Chapter 9.

A Perilous Adventure.

Ra-Thaga, on his second morning out, left the Qorannas in camp and went out in search of game. He had not gone very far, when he saw in the bush a tiger eating leisurely at the carcase of a buck. So he ran back the two miles to camp and asked Ton-Qon to come along and shoot the beast. He had himself learnt to shoot with the Chief Massouw's gun but did not think himself as good a marksman as the much-practised headman. Now, all this time, Ton-Qon, who, with his mounted companions, had overtaken the party during the night, was planning to kill Ra-Thaga so as to make a widow of Mhudi and then to woo her. Thus, when he heard about the tiger, he thought he had at hand the means to rid himself of Ra-Thaga, and accomplish his evil purpose without soiling his hands with human blood. So he told the other Natives that, being such a good shot, it was unnecessary for anyone to go with them. Only Ra-Thaga was wanted to point out the position of the beast.

Accordingly Ton-Qon shouldered his rifle and followed Ra-Thaga into the bush. He kept close behind him while his guide was trying to locate the tiger. As they cautiously approached the place, Ra-Thaga leading and Ton-Qon following, the former saw the animal at the side of a bush not more than ten yards distant. Looking round, he said in a whisper:— “There it is,” when to his dismay, he discovered that he was addressing space, the Qoranna having disappeared and taken his weapon with him.

Needless to say, the animal sprang upon Ra-Thaga,

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knocked him down, bit him about the head and right arm, and left him bleeding and unconscious. This tragedy was enacted in a few moments.

Ra-Thaga remembered nothing more until he found himself by the side of a brook, with a familiar feminine hand bathing his temples and applying some soft fatty substance to his wounds. In his semi-delirium, he raised his head and cried: “What is the matter, Mhudi, what has happened? … Where are the Matebele? … Has the lion bitten me?”

“Hush,” said his wife. “Drink a little sour milk and I will tell you all. There are no Matebele, but that squint-eyed friend of yours has tried and almost succeeded in taking your life”

“Oh, Mhudi! Who would want to kill me; and for what reason?”

“That monster, Ton-Qon; because he says he wants me.”

“You are dreaming, Mhudi! But tell me, where are we and what has happened? Oh, I remember; the tiger! Mo-galamakapa!  1  Has it destroyed my arm?”

“Fortunately not; they are all flesh wounds.” And Mhudi related all that had happened during the previous two days, and how she had reached the hunters' camp about four hours before to find “that you and Ton-Qon had left to go and kill a tiger. I persuaded the men to bring me to the place, as I could not trust Ton-Qon alone with you, and just as we were about to leave the camp, Ton-Qon ran in and told us that you had been torn to pieces by a tiger.”

As to Ton-Qon, he told a beautiful story in the camp.

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“I was walking behind the deceased,” he said, “when a tiger jumped out of the grass, caught the poor man by the throat and killed him instantaneously.” This concoction fortunately did not mislead the Qorannas, who, emboldened by the presence of the widow, demanded Ton-Qon's reason for not shooting at the beast.

“I did,” he replied, “and wounded it on top of the Bldi  2 . It limped away while I was loading for the second shot, but not before it had finished him.” The men declared, however, that they had not heard that rifle shot, although the morning was unusually quiet; so they asked:—

“Then why do you object to the wife going to view the remains of her husband, seeing that the tiger has run away?”

“Don't you know? Have you never heard,” stammered Ton-Qon, “a wounded tiger is always enraged by the sight of a woman, especially a beautiful woman like this one.”

“Well, then,” said one, “order some one to go and fetch the dead man to her — his widow. This seems a more sensible arrangement.”

“Oh,” said Ton-Qon, in a fidgety tone, “what is the good of sacrificing more lives over a dead body? I am responsible to the chief for every man in this party.”

Now this talk was in the tongue of the Qorannas which Mhudi did not understand. In her anxiety to know the truth about her “dead” husband, she was on the point of departing alone, when one of the Qorannas, following her, cried: “Ha-ha, Xhwekaowo!”  3  and three of them tracked the footprints on the grass to where Ra-Thaga lay.

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*   *   *   *

The party, no longer satisfied with their leader, decided to give up the hunt; returning home with the wounded man they reported the matter to the chief. Ton-Qon tendered bribes, and tried every kind of persuasion to hush-up the matter, but the other Qorannas would not yield to him.

Ra-Thaga remained an invalid for a month, but, thanks to the unremitting attention of his devoted wife, he became strong enough to attend the court and give evidence against Ton-Qon.

A crowd of Qorannas gathered at Mamuse to witness the trial of an important leader of their tribe. The tribesman descanted at the court on the mean treachery of which he had been guilty, and if the crime went unredressed, they argued, the life of the husband of a beautiful woman would “not be worth the value of a mouse skin!”

After the tribesman had aired their views, the Chief Massouw gave judgment.

