The Boer puzzled us. It was not because he loomed so big in the haze
against the sunset; but he seemed at a mile’s distance to detect us. We
thought the cover perfect, for the hackthorn tops were higher than our
horses’ heads. If he from so far could see patches of khaki through
bushes, his eyes must be better than our fieldglasses. If he did not
see us, why did he wave his hat as in salutation?
“Maybe he only suspect one patrol at de ford. Vat you t’ink, Sergeant
McTavish?” said Lieutenant Deschamps to me.
“Perhaps he thinks some of his own kind may hold the ford,” I suggested.
The others said nothing. They were fifteen French Canadians, including
Corporal Jongers. We lay still behind our prone horses, and kept our
Krags on the Boer.
He seemed to diminish as he advanced slowly from the mirage, but still
he looked uncommonly big—and venerable, too. His hair and beard grew
long and white, though he sat up as alert as any young man. At ten
yards a pack-pony followed him. When half a mile away the burgher
raised both hands above his head.
“He come for surrender, you t’ink, sergeant?” Lieutenant Deschamps is a
gentleman. Because I was of another race he always treated me with more
than the consideration due to a good non-com. Or possibly it was
because he knew I had been advocate in Montreal before joining the
mounted Canadian contingent.
“Better keep down and keep him covered,” I replied. “That may be a
signal.” I stared about the horizon. The veldt was bare, except for
the straggle of hackthorns fringing the curve about the ford. There
could be no other Boer within three miles of us, unless hidden by the
meanderings of the Wolwe, which runs twelve feet below the plain. But
we had searched ten miles of its bed during the day. Westward lay the
kopjes from among which the old Boer had apparently ridden.
He came calmly down the breach of the opposite bank and as far as the
middle of the brawling shallow within fifty yards of us before Deschamps
cried “Halt!” At the word we sprang up, accoutrements rattling, horses
snorting. The old burgher looked up at us quizzically, passing his hand
down his beard and gathering its length above his mouth before he spoke.
“Take care some of those guns don’t go off,” he said, with no trace of
“You surrender?” Deschamps stepped forward.
“Sir, I am going to Swartzdorp. Did you not see me hold up my hands?”
“But for sure you could not see us here?”
He smiled and pointed up to the sky. In the blue a vulture swung wide
above us. “So I knew,” said the burgher, “Khakis were hiding. Boers
would have come out. They would have recognized me.”
“_Bon_! The great landowner! I have much pleasure to see you. Come
in, monsieur. Eef only you brought in your commando, how glad!”
“They may come yet,” he said. “It depends.” He shook his rein, and the
big bay brought him up the breach into the midst of us. The pack-pony,
which had imitated his halt, followed.
“You will not stop me. I have private business at Swartzdorp,” he said.
“Truly I regret,” said Deschamps. “But my orders! Here you must stay,
monsieur, this night. To-morrow General Pole. He will be most glad to
parole you, I have hope.”
“Oh, very well, lieutenant,” said Swartz, philosophically. “I dare say
he won’t send me to St. Helena.” He dismounted, leaving his Mauser
strapped to his saddle. Then he handed me his bandoleer. “I make you
welcome to my pack also,” he said hospitably. “There’s some biltong and
meal. Perhaps it will improve your fare.”
“It will be poor stuff if it doesn’t,” I told him.
“You give your parole, sir?” asked Deschamps.
“For the night, yes. I will not try to escape.”
His cordial, easy accents came with a certain surprising effect from one
who was so unkempt and, in spite of his years, so formidable. I had
never before seen one of the great Boer land-owners. In his manner one
could perceive, if not a certain condescension, at least the elevated
kindness of a patriarchal gentleman accustomed to warm by affability the
hearts of many descendants and dependents. About Swartzdorp we had
heard much of his English mother, his English wife, and his lifelong
friendship with English officers and gentlemen. It did not seem
surprising that he should have come in voluntarily now that Bloemfontein
and Pretoria were in Lord Roberts’s hands.
