away.” 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
entertained of their escape. In fact, their fate was placed beyond the shadow of a doubt, for the Rangers had proceeded straight to the scene of the conflict, and though they did not discover the bodies—which the jackals and other wild animals might have accounted for meanwhile— they found the spots, not very far apart, where both men had been slain, and in or near the great patches of dried-up blood were fragments of the unfortunate men’s clothing and other articles, including a new and patent kind of spur known to have belonged to Milne.This was better. The killed had been reduced from four to two, the number of widows from three to one. Still, it was sufficiently terrible. Both men had lived in their midst—one for many years, the other for a shorter time—and were more or less well-known to all. This time the news was genuine, for three of the Rangers themselves had ridden in with all particulars. The sensation created was tremendous. Everybody had something to say.“Tell you what it is, boys,” a weather-beaten, grizzled old farmer was saying—haranguing a gathering of idlers on the stoep of the hotel. “There’s always something of that sort happens every war. Fellers get so darn careless. They think because Jack Kafir funks sixty men he’s in just as big a funk of six. But he ain’t. They reckon, too, that because they can’t see no Kafirs that there ain’t no Kafirs to see. Jest as if they weren’t bein’ watched every blessed step they take. No, if you go out in a big party to find Jack Kafir you won’t find him, but if you go out in a small one, he’ll be dead sure to find you. You may jest bet drinks all round on that. Hey? Did you say you’d take me, Bill?” broke off the old fellow with a twinkle in his eye as he caught that of a crony in the group.“Haw, haw! No, I didn’t, but I will though. Put a name to it, old Baas.”“Well, I’ll call it ‘French.’ Three star for choice.”The liquid was duly brought and the old fellow, having disposed of two-thirds at a gulp, resumed his disquisition.“It’s this way,” he went on. “I’m as certain of it as if I’d seen it. Them oxen were nothin’ more or less than a trap. The Kafirs had been watchingthe poor devils all along and jest sent the oxen as a bait to draw them across the river. It’s jest what might have been expected, but I’m surprised they hadn’t more sense than to be took so easily. Hoste and Payne especially—not being a couple of Britishers—”“Here, I say, governor—stow all that for a yarn,” growled one of a brace of fresh-faced young Police troopers, who were consuming a modest “split” at a table and resented what they thought was an imputation.“Well, I don’t mean no offence,” returned the old fellow testily. “I only mean that Britishers ain’t got the experience us Colonial chaps has, and ’ll go runnin’ their heads into a trap where we should know better.”“All the more credit to their pluck,” interrupted another patriotically disposed individual.“Oh, shut up, Smith. Who the deuce is saying anything against their pluck?” cried someone else.“Well, I’m sure I wasn’t,” went on the original speaker. “Tom Carhayes, now, is as plucky a fellow as ever lived—was, rather—and—”“You don’t call Tom Carhayes a Britisher, do you?” objected another man.“Yes, I do. At least, perhaps not altogether. He’s been here a good number of years now and got into our ways. Still, I remember when he first came out. And Milne only came out the other day.”“Well, Milne’s ‘blanket friends’ have paid him off in a coin he didn’t bargain for. Wonder what he thinks of ’em now—if he can think,” said someone, with an ill-natured sneer—for Eustace, like most men with any character in them, was not beloved by everybody.“Ah, poor chap,” went on the old man. “Milne was rather too fond of the Kafirs and Carhayes was a sight too much down on ’em. And now the Kafirs have done for them both, without fear, favour, or—”
