Man seeks marriage across the city to get inheritance

发表于 2023-09-23 21:24:18 来源:Return to basics and return to true nature

sound of that slow, crawling glide—to discern an indistinct and sinuous shadow moving in the subdued light.“This is ‘The Home of the Serpents’!” chanted Josane, taking up once more his weird refrain.“This is The Home of the Serpents, the abode of the Spirit-dead. O Inyoka ’Nkúlu (Great Serpent) do us no hurt! O Snake of Snakes, harm us not!“The shades of thy home are blacker than blackest night.“We tread the dark shades of thy home in search of the white man’s friend.“Give us back the white man’s friend, so may we depart in peace—“In peace from The Home of the Serpents, the abode of the Spirit-dead.“Into light from the awe-dealing gloom, where the shades of our fathers creep.“So may we return to the daylight in safety with him whom we seek.“Harm us not, O Snake of snakes! Do us no hurt,O Inyoka ’Nkúlu!”The drawn out notes of this lugubrious refrain were uttered with a strange, low, concentrative emphasis which was indescribably thrilling. Eustace, the only one of the party who thoroughly grasped its burden, felt curiously affected by it. The species of devil worship implied in the heathenish invocation communicated its influence to himself. His spirits, up till now depressed and burdened as with a weight of brooding evil, seemed to rise to an extraordinary pitch of exaltation, as though rejoicing at the prospect of prompt admission into strange mysteries. Far otherwise, however, were the other two affected by the surroundings.

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

Man seeks marriage across the city to get inheritance

affairs. He felt confused and relapsed into silence—puffing vigorously at his pipe.The silence was broken—broken in a startling manner. A terrified scream fell upon their ears—not very loud, but breathing unmistakable tones of mortal fear. Both men sprang to their feet.“Heavens!” cried the overseer. “That’s Mrs Carhayes—”But the other said not a word. In about a half a dozen steps he was through the sitting room and had gained the door which opened out of it. This was Eanswyth’s bedroom, whence the terrified cry had proceeded.“What is wrong, Eanswyth?” he cried, tapping at the door.It opened immediately. She stood there wrapped in a long loose dressing gown, the wealth of her splendid hair falling in masses. But her face was white as death, and the large eyes were dilated with such a pitiable expression of fear and distress, as he certainly had never beheld there.“What is it, my darling? What has frightened you so?” he said tenderly, moved to the core by this extraordinary manifestation of pitiable terror.She gave a quick flurried look over her shoulder. Then clutching his hands—and he noticed that hers were trembling and as cold as ice—she gasped:“Eustace—I have seen—him!”“Who—in Heaven’s name?”“Tom.”“Darling, you must have dreamt it. You have been allowing your thoughts to run too much on the subject and—”“No. It was no dream. I have not even been to bed yet,” sheinterrupted, speaking hurriedly. “I was sitting there, at the table, reading one of my little books. I just happened to look up and—O Eustace”—with a violent shudder—“I saw his face staring in at the window just as plainly as I can see you now.”Eustace followed her cowering glance. The window, black and uncurtained, looked out upon the veldt. There were shutters, but they were hardly ever closed. His first thought, having dismissed the nightmare theory, was that some loafer was hanging about, and seeing the lighted window had climbed up to look in. He said as much.“No. It was him,” she interrupted decisively. “There was no mistaking him. If it were the last word I breathed I should still say so. What does it mean? Oh, what does it mean?” she repeated in tones of the utmost distress.“Hush, hush, my dearest! Remember, Bentley will hear, and—”“There he is again!”The words broke forth in a shriek. Quickly Eustace glanced at the window. The squares of glass, black against the outer night, showed nothing in the shape of a human countenance. A large moth buzzed against them, and that was all.Her terror was so genuine, as with blanched face and starting eyes she glared upon the black glass, that ever so slight a thrill of superstitious dread shot through him in spite of himself.“Quick!” she gasped. “Quick! Go and look all round the house! I am not frightened to remain alone. Mr Bentley will stay with me. Go, quick!”The overseer, who had judiciously kept in the background, now came forward.“Certainly, Mrs Carhayes. Better come into this room and sit down for a bit. Why, you must have been mistaken,” he went on, cheerily placing a chair at the sitting room fire, and kicking up the nearly dead logs. “Nobody could get up at your window. Why, its about fifteen feetfrom the ground and there’s nothing lying about for them to step on. Not even a monkey could climb up there—though—wait. I did hear once of a case where a baboon, a wild one out of the veldt, climbed up on to the roof of a house and swung himself right into a room. I don’t say I believe it, though. It’s a little too much of a Dutchman’s yarn to be readily swallowed.”Thus the good-natured fellow rambled on, intent on cheering her up and diverting her thoughts. The rooms occupied by himself and his family were at the other end of the house and opened outside on the stoep, hence the sound of her terrified shriek had not reached them.Eustace, on investigation intent, had slipped round the outside of the house with the stealth and rapidity of a savage. But, as he had expected, there was no sign of the presence of any living thing. He put his ear to the ground and listened long and intently. Not a sound. No stealthy footfall broke the silence of the night.But as he crouched there in the darkness, with every nerve, every faculty at the highest tension, a horrible thought came upon him. What if Carhayes had really escaped—was really alive? Why should he not avow himself openly—why come prowling around like a midnight assassin? And then the answer suggested itself. Might it not be that his mind, unhinged by the experiences of his captivity, was filled with the one idea —to exact a deadly vengeance upon the wife who had so soon forgotten him? Such things had been, and to this man, watching there in the darkness, the idea was horrible enough.Stay! There was one way of placing the matter beyond all doubt. He remembered that the soil beneath Eanswyth’s window was loose dust—a trifle scratched about by the fowls, but would give forth the print of a human foot with almost the distinctness of snow.Quickly he moved to the spot. Striking a wax vesta, and then another, he peered eagerly at the ground. The atmosphere was quite still, and the matches flamed like a torch. His heart beat and his pulses quickened as he carefully examined the ground—then a feeling of intense relief came upon him. There was no sign of a human footprint.

