hunting dog, the last of his breed—who can outrun every other hunting dog in the land, even as the wind outstrippeth the crawling ox-wagon, and you have shed my blood, the blood of a chief. You had better first have cut off your right hand, for it is better to lose a hand than one’s mind. This is my ‘word,’ Umlilwane—bear it in memory, for you have struck a chief—a man of the House of Gcaléka.”(Umlilwane: “Little Fire”—Kafirs are fond of bestowing nicknames. This one referred to its bearer’s habitually short temper.)“Damn the House of Gcaléka, anyway,” said Carhayes, with a sneer as the savage, having vented his denunciation, stalked scowlingly away with his compatriots. “Look here, isidenge,” (fool), he continued. “This is my word. Keep clear of me, for the next time you fall foul of me I’ll shoot you dead. And now, Eustace,” turning to his companion, “we had better load up this buck-meat and carry it home. What on earth is the good of my trying to preserve the game, with a whole location of these black scum not ten miles from my door?” he went on, as he placed the carcase of the unfortunate steinbok on the crupper of his horse.“No good. No good, whatever, as I am always telling you,” rejoined the other decisively, “Kafir locations and game can’t exist side by side. Doesn’t it ever strike you, Tom, that this game-preserving mania is costing you—costing us, excessively dear.”“Hang it. I suppose it is,” growled Carhayes. “I’ll clear out, trek to some other part of the country where a fellow isn’t overrun by a lot of worthless, lazy, red Kafirs. I wish to Heaven they’d only start this precious war. I’d take it out of some of their hides. Have some better sport than buck-hunting then, eh?”“Perhaps. But there may be no war after all. Meanwhile you have won the enmity of every Kafir in Nteya’s and Ncanduku’s locations. I wouldn’t give ten pounds for our two hundred pound pair of breeding ostriches, if it meant leaving them here three days from now, that’s all.”“Oh, shut up croaking, Eustace,” snarled Carhayes, “And by the way, who the deuce is this sweep Hlangani, and what is he doing on this side
consisted almost entirely.“Wish I was you, Tom,” Hoste had said ruefully. “Wouldn’t I just like to be going bang off to the front to have a slap at old Kreli instead of humbugging around here looking after stock. This laager business is all fustian. I believe the things would be just as safe on the farm.”“Well, shunt them back there and come along,” was Carhayes’ reply.“We are not all so fortunate as you, Mr Carhayes,” retorted Mrs Hoste with a trifle of asperity, for this advice was to her by no means palatable. “What would you have done yourself, I should like to know, but for that accommodating cousin, who has taken all the trouble off your hands and left you free to go and get shot if you like?”“Oh, Eustace? Yes, he’s a useful chap,” said Carhayes complacently, beginning to cram his pipe. “What do you think the beggar has gone and done? Why, he has inspanned four or five boys from Nteya’s location to help him with the trek! The very fellows we are trekking away from, by Jove! And they will help him, too. An extraordinary fellow, Eustace—I never saw such a chap for managing Kafirs. He can make ’em do anything.”“Well, its a good thing he can. But doesn’t he want to go and see some of the fun himself?”“Not he. Or, if he does, he can leave Bentley in charge and come back as soon as he has put things straight. Bentley’s my man down there. I let him live at Swaanepoel’s Hoek and run a little stock of his own on consideration of keeping the place in order and looking after it generally. He’ll be glad enough to look after our stock now for a consideration—if Eustace gets sick of it and really does elect to come and have a shot at his ‘blanket friends’—Ho-ho!”The Kaffrarian Rangers were, as we have said, a corps raised in the district. The farmers composing it mounted and equipped themselves, and elected their own leaders. There was little discipline, in the military sense of the word, but the men knew each other and had thoroughconfidence in their leaders. They understood the natives, and were as much at home on the veldt or in the bush as the Kafirs themselves. They affected no uniforms, but all were clad in a serviceable attire which should not be too conspicuous in cover—an important consideration— and all were well equipped in the way of arms and other necessaries. They asked for no pay—only stipulating that they