Happy little two-bedroom urban habitat

发表于 2023-09-22 15:46:17 来源:Return to basics and return to true nature

“The white wizard!” she shrieked. “The white wizard!”“Ha! The white wizard! The white wizard!” echoed the warriors, relieved that the storm had passed them by this time. “Let us see. Is his charm too strong for Ngcenika?”The time had come. Though unarmed, Eustace was still unbound. Instinctively and warily he glanced around, eager to grasp at some means of doing battle for his life. But no such means rewarded his glance.Ngcenika walked up to one of the guards, and laid her hand on the bundle of assegais which he carried. The man surrendered it with alacrity, striving to conceal the apprehension which came over his features as he came face to face with the terrible witch-doctress. She chose a short-handled, broad-bladed stabbing assegai, examined it critically, and returned to her former position.Placing the weapon on the ground she proceeded to dance round it in a circle, chanting a weird, droning incantation. The prisoner watched her keenly. No attempt had been made to bind him. At last her song ceased. Grasping the assegai in her powerful right hand, she advanced towards Eustace.At a sign from Ngcenika the guards fell back some twenty yards. Behind them were the dense ranks of armed warriors, all craning eagerly forward to watch what was to follow. At about the same distance in front sat the group of chiefs and councillors, so that the prisoner and the sorceress were completely hemmed in.“White wizard—white dog!” she began, standing within striking distance. “Wizard indeed! What is thy magic worth? Dost thou not fear me?”Eustace, seeing through the repulsive mass of gew-gaws which represented the juggling line of business, realised that he had to deal with a powerful, broadly built, middle-aged woman of about five foot ten. She looked hard and muscular, and as strong as any two men—in fact,

from 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.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.”

Happy little two-bedroom urban habitat

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 handedhim 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.

Happy little two-bedroom urban habitat

Great was Eanswyth’s consternation and astonishment when heannounced the necessity of making a start that afternoon.“The time will soon pass,” he said. “It is a horrible nuisance, darling, but there is no help for it. The thing is too important. The fact is, something has come to light—something which may settle that delayed administration business at once.”It might, indeed, but in a way very different to that which he intended to convey. But she was satisfied.“Do not remain away from me a moment longer than you can help, Eustace, my life!” she had whispered to him during the last farewell, she having walked a few hundred yards with him in order to see the last of him. “Remember, I shall only exist—not live—during these next few days. This is the first time you have been away from me since—since that awful time.”Then had come the sweet, clinging, agonising tenderness of parting. Eanswyth, having watched him out of sight, returned slowly to the house, while he, starting upon his strange venture, was thinking in the bitterness of his soul how—when—they would meet again. His heart was heavy with a sense of coming evil, and as he rode along his thoughts would recur again and again to the apparition which had so terrified Eanswyth a few nights ago. Was it the product of a hallucination on her part after all, or was it the manifestation of some strange and dual phase of Nature, warning of the ill that was to come? He felt almost inclined to admit the latter.Chapter Forty One.Xalasa’s Revelation.“You ought to consider yourself uncommonly fortunate, Milne,” said Hoste, as the two men drew near Anta’s Kloof. “You are the only one of the lot of us not burnt out.”“That’s a good deal thanks to Josane,” replied Eustace, as the house

Happy little two-bedroom urban habitat

came into sight. “He thought he could manage to save it. I didn’t. But he was right.”“Ha-ha! I believe the old scamp has been enjoying himself all this time with the rebels. I dare say he has been helping to do the faggot trick.”“Quite likely.”Hoste eyed his companion with a curious glance. The latter had been rather laconic during their ride; otherwise he seemed to show no very great interest one way or another in the object of it. Yet there was reason for believing that if Xalasa’s tale should prove true it would make every difference to the whole of Eustace Milne’s future life.The sun was just setting as they reached Anta’s Kloof. The Kafir had stipulated that they should meet him at night. He did not want to incur potential pains and penalties at the hands of his compatriots as an “informer” if he could possibly help it. The house, as Hoste had said, was the only one in the whole neighbourhood which had escaped the torch, but that was all that could be said, for it was completely gutted. Everything portable had been carried off, if likely to prove of any use to the marauders, what was not likely so to prove being smashed or otherwise destroyed. Windows were broken and doors hung loose on their hinges; in fact, the place was a perfect wreck. Still it was something that the fabric would not need rebuilding.Hardly had they off-saddled their horses, and, knee-haltering them close, turned them out to graze around the house, than the night fell.“Xalasa should be here by now,” remarked Hoste, rather anxiously. “Unless he has thought better of it. I always expected we should learn something more about poor Tom when the war was over. Kafirs will talk. Not that I ever expected to hear that he was alive, poor chap—if he is, that’s to say. But what had been the actual method of his death: that was bound to leak out sooner or later.”Eustace made no reply. The remark irritated him, if only that his