Man seeks marriage across the city to get inheritance

No living thing could have stood under that window, much less climbed up to it, without leaving its traces. There were no traces; ergo, no living thing had been there, and he did not believe in ghosts. The whole affair had been a hallucination on the part of Eanswyth. This was bad, in that it seemed to point to a weak state of health or an overloaded mind. But it was nothing like so bad as the awful misfortune involved by the reality would have been—at any rate, to him.He did not believe in ghosts, but the idea crossed his mind that so far as from allaying Eanswyth’s fears, the utter impossibility of any living being having approached her window without leaving spoor in the sandy, impressionable soil, would have rather the opposite tendency. Once the idea got firmly rooted in her mind that the dead had appeared to her there was no foreseeing the limits of the gravity of the results. And she had been rather depressed of late. Very anxiously he re-entered the house to report the utter futility of his search.“At all events we’ll soon make it impossible for you to get another schrek in the same way, Mrs Carhayes,” said the overseer cheerily. “We’ll fasten the shutters up.”It was long before the distressed, scared look faded from her eyes. “Eustace,” she said—Bentley having judiciously left them together for a while—“When you were—when I thought you dead—I wearied Heaven with prayers to allow me one glimpse of you again. I had no fear then, but now—O God! it is his spirit that I have seen.”He tried to soothe her, to reassure her, and in a measure succeeded. At last, to the surprise of himself and the overseer, she seemed to shake off her terror as suddenly as it had assailed her. She was very foolish, she declared. She would go to bed now, and not keep them up all night in that selfish manner. And she actually did—refusing all offers on the part of Eustace or the overseer to remain in the sitting room in order to be within call, or to patrol around the house for the rest of the night.“No,” she said, “I am ashamed of myself already. The shutters are fastened up and I shall keep plenty of light burning. I feel quite safe now.”It was late next morning when Eanswyth appeared. Thoroughly refreshed by a long, sound sleep, she had quite forgotten her fears. Only as darkness drew on again a restless uneasiness came over her, but again she seemed to throw it off with an effort. She seemed to have the faculty of pulling herself together by an effort of will—even as she had done that night beside the broken-down buggy, while listening for the approaching footsteps of their savage enemies in the darkness. To Eustace’s relief, however, nothing occurred to revive her uneasiness.But he himself, in his turn, was destined to receive a rude shock.Chapter Forty.A Letter from Hoste.There was no postal delivery at Swaanepoel’s Hoek, nor was there any regular day for sending for the mails. If anybody was driving or riding into Somerset East on business or pleasure, they would call at the post office and bring out whatever there was; or, if anything of greater or less importance was expected, a native servant would be despatched with a note to the postmaster.Bentley had just returned from the township, bringing with him a batch of letters. Several fell to Eustace’s share, all, more or less, of a business nature. All, save one—and before he opened this he recognised Hoste’s handwriting:My Dear Milne (it began): This is going to be an important communication. So, before you go any further, you had better get into some sequestered corner by yourself to read it, for it’s going to knock you out of time some, or I’m a Dutchman.“That’s a shrewd idea on the part of Hoste putting in that caution,” he said to himself. “I should never have credited the chap with so much gumption.”He was alone in the shearing-house when the overseer had handed

