The African Adventurers: A Return to the Silent Places

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9780312076221: The African Adventurers: A Return to the Silent Places

Peter Capstick has been hailed as the adventure-writing successor to Hemingway and Ruark. Only Capstick "can write action as cleanly and suspensefully as the best of his predecessors" (Sports Illustrated). This long-awaited sequel to Death in the Silent Places (1981) brings to life four turn-of-the-century adventurers and the savage frontiers they braved.

* Frederick Selous, a British hunter, naturalist, and soldier, rewrote the history books with his fearless treks deep into the Dark Continent.
* English game ranger Constantine "Iodine" Ionides saved Tanganyikan villages from man-eating lions and leopards. He also gained lasting fame for his uncanny ability to capture black mambas, cobras, Gaboon vipers, and other deadly snakes.
* The dashing Brit Johnny Boyes who gained the chieftainship of the Kikuyu tribe with sheer bravado and survived the ferocious battles and ambushes of intertribal warfare.
* And Scottish ex-boxer, Jim Sutherland, one of the best ivory hunters who ever lived. His tracking skills and stamina afoot became the stuff of African hunting legend.

If you are a Capstick fan, you'll relish The African Adventurers, his eleventh book. Once again he delivers "the kind of chilling stories that Hemingway only heard second-hand...with a flair and style that Papa himself would admire" (Guns and Ammo). The author's pungent wit and his authenticity gained from years in the bush make this quartet of vintage heroics an unforgettable return to the silent places.

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About the Author:

After leaving Wall Street, Peter Hathaway Capstick hunted in Central and South America before going to Africa, where he held professional hunting licenses in Ethiopia, Zambia, Botswana, and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He has long made his home in Africa, the source of his inspiration.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

