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Authors: Wilbur Smith,Tim Pigott-Smith

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

When the Lion Feeds (4 page)

BOOK: When the Lion Feeds
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$You'd better pick it up, else there'll be trOuble, Garrick warned mildly. Sean dropped his pants and kicked them after the shirt. This show of defiance put him in a better mood. He walked across and stood naked in front of Garrick.

Look he said with pride. Hairs! hairs.

Garrick inspected them. indisputably they were hairs.

There aren't very many. Garrick couldn't disguise the envy in his voice. I bet I've got more than you have, Sean challenged, Let's count them. But Garrick knew himself to be an outright loser; he slipped off the bed and hopped across the room. Steadying himself against the wall he stooped and picked up Sean's discarded clothing he brought it back and dropped it in the soiled linen basket beside the door. Sean watched him and it reminded him of his unanswered question. Has Pa finished your leg yet, Garry?

Garry turned slowly, he swallowed and nodded once, a quick jerky movement. What's it like? Have you tried it yet?

The fear was on Garrick again. He twisted his face from side to side as though seeking an escape. There were footsteps in the passage outside the door. Sean dived at his bed and snatching up his nightgown pulled it over his head as he slid between the sheets. Garrick was still standing beside the clothes basket when Waite Courtney came into the room. Come on, Garry, what's holding you up?

Garrick hurried across to his bed and Waite looked at Sean. Sean grinned at him with all the charm of his good looks and Waite's face softened into a grin also. Nice to have you home again, boy. It was impossible to be angry with Sean for long.

He reached out and took a handful of Sean's thick black hair. Now I don't want to hear any talking in here after the lamp's out, do you understand?

He tugged Sean's head from side to side gently, embarrassed by the strength of his feeling for his son. The next morning Waite Courtney rode back to the homestead for his breakfast when the sun was high. One of the grooms took his horse and led it away to the paddock and Waite stood in front of the saddle room and looked around him. He looked at the neat white posts of the paddock, at the well-swept yard, at his house filled with fine furniture. It was a good feeling to be rich, especially when you knew what it was like to be poor. Fifteen thousand acres of good grassland, as many cattle as the land would carry, gold in the bank. Waite smiled and started across the yard.

He heard Ada singing in the dairy. How rides the farmer Sit, sit, so sit, sit, so, tra la The Capetown girls say Kiss me quick Kiss me quick, tra la.

She had a clear sweet voice and Waite's smile broadened, it was a good feeling to be rich and to be in love.

He stopped at the door of the dairy; because of the thick stone walls and heavy thatch it was cool and dark in the room. Ada stood with her back to the door, her body moving in time to the song and the turning of the butter churn. Waite watched her a moment, then he walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist.

Startled, she turned within his arms and he kissed her on the mouth.

Good morning, my pretty maid.

She relaxed against him. Good morning, sir, she said. What's for breakfast? Ah! what a romantic fool I married! She sighed, Come along, let's go and see. She took off her apron, hung it behind the door, patted her hair into place and held her hand out to him. They walked hand-in-hand across the yard and into the kitchen.

Waite sniffed loudly. Smells all right. Where are the boys? Joseph understood English though he could not speak it. He looked up from the stove. Nkosi, they are on the front veranda Joseph had the typical moon-round face of the Zulu, when he smiled his teeth were big and white against the black of his skin. They are playing with Nkosizana Garry's wooden leg Waite's face flushed. How did they find it? Nkosianq Sean asked me where it was and I told him you had put it in the linen cupboard You bloody fool! roared Waite. He dropped Ada's hand and ran.

As he reached the lounge he heard Sean shout and immediately there was the sound of someone falling heavily on the veranda. He stopped in the middle of the lounge floor; he couldn't bear to go out and face garrick's terror. He felt sick with dread and with his anger at Sean.

Then he heard Sean laugh. Get off me, man, don't just lie there. And then, incredibly, Garrick's voice. Sorry, it caught in the floor boards. Waite walked across to the window and looked out onto the veranda. Sean and Garrick lay in a heap together near the far end. Sean was still laughing and on Garrick's face was a set nervous smile. Sean scrambled up. Come on.

