I omitted to mention that I’d accidentally driven the car over the edge of an embankment and ended up pinned beneath it-an extremely unpleasant experience.
It was somewhat cooler with the car in motion, and I enjoyed the view of the open countryside. Some distance away, I sighted a herd of springbok. They seemed to freeze at first and turned their heads inquisitively in our direction. The sound of the Wolseley’s engine did not alarm them in the least.
The farther we got from Cape Town, the more desolate the countryside appeared. Only sporadically did a weather-worn signpost beside the road point in the direction of some tiny settlement or isolated farm. The road degenerated into a dried mud track. The car’s tires sent brown dust whirling into the air, and it was not long before our faces and clothing were coated with it.
Then the veldt gave way to interminable wheat fields.
There was nothing between us and the horizon but ears of grain, brilliant sunlight, and heat.
We had been driving for a considerable time when I noticed that the car was losing speed. Eventually, steam started rising from the engine compartment. Woolf pulled over to the side of the track and got out. I followed suit, and we examined the engine together. The metal tube leading to the radiator had burst, and the latter’s entire contents had either evaporated or leaked away. Driving on was out of the question unless we wanted to do some major damage to the engine.
“We do have a can of water,” said Woolf, who was annoyed by this contretemps, “but the tube is beyond repair, and I’m afraid I never thought to bring a spare.”
The daylight had faded to a deep red glow. In less than an hour, the sun would disappear below the skyline.
“How far is it to the farm?” I asked. “A good six miles,” Woolf replied. “Too far and too dangerous to make it on foot.”
“Too dangerous?” I queried in surprise. “Because of wild animals?”
My host shook his head. “People have been disappearing lately. All of them blacks until a few days ago, when a white boy failed to return from a hunting trip. He was just fourteen.” “How many people in all?” I asked, raising my voice. The chirping of the cicadas in the fields had reached an infernal crescendo.
“Around a dozen inside six months,” said Woolf. “No trace of them has been found.”
“What are the police doing about it?”
He shrugged. “They didn’t do a thing until the white boy vanished.”
He indicated a path that led off the track and disappeared into fields.
“That’s the way to the farm of the Bongers family, it’s three-quarters of a mile away I think we should be able to get some help there.”
We set off at once. Woolf insisted on carrying my suitcase. Cases of theft occurred now and then, he said, so it would be better not to leave anything of value in the car.