The 48-year-old Yu Feihong is more beautiful than the 28-year-old Fairy Jinghong

发表于 2023-09-22 14:38:32 来源:Return to basics and return to true nature

sides 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

“What’s the row, George?” whispered Hoste below his breath. “Hear anything?”For answer Payne waved his hand again and went on listening intently.Up the sunlit river came a sound—a sound audible to all now, a sound familiar to all—the tread of hoofs upon the stones, of unshod hoofs. Mingling with this were other sounds—the low murmur of human voices. Water, as everybody knows, is a great conductor of sound. Though more than half a mile distant, they recognised the deep tones and inflections of Kafir voices, whose owners were evidently coming down to the river on the same side as themselves.From their resting place the river ran in a long, straight reach. Peering cautiously through the bushes, they were able to command this. Almost immediately several large oxen, with great branching horns, emerged from the forest, and, entering the water, splashed through to the other side. They were followed by their drivers, three naked Kafirs, who plunged into the river in their wake, holding their assegais high over their heads, for the water came fully breast-high. They could even hear the rattle of the assegai hafts as the savages climbed up the opposite bank, laughing like children as they shook the water drops from their sleek, well-greased skins. They counted thirteen head of cattle.“A baker’s dozen, by Jove! Stolen, of course,” whispered Hoste. “Allamaghtaag! if only we had known of that before we might have gone to voer-ly (Waylay) that drift, for it must be a drift. We might have bagged all three niggers and trundled the oxen back to camp. A full span, save three. Suppose they’ve eaten the rest. That’ll be one apiece—the schelms!”“It isn’t altogether too late now,” said Carhayes. “I smell some fun ahead. Let them get up over the rise, and then we’ll go down and look if their spoor seems worth following.”“And what if they are only the advance guard of a lot more?” suggested Hoste.“They are not,” was the confident reply. “There are too few beasts and too few niggers. I tell you there’s some fun sticking out for us.”Quickly the horses were saddled. A high, bushy ridge precluded all chance of their presence being discovered by the three marauders as soon as the latter had crossed the river, and it certainly had not been discovered before. Then, having allowed sufficient time to elapse, they forded the river and rode forward on the other side, so as to converge on the spoor leading up from the drift below.“Here it is—as plain as mud,” said Carhayes, bending over in his saddle to examine the ground, which, dry and sandy, showed the hoof-prints and footmarks so plainly that a child might have followed them. “They are well over the rise by now, and the way isn’t so rough as I expected. Our plan is to make straight for the top of the hill. We can’t get up much quicker than they can, I’m afraid, unless we want to blow our horses, which we don’t. But once we are up there we shall find it all open veldt, and all we’ve got to do is to ride them down in the open, shoot the niggers, and head the stock back for the river again. Anyone propose an amendment to that resolution?”“We are four fools,” said Payne laconically, knocking the ashes out of his pipe and pocketing that useful implement.“Ja! That’s so,” said Carhayes, joining heartily in the laugh which greeted this remark. “And now, boys, are we on for the fun, that’s the question?”“We just are,” cried Hoste, whose dare-devil recklessness was akin to that of Carhayes. The other two acquiesced silently, but as they caught each other’s glance, a curious satirical twinkle lurked in the eyes of both men.“A case of the tail wagging the dog,” presently whispered Payne to Eustace. “Two wise men led by two fools!”The track, rough and stony, took longer to follow than they had expected. Moreover they had to exercise extreme care, lest the clink of

