think. I am always imagining Tom coming to frightful grief in some form or other.”The other did not at once reply. He was balancing a knife meditatively on the edge of his plate, his fine features a perfect mask of impassibility. But in reality his thoughts ran black and bitter. It was all “Tom” and “Tom.” What the deuce had Tom done to deserve all this solicitude—and how was it appreciated by its fortunate object? Not a hair’s-breadth. Then, as she rose from the table and went out on the stoep to look out for any sign of the absent one’s return, Eustace was conscious of another turn of the spear in the wound. Why had he arrived on the scene of the fray that morning just in time to intervene? suggested his evil angel. The delay of a few minutes, and...“Would it do anything towards persuading you to adopt the more prudent course and leave here for a while, if I were to tell you that Josane was urging that very thing this morning?” said Eustace when she returned. The said Josane was a grizzled old Kafir who held the post of cattle-herd under the two cousins. He was a Gcaléka, and had fled from Kreli’s country some years previously, thereby narrowly escaping one of the varied and horrible forms of death by torture habitually meted out to those accused of his hypothetical offence—for he had been “smelt out” by a witch-doctor. He was therefore not likely to throw in his lot with his own countrymen against his white protectors, by whom he was looked upon as an intelligent and thoroughly trustworthy man, which indeed he was.“I don’t think it would,” she answered with a deprecatory smile. “I should be ten times more nervous if I were right away, and, as I said before, I don’t believe the Kafirs would do me the slightest harm.”Eustace, though he had every reason to suppose the contrary, said nothing as he rose from the table and began to fill his pipe. He was conscious of a wild thrill of delight at her steadfast refusal. What would life be worth here without that presence? Well, come what might, no harm should fall upon her, of that he made mental oath.Eanswyth, having superintended the clearing of the table by the two
“Where our hearts first met—there they meet again. Look up, my sweet one. I am here.”She does look up. In the red and boding glare of those ominous war-fires she sees him as she saw him that night. She springs to her feet— and a loud and thrilling cry goes forth upon the darkness.“Eustace—Eustace! Oh, my love! Spirit or flesh—you shall not leave me! At last—at last!”Chapter Thirty Four.From Death and—to Death.She realised it at length—realised that this was no visitant from the spirit-world conjured up in answer to her impassioned prayer, but her lover himself, alive and unharmed. She had thrown herself upon his breast, and clung to him with all her strength, sobbing passionately— clung to him as if even then afraid that he might vanish as suddenly as he had appeared.“My love, my love,” he murmured in that low magnetic tone which she knew so well, and which thrilled her to the heart’s core. “Calm those poor nerves, my darling, and rest on the sweetness of our meeting. We met—our hearts met first on this very spot. Now they meet once more, never again to part.”Still her feeling was too strong for words; she could only cling to him in silence, while he covered her face and soft hair with kisses. A moment ago she was mourning him as dead, was burying her heart in his unknown and far-away grave, and lo, as by magic, he stood before her, and she was safe in his embrace. A moment ago life was one long vista of blank, agonising grief; now the joys of heaven itself might pale before the unutterable bliss of this meeting.Unlawful or not as their love might be, there was something solemn, almost sacred, in its intense reality. The myriad eyes of heaven lookeddown from the dark vault above, and the sullen redness of the war-fires flashing from the distant heights shed a dull, threatening glow upon those two, standing there locked in each other’s embrace. Then once more the wild, weird war-cry of the savage hosts swelled forth upon the night. It was an awesome and fearful background to this picture of renewed life and bliss.Such a reunion can best be left to the imagination, for it will bear no detailment.“Why did you draw my very heart out of me like this, Eustace, my life?” she said at last, raising her head. “When they told me you were dead I knew it would not be long before I joined you. I could not have endured this living death much longer.”There were those who pronounced Eanswyth Carhayes to be the most beautiful woman they had ever beheld—who had started with amazement at such an apparition on an out-of-the-way Kaffrarian farm. A grand creature, they declared, but a trifle too cold. They would have marvelled that they had ever passed such a verdict could they but have seen her now, her splendid eyes burning into those of her lover in the starlight as she went on:“You are longing to ask what I am doing here in this place all alone and at such a time. This. I came here as to a sanctuary: a sacred spot which enshrined all the dearest memories of you. Here in silence and in solitude I could conjure up visions of you—could see you walking beside me as on that last day we spent together. Here I could kneel and kiss the floor, the very earth which your feet had trod; and—O Eustace, my very life, it was a riven and a shattered heart I offered up daily—hourly—at the shrine of your dear memory.”Her tones thrilled upon his ear. Never had life held such a delirious, intoxicating moment. To the cool, philosophical, strong-nerved man it seemed as if his very senses were slipping away from him under the thrilling love-tones of this stately, beautiful creature nestling within his arms. Again their lips met—met as they had met that first time—met as if they were never again to part.