It was cold for us in khaki that evening by the Wolwe, though we did not
lack overcoats. The spruit tinkled icily along patches of gravel in the
blue clay, and late June’s high moon seemed pouring down a Canadian
wintriness. “No fire,” ordered Deschamps, lest far-sighted Boer parties,
skilled in surprises, might locate us. But the old burgher showed how
to make small glowing heaps of dry offal, which had been plentifully
left of old by troops of deer and antelope coming to drink at the
spruit. Over one of these tiny smokeless fires our lieutenant sat with
the prisoner. I think I see again the reflection of the little flame
flickering on the old giant’s enormous beard and shapely outspread
We had supped heavily on his meat and meal, but sleep in that nipping
air came by dozes only, and drowsiness departed when digestion had
relieved repletion. At midnight, when the vedettes were changed and the
moon sagged low, we all were more wakeful than early in the evening.
There had been little talk, and that in the low voices of endurance; but
now Deschamps and Swartz fell into discourse about the Kimberley mines.
This led to discussing the greater diamonds of South Africa, and so on
till the burgher began a story stranger than fiction:
“One of the biggest stones ever taken from blue clay is still uncut. It
has never been offered for sale. Near this very place it was found by
Vassell Swartz, my cousin. The man is not rich even for a Free State
burgher. He is fond of money. He believes his diamond to be worth
twelve thousand pounds. No man could wish harder to sell anything. And
yet he has not offered it. He has not even shown it. His wife has not
seen it. He has had it constantly near him for eleven years. He has
handled it frequently—in its setting. But he has not ventured to look
at it since the morning after he found it. You wonder at that. Is it
possible a rough diamond can shine so bright as dangerously to dazzle
the eyes? No; Vassell would be glad to stare at it all day. But its
setting prevents him. And yet he set it himself.”
The old burgher paused and looked about on our puzzled faces with some
air of satisfaction at their interest.
“It is quite a riddle,” said Deschamps.
“So it is. And I will make it harder. You have been told that we Boers
think nothing of killing Kaffirs? But all Swartzdorp could tell you
that my cousin Vassell could scarcely bear to let a Kaffir out of his
sight. That is mysterious? Well, I will not go on talking in parables.
I will tell you the thing just as I heard it from Vassell or know about
“Eleven years ago, Vassell and his brother, my cousin Claas, went off as
usual to Makori’s country beyond the Limpopo, elephant-hunting. Ivory
was so plenty that they trekked back a month earlier than they had
expected. On the return Vassell’s riding-horse fell lame not long after
crossing this very Wolwe spruit by a higher ford. My cousin gave the
beast no rest till evening, and no attention until after they had made a
laager against lions and had eaten supper. Then he took a brand from
the fire and looked into the hoof. In it he found a whitish stone of
about the bigness of an elephant-bullet of six to the pound. It was of
the colour of alum, and in the torchlight it glistened as the scale of a
“Vassell had never seen a rough diamond. And he had heard of diamonds as
brighter than glittering glass. He thought only that the pebble was a
pretty stone. The man’s heart was soft with nearing his wife and
children, so he slipped the pebble into his empty elephant-bullet pouch,
thinking to give it for a toy to his little Anna. There it lay
forgotten until his fingers went groping for a bullet at the next
daybreak. Kaffirs were then trying to rush my cousins’ laager.
“Wild Kaffirs these were, driven from Kimberley for unruliness in drink.
They were going back to their tribe; they had come far without food, and
they smelled the meat and meal in the wagons—so Matakit afterward told.
But no hunger could have driven them against a Boer laager. They
mistook the wagons for the wagons of Englishmen.”