The 48-year-old Yu Feihong is more beautiful than the 28-year-old Fairy Jinghong

the hoof-stroke of a shod horse perchance stumbling on the rocky way should be borne to the quick, watchful ears of those they were following. At length, however, the brow of the ridge was gained, and there before them lay a rolling expanse of open country, yet not so open as Carhayes had predicted, for it was pretty thickly dotted with mimosa, and the grass was long, coarse, and tangled, rendering rapid riding dangerous in parts.Suddenly they came right upon a kraal nestling in a mimosa covered valley. Three old hags were seated against one of the beehive shaped huts, otherwise the place seemed quite deserted. No children were to be seen—not even a half-starved cur skulking around—and of men or cattle there was no sign. The spoor they were following had grown very indistinct, and here seemed to split up into several directions.The old women, frightful, toothless crones, all wrinkles and flaps, showed no signs of alarm at this unexpected appearance of the invading white men. On the contrary, they began to abuse them roundly in a shrill, quavering treble.“Macbeth in excelsis!” murmured Eustace at sight of them.“Stop that cackling, you old hell-cats!” said Carhayes with a growl like that of a savage dog, as he drew his revolver and pointed it right at them, a pantomime which they thoroughly understood, for their high-pitched abuse dropped to a most doleful howl. “Here, Eustace. You can patter the lingo better than any of us, and I haven’t the patience, damn it! Ask these old rag bags which way the fellows with the oxen took.”“We know nothing about men or oxen,” came the prompt and whimpering reply.“You do know. Tell us quickly!” repeated Eustace warningly.Sullenly the first disclaimer was reiterated.A furious expletive burst from Carhayes.“We can’t lose any more time being fooled by these infernal old hags!” he cried. “If they don’t tell us before I count five I’ll put a bulletthrough each of them. Now—Inye—zimbini—zintátu...” (One—two— three.)“Hold hard, don’t be a fool,” warned Payne. “The shots are bound to be heard.”“So they are. I know a better trick than that.” And striking a match Carhayes walked his horse up to the nearest hut. This was sufficient. The old crones shrieked for mercy, while one of them quavered out:“Ride that way, abelúngu!” (White men) pointing in a direction they had not intended to take. “But you will have to ride far—very far.”Believing they had inspired sufficient terror to insure the truth of this information, and furiously cursing the time wasted in eliciting it, Carhayes crammed the spurs into his horse’s flanks and started off at a gallop, followed by the other three. But the old crone’s statement proved correct. A couple of miles further the tracks, which had been more or less scattered and indistinct, converged into one broad spoor. Another ridge, then down into a kloof, and up the other side. Then, as they gained the brow of yet another ridge, an excited ejaculation burst from the lips of all four. Nearly a mile in front, stringing up a long, gradual acclivity, trotted the thirteen oxen, urged forward by three natives.“Hurrah! Now we’ll cut ’em out!” yelled Carhayes, as they dashed forward in pursuit. The Kafirs, loath to abandon their spoil until absolutely forced to do so, redoubled their efforts, as with loud shouts and waving karosses they strove to accelerate the pace of the already overdriven animals.“We’d better risk a long shot,” shouted Hoste, as it became apparent that the pursued were very near the top of the rise, and in another moment would be out of sight. “There may be a lot of bush, on the other side, and we may lose them.”“No. Better not lose time or distance,” said the more prudent Payne. “We’ll have ’em directly.”Chapter Twenty Three.“Onward they ply—in Dreadful Race.”The Kafirs, with their spoil, had disappeared, and on the pursuers gaining the ridge, there seemed, as Hoste had suggested, a pretty good chance of losing them altogether; for the mere depression of the ground down which they were racing, narrowed and deepened into a long, winding valley, thickly overgrown with mimosa bushes and tall grass. The marauders could now be seen straining every nerve to gain this—with their booty, if possible—if not, without it. Every shouted summons to them to stand or be shot seemed only to have the effect of causing them to redouble their efforts—winding in and out among the grass and thorn-bushes with the rapidity of serpents.The pursuers were gaining. Rough and tangled as the ground now became, the speed of horses was bound to tell in the race. A few moments more and the spoil would be theirs. Suddenly, but very quietly, Eustace said:“I say, you fellows—don’t look round, but—turn your horses’ heads and ride like the devil! We are in a trap!”The amazed, the startled look that came upon the faces of those three would have been entertaining in the extreme, but for the seriousness of the occasion. However, they were men accustomed to critical situations. Accordingly, they slackened, as directed, and suddenly headed round their horses as if they had decided to abandon the pursuit.Not a minute too soon had come Eustace’s discovery and warning. Like the passing movement of a sudden gust, the grass and bushes rustled and waved, as a long line of ambushed savages sprang up on either side, and with a wild and deafening yell charged forward upon the thoroughly disconcerted and now sadly demoralised four.The Kafirs had been lying hidden in horseshoe formation. Had our friends advanced a hundred yards further their doom would have been

