The Ostrich Hunt
The next day all the time that was not given to lessons and meals was spent by the little boys in scouring the veld for a red tortoise. Disappointment at their fruitless search found vent in no measured terms when Outa Karel appeared in the dining-room at his usual hour.
“Ach, to hear them now!” he said, regarding them with his wide-mouthed smile of amused tolerance. “Does it then rain red tortoises? And how can the baasjes think they will find at the first shot a thing that only comes once in a thousand years?”
“Well,” said Willem, stoutly, “it might just have been the time for one. How were we to know?”
“Outa,” asked little Jan, earnestly, “do you know when it will be red tortoise time again?”
“Aja, baasjes,” said Outa readily, “it won’t be long now. Let Outa think.” He performed a tattoo on the red kopdoek—a sure sign that he was in the thick of mental gymnastics. “What comes just before a thousand, my baasjes?”
“Nine hundred and ninety-nine,” answered Pietie, who was good at arithmetic.
“Now, yes,” said Outa, triumphantly, “I knew it must be nearly time. It is nine hundred and ninety-nine years since there was a red tortoise, so next year this time baasjes can begin to look for one. Only begin, my baasjes, because it will only be creeping out of the egg then. And p’r’aps it won’t be in this veld. It might be far, far away where people don’t know about a red tortoise, and so no one will look for him. Must Outa tell another story about him?”
The sly old man had taken the best way of escaping more questions. The little boys gathered round and listened wide-eyed as he told the story of the Tortoises hunting the Ostriches.
“After Oubaas Giraffe was dead, the Tortoises had a nice life for a long time, and then there came into their veld Old Three Sticks, the Ostrich, with his mam-ma and pap-pa, and his wives, and uncles, and aunties, and children, and friends. Alla! there were a lot of Ostriches! The whole veld was full of them, and they all began eating tortoises wherever they could find them.