African Adventurers, The
Part One Frederick Courteney Selous It was not just cold, it was cold.  
The giraffe hunt was almost a distant memory, the faces of Dorehill and Mandy almost blurs; that of Sadlier, who had taken the extra horses, a blank. The nineteen-year-old imagined the path to be parallel to the road. Upon seeing some twenty giraffes, the party had split, the youngster was on one side and the two older men on the other. The newcomer and his friend and partner, Dorehill, had already grown tired of the lean African game; the prospect of a giraffe in fine condition, oozing fat that crackled and spit in the fire, was almost too much. Yet the young man was alone. He had fired three shots and had had an answer at a distance off to his right. But although he had fired twice more, the bushveld of King Khama's country was as silent as a good child. Fighting hard, he swallowed the panic in his already dry throat and settled down for the icy night, the ancient sands of Gondwanaland spreading their chill through his buttocks. He had ridden a long way, so far that the sun had already set, thin and anemic, a washed-out reddish disc in the west. Where was the road? he thought. It should have been here before this. That the road was only faint wagon tracks bothered him not a lot; his friends should have taken a similar line. They would be just ahead. Sure they would ... . There was no night wind, the killing wind, as he settled down. It was a creepingcold, a cold that oozed like water into his limbs and ignored him as he pulled the thin shirt around him. It was so cold that he decided to make tracks toward where the road had to be. Shivering, he resaddled his horse and moved wraithlike into the brassy moonlight. It was perhaps three hours before he called a halt. He had to have a fire. He had heard of chattering teeth but he didn't really believe it before this. Yet, he was new to the country of Khama, and as fast as he would break open the huge paper cartridges for his four-bore, ignite the powder with his percussion caps, the fire was snuffed out by the dew-dampened grass. Suddenly he was out of ammunition, the greasy dark gunpowder spread into the torn fragments of his shirttail gone. Frustrated but still sure that he would hit the road, he cut some damp grass with his clasp knife and lay down for the night. Using his felt hat for a pillow, he slipped down to his icy bed, the saddle over his chest. Still, the cold attacked, sliding inexorably from his numb feet to his bare head. Soon, his shivering became uncontrollable and he was forced to sprint back and forth to a nearby tree to keep his chilled blood flowing. So much for tropical Africa, he thought. The lonely, lunatic calls of spotted hyenas--perhaps on their way to drink?--haunted his shudders until finally the sun advertised that it would be along shortly and, with it, some warmth. It was the end of the first day. There is no color in the winter bushveld, only the flitting and chirping of fire finches and waxbills; and only these where there is water. There were no birds. There was no water, either. He pulled the saddle over the exhausted hunting pony and freed and tied-off reins, noting how the belly of the horse had shrunk as he tightened the cinch. The horse would only plod along at a slow walk, its thirst and hunger obvious. Yet, it was a good horse for which the young man had traded for the equivalent of seventy-five British pounds. Considering that a first-class ticket by steamer to England from South Africacost less than half that, it was a most valuable horse indeed, having survived the horse sickness or horse distemper. Yet, without water it was nothing, not so much as the creaking of leather that it produced as it walked. He still had the smooth-bore, the huge four-gauge, but it was useless without its ammunition, which had been wasted trying to make the fire. His trousers, bush-torn and tattered, were as futile against the night cold as was his hat. If only he had brought his coat with him from the wagon when they had first seen the giraffes in the wonderful heat of day. If only ... A tree loomed ahead as the sun began to slide silently upward and the young man decided to climb it. Perhaps in this land of few landmarks there might be just one? The winter bush was uniformly gray, but there was a scraggly line of furred hills in the distance, a single koppie, as the Afrikaners call it, a huge mound of rocks in front of the bearded shadow of the hills. Was it familiar? The young man didn't know. Three gemsbuck, the giant oryx antelope of southern Africa, passed very close, as if knowing that there was no ammunition left. The man continued, his sun-blond hair now matted and streaked with precious sweat. He knew the Southern Cross and its brilliance in Khama's skies and decided to follow it, but he had convinced himself that he had already crossed the road of wagon tracks in the dim light of early morning. His horse, nearly dead with thirst, hunger, and exhaustion, reluctantly spun about when the man decided to retrace his tracks. After all, he was positive. It was a very expensive conviction in early Africa. The miles melted by in a grayness of bush. At last, there was a small koppie, home to hyrax, leopards, and cobras. The man climbed it and looked into the distance. He climbed it, arguing with himself all the time if the road lay ahead or behind. But the mocking winter gray of the bush met his every glance until he turned around. There was a thin, tenuoustendril of smoke. He thought it too central a spire to be a grass fire and he thought that it was kindled by some Masarwa--half-breed black Bushmen--who would be able to guide him to Pelatsi, his goal. He turned his horse around and made for the fire, but when he arrived at the point where he thought the smoke should be, there was nothing. He concluded that the road was now behind him and swung his horse around once more. As the sun was at its highest, he decided that he was again wrong. There was no road and he would die, dried to leather if the hyenas didn't get him. They probably would. At this point, the blond young man realized that he had never reached the road and he thought that he might have passed it during the low light of dawn or night. His spirits buoyed by his realization, he thought how good a cup of tea might taste when he reached his wagons at shortly after sundown. Yet, his thoughts sank with the copper and cerise of the sun as it bedded down for another night. So did the young man, now as parched and hungry as his bedraggled horse. The second night was spent on the icy earth, under the gaze of a full moon that tinted the colorless bush into gilded foliage. As the young man thought, there was no food, water, fire, or blanket, and he was right. Leaving his own problems, he turned to those of his horse. Rather than tie all seventy-five British pounds worth of him to a tree, he decided to hobble him with riempies--rawhide thongs--in the hope that the horse could crop enough of the pale, shriveled winter grass to carry its master when dawn came up, frozen and chill. Perhaps, the young man thought, the horse might even wind water. It was even colder than the night before, a Kalahari blackness that would freeze even the tea kettle if he were back in camp. When dawn reluctantly bled over the eastern sky, the man found that he could not even rise, so wooden had his legs become through the long night. After some minutes, he was able to restore circulation by frenzied rubbing and wentin search of the horse. It wasn't there. Gone. Disappeared. After a few hundred yards, the young man realized that he had not the strength to follow the hard, scuffed spoor on the dry earth. Now, he had nothing, neither fire nor blanket, neither loaded gun nor even horse. He was as completely alone as he would ever be and, he knew, he