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Chapter V.: HEART-WORK. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 1.
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In a few days from this time, some of the most thoughtful of the settlers began to ponder the necessity of increasing their supplies of food. Prest, the butcher, sighed every day as he passed the ruined paddocks and saw no cattle in them for him to exercise his skill upon. “Heaven knows,” said he to his wife, “when I may have the pleasure of slaying a beast again. And as for our ever having a drove or a herd, there is no possibility of it unless we can get hides enough to make thongs for snares. Fulton says he has used up every scrap of leather, and unless we can get more, Campbell and I may both lay aside our craft, for we shall never more have droves in our fields, or smoking joints on the table.”
“We must live like savages, on roots and fruit and fish,” said his wife. “Now, fish is very good in its way; but we have had so much lately, that one might fancy it was to be Lent all the year round.”
While they were thus talking, a plan was being settled between Arnall and the captain which promised fair to supply the butcher with employment, and the paddocks with stock which might increase in time so as to employ a herdsman on the hills. This magnificent plan entered Arnall's head one day when he was thinking how he might distinguish himself in a genteel way, and shew himself a benefactor to the settlement without sacrificing his dignity.
He had once passed a pit, dug in the middle of a plain and quite empty and apparently useless. He could not make out at the time what it was for; but now he remembered having read that the natives of some countries dig pits for snaring wild animals, covering them over lightly so as to look even with the rest of the ground, that the beast may fall in unawares. He thought that he might secure antelopes in this way, or even the buffalo—fierce and strong as it is, and more difficult to deal with than the wildest bull of his own country. He could not prepare the pit with his own delicate hands, of course; and was therefore obliged to apply to the captain for leave to employ some labourers. Their help was promised as soon as the trench should be completed, which was to be in two days. Nothing must interrupt that important work, the captain said; and in the mean while they must live as well as they could on what might come in.
“Now is my time then,” thought the sportsman, “to try my new arrows, and my skill in using them; and if I fail, nobody will know but George Prest, and I can trust him for not telling. He will hold his tongue in return for my shewing him how to get the eggs.”
Here were three different schemes,—the pits for buffaloes, a new sort of arrows for smaller game, and a way of getting the enormous eggs of the ostrich,—a rich and nourishing food. Truly Arnall had exerted his wits to some purpose.
“If I succeed,” thought he, “I will give each man his due. I will own that Harrison gave me these reeds, so much stronger and more fit for arrows than the common sort. And I will thank Prest for pointing out how sharp the thigh bone of the antelope is, though he did not think of making an arrow-head of it; and Hill has the merit of the poison altogether. And then,—if the captain should say that no other man might have put these things together so ingeniously and made so good a use of them,—why, then I need not mind their laughing at me as they did last week, because I would not work in the trench. What a pity I cannot climb trees! for then I might get these eggs without any body's help.”
Thus thinking, Arnall went out into the plain in search of game. He hid himself among some bushes till he saw a herd of buffaloes coming in sight. They ran for some way, tossing their horned heads in the air and lashing their tails; then some among them stopped to graze. Arnall determined that if a stray one came within shot, he would take aim at it; but it was long before any of the herd seem disposed to afford him the opportunity, and when they did, they seemed likely to give him too much of it. They all set off again at once, and exactly in the direction of the bushes where the sportsman lay. He knew something of what it was to be trodden and gored by a buffalo, as he had seen more than one man who had been maimed by such an accident, and had heard of the deaths of others: so when he saw the herd coming on in full trot, he had half a mind to try whether he could not really climb a tree. If he had had three minutes more, he would certainly have made the attempt; but it was now too late; and all he could do was to crouch in the thicket, and take his chance for escape. Only two entered the bushes, and they passed quickly through, and left poor Arnall breathing space again. He soon recovered from his terror; for, as we have said, he was not a timid man. Looking out upon the plain, he saw that two of the herd were again grazing, and now within bow-shot. Thinking this too good an opportunity to be lost, he let fly one of his precious arrows. It struck the animal in the flank, but was not strong enough to pierce the thick hide. It broke and fell to the ground, while the startled beast, now tossing his horns and now goring the ground beneath him, turned his flight first one way and then another, and at length followed his companions at full speed.