“Tsh—tsh—tsh! Shut up, man alive, shut up!”This was said in a low, warning whisper, and the speaker’s sleeve was violently plucked.“Eh? What’s the row?” he asked, turning in amazement.“Why, that’s her!” was the reply, more earnest than grammatical.“Her? Who?”“His wife, of course.”A Cape cart was driving by, containing two ladies and two young girls. Of the former one was Mrs Hoste, the other Eanswyth. As they passed quite close to the speakers, Eanswyth turned her head with a bow and a smile to someone standing in front of the hotel. A dead, awkward silence fell upon the group of talkers.“I say. She didn’t hear, did she?” stage-whispered the old man eagerly, when the trap had gone by.“She didn’t look much as though she had—poor thing!” said another whom the serene, radiant happiness shining in that sweet face had not escaped.“Poor thing, indeed,” was the reply. “She ought to be told, though. But I wouldn’t be the man to do it, no—not for fifty pounds. Why, they say she can hardly eat or sleep since she heard Tom Carhayes was coming back, she’s so pleased. And now, poor Tom—where is he? Lying out there hacked into Kafir mince-meat.” And the speaker, jerking his hand in the direction of the Transkei, stalked solemnly down the steps of the stoep, heaving a prodigious sigh.Chapter Twenty Five.“The Curse has come upon me...”The party in the Cape cart were returning from a drive out to Draaibosch, a roadside inn and canteen some ten or a dozen miles along the King Williamstown road. Two troops of Horse, one of them Brathwaite’s, were encamped there the night before on their way homeward, and a goodly collection of their friends and well-wishers had driven or ridden over to see them start.It was a lovely day, and the scene had been lively enough as the combined troops—numbering upwards of two hundred horsemen, bronzed and war-worn, but “fit” and in the highest of spirits, had struck their camp and filed off upon their homeward way, cheering and being cheered enthusiastically by the lines of spectators. An enthusiasm, however, in no wise shared by groups of Hlambi and Gaika Kafirs from Ndimba’s or Sandili’s locations, who, in all the savagery of their red paint and blankets, hung around the door of the canteen with scowling sneers upon their faces, the while bandying among themselves many a deep-toned remark not exactly expressive of amity or affection towards their white brethren. But for this the latter cared not a jot.“Hey, Johnny!” sang out a trooper, holding out a bundle of assegais towards one of the aforesaid groups as he rode past, “see these? I took ’em from one of Kreli’s chaps, up yonder. Plugged him through with a couple of bullets first.”“Haw! haw!” guffawed another. “You fellows had better behave yourselves or we shall be coming to look you up next. Tell old Sandili that, with our love. Ta-ta, Johnny. So long!”It was poor wit, and those at whom it was directed appreciated it at its proper value. The scowl deepened upon that cloud of dark faces, and a mutter of contempt and defiance rose from more than one throat. Yet in the bottom of their hearts the savages entertained a sufficiently wholesome respect for those hardened, war-worn sharpshooters.Handkerchiefs waved and hats were flourished in the air, and amid uproarious and deafening cheers the mounted corps paced forth, Brathwaite’s Horse leading. And over and above the clamour and tumult of the voices and the shouting. Jack Armitage’s bugle might be heard,
wildly emitting a shrill and discordant melody, which common consent, amid roars of laughter, pronounced to be a cross between the National Anthem and “Vat you goed an trek Ferreia.” (A popular old Boer song.)Into the fun and frolic of the occasion Eanswyth entered with zest. She had laughed until she nearly cried over the hundred-and-one comic little incidents inseparable from this scene of universal jollity. Even the boldest flights of wit attempted during the multifold and promiscuous good-byes interchanged had moved her mirth. But it was the light, effervescing, uncontrollable laughter of the heart.The genial, careless jests of the light-hearted crowd, the good humour on every face, found its echo in her. In the unclouded blue of the heavens, the golden sunlit air, there seemed a vibrating chord of joyous melody, a poetry in the sweeping plains, even in the red lines of ochre-smeared savages filing along the narrow tracks leading to or from their respective locations. Her heart sang within her as once more the horses’ heads were turned homeward. Any hour now might bring him. Why, by the time they reached home he might have arrived, or at any rate an express hurried on in advance to announce the arrival of the corps by nightfall.