Read When the Lion Feeds Online

Authors: Wilbur Smith,Tim Pigott-Smith

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

When the Lion Feeds (5 page)

BOOK: When the Lion Feeds
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All the time you grow, already you are the biggest boy in the school.

Sean watched her warily, ready to take evasive action if she attempted to embrace him as she did sometimes when she could no longer contain her feelings. Sean's blend of charm, good looks and arrogance had completely captured her Teutonic heart.

Quickly, you must unpack. school is just now starting She turned her attention to her other charges and Sean, with relief, led his men through into the dormitory.

Pa says that next weekend I can use his rifle for hunting, not just targets, Karl steered the conversation back.

Dennis, put Garry's case on his bed. Sean pretended not to hear.

There were thirty beds arranged along the walls, each with a locker beside it. The room was as neat and cheerless as a prison or a school.

At the far end a group of five or six boys sat talking. They looked up as they came in but no greetings were exchanged, they were the opposition.

Sean sat down on his bed and bounced experimentally, it was hard as a plank, Garrick's peg thumped as he walked down the dormitory and Ronny pye, the leader of the opposition, whispered something to his friends and they all laughed, watching Garrick. Garrick blushed again and sat down quickly on his bed to hide his leg.

I guess I'll shoot duiker first before Pa lets me shoot kudu or bushbuck karl stated and Sean frowned.

What's the new teacher like? he asked. He looks all right one of the others answered. Jimmy and I saw him at the station yesterday. He's thin and got a mustache. He doesn't smile much. I suppose next holiday Pa will take me shooting across the Tugela, Karl said aggressively. I hope he's not too keen on spelling and things, Sean declared. I hope he doesn't start all that decimal business again, like old Lizard did. There was a round of agreement and then Garrick made his first contribution. Decimals are easy.

There was a silence while they all looked at him.

I might even shoot a lion, said Karl.

There was a single schoolroom to accommodate the youngest upwards of both sexes. Double desks; on the walls a few maps, a large set of multiplication tables and a picture of Queen Victoria. From the dais Mr anthony Clark surveyed his new pupils. There was a hushed anticipation;

one of the girls giggled nervously and Mr Clark's eyes sought the sound, but it stopped before he found it. It is my unfortunate duty to attempt your education, he announced. He wasn't joking. Long ago his sense of vocation had been swamped by an intense dislike for the young: now he taught only for the salary. It is your no more pleasant duty to submit to this with all the fortitude you can muster, he went on, looking with distaste at their shining faces. What's he saying? whispered Sean without moving his lips.

Shh, said Garrick.

Mr Clark's eyes swivelled quickly and rested on Garrick. He walked slowly down the aisle between the desks and stopped beside him; he took a little of the hair that grew at Garrick's temple between his thumb and his forefinger and jerked it upwards. Garrick squeaked and Mr Clark returned slowly to his dais. We will now proceed. Standard Ones kindly open your spelling books at page one. Standard Twos turn to page fifteen. . . . He went on allocating their work. Did he hurt you?

breathed Sean. Garrick nodded almost imperceptibly and Sean conceived an immediate and intense hatred for the man. He stared at him.

Mr Clark was a little over thirty years old, thin, and his tight three-piece suit emphasized this fact. He had a pale face made sad by his drooping mustache, and his nose was upturned to such a degree that his nostrils were exposed; they pointed out of his face like the muzzle of a double-barrelled shotgun. He lifted his head from the list he held in his hand and aimed his nostrils straight at Sean. For a second they stared at each other. Trouble, thought Mr Clark; he could pick them unerringly.

Break him before he gets out of control, You, boy, what's your name?

Sean turned elaborately and looked over his shoulder.

When he turned back there was a little colour in Mr Clark's cheeks.

Stand up. Who, me? Yes, you.

