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Who Was King?

Source: Outa Karel's Stories

"Once upon a time," began Outa Karel, and his audience of three looked
up expectantly.

"Once upon a time, Oom Leeuw roared and the forest shook with the
dreadful sound. Then, from far away over the vlakte, floated another
roar, and the little lion cubs jumped about and stood on their heads,
tumbling over each other in their merriment.

"'Hear,' they said, 'it is Volstruis, old Three Sticks. He tries
to imitate the King, our father. He roars well. Truly there is no

"When Leeuw heard this he was very angry, so he roared again, louder
than ever. Again came back the sound over the veld, as if it had been
an echo.

"'Ach, no! this will never do,' thought Leeuw. 'I must put a stop to
this impudence. I alone am King here, and imitators--I want none.'

"So he went forth and roamed over the vlakte till he met old Three
Sticks, the Ostrich. They stood glaring at each other.

"Leeuw's eyes flamed, his mane rose in a huge mass and he lashed
his tail angrily. Volstruis spread out his beautiful wings and
swayed from side to side, his beak open and his neck twisting like
a whip-snake. Ach! it was pretty, but if baasjes could have seen his
eyes! Baasjes know, Volstruis's eyes are very soft and beautiful--like
Nonnie's when she tells the Bible stories; but now there was only
fierceness in them, and yellow lights that looked like fire.

"But there was no fight--yet. It was only their way of meeting. Leeuw
came a step nearer and said, 'We must see who is baas. You, Volstruis,
please to roar a little.'

"So Volstruis roared, blowing out his throat, so,
'Hoo-hoo-hoor-r-r-r!' It was a fearsome sound--the sort of sound
that makes you feel streams of cold water running down your back
when you hear it suddenly and don't know what it is. Yes, baasjes,
if you are in bed you curl up and pull the blankets over your head,
and if you are outside you run in and get close to the Nooi or Nonnie."

A slight movement, indicative of contradiction, passed from one to
another of his small hearers, but--unless it was a free and easy,
conversational evening--they made it a point of honour never to
interrupt Outa in full career. This, like other things, could await
the finish of the story.

"Then Leeuw roared, and truly the voices were the same. No one
could say, 'This is a bigger voice,' or 'That is a more terrifying
voice.' No, they were just equal.

"So Leeuw said to Volstruis, 'Our voices are alike. You are my equal
in roaring. Let it then be so. You will be King of the Birds as I am
King of the Beasts. Now let us go hunting and see who is baas there.'

"Out in the vlakte some sassaby [1] were feeding, big fat ones, a nice
klompje; so Leeuw started off in one direction and Volstruis in the
other, but both kept away from the side the wind came from. Wild bucks
can smell--ach toch! so good. Just one little puff when a hunter is
creeping up to them, and at once all the heads are in the air--sniff,
sniff, sniff--and they are off like the wind. Dust is all you see,
and when that has blown away--ach no! there are no bucks; the whole
veld is empty, empty!"

Outa stretched out his arms and waved them from side to side with an
exaggerated expression of finding nothing but empty space, his voice
mournful with a sense of irreparable loss.

"But"--he took up his tale with renewed energy--"Leeuw and Volstruis
were old hunters. They knew how to get nearer and nearer without
letting the bucks know. Leeuw trailed himself along slowly, slowly,
close to the ground, and only when he was moving could you see which
was Leeuw and which was sand: the colour was just the same.

"He picked out a big buck, well-grown and fat, but not too old to
be juicy, and when he got near enough he hunched himself up very
quietly--so, my little masters, just so--ready to spring, and then
before you could whistle, he shot through the air like a stone from
a catapult, and fell, fair and square, on to the sassaby's back,
his great tearing claws fastened on its shoulders and his wicked
teeth meeting in the poor thing's neck.

"Ach! the beautiful big buck! Never again would his pointed horns
tear open his enemies! Never again would he lead the herd, or pronk
in the veld in mating time! Never again would his soft nostrils scent
danger in the distance, nor his quick hoofs give the signal for the
stampede! No, it was really all up with him this time! When Oom Leeuw
gets hold of a thing, he doesn't let go till it is dead.