“Rangers arrived?” repeated in reply to Mrs Hoste’s eager question, one of two acquaintances whom they met upon the road when within a mile of the village. “N-no, not yet. They can’t be far off, though. Three or four of their men have come in—Shelton among them.”“Oh, thanks, so much!” cried both the ladies, apparently equally eager. “We had better get on as soon as we can. Good-day.”In the fullness of her joy, the clouded expression and hesitating speech accompanying the information had quite escaped Eanswyth—nor had it struck her friend either. Then laughing and chatting in the highest of spirits, they had driven past the conversing groups upon the stoep of the hotel, as we have seen.The trap had been outspanned, and the horses turned loose into the veldt. The household were about to sit down to dinner. Suddenly thedoorway was darkened and a head was thrust in—a black and dusty head, surmounted by the remnant of a ragged hat.“Morrow, missis!” said the owner of this get-up, holding out a scrap of paper folded into a note. Mrs Hoste opened it carelessly—then a sort of gasp escaped her, and her face grew white.“Where—where is your Baas!” she stammered.“La pa,” replied the native boy, pointing down the street.Flurried, and hardly knowing what she was about, Mrs Hoste started to follow the messenger. Eanswyth had gone to her room to remove her hat, fortunately.“Oh, Mr Shelton—is it true?” she cried breathlessly, coming right upon the sender of the missive, who was waiting at no great distance from the house. “Is it really true? Can it be? What awful news! Oh, it will kill her! What shall we do?”“Try and be calm, Mrs Hoste,” said Shelton gravely. “There is no doubt about its truth, I am sorry to say. It is fortunate you had not heard the first report of the affair which arrived here. All four of them were rumoured killed, I’m told. But—No, don’t be alarmed,” he added, hastily interrupting an impending outburst. “Your husband is quite safe, and will be here this evening. But poor Tom is killed—not a doubt about it—Milne too. And, now, will you break it to Mrs Carhayes? It must be done, you know. She may hear it by accident any moment; the whole place is talking about it, and just think what a shock that will be.”“Oh, I can’t. Don’t ask me. It will kill her.”“But, my dear lady, it must be done,” urged Shelton. “It is a most painful and heart-breaking necessity—but it is a necessity.”“Come and help me through with it, Mr Shelton,” pleaded Mrs Hoste piteously. “I shall never manage it alone.”Shelton was in a quandary. He knew Eanswyth fairly well, but he
was by nature a retiring man, a trifle shy even, and to find himself saddled with so delicate and painful a task as the breaking of this news to her, was simply appalling. He was a well-to-do man, with a wife and family of his own, yet it is to be feared that during the three dozen paces which it took them to reach the front door, he almost wished he could change places with poor Tom Carhayes.He wished so altogether as they gained the stoep. For in the doorway stood a tall figure—erect, rigid as a post—with face of a ghastly white, lips livid and trembling.“What does this mean?” gasped Eanswyth. “What ‘bad news’ is it? Please tell me. I can bear it.”She was holding out a scrap of pencilled paper, Shelton’s open note, which Mrs Hoste, in her flurry and horror, had dropped as she went out. It only contained a couple of lines:Dear Mrs Hoste:There is very bad news to tell, which regards Mrs Carhayes. Please follow the bearer at once.Yours truly, Henry Shelton.“Quick—what is it—the ‘bad news’? I can bear it—Quick—you are killing me,” gasped Eanswyth, speaking now in a dry whisper.One look at his accomplice convinced Shelton that he would have to take the whole matter into his own hands.“Try and be brave, Mrs Carhayes,” he said gravely. “It concerns your husband.”“Is he—is he—is it the worst!” she managed to get out.“It is the worst,” he answered simply, deeming it best to get it over as soon as possible.
