The dog is some fifty yards behind the buck. The Kafir is about the same distance behind the dog, which distance he is striving right manfully to maintain; not so unsuccessfully, either, considering that he is pitting the speed of two legs against that of eight.Down the long grass slope they course—buck, dog, and savage. The former, a game little antelope of the steinbok species, takes the ground in a series of long, flying leaps, his white tail whisking like a flag of defiance. The second, a tawny, black-muzzled grey-hound, stretching his snaky length in the wake of his quarry, utters no sound, as with arrow-like velocity he holds on his course, his cruel eyes gleaming, his jaws dripping saliva in pleasurable anticipation of the coming feast. The third, a fine, well-knit young Kafir, his naked body glistening from head to foot with red ochre, urges on his hound with an occasional shrill whoop of encouragement, as he covers the ground at a surprising pace in his free, bounding stride. He holds a knob-kerrie in his hand, ready for use as soon as the quarry shall be within hurling distance.But of this there seems small chance at present. It takes a good dog indeed to run down an unwounded buck with the open veldt before him, and good as this one is, it seems probable that he will get left. Down the long grass slope they course, but the opposite acclivity is the quarry’s opportunity. The pointed hoofs seem hardly to touch ground in the arrowy flight of their owner. The distance between the latter and the pursuing hound increases.Along a high ridge overlooking this primitive chase grow, at regular
melted into an indistinct blue haze—the Indian Ocean—while in the opposite direction the panorama was barred by the hump-like Kabousie Heights, their green slopes alternating with lines of dark forest in a straggling labyrinth of intersecting kloofs. Far away over the golden, sunlit plains, the white walls of a farmhouse or two were discernible, and here and there, rising in a line upon the still atmosphere, a column of grey smoke marked the locality of many a distant kraal lying along the spurs of the hills. So still, so transparent, indeed, was the air that even the voices of their savage inhabitants and the low of cattle floated faintly across the wide and intervening space. Beneath—against the opposite ridge, about half a mile distant, the red ochre on their clothing and persons showing in vivid and pleasing contrast against the green of the hillside, moved ten or a dozen Kafirs—men, women, and children. They stepped out in line at a brisk, elastic pace, and the lazy hum of their conversation drifted to the ears of the two white men so plainly that they could almost catch its burden.To the younger of these two men the splendid vastness of this magnificent panorama, framing the picturesque figures of its barbarous inhabitants, made up a scene of which he never wearied, for though at present a Kaffrarian stock farmer, he had the mind of a thinker, a philosopher, and a poet. To the elder, however, there was nothing noteworthy or attractive about it. We fear he regarded the beautiful rolling plains as so much better or worse veldt for purposes of stock-feeding, and was apt to resent the continued and unbroken blue of the glorious vault above as likely to lead to an inconvenient scarcity of rain, if not to a positive drought. As for the dozen Kafirs in the foreground, so far from discerning anything poetical or picturesque about them, he looked upon them as just that number of black scoundrels making their way to the nearest canteen to get drunk on the proceeds of the barter of skins flayed from stolen sheep—his own sheep among those of others.As if to emphasise this last idea, cresting the ridge at that moment, they came in sight of a large, straggling flock. Straggling indeed! In twos and threes, in clumps of a dozen, and in clumps of fifty, the animals, though numbering but eleven hundred, were spread over nearly two miles of veldt. It was the flock in charge of the defaulting andcontumacious Goníwe, who, however, having caught a glimpse of the approach of his two masters, might be descried hurriedly collecting his scattered charges. Carhayes ground his teeth.“I’ll rip his black hide off him. I’ll teach him to let the sheep go to the devil while he hunts our bucks.” And gripping his reins he drove his spurs into his horse’s flanks, with fell intent toward the offending Kafir.