Qijia.com: The Aftermath of Brutal Expansion

发表于 2023-09-23 02:36:15 来源:Return to basics and return to true nature

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.

potentially ungrateful country. And it was idyllic. There was quite enough to do on the place to keep even his energetic temperament active. The stock which had constituted the capital of their common partnership and had been sent to Swaanepoel’s Hoek at the outbreak of the war required considerable looking after, for, owing to the change of veldt, it did not thrive as well as could be wished. And then the place afforded plenty of sport; far more than Anta’s Kloof had done. Leopards, wild pigs, and bushbucks abounded in the bushy kloofs; indeed, there were rather too many of the former, looking at it from the farming point of view. The valley bottoms and the water courses were full of guinea-fowl and francolins, and high up on the mountain slopes, the vaal rykbok might be shot for the going after, to say nothing of a plentiful sprinkling of quail and now and then a bustard. Eustace was often constrained to admit to himself that he would hardly have believed it possible that life could hold such perfect and unalloyed happiness.He had, as we have said, plenty of wholesome and congenial work, with sport to his heart’s content, and enjoyed a complete immunity from care or worry. These things alone might make any man happy. But there was another factor in this instance. There was the sweet companionship of one whom he had loved passionately when the case was hopeless and she was beyond his reach, and whom he loved not less absorbingly now that all barriers were broken down between them, now that they would soon belong to each other until their life’s end. This was the influence that cast a radiant glow upon the doings and undertakings of everyday life, encircling everything with a halo of love, even as the very peace of Heaven.Not less upon Eanswyth did the same influences fall. The revulsion following upon that awful period of heart-break and despair had given her fresh life indeed. In her grand beauty, in the full glow of health and perfect happiness, no one would have recognised the white, stricken mourner of that time. She realised that there was nothing on earth left to desire. And then her conscience would faintly reproach her. Had she a right to revel in such perfect happiness in the midst of a world of sorrow and strife?But the said world seemed to keep very fairly outside that idyllic abode. Now and then they would drive or ride into Somerset East, or visitor be visited by a neighbour—the latter not often. The bulk of the surrounding settlers were Boers, and beyond exchanging a few neighbourly civilities from time to time they saw but little of them. This, however, was not an unmixed evil.Bentley had been as good as his word. His wife was a capital housekeeper and had effectively taken all cares of that nature off Eanswyth’s hands. Both were thoroughly good and worthy people, of colonial birth, who, by steadiness and trustworthy intelligence, had worked their way up from a very lowly position. Unlike too many of their class, however, they were not consumed with a perennial anxiety to show forth their equality in the sight of Heaven with those whom they knew to be immeasurably their superiors in birth and culture, and to whom, moreover, they owed in no small degree their own well-being. So the relations existing between the two different factors which composed the household were of the most cordial nature.There had been some delay in settling up Tom Carhayes’ affairs—in fact, they were not settled yet. With a good sense and foresight, rather unexpected in one of his unthinking and impulsive temperament, poor Tom had made his will previous to embarking on the Gcaléka campaign. Everything he possessed was bequeathed to his wife—with no restriction upon her marrying again—and Eustace and a mutual friend were appointed executors.This generosity had inspired in Eanswyth considerable compunction, and was the only defective spoke in the wheel of her present great happiness. Sometimes she almost suspected that her husband had guessed at how matters really stood, and the idea cost her more than one remorseful pang. Yet, though she had failed in her allegiance, it was in her heart alone. She would have died sooner than have done so otherwise, she told herself.Twice had the executors applied for the necessary authority to administer the estate. But the Master of the Supreme Court professed himself not quite satisfied. The evidence as to the testator’s actual death struck him as inadequate—resting, as it did, upon the sole testimony of one of the executors, who could not even be positive that the man was

