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,
deference to Eanswyth’s fears, he did but seldom.“Why on earth don’t you go to the front again, Milne?” this or that friend or acquaintance would inquire. “You must find it properly slow hanging on in this hole. I know I do. Why, you could easily get a command of Fingo or Hottentot levies, or, for the matter of that, it oughtn’t to be difficult for a fellow with your record to raise a command on your own account.”“The fact is I’ve had enough of going to the front,” Eustace would reply. “When I was there I used often to wonder what business it was of mine anyway, and when the Kafirs made a prisoner of me, my first thought was that it served me devilish well right. I give you my word it was. And I tell you what it is. When a man has got up every day for nearly a month, not knowing whether he’d go to bed between his blankets that night or pinned down to a black ants’ nest, he’s in no particular hurry to go and expose himself to a repetition of the process. It tells upon the nerves, don’t you know.”“By Jove, I believe you,” replied the other. “I never knew Jack Kafir was such a cruel devil before, at least not to white men. Well, if I’d gone through what you have, I believe I’d give the front a wide berth, too. As it is, I’m off in a day or two, I hope.”“I trust you may meet with better luck,” said Eustace.One day a considerable force of mounted burghers started for the Transkei—a good typical force—hardened, seasoned frontiersmen all, well mounted, well armed; in fact, a thoroughly serviceable looking corps all round. There was the usual complement of spectators seeing them off —the usual amount of cheering and hat-waving. On the outskirts of the crowd was a sprinkling of natives, representing divers races and colours.“Au!” exclaimed a tall Gaika, as the crowd dispersed. “That will be a hard stone for Kreli to try and crush. If it was the Amapolise (Police) he could knock them to pieces with a stick. Mere boys!”“What’s that you say, Johnny?” said a hard-fisted individual, turningthreateningly upon the speaker.“Nothing. I only made a remark to my comrade,” replied the man in his own language.“Did you?” said the other walking up to the Kafir and looking him straight in the eye. “Then just keep your damned remarks to yourself, Johnny, or we shall quarrel. D’you hear?”But the Kafir never quailed, never moved. He was a tall, powerful native and carried his head grandly. The white man, though shorter, looked tough and wiry as whip cord. The crowd, which had been scattering, gathered round the pair with the celerity of a mob of London street-cads round a fallen cab-horse.“What’s the row? A cheeky nigger? Give him fits, Mister! Knock him into the middle of next week!” were some of the cries that burst from the group of angry and excited men.“I have committed no offence,” said the Kafir. “I made a remark to a comrade, saying what a fine lot of men those were.”“Oh, yes? Very likely!” shouted several ironically.“See here now. You get out of this,” said the first man. “Do you hear, get out. Don’t say another word—or—”He did not finish. Stung by a contemptuous look in the Kafir’s eyes, he dashed his fist full into his face.It was a crushing blow—but the native did not fall. Like lightning he aimed a blow at his assailant’s head with his heavy kerrie—a blow which would have shattered the skull like an egg shell. But the other threw up his arm in time, receiving nearly the full force of the blow on that member, which dropped to his side completely paralysed. Without attempting to follow up his success the savage sprang back, whirling his kerrie round his head. The crowd, taken by surprise, scattered before him.Only for a moment, though. Like a pack of hounds pressed back by a
stag at bay they gave way but to close up again. In a trice the man’s kerrie was struck from his grasp, and he was thrown down, beaten, kicked, and very roughly handled.“Tie up the schelm!”“Give him six dozen well-laid on!” “Six dozen without counting!” “Cheeky brute!” were some of the shouts that accompanied each kick and blow dealt or aimed at the prostrate Kafir, who altogether seemed to be having a pretty bad time of it.“That’s a damned shame!” exclaimed a voice behind them.All started and turned their heads, some astonished—all angry— some perhaps a little ashamed of themselves—towards the owner of the voice, a horseman who sat calmly in his saddle some twenty yards away —an expression of strong disgust upon his features.“What have you got to say to it anyhow, I’d like to know?” cried the man who had just struck the native.“What I said before—that it’s a damned shame,” replied Eustace Milne unhesitatingly.“What’s a shame, Mister?” sneered another. “That one o’ your precious black kids is getting a hidin’ for his infernal cheek?”“That it should take twenty men to give it him, and that, too, when he’s down.”“I tell you what it is, friend,” said the first speaker furiously. “It may take rather less than twenty to give you one, and that, too, when you’re up!” which sally provoked a blatant guffaw from several of the hearers.“I’m not much afraid of that,” answered Eustace tranquilly. “But now, seeing that British love of fair play has been about vindicated by a score of Englishmen kicking a prostrate Kafir, how would it be to let him get up and go?”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 formidableweapon. 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 from
his 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 as
much.”“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.