“Wait—wait!” urged the more prudent Eustace. “For Heaven’s sake, don’t give yourself away again. If you must lick the boy, wait until you get him—and the sheep—safe home this evening. If you give him beans now, its more than likely he’ll leave the whole flock in the veldt and won’t come back at all—not forgetting, of course, to drive off a dozen or two to Nteya’s location.”There was reason in this, and Carhayes acquiesced with a snarl. To collect the scattered sheep was to the two mounted men a labour of no great difficulty or time, and with a stern injunction to Goníwe not to be found playing the fool a second time, the pair turned their horses’ heads and rode homeward.Chapter Three.Eanswyth.Anta’s Kloof—such was the name of Tom Carhayes’ farm—was situated on the very edge of the Gaika location. This was unfortunate, because its owner got on but poorly with his barbarous neighbours. They, for their part, bore him no good will either.The homestead comprised a comfortable stone dwelling in one story. A high stoep and veranda ran round three sides of it, commanding a wide and lovely view of rolling plains and mimosa sprinkled kloofs, for the house was built on rising ground. Behind, as a background, a few miles distant, rose the green spurs of the Kabousie Heights. A gradual ascent of a few hundred feet above the house afforded a splendid view of the rugged and table-topped Kei Hills. And beyond these, on the right, the
plains of Gcalékaland, with the blue smoke rising from many a clustering kraal. Yet soft and peaceful as was the landscape, there was little of peace just then in the mind of its inhabitants, white or brown, for the savages were believed to be in active preparation for war, for a concerted and murderous outbreak on a large scale, involving a repetition of the massacres of isolated and unprepared settlers such as characterised similar risings on former occasions; the last, then, happily, a quarter of a century ago.Nearer, nearer to his western bed, dipped the sinking sun, throwing out long slanting darts of golden rays ere bringing to a close, in a flood of effulgent glory, the sweet African spring day. They fell on the placid surface of the dam, lying below in the kloof, causing it to shine like a sea of quicksilver. They brought out the vivid green of the willows, whose feathery boughs drooped upon the cool water. They blended with the soft, restful cooing of ring doves, swaying upon many a mimosa spray, or winging their way swiftly from the mealie lands to their evening roost and they seemed to impart a blithe gladsomeness to the mellow shout of the hoopoe, echoing from the cool shade of yonder rugged and bush-clad kloof.Round the house a dozen or so tiny ostrich chicks were picking at the ground, or disputing the possession of some unexpected dainty with a tribe of long-legged fowls. Quaint enough they looked, these little, fluffy balls, with their bright eyes, and tawny, spotted necks; frail enough, too, and apt to come off badly at the spur or beak of any truculent rooster who should resent their share of the plunder aforesaid. Nominally they are under the care of a small Kafir boy, but the little black rascal—his master being absent and his mistress soft hearted—prefers the congenial associations of yonder group of beehive huts away there behind the sheep kraals, and the fun of building miniature kraals with mud and three or four boon companions, so the ostrich chicks are left to herd themselves. But the volleying boom of their male parent, down there in the great enclosure, rolls out loudly enough on the evening air, and the huge bird may be described in all the glory of his jet and snowy plumage, with inflated throat, rearing himself to his full height, rolling his fiery eye in search of an adversary.And now the flaming rays of the sinking sun have given place to a softer, mellower light, and the red afterglow is merging into the pearly grey of evening. The hillside is streaked with the dappled hides of cattle coming up the kloof, and many a responsive low greets the clamourous voices of the calves, shut up in the calf hoek, hungry and expectant. Then upon the ridge comes a white, moving mass of fleecy backs. It streams down the slope, raising a cloud of dust—guided, kept together, by an occasional kerrie deftly thrown to the right or left—and soon arrives at its nightly fold. But the herd is nonplussed, for there is no Baas there to count in. He pauses a moment, looks around, then drives the sheep into the kraal, and having secured the gate, throws his red kaross around him and stalks away to the huts.Eanswyth Carhayes stood on the stoep, looking out for the return of her husband and cousin. She was very tall for a woman, her erect carriage causing her to appear even taller. And she was very beautiful. The face, with its straight, thoroughbred features, was one of those which, at first sight, conveyed an impression of more than ordinary attractiveness, and this impression further acquaintance never failed to develop into a realisation of its rare loveliness. Yet by no means a mere animal or flower-like beauty. There was character in the strongly marked, arching