Who is the "number one creditor"? ——Numbers start the US “debt trap” lie (1)

发表于 2023-09-23 01:24:20 来源:Return to basics and return to true nature

height, but from the plain itself. Then Eustace took in the situation in a moment. The savages were beginning to fire the deserted homesteads of the settlers.“Inspan the buggy quickly, Josane,” he said. “And, Ncandúku, come inside for a moment. I will find basela (Best rendered by the familiar term ‘backshish’) for you and Nteya.” But the voice which had conveyed such timely warning responded not. The messenger had disappeared.The whole condition of affairs was patent to Eustace’s mind. Nteya, though a chief whose status was not far inferior to that of Sandili himself, was not all-powerful. Those of his tribesmen who came from a distance, and were not of his own clan, would be slow to give implicit obedience to his “word,” their instincts for slaughter and pillage once fairly let loose, and so he had sent to warn Eanswyth. Besides, it was probable that there were Gcalékas among them. Ncanduku’s words, “strangers from another land,” seemed to point that way. He put it to Josane while harnessing the horses. The old man emitted a dry laugh.“There are about six hundred of the Gcaléka fighting men in Nteya’s location to-night,” he replied. “Every farmhouse in the land will be burned before the morning. Whau, Ixeshane! Is there any time to lose now?”Eustace realised that assuredly there was not. But inspanning a pair of horses was, to his experienced hand, the work of a very few minutes indeed.“Who is their chief?” he asked, tugging at the last strap. “Sigcau?”“No. Ukiva.”An involuntary exclamation of concern escaped Eustace. For the chief named had evinced a marked hostility towards himself during his recent captivity; indeed, this man’s influence had more than once almost turned the scale in favour of his death. No wonder he felt anxious.Eanswyth had gone into the house to put a few things together, having, with an effort, overcome her reluctance to let him out of her sight

darkness and weight—a feeling as though the cavern roof might crush down upon us, and bury us there throughout the aeons of eternity. It is not surprising, therefore, that our three friends—all men of tried courage —should sit down for a few minutes, and contemplate this yawning black hole in dubious silence.It was no reflection on their courage, either. They had just dared and surmounted a peril trying and frightful enough to tax the strongest nerves —and now before them lay the entrance to an unknown inferno; a place bristling with grim and mysterious terrors such as even their stout-hearted guide—the only man who knew what they were—recoiled from braving again. They could hardly believe that the friend and fellow-countrymen, whom all these months they had reckoned among the slain, lay near them within that fearful place, alive, and perchance unharmed. It might be, however, that the cavern before them was but a tunnel, leading to some hidden and inaccessible retreat like the curious crater-like hollow they had just skirted.“Au!” exclaimed Josane, with a dissatisfied shake of the head. “We cannot afford to sleep here. If we intend to go in we must do so at once.”There was reason in this. Their preparations were simple enough— and consisted in seeing that their weapons were in perfect readiness. Eustace, too, had lighted a strong bull’s-eye lantern with a closing slide. Besides this, each man was plentifully supplied with candles, which, however, it was decided, should only be used if a quantity of light became absolutely necessary.Be it remembered not one of the three white men had other than the vaguest idea of the nature of the horrors which this gruesome place might disclose. Whether through motives of superstition or from whatever cause, Josane had hitherto preserved a remarkable silence on the subject. Now he said, significantly:“Hear my words, Amakosi. Tread one behind the other, and look neither to the right nor to the left, nor above. But look where you place your steps, and look carefully. Remember my words, for I know that of which I speak.”They compared their watches. It was just half-past one. They sent a last long look at the sky and the surrounding heights. As they did so there rolled forth upon the heavy air a long, low boom of distant thunder. Then they fell into their places and entered the cavern, the same unspoken thought in each man’s mind—Would they ever behold the fair light of day again?And the distant, muttering thunder peal, hoarse, heavy, sullen, breaking upon the sultry air, at the moment when they left the outer world, struck them as an omen—the menacing voice of outraged Nature booming the knell of those who had the temerity to seek to penetrate her innermost mysteries.

