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Chapter 34


For four hours we descended the valley through high thorn scrub or the occasional grassy openings. We were now in the floor of the Rift Valley, and both along the escarpments and in the floor of the great blue valley itself mountains were all about us. Most of the large ones were evidently craters; and everywhere were smaller kopjes or buttes, that in their day had also served as blow holes for subterranean fires.

At the end of this time we arrived at the place where we were supposed to find the wagon. No wagon was there.

The spot was in the middle of a level plain on which grew very scattered bushes, a great deal like the sparser mesquite growths of Arizona. Towards the Likipia Escarpment, and about half-way to its base, a line of trees marked the course of the Kedong River. Beyond that, fairly against the mountain, we made out a settler's house.

Leaving Billy and the safari, C. and I set out for this house. The distance was long, and we had not made half of it before thunder clouds began to gather. They came up thick and black behind the escarpment, and rapidly spread over the entire heavens. We found the wagon shortly, still mending its dusselboom, or whatever the thing was. Leaving instructions for it to proceed to a certain point on the Kedong River, we started back for our safari.

It rained. In ten minutes the dusty plains, as far as the eye could reach, were covered with water two or three inches deep, from which the sparse bunches of grasses grew like reeds in a great marshy lake. We splashed along with the water over our ankles. The channels made by the game trails offered natural conduits, and wherever there was the least grade they had become rushing brooks. We found the safari very bedraggled. Billy had made a mound of valuables, atop which she perched, her waterproof cape spread as wide as possible, a good deal like a brooding hen. We set out for the meeting-point on the Kedong. In half an hour we had there found a bit of higher ground and had made camp.

As suddenly as they had gathered the storm clouds broke away. The expiring sun sent across the valley a flood of golden light, that gilded the rugged old mountain of Suswa over the way.

"Directly on the other side of Suswa," C. told me, "there is a 'pan' of hard clay. This rain will fill it, and we shall find water there. We can take a night's rest, and set off comfortably in the morning."

So the rain that had soaked us so thoroughly was a blessing after all. While we were cooking supper the wagon passed us, its wheels and frame creaking, its great whip cracking like a rifle, its men shrieking at the imperturbable team of eighteen oxen. It would travel until the oxen wanted to graze, or sleep, or scratch an ear, or meditate on why is a Kikuyu. Thereupon they would be outspanned and allowed to do it, whatever it was, until they were ready to go on again. Then they would go on. These sequences might take place at any time of the day or night, and for greater or lesser intervals of time. That was distinctly up to the oxen; the human beings had mighty little to say in the matter. But transport riding, from the point of view of the rank outsider, really deserves a chapter of its own.

Stewart Edward White

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