brows, and in the serene, straight glance of the large, grey eyes. Further, there was indication that their owner would not be lacking in tact or fixity of purpose; two qualities usually found hand in hand. Her hair, though dark, was many shades removed from black, and of it she possessed a more than bountiful supply.She came of a good old Colonial family, but had been educated in England. Well educated, too; thanks to which salutary storing of a mind eagerly open to culture, many an otherwise dull and unoccupied hour of her four years of married life—frequently left, as she was, alone for a whole day at a time—was turned to brightness. Alone? Yes, for she was childless.When she had married bluff, hot-tempered Tom Carhayes, who was nearly fifteen years her senior, and had gone to live on a Kaffrarian stock farm, her acquaintance unanimously declared she had “thrown herselfaway.” But whether this was so or not, certain it is that Eanswyth herself evinced no sort of indication to that effect, and indeed more than one of the aforesaid acquaintance eventually came to envy her calm, cheerful contentment. To the expression of which sentiment she would reply with a quiet smile that she supposed she was cut out for a “blue-stocking,” and that the restful seclusion, not to say monotony, of her life, afforded her ample time for indulging her studious tastes.After three years her husband’s cousin had come to live with them. Eustace Milne, who was possessed of moderate means, had devoted the few years subsequent on leaving college to “seeing the world,” and it must be owned he had managed to see a good deal of it in the time. But tiring eventually of the process, he had made overtures to his cousin to enter into partnership with the latter in his stock-farming operations. Carhayes, who at that time had been somewhat unlucky, having been hard hit by a couple of very bad seasons, and thinking moreover that the presence in the house of his cousin, whom he knew and rather liked, would make life a little more cheerful for Eanswyth, agreed, and forthwith Eustace had sailed for the Cape. He had put a fair amount of capital into the concern and more than a fair amount of energy, and at this time the operations of the two men were flourishing exceedingly.We fear that—human nature being the same all the world over, even in that sparsely inhabited locality—there were not wanting some—not many it is true, but still some—who saw in the above arrangement something to wag a scandalous tongue over. Carhayes was a prosaic and rather crusty personage, many years older than his wife. Eustace Milne was just the reverse of this, being imaginative, cultured, even tempered, and, when he chose, of very attractive manner; moreover, he was but three or four years her senior. Possibly the rumour evolved itself from the disappointment of its originators, as well as from the insatiable and universal love of scandal-mongering inherent in human nature, for Eustace Milne was eminently an eligible parti, and during nearly a year’s residence at Anta’s Kloof had shown no disposition to throw the handkerchief at any of the surrounding fair. But to Carhayes, whom thanks to his known proclivity towards punching heads this rumour never reached, no such nice idea occurred, for with all his faults or failings there
was nothing mean or crooked-minded about the man, and as for Eanswyth herself, we should have been uncommonly sorry to have stood in the shoes of the individual who should undertake to enlighten her of the same, by word or hint.As she stood there watching for the return of those who came not, Eanswyth began to feel vaguely uneasy, and there was a shade of anxiety in the large grey eyes, which were bent upon the surrounding veldt with a now growing intensity. The return of the flock, combined with the absence of its master to count in, was not a reassuring circumstance. She felt inclined to send for the herd and question him, but after all it was of no use being silly about it. She noted further the non-appearance of the other flock. This, in conjunction with the prolonged absence of her husband and cousin, made her fear that something had gone very wrong indeed.Nor was her uneasiness altogether devoid of justification. We have said that Tom Carhayes was not on the best of terms with his barbarous neighbours. We have shown moreover that his choleric disposition was eminently calculated to keep him in chronic hot water. Such was indeed the case. Hardly a week passed that he did not come into collision with them, more or less violently, generally on the vexed question of trespass, and crossing his farm accompanied by their dogs. More than one of these dogs had been shot by him on such occasions, and when we say that a Kafir loves his dog a trifle more dearly than