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发表于 2023-09-23 14:34:51 来源:Return to basics and return to true nature

“Faugh!” exclaimed Hoste with a grimace of disgust, while two or three of the younger men of the party turned rather pale as they shudderingly gazed upon the sickening sight. “Poor devil! They’ve made short work of him, anyhow.”“H’m! I don’t wonder at it,” said Shelton. “It must be deuced rough to be sold by one of your own men. Still, if that chap’s story was true he was the aggrieved party. However, let’s get on. We’ve got our work all before us still.”They had. It was no easy matter to drive such an enormous herd through the thick bush. Many of the animals were very wild, besides being thoroughly scared with all the hustling to and fro they had had— and began to branch off from the main body, drawing a goodly number after them. These had to be out-manoeuvred, yet it would never do for the men to straggle, for the Kafirs would hardly let such a prize go without straining every effort to retain it. Certain it was that the savages were following them in the thick bush as near as they dared, keenly watching an opportunity to retrieve—or partially retrieve—the disaster of the day.Cautiously, then, the party retreated with their spoil, seeking a favourable outlet by which they could drive their unwieldy capture into the open country; for on all sides the way out of the valley was steep, broken, and bushy. Suddenly a shout of warning and of consternation went up from a man on the left of the advance. All eyes were turned on him—and from him upon the point to which he signalled.What they saw there was enough to send the blood back to every heart.Chapter Nineteen.The Last Cartridge.This is what they saw.Over the brow of the high ridge, about a mile in their rear, a dark

been treated since I was brought here. They are taken care of by the doctors if wounded, as I am; not tied up and starved and kicked, as I have been.”“Their doctors are the Fingo dogs,” interrupted the chief darkly, “their medicine a sharp assegai. Freeborn men of the House of Gcaléka to die at the hand of a Fingo slave! Hau!”A roar of execration went up at this hit. “To the fire with him!” howled the savage crowd. “Give him to us, Great Chief, that we may make him die a hundred deaths!”“That is the sort of healing my children get when they fall into the hands of Amanglezi. And you, umlúngu, you have offered an insult to the House of Gcaléka in the person of Hlangani, my herald, a man of the House of Hintza, my father. Was it war-time when you shed his blood? Did you meet in fair fight when you shot him suddenly and at close-quarters, he having no gun?”“Was it war-time when Hlangani entered the Gaika location to stir up strife? Was it right that he should bring his dogs on to my farm to hunt my bucks?” answered Carhayes fearlessly. “Again, was it fair play for four men, armed with assegais, to attack one, who had but two shots? Or was it self-defence? Listen to my words, Kreli, and you chiefs and amapakati of the House of Gcaléka,” he went on, raising his voice till it was audible to the whole assemblage. “In the presence of you all I proclaim Hlangani a coward. He has struck and insulted me because I am bound. He dare not meet me free. I challenge him to do so. Loosen these bonds. I am weak and wounded. I cannot escape—you need not fear—and let him meet me if he dares, with any weapon he chooses. I challenge him. If he refuses he is nothing but a cowardly dog, and worse than the meanest Fingo. If you, Kreli, refuse my request, it is because you know this bragging herald of yours to be a coward.”The fierce rapidity of this harangue, the audacity of the request embodied within it, took away the auditors’ breath. Yet the idea appealed to them—appealed powerfully to their ardently martial sympathies. The very novelty of such a duel as that proposed invested it with a rareattractiveness.“What does Hlangani say?” observed Kreli, with a partly amused glance at his subordinate.“This, O Great Chief of my father’s house,” replied the warrior, the light of battle springing into his eyes. “Of what man living was Hlangani ever afraid? What man ever had to call him twice? Yet, O Great Chief, the head of my father’s house, I would ask a boon. When I have whipped this miserable white dog, I would claim possession of his wretched carcase absolutely, alive or dead.”