Embiid: I did play with an injury but I need more playing time

发表于 2023-09-22 03:51:17 来源:Return to basics and return to true nature

rattle of the hideous performance goes up to the heavens, cleaving the solemn silence of the sweet African night. The leaping, bounding, perspiring shapes, look truly devilish in the red firelight. The excitement of the fierce savages seems to have reached a pitch little short of downright frenzy. Yet it shows no signs of abating. For they have eaten meat.Chapter Six.Hlangani, The Herald.Suddenly, as if by magic, the wild war-dance ceased, and the fierce, murderous rhythm was reduced to silence. Sinking down in a half-sitting posture, quivering with suppressed excitement, their dark forms bent forward like those of so many crouching leopards, their eyeballs rolling in the lurid glow, the Kafirs rested eagerly, awaiting what was to follow.A group of chiefs advanced within the circle of light. A little in front of these, prominent among them by reason of his towering stature and herculean build, was a warrior of savage and awe-inspiring aspect. His countenance bore an evil, scowling sneer, which looked habitual, and his eyes glowed like live coals. He wore a headdress of monkey skins, above which waved a tuft of plumes from the tail of the blue crane. His body was nearly naked, and his muscular limbs, red with ochre, were decorated with fringes of cows’ tails and tufts of flowing hair. On his left arm, above the elbow, he wore a thick; square armlet of solid ivory, and in his hand he carried a large, broad-bladed assegai. One shoulder was swathed in a rude bandage, the latter nearly concealed by fantastic hair adornments.A hum of suppressed eagerness went round the crowd of excited barbarians as this man stood forth in their midst. It subsided into a silence that might be felt as he spoke:“I am Hlangani, the son of Ngcesiba, the Herald of the Great Chief Sarili (Or Kreli), the son of Hintza, of the House of Gcaléka. Hear my word, for it is the word of Sarili, the Great Chief—the chief paramount of all the children of Xosa.

Through it came the shivering crash of glass, as Hlangani’s lantern fell into the pit, but whether its owner followed it or not could not be determined through the overpowering din. Still holding the lantern, the hideous witch-doctress was seen through the sulphurous smoke, standing there as one turned to stone—then like lightning, a dark, lithe body sprang through the spectators and with a growl like that of a wild beast leaped upon the bewildered Ngcenika. There was the gleam of an assegai in the air—then darkness and the shatter of glass. The lantern fell from the sorceress’ hand.“Turn on the light, Milne; quick!” cried the other two.“I’m trying to, but the infernal thing won’t work. The slide’s jammed—Oh!”For he was swept off his feet. Two heavy bodies rolled over him— striving, cursing, struggling, stabbing—then half stumbled, half rolled away into the gloom beyond.The others bethought them of their candles, which, up till now, had been kept unused. Quickly two of them were produced and lighted.The din of the scuffle seemed to be receding further and further; nor in the faint and flickering impression cast upon the cavernous gloom by the light of the candles could anything be seen of the combatants. But that the scuffle was a hard and fierce one was evident from the sounds.Just then Eustace succeeded in opening the lantern slide, and now they were able to advance boldly in the strong disk of light. The latter revealed the object of their search.Rolling over and over each other were two dark bodies, one now uppermost, now the other. Both seemed equally matched; even if in point of sheer physical strength the advantage did not lie slightly with the witch-doctress, for Josane, though wiry and active, was a good deal older than he looked. Each firmly gripped the other’s right wrist, for the purpose of preventing the use of the broad-bladed, murderous assegai with which the right hand of each was armed. Victory would lie with whoever couldhold out the longest.As soon as the light fell upon the two struggling bodies, the witch-doctress threw all her energies into afresh and violent effort. She seemed to divine that the new arrivals would refrain from shooting at her for fear of injuring Josane. So she redoubled her struggles and kicked and bit and tore like one possessed.“Keep her in that position a moment, Josane,” sung out Hoste. “I’ll put a hunk of lead through the devil’s carcase. There—so!”But it was not to be. With a supreme effort she wrenched her wrist free from her opponent’s grasp, and turning with the rapidity of a cat, leaped out of sight in the darkness. But a moment later she stumbled over a boulder and sprawled headlong. Before she could rise her pursuer was upon her and had stabbed her twice through the body with his assegai.