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Authors: Wilbur Smith,Tim Pigott-Smith

Tags: #Historical, #Action & Adventure, #Fiction

When the Lion Feeds (3 page)

BOOK: When the Lion Feeds
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His body and his mind were never to recover completely from that brutal pruning.

It was slow, a week before he was strong enough to feed himself. His first need was for his brother, before he was able to talk above a whisper it was, Where's Sean? And Sean, still chastened, sat with him for hours at a time. Then when Garrick slept Sean escaped from the room, and with a fishing-rod or his hunting sticks and Tinker barking behind him went into the veld. It was a measure of Sean's repentance that he allowed himself to be contained within the sick-room for such long periods.

It chafed him like ropes on a young colt: no one would ever know what it cost him to sit quietly next to Garrick's bed while his body itched and burned with unexpended energy and his mind raced restlessly.

Then Sean had to go back to school. He left on a Monday morning while it was still dark. Garrick listened to the sounds of departure, the whicker of the horses outside on the driveway and Ada's voice reciting last minute instructions: I've put a bottle of cough mixture under your shirts, give it to Friulein as soon as you unpack.

Then she'll see that you take it at the first sign of a cold. Yes, Ma.

There are six vests in the small case, use a new one every day. Vests are sissy things u will do as you're told, Young man. Waite's voice, Hurry up with your porridge, we've got to get going if I'm to have u in town by seven o'clock. Can I say goodbye to Garry? You said goodbye last night, he'll still be asleep now. Garrick opened his mouth to call out, but he knew his voice would not carry. He lay quietly and listened to the chairs scraping back from the dining-room table, the procession of footsteps out onto the veranda, voices raised in farewells and at last the wheels of the buggy crunching gravel as they moved away down the drive. it was very quiet after Sean had left with his father.

After that the weekends were, for Garrick, the only bright spots in the colourless passage of time. He longed for them to come and each one was an eternity after the last, time passes slowly for the young and the sick. Ada and Waite knew a little of how he felt. They moved the centre of the household to his room: they broughtt two of the fat leather armchairs from the lounge and put them on each side of his bed and they spent the evenings there.

Waite with his pipe in his mouth and a glass of brandy at his elbow, whittling at the wooden leg he was making and laughing his deep laugh, Ada with her knitting and the two of them trying to reach him. Perhaps it was this conscious effort that was the cause of their failure, or perhaps it is impossible to reach back down the years to a small boy.

There is always that reserve, that barrier between the adult and the secret world of youth. Garrick laughed with them and they talked together, but it was not the same as having Sean there. During the day ada had the running of a large household and there were fifteen thousand acres of land and two thousand head of cattle that needed Waite's attention. That was the loneliest time for Garrick. if it had not been for the books, he . might not have been able to bear it. He read everything that Ada brought to him: Stevenson, Swift, Defoe, Dickens and even Shakespeare. Much of it he didn't understand, but he read hungrily and the Opium Of the printed word helped him through the long days until sean came home each Friday.

When Sean came home it was like a big wind blowing through the house.

Doors slammed, dogs barked, servants scolded and feet clattered up and down the passages. Most of the noise was Sean's, but not all of it.

There were Sean's followers: youngsters from his class at the village school.

They accepted Sean's authority as willingly as did Garrick, and it was not only Sean's fists that won this acceptance but also the laughter and the sense of excitement that went with him. They came out to Theunis kraal in droves that summer, sometimes as many as three on one bare-backed pony: sitting like a row of sparrows on a fence rail. They came for the added attraction of Garry's stump.

Sean was very proud of it. That's where the doc sewed it up, pointing to the row of stitch marks along the pink fold of scar tissue. Can I touch it, man? Not too hard or it'll burst open.

Garrick had never received attention like this in his life before. He beamed round the circle of solemn, wide-eyed faces. It feels funny, sort of hot. Was it sore? How did he chop the bone, with an axe? No.

Sean was the only one in a position to answer technical questions of this nature. With a saw. just like a piece of wood. He made the motions with his open hand.