should be entitled to keep whatever stock they might succeed in capturing from the enemy— which in many cases would be merely retaking their own. The Government, now as anxious as it had been sceptical and indifferent a month previously, gladly accepted the services of so useful a corps. The latter numbered between sixty and seventy men.This, then, was the corps to which Carhayes had attached himself, and among the ranks of which, after two or three days of enforced delay while waiting for orders—and after a characteristically off-hand farewell to the Hostes and his wife—he proceeded to take his place.They were to march at sundown and camp for the night at the Kei Drift. All Komgha—and its wife—turned out to witness their departure. Farmers and storekeepers, transport-riders and Mounted Police, craftsmen and natives of every shade and colour, lined the roadway in serried ranks. There was a band, too, blowing off “God Save the Queen,” with all the power of its leathern lungs. Cheer after cheer went up as the men rode by, in double file, looking exceedingly workman-like with their well filled cartridge belts and their guns and revolvers. Hearty good-byes and a little parting chaff from friends and intimates were shouted after them through the deafening cheers and the brazen strains of the band, and, their numbers augmented by a contingent of mounted friends, who were to ride a part of the way with them, “just to see them squarely off,” the extremely neat and serviceable corps moved away into a cloud of dust.There was another side to all this enthusiasm, however. A good many feminine handkerchiefs waved farewell to that martial band. A good many feminine handkerchiefs were, pressed openly or furtively to tearful eyes. For of those threescore and odd men going forth that evening in all the pride of their strength and martial ardour, it would be strange, indeed, if some, at any rate, were not destined to leave their bones in a far-away
grave—victims to the bullet and assegai of the savage.The days went by and grew into weeks, but there was no want of life and stir in the little settlement. As Carhayes had remarked grimly during his brief sojourn therein—life appeared to be made up of bugle calls and lies. Hardly a half-hour that the bugle was not sounding—either at the Police camps, or at those of the regular troops now being rapidly moved to the front, and scarcely a day went by but a corps of mounted burghers or volunteers passed through, en route for the seat of war. The store keepers and Government contractors laughed and waxed fat.All sorts of rumours were in the air, and as usual wildly contradictory. The white forces in the Transkei were in imminent peril of annihilation. The Gcaléka country had been swept clear from end to end. Kreli was sueing for peace. Kreli had declared himself strong enough to whip all the whites sent against him, and then with the help of the Gaikas and Hlambis to invade and ravage the Eastern Province of the Colony. The Gaikas were on the eve of rising, and making common cause with their Gcaléka brethren. The Gaikas had not the slightest wish for war. The Gaikas were never more insolent and threatening. The Gaikas were thoroughly cowed and lived in mortal dread of being attacked themselves. Thus Rumour many tongued.The while events had taken place at the seat of war. The Kafirs had attacked the Ibeka, a hastily fortified trading post in the Transkei, in great force, and after many hours of determined fighting had been repulsed with great loss, repulsed by a mere handful of the Mounted Police, who, with a Fingo levy, garrisoned the place. Kreli’s principal kraal on the Xora River had been carried by assault and burnt to the ground,—the Gcaléka chieftain, with his sons and councillors, narrowly escaping falling into the hands of the Colonial forces—and several other minor engagements had been fought. But the powerful Gaika and Hlambi tribes located throughout British Kaffraria, though believed to be restless and plotting, continued to “sit still,” as if watching the turn of events, and night after night upon the distant hills the signal fires of the savages gleamed beneath the midnight sky in flashing, lurid tongues, speaking their mysterious, awesome messages from the Amatola to the Bashi.Hoste—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, ofall 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 never
escape 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.