“Ha! Spawn of a Fingo dog!” cried Josane, his voice assuming a fierce, throaty growl in the delirious satiety of his vengeance. “I am Josane—whom thou wouldst have thrown to the serpents, as thou didst this white man—ha! whom thou wouldst have given alive to feed the black ants, as thou didst Vudana, my kinsman. Ha! I am Josane, who was eaten up at thy accursed bidding. Ha! But I lived for revenge and it has come. Ha! How does this feel?—and this?—and this?”With each ejaculation “ha!” he had plunged his assegai into the writhing body of the prostrate witch-doctress. To the white men his aspect was that of a fiend—standing there in the cavernous gloom, his eyes rolling in frenzy—literally digging with his spear into the body of his vanquished enemy, out of which the red blood was squirting in a dozen great jets. Not until the corpse had entirely ceased to move did he cease his furious stabs.“The hell-hag is dead!” he cried, as he at length turned to leave. “The hell-hag is dead,” he repeated, turning the words into a fierce chant of exultation. “The hell-hag bleeds, and my revenge is sweet. Ha! Revenge is brighter than the sun in the heavens, for it is red, blood red. Ha! Mine

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enemy is dead!”By this time they had returned to the brink of the pit. But there was no sign of Hlangani. Something like dismay was on every face. The fragments of his shattered lantern lay strewn about at the bottom of the hole, but of the savage himself there was no sign. It was marvellous. All three men were first-rate shots. It was impossible that any one of them could have missed him at that distance, let alone all three. How could he have got away with three bullets in his body?Cautiously they hunted everywhere with increasing anxiety, but nothing occurred to reward their search. The latter led them almost back to the great rock-chamber where the serpents swarmed. Still no sign of Hlangani.This was serious in the extreme. They would have their hands full enough with the wretched maniac, even if they succeeded in bringing him away at all; and the idea that the fierce Gcaléka, desperately wounded perhaps, might be lying in wait, in some awkward place, ready to fall upon them with all the reckless, despairing ferocity of a cornered leopard, was anything but encouraging. Or, what if he had escaped altogether, and were to bring back a swarm of his countrymen to cut off their retreat.“I tell you what it is,” said Hoste. “The sooner we get this poor chap out, and clear out ourselves, the better.”This was true enough; but how to act upon it was another thing.Several candles were lighted and stuck about on the rocks, making the black, gloomy cavern a trifle less sepulchral. Then they advanced to the pit’s brink. The lunatic, crouched on the ground gnawing a bone, stared stupidly at them.“Don’t you know me, Tom?” said Eustace, speaking quietly. “We are come to get you away from here, old chap. You know me? Come now!”But the poor wretch gave no sign of intelligence, as he went on munching his revolting food. Several times they tried him, each indifferent ways, but always without success. It was pitiable.“We shall have to get him out by force,” said Shelton. “But how the deuce we are going to do it beats me.”“We might lasso him with a reim, and haul him up that way,” suggested Hoste.“I had thought of that,” said Eustace. “First of all, though, I’m going to have another try at the suaviter in modo. He may recognise me—nearer.”“Nearer? What? How? You are never going down there!” cried Shelton.“That’s just what I am going to do. Where’s that long reim, Josane?”This was the long, stout rawhide rope they had brought with them in case it might be wanted for climbing purposes. Quickly Eustace had made a running noose in it.“I hope you’re in good hard form, Milne,” said Shelton gravely. “The poor chap may try and tear you to pieces. I wouldn’t risk it, if I were you.”“And the snakes?” put in Hoste. “What about the snakes?”“I shall have to chance them,” returned Eustace, having a shrewd suspicion that the reptiles had been rendered harmless by the extraction of their fangs, and were, in fact, kept there by the witch-doctress in order to lend additional horror to this inferno, whither she consigned her victims. Even then the act of descending into that noisome pit, with the almost certainty of a hand-to-hand struggle with a raging lunatic of enormous strength, was an ordeal calculated to daunt the stoutest of hearts. Certain it is that neither of the other two would have cared to undertake it. More than ever, then, did they endeavour to dissuade him.