But even this fascinating subject couldn't hold them for long and presently there would be a restlessness amongst them. Hey, Sean, Karl and I know where there's a nest of squawkers, you wanta have a look? or let's go and catch frogs, and Garrick would cut in desperately.

You can have a look at my stamp collection if you like.

It's in the cupboard there. Now, we saw it last week. Let's go. This was when Ada, who had been listening to the conversation through the open kitchen door, brought in the food. Koeksusters fried in honey, chocolate cakes with peppermint icing, watermelon konfyt and half a dozen other delicacies.

She knew they wouldn't leave until it was finished and she knew also that there'd be upset stomachs when it was, but that was preferable to garrick lying alone and listening to the others riding off into the hills.

The weekends were short, gone in a breathless blur.

Another long week began for Garrick. There were eight of them, eight dreary weeks before Doctor Van Rooyen agreed to let him sit out on the veranda during the day.

Then suddenly the prospect of being well again became a reality for garrick. The leg that Waite was making was nearly finished: he shaped a leather bucket to take the stump and fitted it to the wood with flat-headed copper nails; he worked carefully, moulding the leather and adjusting the straps that would hold it in place. Meanwhile, Garrick exercised along the veranda, hopping beside Ada with an Arm around her shoulder, his jaws clenched with concentration and the freckles very prominent on his face that had been without the sun for so long. Twice a day Ada sat on a cushion in front of Garrick's chair and massaged the stump with methylated spirits to toughen it for its first contact with the stiff leather bucket. I bet old Sean will be surprised, hey? When he sees me walking around. Everyone will, Ada agreed. She looked up from his leg and smiled. Can't I try it now? Then I can go out fishing with him when he comes on Saturday. You mustn't expect too much, Garry, it's not going to be easy at first. You will have to learn to use it.

Like riding a horse, you remember how often you fell off before you learned to ride? But can I start now? Ada reached for the spirits bottle, Poured a little into her cupped hand and spread it on the stump.

We'll have to wait until Doctor Van Rooyen tells us you're ready. It won't be long now It wasn't. After his next visit Doctor Van Rooyen spoke to Waite as they walked together to the doctor's trap. You can try him with the peg-leg, it'll give him something to work for. Don't let him overtire himself and watch the stump doesn't get rubbed raw. We don't want another infection. Peg-leg. Waite's mind echoed the ugly word as he watched the trap out of sight. Peg-leg': he clenched his fists at his sides, not wanting to turn and see the pathetically eager face behind him on the veranda.

The you sure thats comfortable! Waite squatted in front of Garrick's chair adjusting the leg and Ada stood next to him. Yes, yes, let me try it now. Gee, old Sean will be surprised , hey? I'll be able to go back with him on Monday, wont I? Garrick was trembling with eagerness.

We'll see Waite grunted noncommittally. He stood up and moved round beside the chair.

Ada, my dear, take his other arm. Now listen, Garry! I want you to get the feel of it first. We'll help you up and you can just stand on it and get your balance. Do you understand?

Garrick nodded vigorously.

All right, then up you come. Garrick drew the leg towards him and the tip scraped across the wooden floor. They lifted him and he put his weight on it.

Look at me, I'm standing on it. Hey, look I'm standing on it His face glowed. Let me walk, come on, Let me walk. Ada glanced at her husband and he nodded. Together they led Garrick forward. He stumbled twice but they held him. Klunk and klunk again the peg rang on the floor boards. Before they reached the end of the veranda Garrick had learned to lift the leg high as he swung it forward.

on the way back They turned and he stumbled only once to the chair.

That's fine, Garry, you're doing fine laughed Ada.

You'll be on your own in no time, Waite grinned! with relief. He had hardly dared to hope it would be so easy, and Garrick fastened on his words. Let me stand on my own now. Not this time, boy, you've done well enough for one day. Oh, gee, Pa. Please. I won't try and walk, I'll just stand.

You and Ma can be ready to catch me. Please, Pa, please. Waite hesitated and Ada added her entreaty. Let him, dear, he's done so well.