was close to death. He knew he could not carry the saddle and hung it in the crotch of a tree above the reach of hyenas, who would love the leather as much as his own hide if they caught him. Yet, he shouldered the empty smooth-bore duck gun rather than leave it behind. To leave it would have been a sort of surrender that he was not prepared to make, at least not yet. He walked as fast as he could go, a mechanical, drag-stepped shuffle, all of that day toward another long row of hills that he prayed might be the Bamangwato Range. Thirst corroded his mouth and tongue, making swallowing almost impossible. But, then, there was no saliva left to swallow in any case. He knew that hunger had reached its long, cold hand far past his belly and was now gnawing on his ever-weaker muscles. When the moon was an hour high for the third night he reached the edge of the mysterious hills. Praying that cool, wind-washed fields of native corn would meet his gaze, he almost foundered. More bush and no sign of water or food. Blinking back tears of desperation, he wandered his bloodshot blue eyes over more rocky, low hills and, with a strangled cry of horror, fell to a ragged sitting position. With no promise of water or food he knew that his best ally was rest. Far away, a jackal mocked him. The young man slipped behind a boulder and thought for a few moments of his fate. Bamangwato--the small native settlement--was not there. Realistically, he knew that he was almost surely doomed to die of hunger and thirst in a place that might not even be known to God, let alone to any rescue party. Yet, he thought further and summoned his remarkable powers of recuperation. It would be too much, he thought,to die like this, like a rat in a hole. He was still thinking about this when he fell into an exhausted sleep, warmer tonight due to the slight elevation and freedom from the shrouds of cold that haunted the low valleys like a lonely wraith. When he awoke, it was near dawn of the fourth day without food or water. He hated the cold, but he also knew that if he had to contend with heat at night he would be dead by now. Already his terrible hunger pangs had ceased--he knew this was a very bad sign--but his thirst was a living, dry, strangling noose that ran from his swollen lips down past his protruding tongue into his raw throat. As the taunting varicose veins of dawn stretched ahead, and he glanced across the wilderness of broken rock and bush, he noticed a smallish koppie that somehow looked familiar. It looked curiously like one that he knew to be near the Shakani vleis or dried marshlands. In fact, several other features seemed familiar, including a low line of stone hills and a few more koppies. There were a few Bushmen tending goats there, he recalled, if it was the same place. In his desperation, the young man convinced himself that they were the same features of his memory, although when looking at them he never dreamed that their further identification would mean his life. But they were far away, gleaming in a purplish hue in the distance. Staggering and limping, he made his way down from his evening eyrie and finally made the plain while the sun was still relatively low. As he reached the plain and started forward, he knew that he could not survive another night without water or food. He was completely exhausted, but also saw that the bush was so dense that he would be forced to climb trees now and then to keep his bearings. Although he knew that he must rest, he also knew that delay meant death and when he stopped, each two or three minutes drove him onward with what might well be futile hope. For some reason he noticed a cock and hen ostrich on his tortured march. So run the minds of the delirious ... . The sun was making its last, fatal move below the horizonwhen the man saw two Bushmen at some distance, coppery and shimmering in the late sun. A garbled scream caught their attention and they hastened over to the man, one taking the four-bore gun and the other helping the youngster to camp. There were three huts that denoted the scarcity of what was then the rarest animal of the desert areas: man. Collapsing into a rather dignified heap, the young man thought he was saved and that fountains of precious water would be his for the asking. Wrong. An old Bushman, fondling a section of giraffe intestine full of water spoke in Setswana: "Buy the water." The young man was stunned. He knew that the spring at the vlei was only two hundred steps away, but he was caved in. While he battled with his irritation and his lack of trade goods, a child came in with a big calabash full of goat's milk. "Reka marsi," the young man croaked. "I'll buy the milk." He pulled out his large folding knife to trade and was rewarded with not only the milk but the water as well. The only problem that the young man had from then on was with the language. He spoke no Bushman dialect at all and but little Setswana--the general language of Khama's land of Tswana people--but was finally able to make arrangements (although he would have to walk all the way himself) to reach Pelatsi, where the wagons were. That night no one ever had a more restful sleep at the side of a large fire and with a small chunk of duiker antelope rumbling around his stomach, making that organ remember what it was meant for. When he arrived at Pelatsi after an absence of five nights and four days he was almost considered a modern Lazarus. A huge feed was prepared for him and he drank enough water to pry amazement from his companions, hardened bush hands. He was saved. The next day he found that his friends had not deserted him but had hired six men, four Bechuana Kafirs (a regretfully still-used term originally used by the Arabs to designate a nonbeliever in The Prophet and which became later pejorative)and two Masarwa Bushmen to track the young man. That the six shunned their duty after a few miles and declared to a man that the youngster had galloped to Bamangwato was obviously not so. The trackers had been supplied with meat and no doubt sat against some trees and ate it with no further thought of their charge. I hope it went hard with them. Incidentally, the horse made it to Bamangwato alive through what must have been serried ranks of hyenas and lions. Despite his value, the young man took a price of ten pounds in case the horse should return, which he thought unlikely. this was money that transferred ownership of the animal based upon speculation at a fraction of the regular price. If the horse did not come home, the buyer was out the price. In any case, although the animal did come back, he was badly injured by his rawhide hobbles, which reduced the horse's value. The young man was almost well again, his ordeal a memory, and he could laugh at a story that one of his bush pals told. The great American frontiersman, Daniel Boone, was once asked if he had ever been lost in the wild territories of America. Dan'l thought for a few moments and said: "Nope. Ain't never bin lost. But there was a time in Kaintuck when I was powerful confused for five days."  
The young man was Frederick Courteney Selous, probably the most shining example of English manhood that the Victorian Empire could field in the Britain of those days. Selous was the beau ideal of the "playing fields of Rugby." In fact, he was not the only hero of Africa who went to the school: several, including Ionides, also attended. My treatment of Selous should be explained in the context of my own efforts. I really don't care about his miscegenational love life or his intrigues when he led the "Pioneer Column" into what is now Zimbabwe or his friction with Cecil John Rhodes in doing so. I am a hunting writer and hardly fit to handle the nuances of sex,personality, or performance that are apparently most im...

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