08 The Sound of Thunder (aka The Roar of Thunder) by Wilbur Smith

08 The Sound of Thunder (aka The Roar of Thunder) by Wilbur Smith

Author:Wilbur Smith [Smith, Wilbur]
Format: epub
Published: 0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00

– 46 –

In the long period of stagnation that followed, Sean and Saul sat together against the bank. Though they talked little, the old sense of companionship was restored.

With a rush and rattle the first shell ripped the air above their heads, and with everyone else Sean ducked instinctively. The shell burst in a tall brownish-yellow spurt on the far slope. Consternation bushfired along the river.

‘Lummy, they’ve got a gun!’

‘Book me on the next train, mate!’

‘Nothing to worry about, boys,’ Sean shouted reassuringly. ‘They can’t reach us with that piece.’

And the next shell burst on the lip of the bank, showering them with earth and pebbles. One startled second they stood dazed and coughing in the fumes, and the next they fell on the bank like a band of competitive grave-diggers. Dust from their exertions rose in a pale brown mist over the river to puzzle the Boers on the ridge. Almost before the arrival of the next shell, each man had hacked out a small earthen cupboard into which he could squeeze himself.

The Boer gunners were alarmingly inconsistent. Two or three rounds would fly wildly overhead and burst in the open veld. The next would land squarely in the river spraying mud and water high in the air. When this happened the sound of sustained cheering drifted faintly down from the ridge, followed by a long pause – presumably while the gunners received the congratulations of their fellows. Then the bombardment would recommence with enthusiastic rapidity, which slowly wound down into another long pause while everybody rested.

During one of these intervals Sean peered through his loophole. From a dozen points along the ridge rose pale columns of smoke.

‘Coffee break up there, Eccles.’

‘The way they do things we can expect another white flag and a couple of their lads coming down with coffee for us as well.’

‘I doubt it,’ Sean grinned. ‘But I think we can expect them to come down though.’ Sean pulled out his watch. ‘Half-past four now. Two hours to sundown. Leroux must try for a decision before dark.’

‘If they come, they’ll come from behind,’ Saul announced cheerfully and pointed to the slope of ground that menaced their rear. ‘To meet a charge from there, we would have to line the far bank and expose our backs to sniping from the ridge.’

Sean considered the problem for a minute. ‘Smoke! That’s it!’

‘I beg yours, sir?’

‘Eccles, get the men to build fireplaces of stone along the bed and set grass and branches ready to light,’ Sean ordered. ‘If they do come from behind we’ll screen ourselves with smoke.’

Fifteen minutes of furious activity completed the work. At intervals of ten paces along the river-bed they built flat-topped cairns of stone that rose above the level of the water. On each was piled a large heap of grass and wild hemlock branches gathered from where they overhung the bank of the river.


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