John Buchan: Ten Books
John Buchan: Ten Books
CHAPTER VIII. THE WOOD BUSH.
Some thirty miles east of Pietersburg, the most northerly railway station in the Transvaal, the Leydsdorp coach, which once a-week imperils the traveller's life, climbs laboriously into a nest of mountains, and on the summit enters an upland plateau, with shallow valleys and green forest-clad slopes. Twenty miles on and the same coach, if it has thus far escaped destruction, precipitously descends a mountain-side into the fever flats which line the Groot Letaba and the Letsitela. The Leydsdorp road thus cuts off a segment of a great irregular oblong, which is bounded on the south by the spurs of the Drakensberg, which the Boers call the Wolkberg or Mountain of Cloud, and on the north divided by the valley of the Klein Letaba from the Spelonken. It is a type of country found in patches in the de Kaap mountains, and in parts of Lydenburg; but here it exists in a completely defined territory of perhaps 700 square miles, divided sharply from high veld and bush veld. The average elevation may be 5000 feet, and, though cut up into valleys and ridges, it preserves the attributes of a tableland, so that on all sides one can journey to an edge and look down upon a wholly different land. But the geographical is the least of its distinctions. The climate has none of the high-veld dryness or the low-veld closeness, but is humid and sharp and wholesome all the year round. Mists and cool rains abound, every hollow has its stream, and yet frost is rarely known. Its vegetation, the configuration of its landscape, the soil itself, are all things by themselves in South Africa. Fever, horse-sickness, and most cattle diseases are unknown. It is little explored, for till quite lately the native tribes were troublesome, and only the poorer class of Boer squatted on its occupation farms, and, though a proclaimed gold-field for some years, the uitlander who strayed there had rarely an eye for its beauty. The unfortunate man who took his life in his hands and journeyed by coach to Leydsdorp forgot the landscape in the perils of the journey, and in all likelihood forgot most things in fever at the end of it. It remained, therefore, a paradise with a few devotees, a place secret and strange, with a beauty so peculiar that the people who tried to describe it were rarely believed. A delight in the Wood Bush is apt to spoil a man for other scenery. The high veld seems tame and monotonous, the bush veld an intolerable desert, and even the mountain glories of the Drakensberg something crude and barbarous after this soft, rich, and fascinating garden-land.
The mountains come into view a little way from Pietersburg, but there are many miles of featureless high veld to be covered before the foothills are reached. It was midsummer when I first travelled there, and the dusty waterless plains were glazed by the hot sun. The Sand River, filled with acres of fine sand, but not a drop of moisture, was not a cooling object in the scene, and the dusty thorn scrub offered no shade. But insensibly the country changed. Bold kopjes of rose-red granite appeared on the plain, and at a place called Kleinfontein the road turned sharply south, and we were confronted with a noble line of crags running out like a buttress from the mountains. At Smith's Drift the road swerved east again, and a long valley appeared before us running up into the heart of the hills. A clear stream came down it, and the sides were dotted in bush-veld manner with redwood and sikkelboom and syringa, and a variety of thorns, of which the Kaffir waak-en-beetje and the knopjes-doorn were the prettiest. Occasionally the dull green of the olivienhout appeared, and when the bush ceased aloes raised their heads among the rocks. Everywhere the mimosa was in bloom, and the afternoon air was laden with a scent like limes. Towards the top the valley flattened out into upland meadows, little farms appeared dotted on th