Get up.

He gave Garrick his hand and dragged him to his feet.

They stood clinging to each other, Garrick balancing precariously on his peg. I bet if it was me I could just walk easy as anything, said Sean.

I bet you couldn't, it's jolly difficult. Sean let go of him and stood back with his arms spread ready to catch him. Come on. Sean walked backwards in front of him and Garrick followed unsteadily, his arms flapping out sideways as he struggled to keep his balance, his face rigid with concentration. He reached the end of the veranda and caught onto the rail with both hands. This time he joined in Sean's laughter.

Waite became aware that Ada was standing beside him; he glanced sideways at her and her lips formed the words come away. She took his arm.

At the end of June 1876 Garrick went back to school with Sean. It was almost four months since the shooting. Waite drove them. The road to lady-burg was through open forest, two parallel tracks with the grass growing in between, it brushed the bottom of the buggy. The horses trotted in the tracks, their hooves silent on the thick powder dust. At the top of the first rise Waite slowed the horses and turned in his seat to look back at the homestead. The early sun gave the whitewashed walls of Theunis Kraal an orange glow and the lawns around the house were brilliant green. Everywhere else the grass was dry in the early winter and the leaves of the trees were dry also.

The sun was not yet high enough to rob the veld of its colour and light it only with the flat white glare of midday. The leaves were golden and russet and redbrown, the same red-brown as the bunches of Afrikander cattle that grazed among the trees. Behind it all was the back-drop of the escarpment, striped like a zebra with the green black bush that grew in its gullies. Look, there's a hoopoe, Sean! Yeah, I saw it long ago.

That's a male. The bird flew up from in front of the horses. chocolate and black and white wings, its head crested like an Etruscan helmet.

How do you know? challenged Garrick.

"Cause of the white in its wings. They've all got white in their wings.

They haven't, only the males. Well, all the ones I've seen got white in their wings, said Garrick dubiously. Perhaps you've never seen a female. They're jolly rare.

They don't come out of their nests much.

Waite Courtney smiled and turned back in his seat. Garry's right, Sean, you can't tell the difference by their feathers. The male's a little bigger, that's all.

I told you, said Garrick, brave under his father's protection.

You know everything, muttered Sean sarcastically. I suppose you read it in all those books, hey? there's the train. Garrick smiled complacently. Look, there It was coming down the escarpment, dragging a long grey plume of smoke behind it. Waite started the horses into a trot. They went down to the concrete bridge over the Baboon Stroom.

I saw a Yellow fish. It was a stick, I saw it too. The river was the boundary of Waite's land. They crossed the bridge and went up the other side. In front of them was Lady-burg. The train was running into the town past the cattle sale pens; it whistled and shot a puff of steam high into the air. The town was spread out, each house padded around by its orchard and garden. A thirty-six ox team could turn in any one of the wide streets. The houses were burnt brick or whitewashed, thatched or with corrugated-iron roofs painted green or dull red. The square was in the centre and the spire of the church was the hub of Lady-burg.

The school was on the far side of town.

Waite trotted the horses along Main Street. There were a few people on the side walks; they moved with early morning stiffness beneath the flamboyant trees that lined the street and every one of them called a greeting to Waite. He waved his whip at the men and lifted his hat to the women, but not high enough to expose the bald dome of his head. In the centre of town the shops were open, and standing on long thin legs in front of his bank was David Pye. He was dressed in black like an undertaker. Morning, Waite. Morning, David, called Waite a little too heartily. it was not six months since he had paid off the last mortgage on Theunis Kraal and the memory of debt was too fresh in his mind; he felt as embarrassed as a newly released prisoner meeting the prison governor on the street. Can you come in and see me after you've dropped off your boys? Have the coffee ready, agreed Waite. It was well known that no one was ever offered coffee when they called on David Pye. They went on down the street, turned left at the far end of Church Square, passed the courthouse and down the dip to the school hostel.

There were half a dozen Scotch carts and four-wheelers standing in the yard. Small boys and girls swarmed over them unloading their luggage.