“Inkose!”The sudden sonorous interruption caused Eanswyth to start as if she had been shot, and well it might. Her lover, however, had passed through too many strange and stirring experiences of late to be otherwise than slightly and momentarily disconcerted.A dark figure stood at the lowest step of the stoep, one hand raised in the air, after the dignified and graceful manner of native salutation.“Greeting, Josane,” he replied.“Now do mine eyes behold a goodly sight,” went on the old Kafir with animation, speaking in the pleasing figurative hyperbole of his race. “My father and friend is safe home once more. We have mourned him as dead and he is alive again. He has returned to gladden our hearts and delight our eyes. It is good—it is good.”“How did you know I had returned, Josane?”Had there been light enough they would have detected the most whimsical smile come over the old Kafir’s face as he replied:“Am I not the Inkosikazi’s watch-dog? What sort of a watch-dog is it that permits a footstep to approach from outside without his knowledge?”“You are, indeed, a man, Josane—a man among men, and trust to those who trust you,” replied Eustace, in that tone of thorough friendship and regard which had enabled him to win so effectually the confidence of the natives.The old cattle-herd’s face beamed with gratification, which, however, was quickly dashed with anxiety.“Look yonder,” he said. “There is trouble in the Gaika location to-night. Take the Inkosikazi and leave—this very night. I know what I say.” Then, marking the other’s hesitation, “I know what I say,” he repeated impressively. “Am I not the Inkosikazi’s watch-dog? Am I not her eyes and ears? Even now there is one approaching from Nteya’s kraal.”He had struck a listening attitude. Eustace, his recent experiences fresh in his mind, felt depressed and anxious, gazing expectantly into the darkness, his hand upon the butt of his revolver.“Halt! Who comes there?” he cried in the Xosa tongue.“A friend, Ixeshane!” came the prompt reply, as a dark form stepped into view.Now that life was worth living again, Eanswyth felt all her old apprehensions return; but she had every confidence in her lover’s judgment and the fidelity of her trusted old retainer.“Hau, Ixeshane! You are here; it is good,” said the new arrival in the most matter-of-fact way, as though he were not wondering to distraction how it was that the man who had been reported slain in the Bomvana country by the hostile Gcalékas, should be standing there alive and well before him. “I am here to warn the Inkosikazi. She must leave, and at once. The fire-tongues of the Amaxosa are speaking to each other; the war-cry of the Ama Ngqika is cleaving the night.”“We have seen and heard that before, Ncanduku,” answered Eustace, recognising the new arrival at once. “Yet your people would not harm us. Are we not friends?”The Kafir shook his head.“Who can be called friends in war-time?” he said. “There are strangers in our midst—strangers from another land. Who can answer for them? I am Ncanduku, the brother of Nteya. The chief will not have his friends harmed at the hands of strangers. But they must go. Look yonder, and lose no time. Get your horses and take the Inkosikazi, and leave at once, for the Ama Ngqika have responded to the call of their brethren and the Paramount Chief, and have risen to arms. The land is dead.”There was no need to follow the direction of the Kafir’s indication. A dull, red glare, some distance off, shone forth upon the night; then another and another. Signal fires? No. These shone from no prominentheight, but from the plain itself. Then Eustace took in the situation in a moment. The savages were beginning to fire the deserted homesteads of the settlers.“Inspan the buggy quickly, Josane,” he said. “And, Ncandúku, come inside for a moment. I will find basela (Best rendered by the familiar term ‘backshish’) for you and Nteya.” But the voice which had conveyed such timely warning responded not. The messenger had disappeared.The whole condition of affairs was patent to Eustace’s mind. Nteya, though a chief whose status was not far inferior to that of Sandili himself, was not all-powerful. Those of his tribesmen who came from a distance, and were not of his own clan, would be slow to give implicit obedience to his “word,” their instincts for slaughter and pillage once fairly let loose, and so he had sent to warn Eanswyth. Besides, it was probable that there were Gcalékas among them. Ncanduku’s words, “strangers from another land,” seemed to point that way. He put it to Josane while harnessing the horses. The old man emitted a dry laugh.