Bough, as soon as it was dawn, sent
three of the Kaffirs from the kraals, in different
directions, to search for her, and, mounted on a fresh
pony, took the fourth line of search himself.
He had chosen the right direction
for riding down the quarry. At broad high noon
he came upon her, in a bare, stony place tufted with
milk-bush. She was crouching under a prickly-pear
shrub, that threw a distorted blue shadow on the sun-baked,
sun-bleached ground, trying to eat the fruit in the
native way with two sticks. But she had no knife,
and her mouth was bleeding. Bough gave the tired
pony both spurs when the prey he hunted came in sight.
She leaped up like a wild cat when the mounted man
rode down upon her, and ran, doubling like a hare.
When overtaken, she fell upon her face in the sand,
and lay still, only shaken by her long pants.
Bough dismounted and caught her by the wrist and dragged
her up with his bandaged right hand. He beat
her about her cheeks with his hard, open left.
Then he threw her across his saddle, but she writhed
down, and lay under the pony’s feet.
He kicked her then, for giving so
much trouble, lifted her again, and tried to mount,
holding her in one arm. But the frightened pony
swerved and backed, and the girl writhed, and struggled,
and scratched like a wild cat. She did not know
what mercy meant, but she saw by the look that came
into those light eyes that this man would have none
upon her. She fought and bit and screamed.
Bough took an ox-reim then, that was
coiled behind his saddle, and bound her hands.
He tied the end of the leather rope to the iron ring
behind his saddle, and remounted, and spurred his
weary beast into a canter. The little one was
forced to run behind. Again and again she fell,
and each time she was jerked up and forced to run
again upon her bleeding feet, leaving rags of her
garments upon the karroo-bushes and blood-marks on
the stones. And at last she fell, and rose no
more, showing no sign of life under the whip and the
spur-rowel. Then Bough bent over and drew his
long hunting-knife and cut the reim, leaving her hands
still bound. If any spark of life remained in
he girl, he could not tell. Her knees were drawn
in towards her body; her eyes were open, and rolled
upwards; there was foam upon her torn and bleeding
mouth. She was as good as dead, anyway, and the
wild dogs would be sure to come by-and-by. Already
an aasvogel was hovering above; a mere speck, the
great bird poised upon widespread wings, high up in
the illimitable blue.
Presently there would be a flock of
these carrion feeders, that are not averse to fresh-killed
meat when it is to be had.
Bough remounted, and, humming a dance
tune that was often on his lips, rode away over the
The great vulture wheeled. Then
he dropped like a falling stone for a thousand yards
or so, and hovered and dropped again, getting nearer ever
so much nearer with each descent. And
where he had hovered at the first were now a dozen
specks of black upon the hot, bright blue.
A wild dog crept down from a cone-topped
spitzkop, and stood, sniffing the blood-tainted air
eagerly, whining a little in its throat.
The great vulture dropped lower.
His comrades of the flock, eagerly following his gyrations
and descents, had begun to wheel and drop also.
Another wild dog appeared on the cone-shaped kop.
Other furry, sharp-eared heads, with eager, sniffing
noses, could be seen amongst the grass and bush.
Then suddenly the higher vultures
rose. They wheeled and soared and flew, a bevy
of winged black specks hurrying to the north.
They had seen something approaching over the veld.
The great bird hanging motionless, purposeful, lower
down, became aware of his comrades’ change of
tactics. With one downward stroke of his powerful
wings, he shot upwards, and with a hoarse, croaking
cry took flight after the rest.
The wild dogs stole back, hungry,
to covert, as a big light blue waggon, drawn by a
well-fed team of eight span, came lumbering over the
Would the ox-team veer in another
direction? Would the big blue waggon with the
new white tilt roll by?
The Hottentot driver cracked his giant
whip, and, turning on the box-seat, spoke to a figure
that sat beside him. It was a woman in loose black
garments, with a starched white coif like a Dutchwoman’s
kapje, covered with a floating black veil. At
her side dangled and clashed a long rosary of brown
wooden beads, with a copper crucifix attached.
