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´╗┐Title: A Secret of the Lebombo
Author: Mitford, Bertram, 1855-1914
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Secret of the Lebombo" ***

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A Secret of the Lebombo, by Bertram Mitford.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
A SECRET OF THE LEBOMBO, BY BERTRAM MITFORD.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE SHEEP-STEALERS.

The sun flamed down from a cloudless sky upon the green and gold of the
wide valley, hot and sensuous in the early afternoon.  The joyous piping
of sheeny spreeuws mingled with the crowing of cock koorhans concealed
amid the grass, or noisily taking to flight to fuss up half a dozen
others in the process.  Mingled, too, with all this, came the swirl of
the red, turgid river, whose high-banked, willow-fringed bed cut a dark
contrasting line through the lighter hue of the prevailing bush.  From
his perch a white-necked crow was debating in his mind as to whether a
certain diminutive tortoise crawling among the stones was worth the
trouble of cracking and eating, or not.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wyvern moved stealthily forward, step by step, his pulses tingling with
excitement.  Then parting some boughs which came in the way he peered
down into the _donga_ which lay beneath.  What he saw was not a pleasant
sight, but--it was what he had expected to see.

Two Kafirs were engaged in the congenial, to them, occupation of
butchering a sheep.  Not a pleasant sight we have said, but to this man
doubly unpleasant, for this was one of his own sheep--not the first by
several, as he suspected.  Well, he had caught the rascals red-handed at
last.

Wyvern stood there cogitating as to his line of action.  The Kafirs,
utterly unsuspicious of his presence, went on with their cutting and
quartering, chattering gleefully in their deep-toned voices, as to what
good condition the meat was in, and what a succulent feast they would
have when the darkness of night should enable them to fetch it away to
the huts from this remote and unsuspected hiding-place.  One was clad in
a pair of greasy moleskin trousers, hitched up to his shoulders by a
pair of filthy braces, largely repaired with string; the other was clad
in nothing at all, unless a string of blue beads round his neck counted
for anything.  In the trouser-wearing savage Wyvern recognised one of
his own herds, whose absence from the flock under his charge had led to
the present discovery.  The other, a tall, powerful, desperate-looking
scoundrel with a deeply pock-marked countenance, he did not recognise at
all.

It was all very well to have caught them red-handed, but the question
was, what course to pursue.  They were two to one, hard, wiry savages at
that.  They had sheath knives and he was unarmed; for a pocket-knife is
of little or no use as a defensive weapon in that it is bound to shut on
the hand of the wielder.  They were engaged in an act the penalty of
which spelt lashes and fine, or, at best a year's hard labour; was it
likely they would submit meekly to capture?  And then, as there flitted
through his mind a recent instance of a stock fanner being
unhesitatingly murdered under precisely similar circumstances, Wyvern
began to realise that his own position was one of some little danger.
Would it not be wiser to withdraw now, and take steps for trapping the
culprits when he should have more force at his disposal?  Decidedly here
was food for reflection.

But the matter was taken out of his hands by one of those unforeseen
trifles upon which so much may turn.  In his eagerness to watch the
proceedings just below he had let one hand come into contact with the
leaf of a prickly pear, which sprouted interwoven with the bushes
through which he was peering.  Now contact with an ordinary thorn would
not have moved him, but contact with these innumerable and microscopic
stings, as it were, which once in the skin are bound to leave painful
recollection of that fact even for weeks, inspired a sort of instinctive
horror that had made him start.  Even before the stone which he had
dislodged beneath his foot had begun to roll into the _donga_ the two
miscreants looked up quickly and saw him.

The startled ejaculation which escaped them, gave way to a rapid murmur.
Wyvern caught but one word and that was sufficient.  He knew that he
was about to fight for his life--and, he was unarmed.

The _donga_ was of no depth, perhaps the height of a man, nor were the
sides perpendicular; further down where it joined the river-bed they
were both high and steep.  Lithe, agile as monkeys or cats, the two
Kafirs sprang up the bank, gripping their blood-smeared knives, but--
each from a different end.  They were going to assail him from two sides
at once.

Cool now, and deadly dangerous because cornered, in a lightning flash of
thought Wyvern decided upon his plan of campaign.  He picked up two
stones, each large enough to constitute a handful.

The first to appear was his own boy, Sixpence, and no sooner did he
appear than he received one stone--hurled by a tolerably powerful arm,
and at five yards' distance--bang, crash on the forehead.  It would have
broken any skull but a native skull.  The owner of this particular skull
stopped short, staggered, reeled, shook his head stupidly, half-blinded
by the blood that was pouring down his face, then subsided;
incidentally, into a mass of prickly pear leaves--and thorns.  Wyvern,
his eyes ablaze with the light of battle, stood, the other stone ready
in his right hand, ready to mete out to Number Two a like reception.

But the other did not appear.  Instead, a volume of exclamations in
deep-toned Xosa, together with a wholly unaccountable hissing, came from
the other side of the bush by which he was standing.  Wyvern stepped
forth.  The other Kafir stood, literally anchored by a huge puff-adder
which was twined round his leg, not daring to use his knife lest missing
those sinuous coils he should fatally wound himself.  And the hideous
bloated reptile, blown out in its wrath, hung there, tightening its
coils in spasmodic writhings as it struck the imprisoned limb again and
again with its deadly fangs.

"Throw down the knife, and I'll help you," cried Wyvern, in Boer Dutch.

But the savage, whether it was that he understood not a word of that
classic tongue, or that he had gone mad with a very frenzy of despair,
instead of obeying, with lightning-like swiftness, hurled the knife--a
long-bladed, keenly-ground butcher one--full at the speaker.  Wyvern
sprang aside, but even then the whizz past his ear told that he had
looked death rather closely in the face that day.

His first act was to possess himself of the weapon, then
self-preservation moved him to go back to the other, and get possession
of his.  The said other lay stupidly, still half-stunned, but he had
dropped his knife in the fall.  This, too, Wyvern picked up, and now,
feeling equal to the pair of them, he went back to where the man and the
snake were still struggling.

And a ghastly and horrible scene met his eyes.  The man, who seemed to
have gone completely mad, was plucking and tearing at the snake,
uttering the most hideous howls, and literally foaming at the mouth, as
he strove to free himself from those terrible coils.  He must have been
bitten again and again, as now with his hands within the reptile's very
mouth he strove to tear its head asunder.  The struggle had brought him
to the brink of a much deeper part of the _donga_, and now, as Wyvern
looked, puzzled what to do next, seemed to be weakening or to lose his
balance.  He swayed, then toppled heavily through the bushes, and man
and snake went crashing down the well-nigh perpendicular bank.

His own peril thus removed, Wyvern's blood curdled within him at the
horror he had witnessed.  He went to the place and looked over, but
could see nothing.  It was too much overhung with bushes--and save for
where these had been displaced by a heavy body crashing through, there
was no sign or trace of life; no sound either.  Probably with all that
venom in his system the wretched Kafir was already in the state of coma
which should precede death.  For him there was no chance, absolutely
none.  Wyvern went back to where he had left the other.

"Now, Sixpence," he said, speaking in the _taal_, which in the Cape
Colony is the usual means of communication between white men and
natives, "stand up, and put your hands behind you.  I'm going to tie
them."

But the fellow begged and prayed that he might be spared this.  He would
not try to run away, he protested.  Where was the use, since his wife
and children were at the huts, and besides, was he not well known?
Farther he felt very ill, and hardly able to walk as it was, from the
effects of the terrible blow the Baas had given him.  Perhaps, too, on
the strength of that the Baas might bring himself to forgive him.  He
would serve him so faithfully after that--and the Baas could take twice
the value of the sheep out of his wages.  Surely the Baas might bring
himself to forgive him.

Wyvern, contemplating him, thought he might even be fool enough to do
that; and as he put back into his pocket the lanyard of _reimpje_
wherewith he had intended to tie the fellow's hands, he feared that he
might.

"I don't know about that, Sixpence," he said.  "You have been a pretty
_schelm_ sort of a boy, you know.  Besides, you would have killed me,
you and that other.  Who is he, by the way?"

"One of Baas Ferreira's boys, Baas," naming a Dutchman whose farm
adjoined the river on the other side.

"Well, and which of you was it that planned this _slaag_?"

The Kafir shrugged his shoulders.

"We did it between us, Baas," he said, and the answer moved Wyvern the
more to let him down easy, though fully alive to the bad policy of doing
so, for he appreciated the fact that the fellow had not tried to save
himself by throwing the blame on his accomplice.

They had reached the place where Wyvern had left his horse, and now as
he mounted he said:

"Now walk on in front of me, Sixpence.  I shall think seriously over
what I shall do about you.  You would get ever so many years in the
_tronk_ you know, for coming at me with the knife--and that apart from
what you'd get for `slaag-ing' the sheep.  I expect the other fellow is
dead by this time.  The snake struck him again and again."

"_Nkose_!" murmured the Kafir deprecatorily, then relapsed into silence.
Before they had gone far Wyvern said:

"Go back to your flock, Sixpence.  I expect it has straggled a good bit
by this time.  But--" impressively--"don't attempt to run away.  You are
sure to be caught if you do, and then you will have thrown away your
last chance."

"_Nkose_!" murmured the Kafir again, and bending down he kissed his
master's foot as it rested in the stirrup.  Then he walked away.

"Poor devil," said Wyvern to himself, gazing after him as he rode on.
"Well, we are all poor devils--I the most of the lot.  I believe I could
almost bring myself to envy that ochre-smeared scion of Xosa.  He
doesn't need much, and gets it all, while I--?"



CHAPTER TWO.

LALANTE.

Riding slowly home Wyvern's thoughts took on no more cheerful a vein as
he looked round upon his farm, which would soon be his no longer.  It
never ought to have been his at all.  He had started by paying far too
much for it.  He had been struck by the pleasant situation of the place,
and was determined to have it at all costs.  Further, it was bad veldt,
being, in stock-farming parlance, "boer-ed out," that is to say
exhausted.  It required years of rest what time he took it up, but
Wyvern started about three thousand sheep upon it, and contentedly,
though unconsciously, prepared to watch their decimation.  It came.  He
had put his little all into the venture, and now his little all was fast
approaching vanishing point.

He reached home, off-saddled his horse, and turned the animal loose into
an enclosure.  By the time he had done so, and entered the house, the
episode of the sheep "slaag-ing" had almost faded from his mind.  The
excitement of the discovery and the struggle past now, in the light of
more serious matter the incident seemed of small importance.

You might read something of Wyvern's temperament in the state of his
living room.  Take the large table, for instance.  It was littered with
books and papers covering quite two thirds of its space, a careless
heap, which gradually encroaching more and more had caused his old
Hottentot cook, and general indoor factotum, to ask grumblingly and
repeatedly how she was to find room to lay the cloth for the Baas'
dinner, with all that rubbish blocking up the whole table.  There were
letters lying there too, letters unopened, which might have so remained
for a couple of days or a week.  Wyvern knew or guessed what they were
all about: nothing pleasant, that was certain.  Why then, should he
bother himself?  He would wait till he was more in the vein.  But
somehow "the vein" would be long in coming, and even unpleasant letters,
especially those of a business nature, do not improve--like cigars--by
keeping.  Still--that was Wyvern.

Even the pictures on the walls, mostly framed photographs, were more or
less hung anyhow, while some were slipping out of their mounts.  Of one,
however, none of this held good, and this was hung so that it faced him
where he sat at table.

It was the photograph of a girl--and a very handsome girl at that.  The
eyes, large and clear, seemed to follow the inmate's every movement in
all parts of the room, while a generously moulded figure was set forth
in the three parts length of the portrait.  In the firm, erect pose
there was strength, decisiveness, even a suggestion of unconventionality
perhaps.  At this he gazed, with a murmured expression of ardent love,
as he dropped into his seat, and the look of weariful dejection deepened
upon his face.

"You, too, lost to me," he murmured.  "You, too, passing from me.  What
an utter, infernal mess I've made of things.  I've a good mind to end it
all.  It might even come to that some day."

His glance had gone round to an object in the further corner.  It was a
shot-gun standing upright against the wall.  He eyed it, gloomily.  Just
then a door opened, and to the accompaniment of a clatter of plates and
things his Hottentot cook entered, bearing a tray.  At her Wyvern
glanced resentfully.

"I don't want that stuff," he said.  "Take it away again."

"_Oh, goeije_! and it is the Baas' dinner," exclaimed the old woman.

"I don't want any dinner," was the weary answer.  "I'll have a smoke
instead.  Do you hear, Sanna.  Get away with it."

"Not want any dinner!  Have a smoke instead!" echoed old Sanna.  "And
the Baas has eaten nothing since breakfast and very little then.  _Nouw
ja_! it is wasting the gifts of the good God!  And this is a
guinea-fowl, too, and partridge--stewed guinea-fowl and partridge, the
dish the Baas likes best.  And now the Baas says take it away."

"Yes.  Take it away, old Sanna.  I can't eat."

Muttering, she turned and withdrew.  Wyvern, suddenly realising that he
might have hurt the poor old creature's feelings, was about to recall
her, when a sound struck upon his ear.  It was that of the hoof-strokes
of a ridden horse.  The dogs outside greeted it with frenzied clamour.

Wyvern frowned.  The sound was an unwelcome one, for it probably meant
someone who was going to make use of his place for an hour's off-saddle,
and who, in his then vein, would most certainly bore the life out of
him.

He went out on the stoep.  The hoof-strokes had ceased, so had the
canine clamour.  He went down the steps and when about to turn the
corner of the house an advancing figure did so at the same time, with
such suddenness that both nearly collided.  It was that of a girl.  Both
started--he with an exclamation of delighted astonishment.  Then without
more ado, the newcomer put both her hands upon his shoulders and kissed
him, and, tall as he was, she had not to reach up over much in the
process either.  She was the original of the portrait which occupied the
place of honour within.

"Lalante!  My own one, how sweet of you to give me this surprise," he
murmured, releasing her from the long, close embrace which had followed
immediately upon the first amenity.  "Are you alone?"

"Yes.  There'd have been no fun in bringing a crowd."

"Well, sit down inside and rest while I see to your horse.  Hitched to
the gate, I suppose?"

"Yes.  For the other I'm not going to obey.  I'll go with you.  Do you
want to be away from me for the first ten minutes I'm here?"

"Do I, indeed?  Come along, then."

They went to the gate, she leaning slightly against him, as they walked,
his hand passed lovingly through her arm.  And they looked an ideal pair
physically, he with his six foot of strong English manhood, his bronzed
face, fine and thoughtful, though even now unable to shake off the
recollection of crowding in troubles; she, lithe and rounded, moving
with the perfect grace of a natural and unstudied ease, her large grey
eyes, thickly lashed, wide open and luminous with the sheer delight of
this meeting, her cheeks just a little browned with the generous kiss of
the African sun.  Yes, they seemed an ideal pair, and yet--and yet--this
is a world wherein there is no room for ideals.

When they returned to the house they were met by old Sanna, voluble.

"_Daag, Klein Missis.  Ja_, but--I am glad you are come.  Now you will
make the Baas eat his dinner, ah, yes--surely you will do that.  Nothing
since breakfast, and out all day in the hot sun, and says he will not
eat.  And I have made him what he likes best."

The new arrival looked for a moment at Wyvern, then, with decision:
"Bring in the dinner, Sanna, and you can put two plates.  I am going to
have some too."

The old woman crowed.

"See now what I always say.  It is time we had a Missis here.  What is a
farm without a Missis?  It is like a _schuilpaad_ [tortoise] without a
shell."  And she went out, chuckling, to re-appear in about a minute
with the rejected tray.

"_Nouw ja_! that is where _Klein Missis_' place ought to be," began old
Sanna, pointing to the other end of the table.  "But the Baas piles it
up with rubbish and paper, and all sorts of stuff only good to collect
dust and tarantulas.  But he will have to make room for you soon there,
_Klein Missis_.  How soon?"

"Don't you ask questions, old Sanna," answered the girl with a laugh.
"Meanwhile I prefer sitting here, nearer.  We needn't talk so loud then
to make each other hear, do you see?"

The old woman's yellow face puckered into delighted wrinkles.  She was
not altogether free from the failings of her race, but she had a very
real and motherly affection for Wyvern, and would in all probability
have gone through fire and water for him if put to the test.

"Mind you make the coffee extra well to-day, old Sanna," called out
Wyvern, as she turned back to the kitchen.

"Now help me, darling," said the girl, as they sat down to table.  "It
is delightful, being all to ourselves like this.  Isn't it?"

"Heavenly," he answered, dropping a hand upon hers, to the detriment of
any speedy compliance with her last injunction.  "But how did you manage
to get away alone?"

"Father's gone to a sale at the Krumi Post.  He won't be back till
to-morrow."

Wyvern's face clouded.

"Has he?  That accounts for it.  Do you know, dearest, he seems to have
changed towards me.  Not over anxious for you to see too much of me in
these days.  Well, I know what that is going to mean."

"Hush--hush!  I am going to have some serious talk with you presently,
but--not now.  At table that sort of thing interferes with digestion I
believe."

Wyvern dropped his knife and fork, and looked at her fixedly.

"That means--trouble," he said, a world of bitterness in his tone and
face.

"No--no.  It doesn't.  Perhaps quite the reverse.  So be reassured!--and
trust me.  Now tell me.  What have you been doing with yourself since we
last met?"

"Oh, trying to put more of the too late drag on the coach that is
whirling down the hill to its final crash."

"No--no.  Don't talk despondently," she said.  "I want to think of you
as strong--and despondency is not strength.  You have me and I have you,
does that count for nothing?"

"Good Lord, but you make me feel mean.  Come now, we'll throw off this
gloomy talk," with a sudden brightening that was not all forced, so
stimulating was the effect of her presence, so soothing that of her
love-modulated voice.

"That's right.  Now, what have you been doing with yourself?"

"The latest is that I had a sort of adventure this morning.  I caught
Sixpence `slaag-ing,' caught him red-handed.  There was another _schelm_
in it with him."  And he told her the whole incident.

The colour heightened in her cheeks as she listened, and her eyes were
opened wide upon his.

"But they would have killed you, the wretches," she exclaimed.

"Such was their amiable intent.  I believe it will take even Sixpence's
thick skull some little while to get over that stone I let him have."

"Pity you didn't kill him," said the girl, fiercely; and meaning it too.

"No, dearest.  Think again.  Are times not hard enough in all
conscience, without having to meet the costs of a trial for
manslaughter, for that's about what it would have meant.  What?  `Self
defence?'  That might not have counted.  There were no witnesses, and
they'd have tried to make out I did it because I was mad with him for
`slaag-ing.'"

"That's true.  I hadn't thought of it in that light.  Well, I should
think the magistrate will let him have the `cat' and plenty of it," she
added, vindictively.

"No, he won't.  I've concluded to let the poor devil off.  I'll deduct
the value from his wages--it's quite illegal of course, but far more
satisfactory to both parties, in that it saves trouble all round--and
the crack on the head he got can balance the rest of the account."

The girl looked at him, a whole world of admiring love shining in her
eyes.  Then she shook her head.

"That's quite wrong.  You're spoiling the people, you know.  In fact
you're putting quite a premium on `slaag-ing.'  But you will do
everything your own way and different to other people.  Well, it
wouldn't be you if you didn't."

"Which is an extenuating circumstance, I suppose, sweetheart," he
answered, dropping a hand on to hers.  "And now, if we've done, I move
that we go and continue this debate upon the stoep."



CHAPTER THREE.

"LIGHT THROUGH THE GLOOM..."

We have said that in purchasing Seven Kloofs, as his farm was named,
Wyvern had been largely moved by a sense of its beautiful site, and it
certainly had that redeeming feature.  Now as these two sat there on the
stoep, a fair and lovely panorama lay spread forth before them.  The
house was built on the slope of a hill, and, falling away in front, lay
miles and miles of undulating veldt, now of a young and tender green--
for the season had been a good one--alternating with darker patches of
bush, and the lighter green, still, of the feathery mimosa.  While
beyond, walling in the river valley at some miles distant, ran a lofty
ridge, far as the eye could see, stern with stately cliffs, alternating
with the ruggedness of rock and boulder which crowned the height.
Behind the homestead a network of dark and bushy kloofs interseamed the
hills on that side; which, if a very Alsatia for mischievous wild
animals, furnished a compensating element in affording sport to the
owner--and his neighbours--in their periodical destruction.

Nor were the voices of Nature stilled in the sensuous glory of the
unclouded sunlight.  The strange call of strange birds echoed
unceasingly, blending with the cheery whistle of the familiar spreeuw,
ubiquitous in his sheeny flash from bough to bough, and the far-off,
melodious call of the hoepoe, in the dusky recesses of bushy kloofs.
Dove notes, too, in ceaseless cooing, and the shrill, noisy crow of
cock-koorhaans was seldom stilled, any more than the murmuring hum of
bees and the screech of crickets; but Nature's voices are never
inharmonious, and all these, and more, blended to perfection in a chorus
of praise for a spring-reviving world.

"No--that is too far from you, dearest," objected the girl, as Wyvern
dragged forward the most comfortable of the cane chairs for her in the
vine-trellised shade of the stoep.  "Now, you sit there, and I'll sit--
here," flinging down a couple of cushions beside his low chair, and
seating herself thereon so as to nestle against him.  "Now we shall be
quite comfy, and can talk."

She had taken from his hand the pouch from which he had begun to fill
his pipe, likewise the pipe itself.  This she now proceeded to fill for
him.

"Aren't you afraid of quite spoiling me, darling?" he murmured tenderly,
passing a caressing hand over the soft brown richness of her abundant
hair.  "Would you always do it, I wonder?"

She looked up quickly.

"`Would you,'" she repeated "Oughtn't you rather to have said `Will
you'?"

"My sweet grammarian, you have found me the exact and right tense," he
answered, a little sadly, wondering if she really had any approximate
idea as to how badly things were going with him.

"That's right, then.  This is getting quite worn out," examining the
pouch.  "How long ago did I make it?  Well, I must make you another,
anyhow."

"That'll be too sweet of you."

"Nothing can be too sweet to be done for you."

If it be doubted whether all this incense could be good for any one man,
we may concede that possibly for many--even most--it would not.  But
this one constituted an exception.  There was nothing one-sided about
it, for he gave her back love for love.  Moreover, it was good for him;
now, especially, when he stood in need of all the comfort, all the
stimulus she could give him; for these two were engaged, and he--was
tottering on the verge of ruin.

He looked down into her eyes, and their glances held each other.  What
priceless riches was such a love as this.  Ruin!  Why ruin was wealth
while such as this remained with him.  And yet--and yet--Wyvern's
temperament contained but little of the sanguine; moreover he knew his
own capabilities, and however high these might or might not stand for
ornamental purposes, no one knew better than he did that for the hard,
practical purpose of building for himself a pecuniary position they were
_nil_.  Nor was he young enough to cherish any illusions upon the
subject.

"You said you had some serious talk for me, sweetheart," he said.  "Now
begin."

"It's about father.  He keeps dinning into me that you--that you--are
not doing well."

"He's right there," said Wyvern, grimly.  "And then?"

"And then--well, I lost my temper."

"You have a temper then?"

She nestled closer to his side, and laid her head against him.

"Haven't I--worse luck!"

He laughed, softly, lovingly.

"Well, I'll risk that.  But, why did you lose it?"

"He told me--he said--that things ought not to go on any longer between
us," answered the girl, slowly.

"Oh, he said that did he?  What if he should be right?"

She started to her feet, and her eyes dilated as she fixed them upon his
face; her own turning ghastly white.

"You say that--_you_?  _If_ he should be right?"

Wyvern rose too.  The greyness which had superseded the bronze of his
face was an answer to her white one.

"I am ruined," he said.  "Is it fair to bind you to a broken and ruined
man, one who, short of a miracle, will never be anything else?"

"You mean that?  That he might be right?" she repeated.

The ashen hue deepened on his countenance.

"In your own interest--yes.  As for me, the day that I realised I should
see you no more in the same way, as I see you now--that is as _mine_--
would be my last on earth," he said, his voice breaking, in a very
abandonment of passion and despair.  Then with an effort, "But there.
It was cowardly of me to tell you that."

"Oh, love--love!"  Now they were locked in a firm embrace, and their
lips met again and again.  In the reaction great tears welled from her
eyes, but she was smiling through them.  "Now I am answered," she went
on, "I thought I knew what happiness was, but, if possible, I never did
until this moment."

"Did you think I was going to give you up then?" he said, a trifle
unsteadily.

"Don't ask me what I thought I only know I seem to have lived a hundred
years in the last minute or so."

"And I?"

"You too.  You have an expressive face, my ideal?"

"Listen, Lalante.  How long have we known each other?"

"Since I first came home.  Just a year."

"And how long have we loved each other?"

"Exactly the same time, to a minute."

"Yes.  And have we ever had the slightest misunderstanding or exchanged
one single word that jarred or rankled?"

"Never."

"Why not?"

"Because of our love--our complete and perfect love."

"Yes.  Now we have had our first misunderstanding, but not in the
ordinary and derogatory sense in which the word is used--and it has only
served to cement us more closely together.  Hasn't it?"

"It has."

"Then we will sit down again and talk things over quietly," he said.
"You have been standing long enough, after your long, hot ride."

He released her beautiful form from his embrace, though reluctantly, and
only then after another clinging kiss.  She subsided again on to her
cushions.

"After my long, hot ride!" she echoed.  "Why, it was nothing.  I'm as
strong as a horse."

"You are perfect."

"Oh, and all this time you have not even lighted your pipe!" she cried,
gleefully, and radiant with smiles as she picked up that homely and
comforting implement where he had let it fall.  "Now light it up,
dearest, and then we will be comfy, and talk."

"Yes.  Well then, I suppose your father was rather abusing me on the
whole, Lalante; saying I was doing no good, and so forth.  He has been
doing that more and more of late.  Don't be afraid I shan't mind; nor
shall I feel at all ill-disposed towards him on that account."

"I'm sure you won't; first because you are you, secondly because you
know that he is utterly powerless to part us.  Well then, he said again
that your affairs were rapidly going from bad to worse, and that you
would never do any good for yourself or anybody else."

"As for the first he's right.  For the second--I'm not so sure."

Wyvern spoke with a new confidence that was a little strange to
himself--a confidence begotten of the very trust and confidence which
this girl had shown in him.  His love for her thrilled every fibre of
his body and soul.  Now that he knew beyond all shadow of a doubt that
nothing on earth could part them--and he did know it now--a new, and as
we have said, a strange confidence and self-reliance had been born
within him.

She, for her part, laughed--laughed lightly, happily.

"But I am," she answered.  "For instance you have done a great deal of
good for _me_.  You have turned my days into a sunlight of bliss, and my
nights into a dream beside which Heaven might pale.  Is that nothing?"

"Child--child!" he said, still passing his hand caressingly over the
soft luxuriance of her hair.  "Will it last--will it last?  Remember you
are enthroning a poor sort of idol after all.  What then?"

Again she laughed!--lightly, happily.

"What then?  Last?  Oh, you'll see.  You are a bit older than me,
darling, but even you don't know everything--no, not quite everything."

The mocking face was turned up, radiant in the love-light of its
obsession.  Upon the rich, full lips he dropped his own.  And the golden
glory from above warmed down upon a shining world in its wild splendour
here of forest and waste and cliff, and the joyous voices of Nature
echoed their multitudinous but ever blending notes.  The glow of Heaven
lay upon all, and its peace upon two hearts.

"No, I do not know everything," he said at last, "for I did not know
that the whole world could contain one like you."

Her fingers, intertwined with his, closed upon them in unspoken
response.  Both seemed to lack heart to revert to more serious and
mundane talk in the happiness of the hour; and in God's name, why should
they, seeing that such hours can come to few, and then but seldom in a
lifetime?

"_Baas.  Myn lieve Baas_?"

"What do you want, old Sanna?" said Wyvern, frowning at the
interruption, yet not moving.  "Go away.  You are disturbing us."

"But _myn Baas_," persisted the old woman, deprecatorily.  "I think
something must be dead--there--down by the river.  The aasvogels are
like a very cloud."

"I don't care if something is dead," he answered.  "I don't care if all
the world were dead--in fact I wish it was.  So go away and don't come
bothering me again until I call you."

She obeyed, not in the least huffy.  Romance appeals to all natures and
nationalities and ages, and even this semi-civilised old scion of a very
inferior race was not impervious to a sympathetic heart-warming over the
situation.

"Let's go and see what she means, dearest," said Lalante after the old
woman had gone.  "I feel as if I should like to move a little, and--are
we not still together?"

They went round to the angle of the house, whence they could see to the
point indicated.  The great scavengers of the air were wheeling and
circling in hundreds, away down by the river bank, white and fleecy
against the cloudless blue.

"They must have found that wretched Kafir," said the girl.  "Isn't that
somewhere about where he'd be lying?"

"Yes.  But they wouldn't be able to get at him.  He fell into a part of
the _donga_ which is entirely sheltered by bush and prickly pears.  What
they have found is the mutton, which in the delight of your arrival I
clean forgot to send someone to fetch."

She pressed to her side the hand which lay passed through her arm, and
they stood for a little, watching the great white scavengers in the
distance.

"I could almost find it in me to vow never to kill another puff-adder
after the service that one rendered me," went on Wyvern.  "I had a tough
contract on hand, and that other fellow was big and powerful, and had a
business-like sort of knife.  The stone trick might not have worked out
so well twice running."

"Darling, don't take any more of those foolish risks.  Why don't you
carry a pistol?"

"Oh, it's heavy and therefore hot.  I shall have bother enough now over
that wretched Kafir.  There'll be an inquest and so on.  By the way, I
shall have to notify your father about the affair.  He's the nearest
Field-cornet."

"That's all right.  You can come over to-morrow and tell him, then we
shall see each other two days running, or rather three--for of course
you must stop the night."

"He won't ask me.  I'm out of favour, remember."

"Won't he?  Well, if he doesn't I will; and I think I know who's _Baas_
in household arrangements of that kind."

Both laughed.  "I think I do," Wyvern said.  "Now let's go round to the
stable and see to your horse.  It's not very far from counting-in time--
worse luck."

"Ah, yes.  How time gallops.  Now, you will be wanting to get rid of
me."

"That of course."

"Well then, you won't--not just yet that is.  I'm going to stay and have
supper with you.  There's a splendid moon, and you can ride back with me
until I'm in sight of the house.  How does that appeal?"

"In the way of perfection."

"Same here.  I didn't let on I was coming here to-day, but nobody will
give me away whatever time I get back, that's one thing."



CHAPTER FOUR.

"I WILL NOT LET HIM GO."

Lalante's intention of spending the evening with him had come with the
effect of a reprieve upon Wyvern.  For all his trust in her he never
parted with her without vague misgivings that by some means or other it
might be for the last time; for did he not hold her in opposition to a
growing and decided parental hostility?  It would be through no fault of
hers, he told himself, were such misgivings justified.  With all her
strength and resolution, circumstances might be too strong for her,
hence the misgiving.

They wandered about, happy for the moment, watching the great rays of
the westering sun sweep lower and lower over the green expanse of the
river valley--upon which now, the whiteness of returning flocks moved
slowly homeward.

"I'm going to leave you to yourself for a little now, dearest," said the
girl, as these drew nearer.  "I should only be in your way, and disturb
your counting.  Besides, I feel rather hot and dusty, and want to go and
titivate."

"Of course.  How stupid of me."

"No--no.  You needn't come, old Sanna will get me all I want.  Now
forget that I exist, for the next few minutes.  So long," and with a nod
and a bright smile she left him.

Sixpence was looking a very subdued and dejected Kafir as his master
finished the count of his particular flock; which was accurate--save for
one.

"I have been thinking over your case, Sixpence," began Wyvern, when the
other boy had been dismissed, "and even now haven't quite made up my
mind what to do about it."

"_Nkose_!" exclaimed the Kafir, deprecatorily, and sorely exercised in
his mind.  It was no unknown thing under the circumstances to give the
culprit the option of receiving a dozen or so well laid on with a new
_reim_, or taking his chance before the nearest Resident Magistrate; an
arrangement on the whole satisfactory to both parties, in that the
offender got off far more lightly than he would have got off at the
hands of the law, and his employer was saved a great deal of trouble and
some incidental expense.  This, then, Sixpence feared, was the least he
could expect, but he need not have, for Wyvern was utterly incapable of
an act of violence in cold blood, and very rarely in hot.

"You see," went on the latter, "I'm not sure that it is in my power to
forgive you, even if I wanted to.  I'm not sure that the law would not
compel me to prosecute.  I don't see, either, how we can put the thing
away.  There's that other fellow lying dead; for he'll be as dead as the
sheep you `slaag-ed' long before this.  I shall have to report the whole
thing to Baas Le Sage.  Then the `slaag-ing' will all come out."

But the fellow begged and prayed that he might not be sent to the
_tronk_.  He would make good the loss--over and over again if his master
wished.  And Wyvern, an appeal to whose soft side had rarely to be
repeated, resolved that he would let the poor devil off if he could
possibly do so, and said as much.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

"When is Miss Lalante coming here as Missis?" said old Sanna, as the
girl, having bathed her face in cool fresh water, came forth looking
radiant with its added glow.

"Don't you be too curious, old Sanna," was the answer.  "Perhaps soon--
perhaps not so soon.  Who knows?"

"A Missis is badly wanted here, _ja_, very badly.  Look at all that,"
with a sweep of a yellow hand towards the confused pile of books and
papers which had encroached over the greater part of the table.  "All
that would be cleared away.  His letters too.  Why the Baas does not
even take the trouble to open his letters.  Look at them."

The girl's heart tightened.  Well she knew why those envelopes remained
unopened.  Their contents but bore upon the difficulties of their
recipient, but in no sense with a tendency to alleviate the same.  She
forebore to touch the untidy heap lest something he might want to find
should be misplaced, but she got a duster, and dusted and straightened
the pictures and other things upon the wall.  One frame only there was
no need for her to dust or straighten.  It was the one which contained
her own portrait: and realising this a very soft, sweet smile came over
her face.  At which psychological moment Wyvern re-entered.

"I notice this is the only thing you allow old Sanna to dust," she said
ingenuously.  "How many times a week is she under orders to do it?"

"You shall pay for that," he answered.  "There.  Now you have done so
duly, you shall own that you knew perfectly well that nobody ever
touches it but me."

"_Oh, goeije_! it is as if there were really a Missis here at last."

The interruption came from old Sanna, who at that moment entered,
bringing in the dishes.  Both laughed.

"See, old Sanna," said Wyvern.  "We are rather tired of that remark.  So
if you can't invent a new one don't make any."

"Better to be tired of that than of the Missis," chuckled the old woman,
as she withdrew.  It will be seen that she was rather a privileged
person.

The evening slipped by all too soon for these two, as they sat out on
the stoep, watching the suffusing glow that heralded the rising of the
broad moon.  In the stillness the voices of night, well-nigh as
multifold as the voices of day, were scarcely hushed, and the shrill bay
of a jackal away beyond the river, would seem but a distance of yards
instead of miles.  The weird hoot of some ghostly night bird too, would
float ever and anon from the hillside; and the dogs lying around the
house would start up and bark in deep-toned, angry chorus, as the harsh
shout of sentinel baboons echoed forth from the darksome recesses of the
kloofs behind the homestead: or perchance as they detected some other
sound, too subtle for human ears.

"How restless everything is to-night," said the girl, listening.
"Dearest, it seems a little bit eerie."

"Oh, on a fine still night things always move about more.  It may be
something stirring up all those baboons--a leopard perhaps--not wild
dogs I hope.  You know it's one of my hobbies that, being able to hear
all sorts of wild animal voices when I sit out here of an evening, or
when I am lying awake.  It's one of the charms of this place.  I wonder
if the next man here will say the same."

"Don't.  Oh, is there no way out," she cried, in a despairing tone, "no
way by which you will not be forced to part with this beautiful place
you love so much, and where our lives were to have passed in a very
paradise?  No way?"

"None."

Then both sat in silence, fingers intertwined.  A rim of gold peered up
from behind the dark outline of the opposite _rand_, then a broad disc,
and the great fiery moon soared aloft, penetrating the shadowed recesses
of the river valley in a network of silvern gleams.  At last Lalante
spoke.

"Dearest, I have to say it, as you know, but--it is time."

"To saddle up?  Yes, I'm afraid it is.  But it isn't good-bye yet,
seeing we shall be together for another hour and a half."

Both had risen.  The girl went to find her hat and gloves while Wyvern
lighted a waggon lantern and went round to the stable.  In his mind was
the consciousness of the awful depression that would be upon him during
his return ride; when her presence was withdrawn.  They would see each
other again on the morrow in all probability, but--even then it would be
under different circumstances.

The horses, fresh and willing in the cool air, snorted and sidled as
their riders fared forth into the peaceful beauty of the radiant night.
So fresh were they, indeed, that they could have covered the ten miles
that lay before them in far less time than their said riders were
disposed to allow them.  And the latter were not inclined for hurry.
This ride beneath the golden moon, the loom of the heights against the
pale sky near and far, the sweet breaths of night distilling perfume
from herb and flower, and they two together--alone.  They talked--and
the subject of their talk was one that never grew old--that never
palled--for it was of the time which had elapsed since they had first
met--and loved; and that time was one.  Talked, too, of the time
preceding; when he had been happy, contented here in his quiet way,
because then unconscious that he was already on the road to financial
ruin--of her father's arrival two years ago, when he had bought the
neighbouring stock farm upon which they now dwelt, and had prospered
exceedingly; but, more alluring topic still, of her own arrival home a
year later than that.

"And you have never quite forgiven me for admitting that I was
prepared--well--not to like you?" he said, when they had reached this
point.

"Forgiven you, darling?  Why--is not the result a very triumph to me?  I
knew that it was the moment we first looked at each other."

"Did you?  From your side I was not so confident then.  But I see you
now as you first came into the room--that bright, laughing glance
meeting mine, without an atom of _gene_ or self-consciousness.  And
then--later.  We did not have to _say_ much:--we knew that we belonged
to each other.  Didn't we?"

"We did.  We did indeed.  Sweetheart, will you be very angry with me if
I say something that has been on my mind?"

"How can you use that word as between you and me?"

"Well, then--" she went on, strangely hesitatingly for her.  "Even if
you had to part with Seven Kloofs, and there's no doubt, I'm afraid,
that it'll be no good for years--you might get a place you liked just as
well I have a little of my own, remember--not much, but all my own--and
that, with what you would save from the wreck, would surely be enough
to--to set us up again."

She spoke quickly, hurriedly, deprecatingly, as she noted the grave,
disapproving look which deepened upon his face in the brilliant
moonlight.

"No--no.  Lalante, love, never that.  No.  Once you hinted that way
before--but--no, that could not be."

"Now you hurt me."

"Hurt you--hurt _you_?  Child, if you only knew how I am adoring you at
this moment, if possible--I say _if_ possible--more than ever I have
done before.  Hurt you?  _You_?"

"Now, forgive me.  It is I who am hurting you."  And her voice quivered
in its tenderness of passion as she reached out her hand to him--they
were walking their horses now.  "But I thought if two people belonged to
each other they had everything in common."

"Not at this stage, I'm afraid," he said, with a smile that was meant to
be reassuring, but was only sad.  "You know I have a certain code of my
own."

"It would be a cruel one if it was not yours," she answered.  But there
was nothing of resentment in the tone, only pride, admiration, an
intense glory of possession.  Nor did she intend to abandon the
argument, only to postpone it.

As they had said, they had known from the very first that they belonged
to each other.  It was as surely a case of coming together as the
meeting of two converging rivers; and the process had been as easy, as
natural.  What had drawn her towards him--apart from his physical
attractions, which were not slight, and of which, to do him justice, he
was free from any consciousness--was his total dissimilarity to any
other man she had ever met.  She had told him so more than once--and the
reply had been deprecatory.  Other men got on, he declared, while he--
only seemed to get back; dissimilarity, therefore, was rather a
hindrance than a thing to plume oneself upon.

"We are nearly there now," he said, regretfully, as the track they had
been pursuing here merged in a broader main road.

"Yes.  But what a day we have had.  Hasn't it been too sweet?"

"Too sweet indeed!  A day to look back upon to the very end of one's
life."

A couple of miles further and they topped a rise.  In the stillness the
sudden barking of dogs was borne to their ears.  It came from where two
or three iron roofs glinted in the moonlight some three-quarters of a
mile on the further side of the valley.  Both dismounted, for the rest
of the way she was to finish alone.

"Good-bye now, my own love, my sweet," he murmured as they stood, locked
together in a last long embrace.  "I shall see you to-morrow, but it
will not be as it has been to-day."

"Not quite.  But we will have other days like this.  And--keep up
heart--remember, for my sake.  When you are disposed to lose it, think
of me and feel sure that nothing can part us--as sure as that moon is
shining.  Good-bye, my love.  It is only `good-night,' though."

No more was said, as he swung her into the saddle.  He himself stood
there watching her fast receding form, nor did he leave the spot until
the sudden subsidence of the canine clamour, told that she had reached
her home.

Then he mounted, and took his way slowly back through the moonlit
glories of the beautiful slumbering waste.



CHAPTER FIVE.

REBELLION.

Vincent Le Sage was riding leisurely homeward to his farm in the Kunaga
River Valley.

His way lay down a stony bush road, winding along a ridge--whence great
kloofs fell away on either side, clothed in thick, well-nigh
impenetrable bush.  Here and there a red krantz with aloe-fringed brow
rose up, bronze-gleaming in the morning sun, and away below, in front,
and on either hand, the broad river valley into which he was descending.

He was a middle-aged man, of medium height, but tough and wiry.  He had
good features and his short beard was crisp and grizzled, but the
expression of his eyes was cold and business-like, as indeed it was
bound to be if there is anything in the science of physiognomy, for he
was a byword as being a hard nail at a deal, and everything he touched
prospered.  In fact his acquaintance near and far were wont to say that
Le Sage had never made a bad bargain in his life.  Perhaps they were
right, but Le Sage himself, now as a turn of the road brought some
objects in sight, was more than inclined to question that dictum.

The said objects were only some cattle, a most ordinary everyday sight,
and the cattle were not even his.  Yet a frown came over his face.  The
cattle were poor, and one or two, to his experienced eyes, showed signs
of disease.

