Prester John HTML version

3. Blaauwildebeestefontein
The Pilgrim's Progress had been the Sabbath reading of my boyhood, and as I
came in sight of Blaauwildebeestefontein a passage ran in my head. It was that
which tells how Christian and Hopeful, after many perils of the way, came to the
Delectable Mountains, from which they had a prospect of Canaan. After many
dusty miles by rail, and a weariful journey in a Cape-cart through arid plains and
dry and stony gorges, I had come suddenly into a haven of green. The Spring of
the Blue Wildebeeste was a clear rushing mountain torrent, which swirled over
blue rocks into deep fern-fringed pools. All around was a tableland of lush grass
with marigolds and arum lilies instead of daisies and buttercups. Thickets of tall
trees dotted the hill slopes and patched the meadows as if some landscape-
gardener had been at work on them. Beyond, the glen fell steeply to the plains,
which ran out in a faint haze to the horizon. To north and south I marked the
sweep of the Berg, now rising high to a rocky peak and now stretching in a level
rampart of blue. On the very edge of the plateau where the road dipped for the
descent stood the shanties of Blaauwildebeestefontein. The fresh hill air had
exhilarated my mind, and the aromatic scent of the evening gave the last touch of
intoxication. Whatever serpent might lurk in it, it was a veritable Eden I had come
Blaauwildebeestefontein had no more than two buildings of civilized shape; the
store, which stood on the left side of the river, and the schoolhouse opposite. For
the rest, there were some twenty native huts, higher up the slope, of the type
which the Dutch call rondavels. The schoolhouse had a pretty garden, but the
store stood bare in a patch of dust with a few outhouses and sheds beside it.
Round the door lay a few old ploughs and empty barrels, and beneath a solitary
blue gum was a wooden bench with a rough table. Native children played in the
dust, and an old Kaffir squatted by the wall.
My few belongings were soon lifted from the Cape-cart, and I entered the shop. It
was the ordinary pattern of up-country store - a bar in one corner with an array of
bottles, and all round the walls tins of canned food and the odds and ends of
trade. The place was empty, and a cloud of flies buzzed over the sugar cask.
Two doors opened at the back, and I chose the one to the right. I found myself in
a kind of kitchen with a bed in one corner, and a litter of dirty plates on the table.
On the bed lay a man, snoring heavily. I went close to him, and found an old
fellow with a bald head, clothed only in a shirt and trousers. His face was red and
swollen, and his breath came in heavy grunts. A smell of bad whisky hung over
everything. I had no doubt that this was Mr Peter Japp, my senior in the store.
One reason for the indifferent trade at Blaauwildebeestefontein was very clear to
me: the storekeeper was a sot.
I went back to the shop and tried the other door. It was a bedroom too, but clean
and pleasant. A little native girl - Zeeta, I found they called her - was busy tidying
it up, and when I entered she dropped me a curtsy. 'This is your room, Baas,' she
said in very good English in reply to my question. The child had been well trained
somewhere, for there was a cracked dish full of oleander blossom on the