The 48-year-old Yu Feihong is more beautiful than the 28-year-old Fairy Jinghong

sealed. They would have been hemmed in completely. Happily, however, when Eustace uttered his warning, they had not quite got between the extremities of the “shoe.”As it stood, however, the situation was appalling to the last degree. Terrified to madness, the horses became almost unmanageable, rearing and plunging in a perfect frenzy, of fear, and it was all that their riders could do to steer them through the bristling thorn-bushes, a single plunge into one of which would, at the rate they were going, hurl both steed and rider to the earth. And, again, the wild war-cry pealed through the valley, and every bush and tussock of grass seemed to grow enemies—seemed to swarm with dark, sinuous forms, to blaze with the gleam of assegai blades and rolling eyeballs. The race for spoil had become a race for life.There had been barely a hundred yards between them and their assailants when the latter first sprang up, and this distance had alarmingly decreased, for the nature of the ground, rough and overgrown with long, tangled grass, and the fact that they were being forced up-hill, tended to neutralise whatever advantage might lie with the mounted men. Moreover the horses, in no small degree blown after their recent spurt, were not at their best, whereas the Kafir warriors, active, hard as iron, had the advantage on that rough ground. On they pressed—their lithe, sinuous, ochre-greased bodies flashing through the grass like serpents— whooping, shouting, rending the air with their shrill, ear-splitting war-whistles. Although many of them had guns, yet not a shot was fired. Either those who led did not care to waste time in stopping to aim, and those who were behind feared to injure their friends in front; or for some reason of their own they were anxious to capture the white men alive. On it sped, that fearful race, the pursuers slowly but surely gaining. And now, from the swarming numbers of the main body, “horns” began to spread out at an angle to the line of flight as though to close up and intercept them further on, at some point best known to themselves.It was a case of every man for himself. Hoste and Payne had gained some slight start, Eustace and Carhayes bringing up the rear. The latter, gripping his revolver, was in the act of delivering a shot into the thick of a mass of warriors who had raced up to within ten yards of them, when his horse stumbled. The animal had put its foot into an ant-bear holeconcealed in the long grass. Down it came, plunging heavily forward on its nose, and shooting its rider over its head.A deafening roar of exultation went up from the pursuers as they flung themselves upon Carhayes. Still, half-stunned as he was, the desperate pluck of the unfortunate man caused him to make an effort to rise. Only an effort though. As he rose to his knees he was beaten to the ground in a moment beneath the savage blows of the kerries of his assailants.Eustace heard the crash of the fall, and turning his head, in spite of the deadly risk he ran in suffering his attention to wander from his own course even for a second, he took in the whole scene—the crowd of whooping, excited barbarians, clustering round the fallen man, assegais and kerries waving in the air, then the dull, sickening sound of blows. And even in that moment of deadly peril, his own fate as hopeless as that of the slain man, a thrill of fierce exultation shot through him. Fortune had once more played into his hands. Eanswyth was his. He had got his second chance. This time it was out of his power to throw it away even had he wished to do so. Still—the mockery of it! It had come too late.Meanwhile, Payne and Hoste, being the best mounted, had obtained some little start, but even upon them the extended lines of the fierce pursuers were beginning to close.“Now, George—both together! Let ’em have it!” yelled Hoste, pointing his revolver at the foremost of a mass of Kafirs who were charging in upon them on his side. The ball sped. The savage, a tall, sinewy warrior, naked as at his birth save for a collar of jackals’ teeth and a leather belt round his waist, leaped high in the air and fell stone dead, shot through the heart. At the same time Payne’s pistol spoke, and another barbarian fell, his knee shattered by the bullet. Crack! and down went another while in the act of poising his assegai for a fling.“Up-hill work, but nearly through!” cried Payne as he dropped another of the pursuers in his tracks. The frightened steeds, with ears thrown back and nostrils distended, tugged frantically at their bits as they tore along, but the agile barbarians seemed to keep pace with them,