Man seeks marriage across the city to get inheritance

him his letters. His coat was off, and he was doing one or two odd carpentering jobs. The time was about midday. Nobody was likely to interrupt him here.Something has come to my knowledge (went on the letter) which you, of all men, ought to be the one to investigate. To come to the point, there is some reason to suppose that poor Tom Carhayes may still be alive.You remember that Kafir on whose behalf you interfered when Jackson and a lot of fellows were giving him beans? He is my informant. He began by inquiring for you, and when I told him you were far away, and not likely to be up here again, he seemed disappointed, and said he wanted to do you a good turn for standing his friend on that occasion. He said he now knew who you were, and thought he could tell you something you would like to know.Well, I told him he had better unburden himself to me, and if his information seemed likely to be of use, he might depend upon me passing it on to you. This, at first, he didn’t seem to see—you know what a suspicious dog our black brother habitually is—and took himself off. But the secret seemed to weigh upon him, for, in a day or two, he turned up again, and then, in the course of a good deal of “dark talking,” he gave me to understand that Tom Carhayes was still alive; and, in fact, he knew where he was.Milne, you may just bet your boots I felt knocked all out of time. I hadn’t the least suspicion what the fellow was driving at, at first. Thought he was going to let out that he knew where old Kreli was hiding, or Hlangani, perhaps. So, you see, you must come up here at once, and look into the matter. I’ve arranged to send word to Xalasa —that’s the fellow’s name—to meet us at Anta’s Kloof directly you arrive.Don’t lose any time. Start the moment you get this. Of course I’ve kept the thing as dark as pitch; but there’s no knowing when an affair of this kind may not leak out and get into all the papers.