The French Canadians smiled unoffended, but my jaws snapped. Swartz
turned to me courteously:
“They mistook the wagons for those of English traders unskilled in arms
and trekking provisions to the mines. Though their first rush showed
them their mistake, they went mad over their losses and came on twice
more. Then they guessed, from the way my cousins reserved their fire,
that their ammunition was low. So Matakit howled them on for a fourth
“My cousins and their six Christian Kaffirs were now in alarm, for their
cartridges were nearly all gone. It was then that Vassell’s fingers
groped in his elephant-bullet pouch, where he felt something rounding
out the leather. That was the forgotten pebble. But its bigness was
too great for the muzzle-loading elephant-rifle. So my cousin rammed it
into the wide-mouthed, old-fashioned roer, a blunderbuss that our
fathers’ fathers praised because it frightened Kaffirs more than it hurt
them. In justice to the roer it should have been loaded with a handful
of slugs. But with only powder and the pebble it made such flash and
noise that all the living wild blacks, but one, ran away howling. The
one that fell before Vassell’s pebble was the biggest of all, and their
leader. There he lay kicking and bellowing like a buffalo bull, ten
yards from the wagons.
“’While he bawled we knelt in the laager,’ Vassell told me, ’and we
offered up thanks for this our deliverance, even like unto the
deliverance of David by the pebble of the brook.’
“Then they ate breakfast while their Kaffirs inspanned, and still the
wild one roared.
“’It would be merciful, brother Vassell,’ said Claas as they drank
coffee, ’to put the Lord’s creature out of his pain.’
“’Nay,’ said Vassell; ’my conscience will not consent to what Free State
law might call murder. And, moreover, the Kaffir’s pain is a plain
judgment of the Almighty.’ Vassell is a dopper, like Oom Paul, and a
dopper is quick to see the Almighty operating through himself. So they
left the black thief gnashing, with five more who lay still, meat for
vultures’ beaks or lions’ jaws.
“In four or five hours’ time my cousins were nigh to Truter’s drift on
the Modder. There they saw two Englishmen and one Israelite digging
into the blue-clay shoal.
“’Good day,’ shouts Claas. ’What are you digging for?’
“’Diamonds, Dutchman, d—n you,’ said the Englishmen, laughing.
“They came up out of the river-bed and showed my cousins four small
rough stones which they had found elsewhere.
“Vassell looked closely at the stones. Then he knew that his pebble had
been a great gem. He put innocent, simple dopper questions about the
value of diamonds. And the Israelite said that a first-rate stone of
the bigness of more than an elephant-bullet would be worth from twelve
to twenty thousand pounds. Vassell felt that Israelite’s eyes piercing
him, and so he gave no more sign of excitement than a skull. But he was
wondering if the grandfathers’ old roer had sent the pebble through the
Kaffir, which seemed unlikely.
“My cousins traded the flesh of a springbok for cartridges, and the
English went away up the spruit, while Claas got ready to cross at
Truter’s. But Vassell made delay; he said that hunger was rummaging his
“’And that was the truth, Emanuel,’ he told me later, ’for we had
trekked since dawn. But it is not always needful to tell all the truth.
Was I to arouse in Claas a greedy desire to share in the diamond?
True,’ said Vassell, ’we had agreed to share and share alike in the
hunt, but the stone was not ivory, skin, nor meat, and I alone found it.
We are commanded to agree with our adversary “in the way with him.” And
by halting in that place for the boiling of coffee there would be time
to pray for direction. If the Almighty would have us trek back to the
wounded Kaffir, it would be wise to turn before crossing at Truter’s.’
“Of course my cousin Claas, when he heard of Vassell’s hunger, felt
hungry too, and the Kaffirs were told to prepare the meal. Meantime
Vassell took his Bible from the wagon-box and fell on his knees. He
expected the Lord would order him back to the Wolwe, and so it happened.
But to induce Claas to obey the Lord’s direction without understanding
the whole thing was the trouble.
“Like an inspiration a familiar text came to Vassell’s mind. ’Blessed
are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.’ He showed this to Claas
as his reason for turning about. The text had a new meaning for
Vassell. I tell you again he felt that he had been inspired to remember
it. You have to bear that in mind, or you will not rightly understand
how his brain was afterward affected.
