The slave put down his hand, and setting her foot in it, the little woman sprang on to the back of the great stallion, which knew and loved her as a dog might do, for she had tended it day and night when it was ill from the sickness we call “thick head,” and without doubt had saved its life by her skill. Then, gripping its shoulders with her knees, Sihamba shook the reins and called aloud to the schimmel, waving the black rod she always carried in her hand, so that the fiery beast, having plunged once, leapt away like an antelope, and in another minute was nothing but a speck racing towards the mountains.
THE SCHIMMEL’S FIRST RACE
So hard did Sihamba ride, and so swift and untiring proved the horse, to whose strength her light weight was as nothing, that, the veldt over which they travelled being flat and free from stones or holes, she reached the mouth of Tiger’s Nek, twenty miles away, in very few minutes over the hour of time. But the Nek itself was a mile or more in length, and for aught she knew we might already be taken in Black Piet’s trap, and she but riding to share our fate. Still she did not stay, but though it panted like a blacksmith’s bellows, and its feet stumbled with weariness among the stones of the Nek, she urged on the schimmel at a gallop. Now she turned the corner, and the off-saddling place was before her. Swiftly and fearfully Sihamba glanced around, but seeing no signs of us, she uttered a cry of joy and shook the reins, for she knew that she had not ridden in vain. Then a voice from the rocks called out:
“It is the witch-doctoress, Sihamba, who rides to warn them. Kill her swiftly.” With the voice came a sound of guns and of bullets screaming past her, one of which shattered the wand she carried in her hand, numbing her arm. Nor was that all, for men sprang up across the further end of the off-saddling place, where the path was narrow, to bar her way, and they held spears in their hands. But Sihamba never heeded the men or the spears, for she rode straight at them and through them, and so soon was she gone that, although six or seven assegais were hurled at her, only one of them struck the horse, wounding it slightly in the shoulder.
A few minutes later, three perhaps, or five, just as the four of us with our Kaffir servants were riding quietly up to the mouth of the Nek, we saw a great horse thundering towards us, black with sweat and flecked with foam, its shoulder bloody, its eyes staring, its red nostrils agape, and perched upon its bare back a little woman who swayed from side to side as though with weariness, holding in her hand a shattered wand.
“Allemachter!” cried Jan. “It is Sihamba, and the witch rides my roan schimmel!”
By this time Sihamba herself was upon us. “Back,” she screamed as she came, “death waits you in the pass;” whereon, compelled to it as it were by the weight of the words and the face of she who spoke them, we turned our horses’ heads and galloped after the schimmel for the half of a mile or more till we were safe in the open veldt.