“There is one arrow gone to no purpose,” thought Arnall; “but I think I can recover the head. I must aim at a thinner hide next time.”
He looked for and found the fragments of his arrow, and took his station, waiting to see what game would next come by. In the course of a few hours, several flocks of ostriches passed within sight, but at a great distance. As Arnall watched these enormous birds, running swiftly with their wings outspread in the wind, like sails to help their progress, he longed to be near enough to fix an arrow in the tender part beneath the wing where it is easiest to wound them; but they kept their distance; and he was obliged to content himself with vowing a warfare against them for the sake of their eggs, if they would not let themselves be caught.
At last, he was rewarded by the approach of a troop of antelopes of the largest kind, called Elands. As he looked at their majestic form, (like that of the ox, only more slender,) and measured them with his eye, he felt that if he could secure one, he would have made a good day's work of his hunting. Their length was, as nearly as he could measure by the eye, seven or eight feet, and their height between four and five; and he knew that the weight of each was seldom less than seven or eight hundred pounds. He counted fifteen of them, and thought it would be hard if not one of such a number should fall into his power. They came nearer, sometimes trotting all together, sometimes dispersing on the plain, and then collecting again. It seemed a wearisome time to Arnall, till, after many freaks and gambols, the whole herd began to graze very near him. He laid an arrow on the string, and disposed two more close beside him, that he might shoot one after another as quickly as possible. Whizz! went the first, and struck the nearest animal in the neck. While it was staggering away to a little distance, and before the alarm had well been given, he shot again and wounded another in the flank. The poor beast took flight, but Arnall knew that if the poison did its work, the run would be soon over. A third arrow which he despatched fell short, for the troop were making their escape full speed. Arnall came out of his hiding-place with the sort of stone-hatchet that he used for a knife, and seating himself on the head of his victims, which were quivering in the agonies of death, he cut their throats. As soon as they were quite dead, he carefully cut out all the parts round the poisoned arrow-head, and then prepared to carry home his trophies of victory. It was necessary to lose no time, if the carcasses were to be housed before night; so, severing the horns and gathering up his weapons, he hastened home. There was great joy in the settlement at his success; and Prest, the butcher, had soon formed his party, and prepared the hurdles on which the prey was to be dragged home. They took torches with them, to guard against the dangers of being benighted; and it was well they did; for the procession did not reappear till two hours after dark, and reported that the howlings of wild beasts were heard, not far off, the whole way as they were returning. Not the youngest child in the settlement went to rest that night till fires were lighted round the carcasses and the dogs set to watch.
The next day, all hands that could be spared were employed in preparing this new supply of meat for being preserved. There was a pool of very salt water in the neighbourhood—such as occurs very frequently in that part of the world—and the salt which had been procured from it by evaporation was rubbed into the meat as the butcher cut it into strips; and then the strips were hung up in the smoke of a wood fire till they were quite dry; after which they were buried in a hole in the sand, lined and well secured with stones. The honour of superintending the preparation of this game was offered to Arnall; but he declined it, asking, in preference, the favour of having George for his companion in an excursion, and the loan of a hide-sack which had been made for general use. George, who was not particularly fond of Arnall, and did not know what they were going to do, had much rather have stayed to help his father; but he felt that Arnall had earned the right of asking his assistance, and therefore willingly accompanied him.
When they were out upon the plain, Arnall looked round upon the various clumps of trees which grew here and there.
“Which is the highest, George,” said he, “yonder middle tree of that copse, or the straggler to the west?”
“That to the west,” answered George, “but they are neither of them fruit-trees, and they are not places likely for monkeys to lodge in.”
“I want neither monkeys nor fruit,” said Arnall. “They can be had nearer home. I want ostriches' eggs.”
George looked puzzled, for he knew ostriches laid their eggs in the sand, far away from trees. His companion, however, explained that the ostrich is so shy a creature, that it is impossible to learn where her eggs are hid, unless she is watched from a distance, and even at that distance it must be from some place of concealment, so sharpsighted and timid are these singular birds.
“Do you get as high in the tree as you can,” said Arnall, “and watch for ostriches on all sides. If you see any one run round and round in a circle, mark the spot carefully, and when you are sure of it, come down. If the birds choose to go to a distance of their own accord and to leave the eggs (as they often do on so hot a day as this), we shall be obliged to them for saving us a deal of trouble; but if one remains sitting, I will go out with my dogs and make a hubbub, and put them all to flight. While we are pursuing them, do you take the sack and go straight to the nest, and carry off some eggs.”
