Spend the least money to be the most beautiful boy

发表于 2023-09-23 01:32:02 来源:Return to basics and return to true nature

He had struck a listening attitude. Eustace, his recent experiences fresh in his mind, felt depressed and anxious, gazing expectantly into the darkness, his hand upon the butt of his revolver.“Halt! Who comes there?” he cried in the Xosa tongue.“A friend, Ixeshane!” came the prompt reply, as a dark form stepped into view.Now that life was worth living again, Eanswyth felt all her old apprehensions return; but she had every confidence in her lover’s judgment and the fidelity of her trusted old retainer.“Hau, Ixeshane! You are here; it is good,” said the new arrival in the most matter-of-fact way, as though he were not wondering to distraction how it was that the man who had been reported slain in the Bomvana country by the hostile Gcalékas, should be standing there alive and well before him. “I am here to warn the Inkosikazi. She must leave, and at once. The fire-tongues of the Amaxosa are speaking to each other; the war-cry of the Ama Ngqika is cleaving the night.”“We have seen and heard that before, Ncanduku,” answered Eustace, recognising the new arrival at once. “Yet your people would not harm us. Are we not friends?”The Kafir shook his head.“Who can be called friends in war-time?” he said. “There are strangers in our midst—strangers from another land. Who can answer for them? I am Ncanduku, the brother of Nteya. The chief will not have his friends harmed at the hands of strangers. But they must go. Look yonder, and lose no time. Get your horses and take the Inkosikazi, and leave at once, for the Ama Ngqika have responded to the call of their brethren and the Paramount Chief, and have risen to arms. The land is dead.”There was no need to follow the direction of the Kafir’s indication. A dull, red glare, some distance off, shone forth upon the night; then another and another. Signal fires? No. These shone from no prominent

Eustace merely assented. He saw that something was coming, and prepared to listen attentively.“Do you want to find Umlilwane?” went on the old Kafir with ever so slight an expression on the “want.”“Of course I do,” was the unhesitating reply. But for the space of half a minute the white man and the savage gazed fixedly into each other’s faces in the starlight.“Au! If I had known that!” muttered Josane in a disappointed tone. “If I had known that, I could have told you all that Xalasa has—could have told you many moons ago.”“You knew it, then?”“Yes.”“And is it true—that—that he is alive now?”“Yes.”“But, Josane, how is it you kept your knowledge to yourself? He might have been rescued all this time. Now it may be too late.”“Whau, Ixeshane! Did you want him rescued?” said the old fellow shrewdly. “Did the Inkosikazi want him rescued?”This was putting matters with uncomfortable plainness. Eustace reddened in the darkness.“Whatever we ‘wanted,’ or did not want, is nothing,” he answered. “This is a matter of life and death. He must be rescued.”“As you will,” was the reply in a tone which implied that in the speaker’s opinion the white man was a lunatic. And from his point of view such was really the case. The old savage was, in fact, following out a thoroughly virtuous line of conduct according to his lights. All this while, in order to benefit the man he liked, he had coolly and deliberately beensacrificing the man he—well, did not like.“Where is ‘The Home of the Serpents,’ Josane? Do you know?”“Yes. I know?”Eustace started.“Can you guide me to it?” he said, speaking quickly.“I can. But it is a frightful place. The bravest white man would take to his heels and run like a hunted buck before he had gone far inside. You have extraordinary nerve, Ixeshane—but—You will see.”This sounded promising. But the old man’s tone was quiet and confident. He was not given to vapouring.“How do you know where to find this place, Josane?” said Eustace, half incredulously in spite of himself. “Xalasa told us it was unknown to everybody—everybody but the witch-doctress?”“Xalasa was right. I know where it is, because I have seen it. I was condemned to it.”“By Ngcenika?”“By Ngcenika. But my revenge is coming—my sure revenge is coming,” muttered the old Gcaléka, crooning the words in a kind of ferocious refrain—like that of a war-song.As this juncture they were rejoined by Hoste.“Well, Milne,” he said. “Had enough indaba? Because, if so, we may as well trek home again. Seems to me we’ve had a lot of trouble for nothing and been made mortal fools of down to the ground by that schelm, Xalasa’s, cock-and-bull yarns.”“You’re wrong this time,” replied Eustace. “Just listen here a while and you’ll see that we’re thoroughly on the right scent.”