“Eanswyth—my darling—my love! Did you come to meet me?”“O Eustace! I had begun to think you were never coming back to me! Ah, you little know what I have gone through. Dear one, I never knew till now how my very life was wrapped up in you!” she gasped, her voice thrilling with a very volcano of tenderness and passion as she clung to him, returning his kisses again and again, as if she could never let him go.She did not look unhappy and worn now. Her eyes shone with the light of love—the beautiful lips wreathed into smiles—her whole face was transfigured with her great happiness.“Dear love, you have grown more beautiful than ever; and all for me,” he murmured in that peculiar tone of his which bound her to him with a magnetic force that was almost intoxicating. “It is all for me—isn’t it?”“Yes,” she answered without hesitation; looking him straightly, fearlessly in the eyes. Heaven help her!“And yet you doubted me!”“Eustace, darling, why did you never write to me? At least, why did you only write in that ordinary, formal and matter-of-fact way?”“Because it would have been the height of insanity, under existing circumstances, to have done otherwise. And so you doubted me? You thought that I had only been playing with you? Or that even otherwise I had only to be away from you two or three weeks and I could forget?”His tone, low and quiet, was just tinged with reproach. But it contained a subtle consciousness of power. And to her ears it sounded inexpressibly sweet, for it was this very sense of power that constituted the magnetism which drew her to him.“Yes, I will confess. I did think that,” she answered. “I can hide nothing from you. You have read my thoughts exactly. Ah, my own—my own! What have I not gone through! But you are with me again. Life seems too good altogether.”or be visited by a neighbour—the latter not often. The bulk of the surrounding settlers were Boers, and beyond exchanging a few neighbourly civilities from time to time they saw but little of them. This, however, was not an unmixed evil.Bentley had been as good as his word. His wife was a capital housekeeper and had effectively taken all cares of that nature off Eanswyth’s hands. Both were thoroughly good and worthy people, of colonial birth, who, by steadiness and trustworthy intelligence, had worked their way up from a very lowly position. Unlike too many of their class, however, they were not consumed with a perennial anxiety to show forth their equality in the sight of Heaven with those whom they knew to be immeasurably their superiors in birth and culture, and to whom, moreover, they owed in no small degree their own well-being. So the relations existing between the two different factors which composed the household were of the most cordial nature.There had been some delay in settling up Tom Carhayes’ affairs—in fact, they were not settled yet. With a good sense and foresight, rather unexpected in one of his unthinking and impulsive temperament, poor Tom had made his will previous to embarking on the Gcaléka campaign. Everything he possessed was bequeathed to his wife—with no restriction upon her marrying again—and Eustace and a mutual friend were appointed executors.This generosity had inspired in Eanswyth considerable compunction, and was the only defective spoke in the wheel of her present great happiness. Sometimes she almost suspected that her husband had guessed at how matters really stood, and the idea cost her more than one remorseful pang. Yet, though she had failed in her allegiance, it was in her heart alone. She would have died sooner than have done so otherwise, she told herself.Twice had the executors applied for the necessary authority to administer the estate. But the Master of the Supreme Court professed himself not quite satisfied. The evidence as to the testator’s actual death struck him as inadequate—resting, as it did, upon the sole testimony of one of the executors, who could not even be positive that the man was
dead when last seen by him. He might be alive still, though held a prisoner. Against this view was urged the length of time which had elapsed, and the utter improbability that the Gcaléka bands, broken up and harried, as they were, from point to point, would hamper themselves with a prisoner, let alone a member of that race toward which they had every reason to entertain the most uncompromising and implacable rancour. The Supreme Court, however, was immovable. When hostilities were entirely at an end, they argued, evidence might be forthcoming on the part of natives who had actually witnessed the testator’s death. That fact incontestably established, letters of administration could at once be granted. Meanwhile the matter must be postponed a little longer.This delay affected those most concerned not one whit. There was not the slightest fear of Eanswyth’s interests suffering in the able hands which held their management. Only, the excessive caution manifested by the law’s representatives would at times communicate to Eustace Milne a vague uneasiness. What if his cousin should be alive after all? What if he had escaped under circumstances which would involve perforce his absence during a considerable period? He might have gained the sea shore, for instance, and been picked up by a passing ship bound to some distant country, whose captain would certainly decline to diverge many days out of his course to oblige one unknown castaway. Such things had happened. Still, the idea was absurd, he