"The rest of the herd--ach, but they ran! Soon they were far away,
only specks in the distance; all except those that Volstruis
had killed. Truly Volstruis was clever! Baasjes know, he can run
fast--faster even than the sassaby. So when he saw Leeuw getting
ready to spring, he raced up-wind as hard as he could, knowing that
was what the herd would do. So there he was waiting for them, and
didn't he play with them! See, baasjes, he stood just so"--in his
excitement Outa rose and struck an attitude--"and when they streaked
past him he jumped like this, striking at them with the hard, sharp
claws on his old two toes." Outa hopped about like a fighting bantam,
while the children hugged themselves in silent delight.

"Voerts! there was one dead!"--Outa kicked to the right. "Voerts! there
was another!"--he kicked to the left--"till there was a klomp of bucks
lying about the veld giving their last blare. Yes, old Two Toes did
his work well that day.

"When Leeuw came up and saw that Volstruis had killed more than he had,
he was not very pleased, but Volstruis soon made it all right.

"Leeuw said, 'You have killed most, so you rip open and begin to eat.'

"'Oh no!' said Volstruis, 'you have cubs to share the food with,
so you rip open and eat. I shall only drink the blood.'

"This put Leeuw in a good humour; he thought Volstruis a noble,
unselfish creature. But truly, as I said before, Volstruis was
clever. Baasjes see, he couldn't eat meat; he had no teeth. But he
didn't want Leeuw to know. Therefore he said, 'You eat; I will only
drink the blood.'

"So Leeuw ripped open--sk-r-r-r-r, sk-r-r-r-r--and called the cubs,
and they all ate till they were satisfied. Then Volstruis came along
in a careless fashion, pecking, pecking as he walked, and drank the
blood. Then he and Leeuw lay down in the shade of some trees and went
to sleep.

"The cubs played about, rolling and tumbling over each other. As they
played they came to the place where Volstruis lay.

"'Aha!' said one, 'he sleeps with his mouth open.'

"He peeped into Volstruis's mouth. 'Aha!' he said again, 'I see

"Another cub came and peeped.

"'Alle kracht!' he said, 'I see something too. Let us go and tell
our father.'

"So they ran off in great excitement and woke Leeuw. 'Come, come
quickly,' they said. 'Volstruis insults you by saying he is your
equal. He lies sleeping under the trees with his mouth wide open,
and we have peeped into it, and behold, he has no teeth! Come and
see for yourself.'

"Leeuw bounded off quick-quick with the cubs at his tail.

"'Nier-r-r-r,' he growled, waking Volstruis, 'nier-r-r-r. What is
the meaning of this? You pretend you are my equal, and you haven't
even got teeth.'

"'Teeth or no teeth,' said Volstruis, standing up wide awake,
'I killed more bucks than you did to-day. Teeth or no teeth, I'll
fight you to show who's baas.'

"'Come on,' said Leeuw. 'Who's afraid? I'm just ready for you. Come

"'No, wait a little,' said Volstruis. 'I've got a plan. You see that
ant-heap over there? Well, you stand on one side of it, and I'll stand
on the other side, and we'll see who can push it over first. After
that we'll come out into the open and fight.'

"'That seems an all-right plan,' said Leeuw; and he thought to himself,
'I'm heavier and stronger; I can easily send the ant-heap flying on
to old Three Sticks, and then spring over and kill him.'

"But wait a bit! It was not as easy as he thought. Every time he sprang
at the ant-heap he clung to it as he was accustomed to cling to his
prey. He had no other way of doing things. And then Volstruis would
take the opportunity of kicking high into the air, sending the sand and
stones into Leeuw's face, and making him howl and splutter with rage.

"Sometimes he would stand still and roar, and Volstruis would send
a roar back from the other side.