He delivered a tedious review of certain past events, many of them irrelevant to the case at issue. At times he gave the impression to those present that he was going to discharge Ton-Qon; then finally coming abruptly to the point, he said, “A case of this character occurred among the Bloms, some years back, lower down on the banks of the Vaal, and our countrymen over there decided to drown the villain. His head was enclosed in a skin beside a heavy stone, the ends of the skin being strapped around his neck with the stone inside. Powerful young men were ordered to carry him to the top of a steep and rocky bank by the side of the river, and roll him into the raging torrent below. When I heard the news I congratulated myself that none of my people were ever implicated

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in a case that calls for such terrible punishment. But what is this that you have brought me to-day?

“Now, men of the Qoranna tribe — the Tigheboshes, the Hochstetters, the Machilles and representatives of all the clans, hear me. Open wide your ears, if you have any, and hearken to the law of Massouw, your Chief. I should blot out Ton-Qon so that his name shall be remembered no more, but for the instructions of the white Missioner Moffat of Coolman. Moffat advised me never to shed my people's blood. You will recall the circumstances as I related them to you at the time; but I will adopt other means of punishing Ton-Qon, for this dog is not fit to live. Kxamase,  4  he will lead my people into ways that are wrong. I will degrade him and instal some other headman in his place (general nods of assent). He schemed to take the life of this innocent Bldi, to rob a woman of the company of her husband, whom through her bravery she had saved from death more than once. Anyone capable of such blackguardly actions might come out at night and kill me during my sleep. So let it be understood that every person in my dominion, whether a Bldi, a Hottentot, a Griqua, or anything else, is one of us. My home is his home, my lands are his lands, my cattle are his cattle, and my law is his shield. And you, the relatives of Ton-Qon, I want you to hand over before sundown, twenty of Ton-Qon's best cattle, his horse, his saddle, and bridle and his rifle. Ten of the cows I will award to Ra-Thaga, the Bldi whose life Ton-Qon attempted to take; and the remainder of the fine will be mine. That is my law which you must obey and don't let me ever hear of so

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brutal a case again.” He concluded with an indignant command for the dispersal of the crowd.

Mhudi told Ra-Thaga that she had no wish to own Ton-Qon's cattle. And such was her determination on the point that, for the peace of Ra-Thaga's home, the aged chief gave him some cows from his own herd, adding those of Ton-Qon to his own herd. Ra-Thaga's head healed up entirely after a time although traces of the tiger's claws remained on his forehead till his dying day. In subsequent years he often referred with pride to the scars on his face, adding proudly that none could be found upon his back.

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Chapter 9.

A Perilous Adventure.

Ra-Thaga, on his second morning out, left the Qorannas in camp and went out in search of game. He had not gone very far, when he saw in the bush a tiger eating leisurely at the carcase of a buck. So he ran back the two miles to camp and asked Ton-Qon to come along and shoot the beast. He had himself learnt to shoot with the Chief Massouw's gun but did not think himself as good a marksman as the much-practised headman. Now, all this time, Ton-Qon, who, with his mounted companions, had overtaken the party during the night, was planning to kill Ra-Thaga so as to make a widow of Mhudi and then to woo her. Thus, when he heard about the tiger, he thought he had at hand the means to rid himself of Ra-Thaga, and accomplish his evil purpose without soiling his hands with human blood. So he told the other Natives that, being such a good shot, it was unnecessary for anyone to go with them. Only Ra-Thaga was wanted to point out the position of the beast.

Accordingly Ton-Qon shouldered his rifle and followed Ra-Thaga into the bush. He kept close behind him while his guide was trying to locate the tiger. As they cautiously approached the place, Ra-Thaga leading and Ton-Qon following, the former saw the animal at the side of a bush not more than ten yards distant. Looking round, he said in a whisper:— “There it is,” when to his dismay, he discovered that he was addressing space, the Qoranna having disappeared and taken his weapon with him.

Needless to say, the animal sprang upon Ra-Thaga, knocked him down, bit him about the head and right arm, and left him bleeding and unconscious. This tragedy was enacted in a few moments.

Ra-Thaga remembered nothing more until he found himself by the side of a brook, with a familiar feminine hand bathing his temples and applying some soft fatty substance to his wounds. In his semi-delirium, he raised his head and cried: “What is the matter, Mhudi, what has happened? … Where are the Matebele? … Has the lion bitten me?”

“Hush,” said his wife. “Drink a little sour milk and I will tell you all. There are no Matebele, but that squint-eyed friend of yours has tried and almost succeeded in taking your life”

“Oh, Mhudi! Who would want to kill me; and for what reason?”

“That monster, Ton-Qon; because he says he wants me.”

“You are dreaming, Mhudi! But tell me, where are we and what has happened? Oh, I remember; the tiger! Mo-galamakapa!  1  Has it destroyed my arm?”

“Fortunately not; they are all flesh wounds.” And Mhudi related all that had happened during the previous two days, and how she had reached the hunters' camp about four hours before to find “that you and Ton-Qon had left to go and kill a tiger. I persuaded the men to bring me to the place, as I could not trust Ton-Qon alone with you, and just as we were about to leave the camp, Ton-Qon ran in and told us that you had been torn to pieces by a tiger.”