Spend the least money to be the most beautiful boy

At the end of half an hour the Kafir and the two white men arose. Their plans were laid. The following evening—at sundown—was the time fixed on as that for starting upon their perilous and somewhat dimly mysterious mission.“You are sure three of us will be enough, Josane?” said Hoste.“Quite enough. There are still bands of the Gcaléka fighting men in the forest country. If we go in a strong party they will discover us and we shall have to fight—Au! ‘A fight is as the air we breathe,’ you will say, Amakosi,” parenthesised the old Kafir, whimsically—“But it will not help us to find ‘The Home of the Serpents.’ Still, there would be no harm in having one more in the party.”“Who can we get?” mused Hoste. “There’s George Payne; but he’s away down in the Colony—Grahamstown, I believe. It would take him days to get here and even then he might cry off. I have it; Shelton’s the man, and I think he’ll go, too. Depend upon it, Milne, Shelton’s the very man. He’s on his farm now—living in a Kafir hut, seeing after the rebuilding of his old house. We’ll look him up this very night; we can get there in a couple of hours.”This was agreed to, and having arranged where Josane was to meet them the following evening, the two men saddled up and rode off into the darkness.Chapter Forty Two.The Search Party.Midwinter as it was, the heat in the valley of the Bashi that morning was something to remember.Not so much the heat as an extraordinary closeness and sense of oppression in the atmosphere. As the sun rose, mounting higher and higher into the clear blue of the heavens, it seemed that all his rays were concentrated and focussed down into this broad deep valley, whosesides 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 allattempts to draw him out during their journey had failed. As they drew near the dreaded spot this reticence had deepened to a remarkable degree. The old Gcaléka displayed an ominous taciturnity, a gloom even, which was in no degree calculated to raise the spirits of the three white men. Even Eustace failed to elicit from him any definite facts. He had been “smelt out” and condemned to “the Home of the Serpents” and had escaped while being taken into it, and to do this he had almost had to fly through the air. But the place would try their nerves to the uttermost; of that he warned them. Then he would subside again into silence, regardless of any further attempt to “draw” him.There was one of the party whose motives, judged by ordinary human standards, were little short of heroic, and that one was Eustace Milne. He had nothing to gain by the present undertaking, nor had the others. But then they had nothing to lose by it except their lives, whereas he had not only that but everything that made life worth living into the bargain. Again and again he found himself cursing Xalasa’s “gratitude,” from the very depths of his soul. Yet never for a moment did he swerve in his resolve to save his unfortunate cousin if the thing were to be done, although there were times when he marvelled over himself as a strange and unaccountable paradox. A silence was upon them all, as they moved at a foot’s pace through the dense and jungly tangle, mounting ever upwards. After an hour of this travelling they had reached a considerable height. Here in a sequestered glade Josane called a halt.“We must leave the horses,” he said. “It is impossible to take them where we are going. Whau!” he went on, looking upwards and snuffing the air like a stag. “There will be plenty of thunder by and by. We have no time to lose.”Taking with them a long twisted rawhide rope, of amazing strength, which might be necessary for climbing purposes, and a few smaller reims, together with a day’s provisions, and every available cartridge, they started on foot, Josane leading the way. Each was armed with a double gun—one barrel rifled—and a revolver. The Gcaléka carried three small-bladed casting assegais, and a broad headed, close-quarter one, as well as a kerrie.