To Eanswyth Carhayes, however, this very isolation constituted an additional charm. The solemn grandeur of the soaring mountains, the hush of the seldom trodden valleys, conveyed to her mind, after the bustle and turmoil of the crowded frontier settlement, the perfection of peace. She felt that she could spend her whole life on this beautiful spot. And it was her own.She had only once before visited the place—shortly after her marriage—and then had spent but three or four days there. Its beauties had failed at that time to strike her imagination. Now it was different. All the world was a Paradise. It seemed that there was nothing left in life for her to desire.The house was a fair size, almost too large for the overseer and his family. That worthy had asked Eustace whether Mrs Carhayes would prefer that they should vacate it. There was a substantial outbuilding, used—or rather only half of it was used—as a store, and a saddle and harness room. They could make themselves perfectly snug in that, if Mrs Carhayes wished to have the house to herself.“I can answer for it: Mrs Carhayes wishes nothing of the sort,” he had replied. “In fact, we were talking over that very thing on the way down.”“Sure the children won’t disturb her, Mr Milne?”“Well, it hasn’t looked like it up till now. Those youngsters of yours don’t seem particularly obstreperous, Bentley, and Mrs Carhayes appears rather to have taken a fancy to them than otherwise.”“If there’s a kind sweet lady in this world, Mr Milne, it’s Mrs Carhayes,” said the overseer earnestly. “I know the wife’ll make her right comfortable while she’s here. She’ll save her all bother over housekeeping or anything of that sort. Excuse the question, but is she likely to be making a long stay?”“I shouldn’t wonder. You see, there’s nowhere else for her to go, and the quiet of this place suits her after all she has gone through. And sheHoste—who, with other of his neighbours, was occupied with the armed tending of his stock in laager—was growing daily more restless and discontented. It was cruelly rough on him, he declared, to be pinned down like that. He wanted to go and have his share of the fun. The war might be brought to an end any day, and he would have seen nothing of it. He would try and make some satisfactory arrangement and then get away to the front at once, he vowed. In which resolution he met with but lukewarm encouragement from his wife.“You should just see the yarn that friend of Payne’s wrote him about the fight at Kreli’s kraal, Ada,” he remarked one day, having just ridden in. “He says it was the greatest sport he ever had. Eh, Payne?”That worthy, who had accompanied him, nodded oracularly—a nod which might mean anything. Taught wisdom by the possession of a partner of his own joys and sorrows, he was not going to put himself in active opposition to what he termed the Feminine Controller-General’s Department. But he and Hoste had hatched out between them a little plan which should leave them free, in a day or two, to start off in search of the death or glory coveted by their martial souls.The cottage which Hoste had taken for his family was a tiny pill-box of a place on the outer fringe of the settlement, fronting upon the veldt, which situation rendered the ladies a little nervous at night, notwithstanding an elaborate system of outposts and pickets by which the village was supposed to be protected. At such a time the presence of Eanswyth, of whom they were very fond, was a perfect godsend to Mrs Hoste and her daughters. The latter were nice, bright children of fifteen and thirteen, respectively, and there were also two boys—then away at a boarding school in Grahamstown. If Eanswyth ever had reason to complain of the dullness or loneliness of her life on the farm, here it was quite the reverse. Not only was the house so small that four persons were sufficient to crowd it, but somebody or other, situated like themselves, was always dropping in, sitting half the day chatting, or gossiping about the progress of the war and the many rumours and reports which were flying around. In fact, there was seldom a respite from the “strife of tongues,” for no sooner had one batch of visitors departed than another would arrive, always in the most informal manner. Now, of
all this excess of sociability, Eanswyth was becoming a trifle weary.To begin with, she could obtain little or no privacy. Accustomed to full measure of it in her daily life, she sorely missed it now. She even began to realise that what she had taken as a matter of course—what, indeed, some of her neighbours had half commiserated her for—was a luxury, and, like other articles falling under that category, a thing to be dispensed with now that they were living, so to say, in a state of siege.She was fond of the two girls, as we have said; yet there were times when she would have preferred their room to their company—would have preferred a long, solitary walk. She was fond of her friend and entertainer; yet that cheery person’s voluble tongue was apt to be sometimes a trifle oppressive. She liked her neighbours and they liked her; yet the constant and generally harmless gossip of the other settlers’ wives and daughters, who were ever visiting or being visited by them, regarding work, native servants, babies, engagements, the war, and so forth, would strike her as boring and wearisome to the last degree. There were times when she would have given much to be alone—absolutely and entirely alone—and think.For she had enough to think about now, enough to occupy every moment of her thoughts, day and night. But was it good that it should be so—was it good?