told himself, for, even if it was so, sufficient time had elapsed for the missing man, in these days of telegraphs and swift mail steamers, to make known his whereabouts, even if not to return in person. He had not seen dim actually killed in his conflict with Hlangani—indeed, the fact of that strange duel having been fought with kerries, only seemed to point to the fact that no killing was intended. That he was only stunned and disabled when dragged away out of sight Eustace could swear, but why should that implacable savage make such a point of having the absolute disposal of his enemy, if it were not to execute the most deadly ferocious vengeance upon him which lay in his power? That the wretched man had been fastened down to be devoured alive by black ants, even as the pretended wizard had been treated, Eustace entertained hardly any doubt—would have entertained none, but that the witch-doctress’s veiled hint had pointed to a fate, if possible, even more darkly horrible. No, after all this time, his unfortunatecousin could not possibly be alive. The actual mode of his death might forever remain a mystery, but that he was dead was as certain as anything in this world can be. Any suspicion to the contrary he resolved to dismiss effectually from his mind.Eanswyth would often accompany her lover during his rides about the veldt looking after the stock. She would not go with him, however, when he was on sporting intent, she had tried it once or twice, but the bucks had a horrid knack of screaming in the most heart-rending fashion when sadly wounded and not killed outright, and Eustace’s assurance that this was due to the influence of fear and not of pain, entirely failed to reconcile her to it. (A fact. The smaller species of antelope here referred to, however badly wounded, will not utter a sound until seized upon by man or dog, when it screams as described. The same holds good of the English hare.) But when on more peaceful errand bent, she was never so happy as when riding with him among the grand and romantic scenery of their mountain home. She was a first-rate horsewoman and equally at home in the saddle when her steed was picking his way along some dizzy mountain path on the side of a grass slope as steep as the roof of a house with a series of perpendicular krantzes below, or when pursuing some stony and rugged bush track where the springy spekboem boughs threatened to sweep her from her seat every few yards.“We are partners now, you know, dearest,” she would say gaily, when he would sometimes urge the fatigue and occasionally even the risk of these long and toilsome rides. “While that law business still hangs fire the partnership can’t be dissolved, I suppose. Therefore I claim my right to do my share of the work.”It was winter now. The clear mountain air was keen and crisp, and although the nights were bitterly cold, the days were lovely. The sky was a deep, cloudless blue, and the sun poured his rays down into the valleys with a clear, genial warmth which just rendered perceptible the bracing exhilaration of the air. Thanks to the predominating spekboem and other evergreen bushes, the winter dress of Nature suffered but little diminution in verdure; and in grand contrast many a stately summit soared proudly aloft, capped with a white powdering of snow.
Those were days of elysium indeed, to those two, as they rode abroad among the fairest scenes of wild Nature; or, returning at eve, threaded the grassy bush-paths, while the crimson winged louris flashed from tree to tree, and the francolins and wild guinea-fowl, startled by the horses’ hoofs, would scuttle across the path, echoing their grating note of alarm. And then the sun, sinking behind a lofty ridge, would fling his parting rays upon the smooth burnished faces of the great red cliffs until they glowed like molten fire.Yes, those were indeed days to look back upon.Chapter Thirty Nine.From the Dead!Eustace and the overseer were sitting on the stoep smoking a final pipe together before going to bed. It was getting on for midnight and, save these two, the household had long since retired.Tempted by the beauty of the night they sat, well wrapped up, for it was winter. But the whole firmament was ablaze with stars, and the broad nebulous path of the Milky Way shone forth like the phosphoric trail in the wake of a steamer. The conversation between the two had turned upon the fate of Tom Carhayes.“I suppose we shall soon know now what his end really was,” the overseer was saying. “Kafirs are as close as death over matters of that kind while the war is actually going on. But they are sure to talk afterwards, and some of them are bound to know.”“Yes. And but for this administration business it might be just as well for us not to know,” answered Eustace. “Depend upon it, whatever it is, it will be something more than ghastly, poor fellow. Tom made a great mistake in going to settle in Kafirland at all. He’d have done much better here.”“I suppose there isn’t the faintest shadow of a chance that he may still be alive, Mr Milne?”The remark was an unfortunate one. Cool-headed as he was, it awoke in Eustace a vague stirring of uneasiness—chiming in, as it did, with the misgivings which would sometimes pass through his own mind.“Not a shadow of a chance, I should say,” he replied, after a slight pause.Bentley, too, began to realise that the remark was not a happy one— for of course he could not all this time have been blind to the state of