Spend the least money to be the most beautiful boy

They had struck into a narrow gorge in the side of the hill. It was hard work making any headway at all. The dense bush, intertwined with creepers, met them in places in an unbroken wall, but Josane would hack away manfully with his broad-bladed assegai until he succeeded in forcing a way.“It seems as if we were going to storm the devil’s castle,” said Shelton, sitting down to wipe his streaming brow. “It’s hot enough anyway.”“Rather,” assented Hoste. “Milne, old chap, how do you feel?”“Headachy. There’s a power of thunder sticking out—as Josane says —against when we get out.”“If we ever do get out.”“That’s cheerful. Well, if we mean to get in, I suppose we’d better make a move? Eh, Josane!” The Kafir emphatically agreed. He had witnessed their dilatoriness not without concern. He appeared strangely eager to get the thing over—contrary to the habits of his kind, for savages, of whatever race, are never in a hurry. A line of rocky boulders in front, thickly grown with straight stemmed euphorbia, stiff and regular like the pipes of an organ, precluded any view of the sort of formation that lay beyond. Right across their path, if path it might be called, rose another impenetrable wall of thorns and creepers. In front of this Josane halted.Chapter Forty Three.“Kwa ’Zinyoka.”The brooding, oppressive stillness deepened. Not a breath of air stirred the sprays of the bush, which slept motionless as though carved in stone. Even the very bird voices were hushed. Far below, the sound of the river, flowing over its long stony reaches, came upwards in plaintive monotonous murmur.All of a sudden Josane turned. He sent one keen searching glance straight in front of him, and another from side to side.“The Home of the Serpents is a horrible place,” he said. “I have warned you that it is so. It is not too late now. The Amakosi can yet turn back.”The awed solemnity of his tone could not fail to impress his hearers, especially two of them. The boding sense of oppression in the atmosphere, the utter wildness of the surroundings, the uneasy, mysterious nature of their quest, and the tall gaunt figure of the old Kafir standing in the semi-gloom beneath the funereal plumes of the straight stemmed euphorbia, like an oracle of misfortune—all this affected the imagination of two, at any rate, of these ordinarily hard-headed and practical men in a fashion they could scarcely have deemed possible. The third, however, was impervious to such influences. There was too much involved in the material side of the undertaking. No thought had he to spare apart from this; no scope was there for giving free rein to his imagination.“I think I may say we none of us have the slightest idea of turning back!” he answered.“Certainly not,” assented the other two.Josane looked fixedly at them for a moment. Then he said:“It is good. Follow me—carefully, carefully. We do not want to leave a broad spoor.”The undergrowth among the straight stiff stems of the euphorbia looked dense and impenetrable as a wall. To the astonishment of the spectators, the old Kafir lay flat on his stomach, lifted the dense tangle just enough to admit the passage of his body, for all the world as though he were lifting a heavy curtain, and slipped through.“Come,” he whispered from the other side, for he had completely disappeared from view. “Come—as I did. But do not rend the bushes

Spend the least money to be the most beautiful boy

more than is absolutely necessary.”They followed, worming their way in the same fashion about a dozen yards. Then an ejaculation of amazement, not unmixed with alarm, broke from the lips of Shelton, who was leading. It found an echo on those of the other two. Their first instinct was to draw back.They had emerged upon a narrow ledge, not of rock, or even earth; a narrow ledge of soft, yielding, quaking moss. And it overhung what had the appearance of a huge natural well.It literally overhung. By peering cautiously outward they could see a smooth perpendicular wall of red rock falling sheer and straight to a depth of nearly two hundred feet. Three sides of the hollow—itself not that distance in width—were similarly constituted, the fourth being a precipitous, well-nigh perpendicular slope, with a sparse growth of stunted bushes jotting its rugged sides. A strange, gruesome looking hole, whose dismal depths showed not the smallest sign of life. Could this be the awesome, mysterious “Home of the Serpents?”But Josane’s next words disabused them on this point.“Tarry not,” he said. “Follow me. Do even as I do.”Right to the brink of this horrible abyss the bush grew in a dense jungly wall, and it was the roots of this, overgrown with an accumulation of moss and soil, that constituted the apology for a ledge along which they were expected to make their way. And there was a distance of at least sixty or seventy yards of this precarious footway, to miss which would mean a certain and terrible death.It would have been something of an ordeal even had the foothold been firm. Now, however, as they made their way along this quivering, quaking, ladder-like pathway of projecting roots interleaved with treacherous moss, not one of the three was altogether free from a nervous and shaky sensation about the knees as he moved slowly forward, selecting the strongest-looking stems for hand-hold. Once a root whereon Hoste had put his foot gave way with a muffled crack, letting his