"Wyvern's, of course!" he pronounced to himself wrathfully.  "Every case
of redwater or _brand-ziekte_ in the whole country-side is sure to be
traceable to Wyvern's cattle or sheep.  What the devil could have put
into such a fellow's head that he was any good in the world at fanning?
He'd better stick to his fusty books and become a damned professor.
That's about all he's good for.  I doubt if he's even good for that I
doubt if he's even good for anything."

These wrathful reflections were due to the fact that he had just met
with a reminder--one of many--that he had at any rate made one bad
bargain, for Wyvern was engaged to his daughter; and now it was a
question only of months perhaps, when Wyvern should be sold up.

Then and there he made up his mind again that the engagement should be
broken off, and yet while so making it up--we said "again"--the same
misgiving that had haunted him on former occasions did so duly and once
more, that the said breaking off would be a matter of no little
difficulty even were it ever achieved at all.  Wyvern might be a bad
fanner, a hopeless one in fact, but he would be a hard nut to crack in a
matter of this kind, and Lalante--well, here was a hard and fast
alliance for the offensive and defensive, which would require a breaking
power such as he could not but realise to himself he scarcely possessed.

On rode Vincent Sage, mile after mile, still frowning.  The good bargain
he had made at yesterday's ale had well-nigh faded from his thoughts
now, and as he drew near to his home his private worries seemed to oust
his professional satisfaction over his own acuteness and the steady but
sure accumulation of the goods of this world.  He had liked Wyvern well
enough during the earlier period of their acquaintance--in fact more
than well enough; but he had all the invariably successful man's
impatience of--even contempt for--the chronically unsuccessful; and in
this particular instance his oft repeated dictum to himself--and
sometimes to others--was "Wyvern will never do any good for himself or
for anybody else either."

Suddenly he pulled up his horse with a jerk, and emitted a whistle.  He
was scanning the road, scanning it intently.

"Oh-ho!  So that's how the cat jumps!" he exclaimed to himself, grimly.

He had reached the point where the track to Wyvern's farm joined the
wider road leading to his own.  The frown became more of a set one than
ever.

"One horse spoor coming this way alone," he pronounced, "and I know what
horse made that spoor.  Two horse spoors going back--and the same horse
made one of these spoors.  That's the game, is it, directly my back is
turned?  Well, it's a game that must be stopped, and, damn it--it shall
be."

In spite of which vehemence, however, that same little cold water
misgiving returned to render Vincent Le Sage's mind uncomfortable.

He rode on, slowly now, keeping his horse at a walk; he was near home
and there was no occasion for hurry.  But as he went, he read that road
like the pages of a book.  He would find Wyvern at his place?  Not a bit
of it.  For he had marked the returning spoors of the other horse.

Then again he reined in, suddenly and shortly, for the horse-hoofs had
ceased and with them mingled the print of boots--and the said boots
spelt one of each sex.  From that point the spoor of one horse continued
alone.  The other was a returning one.  This, then, was where they had
parted.

Vincent Le Sage had every sign of the veldt at his fingers' ends, and
here, these imprints on a scantily used road, were as the very
elementary side of his craft to him.  They had not been made to-day;
there were evidences of the effect of dew to show that.  They had been
made yesterday, and tolerably late at night; that too, he took in, and
doing so felt more than ever justified in his resentment.  What on earth
had Lalante come to that she should ride over, alone, to this man's
place directly his own back was turned, and--return with him late at
night?  Now he had good ground for interference, and what his inner
consciousness told him was still better, a just grievance against
Wyvern.

"He'll be sold up," he said to himself in hot wrath, as he covered the
short distance which still lay between him and his homestead.  "He'll be
sold up, and I'll buy the place--I will, by God, even if it's the only
rotten bargain I ever made in my life.  I won't leave the chance to any
other fool, with some arrangement perhaps for keeping him on on the
halves.  No--I'll buy it myself--although it won't be worth a tinker's
twopenny damn for years to come.  Then he'll have to clear, and that's
what I want."

A Hottentot stable boy ran to take his horse as he dismounted at the
gate.  Lalante came down the garden path to meet him.  Her greeting of
him was unreservedly affectionate.  Perhaps his own to her thawed more
than he was aware of.

"Come along in, father dear," she cried, hooking her arm within his, and
drawing him through the open door into the cool room beyond.  "And tell
me how you got on.  But first of all, you must have something after your
ride," unlocking a cupboard and producing a decanter of excellent Boer
brandy.  "Now, did you pick up anything worth having?"

"Not bad in a small way.  Couple of dozen slaughter-oxen of Piet Nel's--
he's in a bad way, you know, and obliged to sell I can turn them down
upon Hartslief at Gydisdorp, at an easy two pound a head profit, if not
more.  There was nothing else quite worth taking on.  Warren'll do the
delivery for me on very small commission."

He had thawed still more as he watched his daughter moving about,
ministering to his comfort.  Any preconceived idea that Vincent Le Sage
was of the tyrannical order of parent may at once be jettisoned.  He
was--as we have said--simply intolerant, to a fault, of the unsuccessful
man.

"Warren?" repeated Lalante, in some astonishment, as she placed the
porous terra-cotta water-bottle wits its fresh, cool contents upon the
table.  "Was Mr Warren at the sale then?"

"No.  I came back by his place."

There was a something in her father's tone, and the searching glance he
threw upon her face as he said this, that struck the girl as strange.
She had not expected him back by that particular way, but she failed to
connect the circumstance with her doings of the day before.  The
mysteries of spoor, of course, were rather outside her scope.

"Oh, did you?" was all she said.  "A little further round, isn't it?"

"Yes, but I had business with him--this and other.  Where are the
kiddies, Lalante?"

"Oh, they're larking about down the kloof, catapulting birds, or
something."

"All the better.  I want to have some serious talk with you."

"Serious?  Don't scare me, old chap, will you?" she answered, going to
him, and taking his face between her long cool fingers.  "Because I'm
easily scared, and `serious' sounds so unconscionably alarming."

Le Sage felt more than ever disarmed.  He was glowing angry with
himself, and in proportion felt the less inclined to be so with her.
His heart swelled with pride and love, as he met the half-laughing,
half-wistful eyes of this beautiful, splendid girl of his.  How the
devil could he get out what he wanted to say, he asked himself savagely?
But the thought of Wyvern came to his aid.  With him, at any rate, he
felt desperately angry.

"What time did you get back last night?" he said, shortly.

It was Lalante's turn to feel disconcerted.

"Last night?  Get back?" she repeated, changing colour ever so slightly.

"Yes.  That's what I said," he answered, still more shortly, and
inwardly lashing himself up.  "What time?"

"Well, it wasn't so very late," replied the girl, serenely.  She had had
time to pick herself up, though it cost her an effort, while wondering
who had given her away; though indeed who could have done so, seeing
that she herself had met her father at the gate before he had spoken to
anybody?  "But there was a fine bright moon--almost at the full."

"Well, you have done a thing I entirely disapprove of.  You had no
business to go over there all by yourself like that, at night."

"But I didn't go at night.  I went in the morning."

"But you came back at night.  At least if you didn't I'm a raw Britisher
at reading spoor.  How's that?"

Spoor?  Oh, this was what had given her away then.  This was a factor
Lalante had wholly omitted to take into account, and even if she had not
she had never reckoned on her father returning by that particular road
at all.

"How's that?" she repeated sweetly.  "Why of course that you're not a
raw Britisher at all."

"Surely you must see it isn't the thing for a girl to go and spend the
day with a man at his own place all alone," he fumed.  "Can't you see
that?"

"It depends on the girl and the man," she answered demurely.  "Not if
they are engaged?"

"Not even then.  Coming back late at night too.  I'm surprised at Wyvern
being a party to it; and shall let him have a bit of my mind next time I
see him."

"Oh, don't blame him," said Lalante, rather quickly.  "I paid him a
surprise visit, and--and--well, under the circumstances I stopped on.
_I_ stopped on.  He couldn't very well turn me out.  Now could he?"

Le Sage snorted.  He had no reply ready.  The shrewd practical farmer,
the hard-headed man of business, was floundering more and more
hopelessly out of his depth here.

"Were you never young once, father?" said the girl in her softest tone,
bending over him and sliding an arm round his shoulders.

"Young?  Young?  Well, Wyvern's not particularly young at any rate, and
ought to have known better."  Then, bitterly, "I wish to God we'd never
set eyes on him."

The arm was removed.

"You didn't always wish that.  You thought a great deal of him once."

"That was before I found out he was no good," retorted Le Sage, who had
succeeded in lashing himself up again.  "Pity, while you were about it,
if you must go in for--for leaving me--you didn't fix upon some solid
and sensible fellow like Warren, for instance, instead of a mere
dreamer.  Warren's worth fifty of such wasters as that."

The "leaving me" had softened the girl, but the opprobrious term applied
to her _fiance_ had been as the one nail that driveth out another.

"Don't call him names," she said, coldly, not angrily, thanks to her
power of self-control.  "He has been unfortunate, but he is the most
honourable man who ever lived.  The word `waster' doesn't apply."

"Oh, I'm not saying anything against his honour," snapped her father.
"But the fact remains that he has never done any good for himself and
never will.  He's no chicken, mind; he can't be so very many years
younger than myself.  And when a man of his age gets to that age and
is--well, where Wyvern is, the chances are a thousand to one he never
picks himself up again.  How's that?"

"How's that?  It isn't."

"Isn't it.  Well, then, Lalante, now we're well on the subject I want
you to understand that this affair between you and him had better be
broken off.  In fact it must be broken off."

The girl was standing erect and her face had gone white.  The large,
dark-lashed grey eyes had something of a snap in them.

"It's too late for that now," she answered.  "It cannot and shall not be
broken off, no never.  As long as he lives I will cling to him, and the
more unfortunate he is the more I will cling to him.  He is--my life."

Le Sage's face had gone white too--at least as far as the weather-beaten
bronze was capable of doing--white with anger.

"So that's your answer?" he said.

"That's my answer."

For a moment they gazed at each other.  Then, before a reply could come,
a sound without struck upon the ears of both.  It was the creaking sound
made by the swing of a gate upon its hinges.  Both faces turned to the
window.  Coming up the path between the orange trees was Wyvern himself.

Whereby it is manifest that infinite potentialities lay within the space
of the next half-hour.



CHAPTER SIX.

WHAT THEY DID NOT FIND.

"How are you, Le Sage?" said Wyvern, as his father-in-law elect met him
in the doorway.  "You look worried.  Anything wrong?"

"Don't know.  No--er, well no," as they shook hands.  They had been very
friendly before Lalante had appeared upon the scene, and even
afterwards, Le Sage had a sneaking weakness for the other, but what he
could not pardon was what he termed the other's incapacity.  A man might
have ill-luck and pick himself up again, but this one, he told himself,
was incapable of that.  Nor did it carry any soothing effect that
Lalante went straight to him and kissed him openly and affectionately.

"How glad I am to see you, darling," she said, a sunny light in her eyes
as she looked at him.  Le Sage grunted to himself, but it did not escape
Wyvern.  Something of warning too in Lalante's eyes did not escape him
either.

"Father is only just back from the sale at Krumi Post," she went on,
"and although he did a good stroke of business there he's come back
grumpy.  Well now it's just dinner-time and you'll all be better after
that."

Wyvern was quick to take in that something was wrong, but it never
occurred to him to connect it with the doings of the day before.  He set
it down rather to the general disapproval of himself which had become
more and more manifest of late in the demeanour of his quondam friend.
There might have been an awkwardness but that Lalante took care never to
leave them alone together.

"Did anyone take your horse, dear?" she said.  "Because, if not, I can
send someone to shout for Piet."

"That's all right, Piet took him from me at the gate.  Well, Le Sage--
what did you do at the sale?"

The other told him, thawing a bit.  Then, when they sat down to table,
Wyvern opened the story of the slaughtering incident, and the tragic end
of one of the actors therein.  But of the attack of both upon himself he
said nothing.

"A most infernal nuisance," grumbled Le Sage.  "I don't know why I was
fool enough to allow myself to be nominated Field-cornet.  Well, if one
of the _schepsels_ has cheated the `cat' the other's all there for it,
that's one consolation."

"Oh, I don't know.  I'm going to let the poor devil off."

"Going to--what?" snapped Le Sage.  "Oh, look here, Wyvern, really
you're getting past a joke.  A fellow like you is a nuisance to the
whole community.  Why it's putting a premium on `slaag-tag.'  You catch
this swine red-handed--a clear case for the `cat'--and then say you're
going to let him off.  It isn't fair to the rest of us.  Don't you see
that?"

As a matter of fact Wyvern did see it; and felt a little uncomfortable.

"Perhaps you're right, Le Sage," he said.  "But I'm too soft-hearted I
suppose, and the sight of that other wretched devil, with that beastly
snake tied round his leg, squirting blue death into him with every bite,
is a sight I shan't get rid of all in a hurry.  And one human life, even
that of a Kafir, is about expiation enough for a miserable sheep, worth
eighteen bob or a pound at the outside.  Eh?"

"I never heard such rot in my life," was the answer.  "All the more
reason why the other chap's hide should be made to smart for the whole
mischief.  Eh?  Aren't I right, Lalante?"

A spirit of cussedness made him thus appeal to his daughter, a sort of
longing to make her espouse his side against this other.  But, even as
he did so, he realised that he might as well have spared himself the
trouble.

"No.  I don't think you are, since you put it to me," she answered
unhesitatingly.  "On the contrary, I think you'd do much better to go
and hold your enquiry and leave the other part of the business alone
altogether."

"The devil you do!"

"That's it.  You've put it exactly, father," laughed Lalante; "You'll be
riding over there after dinner, I suppose.  Well, I'll go with you."

He expostulated.  It was no place for a girl.  The sight of a dead Kafir
was no sight for her, he pointed out with some show of reason.

"But I've no intention of seeing any such sight," she objected serenely.
"I'll wait for you a little way off while you make your investigations.
That'll be all right."

Wyvern caught one swift look which rejoiced his heart.  She had resolved
not to let the whole afternoon go by without him if she could be with
him.  But there was more beneath her plan than he suspected.  She did
not mean to afford her father any opportunity of quarrelling with him,
as he almost certainly would, in his then mood, if they were alone
together for any space of time just then.  In most things Lalante
contrived to get her own way.

Now with a rush and a racket, two small boys came tumbling in, hot and
ruddy with their scramblings about the veldt.  Each exhibited, in
triumph, a bunch of long feathers from the tail of the mouse-bird, or
rather of many mouse-birds; the spoil of their bow and spear--or rather,
catapults.

"Here you are, dad.  You're set up in pipe-cleaners now for some time to
come.  Hullo, Mr Wyvern.  There'll be enough for you too."

They chucked the feathers down unceremoniously upon the table, and began
to draw up chairs.  But Lalante interposed.

"No.  No you don't, Charlie--Frank--away you go, and do the soap and
basin trick.  I'm not going to have you sitting down to table straight
out of the veldt," she said decisively.  "Come--scoot--do you hear?"

"Oh, all right.  Man--Mr Wyvern, but there's a big troop of guinea-fowl
down by the second _draai_.  I hope you brought your gun."

"Did I say `Scoot'?" repeated Lalante, the disciplinarian.

They lingered no further after that.  They were good-looking boys, with
their sister's large grey eyes.  In a trice they were back again,
keeping things lively with their chatter, and the girl encouraged them.
There was thunder in the air, she recognised, and her main anxiety was
to avert the impending storm.  And afterwards, before she retired to put
on her riding-gear, she managed to impress upon the two youngsters that
they were to help entertain their guest for all they knew how until her
return, which duty--Wyvern being a prime favourite with them--was not an
onerous one; moreover with them Lalante's word was law.

Their ride forth was not exactly a success.  Lalante, bright, beautiful,
sparkling, kept up a flow of laughing quips, but the more she did so,
the more gloomy--grumpy she called it--did her father become.  Wyvern,
riding by her side, felt all aglow with the pride of possession as he
noted every fascinating little trick of speech, or manner, or pose, all
absolutely natural and unaffected, and all going to make up the very
complete charm of her personality.  Not for the first time either did he
find himself marvelling how this pride of possession should be his at
all.  Though only in the early twenties Lalante had had time and
opportunity for "experiences," but such experiences, however disquieting
to the other parties to them, had left her unscathed.  She had come to
him heart-whole.  None before him had ever had power to awaken her.
That had been reserved for him, and the awakening had been mutual from
the very first.

"We'd better leave the horses here, Le Sage," suggested Wyvern as they
drew near the _donga_ wherein the unfortunate Kafir would be lying.
"It'll be cool for Lalante under these trees, and the place is only a
hundred yards further.  Moreover we shall have to scramble a bit to get
to it."

Le Sage glumly assented, cursing the bother of the whole business.  He
had just got home off a journey and here he was, lugged out over miles
of veldt because an infernal fool of a nigger had got bitten by a snake.
The Field-cornet job wasn't good enough at that price, and he'd chuck
it.

Thus grumbling, he followed Wyvern in what was literally a scramble, not
always free from danger either; for the river bank along the face of
which they had to make their way here was steep enough to be almost
precipitous, and high enough to render a fall on to the stones below a
contingency not to be contemplated with equanimity.  But fortune
favoured them, and they gained their objective without accident.

"_Magtig_! what a beastly hole," grunted Le Sage, as they stood within
the mouth of the donga.  "Well, the brute must be pretty far gone by
this time.  Sss!  I can smell him already.  We'd better start our pipes,
Wyvern."

They were standing at the bottom of a narrow rift some thirty feet in
depth, its sides narrowing walls of a sandy-clayey soil and looking
uncomfortably suggestive of the possibility of falling in upon them.  A
close network of boughs and prickly pear plants overhead well-nigh shut
off the light of day, turning the place into a regular cavern.  A little
further and the walls narrowed, necessitating single file progress.

"A devilish unpleasant place to find oneself confronted in by a _kwai
geel slang_," [Note 1] said Wyvern--who was leading--over his shoulder,
grimly.  "We couldn't dodge him at any price here."

"Yes, yes.  But what about the nigger?" said the other testily.  "Where
the devil is he?"

The same idea had struck Wyvern, who had stopped, and after looking in
front was now gazing upwards in most unfeigned amazement.

"Where the devil indeed," he echoed.  "Look, Le Sage.  There's the hole
he made in the green stuff tumbling through.  Prickly pear leaves too,
broken off by the fall.  But--where the devil is the chump himself?  He
ought to be here, but isn't."

This was indisputable.  The precipitous banks of the place were marked
and scored, and leaves and twigs, obviously freshly torn, still clung to
the said banks here and there.  Some heavy body had manifestly fallen
down there at that spot, but of any such thing there was now no other
sign.

"Oh, look here, Wyvern.  Haven't you been filling us up with some sick
old yarn?" said Le Sage disgustedly.  "Why, man, there's no sign of any
dead nigger here.  Sure your imagination didn't play you tricks?"

"Oh, very.  No mistake about that--by the way weren't you saying just
now you could smell him?" good-humouredly.  "What if some of his pals
came and carted him away?"

"Then there'd be spoor, and plenty of it.  As it is there's none.  And I
do know a little about spoor," added Le Sage significantly.

"Well it bangs me, I own," declared Wyvern.  "But now we're here we'd
better follow the ditch right up.  I don't feel like taking on that
nasty scramble again, do you?"

"No.  Drive ahead then."

Proceeding with some caution, for it was just the place in which to come
upon a snake, they made their way gradually upward and soon stood within
the open light of day.

"Well, my imagination didn't play me tricks this shot," said Wyvern, as
they stood looking at the bones of the slaughtered sheep, picked clean
by aasvogels and jackals.

"No.  There were two of them at this job.  I can see that plainly
enough," said Le Sage, scrutinising the ground.  "Well, we've had our
ride for nothing.  The first essential towards holding an inquiry on a
dead nigger is for there to be a dead nigger to hold it on, and there
isn't one here."

"Well, I own it bangs me," said Wyvern, puzzled.

"So it does me," said Le Sage, significantly.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  The _geel slang_, anglice "yellow-snake," is a variety of
cobra, and takes first rank among the deadliest reptiles of South
Africa.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

A SCARE--AND A HOME CIRCLE.

"Well, Lalante.  Wyvern's snake-bitten Kafir has not only killed
himself, but he has performed his own funeral into the bargain--at
least, he must have, because there's no sign of him down there.  Why--
what's the row?"

There was a curious, startled look upon the girl's face--hearing the
sound of their voices she had come forward to meet them.  She was pale,
too, as from the effects of a fright.

"What scared you, dearest?" said Wyvern anxiously--he was at her side in
a moment.  "Not another snake?"

"No.  I believe it was a Kafir."

"A Kafir?" echoed Le Sage.  "Hullo, Wyvern.  Your snake-bitten chap has
not only performed his own funeral but he has already begun to walk."

"Come over to where I was sitting," said the girl.  "I can show you
better from there."

"But hang it, Lalante, you're not the one to be scared by the sight of a
Kafir," said her father, incredulously.

"This one had an awful look," she answered, with a little shudder.
"Hardly human--almost like someone dead."

She had been leading the way--it was only a few yards--to where she had
been seated under the shade of some willows.

"Look," she said.  "It was over that prickly pear stem.  Something made
me look up and I saw a head--a fearful-looking black head, not like
anything in life.  It was glaring at me with such an awful expression, I
wonder I didn't scream, but I believe I was afraid even to do that.
Then it sank down again and disappeared."

The point indicated might have been a couple of dozen yards distant
Wyvern, pressing her hand, felt that she was in a state of tremble.

"Come along, Wyvern.  We'll look into this," said Le Sage irritably.  He
was a man who hated mystery, and was incredulous as regarded this one.
"If there is any mad Kafir hanging about here a touch of stirrup iron'll
be the best remedy should he prove obstreperous."  And so saying he went
to his horse's side and detached one of the stirrups.  Now a stirrup
iron in the hands of one who knows how to use it, is a very formidable
weapon of offence or defence.

"But I'll go too," said the girl, quickly.  "I'm dead off staying here
by myself after that experience."

"Quite sure it was an _experience_?" queried her father, somewhat
sourly.

But reaching the place she had pointed out, there was no sign of anybody
having stood there.  Le Sage's first instinct was to examine the ground.
He looked up again, baffled.

"No trace of any spoor whatever," he said irritably.  "No living being
could have stood there and left none--let alone coming here and getting
away again.  Your imagination is very much on the warpath to-day,
Lalante."

"Just as you like," she answered, piqued.  "Only, I was never credited
with such a vivid imagination before."

She felt hurt.  She really had been badly frightened.  The comforting
pressure of Wyvern's hand was inexpressibly sweet to her at that moment.

"Oh, well.  We'll just take a cast further round," said Le Sage...  "No,
just as I thought;" he added, after this operation.  "My dear child,
your spectral Kafir must have vanished into thin air.  He certainly
couldn't have done so over hard firm ground and left no trace whatever."

"Well, here are two deuced odd things," pronounced Wyvern.  "First of
all, the chap who was bitten again and again by a puff-adder, and should
have been lying down there in an advanced stage of--well--
unpleasantness, isn't there at all.  The next, Lalante, who isn't easily
frightened, meets with a bad scare at sight of something which sounds
uncommonly like the deceased defaulter when last I saw him."

"Yes--it's rum--very," declared Le Sage drily, replacing the stirrup he
had taken off his saddle.  "Well, good-bye, Wyvern."

"What's that?" said Lalante, decisively.  "Goodbye?  But he's going back
with us.  Aren't you, dear?  I shall be most frightfully disappointed if
you don't."

The glance she shot at him--her father was busy lighting his pipe--
expressed love, entreaty, the possibility of disappointment, all rolled
into one.  Wyvern would not have been human if he had withstood it.  As
a matter of fact he had no wish to, but Le Sage's manner was such that
the words seemed to convey a broad hint that to that worthy at any rate
his room was preferable to his company.  But he was not going to take
any marching orders from Le Sage.

"Then that you most certainly shall not be," he said, cheerfully,
returning, to the full, the girl's loving glance.

"Of course not," she rejoined, brightly.  "I had arranged a little
programme in my own mind, and you are to stay the night.  It seems to me
we have not seen half enough of each other lately.  Well, it's time to
remedy that and I propose we begin now."

Inwardly Le Sage was furious.  He rode on in front grimly silent, but it
was little enough those two minded that as they wended over the golden
glory of the sunlit plains--together.  Together!  Yes, and the word
covered a haven of rest to both, for then it was that all the world--
with its worries and anxieties and apprehensions--was a thing outside.
Yet from the point of view of Le Sage there was a good deal to be said.
He was not a demonstrative man, this one, who enjoyed the repute of
never having made a bad bargain in his life; yet in his heart of hearts
he had a very soft place for this beautiful only daughter of his, and
the secret of his rancour lay in the fact that he resented her leaving
him at all--or at any rate for some time to come.  It was unreasonable,
he would candidly allow to himself--but the feeling was there.  She had
brightened his home and his life, and now she was prepared--even
anxious--to cease doing both--to leave him at the call of an outside
stranger of whose very existence barely a year ago she had hardly been
aware.  Had it been a man of solid gifts and substantial position upon
whom she had bestowed her love, it would have been a gilding of the
pill; but she had chosen to throw herself away upon a "waster"--as his
favourite and wrathful epithet put it--one on the verge of insolvency,
and without the requisite faculties for righting himself--ah, that
rendered the potion a very black and nauseous one to the universally
successful man.

Now as he rode, in gloomy silence, the laugh, and quip, and tender tone
of the pair behind him, was as fuel to the fire of his anxiety to give
Wyvern his _conge_, and that in unmistakable terms.  He had made up his
mind to do this, from the moment he had looked and had seen him coming
in at the gate, but Lalante had taken care they should never be alone
together.  Well, he would do it--not to-day but to-morrow morning, and
if no opportunity occurred he would make one; point-blank if need be.  A
"waster" like that, who couldn't even keep himself!

"Hullo, Le Sage.  You seem a bit off colour," cried Wyvern genially,
ranging up alongside, as they topped the last rise, wherefrom the
homestead came into view about a mile in front.  "It really was a
beastly shame to lug you off on that fool's errand after the long ride
of it you had had."

"Oh, I'm all right.  It's all in the day's job, and I'm as tough as
wire, thank the Lord.  Is that confounded vermin-preserve behind your
place as full as ever, Wyvern?  It's about time you killed some of it
off, isn't it?"

The reference was to the network of rugged bushy kloofs of which mention
has been made, and which were specially adapted for the harbouring of
various forms of wild life, antipathetic and detrimental to stock.

"Well, I think it is, now you mention it," was the answer.  "We might
get up a big hunt next week.  You'll come, won't you?  Come the day
before and sleep the night.  Bring Lalante too, and the youngsters."

"Don't know.  I'm going to be jolly busy next week," was the answer, the
speaker grimly wondering whether their relations even next day would
still be such as to render any arrangement of the kind possible.

And so they reached home.

It must be recorded of Lalante Le Sage that she had no
"accomplishments."  She could not play three notes, she declared,
neither did she sing, though the voice in which she trilled forth odd
snatches naturally and while otherwise occupied, seemed to show that she
might have done so had she chosen.  Drawing and painting too, were
equally out of her line.  She had had enough of that sort of thing at
school she would explain, and was not going to be bothered with it any
more.  On the other hand she had a remarkably shrewd and practical mind,
and her management of her father's house was perfect.  So also was that
of her two small brothers, who, by the way, were only her half brothers,
Le Sage having twice married--the first time at an unusually early age.
Them she ruled with a rule that was absolute, and--they adored her.  Her
orders admitted of no question, and still they adored her.  Was there
one of their boyish interests and pursuits--from the making of a
catapult to the most thrilling details of the last blood-and-thunder
scalping story they had been reading--into which she did not enter?  Not
one.  And when the question arose of sending them away to school, it was
Lalante who declared in her breezy, decisive way that they were still
too small, and what did it matter if they were behind other kiddies of
their age in matters of history and geography?  They would soon pick it
all up afterwards.  For her part she never could see what was the
advantage of learning a lot of stuff about all those rascally old kings
who chopped off everybody's head who had ever been useful to them.  That
was about all that history consisted of so far as she remembered
anything of it.  Geography--well, that of course was of some use--might
be, rather, for as taught in school it seemed to consist of what were
the principal towns of all sorts of countries none of them were ever
likely to see in their lives, and whether this particular place was
noted for the manufacture of carpets, or that for the production of
bone-dust.  As for the "three R's" she herself had given the youngsters
an elementary grounding there, which was about all she was capable of
doing, she declared frankly, with her bright laugh--indeed, she wondered
that she was even capable of doing that.

Lalante's order of beauty was extremely hard to define, but it was there
for all that.  Hers were no straight classical features; the contour of
the face was rather towards roundness, and the cupid-bow mouth was not
small, but it was tempting in repose, and perfectly irresistible when
flashing into a frequent and brilliant smile.  It was a face that was
provoking in its contradictoriness--the lower half, mobile, mischievous,
fun-loving: while the steady straight glance of the large grey eyes, and
the clearly marked brows, spelt "character" writ in capitals.  It
seemed, too, as if Nature had been undecided whether to create her fair
or dark, and had given up the problem half way, for there was a golden
sheen in the light brown hair, which the warmth of colouring that would
come and go beneath the clear skin almost seemed to contradict.

All of which Wyvern was going over in his own mind, for the hundredth
time, as on this particular evening he sat watching her, deciding, not
for the first time either, that if there was one situation more than
another in which she seemed at her very best, it was here in her home
circle.  He was not talking much; Le Sage was drowsy and inclined to
nod.  However, he was more than content to sit there revelling in the
sheer contemplation of her--now helping to amuse the small boys, now
running a needle through a few stitches of work, now throwing a bright
smile or some laughing remark across to him.  Then, having at length
packed the youngsters off to bed, she was free for a long, delightful
chat--Le Sage was snoring audibly by this time.  It was an evening--one
of many--that he would remember to the end of his life, and no instinct
or presentiment seemed to warn him that it might be the last of the kind
he was destined to experience.  At last Le Sage snored so violently that
he woke himself, and, jumping up, pronounced it time to turn in--which
indisputably it was.  But the announcement brought a certain amount of
relief to Lalante, for she had not been without anxiety on the ground of
leaving the two alone together.

"I have been simply adoring you all the evening, my darling," whispered
Wyvern passionately, as he released her from a good-night embrace.

She did not answer, but her eyes grew luminous, as she lifted her lips
for a final kiss.  A word of love from him was sufficient to make her
simply lose herself.  A pressure of two hands, and she was gone.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE "WORD IN PRIVATE."

"I want to have a word with you in private, Wyvern."

"In private?"

"Yes.  I was going to yesterday but left it till now.  Business matters
are best talked about in the morning."

Thus Le Sage, as the two met over their early coffee.  Lalante had not
yet appeared.

"All right," assented Wyvern, who had a pretty straight inkling of what
was coming.  "Where shall we hold our council of war?"

"Out in the open.  Nothing like the open veldt if you want to talk over
anything important.  If you do it in a room ten to one a word or two
gets overheard, and a word or two is often quite enough to give away the
whole show."

"There I entirely agree.  Well--lead on."

Le Sage did so.  Hardly a word was exchanged between the two as they
walked for about half a mile, first along a bush path, then over the
veldt.  One was turning over in his mind how he should put the case to
the other.  The other, anticipating their bearing, had already made up
his as to how he should meet the arguments advanced.

Le Sage came to a halt.  They had reached the brink of a _krantz_, of no
great height and railing away now in slabs, now in aloe-grown boulders,
to the Kunaga River, the swirl and babble of whose turgid waters they
could hear, as it coursed between its willow grown banks--could hear but
not see, for a morning mist hung over the land, shutting out everything
beyond a radius of twenty yards.

"We shall be all right here," said Le Sage, seating himself upon a
stone.  Then he relapsed into silence, and proceeded to fill his pipe.
Wyvern did the same.  Decidedly the situation was awkward.  When two men
who have been friends are about to embark on a discussion which the
chances are fifty to one will leave them enemies--in short, is bound to
culminate in a quarrel, and that a bitter one--why the preliminaries are
sure to be awkward.  Wyvern was the one to force the situation.

"Look here, Le Sage.  We didn't come here to smoke the pipe of silent
meditation, did we?  You said something about business matters you
wanted to talk over with me.  Now--drive ahead."

"Yes.  How are you getting on?"

The words came out jerkily.

"Wish I could answer `Pretty well, thanks.  How are you?'" said Wyvern
with a rueful laugh.  "I'm not getting on at all."

"No.  And I don't suppose you ever will."

Wyvern stiffened.  The other had never used that tone towards him
before.

"That sounds nice, and friendly, and cheering," he answered coldly.
"May I ask why you happen to hold that opinion?"

"Because you haven't got it in you," rapped out Le Sage.  He was nettled
at a certain spice of _hauteur_ that the other had infused into his tone
and manner.  Moreover, he was nervous, and a commingling of nervousness
and irritation is a very bad equipment indeed for the starting upon a
difficult and delicate discussion.  Wyvern, for his part, was the more
sensitive to the bluntness of the statement, in that at the back of his
mind lurked a misgiving that the speaker might be stating no more than
the truth.  Nothing he had ever touched had succeeded.  He was no fool
in the matter of intellect, but--somehow--he had never quite managed to
"get there," and the consciousness of this was the secret canker of his
life.  He was disappointed, but not yet soured.  In time he might come
to be that.

"Are you quite sure of your ground in making that flattering statement?"
he said, mustering great self-control--for this sort of talk was not at
all what he was used to.  Decidedly Le Sage was straining his privileges
as father-in-law elect to a dangerous point.

"Well, I don't know.  Only that events seem to bear it out most
remarkably.  Got rid of that mortgage on your place yet?"

"You know I haven't."

"Well, they were going to foreclose, weren't they?  And if they do, it's
tantamount to selling you up.  Oh, I know.  Of course, it would be no
damn business of mine under ordinary circumstances.  Under existing ones
it is.  I'm thinking of Lalante."

"Great minds jump together then, for so am I.  In fact, I'm thinking of
her every day, every moment of my life."

"If you were to think a little more of her interests, then, it would be
better all round.--For instance--I don't say it with any wish to be
inhospitable, mind!--but by the time you get back you'll have been about
twenty-fours hours away from home, and that quite unnecessarily.  That's
not the way to run a farm--and especially one like yours.  I don't
wonder your people get `slaag-ing,' and all the rest of it."

This was not a fair hit, thought Wyvern to himself.  A decided case of
"below the belt."  But he said nothing.  He merely puffed away at his
pipe, looking straight in front of him.  The mist seemed lightening a
little above the river.

"Well, then, if the worst comes to the worst, and you have to leave
Seven Kloofs, what then?  How will you stand?  The sale of your stock
won't amount to anything like a fortune I take it."

"No, but it'll amount to something.  After that--I have an idea."

"An idea.  Pho!  That for an idea.  One plan's worth all the `ideas' in
the world."

Le Sage, you see, had got into his element now.  His nervousness had
quite left him.

"Call it a plan then.  And as to it I am hopeful.  Why should a man's
luck always be bad, Le Sage.  Why the deuce shouldn't good times dawn
for him?  Ah!  Look there."

Even as he spoke the mist, which had been lightening over the river,
parted with a suddenness that was almost startling, and from a widening
patch of vivid blue the newly risen sun poured down his life-giving
beams.  It was as an instantaneous transition from darkness to light--to
bright, beautiful.  Nature-awakening light--and with it the birds began
to pipe and call with varying note from the surrounding bushes, while a
troop of monkeys gambolling upon a sandspit down in the river-bed, were
amusing themselves by leaping its channel, to and fro, as though in
sheer gladness of heart.  Further and further the mist rolled back,
unfolding a dewy sparkle upon bush and veldt, a shroud as of myriad
diamonds.

"Look--where?" queried Le Sage, shortly.

"Why, at how suddenly it became light, just as I was talking about my
plan--and luck changing.  I'm not superstitious, but I'll be hanged if I
won't take that as an omen--and a good one."

Le Sage grunted, and shook his head in utter disgust.

"An omen?" he repeated.  "Good Lord, Wyvern, what rot.  Man, you'll
never be anything but a dreamer, and you can't run a farm upon dreams--
no nor anything else.  Would you mind letting me into this `plan' of
yours?"

"At present I would.  Later on, not now.  And now, Le Sage, if you have
quite done schoolmastering me, I move that we go back.  In fact, I don't
know that it was worth while our coming so far just to say all that."

"But you'll think so in a minute.  It happens I haven't said all I came
to say, and as it has to be said, I may as well say it at once and
without beating around the bush.  You must cease thinking of Lalante at
all.  You must consider your engagement to her at an end."

Wyvern had felt nearly certain that some such statement constituted the
real object of their talk, but now that it was made, it was none the
less a blow.  He felt himself growing a shade paler under the weather
worn bronze of his face.

"What does Lalante herself say about it," was his rejoinder.

"Say?  Say?" echoed Le Sage, angrily.  "She has no say in the matter.  I
simply forbid it."

"You can't do that, Le Sage.  She is of full age, you know," said Wyvern
quietly, but with a ring of sadness in his tone.  "Look here--no, wait--
hear me out," seeing that the other was about to interrupt with a
furious rejoinder.  "I've set myself out all through this interview
never for a moment to lose sight of the fact that you are her father,
consequently have sat quiet under a tone I would stand from no other man
alive.  But even the authority of a father has its limits, and you have
started in to exercise yours a trifle too late."

"Then you refuse to give her up?" furiously.

"Most distinctly.  Unless, that is, she herself wished it."

"Oh, you would then?" said Le Sage, quickly, clutching at a straw.

"Certainly.  But I must hear it from her own lips, face to face.  Not
through a third party, or on paper."  Le Sage's "straw" seemed to sink.

"I don't want to irritate you further, Le Sage," went on Wyvern after a
moment's pause.  "But I'm convinced as firmly as that you and I are
sitting here that I shall never hear anything of the sort.  It is not in
Lalante to turn from me in misfortune.  Our love is too complete."

"And I don't count.  I, her father, am to stand aside as of no account
at all?"

The unconscious pathos that welled up in the very bitterness of his
tone, reflected what had lain beneath his mind since some time back--
that his child should be so ready and eager to leave him.  And Wyvern's
instinct was quick to grasp it.

"I quite see your import and sympathise," he said.  "Yes, I sympathise,
thoroughly.  But Nature is nothing if not pitiless, and this is a
provision of Nature.  And look here, Le Sage, my existing run of
ill-luck ought to be a recommendation from your point of view in that
you will be able to keep the child longer with you, for of course I
don't dream of claiming her until my luck changes."

"That'll be never then," rejoined the other, savagely.  "Man, haven't
you more sense of honour than to pin a girl to her contract when you
know you haven't enough to keep yourself, let alone her?  She is very
young too.  I don't know how I ever gave my consent."

"She has commonsense and capability far beyond her years, and you know
it.  Now see here, Le Sage.  Be reasonable about this, and give me some
sort of a show.  If I bring off my plan satisfactorily, I shan't be the
first man whose luck has turned."

"Oh, damn your `plan' and your `luck' too!" retorted the other, now
completely losing his temper.  "The first's a fraud and the other's
fudge.  Look here, if you weren't so much infernally bigger and stronger
than me, I'd start in now to hammer you within an inch of your life, but
as you are, it's of no use trying."

"No, it isn't," said Wyvern quietly, but not sneeringly.

Le Sage had got up and was pacing up and down feverishly.  Wyvern had
never moved.  Had he known it, he was at that moment in some
considerable peril.  He was sitting right on the edge of the _krantz_,
and the other was behind him; and Le Sage was one of those men who when
they do fairly lose their tempers go nearly mad.  Now his face was
ghastly, and he snarled like a cornered animal.

"Your plan's a fraud," he repeated furiously, "and you're a fraud
yourself.  You humbugged me into believing you were a man of solid
position, while all the time you were a damned, useless, bankrupt
waster.  You sneaked my consent under false pretences.  Yes, under false
pretences," he bellowed, "and now I withdraw it.  D'you hear?  I
withdraw it unconditionally, you--swindler."

Wyvern had risen now, but with no sort of idea of violence, and stood
confronting the infuriated man.

"Now, Le Sage, don't you think all this is rather cowardly on your
part?" he said, in a quiet, expostulatory tone.  "I mean because you
must know that you're the one man privileged to say such things to me--
in fact, to go on all day calling me all the frauds and swindlers you
want to, and still remain absolutely immune from retaliation.  It's not
fair."

"Not fair, eh?" snarled Le Sage, infuriated by the other's coolness,
though there was nothing in this that was in the least offensive or
taunting.  "Well, now, look here.  Get away off my place, d'you see?
This is my ground.  A mile further on is my boundary.  Well, get across
that as soon as ever you like, and don't set foot on my place again, or
by God, I might even blow your brains out."

"Then you'd get hanged or shut up for a considerable time, and would
that be good for Lalante?"

"Go--d'you hear," stamped the furious man.  "Go.  There's the boundary.
Go over it--to hell or the devil."

"You don't expect me to walk ten miles when I've got a horse, do you?  I
left one at your place, and, incidentally, a tooth-brush."

Le Sage by this time was reduced to exhausted speechlessness.  He could
only glare helplessly.  Not wishing to exasperate him further and
needlessly, Wyvern had refrained from saying that he had no intention of
going until he had seen Lalante once more.  She would be on the look-out
for their return, he knew that, would probably come forth to welcome--
him, Le Sage would have no power to prevent their meeting.

So they walked back these two, as they had come, in silence.



CHAPTER NINE.

"NUMBER ONE."

Gilbert Warren, attorney-at-law, was seated in his office looking out
upon the main street of Gydisdorp.

He was an alert, straight, well-set-up man, not much on the further side
of thirty, handsome, too, in the dark-haired, somewhat hatchet-faced
aquiline type.  He was attired in a cool, easy-fitting suit of white
duck, for the day had been hot, and still wore his broad-brimmed hat,
for he had only just come in.

Now he unlocked a drawer in his table, somewhat hastily, impatiently
might almost have been said.  Thence he extracted a bundle of documents,
and began eagerly to peruse them.  Among them were deeds of mortgage.

"A damn rotten place," he said to himself.  "These fools have got bitten
this time, and serves 'em right.  I advised them against touching it.
Now to me it doesn't matter.  I don't mind dropping a little on it to
get _him_ out.  If I take it over, why then he'll have to go--and it's
worth it.  I will--Come in."

