“They are not,” was the confident reply. “There are too few beasts and too few niggers. I tell you there’s some fun sticking out for us.”Quickly the horses were saddled. A high, bushy ridge precluded all chance of their presence being discovered by the three marauders as soon as the latter had crossed the river, and it certainly had not been discovered before. Then, having allowed sufficient time to elapse, they forded the river and rode forward on the other side, so as to converge on the spoor leading up from the drift below.“Here it is—as plain as mud,” said Carhayes, bending over in his saddle to examine the ground, which, dry and sandy, showed the hoof-prints and footmarks so plainly that a child might have followed them. “They are well over the rise by now, and the way isn’t so rough as I expected. Our plan is to make straight for the top of the hill. We can’t get up much quicker than they can, I’m afraid, unless we want to blow our horses, which we don’t. But once we are up there we shall find it all open veldt, and all we’ve got to do is to ride them down in the open, shoot the niggers, and head the stock back for the river again. Anyone propose an amendment to that resolution?”“We are four fools,” said Payne laconically, knocking the ashes out of his pipe and pocketing that useful implement.“Ja! That’s so,” said Carhayes, joining heartily in the laugh which greeted this remark. “And now, boys, are we on for the fun, that’s the question?”“We just are,” cried Hoste, whose dare-devil recklessness was akin to that of Carhayes. The other two acquiesced silently, but as they caught each other’s glance, a curious satirical twinkle lurked in the eyes of both men.“A case of the tail wagging the dog,” presently whispered Payne to Eustace. “Two wise men led by two fools!”The track, rough and stony, took longer to follow than they had expected. Moreover they had to exercise extreme care, lest the clink of
It proceeded from a tall, athletic Kafir, who, barely ten yards off, stood calmly surveying the pair. His grim and massive countenance was wreathed into an amused smile. His nearly naked body was anointed with the usual red ochre, and round the upper part of his left arm he wore a splendid ivory ring. He carried a heavy knob-kerrie and several assegais, one of which he was twisting about in easy, listless fashion in his right hand.At sight of this extremely unwelcome, not to say formidable, apparition, Eustace’s hand instinctively and with a quick movement sought the back of his hip—a movement which a Western man would thoroughly have understood. But he withdrew it—empty. For his eye, familiar with every change of the native countenance, noted that the expression of this man’s face was good-humoured rather than aggressive. And withal it seemed partly familiar to him.“Who are you—and what do you want?” he said shortly. Then as his glance fell upon a bandage wrapped round the barbarian’s shoulder: “Ah. I know you—Hlangani.”“Keep your ‘little gun’ in your pocket, Ixeshane,” said the Kafir, speaking in a tone of good-humoured banter. “I am not the man to be shot at twice. Besides, I am not your enemy. If I were, I could have killed you many times over already, before you saw me; could have killed you both, you and the Inkosikazi.”This was self-evident. Eustace, recognising it, felt rather small. He to be taken thus at a disadvantage, he, who had constituted himself Eanswyth’s special protector against this very man! Yes. He felt decidedly small, but he was not going to show it.“You speak the truth, Hlangani,” he answered calmly. “You are not my enemy. No man of the race of Xosa is. But why do you come here? There is bad blood between you and the owner of this place. Surely the land is wide enough for both. Why should your pathways cross?”“Ha! You say truly, Ixeshane. There is blood between me and the man of whom you speak. Blood—the blood of a chief of the House ofGcaléka. Ha!”The eyes of the savage glared, and his countenance underwent a transformation almost magical in its suddenness. The smiling, good-humoured expression gave way to one of deadly hate, of a ruthless ferocity that was almost appalling to contemplate. So effective was it upon Eustace that carelessly, and as if by accident, he interposed his body between Eanswyth and the speaker, and though he made no movement, his every sense was on the alert. He was ready to draw his revolver with lightning-like rapidity at the first aggressive indication. But no such indication was manifested.