Prester John HTML version

6. The Drums Beat At Sunset
japp was drunk for the next day or two, and I had the business of the store to
myself. I was glad of this, for it gave me leisure to reflect upon the various
perplexities of my situation. As I have said, I was really scared, more out of a
sense of impotence than from dread of actual danger. I was in a fog of
uncertainty. Things were happening around me which I could only dimly guess
at, and I had no power to take one step in defence. That Wardlaw should have
felt the same without any hint from me was the final proof that the mystery was
no figment of my nerves. I had written to Colles and got no answer. Now the
letter with Japp's resignation in it had gone to Durban. Surely some notice would
be taken of that. If I was given the post, Colles was bound to consider what I had
said in my earlier letter and give me some directions. Meanwhile it was my
business to stick to my job till I was relieved.
A change had come over the place during my absence. The natives had almost
disappeared from sight. Except the few families living round
Blaauwildebeestefontein one never saw a native on the roads, and none came
into the store. They were sticking close to their locations, or else they had gone
after some distant business. Except a batch of three Shangaans returning from
the Rand, I had nobody in the store for the whole of one day. So about four
o'clock I shut it up, whistled on Colin, and went for a walk along the Berg.
If there were no natives on the road, there were plenty in the bush. I had the
impression, of which Wardlaw had spoken, that the native population of the
countryside had suddenly been hugely increased. The woods were simply
hotching with them. I was being spied on as before, but now there were so many
at the business that they could not all conceal their tracks. Every now and then I
had a glimpse of a black shoulder or leg, and Colin, whom I kept on the leash,
was half-mad with excitement. I had seen all I wanted, and went home with a
preoccupied mind. I sat long on Wardlaw's garden-seat, trying to puzzle out the
truth of this spying.
What perplexed me was that I had been left unmolested when I had gone to
Umvelos'. Now, as I conjectured, the secret of the neighbourhood, whatever it
was, was probably connected with the Rooirand. But when I had ridden in that
direction and had spent two days in exploring, no one had troubled to watch me. I
was quite certain about this, for my eye had grown quick to note espionage, and
it is harder for a spy to hide in the spare bush of the flats than in the dense
thickets on these uplands.
The watchers, then, did not mind my fossicking round their sacred place. Why,
then, was I so closely watched in the harmless neighbourhood of the store? I
thought for a long time before an answer occurred to me. The reason must be
that going to the plains I was going into native country and away from civilization.
But Blaauwildebeestefontein was near the frontier. There must be some dark
business brewing of which they may have feared that I had an inkling. They
wanted to see if I proposed to go to Pietersdorp or Wesselsburg and tell what I
knew, and they clearly were resolved that I should not. I laughed, I remember,