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dead when last seen by him. He might be alive still, though held a prisoner. Against this view was urged the length of time which had elapsed, and the utter improbability that the Gcaléka bands, broken up and harried, as they were, from point to point, would hamper themselves with a prisoner, let alone a member of that race toward which they had every reason to entertain the most uncompromising and implacable rancour. The Supreme Court, however, was immovable. When hostilities were entirely at an end, they argued, evidence might be forthcoming on the part of natives who had actually witnessed the testator’s death. That fact incontestably established, letters of administration could at once be granted. Meanwhile the matter must be postponed a little longer.This delay affected those most concerned not one whit. There was not the slightest fear of Eanswyth’s interests suffering in the able hands which held their management. Only, the excessive caution manifested by the law’s representatives would at times communicate to Eustace Milne a vague uneasiness. What if his cousin should be alive after all? What if he had escaped under circumstances which would involve perforce his absence during a considerable period? He might have gained the sea shore, for instance, and been picked up by a passing ship bound to some distant country, whose captain would certainly decline to diverge many days out of his course to oblige one unknown castaway. Such things had happened. Still, the idea was absurd, he told himself, for, even if it was so, sufficient time had elapsed for the missing man, in these days of telegraphs and swift mail steamers, to make known his whereabouts, even if not to return in person. He had not seen dim actually killed in his conflict with Hlangani—indeed, the fact of that strange duel having been fought with kerries, only seemed to point to the fact that no killing was intended. That he was only stunned and disabled when dragged away out of sight Eustace could swear, but why should that implacable savage make such a point of having the absolute disposal of his enemy, if it were not to execute the most deadly ferocious vengeance upon him which lay in his power? That the wretched man had been fastened down to be devoured alive by black ants, even as the pretended wizard had been treated, Eustace entertained hardly any doubt—would have entertained none, but that the witch-doctress’s veiled hint had pointed to a fate, if possible, even more darkly horrible. No, after all this time, his unfortunatecousin could not possibly be alive. The actual mode of his death might forever remain a mystery, but that he was dead was as certain as anything in this world can be. Any suspicion to the contrary he resolved to dismiss effectually from his mind.Eanswyth would often accompany her lover during his rides about the veldt looking after the stock. She would not go with him, however, when he was on sporting intent, she had tried it once or twice, but the bucks had a horrid knack of screaming in the most heart-rending fashion when sadly wounded and not killed outright, and Eustace’s assurance that this was due to the influence of fear and not of pain, entirely failed to reconcile her to it. (A fact. The smaller species of antelope here referred to, however badly wounded, will not utter a sound until seized upon by man or dog, when it screams as described. The same holds good of the English hare.) But when on more peaceful errand bent, she was never so happy as when riding with him among the grand and romantic scenery of their mountain home. She was a first-rate horsewoman and equally at home in the saddle when her steed was picking his way along some dizzy mountain path on the side of a grass slope as steep as the roof of a house with a series of perpendicular krantzes below, or when pursuing some stony and rugged bush track where the springy spekboem boughs threatened to sweep her from her seat every few yards.“We are partners now, you know, dearest,” she would say gaily, when he would sometimes urge the fatigue and occasionally even the risk of these long and toilsome rides. “While that law business still hangs fire the partnership can’t be dissolved, I suppose. Therefore I claim my right to do my share of the work.”It was winter now. The clear mountain air was keen and crisp, and although the nights were bitterly cold, the days were lovely. The sky was a deep, cloudless blue, and the sun poured his rays down into the valleys with a clear, genial warmth which just rendered perceptible the bracing exhilaration of the air. Thanks to the predominating spekboem and other evergreen bushes, the winter dress of Nature suffered but little diminution in verdure; and in grand contrast many a stately summit soared proudly aloft, capped with a white powdering of snow.Those were days of elysium indeed, to those two, as they rode abroad among the fairest scenes of wild Nature; or, returning at eve, threaded the grassy bush-paths, while the crimson winged louris flashed from tree to tree, and the francolins and wild guinea-fowl, startled by the horses’ hoofs, would scuttle across the path, echoing their grating note of alarm. And then the sun, sinking behind a lofty ridge, would fling his parting rays upon the smooth burnished faces of the great red cliffs until they glowed like molten fire.Yes, those were indeed days to look back upon.