This in reply to a knock.  A clerk entered.

"It's Ripton, about that committal judgment.  Will you see him, sir?"

"--To the devil, willingly," replied Warren sharply.  "Tell him to go
there."

The clerk went out, tittering, to inform the individual in question that
Warren was very busy, and couldn't possibly find time to attend to him
to-day, an intimation which had the effect of sending that much harassed
and debt-hung waggon-maker slouching down the street, gurgling forth
strange profanities, and consigning lawyers in general, and Warren in
particular, to the care of precisely the same potentate to whom Warren
had just consigned him; only in far more sultry, and utterly
unprintable, terms.

"Yes, I'll take it over," the attorney's thoughts ran on, as he scanned
the papers.  "I can afford a loss on it--rather--and then the stake!
Good God!  I'd cheerfully plank down all I've made, and start life
again, _kaal_, [lit: naked] for that.  Out he'll have to walk--and not
much to take along with him either.  He won't show his nose around that
neighbourhood again.  Le Sage will take care of the rest."

Warren was the leading attorney in Gydisdorp.  The district was large,
well-to-do, and litigious, wherefore over and above will-drawing and
conveyancing, and so forth, he had as much practice as he could take
care of.  There were other matters he undertook, but on the quiet, which
were even more paying.  Shafto, who came next to him, used to declare
that Warren ought to be struck off the rolls; but as the two were great
friends and invariably took a couple of "splits" together _per diem_, in
the bar of the Masonic Hotel, nobody believed Shafto--only laughed.
Besides, Warren was popular.  He was genial and gifted, could tell a
good story and sing a good song; moreover, he was a keen sportsman.  So
life, on the whole, was a rosy thing for him, and more so that Warren's
creed could be summed up in a word and a figure.  This was it: Number 1.

Pushing the deeds aside, Warren unlocked a drawer, and produced another
enclosure.  This he handled carefully, tenderly one might have said.
Undoing the soft paper wrappings, he extracted a--photograph.  Propping
it up on his writing-table, he began to study it, and as he did so his
face softened unconsciously.  Then he took up a large magnifying glass.
The powerful lens threw into relief the seductive lines of the splendid
figure, the curve of the smiling mouth, the glad, luminous dilation of
the eyes--and--it was identical with the portrait hanging on Wyvern's
wall--the one that _was_ dusted and cared for.

This had not been given to Warren by its original.  Only one had been
given by her to anybody, and it we have seen before.  Neither had he
stolen it.  But a considerable bribe to the photographer's assistant,
himself in difficulties--Warren was nowhere if he failed to take
advantage of other people's difficulties--had procured him this, and
another copy, which, he kept at his own house.  And as the photographer
drove his trade at Cape Town, some hundreds of miles distant from
Gydisdorp, why that rendered the transaction all the safer.

"Out he goes," he murmured mechanically, his glance riveted on the
portrait.  "Out he goes--and then--I come in.  Only--do I?"

The crack of a waggon whip and the harsh yell of the driver, from the
street outside; the clear, deep-toned voices of a group of Kafirs
passing along the footway, rising and falling in cadenced modulation,
the barking of a cur, these were the sounds--everyday sounds--that smote
upon his ear in the drowsy afternoon heat.  Then rose another, and
hearing it he quickly put the photograph face downwards, drawing over it
a litter of papers.  The sound was that of steps, ascending the wooden
staircase--for Warren chose to have his own office off the ground floor,
contrary to usual custom in Gydisdorp, so as to ensure greater privacy.

"Come in."

There entered the same clerk, having barely had time to knock.

"Mr Wyvern would like to see you, sir."

"Wyvern?  Certainly.  In a minute or two.  I'll ring."

The clerk retired.  The "minute or two" was spent by Warren in carefully
wrapping up the photograph again and replacing it in the drawer.  Which
done he banged the spring handbell on his table and waited.

"Why, Wyvern, my dear old chap, how are you?  Glad to see you again--
only wish I could be of more use to you though."

He was wringing the other's hand, and his tone was of the most cordial
Warren knew how to play on the cordiality stop in a way to soothe the
most suspicious, and Wyvern was not suspicious.

"Oh, I'm all right," said the other, with a careless laugh, not
altogether free from a note of despondency.

"By Jove!  You look it too," said Warren, taking in the tall, fine
figure, and the clear-cut face with its hall-mark of breeding stamped
large.  The clear blue eyes, too, were those of a man in the pink of
condition, and taking it all in he realised that with his own powers of
attraction, which were undoubted, he himself would be nowhere beside
this one, or, at any rate, not where he wanted to be--and the rest
didn't matter.  "Well, now, what are the latest developments?  They are
going to foreclose, aren't they?"

"Yes.  It doesn't matter much in the long run.  I've got another scheme
on hand now.  I'm going to sell out and clear."

"Eh?  The deuce you are?" cried Warren, surprised out of his normal and
impassive attitude.  "Have a drink, old chap--then we can talk things
over snugly.  What'll you have?  Whisky or _dop_?"

"_Dop_, thanks.  It's a Heaven-sent liquor for this climate."

Warren took the opportunity while getting out the said refreshment to
pull himself together.  The other's news had come just in the nick of
time.  He need not now take over the mortgage on Seven Kloofs.  Its
owner was going to dear out anyhow; and he himself would be saved a sure
and certain loss.

"Here you are now," he said, "help yourself.  Have a weed, too," taking
a cigar out of a box, and shoving the latter across to Wyvern.  "So
you're going to clear, are you?  Well, I shall miss you, old chap, so
will someone else, I expect--eh?  Of course, as acting for Keeling, I've
been in a sort of way a professional enemy, but I haven't really, for
I've more than once kept him from putting the screw on you."

"I know you have, Warren, and it's devilish good of you."

"Oh, that's all right.  You see, we can't refuse business unless it's
downright shady, so I couldn't chuck this because you and I are pals.
Besides, I've done you far more good by taking it.  If I hadn't, Shafto
would have got it, and I don't think, somehow, you'd have found him any
improvement.  Eh?"

"No, indeed," laughed Wyvern, who didn't like Shafto, and whom Shafto
didn't like.

"You'll find it a bit of a wrench parting with your place, Wyvern?"

"Rather.  I love every stick and stone on it, although I've only had it
such a short time.  Besides--it has associations."

"Of course," laughed the other, significantly.  "One of them being that
it has ruined you."

"Well, yes.  But even that has carried its compensations."

"What are you going to launch out in next?  I know you're a reticent
chap, Wyvern, but we're old pals, and if there's any sort of way in
which I can ever give you a leg up, you know you can rely upon me.  I
don't ask with any notion of poking my nose into your private affairs,
you know."

"Well, first of all I'm going to Natal to look up a former friend of
mine.  We served together in the Zulu War; in fact, we raced neck to
neck off that infernal Hlobane Mountain, through thousands of raging
devils, and made rather more than a nodding acquaintance with grim old
Death that day."

"By Jove!  I should think so.  Who is he, by the way?"

"He's trading in Zululand.  He thinks I might join him with advantage."

"I see," said Warren, secretly foiled in that he had not got the name.
But he was nothing if not cautious.  He could get at that later, while
not seeming too curious.  "Well, I hope you'll have luck--and return
triumphant.  By the way, didn't you have a bit of a breeze with old Le
Sage the other day?"

"Now how the devil did you get hold of that for a yarn, Warren?  I
haven't opened my head about it to any living soul--not even a nigger."

The other smiled knowingly.

"There's very little I don't get hold of, old chap.  What if Le Sage
told me himself?"

"Did he?"

"Yes.  He abused you so infernally that I had to tell him to stop--
reminding him you were a pal of mine.  Then he abused me, but that I
didn't mind.  We do a lot of business together.  You can stand a good
deal from anybody on those terms."

"I suppose so.  I like Le Sage and don't bear any grudge against him,
though for a day or two after I did feel rather sore.  He lost his
temper a bit, and I felt sorry for him, because losing one's temper
takes it out of one so.  I know it does out of me when I lose mine."

Warren roared.

"When you lose yours!  Why, you never do."

"Don't I?  But it's a most infernal weakness.  You are sure to come out
bottom dog if you do."

"That's about it.  Have another drink?  No?  Sure?  Well, then, old man,
come out with me to my place for the night.  What do you say?  We can
have a good old yarn, and we shan't have many more of them if you're
trekking."

"All right.  I will."

"That's good.  Now look here.  I've got about an hour's business to
tackle, then you romp back here, and we'll ride out together.  No.  I
won't ask you to take a cut in at _ecarte_.  I know you hate the sight
of a pack of cards as dourly as any Covenanting Presbyterian
`meenister.'"

"Well, I do," laughed Wyvern, "but not for the same reason.  The evening
isn't the time for mathematical calculation.  It's the time for yarning
and pipes, and conviviality in general.  All right.  In an hour, then.
So long."

Warren ran a bachelor establishment some seven miles out of Gydisdorp.
It was, in fact a fine farm, but he was interested in it mainly as a
game preserve; the fanning department he turned over to an overseer "on
the halves."  Not that he was ignorant on that side either, for he
exacted his full share of what was yielded by the capabilities of the
place.  Here he was wont to entertain his friends, and comparatively
high play was frequently the order of the evening; indeed it was
whispered that it constituted a material addition to his store, both in
currency and landed estate.  He did neither at Wyvern's expense,
however, for the latter declared, once and for all, that he had nothing
to lose, and in the next place the whole thing bored him beyond words.

So when Wyvern returned an hour later the two men rode out together, and
passed an exceedingly pleasant and convivial evening.  Wherein Warren
was a paradox.  He had a real liking for the other, and would have done
anything in the world to do him a good turn, under all other
circumstances.  Here, however, Wyvern must be sacrificed, for mere
friendship was but a featherweight beside Warren's overmastering but as
yet secret passion for Lalante Le Sage, and have we not said that the
sum of Warren's _credo_ was Number 1!

And of the two portraits, one in Warren's office, the other in his home,
Wyvern, of course, knew nothing.



CHAPTER TEN.

IN THE THIRD KLOOF.

Wyvern was sitting out on the stoep smoking his first after supper pipe.

The night was still fairly warm, though just a touch of a sharp twinge
showed that it was one of those nights whereon it might not be good to
sit still in the open--let alone doze in one's chair--too long.  A broad
moon, not yet at full, hung in the cloudlessness of the star-gemmed
firmament, and he sat listening to the voices of night--the shrill bay
of hunting jackals, the ghostly whistle of invisible plover overhead,
the boom of belated beetles, the piping screech of tree-frogs, and every
now and again an unrestful bark from the dogs lying on the moonlit sward
in front.  Yet, listening, he heard them not, for his mind was active in
other directions.  For instance, it was just such a night as this,
nearly a month ago, that Lalante had been sitting here with him,
nestling to his side, and the sweet witching hour of enchantment had
gone by in happy converse.  Yet, since, what transition had taken place.
A few stolen meetings, more or less hurried, were all the comfort his
weary soul could obtain, and now in a day or two, he would be going
forth from here homeless--homeless from this home he loved so well, and,
of late, tenfold, in that she was to share it with him.

Then despondency grew apace.  His new venture--what was likely to come
out of that?  Was it indeed as Le Sage had said--that he had not got it
in him to do any good for himself?  But as though to brace him, came the
recollection of this girl, and her sweet presence here, here on the very
spot where he now was; this girl, so totally outside his previous
experience, so totally unlike anyone he had ever seen before, in her
sunny winsomeness, in her brave clear hope, and unconventional decision
of character, and, far above all, the unreserved richness of her love
which she had poured forth all upon him.  Her presence seemed with him
now in the distilling fragrance of the sweet calm night--would that it
really were--to charm away the despondency that lay upon his soul.
Despondency was not strength, she had said in her brave encouraging way.
No, it was not; but how throw it off?  Suddenly an idea struck him.

He went into the house.  Two guns in their covers stood in a corner.
One of these he unsheathed, and opening the breech looked down the
barrels against the light.  They were clear and without a speck.  One
was rifled, to take the Number 2 Musket ammunition, the other was smooth
bore Number 12, and a complete cylinder, guiltless of choke.  From a
drawer he took half-a-dozen cartridges to fit each; those for the smooth
bore being loaded with loepers--three and three and three, in layers, a
charge calculated to stop the very devil himself.  Then changing his
boots for a pair of _velschoenen_ made of the softest of raw hide and
quite noiseless, he set forth.

The dogs, lying outside, seeing the gun, sprang up, squirming and
whining with delight.  It needed quite an amount of persuasion,
objurgatory, and running to a mild kick or two, to convince them that
their aid and companionship was not in the least wanted upon this
occasion.  It even required the argument of a couple of stones--flung so
as carefully to avoid hitting them--when he reached the outer gate,
conclusively to convince them.  Then Wyvern took his way along the
narrow bush track heading for the entrance to the deep wild kloofs--
alone.

He had struck the spoor of a leopard--from the pads an unusually large
one--that morning, leading along the bottom of the mazy network of
kloofs.  Into one of these it had led--the one known as the Third
Kloof--and from the passing and repassing of the tracks, now faint, now
fresh, he had deduced that the beast was in the habit of using this way
as a regular path.  Here, then, was a cure for despondency--temporary
but exhilarating--but the exhilaration was somewhat dashed by the
thought that this was probably the last time he would undertake such a
quest here, in what his neighbours characterised by the term of his
"vermin-preserve" and voted an unmitigated pest.

Shod in silence he took his way noiselessly along.  The bottom of the
kloofs was smooth and grassy, which, of course, favoured him.  Faint
zephyrs of the still night air fanned his face, and here and there a
rustling in the black mysterious depths of the bush on either hand, told
that his presence was not altogether unknown to its keen denizens.  To
the dwellers in towns and artificiality there would have been something
inexpressibly weird and nerve-stirring in this mystery-suggesting
solitude, in the great sweep of the bush-clad spurs, black and gloomy in
shadow, silvern and ghostly where the moon reached them, and in the
stealthy unknown sounds coming unexpectedly, now on this hand now on
that, from the darksome depths of their recesses, but to this man it all
brought a strange tightening of the heart.  All this mystery of shaggy
wood, and sphinx-like _krantz_ looming grey in the moonlight, had been
his--his property, his very own--and now it was so no longer.  The cloud
of despondency was deepening down upon him again.

He had been walking now rather more than an hour, and the moon, mounting
higher, was pouring down her pale vertical beams right upon these
labyrinthine recesses.  Then he struck off from the valley bottom, and
ascending, cautiously, noiselessly, the steep and stony hillside, gained
a point some fifteen yards higher up.

The position was formed by some small boulders, overhung by _spek-boem_,
and it commanded an ample view of anything passing beneath.  He knew the
spot well, as indeed he knew every inch of that bushy maze, in parts so
thick and tangled and thorn-studded as to be well-nigh impenetrable;
many a fine bushbuck ram had he stopped in mid career from this very
point when they had been driving out the kloofs, during one of those
hunts to which he would from time to time convene his neighbours.  Here,
as he lay, he scanned the open smoothness of the grassy valley bottom.
But upon it there was no sign of any moving life.

The kloof ended in a mass of tumbled terraced cliff, overhung by a row
of straight-stemmed, plumed euphorbia; with aloes, gnome-like in the
moonlight, caught here and there in crevice or on ledge.  Within the
face of the rock slanted black clefts, constituting a complete rookery
for the denizens of what his neighbours termed "Wyvern's
vermin-preserve."  And it was, from his point of view, the very heart of
the surrounding maze, and was known as the Third Kloof.

At the meetings of the Gydisdorp Farmers' Association, Wyvern's name was
held in evil odour on this account, yet now, lying out in the ghostly,
solitary night, he thought of it with glee; for was he not possessor,
even if for the last time, of what little there was left of strange,
wild Nature, and how many of those who thus decried him, at this hour
snoring in bed, would have taken the trouble to turn out under the moon
to reduce the "vermin" aforesaid by one?  With a lively gathering and
dogs, and all that, they were ready enough, but--generally missed what
they came out for, and were happy enough to shoot bushbucks instead.

One of these now passed immediately below him as he lay, a fine ram, its
dark hide and white belly, and long, straight, slightly spiral horns
showing in the moonlight almost as clear as by day.  But he never moved.
This was not his game to-night.  This was not what he had come out for.
Then he noticed that the animal began to show signs of uneasiness.  It
stopped short, raised its head from the grass it had been daintily
nibbling, then resumed its nibbling.  Then it raised its head again, and
seemed to be listening; its full lustrous eye turned towards him showed
concern.  The head then turned towards the upper end of the kloof, and
in the clear light the spectator could even see the working of the
nostrils as the graceful animal snuffed in the still night air as though
winding something.  Then with a couple of bounds it disappeared within
the blackness of the further line of bush.

The pulses of the lonely watcher tingled.  What had alarmed the buck?
All his senses were now concentrated on the point towards which the
startled animal had been looking.  Ah!  This _was_ what he had come out
for.

There had stolen out into the open a shape, a long, cat-like, spotted
shape.  Well he knew it, and now more than ever did excitement thrill
his frame.  The beast paused, standing erect, its tail slightly waving,
its head thrown upwards and opened into a mighty yawn which displayed
its great fangs.  There was a water-hole in the hollow of the kloof,
usually a mere mass of slimy liquid mud, now, thanks to the recent rains
fairly well filled.  To this the leopard paced, its massive velvety paws
noiseless in their springy gait.  Then dropping its head it began to
lap, and the disturbance of the water seemed quite loud in the stillness
of the night.  Cautiously the watcher took aim.  The question was should
he use the rifle or the shot barrel.  At that short distance he could
not miss.  He decided in favour of the bullet, and had just got his
sight well on behind the shoulder, when--

The great leopard raised its speckled head, and suddenly gathered itself
together, as though listening intently.  This for a fraction of a
minute, but sufficiently long to have shifted its position, and the
moonlight was uncertain.  But before the watcher could get his sights on
to the right spot again, in a glide and a bound it had disappeared into
the sheltering shadow of the bush.

Wyvern's disgust will hardly bear describing in words.  Why had he not
got in his shot while he had the chance, and while it was well-nigh
impossible to miss.  Now he had let his chance go by, and it was not in
the least likely to recur.  But, what on earth was it that had alarmed
the beast?

Below, like an eye, the water-hole glared dully.  Beyond it now
something was standing--a something which seemed to have risen out of
the very earth itself--and it took the black figure of a man.  And
Wyvern was conscious of the cold shuddering thrill that passed through
his own system, for the hideous pock-marked countenance turned upward
towards him with deathlike stare, was that of the big Kafir whom the
puff-adder had bitten--had bitten again and again and who was, of
course, long since dead.

How could it be otherwise?  No human system could survive an hour with
all that deadly venom injected into it.  He could have sworn to that
awful face--it had been too deeply impressed upon his recollection at
the time of the ghastly incident for him to forget it.  There could not
be another like it in the world; and it was fully visible to him now
with the moon full upon it as the phantom stood there, huge and black.
No--the thing could not be mortal.  It was a physical impossibility--and
he felt his flesh creep as it had never yet done.

The figure was moving.  It had struck a crouching attitude, and was
coming straight for where he lay.  Instinctively Wyvern grasped the
gun--though what was the use of a weapon against a thing not of flesh
and blood?  For a second it paused, then with a bound like that of the
savage animal it had just scared away it alighted where the bush and the
open met.  There was a momentary and convulsive struggle accompanied by
fierce hissing, then the horrible figure sprang upright, and stood,
holding aloft, firmly grasped by the neck, a large puff-adder.

In the throes of strangulation the bloated coils of the reptile whipped
the air convulsively, smooth and slimy in the moonlight--but it was
powerless to strike.  Itself of no light weight, yet its destroyer was
able to hold it at arm's length and at the same time never relax that
deadly, strangling grip--the while the expression of the repulsive and
horrible countenance turned upon the agonising reptile was one of
fiendish gloating.  At length the furious writhings died down into a
faint muscular heave, and the black fiend, relaxing none of his grip of
the now dead reptile, glided into the dark shades which had covered the
retreat of the leopard.

Not a sound had been uttered--beyond the first hissing of the snake--not
a word said; the whole scene had been horrible and eerie beyond the
power of words to describe, in its weird setting of moonlit forest, and
cliff and rugged spur.  What devilish scene was this which had been
enacted there, all in so brief a space of time that the witness thereof
could hardly believe he had not dreamt it?  Though not in the least
timid, Wyvern was an imaginative man, and his imaginative powers were
largely stimulated and fostered by his solitary life.  Now he asked
himself whether the wretched savage had really returned to earth--in a
word--"walked," and there in the wild and moonlit solitude the answer
seemed very like an affirmative.  He recalled Lalante's scare when they
had been searching for the remains of this very being, and how no trace
of any living thing had been apparent, even to Le Sage's practised eyes.
What did it all mean?  Well, it need concern him no further, for in a
day or two his interest in Seven Kloofs would be a thing of the past.
And having thus decided, a sudden and, under the circumstances, strange
drowsiness came upon him and he slept.

The Southern Cross turned in the heavens, and the soft breaths of night
played around his forehead and still Wyvern slumbered on, and in the
midst of that drear but beautiful solitude he dreamed.  He was back at
Seven Kloofs again, and, once more, it was his very own.  All anxieties
were wiped away, and they were rejoicing together in the joy of
possession, and in their new-found, undimmed happiness--and then, and
then--the stars faded in the lightening vault as the chill dawn awoke
the sleeper, heart-weary and sick with the melting of the blissful
illusion.  But--what was this?

A strange sound, terminating in a sort of whine.  Keen and alert now,
Wyvern peered forth, just as the great leopard halted beneath, finishing
his cavernous yawn, and looking inquiringly upward where scent or
instinct told him some enemy was lurking.  But just a fraction of a
moment too long did he tarry, as the bullet sped forth; the thundrous
echoes of the report rolling in many-tongued reverberation among the
rocks and krantzes.  The great spotted cat lay gasping out its life,
with a severed spine.

There are compensatory moments in life, and this was one of them.  In
the keen exhilaration of the successful shot, Wyvern noted that the
beast was an abnormally large and fine specimen of its kind.  The skin
should be a parting gift to Lalante; a final memento of Seven Kloofs.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

DREAMS--AND A VISIT.

"I wonder why Mr Wyvern never comes over to see us now," remarked small
Frank Le Sage, one morning.

"I believe he and Lala have had a row," rejoined smaller Charlie; for
thus were they wont at times to abbreviate their sister's uncommon, and
to them high-sounding name.

She for her part smiled.  She would not "shut them up," she liked to
hear them talk about him.

"Man, but he's a fine chap," went on the first speaker.  "I seem to miss
him no end."

"Rather," assented the other.  "And doesn't he just know how to make
stunning catapults!"

"And to use them too," came the rejoinder.

Lalante, who had been contemplating the small speakers with a smile of
tender approval, burst out laughing at this ingenuous and whole-hearted
appreciation of the absent one's claim to esteem.

"And so that's all he's a `fine chap' for, is it?" she said.

"Oh, no.  He's a jolly fine chap all round, you know."

"Rather," confirmed the other.  Then, insinuatingly, "I say, Lalante.
Let us off that beastly catechism this morning, won't you?  It's such a
jolly morning to go down the kloof and humbug about."

It was Sunday, and the form of instruction thus irreverently qualified,
was wont on that day to take the place of the "three R's" already
referred to.

"Yes, and get yourselves into a nice mess, and tear yourselves to
pieces.  Supposing any visitors were to turn up--you wouldn't be fit to
be seen," answered the girl.  But her tone was, for the object they had
in view, anything but hopeless.

"We shan't get any visitors except Mr Wyvern, and he won't care,"
replied he who had made the request.

"I hope he will turn up," declared the other.  "He does spin such
ripping good yarns.  Do let us off, Lala."

For answer they were encircled by an arm apiece, and upon each eager,
pleading face was bestowed a hearty kiss.

"You darlings, I will then," she said, releasing them.  "But--go and put
on your old clothes.  I'm not going to have you running wild in those."

Away they sped rejoicing.  The condition was not a hard one.  It is only
fair to say, however, that their hymn of praise to the absent Wyvern was
in no way inspired by ulterior motive.  Their admiration for him was
whole-souled and genuine.

Lalante looked after them with something of a sigh.  They could be happy
enough--a small trifle would accomplish that.  But she?  However
cheerful and sanguine and comforting she might be in the presence of her
lover, there were times, when alone, that her heart failed her.  And now
that presence was withdrawn.

Nearly a month had gone by since her father had fixed an open quarrel
upon him, which quarrel, for all its tragic potentialities, had found a
somewhat tame and commonplace outcome at the time, to all outward
seeming, that is.  She had, as Wyvern had foreseen, come out to welcome
him on that eventful morning; and while obliged to bid him good-bye
then, had assured him openly and unmistakably, and in the presence of
her father, that she had no more intention of giving him up than she had
of jumping off the nearest _krantz_; a declaration which caused Le Sage
to snarl and curse.  Then Wyvern, having the good sense to see that no
good purpose could be served by further irritating his quondam friend,
had bidden her good-bye--not less affectionately than usual we may be
sure--and had ridden off.

Since then a frost had set in between Lalante and her father, but it was
of his own creation and nursing, for after the first soreness, the girl
had shown him the same affection as before, possibly even more; for,
strange to say, she was capable of seeing the matter from his point of
view; moreover she knew that his own soreness was largely a matter of
jealousy in that he was no longer first.  But she would not promise not
to see Wyvern again, and this rankled in Le Sage's mind more than ever,
especially as he felt certain she would find opportunities of seeing
him.

As a matter of fact she did so find them, but they were few and far
between--and only then, when her father's business necessitated his
absence from home.  Now of this Le Sage was aware, or at any rate more
than suspicious.  He was too proud to question Lalante, she having
frankly declared that she could not defer to his wishes in the matter.
But his hatred of Wyvern became almost an obsession, dangerous alike to
himself and its object.  He had one satisfaction, however, out of which
he gleaned grim comfort--he held the power now to eject Wyvern from
Seven Kloofs within the space of a few months; in the acquisition of
which power Vincent Le Sage had made the first bad bargain he had ever
been known to make in his life.

Her small brothers having skipped off down the kloof, clad in their old
garments and armed with a catapult apiece--to the latter extent
supremely happy, Lalante dropped into a roomy cane chair upon the stoep
and let herself go in meditation.  Let it not be supposed, however, that
hers was any mere contemplative life; far from it.  Her strong, capable
young nature was eminently cut out for the discharge of everyday duties,
and the discharge of them well, too.  We have seen how she managed her
two small brothers, but her father's comfort came second to nothing, and
into all that concerned him, and occupied his daily interest, she
entered thoroughly.  Whereby it is manifest that from his point of view
there was a good deal of excuse to be made for his soreness now.  And
if, as we have said, she had no "accomplishments," and no high opinion
of mere schooling, of which, by the way, she had undergone her full
share, she had what was better, tact and the capability of rendering the
lives of those belonging to her happy and comfortable.

Leaning back in her chair now, in an attitude of meditative ease, her
hands knitted behind the soft masses of her sheeny hair, the curving
lines of her figure, gowned in cool white, revealed to a sensuous
advantage that was wholly unstudied and unconscious, her large grey eyes
dilated between their thick lashes, accentuated by the sun-kissed tinge
of brown in her clear complexion, the girl made a beautiful picture.  In
and out beneath the green leaves of the trellised vine which verandahed
the stoep, long-waisted hornets winged their way, the winnowing draught
of their flight fanning her face; but to such she paid no heed.  Her
wide gaze was fixed on nothing, but wandered afar--beyond the green and
gold of the rolling, _spek-boem_ clad ridges.  What was _he_ doing on
this heavenly morning?  If only he would come over, moved by some
afterthought?  Why not?  Surely a few words need not open so wide a
gulf--a few words between men, and one of them angry.  But with a sigh
she recognised, young as she was, that a few words might open a wider
gulf than even a few deeds.  If only he would!

There was small chance of it--in fact none.  Yet, even then, Lalante
could not be pronounced unhappy.  She had all his love, and he had hers.
No room was there for any shadow of a doubt or misgiving upon that
score, and now she, so to say, bathed herself in its consciousness, even
though temporarily reft of the presence of the other of the two thus
making to themselves a very paradise within the world!

Strange to say, considering her youth, and the circumstances, after the
first natural soreness Lalante had shown no resentment against her
father for the part he had borne in the matter.  Him she had treated in
the same way as ever, indeed in a manner calculated to soothe rather
than feed his rancour.  On one or two occasions when he had savagely
abused the absent one, she had, with great mastery of self-control,
refrained from angry retort, and had begged him, as a matter of
consideration for her, to refrain from wounding her.  "You would not
hurt your little Lalante, would you, dear?" she had said with an arm
round his shoulder.  "Well, when you say these things you hurt me as
much as you would if you hit me with a stick or a stone.  No--more."
And Le Sage had stared, startled, into the moist eyes, and mumbling
something, had left the room--hurriedly.  But he never abused Wyvern
again, at least not in her presence--nor when there was any possibility
of her being within earshot.  It is even possible that he might have
relented, and extended a helping hand to the unlucky one, or at any rate
have tolerated a further effort; but the hard, business instinct of the
invariably successful man rose, as a bar--as a very bulkhead of hard
oak--between him and his more human, and better inclinations.

The hot, dreamy hours of the forenoon flowed on, and still Lalante sat,
to all outward appearance doing nothing, but in reality with racing
thoughts.  She did not even care to read.  You read in order to be taken
out of yourself, which was just what she didn't want.  Her father was in
a small inner room, with a pipe in his mouth, making up--we regret to
say, having previously stated that the day was Sunday--certain accounts,
for, in addition to his farming ventures, he did a good deal in the
stock-jobbing line.  And the girl sat there, dreaming on, reconstituting
in her mind a retrospection of all that had passed within that year,
which was, if there had ever been such a thing, literally and actually
_annus amoris_.

She recalled, for instance, their first meeting; how she had come in,
hot and dishevelled--or at any rate feeling it--after a long scramble
with the two small boys away over the veldt--to find, all unexpectedly,
the man of whom she had heard so much as her father's--then--intimate
friend.  She remembered every line of the expression of the clear-cut,
high-bred face, the look of admiration that had momentarily leapt into
his eyes directly they rested upon her--hot and dishevelled--in
straight, kindly glance; the tall, fine proportions of his frame, the
courteous, interested conversation in which he had engaged her.  She
went over the hiatus of their prompt confidence and growing mutual
interest, until--a certain evening, when standing together under the
radiant moon amid the fragrant breaths of night--an evening which seemed
specially created for such an object--their love had, as it were,
_rushed_ together and declared itself as one--yes, as one from the very
first.  For a brief time life had been a perfectly uninterrupted
Paradise, and that to both--and then--and then--trouble, care--black
care--had stolen in more and more, but--through it all, love was ever
the same, ever undimmed, indeed if possible refined and winnowed by the
prospect of adversity.  No--assuredly there was no room for unhappiness
in Lalante's present any more than in her past.  The cloud hung heavy,
but it would surely lift.  It must.  It should.

"Who the devil is this?"

The girl started from her day-dream, and turned quickly.  In the doorway
behind her stood her father, a pair of binoculars in his hand.  Then she
looked in the direction in which under the circumstance she naturally
would look.

Away, where the road topped the ridge, two horsemen were riding; and
they were approaching the house.  They might have been merely passers-by
certainly, but the girl's true instinct informed her that it was not so,
and her heart beats quickened.  Yet--why _two_?

"One of 'em's Warren," pronounced Le Sage, with the glasses at his eyes.
"And the other--why, damn it! it's--it's that fellow, Wyvern."

This staccato.  Lalante, rising, saw that her father's face had paled,
and the hands that held the binoculars shook.

"Now, dear," she adjured, putting a hand round his shoulder.  "Don't
lose yourself, and remember he may have some particular object in
wanting to see you.  He has never been here since, and it's quite
possible that he has.  Now do receive him with common civility.  You
must, you know.  You can't be offensive to a man on your own doorstep.
Now can you?"

"Oh, can't I?  I seem to remember telling this one never to come near my
`own doorstep' again," snorted Le Sage.

"Never mind.  Wait till you hear what he has got to say.  You will,
won't you."

By this time she had got both arms round his neck, and was holding it
tight.  He looked into her luminous eyes with his own sombre and angry
ones, and somehow the anger seemed to die.

"Very well, dear," he said with an effort, though more gently, and
loosening her hold.  "I'll wait and see."

Meanwhile the two horsemen were drawing very near.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

FAREWELL!

Warren it was who broke the awkwardness of the meeting.

"Hullo, Le Sage," he sang out as they dismounted.  "I lugged this chap
over to say good-bye to you.  He's just going to clear.  I told him he
couldn't clear without saying good-bye, just because you had a bit of a
growl at each other."

This in his most breezy way.  Le Sage put out a hand to Wyvern, though
not particularly cordially.

"Oh, you're really going, are you?" he said.

"Yes.  Day after to-morrow.  My sale comes off next week, but I shan't
wait for it."

The air was still and clear, and, upon such, voices travel afar.  The
above conversation, taking place at the stables, had been heard by
Lalante, who therefore felt exceedingly friendly towards Warren, whose
words implied that the other would not have come over but for his
persuasion.  She knew, of course, that Wyvern would not leave without
managing a farewell meeting between them--just as she knew what her
father did not--that he was on the eve of departure.  Yet, here he was,
and he should not leave her that day if she could help it.  There was
parting at the end of it, but all its precious hours in between were
theirs.

The anxiety which had at first overclouded her face cleared, as she knew
by the conversation of the three men drawing near the house, that her
father had kept his word.  If his tone was somewhat constrained, why
that was only to be expected.

"Well, Miss Lalante," cried Warren, in his breeziest way as she came to
meet them.  "I hope we haven't invaded you too unexpectedly."

"Not at all," she answered cordially.  "It was good of you to come
over."

In secret Wyvern somewhat resented this way Warren had of using the
girl's own name, even though not omitting the formal prefix.  It was
quite unnecessary, and formal prefixes are prone to lapse on occasions.
But this little jealous twinge was allayed with her greeting of him--all
in the old way.  He appreciated, too, Warren's tactful thought in
turning Le Sage's attention right in the other direction.

Then the small boys came in, hot and dusty after their ramble, and it
behoved Lalante to go and superintend the process of making them
presentable for dinner--for which it was nearly time.

In process of that festivity assuredly Wyvern's reputation with the two
youngsters as a spinner of "such ripping good yarns" did not suffer as
they listened open-mouthed to his narrative of shooting the big leopard
in the Third Kloof.  The more startling incident of that night he did
not narrate for their benefit.

"Man, Mr Wyvern, but I'd like to have been there," said Charlie.

"Do take us with you some night, Mr Wyvern," supplemented Frank.

"There won't be any `some night' again, Frank.  I'm going away."

"What?" cried both youngsters.  "No.  It's not true."

"But it is," answered Wyvern, with a tinge of sadness.  "The day after
to-morrow.  I've only come to-day to say good-bye."

"But you can't go.  Lala, tell him he's not to.  He'll stop if you tell
him to."

These two youngsters were actually beginning to feel "choky," in proof
whereof a plateful apiece of one of their favourite puddings seemed in
danger of being left untouched.

The whole-souled affection of the two little boys--Lalante's brothers--
went to Wyvern's heart.

"Never mind, old chappies," he said.  "We shall meet again some day, and
then you'll be big fellows, and will want to patronise me because I
don't bring down a bushbuck ram at four hundred yards when only his head
is showing round a _spek-boem_ bush, as you'll do.  Here, stop that," he
added, as Charlie, the smallest of the pair, began to sniffle ominously,
then giving up the effort, broke into a genuine howl.  "Men don't cry--
and, this last day we most be all jolly together.  See?"

"If you're going in for the Zulu trade, Wyvern, I'm afraid you've hit
upon the wrong time," struck in Le Sage.  "I hear they're all unsettled
in the Zulu country over the return of Cetywayo.  There'll be a lively
war up there among themselves I'm told."

"Got to chance that, like most things in this sad and weary world."

"Man, Mr Wyvern, but they'll kill you if you go up there," remarked one
of the small boys in round-eyed consternation.  "Why you fought against
them in the war"--some of his Zulu war experiences being among the
"ripping good yarns" he had the reputation for spinning.

"Oh, no they won't.  Besides, you don't suppose they know who fought
against them or who didn't--and even if they did they'd only respect me
the more for it."

"There's a little matter I want to talk over with you, Le Sage," said
Warren, as they got up from table, "if it isn't trenching on your
Sabbath rest."

"Oh, Sabbath rest be hanged," answered Le Sage, shortly.  "Come along."

"Father, don't talk in that abominably heathenish way," laughed Lalante.
"Before your children too!"

She and Wyvern, both, and again, appreciated Warren's tact, for neither
of them believed in the pretext.  They had not been alone together yet,
and Warren, like the good fellow he was, had resolved that they should
be.  That was how they read it.

So while the other two adjourned to Le Sage's business den, these two
adjourned to the _stoep_.  The small boys, like their kind, unable to
keep still for any length of time, betook themselves off somewhere down
in the garden.

"Love, and so you are really going," began Lalante with her hand in his.

"Really.  But it is going only to return."

"Yes, I feel that.  Yet--it is like parting with one's very life."

"That is how I feel it.  And yet--and yet--this time somehow I am
sanguine.  I have a sort of instinct that things are going to mend; that
one's luck cannot always be on the down grade.  I can't tell why, but
something--a sort of revelation, perhaps--has come to me telling me I am
doing right in going away from here--wrench though it will be.  But mere
locality--why that's nothing as long as we have each other.  Is it?"

"Darling, you know it is not," she answered, her head resting in the
hollow of his shoulder.  "If it were a mere rock island in the middle of
the sea and I had you, it would be Paradise."

He laughed sadly.  But it was no time for upsetting her ideals.  For a
few moments they sat in a happy, if somewhat sad, silence; the same hum
of winged insects making its droning lull upon the sunlit air; the
sweeping roll of golden green spread out in radiant vista beneath the
unclouded sky; the full, seductive beauty of the girl nestling within
his arms.

"I was longing for you so," she said at last.  "I was sitting here all
the morning going over all the time since we had first known each other.
I felt that I would give half my life if you would only come over
to-day.  And--here you are."

"But you didn't think I should go without seeing you again, child?"

"Of course not.  But it would have been one of those hurried snatched
meetings in the veldt.  Well now I have got you all to myself, and I
will keep you.  Come.  We will have a last long walk alone together
while they are in there."

The while the thought was hammering in her brain, that to-morrow at the
same time all would be as it was now; no shadow of a difference in
anything around but--he would be gone.

"I won't keep you waiting a moment," she said, her fingers intertwined
in his as she rose.  "We will go before they come out."

Wyvern, left there even for that "moment," could not help blessing the
luck that had brought Warren over to Seven Kloofs the night before, to
talk him into coming to bid good-bye to Le Sage as if nothing had
happened.  As Lalante had said, they would have managed a final and
farewell meeting; but as she had also said, it would have been a
snatched and hurried one.

True to her word she reappeared in a moment, looking her best and
sweetest; and that was very good to look at indeed.  And they went
forth, down the way they knew so well, the way they had so often trodden
together, and the voices of the gladsome, sunlit _veldt_ made music as
they went.

"Oh, darling," said the girl, as she leaned heavily upon the arm passed
through hers, and upon his shoulder.  "However am I going to get through
the time without you--day after day, week after week, even month after
month, and know that you are hundreds of miles from me, after this
year--this whole year--when we have been all in all to each other?  Tell
me--again.  No one has ever been to you as I have?  Tell me.  I will
feed on it after you have--gone."

Her hungry, passionate accents thrilled his every fibre, then his arms
were around her in a close embrace.

"Lalante--my own love--my one and only love, I could go on telling you
the same thing.  No one has ever been to me as you have been or ever
could be.  You know how from the time our eyes first met we knew we were
made for each other, and it was not long before we proved it to be so."

"Yes, I know.  I was thinking of that all this morning, was bathing
myself in a very day-dream of our time together.  And now, you are
leaving me."

"Oh, sweet--don't put that tone--that hopeless tone--into it.  I am
leaving you only to come back to you.  You know that there is no one
like you in all the world.  I could not imagine anything approaching a
duplicate of you if I were to try.  But, if ever I find a difficulty it
is what on earth you can see in me to love like this: in me--a battered
failure all along the line.  What is it?"

"What is it?" she answered, slowly, her eyes responding to his straight,
full gaze.  "What is it?  I don't know.  Only a little trick of
thought-reading--character-reading rather--and when I had seen you I
thought I had seen--the Deity."

"No, no, child," he said quickly and reprovingly.  "You must not--to put
it on the lowest ground--pitch your ideals at such dizzy heights.  Only
think what a fall it means one of these days."

"Now I could laugh.  Never mind.  We have just so many hours--how many
have we?  And then--blank--deathlike blank."

"No--no--no!  Not deathlike.  It is life--life through absence.  See
now, Lalante--what a sweet name that is, for I am perfectly certain
nobody else in the world bears it--I am looking at you, now in the full
glow of the sun at his best light I am looking into and photographing
your dear face--as if it needed that--so that it will remain fixed in
the retina of memory through day and night when we are apart.  Those
eyes--yes, look into mine, so will it burn the picture in more
indelibly, if possible."

"Oh, love, love!"  Her accents thrilled in their passionate abandonment.
"You are going away from me and you have torn my very heart out with
you.  Yes, I look into your eyes, and my very first prayer is that they
may look at me in my dreams as they do now.  Yes.  Even parting is bliss
beside what I could imagine of dead love."

"Dead love!  My Lalante, how could such a term occur as between you and
me?"

"No--no.  Not as between us.  My imagination was only running away with
me.  That was all."

Thus they wandered on.  Half unconsciously their steps turned towards a
favourite spot, where even on the hottest of days shade lay, in the
coolness reflected by a rock-face never turned to the sun, ever shadowed
by an overhanging growth.  Birds piped in the brake with varying and
fantastic note, while now and again the still air was rent by the lusty
shouting of cock-koorhaans, rising fussily near and far, disturbed by
real or imaginary cause of alarm.  It was an ideal place, this sheltered
nook, for such meetings as these.