“This is my idea,” he said. “I must try and get him round against this side of the hole. Then, while I hold his attention, Josane must drop his blanket over his head. Then I’ll fling the noose round him, and you must all man the reim, and haul him up like a sack. Only it must be done sharp.Directly I sing out ‘Trek,’ you must haul away for dear life.”“But how about yourself, old chap?”“Never mind about me. I can wait down there until you’re ready for me. But when you have got him up here you must tie him up as tight as a log, and sharp, too. Now, Josane, is your blanket ready?”The old Kafir, who had been knotting a small stone into each corner so that the thing should fall quickly, answered in the affirmative. In a second the reim was dropped over the side, and Eustace, sliding down, stood at the bottom of the pit.The indescribably fearful effluvium fairly choked him. He felt dizzy and faint. The lunatic, still crouching at the other side, made no aggressive movement, merely staring with lack-lustre eyes at the new arrival. Keeping his eye upon him, Eustace took advantage of this welcome truce to feel for his flask and counteract his fast overpowering nausea with a timely pull.“Tom,” he said, in a most persuasive tone, approaching the wretched being. “Tom—you know me, don’t you?”Then an awful change came into the maniac’s countenance. His eyes glared through the tangle of his matted hair; the great bushy beard began to bristle and quiver with rage. He rose to his feet and, opening his mouth, emitted that same horrible howl. Those above held their breath.Well for Eustace was it that he never quailed. Standing there in the middle of the pit—at the mercy of this furious lunatic—he moved not a muscle. But his eyes held those of the demoniac with a piercing and steady gaze.The crisis was past. Whimpering like a child, the wretched creature sank to the ground, again covering his face with his hands.This was good enough as a first triumph, but the maniac had to be coaxed round to the other side of the hole. Eustace dared not remove his glance, even for the fraction of a second. His foot struck against

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something, which yielded suddenly and started away hissing. His pulses stood still with horror, yet he knew better than to remove his eyes from his unhappy kinsman.“Come, Tom,” he said coaxingly, advancing a couple of steps. “Get up, man, and go and sit over there.”With an affrighted cry, the other edged away round the wall of his prison, bringing himself much nearer the point where it was intended he should be brought. He cowered, with face averted, moaning like an animal in pain. Not to overdo the thing, Eustace waited a moment, then advanced a step or two nearer. It had the desired effect. The madman shuffled away as before. He must be in the right place now. Still Eustace dared not look up.“He’s all right now, if you’re ready,” whispered a voice from above.“Ready!” was the quick reply.Something dropped. The madman’s head and shoulders disappeared under the voluminous folds of old Josane’s red blanket. Quick as lightning Eustace had sprung to his side and whipped the running noose round him.“Trek!” he cried, with an energy sufficient to start a dozen spans of oxen.The body of Tom Carhayes swung into the air. Kicking, struggling, howling, he disappeared over the brink above. Eustace, alone at the bottom of the pit, could hear the sounds of a furious scuffle—sounds, too, which seemed to be receding as though into distance. What did it all mean? They seemed a long time securing the maniac.Then, as he looked around this horrible dungeon, at the crawling shapes of the serpents gliding hither and thither, hissing with rage over their late disturbance, as he breathed the unspeakably noisome atmosphere, he realised his own utter helplessness. What if anything untoward should occur to prevent his comrades from rescuing him? Lifewas full of surprises. They might be attacked by a party of Kafirs, brought back there by the missing Hlangani, for instance. What if he had merely exchanged places with his unfortunate kinsman and were to be left there in the darkness and horror? How long would he be able to keep his reason? Hardly longer than the other, he feared. And the perspiration streamed from every pore, as he began to realise what the miserable maniac had undergone.A silence had succeeded to the tumult above. What did it mean? Every second seemed an hour. Then, with a start of unspeakable relief, he heard Hoste’s voice above.