“No. You have no enemies among our people—neither you nor the Inkosikazi”—went on Hlangani as his countenance resumed its normal calm. “You have always been friends to us. Why are you not living here together as our friends and neighbours—you two, without the poison of our deadly enemy to cause ill-blood between us and you—you alone together? I would speak with you apart, Ixeshane.”Now, Eanswyth, though living side by side with the natives, was, like most colonial people, but poorly versed in the Xosa tongue. She knew a smattering of it, just sufficient for kitchen purposes, and that was all; consequently, but for a word here and there, the above dialogue was unintelligible to her. But it was otherwise with her companion. His familiarity with the language was all but complete, and not only with the language, but with all its tricks. He knew that the other was “talking dark,” and his quick perception readily grasped the meaning which was intended to be conveyed. With the lurid thoughts indulged in that morning as regarded his cousin still fresh in his mind, it could hardly have been otherwise.He hated the man: he loved the man’s wife. “How is it going to end?” had been his unuttered cry just now. “How is it going to end!” she had re-echoed. Well, here was a short and easy solution ready to hand. A flush of blood surged to his face, and his heart beat fiercely under the terrible temptation thus thrown in his way. Yet so fleeting was it as scarcely to constitute a temptation at all. Now that it was put nakedly to him he could not do this thing. He could not consent to a murder—a cold-blooded,
treacherous murder.“I cannot talk with you apart, Hlangani,” he answered. “I cannot leave the Inkosikazi standing here alone even for a few minutes.”The piercing glance of the shrewd savage had been scrutinising his face—had been reading it like a book. Upon him the terrible struggle within had not been lost.“Consider, Ixeshane,” he pursued. “What is the gift of a few dozen cows, of two hundred cows, when compared with the happiness of a man’s lifetime? Nothing. Is it to be? Say the word. Is it to be?”The barbarian’s fiery eyes were fixed upon his with deep and terrible meaning. To Eustace it seemed as if the blasting glare of the Arch fiend himself shone forth from their cruel depths.“It is not to be. The ‘word’ is No! Unmistakably and distinctly No. You understand, Hlangani?”“Au! As you will, Ixeshane,” replied the Kafir, with an expressive shrug of his shoulders. “See. You wear a ‘charm’,” referring to a curious coin which Eustace wore hanging from his watch-chain. “If you change your mind send over the ‘charm’ to me at Nteya’s kraal this night—it shall be returned. But after to-night it may be too late. Farewell.”And flinging his blanket over his shoulder the savage turned and strode away into the veldt—Eustace purposely omitting to offer him a little tobacco, lest this ordinary token of good will should be construed into a sort of earnest of the dark and terrible bargain which Hlangani had proposed to him—by mere hints it is true—but still had none the less surely proposed.Chapter Thirteen.”...And the World is Changed.”They stood for some moments watching the receding figure of the Kafir in silence. Eanswyth was the first to break it.“What have you been talking about all this time, Eustace? Is it any new danger that threatens us?”“N-no. Rather the reverse if anything,” and his features cleared up as if to bear out the truth of his words. “I don’t see, though, why you shouldn’t know it. That’s the man we fell foul of in the veldt yesterday— you remember the affair of the white dog?”“Oh!” and Eanswyth turned very pale.“Now don’t be alarmed, dearest. I believe he only loafed round here to try and collect some compensation.”“Is that really all, Eustace?” she went on anxiously. “You seemed very much disturbed, dear. I don’t think I ever saw you look so thoroughly disturbed.”There was no perturbation left in his glance now. He took her face lovingly between his hands and kissed it again and again.“Did you not, my sweet? Well, perhaps there has never existed such ground for it. Perhaps I have never met with so inopportune an interruption. But now, cheer up. We must make the most of this day, for a sort of instinct tells me that it is the last we shall have to ourselves, at any rate for some time to come. And now what shall we do with ourselves? Shall we go back to the house or sit here a little while and talk?”Eanswyth was in favour of the latter plan. And, seated there in the shade of a great acacia, the rich summer morning sped by in a golden dream. The fair panorama of distant hills and wooded kloofs; the radiant sunlight upon the wide sweep of mimosa-dotted plains, shimmering into many a fantastic mirage in the glowing heat; the call of bird voices in the adjacent brake, and the continuous chirrup of crickets; the full, warm glow of the sensuous air, rich, permeating, life-giving; here indeed was a very Eden. Thus the golden morning sped swiftly by.