Hour followed upon hour, but they heeded it not at all, as they sat and
talked; and the glance of each seemed unable to leave the other, and the
pressure of interlocked fingers tightened.  This would be their first
parting since they had first met, and it was difficult to determine upon
which of the two it fell the hardest Wyvern was a man of deep and strong
feeling, in no wise dulled by the fact that he could no longer exactly
be called young, and the impending parting had been with him as an
all-pervading heart pain to an extent which well-nigh astonished
himself--while as for the girl, her passionate adoration of him was as
her whole being.  It is safe to say that he could have done with her
what he chose; and realising this, and how he stood as a tower of
strength to her, not as a source of weakness, in his firm unbending
principle, the very fact fed and fostered that adoration.

It was here that their real farewell was made, here alone, unseen save
by the bright birds that flitted joyously and piped melodiously in the
shaded solitude.

"Oh, my own, my own," whispered Lalante, her beautiful form shaken by
sobs she was powerless to repress.  "My adored love, you will come back
to me, even if you meet with nothing but ill-fortune--worse even than
you have met with up till now.  You will come back to me.  Promise."

He could only bend his head in reply.  He dared not trust himself to
speak.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Haven't those two come in yet?" said Le Sage shortly, sitting up in his
chair.  "_Magtig_!  Warren, I must have been asleep."

"Well, you were, but why not?" answered Warren easily.  "Oh, never mind
about them: you were young once yourself, Le Sage."

The latter looked grim.

"Wyvern's not so damned young," he said.  "That makes it all the worse,
because it shows he'll never do any good."

"He may where he's going."

Le Sage snorted.

"Where he's going.  Going!--Yes, that's the only good thing about him--
he's _going_."

If only the speaker knew how intensely his listener was agreeing with
him.  It might be that Le Sage's hostility was not the most formidable
obstacle these two had to reckon with.  A sufficiently lurid picture was
at that moment passing before the mental gaze of the easy-mannered,
elf-possessed lawyer.  People who were "going" did not always return.

"Why, here they are," he said, "and the kiddies with them."

The two youngsters, whom they had chanced to pick up on the way, were a
factor in easing down the situation, which was as well, for Lalante's
face with all her brave efforts at absolute self-control, was not
without some pathetic trace of the strain she was undergoing.

Supper, that evening, was not a particularly convivial institution; in
fact, the conversation was mainly sustained by Warren.  Even the two
small boys were instinctively subdued.

"By Jove, I believe we are going to have a storm," said Warren, as they
got up.  "We'd better saddle up and _trek_ before it comes, eh, Wyvern?"

"Well, you might just escape it," said Le Sage, with alacrity.  "I'll go
and see about getting the horses up."

The sun was setting in gloomy, lurid fire behind an opaque curtain of
inky cloud, as they went forth into the open air; which said air was
strangely still and boding and oppressive, though now and again a fitful
puff would bring dull distant rumblings of thunder.  Wyvern went round
with his uncordial host to the stables, while the others remained on the
_stoep_ to watch it.

"I don't seem to like starting in the face of this," said Warren.  "It's
coming up and we shall get it thick about half way."

"Then don't start," said Lalante decisively.  "We can easily put you up.
Ah--look!"

A succession of vivid flashes lit up the gloomy murk in the distance,
followed immediately by a heavy, detonating roar.

"I believe you're right," said Warren, meditatively.  "By Jove, it's
coming on at express pace--right for us, too."

"One thing is certain," pronounced Lalante, not even trying to suppress
the jubilant ring in her voice, "and that is that you two can't possibly
go: back to-night.  It isn't safe.  Look how the storm is working up,
right across your road too.  No, you can't.  Now, can you, Mr Warren?"

"I'm in Wyvern's hands," answered Warren with a laugh, "and he, I
suspect, is in yours."

"Very well.  That settles it.  Come.  We'll go round and tell them not
to bother about getting up the horses, for you're both going to stop the
night.  I'm horribly afraid of lightning--for other people."

The livid, inky cloud was slowly and surely advancing, and as she had
said, it was right across the road back to Seven Kloofs.  As the two
went forth a distant but heavy boom rolled dully to their ears.

"For other people?" repeated Warren significantly.  "And for yourself?
You are never afraid?"

"No, I don't believe I am."

Warren looked at her with warm admiration, and something else--which he
succeeded in disguising the more easily that--as we have said--she was
in total ignorance of those two portraits which he cherished in secret.

"Here, father," she called out, as they reached the place where Le Sage
and Wyvern were standing, "call those boys back.  The horses won't be
wanted till to-morrow.  Just look what an awful storm there is working
up.  Right across the way too."

"By Jove, so there is," said Le Sage.  "Hope it means real rain, that's
all.  You two 'll have to shake down here to-night."

The swift glance exchanged between Wyvern and Lalante did not escape
Warren.  To those two the coming storm had brought reprieve.  Only of a
few hours it was true, but--still a reprieve.  Their real farewell had
been made, still--

Throwing out its dark and jagged streamers in advance, the black curtain
of cloud came driving up.  A blinding gleam, and one of those awful
metallic crashes that are as though the world itself were cleft in
twain, and, ever growing louder as it drew nearer, a confused raving
roar.

"Hail, by Jove!" pronounced Le Sage.  "That's a nuisance because it
means little or no rain.  Where are those two youngsters, Lalante?"

"Indoors."

"And that's where we'd better get, and pretty soon," pronounced Wyvern.

But before they got there a hard and splitting impact caused all to
hurry their pace, for it was as though they were being pelted with
stones; and indeed they were, for the great white ice-globes came
crashing down, as with a roar like that of an advancing tidal wave the
mighty hailstorm was upon them; in its terrific clamour almost drowning
the bellowing of the thunder.

"We're well out of that," went on Wyvern, as they gained the shelter of
the house.  "By George, if one had come in for it in an open camp, it
would have been a case of covering one's head with one's saddle.  The
stones are as big as hens' eggs.  I've only seen it like that once
before.  Look."

Outside, the enormous hailstones lay like a fall of ice; and as the blue
spectral gleams of lightning fell upon the scene the effect was one of
marvellous beauty.  It was as though a rain of gigantic diamonds was
cleaving and illuminating the darkness, while the layer which overspread
the ground flashed out a million points of incandescence.  Then, with
receding roar, the hail cloud whirled on its course, and there was
stillness as of death, save for an intermittent roll of thunder.

Lalante had found herself drawn to a window--the others were crowding
the doorway--and as she pressed to her side the arm that encircled her,
she gazed forth upon the weird scene of storm and terror with a kind of
ecstasy, and, in her heart, blessing it.  But for it she would now be
alone--alone and heart-wrung.  The evil hour was only postponed--but it
was postponed--and they stood thus, close together in the darkness,
silent in their sweet, sad happiness.

"We'll be able to ice our grog to-night, Le Sage," said Warren presently
in his breezy way.

"Why, yes.  We'd better have some too--and we may as well have some
light upon the scene.  See to it, Lalante."

"All right, father," said the girl, cheerfully, but inwardly furiously
anathematising Warren for breaking up her last solitude _a deux_.  For
she instinctively realised there would be no further opportunity of its
renewal--either to-night or to-morrow.

Nor--was there.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

BULLY RAWSON--GENERAL RUFFIAN.

Bully Rawson lay in his camp in the Lumisana Forest in north-eastern
Zululand.  He was playing cards with himself, and as he played he
cursed.

Primarily he cursed because he could not quite bring off a move in the
game which, with a real adversary, would inevitably give him an
advantage--profitable but wholly illicit.  Secondarily he cursed merely
by way of something to say.  Thirdly and generally, he cursed from sheer
force of habit; but whichever way he did it, and from whatever motive,
Bully Rawson's language was entirely unprintable, and, in its relation
to the higher Powers, rather bloodcurdling even to those who were by no
means straight-laced.

Now, blowing off a fine stream of such expletive, he rose to his feet,
and flung the whole pack of cards high in the air.  Naturally they would
descend in a wide and scattered shower, then he would make his Swazi boy
pick them up again, and kick him for not doing it quick enough.  This
would relieve his feelings some; and would be consistent with the
methods he usually adopted to justify his _sobriquet_.

Seen erect he was a heavy, thick-set man, with a countenance that was
forbidding to the last degree.  His nose had at one time been broken,
and his eyes rolled fiercely beneath shaggy black eyebrows.  He wore a
long black beard, just turning grey in parts, and plentifully anointed
with tobacco juice; and his hands, knotted and gnarled, seemed to point
to enormous muscular strength.  He looked round upon the sunlit forest,
cursed again, then turned to enter a circular thorn enclosure within
which rose the yellow domes of half a dozen grass huts.

Two native girls--well-formed as to frame, and with faces that would
have been pleasing only that the bare sight of Bully Rawson was not
calculated to bring a pleasant expression into any human countenance--
were squatted on the ground.  Both wore the _impiti_, or reddened cone
of hair rising from the scalp, together with the apron-like _mutya_
which denotes the married state.  They were, in fact, his two wives.

"Where is Pakisa?" he said.

"He?  Away at the wood-cutting," answered one.

"You two then, go and pick up the `pictures' I have scattered."

"And the meat I am roasting--what of it?" said the one who had answered.

"You, Nompai," turning to the other, "You go--_au_! _tyetya_!"

This one got up and went out without a word--taking care not to pass
this manly specimen any nearer than she could help.  As she rose she
slung an infant on to her back--an infant far lighter in colour than the
lightest native.

"You, Nkombazana, you are rising to the heavens," he sneered.  "You are
growing too tall for me.  Now I think some hard stick laid about thy
bones will keep thee from growing so over fast."

The woman's eyes glittered, and a sort of snarl just revealed the fine
white teeth.  But she did not move.  She only said:

"The Snake-doctor--_whau_! his _muti_ is great and subtle."

The white man, in the voice of a wild beast's growl, fired off a storm
of expletives, mixing up Anglo-Saxon where the Zulu fell short of lurid
enough blasphemy.  But Nkombazana answered nothing, and still did not
move.

He made a step towards her, then stopped short.  The allusion was one he
perfectly understood, and it seemed--yes, it seemed almost to cow him.
With her he knew well it would not do to go too far.  She was a Zulu,
and the daughter of a fairly influential chief; the other, Nompai, was a
Swazi and the daughter of nobody in particular, wherefore Nompai came in
for her own share of kicks, and most--not all--of Nkombazana's too.  He
had a lively recollection of a sudden and unaccountable illness--an
internal illness--which had seized upon him on a fairly recent occasion,
and which for hours had put him through the torments of the damned.
This had followed--it might have been a coincidence--right upon a
terrific thrashing he had administered to Nkombazana, and his awful
convulsions had only been allayed by the treatment of a certain
_isanusi_--known to the natives as the Snake-doctor--treatment for which
he had to pay pretty heavily lest worse should befall him.  But though
he frequently abused and snarled at her, he had never laid hand--or
stick--upon his principal wife since.  Indeed he would gladly have been
rid of her at any cost now.  He would not have hesitated to make away
with her, but that he dared not.  He would willingly have sent her back
to her people, but it would never do to arouse their hostility by the
slur upon her that such a course would imply, and have we not said above
that her father was an influential chief?  So to that extent Nkombazana
remained mistress of the situation.

Bully Rawson went into a large hut, which he used as a trading store,
and reaching down a square bottle filled an enamelled iron cup.  No
"trade" gin was this--liquor trading by the way was not allowed in the
Zulu country at that time, but plenty of it was done for all that.  No.
This was excellent Hollands, and having poured the liberal libation down
his throat he went forth again.  There was not much trade doing just
then, but he had entered into a contract for the cutting of poles, to be
taken to the coast and shipped; for which he had obtained a concession
from the local chief.  Now, having lighted his pipe, he strolled
leisurely through the forest to where the sound of saw and axe told that
such work was going on.

Several natives were more or less busily engaged.  These were not Zulus,
for at that time no Zulu had yet learned "the dignity of labour"--not in
his own country at any rate.  They were for the most part.  Tonga boys
from the coast, and, as ill-luck would have it, just as Rawson emerged
from the trees, one of them happened to be squatting on the ground
taking snuff.  His back was towards his fate, nor did any of the others
dare to warn him.  Suddenly he felt as though a tree had fallen upon
him, and the next few moments were spent by his employer in savagely
kicking him round and round the clearing, till at last the luckless
wretch fell on the ground and bowled for mercy.  This he might not have
got but that his afflictor became aware of the presence of three tall
Zulus, who stood watching the proceedings, a gleam of mingled amusement
and contempt upon their fine faces.

"Greeting, Inxele!" said one.

Bully Rawson scowled.  He resented the familiar use of his native name,
instead of the respectful "_'Nkose_."  He further resented the sheaf of
assegais and small shield which each carried, and which should have been
dropped before coming into his camp, or at any rate, while addressing
himself.  But the Zulu is quick to recognise a blackguard and loth to
show him deference, and that this white man was an egregious blackguard
as white men went, these were perfectly well aware.

"I see you, _amadoda_," he answered shortly.

"He, there, has a message," said the first who had spoken, indicating
the only one of the three who was not head-ringed.  "It has travelled
from Tegwini."  [Durban.]

"Well, what is it?" rejoined the white man, shortly.

"It is here," said the unringed native, producing a small packet, which
he carried tied on to the end of a stick.  Rawson snatched it eagerly.
It was a sort of oilskin enclosure.

"Now, what the devil can this be?" he said to himself, fairly puzzled.
But the mystery was soon solved.  The wrappings being undone, revealed
nothing less commonplace that a mere letter--addressed to himself.  Yet
why should the bronze hue of his forbidding countenance dull to a dirty
white as he stared at the envelope?  It might have been because he knew
that writing well, and had cherished the fond delusion that the writer
hadn't the ghost of an idea as to his own whereabouts.  What then?
Well, the writer of that letter had power to hang him.

He remembered to give the Zulus snuff out of a large box which he always
carried, then while they sat down leisurely to enjoy the same, he tore
open the envelope, and that with hands which trembled somewhat.  The
communication, however, was brevity itself.  Thus it ran:

  "A friend of mine--name Wyvern--is going into your part, even if he is
  not already there.  Take care of him.  Do you hear?  _Take care of
  him_.

  "Warren."

Rawson stared at the words while he read them again and again, "Take
care of him."  Oh, yes, he would do that, he thought to himself with a
hideous laugh.  Then he fell to wondering what sort of a man this object
of Warren's solicitude might be--whether, in fact, he would prove an
easy one to "take care of."  Well, that, of course, events would show.
Anyway, what was certain was that Warren's wishes had to be attended to
by him, Bully Rawson.

Turning to the Zulus he asked about news.  Was there any?

Not any, they said.  The country was getting more and more disturbed
because the English Government could not make up its mind.  It made one
arrangement to-day, and another took its place to-morrow, and now nobody
in Zululand knew who was his chief or whether he had any chief at all.
There had been some fighting, they had heard, in Umlandela's country,
but even about that there was no certain news.

After a little similar talk they got up and took their leave.  Rawson,
his mind filled with the untoward turn events had taken, quite forgot to
kick or thrash any more of his labourers.

The sun's rays were lengthening, and with a few parting curses to those
ill-starred mortals he took his way homeward.  The cool shaded forest
gloom was pleasant, but his thoughts were not.  What he was chiefly
concerned about was not the task that Warren had set him to perform.
Oh, dear no.  That, indeed, was, if anything, rather a congenial one to
a born cut-throat such as Bully Rawson.  What concerned him, and that
mightily, was that Warren should have located so exactly his
whereabouts, for he knew that thenceforward he was that astute
practitioner's unquestionable and blindly obedient slave; and the part
of obedient anything, in no wise appealed to the temperament of Bully
Rawson.  If only he could, on some pretext, inveigle Warren himself up
to that part; and with the idea came a conviction of its utter futility.
Warren was one of the sharpest customers this world ever contained, and
none knew this better than he did.

Thus engrossed it is hardly surprising that even such a wide-awake bird
as himself should remain ignorant of the fact that he was being
followed.  Yet he was, and that from the time he had started from the
wood-cutting camp.  Half a dozen lithe, wiry Zulus--all young men--were
on his track, moving with cat-like silence and readiness.  They were not
armed, save with sticks, and these not even the short-handled,
formidable knob-kerrie; but their errand to the white man was of
unmistakable import; and fell withal--to the white man.

Suddenly the latter became aware of their presence, and turned.  They
were upon him; like hounds upon a quarry.  But Bully Rawson, though
unarmed, and the while cursing his folly at being found in that helpless
state, was no easy victim.  He shot out his enormous fist with the power
of a battering-ram, and landing the foremost fair on the jaw, then and
there dropped him.  The second fared no better.  But, with the cat-like
agility of their race, the others, springing around him on all sides at
once--here, there, everywhere--kept outside the range of that terrible
fist, until able to get in a telling blow.  This was done--and the
powerful ruffian dropped in his turn, more than half-stunned, the blood
pouring from a wound in the temple.  Did that satisfy them?  Not a bit
of it.  They then and there set to work and belaboured his prostrate
form with their sticks, uttering a strident hiss with each resounding
thud.  In short, they very nearly and literally beat him to a jelly--a
chastisement, indeed, which would probably have spelt death to the
ordinary man, and was destined to leave this one in a very sore state
for some time to come.  Then, helping up their injured comrades, they
departed, leaving their victim to get himself round as best he could, or
not at all.

You will ask what was the motive for this savage act of retribution.
Some outrage on his part committed upon one of their womenkind?  Or,
these were relatives of his own wives who had chosen to avenge his
ill-treatment of them?  Neither.

In this instance Bully Rawson was destined to suffer for an offence of
which he was wholly innocent; to wit, the bursting of a gun which he had
traded to a petty chief who hailed from a distant part of the country--
for he did a bit of gun-running when opportunity offered.  But the old
fool had rammed in a double charge--result--his arm blown off; and these
six were his sons resolved upon revenge.  They dared not kill him--he
was necessary to far too powerful a chief for that--though they would
otherwise cheerfully have done so; wherefore they had brought with them
no deadly weapons, lest they should be carried away, and effectually
finish him off.  Wherein lay one of life's little ironies.  For his many
acts of villainy Bully Rawson was destined to escape.  For one casualty
for which he was in no sense of the word responsible, he got hammered
within an inch of his life.

It must not be taken for granted that this ruffian was a fair specimen
or sample of the Zulu trader or up-country going man in general, for
such was by no means the case.  But, on the principle of "black sheep in
every flock," it may be stated at once that in this particular flock
Bully Rawson was about the blackest of the black.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

WHAT HLABULANA REVEALED.

In the quadrangle, or courtyard, known as Ulundi Square, in the Royal
Hotel at Durban, two men sat talking.  One we already know, the other, a
wiry, bronzed, and dark-bearded man of medium height, was known to his
acquaintance as Joe Fleetwood, and among the natives as "U' Joe," and he
was an up-country trader.

"You did the right thing, Wyvern, when you decided to come up here," the
latter was saying, "and in a few months' time"--lowering his voice--"if
we pull off this jaunt all right, we need neither of us ever take our
jackets off again for the rest of our natural lives."

"Not, eh?  Didn't know you could make such a rapid fortune in the native
trade."

The other smiled drily.

"Look here, Wyvern.  You only landed last night--and a most infernal
bucketing you seem to have got on that poisonous bar in doing so.  So
that we've had no opportunity of having a straight, square talk.  We
won't have it here--too many doors and windows about for that I propose,
therefore, that we get on a tram and run down to the back beach--we'll
have it all to ourselves there.  First of all, though, we'll have these
glasses refilled.  I don't believe in starting dry.  Boy!"

A turbaned Indian waiter glided up, and reappeared in a moment with two
long tumblers.

"That's good," exclaimed Fleetwood, having poured down more than half of
the sparkling contents of his.  "Durban is one of the thirstiest places
I've ever struck."

Not much was said as they took their way through the bustle of the
streets, bright with the gaudy clothes worn by the Indian population,
whose thin, chattering voices formed as great a contrast to the deep,
sonorous tones of the manly natives of the land as did their respective
owners in aspect and physique.

"By Jove! it brings back old times, seeing these head-ringed chaps about
again," said Wyvern, turning to look at a particularly fine specimen of
them that had just stalked past.  "I wonder if I'd like to go over all
our campaigning ground again."

"Our jaunt this time will take us rather off it.  I say--that time we
ran the gauntlet through to Kambula, from that infernal mountain.  It
was something to remember, eh?"

Wyvern looked grave.

"One might run as narrow a shave as that again, but it's a dead cert we
couldn't run a narrower one," he said.

"Not much.  I say, though.  You've seen some rather different times
since then.  Let on, old chap--is that _her_ portrait you've got stuck
up in Number 3 Ulundi Square?  Because, if so, you're in luck's way, by
jingo you are."

"You're quite right, Fleetwood, as to both ventures.  Only a third
ingredient is unfortunately needed to render the luck complete, and that
is a sufficiency of means."

"That all?  Well, then, buck up, old chap, because I'd lay a very
considerable bet you'll find that difficulty got over by the time you
next set foot in hot--and particularly thirsty--Durban."

Wyvern looked up keenly.  Something in the other's tone struck him as
strange.

"What card have you got up your sleeve, Joe?" he said.  "You let out
something about `a few months' a little while ago.  Well now, I may not
know much about the native trade, but I have a devilish shrewd idea that
a man doesn't scare up a fortune at it in that time."

"You're right there--quite right--and that's the very thing we've come
out to chat about--and sniff the ozone at the same time.  It'll keep
till we get there.  Here's our tram."

These two were great friends.  Fleetwood, indeed, was prone to declare
that he owed his life to the other's deftness and coolness on one
occasion when they had been campaigning together; a statement, however,
which Wyvern unhesitatingly and consistently pooh-poohed.  Anyhow, there
was nothing that Fleetwood would not have done for him; and having lit
upon the marvellous discovery which was behind his sanguine predictions
of immediate wealth, he had written at once to Wyvern to come up and
share it.

A fresh breeze stirred the blue of the waves, as the milky surf came
tumbling up the pebbly beach with thunderous roar.  Out in the roadstead
vessels were riding to their anchors, prominent among them the
blue-white hull and red funnel of the big mail steamer which had brought
Wyvern round the day before.  On the right, as they faced seaward,
beyond the white boil of surf on the bar, rose the bush-clad Bluff,
capped by its lighthouse, and behind, and stretching away on the other
hand, the line of scrub-grown sandhills, beyond which rose the wooded
slopes of the Berea.

"Now we're all right," pronounced Fleetwood, leading the way along the
beach.  "We've got the whole show to ourselves and we know it.  Not a
soul can get within earshot of us and we not know it, which is important
if you've got anything important to talk about."

"Yes," assented Wyvern, lighting his pipe.  "Now--drive ahead.  Found a
gold mine, eh?"

"That's just about what it is; only it's not a gold mine in the ordinary
sense of the word.  It's buried gold."

"The deuce it is.  Where?"

"That's what I'm coming to.  Now listen.  There exists a certain Zulu of
my acquaintance, a head-ringed man named Hlabulana.  I have known him a
long while, some time before the war, in fact, and he's a wonderfully
straight and reliable man.  Well, a good many years ago a strange thing
came within his experience.  Off the coast of Zululand, about where the
Umfolosi river runs out at Saint Lucia Bay, there arrived a ship--a
small ship, I gathered from his account, probably a brig or schooner.
Now this in itself was an event, because there was absolutely no trade
done with Zululand by sea in those days, any more than there is now.
But where this craft undertook to anchor was off one of the most rotten,
swampy and uninhabited parts of the whole coast.  A boat put off from
her and came ashore, and in it were four men.  They landed, and no
sooner had they done so than the vessel, which appears to have been
lying a good way out, was seen suddenly to disappear.  She had, in fact,
gone to the bottom."

"One minute, Fleetwood," interrupted Wyvern.  "When was this--have you
any sort of idea?"

"Yes, I have as it happens.  It can't have been many months before the
big fight between Cetywayo and Umbulazi for the succession.  Now that
came off at the end of 1856, which locates this earlier in the same
year.  Good while back, isn't it?  Close upon thirty years."

"Right.  Go on."

"Well, then, they took some packages out of the boat; not very large
ones, but still, it seems, about as much as they could manage.  They hid
the boat under bushes and started inland.  All this, of course, was
seen, because although that part of the country is poorly populated,
still there were, and are, people there, and such an unusual occurrence
was not likely to go unspotted.  But the Zulus didn't show themselves.
They kept out of sight, and shadowed the four."

"What sort of fellows were the said four?" asked Wyvern.  "Nationality,
for instance.  English?"

"I don't think so.  From the account they were dark-skinned,
black-bearded chaps, and wore large rings in their ears.  I should say--
though I've no personal experience of either--Italians or Spaniards--or,
maybe, Portuguese."

"Ah! very likely.  The latter most probably."

"Well, they held along, inland, keeping the course of the Umfolosi river
not far on their left--that is, travelling north-west.  They seemed to
have their own stores, for they avoided the kraals, and now and then
shot game; for they were well armed.  When they came to where the Black
Umfolosi forks more northward they didn't hesitate but struck up it,
which showed that at least one among them had some previous knowledge of
the country, and this, in fact, was the case."

"How is it they weren't all captured and marched off to the king?"

"Yes.  That's one of the very first questions that occurred to me.
Wyvern, and I put it at once.  Mpande was king then.  The answer was
that the country was in such a disturbed state just then, and the people
so unsettled, that the few living in those parts were extremely
unwilling to go to Nodwengu, for fear they should be obliged to take
sides in the row brewing between Cetywayo and his brother.  You see, the
coast-dwelling Zulus are by no meant the flower of the nation, and these
didn't want to be drawn into any fighting at all.  They preferred to sit
tight at home.  They knew, too, that there was little chance of them
being hauled over the coals for it, because things were so excessively
sultry at and around the seat of government of the Zulu nation, that the
high authorities had no time to bother their heads about anything
further afield.

"Well, things went on so for a time, and their march progressed.  The
people inhabiting the coast country took for granted these chaps had
been shipwrecked, and were making their way to the nearest settlements
of other whites, and it was not till they got in among the passes of the
Lebombo range that they were in any way interfered with, and then not
until they had reached the western side.

"This is where Hlabulana comes into the story.  He was a young 'un
then--an _umfane_.  Two of them surprised him while stealthily watching
the other two, and he says he has been no nearer death, even in the
thickest part of the late war, than he was on that occasion.  One of
them could talk some Zulu, and they only spared him on condition he
should go with them and help carry the loads; and this he agreed to do,
partly out of scare and partly out of curiosity.  Then the time came
when they quarrelled among themselves, the upshot of which was that two
of them knifed the other two in their sleep.

"Now came a deadlock.  The two who were left were unable to carry all
the plunder, besides they were a good deal weakened and exhausted by
their long tramp.  They had to hide most of their stuff, presumably
intending to return for it at some future time.  They buried it
accordingly in a cave on the western side of the Lebombo, but Hlabulana
wasn't allowed to see the exact spot."

"Then how does he know that they buried it?" asked Wyvern.  "They may
have just shoved it into some cleft."

"There was earth on their knives, moist earth such as you'd get in a
damp cool place where the sun never struck.  But he can take us to the
spot; there are several holes and caves around, but I don't think we'll
find much difficulty in hitting off the right one."

"And then?  What makes you think there'll be anything worth finding if
we do, for I suppose the two jokers never came back to dig it up again?"

"They didn't, because to cut a long yarn short, the Zulu-speaking chap
knifed his mate directly after--and he himself was killed by a sort of
outlaw tribe that hung out on the Swazi border.  So there the stuff is,
waiting for us to dig out, and it'll mean a tidy fortune apiece."

"Yes, but what of the stuff being worth finding?" urged Wyvern, again.
He was beginning to feel less sanguine than at first.

"It is--for these reasons.  First of all, the comparatively small
compass of the loads, points to proportionate value.  Then that ruffian
murdered his remaining pal so as to get the benefit of the whole lot--
but, more important still, Hlabulana more than once caught sight of
shining stones, some white, some red and green, in fact, he thinks there
were other colours.  He remembers it perfectly because once he saw them
sorting these into different bags I believe, too, one of the boxes
contained bar gold, for he says it was as heavy as a stone of the same
size.  After the third chap had been knifed Hlabulana thought it about
time to make himself scarce and he accordingly did."

"You believe his yarn then, absolutely?"

"Absolutely."

"Well, but--" went on Wyvern, "why didn't he prospect for the stuff
himself, and get all the benefit of it?"

"The untrousered savage is a queer devil, Wyvern; at least as he is
represented in this country.  The fact is Hlabulana is afraid to meddle
with this himself--Zulus are a superstitious crowd you know.  As he puts
it--white people can do anything, no matter how `_tagati_.'  Wherefore
we are to unearth the stuff and give him a share of the plunder
according to its value."

"Confiding of him, very.  Do you find them often that way?"

"Oftener than you'd think.  When a Zulu has made up his mind you're to
be trusted, he'll trust you almost to an unlimited extent."

"Well now, Fleetwood, where is this Golconda?"

"In one of the wildest and most remote tracts of the Zulu country, the
Lumisana forest.  I've been into it once, but never explored it.
There's no trade there to speak of, or anything to take a white man into
it.  This find, however, is to be made in a sort of amphitheatre, or
hollow, known to the Zulus as Ukohlo.  Now, listen, Wyvern.  We haven't
got to talk about this even between ourselves, unless we're out like
this.  You never know who the deuce may be within earshot."

"That's so.  I'm all safe.  I may be a damn fool at money making, or
rather, money losing, but I do know how to keep my head shut.  But look
here, Joe.  Have you got any theory of your own with regard to this
yarn; for I take it those four beauties didn't come up out of the sea
and lug a few bags of valuable stones up to a remote corner of the Zulu
country and plant them there for the future emolument of you and me?"

"Rather.  I have a theory.  I believe the whole thing spells a big
robbery in some other part of the world, what of or who from is a
mystery and always will be, for you bet these jokers didn't leave any
clue with the stuff they planted.  The fact that the one of them, who
for convenience sake we'll call the leading rip, could talk some Zulu
points to the fact that he at any rate had been there before, that the
Zululand coast was their deliberate objective, and they couldn't well
have struck a better one.  Whether they stole the ship as well is
another question, or whether there were more on board her, and these
four managed to scuttle her so as to destroy all trace and then clear
out with the only boat, is a mystery too.  But obviously they reckoned
on getting through into Transvaal territory and that way to Europe, thus
completely hiding their trail, which was an ingenious idea."

Wyvern puffed at his pipe for a minute or two.  Then seriously:

"What about this, Joe?  This stuff--if it is the proceeds of a robbery--
what right have we to benefit by it?"

Fleetwood started, stared, then threw back his head and roared.

"Good Lord, Wyvern, you ought to have been a parson.  I wouldn't do a
shot on anyone unfairly, as you know.  Man alive, but I was only giving
you one of my theories--I may have others.  Here's one.  You know from
time to time yarns crop up in the papers about buried treasure in the
West Indies and all sorts of those old piratical romps.  Well, this may
be a case in point, and these oily-looking, cut-throat scoundrels may
have struck upon just one of these finds.  To save awkward questions,
and the possibility of awkward claims as to `treasure trove,' and all
that, they may have hit upon the dodge of bringing it across the sea
right out of the ordinary course.  Well, now, that theory is just as
good as the other.  It may be hundreds of years since the swag had a
lawful owner or owners.  Eh?"

"Yes, that's all right too."

"Very well then.  We are just as much entitled to the use of it as
anyone else.  We want money.  I do, and judging from that portrait we
were talking about just now, why, you poor old chap, you want it a
darned sight more.  Is that sound reasoning?"

"Perfectly."  His last sight of Lalante came before Wyvern's mental
gaze; the bitterness and desolation of their parting.  Oh, anything that
should bring her to him, should secure her to him, provided it was not
downright dishonest--and what would he not go through!

"Mind you," went on Fleetwood, "we haven't got the stuff yet, and it'll
be a job carrying plenty of risk with it before we do.  The Zulu country
is a simmering volcano just now over the restoration of Cetywayo.  The
Usutu faction--that is the King's faction--and the other side bossed by
John Dunn, Sibepu, Hamu and the rest, are glaring at each other all
ready to jump at each other's throats, and when they do it'll be all
hell let loose.  Our war'll be a fleabite to it.  We'll go in, of
course, ostensibly as traders, and then be guided by events."

Wyvern nodded.  The prospect of adventure fired his blood.  In it he
would at any rate partially lose that sense of desolation which was upon
him day and night.

"So you see, old chap," went on Fleetwood, "I didn't lug you up here to
make your fortune out of trading beads, and butcher knives, and yards of
Salampore cloth; and, I hope before this time next year to come and do
best man at your wedding.  Eh?"

"That you shall if it comes off--which of course will depend on our
success.  By the way, where is this Hlabulana now?"

"He's at a kraal on the Umvoti, near Stanger, keeping in touch with me.
Success?  Of course we'll meet success.  Now we've had our say we'll go
back and drink to it.  After all Durban's an infernally thirsty place.
Success!  I should think so."

Yet at that moment Bully Rawson, unscrupulous ruffian and general
cut-throat, was repeating over and over again Warren's emphatic, if
laconic, instructions, "Take care of him.  Do you hear?  _Take care of
him_," and was promising himself that he would.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

MNYAMANA'S CATTLE.

High up among the crags they crouched, like eagles looking forth from an
eyrie, sweeping indeed with eagle-like gaze the vast expanse of plain
which lay in many an undulating roll, outspread beneath.

Three dark forms, long and lithe, destitute of clothing save for the
_mutya_ and a few war adornments in the way of cow-hair tufts, or
feathers.  Beside each were several bright, broad-bladed assegais, and
medium-sized shields, just where they had been deposited.  Far away in
the distance rose a cloud of dust--a moving cloud of dust.

"_Ou_! the hand of the spoiler sweeps.  The dust which it raises floats
away, that which causes it moves on."

A hum of assent greeted this murmured remark, and the eager attention of
the look-out was redoubled.  The face of the mountain fell grandly away
in terraced slopes, rows of great krantzes intervening.  There was a
glorious feeling of air, and height, and domination from this lofty post
of outlook.  Far above, a number of white specks soared and floated
against the blue empyrean.  The instinct of the vulture is unerring, and
that instinct had been kept well in practice as regarded this disturbed
region for some time past.

The dust cloud moved onward, drawing nearer, yet still a great way off.
The faces of the watching three were rigid in their eagerness, the eyes
dilated, the nostrils distended like those of a stag snuffing the wind.
Then the one who had spoken, taking a broad assegai from the bundle
which lay beside him, slid, with a serpentine writhe, down from his
coign of vantage, then when the ridge of this was well between him and
the expanse over which he had been watching, he drew himself up in a
sitting posture, and holding the spear so that it pointed vertically
upwards, took one glance at the sun, then twirled the bright blade
slowly, facing down upon the valley beneath.  This was done several
times, until an answering gleam appeared far below.  The signaller,
satisfied, wormed himself back into his former position on the very
crest of the mountain.  They renewed their watch, those human eagles,
their tense, self-contained excitement deepening as the moments fled by,
and it preluded a swoop.

Looking back, to whence had come the answering signal gleam, a maze of
broken valley, interseamed with dongas, lay outspread.  Opposite and
beyond this, a further rocky range towered in a crescent wall.  A rugged
wilderness, silent, deserted, given over to savage solitude.  Yet--was
it?

Rank upon rank they crouched, those dark rows of armed warriors, their
variegated shields and broad assegais lying upon the ground in front of
them.  Row upon row of eager, expectant faces; set, intense; the roll of
eyeballs alone giving sign of mobile life, a constrained hum passing
down the gathering as they drank in the impassioned and burning words of
the speaker.

He was a largely-built, thick-set Zulu of a rich copper colour, which
threw out in unwonted blackness the jetty shine of his head-ring.  He
held himself with the erect, haughty ease of a king addressing his
subjects, of a despot speaking to those who owned their very lives only
at his will.  Yet, he was not the King.

He had begun addressing them in the sitting posture, but as he warmed to
his subject had risen to his feet, and now strode up and down as he
spoke.

"I am nobody.  I am a boy.  I am a child among the sons of Senzangakona,
the Root of the Tree that overshadows the land, the rise of the sun that
sheds light on the people.  It is not I who should be talking here
to-day, Amazulu.  _Hau_! even as that Great One foretold, he who died by
`the stroke of Sopuza' the land is splintered and rent.  He,
Senzangakona's great son, he whom the whites have taken from us, the
shine of whose head-ring is dulled in his prison--what of him?  Not
little by little, but in large cuts his `life' is being rent from him.
Where are they whom he left--they who were as his life?  Ha! are they
not given over as a prey to a traitor; the spoiler of his father's
house, the son of Mapita.  Who is he?  The dog of him who is gone.  Who
is Sibepu?"

"_Whau_!  Sibepu!" broke from the listeners.  "The spoiler of his
father's house!"

"_Eh-he_!  The spoiler of his father's house!" echoed the group of
chiefs, squatted behind the speaker.

"From the meanest of the nation," went on the speaker, "the _Abelungu_
have chosen those who should be kings over us.  Umfanawendhlela, he who
now sits at the royal kraals on the Mahlabatini.  Who is he?  Who is
Umfanawendhlela?"

"_Whau_!  Umfanawendhlela!" broke forth again the contemptuous roar.

"Yet such as these are the _Abelungu_ now using as their dogs, setting
them on to hunt those before whom they formerly cringed and crawled.
Those of the House of Senzangakona are already hungry.  All their cattle
is being taken by these dogs of the _Abelungu_, and with the women of
the Royal House they can do what they will, for have they not already
done so?  But behind these sits another dog and laughs.  U' Jandone!
Who is Jandone?"

"_Hau_!  U' Jandone!"

This time the roar was indescribable in its volume of execration.  It
seemed to split the surrounding rocks with the concentrated vengefulness
of its echo.  For a few moments the speaker could not continue, so
irrepressible were the murmurs of wrath and hate which seethed through
the ranks of his listeners.

"Who made him a Zulu," he went on, "since he came into the country
white?  Who made him rich--rich in cattle, and wives, and power?  Who
but him who is gone?  But when the storm gathered and the _Abelungu_
invented childish grievances and said `the might of Zulu must be
crushed'--did this one who had come here white to be made black; who had
come here poor to be made rich--did he stand by that Great One's side
and say `This is my father who has made me great.  This is my friend, by
whom I am what I am.  I hold his hand.  His fall is my fall.  Did he?'
_Hau_!  Jandone!"

"_Hau_!  Jandone!" repeated the audience once more in deep-toned wrath
and disgust.

Gloomy lightning seemed to shine from the chief's eyes, as with head
thrown back and a sneer on his lips, he contemplated the humour of the
gathering.  He proceeded:

"Our father, Mnyamana, is not here to-day.  He is old, and it were
better for him to die hungry at home than in the white man's prison.
But upon him, heavily have the dogs of the white man fallen, upon him,
the valued adviser of two kings.  Even now they are eating him up.
But--shall they?  Behold," and he threw out a hand.

The assembly, following the gesture, turned.  High up on the hillside
something gleamed--gleamed and glittered again and again.  It was the
answering signal to those who watched on the mountain crest, and--it was
the second answer.

With a deep, fierce murmur the warriors, gripping their shields and
weapons, sprang to their feet as one man.  Again Dabulamanzi waved his
hand.

"In silence," he said.  "In silence.  So shall we fall upon them the
easier."

In silence, accordingly, the great impi moved forth, no shouting, no
war-song--but all the more terrible for that.  It differed from the
state of things prior to, and at the time of the war, in that here were
no regiments--head-ringed men and youngsters marching side by side.  But
upon every face was the grim dark look of hate, not merely the eager
anticipation of impending battle, but worse.  The fraternal feud is
proverbially the most envenomed.  Against no white invader--English or
Dutch--were these going forth but against those of their own kindred and
colour, towards whom they felt exactly as Royalist did towards Roundhead
in a different quarter of the globe three centuries earlier.

Through a long, narrow defile, running round the base of the mountain on
which the outlook was posted, streamed the dark human torrent.  On over
each roll of plain it poured.  At length it halted on a ridge.  Grey
whirling clouds of dust close at hand drew nearer and nearer, and
through them the hides and horns of driven cattle.  At the sight a
fierce gasp went up from the impi, and the warriors looked for the word
of their leaders to fall on.

The beasts were driven by a large armed force, though smaller
numerically than this which had come to recapture them.

Those in charge, taken by surprise, halted their men.  They had walked
into a wasp's nest, yet were not disposed to climb down without an
effort.  So they stood waiting.

They had not long to wait.  The impi headed straight for the cattle, and
with a decision of purpose that left nothing to be desired, wedged
between them and their drivers, and headed them off in another
direction.  The animals, panic-stricken, began to run wildly; cows with
their calves racing one way, staid oxen, caught with the fever of the
scare, now and then charging their new drivers, but these were seasoned
to that sort of thing, and would skip nimbly out of the way, or roll on
the ground, just in time to avoid the head thrust, while to all, each
and every incident risky or laughable, was a source of infinite sport.
One bull--chocolate-hided, sharp-horned--grew more than a danger, for
with that shrill growling bellow emitted by his kind when partly scared
and wholly angered, he drove his horns clean through a young warrior,
flinging the rent carcase furiously in the air.  But this in nowise
detracted from the fun in general.  Him however they incontinently
assegaied.

The while a hubbub of voices rose loud through the trampling and
bellowing of the cattle, whose drivers were inclined to show fight.
This was in a measure stilled as the leader of the impi strode to the
fore.  As a brother of the exiled king he was too big a man for even the
opposition party to treat otherwise than with a sulky respect.

"_Whou_, Qapela!" spoke Dabulamanzi, confronting the leader of the band
that was driving the cattle.  "What is this we see?  A fighting leader
of the Nokenke regiment, who slew three whites with his own assegai at
Isandhlwana, now turned white man's dog, now snapping at his absent
king.  _Whou_, Qapela!"

"_Whou_!  Qapela!" echoed the warriors, in roaring derision, as more and
more came crowding up.

He, thus held up to scorn, a ringed man of middle age, scowled savagely.
It was one thing to be derided by a branch of the Royal Tree, quite
another to be savagely hooted by a pack of unringed boys.  It needed but
a spark to set the train alight, to bring on a savage and bloody fight
between the two rival factions.

"No dog of any white man am I, _Ndabezita_," [Note 1] he answered,
gloomily defiant.  "I am but fulfilling the `word' of my chief."