“’But it would be foolishness to apply the text to a wild Kaffir four
hours’ trek back,’ said Claas.
“’Nay, not if the Kaffir be subdued,’ said Vassell.
“’He is more than subdued; he is dead,’ said Claas.
“’Nay, he may not yet have perished,’ said Vassell. But he felt sure
the black was dead. And he felt equally sure he had been inspired to
understand that he himself should obtain mercy in the shape of the
diamond if he returned even as the good Samaritan to the Kaffir fallen
by the way. Still Claas was stiff-necked, until Vassell opened the Book
at Jeremiah iii. 12: ’Return, … for I am merciful, saith the Lord.’
He handed it to Claas without a word.
“Claas naturally supposed that Vassell had opened the Bible at random,
as the doppers often do when they are seeking direction. And hence
Claas saw in this text a clear leading back to the Wolwe. Yet he wished
to rest and smoke tobacco for a long hour after eating. But Vassell was
greatly inspired with texts that day. He pointed to I Samuel xx. 38:
’Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, haste, stay not.’ Then he
fell into such a groaning and sighing about it that Claas could not
smoke in peace.
“’Anything is better than your rumblings,’ said Claas, and so they
hastened on the backward course. ’For,’ as Vassell told me, ’I was in
deep tribulation of fear lest the vultures might gulp down the diamond,
or some beak strike it afar.’”
Here the huge old burgher sat up straighter and paused so unexpectedly
that his sudden silence was startling. I imagined he listened to
something far off in the stillness of the waning moon. Lieutenant
Deschamps and the French Canadians sat indifferent, but I sprang up and
put hands to my ears. Nothing could I hear but the occasional stamping
of our horses, the walking hoofs of our vedettes by the river’s bend,
and the clinking of swift water over gravel.
“Did you hear something strange?” the patriarch asked me.
“Did you?” I asked.
“Is it likely that a great-grandfather’s ears can hear better than a
young man’s?” he asked courteously.
“But you stopped to listen,” I replied.
Then he shamed me by saying gently: “An old voice may need a little
rest. But now I will go on:
“My cousins trekked back as fast as their oxen could walk. They found
the Kaffir still squirming, and covering his eyes from the vultures.
This went to Vassell’s heart. He could not cut the diamond out of the
living. And perhaps it was not in the man. Vassell drove away the
vultures and examined the wound. Then his heart was lifted up
exceedingly, for as he told me, ’fear had been heavy in me lest the
diamond had gone clear through the Kaffir and been lost on the veldt.
But now my fingers felt it under the flesh of his back. An inch more
had sent it through. And it seemed so sure the pagan must die before
morning that my conscience was clear against extracting the stone in
“This Wolwe Veldt was then Lion Veldt, and Vassell thought it prudent to
carry the Kaffir into the night-laager, for lions bolt big chunks, and
the diamond might be in one of them. Claas consented, and so the tame
Kaffirs lugged the wild one into one of the ivory-wagons, and left him
to die at his leisure.
“Late in the night Vassell, wakened by Claas snoring, felt a strong
temptation. He might get up and knife out the stone unseen. ’But I put
the temptation away,’ he told me, ’for my movement might waken Claas, or
the Kaffir might kick or groan under the knife, and my brother might spy
on me. So I mercifully awaited the hour when the Lord would let the
diamond come into my hands without Claas suspecting anything. Besides,
it was against my conscience to cut the Kaffir up warm when it seemed so
sure he would be cold before morning.’
“But next morning the Kaffir was neither dead nor alive. And my cousins
were keen to see their wives and children. They must trek on. But
Vassell could not leave the diamond. ’And to end the Kaffir’s life was,’
he told me, ’more than ever against my conscience. That first text,
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy,” kept coming
back into my mind. It scared me. It seemed to mean I should have the
diamond to myself only if I spared the Kaffir. If I killed him Claas
might see me extract the stone and claim half. Moreover, I felt sure
the jolting of the wagon would end the pagan soon.’