But how was it all to end? That was the black drop clouding the sparkling cup—that was the trail of the serpent across that sunny Eden. And yet not, for it may be that this very rift but served only to enhance the intoxicating, thrilling delights of the present—that this idyl of happiness, unlawful alike in the sight of God or man, was a hundredfold sweetened by the sad vein of undercurrent running through it—even the consciousness that it was not to last. For do we not, in the weak contrariety of our mortal natures, value a thing in exact proportion to the precariousness of our tenure!Come good, come ill, never would either of them forget that day: short, golden, idyllic.“Guess how long we have been sitting here!” said Eanswyth at last, with a rapid glance at her watch. “No—don’t look,” she added hurriedly, “I want you to guess.”“About half an hour, it seems. But I suppose it must be more than that.”“Exactly two hours and ten minutes.”“Two hours and ten minutes of our last peaceful day together—gone. Of our first and our last day together.”“Why do you say our last, dear?” she murmured, toying with his hair. His head lay on her lap, his blue eyes gazing up into her large grey ones.“Because, as I told you, I have a strong inkling that way—at any rate, for some time to come. It is wholly lamentable, but, I’m afraid, inevitable.”She bent her head—her beautiful stately head—drooped her lips to his and kissed them passionately.“Eustace, Eustace, my darling—my very life! Why do I love you like this!”“Because you can’t help it, my sweet one!” he answered, returning her kisses with an ardour equalling her own.“Why did I give way so soon? Why did I give way at all? As you say, because I couldn’t help it—because—in short, because it was you. You drew me out of myself—you forced me to love you, forced me to. Ah-h! and how I love you!”The quiver in her tones would not be entirely suppressed. Even he had hardly suspected the full force of passion latent within this woman, only awaiting the magic touch to blaze forth into bright flame. And his had been the touch which had enkindled it.“You have brought more than a Paradise into my life,” he replied, his glance holding hers as he looked up into her radiant eyes. “Tell me, did you never suspect, all these months, that I only lived when in the halo-influence of your presence?”“I knew it.”“You knew it?”“Of course I did,” she answered with a joyous laugh, taking his face between her hands and kissing it again. “I should have been no woman if I had not. But, I have kept my secret better than you. Yes, my secret. I have been battling against your influence far harder than you have against mine, and you have conquered.” He started, and a look of something like dismay came into his face.“If that is so, you witching enchantress, why did you not lift me out of my torment long ago,” he said. “But the worst is this. Just think what opportunities we have missed, what a long time we have wasted which might have been—Heaven.”“Yet, even then, it may be better as things have turned out. My love —my star—I could die with happiness at this moment. But,” and then to the quiver of joy in her voice succeeded an intonation of sadness, “but—I suppose this world does not contain a more wicked woman than myself. Tell me, Eustace,” she went on, checking whatever remark he might have been about to make, “tell me what you think. Shall we not one day be called upon to suffer in tears and bitterness for this entrancingly happy
flood of sunshine upon our lives now?”“That is an odd question, and a thoroughly characteristic one,” he replied slowly. “Unfortunately all the events of life, as well as the laws of Nature, go to bear out the opinions of the theologians. Everything must be paid for, and from this rule there is no escape. Everything, therefore, resolves itself into a mere question of price—e.g., Is the debt incurred worth the huge compound interest likely to be exacted upon it in the far or near future? Now apply this to the present case. Do you follow me?”“Perfectly. If our love is wrong—wicked—we shall be called upon to suffer for it sooner or later?”“That is precisely my meaning. I will go further. The term ‘poetic justice’ is, I firmly believe, more than a mere idiom. If we are doing wrong through love for each other we shall have to expiate it at some future time. We shall be made to suffer through each other. Now, Eanswyth, what do you say to that?”