“How many?” asked George.
“Why, I must tell you a little about the make of the nest. It is nothing more than a large hole in the ground, with a little bank round it, made by their scratching up the earth with their feet. Inside you will see the eggs set up on end, to save room. If there should be half a dozen or so, you may bring all; for then they can have been only just laid, and must be good eating. If you find as many as fifteen, bring away the outer circle, which will be eight or nine. If there are thirty”—
“Thirty eggs in one nest!” cried George. “I never heard of such a thing.”
“Perhaps not, because you may never before have heard of a tribe of birds whose habit is to unite in flocks that all the eggs of a flock may be laid in one nest. As I was saying, if there are as many as thirty, you will find some laid on the outside of the bank. They are the best that can be got, so bring them all, and as many of the next outer circle as you can carry.”
“And if I find any feathers,” said George, “shall I bring them too? The time may come when we shall be able to sell them to advantage. Ostrich feathers bear a good price in England at all times.”
“True,” said Arnall; “but when we deal in ostrich feathers we must take more pains to get them than just picking them up. You will find plenty lying about the nest; but let them lie. They are good for nothing, unless it be to stuff our pillows by and by, when we come to have pillows again. The beautiful white feathers which English ladies wear must be plucked from the male ostrich. The feathers of the female are of a dark grey or black. When we get every thing comfortable about us, we will have ostrich-hunts, and sell the feathers for three or four shillings a-piece; but just now we want the eggs more by far.”
Arnall knew that a few snakes of the poisonous kind would be very acceptable to Hill; so he employed himself in looking for them in the copse, while George was swinging about at the top of the tree. There is little or no danger of a bite when people are on their guard; and the dogs having been trained to catch them, several were soon secured without difficulty, their heads cut off for a present to Hill, and the bodies put into the sack to be cooked for dinner, many people being as fond of them as of eels. Arnall was just carrying a beautiful one, lemon-coloured, and speckled with black, and five feet long, to the foot of the tree, to show to his young companion, when he saw George coming down in great haste.
“Off with you and your dogs,” said the boy.
“Due east, to the left of yonder thicket, and I will follow and strip the nest presently. They are not three hundred paces off. But where's the sack?”
Arnall pointed to the place in the copse where he had left it, whistled to his dogs, and set off at full speed. As soon as the ostriches saw him, they took flight; and as his pursuit was only a pretence, he was not too eager to observe their motions. There was something laughable in the way in which they sped along, one behind another, with their short wings and tufted tails spread, and their long legs clearing the ground as swiftly as a race-horse can follow. When they were out of sight, our sportsman whistled back his dogs, and stood to wipe his brows and look round for his companion. He could see no one, but supposed some rising of the ground might conceal the lad, or that he might be stooping after the eggs; so he walked leisurely back. Presently he came upon an ostrich's nest, crowded with eggs, and with so many lying round the outside, that he was sure no one had meddled with it. He looked again and again, and measured the space with his eye, and calculated the direction, and after all could not make himself sure whether this was the right nest. It was not usual, he knew, for two nests to be so near together; but, if this were the one, he could not conceive the reason of George's delay.
“He is so ready-witted and so quick-handed,” thought he, “it is impossible he should be groping for the sack all this time. I will carry off as many as I can take, and come back with him for more. I will put one of these feathers into my cap too, grey though they be, and give one to him too, for a trophy. And I do not see why these skins should not make us caps and waistcoats, under Fulton's good management; so I shall take these dead beasts into the shade and skin them.”
The beasts he spoke of were a jackal and two wild cats, which had ventured near the nest for eggs in the night, and had apparently been crushed to death by a blow from the foot of the cock-ostrich, whose office it is to keep guard at night. Arnall tied them together by the tails, and slung them over his shoulder, and carried also three eggs, which were as many as he could manage without a sack; for they were each as large as a pumpkin. All the way as he went, he whistled aloud and shouted, but could see and hear nothing of George.