“So they trekked. When they outspanned at Swartzdorp, two days later,
the Kaffir was more alive than on the first day. No reward yet for
conscientious Vassell! He stayed only a day with his wife, and then
trekked for Bloemfontein with the Kaffir in his horse-wagon. Claas
stayed at Swartzdorp. And all at Swartzdorp thought Vassell had gone
crazy about the black.
“I was then, residing in Bloemfontein, attending a meeting of the Raad.
There I saw Vassell gaping at me in the market-place. Never before had I
seen trouble in the man’s face. When he told me he had brought a hurt
Kaffir all the miles from Swartzdorp I felt sure the man was mad.
“’It may be the Kaffir saved your life from lions?’ I asked him.
“’Nay; I saved his life,’ he groaned. ’For we are commanded to do good
unto our enemies. And, moreover, this is the Kaffir I fired it into.’
“’Fired what?’ I asked, not then knowing a word of it all.
“’Emanuel,’ he said, ’my soul is deep in trouble, and surely God has
sent you to counsel me. He commanded me to bring the Kaffir here. The
text he put into my mind will not go out of my mind. I dream of it each
night, and I dream of the Kaffir with it, so it must mean him. And to
be merciful that I may obtain the promised mercy I have brought him to
“’What does this rant mean? Put it in plain Taal,’ I said.
“Vassell looked all about the market-place, tiptoed his lips to my ears,
and whispered, ’Come into my horse-wagon.’
“I climbed up in front under the cover, and then heard breathing behind
the seat. There lay the Kaffir. I turned on Vassell with ’You said you
brought him to the hospital.’
“’I am afraid to take him there.’
“’Afraid they will require you to pay?’
“’Nay, that is not the trouble. I will reveal all to you.’
“Then he whispered to me all that I have told you, my friends.
“’It was borne in on me,’ Vassell said, ’that the surgeons would cut out
the diamond to save the Kaffir’s life, and thus I should obtain the
mercy. But now I am in fear they will not let me be present at the
operation. They will keep the diamond if they get time to examine it.’
“’Drive to the hospital,’ I said. ’They will let you be present. I
will arrange that. Have you money?’
“Yes; he had sold his four best tusks for English gold. So he had
plenty to pay the doctors if a bribe should prove necessary.
“But it was not needed. The house-surgeon had the Kaffir carried in,
and they examined him in our presence. Then they told Vassell it was a
beautiful case involving the kidneys in some extraordinary way, and they
wished to watch what would happen if Matakit lived—that was the
outrageous Kaffir’s name. To cut the bullet out, they said—for you may
be sure Vassell never mentioned diamond to them—would kill the Kaffir.
And if they killed him quickly, medical science might forego valuable
knowledge which it might gain if they didn’t operate an hour before he
was quite out of danger by the wound.
“Think of my conscientious cousin’s sad situation!” The old giant gazed
about on us as if without guile. “Twelve thousand pounds! And the
surgeons would not let him take the Kaffir away. Nor would they let
Vassell stay in the ward with his diamond! And he dared not tell the
doctors why the operation would have comforted him, lest they should
secretly explore the Kaffir as diamondiferous clay!”
Here again the tale paused. A sardonic tone had for an instant been
steely in the genial voice. But the face of the old man was as in a
placid dream. We volunteers, trusting all to our vedettes, grinned,
thinking only of Vassell’s dilemma. The burgher seemed to ponder on it;
or maybe, I thought, he was resting his voice again. So ten seconds
passed. Then I heard the rush and grunt of a flac-flarc, the veldt pig.
It seemed to have been startled out of the spruit by a vedette, for we
faintly heard a horse snort and a man scold. The moon was now very low,
but all seemed unchanged except for an increasing restlessness of the
picketed horses. They had replied to the snort of the vedette’s beast.