"So they went on till the top of the ant-heap was quite loosened
by the kicks and blows. Leeuw was getting angrier and angrier,
and he could hardly see--his eyes were so full of dust. He gathered
himself together for a tremendous spring, but, before he could make
it, Volstruis bounded into the air and kicked the whole top off the
ant-heap. Arre, but the dust was thick!

"When it cleared away, there lay Leeuw, groaning and coughing, with
the great heap of earth and stones on top of him.

"'Ohe! ohe!' wailed the cubs, 'get up, my father. Here he comes, the
Toothless One! He who has teeth only on his feet! Get up and slay him.'

"Leeuw shook himself free of the earth and sprang at Volstruis, but his
eyes were full of sand; he could not see properly, so he missed. As he
came down heavily, Volstruis shot out his strong right leg and caught
Leeuw in the side. Sk-r-r-r-r! went the skin, and goops! goops! over
fell poor Oom Leeuw, with Volstruis's terrible claws--the teeth of
old Two Toes--fastened into him.

"Volstruis danced on him, flapping and waving his beautiful black
and white wings, and tearing the life out of Oom Leeuw.

"When it was all over, he cleaned his claws in the sand and waltzed
away slowly over the veld to where his mate sat on the nest.

"Only the cubs were left wailing over the dead King of the Forest."

The usual babel of question and comment broke out at the close of the
story, till at last Pietie's decided young voice detached itself from
the general chatter.

"Outa, what made you say that about pulling the blankets over one's
head and running to get near Mammie if one heard Volstruis bellowing
at night? You know quite well that none of us would ever do it."

"Yes, yes, my baasje, I know," said Outa, soothingly. "I never meant
anyone who belongs to the land of Volstruise. But other little masters,
who did not know the voice of old Three Sticks--they would run to
their mam-mas if they heard him."

"Oh, I see," said Pietie, accepting the apology graciously. "I was
sure you could not mean a karroo farm boy."

"Is your story a parable, Outa?" asked little Jan, who had been doing
some hard thinking for the last minute.

"Ach! and what is that, my little master?"

"A kind of fable, Outa."

"Yes, that's what it is, baasje," said Outa, gladly seizing on the
word he understood, "a fable, a sort of nice little fable."

"But a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, and when
Cousin Minnie tells us parables she always finds the meaning for
us. What is the heavenly meaning of this, Outa?"

Little Jan's innocent grey eyes were earnestly fixed on Outa's face,
as though to read from it the explanation he sought. For once the
old native was nonplussed. He rubbed his red kopdoek, laid a crooked
finger thoughtfully against his flat nose, scratched his sides,
monkey-fashion, and finally had recourse once more to the kopdoek. But
all these expedients failed to inspire him with the heavenly meaning
of the story he had just told. Ach! these dear little ones, to think
of such strange things! There they all were, waiting for his next
words. He must get out of it somehow.

"Baasjes," he began, smoothly, "there is a beautiful meaning to the
story, but Outa hasn't got time to tell it now. Another time----"

"Outa," broke in Willem, reprovingly, "you know you only want to get
away so that you can go to the old tramp-floor, where the volk are
dancing to-night."

"No, my baasje, truly no!"

"And I wouldn't be surprised to hear that you had danced, too, after
the way you have been jumping about here."

"Yes, that was fine," said Pietie, with relish. "'Voerts! there is
one dead! Voerts! there is another!' Outa, you always say you are so
stiff, but you can still kick well."

"Aja, baasje," returned Outa, modestly; "in my day I was a great
dancer. No one could do the Vastrap better--and the Hondekrap--and
the Valsrivier. Arre, those were the times!"

He gave a little hop at the remembrance of those mad and merry days,
and yet another and another, always towards the passage leading to
the kitchen.

"But the meaning, Outa, the heavenly meaning!" cried little Jan. "You
haven't told us."

"No, my little baas, not to-night. Ask the Nonnie; she will tell
you. Here she comes."

And as Cousin Minnie entered the room, the wily old native, with
an agility not to be expected from his cramped and crooked limbs,
skipped away, leaving her to bear the brunt of his inability to
explain his own story.

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