Their fathers stood in a group at one end of the yard, brown-faced men, with carefully brushed beards, uncomfortable in their suits which still showed the creases of long hanging. These men lived too far out for their children to make the daily journey into school. Their land sprawled down to the banks of the Tugela or across the plateau halfway to Pietermaritzburg.

Waite stopped the buggy, climbed down and loosened the harness on his horses and Sean jumped from the outside seat to the ground and ran to the nearest bunch of boys. Waite walked across to the men; their ranks opened for him, they smiled their welcomes and in turn reached for his right hand. Garrick sat alone on the front seat of the buggy, his leg stuck out stiffly in front of him and his shoulders hunched as though he were trying to hide.

After a while Waite glanced back over his shoulder. He saw Garrick sitting alone and he made as if to go to him, but stopped immediately.

His eyes quested among the swirl of small bodies until they found Sean.

Sean!

Sean paused in the middle of an animated discussion. Yes, Pa. Give garry a hand with his case. Aw, gee, Pa, I'm talking Sean! Waite scowled with both face and voice. All right, I'm going. Sean hesitated a moment longer and then went back to the buggy. Come on, Garry. Pass the cases down. Garrick roused himself and climbed awkwardly over the back of the seat. He handed the luggage down to Sean who stacked it beside the wheel, then turned to the group that had followed him across.

Karl, you carry that. Dennis, take the brown bag. Don't drop it, men it's got four bottles of jam in it. Sean issued his instructions. Come on, Garry. They started off towards the hostel and Garrick climbed down from the buggy and limped quickly after them.

know what, Sean? said Karl loudly. Pa let me start using his rifle.

Sean stopped dead, and then more with hope than conviction, He did not!

He did, Karl said happily. Garrick caught up with them and they all stared at Karl. How many shots did you have? asked someone in an awed voice.

Karl nearly said, Six, but changed it quickly. Oh, lots, as many as I wanted. You'll get gun-shy, my Pa says if you start too soon you'll never be a good shot. I never missed once, flashed Karl. Come on, said sean and started off once more, he had never been so jealous in his life. Karl hurried after him. I bet you've never shot with a rifle, Sean, I bet you haven't, hey? Sean smiled mysteriously while he searched for some new topic; he could see that Karl was going to kick the subject to death.

From the veranda of the hostel a girl ran to meet him.

It's Anna, said Garrick.

She had long brown legs, skinny; her skirts fussed about them as she ran. Her hair was black, her face was small with a pointed chin. Hello, Sean Sean grunted. She fell in beside him, skipping to keep pace with him. Did you have a nice holiday? Sean ignored her, always coming and trying to talk to him, even when his friends were watching. I've got a whole tin of shortbread, Sean. Would you like some? There was a flash of interest in Sean's eyes; he half turned his head towards her, for Mrs van Essen's shortbread was rightly famous throughout the district, but he caught himself and kept grimly on towards the hostel. Can I sit next to you in class this term, Sean? Sean turned furiously on her. No, you can't. Now go away, I'm busy. He went up the steps. Ann, stood at the bottom; she looked as though she was going to cry and Garrick stopped shyly beside her.

You can sit next to me if you like, he said softly.

She glanced at him, looking down at his leg. The tears cleared and she giggled. She was pretty. She leaned towards him.

Peg-leg, she said and giggled again. Garrick blushed so vividly, and suddenly his eyes watered. Anna put both hands to her mouth and giggled through them, then she turned and ran to join her friends in front of the girls, section of the hostel. Still blushing, Garrick went up the steps after Sean; he steadied himself on the banisters.

Friulein stood at the door of the boys, dormitory. Her steel-rimmed spectacles and the iron grey of her hair gave her face an exaggerated severity, but this was relieved by the smile with which she recognized sean.

JAh, my Sean, you have come. What she actually said was, Ach, mein sean, you haf goM. Hello, FrAulein. Sean gave her his number one very best smile. Again you have grown, FrAulein measured him with her eyes.

BOOK: When the Lion Feeds
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