In an interval of tense silence, the old Africander stared about on our
faces with a curious inspection that I now think of as having been one
of such pity as the deaf perceive in other men’s faces. But at the time
I supposed he but wished to assure himself that all were attentively
awaiting the rest of his story.
Yet when the old burgher spoke again he seemed to have forgotten the
great Swartz diamond.
“Such silence on this veldt!” he murmured. “I remember it alive with
great game. Not twenty miles from here I have lain often awake in the
night to a concert of lions and hyenas and jackals, with the stamping of
wildebeests, and the barking of quaggas, and the rushing away of
springbok and blesbok as the breeze gave them our scent. Now we hear
nothing, my friends—nothing whatever moving on the plain?”
“Only the horses and the pickets and the stream,” said Deschamps.
“But I,” said the old burgher, “hear more. I hear the sounds of ghosts
of troops of great game. And I hear with those sounds other sounds as
of the ghosts of a needless war.” He sighed heavily, and seemed to sink
into sad reverie.
Deschamps and his French volunteers would not interrupt him, but I was
impatient. “How did your cousin get at the diamond?” I asked.
“He did not get at it.” The whitebeard roused up amiably and resumed
“And yet he did not part with it. For six weeks the Kaffir improved in
the Bloemfontein hospital. Then the day came when the surgeons told my
cousin they could learn nothing more of the lovely case from outside. I
do not know whether they really meant to vivisect the Kaffir, but
Vassell was sure of it, for he had that diamond on the brain. He longed
to have the Kaffir live out his allotted span—at Swartzdorp.
“’Surely I must be with Matakit at his ending,’ said Vassell to me.
“Now Matakit had been told how Vassell had mercifully saved him, and he
wished for nothing better than to be Vassell’s man. So, in the night,
after my cousin had whispered to the Kaffir that the surgeons meant to
cut him open, Matakit jumped out of the hospital window and hurried to
Vassell’s horse-wagon waiting on the Modder road.
“My friends, to tell you all the sad experience of my cousin with that
Kaffir I should need to be with you for a week. Our time for talk
together is too short—indeed, I seem to hear it going in the hackthorn
tops. But still I can give you a little more.
“Consider, then, that Vassell’s family already thought him demented for
bringing the wild black from the Wolwe. Trekking with him to
Bloemfontein was worse, and carrying him back appeared complete lunacy.
But Vassell was the head of a Boer family and must be obeyed by his
household, from Tante Anna, his wife, to the smallest Kaffir baby bred
on his farm.
“He told no one but me of the battle in his soul. It was this: the more
he longed to knife the diamond out, the more his conscience was warned
with that text the Lord had sent him. He had now a fixed idea that he
would somehow lose the diamond unless he was merciful to Matakit.
“Out of sight of the Kaffir my cousin could not be easy, he feared so
much the black would run away. To prevent that, Vassell at first
carried a loaded rifle all day long. At night he locked the Kaffir in
the room partitioned from his own. Its windows he barred with iron
bars. This was to save Matakit from the Christian Kaffirs on the farm.
At first they were likely to kill him in the dark, such was their
jealousy of the wild man honored by a bed in the house of the baas,
while their own Christian bones had to rest in the huts and the sheds.
“But their jealousy changed to deadly fear of Matakit. They imagined
that he had bewitched the baas. Matakit, being no fool, soon smelled
out that fear. As a witch doctor he lorded it over them. He began to
roll in fat, for they brought to his teeth the best of their food. As
for their women!
“At last Tante Anna looked into this thing. Then the blood of her mother
of the Great Trek ran hot in her. I happened to be visiting there at
the time. She herself went at the pagan with the sjambok. Vassell
turned his back, for he approved the lashing, but the Kaffir so groveled
and howled under the whip that my cousin’s conscience rose up untimely.
It told him that he would be guilty, for the diamond’s sake, of
complicity in the killing if he did not interfere. Whereupon he took
the sjambok from Tante Anna’s hands, and ordered her to deal kindly with
the Kaffir, as before.