companion had made it, in one form or another, at least half a dozen times already. Then the sound of a light footstep was heard, and a tall, dark figure stood before them in the gloom, with a muttered salutation.“Greeting, Xalasa!” said Eustace, handing the new arrival a large piece of Boer tobacco. “We will smoke while we talk. The taste of the fragrant plant is to conversation even as the oil unto the axles of a heavily laden waggon.”The Kafir promptly filled his pipe. The two white men did likewise.“Have you been in the war, Xalasa?” went on Eustace, when the pipes were in full blast. “You need not be afraid of saying anything to us. We are not Government people.”“Au!” said the Gaika, with a quizzical grin upon his massive countenance. “I am a ‘loyal,’ Ixeshane.”“The chiefs of the Ama Ngqika, Sandili and the rest of them, have acted like children,” replied Eustace, with apparent irrelevance. “They have allowed themselves to be dragged into war at the ‘word’ of Kreli, and against the advice of their real friends, and where are they now? In prison, with a lot of thieves and common criminals, threatened with the death of a dog!”The Kafir uttered an emphatic murmur of assent. Hoste, who was excusably wondering what the deuce the recent bad behaviour, and eventual fate of Sandili and Co., had to do with that of Tom Carhayes, could hardly restrain his impatience. But Eustace knew what he was about. The Briton may, as he delights to boast, prefer plain and straightforward talking in matters of importance—or he may not. The savage, of whatever race or clime, unequivocally does not. He dearly loves what we should call beating around the bush. However important the subject under discussion, it must be led up to. To dash straight at the point is not his way. So after some further talk on the prospects and politics of the Gaika nation, and of the Amaxosa race in general—past, present, and to come—Eustace went on:the possibility of building a fire—had been decided upon in a small bushy hollow, a kind of eyrie which would enable them to keep a wide look out upon the river-valley for many miles, while affording them a snug and tolerably secure place of concealment. In front a lofty krantz fell sheer to a depth of at least two hundred feet. Behind, their retreat was shut in by a line of bush-grown rocks. It was going to be a wet and comfortless night. The storm was drawing nearer and nearer, and they would soon be soaked to the skin, their waterproof wraps having been left with the horses. Food, too, was none too plentiful—indeed, beyond some biscuit and a scrap or two of cold meat, they had none. But these were mere trivial incidents to such practised campaigners. They had succeeded in their quest—they had rescued a friend and comrade from a fate ten thousand-fold more hideous than the most fearful form of death; moreover, as Hoste had remarked, the light of day alone, even when seen through streaming showers, was glorious when compared with the utter gloom of that awful cave and the heaving, hissing, revolting masses of its serpent denizens. On the whole they felt anything but down-hearted.“I tell you what it is, Hoste,” said Shelton, seizing the moment when Eustace happened to be beyond earshot. “There have been a good many nasty things said and hinted about Milne of late; but I should just like to see any one of the fellows who have said them do what he did. Heavens! The cool nerve he showed in deliberately going down into that horrible hole with the chances about even between being strangled by poor Tom there, or bitten by a puff-adder, was one of the finest things I ever saw in my life. It’s quite enough to give the lie to all these infernal reports, and I’ll take care that it does, too.”“Rather. But between you and me and Josane there, who can’t understand us,” answered Hoste, lowering his voice instinctively, “it’s my private opinion that poor Milne has no particular call to shout ‘Hurrah’ over the upshot of our expedition. Eh? Sort of Enoch Arden business, don’t you know. Likely to prove inconvenient for all parties.”“So? All the more to his credit, then, that he moved heaven and earth to bring it about. By Jove! I believe I’d have thought a long while before going down there myself.”