Sean stood. What's your name? Courtney. Sir! Courtney, sir. They looked at each other. Mr Clark waited for Sean to drop his eyes but he didn't. Big trouble, much bigger than I thought, he decided and said aloud, All right, sit down. There was an almost audible relaxation of tension in the room. Sean could sense the respect of the others around him; they were proud of the way he had carried it off. He felt a touch on his shoulder. It was Anna, the seat behind him was as close as she could sit to him. Ordinarily her presumption would have annoyed him, but now that small touch on his shoulder added to his glow of self-satisfaction.

An hour passed slowly for Sean. He drew a picture of a rifle in the margin of his spelling book then rubbed it out carefully, he watched garrick for a while until his brother's absorption with his work irritated him.

Swat, he whispered, but Garrick ignored him.

Sean was bored. He shifted restlessly in his seat and looked at the back of Karl's neck, there was a ripe pimple on it. He picked up his ruler to prod it. Before he could do so Karl lifted his hand as if to scratch his shoulder but there was a scrap of paper between his fingers.

Sean put down the ruler and surreptitiously reached for the note.

He held it in his lap, on it was written one word.

Mosquitoes Sean grinned. Sean's imitation of a mosquito was one of the many reasons why the previous schoolmaster had resigned. For six months old Lizard had believed that there were mosquitoes in the room, then for the next six months he had known there were not. He had tried every ruse he could think of to catch the culprit, and in the end it had got him. Every time the monotonous hum began the tic in the corner of his mouth became more noticeable.

Now Sean cleared his throat and started to hum.

Instantly the room was tense with suppressed laughter.

Every head, including Sean's, was bent studiously over a book. Mr clark's hand hesitated in writing on the blackboard but then went on again evenly.

It was a clever imitation; by lowering and raising the volume Sean gave the effect of an insect moving about the room. A slight trembling at his throat was the only sign that he was responsible.

Mr Clark finished writing and turned to face the room.

Sean did not make the mistake of stopping, he allowed the mosquito to fly a little longer before settling.

Mr Clark left his dais and walked down the row of desks furthest from sean. Once or twice he paused to check the work of one of his pupils.

He reached the back of the room and moved across to Sean's row. He stopped at Anna's desk.

It is unnecessary to loop your L's like that, he told her. Let me show you. He took her pencil and wrote, You see what I mean. To show off when writing is as bad as showing off in your everyday behaviour. He handed her back her pencil and then pivoting on one foot he hit Sean a mighty crack across the side of the head with his open hand. Sean's head was knocked sideways and the sound of the blow was very loud in the quiet room.

There was a mosquito sitting on your ear, said Mr Clark.

in the following two years Sean and Garrick made the change from child to young manhood. It was like riding a strong current, being swept with speed along the river of life.

There were parts of the river that flowed steadily: Ada was one of these. Always understanding, with the ability to give her understanding expression, unchanging in her love for her husband and the family she had taken as her own.

Waite was another. A little more grey in his hair but big as ever in body, laugh and fortune.

There were parts of the river that ran faster: There were landmarks along the course of the river. Some of them small as a pile of rocks in shallow water: Some of the landmarks were big as headlands: And at the end the river plunged over the last waterfall and swept them into the sea. of manhood.

Garrick's reliance on Sean. He needed him more strongly each month that passed, for Sean was his shield.

if Sean was not there to protect him when he was threatened, then he used his final refuge: he crawled back into himself, into-the warm dark mists of his mind.

They went to steal peaches: the twins, Karl, Dennis and two others.

There was a thick hedge around Mr Pye's orchard and the peaches that grew on the other side of it were as big as a man's fist. They were sweet as honey but tasted even sweeter when taken on the plunder account.

You reached the orchard through a plantation of wattle trees. Don't take too many off one tree! Sean ordered. Old Pye will notice it as sure as anything.

They came to the hedge and Sean found the hole. Garry, you stay here and keep cats for us. If anyone comes give a whistle. Garrick tried not to show his relief, he had no stomach for the expedition.

Sean went on. We'll pass the peaches out to you, and don't eat any until we're finished. Why doesn't he come with us? asked Karl.

"Cause he can't run, that's why. If he gets caught they'll know who the rest of us are for sure and we'll all get it Karl was satisfied. Sean went down on his hands and knees and crawled into the hole in the hedge and one at a time the others followed him until Garrick was left alone.