“There are about six hundred of the Gcaléka fighting men in Nteya’s location to-night,” he replied. “Every farmhouse in the land will be burned before the morning. Whau, Ixeshane! Is there any time to lose now?”Eustace realised that assuredly there was not. But inspanning a pair of horses was, to his experienced hand, the work of a very few minutes indeed.“Who is their chief?” he asked, tugging at the last strap. “Sigcau?”“No. Ukiva.”An involuntary exclamation of concern escaped Eustace. For the chief named had evinced a marked hostility towards himself during his recent captivity; indeed, this man’s influence had more than once almost turned the scale in favour of his death. No wonder he felt anxious.Eanswyth had gone into the house to put a few things together, having, with an effort, overcome her reluctance to let him out of her sight
during the few minutes required for inspanning. Now she reappeared. “I am ready, Eustace,” she said.He helped her to her seat and was beside her in a moment.“Let go, Josane!” he cried. And the Kafir, standing away from the horses’ heads, uttered a sonorous farewell.“What will become of him, dear?” said Eanswyth, as they started off at a brisk pace.“He is going to stay here and try and save the house. I’m afraid he won’t be able to, though. They are bound to burn it along with the others. And now take the reins a moment, dearest. I left my horse hitched up somewhere here, because I wanted to come upon you unawares. I’ll just take off the saddle and tie it on behind.”“But what about the horse? Why not take him with us?”“Josane will look after him. I won’t take him along now, because— well, it’s just on the cards we might have to make a push for it, and a led horse is a nuisance. Ah—there he is,” as a low whinnying was heard on their left front and duly responded to by the pair in harness.In less than two minutes he had the saddle secured at the back of the buggy and was beside her again. It is to be feared Eustace drove very badly that night. Had the inquiry been made, candour would have compelled him to admit that he had never driven so badly in his life.Eanswyth, for her part, was quite overcome with the thrilling, intoxicating happiness of the hour. But what an hour! They were fleeing through the night—fleeing for their lives—their way lighted by the terrible signal beacons of the savage foe—by the glare of flaming homesteads fired by his ravaging and vengeful hand. But then, he who was dead is alive again, and is beside her—they two fleeing together through the night.“Darling,” she whispered at last, nestling up closer to him. “Why did they try to kill me by telling me you were dead?”“They had every reason to suppose so. Now, what do you think stood between me and certain death?”“What?”“Your love—not once, but twice. The silver box. See. Here it is, where it has ever been—over my heart. Twice it turned the point of the assegai.”“Eustace!”“It is as I say. Your love preserved me for yourself.”“Oh, my darling, surely then it cannot be so wicked—so unlawful!” she exclaimed with a quiver in her voice.“I never believed it could,” he replied.Up till then, poor Tom’s name had not been mentioned. Both seemed to avoid allusion to it. Now, however, that Eustace had to narrate his adventures and escape, it could not well be avoided. But in describing the strange impromptu duel between the Gcaléka warrior and his unfortunate cousin, he purposely omitted any reference to the latter’s probable hideous fate, leaving Eanswyth to suppose he had been slain then and there. It was impossible that she should have been otherwise than deeply moved.“He died fighting bravely, at any rate,” she said at last.“Yes. Want of courage was never one of poor Tom’s failings. All the time we were out he was keener on a fight than all the rest of the command put together.”There was silence after this. Then at last:“How did you escape, Eustace, my darling? You have not told me.”“Through paying ransom to that same Hlangani and paying pretty