It'll help build up his confidence, Very well. But don't try to move, Waite agreed.

Are you ready, Garry? Let him go! They took their hands off him cautiously. He teetered slightly and their hands darted back. I'm all right, leave me. He grinned at them confidently and once more they released him. He stood straight and steady for a moment and then he looked down at the ground. The grin froze on his face. He was alone on a high mountain, Ins stomach turned giddily within him and he was afraid, desperately unreasonably afraid. He lurched violently and the first shriek tore from him before they could hold him. I'm falling.

Take it off! Take it off!

They sat him in the chair with one swift movement. Take it off! I'm going to fall! The terrified screams racked Waite as he tore at the straps that held the leg.

it's off, Garry, you're safe. I'm holding you. Waite took him to his chest and held him, trying to quieten him with the strength of his arms and the security of his own big body, but Garrick's terrified struggling and his shrieks continued.

Take him to the bedroom, get him inside Ada spoke and Waite ran with him, still holding him against his chest.

Then for the first time Garrick found his hiding-place.

At the moment when his terror became too great to bear he felt something move inside his head, fluttering behind his eyes like the wings of a moth. His vision greyed as though he was in a mist bank. The mist thickened and blotted out all sight and sound. It was warm in the mist and safe. No one could touch him here for it wrapped and protected him.

He was safe.

I think he's asleep, Waite whispered to his wife, but there was a puzzled expression in his voice. He looked carefully at the boy's face and listened to his breathing. It happened so quickly though, it isn't natural.

And yet, and yet he looks all right Do you think, we should call the doctor2 Ada asked. No. Waite shook his head. I'll just cover him up and stay with him until he wakes. He woke in the early evening, sat up and smiled at them as though nothing had happened. Relaxed and shyly cheerful, he ate a big supper and no one mentioned the leg. It was almost as though Garrick had forgotten about it.

Sean came home on the following Friday afternoon. He had a black eye, not a fresh one; it was already turning green round the edges of the bruise. Sean was very reticent on the subject of how he had obtained it. He brought with him also a clutch of fly catchers, eggs which he gave to Garrick, a five red-lipped. snake in a cardboard box which Ada immediately condemned to death despite Sean's impassioned speech in its defence, and a bow carved from M'senga wood which was, in sean's opinion, the best wood for a bow.

His arrival wrought the usual change in the household of Theunis Kraal, more noise, more movement and more laughter.

There was a huge roast for dinner that evening, with potatoes baked in their jackets. These were seans favourite foods and he ate like a hungry python. Don't put so much in Your mouth, Waite remonstrated from the head of the table, but there was a fondness in his voice. It was hard not to show favouritism with his sons. Sean accepted the rebuke in the spirit it was given. Frikkie Oberholster's bitch had pups this week, six of them No, said Ada firmly. Gee, Ma, just one. You heard your mother, Sean poured gravy over his meat, cut a potato in half and lifted one piece to his mouth. It had been worth a try. He hadn't really expected them to agree. What did you learn this week? Ada asked. This was a nasty question. Sean had learned as much as was necessary to avoid trouble, no more. Oh, lots of things, he replied airily and then to change the subject. Have you finished Garry's new leg yet, Pa?

There was a silence. Garrick's face went expressionless and he dropped his eyes to his plate. Sean put the other half of the potato in his mouth and spoke around it.

If you have., me and Garry can go fishing up at the falls tomorrow. , Don't talk with your mouth full, snapped Waite with unnecessary violence. You've got the manners of a pig. Sorry, Pa, Sean muttered.

The rest of the meal passed in uneasy silence and as soon as it finished sean escaped to the bedroom. Garry went with him hopping along the passage with one hand on the wall to balance himself.

What's Pa so mad about? Sean demanded resentfully as soon as they were alone.

I don't know Garrick sat on the bed. Sometimes he just gets mad for nothing, you know that. Sean pulled his shirt off over his head, screwed it into a ball and threw it against the far wall.

BOOK: When the Lion Feeds
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