What he saw was not a pleasant sight, but it was what he had expected to see.

Two Kafirs were engaged in the congenial, to them, occupation of butchering a sheep. Not a pleasant sight we have said, but to this man doubly unpleasant, for this was one of his own sheep not the first by several, as he suspected. Well, he had caught the rascals red handed at last.

Wyvern stood there cogitating as to his line of action. The Kafirs, utterly unsuspicious of his presence, went on with their cutting and quartering, chattering gleefully in their deep toned voices, as to what good condition the meat was in, and what a succulent feast they would have when the darkness of night should enable them to fetch it away to the huts from this remote and unsuspected hiding place. One was clad in a pair of greasy moleskin trousers, hitched up to his shoulders by a pair of filthy braces, largely repaired with string; the other was clad in nothing at all, unless a string of blue beads round his neck counted for anything. In the trouser wearing savage Wyvern recognised one of his own herds, whose absence from the flock under his charge had led to the present discovery. The other, a tall, powerful, desperate looking scoundrel with a deeply pock marked countenance, he did not recognise at all.

It was all very well to have caught them red handed, but the question was, what course to pursue. They were two to one, hard, wiry savages at that. They had sheath knives and he was unarmed; for a pocket knife is of little or no use as a defensive weapon in that it is bound to shut on the hand of the wielder. They were engaged in an act the penalty of which spelt lashes and fine, or, at best a year's hard labour; was it likely they would submit meekly to capture? And then, as there flitted through his mind a recent instance of a stock fanner being unhesitatingly murdered under precisely similar circumstances, Wyvern began to realise that his own position was one of some little danger. Would it not be wiser to withdraw now, and take steps for trapping the culprits when he should have more force at his disposal? Decidedly here was food for reflection.

But the matter was taken out of his hands by one of those unforeseen trifles upon which so much may turn. In his eagerness to watch the proceedings just below he had let one hand come into contact with the leaf of a prickly pear, which sprouted interwoven with the bushes through which he was peering. Now contact with an ordinary thorn would not have moved him, but contact with these innumerable and microscopic stings, as it were, which once in the skin are bound to leave painful recollection of that fact even for weeks, inspired a sort of instinctive horror that had made him start... Continue reading book >>




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