“It is granted, Hlangani,” said the chief.“And I?” cried Carhayes. “What shall be given to me when I have sent this cur, who strikes helpless men, howling to his hut? My liberty, of course?”“No,” replied Kreli, shortly.“No?” echoed the prisoner. “My life then?”“No,” answered the chief again. “Be content, umlúngu. If you conquer you shall have a swift and merciful death. If you fail, Hlangani claims you.”Carhayes stared at the chief for a moment, then, as he realised that he had nothing to hope for, whether he won in the combat or not—an expression of such deadly ferocity, such fell and murderous purpose swept across his face, that many of those who witnessed it realised that their countryman was going to snatch no easy victory.The stout rawhide reims which bound his hands behind him were loosened—and that which secured his feet was removed. He stood swinging his arms and stamping to hasten the circulation—then he asked for some water, which was brought him.“Ha, umlúngu!” jeered Ngcenika, addressing Eustace, as the two white men stood talking together. “Give this valiant fighter some white

magic to strengthen him. He will need it.”“Well, Eustace, I’m going to kill that dog,” said Carhayes. “I’m going to die fighting anyway, so that’s all right. Now—I’m ready. What are we going to fight with?”“This,” said one of the bystanders, handing him a pair of hard-wood kerries.Hlangani now made his appearance similarly armed. The crescent formation of warriors had narrowed their ranks, the chiefs and councillors and Eustace and his guards composing the upper arc of the circle. The prisoner could not have broken through that dense array of armed men which hemmed him in on every side, had he entertained the idea.Both the principals in that strange impromptu duel were men of splendid physique. The Kafir, nearly naked, looked like a bronze giant, towering above his adversary in his magnificent height and straight and perfect proportions. The Englishman, thick-set, deep-chested, concentrated a vast amount of muscular power within his five-foot-eight. He had thrown off his ragged shirt, and the muscles of his chest and arms stood out like ropes. He looked a terribly awkward antagonist, and moreover on his side the conflict would be fought with all the ferocity of despair. He was a man bent on selling his life dearly.Hlangani, for his part, was confident and smiling. He was going to fight with his natural weapons, a pair of good, trusty kerries. This blundering white man, though he had the strength and ferocity of an enraged bull, had more than that quadruped’s stupidity. He would knock him out of shape in no time.When blood is up, the spirit of Donnybrook is very strong among Kafirs. The next best thing to taking part in a fight is to witness one—and now, accordingly, every head was bent forward with the most eager interest as the two combatants advanced towards each other in the open space. There was no “ring” proper, nor were there any recognised rules; no “time” either. Each man’s business was to kill or disable the other—as effectually as possible, and by any means in his power.Now a smart Kafir, armed with two good kerries whose use he thoroughly understands, is about as tough a customer to tackle as is a professional pugilist to the average Briton who knows how to use his hands but indifferently. Of this Carhayes was perfectly aware. Consequently his plan was to meet his antagonist with extreme wariness; in fact, to stand rather on the defensive, at any rate at first. He was a fair single stick player, which tended not a little to equalise the chances.As they drew near each other and reached striking distance, they looked straight into each other’s eyes like a pair of skilful fencers. The savage, with one kerrie raised in the air, the other held horizontally before his breast, but both with a nervous, supple grasp, ready to turn any way with lightning rapidity—his glance upon that of his foe—his active, muscular frame poised lightly on one foot, then on another, with feline readiness, would have furnished a perfect subject for an instantaneous photograph representing strength and address combined. The Englishman, his bearded lips compressed, his blue eyes sparkling and alert, shining with suppressed eagerness to