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Chapter Forty Four.Inferno.For the first forty yards the roof of the cave was so low that they had to advance in a stooping posture. Then it heightened and the tunnel widened out simultaneously. Eustace led the way, his bull’s-eye lantern strapped around him, throwing a wide disk of yellow light in front. Behind him, but keeping a hand on his shoulder in order to guide him, walked Josane; the other two following in single file.A turn of the way had shut out the light from the entrance. Eustace closing the slide of the lantern for a moment, they were in black, pitchy darkness.A perceptible current of air blew into the cavern. That looked as if there should be an outlet somewhere. Old Josane, while enjoining silence upon the rest of the party, had, from the moment they had entered, struck up a low, weird, crooning song, which sounded like an incantation. Soon a glimmer of light showed just in front.“That is the other way in,” muttered old Josane. “That is the way I came in. The other is the way I came out. Hau!”An opening now became apparent—a steep, rock shaft, reaching away into the outer air. It seemed to take one or more turnings in its upward passage, for the sky was not visible, and the light only travelled down in a dim, chastened glimmer as though it was intercepted in its course. An examination of this extraordinary feature revealed the fact that it was a kind of natural staircase.“This is the way I came in. Ha!” muttered Josane again, with a glare of resentment in his eyes as though recalling to mind some particularly ignominious treatment—as he narrowly scrutinised the slippery, rocky sides of the shaft.“I suppose it’ll be the best way for us to get out,” said Hoste.“Anything rather than that devil of a scramble again.”“The time to talk of getting out is not yet,” rejoined the Kafir drily. “We are not in yet.”They resumed their way. As they penetrated deeper, the cavern suddenly slanted abruptly upwards. This continued for some twenty or thirty yards, when again the floor became level, though ever with a slight upward bend. Great slabs of rock projected from the sides, but the width of the tunnel varied little, ranging between six and ten yards. The same held good of its height.As they advanced they noticed that the current of air was no longer felt. An extraordinary foetid and overpowering atmosphere had taken its place. Similarly the floor and sides of the cavern, which before they reached the outlet had been moist and humid, now became dry and firm.“Hand us your flask, Shelton,” said Hoste. “Upon my soul I feel as if I was going to faint. Faugh!”The odour was becoming more and more sickening with every step. Musky, rank, acreous—it might almost be felt. Each man required a pull at something invigorating, if only to neutralise the inhalation of so pestilential an atmosphere. Smoking was suggested, but this Josane firmly tabooed.“It cannot be,” he said. “It would be madness. Remember my words,Amakosi. Look neither to the right nor to the left—only straight in front of you, where you set down your steps.”Then he resumed his strange wild chant, now sinking it to an awe-struck whisper hardly above his breath. It was a weird, uncanny sight, those four shadowy figures advancing through the thick black darkness, the fiery eye of the lantern darting forth its luminous column in front, while the deep-toned, long-drawn notes of the wild, heathenish rune died away in whispering echoes overhead.“Oh! good Lord! Look at that!”The cry broke from Shelton. All started, so great was the state of tension that their nerves were undergoing. Following his glance they promptly discovered what it was that had evoked it.Lying upon a great slab of rock, about on a level with their chests, was an enormous puff-adder. The bloated proportions of the hideous reptile were disposed in a sinuous coil—shadowy, repulsive to the last degree, in the light of the lantern. A shudder ran through every one of the three white men.“Quick, Josane. Hand me one of your kerries,” said Shelton. “I can get a whack at him now.”But the Kafir, peremptorily, almost angrily refused.“Why did you not listen to my words?” he said. “Look neither to the right nor to the left, was what I told you. Then you would have seen nothing. Now let us move on.”But Shelton and Hoste stood, irresolutely staring at the horrid reptile as though half fascinated. It—as if resenting the intrusion—began to unwind its sluggish folds, and raising its head, emitted a low, warning hiss, at the same time blowing itself out with a sound as of a pair of bellows collapsing, after the fashion which has gained for this most repulsive of all serpents its distinctive name.“You must not kill it,” repeated the Kafir, in a tone almost of command. “This is ‘The Home of the Serpents,’ remember. Did I not warn you?”They saw that he was deadly in earnest. Here in this horrible den, right in the heart of the earth, the dark-skinned, superstitious savage seemed the one to command. It was perhaps remarkable that no thought of disobeying him entered the mind of any one of the three white men; still more so, that no resentment entered in either. They resumed their way without a murmur; not, however, without some furtive glances behind, as though dreading an attack on the part of the deadly reptile they were leaving in their rear. More than once they thought to detect the