There were two other women in the big waggon, dressed
in the same way. They were Roman Catholic nuns Sisters
of Mercy coming up from Natal, by the order of the
Bishop of Bellmina, Vicar-Apostolic, at the request
of the Bishop of Paracos, suffragan to North-East
Baraland, to swell the numbers of the Community already
established in Gueldersdorp at the Convent of the Holy
The oxen halted some fifty yards from
that inanimate ragged little body, lying prone, face
downwards, among the scrubby bushes that sprouted in
the hot sand. Little crowding tiny ants already
blackened the bloodstains on the ground, and the wild
dogs would not have stayed long from the feast if
the waggon had passed on.
One white-coifed, tall, black-clad
figure sprang lightly down from the waggon-box, and
hurried across to where the body was lying. A
mellow, womanly cry of pity came from under the starched
coif. She turned and beckoned. Then she
knelt down by the girl’s side, opened the torn
garments, and felt with compassionate, kindly touches
about the still heart.
The other two black figures came hurrying
over then, stumbling amongst the stones and karroo-bushes
in their haste. Lifting her, they turned the
white, bloodless young face to the blue sky. It
was cut and scratched, but not otherwise disfigured.
Her bound arms, dragged upwards before it, had shielded
it from the thorns and the sharp stones. They
were raw from the elbows to the wrists.
They listened at the torn childish
bosom with anxious ears. They got a few drops
of brandy between the clenched little teeth. The
sealed lips quivered; the heart fluttered feebly,
like a dying bird. They gave her more stimulant,
and waited, while the Hottentot driver dozed, and the
sleek, well-fed oxen chewed the cud patiently, standing
in the sun.
Then the Sisters lifted her, with
infinite care, and carried her to the waggon.
The twenty-four-foot whip-lash cracked, and the patient
beasts moved on. Very soon the big white tilt
was a mere retreating speck upon the veld. The
ants were still busy when the wild dogs came out and
sniffed regretfully at those traces on the ground.
Coincidence, did you say, lifting
your eyebrows over the book, as the blue waggon of
the Sisters rolled lumberingly into the story?
The long arm of coincidence stretched to aching tenuity
by the dramatist and the novelist! Nay! but the
thing happened, just as I have told.
What is the thing we are agreed to call coincidence?
Once I was passing over one of the
bridges that span the unclean London ditch called
the Regent’s Canal. I had walked all the
way from Piccadilly Circus to Gloucester Crescent,
haunted by the memory of a man I had once known.
He was the broken-down, drunken, studio-drudge of a
great artist, a splendid Bohemian, who had died some
years before. Why did the thought of the palette-scraper,
the errand-goer, the drunken creature with the cultivated
voice and the ingratiating, gentlemanly manners, possess
me as I went? I recalled his high, intellectual,
pimply forehead, and large benevolent nose, in a chronic
state of inflammation, and seedy semi-clerical garb,
for the thing had been an ordained clergyman of the
Church of England, and I grinned, remembering how,
when a Royal visitor was expected at the great man’s
studio, the factotum had been bidden to wash his face,
and had washed one half of it, leaving the other half
in drab eclipse, like the picture-restorers’
trade-advertisement of a canvas partially cleansed.
Idly I tossed the butt of a finished
cigar over the bridge balustrade. Idly my eye
followed it down to the filthy, sluggishly-creeping
water that flows round the bend, under the damp rear-garden
A policeman and a bargeman were just
taking the body of an old man out of that turbid canal-stream.
It was dressed in pauper’s garments, and its
stiffened knees were bent, and its rigid elbows crooked,
and a dishonoured, dripping beard of grey hung over
the soulless breast.
The dreadful eyes were open, staring
up at the leaden March sky. His face, with the
dread pallor of Death upon it, and the mud-stains wiped
away by a rough but not unkindly hand, was cleaner
than I had ever seen it in life.
Nevertheless, I recognised in the
soaked body in its workhouse livery the very man the
thought of whom had haunted me, the great Bohemian
painter’s drunken studio-drudge.