For a minute he seemed to have reason to congratulate himself on this idea. The rigid stony horror depicted on her features relaxed, giving way to a dazed, bewildered expression, as though she had borne the first brunt of the shock, and was calming down.“Tell me!” she gasped at length. “How was it? When? Where?”“It was across the Bashi. They were cut off by the Kafirs, and killed.”“‘They’? Who—who else?”Shelton wished the friendly earth would open beneath his feet then and there.“Mrs Carhayes, pray be calm,” he said unsteadily. “You have heard the worst, remember—the worst, but not all. You cousin shared poor Tom’s fate.”“Eustace?”The word was framed, rather than uttered, by those livid and bloodless lips. Yet the listener caught it and bent his head in assent.She did not cry out; she did not swoon. Yet those who beheld her almost wished she had done both—anything rather than take the blow as she was doing. She stood there in the doorway—her tall form seeming to tower above them—her large eyes sparkling forth from her livid and bloodless countenance—and the awful and set expression of despair imprinted therein was such as the two who witnessed it prayed they might never behold on human countenance again.She had heard the worst—the worst, but not all—her informant had said. Had she? The mockery of it! The first news was terrible; the second —death; black, hopeless, living death. Had heard the worst! Ah, the mockery of it! And as these reflections sank into her dazed brain—driven in, as it were, one after another by the dull blows of a hammer, her lips even shaped the ghost of a smile. Ah, the irony of it!Still she did not faint. She stood there in the doorway, curdling theants are hungry!”A noosed reim was thrown round the doomed man’s neck, and another made fast to each of his wrists, and thus, with the whole crowd surging and yelling around him, he was dragged into the adjoining forest.“Hamba-ké, umlúngu!” (“Go on, white man”) said several of the warriors guarding Eustace, motioning him to proceed. “We are going to show you a sight. Quick, or we shall be late!”By no means free from apprehension on his own account, Eustace obeyed. When they arrived among the eager and excited crowd, the entertainment had already begun. All made way for the white prisoner and his guards, and there was a fiendish leer on many a dark face which needed not a muttered remark or two to explain. The horrible scene he was about to witness was extremely likely to be his own fate.The doomed man lay spread eagled on his back; his hands and feet, stretched to their utmost tension, were fastened to stout pegs driven into the ground. Two of the Kafirs were busily anointing his naked body with a sticky compound, which was, in fact, a mixture of honey and native beer. This they smeared over him with bits of rag: ears, eyes, nose, coming in for a plentiful share. Already his flesh seemed alive with moving objects, and then the cause became apparent. The wretched man was tied down right across a huge ant’s nest, which had been broken in order to receive his body. Already the infuriated insects were making their bites felt. He was to be devoured alive by black ants.“Confess, Vudana,” cried Ngcenika. “Confess thy witchcraft and how thy ‘charms’ were obtained. The black ants bite hard. Ha!”“Confess? Ha-ha!” jeered the sufferer, his eyes blazing. “Not to thee, vulture. Not to thee, jackal. Not to thee, spawn of a Fingo dog. Ha! That is the witch-doctress of the Amagcaleka! Such a thing as that! What magic can she make? A cheat—a liar! I can die—I can die as I have lived—a man, a warrior.”“Hau! A wizard! A traitor!” vociferated the crowd. “Confess thy
witchcraft, lest we put thee to the flaming torment. The fire bites deeper than the black ants. Hau!”“I laugh at the fire,” roared the victim. “I laugh at all that you can do. The fire is but a pleasant warmth. The bite of the ants is but the softest tickling. Thou dog, Mfulini, were I free, I would whip thee round the kraal.”“Is thy bed a comfortable one, Vudana?” replied the barbarian thus apostrophised, with a sneer. And picking up a handful of the venomous insects he scattered them upon the tortured man’s face with a brutal laugh.For all his defiant fortitude the latter was undergoing agonies. The ants were swarming all over his body, crawling into his nostrils and ears, biting everywhere, eating the rims of his eyelids, his lips, his throat, and he was powerless to move a hand or foot. The spectators crowded around, mocking and jeering at him. A few minutes ago he was a man of consideration—now all pushed and fought for the front places to witness his sufferings, all heaped execrations upon him as they gloated over the horrible punishment of one who had been denounced as a wizard.“Whose magic is the greatest, Vudana—thine or mine?” jeered Ngcenika, bending over her victim until her face was close to his. But the proximity of that repulsive countenance infuriated even the helpless victim. With a roar of rage he spat full into it, vociferating:“Thou spawn of a Fingo dog! Thine hour is come. I have put my mark upon thee. Before many moons are dead thou too shalt die, and thy death shall be even as mine. I, Vudana, say it. Hear ye my words all!”