come to close-quarters with his crafty and formidable foe, was none the less a fine specimen of courage and undaunted resolution.Hlangani, a sneering laugh upon his thick lips, opened the ball by making a judicious feint. But his adversary never moved. He followed it up by another, then a series of them, whirling his striking kerrie round the Englishman’s head in the most startling proximity, now on this side, now on that, holding his parrying one ready for any attack the other might make upon him. Still Carhayes stood strictly on the defensive. He knew the Kafir was trying to “draw him”—knew that his enemy’s quick eye was prepared for any opportunity. He was not going to waste energy gratuitously.Suddenly, and with lightning-like celerity, Hlangani made a sweep at the lower part of his adversary’s leg. It would have been the ruin of a less experienced combatant, but Carhayes’ kerrie, lowered just two inches, met that of his opponent with a sounding crash just in time to save his skull somewhere in the region of the ear. It was a clever feint, and a dexterous follow-up, but it had failed. Hlangani began to realise that he had met a foeman worthy of his steel—or, rather, of his wood. Still heknew the other’s impetuous temper, and by wearing out his patience reckoned on obtaining a sure and tolerably easy victory.And it seemed as if he would gain the result of his reasoning even sooner than he expected. Bristling with rage, literally smarting with the indignity recently put upon him, Carhayes abandoned the defensive. With a sudden rush, he charged his antagonist, and for a few moments nothing was heard but the clash of hard-wood in strike and parry. Hlangani was touched on the shoulder, while Carhayes got a rap on the knuckles, which in cold blood would have turned him almost sick with pain. But his blood was at boiling point now, and he was fighting with the despairing ferocity of one who has no hope left in life. He pressed his gigantic adversary with such vigour and determination that the other had no alternative but to give way.The fun was waxing fast and furious now. The warriors crowding in nearer and nearer, pressed forward in breathless attention, encouraging their champion with many a deep-toned hum of applause when he scored or seemed likely to score a point. The few women then in the kraal stood on tiptoe, trying to peer over the heads and shoulders of the armed men. Even the chiefs and councillors condescended to show considerable interest in this impromptu tournament, while Eustace Milne, animated by various motives, watched its progress narrowly.For a few moments it really seemed that the white man would prove the victor. Before the impetuosity of his furious attacks Hlangani was constrained to give way more and more. A Beserk ferocity seemed to have taken possession of Carhayes. His eyes glared through the blood and dust which clung to his unwashen visage. Every hair of his beard seemed to bristle and stand upright, like the mane of a wild boar. His chest heaved, and the dexterity with which he whirled his kerrie around his adversary’s ears—always quick to ward the latter’s blows from himself—was wonderful to behold.Crash—scroosh! The blow told. A sound as of the crunching of bone. Hlangani staggered back half a dozen paces, the blood pouring from a wound in his skull. It was a blow that would probably have shattered the skull of a white man.

But before Carhayes could follow it up, the wily savage adopted a different plan. By a series of astonishing leaps and bounds, now backward, now from side to side, he endeavoured to bewilder his enemy, and very nearly succeeded. Mad with rage, desperation, and a consciousness of failing strength, Carhayes was fast losing control over himself. He roared like a wild animal. He began to strike out wildly, leaving his guard open. This the cunning barbarian saw and encouraged. Those looking on had no doubt now as to who held the winning cards; even Eustace could see it, but his cousin was too far off now to hear a word of warning or advice, which, however, was just as well for himself.Again the combatants closed. The splinters began to fly in all directions as the hard-wood sticks whirled and crashed. Then suddenly a crushing blow on the wrist sent Carhayes’ kerrie flying from his grasp and almost simultaneously with it came a sickening “scrunch.” The white man dropped like an ox at the shambles, the blood pouring from his head.Echoing the mighty roar of exultation that went up from the spectators, Hlangani stood with his foot on the chest of his prostrate adversary, his kerrie raised to strike again. But there was no necessity. Poor Tom lay like a corpse, stunned and motionless. The ferocious triumph depicted on the countenance of the savage was horrible to behold.