I was anxious to return the Wolseley in perfect condition, so the state of the road often restricted me to walking pace only. My reason for undertaking this excursion was not the scenic beauties of Cape Province but an urge to learn something about these mysterious abductions. The only trouble was, I hadn’t the least idea how to proceed.
Although still far from its zenith, the sun was already scorching the countryside. I drove back along the road Woolf had taken the previous evening. The air shimmered before my eyes. A hawk was hovering motionless in the cloudless sky, borne up by currents of warm air.
A little later on, I sighted beside the road several birds of less majestic appearance, but ones that occupied no less important a place in the natural world: vultures tucking into a dead animal. They were busy tearing gobbets of flesh out of the dark cadaver with their curved beaks.
I pulled up and got out for a better look at the dead creature. It was only by shouting, gesticulating wildly, and clapping my hands that I succeeded in shooing the vultures away from their meal. They withdrew a few yards, regarding me with great hostility, and one particular audacious specimen made a mock attack on my right leg. I instinctively reached for the revolver in the pocket of my jacket.
As if aware of the lethal properties of the weapon in my hand, the vultures opened the distance between us by another yard or two.
Although they had already made a terrible mess of the beast, I recognized it at once as the black mastiff that had been behaving so oddly near the Bongers farm.
I wondered whether to load the dog into the car, but decided against it. I did not possess the essentials for performing an autopsy, and in any case, I was not a veterinarian.
The vultures had already devoured the eyes. The jaws were wide open, and although the birds had been on the tongue, I could distinctly make out its black coloration.
Certain medicaments, for instance, those with high iron content, could discolor the tongue, but they would never have turned it such an intense black.
I drove on, leaving the mastiff’s remains to the vultures.
After half a mile, I spotted one of those roadside signs that usually pointed the way to some remote farm. It was boldly inscribed “Dr. Lubbers.”
I must have failed to see it in the twilight the evening before.
My encounter with Dr. Lubbers at the Bongers farm had gone badly. He was justifiably resentful of my fellow countrymen’s conduct of the Boer War. I could also sympathize with his obvious annoyance at my having examined Hendrika, albeit at Mevrou Bongers’s request-a little girl whose disabilities were attributable to the British Army’s inhumane punitive measures.
I, therefore, considered myself duty-bound to pay my fellow physician a visit. For one thing, in order to express my appreciation of his important work, in such a remote locality; for another, because I wished to show him that not everyone who hailed from the heart of the
Empire was a devil in human guise.