“He has confessed,” shouted the crowd. “He is a wizard. He has confessed. Let him die the death!”With a yell of fury Ngcenika started back, and glared vengefully around as if inquest of some means whereby to add to the sufferer’s agony. Then she remembered that it would hardly bear adding to under the circumstances, and contented herself with a satanic laugh.Nor would it. In a short time the miserable man’s body was black with the repulsive insects. They swarmed into his ears and nostrils. His struggles became fearful, as he writhed in the excruciating torment of their poisonous bites. He foamed at the mouth. His eyeballs rolled and strained in their sockets, and he shook his head and roared like a beast. It would be impossible to exaggerate the agonies he was undergoing. His frantic struggles availed not to shake off a single one of the myriad insects swarming upon him. Already his eyes were half eaten away.It was a fiendish and appalling spectacle. The man was now raving mad. He gnashed his teeth and howled. His contortions were fearful to witness. Yet no spark of pity or compunction did the sight awaken in the ferocious hearts of the spectators, many of whom were, up to the moment of the fatal denunciation, his kindred and his friends. But since his treatment of the witch-doctress all were chary of venturing too close. Many of the superstitious barbarians had already began to look upon Ngcenika with decreased respect. Vudana, suffering as a wizard, had spat in her face, accompanying the act with a prophecy and a curse. On no consideration would they run the risk of exposing themselves to like treatment.Eustace, forced to be a spectator of this blood-curdling scene, felt his head swim with horror and disgust. The chastened gloom of the forest, the gibing crowd of armed savages, the weird shrill singing of the witch-doctress, and the frightful contortions and beast-like roars of the miserable victim, who was being literally devoured alive, made up a picture likely to haunt a man in his dreams for the rest of his life, to start him suddenly awake in a cold sweat of terror. Still he remembered that any exhibition of feeling would be in the highest degree dangerous, and controlled himself accordingly.All this had taken some time and now the frantic struggles of the sufferer had subsided. A convulsive shudder would now and then run through his limbs, and his sightless eyeballs would roll in a manner hideous to behold, and ever the disgusting insects swarmed over him in a horrible moving mass, now red with blood, and smothered beneath gouts of saliva which had flown from the maniac’s lips. Upon his violent struggles had followed exhaustion—mercifully, the exhaustion of
approaching death.“He is dying!” cried several, bending over the victim. “Hau! A man like Vudana should have taken much longer to die.”This was said in a disappointed tone. The barbarous appetite of these savages was thoroughly roused—whetted for further atrocities. A shout arose.“The white man! The white man! What shall we do with him?”Well might Eustace start, in horror and dismay. But a glance served to show that the object of attention was not himself, but somebody at the other end of the crowd, in which direction all heads were turned. Then as the crowd parted a moment he caught a glimpse of something— somebody rather—which evoked a second start, this time one of very unequivocal amazement. Could he believe his eyes?Chapter Thirty Two.A Strange Duel.In the midst of the savage throng was another white man, also a prisoner, who had been forced to assist at the barbarous scene just detailed. His lot, however, had been cast in far worse lines than that of Eustace, for his hands were tightly fastened behind his back and a reim connected his ankles in such wise that he could only take short steps— which painful fact he would every now and then forget, with the result of just so many ignominious “croppers.” Whereat his dusky tormentors would shout with gleeful laughter.In addition to his bonds the unfortunate man appeared to have undergone considerable maltreatment. His hair and beard were matted with dust and blood, and his head was rudely bandaged with rags of the filthiest description. He was clad in a greasy and tattered shirt, and trousers to match—his own clothes having been impounded by his captors. Moreover there were livid wales upon his face and hands, and such parts of his person as were visible through his ragged apparel, which showed that he had been unmercifully beaten. Well might Eustace start in amazement, absolute and unfeigned. In this pitiable object he recognised Tom Carhayes.He gazed at him speechless—as at one who has risen from the dead. If ever he could have sworn to any man’s death it would have been to that of the man before him. He had seen the assegais flash in the air and descend—had heard the dull, sickening blows of the kerries which had beaten the life out of his unfortunate cousin. Yet, here stood the latter —not exactly unhurt, but yet full of life.“Hau, Umlilwane!” said Hlangani, who was standing beside the latter —grinning hideously into his victim’s face. “You are not near enough to see well. The black ants bite—harder than the shot from your gun,” he went on, with grim meaning, beckoning to those who stood by to drag the prisoner nearer to the body of the unfortunate Vudana, which lay, raw and