his children, it follows that the hatred which they cherished towards this imperious and high-handed settler will hardly bear exaggeration. But Carhayes was a powerful man and utterly fearless, and although these qualities had so far availed to save his life, the savages were merely biding their time. Meanwhile they solaced themselves with secret acts of revenge. A thoroughbred horse would be found dead in the stable, a valuable cow would be stabbed to death in the open veldt, or a fine, full-grown ostrich would be discovered with a shattered leg and all its wing-feathers plucked, sure sign, the latter, that the damage was due to no accident. These acts of retaliation had generally followed within a few days of one of the broils above alluded to, but so far from intimidating Carhayes, their only effect was to enrage him the more. He vowed fearful and summaryvengeance against the perpetrators, should he ever succeed in detecting them. He even went boldly to the principal Gaika chiefs and laid claim to compensation. But those magnates were the last men in the world to side with, or to help him. Some were excessively civil, others indifferent, but all disclaimed any responsibility in the matter.Bearing these facts in mind there was, we repeat, every excuse for Eanswyth’s anxiety. But suddenly a sigh of relief escaped her. The tramp of hoofs reaching her ears caused her to turn, and there, approaching the house from a wholly unexpected direction, came the two familiar mounted figures.Chapter Four.“Love Settling Unawares.”“Well, old girl, and how have you been getting through the day,” was Carhayes’ unceremonious greeting as he slid from his horse. Eustace turned away his head, and the faintest shadow of contempt flitted across his impassive countenance. Had this glorious creature stood in the same relationship towards himself he could no more have dreamed of addressing her as “old girl” than he could have of carving his name across the front of the silver altar which is exhibited once a year in the “Battistero” at Florence.“Pretty well, Tom,” she answered smilingly. “And you? I hope you haven’t been getting into any more mischief. Has he, Eustace.”“Well, I have, then,” rejoined Carhayes, grimly, for Eustace pretended not to hear. “What you’d call mischief, I suppose. Now what d’you think? I caught that schelm Goníwe having a buck-hunt—a buck-hunt, by Jove! right under my very nose; he and three other niggers. They’d got two dogs, good dogs too, and I couldn’t help admiring the way the schepsels put them on by relays, nor yet the fine shot they made at the buck with a kerrie. Well, I rode up and told them to clear out of the light because I intended to shoot their dogs. Would you believe it? they didn’t budge. Actually squared up to me.”
“I hope you didn’t shoot their dogs,” said Eanswyth anxiously.“Didn’t I! one of ’em, that is. Do you think I’m the man to be bounced by Jack Kafir? Not much I’m not. I was bound to let daylight through the brute, and I did.”“Through the Kafir?” cried Eanswyth, in horror, turning pale.“Through both,” answered Carhayes, with a roar of laughter. “Through both, by Jove! Ask Eustace. He came up just in time to be in at the death. But, don’t get scared, old girl. I only ‘barked’ the nigger, and sent the dog to hunt bucks in some other world. I had to do it. Those chaps were four to one, you see, and shied Icerries at me. They had assegais, too.”“Oh, I don’t know what will happen to us one of these days!” she cried, in real distress. “As it is, I am uneasy every time you are out in the veldt.”“You needn’t be—no fear. Those chaps know me better than to attempt any tricks. They’re all bark—but when it comes to biting they funk off. That schelm I plugged to-day threatened no end of things; said I’d better have cut off my right hand first, because it was better to lose one’s hand than one’s mind—or some such bosh. But do you think I attach any importance to that? I laughed in the fellow’s face and told him the next time he fell foul of me he’d likely enough lose his life—and that would be worse still for him.”Eustace, listening to these remarks, frowned slightly. The selfish coarseness of his cousin in thus revealing the whole unfortunate episode, with the sure result of doubling this delicate woman’s anxiety whenever she should be left—as she so often was—alone, revolted him. Had he been Carhayes he would have kept his own counsel in the matter.“By the way, Tom,” said Eanswyth, “Goníwe hasn’t brought in his sheep yet, and it’s nearly dark.”“Not, eh?” was the almost shouted reply, accompanied by a