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Chapter Thirty Nine.From the Dead!Eustace and the overseer were sitting on the stoep smoking a final pipe together before going to bed. It was getting on for midnight and, save these two, the household had long since retired.Tempted by the beauty of the night they sat, well wrapped up, for it was winter. But the whole firmament was ablaze with stars, and the broad nebulous path of the Milky Way shone forth like the phosphoric trail in the wake of a steamer. The conversation between the two had turned upon the fate of Tom Carhayes.“I suppose we shall soon know now what his end really was,” the overseer was saying. “Kafirs are as close as death over matters of that kind while the war is actually going on. But they are sure to talk afterwards, and some of them are bound to know.”“Yes. And but for this administration business it might be just as well for us not to know,” answered Eustace. “Depend upon it, whatever it is, it will be something more than ghastly, poor fellow. Tom made a great mistake in going to settle in Kafirland at all. He’d have done much better here.”“I suppose there isn’t the faintest shadow of a chance that he may still be alive, Mr Milne?”The remark was an unfortunate one. Cool-headed as he was, it awoke in Eustace a vague stirring of uneasiness—chiming in, as it did, with the misgivings which would sometimes pass through his own mind.“Not a shadow of a chance, I should say,” he replied, after a slight pause.Bentley, too, began to realise that the remark was not a happy one— for of course he could not all this time have been blind to the state ofaffairs. He felt confused and relapsed into silence—puffing vigorously at his pipe.The silence was broken—broken in a startling manner. A terrified scream fell upon their ears—not very loud, but breathing unmistakable tones of mortal fear. Both men sprang to their feet.“Heavens!” cried the overseer. “That’s Mrs Carhayes—”But the other said not a word. In about a half a dozen steps he was through the sitting room and had gained the door which opened out of it. This was Eanswyth’s bedroom, whence the terrified cry had proceeded.“What is wrong, Eanswyth?” he cried, tapping at the door.It opened immediately. She stood there wrapped in a long loose dressing gown, the wealth of her splendid hair falling in masses. But her face was white as death, and the large eyes were dilated with such a pitiable expression of fear and distress, as he certainly had never beheld there.“What is it, my darling? What has frightened you so?” he said tenderly, moved to the core by this extraordinary manifestation of pitiable terror.She gave a quick flurried look over her shoulder. Then clutching his hands—and he noticed that hers were trembling and as cold as ice—she gasped:“Eustace—I have seen—him!”“Who—in Heaven’s name?”“Tom.”“Darling, you must have dreamt it. You have been allowing your thoughts to run too much on the subject and—”“No. It was no dream. I have not even been to bed yet,” she

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interrupted, speaking hurriedly. “I was sitting there, at the table, reading one of my little books. I just happened to look up and—O Eustace”—with a violent shudder—“I saw his face staring in at the window just as plainly as I can see you now.”Eustace followed her cowering glance. The window, black and uncurtained, looked out upon the veldt. There were shutters, but they were hardly ever closed. His first thought, having dismissed the nightmare theory, was that some loafer was hanging about, and seeing the lighted window had climbed up to look in. He said as much.“No. It was him,” she interrupted decisively. “There was no mistaking him. If it were the last word I breathed I should still say so. What does it mean? Oh, what does it mean?” she repeated in tones of the utmost distress.“Hush, hush, my dearest! Remember, Bentley will hear, and—”“There he is again!”The words broke forth in a shriek. Quickly Eustace glanced at the window. The squares of glass, black against the outer night, showed nothing in the shape of a human countenance. A large moth buzzed against them, and that was all.Her terror was so genuine, as with blanched face and starting eyes she glared upon the black glass, that ever so slight a thrill of superstitious dread shot through him in spite of himself.“Quick!” she gasped. “Quick! Go and look all round the house! I am not frightened to remain alone. Mr Bentley will stay with me. Go, quick!”The overseer, who had judiciously kept in the background, now came forward.“Certainly, Mrs Carhayes. Better come into this room and sit down for a bit. Why, you must have been mistaken,” he went on, cheerily placing a chair at the sitting room fire, and kicking up the nearly dead logs. “Nobody could get up at your window. Why, its about fifteen feet