stiffly too. Four hundred and fifty head of good cattle was the figure. Such a haggle as it was, too. It would have been impolitic to agree too quickly. Then, I had to square this witch-doctress, and I daresay old Kreli himself will come in for some of the pickings. From motives of policy we had to carry out the escape as if it was a genuine escape and not a put-up job— but they managed it all right—took me across the river on some pretext or other and then gave me the opportunity of leg-bail. As soon as the war is over Hlangani will come down on me for the cattle.”“How did you know I was back at Anta’s Kloof, dearest? Did the Hostes tell you?” said Eanswyth at last.“No. I met that one-eyed fellow Tomkins just outside Komgha. I only waited while he called up two or three more to back his statement and then started off here as hard as ever I could send my nag over the ground.”The journey was about half accomplished. The buggy bowled merrily along—and its occupants—alone together in the warm balmy southern night—began to wish the settlement was even further off. They were ascending a long rise.“Hallo, what’s up?” exclaimed Eustace suddenly, whipping up his horses, which he had been allowing to walk up the hill.The brow of the hill was of some altitude and commanded a considerable view of the surrounding country. But the whole of the latter was lit up by a dull and lurid glow. At intervals apart burned what looked like several huge and distant bonfires.“They mean business this time,” said Eustace, reining in a moment to breathe his horses on the brow of the rise. “Look. There goes Hoste’s place. That’s Bradfield’s over there—and beyond that must be Oesthuisen’s. Look at them all blazing merrily; and—by jingo—there goes Draaibosch!”Far and wide for many a mile the country was aglow with blazing homesteads. Evidently it was the result of preconcerted action on the part
of the savages. The wild yelling chorus of the barbarous incendiaries, executing their fierce war-dances around their work of destruction, was borne distinctly upon the night.“The sooner we get into Komgha the better now,” he went on, sending the buggy spinning down the long declivity which lay in front. At the bottom of this the road was intersected by a dry water course, fringed with bush; otherwise the veldt was for the most part open, dotted with straggling clumps of mimosa.Down went the buggy into the dry sandy drift. Suddenly the horses shied violently, then stopped short with a jerk which nearly upset the vehicle. A dark firm, springing panther-like, apparently from the ground, had seized the reins.Instinctively Eustace recognised that this was no time for parleying. Quick as thought he drew his revolver and fired. The assailant relaxed his hold, staggered, spun round, then fell heavily to the earth. The horses, thus released, tore wildly onward, mad with terror.A roar and a red, sheeting flash split the darkness behind. The missiles hummed overhead, one of them tearing a hole in the wide brim of Eanswyth’s hat. This aroused all the demon in the blood of her companion. Standing up in his seat, regardless of prudence, he pointed his revolver at the black onrushing mass discernible in the starlight, and fired three shots in rapid succession. A horrible, shrill, piercing scream, showed that they had told with widespread and deadly effect.“Ha! Bulala abelúngu!” (Death to the whites) howled the exasperated barbarians. And dropping flat on the ground they poured another volley into the retiring vehicle.But the latter had gained some distance now. The horses, panic-stricken and well-nigh unmanageable, were tearing up the hill on the other side of the drift, and it was all their driver could do in the darkness to keep them in the track. The buggy swayed fearfully, and twice catching a wheel in an ant-heap was within an ace of turning over.The keen, biting sarcasm told. The group, which mainly consisted of the low element, actually did begin to look a trifle ashamed of itself. The better element composing it gave way and took itself off, as Eustace deliberately walked his horse up to the fallen native. There were a few muttered jeers about “the nigger’s friend” and getting into the Assembly on the strength of “blanket votes,” (The native franchise, derisively so termed) and so forth, but none offered any active opposition except one, however, and that was the man who had originated the disturbance.“Look here,” he shouted savagely. “I don’t know who you are and I don’t care. But if you don’t take yourself off out of this mighty quick, I’ll just about knock you into a jelly; you see if I don’t.”“Ja, that’s right. Serve him as you did the nigger!” yelled the bystanders, a lot of rowdy hobbledehoys and a contingent of town loafers whom the prospect of an easy-going, devil-may-care life in the veldt had drawn from the more sober avocations of bricklaying and waggon-building within the Colony, and who, it may be added, distinguished themselves at the seat of hostilities by such a line of drunken mutinous insubordination as rendered them an occasion of perennial detestation and disgust to their respective commanders. These now closed up around their bullying, swash-bucklering champion, relieving their ardently martial spirits by hooting and cat’s calls. It was only one man against a crowd. They felt perfectly safe.