Chapter 6 - History and Adventures of a Cape Farmer and his Family by Mayne Reid

“Inspann and Trek!”

With all his confidence in the protection of a Supreme Being, Von Bloom knew that he was not to leave everything to the Divine hand. That was not the religion he had been taught; and he at once set about taking measures to extricate himself from the unpleasant position in which he was placed.

Unpleasant position! Ha! It was more than unpleasant, as the field-cornet began to perceive. It was a position of peril!

The more Von Bloom reflected, the more was he convinced of this. There they were, in the middle of a black naked plain, that without a green spot extended beyond the limits of vision. How much farther he could not guess; but he knew that the devastations of the migratory locust sometimes cover an area of thousands of miles! It was certain that the one that had just swept past was on a very extensive scale.

It was evident he could no longer remain by his kraal. His horses, and cattle, and sheep, could not live without food; and should these perish, upon what were he and his family to subsist? He must leave the kraal. He must go in search of pasture, without loss of time,—at once. Already the animals, shut up beyond their usual hour, were uttering their varied cries, impatient to be let out. They would soon hunger; and it was hard to say when food could be procured for them.

There was no time to be lost. Every hour was of great importance,—even minutes must not be wasted in dubious hesitation.

The field-cornet spent but a few minutes in consideration. Whether should he mount one of his best horses, and ride off alone in search of pasture? or whether would it not be better to “inspann” his wagon, and take everything along with him at once?

He soon decided in favour of the latter course. In any case he would have been compelled to move from his present location,—to leave the kraal altogether.

He might as well take everything at once. Should he go out alone, it might cost him a long time to find grass and water—for both would be necessary—and, meantime, his stock would be suffering.

These and other considerations decided him at once to “inspann” and “trek” away, with his wagon, his horses, his cattle, his sheep, his “household gods,” and his whole family circle.

“Inspann and trek!” was the command: and Swartboy, who was proud of the reputation he had earned as a wagon-driver, was now seen waving his bamboo whip like a great fishing-rod.

“Inspann and trek!” echoed Swartboy, tying upon his twenty-feet lash a new cracker, which he had twisted out of the skin of the hartebeest antelope.

“Inspann and trek!” he repeated, making his vast whip crack like a pistol; “yes, baas, I’ll inspann;” and, having satisfied himself that his “voorslag” was properly adjusted, Swartboy rested the bamboo handle against the side of the house, and proceeded to the kraal to collect the yoke-oxen.

A large wagon, of a sort that is the pride and property of every Cape farmer, stood to one side of the house. It was a vehicle of the first class,—a regular “cap-tent” wagon,—that had been made for the field-cornet in his better days, and in which he had been used to drive his wife and children to the “nacht-maal” and upon vrolykheids (parties of pleasure.) In those days a team of eight fine horses used to draw it along at a rattling rate. Alas! oxen had now to take their place; for Von Bloom had but five horses in his whole stud, and these were required for the saddle.

But the wagon was almost as good as ever it had been,—almost as good as when it used to be the envy of the field-cornet’s neighbours, the boors of Graaf Reinet. Nothing was broken. Everything was in its place,—“voor-kist,” and “achter-kist,” and side-chests. There was the snow-white cap, with its “fore-clap” and “after-clap,” and its inside pockets, all complete; and the wheels neatly carved, and the well planed boxing and “disselboom” and the strong “trektow” of buffalo-hide. Nothing was wanting that ought to be found about a wagon. It was, in fact, the best part of the field-cornet’s property that remained to him,—for it was equal in value to all the oxen, cattle, and sheep, upon his establishment.

While Swartboy, assisted by Hendrik, was catching up the twelve yoke-oxen, and attaching them to the disselboom and trektow of the wagon, the “baas” himself, aided by Hans, Totty, and also by Trüey and little Jan, was loading up the furniture and implements. This was not a difficult task. The Penates of the little kraal were not numerous, and were all soon packed either inside or around the roomy vehicle.

In about an hour’s time the wagon was loaded up, the oxen were inspanned, the horses saddled, and everything was ready for “trekking.”

And now arose the question, whither?

Up to this time Von Bloom had only thought of getting away from the spot—of escaping beyond the naked waste that surrounded him.

It now became necessary to determine the direction in which they were to travel—a most important consideration.

Important, indeed, as a little reflection showed. They might go in the direction in which the locusts had gone, or that in which they had come? On either route they might travel for scores of miles without meeting with a mouthful of grass for the hungry animals; and in such a case these would break down and perish.

Or the travellers might move in some other direction, and find grass, but not water. Without water, not only would they have to fear for the cattle, but for themselves—for their own lives. How important then it was, which way they turned their faces!

At first the field-cornet bethought him of heading towards the settlements. The nearest water in that direction was almost fifty miles off. It lay to the eastward of the kraal. The locusts had just gone that way. They would by this time have laid waste the whole country—perhaps to the water or beyond it!

It would be a great risk going in that direction.

Northward lay the Kalihari desert. It would be hopeless to steer north. Von Bloom knew of no oasis in the desert. Besides the locusts had come from the north. They were drifting southward when first seen; and from the time they had been observed passing in this last direction, they had no doubt ere this wasted the plains far to the south.

The thoughts of the field-cornet were now turned to the west. It is true the swarm had last approached from the west; but Von Bloom fancied that they had first come down from the north, and that the sudden veering round of the wind had caused them to change direction. He thought that by trekking westward he would soon get beyond the ground they had laid bare.

He knew something of the plains to the west—not much indeed, but he knew that at about forty miles distance there was a spring with good pasturage around it, upon whose water he could depend. He had once visited it, while on a search for some of his cattle, that had wandered thus far. Indeed, it then appeared to him a better situation for cattle than the one he held, and he had often thought of moving to it. Its great distance from any civilised settlement was the reason why he had not done so. Although he was already far beyond the frontier, he still kept up a sort of communication with the settlements, whereas at the more distant point such a communication would be extremely difficult.

Now that other considerations weighed with him, his thoughts once more returned to this spring; and after spending a few minutes more in earnest deliberation, he decided upon “trekking” westward.

Swartboy was ordered to head round, and strike to the west. The Bushman promptly leaped to his seat upon the voor-kist, cracked his mighty whip, straightened out his long team, and moved off over the plain.

Hans and Hendrik were already in their saddles; and having cleared the kraals of all their live-stock, with the assistance of the dogs, drove the lowing and bleating animals before them.

Trüey and little Jan sat beside Swartboy on the fore-chest of the wagon; and the round full eyes of the pretty springbok could be seen peeping curiously out from under the cap-tent.

Casting a last look upon his desolate kraal, the field-cornet turned his horse’s head, and rode after the wagon.