“Ready to come up, old chap?”“Very much so. Why have you taken so long?” he asked anxiously.“We had to tie up poor Tom twice, you know; first with the big reim, then with others. Then we had to undo the big reim again. Here it is,” chucking it over.Eustace slipped the noose under his armpits, and, having given the word to haul away, a very few moments saw him among them all again. The mad man was securely bound and even gagged, only his feet being loosened sufficiently to enable him to take short steps.So they started on their return track, longing with a greater longing than words can tell, to breathe the open air, to behold the light of day again.To their astonishment the poor lunatic became quite tractable. As long as Eustace talked to him, he was quiet enough and walked among the rest as directed. One more repellent ordeal had to be gone through— the serpents’ den, to wit. This they had now almost reached.Suddenly a warning cry went up from Josane, who recoiled a step.“Au! Kangéla!” (“Look there!”)A face was peering at them from over a rock slab a few feet

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overhead. A black face, with glazing eyes and half-parted lips, and such a scowl of hate upon the distorted features, in the darkness, as was perfectly devilish. Quickly every weapon was aimed at the head and as quickly lowered. For they realised that it was the head of a dead man.“Why, it’s Hlangani! Let’s see where we pinked him,” said Shelton, climbing up to the ledge, followed by Hoste. “By Jove! he’s plugged himself where we plugged him,” he went on. “That accounts for his leaving no blood spoor.”He had. There were two great holes in the dead man’s ribs, where the bullets had entered. Both wounds were mortal. But, with the desperate endurance of his race, the stricken warrior had rent off fragments of his blanket and had deliberately plugged the gaping orifices. Then, crawling away, the fierce savage had sought out a position where he might lurk in ambush, and had found it, too. Here he lay, a broad assegai still grasped in his hand, waiting to strike one fell and fatal blow at his slayers ere death should come upon him. But death had overtaken him too quickly; and luckily, indeed, for the objects of his enmity that it had.“Why, how’s this?” cried Shelton in amazement. “I could have sworn I hit him, and yet there are only two bullet holes!”“So could I,” said Hoste emphatically. “Sure there are only two?”“Dead certain,” replied the other, after a second investigation.“I think I can solve the mystery,” cut in Eustace quietly. “You both hit, all right. The fact is, I never fired.”“Never fired!” they echoed. “And why the deuce not?”“Well, you see, this very Hlangani saved my life. I might have been put down there with poor Tom, but for him. Whatever he had done I couldn’t bring myself to ‘draw’ on a fellow who had done that much for me.”There was something in that, yet Eustace thought he detected a

curious look pass between his two friends. But it mattered nothing.Leaving the body of the dead Gcaléka, the two climbed down from the ledge again. Further surprise was in store for them. Josane had disappeared.“He’ll be back directly,” said Eustace. “He said he had forgotten something.”Whether it was that the sight of the dead warrior’s body had inspired in him one of those unreasoning and unaccountable outbreaks of savagery to which all barbarian natures are more or less suddenly liable, or whether he had misgivings on his own account as to the completeness of his vengeance, is uncertain. But rapidly muttering: “Au! Ixeshane! I have not drunk enough blood. Wait here until I return,” he had seized his assegai and disappeared in the direction of the pit again. Those under his guidance had no alternative but to await his return, with what patience they might.Meanwhile Josane was speeding along the gloomy tunnel, eagerly, fiercely, like a retriever on the track of a wounded partridge. His head was bent forward and his hand still grasped the broad assegai, clotted with the blood of the witch-doctress. Humming a low, ferocious song of vengeance, he gained the brink of the now empty pit. Seizing one of the lighted candles, which still burned—no one having thought it worth while to put them out—he turned his steps into the lateral gallery. A fiendish chuckle escaped him. He stopped short, threw the light in front of him, then held it over his head and looked again. Again he chuckled.