As to Ton-Qon, he told a beautiful story in the camp. “I was walking behind the deceased,” he said, “when a tiger jumped out of the grass, caught the poor man by the throat and killed him instantaneously.” This concoction fortunately did not mislead the Qorannas, who, emboldened by the presence of the widow, demanded Ton-Qon's reason for not shooting at the beast.

“I did,” he replied, “and wounded it on top of the Bldi  2 . It limped away while I was loading for the second shot, but not before it had finished him.” The men declared, however, that they had not heard that rifle shot, although the morning was unusually quiet; so they asked:—

“Then why do you object to the wife going to view the remains of her husband, seeing that the tiger has run away?”

“Don't you know? Have you never heard,” stammered Ton-Qon, “a wounded tiger is always enraged by the sight of a woman, especially a beautiful woman like this one.”

“Well, then,” said one, “order some one to go and fetch the dead man to her — his widow. This seems a more sensible arrangement.”

“Oh,” said Ton-Qon, in a fidgety tone, “what is the good of sacrificing more lives over a dead body? I am responsible to the chief for every man in this party.”

Now this talk was in the tongue of the Qorannas which Mhudi did not understand. In her anxiety to know the truth about her “dead” husband, she was on the point of departing alone, when one of the Qorannas, following her, cried: “Ha-ha, Xhwekaowo!”  3  and three of them tracked the footprints on the grass to where Ra-Thaga lay.

*   *   *   *

The party, no longer satisfied with their leader, decided to give up the hunt; returning home with the wounded man they reported the matter to the chief. Ton-Qon tendered bribes, and tried every kind of persuasion to hush-up the matter, but the other Qorannas would not yield to him.

Ra-Thaga remained an invalid for a month, but, thanks to the unremitting attention of his devoted wife, he became strong enough to attend the court and give evidence against Ton-Qon.

A crowd of Qorannas gathered at Mamuse to witness the trial of an important leader of their tribe. The tribesman descanted at the court on the mean treachery of which he had been guilty, and if the crime went unredressed, they argued, the life of the husband of a beautiful woman would “not be worth the value of a mouse skin!”

After the tribesman had aired their views, the Chief Massouw gave judgment.

He delivered a tedious review of certain past events, many of them irrelevant to the case at issue. At times he gave the impression to those present that he was going to discharge Ton-Qon; then finally coming abruptly to the point, he said, “A case of this character occurred among the Bloms, some years back, lower down on the banks of the Vaal, and our countrymen over there decided to drown the villain. His head was enclosed in a skin beside a heavy stone, the ends of the skin being strapped around his neck with the stone inside. Powerful young men were ordered to carry him to the top of a steep and rocky bank by the side of the river, and roll him into the raging torrent below. When I heard the news I congratulated myself that none of my people were ever implicated in a case that calls for such terrible punishment. But what is this that you have brought me to-day?

“Now, men of the Qoranna tribe — the Tigheboshes, the Hochstetters, the Machilles and representatives of all the clans, hear me. Open wide your ears, if you have any, and hearken to the law of Massouw, your Chief. I should blot out Ton-Qon so that his name shall be remembered no more, but for the instructions of the white Missioner Moffat of Coolman. Moffat advised me never to shed my people's blood. You will recall the circumstances as I related them to you at the time; but I will adopt other means of punishing Ton-Qon, for this dog is not fit to live. Kxamase,  4  he will lead my people into ways that are wrong. I will degrade him and instal some other headman in his place (general nods of assent). He schemed to take the life of this innocent Bldi, to rob a woman of the company of her husband, whom through her bravery she had saved from death more than once. Anyone capable of such blackguardly actions might come out at night and kill me during my sleep. So let it be understood that every person in my dominion, whether a Bldi, a Hottentot, a Griqua, or anything else, is one of us. My home is his home, my lands are his lands, my cattle are his cattle, and my law is his shield. And you, the relatives of Ton-Qon, I want you to hand over before sundown, twenty of Ton-Qon's best cattle, his horse, his saddle, and bridle and his rifle. Ten of the cows I will award to Ra-Thaga, the Bldi whose life Ton-Qon attempted to take; and the remainder of the fine will be mine. That is my law which you must obey and don't let me ever hear of so brutal a case again.” He concluded with an indignant command for the dispersal of the crowd.

Mhudi told Ra-Thaga that she had no wish to own Ton-Qon's cattle. And such was her determination on the point that, for the peace of Ra-Thaga's home, the aged chief gave him some cows from his own herd, adding those of Ton-Qon to his own herd. Ra-Thaga's head healed up entirely after a time although traces of the tiger's claws remained on his forehead till his dying day. In subsequent years he often referred with pride to the scars on his face, adding proudly that none could be found upon his back.


Footnotes & References

#NoteDescription
1Mo-galamakapaGoodness gracious!
2BldiBarolong
3XhwekaowoCome on run along!
4KxamaseVerily