“Who sold his mate to the blanked niggers!” they yelled. “Ought to be tarred and feathered. Come on, boys; let’s do it. Who’s for tarring and feathering the Kafir spy?”All cordially welcomed this spicy proposal, but curiously enough, no one appeared anxious to begin, for they still kept some paces behind the original aggressor. That worthy, however, seemed to have plenty of fight in him, for he advanced upon Eustace unhesitatingly.“Come now. Are you going to clear?” he shouted. “You’re not? All right. I’ll soon make you.”A stirrup-iron, wielded by a clever hand, is a terribly formidable
weapon. Backing his horse a pace or two Eustace wrenched loose his stirrup. Quick as lightning, it whirled in the air, and as his assailant sprang wildly at him down it came. The aggressive bully went to earth like a felled ox.“Any more takers for the tar-and-feather line of business?” said Eustace quietly, but with the light of battle in his eyes.The insulting jeers and the hooting still continued. But no one advanced. No one seemed anxious to tackle that particularly resolute looking horseman.“Get out of this, you cowardly skunks!” sung out a voice behind him, which voice proceeded from another horseman, who had ridden up unseen during the émeute. “Twenty to one! Faugh! For two pins we’ll sjambok the lot of you.”“Hallo, Errington! Where have you dropped from? Thought you were away down in the Colony,” said Eustace, turning to the new arrival, a fine soldierly looking man of about his own age, in whom he recognised a former Field-Captain in Brathwaite’s Horse. The crowd had already begun to melt away before this new accession of force.“Yer—send yer winder to be cleaned! Stick it in yer breeches pocket!” were some of the witticisms yelled back by the retreating rowdies, in allusion to the eye-glass worn by the newcomer.“By jove, Milne. You seem to have been in the wars,” said the latter looking from one to the other of the injured parties. “What’s the row, eh?”“It speaks for itself. Nothing much, though. I’ve only been reminding our valiant friends there that fair play is a jewel even when its only a Kafir that’s concerned.”—“Which unsavoury Ethiop seems to have been knocked about a bit, however,” rejoined the other, sticking his glass into his eye to examine the fallen native.The Kafir, who had raised himself to a sitting posture, was now staring stupidly about him as though half dazed. Blood was issuing fromhis nose and mouth, and one of his eyes was completely closed up. His assailants had all slunk away by now, the arrival upon the scene of this unwelcome ally having turned the scale against any plan they might have entertained of showing further unpleasantness toward the solitary intervener.Some three or four of the Gaika’s countrymen, who had held aloof, now came up to the assistance of their friend. These gave their version of the story. Eustace listened attentively.“It was a foolish thing to make any remark at such a time and in such a place,” he said. “It was sure to provoke strife. Go and get him a tot of grog,” throwing them a sixpence, “and then you’d better get away home.”“I tell you what it is, Milne,” said Errington in a low tone. “I know that fellow you floored so neatly. He’s one of the best bruisers in the country, and I’m afraid you haven’t seen the last of him. You’d better keep a bright lookout as long as you’re in this part. He’s bound to play you some dog’s trick at the earliest opportunity.”“Is he? Well I must try and be ready for him. I suppose now we must bring the poor devil round, eh? He seems about stunned.”Errington had a flask in his pocket. Dismounting he raised the fallen man’s head and poured some of the contents into his mouth.The fellow revived—gradually, stupidly. He had received a bad blow, which only a thick slouch hat and a thicker skull had saved from being a worse one.“Who the hell are you?” he growled surlily, as he sat up. “Oh, I know you,” he went on as his glance lit upon Eustace. “All right, my fine feller, wait a bit, till I’m all right again. You’ll be sorry yet for that damned coward’s whack you’ve given me. See if you’re not.”“You brought it upon yourself. Why did you try and rush me?”“I didn’t rush you with a stirrup-iron, did I?”