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.ruined homesteads rose from the fair plains of British Kaffraria, and by night the lurid signals of the hostile barbarians flamed forth from many a lofty peak.In the Transkei matters were rather worse than before the previous three months of campaigning. Very far from crushed, the Gcalékas swarmed back into their oft-swept country, and with the aid of their new allies set to work with redoubled ardour to make things as lively for the white man as they possibly could. This kept nearly all the forces then at the front actively employed in that direction, leaving the field open to the residue of the Gaikas and Hlambis to burn and pillage throughout British Kaffraria at their own sweet will. The destruction of property was great and widespread.Still, on the whole, men seemed rather to enjoy the prevailing state of things than otherwise, even those who were severe losers, strange to say. The colonial mind, adventurous at bottom, dearly loves excitement, once it has drunk at that enchanted fountain. Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this is to be found in the numbers who remained, and do remain, on at Johannesburg after the collapse, in a state of semi-starvation—rather than exchange the liveliness and stir of that restless and mushroom town for the surer but more sober conditions of life offered by the scenes of their birth. In British Kaffraria, the renewed outbreak of hostilities afforded plenty of excitement, which went as a set-off against the aforesaid losses—for the time being at any rate. Those who had already taken part in the first campaign either volunteered for the second or stayed at home and talked about both. Though whether he had been out or not made no difference as regarded the talking part of it, for every man jack you might meet in a day’s wandering was open to give you his opinion upon what had been done, and what hadn’t been done; above all upon what should have been done; in a word, felt himself entirely competent to direct the whole of the field operations there and then, and without even the traditional minute’s notice.But however enjoyable all this may have been to society at large, as there represented, there was one to whom it was intolerably irksome, and that one was Eustace Milne. The reasons for this were diverse. In the first place, in the then crowded state of the community, he could hardly ever

obtain an opportunity of talking, with Eanswyth alone; which was not wholly without advantage in that it enabled the latter to keep up her rôle; for if her former sorrowing and heart-wrung condition had now become the hollowest mockery, there was no reason why everybody should be informed thereof, but very much the reverse. He could not see her alone in the house, for it was always full of people, and when it was not, still, the walls were thin. He could not take her for a ride outside the settlement, for in those early days the enemy was daring, and did not always keep at a respectful distance. It would not do to run any more risks. In the next place, all the “talking big,” and indeed the talking at all, that went on, morning, noon, and night, on the well-worn, and threadbare topic was wearisome to him. The thing had become, in fact, a bore of the first water. But the most distasteful side of it all was the notoriety which he himself had, all involuntarily, attained. A man who had been reported slain, and then turned up safe and sound after having been held a prisoner for some weeks by the savage and ordinarily ruthless enemy they were then fighting, was sure to attract considerable attention throughout the frontier community. Friends, neighbours, intimates, people they had never seen or heard of before, would call on the Hostes all day and every day—literally in swarms, as the victim of these attentions put it —in order to see Eustace, and haply, to extract a “yarn” as to his late captivity. If he walked through the township some effusive individual was bound to rush at him with an “I say, Mister, ’scuse me, but we’re told you’re the man that was taken prisoner by old Kreli. Now, do us the favour to step round and have a drink. We don’t see a man who has escaped from them black devils every day.” And then, under pain of being regarded as churlish to a degree, he would find himself compelled to join a group of jovial, but under the circumstances excessively unwelcome, strangers, and proceed to the nearest bar to be cross questioned within an inch of his life, and expected to put away sundry “splits” that he did not want. Or those in charge of operations, offensive and defensive, would make his acquaintance and ask him to dine, always with the object of eliciting useful information. But to these Eustace was very reticent and proved, in fact, a sore disappointment. He had been treated fairly well by his captors. They were savages, smarting under a sense of defeat and loss. They might have put him to death amid cruel torments; instead of which they had given him his liberty. For the saidliberty he had yet to pay—to pay pretty smartly, too, but this was only fair and might be looked upon in the light of ransom. He was not going to give any information to their detriment merely because, under a doubtfully administered system of organisation, they had taken up arms against the Colony. Besides, as a matter of fact, it was doubtful whether he had any information to give.So his entertainers were disappointed. Everyone who accosted him upon the objectionable topic was disappointed. He became unpopular.The infinitesimal intellect of the community felt slighted. The far from infinitesimal sense of self-importance of the said community was wounded to the core. Here was a man who had passed through strange and startling experiences which everyone else was dying to share—at second hand. Yet he kept them to himself. Who was he, indeed, they would like to know? Other men, had they gone through the same experiences, would have had them on tap all day long, for the benefit of all comers, good measure and brimming over. This one, on the contrary, was as close as death itself. Who was he that he should affect a singularity?When a man is unpopular in a small community, he is pretty sure before long to be made aware of that fact. In this instance there were not wanting individuals the ingenuity of whose inventive powers was equal to the occasion. No wonder Milne was reticent as to what he had gone through—hinted these—for it was almost certainly not to his credit. It was a singular thing that he should have emerged from the ordeal unhurt and smiling, while poor Tom Carhayes had been mercilessly butchered. It looked, fishy—uncommonly so. The more you looked at it, the more it began to take on the aspect of a put-up job. Indeed it would not be surprising if it turned out that the expedition across the Bashi was a cunningly devised trap, not originating with the Kafirs either. The escape of Hoste and Payne was part of the programme—no motive existing why these two should be put out of the way.Motive? Motive for desiring Tom Carhayes’ death? Well, any fool could see that, one might have thought. Was there not a young and beautiful widow in the case—who would succeed lo the dead man’s

