Authors: Beverley Harper
Beverley Harper died of cancer on 9 August 2002. She rests at peace in the Africa she so loved.
Her ashes lie by the Boteti River in Botswana, below a lodge called Leroo-la-Tau. It means
Footprints of Lion.
It is a special place.
This simple plaque marks her passing:
Also by Beverley Harper
Storms Over Africa
Edge of the Rain
Echo of an Angry God
People of Heaven
The Forgotten Sea
Shadows in the Grass
Footprints of Lion
First published 2001 in Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
This Pan edition published 2002 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
1 Market Street, Sydney
Reprinted 2002, 2003, 2004 (twice), 2005, 2007, 2008
Copyright Â© Beverley Harper 2001
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
National Library of Australia
1. Etosha Game Park (Namibia). 2. South Africa â Fiction.
3. Adventure Stories. I. Title.
Map by Mike Gorman
Typeset in Bembo by Post Pre-press Group
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group
This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Papers used by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.
These electronic editions published in 2002 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
1 Market Street, Sydney 2000
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the publisher.
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For Robert, Piers, Miles and Adam
as usual and always.
But particularly Piers
for his African game-ranger expertise.
And Miles for looking
after the animals while I'm having African walkies.
for reading my books to his girlfriend.
Love you all to pieces
I wish to thank Paul van der Bijl of Gamsberg Macmillan Publishers in Windhoek for taking pity on a stranded author and offering great accommodation. He probably should have known better than to place a writer in a castle's wine cellar, but a most enjoyable night was the result. Ever the diplomat, Paul didn't bat an eyelid when I succumbed to the fresh air (I insist it was the air!) and fell asleep at the table. My husband and eldest son told me my ostrich kebabs were delicious.
Thanks must also go to two intrepid veterinarians â Bluey Carmichael of South Australia who dredged up memories of his time in Botswana and shared them with me, and Larry Patterson who still lives in Africa. Thanks to the wonders of technology, Larry was able to answer my questions by e-mail before dashing back into the bush to dart buffalo.
xtreme, intense, white-hot heat.
It had a sound like nothing else. A crackling, buzzing persistence, almost deafening in the depths of silence, drumming ears with its song of fire. It felt like no other. Lying on the skin, a prickly, hairy blanket, stifling pores that sucked greedily for air. They found none. It had burned dry. Nothing smelled like heat. Hot earth, crisped leaves and a furnace breeze that carried the ache of an arid emptiness. The taste of it clung in the mouth, a desiccated tackiness, like withered death sprinkled with salt. Even saliva could not cut it.
Twelve men lay, each in his own torpid stupor. They'd found shade but it gave no respite from the tight headache, stinging eyes or cramping pangs of dehydration. There was no need for movement. Nor was there any will to try. The day would pass, night would fall. Evening would bring relief, of sorts. Until then there was nothing to do but suffer.
One cast a lethargic eye skyward. âRain.'
Others glanced up. Black cumulus clouds massed to the south-west.
It was the extent of their conversation.
The elephant herd pressed north, browsing as they went. One of their number, a cow with no tusks, jostled incessantly to steal succulent tubers or shredded bark and was irritably repulsed. Normally good-natured and tolerant of her attempts to steal food, the extreme temperature had tempers frayed. Her demands were resented. Finally, the matriarch intervened and chased her away.
The tuskless cow ambled along behind the herd. Hunger rumbled in her belly like distant thunder in the approaching storm. She'd eaten leaves and fruit all day. Now she wanted the tubers being dug up by the others. Flapping her ears in annoyance, she head-butted the wrinkled rump in front of her. The half-grown bull reacted immediately, turning and thrusting at the cow with his tusks. She lunged out of their way but stood in defiance, challenging him to take the matter further. He backed down. A semi-outcast she might have been but still she ranked higher than him in the herd's hierarchy. And she was known for her volatility.
They were close to the river and could smell water. Thirsty as they all were, the elephants stopped in a thicket of mopane and began breaking branches, feeding the leaves greedily into their mouths. The cow joined them. They knew from experience that the water would be cooler and more refreshing at the end of the day.
The sound of snapping branches carried clearly to the men, although they were a good kilometre from the herd. One turned lazy eyes in the direction from which it had come, forcing his ears to listen, his mind to focus. Others did the same. They were trespassers, strangers in a land that was not theirs, and detection was the last thing they needed. The noise went on too long for it to have been made by anything other than feeding elephants. All twelve relaxed.
At that moment the breeze picked up, swirling in confusion as the storm chased behind it, driving it towards them. The men became alert, savouring the sweetness of promised rain. Round in circles swept the strengthening wind, tossed first one way and then the other. Within fifteen minutes, the temperature plummeted by as many degrees. âThink we'll get it?' one man asked.
Another shrugged. âLooks like it's going around us.'
A couple of fat splashes made craters in the dust. Then nothing. The storm boiled its way eastwards. A couple of teasing drops was all it could spare. The men were pleased about that. They had no protection against a drenching downpour.
A kilometre away, the eddying wind brought with it an unwelcome scent. The herd picked it up as one. Their matriarch turned, plodding away from it with determination, not in fear so much as distrust and disapproval. She knew this smell. It was alien to
creatures of the bush and therefore aroused suspicion. The rest of the elephants followed.
All but one.
The tuskless cow lifted her trunk. There was no mistake. Her heart surged with hate as instinct dictated reaction. She took a bearing, and set off through the sandy scrub country, sucked in by the scent of man. Secure in her bulk, myopic in her intent, nothing warned her to take care.
With the day's heat suddenly dissipating, the revitalised men began to talk between themselves.
âWe should move closer tonight.'
âWhy? Here it is safe.'
âWe will not be that until we cross back over the border.'
One who sat apart from the others raised his head and spoke. âWe stay here until I say it is time to move.' His eyes challenged the others to disagree.
The authority was his. No-one argued.
The cow kept losing her airborne incentive but continued on regardless. Every now and then the swirling breeze would bring it back to her. She stepped from a clearing and stopped, trunk raised, uncertain which way to go. Her eyesight was not good enough to see the men a mere two hundred metres away but she heard their sudden excited voices. Without hesitation, she charged towards the sound.
The sudden appearance of an elephant
galvanised the group into gabbling confusion. The man in charge snapped, âBe quiet, you fools.' Snatching up his AK47 he sprang off the ground, flicked the selector to single shot and stepped sideways, further from the others. The animal came at them like a fast-moving, low and rolling storm cloud. Waiting calmly until she was no more than thirty metres from where the rest stood frozen with fear, he squeezed the trigger.