“I am a wicked woman!” she would say to herself, half bitterly, half sadly, but never regretfully—“a fearfully wicked woman. That is why I feel so restless, so discontented.”Never regretfully? No; for the sudden rush of the new dawn which had swept in upon her life had spread over it an enchanted glamour that was all-powerful in its surpassing sweetness. That first kiss—alone in the darkness of that peril-haunted midnight—had kindled the Fire of the Live Coal; that one long, golden day, they two alone together, had riveted the burning link. There was no room for regret.Yet there were times when she was a prey to the most poignant anguish—a woman of Eanswyth’s natural and moral fibre could neverescape that—could never throw herself callously, unthinkingly, into the perilous gulf. A mixture of sensuousness and spirituality, the spirit would ever be warring against the mind—which two are not convertible terms by any means—and often in the dark, silent hours of night a sense of the black horror of her position would come upon her in full force. “Heaven help me!” she would cry half aloud in the fervour of her agony. “Heaven help me!” And then would be added the mental reservation, “But not through the means of loss—not through the loss of this new and enthralling influence which renders the keenest of mental anguish, engrossingly, indescribably sweet!”“Save me from the effect, but, oh, remove not the cause!” A strange, a paradoxical prayer, but a genuine one; a terribly natural one. Thus poor humanity, from—and before—the days of Augustine of Hippo until now— until the consummation of the world.As the days grew into weeks, the strain upon such a nature as Eanswyth’s began to tell—as it was bound to do. She began to look pale and worn, and in such close companionship the change could not escape the eyes of her friends.“Don’t you let yourself be anxious, my dear,” said a motherly settler’s wife one day, bursting with a desire to administer comfort. “The Rangers will soon be back now. And they’re all right so far—have had some rough work and haven’t lost a man. Your husband knows how to take care of himself; never fear. Yes, they’ll soon be back now.”This was the sort of consolation she had to acquiesce in—to receive with a glad smile at the time, and for hours after to torture herself with the miserable guilty consciousness that the fate of the Kaffrarian Rangers was to her a matter of infinitesimal account. There was one, however, whom appearances were beginning no longer to deceive, who, in pursuance of the strange and subtle woman’s instinct, which had moved her to make that remark to her husband in camera, as recorded in a former chapter, began to feel certain that the real object of Eanswyth’s solicitude was to be found west, not east—back in the peaceful Colony instead of in the Transkei braving peril at the hands of the savage enemy. That one was Mrs Hoste. She was not a clever woman by any means—
not even a sharp woman, yet her mind had leaped straight to the root of the matter. And the discovery made her feel exceedingly uncomfortable.That farewell, made in outwardly easy social fashion, under several pairs of eyes, had been a final one. Eustace had not ridden over on another visit, not even a flying one, as Eanswyth had hoped he would. Still, bitterly disappointed as she was, she had appreciated the wisdom of his motives—at first. If there was one quality more than another she had admired in him in times past, it was his thorough and resolute way of doing a thing. If anything had to be done, he did it thoroughly. The undertaking upon which he was then engaged certainly demanded all his time and attention, and he had given both, as was his wont. Still she had hoped he would have found or made some opportunity for seeing her once more.She had heard from him two or three times, but they were letters that all the world might have seen, for Eustace was far too prudent to send anything more meaning into a house full of other people, and a small and crowded house at that. The mere glance of an eye—purely accidental, but still a mere glance—on the part of a third person, no matter who, would be more than sufficient to tumble down his fair house of cards in great and irreparable ruin. He was not a man to take any such risks.She had appreciated his caution—at first. But, as time went by, the black drop of a terrible suspicion distilled within her heart. What if he had begun to think differently! What if he had suffered himself to be carried away by a mere moment of passing passion! What if time and absence had opened his eyes! Oh, it was too terrible! It could not be. Yet such things had happened—were happening every day.An awful sense of desolation was upon her. She hungered for his presence—for the sound of his voice—for even a scrap of paper containing one loving word which his hand had written. To this had the serene, proud, strong-natured woman come. Her love had humbled her to the dust. Thus do we suffer through those for whom we transgress— thus does the delight of an hour become the scourge of a year.Chapter Sixteen.“A Madness of Farewells.”One afternoon Eanswyth managed to steal away for a solitary ramble unperceived. In the joy of having actually succeeded, she had wandered some little distance from the settlement. She felt not the slightest fear. No Kafirs would be in the least likely to molest her so near a strongly garrisoned post, even if the tribes in the immediate neighbourhood had been in a state of open hostility, which was not at present the case. As for solitude, it was not complete enough, for the country was open and sweeping and there were always horsemen in sight, coming and going in the distance, along the main road.Half unconsciously she walked in the direction of her deserted home. It was a lovely, cloudless afternoon and the sun was already beginning to slant towards his western bed, darting long rays of gleaming gold upon the wide, rolling plains, throwing out with photographic clearness the blue outlines of the distant hills. Crickets chirruped gleefully in the grass, and away down in the hollow a pair of blue cranes were stalking mincingly along, uttering their metallic, but not unmelodious, cry.Suddenly the clink of a horse’s hoof smote upon her ear. It was advancing along the roadway in front. A flush of vexation spread over her face. It might be somebody she knew—and who would insist upon accompanying her back on the score of the disturbed state of the country, if not upon that of politeness. She had not stolen away, to rejoice like a schoolgirl in her sense of freedom, for that. It was very annoying.The horseman topped the rise. She gave a little cry, and stood rooted to the ground as though her limbs were turned to stone. Could it be—? Yes—it was!In a moment he had sprung to the ground beside her. She could not move now if she had desired to, for she was held fast in a strong embrace. A rain of warm kisses was falling upon her lips—her face.