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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.Indeed, it is by no means certain that had their own inclinations been the sole guide in the matter, they would there and then have turned round and beat a hasty and ignominious retreat, leaving Tom Carhayes and his potential fate to the investigation of some more enterprising party.The atmosphere grew more foetid and pestilential. Suddenly the cavern widened out. Great slabs of rock jutted horizontally from the sides, sometimes so nearly meeting that there was only just room to pass in single file between. Then a low cry of horror escaped the three white men. They stopped short, as though they had encountered a row of fixed bayonets, and some, at any rate, of the party were conscious of the very hair on their heads standing erect.For, lying about upon the rock slabs were numbers of shadowy, sinuous shapes, similar to the one they had just disturbed. Some were lying apart, some were coiled up together in a heaving, revolting mass. As the light of the lantern flashed upon them, they began to move. The hideous coils began to separate, gliding apart, head erect, and hissing till the whole area of the grisly cavern seemed alive with writhing, hissing serpents. Turn the light which way they would, there were the same great wriggling coils, the same frightful heads. Many, hitherto unseen, were pouring their loathsome, gliding shapes down the rocks overhead, and the dull, dragging heavy sound, as the horrible reptiles crawled over the hard and stony surface, mingled with that of strident hissing. What a sight to come upon in the heart of the earth!It is safe to assert that no object in Nature is held in more utter and universal detestation by man than the serpent. And here were these men penned up within an underground cave in the very heart of the earth, with scores, if not hundreds, of these frightful and most deadly reptiles—some too, of abnormal size—around them; all on the move, and so near that it was as much as they could do to avoid actual contact. Small wonder that their flesh should creep and that every drop of blood should seem to curdle within their veins. It was a position to recur to a man in his dreams until his dying day.“Oh, I can’t stand any more of this,” said Hoste, who was walking last. “Hang it. Anything above ground, you know—but this—! Faugh!

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We’ve got no show at all. Ugh-h!”Something cold had come in contact with his hand. He started violently. But it was only the clammy surface of a projecting rock.And now the whole of the gloomy chamber resounded with shrill and angry hissing, as the disturbed reptiles glided hither and thither—was alive with waving necks and distended jaws, glimpsed shadowy on the confines of the disk of light which shot into the remote corners of the frightful den. Curiously enough, not one of the serpents seemed to be lying in the pathway itself. All were on the ledges of rock which bordered it.“Keep silence and follow close on my steps,” said Josane shortly. Then he raised his voice and threw a marvellously strange, soft melodiousness into the weird song, which he had never ceased to chant. Eustace, who was the first to recover to some extent his self-possession, and who took in the state of affairs, now joined in with a low, clear, whistling accompaniment. The effect was extraordinary. The writhing contortions of the reptiles ceased with a suddenness little short of magical. With heads raised and a slight waving motion of the neck they listened, apparently entranced. It was a wonderful sight, terrible in its weird ghastliness—that swarm of deadly serpents held thus spell-bound by the eerie barbaric music. It really looked as though there was more than met the eye in that heathenish adjuration as they walked unharmed through the deadly reptiles to the refrain of the long-drawn, lugubrious chant.“Harm us not, O Snake of Snakes! Do us no hurt,O Inyoka ’Nkúlu!”Thus they passed through that fearful chamber, sometimes within a cou of yards of two or three serpents lying on a level with their faces.Once it was all that even Eustace, the self-possessed, could do to keep