Kind regards to Mrs Carhayes—and keep this from her at present.Yours ever, Percy F. Hoste.Carefully Eustace read through every word of this communication; then, beginning again, he read it through a second time.“This requires some thinking out,” he said to himself. Then taking up the letter he went out in search of some retired spot where it would be absolutely impossible that he should be interrupted.Wandering mechanically he found himself on the very spot where they had investigated the silver box together. That would do. No one would think of looking for him there.He took out the letter and again studied every word of it carefully. There was no getting behind its contents: they were too plain in their fatal simplicity. And there was an inherent probability about the potentiality hinted at. He would certainly start at once to investigate the affair. Better to know the worst at any rate. And then how heartily he cursed the Kafir’s obtrusive gratitude, wishing a thousand-fold that he had left that sable bird of ill-omen at the mercy of his chastisers. However, if there was any truth in the story, it was bound to have come to light sooner or later in any case—perhaps better now, before the mischief wrought was irreparable. But if it should turn out to be true—what then? Good-bye to this beautiful and idyllic dream in which they two had been living during all these months past. Good-bye to a life’s happiness: to the bright golden vista they had been gazing into together. Why had he not closed with Hlangani’s hideous proposal long ago? Was it too late even now?The man suffered agonies as he sat there, realising his shattered hopes—the fair and priceless structure of his life’s happiness levelled to the earth like a house of cards. Like Lucifer fallen from Paradise he felt ready for anything.sacrificing the man he—well, did not like.“Where is ‘The Home of the Serpents,’ Josane? Do you know?”“Yes. I know?”Eustace started.“Can you guide me to it?” he said, speaking quickly.“I can. But it is a frightful place. The bravest white man would take to his heels and run like a hunted buck before he had gone far inside. You have extraordinary nerve, Ixeshane—but—You will see.”This sounded promising. But the old man’s tone was quiet and confident. He was not given to vapouring.“How do you know where to find this place, Josane?” said Eustace, half incredulously in spite of himself. “Xalasa told us it was unknown to everybody—everybody but the witch-doctress?”“Xalasa was right. I know where it is, because I have seen it. I was condemned to it.”“By Ngcenika?”“By Ngcenika. But my revenge is coming—my sure revenge is coming,” muttered the old Gcaléka, crooning the words in a kind of ferocious refrain—like that of a war-song.As this juncture they were rejoined by Hoste.“Well, Milne,” he said. “Had enough indaba? Because, if so, we may as well trek home again. Seems to me we’ve had a lot of trouble for nothing and been made mortal fools of down to the ground by that schelm, Xalasa’s, cock-and-bull yarns.”“You’re wrong this time,” replied Eustace. “Just listen here a while and you’ll see that we’re thoroughly on the right scent.”

At the end of half an hour the Kafir and the two white men arose. Their plans were laid. The following evening—at sundown—was the time fixed on as that for starting upon their perilous and somewhat dimly mysterious mission.“You are sure three of us will be enough, Josane?” said Hoste.“Quite enough. There are still bands of the Gcaléka fighting men in the forest country. If we go in a strong party they will discover us and we shall have to fight—Au! ‘A fight is as the air we breathe,’ you will say, Amakosi,” parenthesised the old Kafir, whimsically—“But it will not help us to find ‘The Home of the Serpents.’ Still, there would be no harm in having one more in the party.”“Who can we get?” mused Hoste. “There’s George Payne; but he’s away down in the Colony—Grahamstown, I believe. It would take him days to get here and even then he might cry off. I have it; Shelton’s the man, and I think he’ll go, too. Depend upon it, Milne, Shelton’s the very man. He’s on his farm now—living in a Kafir hut, seeing after the rebuilding of his old house. We’ll look him up this very night; we can get there in a couple of hours.”This was agreed to, and having arranged where Josane was to meet them the following evening, the two men saddled up and rode off into the darkness.Chapter Forty Two.The Search Party.Midwinter as it was, the heat in the valley of the Bashi that morning was something to remember.Not so much the heat as an extraordinary closeness and sense of oppression in the atmosphere. As the sun rose, mounting higher and higher into the clear blue of the heavens, it seemed that all his rays were concentrated and focussed down into this broad deep valley, whosesides were broken up into a grand panorama of soaring krantzes and wild rocky gorges, which latter, as also the great terraced slopes, were covered with dense forest, where the huge and spreading yellow-wood, all dangling with monkey trailers, alternated with the wild fig and the mimosa, the spekboem scrub and the waacht-een-bietje thorn, the spiky aloe and the plumed euphorbia, and where, in the cool dank shade, flourished many a rare orchid, beginning to show sign of blossoming, winter as it was.But the four men riding there, making a path for themselves through this well-nigh virgin forest, had little thought to give to the beauties of Nature. Seriousness and anxiety was absent from none of those countenances. For to-day would see the object of their quest attained.So far their expedition had been in no wise unattended by danger. Four men would be a mere mouthful if discovered by any of the scattered bands of the enemy, who still roamed the country in its wildest and most rugged parts. The ferocity of these savages, stimulated by a sullen but vengeful consciousness of defeat, would render them doubly formidable. Four men constituted a mere handful. So the party had travelled by circuitous ways, only advancing at night, and lying hidden during the daytime in the most retired and sequestered spots. Twice from such judicious hiding places had they espied considerable bodies of the enemy marching northward, and two or three times, patrols, or armed forces of their own countrymen. But these they were almost as careful to avoid as the savage Gcalékas. Four men advancing into the hostile country was an uncommon sight. They did not want their expedition talked about, even among their own countrymen, just yet. And now they were within two hours of the object of their search.The dangers they had gone through, and those which were yet to come, were courted, be it remembered, not in search of treasure or riches, not even out of love of adventure. They were braved in order to rescue a friend and comrade from an unknown fate, whose mysteriousness was enhanced by vague hints at undefined horrors, on the part of the only man qualified to speak, viz., their guide.For Josane had proved extraordinarily reticent as to details; and all