“I say, amen. I say that the future can take care of itself, that I defy it —no—wait!—not that. But I say that if this delirious, entrancing happiness is wrong, I would rather brave torments a thousand-fold, than yield up one iota of it,” she answered, her eyes beaming into his, and with a sort of proud, defiant ring in her voice, as if throwing down the gage to all power, human or divine, to come between them.“I say the same—my life!” was his reply.Thus the bargain was sealed—ratified. Thus was the glove hurled down for Fate to take up, if it would. The time was coming when she— when both—would remember those defiant, those deliberate words.Not to-day, however, should any forebodings of the Future be suffered to cloud the Present. They fled, all too quickly, those short, golden hours. They melted one by one, merged into the dim glories of the past. Would the time come when those blissful hours should be conjured forth by the strong yearnings of a breaking heart, conjured forth to be lived through again and again, in the day of black and hopeless despair,
when to the radiant enchantment of the Present should have succeeded the woe of a never-ending and rayless night?But the day was with them now—idyllic, blissful—never to be forgotten as long as they two should live. Alas, that it fled!Tom Carhayes returned that evening in high good humour. He was accompanied by another man, a neighbouring settler of the name of Hoste, a pleasant, cheery fellow, who was a frequent visitor at Anta’s Kloof.“Well, Mrs Carhayes,” cried the latter, flinging his right leg over his horse’s neck and sliding to the ground side-saddle fashion, “your husband has been pretty well selling up the establishment to-day. What do you think of that? Hallo, Milne. How ’do?”“I’ve made a good shot this time,” assented Carhayes, “I’ve sold off nearly three thousand of the sheep to Reid, the contractor, at a pound a head all round. What do you think of that, Eustace? And a hundred and thirty cattle, too, heifers and slaughter stock.”“H’m! Well, you know best,” said Eustace. “But why this wholesale clearance, Tom?”“Why? Why, man, haven’t you heard? No, of course he hasn’t. War! That’s why. War, by the living Jingo! It’s begun. Our fellows are over the Kei already, peppering the niggers like two o’clock.”“Or being peppered by them—which so far seems to be the more likely side of the question,” struck in Hoste. “A report came into Komgha to-day that there had been a fight, and the Police had been licked. Anyhow, a lot more have been moved across the river.”“Wait till we get among them,” chuckled Carhayes. “Eh, Hoste? We’ll pay off some old scores on Jack Kafir’s hide. By the Lord, won’t we?”“Ja. That’s so. By-the-by, Mrs Carhayes, I mustn’t forget my errand. The wife has picked up a cottage in Komgha, and particularly wants youred firelight. Suddenly, upon the black gloom of the night, far away to the eastward, there gleamed forth a streak of flame. Then another and another. A subdued roar ran around the circle. Then, as by magic, a crimson glare fell upon the serried ranks of expectant listeners, lighting up their fantastic war panoply as with the light of day. From the hill top above the kraal there shot up a great tongue of red flame. It leaped high into the velvety blackness of the heavens. Splitting up into many a forking flash it roared in the air—the gleaming rays licking up into a cloud of lurid smoke which blotted out the stars in its reddening folds. The distant war signal of the Gcaléka chieftain was answered.“Ha!” cried Hlangani, in a voice of thunder. “Ha! Now will the heart of your father, Sarili, be glad. Now have ye proved yourselves his children indeed, oh, sons of Ngqika! Now have you proved yourselves men, for the trumpet tongues of your war-flames are crying aloud—tongue roaring to tongue upon the wings of the night.”With the quickness of lightning the warriors had again thrown themselves into formation, and now worked up to a pitch of uncontrollable excitement, the unearthly cadence of the war-song rose into a fiendish roar, and the thunder of the demon dance rolled and reverberated among the hills, while lighting up the fierce array of grim, frenzied figures in its brooding glare, the huge beacon, high above on the hilltop, blazed forth sullenly upon the night in all its menacing and destructive significance.Suddenly, as if by magic, the mad orgy of the savages was suspended. For advancing into their very midst—fearlessly, boldly, contemptuously, even—rode a solitary horseman—a white man, an Englishman.Chapter Seven.In the Lion’s Den.Every eye was bent upon the new arrival. With a quick, instinctive movement the savages closed around the foolhardy Englishman. There