himself from ducking violently as the head of a huge puff-adder noiselessly shot up horribly close to his ear, and a very marked quaver came into his whistling notes.As the cavern narrowed to its former tunnel-like dimensions the serpentsgrew perceptibly scarcer. One or two would be seen to wriggle away, he and there; then no more were met with. The sickening closeness of the air still continued, and now this stood amply accounted for. It was due to the foetid exhalations produced by this mass of noisome reptiles congregated within a confined space far removed from the outer air.“Faugh!” ejaculated Hoste. “Thank Heaven these awful brutes seem to grown scarce again. Shall we have to go back through them, Josane?”“It is not yet time to talk of going back,” was the grim reply. Then he had hardly resumed his magic song before he broke it off abruptly. At the same time the others started, and their faces blanched in the semi-darkness.For, out of the black gloom in front of them, not very far in front either, there burst forth such a frightful diabolical howl as ever curdled the heart’s blood of an appalled listener.Chapter Forty Five.A Fearful Discovery.They stood there, turned to stone. They stood there, strong men as they were, their flesh creeping with horror. The awful sound was succeeded by a moment of silence, then it burst forth again and again, the grim subterraneous walls echoing back its horrible import in ear-splitting reverberation. It sounded hardly human in its mingled intonation of frenzied ferocity and blind despair. It might have been the shriek of a lost soul, struggling in the grasp of fiends on the brink of the nethermostA sounding whack across the ear with the haft of an assegai choked the words in his throat. He stood, literally foaming with fury.“Attend, thou white dog,” cried a great deep-toned voice. “Attend when the Great Chief is talking to thee. Au!”An infuriated mastiff straining at his chain is a pretty good exemplification of impotent wrath, but even he is nothing to the aspect and demeanour of Carhayes as he turned to the perpetrator of this indignity. The veins rolled in his forehead as if they would burst. The muscles stood out upon his neck like cords as he strove by a superhuman effort to burst his bonds. But Hlangani only sneered.“Listen when the Great Chief is talking to thee, thou jackal, or I will strike thee again,” he said.“God damn the Great Chief!” roared poor Tom, his voice rising to a hurricane shriek of fury under this shameful indignity, which he was powerless to resent. “And you, Hlangani, you dog, if I stood unbound I would kill you at this moment—kill you all unarmed as I am. Coward! Dare you try it!”“What is this indaba?” interrupted Kreli sternly. “This white man has a very long tongue. Perhaps it may be shortened with advantage.” A hum of applause greeted this remark, and the chief went on. “You are asked a question, umlúngu, and instead of answering you rave and bellow and throw yourself about like a cow that has lost her calf. And now what have you to say? You have invaded our country and shot our people with your own hand. If a man thrusts his head into a hornet’s nest, whom shall he blame but himself if he gets stung—if he treads upon a serpent, how shall he complain if made to feel the reptile’s fangs?”“Well, you see, it’s war-time,” answered Carhayes bluntly, beginning to think he might just as well say something to save his life, if words could save it, that is. “I have met your people in fair fight, and I challenge any man, black or white, to deny that I have acted fair, square, and above board. And when we do take prisoners we don’t treat them as I have

been treated since I was brought here. They are taken care of by the doctors if wounded, as I am; not tied up and starved and kicked, as I have been.”“Their doctors are the Fingo dogs,” interrupted the chief darkly, “their medicine a sharp assegai. Freeborn men of the House of Gcaléka to die at the hand of a Fingo slave! Hau!”A roar of execration went up at this hit. “To the fire with him!” howled the savage crowd. “Give him to us, Great Chief, that we may make him die a hundred deaths!”“That is the sort of healing my children get when they fall into the hands of Amanglezi. And you, umlúngu, you have offered an insult to the House of Gcaléka in the person of Hlangani, my herald, a man of the House of Hintza, my father. Was it war-time when you shed his blood? Did you meet in fair fight when you shot him suddenly and at close-quarters, he having no gun?”“Was it war-time when Hlangani entered the Gaika location to stir up strife? Was it right that he should bring his dogs on to my farm to hunt my bucks?” answered Carhayes fearlessly. “Again, was it fair play for four men, armed with assegais, to attack one, who had but two shots? Or was it self-defence? Listen to my words, Kreli, and you chiefs and amapakati of the House of Gcaléka,” he went on, raising his voice till it was audible to the whole assemblage. “In the presence of you all I proclaim Hlangani a coward. He has struck and insulted me because I am bound. He dare not meet me free. I challenge him to do so. Loosen these bonds. I am weak and wounded. I cannot escape—you need not fear—and let him meet me if he dares, with any weapon he chooses. I challenge him. If he refuses he is nothing but a cowardly dog, and worse than the meanest Fingo. If you, Kreli, refuse my request, it is because you know this bragging herald of yours to be a coward.”The fierce rapidity of this harangue, the audacity of the request embodied within it, took away the auditors’ breath. Yet the idea appealed to them—appealed powerfully to their ardently martial sympathies. The very novelty of such a duel as that proposed invested it with a rareattractiveness.“What does Hlangani say?” observed Kreli, with a partly amused glance at his subordinate.“This, O Great Chief of my father’s house,” replied the warrior, the light of battle springing into his eyes. “Of what man living was Hlangani ever afraid? What man ever had to call him twice? Yet, O Great Chief, the head of my father’s house, I would ask a boon. When I have whipped this miserable white dog, I would claim possession of his wretched carcase absolutely, alive or dead.”“It is granted, Hlangani,” said the chief.“And I?” cried Carhayes. “What shall be given to me when I have sent this cur, who strikes helpless men, howling to his hut? My liberty, of course?”“No,” replied Kreli, shortly.“No?” echoed the prisoner. “My life then?”“No,” answered the chief again. “Be content, umlúngu. If you conquer you shall have a swift and merciful death. If you fail, Hlangani claims you.”Carhayes stared at the chief for a moment, then, as he realised that he had nothing to hope for, whether he won in the combat or not—an expression of such deadly ferocity, such fell and murderous purpose swept across his face, that many of those who witnessed it realised that their countryman was going to snatch no easy victory.The stout rawhide reims which bound his hands behind him were loosened—and that which secured his feet was removed. He stood swinging his arms and stamping to hasten the circulation—then he asked for some water, which was brought him.“Ha, umlúngu!” jeered Ngcenika, addressing Eustace, as the two white men stood talking together. “Give this valiant fighter some white