"And thy chief?  Who is he?" went on Dabulamanzi, his head thrown back,
in the pride of his royal rank as he confronted the man.  "U' Jandone?"

"_Whou_!  Jandone!" roared the warriors in scathing derision.

"Not so, _Ndabezita_," replied the other, in a cool sneering voice, as
that of one who is about to score.  "My chief is a branch of the Royal
Tree; a long branch of the Royal Tree--ah-ah--a long branch.  What of U'
Hamu?"

The point was that he had named another brother of the King, an older
one than Dabulamanzi; one of the chiefs under the Wolseley settlement,
who with John Dunn and Sibepu, and one or two more, was actively opposed
to Cetywayo's return.

"Ha!  A long branch!" sneered Dabulamanzi.  "A branch _cut-off_ from the
Royal Tree.  How is that, Qapela?"

"_Whou_!  Qapela!" roared the warriors again, pointing their assegais at
him in derision.

"As to `cut-off,' I know not," answered the other, stung out of his
natural respect towards one of the Royal House.  "This I know--that that
branch now puts forth the most leaves.  The `word' from it was: `Take
the cattle of Mnyamana,' and I have taken them."

"But no further shalt thou take them, dead leaf of the cut-off branch,"
replied Dabulamanzi, "for we have taken them from thee.  See.  There
they go."

Away--now quite at a distance, the animals were visible, going at a run,
propelled towards the mountain fastnesses by quite a number of men.
This fact, too, Qapela noted, and noted with significance, for it meant
that by just that number of warriors was the opposing impi reduced, thus
bringing it as nearly as possible upon equal terms with his own.  He had
lost the cattle--for which he was responsible, and the chief to whom he
did _konza_ was no indulgent master.  But what if he were to avenge
their loss?  The obligation he would thus lay himself under would far,
far outweigh the mere carrying out of his original orders.  He stole one
quick look over his followers.  Yes.  The thing could be done, if only
he could convey some sort of word or signal that they should strike
immediately and in concert.

But there was with Dabulamanzi's force an old induna named Untuswa, a
scarred old battle-dog whose whole life had been spent in a laughing
acquaintance with Death, by the side of whose crowded experience such a
crisis as this was as the merest child's play; a born strategist,
moreover, whose rapidity of plan had turned the scale of more than one
hard fought and bloody struggle.  He, while these amenities were going
forward, had taken but scant notice of them; instead, had let his
observation--the outcome of exhaustive experience--go as to the attitude
of the other side, and also that of his own.  With regard to the latter,
a mere breathed word here and there had been sufficient.  Warriors had
slipped away unostentatiously from his side--to mingle with the rest--
far and near--and as they went, they, too, carried a word.

Untuswa read Qapela's mind, and Untuswa knew, none better, the supreme
advantage of getting in the first blow.  Now he lifted up his voice and
roared in deep sonorous tone, the war-shout of the King's party.

"Usutu!"

Like an answering wave in thunder on an iron-bound coast it was taken up
and rolled through the multitude.  The ranks seemed to tighten a moment,
then hurled themselves upon the opposing force.  For a few moments there
was deadly work--the tramp of feet, the flapping of shield against
shie|d, the death-hiss--the strident "_I-jji_!  _I-jji_!" as the spear
or heavy knob-stick struck home; then Qapela's force, overwhelmed,
demoralised by the suddenness of the onslaught, broke and fled in blind,
scattered confusion, the Usutu impi in hot pursuit.  A mandate from
Dabulamanzi, however, recalled this, as far as was practicable.  He had
no wish to destroy his own people, any more of them, that is, than was
absolutely necessary, only to show that the King, though an exile, was
still the Great Great One, in whose light they lived, and that his wrath
could still burn far and terrible upon these rebellious ones.  But that
mandate could not reach those in the forefront of the pursuit, who,
carried away by the irresistible dash and excitement of it all, were
already far beyond reach of recall.  So the chase kept on, not always to
the advantage of the pursuers, for these would often turn--and then it
was as the fighting of a cornered wild animal.  Mile upon mile this
fierce running fight went on, until the shades of evening began to
deepen, and then there was just one left, a young man, lithe and fleet
of foot; and he, beset by a relentless score, stumbled, gasping and
exhausted, his breath coming in labouring sobs, into a white man's camp,
to fall, prone, incapable of further movement, nearly across the white
men's fire.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  A term of honour accorded to male members of the Royal House.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

THE REFUGEE.

"Yes, I'm afraid there's thunder in the air," said Joe Fleetwood, lazily
sharpening a well-worn sheath-knife upon the iron rim of a waggon wheel.
"All these runners passing to and fro--bristling with assegais, too,
and in too much almighty hurry to stop and talk--seem to point that
way."

"How'll that affect our scheme?" said Wyvern lazily; he was lying on his
back on the ground, his head on his hands and a pipe between his teeth,
looking the picture of ease and content.  A little way off the waggon
boys--all Natal natives--were washing and scrubbing the enamelled metal
plates on which their masters had not long ago been lunching, chatting
among themselves in subdued tones; and, squatting apart, and throwing at
them an occasional remark, was a head-ringed Zulu.  Away in front
stretched an amphitheatre of mountains, whose wall-like cliffs gleamed
in the afternoon sun.

"It may affect us this way," went on Fleetwood, "that if the rival
parties come to blows we may be expected to take sides or be chawed up
between the two."

"The deuce!  Well, we didn't reckon on a second edition of '79, as part
of our plans, did we?  It won't forward what we came up for, either."

"No, it won't.  Another bad sign is we've done next to no trade.  When
once it became patent we weren't gun-runners, they've kept at a
respectful distance."

They had come into the Zulu country as ordinary traders, with two
waggons.  Fleetwood, of course, was well aware that under existing
circumstances trade would be almost at a standstill, but the waggon
loads were a pretext; a blind to cover their real intentions.

Now the Zulu before mentioned got up, stretched himself, and strolled
leisurely over to them.  He was an elderly man with a pleasing face,
and, if anything, inclined to stoutness.

"There is thunder in the air," he said, in a casual tone.

"I made that remark but now, Hlabulana," answered Fleetwood.  "Well?"

"While sitting over yonder my ears were open to other sounds than the
chatter of these Amakafula," went on the Zulu in the same low,
matter-of-fact tones.  "They heard sounds of war."

"Of war?" repeated Joe, examining the edge of the knife.  "Now what
sounds were they, Hlabulana?"

"The rush of many feet--the rumble of hoofs.  Men are striving, and it
is for cattle."

"I hear it again," said Hlabulana, who had resumed his squatting
attitude.

"So do I," said the trader, who had seated himself on the ground, and
who, while not seeming to, was listening intently.

"What are you two chaps yarning about?" said Wyvern, raising himself
upon one elbow.  He had mastered the Zulu tongue so far but
indifferently.  "Hallo!  What the deuce is that?  Did you hear it?"

Fleetwood nodded.  The waggon boys had dropped their work and sprang to
their feet, uttering quick exclamations as they stared forth over the
veldt.  Again that dull and distant roar boomed forth upon the lazy air.

"You and I have heard it before, Wyvern.  At Hlobane, for instance.  How
about the King's war-shout?"

Wyvern started, and looked grave.

"`Usutu'?" he said, listening again.  "Why, so it might be.  Shall we be
attacked then, because if so, I'm afraid our chances are slight."

"I don't think they'll interfere with us.  What do you think,
Hlabulana?" relapsing into the vernacular.  "What is being done yonder?"

He addressed, who had been listening intently, shrugged his shoulders
slightly.

"I think that the Abesutu and the children of the white man's chiefs
have--met," he answered, a comical crinkle coming round the corners of
his eyes.  "_Whau_! they are always meeting, only to-day there seem more
of them than usual.  See.  They draw nearer."

Now the sounds of the tumult, though faint, were audible without an
effort.  It was noticeable that the Natal boys edged very close indeed
to their white masters.  The Native Contingent at Isandhlwana had been
made up largely of their kindred, and the tradition thereof was still
fresh and green.  A quick exclamation escaped them.

For, over the low ridge sparsely covered with bush, about a mile
north-west of their outspan, figures had now come in sight--figures
running--dark figures--and now and again something gleamed.  More and
more came over, and among them were more and more points that gleamed.
Fleetwood and Wyvern exchanged a word, then dived into a waggon, to
re-appear in a moment, each with a double gun and a very business-like
revolver indeed.  The native boys fished out a knob-kerrie apiece from
somewhere--not that it would have been of much use, still it was some
sort of a weapon.  The only one who betrayed not the smallest sign of
excitement was Hlabulana, the Zulu.

"They are running," he said--"running away.  They are not running to
attack.  _Wou_!  _Pakati_!" he exclaimed, as one of the fugitives,
overtaken by three pursuers, fell.

And now the rout drew very near.  There was little noise and no
shouting--presumably pursuers and pursued required all their wind.  Then
the spectators could see that of the latter there was only one left.

He was a young man, tall and long-legged, and with head down he covered
the ground with great strides, just keeping his distance and never
looking round.  Clearly he was making for the white man's protection as
his only chance, but--would the white man have the power to afford it?

Eagerly and with deepening excitement did the spectators watch the
progress of this straining chase.  Ah! he is down! no, it is only a
stumble, and as he recovers himself the exultant yell changes to accents
of rage.  One or two stop, and hurl assegais, but these fall short.  A
hundred yards more--fifty, forty, ten, and then--the fugitive staggers
up and falls--almost into the fire--as we have seen.

The pursuit made no halt, but poured on as though to overwhelm the camp
itself.

"We can't have this, Wyvern," muttered Fleetwood uneasily.  Then, in the
Zulu: "Halt.  He who comes ten steps further--_drops_."

The effect was magical.  This white man was known to them, known to them
too as one who in a matter of this kind might be relied upon to keep his
word.  Wherefore they halted with an alacrity that was wholly
commendable.  A murmur went up.

"It is Ujo!"

"That is right," briskly answered Fleetwood.  "And knowing that you know
me.  And knowing me, you know that any man who takes refuge in my camp
is safe: safe from anybody, as long as I am safe, this is.  Now--has
anybody any inclination to try if I am safe?"

The opposing crowd consisted of young men; hot-headed, hot-blooded young
savages, armed, and having already tasted blood.  Not yet were they
inclined to relax hold upon their prey.  Vociferating, they waved their
spears--many of them blood-stained--and their shields, roaring for their
prize, their victim.  And, by now others having come up to swell the
tumult, there were about threescore of them.

"Give him to us!" they bellowed.  "He is ours.  But for your camp our
spears would have drunk his blood ere this."

Fleetwood stood facing them, and shook his head.

"No.  I will not give him to you," he answered, quietly decisive.

The uproar grew.  Angry voices were raised in hubbub and spears waved.
It looked as if a sudden impetuous charge, which would have overwhelmed
all before it, was about to be made.  But somehow those two
double-barrels--for Wyvern had taken his cue from the other and, aiming
low, had got his piece well upon the confronting mass--constituted a
moral force there was no gainsaying.  They made no aggressive move.

"This is our meat you have taken, Ujo," called out one, who seemed the
most prominent among the excited Usutus.  "Meat for the teeth of our
spears.  Now, give it up, for we will have it."

"You will not have it, Jolwana, not from here, at any rate," answered
Fleetwood, who knew the speaker.  "_Au_! and how didst thou win thy
head-ring?  Was it not in company with a son of Majendwa?  And what of
him who lies here?  He, too, is a son of Majendwa.  _Hamba gahle_!
Yes--go carefully, for the sons of Majendwa are many."

He thus addressed as Jolwana seemed beside himself with rage.  He
addressed a few furious words to the others in a ferocious undertone.  A
move forward was made and a threatening roar went up from the whole
pack.  But simultaneously with it, a shot rang out sharp.  Jolwana's
shield, then flourished over his head, was pierced, and Jolwana's
fingers ached with the concussion.

"I was but playing with thee, Jolwana," went on Fleetwood, slipping a
fresh cartridge into his rifle barrel with lightning-like rapidity.
"Stop now, or next time thou goest into the Great Unknown.  Then--what
of thy two young wives--thy new, pleasant young wives?  Whose will they
then become?"

At these words, another roar went up, but it was a roar of laughter.
Fleetwood not only knew the other, but knew his circumstances
thoroughly.  A young man to be head-ringed, and one whom Cetywayo had
allowed to _tunga_ near the close of the war, and that for a special and
secret service performed, he had the reputation of being intensely
jealous.  With this knowledge used with rare tact, Fleetwood had
succeeded in turning the angry crowd into a laughing crowd, and it is a
truism that a laughing crowd ceases to be dangerous.  This crowd now
roared with laughter again and again, for the Zulu has a keen sense of
humour.  So these heated combatants, themselves and their weapons
bespattered with the blood of fleeing fugitives, forgot their
blood-lust, and roared with genuine merriment again and again.  But
Jolwana, their leader, the only one head-ringed among them, did not seem
to enter into the joke at all.  However, he stopped, which was all
Fleetwood--and, incidentally, Wyvern--wanted of him.

"A son of Majendwa!" he scoffed.  "_Au_! but a son of Majendwa ceases to
be such when he is found on that side.  He has become a hunting dog of
the _Abelungu_."

"Who art thou?" asked Fleetwood of the fugitive, who had now recovered
from his exhaustion.  "I recall thy face but thy name escapes me."

"Mtezani-ka-Majendwa," was the answer.  "It is right what he has said."

"Ka-Majendwa?  Yes?" rejoined Fleetwood, half questioningly.  "Majendwa
has many sons.  Yet they--and all the Abaqulusi are on the side of the
Abesutu?"

"As to that, my father, there is something of a tale to tell.  Yet I
have not done with these"--with a wave of the hand towards Jolwana and
his followers.  "Ah--ah--I have not done with these, but one man can do
nothing against threescore.  Still, my time will come."

Fleetwood, whose sympathies were all with the King's party, eyed him
doubtfully, though, of course, as one who had thrown himself on his
protection the young man's safety was absolutely inviolable in so far as
he was able to assure it.  All of which Mtezani read.

"Something of a tale to tell, my father," he repeated.  "Wait till you
have heard it.  And rest assured that in keeping me breathing this day
you and the _Inkosi_ yonder"--designating Wyvern--"have not done the
worst thing for yourselves you have ever done in your lives."

Now a great shout arose from the armed crowd, which had been seated,
taking snuff.

"_Hlalani gahle Abelungu_!  We return to the Branch--the Branch of the
Royal Tree!  _Hlala gahle_, Mtezani-ka-Majendwa!  _Wou_!
Mtezani-ka-Majendwa!"

It was the same mocking roar which had greeted the mention of the names
of the chiefs as they were cited during Dabulamanzi's stimulating
address to his impi.  The refugee scowled savagely after the retreating
warriors--those who would have taken his life--and muttered.  Fleetwood
and Wyvern were delighted to see their backs, and returned the farewell
with great cordiality.  The Natal boys breathed freely once more.  But
Hlabulana, the Zulu, had sat serenely taking snuff all this while as
though no heated--and critical--difference of opinion were taking place
within a thousand miles of him.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

NEARING THE GOAL.

After this they held on their way without molestation, neither did they
come across any further active indications as to the state of the
country.  Yet, though not active, the volcano was by no means extinct.

They progressed slowly--this partly on account of the ruggedness of the
ground, over which nothing but South African built waggons could have
travelled without coming in halves, partly because Fleetwood was careful
to keep up appearances, and hide the real objective of their _trek_.
Wherefore for days they would outspan near a group of kraals, although
of trade there was next to nothing done.  At this course of action
Wyvern in no wise chafed.  He was one of those rare units who recognise
that in a given line the other man is an authority while he himself is
not, consequently must be allowed an ungrudged free hand.  For another
thing he was vividly interested.  He had fought against the Zulus, and
of course except in battles and skirmishes had seen nothing of them.
Now he was seeing a great deal of them.  There was nothing he enjoyed so
much, for instance, as sitting in a cool hut during the hot hours of the
day, with three or four fine warriors, who possibly had been foremost in
striving to shed his blood during the comparatively recent war, while
they told their stories of this or that battle in which he himself had
taken part.  He was astonished, too, at the readiness with which he
followed such narratives, considering that he was as yet very far from
at home in the language.  Still, gesture, expression, went a long way,
and when he was in doubt there was always Fleetwood to help.  But he was
absorbing the language more and more every day; and the friendly ways of
the people, frankly friendly but not servile, independent but always
courteous, had long since brought him round to the opinion arrived at by
others before him, with opportunities of judging, that the average Zulu
is a gentleman.  The people, for their part, were strongly attracted to
him.  His fine stature and presence in the first place appealed
powerfully, as it always does to a fine race of warlike savages, in the
next, his thoroughbred look, and well-bred ways told too; and the
latter, no people are more capable of appreciating than these.  As for
the part he had taken against them in the late war, no shadow of a
grudge or resentment did they bear against him for it; on the contrary,
they looked upon him with enhanced respect on the strength of it; even
as he himself had predicted to Lalante would be the case.  A man must
fight at the "word" of his king, was their way of looking at it.  They
and the whites had met in fair fight; sometimes one side had got the
best of it, and sometimes the other.  There was no room for rancour on
account of anything so plain and obvious.  So Wyvern greatly enjoyed
those hours spent in the company of dusky warriors, with a cool bowl of
freshly-brewed _tywala_ before him, the clinging cockroaches shimmering
in the thatch of the hut overhead, while they vividly recapitulated the
stirring times, not so long past, or mapped out with small stones on the
floor--and with wonderful accuracy--the scene of more than one pitched
battle from the point of view of their own position and tactics.  And it
might be that the time was coming when this good understanding should
stand him in some stead in the hour of his sore peril and need.

And the incidents of the _trek_, and this in itself, was no mere picnic.
There were times when the conditions of the road--though road in
anything like the ordinary sense of the word there was none--were
frequently such as to render five miles a day the utmost limits of their
advance; when they would spend half a day stuck in a river-bed, with the
flood steadily rising, the result of that slaty, blue-black curtain of
cloud forming the background further up in the hills; when the storm
beat down upon them in its terrific crash, and the whole atmosphere
seemed tinged with incandescent electricity; and only by a well-nigh
superhuman effort of desperation could they at length induce the span to
move at the critical moment, failure in which would mean loss of half
their outfit and of more than one life.  Or when, after a tremendous
rain-burst, the wheels would sink in the boggy soil, rendering it
necessary to unload the contents of both waggons and dig a way out; and
even then it might be necessary to chop a number of great thorn boughs
in order to construct a sufficiently firm way.  Incidents such as these
would constitute a sufficiency of hard labour--in a steaming climate,
too--at which an English navvy, if put, would not hesitate to go on
strike.  No, this _trek_ decidedly was not a picnic.  Yet through it
all--drenchings, heat, exhaustion, what not--Wyvern never turned a hair.
He was always equable, always ready to take things as they came.
Fleetwood, less self-contained, was prone to fire off language of a more
or less sultry nature upon such occasions.

"I wouldn't curse so much if I were you, Joe," laughed Wyvern once.  "It
must be so infernally additionally exhausting."  And the other had
laughed, and, while thoroughly concurring, had explained that he
couldn't help it.

Plenty of compensations were there, however, for these and other
incidents of the road.  When they got into the forest country sport was
fairly plentiful, and when Wyvern brought down a splendid koodoo bull,
shot fair and clean through the heart, it was a moment in his life not
the least thrilling that he had known; and instinctively he had gloated
over the great spiral horns, picturing them at Seven Kloofs--when he had
bought it back, which of course he fully intended to do, as one of the
results of their successful quest--and himself and Lalante, in close
juxtaposition, admiring them while he went over some of the incidents of
their eventful _trek_--incidentally, perhaps not for the first time.
Then the _trek_, under the glorious moon with the breaths of night
distilling around, the whole atmosphere redolent of life and
health-giving openness; or, failing the said moon, the blue-black
velvety vault of heaven aglow with myriad stars, seeming to hang down to
the earth itself with a luscious brilliance unknown to the severe
northern skies; vivid meteors and streak-like falling stars flashing
with a frequency only to be appreciated by those whom circumstances lead
to passing many nights in the open.  So, as they moved on, slowly, but
surely as they hoped, towards their goal, these were indeed
compensations.

And Lalante?  She was ever in his thoughts, ever enwrapped in every
joyous communing with joyous Nature, or in time of toil and hardship,
such toil or hardship was being endured for her.  Often, at the midnight
outspan, when Fleetwood had laughingly declared that he, having nothing
particularly pleasant to think about, and being most infernally sleepy,
was going to turn in, Wyvern would sit, or pace up and down, hour upon
hour, while the Southern Cross turned in the heavens, and give his
powers of imagination and recollection play.  He pictured her as he saw
her last--heart-wrung; as he used to see her every day, sweet, strong,
smiling, in the full glow of her splendid youth and health; his, for she
had given herself to him; and the thought thrilled him until he could
conjure up her presence here, here in this savage solitude, could hear
her voice in his ear, as the tiger wolves slunk and howled dismally in
the surrounding brake, even as he had heard it again and again on the
moonlit stoep at Seven Kloofs.  He had received letters from her since
he left, until he had been beyond the reach of receiving letters at
all--brave, true, loving letters--sweet beyond all conception of
sweetness; treasured beyond all earthly possessions, and in his midnight
pacings, when all around was still as death except the weird voices of
the wild, he would bring out one or other of these and re-read it by the
light of the great overhanging moon.  Ah, yes!  This love was worth a
lifetime of toil and pain, and it had come to him, all so suddenly, so
naturally.  Did he appreciate it the less on that account?  Not one
whit.  He would achieve the object of his quest, and then--and then--

And then came as a refrain certain words he had heard uttered long ago
by a very valued friend of his--incidentally, a highly-placed dignitary
of the Catholic Church--when he had been remarking upon the position and
circumstances of somebody which should leave nothing to be desired, and
which for all that, covered "a thorn in the flesh"--"It is not intended
that anyone should be perfectly happy in this world."  Wyvern had
realised the truth of this then, as indeed none but a fool could have
failed to realise it, since it was a truth borne out by all experience.
Now it came back to him with force, and alone with the solitude of the
wild, he looked reverently up to the moonlit heavens with an aspiration
that here might be the exception which should prove the rule.

The young Zulu whom they had rescued had shown no desire to leave them.
He had tacitly and naturally fallen in with their party as though one of
it, and Fleetwood was not at all unwilling that he should; for he was a
fine, active, warrior-like specimen of his race and came of a splendid
fighting stock.  There was no telling when such advantages might not be
of solid use to his rescuers.  He was a son--one of many--of a powerful
chief whose clan dwelt in the mountainous fastnesses in the north-west
of the country, and entirely and whole-heartedly attached to the cause
of the exiled and captive King.  He, Mtezani, had thrown in his lot with
the other side, not through conviction, but to get the better of his
brothers, with whom he had quarrelled over the division of certain
cattle, their patrimony.  Besides, he wanted to _tunga_, and take a
wife--he explained frankly enough to Fleetwood.  He had heard that under
the chiefs set up by the English, any man was at liberty to do this
whenever he chose; whereas his father, Majendwa, was among the most
conservative of Zulus, and strongly objected to this young bull-calf
setting aside the traditions of the nation, and daring to aspire to the
head-ring without leave from the Great Great One--who, of course, was
not there to grant it.  They had done him out of his cattle, he
declared, so that he should have no _lobola_ to offer for any girl.

This was a situation which, we may be sure, strongly appealed to Wyvern,
who reflected, whimsically enough, that he himself was much in the same
position.  He accordingly took a great fancy to Mtezani, and the young
Zulu seemed to attach himself to him more than to Fleetwood.  He would
invariably be with him when a hunt was afoot in the wild and broken
forest country they were then traversing; and for more than one
successful find of koodoo or impala, Wyvern had to thank Mtezani.

They fell in with no more contending impis.  Now and again armed runners
would fetch up at their outspan, and when pressed for news would give
evasive replies, but these became fewer as, at last, through the great
tumbled, rolling forests, the precipitous savage rise of the Lebombo
range came into view.

"We are getting there at last, Wyvern," said Fleetwood one day.  "But
there's one thing I must tell you that I hadn't bargained for, and a
most infernal nuisance it is too.  I learn that almost bang on the scene
of our operations, a particularly obnoxious sweep named Rawson--Bully
Rawson--a white man, of course, has planted himself down.  Now this
fellow is likely to prove a considerable thorn in our side, to give us
trouble, in fact."

"Why?  Who is he?"

"Oh, as to that nobody knows, strictly, which likely enough is just as
well for him.  He's nominally a trader like myself, but actually he's a
chiefs white man, and that spells gun-runner."

"Yes?  But why should he interfere with us?"

"Well, it's this way.  Being in my own line himself, he knows devilish
well that no sane being--and he knows me well enough to credit me with
sanity--is going to bring a couple of trade waggons up to a remote and
almost uninhabited part of the country, that, too, where trekking with
the same is more than pain and grief, as you've seen--for trade
purposes.  No.  Well, then, having come to that conclusion, the first
thing he'll say to himself will be--what the devil we're up here for at
all.  See?"

"Yes.  But what the same devil is he doing up here himself, then, on
those terms?  You don't think he has any inkling of Hlabulana's yarn?
Eh?"

"No.  I don't see how he could have," answered Fleetwood.  "He's cutting
timber in the Lumisana forest, and shipping it to the coast, which in
all probability spells gun-running for Hamu."

"For Hamu?  Oh, this is Hamu's country, then?"

"Yes.  Well, Rawson was with him before, and they know each other.  But
here's where the fun comes in.  Once he gets suspicious--and, of course,
he will, on the terms I told you before, he'll stick to us like our
shadows night and day, or at any rate take care that someone else does--
say, when he's too drunk to attend to business himself.  Then how are we
going to set about our prospecting with the care and nicety and, above
all, freedom from interruption it requires?"

"When he's too drunk, I think you said, Joe?  I read a saving clause in
that.  What sort of a type--both outwardly and inwardly--is this very
attractive being?"

"Oh, outwardly he's a thick-set, shaggy, broken-nosed brute whom any
jury would hang at sight without retiring from the box.  For the other
part, he hasn't a redeeming quality, unless it is that he's as plucky as
they make 'em.  The only point on which no one has ever been able to
damn Bully Rawson is that of his pluck.  On all others, everybody who
has ever known him is united in damning him to a lurid degree."

"H'm!  Yes, it's a nuisance," mused Wyvern.  "One rather reckoned on
difficulties at the hands of the noble savage, and now it seems we are
likely to find them the thickest at those of a white man and a brother.
Well, we are two to one.  One or other of us must manage to be one too
many for Mr Bully Rawson."

Here Mtezani interrupted.  He had been away on a private prowl of his
own, and had come back in a hurry.

"_Nkose_, there are people coming," he said.  "_Impela_, they are not
very far behind me, and one of them is a white man."

"A white man!  What is he like?" said Fleetwood.  "Did you see him?"

"_Eh-hi_!"  And the young Zulu gave a rapid and graphic description.

"That is Inxele," pronounced Hlabulana, who was squatted near.

Fleetwood turned upon his companion a whimsical look.

"Talk of the devil!" he quoted.  "Inxele is their name for Bully
Rawson."



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

ENTERING THE TOILS.

"Hi--Yup, friends.  Glad to see another white man or two in this sooty,
flame of fire sort of hole," sung out the new arrival in rough
geniality, as he slid from his pony.  "Why, if it isn't Joe Fleetwood!
Hullo, Joe, but I'm glad to see you again; that I am."

Fleetwood tried to appear as though that sentiment were reciprocated, as
they shook hands.  Then he introduced Wyvern.

"Glad to meet you, Mister," extending a great gnarled paw.  In taking it
an intense and unconquerable aversion came upon Wyvern, an aversion
which he believed would have been there in any case, and apart from the
doubtful character Fleetwood had just given.  Rawson, for his part, was
appraising Wyvern.  So this was the man he had been instructed to "take
care of"; and sizing him up he thought the job would not be a difficult
one.  True, the object of such attention was tall and broad and strong--
for the matter of that, Bully himself was no weakling.  But he had a
confiding, unsuspicious look which seemed to relieve the undertaking of
nine tenths of its difficulties.

"Going through to Swaziland, I suppose, Joe?  You'll not trade a knife
to skin a dog with round here, and, if there was any trade--well, you
see, old man--this is my pitch."

For all the boisterous geniality of the tone, there was a distinct note
of "warning off" underlying.

"Don't be anxious, Bully," said Fleetwood, easily.  "I wouldn't overlap
your trade to the tune of a string of beads."

"Damned if you would!  Ha-ha, don't I know that?" was the boisterous
reply.  "Joe Fleetwood's only another name for straight--all the world
knows that.  Don't you agree with me, Mister?"

"Absolutely," answered Wyvern.

"Known him long?"

"Rather," answered Fleetwood for him.  "We fought together in the war up
here, and that's equivalent to knowing a man all his life.  Why, I
shouldn't be here now if it hadn't been for him."

"Oh, shut off that, Joe," said Wyvern, hastily.  "Besides, it's not
quite accurate."

"I shall cotton to you.  Mister," cried Rawson, "I do like pluck, and
you've got it, I can see."  He was thinking, however, that the piece of
information just obtained brought back all the difficulties.  Clearly
the attachment existing between these two men was no ordinary one.  In
dealing with Wyvern, he had also to reckon with Fleetwood, and Fleetwood
had the reputation of being an uncommonly useful man to have at one's
back in a crisis, otherwise an awkward customer if taken the wrong way.

Wyvern in no wise felt like reciprocating the compliment.  It was all he
could do to conceal his disgust for this blatant, loud-mouthed,
blasphemous ruffian--the actual text of whose speech has perforce
undergone material deletion here.  But he laughed good-naturedly and
then Fleetwood suggested drinks, a proposal uproariously acclaimed by
their visitor.

"Don't you hurry on, Joe," said the latter, after a couple had been
disposed of, and both fairly stiff.  "Trek on and outspan at my place.
We can have some roaring games of cards--eh?  Had no one to play against
for months.  Fond of cards, Mister?"

"Hate 'em," answered Wyvern pleasantly.

"Been skinned too much, maybe?"

"Never gave anyone the chance."

Rawson stared.  This to him was something of a phenomenon.

"Well--well, Joe and I must go at it then.  Talking of being skinned,
the last fellow I served that way was a half-Dutchman, half-Jew sort of
devil.  When he'd lost he wouldn't part--swore I'd cheated.  Oh--I went
for him, but he flashed off a pistol at me--darned fool couldn't have
hit a haystack.  He didn't get another chance of trying though.  I was
on him.  Lord--Lord--the way I pounded that chap.  He couldn't stand on
his legs for ten days after, and as soon as he could I kicked him off
the place.  Bully Rawson cheated!"

The righteous indignation of this last utterance was so inexpressibly
comical to anybody with the most rudimentary knowledge of its utterer's
character, that the effort not to roar out laughing cost Fleetwood
physical pain.

"Have another drink, Bully," he said, by way of sparing himself the
necessity of comment.

"Right you are, Joe," reaching over for the square bottle.  "You're a
white man, you are, if ever there was one.  Bully Rawson cheated!" he
went on, returning to the subject.  "Mister, you may not know much of
me, but I'm honest Bully Rawson has his faults, but all the world'll
tell you he's honest, damn him!  Eh, Joe?"

"Oh, we're all honest--as long as we've got enough dibs and the other
fellow hasn't.  It reminds me of a good joke I heard in the Durban Club
the other day.  There was a difference of opinion among a lot of the men
at lunch as to the shadiness or not of some transaction.  At last
someone appealed to old Colonel Bowker, who hadn't taken any part in the
general jaw, and began in this way--`Now, Colonel, as an honest man,
what would you say--' `Eh? as a what?'  `Why, an honest man.'  `But I
don't know that I am an honest man,' says the old chap, in that dry,
lack-lustre way of his.  Of course, there was a big grin all round, and
the first fellow expostulates, `Oh come--hang it all, Colonel.  You
don't know--' `No, I don't.  I've never been in want of a shilling or a
breakfast in my life.'  There was a bigger grin then, for it wasn't a
bad way of putting the thing."

"Haw-haw! damn good!" pronounced Rawson, who had got into the benign
stage of potation, preparatory to the quarrelsome one, wherein he was
wont to become sometimes a dangerous animal, and at all times a
completely objectionable one.  "We'll see now, Joe.  You two fellows
come up and outspan at my place.  We'll have a roaring, sparking time,
by--" some dozen deities and demons--"we will!  I don't see a white man
every day, no by--" the same over again--"I don't!  Tell your boys to
in-span, and--come along."

"Not to-day, Bully.  Can't move the oxen another inch till they've had a
good long rest."

Wyvern could hardly conceal his relief--nor his overmastering disgust
Fleetwood's definition of this noble specimen of civilised humanity
recurred to him--"A thick-set, shaggy, broken-nosed brute whom any jury
would hang at sight without retiring from the box."  Yes, there was
nothing wanting from that definition.  And he was doomed to see a great
deal more of the subject before him, and knowing this the consciousness
sickened him.

"Well, come up and see my place then," persisted the enemy.  "The day's
young yet, and it's only a matter of five mile; and you've got horses.
Tell your boys to saddle up, and we'll all go over together."

We have said that in anything to do with the expedition Wyvern followed
his friend's lead absolutely; wherefore when the latter agreed to this
proposition he made no objection by word or sign, taking for granted
that their interests would be better served in the long run by such a
course.

"Who's this?" said Bully Rawson, becoming suddenly alive to the presence
of Hlabulana.  "He doesn't belong in these parts.  I know all them what
does."

"Oh, he's an old friend of mine," answered Fleetwood carelessly.  "He
fell in with us further down, and seemed to want to come along--just for
the fun of the thing apparently.  So I let him."

"Sure he ain't a spy of those damned Usutus?" said Rawson suspiciously.

"Not he.  He's no sort of a spy at all."

Even then Rawson eyed the man.  Had he guessed the secret that lay
within that smooth, shaven, ringed pate as Hlabulana sat, watching the
white men with indifferent interest, there was no telling what dark and
bloody tragedy might not have been the result.  For the acquisition of
such wealth as this there was no crime, however treacherous, at which
that white savage would have stuck; no bloodshed, however wholesale.
But the copper-hued savage knew how to guard his secret, as well as he
had known whom to entrust with it.

The first living object to meet them as they drew in sight of Rawson's
kraal, was a young native, and to him the meeting seemed not palatable.
It seemed, in fact, a terror.  He was coming along the path at a trot,
and at sight of them pulled up short and looked wildly around as though
about to take to headlong flight Rawson, spurring his horse, went for
him like an arrow.

"Ho, Pakisa!" he roared, as he curled his whiplash round the boy's naked
ribs.  "So thou art skulking again, instead of being at the
wood-cutting.  Now I will flog thee back to it."  And with every few
words he flung out the cutting whiplash with painful effect.  In vain
the victim doubled.  The horsemanship of his chastiser was perfect, and
reckless with liquor and sheer lust of cruelty the ruffian would turn as
quickly as the belaboured one.  At last the latter managed to wriggle
into a patch of bush where the horse could not enter.

"Keep cool, Wyvern," Fleetwood took the opportunity of saying in an
undertone.  "We don't know, of course, what that young _schelm_ may have
been up to."

"What a sickening sweep!" was Wyvern's reply, with a set face.

"Well, that young brute's got what he won't forget in a hurry," cried
Rawson, rejoining them.  "Skulked away from his job directly my back was
turned, and slunk up here to cadge some _tywala_.  One of my wives is
his sister, you know."

"One of your what?" said Wyvern.

"Wives," shouted Bully, with an evil grin, enjoying the other's look of
disgust.  "Wives.  I've only two of 'em at present--I've had lots in my
time--and I shall have to lick one of 'em for this, too."

"You seemed rather--well, rough on your brother-in-law," answered
Wyvern, with a sneer he could no longer repress.

"You've got to be.  Look here, Wyvern," waxing familiar, "I take it
you're one of them raw, out from home Britishers who think the way to
_baas_ niggers is to soft sawder them.  You may take it from me then
that it ain't.  Oh, Joe there'll tell you exactly the same for that
matter."

"Is he a Zulu?" with a jerk of the hand in the direction of the
vanishment of the licked one.

"Zulu?  Not much.  He's a Swazi."

"I wonder you're not afraid of them poisoning you."

"Look here.  What the devil d'you mean?"

The man's face had gone a sort of dirty ash colour.  He sat glowering at
Wyvern with evil eyes.  The latter thought he saw the gnarled dirty hand
which held the bridle-rein shake--and it may have done so, for it may
have been that a refrain was sounding in this ruffian's ears: "The
Snake-doctor--_whau_! his _muti_ is great and subtle!"

"What I said.  And now look here," went on Wyvern very stern and
decisive, "I suppose I can't interfere in your domestic affairs, if only
that it would make things worse for the poor wretches afterwards.  But I
don't choose to be present at any woman-thrashing performance--black or
white.  So I'll wish you good-bye."

The sudden fury that came into the man's forbidding face was rather
terrific.  Then as suddenly it faded out.

"Hang it, Wyvern, couldn't you see that I was only humbugging.  That
young rip had to be taught a lesson, but you didn't suppose I was really
going to whack a girl, did you?  Bully Rawson has his faults, but no one
can say he ain't soft-hearted at bottom.  Why, I wouldn't do such a
thing for the world."

Wyvern did not exactly believe this; still he felt sure that the
threatened chastisement would not now take place.  And Fleetwood had
made no move towards actively supporting him, and his rule of being
guided by Fleetwood still held.

"I should hope not," he answered, but rather shortly, riding on with
them again.

"Why, of course not Man alive, but you mustn't take everything we say up
here as serious.  Eh, Joe?" returned Rawson, with huge geniality.  "Now
we'll go inside and have another drink and then I want to show you my
wood-cutting place."

If it be imagined for a moment that the speaker had been shamed into
relenting, either by Wyvern's words or demeanour, why the notion may
immediately be classed among popular delusions.  What was behind it was
this.  It had suddenly been borne in upon him, that to have Wyvern for a
friend would render the allotted task of "taking care" of him infinitely
easier than if he should sheer off, and hold himself in a state of
suspicious and therefore watchful aloofness.  Under his own eyes his
opportunities would be greater: whereas his intended victim away, and
thoroughly on his guard--why, then the matter was not so easy.  And,
even then, there flashed through his evil brain a hell-sent idea.  The
wood-cutting place.  There would be a royal opportunity there; and with
the hideous thought he had blossomed forth into a rugged geniality
again.  He could not afford to scare away his bird.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

WARREN'S OPPORTUNITY.

The Kunaga river was "down"; which is to say that the heavy rains of the
last three days, especially among the foot-hills wherein it took its
source, had converted it into a red, rolling, turbid torrent, of
inconceivable swiftness and power.  A comparative trickle at ordinary
times, now the great raging flood surged within a few feet of
overlapping its ample bed, submerging the lower of the trees fringing
its banks well-nigh to their tops.  A grand spectacle those seething red
waves, hissing and rearing as they encountered some obstacle, then the
crash as this gave way, and the mighty current, unchecked, poured onward
with a savage roar.  Great tree-trunks rolled over and over in the
flood, and now and then, bodies of drowned animals, sheep, cattle,
horses, swept helplessly down.

"Someone's the poorer for the loss of his whole span," remarked Warren,
as a number of drowned oxen were whirled by.  "Likely the river first
came down in a wall--it does sometimes--and caught the whole lot bang in
the middle of a drift."

"Most likely," assented Lalante.  "But I've never seen the river as full
as this.  Isn't it grand?"

The two were standing on a high, scaur-like bank where the Kunaga swept
round one side of Le Sage's farm, and just below the krantz above which
its owner and Wyvern had held their somewhat inharmonious discussion.
They had strolled down to look at the river.  The two youngsters had
accompanied them, but now had wandered away on their own account.

The rain had ceased but the sky was veiled in an opaque curtain; the
high _rand_ beyond the Kunaga river valley being completely hidden by a
grey and lowering murk.  The unwonted gloom seemed to add to the terror
of the forces of the bellowing flood.  The scene on the whole was dreary
and depressing to the last degree.  Yet no depression did it convey to
the hearts of the dwellers on this _veldt_, for after it the land would
smile forth a rich and tender green, and flocks and herds grow fat, and
game be plentiful--and, not least, it meant an ample storage of water in
dams and tanks against months, it might be, wherein not another drop
should fall.

Warren had taken to coming over to Le Sage's of late, and would
generally stay the night there, or even two.  From Lalante he would meet
with a frank and cordial welcome.  She liked him for his own sake--and
in addition was he not a friend of the absent one; upon whom and upon
whose good qualities he had the tact to lose no opportunity of dwelling.

"I can't, for the life of me, get at the secret of poor old Wyvern's
ill-luck," he would say, for instance.  "He's one of the finest fellows
I've ever known, and yet--he can't get on.  I own it stumps me."

"But it doesn't stump me," grunted Le Sage.  "He's got no head-piece."

"You're wrong there, Le Sage, if you'll excuse my saying so.  Head-piece
is just what he has got.  Too much of it perhaps."

And the speaker had his reward in Lalante's kindling face and grateful
glance; and the friendship between them ripened apace.

Warren was playing his game boldly and with depth.  He could afford to
praise the absent one, being as firmly convinced that that fortunate
individual would never return as that he himself was alive and
prosperous.  And he meant it too.  There was no pretence in his tone.
He had no personal animus against Wyvern for occupying the place with
regard to Lalante which should have been his.  Wyvern stood in his way,
that was all, and--he must be got out of it.  That he would be got out
of it Warren, as we have said, had no doubt whatever, and then--after an
interval, a time-healing interval, to whom would Lalante listen and turn
more readily than to Wyvern's best friend?  Herein Warren was true to
himself--i.e. Number 1.

Now, on their stroll down to the river the topic of the absent one had
come up; his coolness and courage upon one or two occasions when call
had arisen for the exercise of those valuable attributes--and here on
the bank, after the first comments upon the scene before them, the topic
was revived.

"I wonder why women are always such blind worshippers of mere pluck,"
Warren remarked.

"But you wouldn't have us hold cowardice in respect, would you?"

"You can't respect a negative--and cowardice is a negative."

"Well then, a man who is a coward?"

"Why not?  I know at least two men who are that, and I happen to hold
them in some considerable respect.  That astonishes you, does it?"

"Well, yes, naturally," said Lalante, with a laugh, and wondering
whether he was serious.

