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Diamond Dyke

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Diamond Dyke, by George Manville Fenn.

  ________________________________________________________________________A most authentic-seeming book about the difficulties a pair of youngBritons faced when they went to South Africa, and set up an ostrich farmin the dry and largely empty veldt. They had a married couple of thelocals to help them, and of these the man wasn't much use. They alsohad a most sagacious dog, who figures largely in the story. One of theenemies they had to face was lions.

  One day they found they needed more stores, so young Dyke, barelysixteen years of age, has to go on a six or seven day journey to thefarm of the nearest honest storekeeper, a fat old German, seventy yearsof age. On the way back there is a serious delay due to a flash floodwhich took several days to clear. But when they get back they find thatthe older brother is seriously ill of an African fever. The localpeople had been sure he would die, and were preparing to move in andtake what stock there was. But young Dyke nurses his brother back tohealth. A little later the old German turns up at the farm, and makes adiscovery which would change the fortunes of the brothers for ever.

  A very gripping story in the best Fenn style, very hard to put down. Itmakes an excellent audiobook, of about seven hours' duration.

  ________________________________________________________________________DIAMOND DYKE, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.




  No answer.

  "Hi! Dyke!"

  The lad addressed did not turn his head, but walked straight on, withthe dwarf karroo bushes crackling and snapping under his feet, while ateach call he gave an angry kick out, sending the dry red sand flying.

  He was making for the kopje or head of bald granite which rose high outof the level plain--where, save in patches, there was hardly a tree tobe seen--for amongst these piled-up masses of glittering stone, lay deepmoist crevices in which were shade and trickling water, the greatblessings of a dry and thirsty desert.

  "Hi! Do you hear, Dyke?" came again, shouted by a big athletic-lookingyoung man, in flannels and a broad-brimmed Panama hat, and he gave histhick brown beard an angry tug as he spoke.

  "Oh yes, I hear," muttered the lad; "I can hear you, old Joe. He's gotaway again, and I shan't come. A stupid-headed, vicious, long-leggedbeast, that's what he is."

  "Hi!" roared the young man, as he stood in front of an ugly corrugatediron shed, dignified by the name of house, from which the white-wash,laid thickly over the grey zinc galvanising to ward off the rays of theblinding Afric sun, had peeled away here and there in patches.

  Some attempts had been made to take off the square, desolate ugliness ofthe building by planting a patch of garden surrounded by posts and wire;but they were not very successful, for, as a rule, things would not growfor want of water.

  Vandyke Emson--the Dyke shouted at--had been the gardener, and so longas he toiled hard, fetching water from the granite kopje springs, aquarter of a mile away, and tended the roots he put in the virgin soil,they rushed up out of the ground; but, as he reasonably said, hecouldn't do everything, and if he omitted to play Aquarius fortwenty-four hours, there were the plants that looked so flourishingyesterday shrivelled to nothing. He had planted creepers to run allover the sides and roof, but the sun made the corrugated iron red hot--the boy's exaggerated figure of speech, but so hot that you could notkeep your hand upon the roof or wall--and the creepers found thetemperature too much for their constitution, and they rapidly turned tohay. Then he trained up tomatoes, which grew at express speed so longas they were watered, formed splendid fruit, were left to themselves acouple of days, and then followed suit with the creepers. Joseph Emsonsmiled behind his great beard, and said they were a success because thetomatoes were cooked ready for use; but Dyke said it was anotherfailure, because they were just as good raw, and he did not like to eathis fruit as vegetables cooked in a frying-pan covered with white-wash.

  Still all was not bare, for a patch of great sunflowers found moistureenough for their roots somewhere far below, and sent up their greatpithy stalks close to the house door, spread their rough leaves, andimitated the sun's disk in their broad, round, yellow flowers. Therewas an ugly euphorbia too, with its thorny, almost leafless branches andbrilliant scarlet flowers; while grotesque and hideous-looking, with itsgreat, flat, oblong, biscuit-shaped patches of juicy leaf, studded withgreat thorns, a prickly pear or opuntia reared itself against the endgable, warranted to stop every one who approached.

  "It's no good," Dyke once said; "the place is a nasty old desert, and Ihate it, and I wish I'd never come. There's only six letters in Africa,and half of them spell fry."

  "And that's bad grammar and bad spelling," said his half-brother; "andyou're a discontented young cub."

  "And you're another," said Dyke sourly. "Well, haven't we been fried orgrilled ever since we've been out here? and don't you say yourself thatit's all a failure, and that you've made a big mistake?"