leg through the fearful pathway up to the thigh. An involuntary cry escaped him as, grasping a stem above him, he drew it forth with a supreme effort, and his brown visage assumed a hue a good many shades paler, as through the hole thus made he contemplated a little cloud of leaves and sticks swirling away into the abyss.“Great Heaven!” he ejaculated. “Are we never coming to the end of this ghastly place?”“How would you like to cross it running at full speed, like a monkey, as I was forced to do? I told you I had to fly through the air,” muttered Josane, who had overheard. “The horror of it has only just begun—just begun. Hau! Did I not say it was going to be a horrible place?”But they were destined to reach the end of it without mishap, and right glad were they to find themselves crawling along a narrow ledge overhung by a great rock, still skirting the abyss, but at any rate there was hard ground under them; not a mere shaky network of more or less rotten roots.“Is this the only way, Josane?” said Eustace at length, as they paused for a few minutes to recover breath, and, truth to say, to steady their nerves a trifle. Even he put the question with some diffidence, for as they drew nearer and nearer to the locality of their weird quest the old Gcaléka’s manner had undergone a still further change. He had become morose and taciturn, gloomy and abstracted to a degree.“It is not,” he answered. “It is the only way I know. When I came here my eyes were shut; when I went away they were open. Then I approached it from above; now we have approached from below. The way by which I left, is the way you have seen.”“O Lord! I wouldn’t travel the last infernal hundred yards again for a thousand pounds,” muttered Hoste ruefully. “And now, I’ve got to do it again for nothing. I’d sooner run the gauntlet of the whole Gcaléka tribe, as we did before.”“We may have to do that as well,” remarked Shelton. “But I think IThe writing broke off abruptly and there were signs that more than one tear had fallen upon the silent, but oh, so eloquent paper.Chapter Seventeen.In the Enemy’s Country.“Hi, Hoste, Eustace! Tumble up! We are to start in half an hour.”It is dark as Erebus—dark as it can only be an hour or so before daybreak. The camp-fires have long since gone out and it is raining heavily. The speaker, stooping down, puts his head into a patrol tent wherein two sleepers lie, packed like sardines.A responsive grunt or two and Hoste replies without moving.“Bosh! None of your larks, Tom. Why, it’s pitch dark, and raining as if some fellow were bombarding the tent with a battery of garden hoses.”“Tom can’t sleep himself, so he won’t let us. Mean of him—to put it mildly,” remarks the other occupant of the tent, with a cavernous yawn.“But it isn’t bosh,” retorts Carhayes testily. “I tell you we are to start in half an hour, so now you know,” and he withdraws, growling something about not standing there jawing to them all day.Orders were orders, and duty was duty. So arousing themselves from their warm lair the two sleepers rubbed their eyes and promptly began to look to their preparations.“By Jove!” remarked Eustace as a big, cold drop hit him on the crown of the head, while two more fell on the blanket he had just cast off. “Now one can solve the riddle as to what becomes of all the played out sieves. They are bought up by Government Contractors for the manufacture of canvas for patrol tents.”“The riddle! Yes. That’s about the appropriate term, as witness the

state of the canvas.”“Oh! A dismal jest and worthy the day and the hour,” rejoined the other, lifting a corner of the sail to peer out. It was still pitch dark and raining as heavily as ever. “We can’t make a fire at any price—that means no coffee. Is there any grog left, Hoste?”“Not a drop.”“H’m! That’s bad. What is there in the way of provender?”“Nothing.”“That’s worse. Gcalékaland, even, is of considerable account in the world’s economy. It is a prime corner of the said orb wherein to learn the art of ‘doing without.’”The two, meanwhile, had been preparing vigorously for their expedition, which was a three days patrol. By the light of a tiny travelling lamp, which Eustace always had with him when possible, guns were carefully examined and rubbed over with an oil-rag; cartridges were unearthed from cunning waterproof wrappers and stowed away in belts and pockets where they would be all-ready for use; and a few more simple preparations—simple because everything was kept in a state of readiness—were made. Then our two friends emerged from the narrow, kennel-like and withal leaky structure which had sheltered them the night through.Except those who were to constitute the patrol, scarcely anybody was astir in the camp of the Kaffrarian Rangers that dark, rainy morning. All who could were enjoying a comfortable sleep warmly rolled up in their blankets, as men who are uncertain of their next night’s rest will do—and the prospect looked cheerless enough as the dawn lightened. A faint streak in the eastern sky was slowly widening, but elsewhere not a break in the clouds, and the continual drip, drip, of the rain, mingled with the subdued tones of the men’s voices, as they adjusted bit and stirrup and strapped their supplies in blanket and holster. Three days’ rations were issued, and with plenty of ammunition, and in high spirits the prevailingwetness notwithstanding, the men were ready to set forth.“This won’t last. By ten o’clock there won’t be a cloud in the sky,” said the commander of the corps, a grizzled veteran, elected to that post by the unanimous vote of his men. In keeping with his habitual and untiring energy, which caused his followers often to wonder when he ever did sleep, he had been up and astir long before any of them. And now he bade them good-bye, and, the patrol having mounted, they filed out of camp, the rain running in streams down the men’s waterproofs.More than three weeks have elapsed since the sacking of Kreli’s principal kraal, and during this time reinforcements, both of colonial levies and Imperial troops, have been pouring into the Transkei. Several conflicts of greater or less importance have taken place, and the Gcaléka country has been effectually cleared, its warlike inhabitants having either betaken themselves to the dense forest country along the coast, or fled for refuge across the Bashi to their more peaceful neighbours, the Bomvanas, who dare not refuse them shelter, even if desirous to do so. On the whole, the progress of the war has been anything but satisfactory. A number of the Gcalékas have been killed, certainly, but the tribe is unsubdued. The Great Chief, Kreli, is still at large, as are also his sons and principal councillors; and although the land has been swept, yet its refugee inhabitants are only awaiting the departure of the colonial forces to swarm back into their old locations. Meanwhile, a large force is kept in the field, at heavy expense to the Colony, and in no wise to the advantage of the burghers and volunteers themselves, whose farms or businesses are likely to suffer through their prolonged absence. Of late, however, operations have been mainly confined to hunting down stray groups of the enemy by a system of patrols—with poor results—perhaps killing a Kafir or two by a long and lucky shot, for the savages have learnt caution and invariably show the invaders a clean pair of heels.But no one imagines the war at an end, and that notwithstanding a proclamation issuing from the office of the Commissioner of Crown Lands offering free grants of land in the Gcaléka country conditional upon the residence of the grantee on his exceedingly perilous holding. This proclamation, however, is regarded as a little practical joke on the part of the Honourable the Commissioner. Few, if any, make application, and