“Au!” he cried, “there is more revenge, more blood. I thirst for more blood. Ha! The witch is not dead yet. Where art thou, Ngcenika, spawn of a she-Fingo dog? Where art thou, that my broad umkonto may drink again of thy foul blood? Lo!”The last ejaculation escaped him in a quick gasp. Just outside the circle of light he beheld a shadowy object, which seemed to move. It was the form of the wretched witch-doctress. He gathered himself together like a tiger on the spring.will. And, I say. You’d better take a ride round presently and look after the sheep. I’ve been obliged to put on Josáne’s small boy in Goníwe’s place, and he may not be up to the mark. I daresay I’ll be back before dark.”“Well, the sheep will have to take their chance, Tom. I’m not going out of call of the homestead while Eanswyth is left here alone.”“Bosh!” returned Carhayes. “She don’t mind. Has she not been left alone here scores of times? However, do as you like. I must be off.”They had been walking towards the stable during this conversation. Carhayes led forth his horse, mounted, and rode away. Eustace put up his, and having cut up a couple of bundles of oat-hay—for they were short of hands—took his way to the house.He had warned his cousin and his warning had been scouted. He had struggled with a temptation not to warn him, but now it came to the same thing, and at any rate his own hands were clean. The journey to Komgha was long, and in these times for a man so hated as Tom Carhayes, might not be altogether safe, especially towards dusk. Well, he had been warned.Eustace had purposely taken time over attending to his horse. Even his strong nerves needed a little getting in hand before he should meet Eanswyth that morning; even his pulses beat quicker as he drew near the house. Most men would have been eager to get it over; would have blundered it over. Not so this one. Not without reason had the Kafirs nicknamed him “Ixeshane”—the Deliberate.Eanswyth rose from the table as he entered. Breakfast was over, and Tom Carhayes, with characteristic impulsiveness, had started off upon his journey with a rush, as we have seen. Thus once more these two were alone together, not amid the romantic witchery of the southern night, but in the full broad light of day.Well, and then? Had they not similarly been together alone countless times during the past year? Yes, but now it was different—widely different. The ice had been broken between them.

Still, one would hardly have suspected it. Eanswyth was perfectly calm and composed. There was a tired look upon the sweet face, and dark circles under the beautiful eyes as if their owner had slept but little. Otherwise both her tone and manner were free from any trace of confusion.“I have put your breakfast to the kitchen fire to keep warm, Eustace,” she said. “Well, what adventures have you met with in the veldt this morning?”“First of all, how good of you. Secondly—leaving my adventures in abeyance for the present—did you succeed in getting any rest?”He was looking straight at her. There was a latent caress in his glance—in his tone.“Not much,” she answered, leaving the room for a moment in order to fetch the hot dish above referred to. “It was a trying sort of a night for us all, wasn’t it?” she resumed as she returned. “And now Tom must needs go rushing off again on a fool’s errand.”“Never mind Tom. A little blood-letting seems good for him rather than otherwise,” said Eustace, with a dash of bitterness. “About yourself. I don’t believe you have closed your eyes this night through. If you won’t take care of yourself, other people must do so for you. Presently I am going to sling the hammock under the trees and you shall have a right royal siesta.”His hand had prisoned hers as she stood over him arranging the plates and dishes. A faint colour came into her face, and she made a movement to withdraw it. The attempt, however, was a feeble one.“I think we are a pair of very foolish people,” she said, with a laugh whose sadness almost conveyed the idea of a sob.“Perhaps so,” he rejoined, pressing the hand he held to his cheek a moment, ere releasing it. “What would life be worth without its foolishness?”For a few moments neither spoke. Eanswyth was busying herself arranging some of the things in the room, adjusting an ornament here, dusting one there. Eustace ate his breakfast in silence, tried to, rather, for it seemed to him at times as if he could not eat at all. The attempt seemed to choke him. His thoughts, his feelings, were in a whirl. Here were they two alone together, with the whole day before them, and yet there seemed to have arisen something in the nature of a barrier between them.A barrier, however, which it would not be difficult to overthrow, his unerring judgment told him; yet he fought hard with himself not to lose his self-control. He