was a scowl of deadly import upon each grim face. Hundreds of assegais were poised with a quiver of suppressed eagerness. The man’s life seemed not worth a moment’s purchase.“Out of my way, you schepsels!” he cried roughly, urging his horse through the sullen and threatening crowd, as though so many hundreds of armed and excited barbarians worked up to the highest pitch of blood-thirstiness were just that number of cowering and subservient slaves. “Out of my way, do you hear? Where is Nteya? I want Nteya, the chief. Where is he?”“Here I am, umlúngu (White man). What do you want with me?” answered Nteya—making a rapid and peremptory signal to restrain the imminent resentment of his followers. “Am I not always here, that you should break in upon me in this violent manner? Do I go to your house, and ride up to the door and shout for you as though you were stricken with sudden deafness?”The chief’s rebuke, quiet and dignified, might have carried some tinge of humiliation to any man less overbearing and hot-headed than Tom Carhayes, even as the low growl of hardly contained exasperation which arose from the throng might have conveyed an ominous warning. But upon this man both were alike thrown away. Yet it may be that the very insanity of his fool-hardiness constituted his safety. Had he quailed but a moment his doom was sealed.“I didn’t come here to hold an indaba,” (Talk—palaver) he shouted. “I want my sheep. Look here, Nteya. You have put me off very cleverly time after time with one excuse or another. But this time you are pagadi (Cornered). I’ve run you to earth—or rather some of those schepsels of yours. That young villain Goníwe has driven off thirty-seven of my sheep, and two of your fellows have helped him. I’ve spoored them right into your location as straight as a line. Now?”“When was this, Umlilwane?” said Nteya, imperturbably.“When? When? To-night, man. This very night, do you hear?” roared the other.“Hau! The white man has the eyes of twenty vultures that he can see to follow the spoor of thirty-seven sheep on a dark night,” cried a mocking voice—and a great shout of derisive laughter went up from the whole savage crowd. The old chief, however, preserved his dignified and calm demeanour.“You are excited, Umlilwane,” he said—a faint smile lurking round the corners of his mouth. “Had you not better go home and return in the morning and talk things over quietly? Surely you would not forget yourself like a boy or a quarrelsome old woman.”If a soft answer turneth away wrath, assuredly an injunction to keep cool to an angry man conduceth to a precisely opposite result. If Carhayes had been enraged before, his fury now rose to white heat.“You infernal old scoundrel!” he roared. “Don’t I tell you I have spoored the sheep right bang into your kraal? They are here now, I tell you; here now. And you try to put me off with your usual Kafir lies and shuffling.” And shaking with fury he darted forth his hand, which still held the heavy rhinoceros hide sjambok, as though he would have struck the chief then and there. But Nteya did not move.“Hau!” cried Hlangani, who had been a silent but attentive witness to this scene. “Hau! Thus it is that the chiefs of the Amaxosa are trampled on by these abelúngu (whites). Are we men, I say? Are we men?” And the eyes of the savage flashed with terrible meaning as he waved his hand in the direction of the foolhardy Englishman.Thus was the spark applied to the dry tinder. The crowd surged forward. A dozen sinewy hands gripped the bridle, and in a moment Carhayes was flung violently to the earth.Stunned, half-senseless he lay. Assegais flashed in the firelight. It seemed that the unfortunate settler’s hours were numbered. Another moment and a score of bright blades would be buried in his body.But a stern and peremptory mandate from the chief arrested each impending stroke.