"Naturally, but illogically.  That blind, instinctive shrinking from
risk which we call cowardice is constitutional, and its subject can no
more help it than he could have helped being born with a club foot, for
instance."

"You do put things well," said Lalante.  "All the same you'll never
persuade the world in general that a coward is anything but a pitiable
object."

"If by that you mean deserving of pity, why then I agree with you--if of
contempt, then I don't.  I'll tell you another who doesn't."

"Who's that?"

"Wyvern."

"How do you know?"

"Because I've seen him give practical proof of it."

The girl's face softened and her eyes filled.

"Him?  Oh, he's goodness itself," she murmured.  "He hasn't a fault,
except that of being unfortunate."

"Which isn't a fault.  The fact is we are all cowards on some point or
other, and a good many of us all round, though we succeed in hiding it.
Look at that river now, that swirling, roaring monster against which the
strongest swimmer would have that much chance," with a snap of the
finger and thumb.  "I should be uncommonly sorry to be put to the test
of having to jump in there after some other fellow who had tumbled in.
That would be something of a test wouldn't it; and I'm perfectly certain
I should funk it?"

"It would.  But I'm perfectly certain you wouldn't funk it," laughed
Lalante.

And then, paling their faces and curdling their blood, came a shrill
piercing scream of agony and terror.  As they turned towards it a small
boy came rushing headlong through the sparse mimosas growing along that
part of the bank.

"He's in," he screamed.  "Charlie.  He's in the river--there."

Following his pointing finger they could see nothing, then, borne
swiftly down towards them, a head rose to the surface, showing an
agonised little face, in the last degree of terror, and a pair of hands
feebly battling with the vast might of the flood.  A second more and
Lalante would have been in there too.

But that second was just sufficient for a pair of arms to close round
her, effectually holding her back.

"Not you, Lalante, d'you hear!  I'm a strong swimmer.  Now--let me go."

He almost threw her from him, and that purposely, for stumbling against
Frank, the terrified boy had promptly and firmly clutched hold of her.
She could not go into the water--and, incidentally, to her death--
without dragging him with her.  In the same quick atom of time Warren,
with a straight, clear, springy leap, had felt the turgid waters of the
monster flood close over his head.

He had leaped to come down feet foremost, as was the safest.  He risked
damaging his head the less, and could see for the fraction of a moment
longer the exact position of the drowning boy; and even that fraction of
a moment may mean the difference between life and death in a situation
such as this.

Not a second too soon had he jumped.  As he rose to the surface the boy
was just sweeping past him.  Darting forth an arm, he seized him by the
hand, but--still kept him at arm's length.

"Charlie," he said, "be plucky now and keep cool.  Whatever happens,
don't grab hold of me.  I won't let go of you but--don't grab me."

The boy, half-dazed, seemed to understand.  The while the current was
whirling them down with frightful velocity.  Suddenly something seized
Warren by the foot, dragging him down; then as the waters roared over
his head the awfulness of the moment came upon him that this was doom.
Then--he was free.

A last desperate violent kick had done it.  What had entangled him was
really the fork in a bough of a sunken tree.  But it was time, for on
rising to the surface his eyes were swelled and his head seemed to go
round giddily, and his breath came in laboured pants; but he had never
slackened his hold of the boy.

The latter was now unconscious, and consequently a dead weight.  Warren,
wiry athletic man as he was, felt his strength failing.  The flood was
as a very monster, and in its grip he himself was but a shaving, as it
roared in his ears, its spume blinding him as it tossed him on high with
the crest of its great churning waves.  With desperate presence of mind
he strove to keep his head.  As he rose on each great wave he saw the
long broad road of foaming water in front, bounded by its two dark lines
of half-submerged willows--then he saw something else.

An uprooted tree was bearing down upon him, its boughs thrashing the
water as the trunk rolled over and over in the surge.  It was coming
straight at him, borne along more swiftly than he--and his burden.  One
thrash of those flail-like boughs and then--his efforts would be at an
end.

Desperate, but still cool, he tried swimming laterally instead of with
the stream, and found that he could.  Down came the swirling boughs,
like the sails of a windmill, where he had been but a moment before, and
this grisly peril passed on.  No sooner had it done so than the
striver's foot touched something--something firm.

Something firm!  Yes, it was firm.  Among the whirl and lash of the
willow boughs, for by his diagonal course of swimming he had reached the
side here, where the swirl of the current, though powerful, was
comparatively smooth, and he had touched firm ground.  Warren dared to
hope, with indescribable relief, that he was standing on the brink of
one of those deep, lateral dongas which ran up from the river-bed, one
similar to that which the Kafir had fallen into with the snake coiled
round his leg.  He grasped the supple and whip-like boughs, still
carefully feeling out with the other foot lest he should flounder into
deep water again, and gave himself over to a breathe.

Charlie now began to show signs of returning consciousness, then opened
his eyes.

"Where are we?  _Magtig_!  Mr Warren, I thought I was drowned."

"Well, you're not, nor I either.  So wake up, old chap, and hold on to
these twigs so as to give me a bit of a rest; for I can tell you that
sort of swim is no exercise for a young beginner."

The splashing, roaring flood whirled on, throwing up clouds of spume
where here and there great waves hurled themselves on to some
obstruction.  Once the ghastly white head of a drowned calf rose up out
of the water just by them, a spectral stare in the lustreless eyes.  The
lowering afternoon was darkening.

"I believe we could make for _terra-firma_--that means solid ground--if
we went to work carefully," said Warren.  "What do you think, Charlie?
Shall we try?  The swirl up here is fairly light, and you must think you
are only swimming in the kloof dam."

The boy looked out upon the roaring rush of waters and shuddered.  Not
among this would their venture lead them, but among much smoother water,
to safety.  Still, he was unnerved after his experience of that awful
force, his choking, suffocating, helpless, all but drowning condition.
But he was plucky to the core.

"All right.  Let's try," he said.  "But keep hold of my hand, won't
you."

"Of course," said Warren.  And then once more they struck off,
entrusting themselves to the stream, or rather to its eddies.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

IN THE ROAR OF THE FLOOD.

Lalante and her small brother, watching from the bank the earlier
struggle with the awful forces, were at first frantic with grief and
horror; then the sense of having someone dependent on her was as a
nerve-bracing tonic to the girl, and she recovered a modicum of
coolness.

"Come, Frank," she said.  "We must run along the bank, and see if we can
be of any help at all."

The weeping youngster brightened up a little, as seizing him by the hand
she dragged him along with her, both running for all they knew.  But the
ground was rough and uneven; if it had not been they could never have
kept pace with the swiftness of the flood.  Then it dipped abruptly, yet
still they managed to stumble along.  Up the next rise, panting, their
hearts beating as though they would burst, and then--they saw Warren and
his burden suddenly sink from sight.  At the same time Lalante's foot
caught in some twisted grass, and down she came, full length, dragging
the boy with her.

She tried to get up, but could not do more than struggle to her knees,
then fall again.  She was too utterly breathless and exhausted to be
capable of making further effort.  The last she had seen of them, too,
was as a numbing physical blow.  She could only lie there panting in
great sob-like gasps.  The little fellow threw his arms round her neck
and sobbed too.

"Oh, Lala, will they get out?  Do say.  Will they get out?"

Even then Warren's words were hammering in her brain "...against which
the strongest swimmer would have that much chance"; words uttered calmly
and authoritatively, scarce a minute before he himself had taken that
fatal leap.  What chance then had he--had they?  And they had already
gone under.

"Darling, I'm afraid there's--there's--no hope," she said, unsteadily.
"But come.  We will walk along the bank--I am quite powerless to run any
more--in case we should sight them again.  Tell me.  How did it happen?"

"We were standing on the bank, shying sticks into the river and watching
them float down.  Then a great piece of the bank gave way, and Charlie
was in."

Lalante could hardly restrain a storm of tears.  One of her little
brothers--her darling little brothers--of whom she was so fond, and who
looked up to her for everything, to be carried away like this by the
great cruel river, and drowned before her very eyes--oh, it was too
awful!  What a tale, too, to carry back to their father!  And the
prompt, cool, brave man--he who at that very moment had been expressing
the hope that he might never be called upon to stand such a test,
because if so he was sure he would be found wanting--he too had gone,
had given his life for that of another.  Lalante was not a Catholic, but
human instinct is ever the same, and if ever prayers went up that a soul
should have its eternal reward, one went up--none more fervent--from her
during those awful moments on behalf of Warren.

The rain had begun again, and was now a steady downpour, while lower and
lower the murk descended, blotting out the opposite _rand_.  Great shiny
_songo-lolos_, or "thousand legs," squirmed among the mimosa sprays in
repulsive festoons, and in the splashy softness of the thoroughly soaked
ground--ordinarily so hard and arid--the foot sank or slipped.  The
river, too, in whose ordinarily nearly dry bed the small boys had so
often disported themselves, or catapulted birds along the banks--now a
great bellowing monster--had taken its toll of one of them.  All was in
keeping, as the darkness brooded down; the splash of the rain, the
hopelessness, the death, the despair; a scene, a setting of
indescribable gloom and horror, as these two dragged themselves wearily
step by step, staring at the long rush of foam-flecked flood in a very
whirlwind of grief.  Then, upon the blackness of this misery, came a
sound.

"Lala--did you hear that?" panted the boy, eagerly.

"Yes.  Wait!" gasped Lalante, holding up a hand.

The sound was repeated.  It came from some distance lower down, and took
shape as a hail.  The girl even thought to descry in it her own name,
and to both it came as a very voice from Heaven.

"Man--Lalante," panted Frank, in uncontrollable excitement, "but that's
Mr Warren."

"Yes, it is.  Why, then in that case, Charlie's there too, for I know
he'd never leave him," answered the girl tremulously and half-laughing,
in the nervous reaction of her gratitude.  Then she lifted her own voice
in a loud, clear call that might have been heard for miles in the
stillness.  They listened a moment, and an answering hail was returned.

"Come.  They may still need our help," she said.  "Go steady though.  We
mustn't exhaust ourselves this time."

First sending forth another long, clear call, to which Frank added the
shrillness of his small but carrying voice, they started off along the
river bank.  It seemed miles, hours, as they stumbled along, now over a
stone, now crashing into a bush--but every now and then sending forth
another call, which was answered, thank God, now much nearer.  At last,
through the gloom, for by this it was almost dark, they made out two
figures coming slowly towards them.

"Charlie--my darling, whatever made you do it?" began Lalante as she
hugged the smallest of these; womanlike mingling a touch of scold with
the joy of the restoration.

"Oh, Lala, you're not cross, are you?  I couldn't help it," was the
answer, in a tired voice.

"Cross--cross!  Oh, you darling, how should I be cross!" raining kisses
all over the wet little face.  Then, unclasping one arm, she held out a
hand.

"Oh, Mr Warren!" was all that she could say, but it seemed to express
everything.

Warren took it, in a firm sympathetic grasp.  He himself was looking
rather fagged--in fact, decidedly not himself--which was little to be
wondered at.  What he himself wondered was that he was there at all.

"All's well that ends well, Miss Lalante," he said, cheerily, "which, if
not original, about sums up the situation.  We're all about equally wet
for that matter, but as long as we keep moving we shan't take any harm,
and the way back to the house, if not long, is rough enough to keep up
our circulation."

"What can I say to you, Mr Warren?" went on Lalante.  "You were just
telling me the strongest swimmer would stand no chance in that flood,
and then you deliberately went in yourself."

"Not deliberately, Miss Lalante," smiled Warren.  "I assure you it was
all on the spur of the moment.  Charlie, it's lucky you had the
foresight to tumble in above us.  If it had been down stream I could
never have got near you."

As a matter of fact the feat had been one of great daring and skill, and
having accomplished it Warren felt secretly elated as they took their
way home.  He realised the warm admiration and gratitude which it had
aroused in the girl, and, now that it had ended well, he looked upon the
whole affair as a gigantic stroke of luck, and, in fact, as the very
best thing that could have happened to him.  Bye and bye, when Wyvern's
memory should begin to dim, then this appreciation would turn to
something stronger.  Curses on Wyvern!  Why should he have this
priceless possession, and how confoundedly calmly he seemed to accept
it, as if it were only his due?  He, Warren, would have moved heaven and
earth to obtain it, yet why should that other gain it with no effort at
all?  He himself had all the advantages that Wyvern had.  He was a
clean-run, strong, healthy man, whom more than one girl of his
acquaintance would think herself surpassing lucky to capture.  Moreover
he had made money, and knew how to go on making it, which was a thing
Wyvern never had done and never would.  Why the deuce then should Wyvern
be where he ought to be? he thought bitterly as he walked dripping
beside Lalante, in the gloom of the now fast-darkening night.  Well, at
any rate, in all probability Wyvern by that time was nowhere at all,
thought this man who had just risked his life when the chances were a
hundred to one against him, to save that of a helpless child.  Yes.
Nowhere at all.  There was a wholeheartedness about Bully Rawson and his
doings which left no room for doubt.  He could be trusted to "take care"
of anybody.

And yet, through it all there was a certain modicum of compunction;
compunction, but no relenting.  Had circumstances compelled Wyvern to
give up Lalante, he would have had no more sincere well-wisher than
Warren.  As it was he stood in Warren's way; therefore--out he must go.
Then Warren became alive to the fact that Lalante's bright eyes were
fixed upon him in some concern.

"You didn't hurt yourself--in the river, did you?" she said anxiously.

"Oh no, no.  I'm a dull dog, I'm afraid," he answered, with a laugh.
"Perhaps I am a bit tired."

"Are you sure you're not hurt?" she persisted, anxiously.

"Very sure indeed.  I got a rap on the shin from that confounded tree
that did its best to hold me under water, but that was nothing to what I
used to get in a football match when I was a nipper."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The drizzle had merged into a steady downpour as they reached the house.
In the framing of the lighted doorway Le Sage came out to meet them,
smoking a pipe.

"Hullo.  You've prolonged a pretty wet walk," he said.  "_Magtig_! but
you look like four jolly drowned rats."

"And that's what two of us jolly near were, father," said Lalante, in
clear ringing tones.  And then she explained what had happened.  Le Sage
stared at her as if he were listening to something altogether
incredible.

"Good God!  Lalante.  And you can hear the river from here, a mile and a
half away, bellowing as if it was at the very door.  Why, it hasn't been
down like this since the big flood of '74.  And you went in it, Warren,
and--got out of it!  Well, well.  They give Victoria Crosses and so on,
but--oh damn it! you deserve a couple of dozen of 'em."

His voice had a tremble in it as he gripped the other's hand.  The whole
thing was more eloquent than a mere speech would have been.  He was
deeply moved--moved to the core, but Le Sage was not a man of words.

"Oh, that's all right, Le Sage," said Warren.  "Only as I was telling
Charlie, it's lucky he had the discretion to go in above stream instead
of down, or the devil himself would hardly have managed to get him out.
Come now, let's have something warming and then I'll go and change,
though I'll have to borrow some of your togs for that same purpose."

"Right.  Here you are, and mix it stiff," said Le Sage, diving into a
sideboard and extracting a decanter.  "Good Lord!  And you got into the
Kunaga in a flood like this, and got out again!  Why, it's a record."

This was Le Sage's recognition of the fact that this man had saved his
child's life at enormous risk to his own.  But Warren thoroughly
understood and appreciated it; and was more elate than ever, inwardly.

"Go along, you children, and change at once," pronounced Lalante with
decision.  "And be quick about it, and give yourselves a glowing rub
down with a rough towel I don't know that we two who haven't been in the
river are much drier than the other two who have," she added with a
laugh, as she disappeared.

Half an hour afterwards they all foregathered at table, and it seemed,
in the snug, warm, lighted room, as though the ghastly peril of the
afternoon were but a passing adventure, calculated to give an additional
feeling of snugness and security to the wind-up of the day.  But the
dull roaring of the flood was borne in to them through it all upon the
dripping stillness of the rainy night.

And Warren, listening to it, and knowing that others heard it, felt more
elate than ever.  He began to see the goal of his hopes more than near.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

"TAKE CARE OF HIM."

Wyvern found some difficulty in concealing the growing disgust that was
upon him as he entered Rawson's kraal.  He had by this time been in
several native kraals and felt quite at home there: but this--well,
somehow it was out of keeping.  That unqualified ruffian, his present
entertainer, was repulsive enough in all conscience, but he seemed to
become ten times more so, when viewed in the light of his domestic
arrangements: under which circumstances the fact that he was a white man
seemed to have sunk him immeasurably below the level of the savage.

The two women, who were seated together on the ground, looked up quickly
as the new arrivals entered.  The better favoured of the two,
Nkombazana, the Zulu girl, smiled approvingly as her glance rested on
Wyvern, and then said something to her companion in a low tone.  He, of
the two, was clearly the one that aroused their interest Bully Rawson
emitted a loud guffaw, true to his programme of keeping up a certain
boisterous geniality.

"There you are, Wyvern.  Women are the same all the world over, you see.
Now these are agreeing that they don't see a thundering fine chap like
you every day of the week."

"Which is the one related to the boy you just kicked so unmercifully?"
said Wyvern.

"That one, Nompai.  She ain't much to look at, but I'll swear she ain't
the worst of the two.  That other one, Nkombazana, she's a regular
vixen--a spitfire I can tell you.  I often wish I could clear her out
I'd let her go cheap.  Oh, see here Wyvern--" as a bright idea struck
him, and then he stopped short.  Bully Rawson, with all his faults, had
the saving grace of perceptiveness, wherefore the bright idea remained
unpropounded.

"Well what?"

"Oh nothing.  I forget now what I was going to say," with a furtive wink
at Fleetwood.

"But why can't you clear her out?" asked Wyvern.  "I thought among
savages they did what they liked with their womenkind."

There was a dry irony about the tone, that the other may have remarked,
but for his own purposes preferred not to notice or resent.  He guffawed
good-humouredly instead.

"Did you?  Well then Wyvern, you've got a lot to learn about the manners
and customs of this country yet.  Nkombazana's father's a pretty strong
chief, and Joe there'll tell you what a hornet's nest I should bring
about my ears if I bunked her back to her people."  Fleetwood nodded.
"Oh well, damn the women," went on Bully.  "I think we've yarned enough
about them.  So we'll get into the store hut where it's cool and have a
drink."

The hut wherein Rawson kept his trade goods was a larger one than the
rest, and differed from them in that it had a door through which you
need only stoop slightly in entering, instead of crawling on all fours.
It also boasted a small glazed window.  Unlocking the huge padlock that
secured it, their host led the way inside.

"You haven't got much stuff on hand, Bully," said Fleetwood, looking
round upon the blankets and beads and brass buttons and other "notions"
stowed about.

"Oh well no, I do next to no blanket trade these days, and what I do is
a darn sight more paying than this truck.  Oh, I've got an iron or two
in the fire, m'yes, but a lot of trade stuff comes in handy as a
firescreen, as _we_ know.  Eh Joe?" with a knowing wink which made that
worthy just a little uneasy.  The other had exactly stated their own
case: was it accidental, and was he merely referring to the pretty
widespread practice of gun-running, or had he, by any means whatever,
obtained some inkling as to the real object of the expedition?  He
nodded carelessly.

"_Ja_.  That's so," he replied.

There are three European products which you shall invariably find--even
if you find no other--on the confines of civilisation and beyond the
same: "square face" gin, a pack of cards, and a bottle of Worcester
sauce.  The first of these Bully now produced, together with some
enamelled metal mugs.

"Here's luck all round," he said.  "Eh?  What's that?  Water?  Man--
Wyvern, but you're a bit of a Johnny Raw in these parts.  Why we don't
water our stuff here.  Eh, Joe?"

"Matter of taste.  For my part I don't care either way," was the
answer--while the host put his head out and bellowed to the women to
fetch some.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Now Joe Fleetwood, though one of the shrewdest and most practical of
men, had "instincts"--and these were somehow unaccountably aroused.
There was a something which warned him that their uproariously effusive
host meant mischief, and that at no distant time.  Therefore he resolved
to keep more than one eye upon him.

Soon they strolled down to the wood-cutting place, and the sombre,
surrounding forest was ringing with the sound of axe and saw.  The
wretched slaves--for practically they were little or nothing else--
looked up with dull interest at the new arrivals, but their master, out
of deference to Wyvern, omitted to kick or hammer any of them, and laid
himself out to be extremely pleasant in his boisterous way, as he
explained the arrangements while they strolled around.

"Hold hard, Wyvern.  A snake's bitten me."

The words--quick, sharp, replete with alarm--were Fleetwood's.  Wyvern,
who was just in front of him, stopped dead in his tracks and turned, as
with a mighty crash a nearly-cut through tree-trunk came to earth hardly
more than a yard in front of him.  His next step would have been his
last.

"Blazes!" cried Bully Rawson, "but I never thought that log would have
come down at all.  I was just shoving against it to see how much more
cutting through it wanted.  What's that about a snake, Joe?"

"No.  It isn't one," said that worthy, in a tranquil tone of voice as he
looked down.  "It's only a thorn dug into my ankle.  I was bitten once,
and I suppose it's made me nervous ever since.  Which is lucky, or you'd
have been squashed to pulp, Wyvern."

"By the Lord he would," cried Rawson.  "Man alive, but you've had a
narrow squeak!  Well I'm blasted sorry if I've given you a shaking up--
and I can't say more."

"Oh, that'll be all right," said Wyvern, forgetting his own narrow
escape in his intense relief.  "But look here, Joe.  Are you dead sure
it wasn't one?"

"Dead cert.  Look.  Here's the thorn," picking one up.

"Haw-haw-haw!" bellowed Rawson.  "Well, Wyvern, I suppose you and I are
the only two cusses in the world who can say they've ever seen Joe
Fleetwood in a funk.  You were in one, weren't you, Joe?"

"Rather," was the answer, drily given.

"Well, I am a clumsy fellow," said Rawson, in his breezy way.  "Come
along now, and I'll show you my _amabele_ and mealie lands."

He led the way by a narrow game path in the bush and soon they came to a
high hedge made of mimosa thorn boughs tightly interlaced.  Beyond this
some three acres of green crops were visible.

"That's to keep out the bucks," said Rawson over his shoulder, for he
was leading.  "They'd scoff the lot in a night or two if there wasn't
something of the kind.  Fond of hunting, Wyvern?"

"Yes."

"Well, if you come up here on a moonlight night you'll get plenty of
chances.  There's an odd koodoo or so comes sniffing around after that
stuff, but the thorn fence humbugs them."

Wyvern was just thinking how even that inducement would not persuade him
to see a moment more of his host than necessity obliged, so intense was
the aversion the latter had inspired in him, when a sudden and violent
push from behind, almost of the nature of a blow, sent him staggering
and then sprawling, cannoning against and nearly upsetting his said
host, who was some three or four yards ahead.  Simultaneously the
detonating roar of an explosion, seeming to come out of the ground
itself, rent the air, and a perfect hail of missiles cut leaves and
twigs from the bush, or ploughed up the ground a few yards to the right
of the path they were pursuing.

"Hold up, man, hold up!  Not hit, are you?" sung out Bully Rawson, with
great concern.  "No?  That's all right.  Blast me if that wasn't one of
them spring-guns I've been settin' around this land for the bucks we've
just been talking about Man, there was half a pound of loepers in it if
there was one.  You must have kicked the string.  The wonder is I
didn't."

"Bit risky, isn't it?" struck in Fleetwood, drily.

"Course.  But I haven't been seeing to them for some time.  I swear I'd
forgotten there were any left set at all."

"Well, I saw the string," rejoined Fleetwood, and his tone was decidedly
short.  "Wyvern was about to kick it, and so I sent him flying just in
time.  Legs blown off at the shins--no doctor--shock and loss of blood--
stone dead in three minutes.  Seems to me your place is a bit dangerous,
Bully."

"So it is.  The wonder is I didn't kick it myself.  Well let's chuck
mouching about and get back to the store and have another drink.  We
deserve it after that.  Well, I'll hammer someone sweetly for leaving
that thing there, that's one consolation."

"It's none," said Wyvern, also shortly.  "Hammer yourself."

"Eh?  What do you mean?" said the other, trying to suppress his rising
fury.  "Ah well.  Let's have a look at the gun."

There it was--a clumsy-looking, half-rusty iron tube like unto a young
cannon, secreted in the bushes.  To the peg which held up the hammer was
attached a long string, its other end being made fast so that it came
across the path.  Any unwary animal which should collide with that
string, would find all its worldly interests at an end there and then.
Again Rawson was profuse in his apologies.

But thereafter, the tone of conversation between the two and the third
became somewhat strained, and their farewell was none too cordial.  As
they rode back to their outspan Fleetwood said:

"He's beginning early."

"Do you think he meant to shove that tree down on me?"

"Of course he did.  When that failed he remembered the spring-gun."

"Do you think that was a put up thing too?"

"I should rather say so.  Look here, Wyvern.  I saw him step _over_ the
string.  He knew it was there."

"The deuce you did."

"Well I did.  I've got a rum sort of instinct, Wyvern, and it has saved
more than one man's life before to-day."

"And it has saved one man's life twice to-day, old chap," answered
Wyvern gravely.

"That's nothing as between you and me," rejoined the other.  "When I
remember that day on the Hlobane--"

"Oh damn the Hlobane," cut in Wyvern.  "Now do you think this unhung
scoundrel has any inkling of our errand?"

"No, but for some reason or other he'd rather have our room than our
company, and the best road towards that is to get rid of us.  I had my
eye on him from the very beginning, luckily.  I saw him start shoving at
that tree, and the only way to stop you dead short was to invent that
snake-bite lie, just as the only way to make you clear the spring-gun
string was to give you the shove I did.  You let it off, but the sudden
pitch forward just cleared the charge."

"Well, if he gets up to anything of that sort openly I shall shoot,"
said Wyvern decisively.

"So shall I," said Fleetwood, with equal decision.

The while the subject of these remarks, having solaced his feelings by
thrashing one of his dependents, and getting considerably drunk, was
arriving at the conclusion that the process of "taking care of" Wyvern
was not going to prove as easy as it looked, and that he himself had
begun upon it very badly indeed.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

THE OPAL.

An amphitheatre of bush and krantzes, the latter fringed on the sides
and brink with the feathery droop of forest trees: dark, lateral kloofs
running steeply up into the face of the heights: beyond the silence of a
great wilderness, but enhanced by the varying bird voices upon the heat
of the still atmosphere, or the hum of insects and the chirrup of
crickets; and, over all, the deep blue arch of an unclouded sky.

Wyvern wiped his wet face with his wet handkerchief and gasped.  He
realised that he was getting limp--the enervating limpness produced by
the torrid, up-country, steamy heat, and, proportionately, was getting
depressed.  So far they seemed no nearer their goal.  They had searched,
always with the greatest caution, but without success, or even a clue;
and Hlabulana, their guide, seemed not nearly so confident now they had
reached the locality as he had seemed when he made his statement to
Fleetwood.  In brief he was puzzled but would not own to it--only put
them off in his vague native way.  Added to which Joe Fleetwood had been
more than once down with rather a bad attack of old up-country fever; in
fact he was lying in camp at that moment not able to get about.  But
Wyvern, leaving him in the care of Hlabulana and Mtezani, the young Zulu
to whom they had afforded asylum when the Usutus had pursued him right
into their camp--and that under strict orders not to lose sight of him
until his own return--had started forth, in his wearied impatience, to
see if he could get no nearer the difficulty of solving matters.

Bully Rawson had troubled them no further.  In fact they had seen but
little of that worthy, who when they suggested trekking on had heartily
approved of the idea.  Now they were about thirty miles distant from
him, allowing for the roundabout roughness of the road.  It seemed as
though he intended to trouble them no longer, and their precautions,
though not exactly suspended, were very much less rigid as time went by.

Wyvern eyed the expanse of savage wilderness--forest and cliff and
height--with a sombre hatred.  What if this discovery they had come up
here to make should elude them after all?  What if these recesses,
practically labyrinthine in their vastness, should hold that which he
had come to seek, that upon which he had pinned his future; should hold
it there at his very feet while he walked over it unconscious?  The
thought was maddening.  His depression deepened.

Then arose before him more strongly than ever--for it was ever before
him--the vision of Lalante; of Lalante, wide-eyed, smiling, ever
hopeful--of Lalante, a tower of strength in her sweetness and
confidence, unique in his experience; his complement, his other half--
than whom the whole world could not contain another similar.  How, in
that far wilderness, he longed and yearned for her presence, her
soothing comforting words, the love thrill in the sweetness of her
voice, his all--all his--his alone!  It was so long since he had been
able to receive even the words written by her, to realise that the paper
on which they were traced had been pressed by her hand, warm and strong
with the pulses of love.  When would he again?  If this scheme failed,
the failure would be irretrievable, abject.  And she?  Could she go on
for ever hoping in him?  Would not the surroundings of her life
ultimately prove too strong for her?  She was young, much younger than
himself: could she continue to believe in a man who was an utter and
consistent failure all along the line?  In the solitude of the great
wilderness he was brought more face to face with his knowledge of life--
of life and its experiences--and the retrospect was like iron entering
into his soul.  Her presence was no longer with him: would it ever be
again--for of such was life?

All the old time came back: the sweet time at Seven Kloofs when they had
been together, sometimes for days at a time, either there or at her own
home, especially that blissful day they had spent alone and free from
all interruption, the last of its kind before the rupture came; and it
seemed as though he had not appreciated it enough then--seemed so now,
though in actual fact it would have been impossible for him to have done
so more.  He could almost find it in his heart to have cursed Le Sage
for setting up that barrier between them during those last weeks, what
time they could have made the most of the sad sweetness of impending
parting; could have set up a rich barrier of love against the blank and
separation that was to come.  And with it all there came over him a wave
of longing--a craving, a yearning--that was perfectly irresistible, but
for the accidents of time and distance, to behold Lalante once more, to
hold her once more to him, to hear the full, love-fraught tones of her
voice, to look into her eyes, let what might happen afterward.  This
undertaking had ended in the clouds, and all the buoyant hope which had
sustained him had ebbed.

Thus musing he wandered on mechanically, hardly noting whether game he
had come out to shoot was to be found or not.  Then something caught his
gaze.  He stood and stared--shading his eyes, and then took a few quick
strides.  Something shone: shone but dully--but still shone.  It was
only a steel button.

Wyvern was not an excitable man, but now he thought to hear the pulses
of his heart thud violently within his chest.  As he stooped and picked
up the button, he picked up something else at the same time.  It was a
knife.

A sheath-knife, red with rust, and with an iron handle--quaint and of an
unfamiliar make and pattern.  Quickly, but carefully he examined the
ground further, and now his heart beat quicker still.  On the ground
were several fragments of what looked like moss-grown bits of pottery.
He bent down and examined them.  The largest piece could be nothing else
than the fragment of a skull--a human skull.

Further search revealed more remains, green and crumbly with age.
Wyvern looked up at the tossing heights.  Yes, here was the amphitheatre
or hollow known as Ukohlo.  He remembered every detail of the story; he
and Joe Fleetwood had talked it over too often for it to be otherwise.
Yes, and where the rocky side of the mountain rose abruptly were several
holes and caves.  The next thing would be to find the right one.

Now every detail of the story fitted in.  Clearly this was the spot
whereon the two wretched men had been suddenly and treacherously
murdered.  The knife, the human remains, all pointed that way.  Hope,
dispelling his former depression, bounded high once more.  If necessary
they would search every cranny and crevice, and thus could not fail to
secure the prize.

But--it was buried.  Well, they would dig if necessary.  The object
would be well worth the time and labour.

A shadow came between him and the light, then another.  Wyvern looked
up.  Great white vultures were wheeling and soaring between him and the
sun.  What did it mean?  Something must be dead or dying within this
grim, untrodden wilderness tract; and that hard by, yet of such there
was no perceptible sign.  A strange, boding uneasiness settled upon him.
What could it mean?  He was the only living thing moving at that time.
Again he looked up.  The great white birds had multiplied to a very
cloud, and they were right above him, floating round and round at some
height.

Just there the holes and caves were formed by large boulders which had
fallen together rather than by cracks in the solid cliff face.  The
opening of one of these formed a complete triangle, and towards this
some mysterious instinct impelled Wyvern's footsteps.

He paused a moment before the entrance.  A damp, earthy smell came from
within, and again the detail as to the earth which Hlabulana had seen
sticking to the knives of the adventurers came back to his mind.  Yet,
the connection of ideas proved nothing.  The same earthy smell would
probably have greeted his nostrils had he entered any other of the caves
which here opened in all directions.  Still, there was no harm in just
looking into this one.

A man of medium height could have entered it erect, but Wyvern had to
stoop.  Once inside however, the fissure widened.  At the further end
chinks of light penetrated where the boulders forming the hole had
fallen together, and these formed dim shafts of sunlight upon the floor.

The latter was soft and earthy.  Could it be here that the stuff was
buried?  Wyvern stamped upon the ground here and there, but it gave
forth the same sound everywhere.  Carefully, eagerly, he peered around--
again and again.  There was nothing.  He was about to leave the place
when--

Something shone.

On the ground, right under one of the shafts of light, it lay.  Wyvern
picked it up, and hurried to the daylight.  Yet his instincts of
precaution moved him to examine it while still within the shadow of the
cave.

A yellowish, cut stone lay within his hand.  Looking at it he felt sure
that it was an opal.  And then he had to call up all his self-control to
steady his nerves.  Hlabulana's story was no myth.  Clearly this was
where the stuff was buried.  He would go back and rouse up Fleetwoods--
the good news alone was bound to effect a cure--and they would return
together to dig it up.  This rich secret which the Lebombo had held for
so long within its grim fastnesses had been unfathomed at last.  Its
treasures would make them wealthy for life, and, above all, would bring
him Lalante.

Would they?  He had not found them yet--and with the thought came
another.  Opals, according to popular superstition, were unlucky, and
the first sign he had found of the existence and propinquity of the
treasure was an opal.  The next moment he laughed at himself for giving
even a thought to such nonsense, and stepped forth once more into the
open day.

Unlucky!  Why the whole world seemed to open up in a paradise of
delight.  Unlucky!  He would return and re-purchase Seven Kloofs, the
place which he loved; and this time old Sanna would not have to complain
that the place needed a "Missis."  Le Sage's objection was not to
himself but to his impecuniosity, and that obstacle removed, why then--
Unlucky!

With a hard ring and a splash of lead, the bullet flattened on the rock
beside him, simultaneously with the roar of the report, which rolled, in
a volley of echoes, among the surrounding krantzes.

"Bully Rawson, of course," exclaimed Wyvern to himself, as he quickly
got behind a rock to consider best as to how he should return the fire.

But this was not quite so easy, for the simple reason that his assailant
kept closely concealed.  A wreath of smoke hanging in front of a thick
row of foliage fringeing the lip of a low krantz some hundred yards
distant, showed the point of concealment.  He realised too, into what a
tight place he had got.  His cover was totally inadequate, and whoever
was making a target of him could not go on missing him all day.  Indeed
it was marvellous that he should have missed so easy a mark at all.

Again the superstition concerning the opal recurred to him.  No sooner
had he found the stone than he found himself in grave danger.  Every
moment now he expected another bullet.  He would almost certainly never
live to realise the bright fair future he had just been mapping out.
Well, the brutal cowardly ruffian who had come out there to do him to
death in the dark as it were, should not benefit by the clue he himself
had discovered, and to this end, concealed by the rock, he scraped a
hole in the soil and deposited the stone within it.  Then he called
out:--

"Rawson, you cowardly skulker.  Haven't you the pluck to meet me man to
man?  Come out and show yourself, can't you?"

There was no reply.

"Oh, you're plucky enough at thrashing defenceless women, and boys not a
third of your size," went on Wyvern.  "Come out now and we'll fight fair
with anything you like.  Come out, funk-stick."

This time an answer came, or some sort of an answer, and it took the
form of quick muttered voices in the Zulu tongue, together with the
sound of a scuffle, and a clinking fall of small stones down the face of
the krantz.  Then a voice was raised--also in the Zulu tongue.

"Come up here, _Nkose_.  Come up here.  I have him fast."

And Wyvern knew the voice for that of Mtezani, the young Zulu whose life
they had saved, and he went.

But before he went he scraped up the opal which he had buried beneath
the loose soil.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

OF THE HOSTILE USUTUS.

Wyvern had no difficulty in making his way up to the spot whence the
shot had been fired, and arriving there an unexpected sight met his
eyes.  There, sure enough, was Mtezani, and in his hand he held a big,
wicked-looking assegai, upraised and in striking attitude, while beneath
him, face to the earth, he seated astride upon it, lay the body of a
man, another native.  Beside them both lay a rifle.

"Lie still, dog," warned the young Zulu.  "Lie still, and move not, else
my broad blade shall pin thee to the earth.  _Nkose_!  Here is he who
would have shot you.  Look at him."

Wyvern did so, and could not but feel some astonishment, for he
recognised in his would-be murderer the boy whom Bully Rawson had so
mercilessly thrashed on the first occasion of his visiting that worthy's
kraal, Pakisa.

"Here he is," went on the chief's son.  "I was behind him when he fired
the shot, but just too late to prevent him.  But he got no chance of
another.  _Whau_!" and his glance rested meaningly on a heavy,
short-handled knob-stick which lay on the ground beside them, and at the
head of his prisoner, from which blood was trickling.  "I am going to
kill him now, _Nkose_, but first he will tell us why he shot at you.
Now dog, why was it?" emphasising the question by a sharp dig in the
back with the assegai he held.

The wretched Pakisa, beside himself with fear, stammered forth that it
was an accident; that he had taken the _Inkosi_ for a buck, and had
fired at him.

"That for the first lie," said Mtezani, emphasising the remark with
another dig, which made the prostrate one squirm and moan.  "Answer, or
I cut thee to pieces, strip by strip.  Now--why was it?"

"_He_ said I must."

"Ha!  Inxele?"

"_Eh-he_, Inxele.  He promised to shoot me if I failed, and now he
will."

"He will not.  Go on," said Wyvern.  "Why were you to shoot me?"

"I cannot tell, _Nkose_.  Except--yes, I heard him say, when he had
taken too much _tywala_, that you must go--that you must be taken care
of--yes that was how he put it, but I knew what he meant.  He gave me
this gun--I often go out and shoot game for him, _Nkose_--and told me to
go and watch for you.  If I did not take care of you, and that soon, he
would come after me, and shoot me, wherever I might be.  And he would
have done it.  I know Inxele, _Nkose_, if you do not."

"And the other _Inkosi_, U' Joe--were you to have `taken care' of him
too?" said Wyvern.

"Nothing did he say about that, _Nkose_," was the answer.  "It was you--
only you."

Wyvern pondered.  What sort of vindictive fiend could this be, he
thought, who could deliberately and in cold blood order his
assassination merely because he had disapproved of his brutal and
barbarous ways?  Then the incidents of the falling tree and the
spring-gun recurred to him.  That these were no accidents he had long
since determined, and now here was a fresh attempt; but that Rawson had
some powerful motive for removing him out of existence over and above
that of sheer vindictiveness, of course never came into his mind.

"How long have you been watching for an opportunity to `take care of
me'?" he asked, but his Zulu was defective, and it was not at once that
he could compass the answer.

"Since you have been at your present outspan, _Nkose_.  He said he would
shoot me, and he meant it."

"And you, Mtezani," said Wyvern, turning to the latter.  "Said I not
that you must not leave U' Joe, or the camp until my return?  Why then
are you here?"

"_Nkose_!  I have smelt this dog prowling about for two days following
you.  That is why I am here."

Wyvern could hardly find further fault, so he only said:

"Let him up."

"_Nkose_!  I will let him up--I--_Ijji_!"

The last came out in a strident ferocious gasp, as its utterer drove the
broad blade of his assegai down between the shoulders of his helpless
captive.  The limbs contracted convulsively, and the slayer, maddened by
a sudden access of ferocity, drove in his spear-head again and again.

"That dog will yelp no more," he growled, rising erect.

Wyvern felt absolutely sick.

"What have you done, Mtezani?" he said, sternly.  "You have killed an
utterly defenceless man.  That is not the act of a warrior but of a
coward."

The young Zulu looked more than sulky.

"That was not a man but a dog," he said.  "And he would have taken your
life, _Nkose_."

This was undeniable.  Wyvern felt he could hardly quarrel with a man who
had just saved his life; further he recognised that one of those
irresistible impulses to shed blood common to most savages had come upon
Mtezani.  Moreover the thing was done, and no amount of objection on his
part could undo it.  So he rejoined:

"And you have saved it, Mtezani.  Good.  I will not forget."

"_Nkose_ is my father and saved mine," was the reply.  "Now we are a
life for a life."

The speaker had quite regained his good-humour.  The paroxysm of
savagery had passed, and his pleasant, intelligent face was as usual.

"_Whau 'Nkose_!  What is one dog more or less?" he went on, with a
careless laugh.  "And--that one knew too much."

"Knew too much?"

"_Eh-he_!  He was sent by Inxele to find out what you were here for, and
to-day he knew.  Now he knows no more."

Wyvern stopped short and fixed his eyes on the other's face.

"And you, Mtezani?  Do you know?"

"_Ou_!" bringing a hand to his mouth.  "Even that might be, _Nkose_.
But others will not."

Wyvern eyed him curiously, then led the way back to the camp.

"We shall have to reckon with Inxele about this, Mtezani," he said.
"You have killed his `dog.'"

"_Hau_! and I would kill the dog's master," and the savagery blazed up
again.  "I am a son of Majendwa, _Nkose_, and a son of Majendwa fears
nobody, let alone a white _ishinga_ [a worthless person] such as Inxele
_Whau_, 'Nxele!  _Xi_!"

The contempt expressed was so complete that Wyvern burst out laughing.

"White people like you and U' Joe, _Nkose_," went on the Zulu, "that is
one thing, but such as Inxele, that is another!  They say you have no
king, you _Amangisi_ [English], only a woman for king.  If you had a
king surely Inxele would have been long since dead."

Wyvern laughed again at this way of putting things.  It was _naive_, to
say the least of it.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Joe Fleetwood lay restless under several blankets when they reached the
camp.  The day was blazing hot, but the chills of the dread up-country
fever held him in their grip.

"Buck up, old man," said Wyvern gaily.  "I've struck it at last."

"So?  Quite cert?" asked the other listlessly.