When he entered the shade of the copse, his heart misgave him, for at last he began to fear some accident had happened. Before he had advanced many paces, he saw the poor lad lying on his back, his face expressive of great suffering, and one of his legs swollen to an enormous size. His countenance brightened a little when Arnall appeared.
“I thought you would not go home without coming back to see what had become of me,” he said.
“And what has happened to you, my poor boy?” said his companion. “Have you been bitten by a snake, or a scorpion, or what?”
“By a horned-snake,” said George. “I did not see him till I was close upon him, so that I could not get away: so I tried to kill him as the natives do; but he struggled hard and slipped his neck from under my foot; and before I could get him down again, he bit me in the calf of my leg. I did kill him at last, and yonder he lies; but do you know, Mr. Arnall, I think he has killed me too!”
Arnall was too much grieved to speak. He examined the wound, and tried to ease the swollen limb by cutting off the trowser which confined it. He gathered some leaves of a particular plant, and bruised them, and applied them to the part, as he had seen the natives do on such an occasion, and then told George that he would carry him home as fast as possible.
“Can you carry me three miles?” said George. “I do not feel as if I could help myself at all, but I will try. I should like to see father and mother again.”
“They shall come to you if we cannot reach home,” replied Arnall; “but let us try without losing more time. I want that Hill should see your leg.”
“There would be little use in that,” said poor George, faintly, as, on trying to sit up, he felt sick and dizzy.
“Put your arm round my neck, and I will lift you up,” said Arnall; but George did not move. His companion put the arm over his shoulder; but it fell again. George seemed insensible.—Arnall made one more trial.
“Will you not make an effort to see your mother?”
George opened his eyes, raised himself, and made a sort of spring upon his companion's shoulder, and then laid his head down, clinging with all his remaining strength. Arnall used all the speed he could with so heavy a burden, and was comforted by finding that either the air or the motion seemed to rouse the poor patient, who appeared better able to keep his hold, and even spoke from time to time.
“Mr. Arnall!” said he.
“There is a thing I want to tell you about making arrows. Bring me a reed when you put me down, and I will shew you how the natives barb them. I meant to have made the first myself, but as I can't, I will teach you.”
“Thank you: but do not tire yourself with talking.”
After a while, however, George began again.
“Do you know, Mr. Arnall, I think when the crops are got in, and the houses built, and some cattle in the fields again, you will have the Bushmen down upon you some night?”
“Well, we have sent for arms and powder from Cape Town.”
“I know: but they will be of no use if every body is asleep. I meant to ask to be a watchman with as many as would join me, and to take it in turn, three or four every night. I wish you would see it done, and have all the boys taught to fire a gun.”
Arnall promised, and again urged him to be silent.
“I will, when I have said one other thing about my mother. I wish you would tell her——”
Here his head drooped on Arnall's shoulder, and presently, being unable to hold on any longer, he fell gently on the grass, and his companion saw with grief, that it was impossible to move him farther.
“The dogs will stay and take care of you, George,” said he, “while I run for your parents and Hill. I will be back the first moment I can. Here; I will put the sack under your head for a pillow. In less than an hour you will see us. God bless you!”
“Stay one moment,” said George. “Tell little Mary the whistle I promised to make her is just finished, and it lies in the hollow of the chestnut-tree,—call it my cupboard and she will know.”
“All this will do when I come back,” said Arnall, who was impatient to be gone. He wiped the boy's moist forehead and kissed it. George pressed his hand and whispered:
“Let me say one thing more, only this one. If my father had seen you do that, he would never call you proud again; and if you would only play with Mary Stone sometimes, and speak a little kinder to dame Fulton, you can't think what a difference it would make. Do, for my sake. I want them to know how kind you are, and I do not think I shall live to tell them. You are not crying for me, surely? No; 'tis for mother. God bless you for those tears, then! Good bye, Mr. Arnall.”
Arnall looked back once or twice, and then George feebly waved his hand.
As many as were near enough to hear the sad news Arnall brought to the settlement followed with those he came to seek. They made all speed; but the whining of the dogs as they approached made them fear that they were too late. It was indeed so, though at the first moment it seemed doubtful whether George was not asleep. One arm was about the neck of his favourite Rover. The other hand was over his eyes, as if the light had been too much for him. He did not move when the dog was released. He never moved again.