magic to strengthen him. He will need it.”“Well, Eustace, I’m going to kill that dog,” said Carhayes. “I’m going to die fighting anyway, so that’s all right. Now—I’m ready. What are we going to fight with?”“This,” said one of the bystanders, handing him a pair of hard-wood kerries.Hlangani now made his appearance similarly armed. The crescent formation of warriors had narrowed their ranks, the chiefs and councillors and Eustace and his guards composing the upper arc of the circle. The prisoner could not have broken through that dense array of armed men which hemmed him in on every side, had he entertained the idea.Both the principals in that strange impromptu duel were men of splendid physique. The Kafir, nearly naked, looked like a bronze giant, towering above his adversary in his magnificent height and straight and perfect proportions. The Englishman, thick-set, deep-chested, concentrated a vast amount of muscular power within his five-foot-eight. He had thrown off his ragged shirt, and the muscles of his chest and arms stood out like ropes. He looked a terribly awkward antagonist, and moreover on his side the conflict would be fought with all the ferocity of despair. He was a man bent on selling his life dearly.Hlangani, for his part, was confident and smiling. He was going to fight with his natural weapons, a pair of good, trusty kerries. This blundering white man, though he had the strength and ferocity of an enraged bull, had more than that quadruped’s stupidity. He would knock him out of shape in no time.When blood is up, the spirit of Donnybrook is very strong among Kafirs. The next best thing to taking part in a fight is to witness one—and now, accordingly, every head was bent forward with the most eager interest as the two combatants advanced towards each other in the open space. There was no “ring” proper, nor were there any recognised rules; no “time” either. Each man’s business was to kill or disable the other—as effectually as possible, and by any means in his power.Now a smart Kafir, armed with two good kerries whose use he thoroughly understands, is about as tough a customer to tackle as is a professional pugilist to the average Briton who knows how to use his hands but indifferently. Of this Carhayes was perfectly aware. Consequently his plan was to meet his antagonist with extreme wariness; in fact, to stand rather on the defensive, at any rate at first. He was a fair single stick player, which tended not a little to equalise the chances.As they drew near each other and reached striking distance, they looked straight into each other’s eyes like a pair of skilful fencers. The savage, with one kerrie raised in the air, the other held horizontally before his breast, but both with a nervous, supple grasp, ready to turn any way with lightning rapidity—his glance upon that of his foe—his active, muscular frame poised lightly on one foot, then on another, with feline readiness, would have furnished a perfect subject for an instantaneous photograph representing strength and address combined. The Englishman, his bearded lips compressed, his blue eyes sparkling and alert, shining with suppressed eagerness to come to close-quarters with his crafty and formidable foe, was none the less a fine specimen of courage and undaunted resolution.Hlangani, a sneering laugh upon his thick lips, opened the ball by making a judicious feint. But his adversary never moved. He followed it up by another, then a series of them, whirling his striking kerrie round the Englishman’s head in the most startling proximity, now on this side, now on that, holding his parrying one ready for any attack the other might make upon him. Still Carhayes stood strictly on the defensive. He knew the Kafir was trying to “draw him”—knew that his enemy’s quick eye was prepared for any opportunity. He was not going to waste energy gratuitously.Suddenly, and with lightning-like celerity, Hlangani made a sweep at the lower part of his adversary’s leg. It would have been the ruin of a less experienced combatant, but Carhayes’ kerrie, lowered just two inches, met that of his opponent with a sounding crash just in time to save his skull somewhere in the region of the ear. It was a clever feint, and a dexterous follow-up, but it had failed. Hlangani began to realise that he had met a foeman worthy of his steel—or, rather, of his wood. Still he


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