Down the narrow way surged the crowd, scrambling over rocks and dead cattle and crushed women and children, till at the last Suzanne drew near its opening, where stood Swart Piet and some twenty of his followers, watching the multitude pass out.
“Lady,” whispered Zinti into her ear, “now I fall behind, for Bull-Head may know me. If I win through I will rejoin you on the plain, or by the saw-edged rock; if I do not, throw away that child, and follow the road of which I have told you, you can scarcely mistake it. Go on, showing no fear, and—stay, let that blanket hang open in front, it is not the custom of these women to wear their garments wrapped so closely.”
Suzanne groaned, but she obeyed.
THE PASS OF THE QUATHLAMBA
Like wild beasts escaping from a pen, that red-eyed, gasping mob rushed and staggered to the edge of the water, and, plunging their heads into it with hoarse grunts and cries, drank and drank and drank. Indeed, several lost their lives there, for some filled themselves so full that their vitals were ruptured, and some were thrust into the river by the cattle or those pressing behind them, to be carried away by the swift stream.
Just at the mouth of the pass Suzanne, laden with the child, was pushed down by those who followed, and doubtless would have been trampled to death, had not one of Swart Piet’s men, desiring to clear the way, or, perhaps, moved to pity at her plight, dragged her to her feet again. But when he had done this he did not let her go, but held her, staring at her beauty with greedy eyes.
“Here is a rock-rabbit whom I shall keep for a wife,” he cried. “I would rather take her than twenty fat oxen.”
Now Suzanne’s heart nearly stood still with terror.
“Water, water,” she moaned; “let me drink, I pray you.”
“Do not fear, I will take you to drink, my pretty,” went on the man, still staring at her.
Then, losing command of herself, Suzanne screamed and struggled, and the sound of her cries reached the ears of Swart Piet, who was standing close at hand.
“What is this?” he asked of the man.
“Nothing, Bull-Head, except that I have taken a woman whom I wish for a wife because she is so fair.”
Van Vooren let his eyes rest upon her, but dreamily, for all his thoughts were given to her who sat aloft five hundred feet above his head, and, feeling their glance, Suzanne’s blood froze in her veins.
“Yes, she is fair,” he answered, “but she is a married woman, and I will have no Umpondwana brats among my people. Let her go, and take a girl if you will.” For Van Vooren did not wish that the few men who remained with him should cumber themselves just then with women and children, since they were needed to look after the cattle.
“Maid or wife, I choose this one and no other,” said the man sulkily.