“’Kindly! The black beast is destroying Christianity on our farm!’ she
wailed. ’I will slay him with my own hands. And I hope I have done it
“’Alas! no, Anna,’ said Vassell. ’He will live. You have given him a
reason to run away.’
“’Run away? I wish to the Lord he would run away!’
“’No, no, my woman,’ Vassell whispered. ’You do not understand. Tell it
to nobody—but the Kaffir is worth twelve thousand English pounds to me!’
“She turned to me laughing. ’Twelve thousand pounds. My poor demented
“’When he dies I will prove it,’ said Vassell.
“’What! A dead Kaffir worth a fortune?’ She was all contempt for
“Of course he wished to explain to her. But he had an opinion that
Matakit’s days might be few if Tante Anna came to understand the meaning
of the lump on Matakit’s black back. Vassell’s uncontrollable conscience
required her to be no more unmerciful to Matakit. If Anna’s sjambok cut
out the stone, it might be lost in the litter of the yard.
“Well, my friends, the word went up and down the Orange Free State, and
far into the Colony, and away across the Vaal, that Burgher Vassell
Swartz was crazy with kindness for a wild Kaffir! Of course I denied
it, and that carried weight, but the mystery grew, for I could not
explain the case, so strong was Vassell in holding me to secrecy. To
get my cousin out of his trouble I advised him to lend Matakit to me,
but he would not agree. Possibly he suspected me of wishing to dig for
“Ten years this sorrow lasted, and all the time Matakit grew fatter,
till he could scarcely walk. He was the most overbearing black in all
South Africa. What he suspected I do not know, but when he became sure
Vassell would not let him be hurt much he wantonly abused the patience
of even his devoted baas. Poor Vassell! Sometimes, to ease his
sorrows, he used the sjambok on Matakit, but always too gently. Often
he raised his gun to end it all; indeed, he got into a way of thinking
that the devil was continually instigating him to kill the Kaffir. And
every dopper knows that to yield consciously to the devil is the
The ancient burgher paused once more. And again we, whose senses were
trained but to the narrow spaces between Canadian woodlands, heard
nothing but a sudden louder tumult of gathered horses, the hoofs of the
vedettes, and the tinkle of the spruit. I could not guess why old
Emanuel looked so well pleased. He loomed taller, it seemed, as he
squatted. It was as if with new vivacity that he spoke on:
“The strange things my poor cousin did! I will tell you of at least one
more. Five years of Matakit went by, and never again had Vassell gone
hunting afar, for he could not leave the fat Kaffir behind, and he
feared Matakit would run away if he got near the country of his tribe.
But in the sixth year a new inspiration came to Vassell. The Lord might
send a lion if he took Matakit where lions might be convenient for
sending. Doppers always regard lions as dispensations of Providence
when they kill pagan Kaffirs. So he brought Matakit afar to the Lion
Veldt. There Vassell would not let his men make a laager—he slept in a
wagon himself. And the Lord did send a lion in the night. The blacks
lay by the fire. And when it fell low that lion bore a man away out
into the darkness at two leaps.
“’Baas! baas!’ Vassell heard his Kaffirs shout. ’Baas! The lion has
taken Matakit!’ For they had been dozing, and now missed the fat black.
“The Lord had sent the lion, but the devil was carrying away the
diamond. Vassell must be in at the ending, as he had planned. So out
with his rifle he sprang, seized a brand, and ran, whirling it into
flame, on the dragged body’s spoor.
“’Come back! Oh, baas, come back! The veldt is full of lions!’ So the
Kaffirs shrieked. But twelve thousand pounds is not forsaken by a Boer
hunter for fear of lions. On Vassell ran. He would beat off the lion
with the torch. Happy would be his rich life without Matakit! Plainly
the Lord would be merciful to him because he had been merciful as
commanded by the text.
“But from the wagons came now a bawl: ’Baas! Baas! I am here, I,
Matakit! I was in a wagon.’ He had sneaked away from the fire. ’It is
but Impugan that the lion has taken.’