noted the refined grace of every movement as she busied herself about the room—the thoroughbred poise of the stately head, the sheen of light upon the rich hair. All this ought to belong to him—did belong to him. Yet he fought hard with himself, for he read in that brave, beautiful face an appeal, mute but eloquent—an appeal to him to spare her.A rap at the door startled him—startled them both. What if it was some neighbour who had ridden over to pay them a visit, thought Eustace with dismay—some confounded bore who would be likely to remain the best part of the day? But it was only old Josáne, the cattle-herd. His master had told him to look in presently and ask for some tobacco, which he had been promised.“I’ll go round to the storeroom and get it for him,” said Eanswyth. “You go on with your breakfast, Eustace.”“No, I’ll go. I’ve done anyhow. Besides, I want to speak to him.”Followed by the old Kafir, Eustace unlocked the storeroom—a dark, cool chamber forming part of an outbuilding. The carcase of a sheep, freshly killed that morning, dangled from a beam. Piles of reims, emitting a salt, rancid odour—kegs of sheep-dip, huge rolls of Boer tobacco, bundles of yoke-skeys, and a dozen other things requisite to the details of farm work were stowed around or disposed on shelves. On one side was a grindstone and a carpenter’s bench. Eustace cut off a liberal length from one of the rolls of tobacco and gave it to the old Kafir. Then he filled

his own pipe.“Josane?”“Nkose!”“You are no fool, Josane. You have lived a good many years, and your head is nearly as snow-sprinkled as the summit of the Great Winterberg in the autumn. What do you thing of last night’s performance over yonder?”The old man’s shrewd countenance melted into a slight smile and he shook his head.“The Gaikas are fools,” he replied. “They have no quarrel with the English, yet they are clamouring for war. Their country is fertile and well watered, yet they want to throw it away with both hands. They are mad.”“Will they fight, Josane?”“Au! Who can say for certain,” said the old man with an expressive shrug of the shoulders. “Yet, was ever such a thing seen? The dog wags his tail. But in this case it is the tail that wags the dog.”“How so, Josane?”“The chiefs of the Gaikas do not wish for war. The old men do not wish for it. But the young men—the boys—are eager for it. The women taunt them, they say; tell them they have forgotten how to be warriors. So the boys and the women clamour for war, and the chiefs and the old men give way. Thus the tail wags the dog. Hau!”“And what about the Gcalékas?”“The Gcalékas? It is this way, Nkose. If you shut up two bulls alone in the same kraal, if you put two scorpions into a mealie stamp, how long will it be before they fight? So it is with the Gcalékas and the Fingoes. The land is not large enough for both. The Gcalékas are ready for war.”“And Kreli?”“The Great Chief is in one of his red moods,” answered Josane, in a different tone to that which he had employed when speaking of the Gaikas. “He has a powerful witch-doctress. I know her. Was I not ‘smelt out’ by her? Was I not ‘eaten up’ at her ‘word’? The toad! The impostor! The jackal cat! The slimy fish! I know her. Ha!”(Eaten up: Idiom for the total sequestration of a person’s possessions.)The old man’s eyes glared and his tone rose to one of fierce excitement at the recollection of his wrongs. Eustace, accustomed to study his fellow-men, took careful note of the circumstance. Strange things happened. It might serve him in good stead one day.“The Gcalékas will fight,” went on Josane. “Perhaps they are fighting now. Perhaps the Baas will have some news to bring when he returns from Komgha. The telegraph is quick, but the voice of the bird in the air is quicker,” he added with a meaning smile, which convinced his listener that he knew a great deal more than he chose to say.“The fire stick is even now in the thatch,” went on the Kafir, after a few more puffs at his pipe. “There is a herald from the Great Chief among the Gaika kraals.”“Hlangani?”“Hlangani. The Gaikas are listening to his ‘word,’ and are lighting the war-fires. If he can obtain the ear of Sandili, his work is done. Whau, Ixeshane,” he went on, slipping into the familiar name in his excitement. “You English are very weak people. You ought to arrest Matanzima, and several others, and send a strong Resident to Sandili, who should always keep his ear.”“We can’t do that, Josane. There are wheels within wheels and a power behind the throne. Well, we shall see what happens,” he went on, rising as a hint to the other to depart.


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