“Stop, my children!” cried Nteya, standing over the prostrate man and extending his arms as though to ward off the deadly blows. “Stop, my children! I, your chief; I, your father, command it. Would you play into the hands of your enemies? Be wise, I say. Be wise in time.”Sullenly the crowd fell back. With weapons still uplifted, with eyes hanging hungrily upon their chief’s face, like tigers balked momentarily of their prey, the warriors paused. And the dull, brooding glare of the signal fire flashing aloft upon the hilltop fell redly upon that fierce and threatening sea of figures standing over the prostrate body of their hated and now helpless enemy. But the word of a Kafir chief is law to his followers. There was no disputing that decisive mandate.“Rise, Umlilwane,” went on Nteya. “Rise, and go in peace. In the evening, when the blood is heated, it is not well to provoke strife by angry words. In the morning, when heads are cool, return here and talk. If your sheep are here, they shall be restored to you. Now go, while it is yet safe.”Carhayes, still half-stunned by the violence of his fall, staggered to his feet.“If they are here!” he repeated sullenly. “Damn it, they are here!” he blazed forth in a fresh access of wrath. Then catching the malevolent glance of Hlangani, and becoming alive to the very sinister and menacing expression on the countenances of the other Kafirs, even he began to realise that some degree of prudence was desirable, not to say essential. “Well, well, it’s the old trick again, but I suppose our turn will come soon,” he growled, as he proceeded to mount his horse.The crowd parted to make way for him, and amid ominous mutterings and an unpleasantly suggestive shaking of weapons towards him, he rode away as he had come. None followed him. The chief’s eye was upon his receding figure. The chief’s “word” had been given. But even protected by that safe conduct, he would be wise to put as much space as possible between himself and that sullen and warlike gathering, and that, too, with the greatest despatch.None followed him—at the moment. But Hlangani mixed unperceived among the crowd, whispering a word here and a word there. And soon, by twos and threes, a number of armed savages stole silently forth into the night, moving swiftly upon the retreating horseman’s track.Chapter Eight.“On the Rock they Scorch, like a Drop of Fire.”“What are they really doing over there, do you suppose, Eustace?” said Eanswyth anxiously, as they regained the house. The thunder of the wild war-dance floated across the intervening miles of space, and the misty glare of many fires luridly outlined the distant mountain slopes. The position was sufficiently terrifying to any woman alone there save for one male protector, with hundreds of excited and now hostile savages performing their weird and clamourous war rites but a few miles away.“I’m afraid there’s no mistake about it; they are holding a big war-dance,” was the reply. “But it’s nothing new. This sort of fun has been going on at the different kraals for the last month. It’s only because we are, so to say, next door to Nteya’s location that we hear it to-night at all.”“But Nteya is such a good old man,” said Eanswyth. “Surely he wouldn’t harm us. Surely he wouldn’t join in any rising.”“You are correct in your first idea, in the second, not. We are rapidly making such a hash of affairs in re Kreli and the Fingoes over in the Transkei, that we are simply laying the train for a war with the whole Amaxosa race. How can Nteya, or any other subordinate chief, refuse to join when called upon by Kreli, the Chief Paramount. The trouble ought to be settled before it goes any further, and my opinion is that it could be.”“You are quite a politician,” said Eanswyth, with a smile. “You ought to put up for the Secretaryship for Native Affairs.”“Let us sit out here,” he said, drawing up a couple of cane chairs which were always on the stoep. “Here is a very out-of-the-way