“He is mine,” he cried, his chest heaving, his eyes blazing, “mine absolutely. The Great Chief has said it. Bring reims.”In a trice a few stout rawhide thongs were procured, and Carhayes was once more bound hand and foot. Then acting under the directions of his fierce conqueror—three or four stalwart Kafirs raised the insensible form of the unfortunate settler and bore it away.“He has only begun to taste the fury of Hlangani’s revenge,” said a voice at Eustace’s side. Turning he beheld the witch-doctress, Ngcenika. The hag pointed to the retreating group with a mocking leer.“He will wake,” she went on. “But he will never be seen again, Ixeshane—never. Hau!”“Where will he wake, Ngcenika?” asked Eustace, in a voice which he strove to render unconcerned.“Kwa, Zinyoka,” (At the Home of the Serpents) replied the hag with a brutal laugh.“And where is that?”“Where is it? Ha, ha!” mocked the witch-doctress. “Thou art a magician, too, Ixeshane. Wouldst thou indeed like to know?”“Perhaps.”“Invoke thy magic then, and see if it will tell thee. But better not. For they who look upon the Home of the Serpents are seen no more in life. Thou hast seen the last of yon white man, Ixeshane; thou and these standing around here. Ha, ha! Better for him that he had never been born.” And with a Satanic laugh she turned away and left him.Strong-nerved as he was, Eustace felt his flesh creep. The hag’s parting words hinted at some mysterious and darkly horrible fate in store for his unfortunate cousin. His own precarious position brought a sense of this doubly home to him. He remembered how jubilant poor Tom had been over the outbreak of the war. This, then, was to be the end of it. Instead of paying off old scores with his hated and despised foes, he had himself walked blindfold into the trap, and was to be sacrificed in some frightful manner to their vengeance.Chapter Thirty Three.“I walk in Shadow.”Eanswyth was back again in her old home—living her old life, as in the times that were past—but alone.When she had announced her intention of returning to Anta’s Kloof, her friends had received the proposition with incredulity—when they saw

that she was determined, with dismay.It was stark lunacy, they declared. She to go to live on an out-of-the-way farm, alone! There was not even a neighbour for pretty near a score of miles, all the surrounding stock-farmers having trekked into laager. The Gaikas were reported more restless than ever, nor were symptoms wanting that they were on the eve of an outbreak. The Gcaléka campaign had fired their warlike spirits, but had failed to convey its accompanying warning, and those “in the know” asserted that the savages might rise any minute and make common cause with their countrymen across the Kei. And in the face of all this, here was Eanswyth proposing to establish herself on a lonely farm bordering on the very location of the plotting and disaffected tribesmen. Why, it was lunacy—rank suicide!The worst of it was that nobody on earth had the power to prevent her from doing as she chose. Her own family were Western Province people and lived far up in the Karroo. Had they been ever so willing, it would take them nearly three weeks to arrive—by which time it might be too late. But Eanswyth did not choose to send for any one. She wanted to be alone.“You need not be in the least alarmed on my account,” she had said to the Hostes in answer to their reiterated expostulations. “Even if the Gaikas should rise, I don’t believe they would do me the slightest harm. The people on Nteya’s location know me well, and the old chief and I used to be great friends. I feel as if I must go to my old home again—and —don’t think me ungracious, but it will do me good to be entirely alone.”“That was how poor Milne used to argue,” said Hoste gravely. “But they killed him all the same.”“Yes,” she replied, mastering the quick sharp spasm which the allusion evoked. “But they were Gcalékas—not our people, who knew him.”Hoste shook his head.“You are committing suicide,” he said. “And the worst of it is we have