attempts to draw him out during their journey had failed. As they drew near the dreaded spot this reticence had deepened to a remarkable degree. The old Gcaléka displayed an ominous taciturnity, a gloom even, which was in no degree calculated to raise the spirits of the three white men. Even Eustace failed to elicit from him any definite facts. He had been “smelt out” and condemned to “the Home of the Serpents” and had escaped while being taken into it, and to do this he had almost had to fly through the air. But the place would try their nerves to the uttermost; of that he warned them. Then he would subside again into silence, regardless of any further attempt to “draw” him.There was one of the party whose motives, judged by ordinary human standards, were little short of heroic, and that one was Eustace Milne. He had nothing to gain by the present undertaking, nor had the others. But then they had nothing to lose by it except their lives, whereas he had not only that but everything that made life worth living into the bargain. Again and again he found himself cursing Xalasa’s “gratitude,” from the very depths of his soul. Yet never for a moment did he swerve in his resolve to save his unfortunate cousin if the thing were to be done, although there were times when he marvelled over himself as a strange and unaccountable paradox. A silence was upon them all, as they moved at a foot’s pace through the dense and jungly tangle, mounting ever upwards. After an hour of this travelling they had reached a considerable height. Here in a sequestered glade Josane called a halt.“We must leave the horses,” he said. “It is impossible to take them where we are going. Whau!” he went on, looking upwards and snuffing the air like a stag. “There will be plenty of thunder by and by. We have no time to lose.”Taking with them a long twisted rawhide rope, of amazing strength, which might be necessary for climbing purposes, and a few smaller reims, together with a day’s provisions, and every available cartridge, they started on foot, Josane leading the way. Each was armed with a double gun—one barrel rifled—and a revolver. The Gcaléka carried three small-bladed casting assegais, and a broad headed, close-quarter one, as well as a kerrie.They had struck into a narrow gorge in the side of the hill. It was hard work making any headway at all. The dense bush, intertwined with creepers, met them in places in an unbroken wall, but Josane would hack away manfully with his broad-bladed assegai until he succeeded in forcing a way.“It seems as if we were going to storm the devil’s castle,” said Shelton, sitting down to wipe his streaming brow. “It’s hot enough anyway.”“Rather,” assented Hoste. “Milne, old chap, how do you feel?”“Headachy. There’s a power of thunder sticking out—as Josane says —against when we get out.”“If we ever do get out.”“That’s cheerful. Well, if we mean to get in, I suppose we’d better make a move? Eh, Josane!” The Kafir emphatically agreed. He had witnessed their dilatoriness not without concern. He appeared strangely eager to get the thing over—contrary to the habits of his kind, for savages, of whatever race, are never in a hurry. A line of rocky boulders in front, thickly grown with straight stemmed euphorbia, stiff and regular like the pipes of an organ, precluded any view of the sort of formation that lay beyond. Right across their path, if path it might be called, rose another impenetrable wall of thorns and creepers. In front of this Josane halted.Chapter Forty Three.“Kwa ’Zinyoka.”The brooding, oppressive stillness deepened. Not a breath of air stirred the sprays of the bush, which slept motionless as though carved in stone. Even the very bird voices were hushed. Far below, the sound of the river, flowing over its long stony reaches, came upwards in plaintive monotonous murmur.


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