"Rather.  Look at this," showing the opal.  And then he told him all
about the finding of it.  Fleetwood's listlessness vanished.

"By Jove, we're on the spot at last," he said.  "It's awkward though,
Wyvern, that sweep Bully being on our spoor like this.  Looks as if he'd
got some wind of our plan."

"Yet that wretched devil that shot at me gave me to understand that it
was only me he wanted out of the way.  I own I'm stumped.  Surely even
such a brute as that wouldn't persistently have a fellow murdered simply
because he didn't like him."

"Not, eh?  It's plain you don't know Bully Rawson."

"Well, at any rate, it's a relief to know he hasn't scented our job,"
said Wyvern.  "Send the other boys out of reach on some sham errand,
Joe, and let's get Hlabulana here and talk things over."

This was done.  With perfect imperturbability the Zulu pronounced that
Wyvern had hit upon the spot.  When asked why he had allowed them to
spend days and weeks in useless search when he could have cut it short
by a word he answered:

"You white people cannot hide your minds, _Amakosi_, and the eyes and
ears of Inxele have been ever present I was waiting until there was no
more Inxele."

"Until?" repeated Fleetwood.

"Until there is no more Inxele.  Soon there will be no more Inxele."

"By Jove, there's no mistaking that for a hint," said Wyvern in English.
"There must be mischief brewing against our exemplary friend.  Oughtn't
we to warn him?"

"Not much.  Bully Rawson's big enough and quite ugly enough to take care
of himself.  Nor does he deserve anything of the kind after his little
tricks," answered Fleetwood decisively.  "Besides, it's him or us, and
you know what we've come up here for, Wyvern.  I'm afraid you'll never
be practical, and it's time you learnt to be by now.  I've never shirked
helping a friend in a row, but I'm not going out of my way to stick my
head into a hornet's nest for such an unhung blackguard as this."

"Hallo!  What the deuce is up!" exclaimed Wyvern as the furious gallop
of a horse drew near.  Nor was the mystery long in solving, for there
dashed right into the camp, and at headlong pace, no less a personage
than he whom they had just been discussing.  Moreover he was bleeding
from a wound in the hand, and another in the head.

"Chaps," he roared, flinging himself unsteadily from the saddle.  "Get
out the shooters mighty quick.  The Usutus have looted my kraal, and are
coming on, hot foot, behind me.  They'll be here in a sec."

Fleetwood and Wyvern looked at each other, and both thought the same.
Instead of putting their heads into a hornets' nest for this ruffian, he
had brought the hornets' nest about them.

"Oh, ah, but it can't be helped," he jeered, reading their thoughts.
"We're all in this together.  You're white men and you can't refuse to
stand by another white man.  So get out the shooters, and we'll give 'em
hell directly."

Our friends' camp consisted of a strong _scherm_, made of thorn boughs
tightly interlaced.  Within this stood the two waggons, and at nightfall
the horses and oxen were brought inside, a necessary precaution, for the
bushy and broken fastnesses of the Lebombo range still contained a few
lions.  Now, even as they were getting out arms and ammunition, the boys
who were outside came running in in alarm.  Hlabulana, seated on the
ground, was taking snuff with his usual imperturbability.  Mtezani
stood, equally imperturbable except that he gripped his shield and broad
assegais in such wise as to suggest that he was ready for as much fight
as anybody chose to put up for him.

There was not long to wait.  The _scherm_ was erected in an open space,
and now from the lines of cover, swarms of Zulus were issuing.  The
full-sized war-shields and certain personal adornments left no doubt as
to their errand being the reverse of a peaceful one, as they poured
forward ringing in the _scherm_ on every side.  And, swift with thought
there flashed through Wyvern's brain the knowledge that they two had
attained the object of their search just too late.  What could three men
do against this swarming number, with no cover but a bush fence, and as
for aid from without why there was no such thing possible!

Fleetwood, standing on a waggon box, raised his voice to try and obtain
a parley, but even while he was doing so, a shot rang out, then another
and another, and with them he realised that the time for parleying had
gone by.  For Bully Rawson, judging it best to take the bull by the
horns, had jumped to the side of the _scherm_ and was pumping the
contents of a Winchester repeating rifle into the thickest of the
on-rushing mass.  Several were seen to fall, and now with an awful roar
of rage, the whole body hurled itself upon the barricade like a wave
upon a rock.

"Don't fire a shot, Wyvern," whispered Fleetwood hurriedly.  "We can't
possibly stop them, and it may be our only chance."

What happened next Wyvern for one could hardly have told.  The whole
inside of the _scherm_ was alive with waving shields and savage forms,
and glinting blades.  Rawson had gone down under a knob-kerrie deftly
hurled, but he and Fleetwood still kept their position upon the waggon
box, their undischarged weapons in their hands.  They saw their native
servants ruthlessly speared, all save a couple who had managed to hide
beneath the waggon sail, and death was but a question of moments.
Should they die fighting or elect to stake all on their only chance?

The while, Hlabulana sat calmly taking snuff.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

"THE HORNETS' NEST."

The two men sat there side by side, expecting death.

The crowd of roaring, mouthing, excited savages that ringed them in, was
increasing from without, and still the sea of waving spear-blades
refrained from overwhelming them.  The ruffian who had brought this upon
them they could not see for the crush.

"Ho, Muntisi!  Ho, Laliswayo!" called out Fleetwood in stentorian tones,
recognising two men whom he knew.

These, who had only just come up and were pushing a way through the
crowd, which parted for them as well as it could, recognised the
speaker.

"What is the meaning of it?" cried the latter.  "You Laliswayo, who are
a chief--what does this mean?  There is no war."

"Why as to that, nothing is sure, U' Joe," answered the chief.  "You,
and Kulisani there, must give up your weapons and you can go."

"And our oxen have all been speared.  Can we drag our waggons
ourselves?"

"For that I know nothing nor care," was the answer.  "As to the waggons
these will lighten them for you."

A howl of delight went up from the listeners, who had attained to some
degree of quietude while the chief was speaking.

"Take your choice," went on the latter, seeing that they hesitated and
were rapidly conferring together.  "Look at these," waving a hand over
the expectant crowd, which having already tasted blood was hungry for
more.  "You may kill one or two, or even three, but you cannot kill all.
And then, no swift and easy death will yours be."

The tone of hostility underlying this frank threat, was not disguised.

"You, Laliswayo, will be the first to die."

Fleetwood's tone was sternly determined.  He had covered the chief with
his rifle.

"Bid these go away," he went on.  "At once, before I count ten, or the
son of Malamu shall go in search of his father.  You know I never miss."

The moment was a tense one.  A dead hush had fallen upon the crowd, but
the chiefs face was as unfathomable as stone.  It looked as if cool,
resolute courage was going to prevail, when there befel one of those
accidents which seem almost to justify a belief in luck, good or bad.

Both men had stood up in front of the waggon box, and now Wyvern,
slightly shifting a foot, managed to lose his balance, and fall heavily
to the ground.  Instinctively trying to save himself he cannoned against
Fleetwood, upsetting him too, his rifle going off as he fell--but into
the air.  Quick as thought their enemies were upon them.  Their weapons
were snatched from their grasp, and they were held down by the sheer
force of many powerful hands, while others fetched reims which hung
about the waggon and in a moment they were bound so tightly that they
could not move.

The roar of mingled rage and exultation that went up, as they were
dragged forth into the open, was indescribable.

"They would have killed the chief!  They tried to!" were among the
exclamations of threatening fury which arose on all sides.  Laliswayo
strode forward.  He was a middle-aged man, tall and well-proportioned,
good-looking too after the clean-run Zulu type, and held himself with
all the dignity of his race and position.

"What was my word to you, U' Joe?" he said, his face coldly dark with
resentment.  "That yours should be no swift and easy death.  And now you
have tried to kill me even while we were talking together.  _Hau_!"

The disgust expressed by this last exclamation evoked another wrathful
outburst.  Through it Fleetwood managed to call out:

"That is not true, son of Malamu.  By accident did the gun go off."

"By accident!" echoed the listeners.  "By accident!  _Whau_!"  And
shouts of jeering laughter went up at this.

"By accident, I repeat," said Fleetwood, calmly.  "See.  There must be
not a few here who know me.  Have such ever found me a liar?"

But for some reason this appeal met with no response.  The threatening
clamour increased, and amid it there were murmurs of death by fire, or
the black ants.  The chiefs word had gone forth that no swift and easy
death should fall on those who withstood his terms.  How could a chief
go back on his word?  It must stand.  Thus they murmured.

Fleetwood glanced at Wyvern to see if he had understood, and he hoped
not.  But his own heart sank.  He knew this Laliswayo, as one of the
most prominent and relentless leaders of the Usutu faction, a man
bitterly hostile to the whites since the war, and, worst of all, a man
who loved popularity.  Could he now refuse to accede to the demand of
his followers or restrain their barbarous and bloodthirsty aspirations?
If not, why--they two had better have blown their own brains out while
they could.

Then a diversion occurred.

Mtezani, during the disturbance, had been standing aloof against the
further side of the _scherm_ watching events.  That he could have been
of no use whatever to the sorely harassed pair by coming forward he
fully knew, but by keeping in the background until the psychological
moment it was just possible he might be.  So with the true philosophy of
the savage he had kept in the background accordingly.

Now they had discovered him.  In the tumult of rushing the _scherm_ he
had been overlooked as one of themselves, and now, with the discovery, a
clamour arose that he should be killed.  He, a Qulusi, the son of a
chief ilke Majendwa, to go over to the Sibepu and Hamu faction, and take
sides against the King, why death was the least he deserved.  Thus they
raved, and a ring of spears and infuriated countenances threatened him.
But Mtezani sitting on the ground, got out his snuff-horn, and passed it
on to Hlabulana as calmly as if they were not there.

Then they jeered at him.  He had become the white man's dog--Sibepu's
dog.  He was in with those who were supplying arms and ammunition to be
used against them, the side of the nation, the larger side, which was
loyal to its King.  And, jeering, their mood grew even nastier than when
angry.  _Hau_!  A traitor was a coward, of course.  Who was there among
them mean enough to kill such.  And they made mock to look around among
each other in quest of some one; and their tone, from jeering, became
snarling, and Mtezani's life hung on a hair.

Then Mtezani rose to his feet.

"Where is there one mean enough to kill me?" he repeated, confronting
the numbers of those who threatened him.  "_Whau_!  Who is there _great_
enough to kill a son of Majendwa?  For surely no common man may kill
such."  And he threw his shield and weapons on the ground, and stood,
looking at the raging and fast thickening crowd with calm contempt.

There was a momentary stirring among the latter.  Then someone was
pushed forward, a fine young warrior, fully armed.  Mtezani's face
lightened and he made a move to pick up his weapons.  But it was only a
momentary impulse.

"I am Tulaza, the son of Umbelini," said the chosen champion.  "Now I
think we have found one great enough to kill a son of Majendwa."

Mtezani uttered a click of contempt.

"Go home, half Swazi dog," he said.  "Thou art not even of the Amazulu.
Umbelini!  _Whau_!  Umbelini!"

This was too much.  The one thus insulted hurled a heavy knob-kerrie.
In the same move of ducking to avoid it.  Mtezani picked up his shield
and weapons, and then the fight began.  None had any doubt as to how it
would end--for the many sons of Majendwa were of noted prowess in deeds
of arms--and as it progressed, gradually feeling went over to the other
side, for, as he had said, Mtezani was one of themselves, and in fact
many of his tribe were present, whereas the other was the son of a
refugee Swazi who had done _konza_ to Cetywayo, and had helped in the
English war.  So the flapping of shields together, and the lungeing and
parrying and feinting, caused tremendous excitement among the
spectators, which rose to a perfect uproar, as Mtezani managed to beat
down his adversary's shield and at the same time deal him a crashing
blow on the head which sent him to earth like a felled log.

"It appears," said the victor, looking around, "that the one who is
great enough to kill a son of Majendwa is yet to be found."

"_Eh-he_," assented Hlabulana, who, the white, had been seated taking
snuff, while watching the fight in the capacity of calm, dispassionate
critic.  A roar of applause endorsed this.  The tide had turned.  Nobody
wanted to kill Mtezani now.

Laliswayo, the while, though he had turned his face towards the scene of
the tumult, had not taken the trouble to go over and look into it
personally.  Now he turned his attention once more to his prisoners.

"You hear what these cry, U' Joe?" he said, "that my word must stand."

"Oh but, you are doing a grave thing, son of Malamu," answered
Fleetwood.  "You are bringing further ruin upon the nation of Zulu than
that which has already befallen it.  We are peaceful traders, and there
is no war in the land, yet you rush our camp--as if it was Isandhlwana
over again--kill our oxen and our servants, and treat us with indignity
and even threaten us with death.  Do you think our people will allow
that to pass unavenged?  _Whau_, Laliswayo! it may mean that such
conduct may make the downfall of the Great Great One, the son of Mpande,
more complete."

"Peaceable traders!" echoed the chief, with an evil sneer, for he was
striving to lash himself up into rage to cover the secret misgiving
which these words caused him.  "Peaceable traders, _Whau_!  Such do not
join with those like Inxele.  You have shot several of our people Is not
that making war?"

"We have not.  Look at our guns.  Except for mine that went off by
accident they have not even been fired.  You can see for yourself.  All
the shooting was done by Inxele.  Ask him."

"_Yeh-bo_!  Inxele," echoed the bystanders.  "We will bring him to life
again and ask him," and a rush was made for the spot where Bully Rawson
had fallen, stunned and unconscious.

He was no longer there.

Then, indeed, surprise, consternation, was their portion.  Why he had
been almost killed--so nearly so indeed that they had not thought it
worth the trouble of securing him.  When he came to they had intended to
put him through a few hours of discomfort in which live ashes would play
a prominent part, as a preliminary to abolishing him from Zululand in
particular and this terrestrial orb in general, and now he had
disappeared.  The thing was incredible.  It was a thing of _tagati_.

How could it have been?  How could he have slipped through and got clean
away?  It was true they had forgotten him in the excitement of these
other two whites and the fight between Mtezani and Tulazi, but how could
he get away unseen?  Further, he was nearly killed.  Well, he could not
have gone far.

With shouts of ferocious anticipation they started to quarter the
surroundings in search of him--the _scherm_ had been pulled down from
the very first.  No--he could not have gone far, and when they did find
him, why then a long reckoning would have to be paid for the guns
supplied to the enemies of the King.

Like hounds they quartered the ground in every direction.  No sign of
their quest.  Then the bush line was entered.  Here they would have him.
He could not go far.  Oh no.  He could not go far.

But whether he could go far or not, certain it was that they failed to
find him.  They searched and searched, far beyond the distance he could
possibly have reached within the time, but all to no purpose.  Well
there were still two upon whom they could wreak a cruel vengeance, and
now, all the savage aroused within them, they turned back, discussing
what they should do with these other two when the chief had given them
over, as of course he would.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

"JEALOUSY IS CRUEL AS THE GRAVE."

Warren was seated in his office at Gydisdorp, and his whole power of
mind and thought was concentrated on a letter.

It lay on the table before him.  It was not externally a pleasing
object.  It was covered with thumb marks; the writing was in a laboured,
unformed hand; the spelling and grammar were vile and the contents
cryptic.  Yet to him who now sat dwelling upon it the communication was
of so jubilant a nature that his only misgiving was that it might be
premature or not true.  This was strange, for the gist of the document
was to announce the death of one who had been his friend.

"Jealousy is cruel as the grave," sings the Wise Man.  Warren was not
familiar with the quotation but he instinctively, if unconsciously,
realised its purport as he sat there conning the greasy, ill-spelt
missive whose contents he knew by heart.  And yet so paradoxically
logical was his own particular temperament that side by side with the
wild jubilation that thrilled his whole being over the certainty that
the one obstacle in his way was in it no longer, never would be in it
again, ran a vein of real regret for the man for whom under any other
circumstances he would have felt a genuine friendship.  That he, Gilbert
Warren, sat there, in intent, at any rate, a murderer, was the last
thing in the world to occur to him.  In intent only, as it happened, for
the main substance of the communication lay in one sentence, penned in
an utterly uneducated style.  To be exact it ran thus:

"Wivern and jo fletwood have bin kild by the Usootos."

And then followed further particulars.

Warren had little doubt as to the genuineness of the missive.  It was
matter of common report that there had been serious disturbances in the
remoter parts of Zululand between the faction which cleaved to the
captive and exiled King, and that which did not, to wit that influenced
by most of the thirteen kinglets appointed under the Wolseley
settlement.  Wyvern and his friend had somehow got mixed up in one of
these ructions, and--there was an end of them.

Unlocking a drawer he got out the portrait of Lalante, and set it
upright before him.  She was his now; not all at once of course, but
when she began to get over her loss, when the first sense of it began to
be bluntened.  He was far too cautious in his knowledge of human nature
to hurry matters; to seem to "rush" her in any way.  His was the part of
earnest sympathiser.  He would sound the dead man's praises in every
way, and on every available opportunity.  He would make himself
necessary to her by doing this when other people had practically
forgotten that any such person had ever existed.  In time she would turn
to him, not for a long time it might be--Warren was shrewd enough to
realise this--but time was nothing and he could afford to wait, even as
he had waited already, and he knew full well that next to Wyvern there
was no man living of whom Lalante held a higher opinion than himself.

The river incident had had much to do with cementing this.  Fervently
Warren blessed that incident, and had done his best to make the most of
it; not by dwelling on it in any way, on the contrary if it was ever
mentioned he would pooh-pooh it and change the subject.  But he was more
than ever welcome at Le Sage's, and made a good deal of his welcome by
being frequently there.  Moreover he knew that in Le Sage himself he had
a powerful and steadfast ally.

All this ran through his busy mind as he gazed at the portrait in a
perfect ecstasy of love and passion; taking in the splendid outlines of
the form, the straight glance of the fearless wide-opened eyes, the
seductive attractiveness of the face, firm, yet so sweet and tender.
His! his at last I and yet he would need all his patience.  Then a tap
at the door brought him back to the practicalities of the hard, business
world again.  Drawing some papers over the portrait, he sung out:

"Come in."

A clerk entered.

"There's a party downstairs wants to see you, sir.  Roughish looking
customer too."

"Is he sober?"

"I think so, sir.  At least he seems pretty steady on his pins."

"Name?"

"Bexley.  Jim Bexley.  Said you knew him, sir, and would be sure to see
him."

"Right.  Show him up when I ring, not before."

When the clerk had gone out Warren replaced the portrait in the drawer,
even as we saw him do on a former occasion.  He was in no hurry to
interview his caller, on the contrary he sat, thinking profoundly, for
quite a while.  Then he banged on his handbell.

There was a creaking of heavy footsteps on the wooden stairs, and the
clerk reappeared, ushering in the visitor.  Even as the clerk had said
he was a roughish looking customer, and he was sober.  Him we have seen
before, for it was no less a personage than our old friend Bully Rawson.

But the "bully" side of him seemed to have departed.  His manner was
positively cringing as the door closed behind him, leaving him alone
with Warren.  The latter gazed at him fixedly for a moment.  Then he
said:

"Sit down."

Rawson obeyed.  But the expression of his face as he stared at Warren
was that of a cornered animal, cowed as well, or of one in a trap.

"Have you been keeping sober?"

"Yes, Mr Warren.  But Lord love ye, if I was never so `on' I wouldn't
blab."

"No, you wouldn't, because you've nothing to blab about."

The tone was absolutely cool and unmoved.  With one hand Warren was
playing with a paper weight which lay on the table.  Rawson fidgetted
uneasily.

"I've taken care of him," he said at last.  "Oh three times I `took care
of him,' but it were no go.  That blanked Fleetwood come in the way
twice, the third time I turned it over to a nigger of mine and he got
`took care of' instead.  Haw-haw-haw!"

"Howling joke, isn't it?"

"Rather.  Them blanked Usutus rushed my kraal, and I just took 'em on to
Wyvern and Fleetwood's camp and--well, they took care of 'em."

"You saw it done?"

"Didn't I!  And while they was doing it I lit out, slid up a big baobab
which looked hollow, and sure enough it was; and there I lay snug while
they was huntin' around in every direction for me.  Ho-ho!  There was a
nest of red ants in the hole though, and I jolly well got nearly eaten."

"Yes?  Well, you stay around here a little longer--where, I don't mind
one way or the other.  Only--keep sober.  D'you hear?  Keep sober.  I
may want you at any minute.  Meanwhile I'll just take down all
particulars of your yarn."

He got a sheet of foolscap and put the other through his statement,
taking down the details in a concise, business-like way.  The only thing
on which Rawson seemed hazy was the exact date.  He had no call to
bother about that sort of thing up-country, he explained apologetically,
in fact he hardly knew one day of the week from another, so completely
had he got out of the way of reckoning by time.

This done, Rawson shuffled a little uneasily, then said:

"All my things were looted, Mr Warren.  I'm a beggar as I stand here,
so help me.  Couldn't you let us have something to start me afresh?"

"Not a rix-dollar."

"You're a hard 'un to serve," grunted Rawson.

"You'll find me a harder one still if you don't watch it.  I've no
further use for you that I know of, but there's one Jonathan Baldock
that certain judicial authorities in this colony might turn to a very
unpleasant use--for Jonathan Baldock.  So mind your way about,
especially where I am concerned."

The cowed look upon the ruffianly countenance gave way to the ferocity
of desperation.  Warren had goaded this savage beast to a point past
endurance.  As Fleetwood had said, Bully Rawson's pluck was beyond
question, but even it paled before the vision of a beam and a swinging
noose.  Now, beside himself with fear and rage, he turned on Warren, and
reviled him with epithets that we cannot reproduce here.  The whole
aspect of the man was rather terrific, especially to one who knew his
character and repute.  But Warren sat calmly through the outburst,
turning over a paper here and there.

"Now that you've done you may go--and be hanged," he said at last, when
the other had stopped exhausted.

"Yes, but I'll be hanged for something, hell take me if I don't," he
roared.  "I'll send you there first, you blasted, snivelling,
white-livered liar."

Warren found himself gazing at the muzzle of a wicked-looking
six-shooter, and that in the hand of a desperate and exasperated
ruffian.  But he did not move, nor did his face change colour in the
slightest degree.

"Put up that thing," he said, coolly.  "And stop kicking up that
infernal row, unless you want everyone else to know what no one knows at
present but me."

The hard, cold eyes of the lawyer held the savage, bloodshot ones of the
border desperado, and triumphed.

"I'm sorry, Mr Warren," said the latter, shamefacedly, replacing the
weapon in his pocket.  "My temper's a bit short these days.  I sort of
forgot myself."

"I should rather think you did.  Well, as you have the decency to own it
here's something to go on with.  Only because you're hard up, mind, not
on account of anything you may or may not have done for me," and he
opened a drawer, and taking out some notes chucked them across to the
other.  "Well Jim Bexley, you can go now.  Keep me up to where you're to
be found in case I want you, and, above all, keep sober.  So long."

He banged the handbell and the same clerk came up; and Bully Rawson
found himself shown out, while wondering if he had done the right thing,
and whether there was anything more to be got out of Warren, also
whether the latter had been really as cool as he seemed or whether his
coolness was forced "side."  As to this Warren was thinking the same
thing himself; and came to the conclusion that he had been for one
moment in desperate peril.  Then he ceased to give the matter another
thought.

For some time after his visitor's departure he sat thinking.  How would
Lalante take the news?  This was the worst side of it.  Who was to break
it to her?  Not he himself--with all his nerve and self-possession this
was a task from which Warren shrank.  Who better qualified for it than
her own father.  Le Sage must be the man.  He would write to Le Sage,
giving the facts.

The facts?  A sudden and unaccountable misgiving leaped into his mind,
striking him as it were, between the eyes.  What if Rawson had invented
the story, or had simply escaped and left the other two in the lurch?
In that case the chances were ten to one that they turned up again,
since the Zulus were only fighting among themselves and not against the
whites.  How could he have pinned his faith to the word of an utterly
irredeemable scoundrel such as Bully Rawson?  Thinking now of his former
jubilation Warren felt perfectly sick at the thought that it might have
been wholly premature.  However he would put the matter beyond all
doubt.  He would wire his agents in Natal to leave no stone unturned; to
spare no trouble or expense; to hire a whole army of native spies, if
necessary, to collect every scrap of information throughout the whole of
the disturbed country.  This need arouse no curiosity; his friendship
with Wyvern would account for it.

What was this thing called love, that it should upset reason, and
possess the brain to the exclusion of all other things.  In the travail
of his soul Warren recognised that he was standing on the brink of a
pit.  By just the exceptional strength of his mind and will did this
obsession become the more dangerous should his new-found hopes melt into
air, and, realising this, he realised also that it might soon be time to
"set his house in order."  For the fate of his former friend he felt no
compunction whatever, for "jealousy is cruel as the grave."



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

WARREN'S NEWS.

"But when will the Baas be back, _Klein Missis_?  Whenever will the Baas
be back?"

"Oh, how I wish I knew, Old Sanna," answered Lalante with a sad smile.
Her smile had been growing rather sad of late, since week had been
following upon week, and still bringing no word from the absent one.
Could it mean that he was on his way back?  She dared not hope so.

"And these Zulu _menschen, Klein Missis_--are they more _schelm_ than
our Kafirs here?  No but, that could never be.  There's Sixpence, he who
_slaag-ed_ the sheep.  The Baas ought to have had him flogged or taken
to the _tronk_, yet he does neither, but lets him go as if nothing had
happened _Oh goieje_!"

"And Sixpence has been a very good boy ever since, Old Sanna."

The old woman grunted, then went on:

"That was the last day you were here, Miss Lalante; with the _Baas_ I
mean."

The sadness of the smile deepened, and the wide eyes gazing forth over
the panorama of rolling plain and distant rock as seen from the stoep at
Seven Kloofs, grew misty.  Did she not remember that day, the last
perfect one before the final rupture!  Now Seven Kloofs was the property
of her father, his only bad bargain, as we have said elsewhere.  He had
wanted to turn off old Sanna, if only that she formed a link between
Lalante and the former owner, whose memory he by no means wished kept
green; but Lalante had pleaded so hard against this that he had given
way, and the old woman remained on in charge of the unoccupied house.

Hither Lalante would sometimes ride over, even as to-day, to dwell, in
imagination, among the past again.  Now she turned from the stoep and
entered the living room.  The same, and yet not.  Bare walls and floor,
and yet how replete with memories.  Here was where the dear old untidy
table--with its litter heap shoved as much off one end as possible--had
stood--there the low chair in _his_ favourite corner--even the mark on
the wall, where her portrait had hung, showed plain.  All so familiar in
the memories it brought that it almost seemed as though his tall figure
should suddenly darken the doorway, or that some inexplicable replica of
his presence should enter the room.  Oh if she could but obtain some
news, read but one line that his hand had traced!

It is a truism to insist on the associations which this or that
particular spot, sometime occupied in common with a presence--gone, it
may be, for ever--calls back to the mind, because even the most
unimaginative must, in their heart of hearts, own to a consciousness of
having at sometime in their lives gone through this feeling.  Lalante of
course, was not unimaginative, and the associations which every stick
and stone of the place conjured up were overwhelming in their sense of
utter desolation.  It seemed that every word that had passed between
them sounded again in her ears, this jest here and on such an occasion,
that light banter or grave discussion there, each and all at such a time
and on such a spot.  Within doors, outside on the stoep, or in the open
veldt it was all the same, that awful, intense craving for the presence
which was no longer there.

The patter of running feet and the light laughter of child voices--then
her two small brothers came round from the back of the house.

"Time to go back Lala, hey?  Oh!"

There was that in their sister's look which turned both of them suddenly
grave.  A small hand--hot and of course not over clean--stole into each
of Lalante's, and two untidy heads nestled against her, one on each
side.  These two had long since gained an inkling of the real state of
affairs.  Now they meant to be consolatory, but of course didn't know
what to say, so they said nothing.

"You darlings, yes it is," she answered.  "Go and tell Sixpence to bring
round the horses."

The former unreliable herd had been given the post of general out-door
caretaker of the place--owing again to Lalante's pleading.  Now he
appeared, leading the three horses, a grin of cordiality making a white
stripe across his broad face.  He, again launched forth into inquiry as
to when the _Baas_ would return.

"_Ou_! but he hoped it would be soon," he went on, when he got his
answer.  "That was a _Baas_ to serve, none like him in the land.  He was
great, he was a chief indeed.  He was his--Sixpence's--father, and his
heart was sore until his father's presence was over him once more."

Lalante smiled, still sadly as she gave the Kafir the length of tobacco
which she had brought over for him.  Even this raw savage had an
affection for the absent one, who had forgiven him what time he had
incurred the most severe penalties.

During the homeward ride she was still rather silent.  The two small
boys, Charlie and Frank, dropped behind and kept up their own chatter,
but even it was rather subdued, rather laboured.  The sun flamed down in
all the glory of the cloudless afternoon.  Two little steinbok rushed,
startled, from the roadside, and scampering a couple of score yards
halted to gaze at them curiously.  It brought back just such another
incident when he had been with her, and jumping off, had turned over one
of them with a neat rifle shot.  The shrill grating cackle of a troop of
wild guinea-fowl rose from a clump of prickly pear down towards the
river, and, shading her eyes, she could see the long lines of dust
rising against the sun as the wary birds ran.  Here too, he had bagged
quite a goodly number while she waited for him, and under exactly the
same circumstances.  Every sight and sound of the sunlit veldt, recalled
him with a vividness more than ordinary to-day, which is dealing in
superlatives.  Yet--why?

There was the spot on which they had made their last farewell on that
memorable evening.  Lalante had passed over it several times since, but
now, to-day, such an overpowering feeling came upon her, as nearly
impelled her there and then to dismount and kiss the very dust his feet
had pressed.  Yet--why?

"Man--Frank," exclaimed Charlie, as they were descending the last slope
opposite the homestead.  "There's somebody with father.  Wonder who it
is."

Lalante started, and strained her eyes.  The distance was over great for
identification purposes, but whoever it was she was pretty sure who it
wasn't.

"Why it's Mr Warren," went on the first speaker.  "_Ja_--but I'm glad.
He's no end of a jolly chap."

Again Lalante's heart tightened, as she remembered a similar eulogium,
more than once uttered, with regard to another.  Otherwise, as to Warren
she was rather glad of his presence than not.  He was good company and
would somehow draw her on to talk of Wyvern, whose praises he would
deftly sound; moreover he never lost a chance of trying to soften her
father's resentment against the absent one.  Then, too, there was his
daring feat in the flooded Kunaga on that dreadful afternoon.  But, for
any other consideration, if he had only known it, Warren was nowhere.
There was only one in the world for her; one who was totally unlike any
other she had ever seen or could form any possible idea of.  Ah, if it
were only that one!  Yet, on the whole, she was glad to see Warren.  He
might even have brought her some news, he who seemed in touch with
everybody.

Le Sage and his guest were standing at the gate.

"Take round the horses, kiddies," said the former, shortly, as they
dismounted.  "And--don't come back here until you're sent for.  D'you
hear?"

The small boys obeyed without question.  There was that in their
father's tone which precluded anything of the kind.

"What is it?"  Lalante managed to get out, in a catching sort of gasp,
her great eyes fixed upon their faces, her own cold and white.  The two
men looked at each other.

"Oh, you tell her, Le Sage, for God's sake," muttered Warren.  "I
can't."  And turning, he went indoors.

"What is it, father?" repeated the girl, the lividness of her face truly
awful as she pressed her hands convulsively on her heaving heart.
"Don't beat about the bush.  Tell me."

"For Heaven's sake, child, keep up," he answered jerkily.  "It's about
Wyvern.  Disturbances in Zululand.  He's--"

"Dead?"

Le Sage nodded.  He could trust himself for no further words, in the
face of that fearful stony-eyed grief.  Viewing this, at the moment he
would have given much to have seen Wyvern standing there alive and well.
He had obtained his bitter, oft repeated, but secret wish, and now he
would have given half he possessed had he not, as he read the effect of
the shock in Lalante's face.

"Keep up, child.  For God's sake keep up.  You'll get over it," he
jerked forth, as the tall, fine figure of the girl swayed for a moment,
then leaned against one of the gate posts for support.  Was she going to
faint?  No, she was made of stronger stuff.

"Get over it?"  The words seemed almost demoniacal in their mockery.
"Get over it!"  Why the world had come to an end for her from that
moment.  "Get over it?"  Something of a wan smile came to her lips, at
the bare irony suggested by the idea, as she stood, still grasping the
gate post as in an iron grip.  The face was white as marble, and the
lips were set and blue.  Only the great eyes moved, roaming listlessly
here and there, but resting on nobody.

"And you--sent--him--to--his--death."

Le Sage shivered beneath the words as beneath the cutting of a lash.
The one awful fear then in his mind was that Lalante might lose her
reason.  In a rush of penitential tenderness, surprising in a man of his
hard and calculating nature, he poured forth a torrent of adjurations to
her to pull herself together, and muster up all her courage and listen
to what there was to tell; and at length he prevailed.

"Let me hear all," she said, in a dull voice, sitting back in a low cane
chair on the stoep, one in which _he_ had often sat.  "No.  I don't want
anything," as her father besought her to let him fetch something in the
shape of a restorative.  "It's deeper than that.  Only, my heart is
broken at this moment.  Well, tell me everything."

Le Sage was gulping with his own voice--in fact, could not command it.

"Tell me.  Tell me," she went on.  "How much longer am I to wait?"

"It's this way, Miss Lalante," struck in Warren, who having pulled
himself together, now judged it high time to come to the rescue.  "There
was a scrimmage up there between the King's party--the Usutus--those who
favour Cetywayo's restoration, you know--and the other faction--those
who don't.  Somehow Wyvern and his friend--Fleetwood the other man's
name was--got between the two and were--killed.  I have it from an
eye-witness, another up-country trader, who, however, managed to
escape."

"Who is he?"

"A man named Bexley--Jim Bexley.  He's a rough customer but a reliable
one.  I'm afraid, in this case, too reliable."

"And he saw it done?"

Warren nodded.

"Could I see him?"

"Certainly.  But--had you better?  It will take a few days to get hold
of him, but it shall be done if it would give you the smallest atom of
comfort, as indeed what should not?"

"Did he see them killed?"

Again Warren nodded.

"Then how did he escape himself?"

There was an uncomfortable directness about this cross-examination which
Warren didn't like and hadn't bargained for.  He was a believer in
woman's instinct, and to that extent began to feel uneasy.  What if
Rawson had been lying to him after all?  But he answered:

"Just then the Usutus were attacked by the rival faction and in the
confusion Bexley escaped.  You see, he is an experienced Zulu trader,
and knew a lot of them.  Some of them would be sure to favour him.  I
received the news much earlier, but in order not to prematurely alarm
you, I sent for the man himself so as to hear the story direct."

What was this?  No word of thanks, of appreciation such as he had
expected, passed Lalante's lips.  Her eyes were fixed on his with a
hard, unflinching and, as he thought, distrustful gaze.  As a matter of
fact it was just that.  A sudden instinct, an indefinable _flair_, had
inspired in her mind an element of suspicion.  Even the cleverest of
actors may at times forget to keep up his part and this is precisely
what Warren had done.  Some of the intense jubilation which rang in his
mind had overflowed into his tone, making his sympathy ring hollow, and
even false.  There and then Lalante formed the conclusion that he was
not Wyvern's friend.  But she said nothing.  What did it matter?  What
did the whole world matter now?

Over the dusking plains the red afterglow shed its changing rays of
beauty.  There were the same familiar sights and sounds of the closing
day, and the voices of life.  Together they two had listened to it, had
remarked on it often--the sweetness of the golden air, the rushing forth
of innumerable stars as the heavenly vault darkened.  Side by side they
had watched it all, and now--side by side they would watch it no more.
Without a word she rose, and, passing to her room shut herself in, to
undergo the first night of agony alone.  The first night! and, after
that the first awakening--in the morning!



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

THE SNAKE-DOCTOR.

Baffled in their search for Bully Rawson the disappointed savages surged
round their two captives like a swarm of devouring ants; and, in fact,
it was to the awful, torturing death by this instrumentality that they
clamoured the two should be given.

The impi was made up almost entirely of young bloods.  There were few
head-ringed men among them, and even Laliswayo, though a chief was young
for that dignity.  His sympathies, too, lay far more with them than with
the older and wiser indunas of the nation.  In common with young bloods
of whatever nationality demoralised by a generality of public
disturbance, and collected together under arms by reason of the same,
there was a strong element of irresponsible rowdiness among them which
is apt to find its outlet in cruelty; and these were savages.  Many
hands fastened upon the bound and helpless white men, and they were
dragged roughly towards one point where the bush line began.

"Ha!  The black ants are hungry.  The good black ants," was jeered at
them.  "Now they shall be fed, fed with white meat Ah-ah--with fresh
white meat."

"But this is how you treat your _abatagati_," [Persons condemned for
witchcraft] Fleetwood managed to get out.  "We are not such.  Therefore
if we are to die let it be the death of the spear."

But a howl, wrathful and derisive was the only response.  They were not
going to be done out of their fun.  It would be a novel sight to see how
the black ants would appreciate white meat.  An appeal to Laliswayo on
the part of the victims proved equally fruitless, for the simple reason
that the chief had purposely withdrawn into the background of his
followers.  He did not want to hear any such appeal.

The full horror of the fate in store for them was equally patent to both
victims.  They would be stripped and bound down upon an ants' nest, to
be literally devoured alive by countless thousands of the swarming
insects.  It was a mode of torture frequently resorted to by all the
native tribes of Southern Africa in former times, but usually only as
the penalty of supposed witchcraft, and even then rarely among the
Zulus.  It spelt hours of indescribable torment and raving madness,
before death brought a merciful relief.

"But ye are _abatagati_," roared the crowd.  "It is through your
witchcraft that Inxele has escaped.  He was to have fed the ants.  He
has gone, therefore you must take his place."

"We are not _abatagati_.  We are men," urged Fleetwood.  "Let us then
die fighting.  Bring any two of your best fighters against each of us--
or three if you will.  Then you shall see a far more warrior-like
sight."

Derisive jeers were the only reply to this appeal, and now their
tormentors flung them down on the ground.  They had found an ants' nest,
and the black, vicious insects, stirred up with a stick, were swarming
to and fro, their venomous nippers open and extended.  An animated
discussion was going on among the savages as to which should be the
first victim, and whether he should be hung by the heels to a tree with
his face just touching the nest, or fastened down straight across it.

"Are they doing this just to scare us?" said Wyvern, through whose mind
the bitterest of thoughts were surging.  It was hard to die now just as
that which they had sought was within their reach.  But what a death!
Would Lalante ever come to hear of it, he wondered and would she, in
time, when his memory became dim, console herself?  And the bitterness
of the idea well-nigh served to blunt the anticipation of the ghastly
torture that awaited.  But as though to remind him of it some sportive
savage, not minding a few bites, grabbed a handful of the stuff of which
the nest was made, and incidentally many ants, and dashed the lot into
Wyvern's face.  A howl of glee went up as, stung by the venomous bites
of the insects, the victim instinctively started, and his powerful
convulsive efforts to burst his bonds produced a perfectly exquisite
degree of amusement.  In fact it suggested a new form of preliminary
fun.  Handfuls of the ants, and dust, were gathered, and placed within
the clothing of the sufferers.

Their position was undignified, ignominious.  To both of them this
consideration occurred.

"Keep it up, Joe," said Wyvern, with an effort refraining from wincing
under the abominable pain of the stings.  "Here we are trussed up like a
pair of damned fowls, but we needn't howl out just yet.  Suppose that'll
come later."

Their fortitude seemed to impress the savages.  They stared in wonder,
reduced to a temporary silence.  Then as the clamour broke out afresh,
that it was time to begin on the real horror, an interruption occurred.

At first it took the form of a weird, long-drawn sort of chant, drawing
nearer and nearer.  The Zulus, whose attention had been concentrated on
the two captives now turned it in this direction.

"_Whau_!" they cried.  "It is the Snake-Doctor!"

In silence now they stood, as the sound approached, then divided, giving
way to a tall and terrible figure which strode down the lane thus
opened.  For the limbs and body of this weird being were alive with
hissing snakes, whose horrible heads and waving necks started forth from
him in every attitude and at every angle, while scarcely anything could
be seen of him for the moving, glistening coils but his face.  And that
face!  The fell ferocity of it no description could adequately convey,
and to complete its horror it was deeply pitted with small pox.

In awed silence the warriors stood while this dreadful being moved
between their ranks.  Of them however it took no notice but advanced
straight to the two helpless white men.  And Wyvern, for all the strain
of the peril he was in, was lost in wonder at the sight, for this was
the third time he had gazed on this apparition.  The first was on the
occasion of the slaughter of the sheep, the second in the moonlit
wildness of the Third Kloof, and now--here.  What did it mean?  Could it
be that these people had real powers of witchcraft, or, as some
believed, held real communication with the demon world?  It really began
to look as if such might be the case.  How had this one escaped what
seemed certain death, and not only that but had obtained power over the
venomous reptiles, one of which ought by all physical laws to have been
his destroyer on that first occasion?  Could he have discovered some
wonderful remedy known only to the natives, which had not only cured him
but had rendered him thenceforward immune from their venom?  It might be
so; and being so the man might have turned the circumstance to account
by setting up as a magician, and so have wandered up here.

"These are mine!" he mouthed, pointing to the luckless pair.  "I claim
them.  Now shall my serpents rejoice."

A murmur of respectful assent went up at this, of eager assent.  This
would be a new and original mode of amusement, in fact an improvement on
the ants' nest plan.

"This one first," said the Snake-Doctor, designating Wyvern, who in
obedience to another signal was seized and dragged a little further off
to a spot where the ground was quite smooth and open.  Those who had
thus dragged him withdrew, not without some alacrity, to a respectful
distance, to watch the fun.

The Snake-Doctor advanced and drawing forth a long reptile, of the
yellow-snake variety, held it by its middle, and, standing over his
victim allowed it to make a vicious dart, which just stopped short of
the latter's face.  This was repeated again and again, the while from
the crowd which ringed them around, now in respectful silence, a
deep-chested gasp arose with every strike.