  "Yes, sometimes, when I'm very hot and tired, Dicky, my lad. We'vefailed so far; but, look here, my brave and beautiful British boy."

  "Look here, Joe; I wish you wouldn't be so jolly fond of chaffing andteasing me," said Dyke angrily.

  "Poor old fellow, then! Was um hot and tired and thirsty, then?" criedhis half-brother mockingly. "Take it coolly, Dicky."

  "Don't call me Dicky," cried the boy passionately, as he kicked out bothlegs.

  "Vandyke Emson, Esquire, ostrich-farmer, then," said the other.

  "Ostrich-farmer!" cried Dyke, in a tone full of disgust. "Ugh! I'msick of the silly-looking, lanky goblins. I wish their heads wereburied in the sand, and their bodies too."

  "With their legs sticking straight up to make fences, eh, old man?" saidJoseph Emson, smiling behind his beard--a smile that would have been alllost, if it had not been for a pleasant wrinkle or two about his frankblue eyes.

  "Well, they would be some good then," said Dyke, a little more amiably."These wire fences are always breaking down and going off _spang_, andtwisting round your legs. Oh, I do wish I was back at home."

  "Amongst the rain and clouds and fog, so that you could be alwaysplaying cricket in summer, and football in winter, and skating whenthere was ice."

  "Don't you sneer at the fog, Joe," retorted Dyke. "I wish I could see agood thick one now."

  "So that you could say, `Ah, you should see the veldt where the sunshines brightly for weeks together.'"

  "Sun shines!" cried Dyke. "Here, look at my face and hands."

  "Yes; they're burnt of good Russia leather colour, like mine, Dyke.Well, what do you say? Shall we pack the wagon, give it up, and trekslowly back to Cape Town?"

  "Yes, I'm ready!" cried the boy eagerly.

  "Get out, you confounded young fibber! I know you better than that."

  "No, you don't," said Dyke sulkily.

  "Yes, I do, Dicky. I know you better than you know yourself. You'renot of that breed, my boy. You've got too much of the old dad'sBerserker blood in your veins. Oh, come, now: withdraw all that!British boys don't look back when they've taken hold of the ploughhandles."

  "Bother the plough handles!"

  "By all means, boy; but, I say, that isn't English, Dyke. Where wouldour country's greatness have been if her sons had been ready to singthat coward's song?"

  "Now you're beginning to preach again, Joe," said the boy sulkily.

  "Then say `Thank you,' my lad. Isn't it a fine thing for you to have abrother with you, and then, when there isn't a church for hundreds ofmiles--a brother who can preach to you?"

  "No; because I know what you're going to say--that we ought to go on andfight it out."

  "That's it, Dicky. Didn't some
one say that the beauty of a Britishsoldier was that he never knew when he was beaten?"

  "I'm not a soldier, and I am beaten," cried Dyke sourly.

  "Not you. I know you better. Why, if I said `Yes; let's give it up,'and packed up all we cared to take, and got the wagon loaded to-night,you'd repent in the morning when we were ready to start, and say, `Let'shave another try.'"

  "Well, perhaps I might say--"

  "Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Joseph Emson; "what a young humbug you are, Dicky.Fancy you going back with me to the old dad, and us saying, `Here weare, back again, like two bad shillings, father. We've spent all ourmoney, and we're a pair of failures.'"

  "Well, but it is so hot and tiresome, and the ostriches are suchhorribly stupid beasts, and--"

  "We're both very tired, and disappointed, and thirsty, and--"

  "I am, you mean," said Dyke. "Nothing ever seems to worry you."

  "Hah! I know you, Dicky, better than you know me. I feel as keenly asyou do, boy. No: we will not give up. We haven't given the ostriches afair trial yet."

  "Oh, haven't we!"

  "No; not half. I know we've had terribly bad luck just lately. We didbegin well."

  "No: it has all been a dreary muddle, and I'm sick of it."

  "Yes, you often are of a night, Dyke; but after a night's rest you areready enough to go on again in a right spirit. No, my lad, we'll neversay die."

  "Who wants to! I want to have a try at something else. Let's go andhunt and get lion and leopard skins, and fill the wagon, and bring themback and sell them."

  "Plenty of people are doing that, Dicky."

  "Well then, let's go after ivory; shoot elephants, and bring back a loadto sell. It's worth lots of money."

  "Plenty of people are doing that too, boy."

  "Oh, you won't try, Joe, and that's what makes me so wild."

  "You mean, I won't set a seed to-day and dig it up to-morrow to see whyit hasn't come up."

  "That's what you always say," said Dyke grumpily.