“Rather. But I can’t help being deuced sorry for him.”If need hardly be said that Hoste had indeed put the whole case into a nutshell as far as Eustace was concerned. Even then, lying there on the brink of the cliff above-mentioned, and whither he had withdrawn on the pretence of keeping a look out, but really in order to be alone, he was indulging in the full bitterness of his feelings. All had come to an end. The cup had been dashed from his lips. The blissful glow of more than earthly happiness in which he had moved for the past few months, had turned to blight and ruin and blackness, even as the cloudless sunlight of the morning had disappeared into the leaden terrors of the oncoming storm. Would that from it a bolt might fall which should strike him dead!Even in the full agony of his bitterness he could not wish that the awful fate of his cousin had ever remained a mystery, could not regret the part he had borne in rescuing him from that fate. It might be that the minutes he himself had spent, helpless at the bottom of the noisome pit, had brought home to his mind such a vivid realisation of its horrors as those surveying it from the brink could never attain. Anyway, while musing upon his own blighted life, his dream of love and possession suddenly and cruelly quenched, he could not wish the poor wretch back in such a living hell again.Yet for what had he been rescued? Of what value was the life of a raving, gibbering maniac to himself or the world in general? And this was the thing to which Eanswyth was now bound. A warm, beautiful, living body chained to a loathsome, festering corpse; and his had been the hand which had forged the links, his the hand which had turned the key in the padlock. He could not even lay to his soul the flattering unction that the unfortunate man would eventually succumb to the after results of his horrible sufferings. Lunatics, barring accidents, are proverbially long-lived, and Tom Carhayes had the strength and constitution of an elephant. He would be far more likely to injure other people than himself.Meanwhile, those left in camp were resting appreciatively after their labours, and conversing.“Amakosi,” said Josane, with a queer smile. “Do you think you could find ‘The Home of the Serpents’ again?”“Why, of course,” was the unhesitating reply. The old Kafir grinned.“Do you mean to say you don’t believe we could?” said Hoste, in amazement.“Yes, amakosi. I do not believe you could,” was the unhesitating rejoinder.“What—when we have only just come out of it?”The old Gcaléka grinned harder than ever.“I do not believe you could light on the exact way in from either side,” he repeated.“Well, by Jove! I believe he’s right,” said Hoste dubiously, as he went over in his mind the inexplicable way in which both entrances were concealed, and that by the hand of Nature.“Right about what?” said another voice, whose owner rejoined the circle at that moment.“Why, what do you think Josane is trying to cram us with, Milne? He swears we couldn’t find the entrance of, that infernal hole again.”“Well, I don’t believe we could,” said Eustace quietly. “But that’s no great disadvantage, for I suppose none of us will ever be smitten with the remotest inclination to try.”“Not I, for one,” assented Hoste. “I wouldn’t go through those awful, beastly heaps of snakes again—faugh!—not for a thousand pounds. Hallo! It’s coming!”A roll of thunder—longer, louder, nearer—caused them to look upward. The whole heavens were shrouded in masses of black, angry clouds, sweeping slowly onward.

Then, as their glances sought the earth again, a quick whistle of amazement escaped Shelton. It found a ready echo in a startled ejaculation from the others.“Where is he?”For the place occupied by the unfortunate lunatic knew him no more. He had disappeared.For a second they stared blankly into each others’ faces, then all four moved forward instinctively.He had been sitting idly, vacantly, perfectly quietly staring into space. In the height of their conversation they had given little heed to his presence. Well, he could not go far, for his legs were so secured as to preclude him making steps of ordinary length.The place was bushy, but not very thickly so. Spreading out they entered the scrub by the only side on which he could have disappeared.“There he is!” cried Hoste suddenly, when they had gone about fifty yards.Slinking along in a crouching attitude, slipping from bush to bush, they spied the poor fellow. That was all right. There would be no difficulty now.No difficulty? Was there not? As soon as he saw that he was discovered he began to run—to run like a buck. And then, to their consternation, they perceived that his legs were free. By some means or other he had contrived, with a lunatic’s stealthy cunning, to cut the reim which had secured them. They could see the severed ends flapping as he ran.“Well, we’ve got to catch him, poor chap, so here goes,” said Hoste, starting with all his might in pursuit.But the maniac wormed in and out of the bushes with marvellous rapidity. Shelton had tripped and come a headlong cropper, and Hostewas becoming blown, but they seemed to get no nearer. Suddenly the bush came to an end. Beyond lay a gradual acclivity, open and grassy, ending abruptly in air.“Heavens!” cried Eustace in a tone of horror. “The krantz!”His tones found an echo in those of his companions. The precipice in front was a continuation of the lofty perpendicular cliff which fell away from the front of their halting place. Any one who should go over that giddy brink would leave no sort of shadow of uncertainty as to his fate. They stopped in their pursuit.“Tom!” cried Eustace persuasively, “Come back, old chap. It’s going to rain like fits in a minute. You’ll be much snugger at the camp.”The lunatic, now half-way across the open, stopped at the voice and stood listening. Then he ran forward again, but at a decreased pace. Heavens! He was only twenty yards from the brink. His pursuers were more than twice that distance behind. Any move forward would inevitably have the effect of driving him over.“What are we to do?” gasped Hoste, exhausted by the mingled exertion and excitement.“We had better leave him alone, and watch him from where he can’t see us,” was Eustace’s reply.The poor fellow had now gained the very brink. Then he turned, but his pursuers had deftly concealed themselves behind a small bush which opportunely grew in the midst of the open. His hands were still tied fast, and the gag was in his mouth. If only they could have reached him.He stood for a moment, balanced on the edge of the abyss, looking into it. Then he turned again. There was a horrible leer of triumphant insanity upon the distorted face as his gaze failed to discover the presence of anybody likely to prove hostile.The thunder rolled out heavily from overhead, and the figure of the maniac stood in bold relief against the leaden sky, photographed in black


Copyright © 2016 Powered by Happy little two-bedroom urban habitat,Return to basics and return to true nature   sitemap