The said victim lay, looking upward at his tormentor.  He had first
intended awaiting the death stroke with closed eyes, but a sort of
unaccountable fascination held them open.  The black, cruel face,
hideously pock-marked, the wool standing out in fantastic plaits from
the head, like so many horns, made a satanic picture which the writhings
of the satanic reptiles completed.  A cold perspiration stood forth upon
his face, as he expected every stroke of the deadly reptile to be the
last.  Then the Snake-Doctor desisted, gathering back the thing again.

Now the next act in this drama of torture by anticipation was to begin.
All the loathsome glistening coils which enveloped the person of the
Snake-Doctor like clothing, were in motion as he cast forth some half
dozen of the reptiles.  These crawled around the helpless victim, heads
erect and hissing horribly.  It was clear that some marvellous magic
controlled them as they moved to and fro, obedient to a scarcely
perceptible hissing chirrup on his part.  Then, in obedience to the same
mysterious signal, they approached him, even gliding over his body, but
making no attempt to strike him.  The hush of the silence was tense.
The awed spectators, some of whom had seen instances of the
Snake-Doctor's marvellous skill before, watched, still as death,
wondering how soon the white man's nerve would break down, and he would
become a raving madman, such as his tormentor-in-chief they knew to be
at intervals.

There is a period beyond which a state of tense apprehension cannot be
kept up.  Until this was reached Wyvern underwent the tensest of its
torments.  Instinctively he turned from side to side with every movement
of the horrible reptiles, then, when he found himself staring into the
countenance of a great black mamba within a yard of his own the point of
indifference was reached.  He felt capable of no further agony.  The
sooner the fatal stroke was dealt the better.

Then the Snake-Doctor began to call in his horrible myrmidons.  One by
one they came, and, in silent glide, each once more hung its glistening
coils about the body and limbs of its repulsive master.  Again an
awestruck gasp went up from the entranced crowd.  What would be the next
trial in store for the victim?  Something fearful beyond words, for, had
not the Snake-Doctor claimed him?

But like the movements of the crawling serpents, a very writhe of panic
ran through the riveted spectators.  The weird death-hiss broke upon the
silence and down they went in scores before the assegais of the
advancing enemy; who, in the all entrancing abandonment of the novel
spectacle had noiselessly rushed them on all sides, and now was right in
among them, stabbing in every direction.  They had been surprised by an
impi of the rival faction, as strong, if not stronger than their own,
now considerably stronger, if only that many, in their fancied security,
and the absorbing interest of their cruel entertainment had thrown down
their weapons and shields, and so were massacred in an absolutely
defenceless state.  The din and horror was indescribable as the surprise
became manifest.  In among them were the destroyers, stabbing, hacking;
and the death-hiss vibrated upon the air, then the war-shout "Usutu,"
and the flap of shields in counter strife, as the assailed managed to
effect some sort of rally.  The chief, Laliswayo, was among the earliest
slain, and the demoralised Usutus, now without a recognised head, were
still making a desperate effort to regain the day.

Wyvern, lying there, expecting immediate death, though now in a
different form, suddenly became aware that his bonds had been cut.
Stiff and bewildered he strove to rise, and found himself staring
stupidly into the face of Mtezani, who was bending over him.

"Take this, Kulisani," said the latter, in the excitement of the moment
levelling down into the use of his native _sobriquet_, and thrusting a
heavy, short-handled knob-kerrie into his hand.  "Get away, quick, now--
into the bush--while there is time.  I can do no more for you."

They were almost alone.  The roll of battle had carried the contending
ranks, like a wave, beyond them.  Amid the general confusion none had
any thought to spare for any consideration beyond that of repelling the
attack.

"But--what of U' Joe?" answered Wyvern.  "Where is he?  I cannot desert
him."

"U' Joe?  He is gone," rejoined the young Zulu, impatiently.  "Are you
tired of life, Kulisani?  If not, go too--while there is time."

Wyvern hesitated no longer.  Gripping his rude weapon he jumped up and
made for the nearest cover, just as, his escape being discovered,
several of his late tormentors sprang with shouts in his pursuit.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

HUNTED.

On, on through the forest shades the hunted man sped, the voices of his
pursuers, like hounds upon a trail, sounding deep behind him.  Though
strong and otherwise athletic, he was in no condition for running,
especially for keeping up a long chase, the chasers being wiry, untiring
savages.

The ground, too, became rough and stony, and this taxed his powers still
more.  His aim was to reach the rocks and holes on the Lebombo slopes;
could he do so while yet at a fair distance from his enemies he stood
just a chance.  They might look for him for ever there, or again they
might just hit upon the right place.

He set his teeth firm, and with elbows to his sides, kept on, husbanding
his wind like a trained sprinter.  The while, bitter thoughts surged
through his mind; for it was bitter to die just then, tenfold so now
that Lalante was within his reach at last; now that a means of escape
had been afforded him.  He thought of Joe Fleetwood too, and wondered if
he had managed to get clear away and if so in what direction.  They had
been separated by some little distance what time the snake-torture had
begun, and if the other's liberation had been effected in the same way
as his own, even as Mtezani had given him to understand, why then it is
probable that Fleetwood would head in the direction he himself was
taking, to find refuge among the caves and krantzes around the spot
where the object of their search lay hidden.

The bush became somewhat dense, and more tangled.  Thorns caught and
tore at his clothing, and now the voices of his pursuers, and the
ferocious deep-toned hum which they had kept up as they ran, was growing
very near.  They were sure of their prey.  What could a white man, and a
big and heavy one such as this, do against them as a runner?  He might
keep it up for a time, but sooner or later they would come up with him,
probably utterly exhausted.  He was unarmed too.  So, not hurrying
themselves, they kept on at a long, steady trot--some singing snatches
of a war-song as they ran.

Wyvern gripped his short-handled knob-kerrie, wondering whether it was
not time to make a last stand before his strength should entirely leave
him.  But it occurred to him that he could make simply no fight at all.
His enemies had only to keep their distance and hurl assegais at him
until they had finished him off, and that without the slightest risk to
themselves.  Turning suddenly, to avoid a clump of _haak-doorn_, whose
fish-hook-like thorns would have held him powerless, or at any rate so
seriously have delayed him that he might just as well have given up the
struggle, he became aware of a small yellowish animal blundering across
his path, together with a hideous snarl just behind.  To this, however,
he paid no heed His enemy now was brother man, not the beasts of the
forest.  Just turning his head, however, for a glance back--he felt his
footing fail, and then--the ground gave way beneath him.  Down he went,
to the bottom of what seemed a deep, covered-in _donga_.

Yes--that was it.  Boughs and bushes, interlaced in thick profusion, all
but shut out the light of Heaven from above.  He estimated he had fallen
a matter of over twenty feet, but the slope of the side had saved his
fall.  The place was, in fact, the exact counterpart of that into which
the unfortunate Kafir had fallen with the puff-adder hanging to his leg,
at Seven Kloofs.  Well, he would be utterly at the mercy of his enemies
now, and with no more facility for making a fight for it than a rat in a
trap.

Bruised, half-stunned, he lay and listened.  Ah! they were coming.  They
would be on him in a moment.  The secret of his sudden disappearance
would be only too obvious to their practised eyes.  His time had come.

Suddenly a terrific series of roars and snarlings broke forth above.
With it mingled volleys of excited exclamations in the Zulu voice, then
the Usutu war-shout.  The clamour became terrific.  The ground above
seemed to shake with it.  With each outbreak of roaring, the war-shout
would rise in deafening volume--then snarling and hissing, but the
sounds would seem to be moving about from place to place.  Then arose a
mighty shout of triumphant cadence and the roaring was heard no more--
instead a hubbub of excited voices, and then Wyvern, partly owing to the
tensity of his recent trial, partly owing to sheer exhaustion, subsided
into a temporary unconsciousness.

This is what had happened above.  The lion-cub which had run across
Wyvern's path had strayed from its parent.  The latter, with another
cub, bounded forward just as the foremost of the pursuing Zulus arrived
upon the scene.  She sprang like lightning upon the first, crushing his
head to fragments in her powerful jaws, and that with such suddenness as
to leave him no time to use a weapon.  Another, rushing to the rescue,
shared the same fate, and then the whole lot came up.  There were under
a dozen, but they were all young men, and full of warrior courage; yet,
even for them, to kill a full-grown lioness--and this one was out of the
ordinary large and powerful, and fighting for her cubs to boot--with
nothing but assegais and sticks, was a very big feat indeed, and
appealed to their sporting instincts far more than continuing the
pursuit of one unarmed white man.  So with loud shouts they entered into
the fray, leaping hither and thither with incredible agility so as to
puzzle the infuriated beast, the while delivering a deft throw with the
lighter or casting assegai.  Another received fatal injuries, and two
were badly torn, then one, with consummate daring, watching his
opportunity, rushed in and drove his broad-bladed assegai right into the
beast's heart; and that one was Mtezani, the son of Majendwa.

A roar of applause and delight arose from the few left.  _Auf_ the son
of Majendwa was a man indeed--they chorused.  Surely the trophies of the
lioness were his.  The throws of their light assegai were as pin-pricks.
It was the _umkonto_ of the son of Majendwa that had cleft the heart.
And then they started a stirring dance and song around their slain
enemy.

"Have done, brothers!" cried Mtezani at last.  "I think we have done
better than running down and killing one white man and he unarmed.  Now
we will take off the skin and return with it; and I think my father will
no longer say I am still a boy, and unfit to put on the head-ring."

They agreed, and in high good-humour all turned to to flay the great
beast.  None had any idea as to the part Mtezani had borne in the escape
of the said white man, or of his motive in joining in the pursuit.
Further, it is even possible that if they had, his last feat would have
gone far in their eyes to justify it or, indeed, anything which he chose
to do.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wyvern awoke to consciousness in the pitch dark.  His confused senses at
first failed to convey any clear idea of what had happened; indeed the
first shape his thoughts took was that he had been killed, and buried.
The damp, earthy smell around him must be of course that of the grave,
and yet he had suffered little or no pain.  How had he been killed?
Then suddenly and with a rush all came back--the lion-cubs and the
snarl, his own fall, and the tumult overhead.  He was not dead then, and
now an intense joy took possession of him.  All was not yet lost, no,
not by any means.  It must have been hours since he had fallen in there,
and now, listening intently, he heard no sound outside.  The Zulus must
have given up the pursuit His fall into the covered-in _donga_ had been
the saving of him.  Clearly the lioness had attacked the pursuing
warriors and had either been slain by them or had delayed their advance
to such an extent that they had not deemed it worth while to continue
the pursuit; and here the strangeness of the repetition of incidents
suggested itself.  On a former occasion he had been spared the necessity
of combating a formidable enemy in an unarmed state by the intervention
of a snake, now the same thing had happened through the intervention of
a lion.

And now the next thing was to get out of his friendly prison.  Looking
upward, the overhanging boughs and bush were faintly pierced by threads
of golden moonlight; and he blessed that light for would it not make his
way plain once up above?  He guessed that the _donga_ was of the same
nature as the one at Seven Kloofs although here there was no river for
it to open into, and to that end he slowly began to make his way
downward.  No easy matter was it however, in the pitchy gloom, but by
dint of taking time, and exercising great care he at length came to
where it opened into a kloof, and breathed the fresh air of night once
more.  Then he remembered that in his eagerness to get out he had left
his knob-kerrie in the _donga_.  He was now entirely unarmed.

Well, it was of no use going back to look for it.  He would cut a cudgel
presently, but in his eagerness to proceed, he was in no hurry to do
that.  He began to feel desperately hungry, but that caused him not much
concern, for in the course of their wanderings together Fleetwood had
put him up to what he had called "veldt-scoff," to wit such roots and
berries as were innocuous and would sustain life at a pinch.  What was
worse however was that a burning thirst had come upon him, and where to
find water in what was, for all he knew, an utterly waterless waste,
might become a most serious consideration.  Still, there was no help for
it.  He must endure as long as he could, and a feeling of elation took
hold of him as he thought of the awful experiences of the last
twenty-four hours and the peril from which he had escaped; for now a
sure and certain conviction was his that he had been spared with an
object, and that object the happiness of Lalante, and, incidentally, of
himself.

And this spirit supported him as, hour after hour, he held on his way,
now climbing the wearisome side of a steep kloof, only to find nothing
but another on the further side, steering his way by the stars, and
lo!--towards morning, in the waning moonlight, there rose the ridge of
the Lebombo, right at hand--with its grand terraced heights of bosh and
forest and krantz.  And--better still--and his heart beat high with
joy--he had come right upon the spot where the object of their search
lay.

Yes.  There was the black opening of the triangular cave about a mile
ahead.  In the dimness of the hour before dawn he recognised it.  Hunger
and thirst were forgotten now and he could have sang aloud in
exultation; for within that black triangle lay hidden that which should
bring him Lalante.

In his haste to reach it he almost ran.  Was it the same?  At first a
misgiving tortured his mind.  There might be many such holes among the
broken-ness of the foot-hills.  No.  There was the ridge from which the
wretched myrmidon of Bully Rawson had fired at him.  This was the place.

In his hurry he dived inside it.  There was something in being on the
very spot itself--besides now in the lightening dawn it would serve as a
hiding-place in case any of his late enemies were still about or
searching for him.  The coolness of the hole was refreshing after his
rapid and heating travel; so refreshing indeed that a sudden drowsiness
came upon him, and he sank on the ground and fell fast asleep.

When he awoke the sun was high in the heavens.  Gazing outward he could
see the shimmer of heat arising from the stones.  Then as he was looking
around, reassuring himself as to the undoubted identity of the place,
something moved.  He could have sworn it was something or somebody
trying to see within.  Nonsense!  The solitude and excitement of recent
events had got upon his nerves.  He looked steadily into the gloom of
the interior for a moment, then turned suddenly to the entrance.
Peering round the great boulder which constituted one side of this was
the shaven, ringed head of a Zulu.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

THE SECRET OF THE LEBOMBO.

All in a second Wyvern's hopes were dashed to the ground.  From a state
of elation he was cast once more into blank despair.  Not so easily had
his enemies abandoned the pursuit.  They had tracked him through the
night with the persistency of sleuth-hounds, and now had, literally, run
him to earth at last.

That the owner of the head had seen him was beyond all doubt for the
head itself had been instantaneously withdrawn, with a smothered
exclamation.  And he himself was unarmed.  In a frenzy of desperation he
gazed around.  No.  The cave contained nothing, not even a loose stone.

It is in such moments of desperation that readiness of resource will
come to a man or it will not Wyvern at that moment felt something move
beneath his foot.  Looking down he saw that his said foot was resting on
an upturned blade of stone, which, if he had noticed at all he would
have taken for a mere projection of the solid rock.  Now an idea
occurred to him.  Bending down, he quickly loosened it.  The piece came
away in his hand.  It was about two feet long, and shaped like a thick
and clumsy sword blade.  In a trice he had found himself armed with a
most formidable weapon.

Gripping this he stood listening intently, his breath coming quick in
the tensity of his excitement.  The first of his enemies to enter he
would infallibly brain, then the next, and so on, while his strength
lasted.  They should not again take him alive.  Still, not a sound
without.

What were they planning?  Could it be that they had some devilish scheme
of forcing him out by fire or smoke, knowing that he had no firearms?
He had read of such a situation, and his heart sank as he realised how
easily it could be carried out in his case.  Ha!

The silence was broken at last.  Without he could just catch the sound
of a deep-toned, murmuring whisper in the Zulu tongue.

"Go away and leave me in peace," he called out, in the best Zulu he
could muster.  "The first to enter shall surely have his head cleft in
twain, and then the next.  I am not unarmed."

"_Whou_!"

It would be hard to convey the tone of wonder contained in that brief
exclamation, and then at the tone of another voice the hunted and
desperate man could hardly trust his own sense of hearing.

"Wyvern, old chap, come on out.  It's only me and Hlabulana."

The next moment he and Joe Fleetwood were gripping hands.  Hlabulana the
while began to uncork his snuff-horn.

"This is awfully funny," went on Fleetwood.  "We had suspicions that it
was Bully Rawson in there, and were concocting some scheme for getting
him out--you know the brute's quite capable of shooting the pair of us
on sight.  But how did you get away?"

"Mtezani cut me loose in the scrimmage, but they chevied me a good way I
can tell you."  Then he narrated what had subsequently happened.  "Got
any scoff, Joe?" he concluded.  "I'm starving."

"Only some pounded mealies, which Hlabulana managed to raise from Heaven
knows where.  Here--fall on."

While Wyvern was satisfying his cravings with this plain fare, Fleetwood
narrated his own escape, which had been effected by Hlabulana under
exactly similar circumstances, except that it had not been discovered,
and therefore he had not been pursued.

"He told me that Mtezani was taking care of you," he concluded, "so I
came away easy in mind, feeling sure we should come together again when,
things were quiet, and we have."

"By Jove we have!  And to think of you having taken me for Bully Rawson.
I don't feel flattered, Joe."

The other broke into a laugh.

"Tell you what, old man.  We both look all fired ruffians enough just
now to be taken even for him.  At least, I feel it, and can truthfully
assure you you look it.  And now what are we going to do next?  I've got
a bull-dog six-shooter here that the idiots forgot to bag when they
trussed us up."

"I haven't even got that," laughed Wyvern.  "I was going to brain the
pair of you with a most murderous stone club which I tore up out of the
ground.  It's sharp as a sword on one side."

Something in the words seemed to strike Fleetwood.

"Sharp as a sword?" he echoed.

"Why yes.  What's there in particular about that?"

"Why only that it'll do to dig with."

"To dig with?  Are we in a position to do our fossicking now?"

"Rather.  Now we're here--bang on the very spot we should be record
idiots if we didn't do something towards discovering what we've come
for."

"I'm with you there," rejoined Wyvern.  "But here we are, with one
six-shooter between us, no rifles or even a shot-gun.  How are we going
to get scoff?"

"Oh, Hlabulana will take care of that.  He has some remarkably efficient
assegais."

"Well upon my word, the adventure was wild enough before but it has
about reached the March hare stage now," pronounced Wyvern with a laugh.
"However our luck, if varied, has turned right last time, and we'll try
it again."

It was indeed as he had said, a mad adventure.  Here were these two, in
the heart of a wild and dangerous region, inadequately armed even, and
trusting to chance for the bare means of subsistence; and yet instead of
making their way back to civilisation as soon as possible--especially
after their recent perilous experience and hairbreadth escape--they
elected to remain and prosecute their search, yet it is of such that
your real adventurer is made.

"We'll have to keep a bright look-out for Bully Rawson," said Fleetwood,
as they entered the cave.  "I know he got clear, and if he has any
suspicions that we did, it won't be long before we see or hear from
him."

"There's no doubt about the place, I suppose?" said Wyvern, for him,
rather excitedly.  "Look.  Here's where I found the opal."

"Not a shadow of doubt Hlabulana has been going over all the situation
with me while you were snoozing inside--Lord! and I not knowing it."

Then, somehow, a silence fell between the two men as they stood looking
at each other in the semi-gloom.  Were they really going to unearth the
rich secret which this savage mountain range had held buried within its
lone and desolate heart for so many years, the secret which should make
the rest of their lives a time of ease and possession, which should
bring to one, at any rate, that which would make life almost too good to
live?

"Come on.  Let's get to work," said Fleetwood.  "Where's this weapon of
yours?  We can't have very far to dig, because from what Hlabulana says
they can't have had time to bury the stuff very deep."

"Here it is.  Look.  There's the hole I pulled it up from--Hallo!"

Wyvern had gone down on his knees, and was experimentally fitting the
stone into its former position.  With the above exclamation he placed it
aside and began hurriedly clawing at the earth where it had lain, with
his bare fingers.

"Here's a box," he said quickly, shovelling out handfuls of earth; "An
unmistakable box."

Fleetwood bent over.

"Sure?" he asked, as excited as Wyvern himself.

"Dead cert.  Here, lend a hand.  We'll soon have it out."

And they did have it out.  A few minutes more of eager digging, and the
whole top of a metal bound wooden chest was visible.  But it required a
good deal more exertion before it was clear of earth all round.  Then
they hauled it up, and although not more than a foot square by half that
depth, it required some hauling, for it might have been made of solid
lead.

"That's the bar gold," pronounced Fleetwood as, heated and panting, they
sat down for a rest.  "No `stones' would weigh anything like that.  Well
the stones can't be far off.  Let's get to work again."

They resumed their digging, systematically, with knives now, first
around the excavation first made, then beneath it.  Here, in a few
minutes, Wyvern hauled out something--something round and moist.  It was
a small leather bag.

"Let's investigate," he said, and there was a tremble in his voice.

The leather was half rotten with age and damp, and the fastenings gave
way when touched.  Fleetwood put down his hat, and punching in the
crown, poured the contents of the bag into the cavity thus formed.  Then
the two men looked up and sat staring at each other.

For in the said cavity was a heap of gems, which glittered and sparkled
as the light from without struck upon them--rubies and emeralds and
opals, many of considerable size, and obviously, even to these two
unversed in such matters, of great value.  This alone would have been
worth all they had gone through for.

Replacing the stones in the bag they continued their excavation now with
a tremble of the hands.  And small wonder that it should be so.  They
had just found that which was enough to set them up comfortably for the
rest of their lives, and there was even more to find.  Any kind of
search more fraught with every element of excitement it would be hard to
conceive.

And, in fact, less than half-an-hour's search had placed them in
possession of three more bags similar to the first, but two of which
contained stones far more valuable, than even the first; one nothing but
diamonds, and fine ones at that.  These, after investigation, were
placed aside, and operations resumed.

But further excavation all round and under, brought nothing to light.

"That'll be the lot, I'm thinking," said Fleetwood.  "It about
corresponds with what Hlabulana said they'd got."

"Joe," said Wyvern gravely.  "Do me the favour to pinch my leg, and
pinch it hard, just to show that I'm not dreaming, you know.  The whole
thing seems too good.  Seems as if one would wake up in a minute."

"It does, doesn't it," answered the other, equally serious.  And again
they lapsed into silence, each full of his own thoughts.

"Now for what's to be done," went on Fleetwood.  "I don't like these
diamonds.  There I'm in my element, for, as you know, I was a digger in
the early Dutoitspan days--not that they ain't devilish good ones.  But
they're awkward things to hawk around anywhere in South Africa--the
I.D.B. law, you know.  Suppose by any chance it got round that one had a
bag of diamonds like that in one's possession, they'd have one watched
day and night to find out how one got hold of it.  Then it'd be bound to
give away the rest of the show.  We don't want that."

"Not much.  Look here, Joe.  I've an idea which may be a good one or may
not.  We can't possibly carry away that box.  Let's bury it again and
call for it some time later when things are quiet again.  As for the
diamonds, we'll plant them in some other place just to make sure that
Hlabulana doesn't show them to someone else, and pick them up at the
same time as the bar gold.  How does it pan out?"

"First rate.  Only, old chap, I don't think it'll be much a case of _us_
calling for them.  I'm pretty sure I shall have to undertake it for
both, for with a recollection of the portrait in your room in Ulundi
Square you'll be in no hurry to repeat this expedition."

They set to work to bury the box again.  It mattered little enough if
here were marks of fresh digging, for who in the world would ever dream
of treasure lying buried in this particular cave--one among many--
without some due?  Hardly had they done so than the entrance darkened,
and Hlabulana stood within.  In the excitement of their discovery they
had forgotten his very existence.  Quickly Fleetwood explained to him
what they had found, showing him the bags.

"That is right, U' Joe," said the Zulu, turning them over in his hands.
"There were but four.  _Whau_!  I like not this dark hole.  It savours
of _tagati_."

"But you will like all the cattle and new wives your share of this will
bring you, son of Musi," said Fleetwood with a laugh.  "If it is
_tagati_ it is pretty good _tagati_ for us three, this time anyhow.
Well, the sun will soon be down, and I think we had better take a short
rest and travel by moonlight.  It will be safer."

This was agreed to, and as the red moon raised her great disc above the
lone mountain range, flooding forest and valley and rock with her
chastened brilliance, two ragged, unkempt white men stepped forth on
their return journey, and upon them was wealth surpassing their highest
expectations.

"Hang it all, I can't believe it yet," said Wyvern, for the twentieth
time, with the twentieth grip on the bags of gems disposed about his
clothing.

"I can hardly believe it myself," rejoined Fleetwood, going through
precisely the same performance.

But Hlabulana, the Zulu, said nothing.  He only took snuff as calmly as
if nothing had happened.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

"IN THE MORNING."

Probably there is no greater fallacy than that youth is quick to cast
off impressions; otherwise Lalante with youth in her favour, should,
after the first few days from the shock which had smitten her down, have
begun to rally, and to realise that there was something left in life
after all.  But she did not.

The light of life had gone out.  Her very youth was against her.  She
was just at an age when her whole-souled love for this one who had been
taken from her, reached a stage of passionate adoration that was all
absorbing, entrancing her whole being.  She lived in it.  And now she
would see him no more--would see him never again on earth.  And yet--all
her every day surroundings--every sight, every sound, every locality--
were wrapped up in memories of him.  From such there was no escape, nor
did she desire that there should be.

Days grew into weeks, but brought no change, no solace, no relief.  She
strove to throw off at any rate the outward gloom if only for the sake
of her two small brothers, but the attempt was little short of a ghastly
failure.  At this point she became aware of a marked change in her
father.  He seemed to be failing in health.  He had lost the old
elasticity, the old alertness, the old keenness in business matters.  It
could not be that remorse on the subject of Wyvern was behind it.  "You
sent him to his death," she had said, in the first agony of her
desolation.  No, she could not think that compunction on that head would
weigh very deep with him.  Rather would he regard it as matter for
congratulation.

To Warren she had taken an unaccountable dislike, consistent with that
first instinct of distrust which had come upon her at the time of the
dread revelation.  His visits had become rather frequent, but as most of
their time was spent closeted alone with her father she supposed that
their purport was business, and business only.  But now she was only
coldly civil to him, no longer cordial.  The gloom of her horizon was
black all round, without sign of a break.  Her days could be got through
somehow in the ordinary way, but--oh, the agony of her nights, of her
awakening from dreams of the blissful past to the cold dead reality of
the present and future!

She had not seen Warren's precious accomplice, to hear the news from his
own mouth.  Warren had never intended she should, and made excuse to the
effect that Bully Rawson had been obliged to go up-country again.

She was seated alone one day on the stoep when the bi-weekly post-bag
was brought.  Listlessly she got the key, and opened it.  There might be
news of his end--further detail; but even from that she shrank.  She
opened the bag, and turned out all the correspondence.  Most of it was
for her father, and obviously of a business nature; there were two or
three local papers and--

And then Lalante began to sway unsteadily, and, for all her splendid
strength, to feel as if she must sink to the floor.  For, at the bottom
of the leather bag, lay one more letter, and it was to herself, directed
in Wyvern's hand.

With trembling fingers she tore it open.  Why--what was this?  It was
headed "Pietermaritzburg, Natal," and bore a date just seven days old.

What did it mean?  What could it mean?  It was weeks since Warren had
brought her the news of his sad and violent death, and yet here were
lines penned by his own hand but seven days ago.  Had anybody been
playing some cruel practical joke upon her?  No.  Surely nobody living
would be capable of such barbarity; and then, here was his own
handwriting--clear, strong, unmistakable--looking her in the face.

With a mist before her eyes Lalante managed to decipher its purport,
which was briefly this.  The writer had returned from his undertaking,
and had returned successful--successful beyond his wildest hopes--this
was emphasised--and would follow on upon the letter at the very earliest
opportunity, not more than a couple of days later at the outside, he
hoped.  And then, there were lines and lines of sweet love-words,
sweeter perhaps, certainly sweeter to her after weeks of supposed
bereavement than any he had ever before penned.

Again and again she read through the missive, examined the postmarks--
everything.  No, there was no deception here--and in a couple of days he
would be with her once more.  She must be patient, but--ah! how could
she be?  It was as though that one had risen from the dead.

She sank into a low chair, a smile of ineffable happiness irradiating
her face.  All the past was merely a dream, a nightmare--but--was she
not only dreaming now?

"Lalante, child, what's the matter?"

It was her father's voice--strained, tremulous.  Seeing her like this
but one conclusion forced itself upon him--that her mind had given way
at last.

"The matter is that the news we heard wasn't true.  _He_ will be here in
a couple of days," showing the letter.

"Oh, thank God for that," said Le Sage fervently--and he was anything
but what is called a pious man.

"What if he is coming back as he went, father?" said Lalante, who could
not forbear a spice of retaliatory mischief in her hour of restored
happiness.

"Oh, I don't care--so he comes back; no I don't--not a damn.  I can't
see my little girl looking as the has looked all this infernal time.
And yet--" He broke off suddenly.

"Well he isn't.  He says he's been successful beyond his wildest hopes."

"Oh thank the Lord again," said Le Sage, in a curiously constrained
voice.  "Does he give particulars?"

"No.  Bother particulars.  The great thing is he's coming at all--isn't
it?"

"Oh of course.  That's how women look at things.  They don't know any
better--how should they!"

"Well why should they?" retorted Lalante with a happy laugh.  "Now look
here, old man, you'll be civil to him won't you?"

"Oh yes, I'll be glad to see him.  Will that do for you?  Oh it's a
devilish queer world when all's said and done--a devilish queer world,"
and the speaker turned away abruptly to bury himself in his own den.
But the girl thought to detect a shade of relief in his tone, even in
his look--as though something had occurred to clear up the despondency
which, of late, had settled upon him.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The morning rose bright and beautiful--the morning after the receipt of
the letter.  Lalante was up while it was yet dark, and it may have been
twenty or it may have been thirty times an hour that her quick, eager
gaze was turned upon the point where the road came over the ridge.  A
light mist which had gathered during the night cleared away early,
leaving a sparkle of myriad dew-drops upon every bush frond as the sun
rose higher in the blue and cloudless sky.  But in the open the
cock-koorhaans were crowing and squawking tumultuously, and varying bird
voices piped or twittered in the cooler shade.  It was a heavenly
morning, a morning for life and love.

"Two days at the outside," he had said.  But what if at the inside it
should be one?  That would mean to-day--thought Lalante; hence the eager
scanning of the furthest point of road.  Suddenly she started.
Something was moving at that point, approaching, and her strong,
practised sight took not a moment to decide that it was a mounted
figure.  Pressing a hand to her heart to curb its tumultuous beatings
she tore down the field-glasses from where they hung.  One glance was
enough, and in a second she was hurrying down, by a shorter way, to
where the road dipped into the kloof prior to reascending.  Meanwhile
the advancing horseman had disappeared amid the intervening bush.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Barring the road the girl was standing, her tall, beautiful figure
framed in the profusion of foliage, her face irradiated with the light
of love, her lips slightly parted into a most tender smile as she
waited.  Such was the vision that burst upon Wyvern, as with a hurried
exclamation he flung himself from the saddle rather than dismounted.  In
the long, close embrace that followed neither seemed able to find words.

"You knew you would find me here," said the girl at last.  "But I--up
till yesterday I never thought to see you again on earth."

Wyvern started.

"Have I been so very remiss, then, sweetheart?  I assure you that until
a week ago, I have had no opportunity whatever of communicating with
you, or any one else down here."

"It isn't that.  They told me you had been killed."

"What?  Who told you?"

Briefly she gave him an outline of Warren's narrative.  He listened
intently.

"Well, it came within an ace of being true news," he said at last.  "I
have a great deal to tell you, dearest, but at present we will only
think of ourselves.  My luck has turned as you always predicted it
would.  We need never be parted again."

"Life of mine, and until yesterday I thought we were for ever," she
exclaimed passionately.  "Oh but no--it seems impossible.  You--to whom
I have always looked up, as to something more than human--human yet
superhuman--whose every word even on the lightest matter, was higher
than a law--you, to be with me always guiding my life, making it every
moment too good to live!  No, it can't be.  Such happiness can never
fall to one poor mortal!"

"Lalante, child--hush--hush!" he said a little unsteadily, his clasp of
her tightening.  "You must not start by making a god of me, or what will
happen when the disillusionment comes?"

"Disillusionment?  Oh!"

"Yes.  You may laugh now, but--never mind.  Well then, what about
yourself?  Who was it who threw away--what I see"--holding her from him,
to gaze at her with intense admiration and love--"upon a battered old
addlepate--"

"Battered old addlepate?  That's good," she interrupted.

"Yes.  A battered old addlepate--for if I've captured some luck at last
it is sheer luck--who seemed congenitally incapable of ever turning
anything to account and who was going from bad to worse as fast as any
such fool could!  Who was it that lightened and cheered as dark a time
as could fall to the lot of most men, and, above all, clung to him when
all seemed hopeless; and who was prepared to sacrifice the best years of
her bright youth--Good God, I think it is I who have to say that such
happiness seems impossible."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Le Sage's welcome of Wyvern was quiet but cordial, while that accorded
him by the two youngsters was boisterous in its delight.

"Man--Mr Wyvern, but you'll have some stunning new yarns to tell us,"
said Charlie.

"A few, Charlie.  And the rum part of it is they'll be true."

"I'd jolly well punch any fellow's head who said they weren't," rejoined
Frank.  "That is, if I could," he added.

At the close of what was certainly the very happiest day in the lives of
at any rate two of that quintett, Le Sage said:

"Would you mind coming into my den, Wyvern?  I want your advice on a
little matter of business.  You're not in a hurry to turn in are you?
It may take some time."

Wyvern stared.  For keen, hard-headed Le Sage to want his
advice--_his_--on a matter of business naturally struck him as quaint.
But he replied that of course nothing would give him greater pleasure.

"All right.  Well take the grog in and smoke a final pipe or two over
our _indaba_.  Come along."

He led the way round to the little room which he used as a private
office.  It was entered from outside, and being detached from the house
was out of earshot of the other inmates.

"First of all," he began when they were seated, "I want to apologise for
what I said that day when--"

"Oh, shut up, Le Sage," interrupted Wyvern, bringing his hand hard down
into that of the other, and enclosing it in a firm grip.  "I don't want
to hear another word about that, just as I've never given it another
thought--not a resentful one at any rate.  I can quite see the matter
from your point of view--could at the time in fact.  Now then, what's
this business matter you want to talk over?  Is it about Lalante?"

"No.  It's about myself."

Wyvern had already noticed an alteration in Le Sage's manner and also
appearance.  The old touch of confident assertiveness seemed to have
gone, moreover he looked older and greyer.  Now he seemed to look more
so still.

"About yourself?" repeated Wyvern, with visions of weak heart or latent
disease in the speaker, rising before him.

"Yes.  Would it surprise you to hear that I'm practically a ruined man?"

"I should think it would.  Good God, Le Sage, you can't really mean it!"

"I wish I didn't, but it's a fact.  It's of no use bothering you with
details, Wyvern, for I've heard you say one couldn't shoot a man with a
worse head for business than yourself even if you fired a shot-gun up
and down the most crowded streets of London all day.  Of course saying I
wanted your advice was only a blind," he added with a wan smile.

"But, briefly, how did it happen?"

"Rotten specs, and overdoing that.  But the main thing is, Wyvern, and
it's due to you to explain--that in all probability Lalante will never
have a shilling--at least, not from me."

"I don't care if she hasn't half a farthing, as you know perfectly well,
Le Sage," was the decisive answer.  "And now, look here.  I haven't any
definite notion what that stuff I was telling you about this afternoon
will realise; but I'm pretty sure it'll be something very considerable
indeed for each of us.  We shall have to go to work about it rather
cautiously though."

"Yes, you will.  By Jove, Wyvern, I believe you are developing a
business instinct after all."

"Well what I was going to say is this.  Hold on as well as you can until
it does realise, and then any capital you may require to set you on your
legs again, and clear off liabilities with, I shall take it as a favour
if you would let me advance.  I am just as certain of getting it all
back again as if I stuck it into the Bank of England, and even if I
wasn't what the devil does it matter?  We shall be near relations
directly."

The other was looking curiously at him.

"By the Lord, Wyvern, but you are a deuced good chap; in fact a very
exceptional one.  If you only knew all, now!  Why most men would have
gladly seen me to the devil under the circumstances."

"Most men must be very exceptional cads then," laughed Wyvern, tilting
back his chair, and lighting a pipe.  "And as for knowing everything I
know all I want to know--no, by the bye--there's one thing I do want to
know.  Who bought Seven Kloofs?  I'm going to buy it back again."

"The deuce you are!  Then let me frankly advise you not to.  It's the
most rotten investment I ever made."

"Oh, so you took it on, then?  Why you weren't keeping up your
reputation that shot, Le Sage."

"No.  You shall know some more though, now.  I bought it with the sole
object of getting you out of this part of the country.  How's that?"

Wyvern threw back his head, and roared.

"How's that?" he said.  "Why you bit off more than you could chew--
darned sight more, old chap.  Still I'm going to have it back again, not
as a stock run but as a game preserve.  I'm no good at farming I know,
but I'm fond of this part of the country and the climate.  So we shall
squat down at Seven Kloofs--I think I shall take to writing books, or
some such foolishness--and all be as jolly together as it's possible to
be.  How's _that_?"

"Oh, good enough," said the other in a relieved tone.  "You won't take
the child right away from me then?"

"Rather not I must take her away for a short time though, Le Sage.  I
must go to England almost directly with Fleetwood to see about realising
our plunder, and I can't leave Lalante behind.  What do you say?"

There was only one thing to be said under the circumstances, and Le
Sage, being a sensible man, said it.  Afterwards the two men sat talking
matters over till far into the night, even into the small hours.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

ENVOI.

A tiny sea-side village, red roofs and grey church tower nestling
between the slope of great hills clothed with velvety green woods, and
the uplands beyond brilliant with yellow gorse and crimson heather.  And
the triangle of sunlit sea just glimpsed, is blue as the sky above.

Up the single street two persons are walking, and the summer loveliness
of the fair English scene is something of a contrast to the vaster, but
not less beautiful, landscape in which we last saw these two framed; for
we have seen them before.

Now they gain the modest, but clean and comfortable farm-house lodgings
overlooking the village and the sea, and which is nearly the only
accommodation so out-of-the-way a place can offer.

"Post in," says Lalante, womanlike eagerly making for several letters
spread out upon the table.  "Why here's one from father, forwarded on.
Oh I am glad.  He hasn't written for quite a long time."

"Getting homesick, child?"

"Darling, you know I'm not.  Still I shan't be sorry to be duly
installed at dear old Seven Kloofs."

"But there are no shops."

"Don't tease.  Oh, but--" and her eyes grew soft--"if you only knew how
he appreciated what you did, I mean that offer you made him.  He says it
was the saving of him."

"In the words I used to him on a somewhat similar occasion--`shut up',"
rejoins Wyvern, stopping her mouth with a kiss.  "Here's a yarn from
Fleetwood!  Now we'll each see what each says."

"Joe's news is good," he goes on, glancing down the sheet.  "He's
working the oracle fine about the plunder, but he says that nearly six
months of England, and that mostly London, is about enough for any
self-respecting up-country man, and wants to go back again when we do."

"Why of course," absently and not immediately.  Then with a start.  "How
dreadful!  Oh how dreadful!"

"What is?"

"Mr Warren's dead!"

"No!  Poor chap.  What did he die of?"

"He committed suicide.  Look.  You read it out.  I can't," and Lalante
looked very pale and distressed as she handed over her father's letter.

  "You'll probably have seen about poor Warren's death in the English
  papers--" it went on--"but in case you haven't, he was found in his
  sitting room, shot through the heart three weeks ago.  All the
  evidence went to show that it was a case of suicide, even if he hadn't
  left a letter to say so.  But it gave no reason, and at the adjourned
  enquiry--held the day before yesterday--nothing could be discovered to
  throw any light on the matter.  All his affairs were in perfect order,
  in fact he turns out to be a great deal better off than was supposed,
  and that means a good deal.  And the medical evidence proved him to be
  absolutely strong and healthy.  So the thing remains and will remain a
  complete mystery.  Poor chap!  One would have thought him the last man
  in the world to have done such a thing.  I send you a cutting with a
  report of the adjourned enquiry."

"Your father's about right, dear," said Wyvern handing back the letter.
"Warren is absolutely the last man I should have suspected of suicidal
tendency.  Why he had everything under the sun to make life attractive.
And yet--I don't know.  Life is such a deuced rum thing, and every
donkey knows where his own saddle galls him.  Poor Warren may have had
something upon his mind."

Did some shadow of a suspicion cross that of Lalante as to the real
state of the case?  If so it was not a thing that she cared to put into
words.  But she was very shocked at Warren's sad end.  She tried to
forget the instinct which had led to her cold suspicions of him of late,
and remembered his intrepid courage in rescuing her small brother from
the raging waters of the flooded Kunaga.

"Let's see what the newspaper says about it.  It's the _Gydisdorp
Herald_!" went on Wyvern running his eye down the cutting.  "It's all
pretty much the same as what your father says--By Jove! here's something
though.  Listen to this:--

  "It will be remembered that one of the last services our lamented
  fellow-townsman was able to render to society at large, is that he was
  instrumental in procuring the arrest and conviction of that atrocious
  scoundrel Jonathan Baldock, who was hanged at Beaufort West, only a
  week before Mr Warren's sad end.  This Baldock or Bexley, or Rawson--
  he had several aliases--it will be remembered, was convicted of the
  murder of a Dutch farmer and his wife under circumstances of great
  barbarity, and for some years had managed to escape detection.  But if
  the feet of Justice are sometimes slow they are nearly always sure.
  His whereabouts became known to Mr Warren by the merest accident, and
  that model citizen caused him to be lured from the wild border of
  Northern Zululand--where his business, we may be sure was of no lawful
  nature--and his arrest and conviction promptly followed, once he set
  foot within the confines of British civilisation."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Well, Lalante, that is a startler," said Wyvern, when he had concluded.
"Why this is no other than that unmitigated ruffian who gave us such a
lot of trouble up there.  When we saw no more of him after finding the
stuff, Joe and I of course took for granted the Usutus had managed to
get hold of him again.  Well I thoroughly agree with the Gydisdorp rag--
if ever a scoundrel richly deserved hanging it was our old acquaintance
Bully Rawson."

"I should think so from what you've told me of him alone," assented
Lalante.  "But it is very sad about poor Mr Warren.  Come dear, let's
get through the letters and go out again.  The evening is going to be
perfectly divine."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

There is an element of self about most phases of happiness, and notably
about that called Love.  They wandered forth, these two, and in the joys
and glories of the radiant evening, outer misfortune soon became dimmed
in the all absorbing happiness of being together again and together for
all time.  But they had gone through much.

The End.





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