Read When the Lion Feeds Online

Authors: Wilbur Smith,Tim Pigott-Smith

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

When the Lion Feeds (7 page)

BOOK: When the Lion Feeds
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Sean shook his head and crossed the kitchen. sean!

Yes, Ma. Is something wrong? No,- quick denial -'No, I'm fine. He slipped into the passage.

Garrick was sitting up in bed. The skin around his nostrils was inflamed and chapped; he lowered the book he was reading and smiled at sean as he came into the room. Sean went to his own bed and sat on it.

Where have you been? Garrick's voice was thick with cold. Up at the pools above the falls. fishing? Sean didn't answer, he leaned forward on the bed with his elbows on his knees. I met Anna, she came with me.

Garrick's interest -quickened at the mention of her name and he watched sean's face. Sean still had that slightly puzzled expression.

Garry, he hesitated; he had to talk about it. Garry, I screwed Anna garrick drew in his breath with a small hiss. He went very pale, only his nose was still red and sore-looking.

I mean, Sean spoke slowly as though he were trying to explain it to himself, I mean really screwed her, just like we've talked about. just like. . . . He made a helpless gesture with his hands, unable to find the words. Then he lay back on the bed.

Did she let you? Garrick's voice was almost a whisper.

She asked me to, Sean said. It was slippery, sort of warm and slippery.

And then later, long after the lamp was out and they were both in bed, Sean heard Garrick's soft movements in the darkness. He listened for a while until he was certain. Garry! He accused him loudly. I wasn't, I wasn't. You know what Pa told us. Your teeth will fall out and you'll go mad. I wasn't, I wasn't. Garrick's voice was choked with his cold and his tears. I heard you, said Sean. I was just scratching my leg.

Honestly, honestly, I was.

Mr -Clark had not been able to break Sean. He had provoked instead a bitter contest in which he knew himself to be slowly losing ground, and now he was afraid of Sean. He no longer made Sean stand, for Sean was as tall as he was. The contest had been on for two years; they had explored each other's weaknesses and knew how to exploit them.

Mr Clark could not bear the sound of anyone sniffing; perhaps subconsciously he took it as mockery of his own deformed nose. Sean had a repertoire that varied from a barely audible connoisseur testing-the-bouquet-of-brandy sniff to a loud hawking in the back of his throat. Sorry, sir, I can't help it. I've got a bit of a cold. But then, to even the score, Mr Clark had realized that Sean was vulnerable through Garrick. Hurt Garrick even a little and you were inflicting almost unbearable agony on Sean.

It had been a bad week for Mr Clark. his liver, weakened by persistent bouts of malaria, had been troubling him. He had suffered with a bilious headache for three days now; there had been unpleasantness with the Town Council about the terms on which his contract was to be renewed; Sean had been in good sniffing form the day before and Mr Clark had had about as much as he was prepared to take.

He came into the schoolroom and took his place on the dais; he let his eyes move slowly over his pupils until they came to Sean.

just let him start, thought Mr Clark. Just let him start today and i'll kill him. The seating had been rearranged in the last two years.

Sean and Garrick had been separated and Garrick was now at the front of the room where Mr Clark could reach him easily. Sean was near the back.

English Readers, said Mr Clark. Standard Ones turn to page five.

Standard Twos turn to Garrick sniffed wetly, hayfever Mr Clark shut his book with a snap.

Damn you! he said softly, and then, his voice rising, Damn you! Now he was shaking with rage, the edges of his nostrils were white and flared open.

He came down from the dais to Garrick's desk. Damn you! Damn you, you bloody little cripple, he screamed and hit Garrick across the face with his open hand. Garrick cupped both hands over his cheek and stared at him.

You dirty little swine, Mr. Clark mouthed at him. Now you're starting it too. He caught a handful of Garrick's hair and pulled his head down so that -his forehead hit the top of the desk. I'll teach you. By God, I'll teach you! I'll show you. Bump.