  "Yes, because we came out here with so many hundred pounds, Dicky, totry an experiment--to make an ostrich-farm."

  "And we've failed."

  "Oh dear, no, my lad. We've spent all our money--invested it here in awagon and oxen and house."

  "House! Ha, ha, ha! What a house!"

  "Not handsome, certainly, Dicky."

  "Dicky! There you go again."

  "Yes, there I go again. And in our enclosures and pens, and horses andguns and ammunition, and in paying our men. So we can't afford to giveup if we wanted to."

  "But see what a desolate place it is!"

  "Big, vast, level, and wild, but the very spot for our purpose."

  "And not a neighbour near."

  "To quarrel with? No, not one. No, Dyke, we mustn't give it up; andsome day you'll say I'm right."

  "Never," cried the boy emphatically.

  "Never's a long day, Dyke.--Look here, lad, I'm going to tell you an oldstory."

  "Thankye," said Dyke sullenly. "I know--about Bruce and the spider."

  "Wrong, old fellow, this time. Another author's story that you don'tknow."

  "Bother the old stories!" cried the boy.

  The big manly fellow laughed good-humouredly.

  "Poor old Dyke! he has got it badly this time. What is it--prickly heator home-sickness, or what?"

  "Everything. I'm as miserable as mizzer," cried Dick. "Oh, this desertis dreary."

  "Not it, Dyke; it's wild and grand. You are tired and disappointed.Some days must be dark and dreary, boy. Come, Dyke, pluck! pluck!pluck!"

  "I haven't got any; sun's dried it all out of me."

  "Has it?" said his brother, laughing. "I don't believe it. No, Dicky,we can't go home and sneak in at the back door with our tails betweenour legs, like two beaten hounds. There are those at home who wouldsorrow for us, and yet feel that they despised us. We came out here towin, and win we will, if our perseverance will do it."

  "Well, haven't we tried, and hasn't everything failed?"

  "No, boy," cried the young man excitedly. "Look here: my story is of aparty of American loafers down by a river. Come, I never told youthat."

  "No," said Dyke, raising his brown face from where he rested it upon hisarm.

  "That's better. Then you can be interested still."

  "One needs something to interest one in this miserable, dried-updesert," cried the boy.

  "Miserable, dried-up desert!" said his brother, speaking in a low deepvoice, as he gazed right away through the transparent air at theglorious colours where the sun sank in a canopy of amber and gold. "No,Dicky, it has its beauties, in spite of all you say."

  "Oh Joe!" cried the boy, "what a tiresome old chap you are. Didn't yousay you were going to tell me a story about some Americans down by ariver? Oh, how I should like to get to a mill-race and have a bathe.Do go on."

  "Ah! to be sure. Well, I only want you to take notice of one part ofit. The rest is brag."

  "Then it's a moral story," cried Dyke, in a disappointed tone.

  "Yes, if you like; but it may be fresh to you."

  "'Tain't about ostriches, is it?"

  "No.--They were throwing stones."

  "What!--the loafers?"

  "Yes, from a wharf, to see who could throw farthest, and one man, whowas looking on, sneered at them, and began to boast about how far hecould throw. They laughed at him, and one of them made himself veryobjectionable and insulting, with the result that the boasting man said,if it came to the point, he could throw the other fellow right acrossthe river. Of course there was a roar of laughter at this, and one chapbet a dollar that he could not."

  "And of course he couldn't," said Dyke, who forgot his prickly heat andirritation. "But you said it was all brag. Well?"

  "The boastful fellow, as soon as the wager was laid, seized the other bythe waistband, heaved him up, and pitched him off the wharf into theriver, amidst roars of laughter, which were kept up as the man camedrenched out of the river, and asked to be paid.

  "`Oh no,' said the other; `I didn't say I'd do it the first time. But Ikin dew it, and I will dew it, if I try till to-morrow morning;' andcatching hold of the wet man, he heaved him up again, and threw him by atremendous effort nearly a couple of yards out into the river. Down hewent out of sight in the deep water, and out he scrambled again, hardlyable to speak, when he was seized once more.

  "`Third time never fails,' cried the fellow; but the other had hadenough of it, and owned he was beaten."

  "But it was by an artful trick," cried Dyke.

  "Of course it was, boy; but what I want you to notice was the spirit ofthe thing, though it was only bragging; I kin dew it, and I will dew it,if I try till to-morrow morning. We kin dew it, and we will dewit, Dyke, even if we have to try till to-morrow morning--to-morrow-come-never-morning."

  "Oh!" groaned Dyke, sinking back upon the sand; "I am so hot and dry."