no power on earth to prevent you.”“No, you haven’t,” she assented with the shadow of a smile. “So let me go my own way with a good grace. Besides, with old Josane to look after me, I can’t come to much harm.”She had telegraphed to her late husband’s manager at Swaanepoel’s Hoek, requesting him to send the old cattle-herd to her at once. Three days later Josane arrived, and having commissioned Hoste to buy her a few cows and some slaughter sheep, enough to supply her modest household. Eanswyth had carried out her somewhat eccentric plan.The utter loneliness of the place—the entire absence of life—the empty kraals and the silent homestead, all this is inexpressibly grateful to her crushed and lacerated spirit. And in the dead silence of those uninhabited rooms she conjures up the sweetest, the holiest memories. Her solitude, her complete isolation, conveys no terror—no spark of misgiving, for it is there that her very life has been lived. The dead stillness of the midnight hour, the ghostly creaking of a board, the hundred and one varying sounds begotten of silence and darkness, inspire her with no alarm, for her imagination peoples these empty and deserted rooms with life once more.She can see him as she saw him in life, moving about the place on different errands bent. There is his favourite chair; there his place at the table. His personality seems still to pervade the whole house, his spirit to hover around her, to permeate her whole being, here as it could nowhere else. But it was on first entering his room, which still contained a few possessions too cumbersome or too worthless to carry away—a trunk or two and a few old clothes—here it was that that awful and vivid contrast struck her in overwhelming force.What an expression there is in such poor and useless relics—a glove, a boot, a hat, even an old pipe—when we know we shall never see the owner again, parted perhaps by circumstances, by distance, by death. Do not such things seem verily to speak—and to speak eloquently —to bring before our eyes, to sound within our ears, the vision, the voice“Die for your fiddlestick!” was the half-laughing, half-angry reply. “But, as I said before, it’s all very well for you. Nobody is dependent on you. Nobody cares what becomes of you.”Did they not? There was one in that room to whom his safety was dearer than a hundred lives, whose heart was well-nigh bursting with unspoken agony at the prospect of the parting which was drawing so near—that parting which should send him forth for weeks, for months perhaps, with peril and privation for daily companions. Yet she must keep up appearances—must maintain a smooth and untroubled aspect. Nobody cared for him!The three men were to start an hour before midnight, and with two more whom they were to meet just outside the settlement, reckoned themselves strong enough to cross the hostile ground in comparative safety—reckoning rather on evading the enemy than on meeting him in battle with such small numbers. And this would be easier, for the Gcaléka country had been swept from end to end and its inhabitants driven beyond the Bashi—for a time. In which process the Kaffrarian Rangers had gallantly borne their part.As the hour for starting drew near, prodigious was the fussiness displayed by Hoste over the preparations. He couldn’t find this, and he couldn’t find that—he wanted this done and that done—in short made himself a signal nuisance. Now all this was done in accordance with a crafty idea of Payne’s. “The women will be bound to turn on the waterworks. Therefore, give them plenty to do. Fuss them out of their very lives so that they won’t have time so much as to think of snivelling— until we’re gone, and then it won’t matter,” had enjoined that unprincipled philosopher—who had sent his own family down to King Williamstown some days previously.“Do you mind taking a quarter of an hour’s stroll, Eanswyth?” said Eustace in his most matter-of-fact way, shortly before they were due to start. “You see, neither Tom nor I can tell how long we may be away, and there are two or three things in connection with our joint possessions which I should like to discuss with you.”