He stood close to the hedge, drawing comfort from its protecting bulk.

The minutes dragged by and Garrick fidgeted nervously, they were taking an awfully long time.

Suddenly there were voices, someone was coming through the plantation towards him. Panic beat up inside him and he shrank back into the hedge, trying to hide;

the idea of giving a warning never even entered his head.

The voices were closer and then through the trees he recognized Ronny pye: with him were two of his friends.

Each of them was armed with a slingshot and they walked with their heads thrown back, searching the trees for birds.

For a time it seemed they would not notice Garrick in the hedge; but then, when they had almost passed, Ronny turned his head and saw him.

They stared at each other, ten paces apart, Garrick crouched against the hedge and Ronny's expression of surprise slowly changing to one of cunning. He looked around quickly, to make sure that Sean was not there. It's old Hobble-dee-hoy, he announced and his friends came back and stood on each side of him. What're you doing, Peg-leg? Rats got your tongue, Peg-leg?

No, termites got his leg! , laughter aimed to hurt. Talk to us, Peg-leg. Ronny Pye had ears that stood out on each side of his head like a pair of fans. He was small for his age which made him vicious and his hair was ginger. Come on. Talk to us, Peg-leg. Garrick moistened his lips with his tongue, already there were tears in his eyes. Hey, Ronny, make him walk for us, like this.

the others gave a graphic imitation of Garrick's limp.

laughter, louder now, more confident and they closed in on him.

Garrick swung his head from side to side searching for an escape. Your brother's not here, crowed Ronny. No good looking for him, Peg-leg. He caught a hold of Garrick's shirt and pulled him out of the hedge.

Show us how you walk.

Garrick plucked ineffectually at Ronny's hand. Leave me, I'll tell sean. I'll tell Sean unless you leave me.

All right, I'll leave you, agreed Ronny and with both hands shoved him in the chest. Don't come my way, go that way! Garrick stumbled backwards.

One of the others was ready for him. Don't come my way, go that way and pushed him in the back. They formed a ring around him and kept him staggering between them. Go that way! Go that way! The tears were streaked down his cheeks now. Please, please stop.

please, please, they mimicked him.

Then, with a rush of relief, Garrick felt the fluttering start behind his eyes, their faces dimmed, he hardly felt their hands upon him. He fell and his face hit the ground, but there was no pain. Two of them stooped over him to lift him, and there was dirt mixed with the tears on his cheeks.

Sean came through the hedge behind them; the front of his shirt bulged with peaches. For a second he crouched on his hands and knees while he took in what was happening, then he came out of his crouch at a run.

Ronny heard him, dropped Garrick and turned. You've been pinching Pa's peaches, he shouted. I'll tell Sean's fist hit him on the nose and he sat down. Sean swung towards the other two but they were already running, he chased them a few paces and then came back for Ronny, but he was too late. Ronny was dodging away between the trees holding his face and his nose was bleeding onto his shirt. Are you all right, Garry?

Sean knelt beside him, trying to wipe the dirt off his face with a grubby handkerchief.

Sean helped him to his feet, and Garrick stood swaying slightly with his eyes open but a remote and vacant smile on his lips.

Waite Courtney looked at Sean across the breakfast table at Theunis kraal. The fork-load of egg and grilled gammon stopped on the way to his mouth. Turn your face towards the window, he commanded suspiciously. Sean obeyed. What the hell is that on your face?

rWhat? Sean ran his hand over his cheek. When did you last bath? Don't be silly, my dear. Ada touched his leg under the table. It isn't dirt, it's whiskers. Whiskers, are they? Waite peered closely at Sean and started to grin, he opened his mouth to speak and Ada knew instantly that he was going to make a joke, one of those ponderous jokes of his, as subtle as an enraged all-formed dinosaur, that would wound Sean deep in his half-formed manhood. Quickly she cut in, I think you should buy him a razor, don't you, Waite? Waite lost the thread of his joke, he grunted and put the egg into his mouth.

BOOK: When the Lion Feeds
13.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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