vehement and undisguised expletive at the expense of the defaulter. “He’s playing Harry—not a doubt about it. I’ll make an example of him this time. Rather! Hold on. Where’s my thickest sjambok?”(Sjambok: A whip, made out of a single piece of rhinoceros, or sea-cow hide, tapering at the point. It is generally in the shape of a riding-whip.)He dived into the house, and, deaf to his wife’s entreaties and expostulations, armed himself with the formidable rawhide whip in addition to his gun, and flinging the bridle once more across the horse’s neck, sprang into the saddle.“Coming, Eustace?” he cried.“No. I think not. The sheep can’t be far off, and you can easily bring them in, even if, as is not unlikely, Goníwe has sloped. Besides, I don’t think we ought to leave Eanswyth all alone.”With a spluttered exclamation of impatience, Carhayes clapped spurs to his horse and cantered away down the kloof to recover his sheep and execute summary vengeance upon their defective herd.“Do go after him, Eustace. Don’t think about me. I don’t in the least mind being left alone. Do go. You are the only one who can act as a check upon him, and I fear he will get himself—all of us—into some terrible scrape. I almost hope Goníwe has run away, for if Tom comes across him in his present humour he will half kill the boy.”“He won’t come across him. On that point you may set your mind quite at ease. He will have no opportunity of getting into hot water, and I certainly shan’t think of leaving you alone here to-night for the sake of salvaging a few sheep more or less. We must make up our minds to lose some, I’m afraid, but the bulk of them will be all right.”“Still, I wish you’d go,” she pursued anxiously. “What if Tom should meet with any Kafirs in the veldt and quarrel with them, as he is sure to do?”of unbroken blue, caused the wet earth to glisten like silver as the raindrops hung about the grass and bushes in clusters of flashing gems.“So! That’s better!” said one of the men, throwing open his waterproof coat. “More cheerful like!”“It is,” assented another. “We ought to have a brush with Jack Kafir to-day. It’s Sunday.”“Sunday is it?” said a third. “There ain’t no Sundays in the Transkei.”“But there are though, and its generally the day on which we have a fight.”“That’s so,” said the first speaker, a tall, wiry young fellow from the Chalumna district. “I suppose the niggers think we’re such a bloomin’ pious lot that we shan’t hurt ’em on Sunday, so they always hit upon it to go in at us.”“Or p’r’aps they, think we’re having Sunday school, or holdin’ a prayer meeting. Eh, Bill?”“Ja. Most likely.”They were riding along a high grassy ridge falling away steep and sudden upon one side. Below, on the slope, were a few woebegone looking mealie fields and a deserted kraal, and beyond, about half a mile distant, was the dark forest line. Suddenly the leader of the party, who, with three or four others, was riding a little way ahead, was seen to halt, and earnestly to scrutinise the slope beneath. Quickly the rest spurred up to him.“What is it?”—“What’s up, Shelton?” were some of the eager inquiries.“There’s something moving down there in that mealie field, just where the sod-wall makes a bend—there, about four hundred yards off,” replied Shelton, still looking through his field glasses. “Stay—it’s a Kafir. I saw him half put up his head and bob down again.”
Every eye was bent upon the spot, eager and expectant. But nothing moved. Then the leader took a careful aim and fired. The clods flew from the sod-wall, heavy and sticky with the recent rain, as the bullet knocked a great hole in it. Simultaneously two naked Kafirs sprang up and made for the bush as hard as they could run.Bang—bang! Bang—bang—bang! A rattling volley greeted their appearance. But still unscathed they ran like bucks; bounding and leaping to render themselves more difficult as marks.Bang—bang! Ping—ping! The bullets showered around the fleeing savages, throwing up the earth in clods. Each carried a gun and had a powder horn and ammunition pouch slung round him, besides a bundle of assegais, and one, as he ran, turned his head to look at his enemies. Full three hundred yards had they to cover under the fire of a score of good marksmen. But these were excited.“Steady, men! No good throwing away ammunition!” cried Shelton, the leader. “Better let ’em go.”But he might as well have spoken to the wind. As long as those naked, bounding forms were in sight so long would the more eager spirits of the party empty their rifles at them. Not all, however. Eustace Milne had made no attempt to fire a shot. He was not there, as he said afterwards, to practise at a couple of poor devils running away. Others, somewhat of the same opinion, confined themselves to looking on. But to a large section there present no such fastidious notions commended themselves. The secret of war, they held, was to inflict as much damage upon the enemy as possible, and under whatever circumstances. So they tried all they knew to act upon their logic.