“Back went Vassell in rage. Now he would finish the Kaffir! For what
would his other Kaffirs, the Christians he had bred, his best hunters,
too—what would they think but that he valued the accursed pagan above
brave old Impugan and all the rest of them? Yet he only beat out his
torch on Matakit’s head before the diseased conscience stayed his hand
Again the white-beard burgher paused. The picketed horses were now
still. The moon was gone, and the spruit chattered in starlit darkness.
There was no sound of the vedettes, but that was not strange. Yet
uneasiness came over me. My comrades shared it. We all stared at the
gigantic prisoner with some suspicion that I could not define. He
seemed uncanny. From an old man, and especially an old Boer, sneers
seemed unnatural. Some diabolical amusement seemed to animate him. As
he jeered his cousin he seemed to jeer us. At first I had liked his
genial tone. Now he gave me a sense of repulsion. For this I was
trying to account when the old burgher stooped and freshened the fire
with mealie cobs. The sparks flew high. In that momentary light he
resumed his story:
“My cousin Vassell was of my Swartzdorp commando when this war began,
but he is now a prisoner in St. Helena. Before he left home with his
boys he instructed his wife about Matakit.
“’Be as good to him as you can,’ Vassell ordered. ’But if he should
come to his end before I return,’ then be careful to bury him deeper
than jackals or hyenas dig. Bury him carefully by’—no matter where;
Vassell showed Tante Anna precisely the place.
“The woman wept and fell on her husband’s neck, and cried: ’Farewell,
and fight well; and God bring you and the boys back to me, Vassell, my
old heart. You need have no fear but I will carefully bury the Kaffir!’
“_Gentlemen!_” We all sprang up at the change in the old voice.
“_Gentlemen_—you are my prisoners.” The burgher rose up, very hard of
Deschamps drew his pistol. I thrust mine almost into the burgher’s
face. But he spoke firmly:
“What! Shoot your prisoner, with his commando surrounding you. Fifty
Mausers are levelled on you. Pooh! No! It would be the end of you
all. Lieutenant, your horses are seized. Your vedettes are prisoners.
They were knocked off their saddles long ago, when you heard nothing but
the horses stamping. There was a Boer among them then. He provoked that
stamping. It was the signal to strike down your vedettes. Fifty
burghers are listening to my voice now. Here, men!” And at the word
the Boer surprise came on. “Oom Emanuel! Oh, Oom Emanuel!” was the
“I truly grieve for you, gentlemen,” said the old burgher ten minutes
later. “You were such good listeners—you had ears for nothing but my
story. And because of that I leave you food for a whole day. It will
be sufficient, if you march well on foot, to take you to my old friend
General Pole. I beg you to give him my compliments. But he will not be
in good humour to-morrow. Every one of his patrols within twenty miles
has been captured to-night, unless something has gone wrong with De Wet,
which is unlikely. Do not be cast down, lieutenant. You were not to
blame. Your ears were not trained to the veldt. Good-bye. I invite
you to visit me, lieutenant, after this war ends, at my Swartzdorp farm.
Then I will tell you the rest of the diamond story.”
“But that is not fair, sir,” said Deschamps, whimsically. “I have
interest in de story, and I want to know how she end.”
“It has no end yet.” The old burgher smiled broadly. “I was on my way
to end it when you stopped me. I hoped to get through more easily
without my burghers’ aid, but I told them to follow if they saw me
stopped. You missed us in searching the spruit this morning.
“I have really private business at Swartzdorp. Word was brought to me
three days ago that Tante Anna dutifully buried Matakit months ago.
Vassell was the Kaffir’s life; I will be his resurrection. A great
diamond of the first water is very salable, and the treasury of the
republic is running low.”
“But it may not be a diamond of the first water,” said I.
“It must be,” said the patriarch. “Anything less would be too shabby a
mercy to Vassell.”