certainly none comply with the conditions of the grant. The while patrolling goes on as vigorously as ever.Eustace and his travelling companions had reached the camp of the Kaffrarian Rangers in due course. Hoste, indeed, would have been elected to a subordinate command in the troop had he taken the field at first, but now his place was filled up and he must perforce join in a private capacity; which position he accepted with complete equanimity. He could have all the fun, he said, and none of the responsibility, whereas in a post of command he would have been let in for no end of bother. So he and Eustace chum up together, and share tent and supplies and danger and duty, like a pair of regulation foster-brothers.Our patrol rode steadily on, keeping a sharp look out on all sides. Its instructions were to ascertain the whereabouts of the enemy and his cattle, rather than to engage him in actual conflict. Should he, however, appear in such moderate force as to render an engagement feasible with a fair chance of success, then by all means let them teach him a lesson —and ardently did the men hope for such an opportunity. They numbered but forty all told, all more or less experienced frontiersmen, who knew how to use their rifles—all well versed in the ways of bush fighting, and thoroughly understanding how to meet the savage on his own ground and in his own way. In short, they reckoned themselves well able to render account of at least six times that number of the enemy, their only misgiving being lest the wily sons of Xosa should not afford them the chance.In spite of his predilection for the dark-skinned barbarians aforesaid and his preference for the ways of peace, there was something wonderfully entrancing to Eustace Milne in this adventurous ride through the hostile country, as they held on over hill and valley, keeping a careful watch upon the long reaches of dark bush extending from the forest land which they were skirting, and which might conceal hundreds—nay thousands—of the savage foe lying in wait in his lurking place for this mere handful of whites—a something which sent a thrill through his veins and caused his eye to brighten as he rode along in the fresh morning air; for the clouds had dispersed now, and the sun, mounting into his sphereof unbroken blue, caused the wet earth to glisten like silver as the raindrops hung about the grass and bushes in clusters of flashing gems.“So! That’s better!” said one of the men, throwing open his waterproof coat. “More cheerful like!”“It is,” assented another. “We ought to have a brush with Jack Kafir to-day. It’s Sunday.”“Sunday is it?” said a third. “There ain’t no Sundays in the Transkei.”“But there are though, and its generally the day on which we have a fight.”“That’s so,” said the first speaker, a tall, wiry young fellow from the Chalumna district. “I suppose the niggers think we’re such a bloomin’ pious lot that we shan’t hurt ’em on Sunday, so they always hit upon it to go in at us.”“Or p’r’aps they, think we’re having Sunday school, or holdin’ a prayer meeting. Eh, Bill?”“Ja. Most likely.”They were riding along a high grassy ridge falling away steep and sudden upon one side. Below, on the slope, were a few woebegone looking mealie fields and a deserted kraal, and beyond, about half a mile distant, was the dark forest line. Suddenly the leader of the party, who, with three or four others, was riding a little way ahead, was seen to halt, and earnestly to scrutinise the slope beneath. Quickly the rest spurred up to him.“What is it?”—“What’s up, Shelton?” were some of the eager inquiries.“There’s something moving down there in that mealie field, just where the sod-wall makes a bend—there, about four hundred yards off,” replied Shelton, still looking through his field glasses. “Stay—it’s a Kafir. I saw him half put up his head and bob down again.”


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