I'll teach you Bump.

It took Sean that long to reach them. He grabbed Mr Clark's arm and pulled him backwards. Leave him alone!

He didn't do anything!

Mr Clark saw Sean's face in front of him, he was passed all reason, the face that had tormented him for two long years. He bunched his fist and lashed out at it.

Sean staggered back from the blow, the sting of it made his eyes water.

For a second he lay sprawled across one of the desks, watching Clark and then he growled.

The sound sobered Clark, he backed away but only two paces before Sean was on him. Hitting with both hands, grunting with each punch, Sean drove him against the blackboard. Clark tried to break away but Sean caught the collar of his shirt and dragged him back, the collar tore half loose in his hand and Sean hit him again. Clark slid down the wall until he was sitting against it and Sean stood panting over him.

Get out, said Clark. His teeth were stained pink by the blood in his mouth and a little of it spilled out onto his lips. His collar stood up at a jaunty angle under one ear.

There was no sound in the room except Sean's breathing Get out, said clark again and the anger drained out of Sean leaving him trembling with reaction. He walked to the door.

YOU too, Clark pointed at Garrick. Get out and don't come back! Come on, Garry, said Sean.

Garrick stood up from his desk and limped across to Sean and together they went out into the school yard.

What are we going to do now? There was a big red lump on Garrick's forehead.

I suppose we'd better go home. What about our things? asked Garrick.

We can't carry all that, we'll have to send for them later. Come on.

They walked out through the town and along the road to the farm. They had almost reached the bridge on the Baboon Stroorn before either of them spoke again.

what do you reckon Pa will do? asked Garrick. He was only putting into words the problem that had occupied them both since they left the school. Well, whatever he does, it was worth it. Sean grinned.

Did you see me clobber him, hey? Smackeroo, right in the chops. You shouldn't have done it, Sean. Pa's going to kill us!

Me too and I didn't do anything You sniffed, Sean reminded him.

They reached the bridge and leaned over the parapet side by side to watch the water.

How's your leg? asked Sean.

It's sore, I think we should rest a bit. All right, if you say so, Sean agreed.

There was a long silence, then, I. wish you hadn't done it, Sean.

Well, wishing isn't going to help. Old Nose-Holes is as punched up as he'll ever be and all we can do is think of something to tell Pa. He hit me, said Garrick. He might have killed me. Yes, agreed Sean righteously, and he hit me too. They thought about it for a while.

Perhaps we should just go away, suggested Garrick.

You mean without telling Pa? The idea had attraction.

Yeah, we could go to sea or something, Garrick brightened.

You'd get seasick, you even get sick in a train. Once more they applied their minds to the problem.

Then Sean looked at Garrick, Garrick looked at Sean and as though by agreement they straightened up and started off once more for Theunis kraal.

Ada was in front of the house. She had on a wide-brimmed straw hat that kept her face in shadow and over one arm she carried a basket of flowers. Busy with her garden, she didn't notice them until they were halfway across the lawn and when she did she stood motionless. She was steeling herself, trying to get her emotions under control; from experience she had learned to expect the worst from her stepsons and be thankful when it wasn't as bad as that.

As they came towards her they lost momentum and finally halted like a pair of clockwork toys running down. Hello, said Ada. Hello, they answered her together.

Garrick fumbled in his pocket, drew out a handkerchief and blew his nose. Sean stared up at the steep Dutchgabled roof of Theunis Kraal as though he had never seen it before. Yes? Ada kept her voice calm.

Mr Clark said we were to go home, announced Garrick.

rWhy? Ada's calm was starting to crack.

Well? Garrick glanced at Sean for support. Sean's attention was still riveted on the roof.

Well . . . You see Sean sort of punched him in the head until he fell down. I didn't do anything. Ada moaned softly, Oh, no! She took a deep breath. all right.

Start at the beginning and give me the whole story.

They told it in relays, a garbled rush of words, interrupting each other and arguing over the details.