“Whoop! Hurrah! They’re down!” shouted some one, as the fugitives suddenly disappeared.“Nay what!” said a tall Dutchman, shaking his head. “They are only sneaking,” and as he spoke the Kafirs reappeared some fifty yards further, but were out of sight again in a second. They were taking advantage of a sluit or furrow—crawling like serpents along in thisprecarious shelter.“Stay where you are—stay where you are,” cried Shelton in a tone of authority, as some of the men made a movement to mount their horses and dash forward in pursuit. “Just as like as not to be a trap. How many more do we know are not ‘voer-ly-ing’ (Dutch: ‘Lying in wait’) in the bush yonder. The whole thing may be a plant.”The sound wisdom of this order availed to check the more eager spirits. They still held their pieces in readiness for the next opportunity.“Hoste—Eustace—watch that point where the pumpkin patch ends. They’ll have a clear run of at least a hundred yards there,” said Carhayes, who was sitting on an ant-heap a little apart from the rest, every now and then taking a shot as he saw his chance.“It’s a devil of a distance,” growled Hoste. “Six hundred yards if it’s an inch—Ah!”For the Kafirs sprang up just where Carhayes had foretold, and again, with a crash, many rifles were emptied at them. Fifty—thirty— twenty yards more and they will be safe. Suddenly one of them falls.“He’s down—fairly down!” yelled someone. “A long shot, too. Oh-h-h! He’s only winged! Look! He’s up again?”It was so. The fallen man was literally hopping on one leg, with the other tucked up under him. In a moment both Kafirs had reached the cover and disappeared.“Well, I never!” cried Hoste; “Heaven knows how many shots we’ve thrown away upon those devils and now they’ve given us the slip after all.”“Anyone would take us for a pack of bloomin’ sojers. Can’t hit a nigger in a dozen shots apiece. Pooh!” growled a burly frontiersman, in tones of ineffable disgust, as he blew into the still smoking breech of his rifle. “Eh, what’s that?” he continued as all eyes were bent on the spot where the fugitives had disappeared.
For a tall savage had emerged from the bush, and with a howl of derision began to execute a pas seul in the open. Then with a very contemptuous gesture, and shaking his assegai at his white enemies, he sprang into the forest again, laughing loudly. They recognised him as the man who had escaped unhurt.“Well, I’m somethinged!” cried Carhayes. “That nigger has got the laugh of us now.”“He’s a plucky dog,” said another. “If any fellow deserved to escape he did. Four hundred yards and a score of us blazing away at him at once! Well, well!”“I’ve known that sort of thing happen more than once,” said Shelton, the leader of the party, an experienced frontiersman who had served in two previous wars. “Same thing in buck shooting. You’ll see a score of fellows all blazing at the same buck, cutting up the dust all round him till you can hardly see the poor beast, and yet not touching him. That’s because they’re excited, and shooting jealous. Now with one or two cool shots lying up and taking their time, the buck wouldn’t have a ghost of a show—any more than would those two Kafirs have had. But we’d better get on, boys. We’ll off-saddle further ahead, and then our horses will be fresh for whatever may turn up. It’s my opinion there are more of those chaps hanging about.”Chapter Eighteen.The Tables Turned.Eager at the prospect of a brush, their appetites for which had been whetted by what had just occurred, they resumed their way in the best of spirits, and at length fixing upon a suitable spot the party off-saddled for breakfast.“We ought to fall in with a patrol of Brathwaite’s Horse lower down,” remarked a man, stirring the contents of a three-legged cooking-pot with a wooden spoon. “Then we should be strong enough to take the bush for it and pepper Jack Kafir handsomely.”“If we can find him,” rejoined another with a loud guffaw. “Hallo! Who’s this?”A dark form appeared in the hollow beneath. Immediately every man had seized his rifle, and the moment was a perilous one for the new arrival.“Hold hard! Don’t fire!” cried Shelton. “It’s only a single Kafir. Let’s see what the fellow wants.” And lowering their weapons they awaited the approach of a rather sulky looking native, who drew near with a suspicious and apprehensive expression of countenance.“Who are you and where do you come from?” asked Shelton.“From down there, Baas,” replied the fellow, in fair English, jerking his thumb in the direction of a labyrinth of bushy kloofs stretching away beneath. “They have taken all my cattle—the Gcalékas have. I can show you where to find theirs.”The men looked at each other and several shook their heads incredulously.“What are you? Are you a Gcaléka?” asked Shelton.