The 48-year-old Yu Feihong is more beautiful than the 28-year-old Fairy Jinghong

though they refrained from again attempting to close. But now they began to throw their assegais. One of these grazed Payne’s shoulder and stuck fast in the ground in front, quivering nervously. Another scored the flank of Hoste’s horse, causing the poor animal to snort and bound with the sharp pain. Another stuck into Payne’s boot, while a fourth hit Hoste fair between the shoulders, but having been hurled at long range and being withal a somewhat blunt weapon, it failed to penetrate the stout cord jacket.“Devilish good shot, that,” remarked the target. “But I say, George, where are the other fellows?”“Dunno! It’s a case of every man for himself now, and all his work cut out at that.”All this had been the work of but a few minutes, and now the brow of the hill was reached. A furious and bitter curse burst from the pair.For on the plain beneath, converging upon their line of flight in such wise as to meet and utterly cut them off, extended two strong bodies of the enemy. These had circled round the hill, while the fugitives had been forced to the top of it, and now they would join hands before the latter could hope to pass through the rapidly closing circle.“Through them, George. It’s our only show!” cried Hoste. And with the reins gripped in his left hand and his revolver in his right, he sat down to his saddle for the last and final charge. It was a wildly exciting moment —the issues, life or death.The lines were rapidly closing in. With maddened yells and assegais uplifted, the Kafir warriors were straining every effort to complete that fatal circle. A few yards more—twenty—ten! it was done. They were hemmed in.But the headlong, dashing valour of the two men stood them well. Not a moment did they pause. With a wild shout Hoste put his horse straight at a huge barbarian who strove to stop him—knocking the savage sprawling, and through the opening thus breached the two

horsemen shot like an arrow from the bow, and having the advantage of a down-hill course they left the fierce and yelling crowd behind in a trice. Far from safe were they yet. A hole concealed in the grass—a strained sinew—a hundred unforeseen circumstances—and they would be at the mercy of their merciless foes.And now the latter began to open fire upon them, and the crackle of the volley behind mingled with the ugly hum of missiles overhead and around.“Allamaghtaag! My horse is hit!” exclaimed Payne, feeling the animal squirm under him in a manner there was no mistaking.“So?” was the concerned reply. “He’s got to go, though, as long as you can keep him on his legs. If we can’t reach the river, or at any rate the thick bush along it, we’re done for.”They turned their heads. Though beyond the reach of their missiles now, they could see that the Kafirs had by no means relinquished the pursuit. On they came—a dense, dark mass streaming across the plain— steady of cruel purpose—pertinacious as a pack of bloodhounds. Hoste’s steed was beginning to show ominous signs of exhaustion, while that of his companion, bleeding freely from a bullet hole in the flank, was liable to drop at any moment. And the welcome bush was still a great way off— so, too, was the hour of darkness.Meanwhile Eustace, spurring for dear life, realised to the bitter full that the terrible event which, in spite of himself, he had so ardently desired, could be of no benefit to him now. For he knew that he was doomed. Nothing short of a miracle could save his life—which is to say, nothing could. The very earth seemed to grow enemies. Behind, around, in front, everywhere, those cat-like, sinuous forms sprang up as if by magic. Suddenly his bridle was seized. A mass of warriors pressed around him, assegais raised. Quick as thought he pointed his revolver at the foremost, and pressed the trigger; but the plunging of his horse nearly unseated him, and the ball whistled harmlessly over the Kafir’s shoulder. At the same time a blow on the wrist knocked the weapon from his grasp.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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