extremely comfortable possessions, and whom, by this time, any one could see with half an eye, was desperately in love with the plotting and unscrupulous cousin? That was motive enough, one would think.It was easy, moreover, now to see through the predilection of that arch-schemer for their native neighbours and now enemies. It was all part of the plot. Doubtless he was even no sending them secret information and advice in return for what they had done for him. It would be surprising if he turned out anything better than a Kafir spy, were the real truth known.These amiable hints and innuendoes, sedulously buzzed around, were not long in reaching the object of them. But they affected his impenetrable self-possession about as much as the discharge of a pea-shooter might affect the back of the mail-plated armadillo. His philosophical mind saw no earthly reason for disturbing itself about any rumours which a pack of spiteful idiots might choose to set afloat. Hoste’s advice to him, to run two or three of these amiable gentry to earth and visit them with a good sound kicking, only made him laugh. Why should he mind what anybody said? If people chose to believe it they might—but if they didn’t they wouldn’t, and that was all about it.True, he was tempted, on one or two occasions, to follow his friend’s advice—and that was when Eanswyth was brought into the matter. But he remembered that you cannot strangle a widespread slander by force, and that short of the direst necessity the association in an ordinary row of any woman’s name is justifiable neither by expediency nor good taste. But he resolved to get her to move down to Swaanepoel’s Hoek at the very earliest opportunity.Chapter Thirty Six.A Row in the Camp.There was just this much to bear out the ill-natured comments of the scandal-mongers, in that the re-appearance of the missing cousin had gone very far towards consoling the young widow for the loss of the deadhusband.The fact was that where her strongest, deepest feelings were concerned, Eanswyth, like most other women, was a bad actress. The awful poignancy of her suffering had been too real—the subsequent and blissful revulsion too overpowering—for her to be able to counterfeit the one or dissemble the other, with anything like a satisfactory result. Those who had witnessed the former, now shook their heads, feeling convinced that they had then mistaken the object of it. They began to look at Eanswyth ever so little, askance.But why need she care if they did? She was independent, young and beautiful. She loved passionately, and her love was abundantly returned. A great and absorbing interest has a tendency to dwarf all minor worries. She did not, in fact, care.Eustace, thanks to his cool and cautious temperament, was a better actor; so good, indeed, that to those who watched them it seemed that the affection was mainly, if not entirely, on one side. Sometimes he would warn her.“For your own sake, dearest,” he would say on such rare occasions when they were alone together. “For your own sake try and keep up appearances a little longer; at any rate until we are out of this infernal back-biting, gossipy little hole. Remember, you are supposed to be plunged in an abyss of woe, and here you are looking as absurdly happy as a bird which has just escaped from a cage.”“Oh, darling, you are right as usual,” she would reply, trying to look serious. “But what am I to do? No wonder people think I have no heart.”“And they think right for once, for you have given it away—to me. Do keep up appearances, that’s all. It won’t be for much longer.”Eustace had secured a couple of rooms for his own use in one of the neighbouring cottages. The time not spent with Eanswyth was got through strolling about the camp, or now and then taking a short ride out into the veldt when the entourage was reported safe. But this, in


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