Eanswyth’s heart gave a bound. The time of parting was drawing very near, and it seemed as if no opportunity would be offered them of seeing each other alone; that their farewell must be made, even as that other farewell, in the presence of half a dozen people. But his readiness of resource had hit upon a way, while she, all unnerved as she was, could think of nothing.It was a lovely night. The thin sickle of a new moon hung in the heavens, and the zenith was ablaze with stars. Behind, the lights of the village, the sound of voices and laughter; in front, the darkness of the silent veldt. Far away against the blackness of the hills glowed forth a red fire.Thus they stood—alone—and the time seemed all too short. Thus they stood—alone beneath the stars, and heart was opened to heart in the terrible poignancy of that parting hour.“Oh, my darling, what if I were never to see you again! What if you were never to come back to me!” burst forth Eanswyth in a wail of anguish. “You are going into all kinds of danger, but oh, my loved one, think of me through it all—think of me if you are tempted to do anything foolhardy. My heart is almost broken at parting with you like this. Anything —anything more, would break it quite.”“I wish to Heaven mere danger was the only thing we had to trouble about,” he said, rather bitterly. “But let this cheer you, my sweet—cheer us both. You doubted me before—you cannot again. We are both so strong in each other’s love that beside such a possession the whole world is a trifle. And better and brighter times may be—must be, before us—”“Hallo, Milne,” shouted the voice of Hoste in the distance. “Where are you, man? Time’s up!”Both started—in each other’s embrace—at this horribly jarring and unwelcome reminder. “The fellow needn’t bawl like all the bulls of Bashan, confound him!” muttered Eustace with a frown.“Eustace—dearest—must we really part now?” she murmured in a broken sob, clinging to him more closely. “First of all, take this,” slipping a small, flat, oblong packet into his hand. “Open it—read it—when you are on your way. I got it ready, thinking we should have no opportunity of being alone together again. And now, love—dear, dear love—good-bye. Heaven bless you—no, I must not say that, I am too wicked. It would be of no avail coming from me—”“I say, Milne! Are you coming along with us or are you not?” roared Hoste again from his front door. “Because if not, just kindly say so.”“You are under no precise necessity to cause the dead to rise, are you, Hoste?” said Eustace tranquilly, a couple of minutes later, as they stepped within the light of the windows. “Because, if you had whispered I should have heard you just as well. As it is, you have about woke up the whole of British Kaffraria, and we shall have the sentries opening fire upon the veldt at large in a minute. There—there goes the Police bugle already.”“Don’t care a hang. We are waiting to start. Here come the horses. Now—Good-bye, everyone, and hurrah for old Kreli!”A couple of native stable-hands appeared, leading three horses, saddled and bridled. Then there was a good deal of tumultuous leave-taking between Hoste and his family circle, mingled with sniffling and handkerchiefs, and of quieter farewells as concerned the rest of the party. But the torn heart of one in that group suffered in silence. Eanswyth’s sweet, proud face was marvellously self-possessed.“Extraordinary creatures, women,” said Payne, as the three men rode out of the settlement. “I believe they positively enjoy the fun of a good snivel. It’s just the same with my own crowd. When I left home I was obliged to send a note by a boy to say ‘ta-ta’ to escape it all, don’t you know.”Hoste guffawed. It was just the sort of thing that George Payne, philosopher and cynic, would do.

“Some few of them are sensible, though,” went on the latter, flaring up a vesuvian to light his pipe. “Mrs Carhayes, for instance. She don’t make any fuss, or turn on the hose. Takes things as they come—as a rational person should.”Hoste guffawed again.“Now, George, who the very deuce should she make a fuss over or turn on the hose for?” he said. “You or me, for instance. Eh?”“N-no, I suppose not. Milne, perhaps. He’s a sort of brother or cousin or something, isn’t he?”If Eustace had felt disposed to resent this kind of free-and-easiness he forebore, and that for two reasons. He liked the speaker, who, withal, was something of an original, and therefore a privileged person, and again the very carelessness of the remark of either man showed that no suspicion as to his secret had found place in their minds—a matter as to which he had not been without a misgiving a few minutes back.On opening the packet which Eanswyth had put into his hand at parting, Eustace found it to consist of a little antique silver tobacco-box, beautifully chased. This contained a photograph of herself, and a letter; the last a short, hurriedly penned note, which, perused there alone, with all the desolation of the recent parting fresh upon him, was effectual to thrill his heart to the very core.“And now,” it ended—“And now, oh, my precious one, good-bye—I dare not say ‘God bless you.’ Coming from me it would entail a curse rather than a blessing. I am too wicked. Yet, is our love so wicked? Could it be so divinely, so beautifully sweet if it were? Ah, I neither know nor care. I only know that were anything to befall you—were you never to come back to me—my heart would be broken. Yes, broken. And yet, it would be only just that I should suffer through you. Good-bye, my dearest one—my only love. We may not meet again alone before you start, but I want you, in all your dangers and hardships, to have always with you these poor little lines, coming, as they do, warm from my hand and heart —”The 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


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