When they had finished Ada said, You better go to your room. Your father is working in the home section today and he'll be back for his lunch soon. I'll try and prepare him a little. The room had the cheery atmosphere of a condemned cell.

How much do you reckon he'll give us? asked Garrick.

I reckon until he gets tired, then he'll rest and give us some more, Sean answered.

They heard Waite's horse come into the yard. He said something to the stable boy and they heard him laugh; the kitchen door slammed and there was half a minute of suspense before they heard Waite roar. Garrick jumped nervously.

For another ten minutes they could hear Waite and Ada talking in the kitchen, the alternate rumble and soothing murmur. Then the tap of ada's feet along the passage and she came into the room. Your father wants to see you, he's in the study. Waite stood in front of the fireplace. His beard was powdered with dust and his forehead as corrupted as a ploughed land with the force of his scowl.

Come in, he bellowed when Sean knocked and they filed in and stood in front of him. Waite slapped his riding-whip against his leg and the dust puffed out of his breeches.

Come here, he said to Garrick and took a handful of his hair. He twisted Garrick's face up and looked at the bruise on his forehead.

Hmm, he said. He let go of Garrick's hair and it stood up in a tuft. He threw the riding-whip on the stinkwood desk.

Come here, he said to Sean. Hold out your hands no, Palms down The skin on both hands was broken and one knuckle was swollen and puffy looking.

HMM" he said again. He turned to the shelf beside the fireplace, took a pipe out of the rack and filled it from the stone jar of tobacco.

You're a pair of bloody fools, he said, but I'll take a chance and start you on five shillings a week all found.

Go and get your lunch . . . we've got work to do this afternoon.

They stared at him a moment in disbelief and then back towards the door.

Sean. Sean stopped, he knew it was too good to be true. Where did you hit him?

All over, Pa, anywhere I could reach That's no good, Waite said. You must go for the side of his head, here, he tapped the point of his jaw with his pipe, and keep your fists closed tight or you'll, break every finger in Your hands before you're much older. Yes, Pa.

The door closed softly behind him and Waite allowed himself to grin.

They've had enough book learning anyway, he said aloud and struck a match to his pipe; when it was drawing evenly he blew out smoke.

Christ, I wish I could have watched it. That little penpusher will know better than to tangle with my boy again Now Sean had a course along which to race. He was born to run and Waite Courtney led him out of the stall in which he had fretted and gave him his lead. Sean ran, unsure of the prize, unsure of the distance; yet he ran with joy, he ran with all his strength.

Before dawn, standing with his father and Garrick in the kitchen, drinking coffee with hands cupped around the mug, Sean felt excitement for each coming day. Sean, take 7-ama and N'duti with you and make sure there are no strays in the thick stuff along the river. I'll only take one herdboy, Pa, you'll need NIduti at the dipping tankAll right, then.

Try and meet us back at the tank before midday, we've got to push through a thousand head today!

Sean gulped the remains of his coffee and buttoned his jacket. I'll get going then A groom held his horse at the kitchen door. Sean slid his rifle into the scabbard and went up into the saddle without putting his foot into the steel; he lifted a hand and grinned at Waite, then he swung the horse and rode across the yard. The morning was still dark and cold.

Waite watched him from the doorway. So goddamned sure of himself, thought Waite. Yet he had the son he had hoped for and he was proud.

What you want me to do, Garrick asked beside him.

Well, there are those heifers in the sick paddock, Waite stopped. No.

You'd better come with me, Garry.

Sean worked in the early morning when the sunlight was tinted as a stage effect, all golden and gay, and the shadows were long and black. He worked in the midday sun and sweated in the heat; in the rain; in the mist that swirled down grey and damp from the plateau; in the short african twilight, and came home in the dark. He loved every minute of it.

He learned to know cattle. Not by name, for only the trek oxen were named, but by their size and colour and markings, so that by running his eye over one of the herds he knew which animals were missing.

BOOK: When the Lion Feeds
5.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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