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Thunder In The Distance Sample

Here is a sample of the what you can expect from the novel I am presently writing. It is the thirteenth chapter of Part One of the Novel, sub-titled, The Sniper.


On the second of July, 1900, on the fifth day out from Bloemfontein, Fynn Armstrong killed a man.

That afternoon, reeling in the saddle with weariness, he passed too close to a small mountain which had been looming up on his right quarter for hours.

He heard the hollow thud as the bullet hit the chest of his horse just inches forward of his right leg, and she squealed with the agony of it and lurched to the left and he felt her going down. His reactions were slow but fast enough to free his left leg before she struck the ground. And then he was rolling free and in that instinctive, primeval part of his brain he knew the shooter was out there on the mountain to his right and his only shelter was the body of his horse and he rolled quickly back to her side.

He lay there, stunned and frightened, taking in short sharp breaths, trying desperately to make sense of it. He heard the zip of a bullet passing over his head and shortly after another dull thud as a third bullet hit the horse. Those noises brought him back to his senses and he thought first of his rifle. It was in a holster on the left side and was under her body, with only the butt showing. He pulled at it with the strength of the panic that was in him and it came free.

Fynn knew his chances of living through that day were slim and that calmed him and he started to weigh up the situation.

Was it one or more shooters?

The interval between the shots was long enough to have been fired by one man.

How far was the mountain?

That was harder to figure and he berated himself for not having paid proper attention. In the end he decided it was over 500 yards, maybe as much as 700, maybe more as the shot had dropped lower than the sniper had calculated.

Could the shooter get around him?

Keeping his head low he looked to both sides and behind him. His perspective was for-shortened so close to the ground. To the left, where the land was rising he could see only a few hundred yards, but he had clear vision for miles to the right and behind.

He came to the conclusion that the Boer sniper could not get in behind him, nor did he think the man would came from the front, and whether on horseback or on foot he would be able to hear him. There seemed to be only one way he would live through that day and that meant he had to have more patience than his Boer foe.

He would lie there until night fell.

In later years he would often think that the biggest survival lesson he learnt in his life came to him on that day in early July lying behind his horse on the cold grass of the eastern plains of the Orange Free State. Later in life, when he got to know wild animals better, he observed that behaviour in them, and marvelled how he had that instinct so early in his time in Africa.

It was a long and anxious wait, and in the first half an hour was accompanied by the ragged breathing of his horse as she died. Finally, when it was nearly dark he heard the slight sound of a footfall in the grass. It nearly triggered an automatic reaction but he disciplined himself.


He heard the next swish of sound more clearly and estimated a distance of maybe thirty yards and readied himself for the last frenetic moment of that drama that would spell his life or death. He had long practised what he would do if the man was foolish enough to come and check whether he had made a kill.

The Boer would have his rifle to his shoulder ready while he would have to move with muscles cramped from hours of inactivity. He had decided that his fastest action was to lie on his back and then jackknife his upper body to a sitting position and swivel to fire.

He readied himself with the rifle lying on his body, his upper body further from the horse to minimise the degree of turn he would need, the barrel pointing to his feet, left hand under the wood holding the barrel, right hand holding the stock, index finger on the trigger. He waited for the right moment. The closer the man the more sure of the shot and perhaps the more the Boer would think he was going to find a dead man and was starting to relax.

He tensed himself tightening his muscles.

Please body, don’t let me down.

Fynn sat bolt upright and swivelled his body, the rifle already at his shoulder and saw the figure of the man not more than fifteen yards from him. He heard the grunt of surprise and then the front sight centred on the man’s chest and he pulled the trigger.

A cry of pain came from the darkened figure of the man and he collapsed to his knees and his body folded over the agony in his chest and his head went to the ground. It looked like he was praying.

Fynn had reloaded but he could not bring himself to shoot once more into the back of the man and he got tentatively to his feet, his muscles protesting as blood flowed back into his limbs. He walked over to the man on his knees and as he did he had a stray thought that there might still be others on the mountain. It gave him a start but when he looked towards the mountain he could barely see it. Not even a Boer sniper could shoot him in that light.

The man had pitched his rifle forward as he went down and Fynn stopped to pick it up and move it further away. He admired the sleek beauty of the Mauser, thanked the God he barely knew that it did not complete its deadly purpose that day.

Fynn knelt next to the man. The Boer was not moving.

“Can you hear me Meneer?”

It was a silly question, indicative of the growing horror in him that the man was dead and he had done the killing. He tried to raise the man’s head and the body slumped over sideways giving him a fright. Now that he could see the face he was sure the man was dead but he tried to feel for a pulse in the neck, not enjoying touching the flesh, but determined to help the Boer if he was alive. There was no pulse.

Fynn stayed in that position, kneeling next to the dead man, for a long time, searching the man’s face for clues to what he might have been. The face told him an age, maybe five or six years older than him, mid-twenties perhaps, but difficult to guess with the full beard. It told him nothing else. An average size young man fighting to keep his land.

And he, Fynn, trying to take the land away and killing that unknown Boer to do so. It gave him no real relief that the Boer sniper had tried to kill him first.

Eventually he stood and thought what to do next. The night came early in winter on the eastern side of the highveld of South Africa, and he had a three to four hour walk back to the likely position of the supply column. The night sky was void of clouds and he knew there would be enough starlight to guide him back, and he knew the way.

He picked up the Mauser and gave thought to taking the bandolier of ammunition around the dead man’s chest. But he could not touch him, could not defile that body more than he already had.

He walked over to stand looking at the horse he had grown so fond of, said his farewells, then started back on his track, the saddle bags over his shoulder and a rifle in each hand.


In many ways that night walk, after he had killed a man and lost a horse, announced Fynn Armstrong to the Africa he had dreamed of. The confusion, melee, pain and loss of Magersfontein had not done that, nor the discovery of a love of horses under the famous table mountain. In the first he had no control over his movements, and the second was lacking in the essential element of open and empty land, enhanced under a night sky of stars.

There was the pain of the loss of the Bay mare, his companion for five days and over a hundred miles, and there was the need to assimilate the horrendous killing of a fellow human being, a matter that he knew would live with him for the rest of his life, and would probably become the subject of bad dreams and the attendant anxiety and loss of self-confidence, just as the skull dream of his friend Sam Gordon’s death had done.

But there was this gathering glee as he walked through that vast grassland with the ghostly illumination of a million stars. He was not alone. He heard the lowing of cattle at a distance sometimes and once the eerie scream of jackals, and he had two lone farms to by-pass. They were part of what he had always imagined, not foreign to that land.

And all too soon, it seemed to him, he saw the lights of the supply column and coming closer smelt the fires. He knew he would have to be careful to announce his presence as there would be sentries out and he did so when he could dimly see the bulk of the wagons.


A voice shouted back at him.


He recognised the voice of Sergeant Batchelor. Had he been waiting for him all those hours?  That gruff man with a care for the men under his command? That was a new and unexpected thought.

There was a small group waiting for him, Sergeant Batchelor and two of his fellow riders.

“You waited for me, Sergeant?”

“Where’s ya horse?”

“He’s dead.”

“Sorry, boy. And I see ya got another rifle. Ya killed a man?”


“Ya better come tell me the story. But first let’s get some food into ya.”

Published inBlog/Gallery

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