“No. But see here. If I’m attacked I’m not going to leave the choice of my means of defence to the enemy. Not much. How would that pan out for an idea in fighting old Kreli, for instance?”“Of course,” struck in Errington. “That’s sound sense, and you know it is, Jackson. You and Milne have had a bit of a scrimmage and you’ve got the worst of it. It might easily have been the other way. So don’t let us have any grudge-bearing over it. Take another drink, man,” pouring out a liberal modicum of whiskey into the cup of the flask, “and shake hands and make it up.”The man, who was not a bad fellow at bottom, gave a growl as he tossed off the tendered potion. Then he held out his hand to Eustace.“Well, Mister, I don’t bear no grudge. If you’ll jest say you’re sorry you hit me—”“I’ll say that with pleasure, Jackson,” replied Eustace, as they shook hands. “And look here, if you still feel a bit groggy on your pins, jump on my horse and ride home. I’ll walk.”“No, thanks. I’m all right now. Besides I ain’t going your way. My waggon’s outspanned yonder on the flat. Good-night.”“I stand very much indebted to you, Errington, for two services rendered,” said Eustace as they rode towards the township. “And I’m not sure that the last isn’t by far the most important.”“Pooh! not at all, my dear fellow. That howling rabble wouldn’t have come within twenty yards of you.”“I don’t know about that. The vagabonds were rather beginning to realise that twenty to one meant long odds in favour of the twenty, when you came up. But the deft way in which you smoothed down our friend with the broken head was diplomatic to a degree. I hate rows, and the knowledge that some fellow is going about day and night seeking an opportunity of fastening a quarrel upon you unawares is tiresome. Besides, I’m nothing of a boxer, and if I were should hate a shindy just asmuch.”“I quite agree with you,” said the other, who was something of a boxer. “To form the centre of attraction to a howling, yahooing rabble, making an undignified exhibition of yourself bashing and being bashed by some other fellow like a couple of butcher’s boys in the gutter, is bound to be a revolting process whichever way you look at it. Even the law of the pistol seems to be an improvement on it.”“I think so, too. It puts men on better terms of equality. Any man may become a dead shot and a quick drawer, but not one man in ten can fulfil all the conditions requisite to becoming a good boxer. The fact is, however, I hate rows of any kind, even when only a spectator. When fellows say they like them I never altogether believe them.”“Unless they are very young. But the Berserk taint soon wears off as you get on into life a bit,” said Errington.“Well now—I turn off here. Good-evening.”Chapter Thirty Seven.“It is the Voice of an Oracle.”Swaanepoel’s Hoek, poor Tom Carhayes’ other farm, was situated in the division of Somerset East, somewhere between the Great and Little Fish Rivers. It was rather an out-of-the-way place, lying in a mountainous district, sparsely inhabited and only reached by rough wheel-tracks through narrow, winding poorts. But the scenery was wild and romantic to a degree. The bold sweep of bush-grown slopes, the lofty heights culminating in red iron-bound krantzes whose inaccessible hedges afforded nesting place for colonies of aasvogels, the thunder of the mountain torrent pent-up between black rocky walls where the maiden-hair fern hung in solid festoons from every crack and cranny, the cheerful and abundant sounds of bird and animal life—all this rendered the place a wonderfully pleasant and attractive, if somewhat out-of-the-way, residence.